Friday, November 19, 2010

An Xtranormal Experience with 7-year-old kids

Technology is like electricity: it is pervasive, boundless, it is everywhere… it is useful. We teachers ignore it at our peril. We would never expect our pupils to use typewriters or read by candlelight. Equally, we should be encouraging them to use the tools they have available, the tools with which they are familiar if we are to ensure they remain engaged and motivated.

I had longed searched for a tool with which students could work collaboratively and have fun at the same time. Xtranormal (www.xtranormal.com) entitles itself as a text-to-movie website which allows teachers and students to create short films with their own scripts by using clever text-to-speech technology. This means students write a script and then feed in into Xtranormal to produce films with characters dramatizing it.

My pupils, 7-8 year olds are rather motivated learners and loud as any kid their age. Needless to say they are crazy about technology and a simply coming to the board can turn into great excitement. They were first introduced to Xtranormal, a webtool with which they were not familiar yet, at one of our regular classes. I have created a short version of myself teaching and saying their names thus quickly managed to engage my students’ attention: it soon transpired that this was an activity they wanted to do. With a few jaws almost touching the floor I said the magic words: “You are going to create animated videos like this one!” – They were amazed and could not wait to start.

I allowed my students a few minutes to brainstorm dialogues they wanted to transform into animations. In small groups they came up with simple chunks of words in accordance with what they had previously studied. The most creative dialogues among the groups was the one chosen to be featured in the short-film. While they were in charge of creating the dialogues, I was on the computer editing the video according to their like. And then, our first animation was born. Once they were all satisfied the script and the editing were finished to the best of each pupil’s ability, they were then set the homework: bring in more ideas for dialogues for the next videos. And ideas poured in the following classes. They wanted to create a video every class. It was difficult to tame their incitement.

Some teachers have reported problems during the implementation due to parental authorization. I, myself, strongly believe that in such cases not only the kids should be engaged in the project but parents too! Having the support of parents by adding a little note with the link to our first video on the institutional letter helped me get going with the project. Great Slander once taught me: "Should any problems with parents arise; I would try to convince them by showing how powerful the experience is, provide them with examples and explain how safe the kids will be."

My conclusion is that the upshots of this project could not have been any better. Using this tool has enabled my students to revisit vocabulary and structures, thus contributing for their learning and comprehension of the language as a whole. I was very happy myself with the feeling of accomplishment we had.

I would surely do this project again without any changes since it has helped me realize the importance of the role of technology in current education. Paraphrasing Shelly Terrell, we should use technology not only because our pupils use it or will be expected to in their careers. We need to use technology to tear down our classroom walls. We should use technology to show students that their voices can travel the world just like ours do when we tweet, blog or update a status on Facebook. We need to use technology to motivate students to continuously research and to show them that their work transcends beyond the class syllabus.

 Wordle: xtranormal


Saturday, November 6, 2010

Poetry makes kids think out of the box

I have to say that Valeria França's mentioning about poetry in class came to me as a surprise and a big coincidence. At the beginning of the term a fellow teacher asked me if I had some ideas on how to work poetry with her class. When I finally found something worth sharing, I myself felt tempted to try it out. And so I did.

First of all, the use of poetry in an EFL classroom can be a great motivator. After all, they are authentic texts. Moreover, poems are rich in cultural references, and they present a wide range of learning opportunities. However, I am no expert in literature – let alone English Literature – thus my aim was not to teach poetry itself, but English through poetry.

The big day had come and I was very anxious to see how the lesson would go since most of Brazilian students tend to regard poetry as something tedious and irrelevant. So, I tried to do something a little different from what the lesson plans I had at home, something that would turn dullness into excitement. Thus I decided not to present any poems in advance and not to mention the words poetry/poem before the correct moment.

The attempts were made with two distinct groups: a Basic compound by teenagers ranging from 11 to 13y.o and a Pre-intermediate compound by teenagers ranging from 11 to 12yo. I started by playing some classical music for them to set the mood.

While the Basic students were listening to Bolero by Maurice Ravel - a very dramatic piece of music - I asked them to close their eyes and think of a landscape, a color, a felling and emotions that they would associate with it. After that they should look at the two paintings I had previously put on the IWB. They were Narcissus and Medusa by the Italian Baroque painter Caravaggio. So I asked: “What do you feel when you look at these pictures? Apprehension? Fear? Solitude? Anger? Love? Happiness? I told them to focus on the music and on the pictures as well.

