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What’s happening? 83, 102, -56, 67, 140!

Good question.

What’s happening?……………………………………………………………………………..140
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Possible answers: Technological revolution. Digital Immersion. Mass communication. Worldwide connection. Boundaries destruction. Instant learning. Word spreading. Multimidia exposure. … Global sharing!

I’m a baby at Twitter – my first tweet hatched about 8 months ago, when, freshly come out of ABCI Rio 2010, I knew I had to join it. Pretty naïve, I thought I’d just become a member to see how it worked, but this virtual tool hit the world like a tsunami and as such had an immense impact on those on its way. I was one of them.

My baptism at Twitter happened in a learning environment. I was at a congress, and everywhere my eyes went I saw fingers swiftly dancing over the keys of laptops, blackberries, iPhones or iTouchs or whatever gave you connectivity in an urge to share what was happening with the world outside that plenary room. Geeky! … Impressive! Mark Prensky classifies me as a ‘digital immigrant’, which I proudly admit to being, which explains why technology still stupefies me at times. I’m stubborn, so I’m learning. Like a good immigrant, I’m seeking advice, following examples, finding my way, stumbling here and there, building my identity at Twitter. Making connections. Learning at light speed, a zillion topics still undiscovered. Words like hashtag, retweet, DM, follow, unfollow are Twitter lingo I’ve acquired and feel pretty confident with. There’s still loads to sink in, so off I go.

Next question: ‘What for?’

I wobble away at first, not knowing exactly how to answer the head question. “Will people be really interested in what I am doing???” For fear of sounding silly, I am a spectator for a good length of time. Finally, I realize I don’t want to spend my 140 characters on social networking all by itself. Thirsty for knowledge of any kind, I decide to steer my Twitter account towards professional development. My PLN – Professional Learning Network. Now, there’s a breakthrough: I’d never have believed it a year ago one could gain so much from following other people. Well, not ‘other people’, but selected people and institutions, writers, lecturers, teachers from here, there, everywhere, company colleagues, people I’ve never seen but feel close to just because I like what they write about. People and institutions I freely decided to follow. They speak my language and connect with my aspirations, taking me from my comfy armchair in Brazil to a university in Japan or a primary school in the US, all within 140 characters.

A life in two lines. Maybe less.

After a couple of months of serious tweeting, I’ve thrown the towel and started advocating in favour of this marvelous tool which can take you to new paths of thinking – broader thinking, I mean. If you aren’t convinced yet, take these reasons to start tweeting:

– To broaden your thinking
– To get informed in any area you want
– To be constantly updated
– To get connected
– To become more tolerant
– To understand others
– To grow as a person
– To grow professionally
– To make friends (you may never see them, but they’ll be your friends anyway)
– To find old friends
– To learn things one line at a time
– To learn another language little by little (140 characters!)
– To learn to abbreviate (again, 140 characters!)
– To exchange ideas
– To change your ideas
– Ultimately, to learn, to grow, to share.

Five years. That’s how old Twitter turned on March 21st. For an infant, it’s a giant, like many other digital tools. Happy anniversary, Twitter. Keep growing. I’ll tag along.

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Hey, everyone, let’s play!

I hear the loud toll of the Cathedral bells. This means it’s six o’clock and we should run the final checklist for some last minute adjustments before the party begins. Is the Reception area free? Check! Are the secretaries ready to welcome students? Check! Classrooms properly arranged? Check! Are computers working? (…) I asked “Are computers working?” Where’s the Check?? Oh, no!

Well, this is it: the adrenalin of working with technology. You never, but NEVER know if it’s really going to work when you most need it. We’d had some changes done in the computers a few days before Friday, and although all the activities had been tested to exhaustion, nobody could see this coming. Five minutes to go – the hall is packed with kids jumping up and down. I dare to take a peek and they immediately spot me: ‘Can we go up? Is it going to start now? Is it time?’ I dodge the questions deftly with a smile here, a nudge there and the usual ‘in a minute!’ All appearances! I’m shaking inside, for fear everything we planned go down the drain.

“Hey, everyone! Let’s play.” One, two, three, four groups of smiling kids march up the wooden stairs towards the classrooms where fun awaits. A 10-minute delay is not too much after all and man wins over technology in the end – thank God! The activities we chose mix technology and good classroom management.

