Category: Blog

– Xolani Sithenjwa, Future Nation Schools’ Lead Teacher: Sciences

Xolani is a passionate teacher who holds a Bed and a BSc Honours in Education. He is currently completing a Masters in Science Education at Wits University with a research topic looking at the development of a science teacher’s Pedagogical Content Knowledge.

It is clear that there are major problems with regard to education in South Africa, especially in lower grades. The latest world rankings suggest that South Africa is sitting at number 58 out of 59 countries that participated in the Trends in International Maths and Science Study (TIMSS). The results are based on the 2015 Grade 4 and Grade 8 tests. I am not sure if this fact will put you at ease: South Africa was last in 1995, 1999, 2003 and 2011!

This shows that there is a need for change in our education system. The country at large has been changing the curriculum documents, the latest being the CAPS document. A few private schools have adopted different international curricula, some have adopted CAPS and use different examination boards, and the newer schools have decided to adopt different pedagogies. The newest of these private schools is Future Nation Schools (FNS) which has enhanced CAPS and adopted a pedagogy called the Project Based Learning (PBL).

It is important to consider that when one adopts a new way of teaching and learning, it might take time for results to be seen; and while implementation takes place, it might not happen as smoothly as one would anticipate. This is common in education, one would have seen the implementation of CAPS in schools did not happen smoothly in the first years and only now are teachers finding it easy to work with.

This brings me to a thought around the implementation of the Project Based Learning by Future Nation Schools.

Research shows that there are a few issues with regard to the implementation of PBL and if teachers, stakeholders and parents are aware of these, it might help when it comes to implementation. It would certainly help to know these issues before implementation so that solutions might be planned in advance. Studies show that teachers have problems with (i) recognising and accepting that roles and responsibilities change between the student and the teacher, (ii) getting comfortable with the new physical orientation of the classroom, (iii) tolerance for ambiguity and flexibility in managing the new learning environment, (iv) confidence in integrating appropriate tools and resources, including technology, (v) integration of new pedagogies with realities beyond the classroom, including the ability to balance the unique needs of individual students and keeping students, colleagues and administrators interested in projects, and lastly (vi) creating a culture of collaboration and interdependence in the school environment.

Specific to our context, the issues that we will need to overcome would be to align the CAPS curriculum in a concrete way to the Project Based Learning methodology. I predict another challenge will be to assess students and reporting what in a comprehensive way for parents and students to understand the student’s development. A way to aid with content integration is to directly emphasise the content and learning goals. One way of facilitating content integration is to include more organised ways of helping students make the links between their enquiry activities and the content.

Some of the solutions that I suggest are (i) to support teacher’s initial and ongoing efforts constantly, (ii) to encourage teachers to communicate with each other and with the students constantly, (iii) to keep students interested by designing projects that are not too broad or easy to manage, (iv) teachers should provide opportunities for students to have a voice and choice in the projects, (v) once it is clear what and how students are thinking, it is important to elicit and address student misconceptions or biases. Teachers will need to be involved in modelling the completion of tasks and any activities that are given to students. Constant reflection is critical to understanding experiences and to developing skills. Teachers and students must engage constant reflective conversations with one another to deepen the understanding of their experiences.

In education there can never be a single solution to any problems, and as a result, open engagement amongst scholars is important, and proactive thinking about issues and solutions will improve our practice and what we are trying to achieve as educators. I certainly hope that this blog will start a debate that will encourage educators to think proactively about what is happening as they teach and join each other in the quest for solutions. The Project Based Learning approach is noted as a good way to allow students to think freely and engage actively with their learning. It also allows students to gain the content proactively instead sitting and absorbing from the teacher.

Successful implementation of Project Based Learning methods requires teachers to assume a guiding role and to attend to many different aspects of the learning environment.

Filed under: Blog

-Sandy Kerr, Future Nation Schools Lead Teacher: Languages

Sandy Kerr is a seasoned educator with over 30 years of teaching experience. She holds a two BA degrees as well as a two diplomas in education. Sandy also writes, reviews and edits English Language and Literature textbooks for Macmillan, Vivlia, Pearson, Oxford University Press and Via Afrika.

