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Microsoft In Education Global Forum Dubai

Having been selected as a Microsoft Innovative Educator for 2015 at the end of last year, I was honoured to be one of four South African educators chosen to represent South Africa at the Microsoft in Education Global Forum in Dubai earlier this year.
I travelled from Cape Town to Johannesburg with fellow MIE Expert, Kathryn Gomes Riva from Micklefield Junior School, and we met up with the rest of the South African contingency at OR Tambo International, from where we all travelled directly to Dubai.
The South African contingency consisted of educators such as Kathryn and I, Lyneth Crighton from Brescia House who travelled with her principal, Benedikta Nott, and Phuti Ragophala, a delightful school principal from Limpopo. There were also a number of delegates from the Department of Education, academics from higher learning institutes, such as the lovely Sarietjie Musgrave from UFS, as well as some of their business partners. All-in-all we made up a large group. We were wonderfully chaperoned by Angela Schaerer from Microsoft South Africa and Megan Rademeyer from Schoolnet.
Upon arrival we were driven to our hotel, the Grand Hyatt Dubai, which was also the venue for the forum. What a hotel! From the opulent foyer, to our stunning en-suite rooms with free wi-fi, to the deliciously decadent breakfasts and beautiful gardens surrounding the hotel, we were treated like royalty! What a treat this was for all of us!
Most of us were keen to see as much of Dubai as possible in the short time that was available to us, so we made use of the free time we had for the rest of that day and many of us quickly freshened up and then we hopped into taxis and headed for the Dubai Mall. Oh. My. Word!  Who knew you could go to an aquarium while shopping and then quickly stop off for a session of ice- skating too? In a shopping mall? Dubai certainly takes shopping to a new level! After a jaw-dropping walk around the mall and a bite to eat, we returned to our hotel for a little R&R. Not much though, because we returned to the mall again later in the evening for a quick dinner and to see the fountains outside the mall, which put on a display every half hour against a the backdrop of the Burj el Khalifa – the tallest building in the world. And it is tall. Very tall.
Sunday, 22 February was the first day of the forum. The opening keynote by Anthony Salcito, Microsoft Vice President, Worldwide Education, was most engaging. He is an excellent speaker and there were some quotes from his keynote that stuck with me:
He said that while a wothwhile goal would be “a device for every teacher and student in my country,” technology should not be the goal, but enabler of better learning so as to build employable skills for youth preparing them for a stronger future and career.“Technology can help drive student excitement and collaboration in the classroom, something that forms the basics of learning,” he said. “Technology is not the plan, technology can help the plan.” So true.
Anthony also made some exciting announcements about the free availability of Office 365 and Office 365 ProPlus to students, faculty and staff all across the world – with immediate effect!
The Educator track sessions were very interesting, especially the ones on Designing 21st Century Learning Experiences and Concepts and Contexts for Deep Learning, where fellow South Africa, Lyneth Crighton did a sterling job in presenting her project. She certainly gave me food for thought.
That evening we were treated to a wonderful dinner at the Regional Dinner which took place at the Meydan Hotel, a short drive from our hotel. Again it was a feast! A lovelye evening was had by all.
At the regional Dinner, Meydan Hotel Back: Phuti Makgophala, Kathryn Riva, Benedikta Nott, Karen Stadler, Lyneth Crighton Front: Megan Rademeyer, Angela Schaerer, Sarietjie Musgrave

At the Regional Dinner, Meydan Hotel
Back: Phuti Ragophala, Kathryn Riva, Benedikta Nott, Karen Stadler, Lyneth Crighton
Front: Megan Rademeyer, Angela Schaerer, Sarietjie Musgrave

Monday, 23 February was the second and final day of the forum. Once again the Educator’s Track  I was privileged to have been asked to participate in a panel discussion called Connecting Educators, Students, Classrooms with educators Sahar Chaer from Lebanon and Manu Mital from India and this was certainly a highlight for me. I was afforded the opportunity to present my Travelling Rhinos Project to the audience, as an example of how such a project can connected classrooms around the world in a meaningful way. What an honour, what an experience!

