Sunday, 29 December 2013

My #edtech in 2013

Here is a short summary of what educational technology tools were used both by my students and myself in 2013.

Exam Time  - for making flashcards that students used for studying and revising the new vocabulary, and for creating mind maps.
Flipgrid - for posting questions and storing student audio responses.
Movenote - for creating video tutorials for my students. Students created audio/video presentations.
Padlet, Linoit - for student feedback, responses to teacher's questions, publishing student posters.
Poster My Wall - for creating posters. Students loved this tool!
Evver, Emaze - for creating photo slideshows with music.
Canva - for creating posters, cards and presentations.
Moovly - for creating animated presentations.
Fotor, Pixlr, Picisto - for creating photo collages.
Pinwords, Picfont - for adding text to images.
PuzzleFast - for creating different word puzzles. I used it mostly for making crossword puzzles.
JustPasteIt - for instant web pages, e.g. student assignment for an online session.

For purposes other than teaching I often used Google Drive with most of its functions like collaborating on documents and presentations, also for creating questionnaires.

I do not have one favourite tool because the more tools you use the more options you have for creative solutions to educational needs.

Happy New Year!

Monday, 23 December 2013

Blog challenge - my response to @evab2001

Image #eltpics by @pysproblem81

Before the Christmas bells start jingling, I rush to respond to 11 questions posted by Eva Simkesian (@evab2001) in the current blogging meme Eleven.
Eva is a teacher in Turkey who writes a blog where she shares her classroom experiences. I often find there some good ideas for my own work. I know Eva from Twitter and I wish I could go one day to Turkey to meet Eva face-to-face and also because I think Istanbul is one of the most fascinating cities in the world.

Eva's questions and my answers:

1. Do you remember the first class you entered as a teacher?
Unfortunately, I don't remember the first lesson but I recall that I was really green, a rookie. However, I was sure that I'd manage. Later life proved that it was not nearly as easy as I had thought.

2. What is your favorite social media platform? Why?
Twitter, I think. I get all the hottest news, greatest links and funniest jokes from my tweeps. To me, Twitter is like a club for people who I value and who give me inspiration, knowledge and ideas.

3. How do you think blogging helps your teaching?
Indirectly, it helps me to stay organized, lets me maintain my writing skills (as English is not my native language). Blogging also makes one think creatively and it helps in teaching a lot.

4. Tea or Coffee?
Coffee, definitely! I have explained my preference to coffee before. Tea is fine, of course, but coffee is much more delicious, nothing beats its captivating aroma and its bittersweet kiss!
5. Who is your favorite singer, band, musician?
I listen to all kinds of music and to name just one singer/ group would give me a headache but I will try. These are just a few of those artists whose music lifts me up. Singers - Adele, Rihanna and Michael Bublé (and many many more), groups - Muse, Bon Jovi and Coldplay, musician - Carlos Santana.
6. Do you attend conferences? Why? / why not?
I go when someone sends me, ha ha! Seriously, I love attending conferences because I always bring back lots of fresh ideas, meet great people, see new places, share my own experience.

7. Who were the most helpful tweeters or bloggers for you when you started blogging or tweeting?
I remember very well they were Shelly Terrell and Karenne Sylvester, they were so friendly and encouraging that I felt at home at once.

8. What will be the first goal in your New Year’s resolutions list this year?
Now you've made me think about it. Perhaps... spend less time at the computer! :)

9. Where would you like to travel in 2014?
I already know where I am going, and that is Norway. We have project partners there.
10. How long does it take to write a blog post for you and how often do you update your blog?
I can see in my blog archive that I have been a lazy writer this year as I have written very few posts. It takes me quite a lot of time to write a post the way I want. In my native Latvian I would do it much faster but then... who would read it?
11. What is your favorite food?
It's easier for me to say what I don't eat - mushrooms, raw onions and shrimp. All the rest is fine. 

Eva, I know you do not celebrate Christmas in Turkey, so I'd like to say - Happy New Year!

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Blog challenge Eleven #tagged + my questions

#eltpics by @foster_timothy

This is a follow-up to my previous post about the new blog challenge which was started by I-do-not-know-who and will end I-do-not-know-when.

My task is to name bloggers who I would like to tag and whom I would like to ask my 11 questions. I will try to name the people who I have not seen tagged by other bloggers (though I have not read all blogs). You can see that I'd love to tag some people who can't be tagged!

