Monday, 28 June 2010

It was good as long as it lasted

WARNING: This will be a sour grapes rant!

July will start in a few days. And with that, I will finally have to make up my mind what to do with my couple of Ning networks. The latest email from the Ning Team tells me the following:

I had been led to believe earlier that the Mini deal would be free for all schools, but it now turns out that since I'm outside North America, I will have to start paying, even for Ning Mini. Actually, even free Ning Mini wouldn't have helped me with my international projects, which I have been running for the last three years, as the membership has exceeded the 150 allowance of Ning Mini. However, I was hoping to still be able to run smaller projects free, even after the Ning changes took place.

I know, I should have seen this coming. There is no free lunch. Even so, I feel I've been given a rotten deal here. My school won't pay to keep the old Nings running, nor to start any new ones. I was told to go back to the platform my school offers - Moodle. There was a reason why I abandoned Moodle three years ago, though. Ning was so much more user-friendly, and appealing to young people. I know, even more reason why we should pay for using such a slick service! But I don't think it will now be an option for many in the public school systems outside the US. In principle, I am not willing to start paying for the school Nings out of my own pocket. Many people say that it's not the tools, it's what you do with them. Quite right, but after driving a sportscar with all the modern bells and whistles, it won't be so much fun being behind the wheel of a basic saloon again. School will once again be further removed from what the real world has to offer.

Another unfortunate consequence is losing the 'digital footprint' created in the earlier projects. Naturally, I have got some screenshots and statistics, plus presentations I have made about the projects, but most of the student work will just disappear into thin air. True, the quality of all of some of the student work leaves a lot to be desired, and I'm sure the Internet is already bursting with too much 'virtual waste'. But as a teacher, being able to refer to what has been done before, might be worthwhile in the future. International school project work is a continuous process, and documentation of it an essential part of moving ahead. Not to mention the transparency factor of anybody being able to see and assess the work online. What's more, I feel responsible for all the partner schools around the world, all the hard-working teachers and students, who have invested their faith and trust in this project, and who will now see all their efforts wasted. Many of them will lose the links they have created to the project site from their school webpage.

Looking at this map, I'm now wondering if it might be different if some of our partners were in North America? There is already talk about Finns creating their own social network services, in order to keep all the copyright and other issues strictly inside our own borders. How does that support the idea of bringing the world closer together, and more globalized education?

I am not looking forward to starting to decide how much, what and in what format to save some of the work of last year's project. I could think of better things to do during my summer holiday.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Reflecting on problem solving

I've made a decision to re-energize my reflection routines in this blog. So here I go with the first reflection about the just finished school year.

At the beginning of the summer holiday it suddenly dawned on me that, for the last months of the school year, probably even longer, fun had seeped out of school. David Hamilton wrote about reflection in his blog, and said the following: 
In fact, it is often the emotion – whether it takes the form of doubt, puzzlement, or distress – that drives people to engage in reflection.
So true. I realize I have felt distressed for quite some time. Tired of classroom situations with big (over 30 for me is big), very heterogeneous groups that pose such a challenge, even with my years of experience.

More specifically, my problem are students, the vast majority boys, who are bright but thoroughly bored day after day, and who finally start giving trouble. They come to our school at 16 with a good basic knowledge and understanding of English, but with the unfortunate attitude of thinking that they know it all, or at least enough, and thus they absolutely don't need to do anything to learn more. I despair when I see them wasting all their promising potential, and underachieving in the end, because studying as we present it to them, simply isn't their cup of tea.

I know it seems to be a pattern in certain young boys' world that, above all, you need to be cool, and avoid being seen as a swot. With English, though, the learning never ends. It's a wonderful language with such a wide and colourful vocabulary, with a startling variety of nuances you can express with it, that the learning will never end. Yet, that kind of middle-aged female teacher's passion about the language won't stimulate these young rebels. Neither does it help that half of the class have been almost totally immune to understanding even the basic structure of a foreign language, and valuable time is spent trying to help them to at least the minimum passing level.

But all this is just old, repetitive complaints and moaning about the undesirable situation. It is not going to lead to anything. The question is: what am I going to do to make it better next year? Nobody else is going to solve this problem for me, nor is my school willing to adopt a concerted effort to change things. I need to wake up and smell the coffee, and keep reflecting to be able to move on and design a new action plan before the next school year begins.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Time for a make-over

Three years on, I feel the need to do something new about this blog. I know cosmetic changes don't do a lot alone, but as Blogger now has these nice new templates, why not give my blog a new look.

So bye-bye old, static style.

And welcome this modern, more lively feel of transparent pictures. I may soon want to customize this style, though, after seeing too many exactly similar blogs around. First of all, I need to think of a different, better fitting title picture. But all that can wait.

My main priority for now, hopefully inspired by the new look, is to renew my blogging practices. I have been far too neglicent lately. Blame it on being busy with other things - school exchanges abroad and return visits to our school, to start with. Yet, it's all down to better planning and time management. I want to get in the routine of more frequent, and maybe improvised, blogging, because it truly is a very valuable and effective way of reflecting, which I find necessary in the teaching profession.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Together across continents

This year's virtual AEC-NET project culminated in a grand finale, when we were lucky to receive a group of 15 students and 1 teacher from St. Mark's Senior Secondary Public school in New Delhi, India, for a one-week home-stay student exchange visit in May.

When young people from such different cultures come together, a lot of negotiation is needed to find the compromises required for mutual understanding and alleviation of culture shock. I am convinced that there is no other way to learn intercultural communication than be thrown in at the deep end, and with careful guiding and debriefing gradually become aware of and learn to appreciate other ways of being and doing things.

As always, it was the genuinely collaborative activities that were the most fruitful. Anyone organising student exchanges should remember to minimize touristy 'showing and telling' things, and rather make students mix and solve problems together as much as possible. It was heart-warming to see our student help their Indian friends who tried ice-skating for the first time.

Introducing some of the sights in town was more fun when done in the form of a treasure hunt competition, where our students were just as ignorant members of the mixed teams, and the tasks needed a lot of collaboration.

The joint assembly brought our whole school together to enjoy a colourful and diverse show of dances and music from both countries. It ended with the song 'We are the world', sung by our school choir together with one Indian singer. You may think the whole idea rather twee, but for me, at that moment, joining in the chorus made the lyrics ring truer than ever. Enjoy!

Find more videos like this on WHAZZUP? 2009-2010