Sunday, 11 October 2015

What have I been doing?

Well, I must say I'm eventually back.

What have I been donig? Having a kid :-)

I have been teaching and thinking and experimenting a lot as well, but I had definitely less time for writing!

Still, I spoke a lot these last couple of weeks. I kissed the Blarney Stone a bunch of years ago: did I get the Gift of the Gab after all?
...well, I'd have to say I've always been a good chatter!

So welcome back to me :-)

Thursday, 13 March 2014

eTwinning: the educational fandom?

A couple of weeks ago I had the happiest reunion ever with friends from the US.
We sat in a bright spot of Piazza del Campo, had tea and cakes at a lovely Café, and basically kept chatting all together all the time.

There was a lot to catch up with - say, the last five years of our offline lives. We happen to be teachers, all of us. So after a quick overview on husbands/kids&pets, the conversation immediately turned to ‘The Topic’: school. We had a good time laughing at the tricks of our students (or admiring them), comparing our school lives – not so different after all, and trying to conjure up projects and ideas to work together despite the distance.
Yes, definetely having a good time.
That is, until Tina asked me "So, what’s this eTwinning you’ve fallen head over heels for?"
Pang of disillusion - I could remember talking about this before hundreds of times. But obviously being not that convincing. However. Enthusiastic and proud, as a good Ambassador is supposed to be, I proceeded to describe eTwinning, its opportunities, its world, its projects, its potential. I paid attention not to be boring, so I tried to sum it up in less than 15 minutes. And put all of my energies smiles and jokes in it, as usual.
When I got to the end there was a pause.The girls looked at each other, then Tina said “I see. Sort of an educational fandom.”

Had we been in an online conversation, I would have probably taken it as an offence – or at least a verrrry negative remark. But we were sitting face to face, drinking tea and laughing and eating ricciarelli… and it was clearly impossible something less than nice was meant. [Note for Italian readers: I know, ricciarelli don’t go with tea and don’t go with this time of the year. Still, foreigners love them all year round, and I do as well.]

So, while hordes of Little Monsters, Directioners and Selenators came to my mind, I kept my cool and smiled the subject away, taking a mental note of googling “fandom” as soon as I got home.
The day turned out to be one of those you want to keep among your best memories. One of those you keep referring to in emails, in your facebook status, in your tweets, for years – that is to say, till the next face to face reunion.

But I couldn’t forget the fandom thing… 
That same night I sat in front of my pc reading about fandoms in Wikipedia. And here it is (I quote the beginning of the article, but if you’ve got time, read it to the end, some aspects are truly interesting in an educational perspective):

Fandom (consisting of fan [fanatic] plus the suffix -dom, as in kingdom, freedom, etc.) is a term used to refer to a subculture composed of fans characterized by a feeling of sympathy and camaraderie with others who share a common interest. Fans typically are interested in even minor details of the object(s) of their fandom and spend a significant portion of their time and energy involved with their interest, often as a part of a social network with particular practices (a fandom); this is what differentiates "fannish" (fandom-affiliated) fans from those with only a casual interest. A fandom can grow up centered around any area of human interest or activity. The subject of fan interest can be narrowly defined, focused on something like an individual celebrity, or more widely defined, encompassing entire hobbies, genres or fashions.

Ok. Less intimidating than I thought. And now I know I’m in a lot of fandoms myself, even if I seldom used this word before. I’m actually a pretty active Whovian and Ringer, a Trekkie and even if I am maybe too old to be one, I think I could make a decent Potterhead.

But what has this to do with school? and with eTwinning in particular?

Well, to be honest I must say I saw the connection almost immediately
However, I quickly moved to the next step. That same night I launched an online survey involving most of the ex-students I have among my fb contacts (I don’t want any current students among them, but that’s only my personal policy, plus my students are 11-14, so formally too young for fb). I told them I was working on a research and asked them to name their fandoms: no explanation given, no other info.
I expected few replies and lots of “dunno”. But that was not what I got.
Out of around 120 students, an average 80% answered, and all of them could name at least a couple of fandoms they are involved with, mainly dealing with sci-fi or fantasy sagas (i.e. reading !!!!), tv series, and bands or singers.
Not too difficult to see the educational potential of these fan worlds. It looks like our students spend a lot of time reading, watching, writing about (even dressing up as) characters and stories they feel they can relate to. They discuss the story, they imagine alternative endings, they interact and learn from each other, no teacher involved.
I am sure we, as teachers, could and should work with all of this potential. Which doesn’t mean entering their worlds, but we make the effort to get to know them at least, and try to take advantage of this huge self practice and this huge involvement.

And as for eTwinning? is it an educational fandom, after all? I suppose the answer is yes, it is.