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Presenting my project at the Dubai Forum.

What did I learn from the forum?

As I often find, I learn most from the people I meet and engage with at such conferences and forums. For me it is all about the people and the conversations – the human factor. Through my observations I learnt:
  • That passion is the key to great teaching – passion for the students, passion for the content and the delivery of content and a passion for education as a whole.
  • Teachers around the world face many of the same challenges, we are united by our profession and dedicated to changing lives. We may speak different languages, but we speak one common educational language.
  • I am fortunate to work for a privileged school where we have and use different forms of technology in our classrooms, and we do our best to stay abreast of current trends in education, but South Africa as a whole, is way behind on the technology playing field. As a country we have a long way to go.
  •  Collaboration across borders, oceans and continents is important in order to foster understanding and tolerance for the many different peoples and cultures of our world. If our children learnt this from a young age, our world could be such a different place!
  •  That the countries in the world whose education systems are working and are producing top results, treat their teachers with the respect they deserve. However, the selection process to become a teacher is much more stringent, and so it should be. In these countries education is continuously discussed at the highest levels, strategies are developed and plans put in place to educate their children so that they can be the best that they can be, not merely to finish school.
  •  Cloud technology is the way if the future if it isn’t already. This does, however, exclude a large portion of the world’s children in countries where internet connectivity is poor and bandwidth costs are exorbitant. Our own internet in South Africa is of the slowest and more expensive in the world, and children in rural areas are, in the main, excluded from tapping into this resource that most of us living in a first world situation cannot do without.
  • I would have loved to have seen more teacher projects and work on display. I love to learn from other educators who share their ideas and expertise.
  • Microsoft has really upped its game and its new offerings are exciting and really innovative. OneNote (on steroids), Office Mix, Sway, the new Surface Pro 3 tablet and Windows 10 are all worth a good look and deeper investigation. Exciting times for educators!
At the  closing of the Dubai Forum, the 2015 MIEExperts and Showcase schools were honoured for their achievements. We were called up country by country, and handed a certificate acknowledging the innovation in teaching and learning of these educators. It was a very Proudly South African moment indeed!
On  the Monday evening we were treated to an evening dhow cruise and dinner. What an excellent evening of good food, lovely people and great entertainment!
On the day of our departure, 24 February, we had a whole day to explore Dubai, as our plane was only leaving at 11:30pm. Kathryn Riva and I jumped at the chance and we spent the day touring the whole city, hopping on and off one of the Red Bus tours. It was wonderful and gave us an excellent overview of an amazing city – one I would like to visit again in the future.
I am very grateful to Microsoft South Africa and SchoolNet for this wonderful opportunity of a lifetime. It was an incredible experience and  we were treated like royalty. Thank you to everyone concerned.

#pvskype24 with Mrs Ladd’s Class


Our Grade 4 Pheasants class just finished a 30 min Skype chat with Mrs Beverly Ladd’s 2nd graders in Wilmington, NC, USA. Despite slight technical glitches on my side we still managed to have a strong, clear connection and it was fantastic! Mrs Ladd’s class is hosting a 24 hour around the world Skype marathon, and we participated in the 21st hour. It was nearly 3am in North Carolina!IMG_3684

Our students had prepared answers to questions that Mrs Ladd had shared with us when we signed up to take part. They were a little nervous, as this was their first Skype call, but after a run through of the questions and answers, we were ready for the call!

During the call we exchanged answers with Mrs Ladd’s students and also asked questions. We loved it when the students recited The Pledge of Allegiance and also when they sang America The Beautiful for us – so beautiful! We were proud to share information about our beautiful Table Mountain and one of our students showed them a photograph of it from her iPad. We also shared a little bit of information about our school and also about Cape Town – especially the wonderful things you can do in Cape Town, such as visiting Ratanga Junction and the Waterfront.