In small groups students were subsequently supposed to create a mind-map with feelings, emotions, colors, objects, names etc that would link with the music and the pictures. After doing that, they were asked to select one of these items and write about. At this time I first mentioned the word “poem”. This way I feel I could water down their anxiety and provide a propitious environment for writing. And oh boy, they wrote like crazy! Especially because they were told to work collaboratively. Each member of the group would be in charge of a verse. Here are the results:

As for the Pre-intermediate group, I wanted to turn their emotions and perceptions into something a little calmer. So, I played As Bachianas Nº5 by Villa Lobos and the pictures were Woman with a Parasol and Cliff Walk at Pourville by the French impressionist painter Claude Monet. The results followed the idea of calmness, quietude and inner-peace as you can see:

In another opportunity I will have them recite the poems, record and upload it onto Youtube and finally create a Glogster.

My conclusion is that poetry can serve as a great stimulus for EFL students since it can provide great opportunities for personalization and creation. This means that communication is genuine because they are talking and writing about their own perceptions and feelings. They are engaged and motivated which helps making the lesson, the language and poems memorable. As teachers we should not neglect the benefits literature offers. During this simple activity I was able to introduce them to a new world. Some of them had never heard of Villa Lobos. Some thought he was Portuguese. And I dare say that never had they paid attention to classical music and to paintings as they did.

For me, there is no greater reward.

P.S I’ve posted the students’ original piece of writing so as not to hinder the outcome of this project. Later on I corrected them and gave feedback.


Thursday, November 4, 2010

Vocabulary - How do you talk to your kids?

While reading some blogs it dawned on me how much we are used to water down our language just for the sake of adapting our vocabulary to our students. And this is so sad! Why treating kids as if they were idiots? (sorry for the word). I vividly remember my mom telling me off because whenever we met a baby I was all about "Gucci, gucci, baby - ne ne ne" and she used to say: "The baby is not an idiot. Talk to him normally" I never quite understood why. (!)

Look around and you'll see how poor kids language inventory is. How many "but" and "ands" and "whiches" and "sos" do you have to face in a daily-basis.

Maybe we are the ones to be blamed. Either for not giving proper instruction or for not talking them into using more sophisticated words and estructures. Students nowadays may have their language repertoire

Children learn the best from what they see and hear from their parents, teachers and important adults around them. Modeling behavior and using appropriate vocabulary will help children learn and grow. This is true for children at all ages. Working in early education, I feel it's important to speak to even young children with respect for their intelligence. Children love to play with words, and they usually remember more than we do.

For this, I would like to share with you some food for thought extracted from a video (embedded below) by Stephen Fry

"For me, it is a cause of some upset that more Anglophones do not enjoy language. Music is enjoyable it seems, so are dance and other, athletic form of movemement. People seem to be able to find sensual and sensuous pleasure in almost anything but WORDS"

This reminds me of Cecilia Coelho when invited to write a guest post on Ken Wilson's Blog she got us thinking about the difference between "Listen" and "Hear".

"Hearing is about perceiving the sound whilst listening is about paying attention to what you hear, decoding it. (...) When it comes to your students' efforts in using English to express themselves - be it orally or in writing - do you listen or just hear them?"
Great, isn't it?

Finally, I would like to share a great tool I've found to teach vocabulary in a very dynamic and fun way: www.languageguide.org. It aims to develop 3 types of resources:
Pictorial Vocabulary Resources - which contains image based pages as well as complementary pages with adjectives, verbs, and expressions. Where you can place the cursor and listen to the words.
Interactive Readings - which help develop comprehension skills and build vocabulary.
Grammar Guides - which are experimental introductory grammar guides for French, Spanish and English

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

When a student says a teacher is a pair of glasses...

Yesterday an eleven-year-old student came to me and said she had finally figured out the meaning of the word 'half'
She'd said she's a great fan of the sitcom Two and a Half Men but could never grasp the meaning behind the series' name. It may seem pretty obvious for us. Not only because we are fluent in English but also for the set of images and the plot of the sitcom - two guys and a teenager trying to live under the same roof. However, for those who don't understand the language these inputs may never be perceived.

Curious as I am, I asked her how she had figured it out (fully aware of the answer, obviously). And then she started: "Well, teacher* remember that last class you taught us how to tell the time? - I was kind of in doubt on how to use the word 'half' but when I saw the sitcom I realized the real meaning of it. Now I know! It means 50% because half an hour is 50% of an hour and half a man is a child."