It’s a part of our professional life, true, and we enter it as professionals. But how and why do we go on? Why are we still eTwinners after five, six years or more? Why are we still part of this world?
I used to say: because it works. Projects work with students: they learn. Which is great. But it’s not all here. After years, we apparently don’t get bored of the same tool. So why are we still in eTwinning? isn’t it because of the people as well? isn’t it because of the social network? because of the conferences, seminars, events that allow us to meet each other? (could we call them fandom conventions?) isn’t it because of the games we make up, the groups we created on other socials, the “educational family” we’ve been building together?
Just like our students, we work for free, out of passion and curiousity: they read their stories, they write their essays on, say, Katniss Everdeen, without any assignments, we read and write our eTwinning articles on thenewTwinSpace/ thebugsofthenewTwinSpace/ theTeachersRoomspotential/ theeTwinningAwards and we post in TRs, blogs and forums without being paid for and without being forced to do so. Because we like it.
Both categories – the students and the teachers – act as learners in this process. We learn by discussing something we like with someone we like. That’s all.

And while we are not exactly fangirling or shipping eTwinning couples, it’s true that eTwinners also have their own slang. Plus, I must admit I share with Monika Kiss some nice memories of eTwinning cosplay and even some fan fiction writing...

So, thank you Tina and girls. After much thinking about it, I like this idea of the educational fandom, with its pros and cons of course. I’ll be thinking about it some more. And I’ll be working on this, for sure. Definitely, there’s a lot more to come, lots of worlds to explore. Friends and colleagues of the eTwinning fandom, keep on board.

[and yes... it's actually bigger on the inside :)]

Monday, 29 April 2013

Partners across Europe: emagazine n.6 "eTwinning e la realtà"

I built myself a house of glass:
It took my years to make it:
And I was proud. But now, alas!
Would God someone would break it.
Edward Thomas

Sometimes I wonder how many teachers, especially at secondary level, still live in their personal “house of glass”, still feeling proud of it.

Maybe in the past you could call them “good teachers”: after all, they do care about their students, they spend much of their out-of-school time to prepare tests, correct them, make up new exercises, they make polite conversation with their colleagues and… they are desperately isolated.

But in a time of global crisis, with more and more unemployed families, with growing social tensions all around Europe, with schools lacking money for ICT equipment/ substitute teachers/ books/ paper / younameit, with misinformation often running through the web, at easy reach of our students… isolated teachers cannot be “good” enough anymore. They have to collaborate and share. They have to teach themselves how to become good partners.

I think eTwinning is the ideal starting point for this. Projects, Teachers’ Rooms, Learning Events, Workshops and seminars are the European meeting point for individuals who are willing to share in their profession and in their life, and become members of a community.

I thank all of those teachers who lured me in eTwinning - and in Europe - and let me try to be a good partner for them as they were for me. I’m proud of giving up my house for a condo!

I thank all of the eTwinners who contributed to this ebook, thus giving evidence of what being “partners across Europe” really means.

And I thank Mrs Fiora Imberciadori, who was the first to make me understand - and care about - what being an European citizen and teacher could mean to me.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Zen and the Art of Teachers' Rooms Manteinance

Hi everybody, I'm sharing this time a great resource we created together during the eTwinning Learning Event "eTwinners go social: creating and managing a successful Teachers' Room".

I ran the Learning Event in December 2012, together with a great team of co-managers: Antonella Ciriello, Elena Pezzi, Maria Rosaria Fasanelli, PAola Arduini and Monika Kiss.

It was a wonderful thrilling experience, not only for what we taught and learned concerning Teachers' Rooms and our place in the eTwinning geography, but also because, once more, we experienced the power of teams.
And then, it was a special experience because of the people we had the opportunity to meet.

Believe me, whatever you are doing, if you do it together it will come out a lot better - often in an unespected direction.

This time, together with the participants, we decided to share our reflections and opinions with a wider public of eTwinners - and not only. We believed our ideas, tips and suggestions should go further than the closed space of the Learning Lab.

That's why, at the end of our journey, we created this Teachers' Rooms Handbook.

Have fun everybody, keep on travelling the eTwinning world, keep on sharing, meeting, imagining, chatting, teaching and learning...

A big THANK YOU to all of the contributors, enjoy your handbook


Monday, 26 November 2012

Lesson plan - Copyrights: whose rights?

I'm sharing here a lesson-plan on copyrights I've created with friend & eTwinner Paola Arduini during the eTwinning Ambassador course 2012.
Since at school I'm at the moment addressing this kind of topics, and in the web-age we're all involved in sharing vs protecting ownership, I think it can be useful to others as well.
Title of the lesson: Copyrights: whose rights?

