Thursday, July 28, 2011

Reformsymposium - Your Professional Development Excuses are Over

There's no way you can keep finding excuses for not learning with other educators around the globe.

This is your chance, so grab it and enjoy the ride starting tomorrow, July 29th. 

Info about my presentation available at 

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Icebreakers, not Sleeping Pills

I remember when I had English classes, most of them started the same. The teacher would tell the rules of our class and write on the board the test dates for us to copy. Then, there would be some kind of warmer that sometimes was colder than being in the Antarctic with inappropriate clothes for the weather. Yes, I have a vivid memory about that, and not so much about fun, engaging activities during the first class. Funny thing is that even the simplest activity would please me as the first day was always an exciting part of my school year. We met the new teacher, new friends and old ones. The book was new, new pens, pencils and notebook, ready for action.

#88 24-09-2007
First day at school, buh. It was pretty boring so I spent my time decorating my hand :)
The only interesting thing he said was "if you want to see more photos of this building, you can go to" yay!

Now, as a teacher, I really spend some time to find simple, pleasant activities to make my students remember why they enrolled in an English class in the first place. If the students don't know me, in the past I used to write some numbers on the board for students to figure out what they meant for me. It was a lot of fun, lots of questions and discovery. Personal. Then, they'd do the same with their peers. It has always worked. No need for much preparation. And if teachers want to play safe, this activity is engaging and effective.

However, with so much out there at the tip of our fingers, I've been trying to go beyond, to make my first day a more memorable first encounter, a more critical-thinking enhanced class.

This is my plan. First, I'll show some pictures of mine. Students need to guess what it is about, who those people are. Plus, they can ask me some questions. I created this by grabbing my favorite photos set in Flickr and adding them to a Gallery (you can only do that by using other people's photos)
Here's my presentation. Can you guess things about me from the pictures?

Oh, but wait a minute! This class was mine last semester! I'll need to be more creative than that, for they know a lot about me. So, I'll do the opposite. I'll show images to tell them 7 things they don't know about me and they have to guess what's the story behind it.
Here's my selection of images:

Then, I'm going to show students powerful images with colors, emotions, places, people and they will have to relate the images with their lives, themselves or their vacation. By doing that, I'm sure I'll be able to learn more than ever about my students, their passions, and interests. Isn't that a good start for us to make informed decisions when we're planning our next lessons?

Another way to do the students' part is for them to look for any images in their cell phones or wallets, they show to peers, and peers try to guess from the image a bit more about them. If students don't have images in their cell phones, they can find any object in their purses and wallets to share with their pairs.

And if you're willing to see more fantastic examples of icebreakers, here are some that educators at the school I work for prepared:

How about test dates and rules? Not in my first day of class when I want students to turn on and not OFF. I want to open up their brains for an exciting, enticing journey. I want them to want more, to be there with me next class. Test dates and rules can wait another class, or, if not possible, the end of the class.

How about you? Any other tips?

Saturday, July 16, 2011

No Excuses for Educators to Go Beyond - Professional Development

I truly believe that institutions are not able to provide all the professional development opportunities an educator needs. In the past, workshops, training sessions, lectures with invited speakers were the only way to go for professional development, and we thought that this would suffice. Certainly not true anymore. One-size-fits-all kind of training seems to me so outdated if you consider the limitless online possibilities. Surely, we could look for paid online courses, but my focus is on free (yes, totally free!) educational opportunities for teachers who want to move further, have a breath of fresh air, aim to be more engaging, and look for inspiring ideas for the classroom.

There are just so many options, but I'll focus on three to keep it simple and avoid our own excuses of things being too overwhelming. No excuses anymore, learning instead:

  • Follow Sue-Lyon Jones's Scoop it with the latest news on professional development opportunities. 
  • Join a Community of Practice. I'd highly recommend the Webheads, a group of inspired educators always on the learning loop
  • Take one of the free online sessions offered by the Electronic Village Online every January. Sessions range from teaching Young Learners to adventuring yourself in Second Life. Every year new educational topics are explored.
So, what are you waiting for? Why would you wait for the next conference or the next workshop if you have everything at the tip of your fingers?

