A few lessons from Alice Keeler

No matter how long you have been doing something, there’s always (always!) room for improvement. I’ve said it time and time again: the best PD I’ve got came from my colleagues, those teachers filled with passion that know exactly what it’s like to be in the classroom. Those colleagues have taught me about classroom management, ed tech, pedagogy, decoration, you name it. And the beauty of today’s world is that these connections do not need to be restricted to a physical location. With social networks like Twitter, Google+ and countless more, you can learn, get inspiration or simply vent with teachers across the globe.

Last week, I got to meet Alice Keeler, one of those colleagues that’s been teaching and inspiring me virtually and let me tell you, it did not disappoint. She had been invited to Spain by the awesome folks from Texthelp and AdditioApp. There’s a special feeling about actually meeting someone you’ve been following online for a while. A mixture of fangirling while humanizing them at the same time. Her keynote was focused mainly on Google Classroom, which she knows inside out. And even though I’ve been using the app since it came out, I left the event with quite a few ideas buzzing in my head. When she was introduced, she was described as a sort of “volcano” in education, which could not have been more fitting. Bursting with energy, she went through her one-hour keynote/class demo and dropped quite a few “edu bombs” along the way. I tweeted them live but here’s a few of them that have stuck with me all week.

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Were they new concepts, things I’ve never thought of or heard before? Absolutely not. Do we need to be reminded of them on a regular basis? Absolutely yes! What with grading, and planning, and parents’ meetings, and trying to keep up with the curriculum, we must not lose sight of the real aim.

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Innobar, o cómo la formación docente se puede hacer con una cerveza en la mano

Tenía la intención de escribir este post hace tiempo, pero me estaría quedando corta si dijera que este fin de año lectivo fue movido. Tengo las canas verdes que lo prueban.

Tuve el placer de ser invitada al Innobar de Barcelona del pasado junio. Todo empezó con un Tweet misterioso de @focdencenalls que me invitaba a una “iniciativa organizada por profes”. Las frases “píldoras educativas” y “cervezas gratis” estaban en la misma oración, lo cual añadía aún más misterio a toda la situación. Unos pocos minutos de Google me explicaron por qué. Innobar se basa en la siguiente premisa: 50 Docentes + 10 píldoras + 1 Cerveza. Es así de fácil: varios profes se juntan en un bar, diez de ellos comparten alguna actividad que haya sido exitosa en el aula y todos aprenden cerveza gratis en mano.

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La cita fue el sábado 17 de junio a las 18 hs. Decir que aprendí poco sería una injusticia. Sí, es cierto, tiene un formato más que curioso, pero es justamente lo que le da ese encanto particular y descontracturado que las formaciones tradicionales docentes no tienen. Pero lo que probablemente sea la mejor característica del Innobar es que es una formación entre pares que comparten buenas prácticas con sus colegas. Actividades que funcionaron, que son innovadoras y creativas, y que se pueden replicar en otras clases.

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La particularidad de este Innobar, cuyo formato tiene un éxito bastante envidiable con varias ediciones en diferentes ciudades, es que contó con la presencia de un grupo de 3 alumnos que compartieron una píldora. Porque también podemos aprender de nuestros alumnos, y mucho.

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No quisiera que este detalle pase por alto. Es admirable que un alumno de 15 años se pare frente a un grupo de 50 profesores a compartir una experiencia de aula. Los chicos tomaron un juego de cartas de estrategia y lo convirtieron en una actividad para repasar la guerra fría.

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En mi presentación, hablé de unos de mis temas preferidos, conectar aulas. Mi presentación está colgada aquí.

 

 

Scrapbook: The Traveling Book

Few projects leave me with this feeling of accomplishment as the Scrapbook did. I have Reinhard Marx to thank for it. He, along with a colleague, came up with the idea of creating a book that would travel the world – literally. After visiting 19 schools in different continents, visiting hundreds of children of all ages and traveling 75000 kilometers round the globe (yes, you read that number right) it finally arrived back where it started, in Sundern, Germany. Where had it been to? Well, Canada, the USA, Kazakhstan, Brazil, Ireland, Sweden, Japan, Pakistan, Taiwan, Austria, The Netherlands, Australia, Germany, and Argentina. See for yourself.

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How did this international school project come to be? Well, just like most ideas – with a pinch of crazy and a group of people willing to follow. In a nutshell, Reinhard spread the word around through his PLN through social media, teachers signed up using a Google Sheet, a schedule was created and the book, an A4 ring binder filled with empty sheets, set sail to more than a dozen different schools with one aim: it was to be filled out by students following the premise “The way we are”. That single sentence sparked completely different interpretations. Some kids wrote about their school, others about national birds, sports, clothes or food. It did not matter. They were all collaborating to create a single product: a book. Stop for a second and think the implications of it all. In the age of all things digital, we are using technology to connect, to do research, but we are creating an analog product, something tangible. And what I also liked about the project was what it covertly taught: identity, collaboration, empathy, community. All through a few A4 pages in a ring binder. Who knew.

 

My 6th graders back in Buenos Aires working on the book

 

The binder when we got it. It had already traveled a bit as you can see in the stickers.

I surprised my students with the project with a Mystery Hangout that featured the teacher who had sent the book from Brazil, Renata. Once they guessed where she was from I told them we were collaborating with her and her students and voilà, I unveiled the book. The girls worked hard on it and I’m proud of what they came up with. When they were done, we sent the book off to its next destination, Australia.