 

Anyone who has been around young and very young children will know how annoying the Why-questions can be. Each answer that is supplied, generates another flurry of Why-questions. The open, eager faces processing the information that is supplied; the changing expressions that indicate that information is being tested and sifted, and linked to prior knowledge; the next barrage of Why-questions all indicate that an eager little mind is at work, learning, learning, learning…

Anyone who has taught teenagers will relate to the dragging of feet, closed faces, sometimes sullen expressions, the sly attempts to take lessons off course, the subversive use of digital devices to communicate with others or to zone out of the present moment, outright avoidance of classes…

What happens to the excitement and eagerness that little people have to master their environments? What crushes their enthusiasm? What makes learning hard work for them?

School is what happens.

We take the boundless energy and eagerness to learn and we regiment it: we make little children walk in lines, holding on to each other like a small chain of cartoon elephants – trunk to tail. We create rules so that a classroom of bubbling energy can be easily managed: hands have to go up when a question is to be asked or answered, children have to ask permission to go to the bathroom or to drink water – two of our most basic needs. We make them discuss their learning, speaking one at a time, taking turns; we don’t let everyone share their thoughts and experiences, and we move on to the next topic, or lesson, and much goes unsaid – and we systematically crush their love of learning.

We don’t trust them. We lead, direct, monitor, watch, observe, control, manipulate, organise, manage, rule, command, administer and oversee. We do these things at the expense of inspiration, ingenuity, creativity, revelation, innovation and intuition. We are always in control. Of them. Of the process. Of the results. We don’t trust them. We know better.

One of the first things many teachers do is inform their new students about the rules that will govern their experience in that classroom – for the good of all in the room, they say. Some clever teachers have sessions where the class creates its own Code of Conduct. I have never seen or heard of a teacher who really allowed the class to create ITS own Code of Conduct. The process is often subtly assisted by the teacher who manages to get a set of rules that he/she can live with; and then he/she disingenuously refers to the rules at times when transgressions occur and reminds the students that these were THEIR rules, and they need to uphold them.

What would these teachers do if their students wanted to use their cell phones at will, as many adults do during their days? If they wanted to leave the room to see to their basic needs when they occurred? If they wanted to work in groups, alone, in pairs when THEY felt that it was important? If they were allowed to do the work at their own pace, to leave some of the lesson out, and include other content or skills? None of these ideas would make it to the Code of Conduct!

And the teachers would have their reasons for rejecting these inclusions: how would it be if we all did what we felt like when we felt like it? There are exams to be written. If we left sections out, we would not pass these exams. Timetables, and content are to be monitored by educational officials who take a dim view of deviations from the norm. Teachers know they are accountable to the system, not their charges.

What it comes down to is that teachers are not trusted to make essential decisions about what the young people in their care need. (And it is true, some are not capable of making these decisions – but that begs the question – what are they doing in that classroom to begin with?)

Our biggest mistake is underestimating the people who sit in front of us. Like Holden Caulfield in JD Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, young people can smell ‘phoniness’ a mile away! And they can sense disinterest and lack of care; they recognise when we know what we are doing, and when we don’t, and when we have their best interests at heart. They know far more than we realise, or are prepared to admit.

And they know that the system is weighed heavily against them, and they do any of a number of things as a result: they acquiese, they play the system at its own game, they withdraw, they fight the system, or they leave it.

But the worst thing of all is that they no longer love learning. Learning is associated with a loss of power, with dismissal, with disrespect, with rules and restrictions, with dissatisfaction, even with failure…

And the very people who should be their champions, their teachers, are so complicit in the process that they do nothing, at the very best, or they enforce the norms of the system, at the very worst.

Excellent teachers know all about this, and they find ways to make the child the heart of their endeavours. They work in the system but sometimes around the system. The child is at the centre of all that they do. And when that happens, magic happens. Classrooms are places of discovery, laughter, mutual respect and filled with the joy of learning, experienced by both the teacher and the students!

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– Puleng Mosholi

Puleng is a Marketing Manager with a B. Political Science: Analysis and Communication from the University of Pretoria. Since 2008 she has been involved in education initiatives like Friends of Bopasenatla tutoring program and the Thlompanang anti-gender violence education group in her personal time.