I was amazed by the strattegies she used to understand it. Nevertheless she went even further: She said she felt that only now that she's learning English she could actually SEE the world.
See the world? At the this time I was thrilled and dying to know what had gone through that little mind. - Then she added: "The only one time when I felt the same way was when I had my first pair of glasses. I could actually see the world and realize how blind I was."

I bet you can picture tears rolling, uh? OMG... That was such a moment and provided me plenty of food for thought.
We, educators are being compared to glasses. We can make people see through different eyes. We can enhance their vision of the world. Change the way they see things. I mean not only physically but also psychologically.
That's how I feel: changing people's lives. Breking long-term mindset and helping them discover a new world.

I hope my students regard me as 3D glasses :-P

* In Brazil, people are culturally inclined to use the noun 'teacher' as a vocative. I am aware that in English it is not, however I let them call me teacher because it evokes a more intimate relation than calling me Mr. Andrade :-)

Friday, October 29, 2010

Youtube goes interactive and educational

One can find almost everything on Youtube nowadays. From how-to-solve-the-magic-cube videos to those which inspire and help us teachers develop in our adventure of teaching.
Firstly, I'd like to talk about interaction, one of the pilars of Web 2.0. Interaction among users is key to a sucessful social media. Blogging, Twittering, Commenting on Facebook feeds all require interaction and that's what drives them to conquer the world we live in. For the very first time you can interact not only by commenting on Youtube videos, but also change the course of the video itself --- AMAZING!

How to use it in class:
When the video leads you to a copy of a youtube page - when in reality is a Flash miracle - ask your students what class of word they can use in the blank (answer = verbs) - Students can come up with as many verbs as they want and see the characters of this great ad acting as they commanded!
This way you can review verbs, commands, verb agreement, pronoun use and the works!

Secondly, I would like to call the attention of educators around the globe to the magnificent strand of Youtube: Youtube Educational Videos.
Inspired by Shelly Terrell's (@ShellTerrell) last post on her blog when she invited Kimberly Bowen to write about Youtube Educational Videos, I decided to give it a try.
At first I used to listen and see TED TALKS as my main imagery inspirational tool. However, I was greatly surprised by some of the EdVideos on Youtube.

Since youtube is quite more popular among students than TED Talks (which is especifically designed to educators)- this tool may help your students foster their learning onwership.

Why Using YouTube Educational Videos:
- Learning takes place not only inside the walls of a classroom. So, it's a nice idea to get students to discover their own learning pace. On Youtube they can watch videos whenever and wherever there's an internet connection. They may watch it how many times they wish as it is not a real-time presentation.
- Students can have the opportunity to access the presenter by commenting on the videos or sending him/her an e-mail. This way, they're not only learning but also building their own PLN.

Have you tried? I'd love to hear from you what your fave ones are!
Here's one of mine:

See you in a post! :-)

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Education is at WAR. So why do you teach?

Having attended some of the Virtual Round Table conferences I had this insight:

I'd like to start saying that at first I did not pursued this career. My first thought was to become a personal trainer due to my great affection for sports at that time.
My family is basically compounded by teachers. I have my mother, two aunts, an uncle, a cousin and a few other more distant relatives who are educators. For this reason, I'd often said to my parents that this would not be the kind of profession I would follow. Why? Why getting so little for working so hard? Why trying to educate children who were not educated at home? Why working so many extra-hours at home, preparing material and stuff? (I'd seen my mother dreading the time when she had to use the mimeograph to make copies of tests. The only thing I liked was the smell of alcohol.) Why spending my leisure time preparing and correting tests if I could be lying on the beach instead?
You know know why? Beacause I had a dream! I dreamed of becoming a better person through making people the best they could possibly be.
And I still have a dream. I dream of making my country the top of the countries. Without education this is unattainable.
Education is at war. Noone dares doubt it. Unprepared teachers are ubiquitiously scattered in schools. Meanwhile, unprepared parents are relying on these teachers to educate their children. How could this be possible? Complaining about these trivial problems is easy. Here in Brazil, education never came first. And we'll have to live many years to see it the growing as a priority.
However, there have been more serious problems to be dealt with: our kids have been living a nightmare in schools. Much has been demanded from them. Much has been asked. Much has been said. Nothing has been done.
They often compare themselves to superheroes. Who have to multitask by doing great at school, having some time to see their friends, practsing some sport and the like. Phew! i'd get tired just to imagine.
Education needs heroes. However, these heroes cannot be the students. They have to be us! We have the power to lessen their pain, to make learning more enjoyable. To change their lives!
What have you done to change education so far?
I guess you should start by changing yourself! Education Reform is closer than you might ever have imagined. Be careful. You might be the one who's been left behind!

