Monday, 27 February 2012

Students' experiences: visiting Europe with Legambiente

Here we are with our second student's post. This time, our guest blogger is Sabina Tangorra, who's been traveling all around Europe with the Italian organization Legambiente (League for the Environment), the most widespread environmental organization in Italy. And here's her story...

Sabina Tangorra - Fine Art Student

My name is Sabina Tangorra, I'm 22 and I’ve been traveling abroad in the last few years taking part in volunteer camps organized by Legambiente.

I visited Iceland - Keflavik, Reykjavik, Hafnarfjordur and Geyser, and Estonia - Tallinn and Loksa.

A volunteer work camp is an experience that can last for two or more weeks, in Italy or abroad. It allows you to travel, meet new people, improve language skills and above all enjoy the journey as a socially useful person, not as a simple tourist.

In a volunteer work camp participants share their hours of working, their accomodation and their free time with people coming from different realities and different countries.
So, you meet people that maybe in your everyday routine you would never have met. And you create very strong bonds, friendships that last a lifetime, and learn many new things.

A Legambiente camp can last from a minimum of 7 to a maximum of 30 days and around 4/6 hours of community work are scheduled during the week from Monday to Friday (social works, such as protection of nature or promotion of a healthy and eco-sustainable lifestyle).

Work hours are very light and rewarding, and you always have free time to explore the area, enabling you to live the volunteer camps as if they were a sort of alternative, but socially productive, holidays.
Food and accommodation are free, while participants have to pay for the journey. You also have to pay a contribution to the Legambiente organization.
In the camps the accomodation is usually in a school closed for holidays, or a guesthouse in the mountains ... it also happens to be hosted by local families.

in Keflavík

The only negative aspect - unfortunately, it often happens that upon arrival in a volunteer camp you realize that what was written in the information leaflet (especially about the job) is pure fantasy: I've often found out we had nothing to do, because the organization of the host country, to which Legambiente referred, did not know how to employ the volunteers ...

In 2008 I went to a camp in Iceland (that’s the one I remember with more than nostalgia, as I enjoyed it very much) and for a mistake (that still no one can explain) I and the other 8 people in the group were almost a week without work to be done.
In cases like this you have to look at the bright side of the situation: and ours was that we had plenty of time to visit the area.

Participation in a camp is an experience full of surprises, not all of them positive, but all useful for you personal growth. It is an experience I recommend with all my heart, because it is educational both for yourself as a person (it is not easy to roll up your sleeves and work/speak when no one around you speaks your language) and for interpersonal relationships, because it puts you in direct contact with strangers… that within a few days become your friends and share with you adventures and misadventures of a lifetime!

Mi chiamo Sabina Tangorra e da qualche anno il mio modo di viaggiare all’estero è partecipare ai campi di volontariato di Legambiente. Sono stata in Islanda, a Keflavik, Reykjavik, Hafnarfjordur e Geyser, ed in Estonia a Tallinn e Loksa.

Un campo di volontariato è un’esperienza lavorativa che può durare due o più settimane in Italia o all’estero, ti permette di viaggiare, conoscere persone nuove, migliorare la conoscenza delle lingue e soprattutto vivere il “viaggio” da persona socialmente utile e non da semplice turista.
In un campo di volontariato condividi le ore di lavoro, l’alloggio, il tempo libero con persone provenienti da realtà diverse dalla tua e che magari nella vita di tutti i giorni non avresti incontrato; si creano legami molto forti, amicizie che durano nel tempo e si imparano molte cose nuove.
Un campo di volontariato di Legambiente può durare da un minimo di 7 ad un massimo di 30 giorni e sono previste durante la settimana dal lunedì al venerdì circa 4/6 ore di lavoro socialmente utile (i lavori sono di carattere ambientale, come lavori di sentieristica o promozione di uno stile di vita sano ed eco-sostenibile ).
Il lavoro ha ritmi veramente rilassati e tranquilli e le ore libere per visitare i dintorni sono molte; questo permette di vivere i campi di volontariato come se fossero delle vacanze alternative.
Sono gratuiti il vitto e l’alloggio ma non il viaggio di andata e ritorno dal campo; inoltre per partecipare è necessario versare un contributo di 120 euro a Legambiente ed avere la tessera.
Nei campi l’alloggio spesso e volentieri è una scuola chiusa per le feste o una foresteria in mezzo alle montagne … Capita anche di essere ospitati dalle famiglie del posto.
Purtroppo accade spesso che all’arrivo in un campo di volontariato ci si accorga che quel che è stato scritto nella scheda informativa (soprattutto il lavoro da svolgere) è pura fantasia: mi è capitato spesso di trovarmi “con le mani in mano” perché l’organizzazione del paese ospitante a cui la Legambiente faceva riferimento non sapeva cosa far fare ai volontari …
Nel 2008 sono andata ad un campo di volontariato in Islanda (è quello che ricordo con più nostalgia, mi sono divertita molto) e per un disguido (che ancora nessuno sa spiegare) io e le altre 8 persone del gruppo siamo rimasti quasi una settimana senza lavoro da svolgere.
In casi del genere conviene vedere i lati positivi della situazione ed il nostro è stato di avere molto tempo a disposizione per visitare la zona.
Partecipare ad un campo di volontariato è un’esperienza ricca di sorprese non sempre positive, ma è comunque un’esperienza che consiglio con tutto il cuore, perché è formativa sia per il carattere (non è facile rimboccarsi le maniche ed arrangiarsi quando nessuno intorno a te parla la tua lingua) che per i rapporti interpersonali, perché ti mette a confronto diretto con persone sconosciute che nel giro di pochi giorni diventano tue amiche e condividono con te avventure e sventure.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Empowering children - Professor Sugata Mitra and the future of Learning