  • Room 1: Spot the differences – have you heard of http://www.differencegames.com ? They offer spot-the-difference games and a wide variety of other fun activities online, for free. We play them in teams, in pairs, whole group helping, you name it. Kids love it. While you play, you teach: if the ‘difference’ is a hat, teach “hat”. And off you go.
  • Room 2: Fetch the right object –two lines of students (2 teams) face the teacher. The first student from each line draws a piece of paper from a bag with the name of an object on it, which the teacher also shows to everyone. He must tell the student behind him what it is, he then tells the next and the next until the last student runs to the other end of the classroom and rummages through a box full of everything till he finds the object he’s looking for. He hurries to the teacher, handles him the object and ta-da! Point for the Blue Team! You may choose the objects you like – in our case, the theme was Back to School, so we picked classroom-related objects, such as pencil, eraser, ruler, the likes. The catch in this activity is make the box in which they have to search for the objects a mysterious one, letting most of its contents out of sight and making students put their entire arm inside it to grope for, say, a mouse pad amid plastic bags, sticky objects and other distractions.
  • Room 3: a variation of the good old Hot Potato – students standing in a circle are given numbers at random at different positions in the circle. Student number 1 receives an object which he must throw to (not at, mind you) student 2, then to 3, and so on, in order, up to the last one, who then in turn hands it back to the teacher. No big deal, right? Well then, the element of fun comes when you add unorthodox objects to this throwing – start with a ball, then when the ball is at student 3, give student 1 another object, such as a very small ball, then a very big one, a teddy bear, an enormous cushion, a roll of toilet paper, whatever you choose, as long as it’s harmless and soft. Students will have the time of their lives trying to catch objects of different sizes and shapes so as to make them go the full length of the circle. You teach them teamwork and names of different objects, besides action verbs such as catch and throw.
  • Room 4: Memory Game – the BBC is an interminable source of ideas and learning games, in their Cbeebies Games – visit http://www.bbc.co.uk/cbeebies/games and see for yourself. You can find activities for all kinds of learners, even those with special needs. We picked one which displays a coloured piano keyboard. Each time one key is pressed the correspondent colour is said out loud. Students are supposed to memorise the sequence in which they’re played and reproduce it. A new note/key/colour is added at every new round and children go bonkers, helping each other play the right sequence, repeating the colours aloud!

Considering each activity takes about 20 minutes, by the end of 1:20h you’ll have entertained a good sized group of kids aged 6 to 12 years old (64 in our case), who thought they were just having fun while playing games, but they learned/practiced/used their attention span and learned vocabulary in room 1; more vocabulary and motor coordination in Rooms 2 and 3; exercised colours, sounds, sequencing and concentration in Room 4. More importantly, we give them a sense of belonging to the school with activities like that, since they’re allowed to bring a friend who does not study English at the Cultura. They proudly show their friends who their teacher is, where they study, where they play games while waiting for their class, and many friends even get introduced to the secretaries. This student considers the school his territory, and by doing so takes control of the situation when they say ‘Here is where I learn English’.

After all four groups have spent some time in each of the 4 rooms, it’s time to call it a day and I start dismissing the sweaty-faced kids, giving them a farewell gift at the bottom of the stairs. As I handle them back to their parents saying “Thanks for coming. Did you have fun? “ I get a unanimous question in return: “When will we have another Cultura is Fun?” …  Need I say more?

Pecha Kucha… Come again?

Have you heard of Pecha Kucha ? No, it’s not another Japanese delicacy or a new fashion trend. In Brazil, due to the success of hair-straightening techniques, one might even think it’s the latest concotion for slick hair. Sorry, none of the above is right.

 

Pecha Kucha (chit chat in Japanese) is a presentation methodology in which presenters explain their ideas supported by 20 PowerPoint slides, each shown for 20 seconds. In total, each daring speaker has 6 minutes 40 seconds to send his message to the public. Topics may range from personal collections or a professional project to the latest tendencies in design, someone’s travels or whatever pleases the speaker – the fun in the event is that there’s a wide variety of topics (usually from 8 to 14 a night) and presenters substitute one another on stage at a very fast pace. The audience can be seen holding their breath at times, such is the light-hearted tension in the air.

Although it was originally devised in Tokyo in 2003 as a way to let designers talk about their work, the idea spread like wildfire and nowadays Pecha Kucha Nights can be found in diverse cities all over the world. In our teaching/learning field, it’s becoming a regular feature of Seminars and EFL encounters.

My introduction to this peculiar presentation format was in ABCI Rio 2010, where I marvelled at the courage of those wonderful teachers who, before an audience of over 300 colleagues, put themselves to the test of being awarded a round of enthusiastic applause – or not. Watching a live performance has no comparison to the recorded videos we can find on the Internet. When you watch the speaker take the stage you can almost feel their hearbeat, you see them open their eyes wide in surprise as each new slide pops on the screen unexpectedly – “Oops, I still had something to say, but forget it, let’s move on”. They then rush through the next one and find out they had 3, 4, 5 seconds to spare at the end– seconds they’d never imagined could feel like hours when you have one hundred or so pairs of eyes glued on your face. And once again the audience holds their breath – what will the next slide be like?

