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, MakeBeliefsComix.com 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: http://www.makebeliefscomix.com/Printables_Categories/

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 MakeBeliefsComix.com 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 MakeBeliefsComix.com 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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ICT skills make a teachers’s life easier

Thursday, March 1st, 2012 | training | Comments Off

Basic computer skills are of great use to teachers.  The more of these skills you develop, the more productive you’ll become.

Touch typing is an example of such a useful skill.  Once you’ve acquired the ability to type without looking at the keyboard you’ll type faster and more accurately.  If you are using a computer to type things, such as test papers end memorandums, or if you have to enter lots of data, your life will be so much easier if you can touchtype.


Touch typing is a valuable skill for teachers


Knowing all the features of a word processor will likewise make working with text easier.  Word processors have so many features specially designed to help you when you are creating any type of document.  The more familiar you are with these features, the easier your life will become.

The use of a spreadsheet can save you many hours of calculating and recalculating learner test marks.  It can work out averages for you and the possibilities of producing statistics and other valuable information are endless.

Invest some time in developing ICT skills.  It will relieve you of many admin burdens and allow you to focus on what you’re good at and what you are really there for: teaching.

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How can a teacher maximize the value of technology in the classroom?

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012 | education | Comments Off

If classroom productivity is measured in terms of the amount of learning taking place, ICT will prove to be a productivity powerhouse.  But this does not happen automatically.  The value of technology in the classroom depends on the way the teacher uses it.

Here are a few points for teachers to ponder:

Use your ICT devices to impact positively on learning; otherwise they’re a waste.

The mere presence of technology in your classroom won’t bring results –you need to apply it as a teaching tool.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating – you will only know the value of technology in the classroom when you try it.

Different degrees of white-elephantness occur in classrooms relative to ICT, ranging from under-utilization to total non-use.

Don’t allow technology to hinder teaching and learning – it remains a tool, albeit a powerful one in the hands of enthusiastic teachers.

Technology is most successful in the classroom when the focus is not on the technology but rather on teaching and learning.

Also bear in mind that technology in the classroom will only empower a teacher if the teacher powers it “on”.

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Laptops for Teachers … at last!

Tuesday, January 31st, 2012 | laptops | 1 Comment

It took forever to dot each i and to cross the last t but at long last the Teacher Laptop Initiative (TLI) is underway.

Announced in the Government Gazette 32207 of May 2009, the TLI took many twists and turns as it tried to surface through bundles of bureaucratic red tape.  Many teachers thought the programme would never come off the ground, but they will be happy to know that all obstacles have been removed and that the TLI is now a reality.

Mustek has been appointed by the Education Labour Relations Council (ELRC) as an “approved supplier” to supply a choice of three different packages to teachers.  These packages differ with regards to processing capacity and data bundles for internet access, but they all come with a warranty, comprehensive insurance and pre-loaded software to the value of nearly R40 000.

Full-time government teachers qualify for an allowance of R130 over a five year period (total of R7 800).  Teachers who are employed by School Governing Bodies and private schools may also purchase these superb packages, but unfortunately they do not qualify for the allowance.

Teachers should contemplate the total value of the packages offered by Mustek before they think of buying a cheap laptop from an electronics supermarket.  These packages are good, comprehensive deals and are difficult to beat.

With a laptop in their hands teachers will be able to cross the digital divide, bringing us a step closer to an e-learning reality in our schools.

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Could teachers soon be replaced by technology?

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012 | education, technology | 2 Comments

The proponents of technology say, “YES.”  The education fraternity says, “NEVER.”

This question is discussed in an interesting blog posting on the blog Education Land, maintained by a teacher of English in Saudi Arabia. A few interesting comments, giving some food for thought, are found in this posting.  For example, the following observation is made:

Computers and technology already serve as teaching aides. Whether it’s teaching children their ABC’s or helping a college freshman memorize the periodic table, technology for educational purposes is already available.

Is this the future of education?

It is already possible for technology to take over some of the functions of teachers.

As technology tools become cheaper and more readily available, we can anticipate that it will take over more functions of teachers.

Will technology ever replace teachers?  Perhaps not completely, but it can go a long way towards filling the void where there is a shortage of teaching skills.

Picture credit

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How does ICT affect job opportunities for teachers?

Sunday, January 1st, 2012 | education | 1 Comment

When teachers are introduced to technology, logical questions for them are:

  • How does technology affect my career?
  • Is it a threat?
  • How will it help me in my current teaching job?
  • Does it open up other job opportunities?

Here are a few thoughts for you to ponder about ICT and your career?

As schools move towards digital inclusion, ICT skilled teachers will be the first hired and the last fired.

Being skilled in ICT may not lead to an immediate promotion for a teacher, but it opens up many future career opportunities.

Teachers don’t have to fear: technology can make them more productive, but it will never make them redundant.

Some teachers who learn how to use technology in the classroom find other career opportunities opening up to them.

For those teachers who view teaching as their permanent chosen career, ICT empowers them to become super teachers.

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What is an interactive classroom?

Monday, December 19th, 2011 | education | 2 Comments

Boring, boring, boring!

It is the dream of every teacher to be in a classroom where learners respond and participate in the learning process.  Sadly, this is often just a dream.  Many teachers battle to grab the attention of learners, let alone getting them to interact during lessons.

