29 August 2011

The Power of Perceptions

This is one of my favourite refuges. A quiet garden, green nature taking over the dry, white desert sands. The garden itself is simple - wild, random, organic. A pond with goldfish, carp, coi, a forever  hungry catfish.  And a tortoise who would rather be a turtle. My refuge is alive with life, bringing me tranquility. 

Or, so I perceive this space. And what is reality but one's perceptions? 

Which brings me to the relevance of teachers' workspaces. Whether one has an office or  a workstation in a staffroom, teachers' working spaces often determine their daily rhythms and perceptions of their institutions. We often talk about creating a bond within a certain class or group of students, but what about teachers themselves?

A simple - but effective - idea is to have a wall by the staffroom where members of staff can display their photos. Images of travels, favourite things and events. There is no serious infringing on one's personal life while the images add colour and flavour to staff's space.  Below is an example of a staff wall which I recently saw. It was great to enter this space without even knowing that behind the kaleidoscope of images were workstations with teachers busy preparing lessons. 

    Images and perceptions. Words and perceptions. How do you create constructive perceptions?

28 August 2011

Tweeting through the Web Jungle

Web jungle? With the daily increase of web pages, platforms and sites, I sometimes wonder how learners navigate the web.  Many share their  favourite hangouts and discoveries through Facebook,  while Twitter is a cool media to exchange information and nourish a social network. As I am about to begin teaching, these are some tools and toys which I'll be sharing with my learners. 

2011 seems to have become the year of curation and Twitter is also following the curation trend with 2 tweeting curation tools. MyTweetMag turns twitter links into a blog stream which then is easy for the individual to follow and go back to.  The TweetedTimes is another format which generates a newspaper from one's Twitter account. Tweetwally creates walls with features that include searching, styling your own wall and sharing.  KeepStream is another Twitter organisation tool and I include a short clip here below:
Keepstream Tutorial from Keepstream on Vimeo.

Other than exchange and organise information, why not add some fun? You can add TweetSymbols and visually explore your twitter account with TweetTopicExplorer. Tweepskey gives you a visual representation of your followers as you can see in the example below. By clicking on the bubbles, you can find out more about your followers. 

ISParade is a visual site for Japanese Tweets, and provides visual feedback such as this; 

If you happen to know of a similar site for English and other languages, I would love to hear from you!

TwitterFountain is another interesting Twitter tool, mashing tweets and images with spectacular results. Additionally, you can also share or embed your visual results.  And of course, for more visualisations, there is also TweeterFriendNetwork

There are many reasons for educators and learners to use Twitter; here below is a brief  selection of blog posts and references which I hope may be useful to you.

Twiducate  - a social network for schools

Extend Your Learning - Twitter for Teachers

How to Twitter - an infograhic

Do you use Twitter for learning/teaching purposes? 

Reflecting Digital Stories

Stop for a moment. Close your eyes (seriously) and think of what you do when you meet friends you haven't seen for a while. 

I don't know what you may do, but I certainly exchange stories, delighting in friends' adventures, mishaps and joyous encounters. Stories. Events of our daily lives which we can transfer to images and tales, creating rich stories to tell over and over again. Stories enrich our lives, reflecting human feelings, hope and aspirations. Stories are essential to one's sense of humanity. 

Taking a step back now, let's consider what happens on the web in 60 seconds. (published in early June 2011)

60 Seconds - Things That Happen On Internet Every Sixty Seconds
Infographic by- Shanghai Web Designers

Notice the amount of writing, the amount of story telling, the amount of sharing. 60 seconds of humanity gone digital.

Learners too are reflected in that infographic though not necessarily highlighted. They are reflected in the sense that our students today engage, participate online as intensively and creatively as never before. The challenge of educators is to channel that interest and energy towards creative, collaborative learning opportunities.

TimeGlider is a web-based timeline creator which is great to generate stories. Regardless of what corner in the world you may be, there are stories to tell.  Through story telling and sharing hopefully, one makes a better sense of current events and our moment in world history. Two other tools to create timelines are Dipity and Tiki-toki.