Age range of pupils targeted by this lesson plan: students 10-12 years old (last year of Primary School, first year of Secondary School)

Description:- First steps in the world of Copyrights.
The students at this age are usually already familiar with the web. They can work on their own assignments/homework, both alone or in a team, using ICT tools. Anyway, they don’t know anything about copyrights: for them, what’s online has no owner. When they need an image, or music piece, or video, they just google it, copy and paste. And then forget it. At the same time younger students may not know how to find images, music and videos and just copy what their older friends do.
This lesson, that can also suit the beginning of any eTwinning or international project (the “introductions” part) can trigger a discussion and reflection on the use of web materials and the importance of copyrights.

At the beginning of any international project, the partners usually introduce themselves. That’s when we ask our students to create a video, or a ppt, about our school and area, in order to share it on the TwinSpace.

We can start from here, following these steps:

1. divide the class into four groups (approximately, 6 students each)

2. the first three groups are asked to prepare a presentation, in video or ppt, respectively of their country, town, and school

3. the fourth group will be the judges: they will evaluate their classmates’ work; for this reason, they are asked to agree on a set of parameters in order to assess their classmates (they will probably agree on: text, visuals, music, presentation… or sth of this kind)

4. the groups work on their assignments (at school or at home, it depends on how much time you want to devote to this part)

5. the presentations are showed and the judges give a mark from 0 to 5 in all of the chosen parameters to the presentations

6. the best presentation is proclaimed

7. the teacher gives to the first three teams a paper to fill in, asking the groups
- where did you find the images?
- did you take the pictures yourself?
- if not, do you know who did?
- how did you choose the music?
- who is the artist?
- etc.

8. the answers are read and a debate on copyrights, guided by the teacher, follows. Is the best presentation as good in respecting copyrights? What about the others? (most likely, they won’t as well).

9. At the end of the debate, the teacher asks the students “now, do you think we can publish those presentations online (in the public TwinSpace/blog, etc)? What can we change?”

10. Let the students make the changes – hopefully, they’ll think about choosing materials more carefully next time

11. After the changes the members of the jury vote the presentations again: are the updated presentations guilty or innocent of stealing copyrights? :)

Materials needed:
Computer lab, electronic board of projector, a reliable internet connection

You can check if the students have understood by looking at the changes they make to their presentations. Also consider the jury’s vote: by the end of the lesson, they should be able to double-check their classmates’ work.

Time allocation:
You’ll need about 4 lessons, 1 hour each.

Students won’t forget for sure (unless they choose to forget, which may happen). Next time you give them any ICT-related homework, they’ll probably choose to produce their own materials (paintings, drawings, pics etc) instead of just downloading them.

Final notes:
It can be interesting to compare different behaviour in primary and in secondary school: mainly children at primary level like to draw and use their own drawings. A follow up can be organized with older pupils who help younger ones in editing their original material (drawings, photos, music played by themselves) and creating a folder where useful material can be shared and used., just try it and let us know, there's aways room for improvement!

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Teaching Teams: the safe net

As many of you may know, I'm one of those teachers who are actually happy to be one, despite the crisis, all of the red tape, the stressful routine, the neverending meetings, you name it. Now, I think that's because I've found in my career a safe net that provides me from falling at times, and that keeps me motivated and supported at all times: that's teaching teams.

I’ve been teaching for 15 years now, first in private schools in Italy and abroad, teaching Italian as a foreign language, then in the Italian public schools, as a secondary teacher of Literature, History and Geography.
And all the way, I’ve been fond of team working (both among teachers and students), of international cooperation, and of edu-tech.

Every single year of my career has been marked by a different kind of collaboration with my colleagues, my pupils, and my international partners. And year after year, the net – the virtual dimension of “being together” – has gained a central role in my teaching. That is to say, I’m more and more involved into teaching and learning together with people (teachers, students, experts) that are actually not in my classroom.

But let’s see the steps of my team-building process in the public school:

1. First - edUtopia: at the beginning of my career in the public school, teaching in a Lower Secondary school, back in 2000, I taught in a course with extended time. This means the students had 36 hours/week: 5 in the morning (mon-sat) + 6 in the afternoon (two afternoons of 3 hours each). It was a paradise, as teamworking was officially recognized: in fact, in the afternoons there were hours of teamteaching – Mother Tongue + Foreign Languages and Mother Tongue + Maths/Science. Our Ministry of Education understood how important it is for teachers to work together in order to have the pupils learn (understanding the connections between different subjects) and, but I’m not sure the Ministry was actually aware of this, the teachers actually learnt a lot from each other by being together in the same class. Teaching Teams were a great professional development tool at zero cost (think in terms of teaching styles, assessment, etc.). We made our first steps in the world of European projects together. We worked with our first partners and started sharing online. Do I need to say that our best projects were born here? out of collaboration among colleagues off- and on line?

