Twitter for Life

Some great things have been happening to me during the last weeks. Maybe I should say since September, since I started using Twitter more actively. But let me take it from the beginning.

Last May, I think I discovered twitter and started using it reluctantly. I couldn’t get it in the beginning and was surprised that so many people were raving about it. But then after summer I started following a couple of teachers and from one great teacher to another, from one educator and e-learning expert to the other I arrived here and I can honestly say that Twitter has changed my life.

–        If it wasn’t for Twitter I wouldn’t have applied to present at the IATEFL conference in September and get accepted. (my first international conference)

–        If it wasn’t for Twitter I wouldn’t have had the idea to create a presentation about PLNs and present it to my colleagues in my region, my first steps as a teacher trainer.

–        If it wasn’t Twitter I wouldn’t have had all these resources available when I was co-creating in moodle my first online e-learning course for Greek teachers related to eTwinning

–        If it wasn’t for Twitter I wouldn’t have interacted with so many fabulous teachers from around the world

Some people may wonder how come twitter is so important in my professional life and what had I been doing so long. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve been teaching for many years, and I think I have always been active, going to conferences and attending seminars and talking to colleagues and reading books. But the internet connection and interaction is something waaaaay different. Once the seminars are over, and the conference lights are turned off and we go home, and the next day we go to school, we are largely alone. Add to that an educational system (in my country) which doesn’t encourage reflection or rather oppresses it, in case we have a good thought and we upset the status quo, and you get the picture of how isolated a teacher who tries hard may feel. Lately there have been attempts to change that, and I am optimistic about it. But the truth is that I have never felt so connected with other educators as I do now.

The ISTEK conference last week in Istanbul was a revealing experience. It was the very first ISTEK conference (and I hope not the last, because I want to attend next year :-)  ) and the organization, the content, the level of presentations was stratospheric as my friend Olaf said.

I was online most of the time, following the Twitter reports and watching some of the plenary talks, and all the time commenting with people  who were there like Marisa and people who were attending from home like Mark and Vicky and Sara and I felt something was happening. Something magnificent, something I hadn’t felt before.

Now almost a week later, I am still reading the posts and the comments of the people who gave presentations, who twittered, who experienced something like me. As I was watching the official Flickr slideshow from Istek, at Shell’s blog, I had the same feeling I had last weekend. The fact that I was watching photographs of people I have never met in my life and still I felt I knew, saying…there’s Gavin in his usual skeptical look, and there’s Andrew in his emblematic sweater, and there’s Nicky from ConsultantsE who told me about Zamzar the other day. I mean I knew all these people existed, I have read their books, their articles, I have attended their talks (three cheers for Luke Prodromou, here, one of the most influential teachers I have ever met) but the fact that I can address them too, that my comments are valued, that I can ask them questions and get answers back, this doesn’t cease to amaze me. Back to watching the Istek slideshow, every photograph I see, every person I recognize, creates more thoughts and ideas to share, and even the people I don’t recognize, the beautiful women of Turkey, Burcu and Ozge, with their charming smiles, and their Mediterranean looks, for each one of them I say, hey, look this is a teacher like me, struggling to do the best for our students in dire straits, under averse conditions.

There have been so many marvellous responses to this Conference. I suggest you MUST also read Shell’s account which actually inspired this post and has a comprehensive list of other articles and links to check!

As far as professional development is concerned I think that twitter has done for me what years of fragmentary training haven’t done. It has motivated me to read more, to research more, to be more creative, to reflect on my teaching more. It may seem funny that one single application can do so much but it isn’t the software of course but the people behind it, the people I ran into, the people I chose to make my circle of colleagues and friends.

I can’t wait to see what the future will bring to me thanks to all these amazing connections that have been created!  I remember some twitter conversation from some time ago that so much positive energy and so much cuddliness, may become boring. Well maybe. For some. For others so much positive energy is our fuel. And I know very well I wouldn’t be here without the help of my friends. Thank you all!

Christmas and Resources

This is a blog that started as something else. It started as a tool for publicizing ideas about the pedagogy of eTwinning. But it hasn’t worked like this. So I don’t see why not use it to publicize ideas about teaching English and teaching in general. For the moment, because we are knee deep in glossy papers, Christmas trees, glitter crayons and various types of silver garlands I don’t have the time to write theoretically and explain my manifesto (in case there is one, I’m not sure yet). I just wanted to share a few things I found while surfing the net.

