A visit to the Epic Citadel

It is incredible how many things you can learn day by day through social networks. Twitter and Facebook above all are kind of mines of information and are essential for a teacher’s professional development.

And it is incredible how many lessons, videos, tutorials you can create while comfortably sitting on your sofa and using a tablet.

Just yesterday I learnt about Epic Citadel. According to Wikipedia it is “ a tech demo developed by Epic Games for iOS to show off the Unreal Engine 3 running on iOS devices”, which was also released for Android.

epic citadel

pic from itunes.apple.com

I have no idea what Unreal Engine 3 is but I read on Twitter that Epic Citadel can be used also in education. I had no idea either of how to do it but felt curious and so I downloaded the free app and started the tour of the citadel. It is really amazing! It is just a setting with no story, nor people in it but how wonderful to use it for asking students to fill it with stories!

Sometimes students complain about not having ideas when they are asked to write and always need some prompts. So I thought of creating the prompts using Epic Citadel. I needed also kind of guide for them and I remembered Buddy Poke, an app which I had installed some time ago but never used so far with which you can create avatars. The avatar would become the guide I needed!

collage made with Halftone2

collage made with Halftone2

I made this short video for my students in few minutes and I am going to use to ask them to write a story and create characters, setting, atmosphere and so on.

The video is thought for my younger students but I think that, with some changes, it could be adapted also for the older ones.

A teacher at a gig

A couple of days ago I went to a gig. It was James Blunt’s Live Concert in Piazzola sul Brenta, a small but nice village not far from Padua, in North-East Italy.

I am not a big fan of James Blunt but the ticket was a gift which I accepted gratefully and the location was surprisingly charming. The gig took place in the big garden in front of Villa Contarini, a magnificent mansion which stands in a picturesque place.

                                    

villa

I appreciated the concert very much: the night was warm, the people were full of joy and enthusiasm and James Blunt was nice and involving.  

 

 

stage

Anyway, since I can’t help being a teacher, while listening to Bonfire Heart I started thinking of creating a lesson around it. And here is what came out.

Bonfire Heart

 

 

 

First try with Appsmashing

I don’t like textbooks very much, I must admit it.

And the moments I like them the least is when they present some passages about topics which seem to come out from nowhere and with words or references to topics that students cannot possibly know. So I have to invent some activities that  have to motivate students to read and have therefore to be engaging, but that have also to give them the knowledge they need to fully understand the text.

A couple of days ago I stumbled upon a Twitter hashtag which  led me to learn about appsmashing – #appsmash –  and since I was trying to find out a way to introduce a passage about Scotland, I used it at once.

Appsmashing is the combination of more apps in order to obtain a single product.

I thought it was the right solution for my problems and so I started using it on my iPad.

As I said, the passage we will read is about some aspects of Scotland. It mentions haggis, porridge and tartan without explaining what they exactly are and I am sure my students don’t know any of them.

scotland

 

So I thought of preparing a video for the students to use in a flipped classroom activity.

First I prepared a word cloud, using the first app of the process: Word Clouds

word cloudThen I used Google and Google Earth for images and next I started thinking about how to organize the video. I didn’t want just a video. I wanted a special one 🙂

I therefore used Tellagami in order to create a speaking avatar on a green background. The avatar had the task to explain the difficult terms. Next I used iMovie in order to create a video with all the images I had previously downloaded. Finally I used DoInk Green Screen to edit the video and put the avatar in the right background.

apps

 

 

And here is the result!  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0-_94mjKfJM

 

I know, I know, it is not perfect but I think it will be helpful anyway. And what’s more I think of the incredible potentialities of appsmashing above all when I ask the students to create their own presentations or videos! Can’t wait to see them!

 

Verdun, World War 1 and SpeedTwinning…

From 11 to 13 April I attended the Multilateral Seminar eTwinning about History and Remembrance of the First World War.

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It took place in Verdun, a location which is also a symbol and which reminded me of the area where I come from: same connections to the Great War with the trenches, the tunnels and above all the victims. The small museum we visited in the Butte of Vauquoise is quite similar to the small museum which we can visit in San Martino del Carso and both are held by volunteers.

The Museum at San Martino del Carso and the Museum at the Butte de Vauquoise

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The aim of the seminar was to allow eTwinners to meet partners and set up a new project about the war. The method the organizers chose to make all this happen was quite peculiar: SpeedTwinning. Basically you had five minutes to contact a potential partner, illustrate your idea of a project, listen to their suggestions and then it was time to change partner and so on. I met 6 partners and came up with 6 ideas for a project. Since three of them were quite similar to what I had in mind, I decided that those three eTwinners would be my partners in a new project.

