Tuesday, 28 February 2012

When teachers make mistakes

'Head in Hands'
You write a sentence on the board and continue explaining an activity. Then you go to the back of the classroom to answer a student question, look at the board to give the sentence as an example and there it is: a mistake. There’s a mistake in the sentence YOU wrote. If you are lucky, it’s just a silly spelling mistake anyone can make, but what if it’s more serious? Well, let’s turn this into a real nightmare. Imagine it’s not you, but your students who notice it, decide to record your inaccuracy with a hidden mobile phone and (to your horror) upload the video to youtube. You may think I’m exaggerating but, believe it or not, that’s what happened to a Maths teacher from Catamarca a couple of months ago. The result? The video went viral and hit the headlines last week (if you haven't seen it yet, click here). 

Why did national newspapers talk about this if we know nobody is perfect? Why did some reporters and parents say she should resign? Well, I suppose this incident exposes a deeply rooted misconception: teachers are the experts and therefore should NEVER fail. Unfortunately, we have been socialised into the idea that teachers should know how to respond to EVERY situation. And, would you like to know what really horrifies me? I have even seen teachers taking down notes of colleagues’ mistakes during presentations. I suppose it is some kind of guilty pleasure. It has happened here, abroad, both with experienced and student teachers. It’s sad, don’t you think? A teacher who makes mistakes is not understood or respected by their peers. For all of society if a teacher shows their knowledge is somehow limited, they do not deserve the job. It doesn't matter that we have to make decisions when there’s not enough time, that our context shifts from hour to hour or that we try and look enthusiastic in the 2nd period even if we have been demoralised in the 1st. No, society wants teachers to be 100% reliable all the time.

I don’t believe teachers should strive for perfection. For me even the most decorated and experienced teachers make mistakes every so often. Solid preparation and constant training are necessary but we must stop being "the experts" (I can’t help but associate that term with obsessive, boring and somehow authoritarian people). I see myself as a facilitator and that’s why I usually tell everyone I’m nothing but an advanced student who can help others understand what I know and will learn with them what I don’t. The only difference between my students and I may be that I am more resourceful than many of them. What happens if I make a mistake or don’t know something? Well, I say “Oops, sorry!” explain what is wrong or find out whatever it is I don’t know, and gather my mental strength for the next time it's needed. Teaching is hard enough without the additional challenge of mental anguish over slip-ups and imperfections.

In the era of the internet encyclopedic knowledge and accurate retention won’t be as useful as they used to. Do we (or students) need to remember it all if we can simply click on an icon and find more information than we need in a matter of seconds? Guy Claxton, an expert in education, identifies being a better learner in the 21st century with having the ability to tackle problems confidently and having the appetite to keep on learning throughout our lives (click here to listen to him explaining his point of view). Well, that’s the kind of role model I want to be, but what do YOU think? What should the Maths teacher I mentioned before do? Should she be left out of the system, study more or show students that life goes on, even after being bitterly criticised?

Saturday, 25 February 2012

To Google or not to Google? (part 1)

'Google logo render - Mark Knol'
What are Google Apps? Are all of them easy to work with and free? And if they are, how can a teacher take advantage of them? These were some of the questions I asked myself the first time I learnt about these applications. I haven’t been able to answer all of them (yet), but I have come to realize how easy to use and convenient most of them can be. Today, I'll focus on one of my favourite tools: Google sites.

Well, after experimenting with this application I can say it is great to create web pages for intranets, class projects or e-portfolios. But that's not all, google sites can also be used to present topics, evaluate them and much more. What I like the most is that making them is free, easy (you don’t need to learn any coding language such as HTML), and the final result is an eye-catching, interactive website ( you can embed documents, presentations, video, etc).

Willing to create a site?

Let’s imagine you have decided to try this application. What will the website building process be like? At first, creating a google site might look challenging, but taking the first step implies just having a google account (if you have been using g-mail or blogger, you already have one!). Then, setting up the site won’t take long. These days it’s easier than ever to sit down and put together a great looking website that will do everything you want it to do- without any hair pulling.  Anyone who is able to navigate their computer’s desktop and internal folders will be able to create their own site. You may need to read or watch a couple of tutorials before you know how to adapt it to your needs, but you’ll have a high-quality free website in a couple of days ( or maybe weeks, at the most). For those who are “just do it” people like me and prefer a trial-and-error approach, learning might be frustrating sometimes, but it will definitely be a lot of fun!

And, what about its design? Don’t worry about that. There are plenty of great-looking page and site templates . If you are creative you can change the site’s layout and experiment with different fonts and colours. However, I would recommend reading some information on the topic  ( “6 Conventions of Web Design” and “Color Selection”, for example)  before changing too much.

My experience

 To start with, I tried using google sites to present, practise and test topics. I was given this idea during “Laboratorio Pedag√≥gico”, a course on ICT  provided by the Ministry of Education in my area. You’ll find a link to the first ones I created below.  My students have enjoyed doing the activities, but I’m not 100 % satisfied with how they came out. The good thing is I can keep editing them for as long as I want to.

And what about having a class site or a personal site? Well, at first I felt very intimidated by the thought of making my own personal website, but as I teach many classes I decided to give this a try and created one called “Ana Miotti” .Now, I see it as my home on the internet. Its main purpose is to publish information I wish students to read (announcements, test dates, useful links, etc), but I believe it will be a great tool to get in contact with parents and learn about students’ needs as well. Some of my students have already had a look at it and given me feedback. What  do you think of it? Would you like to have your own google site?

Google sites I have created:
Numbers (basic level, to present numbers to teenagers)
Lyfestyles (intermediate level/ present and practise present simple vs. continuous and stative vs. action verbs).
Ana Miotti (my personal site)

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Let's get started!

Ever since I started surfing the internet and learning about web 2.0 tools, I've been interested in blogs. I've always enjoyed reading posts, leaving comments and even interacting with bloggers. However, at first I didn't dare have my very own blog. In fact, it was not until  2008 that I finally started writing one. It was a kind of online diary in Spanish (my mother tongue) where I would talk about challenges and long-term goals. The experience was great: I learnt a lot about myself and made friends with readers and bloggers from around the world (Spain, Uruguay, Chile, Dominican Republic, etc). Unfortunately,  there came a time when I couldn´t post frequently so I ended up abandoning the blog. It was then that Facebook gained in popularity and I decided to keep in contact with friends and colleagues that way.

Now that I'm learning how to bring the full potential of the web 2.0 to the learning experience, I feel the need to have a place to reflect on my practice. I hope this blog will help me overcome my fears, learn more about ICT and contact educators who are interested in sharing their experiences.