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.)