Thursday, 22 March 2012

eTwinning e la realtà

This post is meant to celebrate the little word that works magic: together.

At the beginning of December 2011, I had this idea of creating a special place in eTwinning where I could meet like-minded colleagues and friends, exchange ideas and support each other. I created a teachers' room (never tried before, I just thought I could give it a try: I was curious and wanted to take advantage of all of the opportunities offered by eTwinning).
I named it "eTwinning e la realtà" because I didn't want another place for talking about an ideal world, where eTwinning is always the answer, where everything is simply perfect and all we have to do is congratulate each other on our success stories. Of course there are success stories, and of course we do congratulate, but real school life is not an exhibition: that's what it is, real life - not always perfect, not always successful. And I wanted to talk about reality, about our everyday practice in European projects, about the ups and downs of our schooldays, about our needs. Who knows teachers' needs better than teachers? So, let's have a place where to state what we need and ask for it. Who knows? Someone may listen.

I called some Twin-friends, told them about my idea, asked if they were willing to join in. And that's how the teachers' room was born.

Few days after creating "eTwinning e la realtà" I was involved in a car accident. Everything was forgotten for a couple of months. But that's when the little world, together, did its magic.
When I went back to the teachers' room, I found it was full of ideas, messages, stories, jokes and projects. It was full of people with my same passion and hopes.

And we came up with this idea of creating an emagazine out of our experiences, a collection of "stories" we could use in order to compare our different journeys in European projects, to encourage new eTwinners to get more involved and to disseminate the spirit of eTwinning.

A couple of months later, here we are with our e-magazine. It was born thank to all of us, not only those who wrote the articles, but all of the others, who helped me with their suggestion, support, knowledge and, again, experience. It's so nice to feel you're doing something thank to someone else's experiences. This means that our success stories are important, but our mistakes have a value as well: they can prevent others from making the same mistake. We can provide others with the solutions we already have.

So, thanks everybody. And... here are our stories!

Rita Napoli, Rossana Falsetti, Mónika Kiss, Elena Pezzi, Maria Rosaria Fasanelli, Paola Arduini, Sandra Branconi, Barbara Furiesi,
 Maria Grazia di Iasio, Laura Maffei

Friday, 16 March 2012

Freedom dreams

When I read Laura’s post about eTwinning I had so many memories and I felt I’d like to share with you some of them.

My thoughts went to freedom. It is so natural for us now, but it is not so easy to describe it. It is felt intensely nowadays in Hungarian schools, because we celebrate on 15th March the anniversary of Revolution and war of independence of 1848/49. We talked about freedom with my pupils, and it is so nice, we can talk freely.

When I was a little girl, this was not possible for us. I think I am lucky, because I was a child in during this difficult period, and as a child I didn’t have face any really difficult situations. Being a child, I felt everything was natural. At school it seemed normal to wear a sort of uniform during official celebrations (dark blue skirt, white blouse and blue/red cravat), and as I remember, older pupils had as a present from school: a little red star.

The first bad experience I felt was when we went to Jugoslavia. Since our town, Szeged, is really closed to the Serbian border, it takes a short time to go there. But it was not easy to travel. On a special day we eventually went there. For us it was the place of treasures. Just immagine, here it was difficult for example to buy bananas. When there were, they were green and you could buy them only if you had a friend who worked in the commercial sector... So, that day we went abroad. I had always liked to go in a stationer’s. That time I saw beautiful coloured pencils (24 in a box!!!) – a miracle for me. And my mother bought them for me. I was so happy... and few hours later I was so worried about them. I remember believing that, when we crossed the border, I would lose my treasures. Luckilly I arrived home safe with my pencils..

Later on, I remember the great days of 1989. All pupils and teachers were together in the sports hall watching TV, because something new and important was happening. After 40 years of regime, we lived the birth of free Republic of Hungary. Everybody talked about it, and everybody thought: now everything is possible, and this is only the beginning of a fantastic period in or country and life.

Hungarians helped with opening the borders the people from East Germany to meet their families in west, the other side of the Berlin wall.

We were happy and proud to be Hungarians. One of the really emblematic posters of that period was:

So, we started learning democracy, talking freely about our life, desires or politics. It was very exciting!
And during the years we felt that freedom is great, even if there are difficulties. Unemployment, higher prices, more and more taxes are part of the „package”.
I first studied in high school, later at university, and I was 22 years old when I started working in a village as a teacher. I worked in the afternoon school, and my pupils were 9 years old. It was perfect for me. I had always dreamt of being a teacher. But soon I met a sad and difficult situation.