 

I’ve always loved learning…and was bored by school. On my own I learned about dinosaurs, ancient Egyptians, pop music, astronomy. I was a voracious reader. I still have a head for general knowledge and seemingly random facts. Outside of school, I was an enthusiastic learner. The situation was quite different in school.

I went to some great schools. I’ve experienced different school systems in different countries. I’ve had incredible teachers and few awful teachers who ‘phoned’ it in, yet every situation was the same for me. The one thing that was consistent across my school experience was how we were required to learn and how we were assessed. Over a decade and a half since my high school graduation, I still have the same aversion to the process of formal education!

‘Puleng has the potential to be an A student if she applied herself’ was a staple of my report cards from elementary school to high school. I didn’t like how we had to learn in school so I put little effort into my school work, studying for tests and even participating in class if we weren’t talking about something I found particularly interesting. To make matters worse, I had a head for facts and analysis so I could maintain a B average without trying…so I rarely tried. My teachers were all right, if I’d applied myself, I could have been an A student. Unfortunately, what my teachers didn’t see, or weren’t able to do anything about, is why I didn’t care enough to try. Had I not had a head for facts, I would have been lumped in as part of the ignored majority of ‘average’ students.

The mechanic of learning, that has been the standard, was the problem for me. I bored easily when I was learning a subject or topic that I didn’t pique my interest immediately, I all but tuned out. My internal monologue read something like: Why do I have to do this? I’ll never need this in the working world? Why do I need to learn long division, I’ll just use a calculator when I grow up?

A teacher standing at the front of a classroom, giving out information with limited student engagement, is easy to drown out and ignore. Most formal learning is passive. The teacher gives information the students are intended to receive and absorb. They find out whether the student has received the message when homework is handed in or tests are written. Once retention/ learning of particular concepts have been assessed in this way, they are often not touched on again, reinforcing the idea that the knowledge is irrelevant and unimportant in the grander scheme of things. If you only need to know something to pass a test, then you’ll only put in so much effort to learn it. You’ll memorize facts, diagrams, processes and theories without trying to understand them.

Many people have experienced the process of formal education the same way. There’s a disconnect between the perceived relevance of what they are learning, the importance of what they are learning and how they learn it. Imagine learning mathematical concepts with an understanding of how they fit into the broader discipline and how they are relevant to modern society and our own lives? Imagine having the understanding that mathematical concepts are not just for future mathematicians but that maths is part of graphic design, engineering, architecture, palaeontology, archaeology, used daily by business owners, etcetera? Wouldn’t that make you look at theorems and formulae differently?

There are many, highly effective ways in which we learn daily: through experience, self-study and investigation, discussion and collaborative work. One could argue that most of what we know is learned through these methods: social skills, our acquired professional skills, most of our general knowledge about the world. Yet at school, the process of academic learning doesn’t often include these methods of learning in a meaningful way. We are still feeding knowledge in a one-way process, holding the teacher as the font of knowledge and overlooking the potential contribution of the students to their own education. We are missing a vital opportunity. Fostering a love of learning should be as important as the actual acquisition of knowledge, the former should feed into the later.

The process of being formally educated should build on the innate curiosity and enthusiasm to learn that all children possess. Learning in the world outside of school is an active, dynamic process. Instead of accepting that the majority of students in a class are simply average students, we need to reconsider whether this label of ‘average’ is a condition of an education model ill-equipped to effectively tap into the potential of each child.

It’s time to change the narrative of school being tedious and boring, a necessary obligation that will not yield the desired results for most of us ‘average’ students. It’s time to look critically at prevalent education models and shift to a model that is effective for the majority, not just the few who for various reasons thrive in the traditional model. It’s time for an education revolution!

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– Sandy Kerr, Future Nation Schools Lead Teacher: Languages

Sandy Kerr is a seasoned educator with over 30 years of teaching experience. She holds a BA degree and two diplomas in education. Sandy also writes, reviews and edits English Language and Literature textbooks for Macmillan, Vivlia, Pearson and Via Afrika.

 

Much has been written about 21st Century learning and teaching: about preparing students for careers that do not exist and about the four Cs: Collaboration, Communication, Creativity and Critical thinking. The word ‘teacher’ has been spurned in favour of new buzz words like ‘facilitator’, ‘learning activator and ‘education specialist’…

What is missing in these conversations is a focus on the true role of a great teacher in the learning space and process. Teaching is an ancient and noble profession, and while the rules of engagement are changing in modern classrooms, nothing can replace the intense, delicate balance that exists between teacher and student. This is a relationship like none other. It involves expectation, aspiration, openness, mindfulness, reflection, laughter and fun. It is deeply grounded in trust and truth.

