Education’s best kept secret – teaching at International schools. 

I assume that all who read this blog are teachers or somehow involved in the education game. What might make me different to you is that I no longer teach in my home country, but choose the life of a teacher in the international school world. This stint has been for 2 years and I can’t see it ending any time soon as it is providing a life far richer in experience for my family and I than could ever happen back in New Zealand. Yes there are things that we miss and the distance from family and friends is difficult, but I would not change it for the world.  

 

You see, as I write this post I am sitting at a quiet restaurant next to my hotel in the quiet Vietnamese town of Hoi An – a place I had never heard of, let alone thought I would ever visit. Christmas holidays were spent in Rome, Florence and London and last year we traveled to Singapore, Taiwan and many places throughout our home base of China. While we are travelling around the world and exposing our daughters to different cultures, cuisines and ways of life we are still paying the mortgage back home and saving some money for a rainy day. 

My daughters are receiving an world class education that is on a par with unaffordable private schools back home. Working hard and focusing on your learning is the norm and expected by both students and teachers. They are learning to speak Chinese in an environment where they get to speak the language every day. Their school trips so far have been to Cambodia, Fujian, Vietnam and Brazil – not quite a hike through the beech forests of New Zealand, but unforgettable life experiences. 

As an educator there are draw backs; professional development can be hard to find and you may have to learn a new education system, but when learning and students are the focus it is easy to find a work around any problem. A few friends and I are in the process of planning Nanjings first EdCamp, so I guess PD is what you make it and blogs and Twitter are always there to inspire and challenge you. 

So I guess the point of this is to say, if you are stuck in the grind of teaching back home, feel like a new experience and challenge send me a message and I will be happy to answer any of your questions. It’s not the right choice for all, but it might be the choice for you. 

Be not afraid of growing slowly; be afraid only of standing still.

This ancient Chinese proverb expresses how I feel my learning has been progressing the past 6 months, not stagnant, but moving forward slowly and as the end of the year approaches, and the first anniversary of this blog also approaches, I can say I am not standing still, but may need to walk a bit faster.

Screen Shot 2013-12-22 at 4.30.05 PM

This Webpage is Not Available – a very common occurrence behind the GFW.

This is my first blog I write since August where I have not needed to turn on my trusty VPN as I am in Singapore on holiday – it is liberating. Living and working behind the Great Firewall has been an adventure, but the internet restrictions of the GFW have stolen half the tools within my 21st Century Teacher Toolbox…

-YouTube
-Google Docs and Apps for Education
-Blogger
-Wordpress
-Edublogs (Unless we subscribe as a school for over $1000)
-Twitter
-Skype

…all unreachable within my classroom environment. Blogging platforms and Google  gone from a modern classroom seems unthinkable and I have spent the past half year rethinking and reworking my philosophy to ed tech as it relates to my present situation.

Stolen from Smosh.com.

The Classroom

All of the restrictions aside there is still much that I can do as a professional for my own learning and there are still ways that I can create a connected classroom…

-I am creating a class Wiki.  Wikis are not my preferred  tool with a year 2 class, but it will suffice in the absence of a blog. Additionally, it will allow me to embed YouKu videos (China’s version of YouTube) and gives us a platform to share work as well as host relevant clips for flipped learning at home. With many of my parents not being native English speakers it may also break down the barriers between school and home.

-Skype: I can access skype through my personal VPN, so connecting with other classes through Skype is achievable.

-Email: Letters never seem to arrive, but connecting to other classes through email is a definite.

The Teacher

Now for me as a learner and a connected teacher I just need to keep looking at the glass being half full. I am researching into some online study, but reconnecting with my PLN is a must, as through the GFW and timezone differences I have been inactive on Twitter and Google+ and not dedicated the time to blog reading and hashtag following that I normally would. Edcamp Home is a mere 14 days away and I can not think of a better way to inspire a new year and prepare a teacher for the second term.

I have discovered that learning to code is like a Soduku  or Crossword and is giving me a better understanding of how a computer and the internet works. I am halfway through a html course on Code Academy and trying to create Apps for my Android phone with MIT AppInventor (You have to give it a go if you have an Android, and get your class to give it a go too!).

I got my class involved with Decembers Hour of Code initiative for Computer Science week  – seeing 6 year olds programming Angry Birds was inspiring and let me know that Scratch, another product of MIT,  will be part of my class program next term.

Lastly I need to remember about this blog – writing a blog post like this is the best way for me to clear my head and order my thoughts, make a plan and direct my thinking, let me reflect and redirect, as that was the purpose of this blog when I created it, but if I do not use it with regularity is is a waste.

Does your class require students to be extroverts?

Susan Cain’s TED talk on the Power of Introverts has really made me think – “a third to a half of the population are introverts”. Like her, I have had to force myself to be an extrovert in professional situations and I avoid large social situations, and the staffroom, like the plague as I do not enjoy the multiple conversations bouncing around the room.

