A revision tool for matric learners

Monday, October 29th, 2012 | software | Comments Off

Learners at school spend 12 years building up to that big moment – Matric! And then the exams are upon them and they are overwhelmed. They have so much revision to do, where do they start?  EasyPass is a handy tool for teachers and learners to ease the pain.


The EasyPass Online Assessment Centre provides question banks for 16 of the most important matric subjects. The questions are categorized by topic within a subject.  Tests are generated on the fly, with a random set of questions submitted for each learner to complete. Since the Centre is internet-based, learners can access them anywhere, anytime, and from any internet-enabled device.

The EasyPass mission is simple: to help Matriculants find out what they do and don’t know. And while they are finding out, they are learning because they will get feedback on each question.  Once they know where they are weak, they can go back to their textbooks or ask their teacher for help. The learner can also go back to the assessments to measure their knowledge gain after revisiting the material, because they are allowed to complete each test up to five times.

The target market is both individual learners as well as schools. The questions are developed by subject-matter experts, usually teachers who have retired or are pursuing other interests.

EasyPass is keen to work with underperforming schools to help them improve their matric marks, and in turn improve the learner’s chance of future success.

For more information, go to the EasyPass website, or email Moira de Roche at

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A free resource for teachers

Monday, March 12th, 2012 | software | 1 Comment

Over the past years I have used MakeBeliefsComix many times to create cartoons for this blog.  The owner of the software, Bill Zimmerman, has kindly allowed me to use his software at no cost, with the simple request that I encourage others to use the product.

A few examples of cartoons that I’ve created are:

Mobile phones for teaching?

Do you fear change?

Avoid jargon …

Cyber-bullies are cowards.

New literacies required for the twenty-first century.

A new version of the software, with many exciting addtions, was launched yesterday.  Bill writes as follows:

Dear Reader

In its goal to provide more literacy resources for educators, has significantly expanded its offering of writing prompt printables, organizing them by subject categories to help students write and express themselves.

The free online comic strip generator now features more than 250 printables in 50 subject categories, ranging from Bullying and Peer Pressure, to Elections and Political, to Environment and Ecology, to Writing Prompts. These are found at:

In addition, MakeBeliefsComix has introduced new comic characters with physical disabilities to reflect the diversity of users, including those with special needs. Among the 128 characters that students can now select in creating their comic strips are a boy and girl in wheelchairs, a soldier who lost an arm in war and wears a prosthesis, a blind person with a seeing-eye dog, and an older woman who uses a walker. Each character shows a variety of emotions – happy, sad, angry, thoughtful. Educational therapists increasingly use the online comic site for students with autism spectrum disorders to help them understand social concepts and to communicate. There is a Special Needs section to help educators and parents.

The 250 graphic writing prompts encourage writing and thinking in a quick and imaginative way and foster classroom discussion . A student’s efforts to complete a printable can then become the first step in writing longer essays, poems or stories on the same subject. The printables also can be used with students enrolled in literacy and English-As-Second Language programs, and provide an educational resource for teaching language arts. They are taken from the many interactive books of the site’s creator, Bill Zimmerman, who for many years edited the nationally syndicated Newsday Student Briefing Page, which was twice nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

More than 200,000 educators and students from more than 180 countries visit each month to build their own comic strips and practice language, writing and reading skills. The site was selected by Google as UNESCO as among the world’s most innovative sites to encourage literacy and writing. And the American Library Association chose it as a Great Web Site for Kids.

We hope that you will share with your colleagues, students, friends or readers of your publications and favorite listserv groups. 
As always, we welcome your suggestions and ideas to improve our site.


Bill Zimmerman

I am proud to be associated with MakeBeliefsComix and will continue to use this tool to get e-learning messages across to the readers of this blog.  Have a look at the product … you are sure to find innovative ways in which you can use it for the advancement of education.

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Educational software products … less is more

Monday, March 14th, 2011 | software | 3 Comments

The architect and furniture designer, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, was one of the main proponents of minimalism in art and other design forms. Minimalism is the notion that simplicity and clarity lead to good design. Van der Rohe became famous for using the expression less is more.

A typical van der Rohe design: The "Four Seasons Bar Stool"

The design of modern architecture, cars, furniture and other utility items are still influenced by this principle: simple, clean lines are preferred to frills.

The less is more principle could also be applied in our choice of software for schools. In many schools impressive software packages are installed but seldom – or never – used. The reason for this is that these tools are too complicated and too difficult for the average educator to understand. On the other hand, far less sophisticated software packages are embraced by teachers starting out on the ICT road. Why? Clearly because they can more readily identify with simple, practical tools.