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We have planned some activities so to be ready to start next September. The title is Let’s Twin our War Memories and it has already been approved by our Agencies.

The seminar was mainly meant for new eTwinners. As a matter of fact some of the colleagues I met there had just registered on the platform so most of the meetings were about how to register, tips about how to create a successful project, how to use the TwinSpace and so on.

An interesting presentation was illustrated by Elizabeth Sauser-Monnig, from the French NSS while a French teacher, Solène Faupin very nicely explained what to do and what not to do during a project, if you want it to be successful.

 

Image,,,

 

While I was looking at all the participants coping with all the tools of the TwinSpace and making a bit of confusion about the site and the TwinSpace, I was thinking of how eTwinning has developed in these almost ten years. I think I am lucky because I joined the platform at the very beginning, when eTwinning was “only” a site where you could contact colleagues from other European countries and there was just a forum and four chat rooms! Since I have been present throughout its whole development, it has never been difficult for me to feel confident in the site and to understand its changes. But for newbies it must not be that easy to wander among teachers’ rooms, groups, learning events and whatever eTwinning offers, all at one time.

I must say anyway that as usual when eTwinning is concerned, the enthusiasm of the participants makes it easy to overcome all difficulties.

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In the end, after visiting Verdun, tasting delicious French food, taking part in lectures about the three different moments in the writing of the war history – the political, the social and the cultural – and the way the memories of the war are dealt with in France and Germany, meeting new colleagues and starting a new project I can say that, despite some difficulties with the initial organization of the journey, I came back home once more enriched and revitalized by this new eTwinning experience.

 

 

About the Future Classroom

I am attending the Future Classroom Scenario Course at http://www.europeanschoolnetacademy.eu/
and have found it really involving and challenging so far. There are a lot of questions which are real food for thought and can help to think deeply about our role as teachers in a world that is so constantly and rapidly changing.

I have finished Module 1 in which the focus was on how the future classroom looks like. The first question however is about the way we teach. Why should we change it? Why should we use technology?
Of course it is not just fashion or interest in new tools. Actually it is because our students need to develop those skills which are essential in the world they will have to live in. Deirdre Butler says it clearly: if our students won’t be able to teach themselves and to adapt to new situations, they won’t have so many possibilities. This aspect came to my mind this morning when I did an activity with my 16-year-olds starting from this video
The main aim was practising the second conditional and I actually chose it because I was sure it would arise their curiosity. As I expected, when they heard the questions, they started laughing because they found them so absurd. So I asked them why they thought such questions were asked during a job interview. They said the video was just for fun but admitted they wouldn’t be able to answer. So I started talking about creativity and problem solving and 21st century skills and tried to make them understand that even when you are asked a strange question, you must find a proper answer, above all during a job interview. I don’t know if they got the point, but anyway they offered to answer the questions and did it quite seriously 🙂

I think it is essential to change the way we teach and learn in schools even though technology can sometimes mean distraction for some students. That’s when our job starts getting important, and difficult I daresay.

As for the future classroom, well I attended a two-day workshop in Brussel last year and I was absolutely fascinated by the way every piece of furniture and of technology is arranged to make the students feel at ease and involved in the activities. During a webinar Arjana Blazic told us how she was able to create a future classroom at her school in Zagreb. I think that, in order to get this, we need first creative and innovative teachers who can come up with the idea and who are eager to experiment and try new ways; we need also a bit of luck because of course such an arrangement is quite expensive and so we should be lucky enough to find partners who believe in the experience and are ready to help, we need magic, which in my case should be the support of our headmaster who is not supportive at all, on the contrary he tries to stop and discourage any change at school.

In the meantime I can see what I can do to change my super traditional classrooms with some beautiful posters I have got.

a classroom

An activity to celebrate Halloween

I attended the Mini Conference for eTwinning Ambassadors a couple of weeks ago and as usual came back home with my suitcase full not of souvenirs from beautiful Catania – definetely no time for shopping just a bit of sightseeing – but full of new ideas.

I have used a part of what I learned there to create an activity to celebrate Halloween with my students.

My aim was to make them improve their reading skills but also to make them have fun while doing it.

That’s when a workshop I attended in Catania and a Learning Event I took part in a month ago came to help.