So here they are: Best Christmas twitter backgrounds:

http://twitrounds.com/twitter-backgrounds/christmas/

http://www.dollielove.com/twitter/twitter_layouts/christmas/?page=1

http://www.christmastwitterbackgrounds.com/

http://www.christmas-wallpapers.co.uk/

http://trixinity.net/christmas-layouts.shtml

http://www.instantshift.com/2008/12/18/70-beautiful-christmas-wallpapers/

Best Christmas presentations from Slideshare

Christmas Celebrations around the world (excellent photography)

http://www.slideshare.net/Nubiagroup/christmas-traditions-all-over-the-world

Visual imagery of Christmas

http://www.slideshare.net/stelaspinoie/best-of-christmas-pop-2720228

Christmas traditions around the world

http://www.slideshare.net/Nines/christmas-around-the-world-2706894

Christmas traditions in the USA (very helpful for us non-native teachers, very analytic)

http://www.slideshare.net/Nines/christmas-traditions-usa

Beautiful Christmas decorations (title is self-explanatory)

http://www.slideshare.net/DINISHA/beautiful-christmas-decorations

I’m sure there are many more and I’m going to update the list. I would be glad for your suggestions of course!

Introducing Web tools and PLNs to English teachers

Teaching English in Greek public schools is a challenging adventure. Lack of equipment, big classes, adverse conditions, negative mentalities, tape recorders that don’t work, headmasters that don’t see the need of English are everyday situations that all of us face . Maybe the conditions don’t change much for teachers of all sectors. Maybe they are the same for public schools all over the world.

What is special about English and all foreign languages for that matter, is that sometimes the concept of a foreign language itself is loaded with negative connotations. Things change of course and most parents and students are nowadays supportive to the idea of teaching English in a public school. Teachers of English have fought hard and gained the appreciation they strive for. Especially in primary education, where the teaching of English was introduced about 15 years ago, we have become a lively part of school and may I dare say an innovative one!

When I first met Ms Kollatou the English Advisor for the prefectures of Karditsa and Trikala, I was really glad because it seemed for the first time that a person who had the qualifications and the motivation to work for this sector was appointed to the right place! It is a really happy coincidence and a rare one for Greek standards, therefore even more appreciated. At about the same time I started working with the eTwinning progamme.

In the beginning it was just a matter of getting to know more teachers and informing them of the existence and the action and how it worked. But slowly as eTwinning was evolving from just another action to an active network of involved teachers, so did we. Ambassadors all over Greece are creating their own networks with teachers who have participated in the action and continue to contribute to it with ideas and projects. A great example is the Ning group that the Ambassador of Argolida and Korinthia has set up for the teachers in her area.

My further involvement in the Pedagogical Group of Greek eTwinning meant exploring even more the pedagogy of the action, and getting more involved with teacher networks. Discovering what Twitter can do for teachers was a great revelation for me. Suddenly isolation was not an issue and inspiration was coming towards me in loads from all over the world.

This is the background to the creation a presentation about three web tools and subsequently a talk for teachers in my region about how these tools can help them change their work, motivate them. I created the presentation in the summer, for a general group of teachers but then I showed it to Ms Kollatou and she was excited and eager to show it to teachers of English in her region. So last week, taking part in a training event for English teachers in primary and secondary education by Ms Kollatou, I participated introducing the idea of a personal learning network and presenting three useful web tools.

The first day in front of the primary teachers of Karditsa was the most successful I think because conditions were excellent: a computer lab which I had available an hour before the workshop, working projector, internet connection. I had the chance to present my slides, connect to my own Twitter account, demonstrate how it worked and ask participants to create their own account. Reactions were positive through the whole time and many of them created an account, started following me and twitted their first tweet successfully.

The second day was with teachers from secondary education in Karditsa was comparatively the most stressful because all technical means failed and had to improvise and present my material as well as I could under the conditions. I am not sure the participants got a good idea about the tools, but at least one of them came to talk to me about security concerns and how to get over them.