Unfortnately the war arrived in Serbia. Because we are really close, we saw every evening the arrival of flying corp. And it happened every evening regulary. Airplans and bombs.
I can remember a night when a bomb arrived too close to the Hungarian border the windows of our house trembled, and I was so scared. But not only me, my pupils too. It was very scary to hear small children talking about the war. They told me they wanted to go to the prime minister to ask him to stop the war, and ask for peace. I don’t remember my answer, I just said something to calm them, but it wasn’t easy.

After the long dark days, peace finally returned. I’ve another class now, and my small pupils are 9 years old again. We visited the museum to learn about the revolution of 1848/49, and I am happy because they live freely, and they don’t know war, only peace.
This week we read a poem (National song) from Sándor Petőfi, a great poet of the period of revolution. Just some rymes:

Slaves we have been to this hour,
Our forefathers who fell from power
Fell free and lived as free men will,
On land that was their own to till,
By all the gods of Hungary
We hereby swear,
That we the yoke of slavery
No more shall wear.

After we talked about what does freedom mean. Some opinions from my pupils:

„ Freedom is when the prisoners get free from prison” (Viki)
„Freedom is when people don’t fight and people are calm” (Alen)
„Freedom is when I can play freely” (Ádám)
„We are free when we can go in the nature and listen to the silence” (Krisztofer)
„I can do what I would really like to do.” (Márk)

I hope my pupils can make their dreams come true, and they’ll be able do what they really want to do in the future. It is my freedom-wish for them.

In closing my post, I would like to share with you some of our photos in the museum, learning about freedom.


Monday, 12 March 2012

the Creative Classroom

Maybe you remember when, a couple of years ago, we celebrated the European Year of Creativity. It was great: artists, teachers, experts, politicians, they all talked and talked about creativity, and we had the opportunity to attend some awsome conferences where famous people told us how important it was to keep a fertile climate in our classrooms. We had to encourage our pupils to think out of the box, to dare, to accept challenges, to be innovators. We were encouraged to be innovators ourselves. Fantastic.
But all of a sudden, 2009 was over and there we were, in the same classrooms with the same problems and the same (strict) guidelines. "Creativity" seemed to be outdated by the very 1st of January, 2010. At least, nobody was talking about it any more. Ministries of Education had other, more important, things to take into consideration. Or maybe they thought one year of creativity was enough.

Now, be creative if you can - but don't forget at the end of the year your students will have their traditional (in most cases, 19th century-style) examinations, or PISA literacy tests, or Invalsi, or whatever sort of tests they have in the different countries. And remember, if they do not perform well filling in the blanks, you are not a good teacher.

Not so encouraging, what do you think? Talking about creativity for just one year was fine and easy. But then most of the "important people", those who can decide for the direction of the educative system in a country, appearently forgot it. Because creativity is no easy topic at all. It's difficult to encourage, difficult to promote, difficult to assess.
So, it's up to the teachers now: if we believe creativity is a value, we have to support it in our pupils. And once you start, everything goes on its own. Students can shock you with their creativity. They just need some help in finding out how to be creative again.

And teachers too. We need some help, definitely.
That's why I attended the eTwinning Learning Event "eTwinning and the creative classroom", run by Ioanna V. Komninou with a team of great Moderators (Mary Frentzou, Kostas Αntoniou and Xanthie  Chouliara). I was curious, but I didn't have any particular expectations. Well, it turned out to be the best Learning Event I attended in my eTwinning life (and believe me, I attended many!).
The course was just great, we worked in groups, there was a lot of cooperation, a lot of interactions, and I thought all the time "Wow, I'm so lucky, I'm in a fantastic group, I met all of these amazing people, and our working together is a blast!" And that's exactly what happened: we worked together moving so fast, and with limitless ideas, one just came up with an idea, and then someone else had another, then another... it was awesome.
Then I realized: I had not (just) been lucky. The organizers of the LE had managed to create a fertile space of cooperation: they created a creative classroom for us (or we created it together).

Now I think I know what I can do. I can create an environment in which my pupils feel free to experiment and express themselves. I can allow them to solve a problem using different strategies, exploiting different intelligences, choosing different tools. I learnt a lot out of this LE and I had fun in the process - I guess I can create the same feeling for my pupils.

And I close this post with two videos of pupils expressing their creativity.

Thank you Irene Pateraki, not only for the embed code :) but also for keeping the reflection on the Creative Classroom always alive.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

CLIL, assessment, and student presentations

In our CLIL lessons (and also in monolingual ones) student presentations often play an important role in the assessment procedure. They may also be a homework, given to an individual student or to a group, after a series of lessons. 
The problem is, while they are an exciting moment for the involved student(s), they can be quite dull for the rest of the class. And if the class is bored, this will sooner or later lead to misbehaviour, with lots of disappointment and frustration both for the teacher and for the presenter students. Not to mention how frustrating it can be for your pupils to speak to a sleeping audience - now, wait a minute: thinking about it, that can be a nice idea after all. They'll eventually understand how we feel at times! life can look pretty different when seen from the other side of the teacher's desk...

