Empowering Parents

It’s a new year and no time is as good as right now to pass on empowering information to our parents. We love technology for education, but parents can, and do, find this a treacherous road to navigate, especially when confronted by requests to set up social media accounts.

I stumbled upon this website, National Online Safety, and while it is actually aimed at schools and teachers, it is a treasure trove for parents who want to do their homework before giving their young ones carte blanche to social media.

Having one older teenager and another child in her early twenties at home, I have been exposed to quite a bit of Tik Tok content over the holidays. Much of what I was shown was not appropriate for under 16s, nevermind under 13s. I was also made aware of some other Tik Tok issues, such as strangers private messaging younger children, sexual content, etc. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up, as I know that Tik Tok is a very popular app amongst tweens. I turned to Common Sense Media for more information and, hopefully, some common sense! Common Sense Media should become a parent’s go-to place for checking out any apps requested by children. Their reviews are easy to read, are balanced and give many tips for parents. Please do take a look there too.

UPDATE: It has recently come to my attention that the creators of Tik Tok have listened to the concerns of parents, and they have now put parental controls in place to assist parents in managing their children’s access to this app. The age restriction of 13+ has, however, not changed.


iPhotography Competition 2019

Once again our students have blown us away with their creativity!

We held an iPhotography (iPad and iPhone) competition again this term. The last time we held a similar competition was in 2017. The theme of #MySA was chosen specifically to be in line with the theme for ThinkAhead’s Excellence in Education competition, as the winning photos in each grade have been entered into this competition. The winners of the Excellence in Education competition will be announced on 23 October 2019.

You decide for yourself – I think they are absolutely STUNNING!

[Click on the image below to access the photos].

Screen Shot 2019-09-24 at 12.15.56 PM

Fake News, Fear-Mongering and Fact Finding

Over the past week here in South Africa, social media has been hyped up and crazy about the ‘Momo Challenge’. If you haven’t heard about it, you are either not on social media or you been sleeping the sleep of Rip van Winkle. It has been everywhere and social media has run with it as only social media can.

So who or what is Momo? The real “Momo” is a bird-like statue inspired by the Japanese folk figure the ubume, or bird woman and sculpted by the Japanese sculptor Keisuke Aiso which was an exhibit at the 2016 Tokyo Art Show. It has since been disposed of as the rubber sculpture naturally degraded and disintegrated.

Here is the thing though – the Momo Challenge is not a real thing. Momo does not exist and even though she does look, in my opinion, creepy and scary, the Momo Challenge is yet another internet-based urban legend (such as the Blue Whale Challenge) set to feed off the fears of less tech-savvy parents. The fear Momo evoked was, however, very real. Parents were up in arms, warning messages were sent out over social media, the image of “Momo” was spread far and wide and each time a little more was added to the story. A friend of a friend of a friend passed on messages without actually having seen the images or message personally, and so “Momo” grew a life of its own. Fear levels were extremely high. Children were upset. Panic was setting in. Miscreants then jumped on the bandwagon and spliced images of “Momo” into child-friendly videos on YouTube. (These videos have apparently been confirmed by various sources). YouTube released a statement refuting this, saying that they can find no evidence of the Momo Challenge on YouTube. Who exactly originated this “challenge”, we will never know. It first saw light in August 2018 and has done its rounds around the globe until finding its way to South Africa in the past week. Reports of deaths associated with this challenge have not been confirmed anywhere in the world.

There are lessons for us here, the teachers, parents and caregivers. We need to arm ourselves with knowledge. We need to be aware that there are malicious folk out there in the world who will take advantage of media consumers who take much of what they read at face value and are not aware of fake news or misleading information. We need to make it our business to find the facts and learn to take everything we read on the internet with a proverbial pinch of salt. We must not feed into our children’s fears by planting seeds of uncertainty before we have done our research and homework. The world is an evil enough place, we do not need to make it more so for our children. We need to keep the lines of communication open with our children. Talk to them and inform them (only as much as necessary) and then we need to give them skills to cope in situations where they feel afraid or uneasy on the internet. Block and report. Parents need to know how to protect their children online by using correct settings and setting filters. They should also know what their children are doing online – check in regularly. Our children should be taught to report incidents to a trusted adult and then open conversations about these incidents are necessary to ease fears and build trust. Parents need to be involved.

Through much reading about the Momo Challenge this past week, I have come across some very valuable articles and blog posts, and a podcast. I highly recommend parents and other educators to read these:

And this excellent read from a mother:

I also came across an excellent set of platform guides on a website called National Online Safety. They are certainly worth a look, as they are filled with information, tips, best practice ideas and more for many of the platforms our children find themselves on today – and yes, there is one for Momo too.


