Monday, December 15, 2014

ELLs in China Need #Internet4Schools Too

Two weeks ago, I listened intently to the principal of our K-12 private Chinese school share her vision for the school's future. When she spoke of it, I started to build castles in the air. Maybe this isn't the most professional way to express it, but it's true nonetheless. Where did these thoughts come from? Well, if you didn't know, I've been reading Corwin Press's Connected Educator Series. The authors have been blessing me with current educational issues happening in the US on how to be #futureready, and they have only sparked ideas of what could happen in the near future here. So I set up a meeting with the principal to discuss 21st century educators and how more modern technology would improve our students and staff on personal and professional levels.

What I didn't know is that 10 minutes beforehand, I would invite two key 6th grade students, who have used their voices and led their classes to change in positive directions, to attend. Because of their bravery, knowledge, and of course, English levels that let them use their voices, I asked they be present. Before the meeting, I informed the duo of topics we would discuss, how it might go, and lastly and most importantly, be brave and speak what you think. Why did I say this to them? The girl was shaking a little, and it's understandable. Students meeting with the principal is a big deal, much bigger than it is in an American education setting.

After starting off with a short keynote (linked above) and a video of students mentioning reasons why we need wifi at school (see below), the principal spoke. She had questions. I had answers. She noticed that I obviously had been pondering the big picture. I had for the past months and still am up to the point of writing this blog. She suggested that an after-school club would be a great start. Then, she said something I'll never forget. "Daniel, I trust you so you and the elementary principal can coordinate this. And remember to keep the students involved in the process." Like whoa! A possible club and have #studentvoice to help run the show. Right on!

Soon thereafter, I met with the elementary principal and she told me that I have to write a club proposal by Christmas so she can present it to the other school administrators. Of course!

A few people have told or asked me to give up on this. I ask them: Why? Why give up on what I believe is best for the students, our staff, our admin, our community? The possible effects are unbelievable at this point. I hope that even if this plan doesn't follow through, many students who have been involved will have seen and take to heart the tenacity I have and will continue to put forth.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

5 out of 5 Stars for Teaching the iStudent

If you've been following my story at all while working at a private Chinese school, you know we're doing what we can to educate students in EFL. A key component missing though is the technology that society, including particularly our students, have moved forward with.

The iStudents need to be guided by iTeachers.

Thus, what Mark Barnes touches on in Teaching the iStudent includes particular websites/apps to use and how, ways the relationships with his students were transformed powerfully, and what to do when you feel like you're the lone wolf. In implementing mobile devices and social media in the classroom, one can feel remote. But when it's for the students, it is worth it! Barnes sets one's spark to flame with his passion for moving forward and changing the ways traditions have beset the education system.

This book led me to follow him on Twitter (@markbarnes19) and watch a TED talk given by him about Teachers Throwing Out Grades (#TTOG). Intriguing the say the least, as now I have another modern issue to ponder.

If you or someone you know is passionate about education or teaching, suggest Teaching the iStudent and tell them they are on the path to being different.

Friday, December 5, 2014

5 out of 5 Stars for The Relevant Educator

A few of the biggest ways a university could prepare a teacher is in keeping them updated on technology, pedagogy, and how to be relevant. What some schools lack could easily be found in The Relevant Educator by Steven Anderson & Tom Whitby. It is insightful for any 21st century educator wanting to be a game changer.

Being an ELT in China, I found this book to be filled with vital information related to the tech plan (possibly BYOD) that I'm starting up at our private Chinese school.  Though the Great Firewall has blocked Google, Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook, this book pushes me to find other methods of communication and teaching that Chinese and foreigner teachers alike can use (when we FTs are not on our VPNs, of course). 

With no Google, we have Bing and Baidu. No Twitter means using China's copycat Weibo. YouTube can be replaced with YouKu, Tudou, and a few other sites. Social media here also has WeChat and QQ while 人人 could possibly find its place in the circle. Whatever platform it takes for our admin, teachers, students, and stakeholders to embrace, Anderson and Whitby have guided me in a better direction in how to lead our community with relevance.