I am a firm believer that, as a teacher be you introvert or extrovert you have to be out there, teach with passion and flare, or Teach Like a Pirate as Dave Burgess says, and hook your students into learning and develop that passion for knowledge and curiosity. But, then do we always allow that space or opportunity for the introvert to operate within the class?

I have quiet working spaces and caves. Provide opportunities to work outside or use earmuffs to remove the background chatter.  I allow wait time with students, so they have time to process their response and make sure that I have a quiet chat with each student every day.  As a class we have modelled and pulled apart co-operative, paired and individual learning and I allow opportunities for student to choose how and where they work. I would like to think that the needs of the introvert is catered for in my classroom, but am not 100% sure.

Now to the next tricky question. How often is the introvert teacher shut down in the  staff room or in meetings by the extrovert teacher? Or, how often

Click to Enlarge - Borrowed from Twitter, but can'f find where.

Click to Enlarge – Borrowed from Twitter from @Psychology.

is the introverts idea squashed because it is not out there enough? Or, more commonly, how often does the introvert teacher not contribute in staff meetings because they just do not feel comfortable? I do not know the answer to those three questions or even if they are real issues, but they are things that we need to think of as educators.

We need to nurture and empower the introverts in society or schools or staff rooms and allow them the opportunities to be who they are and allow them to become the person they will be, not force them to become extroverts because we think it is the way we all should be.

Apps that Create – GIF Makers

GifI have used many a .gif file (Graphic Interchange Format), but until the other day never created one. There have animation_by_GifMEbeen two iOS apps that I have trailed over the past week and both have simple interfaces, are easy to work and the end result is a GIF image that can be uploaded to blogs, webpages or other presentations.

The two Apps that I have used are GIF Shop and Gif Me, I am sure that there are online webpages or downloadable programs that will do the same or better, but both these Apps are cheap (Were actually free on Apps Gone Free).  Both gather images through either your camera roll or take images through front or back cameras.  You sequence the images, choose the speed of the Gif and then create. You are able to email to a friend or save to camera roll.  The whole process takes no longer than a few minutes.

Applications in the classroom

  1. Sharing a sequence.
  2. Advertising an event.
  3. Showing change over time time.
  4. Get kids to create a GIF from photos taken every Monday over a term.
  5. Just cool!

Why not a video?

  • Gif is just an image file, so does not need to be embedded through Youtube or Vimeo.
  • File size is quite small, where video is much larger.
  • Just shows images in a set sequence and can create from photos taken over a long time period.

Twitter is my Staffroom – but what is written in my Rule Book?

Last night I was wondering how I have developed a twitter PLN or PPLN (Powerful Personal Learning Network – refined by Bill Powersof about photo (1)1000 people and I think that it comes down simply to inspiration, connection, friendship and respect.

On the wekend I had followed another educator as their bio looked interesting and their twitter feed included some people that I interact with, she responded a few hours later with a message to myself and three others saying “Thanks for the follow @_____, @_______ and @_______”, to which one person replied ‘Your Welcome’ and I replied with a comment on something that she had been working on and a very interesting Hashtag that she had included in her Bio – there was no reply.  I found this interaction very interesting as it was not really an interaction, just a comment of thanks and a connotation that I should be grateful that I follow her. It has happened a few times in my twitter career and if they had just simply let me follow them without follow-back all would be good , but the thanks for the follow with no follow-back interaction has really made me reflect on how I view twitter.

So here it goes…

Twitter is my virtual Staffroom – I enter for professional development and I enter for friendship.  Like the a real school staff room, when you leave the conversation stops, but sometimes they carry over to the photocopier or cafe down the road.  This analogy helps me to comprehend that when I want to enter the staffroom I just click the App and when I don’t want to I do not click the app.  Sometimes I get sent a message from a friend or send a message to a friend and this is the photocopier chat.

I follow Educators – they do not need to follow me back and if you are an educator and you follow me, I will follow you.

Education is Global and Twitter is Global – I love the idea of having friends and colleagues over the globe as well as right here in New Zealand. While prepping on a Monday morning I enjoy watching the #LadyGeeks present via YouTube in a Google hangout projected onto the IWB.  Many a lunchtime I have chewed my sandwich and been inspired while partaking in different edchats like #TLAP – Teach Like a Pirate  or #CaEdChat. They are live, but the previous evening in the USA due to time difference.Screen Shot 2013-06-10 at 6.21.25 PM
In the evening my friends in Asia and Australia are in the mid afternoon and it is the morning for my friends in Europe. In my morning it is the evening for my friends in North America and when I am awake it is awake time for my friends in New Zealand. I can connect and interact at any time and have formed friendships globally. Southern California is now on my travel bucket list as there is a Mexican meal waiting for me.

I will reply – It may take me a little while and it may be a reply in the way of a favourite or a retweet, but I will reply.