The third day with teachers from primary education in Trikala, went quite well. I did the presentation, introduced teachers to Twitter, some of them created their accounts and even had time to discuss a bit about sharing our work on the internet.

There is an interesting issue emerging here: for people who use tools like Twitter, Slideshare, Delicious and so many others, sharing our work, making available our lesson plans, our presentation and our pictures, seems quite natural. For people who are new to them, this doesn’t come as easily. “Why would you give out to the world your very own presentation about a lesson? So that other people can take it and present it as their own? Isn’t that unfair? ”. Well, you know? I don’t care! They may take it and improve it, they may credit me or not but what matters is that I want to share it, I want to show it to others to take their feedback, I want to help someone as so many people have helped me before! This is the spirit of Web 2.0 in my opinion, where everyone can contribute and enjoy the results.

So, in general my first experience of introducing teachers to the idea of a PLN and demonstrating three basic tools was a positive one. I hope I will have the chance to do it again so I can improve it.

Extra reading:

An interesting article about copyright in Kathimerini

Twitter for ELT

The presentation I did for the event: You can see it HERE and download if you like

CLIL and the teaching of ENGLISH

On Monday September 21, I attended a talk organized by Marina Kollatou, Councillor for English teachers in Karditsa and Trikala. The talk was about CLIL,  that is Content and Language Integrated Learning by Dimitra Behlikoudi, English School Councillor in Pireus. The event was supplemented by a talk on English Language Resources by Ms Markella Karagiorga, ELT Consultant in the American Embassy.

I will write about CLIL today. It is amazing how you can be working in this sector for so many years (17 for me) and have heard so little about a certain section of it. You would think you should know everything by now, but there…. You never know everything about anything and this is the only truth. CLIL is hardly new, it has been going on for years and from what we heard in the talk it is widely used in Spain, Poland and other European countries, as well as North America.

screenshot.5

To make this a little more informative for people who happen to get here looking for information on CLIL, I will just say that it is teaching a subject in a language different from the usual one. For example it could be teaching Geography in English in a Greek school. It sounds very interesting, doesn’t it? And if we think of the example of immersion programs such as the ones that happened in Canada, we can understand its significance. Right now in Greece there is very little CLIL going on, if any at all. The only cases of CLIL are the IB schools that exist, schools where teaching is done in a foreign language. I don’t know if there is any research about the results of such education but I’m pretty sure that regarding acquiring the foreign language, students from such schools are much more fluent that students who take three or four hours of foreign language teaching per week.

However, there are some of us who have been doing CLIL without realizing it is called this way. Many eTwinning partnerships involve teaching like this. The eTwinning program we aspire to begin this year involves the teaching of Maths to 5th graders in at least five different countries. We are not going to be teaching maths completely in English but we are going to employ the common language to communicate our ideas to our partners, our students are going to use English to (virtually) buy and sell products as well as talk about money exchange. So there you have it: partnerships with content, resulting to more motivated students and teachers (hopefully).

I think this is the goal of CLIL, actually: To involve learners in a meaningful way, to engage them in situations where they have to communicate in the target language without thinking about correct use of this language.

The other day at school, a colleague was telling me about a student of his, who arrived in the Greek classroom at 11 years, having attended only German school before. The child was lost in the beginning, but pretty soon he started doing very well especially at subjects such maths and science. He certainly needed extra hours of lessons of Greek but he seemed to benefit greatly from the other subjects as well. So it was a bit like CLIL for him!

So, overall we enjoyed the talk very much, it’s always refreshing to learn new things!

Here are some useful links on CLIL:

CLIL: A lesson framework from BBC

Content and language integrated learning from the european commission

Resize of IMG_5136 Ms Karagiorga and Ms Behlikoudi

The illustration above was created by a web tool called WORDLE. And here is an article about how you can use it in the classroom.

Εγκέφαλος και Εξερεύνηση

Μια και μιλούσα για το Τουίτερ σε προηγούμενο άρθρο ας αναφέρω ακόμη μία ενδιαφέρουσα ιστοσελίδα που βρήκα μέσω της αναφοράς μιας συναδέλφου στο συγκεκριμένο πρόγραμμα. Πρόκειται για το μπλογκ ενός βιολόγου του εγκεφάλου και συγγραφέα ενός βιβλίου που λέγεται Κανόνες του εγκεφάλου (Brain Rules). Δεν έχω διαβάσει το βιβλίο αλλά αυτά που διάβασα στο μπλογκ του ήταν πολύ διαφωτιστικά.