Ok, back to the point. We discussed this issue with Dr Diana Hicks while attending her lessons in Cheltenham, and she gave us a very sensible answer: students in the class get bored because they feel they've nothing to do. They are not sure what they should be listening for and they are not given any active role in this phase of learning.

So she suggested we turn to peer assessment of presentations. The key of success, in fact, is transforming the passive audience into an active participant in the lesson. And here's her battle-plan:

1) First of all, divide the class into groups of five (give each member and number from 1 to five). Each of the five members of the group, depending on his/her number, has to concentrate on one specific aspect of the presentation, make notes and report back to the rest of the group afterwards, suggest possible improvements or comment positive features.

Student 1: Content
was there any new information?
which information was new to the listener and which was old?
 Student 2: Visuals
did the visuals help or hinder the information?
would other images/graphs/etc. have been better?
How did the visuals match the speech?

Student 3: Structure and organization
Did the presentation follow a logical sequence?
Did the examples help to clarify the content, or did they generate confusion?

Student 4: Language (grammar, vocabulary, personal style)
Was the language clear?
Did errors hinder communication?
Was the language appropriate? was it too informal or too formal?
Was there a correct use of specific vocabulary?

Student 5: Aims - consistent, coherent, cohesive?
Did the speaker present the purpose and objectives of the presentation at the beginning?
Were they clear?
Did he/she achieve them?

2) of course, all the students have to listen to the presentation
3) each student grades his/her part of the presentation in a scale 1-5 (choose the scale depending on how marks are given in your school system). In this case, 1 is unsatisfactory and 5 is excellent
4) all same number students gather and compare their grades with those of the others. They discuss, share opinions and eventually agree on a common mark
5) students return to their groups and inform the others
6) feedback is given to the presenters.

I liked this strategy and actually tried it with my students. It can be quite a surprise for them when you first introduce it - presentation time is usually understood by the pupils as relax time. So they'll be partly intrigued partly annoyed "what? are we supposed to do something? even now?"

You have to be sure to allow enough time to explain what they're going to do, how and why, how groups will be organized, how they will work, and - most important - what will be the impact of the peers' grade on the final mark. Be careful - too little, and the class will think you're cheating, too much, and the presenters will try to bribe the audience.

Are there any other strategies or activities you use to make presentations more motivating and engaging for the whole class?

As for this one, try it with your class and have fun. After all, a student presentation doesn't have to be sleeping time for the rest of the class!

Monday, 5 March 2012

Students' experiences: eTwinning, Comenius.. and lasting on-line friendship

Lucrezia Frati - Martina Spedale
students at Liceo Psicopedagogico
 Hello everybody, I'm Lucrezia from Italy.
My European experience has been with eTwinning, in Lower Secondary School.
I think first of all eTwinning has allowed us all to find a school to work with: our Partner Country was Hungary, for the children of other classes the Partner Countries were Spain, Slovakia and Turkey, in previous years there were the Czech Republic, Cyprus, and many others.
We can say that in the last six years, our city has been traveling all the time throughout Europe with eTwinning!
If I were to give a reason why to try eTwinning, I'd say it's fun, it is never boring, and you meet new people and new places.
In our project, "BE TWIN", we worked in pairs with the Hungarian students. In a sense, eTwinning made us feel the subjects we studied as "new" and more engaging; instead of the "normal" lesson, we could use new programs, write on the internet, chat and meet people from other countries.
We also created a facebook page to go on meeting with our partners.
The best part, of course, was to meet them in person.
I think eTwinning for me is also a way to fight shyness, because it teaches us how to speak in foreign languages​​ with people who otherwise we would never have known. We learn not be afraid to turn to someone new, even when it is very far from us.

And then eTwinning is also a way to learn to fend for yourself and solve problems without always going to the teacher, using the computer, your partners' help, and foreign languages​​. If there is a difficulty, no drama, just work hard... and have fun!