Seeing that for many in the Northern Hemisphere the new academic year is beginning, setting students a project to work on now to present later in the term/semester, validates their time in creating a digital story with timelines.  An additional timeline maker is Preceden and also worth time having a look at.

Another interesting tool is MyPlick which is simple to use when sharing PowerPoint slides. MyPlick has a feature which adds audio and can be shared in a student's blog for instance. Getting students to learn digitally is not always as straight-forward as it may seem. In some parts of the world, the role of the teacher as the "giver of knowledge" is still very much alive. Learner autonomy is something that needs to be fostered and encouraged but one also needs to tread carefully as educational paradigms don't change overnight. I find that by using MyPlick, learners cross that paradigm shift with ease - on the one hand they are using PowerPoint (which so many use creatively and with confidence) and then sharing digitally. An additional bonus is that students can make their PPT (PowerPoint) at home and without a net connection - this is especially important if a school has firewalls or, in some places of the world where electricity has a tendency to switch off when one is working online.

Storie are for telling. Stories are for looking at.  With stories we visualize ideas and share them. Slatebox picks up on the idea of slates - slates with a digital twist. Rather than a wooden slate and chalk, Slatebox allows users to create beautiful visual ideas which can then be shared.

My stories. Your stories. We can share our stories more easily than ever before. Learners can share their voice through a myriad of tools and publications, learning from others, teaching others. Here  you can find a collection of free web tools which everyone can use to publish their projects and stories.  If you would like to read more about digital story telling, you can find a rich and enlightening portfolio here. Whether reflecting current events, visuals or stories of one's mind, there is so much wealth in story telling, that one cannot leave it out of classrooms.

Mirror mirror on the wall
What 's your bestest story of all?

De-masking Procrastination

I would like to say that summer is slowly fading away and cooler skies now make me focus on blogging. However, that is not the case for me. 

Summer continues in full swing but with a novelty - my semester has begun and I am preparing to soon meet my new students. As I review what tools students have enjoyed working with and new tools that I have been considering to introduce this new academic year, I'd like to mention 3 possible activities today. 

Just like colleagues in many parts of the world who are choosing fun ice-breakers for their new groups of students, I am also reflecting on how to add a more personal touch to a group. Besides having students share their likes/dislikes, why not have learners also share their favourite foods? 

Recipes are relevant as each culture and nation celebrates with different dishes and tastes. They Cook and Draw  not only has recipes from around the world (with a world map locating dishes) but also drawings which are submitted with recipes. Learners can explore the site looking for recipes from their own country or add their own with a drawing. At the end of the semester/term, these recipes could be revisited and everyone brings a dish to share with the whole class. 

Other than an ice-breaker, raising awareness on healthy eating is a necessity for many learners. Just as educators usually negotiate how students are going to behave in class, carry out their work and so on, eating as well as possible and getting sufficient hours of sleep are vital for learners. Adding images to what learners think and perceive engages their attention and often drives the message home more easily.  

Don't Gross out the World and FatWorld are 2 other fun sites related to food; Don't Gross out the World raises cultural awareness regarding dining etiquette, while FatWorld is a fun way to highlight the risks of junk food, obesity and the importance of daily exercise. 

For younger learners, The Gingerbread Man offers different activities and resources, from songs and poems to arts & crafts. 

And what if students don't want to contribute to a public site such as They Cook and Draw? Among the varied free tools to publish work online, why not have students share their class's work with myEbook?

With myEbook you can both publish online as well as read what others have been publishing. It's simple to use and also has a tutorial explaining each step.  

Lastly, have you ever wondered what your learners have been up to on the web over the summer?

mirror.me  is a platform which helps people find others with similar interests. Despite the fact that a whole young generation is online, that doesn't mean that other than FaceBook or Twitter, they know how to network and find peers to share interests. One of my teaching goals this year is to guide students to better use these resources which we now have at the touch of a button. 

My summer? Let me share my mirror with you.

Go to Ana Cristina Pratas's Mirror.Me Reflection
What will your new academic year reflect?