Thursday, February 24, 2011

DESIGN Series - Uniqueness and Beauty in a Lesson Plan

Teachers are generally so overwhelmed by the load of information they have to deal with, be it pedagogical or bureaucratic, papers, tests, lesson planning that we tend just to go with the flow using the repertoire we already have to make things more time-efficient. In this bulldozing routine, common place is what our lessons become. And, in many cases, boredom is what we get.

Color coded bookcase

With very small shifts, we can re-energize our classroom. Maybe the kind of examples we use in class might work, or the kind of activities we ask students to perform can be effective. However,  a more ambitious, but rewarding change that focuses on uniqueness and design, can do wonders. How about going beyond Youtube low-quality videos and clipart and finding multimedia that inspires, instigates, that asks for action, resources that are appealing, daring? Yes, we can be designers of change that bring a bit of delight to our learning environment.

Daniel Pink, in his "A Whole New Mind" says, "We may not all be Dali or Degas. But today we must all be designers". We can be inspired and inspire our learners to appreciate their surrounding and to add uniqueness to their own ways of thinking and acting. This might be an ambitious dead, but, bit by bit, we can make a difference. Daniel Pink goes on saying that "good design offers us a chance to bring pleasure, meaning and beauty to our lives. But most important, cultivating a design sensibility can make our small planet a better place for us all".

Let me just give you a very simple practical example. In every school book, there's a topic related to cities or the place we live, right? Think of the last time you taught this lesson. How did you teach it? What resources did you use?

Here's one beautifully-produced short Brazilian video that can be used in the classroom to discuss the topic:

From there, some pedagogical ideas:

  • Explore the concept of uniqueness in your city. What makes xxxxx unique?
  • How can you make the ugly beautiful?
  • Urban sprawl: You are the mayor of a big city. Traffic is chaotic, peoplre are stressed out. You don't have many resources, but there is a group of artists willing to change the lives of its inhabitants. What could they do to help you make life in the city more enjoyable?
  • Use other city shorts videos and ask students to compare cities, to decide where they would live if they had the chance, for example. (Rotterdam, New York , Berlin, Istanbul, Seoul)
Remember: design in our lesson plans is two-fold (1) thinking of activities that are pedagogically-sound and follow a logical, contextualized sequence (2) finding resources that are visually-appealing and enhance meaningful interactions in the classroom.

We tend to focus on the first aspect, but forget how important it is for the eyes and the mind to enhance critical thinking, joy and change in the learning process.

Follow up:
Students check some multicultural projects to get inspiration to produce their own digital artifact to answer the question: "What makes (their city) unique?"

"It's not true that what is useful is beautiful. It is what is beautiful that is useful. Beauty can improve people's way of life and thinking." 
Anna Castelli Ferrieri, furniture designer

Sunday, February 20, 2011

14 Interesting Ways to use Google Maps in your Classroom

Not long ago if I had to teach directions or add any geographical aspect to my EFL classroom, I'd have to search for a map, those that I collected from my trips, to make the learning experience more meaningful and connected to students' realities. 

Now, at the tip of your fingers, there are tons of online apps that make the whole geographical, location experience much more fun, visual and interactive. 

Tom Barret gives us fantastic ideas on how to add Google maps in our classrooms in very authentic, meaningful ways:

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Happiness is...

I have a smile on my face, cheerful and totally happy, as I wrap up my guest post of  a Day in a Sentence. Happiness is certainly to bring people and thoughts together that represent meaning, dreams, ideals. That's exactly what we get every week from Bonnie Kaplan's guest posts.

happy jumping girl

From our readers' comments, I realize that again and again happiness comes from the simplest things in life. It doesn't take much. It can be the sight of a bird and you can find it anywhere. It is volatile, it is unpredictable, but it is always there!

Thanks to everybody who shared a bit of happiness with us!

I am passionately happy when I am with my nieces and nephews! They give me tremendous joy! Is it any wonder I teach kindergarten and enjoy young faces all day? But when I go to the core of my happiness, it's really about feeling peace. That is what I pray for. With peace in my whole being, I am happy all day and with everyone I meet. Gail

I think David Crowder sums it up best for me when he sings "Oh happiness, there is grace enough for us, for the whole human race." Alicia

Like I tell my hormone-riddled, chock-full-of-drama students, "Happiness is a choice. Choose well."
Happiness is sharing a smile.
Happiness motto: Engage Me!
Happiness is spending time with family, holidaying, enjoying a sunny day, having a successful lesson but most of all enjoying every minute of every day, even the bad times. There is always something to smile about.
A glorious sunset, a sudden burst of bird flight, the scent of violets wafting on a spring breeze fill me with a healing sort of happiness. Lynn
Happiness is: What's coming just over that hill, around that corner, under that rock?
Let us keep cultivating moments, relationships, attitudes that truly make the difference and make us happy beings.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A Day in a Sentence - Happiness


I've been following for some time now a blog called "The Happiness Project", which is a call for enjoying life to its fullest.

Gretchen Rubin, in one of her posts,quotes Robert Louis Stevenson:
"The habit of being happy enables one to be freed, or largely freed, from the domination of outward conditions." 
Happiness is about simple acts of joy that might happen here, there, everywhere. It is about finding our inner joy in simple acts.

Happiness might simply be meeting friends, watching your kids play, appreciating the sunset, being surprised by your friends on your birthday. Or it might take more grandiose deeds, like finishing some important personal or professional project.

We all have our own happiness motto. What is yours? What is your act of being happy?

Share with us your happiness motto in one sentence. Soon, we'll share our happy sentence collection with you.

Thanks to Bonnie Kaplan for inviting me for this week's A Day in a Sentence.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Identity Logs - Students' Empowerment, Passions and Micro-revolution


Ever since I listened to George Couros talking about Identity Day in the Reform Symposium, I’ve been pondering about the importance of helping our students develop a deeper sense of belonging, of finding their own passions and drives. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to make our learners’ inner voices bloom into more understanding of what truly makes them go beyond, do their best and look for ways to face their own personal challenges?

As I kept mulling over, I came up with a very simple classroom idea: to create an identity log throughout a period of time. Then use this log to create a digital artifact to represent who we are.
Transformative? Empowering, to say the least.

Every beginning or end of classes, the teacher would come up with a prompt. Students would use that prompt to freely write, doodle, draw for, let’s say, two or three minutes. After a certain period of time, students would look back at their identity logs and synthesize them on a digital artifact to represent themselves. It could be a video, a comic strip, an image, a mosaic, a slideshow to share with the other students.

Some prompt ideas for the Identity Log project:
What I like most about myself...
Every time I makes me...because...
I daydream when...
My most special moment of the day is... someone whom I cherish because...
No one could ever imagine that I...
Three things about my favorite hobby...
I am someone who can’t stand...
I am someone that loves...

Some of the digital tools the students could use for their digital production:

And here’s an example of a “Who I am” series with some educators to inspire you to get started by trying out yourself and transforming your students’ perspectives about themselves, about who they are, what they are capable of with a very simple Identity Log activity.

by Luiz Cláudio