Inexperienced teachers are sometimes focused on the notion that they need to be taken seriously by their students, to be in charge, to let their students know that they mean business. They do not consciously think about the creation of a significant relationship with their students, they are intent on teaching… But despite this, relationships built on trust, acknowledgement of boundaries and mutual respect lead to those built on mutual care and concern.

Teachers are always at their most successful when they have meaningful relationships with the students in their care. A great teacher feels a sense of responsibility for the well-being and progress of the student, and knows each as an individual, warts ‘n all. This does not happen overnight, and sometimes, these relationships develop despite the goodwill on the part of the student, or the teacher, or indeed both of them! A tenacious teacher will often reach the heart and the mind of a reluctant student: the mind can be engaged by meaningful interaction mastering skills and exploring content that matters; the heart is another thing altogether!

A student exposes vulnerability in the learning process, and a great teacher acknowledges that, and in a truthful, focused way guides the student towards growth. The teacher sets high expectations and demands a high level of performance from the student, creates learning experiences that put the student in the driver’s seat, and then steps aside. Great teachers do not step out of the picture – they are always there guiding, consoling, redirecting, celebrating, encouraging. It is this that wins the heart of students!

This is not a one-way process. Great teachers are great because of their interactions with many students over a lifetime in the classroom. Many will assert that they have learned as much from their students as they were able to teach. Lessons in resilience, compassion, determination, ubuntu, humility, empathy are among those taught by students to their teachers. Students never set out to do this in the classroom or in their own learning process. It is the trusting relationship between student and teacher that allows for the rich two-way exchange of experience.

While the world of the future when their students are adults, will be unrecognisable to teachers of today, great teachers still have an enormous role to play. Of course, this is true of the skills developed in the classroom, and the interaction with the knowledge in the various subject areas. But now, more than ever, as their students navigate an ever-changing world, teachers can help them to build an eagerness for change and challenge, a confidence to tackle the unknown, and a belief in themselves that they will be up to the job.

What teachers can help to develop are the skills and attitudes that will be currency to be used in the future: personal moral conduct, respect of others, and a moral balance that will impact the world of tomorrow. Today’s teachers can provide the fertile ground for these qualities to be practised and developed. Great teachers know this. Great teachers are doing this.

John Steinbeck gets the last word in this post. He said: ‘I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist and that there are as few as there are any other great artists. Teaching might even be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit.’

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– Tumelo Malekane

Tumelo joins FNS as a lead educator in Mathematics. He has a BSc in Statistics and Actuarial Science from the University of Witwatersrand. He worked as an actuarial analyst for 2 years before leaving to throw himself into being part of the education solution.

In 2011 he received the TeachSA leadership award, and in 2012 voted one of Mail and Guardian’s 300 young South Africans to meet for his efforts in education. 

I’m a former committed video gamer. I got my first Sega 16-bit game station in primary school, and remember the first two games I had: “Aero Blasters” and “Fire Mustang”! Through “Aero Blasters I have travelled space, fought with alien warlords, and met many mysterious creatures. As a soldier in “Fire Mustang, I ’ve been a part of wars against land and air-borne machines, all with my one plane (and a few lives)! Over the years I have largely left this virtual reality, and only visit on rare occasions. But video gaming has become a billion dollar industry that captivates young and old children (aka adults) alike.

Video games are a pastime to some, but a religion for others! It is amazing with what ease a whole day can be spent on figuring the levels to a game. A few pages could be written on the enthrallment that lies within video games. However, for our purposes, this one sentence will suffice to make the point: Video games are highly engaging!

Homework, on the other hand, is afforded less interest. Even the most disciplined learners must admit which activity they’d rather do between a game and homework (unless the game is the homework). These “distracting” gadgets have to be physically removed in order to allow the average young learner to be disengaged from them, and continue with the lesser exciting task of completing school work. Written work cannot compete with a virtual reality experience! Writing may please those logically/linguistically inclined, but a fantasy world that stimulates multiple senses, which you control, gives more to a person in that moment (and is hence more engaging). And the more you’re engaged, the more of you to bring into your activity.