@ does not have a blog
@ can't write in English
@ too busy

Here is the potpourri of my questions.
  1. When is your birthday? (No need to mention the year!)
  2. Describe the place where you were born (as some of you do not live in your native country).
  3. What do you do first thing in the morning?
  4. How do you relax? (Parachuting or abseiling would be met with a standing ovation!)
  5. Do you like circus? Why yes/no?
  6. Can you explain the difference between a sleuth and a sloth so that a child can understand? 
  7. Can you swim? (I can't!) How did you learn to swim?
  8. What are the first three words that come to your mind when you think of school? (Quick!)
  9. Which (one) year of your life would you like to repeat? Why?
  10. What is your favourite music?
  11. What makes your day?

After you respond to my questions on your blog, you may treat yourself to any chocolate from the shelves below.
#eltpics by Roseli Serra

Blog challenge Eleven+ tagged by @seburnt

I could not find the first post that started this amazing blog chain of nifty personal revelations where you have to do the following:
  1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
  2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  4. List 11 bloggers.
  5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer, and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. Don’t nominate a blogger who has nominated you.
My thanks for tagging me go to Tyson Seburn who is the only Canadian I know (apart from Justin Bieber and Alice Munro, oh, and some actors).

Tyson has an intelligent blog or, should I say, a blog written by a highly intelligent person. Had I been born in an English-speaking family, I may perhaps be able to write smart responses to his perceptive posts... but I had not. I observe (on Twitter) how he changes his image still retaining that look of a reticent, yet interested professional.

Some facts about me.
(I never thought this was going to be so difficult - to pick just 11 things out of your whole life!)

  1. My name Baiba was coined by a famous Latvian poet and playwright Rainis exactly 100 years ago and it has no meaning whatsoever.
  2. I am an avid bookworm, there is NO day when I don't read. I can read in three languages - Latvian, English, Russian, equally fast. I can read almost anything, except Danielle Steel. When I have run out of reading stuff, I read a dictionary. For the life of me, I could not name ONE favourite writer.
  3. I learned (about 25 years ago) and can recite Shakespeare's sonnet 116 at any time of the day or night.
  4. In my teens, I studied in music school. My instrument is an accordion (because my father played it, I guess) but I can also play the piano.
  5. In my youth, I did a lot of singing - I have been a solo singer in a group, I have sung in several choirs and participated in singing contests. Now I only sing at informal parties.
  6. In people I value a sense of humour as the most important of all qualities.
  7. I love driving, that is the only sport I do.
  8. I am a coffee-lover. I don't drink tea. I am picky about coffee, and I was taught to drink good coffee by my eldest daughter who lives in Italy. I never drink instant coffee.
  9. My favourite fruit is apple. I eat about 3 apples a day, on average.
  10. I have been to 20 countries, mostly European, attending project meetings, PD courses or as a tourist.
  11. I have never been to hospital except to give birth to my two children.

My answers to Tyson's questions:

You have 5 minutes to rescue one of your blog posts from oblivion. Which do you pick? Why?
I guess it would be the post inspired by @teflgeek The Domination Game because once I learned the game and adapted it to my needs, I have used it at the end of every semester for almost two years with most of my junior classes. Students love it!  

How did teaching become (part of) your career?
In fact, it's the only career I have made. And I could not have a different career because I studied for a teacher. But there have been hundreds of times when I wished I had chosen to do something else. Luckily, this feeling always dissolves.

Aside from weather-related impressions, how does Canada come across to you? If you’re Canadian, how do you think we come across to others?
Everybody knows that Canada is one of the most prosperous countries in the world. But what I believe is that Canadians are very independent, considerate and level-headed. (Don't ask me why.) In my ignorance I have a vision that Canadians are either English or French, so - what is a Canadian?

What career path could you have easily gone down had teaching not worked out?
This is easy. I'd have been either a hairdresser (I always cut my younger brother's hair until he stopped letting me do it and rolled my mother's and aunt's hair on hair rolls, they said no one could do it better) or a singer which has been explained in my comments above.

What characteristic of your Chinese zodiac animal sounds like you?
This is the staff that I don't read but my Zodiac sign is Aries and its description pretty much describes me. But don't seriously believe it!

What do you do vastly differently now than when you were a new teacher?
I am more tolerant, for sure. I know how a kid thinks, I can predict their reaction, I can see behind their emotions.

What book have you wanted to read but have never gotten around to it?
This is incredible but I usually get all the books I want to read. I have ordered tons of books from the bookdepository website (they have every book you can think of), bought them in the bookstores and borrowed from the library.

Out of these options, the best class size is… 1 student, 5 students, 13 students, 24 students, 50+ students.
For me, the best size is 13 (15) students. It's manageable, it's compact, it's easy to pay attention to details, it allows more individual help, it has better collaboration options, it lets any personality stand out.