I'm Martina from Italy and I took part in the same project as Lucrezia. We were in the same class in Lower Secondary school and we are together also in "Liceo" as we chose the same High School. I hope we'll have European adventures here too.
One thing I liked in eTwinning is the use of new technologies, working in groups. Three years ago we were already pretty familiar with computers, but then we improved a lot. All the work we did was based on the use of computers in an imaginative and original way. This can be useful to make lessons more enjoyable every day and learn faster.
Our Hungarian partners also won an award for the use of the digital whiteboard.
For us the Municipality, also thanks to our commitment to eTwinning, has managed to create a beautiful and efficient new school, with digital boards in every classroom. This happened because the Mayor has realized and appreciated what we were doing: we had so many contacts in Europe, so we needed appropriate technologies.
My partner in the project was Edit, and we still are friends, we met in October in person, and we meet almost every day on facebook. So, thanks eTwinning!

Orsolya Csebella
Hello everybody, I'm Orsolya from Hungary. Together with other students who chose to study Italian at the István Orczy Általános Iskola of Szeged, Hungary. I took part in many eTwinning projects. The one I like most is "BE TWIN – twinning up the everyday lesson”.

In the project’s activities, we used lots of web tools. I liked PhotoFunia for example, to edit photos in a fun way, and Voki to create speaking avatars.
We all have a Twin. My Twin is Lule, Lucrezia.
We wrote letters to each other, created poems and drawings, worked together on google docs, and had fun! Now, after more than three years, we still go on meeting, on eTwinning and on facebook.
My favourite activity was when we wrote a poem together on Friendship. We Hungarians wrote the first part of the poem, and our Italian friends had to finish them.
Thank to the project, we could go the Tiszafüred and Eger camp in Hungary to try out lots of innovative web tools. Later we were invited with our Twins to the Budapest conference. It was very nice to meet and get to know each other in person. We met again last fall when we visited Italy in a Comenius project. I liked meeting Lucrezia and the others again, and spending some time together. I hope I’ll be able to travel again in the future. And I want to go on studying languages.
Hooray for Comenius and eTwinning because that's how we met our friends!

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Why I like eTwinning. Whatever.

I feel this is going to be quite an emotional post. So, if you don’t like the genre, just skip to the next one.

It has to do with how I see myself, as a person and as a teacher. With the ideas I believe in: Europe, cooperation, solidarity, lifelong learning. With the people I love: friends, family, kids. And the people I could love if I knew them. Sorry, I’m not yet to the point where I love ‘people’ in general (beatification has to wait).

I think the whole thing started at school - am I too late for suing my teachers? For they put this idea into my head that I was the citizen of the future, and that I’d have to change the world. And I believed them. I think we all did. So now, when you feel depressed, just think how powerful teachers’ words can be.

Next thing that I know, I was a teenager, and the Cold War was in its final phase. I remember how excited I got at President Michail Gorbačëv and his гла́сность – I hope that’s the right spelling: I actually was so thrilled that I decided to study Russian at University… but my Russian is almost lost by now (while my excitement isn’t at all).

Then, all of a sudden, the 9th of November 1989 and the fall of the Berlin wall: and I thought it was official, I was witness to the beginning of the new world. I’ve sometimes been talking about this with my best friends and we all felt the same. Well, we didn’t actually change the world, let’s say the world had been changed for us. Which was fine. Now, we just had to go on from that point.

At the same time, we were following the European steps towards the EU. At the Maastricht Treaty we were in our 20es and we dreamt of traveling/studying/working/living all around Europe feeling Europeans. We discovered Erasmus and that was another huge thrill.

What now? Obviously, the world has changed. Despite my teachers’ prediction, I’ve not changed it – which is good, as I can say “not my fault”.

What’s happening to Europe? Why haven’t we gone where we were supposed to go?
Are we doomed to national selfishness? Is it an improved model of selfishness?
And money, is ultimately the answer? Always?

I used to feel a sense of failure for not doing my part. Then – here we come to the title of this crazy post – I realized I’m giving my tiny contribution to push Europe the direction I believe in. I’m doing it through eTwinning. Of course I have to use the tools I have, and as a teacher I chose eTwinning to help my pupils realize Europe really exists, it’s made of real people, and it’s worth their time and efforts.

So, I like eTwinning for
  • allowing me and my pupils to meet those people, and feel them as ‘real’
  • preventing my pupils from being disappointed (as I was) at not changing the world: for they will, starting by now with writing to their unknown e-pal
  • gathering together teachers who still believe in the EU
  • showing me how to perform better in my profession through collaboration
  • engaging me and my pupils in a learning adventure that can be a lifelong adventure.

Ok, it could be better. There are issues: no money, no official recognition, European and national strategies clashing... they'll have to work on this (whoever this "they" could be).

Meanwhile, I’ve been rethinking the whole “changing the world” thing. “World” has a vague meaning, just like “people” in general. Changing things has more to do with interacting and working together with real people you care for.

Ultimately, I like eTwinning for the people I’ve met through it, and for those I will.
And yes, that's my contribution to Europe.