So why not combine the two elements? Why not have situations where learners are completely enthralled with educational material, via video games? Well, we (as a society) are doing so, seemingly. There is a booming industry of ‘educational games’ designed in order to achieve this purpose. Yes, there are some teething matters such as making a game for each topic. This one to one matching will be covered (in some approach) as the industry evolves. But largely speaking, these two worlds have been bridged, and this concludes the issue of combining an engaging art form with not-so-engaging assignments. And thus, here ends this article.

Or does it?

There is one more factor to consider, and this has to do with the permutation of the events. If we put video games and educational content into the same pot, do we end up with video games that teach educational content? Possibly. But another possibility is that we end up with educational content that teaches video games. And this is what I believe we have been seeing in the educational game industry.

The issue is that, in today’s games, you have to understand the math (as an example) in order to advance in the game. The game itself doesn’t teach you the math. Sure, a pop-up may appear instructing you on what to do, but the actual gameplay doesn’t develop the specific mathematical skills that would enable them to tackle math problems with any more ease.

If anything, the game only acts as bait for one to go learn math independently, so that they can return and advance in said game when ready. This hypothesis is my explanation for the only marginal improvement in reported results after playing one of the existing educational games: games we have on the market are really game-teaching content. I call them Solidifiers, because they solidify what one has already learnt (and there’s value in having solidifier games, as we can see from the Serious game industry where simulations of direct application are being used for military and surgical training).

What we lack are Primer games that actually teach content, instead of testing if you have the content to advance in the game What will this look like? Such games do not directly display content (i.e. such a math game would not have any numbers in it) because their intent is to prime with the assumption of no prior knowledge. And that is the type of educational game I would play if I wanted to just play and not have my ability/disability to crunch numbers interrupt my fun (engagement).

Instead of a game that is interrupted by having to solve an equation, imagine a soccer game setup so that certain plays used the same steps in solving an equation, without us noticing. The continuous nature of such play embeds certain algorithms naturally, and we are hence better primed for instruction. This is the same argument cited by advocates against violent video games: that kids pick up behaviors and confuse reality with virtual reality. Well that quality is an overlooked plus for education! Learners could have long lasting memories of solving situations, like I do of visiting alien worlds with my superpowers!

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– Sandy Kerr, Future Nation Schools Lead Teacher: Languages

Sandy Kerr is a seasoned educator with over 30 years of teaching experience. She holds a BA degree and two diplomas in education. Sandy also writes, reviews and edits English Language and Literature textbooks for Macmillan, Vivlia, Pearson and Via Afrika.

A 19th century surgeon would be lost in a modern day surgery. He (definitely not she) would be out of place, and would not understand the technology or the processes in the new environment. In his surgery, he gave his patients alcohol rather than anaesthetics to control their pain, and he saw no need to clean his theatre, his equipment or his clothes before operating. In fact, his patient was more likely to die from his ministrations than to survive the experience. He would not know about cryosurgery – the process of freezing and killing abnormal cells, that high-frequency sound waves can be used in brain and inner ear operations, or that surgery can be successfully performed on babies in the womb. He would be lost in a modern day surgery.

A 19th century teacher, however, would not be lost: desks are still in rows in many classrooms across our country, blackboards are sometimes green, but they still dominate, and the teacher is still the source of all information. This despite the explosion of information. This despite the fact that the students in those classrooms must live and work and be productive and successful in the world that has moved away from the ethos of the early classrooms.

The futurist Thomas Frey suggested in 2014 that there were 162 future jobs. He predicted that we have to prepare for future jobs in industries that currently do not exist. Your child or grandchild could be an Inflectionist: someone who can pinpoint the optimal intersection of time, place and information for change to occur; or a Fear Containment Manager, a Quantified Self Assessment Auditor, a Guardian of Privacy or a Super Baby Designer. Among the skills that will be valuable in the future are those mastered by Transitionists: people helping to make transition work; Optimisers: those who have the skill and persistence to tweak variables until they produce better results, or Backlashers: those who provide responses when new technology brings its detractors. The list makes fascinating and intriguing reading. It is also sobering to think that our education system has not kept up with what the new world will need.

