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.

 

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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.

 

 

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eTwinning Conference – Lisbon 2013

Day after day I realize that my job is continually developing and is in constant need of something new. It is not only about new technologies or looking for new tools. Every day I hear about the clash which exists between native and migrant digitals but I think the real problem lies elsewhere.
In every classroom there is the need of creating an atmosphere of collaboration and sharing so that the students’ learning process can be fostered. The students don’t go to school in order to listen to their teachers and get information or knowledge and they are not interested in lessons, if they don’t present new stimuli.
I have been one of the lucky teachers who could take part in the Lisbon Conference. As a matter of fact, I was there because I was awarded a prize, but that is not the main point here.
While there, I could choose among some workshops and the ones I picked up were

eTwinning Groups: share, connect, develop
and The role of Ambassadors as leaders of change – A model for whole school and teacher teams transforming teaching and learning through eTwinning

During the former, somebody said that teaching is the most honourable profession and I was delighted at hearing it in a period when, at least in Italy, teachers are not particularly respected for a number of reasons I am not going to discuss here.
In this context anyway I really think that eTwinning can give a big contribution in spreading the possibility of participation and change.
How can teachers make their students interested in their lessons? I know that this is not a problem which all teachers have to deal with. Some lucky ones have no need to motivate their students, because the kids themselves are interested in learning and eager on knowing new things. But this is a real problem of mine 😦
Among the chances that eTwinning offers, one is the groups. I am a member of four of them and I must admit in some I am active, in others much less. The discussion we had during the workshop has been helpful to me because I tried to apply it to what happens in my classes.
Every community must have a common goal which gives reason to the community itself. But the members of a group have to be put in the best condition possible in order to work and be efficient. Just like our students.
So, what type of activities should we present them?
Brian Jones explained what happens during a Learning Event, which is not so different from what happens in a group. While he was talking, I was trying to apply what he was saying to my classes and was trying to figure out how eTwinning could help me.

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The members of a community  are much more active when the moderators are active themselves and take part in conversations and activities.
This is true for myself, too. I need to be constantly motivated, I need deadlines in order to be efficient otherwise, since I am overwhelmed with things to do and tasks to accomplish, I end up forgetting doing things. And this happens also when doing something which I am really interested in.
I should create new activities and try to involve all types of learning styles and intelligences in order to help my students to feel more involved. eTwinning with its projects is undoubtely a strong resource.
Brian Jones added that the so-called lurkers are not necessarily passive, but they could be the active participants of the future.
In every classroom there is somebody who never raises their hands to talk or ask for something, but that doesn’t mean they are passive: they might be lurkers who are carefully listening while getting more self-confidence and are probably thinking and deciding what to believe.
The discussion during the workshop has given me a lot of hints about what to do during my classes in order to involve the most of my students.

The second workshop I took part in was
The role of Ambassadors as leaders of change – A model for whole school and teacher teams transforming teaching and learning through eTwinning.

I have been an eTwining Ambassador for three years now and was curious to know what other ambassadors are doing or what activities they had to suggest.
The discussion was about the role of Ambassadors and the key words apparently are Innovation, Change, Tranformation.

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Changing is not that easy at all! If a person pushes, the other one does the same as a reaction. Nobody lets themselves go 🙂 The main objective so should be to manage the resistence. The Ambassador’s role should be that of a leader that guides to change but always keeping in mind that, in order to be successful, we must not fight the environment we are in, but we must become part of it, understand its signals because only in this way it is possible to act efficiently.
What is really important is to make the staff understand that team-working and collaboration only lead to positive results.
The two moderators of the workshop, Lesley Atkins and John Warwick, illustrated a specific project which was carried out in a Scottish school, but what they said fits perfectly to any situation. Thanks to the project, there has been an integration of ICT into the curriculum, the staff could develop their professional profile, there was much more inter-disciplinarity and forms of learning also outside the classroom: in general a big and general improvement of the school environment.
A model of school can change only when the school leadership identifies the need to change, if teachers are willing to collaborate and share, if Ambassadors are involved in the process, if a team is created.
This is the only way we could hope to get to a change in schools and a passage from working on projects to a project-based- approach.
Once again thanks eTwinning for playing such an important role in a teacher’s professional development

eTwinning and a teacher’s professional development

I have just come back from an eTwinning PDW which was held in Vilnius and as after any eTwinning event I have a lot of thoughts and opinions I would like to share.
Vilnius is a city which I knew only virtually thanks to a project I had worked on and so it has been interesting to be able to match the images I had seen to the real places and monuments which had been illustrated and described together with their legends by the students of a school in Alitus.
The chance of admiring the tower of the ancient Gediminas castle and the statue in the midde of the largest square in town, or the chance of seeing the lake that, according to a legend, was created by the tears of a young woman in love allowed me this time not only, as it usually happens in such meetings, to match a name to a face but also pictures and images to real places.