Πρώτα είδα το βιντεάκι για τον κανόνα νούμερο 12 που έχει σχέση με την εξερεύνηση. Ο βιολόγος αφού κάνει μια σύγκριση του Πανεπιστημίου της Μπολόνια που ιδρύθηκε τον 11ο αιώνα με ένα Πανεπιστήμιο του σήμερα και τα βρει σχεδόν πανομοιότυπα μας λέει πως έμαθε περισσότερα για το πώς μαθαίνουμε από το δίχρονο γιο του.

Όλοι όσοι έχουμε περπατήσει με ένα πιτσιρίκι θα έχουμε παρατηρήσει ότι τα μικρά παιδιά δεν ακολουθούν τους δικούς μας ρυθμούς. Κάθε τι μπορεί να αποτελέσει αντικείμενο παρατήρησης και έκπληξης. Από το χορταράκι που φυτρώνει ανάμεσα στις πλάκες του πεζοδρομίου ως τα μυρμήγκια που περπατάνε στη σειρά μεταφέροντας κάποιο έντομο πολύ μεγαλύτερο τους. Μια μικρή απόσταση 100 μέτρων μπορεί να διαρκέσει ακόμη και μια ώρα όταν αφήσεις ένα παιδί να περπατάει στο ρυθμό του και δεν του φωνάζεις τις γνωστές προστακτικές (Βιάσου, Κουνήσου, Άντε παιδί μου προχώρα, Έλα, Έλα, Πάμε τώρα, Μη σταματάς, Έλα μωρό μου, βιάζεται η μαμά, πρέπει να πάμε στο σχολείο για να μάθεις γράμματα). Όμως για το παιδί ίσως αυτή η διαδικασία μάθησης και παρατήρησης μπορεί να είναι σημαντικότερη από τις 4 ώρες που θα περάσει στον Παιδικό Σταθμό. Ο βιολόγος σε κάποια φάση καταλαβαίνει ότι ο ίδιος έχει χρόνια να περπατήσει έτσι και να κοιτάξει γύρω του με απορία και έκπληξη.

Και συμπεραίνει ότι δεν έχει κάποια απόδειξη αλλά είναι σχεδόν σίγουρος ότι ο πιο σημαντικός κανόνας για τη λειτουργία του εγκέφαλου βασίζεται στην περιέργεια. Αυτό είναι κάτι πολύ σημαντικό και κάτι που πρέπει πάντα να θυμόμαστε εμείς οι εκπαιδευτικοί. Όπως σαν γονείς πολλές φορές πιέζουμε και καταπιέζουμε τα παιδιά μας να ακολουθήσουν το δικό μας ρυθμό, το ίδιο και σαν δάσκαλοι μπαίνουμε στην τάξη με το υπέροχο σχέδιο μαθήματος και εκνευριζόμαστε όταν μας κάνουν κάποια ερώτηση που ξεφεύγει απ’το μπούσουλα. Ο εγκέφαλος μας, όμως δε λειτουργεί έτσι και πολύ περισσότερο δε λειτουργεί κάτω από συνθήκες μόνιμου άγχους (αλλά αυτό είναι θέμα άλλου βίντεο του ίδιου βιολόγου).

Πολλές φορές εκνευρίζομαι με μένα την ίδια γιατί ξεκινάω να κάνω μια δουλειά στον υπολογιστή μου, να φτιάξω μια άσκηση ας πούμε και ενώ συγκεντρώνω το υλικό μου, ξεφεύγω, χάνομαι σε άλλα κείμενα, που μπορεί να μου φανούν χρήσιμα κάποτε αλλά όχι εκείνη τη στιγμή. Είμαι χαρακτηριστικό παράδειγμα ανθρώπου της εποχής μας που δυσκολεύεται να συγκεντρωθεί εξ’αιτίας των τόσων  διασπάσεων.  Φανταστείτε πόσο δυσκολότερο είναι για ένα παιδί είτε πρόκειται για την ηλικία των 6-12 στο Δημοτικό είτε πρόκειται για έφηβο στο Γυμνάσιο και το Λύκειο.

