A grade three teacher at Universitas Primary School in Bloemfontein, Anita van Vuuren started taking interest in information and communications technology after she attended several workshops where she met people who were also passionate about integrating technology into school curriculum. One of them was Sarietjie Musgrave, head of innovation in school education at the University of the Free State, who helped her to harness the power of technology effectively as a teaching tool. “Since then I have never looked back. What I like about technology is its ability to energise and enliven the learning environment in such a way that pupils enjoy and respond enthusiastically to lessons. “My lessons are no longer dull and predictable and it always brings out the best in the pupils,” says Van Vuuren.
Van Vuuren was a finalist in the 2012 Microsoft partners in learning forum for her project called “Tjok Ideas”. Hailed by judges as “pupil centred”, the project equips pupils with relevant technology skills such as Movie Maker, PowerPoint and Photoshop. The project is divided into three main phases. In the first phase, says Van Vuuren, every pupil chooses an individual project and with the help of a parent sets long and short-term goals while working independently. Progress is assessed over a period. Pupils also share their “acquired knowledge with peers, cross-age groups and the community”.
Says Van Vuuren: “Each pupil uses technology that is relevant to his or her own project and progress and knowledge gained is monitored throughout by writing activities and creating a visual artefact using PowerPoint.” In phase two, each grade three pupil works with a counterpart in grade four. The idea, according to Van Vuuren, is to collaborate to make a digital project of the grade three pupil’s work. Phase three takes the form of a Tjok Expo, held during the fourth term. Families, community and friends are invited so that pupils can share what they have learnt.
Van Vuuren chose projects by two grade three pupils to highlight the skills pupils can gain from technology. One was by Sume Delport, who is artistic and whose goal was to make a painting for her room. The other one was by Michaela Zealand, a bookworm who wanted to finish a 170-page book in English, which is her first additional language. Delport did not know how to mix specific colours and had to do a Google search for a colour chart. In the process she learnt which colours complement one another. When she read the book, Zealand encountered some difficult words and had to use the cellphone-based dictionary to figure them out. “Both these pupils used mind maps to brainstorm and organise their thinking and knowledge-building.
Through Google, Delport was able to evaluate the quality of her painting, analyse children’s paintings and also found that she could use more colours, textures, shades and play with dark and light,” said Van Vuuren. She said Zealand learnt how to make a dictionary using a Word programme and that she also created an index. When she clicked on the index, it automatically took her to the right heading to refer to difficult words. Zealand also wrote short stories for her friends and family. In the end, Delport and her peers used Photo Story for her project and Zealand used Movie Maker. Not only does the joint project teach pupils to be creative and innovative, says Van Vuuren, it also teaches them to realise they have a shared responsibility towards one another.