A similar observation has been made regarding the number of software tools given to a school at the outset. In a well-meaning effort to cover all the bases, teachers may be swamped by a bewildering array of products. The result? There are too many different tools to learn; the road of least resistance for some teachers is to give up.

With the wisdom of hindsight, the best policy is to start with only one or two uncomplicated software products when they are introduced to ICT. As individual teachers mature in their use of technology, more complex programs can be added, according to their requirements. In fact, when teachers have out-grown the introductory products, most of them start to search for more appropriate ones themselves.

The successful use of technology in a school can not be measured in terms of the number and elegance of software products in their possession; success is to be measured by the degree to which these products are used to improve teaching and learning.

Before stocking up on software products, consider the wisdom of less is more.


How can technology help teachers with assessment?

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010 | technology | Comments Off

Assessment is not just about testing how much learners know – it is a vital part of teaching and learning.   While recognizing its value, many teachers avoid assessment tasks as far as possible because of the great admin load it creates.

When teachers use technology to help them with assessment tasks the only tears they’ll shed will be tears of joy.

Here are few ways in which technology can be used for assessment purposes:

The most basic way in which technology can assist with assessment tasks is when you use a word processor on your computer to type assessment documents, such as test and examination papers – with their memorandums.  These documents can be stored electronically – just imagine how much time you’ll save in the future.

A spreadsheet program on your computer is useful to maintain class lists and to record assessment scores.  As you enter assessment grades, calculations are done automatically – you can now put the calculator aside.  Percentages, averages, means, medians and any other statistics are available at the press of a button.  When you change one figure all totals are recalculated.  No more calculation errors!

Technology can also be used during assessment in a more direct way. Specially designed software programs, which contain question banks and allow you to change questions or add your own, are available.  You can use these programs to generate test papers even if your learners do not have access to computers.  But if computers are available for learner use, some of these programs allow you to create on-line tests for your class.  The beauty of these software tools is that, if the learner does the test on the computer, the computer does the marking for you.  How much better can it get!

A voting system (clickers) can be used in the classroom for progressive assessment.  These clickers allow teachers to ask multiple-choice or true-false questions, learners then click their answers on the clicker, and the teacher has immediate feedback on a classroom computer. 

Even if you don’t use technology for anything else in the classroom, use it for assessment.  You will feel the benefits immediately.  And when you expand the use of technology to other aspects of teaching, you will find even more ways in which your electronic tools can help you with assessment.

For more technology tips for teachers click here.

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Do you really have to purchase software for your classroom?

Sunday, December 12th, 2010 | technology | 5 Comments

Some teachers claim that, when they move technology into their classrooms, they don’t have to purchase any educational software products – they create their own teaching and learning material.  If you are one of those teachers – good for you!

If you’re not yet in their league, don’t despair.  Packaged educational software can be a valuable stepping stone while you’re familiarizing yourself with the use of technology in the classroom.

Excellent software packages are available commercially.  Some software may be bundled with the device you purchase – this is particularly so in the case of interactive whiteboards.  In other cases good software programs are available from software vendors to suit all your classroom needs.

A common mistake of teachers new to technology is to purchase too many software packages.  Some of these turn out to be less useful that they seem at first.  It is sad when you spend all your available funds on software that is of little value to you, and then find you can’t afford appropriate programs.  Avoid this mistake by starting off slowly – perhaps with only one simple program – and as you progress and come to grips with classroom technology you’ll be in a better position to select software that will really be useful to you.

Some software may be available to you at no cost:

Examine the software that is bundled with the device you purchase.  These products are often of limited value, but may suffice to start you off.

The internet is a rich source of free software.  Thousands of teachers have developed resources, including complete lessons, and have made them available on the web.  These resources are mostly tried and tested.

Your school may hold a site license for educational software programs.  Enquire from the vendor of the product whether the license entitles you to use the software in your classroom without additional cost.

Software suppliers may make software products available to you on a trial basis for a month or so – you can try before you buy.  This is an ideal way to avoid purchasing products that you won’t use in future.

Software does not have to cost you an arm and a leg if you choose it judiciously.  Start small, use what you have as stepping stones, and strive to reach the point where you can develop your own no-cost learning material.

For more technology tips for teachers click here.

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What is the real value of software that is bundled with an interactive whiteboard?

Saturday, January 9th, 2010 | IWBs, software | 4 Comments

Interactive whiteboards are sometimes offered to you as a package: with the board comes a selection of software products.

How valuable is such a bundle of software?  It all depends on what is in the bundle.