"...groups of children can teach themselves almost anything"

I came across this sentence, and this video, a couple of weeks ago. And once again I was impressed by what children can do together, self-instructing themselves with no need of a teacher.
I can't wait to read Sugata Mitra's new book Beyond the Hole in the Wall: Discover the Power of Self-Organized Learning.
Meantime, I'm as usual questioning my role as a teacher.

This man puzzles me.
I'm amazed at what he's doing. I think he's one of those people who really made the difference. And I'd like to make the difference as well in my everyday life (at almost 40, I don't want to change the world anymore, but I still want to do my part to improve it). But how can I, if my pupils would be better off without me?

"My work with self organised learning by children shows that groups of children can learn to use computers and the Internet to answer almost any question. This happens everywhere and is independent of what language they speak, where they live and how rich or poor they are. All they need is free access and the liberty to work in unsupervised groups."

It is the "unsupervised" part that scares me. Now, appearently it's official: they would be happier and more productive without me. Ok, I'm not taking it personally - let's say without us. Not much better anyway, since it means without us teachers.

But let's have a look at Sugata Mitra's inspiring TED talk of 2010:

I love this talk, almost every sentence he says should be quoted. And thinking about it, I can see there's hope for teachers: we're not bound to become an old-fashioned, useless item after all.
First of all, I was impressed by the fact there are no teachers where they are needed most - which leads in time to a worsening of the situation, a greater need of teachers, and a greater opposition of teachers to go there. There's appearently no way out. True, computers can help - of course, better no teacher than a teacher who doesn't want to be where he is. But maybe we can start by learning to love our job again?
Which is no mission, but profession: and since we are professionals, it's our duty to perform well in our job. This doesn't mean we have to leave everything behind and go to some far away place where we think we are needed (that's a religious mission, so not our field), but to understand what's needed of us where we are.
We have to say farewell to the comfortable safe routine of traditional classroom teaching and be more daring: exploit the web, computer, collaboration opportunities. Once again, we have to learn how to be new teachers.
And just like children, we'll have to self-instruct ourselves. Sugata Mitra shows us the other side of the coin, but I believe teachers can self-instruct themselves. Why not? We can self-teach. We are Lifelong Learning Teachers, aren't we?

Among the many things I'm learning out of Professor Mitra's experiments, there's the importance of empowering children. I'm not supposed to fill them up, like empty bottles: learning is their process, and they'll learn only if they want to.

Because in the end, "children will learn to do what they want to learn to do."

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Students' experiences: our first guest blogger

Do you remember our call for contributors of last January? Well, here's our first guest blogger. So, let's welcome  Fabióla!

Fabióla Csuka - University student
My name is Fabióla Csuka, I’m twenty years old and I come from Hungary.

I started studying Italian in my elementary school in Szeged. This school is István Orczy Elementary School. There was a study group once a week. In this study group I learned the basics of the language, we studied Italian songs, the alphabet, the numbers, the first simple things. With this knowledge I could study Italian in secondary school very easily.

In elementary, and secondary school too, there were competitions, where we could meet other students. Yearly there was a nationwide competition, where I entered for the category of poem, but there were other categories. In my elementary school every year there was the competition of Gianni Rodari, it was a tradition. Students of the schools of Szeged took part in this competition.

In this school we started an eTwinning project, called „Sharing our world – Condividere il mondo”, with the Italian school “Arnolfo di Cambio”. It was very funny, because we exchanged letters and emails with Italian students. It was a very big adventure, because we could practice the language with real Italian people. I studied and it was a very good feeling that I had Italian friends.