What about you? If you've read this book, what did you think? If not, have you read any of the Corwin CE Series?

(Since our school's head principal told me today she trusts me to begin an after-school technology club next semester, the next Corwin CE book I am devouring is Mark Barnes' Teaching the iStudent. More to come soon about this!)

Monday, December 1, 2014

I am thankful for #TeachersRock

Last week was one of those opportunities where we as foreign teachers in China are able to share more about our culture within lessons centered around a holiday. To be honest, I didn't do anything with my 2nd graders because another FT covered the basics for them. When it came to the 5th graders, I had them complete their presentations on endangered animals done "Steve Jobs" style. With the remaining time, I went into the reasons behind a TeachingChannel Thanksgiving blog called I Am Thankful For... 

I quickly explained a few points:
A) Blog is 博客 (bókè) in Chinese. This was followed by several students in every class who said, "Awww, ok."
B) This is a neat way for people to show what they are thankful for whether it be a teacher, friend, etc.
C) I would place some of the students' thoughts on my blog by taking their pictures.
D) Why? Because I really want everybody in the world to know who and what students in China are thankful for. (It's kind of a dream for me)

I made this task optional, but still nearly 100% of my 70 fifth graders filled out to their hearts' desires.  How is that possible? 

I have a couple potential explanations:
1) The students want to share their heart because so many teachers want to only grade their work, specifically their homework.
2) The students want their voices to be heard. They want a more global audience than the 20+ faces inside their classrooms. They're screaming to get outside the walls and have authentic audiences collaborate with them in ways they don't even know yet how. This comes off the lesson today where I asked a class for ideas on how to use a blog. I should have given a little more support since I don't think any of them have had one before except for the short blurbs they post on QQ.

All that to say, we as teachers can always learn from our students. This is why last weekend I took time to be thankful for them and how they have helped shape me into the person and teacher I should be. They, along with my phenomenal PLNs, challenge me to better the education and future of every student at our school.

Lastly, thank you(!) to the TeachingChannel and Sarah Wessling. My students wouldn't have ever had this experience if it weren't for you.

(Posted below are some of the students' writings. The original pictures have been cropped and will be until the students and their parents sign the media permission form.)

Saturday, November 29, 2014

A Spark Chat on QQ

My officemates could be the first to tell you that I'm big on integrating tech tools into my teaching as well as for our PLC at school in order for everyone to experience connected learning. These two men know that my longterm goal is to get them on Twitter, and it's only a matter of weeks or days. But in the meantime, I've been playing with various social media platforms on the China-side of the Firewall even if all of our foreign teachers (Ts not from China) have VPNs. Slowly we'll all learn how to use foreign internet for professional reasons too. :D

For an introduction to Twitter chats, I first suggested that we use an app called QQ. The guys agreed so we set up last night (Thursday) to have a spark chat from 6:30-6:45pm. Now, QQ is more of a chat/public posting app or website. The group chat feature is tolerable since there's no mentioning nor favoriting capabilities. You can mention others in WeChat, but it is also mostly convenient for devices. While one of the guys doesn't have a working smartphone, we went with QQ.

our group chat where we practiced mentions & hashtags
I'll be honest, and say that I was ecstatic about the spark chat. Earlier in the day, one of them suggested that we do a more personal topic because of all the professional interactions we have. (The other T and I agree though we both hinted at how we don't really have enough of that kind of talk.) I decided not to be too forceful with keeping it professional because a chat alone was a step. So we agreed to discuss: What is one thing you would share/do for a person new to China? This topic came to mind from a dialogue I had with Scott Capro, co-founder of #BFC530. This particular spark chat is amazing, and not every morning does it simply entail methods, management tips, or how to implement new ideas. It can hit on the heart and soul of an assortment of education issues.

