Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Families that make together...

The semester has come to an end and we must prepare our Top Kids students for the end-of-term party, when they show their loved ones what they have learned throughout the semester. We prepare songs, play games and shows the pictures taken during classes. The kids are dying to show off, the teacher is apprehensive and eager to please and the parents are passively waiting to see their money's worth. What the parents might not expect though, is to have the opportunity to learn themselves something new with their kids. Yet, that was my idea when preparing the following activity.

Me and the kids had been working on parts of the house, and tired of gluing and coloring, I decided to challenge my students to make a cardboard house with different rooms. Of course, they stepped up to the challenge and it was awesome. So awesome we decided to paint our houses the following class. They loved making a toy of their own, with their own touches and details. Every class they would  me if they could they could take it home and I said they had to wait for the glue or the paint to dry, but that was not entirely true.

Finally, it was the last day of class, they knew they were going to take their houses home, but little did they know I still had plans for them. After the circle time and the presentation of the songs, I asked them to come closer and pick one item from each box: a LED light and a button battery. Surprisingly, most of them knew what they were and their parents knew how to turn on the light just touching the battery. I told them we needed to finish our house with something that was missing and they got it: a lamp! I showed them the materials at hand (paper, masking tape, play doh, popsicle sticks, tin foil and paper clips) and the two prototypes I had previously prepares and I told them they had to make one of their own.

To my surprise and amusement, not only did the parents help the kids, but they also enjoyed it a lot! They sat on the floor, explored the materials and tinkered until they reached a satisfying result. And the results were many, not one of the lamps was remotely similar to the models. It was just amazing to realize that no matter how old we get, we all have a kid and a maker inside of us, and they like a challenge!

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Viral Learning

If you have a Facebook account, you've probably seen this video on your timeline, and so have your students. Whoever came up with this is clearly an artist, but you don't need to be one to use cup twisting in the classroom.
The first thing you need is a base element and some complementary ones which can be overlapped such as the body and the hair in the video. You could either draw them straight on a plastic cup or stick printed pictures on it. Since drawing on a curved surface can be quite tricky, I’d rather work with the second method.  It’s very easy and you could count on your students to help you – and they will really enjoy it!
Making stickers for a cup twisting activity will require printable label paper (those with one label per page). If you can’t find it, slips of contact paper, transparent tape or multi-purpose glue will do the trick as well. Search online or scan the pictures you want to use in your activity and make sure you resized them so they will fit on the cup surface. Print and cut them out. Remove the protector from the label paper and stick the base picture on a cup. Then put another cup on the top of the first one. Now stick the complementary pictures on it with a reasonable distance from each other in a way they seem to be part of the base picture. You could stick one, twist the upper cup a little and stick another until you've used all the set. If you've printed them on copying paper instead, use slips of contact paper, transparent tape or multi-purpose glue to stick the pictures on the cups following the same steps.

Since cup twisting activities will give your students changing scenarios to talk about, there are a number of ways you could use them in your classroom. Learners could drill target grammar structures, fill in the blanks, ask and answer questions in pairs or even do an interactive listening exercise. Here are some other examples of activities to inspire you. They were developed to young learners, but I'm sure you could adapt the same concept and apply it with teenagers and adults as well. The printable files used to make them are available here and here.

Monday, June 01, 2015

Google Hangouts: Not Your Regular Test Validation Meeting

An important component of the assessment design cycle is validating the instruments, and to that effect we count on the group of teachers working with that particular level/course. This collective validation process used to take place in the form of a traditional meeting which took place in our school’s Main Branch, usually in a room big enough to accommodate a group of around thirty teachers (sometimes more).
I’d already been adopting some group work dynamics in order to optimize the use of time, hopefully enabling teachers to make the best of the experience of collectively analyzing the test. In a nutshell, I wanted a productive, pleasant atmosphere where not only the outspoken individuals had a go at critiquing and sharing their views. I wanted all of them to feel comfortable enough to voice their concerns and suggestions to tweak the assessment instrument at hand. Teachers worked in small groups of five to six people, appointing a spokesperson who would be in charge of communicating the group’s opinions/suggestions regarding the test.
That had been working quite well. So, it occurred to me: they worked so well within their small groups, usually sitting with fellow teachers from the same branch, who have been sharing their experiences on a regular basis. I couldn’t help but wonder if we could make the validation process even more practical. That was when I had the idea to try out Google Hangouts for Test Validation Meetings. This is how we did it.
Let’s Hangout
Teachers were asked to attend the Validation Hangout at their branches; therefore, they worked with small groups of fellow teachers with whom they connect/exchange every day. They appointed their Hangout representative/spokesperson and went about their business of analyzing the test.
Adjustments along the way
The three Hangouts we had this semester were two-hour-long events. In the first Hangout, I took the groups through the test exercise by exercise, asking them to look at one part of the test at a time. That ended up being as time consuming and noisy as a regular meeting.
After getting some feedback from them, which they gave via a Google Form Survey, we decided it would be best if I gave them about 40 minutes to work on their own first, and only then start gathering their feedback. That worked better. (That and using the mute button to lessen the noise, of course!)
However, the third tine around was the best, indeed. We decided groups should be given even more time to look over the entire test before the feedback-giving stage. I gave them an entire hour, and it really paid off. The feedback stage ran more smoothly and rather fast.
Project Success
  • Convenience: teachers were free to attend the Hangout at a branch of their convenience, which most of the times meant the branch closest to their homes;
  • Capacity for collaborative self-management: teachers had to organize the analysis process themselves, preparing to report their impressions and suggestions to the Course Supervisor (yours truly) and the other branch groups in a clear and concise manner;
  • Agency and accountability: they worked hard to convey their opinions and provide pertinent suggestions, relying on the expertise of their own groups;
  • Voice: working with smaller groups of familiar faces made the more reserved people comfortable to speak their minds, something which tended not to happen with the large face-to-face traditional (very loud and somewhat messy) meetings;
And, last but not least,
  • Modeling innovation: teachers had the chance of trying out a new tool which they might find useful for other professional development opportunities.
This is an experience I would certainly like to replicate in the future, and which I would recommend other admins try out with their teaching staff.
What’s next?
Hangouts for Professional Development and innovating the adjacent possible.

Clarissa Bezerra