In my elementary school there was an opportunity to go to Italy several times, and it was very important in my life, because I could see the country, the people, the culture, and I could practice the language. At first it was very difficult to speak in Italian, but after the first success I became more courageous, and I was very happy when people understood me.

At this moment I decided that I want study in Italian at the University, too. I liked the people, the country, the temperament of the country, and I was sure that I want to deal with the Italian language later, too.

Once we also could go to Switzerland, it was a great experience. In Switzerland I could use the Italian language again, yet more easily.

Then in the secondary school I could go on with the study of the italian language, already three times a week. It was simple with my knowledge, and I didn’t need to start again. Every year I entered for the nationwide Italian competiton, called the Festival d’Italiano, in the category of prose. It was easier with the experience that I had in the competitions in my elementary school. Once I won this competition, and I was recognised by a lot people.

Now I am studying at the University of Szeged from September, in the Italian department. It’s very good, I enjoy it! I would like to study in Bologna with the Erasmus programme. It would be fantastic, because I could live nearly one year in Italy, I will deeply know the country, the culture, the traditions. I will meet a lot of Italian people, and I ’ll be able to use the language.

I can’t wait!

Az Orczy István Általános Iskolában kezdtem el olaszul tanulni, Szegeden. Heti egy órában, szakkör keretein belül, ahol a nyelv alapjait tudtam elsajátítani.

Minden évben megrendezte az iskola a Gianni Rodari versenyt, amely egy hagyomány volt, és szegedi diákok vettek részt rajta. Ezen kívül évente megrendeztek egy országos versenyt, ahová az ország minden részéből érkeztek diákok. Én vers kategóriában indultam ezeken a versenyeken.
Az iskolával bekapcsolódtunk az eTwinning programba is, a mi akkori programunk neve Sharing our world – Condividere il mondo volt, és az Arnolfo di Cambio nevű olasz iskolával álltunk kapcsolatban. Ez nagyon jó volt, mert olasz diákokkal tudtunk levelezni, így is gyakorolva a nyelvet, és igazán jó érzés volt, hogy vannak olasz barátaink.
Többször volt lehetőségünk eljutni Olaszországba, ami mindig hatalmas élmény volt. Először nem volt könnyű megszólalni, de az első sikerek után egyre bátrabb lettem, és igazán boldog voltam, amikor megértették az emberek, amit mondani akartam. Megismerhettük magát az országot, láthattuk az embereket, a kultúrába bepillanthattunk. Ekkor döntöttem el, hogy olaszul szeretnék tanulni az egyetemen is később.
Megtetszettek az emberek, az ország, a temperamentum, és biztos voltam benne, hogy az olasz az, amivel később is foglalkozni szeretnék.
Egyszer eljutottunk Svájcba is, ami szintén remek lehetőség volt arra, hogy használjuk a nyelvet, immár sokkal könnyebben.
A középiskolában folytattam az olasz nyelv tanulását, és szerencsére nem kellett mindent elölről kezdenem a megszerzett alapoknak köszönhetően. Szintén évente rendezték meg az országos olasz versenyt, melynek neve Festival d’Italiano. Minden évben elindultam rajta, próza kategóriában, amely nem volt olyan nehéz az általános iskolában gyűjtött tapasztalatoknak köszönhetően.
Most a Szegedi Tudományegyetem olasz szakán tanulok szeptember óta. Erasmus programmal szeretnék egy évet Bolognában tanulni. Ez nagyon jó lesz, mivel majdnem egy évig fogok Olaszországban élni, igazán megismerhetem az országot, az embereket, a kultúrát. Rengeteg lehetőségem lesz, hogy gyakoroljam a nyelvet az olasz diákokkal. Már nagyon várom!

Monday, 20 February 2012

Bilingual Lesson Planning

All lessons need adequate planning, and planning is particularly important in CLIL/bilingual lessons, since a delicate balance of elements is needed.
In another post we were discussing the importance of collegiality, seen as the greatest challenge in CLIL: teachers have to work together and keep on the same wavelenght to truly meet their pupils' needs.
But in order to work effectively together, we need to plan together.

I'm sharing this time the "Balance Planning Model" given us by Dr Diana Hicks during the course in Cheltenham. Of course, as usual, you will find these papers uploaded in The Next Generation TwinSpace, under "useful materials". But this time I'll share them here as well as images, so that we all can see what we are talking about.
You'll see they are two versions of the same model: the first one has some annotations, to give you an idea of how to use it. The second one is blank: you can choose to use it as it is, or customize it to suit your needs.