I presented the project at the Interfaces Congress of the University of Palermo in Buenos Aires. It was awarded a special mention in its category, the highest recognition it could get. The paper will be published in February 2018 in the academic journal Reflexión Académica en Diseño y Comunicación [1668-1673] You can read the full paper here (in Spanish) The project also got coverage in German media. The article (in German, of course) can be found here.

There will be another Scrapbook in the school year 2017-2018. If you feel like taking part, just send me a message and we’ll count you in.

What is my take away from taking part in this project?

Empathy. Small word, huge concept. We live in a time when global awareness, social responsibility, and empathy are crucial to the development of a well-balanced society. Our students are bombarded day after day with news of promises of walls being built between countries, people being beaten by the color of their skin or the religion they profess, or whole families being sent back to the same country they almost died trying to escape from. Empathy is not a luxury, it is rather a vital trait we need to develop. Most of the fears that arise from being in contact with those who are different arises from sheer ignorance. If we tackle ignorance, we weed out that fear. Cultural and religious diversity is enriching, not something to be scared of.

A simple activity like the making of the Scrapbook generates this virtuous cycle. It forces self-reflection by making students think about their identity. It confronts them with someone else who is different and introduces them to different cultures, points of view and values. And in this asynchronous dialogue through a couple of A4 sheets of paper in a sticker-covered binder, we learn about others by learning about ourselves.

And together we build.

When you have more than you need, build a longer table, not a higher fence. –Unknown.

 

 

How a Mystery Skype helped me fight stereotypes

I like to think of myself as a fairly open minded-person. I have my share of prejudices, just like everyone else, but I do try to become aware of them and change them as much as I can.

I was surprised, though, when I encountered a completely unexpected reaction from my 6th graders while reading a book. Background: every year, in class we read four books, graded readers, actually, since they are EFL students) One of those books is a short story called “Meet me in Istanbul”, a sort of detective story/romance set, of course, in Turkey’s largest city. This was probably the 5th group of students I read the book with and it’s a story they usually like. It has mystery, a bit of action, some romantic scenes; pretty interesting for an 11-year-old.

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This year, though, was different. When I presented the book I could already see some reluctant looks and even some requests for a different one. I was gobsmacked. Why? They didn’t even know what the story was about. I tried “selling” it the best way I could, but failed miserably. Still, I found it hard to understand why. And then it happened. One of them said, “I don’t want to read a book about terrorists”. My jaw dropped to the floor and it would have dropped to the basement too if we had one. I asked them to tell me a bit more about this and then it all made perfect sense: in their mind, anything related to the Middle East and Islam was equated with bombs, terrorism, and death. Inasmuch as I tried convincing them otherwise, it was just my word against, well, the world. And why would they believe a word I said? Every day for the past weeks, they have been bombarded with news about the Brussels bombings at the airport and metro.

I was faced with two choices: change the book and move on, or use this as a teaching experience. And you guessed it, I chose the latter. Fear is born out of ignorance and you fight ignorance with education. I figured if they had a hard time believing me, then I needed back up. I resorted to my PLN and managed to get the contact of a Turkish teacher who lived in Istanbul. For obvious reasons, we could not do the traditional Mystery Skype with our classes, one being in Turkey, the other in Buenos Aires, so she kindly accepted doing it after school, on her own. I got my students ready, they came up with questions they wanted to ask her and we set a date. The general feeling for the video call was positive, except for a few students, one in particular (the”I don’t want to read a book about terrorists” one)

I wish I could find the right words to express what it feels like to see the transition between very uptight and suspicious students into these open-minded and amazed. Their expressions and their posture changed. Arms uncrossed, eyes wide-open, hands flying into the air to ask more questions. Meryem had demolished all these prejudices in a 25-min conversation with patience, kindness and a bit of Meghan Trainor (isn’t she the best???)

You know an activity was successful when your students refuse to hang up and go to recess. And this was the case. Needless to say, the reading of the book was an absolute pleasure (and with interspersed comments like “This is the place Meryem told us about!”)

But by far the best comment came from that student that had inadvertently sparked this activity. As soon as we hung up, I asked them how they had felt and if they had learned anything from this experience. When she raised her hand, I have to admit I was slightly guarded. But then she said “I learned that Muslim people are good people” And my jaw dropped again, but this time, out of happiness.

Mystery Hangout: New Jersey

I’ve written before about connecting classes through activities like Mystery Skype or Mystery Hangouts, so I thought it was about time I shared one of my activities.

I posted in the Mystery Hangout Google+ community in desperation. I had a PD session where I wanted to introduce this activity and my mystery person fell through. A teacher from New Jersey kindly replied but a bit too late for my session, so we ended up organizing the activity for our two classes, her 5th graders, and my 6th graders. It was the first time I was going to do this activity with them, so I had to walk them through. As I explained in my post on connecting classes, you need to think this through for it to be a successful activity. To my mind, the most important aspect is the role assignment. Each student needs to have a ‘job’ to do, otherwise, they get distracted, they are unsure what to do or might even get in trouble. I have a fairly small class of 17 students, so this was easy. I had the ‘clue keepers’, the ‘Googlers’, the ‘mappers’ and so on.

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This is a great idea from Heidi’s class that I’ll definitely borrow: thinking time signs.

I had originally planned for 4 students to ask questions but then everyone wanted to ask!

The great thing about assigning jobs is that once the activity gets started everyone knows what to do and you can take a step back and supervise.

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Why, oh, why did Heidi show them their class pet, a chinchilla?!? They’ve been asking for one for days!

As you can see, this is a fairly simple activity to carry out. There’s no mystery to it (yes, the pun is intended) All you need is to start connecting with people. There are hundreds of teachers out there looking for a class to connect right now. So get started. Your students will have a blast – and so will you!