As for the people, I always find exciting to browse through the participants’ list and find out that among others there’s also one of your contacts or, as it happened this time, a partner in a project that had just been closed. Then they introduce you to their friends and you introduce them to yours and the net becomes larger and larger and relationships closer and closer. The atmosphere gets warmer and everybody is ready to start.
The workshop was about Web 2.0 technologies in Education and was demanding but really interesting above all for one like me, so fond of new technologies.
I am sure that we teachers need to use Web 2.0 tools in our teaching activity but I am still looking for the right way to do it. I’ve got plenty of ideas and I am full of enthusiasm but how can I transmit such enthusiasm to my students without creating confusion in them and, above all, making sense of what I do? I thought the PDW might give me some answers.

As at any eTwinning event I met a mixture of languages and cultures and all the participants have something in common: we all are willing to learn more, all aware of being lifelong learners and all willing to open up to the new world, the world of Web 2.0 because all of us care for those kids who are in front of us every day and from whom we don’t want to estrange.

As Anne Gilleran reminded us in her presentation eTwinning & the professional development of teachers, thanks also but not only to its learning events and to its PDWs, eTwinning offers a wonderful opportunity for both formal and informal professional development in the field of the new technologies and their application to teaching activity. Somebody said that if technology can never replace teachers, teachers who are not good at it will be replaced by the ones who are and so if we stay in eTwinning we have a good chance of staying in teaching.

The eTwinning community is getting bigger and bigger and the data that were shown are impressive: more than 133.000 registered teachers, 12.000 teachers participating in projects, more than 300,000 students actively involved in projects, more than 20,000 log in each day to the Desktop, 2270 members of groups, more than 2,000 teachers took part in learning events in 2010.

As we well know anyway, just knowing the tools can’t be enough because “If you bring in these technologies and don’t think ahead to how they’ll be used to promote learning and the acquisition of skills, then the only thing that will change in school is the electric bill” (D. Thornburg)

and as Elena Shulman said during her workshop Web.2.0 tools: tags, ratings and comments for educational use of learning resources, educational ideas are more important than the tool itself. Consequently what is fundamental is to describe the experience and give ideas of how it can be used. She introduced us to the site lreforschool.eun.org and to some criteria which should allow us to easily reuse resources, give educational guidelines to share materials at any level, facilitate the building of communities and increase the availabilty of digital resources.

In how many ways can technology be introduced into a classroom? Stasė Riškienė, a Lithuanian eTwinning Ambassador, does it through mobiles as she showed us in her workshop Mobile Learning and Cooperation, practical work with iPods
It is amazing to see how many activities you can do and how many things you can learn using iPod apps even though I’m not so sure iPods are cheaper than netbooks.

Honestly I don’t know if I have found answers to my questions but I have surely found new ideas and above all food for thought regarding the way I teach. Too often I work and create just following my enthusiasm without thinking too much on details and so I think that the criteria Elena illustrated will be helpful.
As for mobiles, in my school we are not allowed to use them and I am one that respects rules, but after the workshop some ideas came up and after all every student has a mobile and so it is just like having a small lab in the classroom, so why not try? It might also be a way of showing the kids a different way of using it.

Was it only work and technology? Of course not! 🙂 How can I forget the kids dancing in their traditional costumes or the choir of children who sang We are the World? Or the beautiful evening on the lake of Trakai when at the dinner table we found out that English is not the only lingua franca but Russian can be and even Italian? And we found out that what unites us is much more than what divides us. We found out that eTwinning doesn’t give light only to classrooms, just like in the video below, but also to the night on the lake thanks to our yellow and blue lanterns which we let fly in the sky above Trakai.

the project

Here is the presentation of the project I have created with my partners during the learning lab. It has been interesting and quite easy, I must say. We have agreed on the theme, Christmas, since it seems a relevant one and we have worked on it using Google docs, which is a great tool for collaborative work. I will surely test it with my students, I can’t wait to do it actually!