So just like that, our #BSEFT (BaiShan Elementary Foreign Teacher) chat took off! Comments and questions started clicking almost as soon as we started. And before I knew it, one of them delivered our #micdrop to end it.

I decided in the midst of the chat a couple times to post screenshots of Stan's (one of my colleagues) comments on Twitter. I wanted to see what kind of response I would receive from a more global audience. It didn't take very long for the teamwork quote to get favorited and retweeted. When I passed this information on to him today, he was happy to help and then went on about his father's quotes. I simply re-emphasized how he made a global impact with just one line and one click whether or not it is a quote from our fathers or not (haha).

That's the power of social media. A spark chat on QQ with my PLC in China or a conversation with my PLN on Voxer from China to NJ and CO in the States. It's happening...worldwide collaboration. Anywhere, anytime, with anybody you choose. Thus, why I'm now reading Steven Anderson and Tom Whitby's The Relevant Educator. I would like the teachers at my school to experience the power that is on tap in the palm of one's hand.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Special Needs in China

This morning I was working when all of sudden I heard a student come out of a classroom and yell down the hallway. The sound I heard made me jump out of my chair and out the door to see what was the matter and if help was needed. Right then and there, I saw a student being firmly held by a teacher and taken to the elementary principal's office next door. I leaned back in and asked another foreign teacher, "Is that *Jay?" "Yep..." was his response.

I had heard about Jay last week from a couple teachers, that foreign teacher (from Canada) and his translator (from China). They spoke of how Jay steals things from others, speaks loudly, hits his peers, and is not be able to control himself. When special needs or students who aren't advocated for come up as the office topic, I tend to lend a closer ear. 

After I saw the teacher take Jay to the office, she then took him to the teacher's work room. I assume she tried the same thing I saw our principal do later: look Jay in the eyes, talk sternly, and make him sit still. That didn't last long until I saw the teacher walk him back up the hall and downstairs for a bit. Jay was then returned to his classroom where he was soon taken out again. This happened a handful of times throughout the day, and I was informed by our principal in the afternoon that is the worst yet. Things just started to get out of hand this week. The teachers, TAs, and admin don't know what to do.

This is what seems about all the staff can do since we don't have a team, much less a counselor nor any teachers trained except for me. It isn't encouraging either to hear the principal talk of how she doesn't trust the doctors who said the child has nothing wrong with him. Well, I'm not sure how much a week's worth of records can actually prove. 

Without knowing all of how the Chinese education system attends to students with possible special needs, I decided to handle the fragile situation with patience. I instructed the foreign teacher and principal that we need to "record, record, record." That's what we were told time and time again in our university special education classes. These data can show us over time the frequency and intensity of Jay's behaviors. While and after gathering this information, we can check the ABCs: antecedents, behaviors, and consequences of each situation. What prompts the flare-ups? What specific action took place? What came after that?

When I passed this piece of advice on, I felt a little down because of how I now need to wait to train the 1st grade teachers, their TAs, and admin. This is indeed a sensitive issue with the school, but one I can not go on trying to do myself without help. If you have suggestions or ideas, please share, RT, or do whatever it takes. I need help, support, and wisdom. 

It's all for Jay. THAT kid.

(* denotes the student's name changed to protect his identity)

5 of 5 Stars to "Empowered Schools, Empowered Students"

There are differences when working in the Chinese education system, but Pernille Ripp hits on topics in "Empowered Schools, Empowered Students" that students themselves here strongly desire as well as practical points to start with as an elementary EFL teacher. Student voice, empowerment, and ownership must happen in classrooms around the world, and she easily and logically explains why. Many students have expressed opinions in my classes on various topics of teaching, student voice, and technology. I empathize with the students but still respect the Chinese educators because the culture has much of Confucius' "sage on the stage" feel that will be hard to surrender. Ironically some of those colleagues have shared how maybe what we're doing isn't right or modern. Culture and tradition are a couple obstacles, but much of what Ripp suggests are ways to analyze what we do, why, and how to change little by little.