Restrictions in iOS 12

iOS 12 brought about a number of changes to the iPad, an important one being the moving and renaming of the Restrictions, which used to be easily accessible under Settings/General. In iOS 12 you can still set restrictions on an iPad, but you will now find them under Settings/Screen Time. There are a number of ways in which you could limit your child’s screen time and access to specific apps if you wish to do so. Screen Time especially is a really a nifty feature for parents. It also allows you to switch off features that you do not want your child to use such as FaceTime or Message. Take note that Screen Time is not an app, it is a setting or a selection of settings.

There should be a differentiation between school screen time and free screen time for fun. School screen time is directed and led by the teachers and results in the child moving away from the iPad screen to interact with others, write or apply themselves elsewhere during an activity. It does not comprise endless hours of looking at a screen without activity. School screen time encourages engagement with the screen, written work (possibly), specific apps and peers. It serves a definite purpose. Screen time for fun is the activity that needs to be monitored and this is left to the parents’ discretion.

To find out exactly how to set up Parental Controls on your child’s iPad, take a look at this YouTube VIDEO and this explanatory Apple article.

Is Coding Simply A Buzzword?

Coding. Everyone is talking about coding. It is a hot topic, especially in the education sphere, and there are numerous (confusing at first) coding platforms to choose from.

At our campus, we offer coding as part of the curriculum and have done so for a number of years. Our students code on computers with code.org (currently, but not exclusively) or on their iPads with Swift Playgrounds. We also offer Robotics as an extramural. This year it is our aim to up our offering significantly. This will happen over the course of the year as my co-teacher, Mrs Louw, and I work on our own knowledge to expand the programme.

In doing my research around coding, I did initially wonder what all the fuss was about. I had my own questions about why kids should code and what value it really had from them. My questions have, over time, been suitably answered and I now strongly feel that coding should be part of the modern learning offering. It is not our intention to turn all our students into coders – in fact it has less to do with the actual coding, but is rather much more about the fact that we would like to see them develop into lateral thinkers who think out of the box and who can grapple with problems and make every effort to solve them despite the amount of effort required. We want students who do not give up, who persevere and who show determination in tricky situations. We want them to become collaborators who can put their heads together to creatively solve problems and come up with new ideas and designs. We need to develop computational thinking and cater for the world our students live in and for their futures which look very different to our own when we were at school. In fact, we have no idea what their futures look like. We can only use our imaginations.

If you also have questions about why your child should learning coding, this article shared on the Parent24 website, entitled Why do my children need to learn to code? What’s all the fuss? might just answer all your questions. It is an interesting read!

Here is another interesting article that might answer more questions for you: What is Computational Thinking? Why thinking like a computer builds skills for success.

Code9 Parent Blog

screen shot 2019-01-24 at 8.25.28 am

The header of the Code9 Parent Blog Page – not my own image.

I recently discovered what is, in my opinion, a very useful parent blog for parents in the digital age. It is the Code9 Parent Blog, an Australian blog linked to a website called Code9 Parent. Code9 apparently means “Parents Are Watching” in teen-speak. This website also has a Facebook Page, which shares interesting and relevant articles related to the digital activities of tweens and teens. It also shares information about apps and online sites/games etc. which parents should look out for and be aware of. I highly recommend this as a parenting resource.

iOS 12 – Some Features Parents Might Like

iOS 12 will be released later this month. I have looked at the new and improved features that are available and some of them look impressive. The one new feature that really caught my eye is the new Screen Time feature which will enable parents to monitor their children’s screen time. It can also give parents a breakdown of exactly which apps their children have been using and for how long. Parents can also set times for screen time and children can request more if necessary. Screen Time certainly looks useful for parents who are struggling to manage their children’s screen time at home.

For more information on the new features in iOS 12 and especially Screen Time, take a look HERE.

For a detailed explanation of how to set up Screen Time on your child’s iPad, take a look HERE.


Water is a Universal Topic

Last week the Grade 5 Rainbirds held a Skype call with a Grade 5 class in New Jersey, USA. They discussed the water crisis and Day Zero in the Western Cape, particularly in Cape Town. Our students shared how we are all working together to save water with measures such as short showers, grey water flushing, rainwater collection, etc. It was an eye-opener for the US students who were planning a fundraising drive to assist water stricken areas in Africa. The teacher had sent a set of questions for our students to discuss and prepare for in advance, so we knew what to expect as time was limited.

With Skype, we managed to connect despite a 6-hour time difference between New Jersey and Cape Town. We were ending our school day, just as they were beginning theirs. This was real-life learning across the oceans!