I am not about to teacher-bash! Teaching is among the noblest professions in the world. There are many of us who have memories of a special teacher who was able to connect with us and who encouraged us to aim to be better, and to achieve what was for us, the unachievable. Sadly, not all of us have these memories, and for the majority of people, many of their teachers are easily forgotten.

Thomas Gradgrind, the teacher in Charles Dickens’ novel Hard Times, sets out his thinking about teaching at the beginning of the novel:

‘Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else…’ He describes himself as a ‘cannon loaded to the muzzle with facts’, and is ready to ‘blow them, [his students] clean out of the regions of childhood at one discharge.’ He sees his students as ‘little pitchers’ that he intends filling to the brim with facts. Hard Times was written in 1854, and the description makes the reader uncomfortable at its brutailty and unfeeling coldness.

There is no reason for any teacher today to be using equipment, methodologies and thinking of days gone by. In truth, we have to create different learning spaces for the students in front of us: we must create –learning-teaching relationships where the power relationships are different, where students have voice and choice in the process of their learning, and where we move towards creating students who are able to take up the challenges that will face them, and their environments. We need to create learning environments that would baffle a 19th century teacher, where she (or he) would definitely be out of place.

Be gone with rows of desks, and blackboards, and the notion that the teacher is the keeper of the Gate of Knowledge and Skills! In their place let the students design how and where they will learn under the benevolent guidance of a teacher who is quite in control of the process in a thoughtful, supportive, flexible role; who has spent time collaborating with colleagues designing learning activities that will delight, engage and stimulate his/her students, and who is excited if this process generates more questions than answers.

The naysayers will be listing all the reasons why this is not possible: time, resources, curricula, examinations, parental disapproval and official disapproval. I dispute all of these objections! Learning and teaching can look different! And if we care enough about those in our learning spaces, we need to make this happen. We owe it to the Last Milers, 3Dimensionalists and the Locationists seated in front of us.

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– Xolani Sithenjwa, Future Nation Schools’ Lead Teacher: Sciences

Xolani is a passionate teacher who holds a Bed and a BSc Honours in Education. He is currently completing a Masters in Science Education at Wits University with a research topic looking at the development of a science teacher’s Pedagogical Content Knowledge.

It is important to define who a 21st century student is and also what the expectations of an educator are for that student. There are a couple of things that we have to take as facts and others we can debate.

It is a fact that most students in urban areas at the moment use some sort of technological device or digital device either for communication, for acquiring knowledge, for entertainment and to meet new friends. We know that most companies are now use the same digital devices for marketing, recruiting, searching for talent, offering services and for doing business. It is important to realise that education (whether inside or outside of the classroom) needs to be a process that equips students with advanced knowledge, to be able to compete, to adapt and to use these technological devices. Schools should enable students to acquire relevant knowledge and skills needed in this ever-changing world. Schools need to offer students knowledge on how to use the information they find on the internet to be able to criticise the information or to be able to make their own informed conclusions about what they have read.

The point being made here is that it might be very difficult to separate these students from their devices or to convince them that there is an alternative when most of what they are exposed to are technological devices. It is wise to choose your battles very carefully, we do not have to separate them from technology. We simply need to adjust our pedagogical strategies such that we meet these students where they are and use the technology effectively, using alternative methods of teaching that will keep students interested in learning. This will allow students to drive their own learning through guided experiences by educators.

Future Nation Schools hosted a Winter Accelerated Program during the winter holidays of 2016. In the programme educators were exposing students to Project Based Learning (PBL) which is an alternative way of teaching and learning, new to South Africa. The students were expected to learn the prescribed content by doing a project that showed that they had learnt Mathematics, English and Natural Science. In Mathematics the students wrote a song based on the fractions content and they analysed the songs and drew graphs based on their analysis. This teacher chose what was very close to most teenagers, song writing and listening to music. He used this to teach graphs and data analysis. This unconventional way of teaching Mathematics had the students completing the prescribed content but in a way most students would have had preferred learning it.  

