Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Culture Gone Digital

To champion the selfless acts of others. This is the motto of  a great site to explore the wonders of different cultures around the globe. http://explore.org is a "multimedia organization that documents leaders around the world who have devoted their lives to extraordinary causes. Both educational and inspirational, explore creates a portal into the soul of humanity."
Through powerful videos and photos, an educator can bring a whole new, fresh cultural perspective to the classroom. What I love about Explore besides all its culture richness? The fact that you can watch any video in a tablet. m-Learning at its best! Can you imagine a classroom activity in which every student can learn about a specific cultural aspect in different countries and then share their findings with peers?

Another great place for cultural explorations? Pocketcultures, a place made of the views of expats in foreign lands, as well as the natives' perspectives. It ranges from posts about people, interesting blogs, to cultural curiosities. The world in Pocketcultures is at the tip of your fingers and your students' . Don't miss the chance to connect language with a cultural touch to promote better understanding, awareness and tolerance among people.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Still on the Mantras for Tired Teachers

In my last post, I talked about the three mantras for tired teachers, and mentioned that my learning goal of the month was to not only learn, but also test the pedagogical possibilites of QRcodes. I'm delighted  to say that I followed the two first mantras (learn and try) and am here to share (as part of the last one!) the results of my classroom results.

QR Codes

I studied QRcodes, thought of a lesson plan that fit my students' needs and school curriculum. It all started when I told my adult students how the advertisement industry was using QRcodes and Augmented reality in their campaigns (we were discussing about the world of advertisement). They had a question mark on their faces, for they'd never heard of QRcodes or Augmented reality. I explained it, then, there was a brochure in our school with a QRcode. I showed them how it worked. Most of my adult students own a smartphone. So, I sent my customary email of the day and included links to free app downloads of QRreaders for iphones and android phones. Plus, I added they homework in QRcode to make them curious and willing to take their time to download the apps.

I used http://qrstuff.com to generate the colorful QRcodes with amazon links to specific products. We were practicing how to say in different ways how something was expensive or cheap, as explained in my last post:
2. Try, fail, try again in class                                                                                
Learning is not enough. Practice really makes perfect. Test with a plan.
I learned about QR-generators and found powerful free QRreader apps to encourage my students to download them.
I planned a shopping activity with QRCodes to practice talking about things that are too expensive and a bargain.
I invited my students to download the app to their cellphones (I gave suggestions for either Apple and Android smarthphones)
I feel ready to try. Here are the colorful QRcodes I prepared for the activity.

I was ready for the classroom trial. I had my cellphone with a QRreader app and my son's iPod touch. When I got to class, I asked if some of them had downloaded the app. Yes, Yes, Yes! So, we were ready. First, I elicited from students the dialogue we were practicing and the expressions they could use to say something was way too expensive or a good deal. Then, I handed in to the groups different QRcodes in different colors. They scanned them, and had a wonderful practice using real products from Amazon. I was careful to choose products that might really interest them (GPS running watch, Nespresso Coffee Maker, Gold bracelet, Watch, Touchscreen digital camera). The students were really into the activity and practiced extensively ways of talking about a purchase. I asked them to stand up and change partners holding their cellphones and their products. So, they had on the cellphone screen the product they wanted to talk about and they could also use the QRreader history to browse other products they had scanned. Some students had the cellphones, others asked about the products. The hard part was to make them stop!!! After that, we talked about the products and prices and what they would really buy, students were curious about how to buy online, what the shipping costs and taxes were, if it was reliable to buy online. What a wonderful discussion in which all the students had an experience to share! I was ecstatic with the positive results of my own learning.

Challenges and tips:

  • Such an activity will only work if your students have smartphones with data plan or ipod touch devices with wifi (and wifi at your school). Or if you bring your own devices to class. 
  • there needs to be preparation beforehand and, at least, some students need to download the scanning app
  • The content you choose to be scanned must be exciting, close to students' reality to make the effort worth it.
  • Encourage other teachers to join you. It is REALLY fun and brain-friendly.
For ideas on how to use QRcodes in the classroom check this PPT:

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Three Powerful Mantras for Tired Teachers

We can easily picture educators who suffer from an ongoing, cronic burnout. No motivation, no strength, happiness in the eye, passion. Many become the complainers, resistant, tired souls that simply let life pass by, waiting for the day they can retire.

I'm an optimist at heart and truly believe that if one decided to become an educator, there's always a passionate soul that is dormant somewhere out there. It is just a matter of refocusing, finding a new purpose, meaning to what we're doing. It's about finding opportunities to ignite that passion again.

Rouge Passion

These are, then, my three mantras for those who have no escape but to seize the day, become happier, self-fulfilled educators touching students' lives in very meaningful ways:

1. Learn, learn, learn something new                                      
In my case, I've decided that this is the QR-Codes month. I want to test pedagogical uses for them with my adult group. I've read about it, asked around, saw videos, and checked wonderful PPT with educational ideas for them.
So, just set up a XXXXX month. What are you going to focus your learning efforts on this month?

2. Try, fail, try again in class                                                     
Learning is not enough. Practice really makes perfect. Test with a plan.
I learned about QR-generators and found powerful free QRreader apps to encourage my students to download them.
I planned a shopping activity with QRCodes to practice talking about things that are too expensive and a bargain.
I invited my students to download the app to their cellphones (I gave suggestions for either Apple and Android smarthphones)
I feel ready to try. Here are the colorful QRcodes I prepared for the activity.

3. Share, share, share your successes and failures                  
I'm already sharing my ideas here with you, but I still want to go beyond and share how the activity went once I get my feet wet with my students. Can't wait!