There's no excuse of time, money or institutional issues that will resist the incredible chance you have to connect to like-minded educators online, learn a lot, and give another meaning to your teaching career.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Posterous - Blogging with Style

I've been using Posterous for a while, and if you are considering blogging as an option to keep your thoughts, ideas, resources, comments, audio and video files in one place, Posterous might be what you're looking for.

Its main advantage is its user-friendliness. It is so simple to start using it that the whole process begins with an email. You send an email to Posterous and your blog is ready to go! Then, you can keep blogging by email. If you attach photos, Posterous creates a slideshow. If you attach an audio file, it automatically embeds a neat player.

However, what I'd really like to highlight is the group feature in Posterous. You can have a group of people blogging into one Posterous blog once the administrator invites the contributors to collaborate. It nicely aggregates all the posts into one place, which makes it very easy for the group to keep track of the updates without understanding much of feed issues (as shown in the image above).

Posterous makes blogging easy, effective and social. Try it and you'll see what I mean.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Cool Writing Tool of the Week - OhLife

Do you want a simple tool to invite your students to write more and keep a journal?

It can be a journal about their learning experience, or their daily lives.

OhLife! sends them a reminder everyday and they simply have to reply to the message by mail to have their thoughts neatly posted. If they add a photo as attachment, OhLife does the job of neatly embedding it. This tool makes writing practice simple and exciting. Plus, the students can export their writings as text and share them with the teachers and friends.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Professional Development - Do-It-Yourself Approach

Ann Foreman has shared her wonderful presentation about professional development. What she says is exactly what I've been advocating for some years now. Educators need to be in charge of their own learning. They need to understand that PD is not institutionally-bound. We need to get hold of our own professional development perspective and analyze where we want to get and why.

Here are some of my presentations related to the topic that might be of interest:

Share, Connect, Learn

From Incubation to Change

Digital Magic of Professional Development

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

365 Photos - Telling a Story

Photos are snapshots of a flash of a moment that will never happen again. They freezes time, space, people. They tell a story. They keep memories alive.

Since 2009 I've been part of this wonderful group of passion-driven people, educators, amateurs who take their time every day to share a snapshot, that frozen moment of their days with the community. When I started, the group had more than a 100 people. Now, there are more than 600 and growing.

In 365 photos Flickr group, we connect, we take photos, we share, we talk, we appreciate. It's beauty in essence, that captured moment from different parts of the world, a mosaic of lives.

This week, I got an email from Kathy, one of the persons in the group who has always shared and talked back. There was always a kind comment, a personal touch she'd give to my own photos. Because of a workshop she was taking on digital storytelling, she produced this very powerful, touching story made of the community's stories and her own:

I replied to Kathy:

"Dear Kathy, I feel totally touched to see our story made yours, to listen to your voice for the first time.

I've been faithful with the community for a while, but this year I thought I couldn't live up to it because I missed some days. I stopped, but now you made me realize it really doesn't matter, for what I long for is the connections I had established in the group. Our stories. Our fragments of stories. So, even if I have a fragmented collection this year, no problem, there's no punishment, except for my own. I'll get back there and start posting my photos as if this were the first day of the year.

Thanks for such a wonderful story. It is touching. It gets to our hearts, the stops, the music, the transitions, the images. They all matter in the story construction.

You made my day."

I started sharing my photos again. Kathy reminded me why I've decided to be part of this community in the first place. I'm back. I want to feel alive. I want to look around with other perspective. I want to give me some time of the day to appreciate what surrounds me. I want to connect. I want to see what others around the globe care about.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

m-Learning for Kids

If you are considering using tablets with the young ones, this guide from Laura Wright is an excellent start:

Monday, July 4, 2011

m-Learning - Screencasting App

I downloaded showmeapp to my iPad.

You can write on the whiteboard and record a screencast, or you can use an image to record your impressions, stories, tutorials using it.

Here's my example for basic students:

I uploaded it from my iPad straight to the site. From there, you can embed the video or share it in social networks.

How can we use showmeapp in the classroom?

You can give the device to your students and ask them to record a tutorial, an explanation about certain topic, a summary of the class.
You can think of riddles, brainboosters and challenges. Record them and ask the students to solve them.