In the Natural Science class students were expected to learn about species, which is one of the topics prescribed in the content document. Educators gave students containers to take home and asked them to look for bugs at home, catch them and put them in the containers and then bring them to school. Students were asked to name their bugs and to use their phones in class to search for information pertaining to the bug. The format of doing the search was structured so that there were similar questions that students would do research. In English, they were taught how to research precise information and how to creatively present the information that they found using advertising techniques. At the end of the two weeks students were asked what they enjoyed about the process. Most students expressed that using their phones to learn and collect information that was valuable. Some students stated that it was amazing for them that they could learn graphs using song writing and rapping.

An unconventional way of teaching and learning was implemented by the Future Nation School’s educators to get to the same outcomes as prescribed by the content documents e.g. CAPS. What was different from other instructional methods is that educators there went to the place where students were and made education interesting. They did not separate students from the technology that they use every day and learning did take place. Something that will may not be immediately obvious is that there was a great deal of planning from the staff ahead of time and some adjustments made during the process to bring about this end. The educators had to tap into the same technology that students are using every day, and find innovative ways that can be implemented to make sure that learning does take place and that students experience learning instead of going through learning.

It is important that while teaching and learning are moving into the 21st century that we should think about and visualise teaching strategies that will ensure that students are engaged in their learning. 21st century learning should not just involve the use of laptops, tablets and smartboards only. Future Nation Schools will be implementing Project Based learning method of teaching and learning. This means that students will not only be using technology to learn, but they will be designing projects, taking real life roles during their projects and the roles will be roles that are contextualised for the projects.

We know that the world is changing and doing so very quickly. This means that our educators need to be prepared for the type of students who will be entering schools. It is important to be an educator who is ready for students who will be wanting to engage with their learning from a 21st century point of view.

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-Leisl Algeo, Head: Future Nation Launchpad

Leisl is passionate about education. She founded Future Nation Launchpad with the vision of developing a series of schools across the country that allow children to learn a second language whilst being grounded in a development pathway that sets the stage for a lifelong love for learning.

With a Masters degree in poverty reduction and development management, Leisl ultimately wants to make Launchpad’s high quality of education available to all children in Southern Africa.

As parents, we are very aware that our kids aren’t always the most cooperative when it comes to doing the things we really want them to do. My five-year-old son, for example, isn’t always a willing participant when it’s time to go to bed (and that’s putting it mildly). It can make the bedtime routine rather challenging when he asserts his will and refuses to play the game, as you can imagine.

What we sometimes forget is that these exact scenarios of resistance often play out in the classroom environment. The difference here is that, if the teacher isn’t effectively able to get the child to the other side of this emotion, it can directly impact on their learning experience.

So it seems pretty logical that as educators, we should be thinking about how to teach children the social and emotional coping skills to get through these barriers to their learning. After all, our teaching is only as effective as a child’s ability to absorb the knowledge we’re transferring to them.

At Future Nation, we are actively thinking about how to include this “social-emotional” learning component in our curriculum and teacher development. To understand what this all means, we need to understand what social-emotional learning entails. Social-emotional development refers to a child’s experience, expression, and management of emotions and the ability to establish positive and rewarding relationships with others (Cohen and others 2005).

At its core, a social-emotional programme will teach children how to identify and manage their own feelings, how to read and understand someone else’s emotional state, how to deal with strong emotions in a positive way, how to regulate your own behaviour and, how to build and manage relationships with others.

So what does this look like in the class? I recently had the privilege of traveling to San Diego to see how an established Project Based Learning school works. As I was wandering the hallways of a primary school, I noticed two children getting into a fight in their line-up time – we’ll call them Tyler and Brad. 

Once they realised they were fighting (and without a word from the teacher), these two little seven-year old boys decided to walk over to what is known as the Peace Path. The Peace Path is a simple, written-out process that walks kids through how to resolve a conflict.

So this is how it played out. Tyler starts off with, “I feel mad when you exclude me from stuff with the other guys” (explaining why he’s upset). Brad then responds, “I understand that you feel mad when I exclude you” (reflecting Tyler’s feelings).

Back to Tyler: “I’d like to find a solution for this. Could you maybe make sure you ask me if I want to join if you start a game on the playground with the other guys next time?”

Brad replies: “Sure. I’ll try to do that. The problem is I sometimes forget so if you see me starting a game without you, you’re just going to get mad again.”