What if I create a treasure hunt for my students, what if I ask them to look for a precise word, what if they have to use that word to reach a destination, what if at their destination they find something fun to create?

And I did it.

I decided to create a webquest about Halloween using http://www.history.com/topics/halloween as a reference site.

The students had to read carefully in order to find out some words whose definitions I had prepared for them.

After finding the right words, they had to choose some letters from the words i.e. Name of ancient festival from which Halloween originated (take the 3rd letter)

Putting all the letters together, they had the word monster, which I thought could be appropriate enough.

Then I created a padlet and, thanks to bit.ly could also create a proper link to it bit.ly/HLmonster. What the students had to do was find out the word, add it to part of the url bit.ly/HL … and then go.

Once they reached the padlet, they found their final task: create a video about Halloween using Animoto.

 

padlet halloween

They enjoyed the activity which they didn’t find too difficult, even though they spent some time to find out the fruit which is used in a popular Halloween game!

I really must thank Bart Verswijvel  for his inspirational work and his stimulating ideas.

 

 

Celebrating the European Day of Languages

Just like any year, last 26 Sept. too we celebrated the European Day of Languages at school.

The idea was to involve as many students as possible in different ways and so I tried to think of a certain number of activities.

Inspiration of course came from the official site http://www.coe.int/t/dg4/linguistic/JEL_en.asp  and all the material we can find there. My students particularly like the game Talk to Me.

My first thought went to the students who study at our school but who come from different countries and consequently speak a different language. Without planning so much, I just stopped them any time I met one of them in a corridor and invited them to say “Talk to Me” in their language. I recorded them and they spread the piece of news throughout the school so we have Eric from Burkina Faso with his beautiful French, Marko who speaks Serbian, Luca who speaks Slovenian, Oussama from Morocco and his Arabic, Nicholas who, despite his name is Italian, and Daniele who came to me and said “Teacher, I am Italian but my Grandfather is German so I can say Talk to Me in German. Can I do it?” “Of course you can!”

Many others could have taken part but I decided to involve them in another activity I have in mind for the near future.

Younger students played Talk to Me in their classrooms and it was a nice way both to learn some words in languages we know so little about and also to revise Geography. I realize half Europe is quite a mysterious continent to my students 🙂

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Older students read about the origin and the objectives of the European Day of Languages and then wrote their thoughts about it. They wrote also a note about the importance of learning a foreign language and the best ways to do it. They also read about Language Facts and discussed about the most surprising ones. They couldn’t believe there are about 225 indigenous languages in Europe!

They wrote their thoughts on a post-it which were then stuck on a map of Europe.

photo 1

Finally, after reading about the EDL, the students on the ICT course created a treasure hunt using QR codes. They used what they had just learnt and wrote some questions. They also wrote the right answer and hid it somewhere in the school building. They created QR codes for their mates to scan and so play the game. They of course gave a clue about where to find the answers.

Here is an example   Image

It was a great day, a lot of students took part in it and hopefully they also learnt about how important it is to get close to other languages and to other cultures.

Here is the glog which illustrates all the activities.

 

Three tools to introduce yourself

When you start working with a new class or on a new European project, the first steps are introductions. Students are eager to know who their partners are and also to tell them who they are, what they like and everything that helps create a relationship.

Sometimes this is quite boring, with students just repeating things, but with the right tools, this activity can turn into a joyful experience.

Let’s see how you can:

make students describe people using appropriate lexis and grammar

make students ask questions and make deductions

make students create a presentation with audio recording

 First of all the students  can create an avatar that represents themselves: this way you don’t need to use pictures of your students if you need to publish them on the web.

The avatar should show each of them and also give an idea of what they like.

Useful sites you can use to create avatars are:

http://www.southparkstudios.com/avatar

http://www.sp-studio.de/

http://www.bitstrips.com/create/avatar/

and here you can find further suggestions

http://mashable.com/2007/09/12/avatars/

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Instead of creating an avatar, students who are good at drawing can also draw a picture which represents themselves. You can then scan it or just take a picture of it in order to upload it on any site.

ImageOnce the avatar is ready, the students can create a word cloud which contains all words related to themselves. They can use wordle.net or tagxedo .com (web tools) or tagcloud-generator (tablets)

They exchange their avatars and wordclouds and must ask their partners questions to find out about them. You can also set a number of questions for each word:  

ex. Do you like cats? Have you got a cat? What’s its name …

In the end, each student is invited to prepare his/her partner’s presentation.

