Preparing children for a digital future

Young girl sitting and working on laptop at a desk

Steyn City School in Johannesburg is a new kid on the block. It opened in 2018 to respond to the needs of the community, and has quickly grown to become a force in its own right, championing the use of technology as a learning tool to help equip children for a changing world.

The ability to use technology as an enabler for teaching and learning in a school of over 600 students is no small feat. It requires the right platform, tools, resources and training. And for Steyn City School, that meant using Microsoft Teams.

Teams is an integrated working and teaching collaboration platform that provides a virtual classroom which facilitates online face-to-face connections, assignments, files and conversations into a single place accessible on mobile, tablet, PC or web browser.

Steyn City School has been using it to enhance and fortify day-to-day teaching and learning from Grade 4 upwards since the school first opened – and its use has grown as the school has got bigger.

This forms part of the reason that it became a Microsoft Showcase School within a year of opening its doors – and why it has been sharing best practice ever since. In fact, Steyn City School became the first school globally to share best practice tips on remote teaching and learning via webinar to the global Microsoft Education community on 30 March this year.

“We experienced a quick growth spurt, and tripled our staff in 24 months, but we were fortunate because our core group of teachers taught our newcomers how to use the platform. We have a Teams champion in each grade to help staff get to grips with using the tool in terms of assignments, videos and learning resources, as well as a Microsoft Teams Thursdays webinar which has been helpful,” says Chanille Viviers, Director of Technology and Innovation and Head of the EduTech centre, “The Hive”, at Steyn City School.

These measures help teachers plan lessons and provide students with the resources they need to drive their own education – forming part of Steyn City School’s whole-school approach to providing an enabling virtual school system that looks at students holistically, from academics to extramural activities to counselling. The entire education ecosystem has been incorporated into the school’s Teams platform, and there are 298 teams on the platform currently.

Embracing remote learning through a tiered approach

Teachers aren’t the only ones seeing the value of the platform. “It has been unbelievable to see how students have responded to and welcomed the technology as part of their learning, and how they have adapted to and embraced remote learning.”

This familiarity with the platform has effectively helped the school make a smooth transition to a remote learning environment. To prepare for the move to an online teaching and learning environment, the school has provided a step-by-step guide for parents, students, and staff, including how to prepare lessons and upload the necessary learning resources.

Steyn City School has also taken a tiered approach to introducing the platform to teachers, students, and parents to ensure they are comfortable with using it – incrementally familiarising them with the different tools, apps and resources on it, including lesson planning, assignments, videos and live streaming, among others.

“It is important for schools to sit down and plan remote learning, to train staff appropriately, and not to try to implement it all at once, which will overwhelm parents and students with the volume of content,” Viviers says.

Using a remote learning platform like Teams is a journey and requires a structured approach. Steyn City School used this approach, and so far it has worked, underpinned by the broader capabilities of Office 365 Education which seamlessly integrates apps and tools. This also includes using Minecraft: Education Edition used for Grades 1 to 3 in the school, ensuring that every single student is equipped with the digital tools and skills they need for the future.

Providing these skills and tools to the school’s students is a priority for both Viviers and Steyn City School – and Viviers was named one of 8 800 Microsoft Innovative Educator Experts around the world 2018 – 2020 for her ability to help students build future-ready skills by incorporating technology into teaching and learning. This also includes showcasing the school’s work in VR and AR in Minecraft Education at the Microsoft Global E2 event in Paris, and piloting XinaBox last year, where students are learning to build smart devices that use Microsoft’s AI  – introducing interesting possibilities for using Make Code for remote learning.

“Microsoft Teams – and the broader education and Office 365 ecosystem – has revolutionised how we work and teach; it has taken us to a new level of working as it allows people to come up with innovative and creative ways of solving problems, and is ultimately changing traditional ways of teaching by showing that quality teaching can still take place remotely,” says Viviers.

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