This was the first book of the Corwin Press Connected Educators series that I have read on Peter Dewitt's recommendation, and I'm quite glad I did. Thank you, Peter, and many thanks to Pernille! Keep up the work so that the flame burning inside us educators can spread like wildfire to the students in a global fashion.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Future Looks Promising

Yesterday, I met with the head of our Foreign Teacher department to discuss "the future." I started off with a short keynote that quickly led into a discussion on how to train 21st Century Connected Educators. It was only a matter of time before another teacher would have stepped up and mentioned something similar to what I am suggesting now. At least I hope so. Our school has internet with ethernet cords, but we don't have wifi. The classrooms only have a TV and a computer. I don't say this to complain but to simply state the facts. This doesn't mean that we can't use other resources. Instead of complaining, we can choose to be part of the solution.

The next step my supervisor wants me to take is to hold a PD on a social media topic. (She has no idea how pumped I am for this!) I informed her that Twitter is the most powerful with all of its capabilities, but I'd like to start with optional PDs for only the foreign teachers. Obviously because the Chinese don't have VPNs so consequently Twitter is blocked for them. Plus, I'd like to train others how to use it and other methods in order that our department doesn't rely solely on me for ideas, tech support, and all that jazz. I just don't want my colleagues to feel pressured to dive into this.

Thankfully, this week a few officemates and I will also be starting weekly spark chats similar to #BFC530. It will take place on a platform used mostly here in China called QQ. It's not public in its conversations, but it's a start. The end goal within this small part of the big picture is to have the other foreign teachers at our school on Twitter to have more autonomy and purpose in their professional & personal development by way of worldwide collaboration. Baby steps...

Suggest has been the key word through all of this. A few people have pointed out that I can be quite forceful on people in our context. When I was first told this, I had to immediately examine myself and see what the problem was. I still have the tendency to point out wrongs and say what should fix it. That won't get me anywhere. I must be positive, communicate with other staff and learn more what support they need, integrate more tech tools myself, and keep moving forward.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Saving the Animals and Steve Jobs

Unit 3 of our English Zone curriculum for fifth grade is called Save the Animals. Last year, I had the students create posters on sea otters since that was the lone endangered creature discussed in the book. With the posters came topics such as their habitat, appearance, dangers, and solutions. The posters, I thought, were okay, but I had a strong sense the content and products were limited. So I changed it up a bit...

This year I let the groups select an endangered animal of choice to research for their presentations. The groups were then allowed to appoint who would study each topic for their chosen animal. Before we went to the computer lab, we went over a visual map of how to create different PowerPoints.
my poorly done "visual map"
This is because I have seen many speakers try to convey their messages with slides that have only words and an incredible amount of them. This fit perfectly with Carmine Gallo's The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to Be Insanely Great in Front of Any Audience.

The steps we covered to make the slides more worth watching included:
1) Get on the internet & find the answers to the Driving Questions under each topic.
2) Record the information in their notebooks and/or remember it.
3) Find pictures of the answers and apply them to your group's PowerPoint.
4) Think about what you will say when your slides show up on the TV.
1. look for information
2. record and/or remember answers to Driving Questions
3. put a PowerPoint together
Next, I printed off paper copies of their PowerPoints with lines to write on. This will give the students a way to plan and prepare what they will say when their presentations come (step 4). The upcoming week will be when students have time to do just that while they collaborate even more than what they already did in the computer lab.

My expectation for the students is that they find 1-2 answers for every Driving Question they formulated. Again, since this is a first, we'll start small with our results. Then go from there. I shall say...I'm looking forward to the next step we will take before the presentations happen. I'm considering showing a TED talk to hit on public speaking, but I don't want to add too many new things at one time and make the project possibly more difficult than it is.

What do you think? What am I doing right? What could be done differently now or next time?
our photographer came to class & ended up helping a group edit their pics
I had to put this one in here ;)