I do Unfollow – to me it is those sacred four words of ‘Inspiration, Connection, Friendship and Respect’ that come into consideration when following or un-following. If you inspire me with your tweets and retweets and challenge me to do better or rethink my practice I will follow you intently. If you connect with me or I connect with you I will follow you. But, I unfollow instantly if you tweet mean and I unfollow if you bulk send me your blog postings – send them once each time you blog or twice if it is a goodie, but do not set your computer to push all blog posts every 6-12 hours as I do not follow you to be on a mailing list. Additionally, if I follow you and find you many weeks or months later in my following list and can not remember why I followed you and we have not connected then I will probably unfollow.

If I can help I will – if you know me, if I know you or if we have never met, I will assist you if I can.  That to me is the power of twitter.  If I know the answer to your problem or know who does know the solution I will assist and I know that the majority of us here do so as well.

I never Tweet what I would not want my employer or Nana to read – OK, sounds simple and many of us use the tagline ‘These tweets do not photorepresent the…” but if you write it, it is there, and if you can not justify why you wrote something then should you have written it?

I need to make sure I switch off – I tweet from my phone and use the twitter app. I only use Tweetdeck or the such for following hashtags or twitter chats and that is only sometimes. So, as my phone is in my pocket I am connected.  The magic fix is turn of cellular data and disconnect from wifi and instantly my smartphone is what we used to have… a cell phone.

 

PLN + Google Apps = Collaboration that knows no boundaries and Ubiquity

Time Zone is no longer a Barrier.2522623_a776a0c9

Distance is no longer a Barrier.

Language is no longer a Barrier.

Big walls and other barriers like fences, rivers, marshland, tidal estuaries and hedge rows are no longer barriers.

There is a word that I have heard within New Zealand education for the past 6 months – Ubiquitous Learning. Now I do not grasp new educational discourse quickly and usually ignore it until it slaps me on the face, but a friend commented on Twitter last night about the #NZSchoolTimelapse project and mentioned the word. The light went on in my head and I truly grasped the meaning of Ubiquity (and google searched a bit to make sure I was right).

Part of the Wikipedia entry on uLearning (as I am an expert that is what I will call it now 😉 ) is…Twitter Chat

  • Shifts the classroom from a traditional to non-traditional context.
  • Prepares and encourages students to become lifelong learners.
  • Prepares students for “real life.” New technologies have become a part of our lives, and students need to learn how to use these technologies in order to prepare for their future careers.

…and is that not what we want for our students and is that not how we learn ourselves.  I know that my learning is within a Ubiquitous Environment – my PLN, the blogs I read, the devices I have at my disposal to learn on the go and in places of my choosing.  My next challenge is to make sure that the way I learn is emulated in my classroom and, while with my year 3s and 4s still need a lot of scaffolding and I have technological restraints, I know where I am heading and know that it will benefit my students.

Finally the inspiration for this posting, other than Anne’s ‘Ubiquity MAGIC!’  comment, the New Zealand School Time Lapse Project that organically grew from a twitter chat, involved 13 schools, 16 teacher and thousands of students through out New Zealand and a few other countries and was so much fun to edit together.   It was completely managed through Twitter and a Google Doc and not an email, phone call or face to face influenced it – although a cuppa and a chat with all of the contributors would have been fantastic.

Ubiquity in action and the start of something big!

If there is a problem, Twitter will solve it – The power of a great PLN

If Twitter for Educators needed a new catch phrase it need only call upon Vanilla Ice  and DJ Earthquakes 1991 anthem Ice Ice Baby, run to line 17 and there it is…

If there is a problem, Yo I’ll solve it.

After school yesterday I was faced with a novice Mac user question  (I have a lot of these at the moment). I googled the question and received too many leads, most were to paid sites, some were free downloads and many were to tutorials or forums; all were probably good leads and would have answered my question, but not the fast fix that I was after as I was trying to work to a tight timeframe.

So I tweeted the question and “Bada Bing” I had several different options that solved my problem, but one came up multiple times – Quicktime. So I downloaded Quicktime, installed it,  watched a youtube tutorial that explained what I wanted to do and I moved onto the next task on my to do list.

It was a perfect illustration of why I use twitter, why I follow the people that I follow and why I communicate and collaborate with those people.  The Tweeps that I refer to as my PLN have a wealth of knowledge and are so keen to help where they can.  By building a relationship with them they become more than just names on a list, they become colleagues and friends and when they have a problem or I have a problem we help each other if we can.

So if you are thinking about your PLN and about some Tweeps who are awesome helpers, collaborators and willing to share an idea or thought then you need to have a follow of Stephen (@PalmyTeacher), Allanah (@AllanahK), Vivian (@ChezVivian), Juliet (@Juliete_Revell), Julien (@Julienlesueur), Paddy (@Spongepaddy), Rebekah (@ndbekah) and Luke (@Novalightning). These 8 people who I think of as friends,live all around the world and have never met, are just too awesome and I truly apprieciate them and the time that they gave me yesterday when I was stuck.

So I dedicate the clip below to them as thanks 🙂