After the call Mrs Sinclair took time to go back to the Google map showing where all the participating classes were and then we looked at where Cape Town is in relation to Pine Valley Elementary. This led to a discussion on time differences and time zones – such a teaching moment! The possibilities are endless.

I take my hat off to Mrs Ladd and her students who have been Skyping for a full 24 hours! What an amazing learning opportunity to find out so much about the rest of the world in such a visual and meaningful way. Skype is an amazing connection tool for the classroom. We need to make use of it more and create more such teaching moments for our students. This is real life learning at its best.

Well done Mrs Ladd’s class, and thank you for the opportunity to participate.

A Fresh Approach to PD

Professional-Development-Picture-e1351198680108Professional development and staff training in a school is always a sore point. Teachers, as we all know, are very busy people. When they are not busy in the classroom they are often coaching on the sports fields, involved in parent meetings or sitting in other school-related meetings, amongst other things. Their time is often not their own and to make time for any training or Professional Development is extremely difficult. There are only so many hours in a day, and to expect teachers to come in to school in the evenings when it is their family time, is a big ask.

I am very fortunate to work in a forward-thinking environment, where the importance of ongoing Professional Development and training is recognised. It is currently a point of discussion in our school and I sit on a small committee which will look at the various forms of Professional Development and how they can be implemented effectively at our school. It is also recognised that some people do not enjoy working in a large group where they feel intimidated and get left behind. Everyone works and learns at a different pace, some are early adopters and forge ahead while others need to be shown more than once to gain confidence. In my role as head of Digital Learning, I am faced with working with a wide spectrum of abilities and varying degrees of tech knowledge.

We work follow a 1:1 iPad programme in the classroom, but our IT Centre is a Windows lab running Office 2013. Our children are exposed to a multifaceted approach to ICT which is what they will experience in the real world. To prepare them for this they also have integrated IT lessons in the IT Centre for an hour a week, over and above their use of iPads in the classroom. Our teachers run their own IT lessons and they use Windows computers in their classrooms, so their Microsoft Skills need to be kept up to speed too. That is my job – to ensure that they receive the necessary training for effective teaching with the iPads and in the IT Centre. Training is perhaps not the correct word – ‘exposure’ to new and existing tools covers it more effectively.

A new addition to our PD programme is weekly Face Time sessions which run from 7:30am to 9:00am on Friday mornings. I meet with the teachers in one grade (and a one or two of the teachers involved in other learning areas such as Design Technology, Art, Drama etc.) and we look at different aspects of technology which they use in their teaching. Although Face Time was only implemented late last year, and I have only had one session this year, it is has turned out to be the best 90 minutes I have ever spent with these teachers!

I try to break the session into the following sections:

  • iPad-related apps/tools/ideas
  • IT Centre-related tools/ideas (including Microsoft tools)
  • Other – this can include discussions around the use of tech, questions from the teachers, sharing experiences etc.

On Friday I worked with our Grade 6 teachers and the Design Technology teacher and our principal, Arthur Preston also joined us for the session (Aside: I am so grateful for his support in this area. Upper management support is really vital for the successful implementation of technology in a school environment). I did not stick exactly to my proposed agenda above, but we covered the following (It looks like a lot, but working with a small group allows me to be more hands-on and the pace is faster than it would be in a bigger group setting):

  • Kahoot ( – A super game-based learning tool which can be used so effectively in different ways in the classroom – and it works on the iPads!
  • Padlet ( – A super-easy online collaboration tool which has multiple uses in a classroom setting – and it also works on the iPads!
  • QR Codes ( – We looked at how to create QR Codes, how to scan them (Qrafter app or Quick Scan) and different ways to use them in the classroom.
  • Microsoft Office Sway – ( – An exciting new Microsoft presentation tool which is internet based. There is an iPhone app which works on the iPad too.
  • Blogging in 2015 (Our students all blog using Kidblog and the teachers run Grade blogs) – We firmly believe that blogging with a purpose and for a wider audience is key to improving our children’s writing skills, and blogging also fits well into our Digital Citizenship programme.

