What school leaders need to know…

is thiswhatwe needto know-

… About Digital Technologies and Social Media – it’s a book by Scott McLeod and Chris Lehmann written with many authorities on the topic on educational technology. Published in 2012 is an interesting read and a source of inspiration.

First of all you may sensibly ask whether a five year old paper book is not obsolete – after all, technological advance speeds up rather frighteningly. My answer is simple: of course, parts of the book are sometimes ridiculous (using RSS readers in the classroom sounds like history, doesn’t it?), but even though some ideas seem rather old-fashioned, it doesn’t mean the whole publication is a waste – quite contrary.

A series of articles touches various aspects of using digital solutions in the classroom, from blogging to online course managing systems. You can read about wikis, webinars, videos, social bookmarking or online mind mapping – but the best thing is that each article focuses not only on a digital tool, but also on its application in the classroom.

For example, the first article (Blogs by Kristin Hokanson and Christian Long) not only explains what blogs are and what is their educational rationale, but also introduces the Alice Project which turned out to be more than encouraging children to write a blog. We can read about technical steps and framing the whole process as well as after-project reflections – I found this really inspirational, because there’s nothing better than learning from someone else’s experience.

Apart from personal experience, each chapter mentions some potential uses of various tools that may still be useful – like a lot of ways you may use open source software, a full list of ideas on how to use digital videos to make your classes more interesting, etc.

Moreover, you can find tips that will make you think before you decide to implement a particular digital solution – like the three Rs, vital when it comes to including instructional video games in the class (repetition, reward and reason, useful not only in this case).

One of the things that caught my eye, however, was not connected to digital technology as a useful tool – it is a matter of responsibility, something we should teach our students along with technological solutions. We are going to read about responsible blogging, free open source software, protecting the school image etc.

To sum up, while I found some parts of the book a little bit outdated, the majority of the articles shed new light on some of the digital tools I’ve been using for a while. If you want to read a book that gives you a moment of reflection on your technological approach – that’s a great book for you.

You may also consider this book a nice gift for a fellow teacher (or a principal) who is not really up to date with technological tools in the classroom – quite often teachers feel awkward to start with a new solution, especially when they realise their students have a far greater knowledge on this topic. This book may be a good start on a journey, pointing out some basics and guiding through more problematic issues connected with using technology (responsibility, classroom management etc.).

Enjoy!

What School Leaders Need to Know About Digital Technologies and Social Media

Scott McLeod (Editor), Chris Lehmann (Editor), David F. Warlick (Foreword by)
ISBN: 978-1-118-02224-5
224 pages
November 2011, Jossey-Bass

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7 free online courses in December

7free onlinecoursesin December

Today, I feel pretty much like Santa, bringing you a fresh batch of free online courses you may enjoy during the December break, so that “New Year, New Me” spirit will have a solid background of December-learning. This time I’ve focused more on self-paced courses, as with the holidays preparation on our heads, we may be too busy to seriously focus on learning.

1 Teaching for Success: Practices for English Language Teaching by the British Council

Start: flexible

Duration: each course takes 4 weeks

This program is more than a mere course – it consists of three courses that can be taken in any order, and will equip you with the tools you need to take responsibility for your own CPD. Each course will look at four professional practices, explain their importance and offer a range of practical advice and suggestions in three areas: Lessons and Teaching, Learning and Learners, The Classroom and the World. Recommended for fresh teachers, but also those who want to connect with teaching buddies around the world.

2 Game Theory by Stanford University, The University of British Columbia

Start: 4th of December

Duration: 8 weeks

Game theory is getting more and more popular in everyday life – and the course will provide the basics: representing games and strategies, the extensive form (which computer scientists call game trees), Bayesian games (modelling things like auctions), repeated and stochastic games, and more. The good thing is that this course is designed for beginners, so no extensive knowledge of maths is required (you should be familiar with basic probability theory though, and some very light calculus would be helpful).

3 Working in Teams: A Practical Guide by the University of Queensland

Start: self-paced

Duration: 4 weeks

This course is an introduction to teamwork skills that will help you improve your own performance and that of your team. It covers why teams are important, the roles of individuals in a team, systems and processes for effective teamwork and communication, and methods for addressing team conflict. I would recommend it to everyone who manages classrooms to improve teamwork, as throughout the course you will be provided with a range of tools and templates that you will be able to use with any team.

4 Blended Learning series by Relay Graduate School of Education

Start: self-paced

Duration: flexible

This, again, is more than a course – a set of four modules that will teach you about blended and personalised learning as a whole. You’ll learn the how and why of “blended” and how blended/personalised learning is changing the face of teaching and learning. You’ll leave this course with four blended “recipes” you can implement in your classroom immediately. You’ll leave this course knowing why your blended practice should be grounded in instructional challenges/student needs and how you can leverage technology to address those challenges, so you can teach each student in a more personalised manner.

5 21st Century Learning by Grainne Conole

Start: self-paced

Duration: 6 weeks

This MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) will introduce you to 21st century learning tools and practices. You will examine how they can facilitate learning and teaching, and evaluate your own digital literacies, create your own personal learning environment, find open educational resources, explore virtual worlds and more. Recommended to fresh teachers or those who feel the pressure of using technology in the classroom but are somewhat shy to start.

6 Educational Technology by Georgia Tech

Start: self-paced

Duration: 16 weeks

This is a proper university course (you can read its detailed description and requirements here) for those who want to focus on educational technology for real – maybe in order to help with their MA or PhD, maybe because this is something they want to do in their lives. This class is built on a number of pedagogical strategies, including project-based learning, authenticity, and apprenticeship. The ultimate goal, supported by these strategies, is that through this class you will make an actual contribution to the field of educational research, and start a project that could be continued even after the semester is over.

7 The Rise of Superheroes and Their Impact On Pop Culture by Smithsonian

Start: self-paced

Duration: 6 weeks

Can you imagine a course with Stan Lee as one of instructors? Well – here we are! You’ll learn about how cultural myths, world events, and personal experiences shaped the first superheroes, you will apply these frameworks to create your own superhero– or you can choose to do a deeper analysis on existing comic book heroes. At last, fans, students and seekers of knowledge have the opportunity to enrol in the ultimate comic book course – so this may be a great idea not only for you, but also for your students of EFL!

I guess I found something I want to study this month…

I hope you’ll feel inspired and together we’ll have fun picking the best course of the month!

Enjoy!

Role-Playing Teaching (Part 3: Being a teacher and being a Game Master)

THE NEW YOU

In my previous articles (Why people play games and What are RPGs) I briefly described a phenomenon of Role-Playing Games and shared the reasons for which people play games – and enjoy it. Today, I want to demonstrate similarities between teaching and playing RPGs which will help me prove why RPGs can be the ultimate answer to Game-Based Learning approach.

By the end of the article you will realise you not only already played a RPG, but you unknowingly took a role of a Game Master!

Game Master is the person who holds the strings, who’s behind the curtain, who’s – that’s my favourite comparison – a Merlin to the group of new knights of the Round Table… and that’s exactly who a teacher is, at least to my mind: a person who sets goals and makes students reach them, but only by encouragement, not by direct passing them the Holy Grail of knowledge.

I will try to show you seven aspects actually making teacher a Game Master:

Set-up

Just like a GM before a session (a meeting where people partake in an RPG adveture), you need to pick a set-up, a theme and general idea for a lesson. You choose the areas your students will roam in pursuit of their goal (e.g. understanding the beauty of Present Perfect), and you decide on the goal itself by determining a lesson aim.

Preparation

As Gail Godwin said, good teaching is one-fourth preparation and three-fourths pure theatre. It’s exactly the same with game-mastering. You need to prepare stages of the lesson/session along with some props, like music, handouts, multimedia tools etc. We want the participants, be they players or students, to have fun, enjoy and – yes, why not? – admire the adventure we’ve planned for them.

Yes, I know there are GMs who don’t use any props, but then there are teachers who love Dogme approach, so things even out.

Team building

One of the universal truths of the world is simple: you must gather your party before venturing forth. It’s important in RPGs where you usually create a team of heroes embarking on the same quest (and yes, there are games for one player only, just like 1-2-1 classes), but creating a relationship with fellow students is also vital in a classroom environment. And while not all teachers find team building as their responsibility, having a proper team to teach is way funnier and more pleasant – and RPGs may teach you how to make people cooperate.

Rules

Role-Playing Games are designed to have fun with friends, but since one of the main characteristics of games is a clearly stated set of rules understood and accepted by all participants, there must be someone to impose the rules, interpret them and make players act accordingly. Isn’t it just like a teacher in a classroom full of enthusiastic students who have fun until the first disagreement?

And believe me, naughty teenagers can be little angels compared to adult RPG players – I’ve seen friendships ruined over an unfortunate interpretation of rules.

Compromise

Both in a classroom environment and in an RPG session there are certain misunderstandings that are bound to happen sooner or later. An adult player may sulk after an unlucky dice-roll just like a little pupil who’s failed his first test. We have arguments between students, accusations of cheating, various moods affecting the whole lesson – and it’s surprisingly similar during an adventure. It’s a teacher, or a GM, who has to smooth things out and teach what the compromise is.

Help

I’ve already said that my favourite parallel of a teacher’s (or Game Master’s, to be honest) role is the one of Merlin. He is the one to set things in motion, picture the Holy Grail as the ultimate goal and suggest the idea of the Round Table Knighthood. But he doesn’t participate in the quests himself – he occasionally helps those in need, but mostly he’s behind the curtain, glad to observe the adventure unfold and only sometimes enjoying an episodic role.

I feel compelled to write a separate article on this simile as actually this is the concept that made me think of teaching as yet another RPG setting. But for now, let me clarify this: wise as we may be, we only show the goal, never lead the way.

Fun

Role-Playing Games are designed to have fun, and playing them should be fun not only for the players, but also for the Game Master. Just like teaching – although most students don’t find it overly exciting. As you see – there are so many things a teacher and a game master have in common that actual incorporating RPGs into our lessons will not change much in our approach to educational process itself, but it may be a huge change to our students, who will find it way easier to enjoy their lessons.

Sounds good? Great – because in my next article I’ll show you how to start!

Get Ready For Academic IELTS in 120 hours (+free syllabus)

Happy Father's Day!

Two months ago I wrote about a crash course Preparing for Academic IELTS test. Today I want to share my reflections on a new book by Macmillan Education: Ready for IELTS 2nd edition by Sam McCarter and Louis Rogers.

Why IELTS?

I have been preparing my students for Academic IELTS for a while, and I must admit I find this test the most sensible assessment, compared to other tests and exams. In order to get a decent band, you need to prove not only your linguistic proficiency but also ability to think quickly and reasonably.

You’ll probably be surprised (my students usually are) but the latter skill is really difficult to master.

Components

The whole course contains: Student’s Book, Workbook and Teacher’s Resource Pack with Resource Centre. What’s interesting about the components is that there are no CDs or DVDs attached – all audio files are downloadable, and while some may find this annoying, I applaud this sensible and eco-friendly solution.
Teacher’s Online Resource Centre includes audio tracks (for both SB and WB), speaking videos, communication activities, tests, wordlists and exam tips. Moreover, there’s Presentation Kit, Digital SB and ebook with answers.
The online environment for Ready for IELTS is just brilliant. You can create your virtual classroom to follow your students’ progress and – this feature got me – it gives you the possibility of using the book on any IWB as it’s fully operating online. Naturally, you also have access to additional worksheets, test tips etc. which makes it the best online support for a course I have seen.

Skills

While the main focus of the course is on – surprise, surprise – IELTS test techniques, the skills covered by the book aren’t related only to the test. There are many exercises on functional language that will help to develop “real” (not test-oriented) language. Each unit contains vocabulary section, reading and listening parts, grammar exercises and writing composition (traditionally, the hardest part of IELTS prep). Moreover, there are communicative activities in Teacher’s Resources in case students are tired with test-only approach.

Compared to Direct to IELTS, Ready for IELTS is definitely more slow-paced and relaxed, leaving space for a teacher to bring in some fresh air – I really appreciate this. The description on the cover claims the course helps students advance from band 5.0 to 7.0 and while I can only smile at the statement (which is actually true, although it doesn’t really concern linguistic skills) – I must admit this course offers far greater general development. So, compared to Direct to IELTS, this book is definitely version 2.0: smarter, faster and funnier.

Recommendation

Now’s the time for my confession: I’ve decided to write this review simply because I am starting my own 120-hour course preparing for Academic IELTS soon. Having read Ready for IELTS, my choice is simple: I pick this book and I hope it’ll help me in making a great – and successful – course for both my students and me.

And if you want to see how I’ve organised the whole course, you’re more than welcome to download Ready for IELTS 2nd ed syllabus which is shared under Creative Commons Licence.

Enjoy!

I want to thank Macmillan Polska for their help in creating this review.

Ready for IELTS 2nd edition Student’s Book Pack by Sam McCarter – Macmillan Education, ISBN 978-0-230-49568-5 (with answers)
Ready for IELTS 2nd edition Teacher’s Book Premium Pack by Sam McCarter – Macmillan Education, ISBN 978-1-786-32867-0
Ready for IELTS 2nd edition Workbook by Louis Rogers – Macmillan Education, ISBN 978-1-786-32865-6 (with answers)

Role-Playing Teaching (Part 2: What are RPGs)

what are

I already wrote about games and some reasons people play them (used a lot of sophisticated vocabulary and impressive names, yeah), and, as promised, I want to elaborate the topic of Role Playing Games – as RPG, followed by other alternative materials, is something I want to focus in TEFL area.

This article is supposed to explain the phenomenon of RPG in general, so that in my future posts I am able to show you my idea of blending games into traditional lessons, creating an approach to TEFL where storytelling and adventure compensate for tedious grammar activities.

The Game

The funny thing about RPGs is that it’s way simpler to write what RPGs aren’t, but let’s give it a go.

Jerzy Szeja explains that narrative Role Playing Game in its canonical form requires a person leading the game (GM: Game Master) and at least one player who impersonates a character (PC: Player’s Character). The world in which sequences of events take place and are described by a GM is described in a particular system of a narrative RPG consisting of a main handbook detailing the rules and mechanics of the system and, optionally, supplements with additional information regarding the system.

RPG may be compared to children’s games where participants play different roles (e.g. thieves and police officers), but a GM is the person who makes all the difference with outlining the proper plot and acting out as fully interactive characters (NPC: Non-Player Character).

Since it’s an outlined plot that is so vital, RPG may be compared to dramas (since they both include playing a role) – however, the difference remains not only in the presence of a GM, but also in discrepancies within approach. Drama is supposed to teach life using simulated situations that may happen on different occasions. RPGs, on the other hand, are a simulation of life with the characters having history and plans for the future, facing various situations of a cause-and-effect nature.

Another comparison presents RPG as similar to literature – where a player can choose a favourite character from a favourite book and impersonate them during adventures outlined by a GM. A GM is a narrator: he introduces the world of the game, describes actions undertaken by all individuals in the imaginary world, acts out the NPCs and – probably the most important difference between RPG and drama/children’s “make-believe” game – describes the consequences of actions taken by the players.

The character

I already mentioned GM, PC and NPC, but narrative RPG is more than declaring “OK, I want to play Frodo in the Middle-earth”. A character picked by a player must have its representations, physical and mental, usually given in a form of statistics that are placed on character sheets, specially designed for individual game-systems. Usually the basic subsections are attributes (in-born characteristics, e.g. strength, wisdom etc.), skills (learnt capabilities e.g. spoken language, horse-riding, computer hacking etc.) and powers (extraordinary abilities if present, e.g. telepathy, flight etc.). I will definitely write a separate post on character creation as it’s an important part of any RPG system.

The rules

Each RPG has its own set of rules, usually dice-based, called mechanics. I will need to elaborate the idea of mechanics in a separate note as, after all, that’s something that brings the word “game” to RPG, bringing the element of chance – so it deserves a proper explanation.

The story

A story is simple the adventure in which both GM and PCs take part. Ron Edwards explains that in each story

…characters will have goals they want to attain, and obstacles to overcome. The story that the narrator (GM) creates will provide the setting and the plot. In that plot the characters might stumble into adventure accidentally, or become embroiled in international espionage, or choose to seek out fame and fortune as tomb-robbers or pirates. The important point is that the players author the tale through the actions of their characters.

I will write more about stories and settings in the next part of my series.

Communication

Jerzy Szeja provides three semiotic models of communication in RPG, but in reality it looks rather simple:

  1. GM describes the setting and NPCs actions.
  2. PCs declare actions (sometimes after discussion to decide the way of behaviour).
  3. GM describes the result of the actions (often based on mechanics).
  4. GM describes the result.

And the whole cycle repeats itself.

Conclusion

That’s it – the basics of RPGs and pretty much all you need to know before you embark on the adventure. I understand, however, that for those of you who have never played a RPG session the whole article may be still confusing – I will try to clarify everything in my further articles, but if you have any questions, I’ll be happy to answer.

If you want to read more on the topic:

Edwards, Ron (2003): Narrativism: Story Now (you may find it here)

Szeja, Jerzy Zygmunt (2004): Gry fabularne – nowe zjawisko kultury współczesnej, Kraków: Rabid

7 free online courses in November

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Yes! My favourite month is almost here! I love November – especially when I can stay in, wrapped up in my favourite blanket, with a purring cat snuggled against me and a great book to read… or a TV series to watch. Have you already seen Stranger Things 2? If not, you should totally do, as you can actually see what Role Playing Games are and how important they may be in real life!

Apart from RPGs (currently I’m writing a nice article about the idea behind this phenomenon, give me a fortnight or so), I don’t mind spending my time learning new things – and as every month, I’d like to share my picks of the month: seven free courses you may attend online:

1 Engaging ELLs and Their Families in the School and Communities by Arizona State University

Start: 13th of November
Duration: 6 weeks

The course is focused on K-12 classroom environment in the U.S., however you will learn how to better and more successfully engage your students and their families in the school and community, how to engage a student in the classroom setting as well as in various aspects of the school including extracurricular activities and the inner workings of the school and education system. You will also be introduced to strategies for engaging the families of your students in the school community. It may be useful for those teachers who deal with parents on a regular basis.

2 ICT in Primary Education: Transforming children’s learning across the curriculum by University of London

Start: 13th of November
Duration: 6 weeks

Why and how are teachers integrating ICT (Information and Communication Technology) into primary education? Here you will compare your own ideas with other teachers around the world and will learn how to be aware of the range of reasons for using ICT and how to analyse the strengths and weakness of different decision-making mechanisms. You will also become familiar with a wider range of useful tools and resources for integrating ICT. It may be useful for those teachers who are slightly overwhelmed by technology in their classrooms.

3 Social Media – What No One has Told You about Privacy by Dr. Anne Kayem

Started: 23rd of October
Duration: 2 weeks

Have you ever accepted a friendship request from the guy or girl you met at the shop only to regret it the minute you clicked on “accept”?  If you have, then you probably know about the nagging feeling of discomfort that you try to ignore or comfort yourself by telling yourself that it does not matter. However,  if you feel concerned that something is not quite right, it most likely is the case. I believe privacy and social media is (or should be) a hot topic at the moment for everyone, especially teachers dealing with teenagers.

4 Applying to U.S. Universities by University of Pennsylvania 

Started: 30th of October
Duration: 5 weeks

This course will help international students (non-U.S. citizens) and non-native English speakers navigate the U.S. university admission process by offering practical information about the documents and pieces that make up a U.S. university application. More importantly, admission officers will discuss how they use those pieces to decide who is accepted and who is denied, so that you can understand the process beyond the pieces. I would recommend this course to anyone thinking about studying in the U.S. – and those teachers who work with students planning to do so.

5 Develop your knowledge of studying in the UK by the British Council

Start: 13th of November
Duration: 4 weeks

This course is designed primarily for those counselling students looking to come to the UK to study, including school counsellors, education agents and those interested in becoming education agents. Potential students and learners will also find the course informative and useful. You will learn about the UK education and training system, quality assurance systems and how they operate, student lifestyle issues, welfare and support for international students, application processes and entry requirements. It may be useful for those students – and their teachers – who think about studying in the UK.

6 Mentoring in Schools by European Schoolnet Academy and Inducas

Started: 15th of May (but materials are still available)
Duration: 6 weeks/ self-paced

This course may be a really great help for DoSes.  It is focused primarily on mentoring of colleagues within a school. Particular references are also made to the mentoring of beginner teachers, supporting them to find their place in the school and classroom.  You will learn how mentors can support and develop the work of teachers in schools. The course aims to support mentors working with teachers by offering them strategies and tools for their work with teachers as well as examples of effective mentorship approaches leading to more effective, happier, and successful teachers.