So Tyler says: “Yeah, I forget stuff too sometimes, so I understand that you can’t always remember. Would it be ok if I reminded you next time it happens? Then maybe you’ll forget less.”

Brad says, “Thanks Tyler. That would really help. So, are we cool now?”

Tyler ends with, “Yeah buddy. We’re definitely cool.”

Conflict resolved. Just like that. After I’d pulled my jaw off the floor at watching this remarkably mature reaction to a situation that could quickly have escalated, I went looking for the teacher to find out more. She told me that using the Peace Path is a habit that’s been instilled in these children since Grade R. They are taught that when they realise they’re in a conflict situation, they need to immediately make their way to the Peace Path and use the prompts to work through the issue.

Initially, the job is to teach the children about the Peace Path and to keep reminding them to use it. Later, she says, we start teaching them how to solve increasingly complex emotions using similar type of processes to work through the issues in a calm and collected manner. What I witnessed was the result of over 2 years of doing this day in and day out.

Imagine a world where people were mature enough to manage their emotions and conflicts in this way? Imagine how much happier and more engaged you’d be as a child if you could learn in such a positive setting?

Social emotional learning is a tool for life – from classroom to relationships to career, these skills are powerful and have the ability to turn education on its head if applied wisely and diligently.

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-Mampho Langa, Head: Future Nation Schools

Mampho Langa has won numerous awards and received much recognition for her work in education including an award for the most improved results in the district in Mathematics, an award for the most outstanding Mathematics Higher Grade results in the Gauteng District 12. She holds a Masters in Mathematics Education from Wits University. She is an honorary member of the Golden Key International Honour Society. She also holds two Honours degrees in Mathematics education and Geography and a BA in Education.

 

A classroom is defined as a room, typically in a school, in which a class of students is taught (Oxford Dictionary). Educationists like Black and William have observed that some educationists treat the classroom as the ‘’black box’’ where the input from outside is fed in and some output follows. I believe a classroom should be an engine where ideas, enquiry, burning suggestions and problem solving skills are ignited. Student learning is driven by what teachers and students do in the classroom.

Numerous concerns about what is happening in the classroom have been raised by different educationists from all spheres of the teaching fraternity. Teaching and learning models have mushroomed with the intention of redressing this challenge before it becomes a ball and a chain. South Africa is plagued by a high dropout rate in schools and at tertiary level; high university fees; high unemployment rate; poor Mathematics and Science results; demotivated teachers and students and low quality matric results.

The state of our education system can leave one disheartened. There is, however, some light at the end of tunnel. One of these beacons is the Project Based Learning and Teaching model. High Tech High schools in San Diego have adopted this model and have been implementing it for more fourteen years. The results are overwhelmingly positive. Classrooms run by the Project Based Learning model become points of interaction where students are given an opportunity to think critically, solve problems independently, work collaboratively and design projects that reflect their learning. A classroom becomes a place of fun, exploring, self-discovery and reflection. Students are given opportunity to challenge, question and to investigate information from any source. The model encourages connections and consultations with professionals outside the school to enhance student’s fields of interest. This approach gives every student an opportunity to learn in an open but developmental and liberating space. The classroom is a centre of innovation and design.

Sceptics of this model have argued that the model is not possible in South Africa because our curriculum is packed and leaves no room for designing projects and that our students are not ready for this change. We disagree!

South Africa, it is time to look beyond what we have and what we can do. Our South African students do not have a different genetic makeup from the San Diego students. There is an enormous storage of talent embedded in our students’ DNA but it still needs to tapped into and unfolded. We will not be able to access our students’ hidden skills if we do not give them an opportunity to demonstrate and develop them. We, the education team at Future Nation Schools, have put our hands together and joined Sizwe Nxasana in his quest to change the South African education system!

Ke Nako, we have waited too long for to overhaul our approaches to education. Our students are yearning for classrooms where learning is not only empowering but it is fun. Future Nation Schools have adopted the Project Based Learning model to enhance the CAPS curriculum. We have tested the model locally, through our Winter Accelerated Programme and the results are overwhelmingly positive and exciting! Students learn better where they are allowed to explore, self-discover and apply new knowledge to real life. Project Based Learning is now here in South Africa, turning classrooms into the engines of learning they should be!

Filed under: Blog