The teachers loved all the tools mentioned above and they were particularly impressed with Sway. They are very keen to try it out. They particularly liked that it:

A very bad photo I took while the teachers were learning about Sway. I was so engrossed in the session that this is the only photo I took!

A very bad photo I took while the teachers were learning about Sway. I was so engrossed in the session that this is the only photo I took!

  •  Is FREE! (Teachers love anything that is free to use in the classroom).
  • It is online and can therefore be accessed anywhere.
  • It is simple, with not too many fancy features (‘keep it simple’ is my mantra).
  • It has enough features to make it interesting and different.
  • It is user-friendly and quick to learn.
  • It is a lovely alternative to PowerPoint.
  • It is easy to share Sways and the viewers don’t need to sign into any accounts.
  • It works on the iPad, even though there is only an iPhone app– an important feature in our school.
  • It is another tool to add to their Teacher Toolboxes!

I was so keen to share how Sway works, that I introduced it to my daughter who is in Grade 11. She immediately used it for a Design project that was due the next day. When she told her teacher that she had used a new and different presentation tool, the teacher was concerned that she did not have the software on her computer or that it would not be compatible with her computer. I believe she was pleasantly surprised with what she saw.

Take a look for yourself:


Here is the Sway I created while I was teaching myself how to use it:


Next Friday I will be working with our Grade 5 teachers and the following Friday it will be the turn of our Grade 4 teachers. I will share Sway with each of these groups and I feel confident that they will also be as keen to use it as the Grade 6 teachers were. In a three week rotation I get to spend quality time with all the teachers on our staff. They will also be given the chance to share some of their successes with the rest of us at each of these sessions. These small group PD sessions constitute only a fraction of what we hope to develop into a varied and dynamic PD programme over the next year. Professional development is key to staying abreast with all aspects of education – not only technology.


In November four Elkanah House teachers were selected as Microsoft Innovative Educator Experts (MIEExpert15) for 2015. They were recognised by Microsoft for their excellence in their innovative use of technology to help students learn and achieve more. To qualify for the MIE Expert programme teachers from around the world had to submit at least one learning activity to Microsoft to show how they were using technology to enhance learning and teaching. More than eight hundred educators from over 100 countries world-wide were chosen for 2015, of which only sixteen were from South Africa and Lesotho. Of these sixteen, four were from Elkanah House.

The teachers submitted the following activities:


The four Elkanah teachers: Jacky, Karen, Linda & Simone.

Linda Foulkes (ICT and MOS Trainer at Elkanah House High School): Potential of OneNote and Office Integrated Apps in the Classroom. You can view her activity here: Linda has since left Elkanah, but you can follow her on her blog here: )

Jacky Louw (Design Technology Teacher at Elkanah House Senior Primary) and Simone Crous (Art Teacher at Elkanah House Senior Primary) entered a joint project: Lights, Animation, Action! You can see Jacky and Simone’s activity here: and

Karen Stadler (Head of Digital Learning at Elkanah House Senior Primary): The Travelling Rhinos Project – Save Our Rhinos.  To see this activity, go here:


As a MIE Expert, over the course of 2015 these teachers can expect:

  • Free Microsoft tools and technology, including Office 356 Pro Plus
  • Exclusive professional development opportunities
  • Opportunities to develop their personal “brand” and career as a thought leader by participating in case studies, speaking engagements and content development
  • Eligibility to earn an all-expense paid trip to the Microsoft in Education Global Forums in Redmond, Washington in April 2015 or Dubai in February 2015, or those who are not selected to travel overseas will be given the opportunity to attend the SchoolNet South Africa ICT in the Classroom Conference in Durban in July 2015 at Microsoft’s expense.

They will be expected to share their learning with their peers and also participate in a series of webinars over the course of next year. Each teacher has also received a certificate of recognition for this achievement.

For a full list of the South African and Lesotho teachers who were selected look here:

Here is the story as it appeared in ISASA’s Independent Education Magazine – Autumn Edition.