Sunday, 17th April – Pecha Kucha Night at IATEFL 2011 – I won’t miss it for the world!

Find out more about Pecha Kucha at http://www.pecha-kucha.org

We teach. They learn. We all have fun.

 

Fun. Define ‘fun’.

In three days’ time a group of kids with ages ranging from 5 to 11 whose only purpose is to have fun will take over our Cultura Inglesa branch. As they climb the stairs to the lobby they prick their ears and search the perimeter with eagle eyes avid for their prey: fun. We, the teachers, fiddle with keys, paper, realia or whatever we can in anticipation – will we be able to fulfill their demand? Will the activities we have so carefully prepared be what they are expecting? Bottomline: “Is it possible to entertain this bunch of little people and at the same time do some teaching? Simple answer: YES, as long as those in charge of the teaching are also having fun.

I’ve always believed ‘fun’ is a two-way street when it comes to teaching. It is absolutely possible to entertain your students if – and only if – you also enjoy the activities you have prepared. Learning another language at a young age is an adventure. Teaching young learners is a roller coaster ride. So, why don’t you climb aboard in the right gear?

When preparing your lessons for young learners, always have in mind they see you as some sort of magician – you make stuff happen! You conduct games, you dictate the rules, you play goofy and make them laugh. You’re the boss. So you might as well see yourself as an entertainer that teaches rather than a teacher that entertains. If students like you and have fun in your classes, you’ll be able to wrap them around your little finger, I mean, your teaching will be way easier than if you just impose rules and ‘make’ them learn. Natural learning just ‘happens’. So, mull over the following:

  •  Before planning your lessons, observe. If you don’t have children in the family, go to a park or square and observe the way a child relates to others, how she plays and for how long she dedicates her attention to one activity. Bear that in mind when you decide to implement something in the classroom.
  • While planning your lessons, change places. Imagine you are the child, and try and play the game/do the activity yourself, and be critical. Would you enjoy it? For how long? Would you want to do it again?
  • After teaching your lessons, look back. Was the lesson successful? Did you reach your aims? Did the kids have fun? Did YOU have fun?

Above all, never forget that simple, uncomplicated activities are most often the best ones. How many times has a child discarded the expensive present and preferred to play with the colourful wrapping paper instead? Considering all that, we’re planning simple but effective activities for the visiting kids this Friday. They’ll have to think, run, jump, dance, repeat, throw balls, sing, reason, play as a team. And all of us will most definitely have a good time and go home with a smile in our lips. We teach. They learn. We all have fun.

‘NO’ was NOT the answer!

How many times have you pondered whether to do or not to do something? For minutes, days, even weeks… Your life is kept in limbo because you cannot make up your mind… I was at this crossroads last December, with my index finger hovering over the ‘enter’ key of my laptop. Send it or not to send it? Well, since the omnipresent ‘NO’ was a guaranteed answer, I gathered courage and let it go – SEND! And a new story began, because ‘NO’ was NOT the answer this time.

Entering an online competition is an adrenalin rush in itself. It is more daring and nerve racking than actually winning it, since you have no idea who the contestants are or the odds against or for you. The anticipation while waiting for the result could be compared to that  moment when you close your eyes before a first kiss – you know something will happen, but will it be any good?

I first heard of the British Council Roving Reporter competition through Valeria França, the Head of Teacher Training at the Cultura Inglesa Rio. It challenged EFL teachers to write an article describing their experience in an EFL event promising to award the best 4 with a tempting trip to attend IATEFL in Brighton in 2011. All expenses paid for. Hmmmm…I’d been to a few conferences before, none as big as the IATEFL though, being the ABCI 2010 the cherry on the cake. I left the Windsor Hotel in Rio so worked up that I wanted to go, go, go, the more conferences the better. The teacher in me was crying for help, after almost 5 years of classroom deprivation. I succumbed. I wrote. I sent it…And  I won!

Now, a new story, because the ‘NO’ bit the dust and the ‘YES’ came in all its glory, bringing with it a thousand questions that will hang in the air until April. An interminable queue of question words fills my mind and interrogation marks are high in the market today. What will I do? Where will I stay?Who will I meet? I guess the answers are indeed everything, everywhere, everyone. An international event like the IATEFL is bound to beat all your expectations and score big in terms of speakers, tendencies, public, technology and culture. Well, this is what I look forward to: the minds at such events work so frantically you can almost hear them speaking for themselves, it’s as if people actually connect with each other, weaving a network of ideas that keeps them beating in unison. The atmosphere is contagious, and learning fills the air, which in turn becomes teaching when people go home. It is then that all the teaching is transformed into magic in the classrooms around the world.

And I’ll be there, helping these fortunate teachers spread their magic around the world being a Roving Reporter, because this time ‘NO’ was NOT the answer.

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