See you in post :-)
please comment!


Monday, August 30, 2010

Overcoming Technofobia: The Teachers Issue

The dawn of 21st century has seen an explosion in technology-based solutions and an extension of it has been placed int the realm of education. However, the use of technology in education is not focused as much as in other sectors such as business and health. While technical solutions are expanding exponentially and an emphasis has been placed on the "wired", technical skills are not developing in the same pace.Therefore, most teachers are legging behind for finding themselves lacking the basic technological understanding and skills that are core to successfully operate these solutions.
Do you suffer from Technofobia? [Future generations truly hope not]
Question #1 - How can I help overcome the view of technology as "dangerous"?
- Start up by defining projects using technology clearly: On many occasions, project and technology issues are merely a result of misinformation, which the use of rubrics resolves. The key is to be specific, however, leaving room for student inquiry.
- Allow Students Freedom under a Watchful Eye: become a coach, mentor, and guide for your students. Watch them, learn from them, and keep them on track. Teachers’ responsibilities are not relinquished and they sometimes have to lay down the law; however, this becomes less of a problem as students learn to learn using technology. Let the students explore, create, and develop a better understanding of the concepts they are learning.
Question #2 - How many educators fail to distinguish between "computers" and "technology"?
Every teacher wants to use the best tools to help students learn, and technology integration requires long-term staff development time. Withal, some teachers do undermine the power of technology. It's crucial to mention that a Powepoint presentation does not make you technological.
- Ask for Help to Avoid Technophobia: There is always someone available in a school to offer technological help. Every school has several technology savvy teachers today. Some schools even have on-site technology integration specialists or coaches. Do not be afraid to ask for help, because this leads to a better understanding. Just like teachers tell their students every day, there is no such thing as a dumb question.
- Fear of technology is not new! Embracing technology involves changing routines and opening yourself to r-i-s-k. The fear of technology sometimes comes more often from the fear of change than of technology itself. Open your mind! Use all possible source of technology you might have access to: cell phones, bluetooth, laptops, Ipads, Itouchs, Iphones (and smartphones in general), flash drives, webcams, and of course: your imagination and creativity.
Teacher dispostion and views on technology play a large role in whether the technology is adopted in classroom. John Saye in his book 'Technology in the Classroom: The Role of Teacher Disposition in Gatekeeping' describes 5 kinds of teachers according to their disposition to technology and intolerance for risk:
* Trailblazers *
* Pioneers *
* Settlers *
* Stay-at-homes *
* Saboteurs *
Pick yours!

ImageChef.com - Custom comment codes for MySpace, Hi5, Friendster and more

See you in a post :-)

Saturday, August 21, 2010

10 basic reasons why technology MUST be used in class

Many educators are still rather reluctant when it comes to the use of technology in class. Some say it can easily distract stutends and therefore they lose focus ruinning their precious classes. Some claim that its cost is not in sync with its benefits. And even worse: some teachers are empowered with high-tech and they simply don't know what to do with it (!).

So, here are my favorite top 10 reasons why technology must be used in class:

1- Collaboration
How has your life as a teacher changed with the advent of the Web 2.0?
A Web 2.0 site gives its users free choice to interact or collaborate with each other in a social media dialogue as creators (prosumer) of user-generated content in a virtual community, in contrast to websites where users (consumer) are limited to the passive role of content view that was created for them.
Web 2.0 draws together the capabilities of client- and server-side software, content syndication and the use of network protocols. Standards-oriented web browsers may use plug-ins and software extensions to handle the content and the user interactions. Web 2.0 sites provide users with information storage, creation, and dissemination capabilities that were not possible in the environment now known as "Web 1.0".
- Rather than laboring alone on homework, students can this way work in small groups wherever they happen to be and at any time

2- Here, there and everywhere
Skype, Msn Messenger, Google Voice... how many webtools can you name that provide interaction and communication with anyone in any part of the globe? Many!
The worldview of the student can be expanded because of the zero cost of communicating with other people around the globe. The Internet permits free video conferencing which permits interaction in real time with sister schools in other countries. From an educational viewpoint, what could be more important than understanding other cultures through direct dialog and collaboration?