 So, here's the scenario: talk about your lesson idea with your colleague(s) - remember subject teachers(s) and language teacher(s) need each other here - and then share this paper and try to fill it together. You need to be very clear to each other about some core points: your goals, how to reach them, the role
 of your students in this process, your role in this process, how to assess the pupils' work.

This model can be shared with students as well, so that they understand what they are going to do and why, and where they are supposed to go.

The advantages:
- it creates a shared language for collegiality
- it offers a scaffolding for creating activities integrating language and content
- it enables teachers to plan more quickly, efficiently and effectively
- it enables teachers to work towards appropriate assessment activities
- it enables teachers to realize they have to include different activities for the different learners' styles
- it defines the role of "other actors" in the lessons: experts, visitors, parents etc.
- it provides a checking mechanism to ensure that neither language nor content get lost during a lesson or unit

We are used to templates and models when planning in our subjects, but CLIL planning is often perceived as a "free field".
So, sometimes, activities are not structured in detail, or come from an ex-tempore collaboration between teachers. Any kind of collaboration is great of course: but if we want to be efficient, we have to give a structure to what we do.
Whe have to work within a framework - which is easier and much more practical: we don't have to invent the same activity twice, we can capitalize our experience, and the work we already did.

Personally, I used this tool - with some customizing - and found it very useful and understandable, for colleagues and students as well.

Well, what do you think?
Do you have any other model or templates to share? Or any other experience in bilingual planning?

Always looking forward to getting to know more :)

Monday, 13 February 2012

The sign of my profession

This time I’d like to share with you one of my lessons.
I had it with children of about 9 years old. I didn’t know the pupils before this lesson. It was a class of 25, so I asked them to make five groups of five. I soon found out they liked all the activities I introduced, we had fun, and they collaborated as well.During the lesson we had some Art activities (but not only), some games to help the communication competence, and a game with pupils being small „actors”, representing a profession. We had 1 hour for our lesson.
Materials: pictures, two envelopes for each group (one with the sign definition; the other with a poem), papers, pencils, color pencils
Activities: Here’s what I said!
1. I’ll now show some pictures to you. You will see signs, and we could guess their meaning. Please help me understand: what do these pictures mean?

I used pictures like these:

Now, can you think of any profession seeing the pictures?
What kind of shop could you find in this building? How could we say, even if we have never been there?

Every sign is a message for us. In the last two pictures we saw signs of professions. Coud you tell me, please, what does a sign tell us?

2. Before the lesson I gave each group a sign definition in an envelope. I used Hungarian Ethnic Encyclopedia (I am sure you will find the same definition in your languagues).
I asked the pupils to read the definition in their groups, and after explain the meaning of the word.

3. The groups had a second envelope too. In the envelope there was a very short poem, different for each group. The poems talked about five traditional professions, like potter, forger, carpenter, baker, cobbler.

In all poems I deleted the name of the profession. The pupils’ task was to find out together the missing word.

4. All groups had a piece of paper (I gave one A/4 size, but if you should have more time, it could be nice to use A/3 as well). I asked the groups to draw the sign of the profession they found out in the poem.

5. „I come from America..” game
In Hungary it is a well known game. Normally two children start the game saying: I am from America, the sign of my profession is… and they say the first and the last letter of the profession. Then they show to the other children some characteristic activities of this profession, without any words, only with gestures. I asked two pupils from each group to show with gestures the profession of their group.
It was really funny!
When the children guessed right, the group members showed their drawings to the others. We put all drawings on the board.
At the end of the lesson we had 5 drawings on the board, pupils knew more about professions and signs, and they worked together in groups for the first time.

I hope you and your pupils will like this lesson and all of our activities. Have fun together!
Are there any other primary teachers who would like to share their experience with us?

Don’t forget we’re always willing to learn from each other.
So, I’m waiting for your replies!


Friday, 10 February 2012

Model Thinking... and teaching!

"We live in a complex world. We’ve political uprisings, we’ve stock market crashes, we’ve new technology bombarding us with information. How do we make sense of it?"

Does this question sound familiar to you? Maybe, just like me, you too feel overwhelmed by the changes and issues of the world we're living in. Changes and issues that particularly affect us as educators in an ever-evolving reality. So, our questions as teachers could be: how can we make sense of it, so that we can help our students do the same? how can we help them deal with the unexpected?

Mr Scott E Page (the Leonid Hurwicz Collegiate Professor of Complex Systems, Political Science, and Economics at the University of Michigan) has an answer to the opening question.

