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April 25, 2016 / by Megan Beckett /

Soweto Science Centre workshop

We are excited to have kicked off a new partnership with the Soweto Science Centre (SSC) to integrate the use of Intelligent Practice into their after school support and tutoring programme for learners from Soweto and the surrounding regions.

A community centre of excellence

The University of Johannesburg (UJ)’s Science Centre at the Soweto Campus was established in 2010 and aims to be the centre of excellence in Mathematics and Science for school learners from Soweto and the surrounding areas. At the SSC, learners (and teachers) can conduct laboratory experiments, crucial to bringing their subjects to life and adding meaning to textbook illustrations, as well as participate in subject-focused tutorials and lectures. During school terms, this takes place on Friday afternoons and Saturdays. They also provide outreach programmes for broader participation from the community and general public. Being based within the community and supported by the community, are what ensures this facility is accessible, engaging and having an impact.

Parental involvement is also crucial to the success of a child’s learning, and particularly encouraged at the SSC. Siyavula experienced this first hand a little while back when giving an evening talk to parents of learners who take part at the SSC about Intelligent Practice and how to succeed in Maths and Science - the hall was not big enough for the overwhelming response as more than 300 parents arrived! A very encouraging and inspiring message.

The following video gives a quick introduction to the SSC by Prof Azwinndini Muronga, the first Director of the Centre. The current, incoming Director is Dr Sam Ramaila, a passionate Senior Lecturer at UJ, with a research focus on science education and teacher professional development.



Integrating Intelligent Practice

As the SSC seeks to advance their instructional and learning strategies, they raised funding to sponsor access to Intelligent Practice for the learners and teachers at the centre. After several meetings between SSC and our team to establish a sound working relationship, the first step in the implementation process was to run a training workshop with the tutors and facilitators for Mathematics and Physical Sciences.

Myself and William Wannenberg then headed up to Joburg on Friday, 22 April, to run the training. The aims of the workshop were to:

  • Introduce the SSC tutors and facilitators to the cognitive science underpinning the design, development and use of Intelligent Practice;
  • Obtain practical experience at using the programme as a learner, and then as a teacher;
  • Understand and investigate the data analytics that they will receive and how they can use their dashboards for monitoring and reporting; and
  • Brainstorm and discuss the most effective use cases for their tutorial sessions with learners, whilst thinking of their unique challenges.
Practice by doing

Living by our own mantra of “practice by doing” and getting immediate, active use for the most effective learning, we quickly got stuck into practising and experiencing the service as learners on Intelligent Practice.

The tutors and facilitators were really engaged as they each selected what grade and subject they wanted to practice, started comparing their progress amongst each other, collaboratively interrogated their solutions and also figured out some of the technical implications I had presented on earlier, such as the benefits of generative question items and that automatic marking of complex inputs requires a strictness they might not be used to or enforce with learners (a comma and semicolon are not the same thing!).

What works for YOU?

We need not iterate to anyone (especially in education!), that “one size does not fit all” and I was therefore very keen to allow for the opportunity to brainstorm and discuss how Intelligent Practice can most effectively be used and integrated into the current processes, programmes and workflow of the Soweto Science Centre.

We therefore spent the last session of the workshop focusing on the different use cases for Intelligent Practice. The 6 use cases that we have come up with are starting points for individuals to think about and then adapt for their own context. They are outlined in detail in our Taking Action document, discussed in this blog post.

I asked the participants to use a summary sheet as an instigator for conversation to discuss in pairs how they would use the service themselves, what they thought would work, what wouldn’t work, and to specifically think of some of the challenges they might come up against, or already do, and what we can do to work around this.

We had an excellent group discussion to end off the day and the tutors were particularly inspired by the ideas of peer-to-peer learning within their context and how they could use Intelligent Practice to make these types of interactions and group learning processes more impactful.

Dedication and passion go a long way

By the end of the afternoon, the group was really excited about the prospect of using Intelligent Practice at the SSC and I was also really encouraged and inspired by their dedication and particularly their insight into using technology for learning (highlighted by some of the questions about how they might want to use Intelligent Practice, which will be enabled by new features either being developed or in the queue back at the office!). As Dr Sam Ramaila ended off by saying, this group of tutors and facilitators are “pioneers for the Soweto Science Centre” and we look forward to the next steps in enabling engaging learning experiences in Mathematics and Science for their learners.