In this video, I talked about my family and friends. I could ask questions related to what I said.

Now, I have a challenge for you: I made a mistake in the video. Can you tell me what is wrong?

Images in the Classroom Series - Emotions

My husband calls me a tourist or gadget girl. I always have a device which can help me capture the moment. First, because of my interest in photography, in getting that moment that in nanoseconds will be simply past. However, my most preement reason for being a gadget girl is that I am an educator. I always feel that I can explore the world with my students through the eyes of a lens. Those captured moments are an invaluable teaching tool. I go beyond, though. It is not only my photos, but all the photos I come across in Flickr Creative Commons. Flickr is just so powerful that words wouldn't be able to reach its strength for pedagogical purposes. Here's just one example of how it can be used by educators interested in developing students' critical thinking, critical literacies and so on.

Take for example this photo I came across in Alan Levine's slideshare presentation.

We could have a wonderful "Emotion" class just by exploring it.

Ideas? Many! Here are some:

  • Start by asking your students to draw how they feel today. Or you can even ask them to fold the paper in four and give them specific times of the day (today at school, yesterday evening, today during lunch time, right now). They draw their four different moods in the paper and share them with friends giving reasons why they felt that way. You could ask them to find people who shared two similar kinds of moods during specific times of the day, or someone who had quite the opposite emotions. That should be fun!

  • Write the word CRYING on the board. Why do people cry? Let the students speak out.
  • If the teacher feels it won't hurt anybody's feelings or cause any embarassment to a student, ask the group when the last time they cried was and see if someone wants to share his story. This can be highly emotional, I know. But it can also build group trust, a sense of community. If you feel it is a too-touchy subject, change it for "the last time you had a really great, loud laugh"
  • Show the photo to the group to explore the context:

    - Why was this boy crying?
    - Who was holding him?
    - Where are they?
    - What time of the day was it?
    - How long do you think he kept crying? Why?
    - What would the person holding him do or say to make him smile again?
    - Do you remember a similar scene in your house?
  • After the group discussion, you can ask students:
    - to write a text as if the boy was reporting what happened and why he was crying.
    - to write a text from the perspective of the person holding him and his feelings towards the boy crying
    - to build up a dialogue based on the scene
    - to include a third person in the room (students choose the person they would include and what this person would do to make the boy stop crying)
    - to make a drawing as if they were the boy at the exact moment he stopped crying
Any other ideas for this very emotional class?

Sunday, July 3, 2011

m-Learning in the EFL Classroom

More and more, I've been interested in finding and testing possibilities of using mobile devices in the classroom - flip cameras, smartphones, recorders, tablets - everything which is at a student's reach. When I had a group of teens, it was simply natural to explore what was at my students' fingertips, as for them it is just part of who they are and how they use the devices on a daily basis.

One of the results was this very simple, but extremely rewarding class project I had with them. I brought a Flip Camera to class, we were working with relative pronouns. I told them about my international friends' interest in learning Portuguese. So, they decided for the words they wanted to teach my friends, they wrote sentences with the definitions of those words, they recorded it and we posted on a Voicethread. Then, I invited my friends through my Twitter network to learn Portuguese and work on their pronunciation skills. My students were marveled to see that their work was valued and used by an international community.

Here's the result: 

What does this mini-project show?

  • m-Learning is not a distant concept. We can start profiting from it with what we have now in class. Just look around and ask your students what devices they have that can be used for learning and connecting to others.
  • Project-based learning doesn't mean year-long project. It can be a one-class hour project.
  • Engagement means choice. Give your students as many choices as possible within the learning framework you've established for the project.
  • Projects can be truly simple and productive.
  • Give up control, guide, and let the students be the producers of content.
  • Stop underestimating your students' abilities to produce content.
  • Let them be the owners of the language they are studying through hands-on activities.
  • Remember that learning is not a passive act, that our attention capabilities are triggered by movement and not stillness.
  • Start small and get more ambitious as you get used to using the mobile devices.
  • Start exploring the online references about m-Learning, tablets, smartphones...

Here's my list to help you get excited for the next term at your school with new projects that might bring great learning outcomes, powerful teaching moments and the enjoyment of you with your learner being learning partners: