30 November 2011

Gingerbread, Stars and Writing Prompts

As I was reflecting on  my life outside classrooms, it dawned on me that I  happily slip-slided from one celebration to another in life. Whether I found myself North, South, East or West, I have always rejoiced in local festivities, enchanted by the imagination, dexterity and positive energy that people create and liberate.  Whether one participates in Christmas or Eid celebrations, National Day or Green Energy Day, what would life be without remembering all the wonderful things that make up our everyday routines and vibrant cultures?

Beginnings of December bring to my mind scents of ginger and pine, family gatherings, colourful wrapping paper and sharp, northerly winds. 

 What better way to celebrate winter celebrations by asking learners to create their Gingerbread Man - without the risk of burning fingers. No sign-up is required, if you are not satisfied with your gingerbread creation, you can easily begin again. When your Gingerbread avatar is complete, you simply save the image and can include it in a blog with a story - a winter story or any other. 

In some parts of the world, term-times are ending; why not encourage learners to portray themselves as the stars they are?

Clay Yourself is an avatar creator which though at first glance, may seem best appropriate for young learners, is also fun for teens. Clay Yourself  includes other features such as a stage name generator and script generator - both adding extra interest and fun to one's creation. 

Celebrations are never complete without giving and sharing. What better to give than the love of reading and writing?

Kid's Journal Prompts offers free printables which offer engaging topics for learners to reflect and think about. Simply print, cut them up and put them in a colourful jar where each learner tries his/her luck by dipping in for a topic. 

Writing prompts are not only useful for young learners, and this can be easily adapted for older learners as well. Here you can find a rich resource of ideas to use with more mature learners. 

 Whether celebrating moveable feasts, birthdays or local holidays, enjoy life - it's not a rehearsal. 

It's the real thing. 

How do you share celebrations with your learners?

29 November 2011

Writing, Travelling, Quizzing

Writing is a habit that needs nourishing and encouragement as all learners well know.

Gotbrainy is an easy and fun way to share an image - and a bit of writing. You begin by choosing a word, upload your image, write a good sentence and you're ready to include it in your blog.

However, you do need to pay attention to using the word correctly and  selecting an image that reflects its meaning clearly.

Write for Ten is another way to encourage writing: simply sign up and write about anything you want for ten minutes. Everyday. A bit like Penzu, an online diary, Write for Ten is a practical  tool to introduce in your every day life - or in classrooms with students.

A fairly common topic to write about is one's last holiday or a celebration in one's country/culture. This topic can be expanded into a broader project about celebrations in different places around the world, but you have to know your geography to before you begin writing.

Why not test your geography skills here with this quiz:

Traveler IQ

The Traveler IQ challenge ranks geographic knowledge of cities such as: Lahaina, Sydney or Palm Springs by comparing results against 7,764,021 other travelers. Brought to you by TravelPod, a TripAdvisor Media Network member

How did you score? Ready to start writing about different places in the world?

27 November 2011

Change by Leading

"If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something. "
Steve Jobs

It's been over a month now, yet I still return to words and wisdom which influenced me at different points in my life. It is naive if an educator claims that he/she does not initiate change for learning is change. Educating is change. 

With that in mind, I have also been considering how one changes attitudes within education and more specifically among other teachers.  Definitely by one's own practices and enthusiasm for a particular approach or belief, by sharing, by listening, and through empathy for other teachers.  Too often trainers fail to connect with trainees precisely because they distance themselves too much from the reality that trainees experience  every day. Change, like training, needs to be localized and practical. 

Change requires leading, more than leadership. Or perhaps, the concept of leadership needs to be re-visted. 

Movements may spring from the most unexpected quarters. 

And once they do, then perhaps it's time to quietly look back, as one does with The Evolution of the Web, and then begin analyzing the process to make sense of it all for  future changes. 

How do you inspire change in your social/professional  setting?

23 November 2011

Grassroot Hubs

In September, when the new academic year was kicking off in many places around the world, I kept on reading in the blogosphere threads of frustration in regard to colleagues. These expressions of frustration reflected how challenging  it was to set up PD (professional development) sessions for teachers who were not using ICT/technology in their classrooms. At the same as I read these blogs, I too was initiating an internal network for colleagues at my own institution. 

Just as teachers create activities for new groups of students to know each other, these internal institutional communities need thoughtful considerations. 

Creating a strong class community, a class identity,  takes effort and needs to be done early in a course. Setting up a community for teachers requires the same amount of effort and dedication - if not more. 

One example for teachers within an institution to start an on-going community of professional development, is to create a group in a LMS (Learning Management System). These LMS-s are useful for both learners and teachers.

  For example, if you are using a system such as Edmodo, it is easy to create a group where teachers sign up. I would recommend that perhaps 1, 2 or 3 keener techie people take responsibility to organise PD sessions, keep posting interesting tools/platforms, news which may interest colleagues and any other piece of information which may be relevant and of interest to the community, in the group's stream. By giving examples, other group members are more easily encourage to participate too. 

Edmodo (for example) is very simple to navigate, almost resembling Facebook which makes learners and teachers take to it quite readily. Among other features, it is easy to create polls to encourage participation (e.g. when would colleagues have time to meet during the week, what tool would someone like to talk about/present, what ideas would someone like to share or even troubleshooting sessions).  I happen to use Edmodo as my LMS with students and colleagues, but there are other LMS to choose from. 

Nevertheless, there are other considerations to bear in mind. Teachers do have personal lives. Many have families themselves and there are only so many hours in a day. Professional development, developed by teachers for teachers, has to meet needs and understand teaching contexts - these vary tremendously. Because of the endless variations, often teachers are left puzzled or frustrated when trainers, who are not familiar with their teaching context, are flown in from abroad and proceed to tell them how to organise their classes and teaching approaches. Often there is no connection - let alone background knowledge of the cultural/social teaching context -  between the foreign trainer and the local context, leaving me to question the validity of these PD sessions. 

By encouraging a grassroot hub, a community of practice where teachers decide to share their practices, their questions, their problems among each other, seems to me, to be an excellent way to establish a more dynamic, on-going approach to professional development. Unlike PD courses or attending conferences,  this approach  is informal; teachers can attend when they have time and if not, also have the opportunity to have a space which is closed, protected and private; where they can ask for help, exchange ideas and professional information which is relevant to their context and shared with others in the same institution. 

As I look back now on this semester, one has also to bear in mind some other factors when encouraging the set up of a community:

1 - there will be times when teachers really do not have much spare time nor inclination for participating in PD (for example, when there are exams and an extra load of administrative work to carry out within tight deadlines);

2 - even if it may appear that some teachers are not that keen nor interested in developing their digital literacy skills, this is often a fallacy. In fact, they are when they feel a need or clearly see the benefits and how these ICT skills will add value to their teaching practices. 

3 - just because a teacher may not feel secure about using technology in the classroom, that does not mean that that particular individual does not have brilliant ideas to introduce - both in the group as well as when using a tool or platform. 

I am constantly surprised by the many talents my colleagues have and when given the opportunity, are willing to share with others.  These talents range from being able to recite poetry to musical and artistic talents. 

If this is not an inspiring, stimulating way to learn, to share and develop professionally, then what is?

If all fails, falls apart, there is always the magic button to press. 

How have you established communities of practice in your workplace recently?