7 Coursera: Lesson Planning with the ELL in Mind by Arizona State University

Started: 30th of October
Duration: 6 weeks

This course is perfect for teachers who are just starting their adventure with EFL teaching! In this course you will learn how to design lesson plans around the needs of your students and their language level through the analysis of content language and cognitive demands. You will learn how to align language objectives to the adopted standards of your school and content area. Analysis of second language acquisition theories will be applied to lesson planning.

And, as a bonus – just for your teenage students:

World of Spies: Keeping Secrets by Purdue University

Start: 20th of November
Duration: 4 weeks

What does it take to be a spy? Strong critical thinking and communication skills, a firm grasp of logic, and a love of puzzles are all useful. This course, designed for 13-18 year old students, will help them develop those abilities while exploring the exciting world of espionage. They’ll learn about code-making and breaking, encryption, logical thinking and more as you find out whether you would make a good spy. If you have ambitious pupils – that may be a great beginning of their e-learning career!

I hope you’ll enjoy the courses I recommend – I still have to make up my mind on which course should I take. Definitely the one by the British Council, but maybe I should satisfy my inner child and have fun with espionage? So many options, so little time!

Enjoy!

7 ideas that might be used for Halloween (or any other spooky lesson)

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With the annual influx of Halloween-themed posts by my fellow bloggers I was like “meh, I don’t even like Halloween, I guess I only wrote about it once” – so I looked through my own posts and realised my memory is somewhat problematic (it probably goes with my age, ah well…). Having brushed the dust off my old ideas I found six activities more or less connected to this pleasantly grim festivity you may enjoy with your students.

1. The one with reading recommendations

If you want to include some reading in your classroom – after all we all love spooky stories, don’t we? – here’s my list of great books and stories you may enjoy with your students (regardless their age). Coraline is perfect for younger learners (only not too young), teenagers will love creepypastas and adults may appreciate Agatha Christie’s Hallowe’en Party.

I am definitely going to spend my Halloween with Hellboy by Mike Mignola – one of the best graphic novels ever.

2. The one with zombies and survival tactics

Zombies are quite popular during Halloween (something I find quite adorable), so you may work with a proper coursebook English for the Zombie Apocalypse. It is a real coursebook you may use according to the authors, but you may also pick the role-plays scenarios and make your students survive (or die trying) the zombie outbreak.

3. The one with false friends turning out to be murderous aliens

Similarly to the previous idea, English for the Alien Invasion is a proper book you may use according to instructions (a very communicative course) or come up with your own project (including a life lesson on how not to befriend aliens too soon as they may prove to be murderous and treacherous creatures).

4. The one for those who prefer serious political issues

Not everyone likes Halloween – I’m not a fan myself, as I’ve got Halloween every Monday when I wake up and look in the mirror, huh. Instead I prefer including some facts about the 5th of November which we should remember indeed… and I believe no one tells us the story more frightening than Alan Moore and his V for Vendetta, the graphic novel that no longer is perceived as dystopian.

5. The one for boardgame geeks 

Halloween may be a good excuse to introduce one of the best games you can bring in to your classroom – Mystery of the Abbey, a great whudunit game with a twist. There’s a murder in a medieval abbey and players have to find the perpetrator by identifying all the monks. It’s a surprisingly communicative game for all ages and all levels of English proficiency.

6. The one for the children

I can’t help it – this is probably my absolutely favourite activity for Halloween. I love Scaredy Cat and each time I admire this cute story I adore it even more! A short story about a tiny kitten lost in a Halloween night has no speech bubbles, so it can be used by various groups on various levels… in various languages!

 

Ah, so there are six activities I used to enjoy in the past – but this year I’m only bringing in a story to my Advanced classes, a story by HP Lovecraft, of course, about cats and things that are more ominous than the Elder Gods with their blasphemous tentacles. I’ll ask my students to interpret the story in a more contemporary way which will definitely show them how important descriptive language is – especially the one by HPL. Ready? So listen:

7 …It is said that in Ulthar, which lies beyond the river Skai, no man may kill a cat…