Some manufacturers of interactive whiteboards provide software specifically developed for their product.  Such material is generally of great value:

Look out for an authoring tool – a software package that allows you to develop your own lessons.  Remember, the day will come when won’t be satisfied using packaged software any longer since you’ll feel competent to develop your own material.  Then an authoring tool working in conjunction with your interactive whiteboard is what you need.

Other items specifically developed for your board may also be useful, particularly while you are learning to use the new tool.  A further advantage of such resources is that you can adjust them (if you have the authoring tool), or you can use them as models to create new material.

At times the bundle of software consists of a disparate collection of software items, procured and owned by the interactive whiteboard manufacturer or distributor.  In an attempt to give the offering a wide appeal, a huge variety of items are included.  This may look impressive, but means that you will find only a few items meeting your particular needs.

A big bundle is not necessarily a bargain.  Imagine you’re looking for new shoes.  A big sign in a shop tells you that if you buy a pair of shoes (on the expensive rack) you will get twenty pairs of socks for free.  “What a bargain,” you think.  Until you look at the socks.  The colour is all wrong!  What will you do with twenty pairs of purple and orange polka dot socks?

The same principle applies to the bundle of software that comes with your interactive whiteboard.  The “lots of resources” and “free” may be appealing, but how helpful will it be to you?

A bundle of software may be useful to you – but first check the contents of the bundle!

Click here for more information about interactive whiteboards.

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How much can I expect to pay for software to use with my interactive whiteboard?

Friday, January 8th, 2010 | IWBs | 1 Comment

Software for interactive whiteboards does not have to cost you anything!

Commercial software is available as add-on products to your interactive whiteboard. The initial cost of such software, as well as recurring license fees, can be high.  You need to weigh carefully whether the cost justifies the benefits you hope to gain.

But most of the resources you will need are available at no cost. You must just know where to find them.  Here are a few places where useful material can be found:

Most interactive whiteboards come with a bundle of free software items.  You may find some useful pieces here.

The internet is a rich source of free software.  Thousands of teachers have developed resources, including complete lessons, and make them available on the web.  These resources are mostly tried and tested.

Major interactive whiteboard suppliers sponsor online communities through which teaching and learning materials can be accessed – this makes it easier for you to find appropriate resources.  When you find material that seems useful to you, you can use it as it is, change it to suit your needs, or use it as a model to develop your own.

Your school may hold a site license for educational software programs.  Enquire from the vendor of the product whether the license entitles you to use the software on your interactive whiteboard without additional cost.

It has been said that the best things in life are free.  The best – yes, the very best – resources to use on your interactive whiteboard are the resources that you will be able to develop yourself, once you’ve become a skilled board user.  And this is also free!  Strive to reach this level of proficiency as soon as possible.

Click here for more information about interactive whiteboards.

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How do I choose an interactive whiteboard?

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009 | IWBs | 2 Comments

Demonstrations of interactive whiteboards make all them appear so impressive – the choice is rather difficult.

Don’t be blinded by the brilliance of the boards – or the persuasiveness of the salespeople.  Even though it seems as if the power resides in the board, it does not.  The interactive whiteboard is simply a large display medium, with touch screen functionality.  The real magic happens in the computer that is driving everything that’s taking place on the board.

You know that a computer is as good as the software used by it.  It therefore follows that the effectiveness of an interactive whiteboard does not lie with the hardware components, but with the software that drives it.

Any software can be used in conjunction with an interactive whiteboard.  But keep in mind that most educational software products were developed with learners in front of computer workstations in mind.  An interactive whiteboard is essentially a teacher tool and the software required for its successful operation must be such that it can act like a flipchart.

Two important factors to keep in mind about interactive whiteboard software are:

Does the software allow for the creation of presentations and lessons – and allow interactions such as dragging items around on the screen?

Does the software meet your particular curriculum needs?

So back to the question: “How do I choose an interactive whiteboard?” You will probably consider factors such as cost, vendor ability to support the product, advice from your peers, and your own personal preferences.  But the most important consideration must be the availability of appropriate software for your intended use of the device.

Click here for more information about interactive whiteboards.

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Free resources for exam preparation

Monday, October 26th, 2009 | software | 2 Comments

Matric learners in South Africa are busy with last minute preparations for their examinations.  Sample exam papers with typical questions are available to them on the internet at no cost.


How to choose educational software

Monday, October 26th, 2009 | software | Comments Off

After posting Does a software package add volume or value? on this blog, I planned a follow-up item answering the question, “How to choose educational software”.  Unfortunately I did not get down to doing it.

But I just came across a commentary published in The Teacher’s Monthly  answering the same question – the article merits reading since it provides sound criteria to help schools decide if a specific educational software product is right for them.


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