What would be your mantras to keep your passion for teaching and learning alive?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Twisting Homework Work - A tool, A thousand Ways to Engage students

She was meant to be a star. Her photos were all over, Vogue magazine, among all renowned international magazines you can think of. One day, though, ...

How about a bit of homework revolution for a change?

Add this sentence to the board, send the photo to your students and tell them to access http://photofunia.com, upload the photo you sent or students can upload their own to continue the story.

This idea can be used for storytelling, vocabulary practice or any grammar point reinforcement activity.

Students, then, share in class their stories and the photos they edited and added to the story.

I can bet here that you'll be surprised by students' creativity!

Other possibilities:
Every end of class, you add an edited photo of one of the students and they have to come up with a creative sentence about it as homework assignment.

email an edited photo to students with a reminder about the homework assignment they have. (the photo is, then, just a motivational sparkler for the assignment)

Ask students to choose three people in their family, edit the photos in photofunia and talk about family members in class.

Can you think of other classroom activities to use the editions in Photofunia?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Abundance x Scarcity - Digital Literacy in the Equation

In my presentation about how educators have been collaborating in our school, sharing resources, ideas, connecting, interacting, my first slide is about abundant and scarce resources in our workplace.

First answer from the audience about scarcity in an educational setting? TIME.

Some people are willing to follow, but not to start a movement, for action means having to deal with failure/success.

Also, most resist. Resist bravely. Reasons for not changing?

I guess the main point has to do with our own limitations, weaknesses. When there's change, we'll be dealing with the unpredictable, the moving sands until we get to solid ground. It's about touching the unknown.

For some, it means excitement, the feeling of a fresh start, some rain after dry season to start a blooming season.

For others, a shake in the building blocks of our fixed ideas and values. Change in the status quo, in the rules of the game. Much more so when we are talking about change that brings abundance through social media.

Not long ago, there was much more institutional control over the handouts, exercises, materials teachers were producing. Even because of physical constraints, there was a limit to what teachers could produce and share. Now, with our online shared space, a wiki, thousands of files have been produced. The scarcity X abundance balance is disrupted. We now capitalize in our scarce resource TIME, for many educators are producing and sharing resources that would be done individually in the past. However, it is argued that quality is sacrificed in the name of abundance. True up to a certain point. Surely the resources have different levels of quality in terms of content and design. But, haven't we always produced content for the classroom? In the past, nobody would see it, now there's a social control of these shared educational resources in an online collaborative space.

Our challenge now is to keep moving forward in this new digital paradigm shift and understand that the resources that are shared is the group's shared effort. Thus, these resources should be improved, remixed, re-purposed to be made even more useful and appropriate to our learners.

Now we're talking about another issue in the mix - digital literacy. Digital is totally abundant, literacy is still the scarce part of the equation, for it involves not only the development of the functional/technical expertise in relation to the digital world, but also the critical view on the use of digital educational resources, which certainly takes time. It is a process that will add the equilibrium to the equation of abundance of digital resources x their quality once educators enhance their digital literacy skills.Also, it will give another mindset to the new users/producers of content in the sense of understanding that there's no problem to get somebody's work and remix it for a different group of students with specific needs and unique interests. What's there is not MINE, it's OURS. Let's make this social construct even more exciting.


...And we're back again to the scarcity of INITIATIVE...
No problem! I don't give up and keep trying to inspire my colleagues to move on. Nowadays in a much more one-to-one, minimalist, subtle way than in the past of one-size-fits-all type of teacher training. The way we share has changed into a much more abundant, non-linear way, so has the approach we should take to teacher training and the development of everyone's digital literacy skills.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Talking about Pets

My class tomorrow is about pets.

This is a topic that arouses lots of interest and interaction as there are many people attached to their pets. A while ago, I recorded this simple video with a friend. As voicethread is a dynamic tool to create learning objects, now I can use it with my students with an even richer listening practice touch, for other teachers have also talked about their pets.

The idea is to start the class showing some photos of animals that could be "weird" pets (i.e, iguanas) and to discuss if those animals would make good pets and the reasons for the answers.

Then, I'll show the Voicethread and ask students to write questions to my friend Luiz Cláudio about his pets. Then, they will talk about their own pets and will bring images of their own pets for a topic wrap up in the following class.

Some questions for discussion:

- Are you attached to animals? Do you have pets? How attached are you to your pet?
- How many pets have you had so far?
- When isn't it good to have pets?
- Pets are more work than fun. Agree or disagree?
- Animals are not meant to become pets. Agree or disagree?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

RSCON 3 - Professional Development in Pajamas

Last week, we had the wonderful Online conference - the "Reform Symposium". I was delighted to have presented there, as there were so many talented educators presenting. Truly an honor.


As much as I wanted to be there 24/7 for the three inspiring days of the free online professional development opportunity, I couldn't because it was the first weekend I was with my two little ones after three long weeks they were traveling to their grandparents' house. So, it meant that I missed the chance to watch the presentations live, but, as in the year before, I knew there would be recordings of the presentations and I could catch up later on, even if I knew it was a different, more lonely experience than being there live, listening, commenting, asking questions and networking. A choice to be with the family, some sacrifice.

Now, I'm glad to know that the recordings are already being made available by the wonderful team of the Reform Symposium organizers. You can still watch the sessions in a spirit of "professional development in pajamas", fun, open, with no time or place constraints.

You just need to access http://bit.ly/recordingsrscon3 

Many of the resources can also be found online at

RSCON3 Social Media Storify

No excuses, then, to be inspired and do things even better in your classroom.