"The answer I'm gonna give, is that we make sense of it with using models. Models are gonna make us better at organizing information, better at forecasting, better at making decision, better at strategising..."

Now, I'm no economist, nor (no no!) matematician unfortunately. But if we talk of making sense of this crazy times we are living, any kind of help is more than welcome. Mr Scott E Page is organizing a free online course, starting this month, February 2012, on Model Thinking.

Even if the course is not aimed at teachers, I think it could be interesting for us as well, since it will be organized at different levels. A variety of models will be introduced -and for each model, there will be an introductory lecture of about 10 minutes, accessible to a general audience, and then advanced lectures, explaining the model's details and use, possible extensions, etc. Lessons will be recorded, so you can watch them at your leisure.

For the brave ones, there will be questions and quizzes, and even a final exam! If you pass, you'll be given a certificate of completion (and you'll earn my everlasting admiration!). Otherwise, you may want to just follow along for the introductory lectures and why not, try to understand some more of our reality.

Now, the course is free, challenging and interesting: I'll definitely give it a try, let me know if you decide to join in: we'll have fun sharing impressions and experiences!

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

CLIL lesson - Geography

This is the Geography version of the History "GO FIND YOUR PEOPLE" lesson-plan.
As for that one, this activity can be a fun revision of topics your students are already familiar with. You can allow a couple of hours at the end of one of more work units. In my classes we had been studying Western European countries and our activities dealt with the cities, landscapes, languages and traditions we had found during our "European journey".

up to 30 students - 12/13 years old (but of course activities can be adapted to suit any age range)

subjects: Geography/Languages

pupils working in teams (number of teams depending on how many States they have studied)

About 2 hours needed

Instructions given in English - pupils being free to answer and discuss both in English and mother tongue.

- for the "tuning in" activity: pictures of cities or monuments of the different countries (one for each student)
I had 24 students and we had studied 6 countries, so I had prepared 24 pieces of paper with images of well known cities of those countries. For each country, there was the capital city + 3 other cities (as I needed 6 groups of 4 students).

- for the secon part (betting game): that's the same simple activity of the History lesson-plan. I had prepared a ppt presentation with 20 multiple/choice questions (English). As usual, there were questions dealing with what we had studied plus a bunch of funny questions (show-biz, weird traditions, funny facts).


1) Pick an image and guess where you are. Now, go make groups. Students have to show their picture, look at those of the others, and then try to understand how to make groups. If you give them pictures of famous monuments and landscapes, they'll be sitting in their groups in a matter of minutes.

2) Are you in your groups? Now, who has the capital city? The "owners" of the capital cities will be the group's spokesman. Starting with group 1, can the spokesman please tell me: which State do you represent?  The team leader says for instance "we represent the United Kingdom, and I have London, the capital city."
3) Starting with group 1, can each member of the team please name their city? Double check that all of the students are in the right group: remeber the capital city is the easiest one! Your students may have had a quite harder time trying to recognize different cities.
[Personal note: in Geography, I believe seeing is the core point: you can't just study a country on written lines, because you won't understand what you're not able to see. We're so lucky now, with the amount of technology we can use to actually see the world! So be sure to offer your students plenty of opportunities to see (and work on) images of different countries: they'll understand better, they'll remember more easily, and they'll probably want to visit them in the future!]
As usual, if one or more of the students aren't in the correct group, they will hopefully realize it with the help of the others. Let them move to the correct group.

4) Now, go to the map of Europe in your book. Can the spokesman please tell me where your country is located? (you can ask some more questions here about languages/climate/ economy... you name it: Geography is such a wide world! Anyway, remember to be very specific in your questions, or you'll spend all of your time on this step).

5) Sit in your groups. We will have now a betting game: who will be our millionaire?
Each group starts with a treasure of 100 gold pieces.
You will be asked 20 multiple choice questions. The group has to bet on the right answer. You can bet from a minimum of 10 gold pieces up to all the gold you have. But be careful in your bet: for if you are right, you'll win the gold you bet. But if you are wrong, you'll lose it.

6) I close the activity, as usual, asking: is there anything else you would like to know about these countries? Tricky question, once again - in Geography you'll have to be ready to answer about all of the human knowledge of the last 5000 years - or send them to a colleague, saying "that looks more like Science. Ask your teacher, maybe she knows best!"

If you've time, you can ask your students which of these countries they've already visited, or which one they'd like to visit first, and why. But I'm not sure you'll have any time to spare: you'll be surprised at how fast those two hours will run (I always am).

I think CLIL works particularly well with Geography. What do you think?
Do you have any other experience in this field?
Remember that all of your tips, suggestions and ideas are always more than welcome!