A tool which I really like for this type of activity is educreations  (both web and tablet tool).

Educreations is just like an interactive whiteboard where the students can upload the avatars and then describe their partners using the information they have got.

Students usually like this activity because they prepare funny avatars but they have also to think of appropriate words for the cloud, read what their partners write, make deductions, ask questions and speak in the presentation.

As a follow up activity, all the presentations could be shared (ex. uploaded on Edmodo) and the students could group them according to the likes or dislikes expressed in them in order to find out differences or similarities between themselves.

It is an activity which can easily be adapted to different levels of language knowledge.

 

 

A lesson with tablets

Next year one of my classes will be using tablets. I am thrilled at the idea of experimenting what I have learnt so far and am now planning because I know that planning is essential if you want your work to be successful. 

In addition I really don’t want to focus on the technology itself, but I am interested in considering how tools and apps can really help my students get knowledge and above all the skills that they will need in the future.

I have just read an interesting article Learning is not about the Technology and I think this exactly is the point.

At the moment I have created a sort of warming-up activity for the first days at school.  Next I am going to create other lessons but above all to study the right way to integrate technology in my daily routine at school.

In my first lessons what I intend to do is:

Make the students work in groups so to foster their team-working skills;

Make the students get familiar with some tools they will use throughout the school year and which hopefully will allow them to express their creativity but also skills related to analysis and synthesis;

Make the students practise reading skills and language analysis 

I have chosen a funny story from the ones presented here 

I have cut the story into short paragraphs/sentences and with the words I have created some word clouds, using Wordle. 

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Students are divided into groups of four and are now asked to reconstruct the paragraphs. I have used Wordle because it has the right layout, it uses all the words I need and the most used ones are made bigger.

In order to rebuild the paragraphs, they are expected to read all the words carefully and find out the right way to join them, taking into account capital letters, their function in the sentence, and anything else that might link words together.

When they have finished, they have to upload their paragraph to Edmodo in order to share and see what the other groups have found out.

All the paragraphs are of course in a jumble order and they have now to put them together correctly and rebuild the whole story. Here too they have to analyse all the sentences carefully and decide together on their right order.

Finally they have to suggest an appropriate title for the story; a poll is now created on Edmodo and they use it to choose the best one. 

Since this is class of students who already know how to use Animoto, Vimeo, Toondoo, Audioboo, EduCreations, as a follow up activity, they can now choose to

write a story of their own; 

illustrate the story using comics or a video; 

create an image which presents the story;

dramatise the story;

rewrite the story but set it in another country and consider what should be changed;

create an audio version of the story.

They can prepare such activity as homework working together in groups using Edmodo while in the next classes they can work together to improve and complete it.

A class will be devoted to their performances or presentations, which could be filmed to be shown also to parents, for example.

Is this an activity which could be made even without tablets? 

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Let’s see. I should print all the wordles, ask the students to write their paragraphs, photocopy all their paragraphs or write them all on the blackboard in order to give them the possibility to reconstruct the story, ask them to write their suggestions for the title, read them and ask them to vote, maybe raising their hands, and then ….comics, audiorecordings, videos… well, no , I don’t think I could do it; you can of course create content even without tablets but not this way and not so easily.

I don’t know if this is the right way to integrate technology in the classroom, but I think it is an honest attempt.

 

 

 

 

Using videos to improve speaking skills

Making my students speak English is quite a hard job. It is not that they are reluctant to speak but they usually can’t find much to say 🙂

I usually turn to mind maps: big maps on the blackboard where we gather ideas, vocabulary and all that we need to prepare our talks. They usually help because students can get kind of draft to develop on their own.

Here is an example we have created before a class conversation about holidays

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Sometimes we use presentations which show pictures in order to collect ideas, just like this one

But the best way to make them speak fluently and in a correct way is to film them when they feel ready to speak.
I prefer filming them using ToonCamera because I think that they can overcome embarrassment this way and I must say that the activity always gives good results for more than a reason.
First, they concentrate more since they know that everything is recorded; then they try to sound more natural and probably they also feel more natural – when asked to speak after preparing their talk, they usually tend to read instead of speaking; finally they enjoy watching themselves and every time they notice what was wrong and could be improved. When the videos are ready, I usually embed them on our class blog and so they can write their comments.

Making videos in the classroom is extremely helpful for me too since it allows me to revise the activity and see what can be improved.