3- Individual Sequencing and Studying Pace
Information technologies can permit students to break step with the class and go at a pace and order that suits that student better. Without disrupting the class, they can repeat difficult lessons and explore what they find interesting. With time, it will become more like having a private tutor rather than being lost in a large class. Moreover, students can research for other sources or simply find other ways to approach one subject.

4- Weight
One thing that really gets on my nerves is to see the poor student carrying tonnes of books in their backpacks because they have 4, 5 or maybe 6 different subjects one that day. Add up some notebooks, some binders, pencil cases and others material and voilá in 5 years' time you have a student with a chronic backache. Ipods have up to 32 gb storage which means thousands of files in it. A kindle reader may allow you to have approximatelly 1500 books weighing only 29g. An Ipad weighs 680g and the whole world can be put in there. Not to mention netbooks computers, cell phones, flash drivers and etc..

5- Ownership of Productivity
Students need productivity tools for the same reasons you do. They need to write, read, communicate, organize and schedule. A student's life is not much different from any knowledge worker, and they need similar tools. Even if they are never used in the classroom, portable personal computers will make a student's (and teacher's) life more effective. To cash in this benefit, schools need to go paperless.

6- Organization
How often do you lose your mind trying to find that slip of paper where you made that important annotation? Get rid of them! Go paperless! Use social bookmarking. The way I use social bookmarking is quite simple. Since I do a lot of my work at home, I often bookmark at home and then access those bookmarks at school. For example, if there are several youtube videos I want to show students, I bookmark them at home and then load them when I go to school in the morning. Using bookmarks you don't need to create "folders" for each site you want to mark, you can just tag them. Not to mention the power of social networking. You can follow people and get to know what they've tagged.

7- Learning X Teaching
Technology allows the tables to be turned. Instead of teaching (push), students can be given projects that require them to learn (pull) the necessary material themselves. Key to this is the ability to get the information they need any time anywhere, without being in the physical presence of a teacher. This project-based pull approach makes learning far more interesting for the student. I strongly believe that students cannot wait to get out of regular classes to go to the after-school internet project.

8- Depth in Understanding
Interactive simulus are prone to produce a much greater depth of understanding of a concept. When virtual manipulatives are used in a classroom setting they can go far beyond chalk and talk. The use of visuals in a collaborative space conduct to curiosity and investigation therefore demonstrate concepts far beyond the traditional talk and hand-raising.

9- Time and Space Stretching
There's no substitute for a teacher. No machine wil ever do that - Thank God ;-) However, we the use of internet and its many tools we can stretch the time students spend with their teachers. Teachers could be found and thus help studentes develop at any time. Plus, on-line material can be much more available than that. A student who wishes to hit the "books" at 1:00am can do it easily sitting in front of his computer.
The use of textbooks inside a classroom are unfortunately and inevitably limited. On the other hand, a wireless laptop has access to the teacher's course material and the entire Internet almost anywhere. This is also a vastly larger resource than can be practically carried on paper in a backpack.

Bottom line: information technology allows learning anywhere, anytime; not just in one particular classroom for 60 minutes a day.

10- Express yourself. Don't repress yourself!

Webtools allow students to express themselves in a never-seen-before way. Let their imagination fly by creating and editing videos, prezi presentations, run a class blog or a web-based newspaper, exchange podcasts, create a web-based TV program or radio station, compose digital music.. Be creative and let them be as well.

In short, we have still a long path to go so as to achieve the goal of a technological class, especially in Brazil where technology may be costy and teachers are rather too much old-school material. However, I believe that if education is about knowledge and intellectual skills, then we have to beware that IT is at the core of it. It is just a transition and we'll survive. Don't worry.

See you in a post :-)

Education and Technology - How did you cope with this marriage?

In contrast to developed countries, the discussion about the use of technology in class in Brazil is still incipient. Some private schools already have an IWB (Interactive WhiteBoard) in every classroom. However, in some schools they are not connected to the internet (?!), in other more students have never heard of it. I strongly believe that technology must be intrinsically connected with education since students are exposed to it all the time. They get to school with their Ipods clung to their ears, all of them have a mobile with which they text, transfer files, listen to music, record voice clips and yeah they call. Such other technologies should be inserted into everyday class routine because they are part of students lives and it won't be different at the work place.

Regardless of your nationality and therefore location, I invite educators to join this discussion about inserting technology in class. I would like you to share your experiences and tell us how you managed to get it done.

This blog aims to prove that it is possible to use technology for educational purposes not only in wealthy countries but all over the world. Since it's becoming and inevitable way of dealing with learning.

Please, contribute.

See you in a post :-)


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