2. Next – why paying two for one? The edUtopia period lasted some five/six years, enough for me to learn a lot and to miss them badly now. Then of course, as everywhere in the world for what I know, governments decided to cut on “unessential expenses” – read: education and services. Paying for two teachers at the same time was considered to be crazy, so if we wanted to go on in our collaboration, we had to do this in our spare time. Or we could do it – we were lucky at the beginning – with the support of Local Authorities that paid for extra hours of co-teaching. It was no more official, still we had some hours to actually share in the classroom. By now, we had partners throughout Europe and having them with us, during our lesson, quickly became something normal. So, in order to learn from other professionals, we could not only turn to each other, but also to our net-colleagues. We run lots of successful projects (and as you know, by “successful” I mean those projects where students learn & enjoy, not only those actually awarded) and we learnt a lot ourselves.

3. Today – praise the “safe net”. In a time of crisis, and of spending review, do you think there’s any room for two (or more) teachers being together in the same classroom? Do you think we can invest on education? So, just forget teaching teams, unless you want to do everything in your free time (which we often do, because we care!). But here’s the good news: after years of sowing, we can now harvest. And our crops are our partners, a net of colleagues scattered here and there in the world, who share, and discuss, and learn, and teach with us, every day, through the web. This net of teachers, met through eTwinning, Comenius and other international projects, is today our safe net. I think it is correct to say that LLP is today for any European teachers the best provider of professional development opportunities: formal ones – Comenius in-service training, eTwinning PDWs and LEs … - and informal ones, mainly through eTwinning. And then, there’s the web, and fellow teachers and edubloggers all around the world. So, teaching teams are today wider and wider nets, that can turn into safe nets at times.
At least, that’s what happens to me every day. In this blog first of all, and then in eTwinning (in Groups, in the "eTwinning e la realtà" teachers' room, etc.).

So I thank my colleagues, those I meet every day in my school, I thank my colleagues and partners troughout Europe, I thank my friends blogger, met online, here and there, in the strangest ways, and I thank all of the students I’ve met in my life. I thank you for what I keep learning (and teaching) every day with your help.
Luckily, we are each other's best resource in a time of crisis.

Learning is a social process, and I’m happy to “go social” with you.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Global Junior Challenge 2012 - Projects to share the future

The Global Junior Challenge is the international competition that rewards the innovative use of technology for the education of 21st century and the social inclusion.
Promoted by the Municipality of Rome, the GJC is hosted every two years by the Fondazione Mondo Digitale under the High Patronage of the Italian Presidency and the sponsorship of the Italian Foreign Affairs Minister.

The 2012 GJC encouraged the reflection on educational technology and its impact on social equity.
Among the challenges of the 21st century education there's in fact the link between educational and social innovation. Can ICT help us building a better future for us and our students? That's the main question.

I had the opportunity to take part in the competition both as a member of the jury in the "up to 10" category and as a contestant with my classes in "up to 15".
It was interesting for me to see the projects from within. I think I learned a lot about Primary School - not only in Italy, but in the whole world - by examining the projects I had to evaluate. There was much to learn for me, and I felt it was a privilege to explore and understand so many different pathways.

And it was a pleasure and a pride for me to be among the finalists with my students, with three projects - Comenius-eTwinning "Bridges of Water", eTwinning "BE TWIN - twinning up the everyday lesson" and "BIANCO ROSSO E VERDE".

We could travel to Rome and meet other schools, students, teachers and experts from all around the world. And coming from Casole d'Elsa - 4000 inhabitants - even just walking through the capital was an adventure for my pupils. Our journey in the underground was a sort of "Indiana Jones" mission, with much laughing, ooohing and ... trembling! But the whole experience was great, from our arrival during the plenary session, to the preparation of our area, to the "social integration" workshop for the pupils (great animator of the workshop, the pupils loved her!), to the interviews with TV and the photoshots. We felt like movie stars!

And the day went on with a walk through Rome, and a very special stop at the "Museo del Risorgimento", just to remember where we come from, and why we are here today.

In short, a fantastic experience, always with our Twins in mind: Hungary, Turkey, Slovakia, Spain... you were there in our thoughts!

Just a final personal note: in such a difficult period, with this huge crisis and more and more families facing unemployment, can new technologies really be considered a tool for social equity and integration? or are we going to see the rise of a new clique, that of the I-can-spend-on-ICT, versus a majority of ICT beggars?