Does your middle name have some meaningful significance, if you have one?
Unfortunately, I do not have a middle name. At the time I was born it was not a practice.

You will give a workshop to your colleagues. What would you feel comfortable leading a session on?
I have been doing it for years and the theme is always the same - technologies, digital tools for teaching and learning. I am proud that I am ready to give such a workshop at a moment's notice.

How do you feel about carpeted rooms in your house?
What a cool final question, totally out of sync with the others! I have no carpeted floors, it is not a tradition in Latvian homes. At best, we may have one large carpet in the living room. I think carpets are good for accumulating dust.

Merry Christmas, Tyson!

My questions for the bloggers I am going to tag will follow tomorrow.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

My reflections on Barcelona conference

On 2-4 December 2013 I attended the conference organized by British Council Spain Learning and Teaching English in the Digital Age.
I would like to express my deepest gratitude to British Council Latvia, Sandra Prince in person, for making it possible for me to attend the conference.

Barcelona is a magnificent city. During the short hours that we could spend outside the conference premises, I managed to enjoy the fantastic weather and some of the most impressive sights of Barcelona, like the grand Royal Plaza.

While listening to the plenary talks and participating in group discussions, I made a lot of notes that in my opinion are relevant to the topic. Below are some of the thoughts pronounced at the conference that reflect the key issue of the present situation, i.e. we teachers need to adhere to the needs of the learners in a new way, and do it fast.

Martin Peacock, director of Global Product Development, British Council UK:
  • The future lies in tablets.
  • Mobile effect - teachers can pick and mix the content and present it visually.
  • Non-linear syllabi that complies with learners' needs.
  • Learning networks - groups of learners brought together via digital paths - are getting more and more popular.
  • Learning technologies allow learners to learn WHEN, WHAT, WHERE they want. Now they can also choose HOW and WHO WITH to study.

Stephen Heppell, professor, Chair of New Media Environments, Centre for Excellence in Media Practice, University of Bournemouth, UK:
  • Teach less so that students learn more.
  • Mixed ages learn well together.
  • Children can DO because of the teachers.
  • Schools should change the rules - Phones on your desk! Laptops open!
  • Organize a lesson for 90 students with 3 teachers, this opens up lots of new possibilities for instruction and collaboration.
  • Don't overuse overhead projectors at the lessons, the light level in the classroom in bad for eyes.
  • In some schools students are required to take their shoes off. Effect? It is hard to bully with your shoes off!
  • Bad school toilets have an immediate impact on learning!
  • The next ten years will be the most exciting in teaching history.

Kirsten Panton, Microsoft Partners in Learning:
  • The rise of new pedagogies.
  • ICT is integrated into all subjects, there is no separate computer lab.

Michael Carrier, director of Cambridge English Language Assessment:
  • Trends in education - tech supported learning, 1:1 learning, blended learning, flipped classrooms, learning management systems as learning hubs, on-demand content, cloud synchronisation.

Nicky Hockly, director of Pedagogy, The Consultants-E:
  • Students need to be taught digital literacies that include texting literacy, tagging literacy, gaming literacy.
  • Interactive whiteboards work only if used as a tool, not as a screen.
  • Tablets are now on the brink of being implemented in education.
  • Beware shiny gorgeous box syndrome! (Gadgets for the sake of gadgets)
  • Wikipedia is reliable!       

 Steven Higgins, professor, Durham University, UK:
  • Those are not the outward signs that make a difference. A new shiny piece of kit does not mean learning will be better.
  • Multitasking does not help learning.
  • What internet gives is not knowledge, it is information.
  • Motivation mistake - students are better motivated by technology but they don't learn better.
  • Tomorrow's learning - augmented reality, voice recognition, multi-touch classroom. 
  • Challenge has to be accepted if you set a difficult task to students. If they don't accept the challenge, there won't be any learning.
  • Pedagogy trumps technology.

Some feedback from group discussions where I was present.

  • We need revolution in the classroom.
  • Methodology should come before technology.
  • Strategy alone is not enough anymore, you need content, process, redesign teacher training, involve families.
  • Motivation to use IT does not mean motivation to learn.
  • Teacher engagement is higher when they see tangible benefits.  

Conference results and recommendations will be presented to the European Commission and published by the British Council.

My conclusions:
Barcelona conference confirmed that teaching and learning has entered a new stage where there is no way back, only forward. This change is marked by extensive use of technologies in all spheres of education. The new generation of students cannot be taught in the old ways and it sets an immensely important and difficult task to the teachers, and we have to accept the challenge.