Αλλά, τελικά ίσως να μην είναι τόσο άσχημα τα πράγματα, ίσως απλώς να είναι η τάση του εγκεφάλου μας να εξερευνά, η φυσική μας περιέργεια που πλέον έχει τεράστιο πεδίο δράσης.  Μπορεί, αντίθετα με ότι πιστεύουμε, να μας παίρνει περισσότερο χρόνο να καλύψουμε τα 100 μέτρα που μας αναλογούν, αλλά τελικά φτάνουμε στο τέρμα πολύ πλουσιότεροι σε ερεθίσματα και εμπειρίες.

What is Twitter?

Talking about sharing, this is a video I found through one of my contacts on Twitter. It is in English (easy level) and the visuals are great. Watch it and let me know what you think about it.

You must press HERE. What I liked most is that at some point it said: «Life is what happens to you between blogging, sending messages or calling».

New web tools and the hesitant teacher

I started working with e-twinning, the European program that brings together schools and educators in a digital way, about three years ago. First as a user and later as a promoter and teacher trainer. For a teacher of English it was a great opportunity to bring her students in touch with students from other countries and give them the opportunity to communicate using the target language.

But for me too, it has been a great opportunity to improve professionally and continue my lifelong learning path. Since I work on it I have used technology much more widely than before and a whole new world has opened up.

I was talking with a friend recently about twitter and how I went into it despite my initial hesitation. He isn’t much into social media himself but he believes twitter isn’t as much hype as it is said. I claimed though that I found it much more useful than Facebook as far as my professional interests are concerned.  From my point of view Facebook is more personal, more useful for finding old friends and family and keeping in touch with them.

Twitter on the other hand is more about work and interests. As an educator interested in e-learning I have found there more resources than I could hope for. There are thousands of twitters and people with the same interests and finding the ones you are really interested in may take some search and time. But even this search is relative and rewarding. For a person like me whose brain works a bit chaotically, following the links of my favourite twitters may take hours every day. Right now I can afford to do it, since schools haven’t started yet.  What is most exciting is that there are hundreds maybe thousands of teachers out there who are interested in the same things as me and have to face similar difficulties in their professional lives. Here in Greece we complain that we don’t have the necessary infrastructure for involving technology into our classes more. And it is true in most cases. But take courage dear colleagues: in the USA they have all the high tech necessary but they can’t access the tools they want. Having been on the net much longer than we have, they are very concerned with safety and their ministry of education blocks many of the web tools like wikis, podcasts and blogs.

Moreover the discussion about e-learning is raving all over the world. E-learning is like a buzz word, a big trend that everyone is trying to capitalize from.  But how much of all this e-learning is actually educational and effective? And how can we incorporate it in our daily teaching? And should we incorporate it after all?

I recently read a book by Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death, in which he was arguing that the more television we watch the more our way of thinking changes. It is a book written in the eighties and unfortunately Postman died before internet was what it is today. It would be very interesting to see what he thought about the situation at present. If less than a century of TV has changed the way we think and express ourselves, I am almost sure that the internet is going to change that in half the time.

Back to Twitter though: The greatest benefit is that teachers share thoughts and resources and chances are very soon you are going to find your niche, the people that do more or less what you do and worry about the same things. SHARING is the key word here. This is a cultural difference that always strikes me. I have a friend from Canada and what impressed me from the first day I met her was how willing she was to share what she knew. This must be a North American trait I thought. She was always happy to let you know about the best restaurants, tech devices or lesson plans she knew of. Being a highly organized person she also had everything filed in cards or spreadsheets in her computer so her e-mails were always informative and useful. She was my first mentor!

Right now what is really changing is that we can share everything we learn. We can share our thoughts in Twitter. We can share our links in Delicious. We can share our photos in Flick-r. We can share our presentations in Slideshare. And I haven’t even scraped the surface of hundreds of web tools available to teachers.

Narrow-minded attitudes do not match well with the web. If you approach it with fear of failure and a raised eyebrow then you will probably gain little from it…

If however you approach it with enthusiasm then I’m sure it will take you to places you had never imagined! Good Luck and don’t hesitate to ask.