Bring Out the Magnificence

I recently had the privilege of listening to Steve Sherman (@livingmaths) speak at our school at a workshop he hosted for our staff. One statement he made really resonated with me:

“If you dismiss a child you might be dismissing magnificence in your presence”.

I found this to be a profound statement. It made me stop and think. The students in our care are brimming with untapped talents, possibilities and potential brilliance. It is our duty as educators to spark their curiosity, to awaken their passions and to tap into their potential so that we may all experience that magnificence. Yesterday I witnessed a snippet of what I believe Steve was alluding to in his statement.

Our Grade 4s have been learning about the nine provinces of South Africa. One of our music teachers created a little song for them to sing in order to learn the names of the provinces. The teachers, however, were mulling over how to create a video using the song, to show the students where these provinces are situated within South Africa, and they had not yet come to a solution for the video. One of the teachers, Mrs Duminy, mentioned their dilemma to her students and she asked them for their ideas and suggestions and left it there. One of her students, Alon, took up the challenge. He went home and, with the help of his sister, he put together a simple but clever video.

Alon went away having listened very carefully to his teacher’s needs and while I think the video is great, for me the “magnificence” of this lies in the process behind it. Alon acted upon his own initiative, he made his own choices and decisions. This was not a teacher-driven activity. He problem-solved by brainstorming the possibilities and then carefully chose the tools he thought would work best and put together a video that works – simple but effective! Not only that, but once he had created the video, he created a QR code with a link to the video in his Google Drive, printed it out, stuck it on the wall in his classroom and shared the video with his peers in this manner. In other words, he considered the needs of his peers too as he carefully considered the best way to share the video with them. To top it all he roped in his equally talented sister, Daniella, to sing the song for the video backtrack with him and it sounds delightful. In doing all this, Alon created a video that his teacher can now use as a teaching aid in the classroom. I do know that Mrs Duminy was delighted with the result because she excitedly came to call me to her classroom to come and watch Alon’s video.

Teachers need to create more opportunities such as this to allow the magnificence of the children we work with to shine through. We must not underestimate them, they need the space and opportunities to bring out their  “magnificence”. Our students will surprise us every day.

Alon used the following apps and tools for his video:




Google Docs

Google Chrome

Google Drive


Documents 5


https://createqrcode.appspot.com/ (to create the QR code).

Below is the video created by Alon (click on the image below). Well done, Alon. I am very proud of you!

Screen Shot 2018-04-26 at 2.07.13 PM

Get your Google on!

In the past two weeks a colleague and I have written, and passed, our Google Educator Level 1 and Level 2 certifications! It’s been a whirlwind of Google Apps, training sessions, self-study and then two three-hour exams. It sounds awful but actually, it was not bad at all and is very achievable for all educators.

The first certification Google Educator Level 1, expects you to have a brief overview and basic working knowledge of G Suite for Education apps such as Gmail, Calendar, Docs, Sheets, Slides and others such as YouTube and Sites. The online training provided by Google is very thorough and one comes away with much learning. For this certification, however, we opted to attend a Boot Camp hosted by an outside company during the school holidays, as we were unsure of the expectations or the level of knowledge expected. It was most enjoyable and inspiring – and not too difficult! We both passed the test well within the 180-minute time limit.

We left the Boot Camp very inspired and curious about the Level 2 certification, so almost immediately we began investigating our options. We decided to go it on our own and over the next week we worked through all the online training and reviews provided by Google in the Google For Education Training Center. Level 2 is a step up from Level 1 and requires you to have a more in-depth knowledge of the pedagogy behind effective use of technology in the classroom, as well as a deeper knowledge of the G Suite apps, including new ones such as Blogger, Google Hangouts, Google+ and a few others. The test is, however, still very achievable for educators who use the Google Suite apps regularly in their teaching and student learning.

So, on a sunny Sunday morning, we sat down in our school library with the musical sounds of the church service in the hall next door providing us with some divine background inspiration and wrote the Level 2 test. We again completed the test well within the 180 minutes and passed! We can now call ourselves Google Certified Educators – Level 2.

I can highly recommend these certifications for teachers interested in furthering their knowledge of effective use of technology in the classroom, or if you are a Google Suite for Education user and you would like to expand your knowledge of these apps. For your trouble, you will receive a certificate and a badge that you can display on your blog or website (see mine below). I have learnt so much during the past few weeks, and it has inspired me to pass on this knowledge to my fellow teachers at school.

This blog post by Kasey Bell provides some very valid reasons for becoming a Google Certified Educator.