An interactive classroom is one in which learners participate as equal partners in the learning process.  The teacher acts as a facilitator and guide, but the learners are enthusiastically playing their part in learning.  Apart from the fact that learner participation makes the teaching task more interesting for the teacher, research has shown that much more learning takes place in an interactive classroom than in a passive one.

What are the features of an interactive classroom?  It definitely is not a place where a teacher lectures and the children passively listen.  Learners do writing exercises, take part in class discussions and actively participate in solving problems.  An interactive classroom also requires that learners engage in higher-order thinking tasks, which include analysis of information, evaluation of the facts and a process of synthesis to build new knowledge.

Many teachers have acquired the skills to transform a dull classroom into an interactive one.  Different techniques exist to do this and where teachers apply these techniques the attitudes and achievements of learners are affected positively.

The key to a successful interactive classroom is in the hands of the teacher – it is not dependent on any fancy tools or equipment.  However, children are fascinated by technology.  They grow up in a world dominated by technology and they likely have cell phones or other mobile devices in their pockets.  The wise teacher makes use of technology to enhance the learning experience of their learners.  In this way technology enables an interactive classroom.

You can have learner interactivity in the classroom without technology … but if this goal is illusive, technology will help you to attain it.

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Oxygen masks and classroom technologies

Sunday, December 11th, 2011 | education | Comments Off

When you are about to take off in an airplane you are given safety instructionsAmong other things you are told about the oxygen mask that will drop from a panel above you in case of an emergency.  “Only when your own mask is secure, assist children or fellow passengers,” you are instructed.

Compare the oxygen masks to classroom technology

Have you wondered about this?  My natural instinct – and I suppose that of most parents – is to help my child first.

But if you think about it, the instruction makes sense.  If you don’t have a steady oxygen flow you may not be capable of assisting your child or others.

The airplane oxygen mask is a perfect metaphor for other situations: we must make caring for ourselves a priority if we hope to be of assistance to those around us.

Let’s apply this principle to the use of technology in the classroom: “Only when you are secure in the use of technology as a teaching tool, assist children and fellow teachers to use it as well.”

The point is: you can only help others to use technology as a teaching and a learning tool when you know how to use it.  Some children may learn quicker than you how to use technology, but many will need your help.  Even those children who manage to operate the technology will need your guidance to learn how to use it as a learning tool.

What about your fellow passengers – those teachers who are travelling with you on the e-learning road?  With your skills and experience you will be able to help your colleagues in your own and neigbouring schools – even your curriculum advisors and other education department officials – to become expert e-learning practitioners.

You may wonder what you must do if you are battling to come to grips with technology.  A flight attendant will help you if you can’t manage to secure your oxygen mask.  Similarly, you can call on your technology advisors to assist you.  In most cases these will be your hardware or software suppliers, or the agency that provided your initial training.

The bottom line: secure your own technology position to enable you to render technology support to others.

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Teachers, technology and weaver birds

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011 | education | Comments Off

We can learn so much by observing the marvels of creation around us.  For example, if you are a teacher who battles to come to grips with technology, you may take a lesson from the weaver bird.

Are you overwhelmed by all the different hardware components that make up your system?  Or the many software programs you have to learn?  Are you stymied by the new ways in which you have to work when you incorporate technology into your teacher’s toolkit?  Are you scared that you won’t get it right, and that your learners have a technological advantage over you?

What does a good teacher and a male weaver bird have in common?

Don’t despair.  The male weaver bird does not get it right the first time either.  He builds a nest – sometimes several nests – and waits for the female’s approval.  In most cases she turns down the first offerings.  He would then patiently dismantle the rejected nest and build another one, until she is satisfied.  Mr Weaver is not discouraged when a nest is turned down … he is not all that concerned about getting it right the first time.  The main thing is that he gets going – he knows that eventually he will succeed.

So, teachers, if at first you don’t get technology working the way it ought to be used, remember that the important thing is to get going.  The learners in your class are already following the example of the weaver bird – they are not scared to try, retry and try yet again.  And eventually they get it right.

The weaver often recycles material from the discarded nest and uses it for the next one.  This also contains a lesson: skills learned while making mistakes are valuable stepping stones for further development.

The moral of the story:  if you persevere, you will succeed.  Don’t worry about getting it right … just get going!

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The data projector trolley – a useful tool for the mobile teacher

Tuesday, November 29th, 2011 | Gadgets | 1 Comment

Even though it is advisable for data projectors to be permanently fixed in classrooms – preferably suspended from the ceiling – this is not always possible.  Schools may not be able to afford a data projector and a laptop for each classroom, or teachers may have a specific need to move the equipment from one location to another.

The mobile teacher’s best friend

Many teachers feel that lugging a data projector and laptop around is too much of a schlep; they need a vehicle to assist them to be truly mobile.

A data projector trolley is an easy solution to their problem.  This low cost device is simply a number of bags on wheels, but it is designed in such a way that it can transport a data projector, a laptop, connection and extension cables, books and other  accessories.  For the diligent teacher who wants to spend the night at school, it even has space for pyjamas and a toothbrush.

With this trolley – specially designed to move delicate technology equipment securely – a teacher will be sure that the required tools are always at hand.  This device is particularly useful for curriculum advisors who move from school to school and when they visit schools where no technology is available.

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