The sofa-based #CPD plus the super summer plans

My, it’s been some time since my last post! Where did all this time go? I did a lot of teaching, thankfully, there was quite a substantial amount of studying for TKT , hours of G+Drive uploading, deleting & updating plus the Google Educator preparation…What now?


I have been busy with tons of stuff, which is good, but last week it suddenly hit me that summer had arrived, lessons would be scarce and I’d be spending a L O T of time at home. I started feeling empty and slightly annoyed. How did this happen? Where was the planning-freak side of me hiding? Then, I checked my calendar. What a relief!

Getting ready for a full summer!

Getting ready for a full summer!

I have a very special place reserved for the most challenging, thought provoking and educational period of the year : once again, the far left side of my sofa (I’ve been told, accused almost, that I sound like Sheldon when I say this. Contrary to expectations, I’m proud of such comparison!).
Here are the plans for this summer that fill me with joy and anticipation:

The Cambridge English Teacher webinar series : kicked it off two days ago, with a webinar on Blended Learning and their online course on Language Awareness. More to come!

The Teachers Teaching Online MOOC on WizIQ: I’m so excited for this, it will be my first time on a MOOC and I know it will be amazing. (by the way, I came across MOOC List the other day, why hadn’t I discovered it until now?)

RSCON 2014: I don’t think this requires any explanation. Be there.

Tutorizon:  LiftUp event on June 14th (”Mind Re-engineering”, very curious about it) and lots of networking throughout the summer. Thrilled!

DekaTessera Workshop: Two weeks dedicated to candle crafting; this time, making candles with ice cubes. Huh? I really can’t wait for this!

But, same as every summer, I’ll be having my staycation at the beginning of August; and I’d like all the wonderful people in my PLN to make some suggestions! Here’s what I did last summer: Staycation 2013. Any ideas on what I could do during my holidays? Leave a comment!

P.S. A lot of blogging is also imminent. It seems it’s the first time my drafts outnumber my posts! 

Summer, here we come!

 

 

 

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My seven-day #staycation – Day One: #Photography in Learning

Capture the moment – I can’t even count the times I’ve thought of that. No, it’s not always easy and yes, you can get into an argument for being a random person with the camera at hand. Not that I go around taking pictures of people fighting or anything…
got-you
I just love taking pictures. I don’t know if I’m any good at it and, frankly, it doesn’t really matter. They say ”a picture is a thousand words”; I think it’s more like a thousand worlds. The same image can make someone laugh and some others cry, one may wonder where that could have been taken and another might dismiss it as commonplace. But everyone feels compelled to think about it. That’s the power of pictures for me. That’s what I’m looking for while learning (or teaching).
I started using my own pictures during classes mainly due to availability (in the pre – eltpics era), but also because I could plan around what set of images I would use. It’s the same tactic I follow while blogging, sometimes a picture I’ve already taken is the idea behind a post and at other times I go on a hunt for pictures to accompany my thoughts.

take-your-pic

My first day of staycation was devoted to sorting out the pictures I’ve taken since October 2012 (previous ones have been sorted, of course). I turned the camera on, the number ”15506” appeared at the bottom right corner, I panicked and immediately turned it off. But then I thought ”come on, be brave” and sat down to business.

Here are three general tips of utmost importance that I have occasionally neglected:
-Make sure you’ve set the current date and time on your camera. It saves a lot of time later on; since machines haven’t taken over the world yet, it’s you who has to tell them what to do and when to do it!
-Know where you’ll find your photos. Have dedicated folders and provide for enough space on your hard drives.
-Don’t fear the ”delete” option. If the angle, the light or the background troubles you in any way, move on to the next photo. (Tip within the tip: take more than one shot of your subject if possible, so you can have a choice later).

Now what? Well, that depends on how you use those pictures,
Photos are  to me an inexhaustible source of teaching  material. I have recycled my pictures numerous times over the years, on a variety of subjects and learner levels. That’s why I normally keep them organised by theme more than by date or place taken and why certain groups of my pictures are connected to particular activities.
Here’s an example:
I use the following set at the beginning of an Intermediate course to initiate a guessing game and lead in to an open speaking session for computer skills and technology in learning

(You’ll notice that the pictures have no caption; even though I have set a title for them, a caption would be restrictive in this case and wouldn’t make good ground for a guessing game.)
This activity has proved extremely useful when trying to introduce ICT in class, and not only with learners; I’ve used the same set at parents’ meetings in order to explain the importance of tech-skills within the learning environment.

Is that it then? Not quite!
Now we get to more interesting parts: editing and sharing.

Sometimes pictures need an extra ”something”, usually because it seems right at that moment, for that specific thing you’re trying to portray. And why not make them available to other teachers? How do you go about that?

Again, that depends on individual needs and skills. If you’re a Googler like me (ok, not exclusively, but mostly), and you’re looking for something simple, go with Picassa – the latest version caters for your needs both in editing and socially though Web Albums and Google+. Things might seem a bit scattered, but it’s only getting used to it!
My personal favourites on Picassa are the Google Drive integration, the fact that you can have a private url for chosen albums  – very helpful for my start-of-the-year speaking sessions prompted by the learners’ own pictures which I can’t share online without permission! – and, more importantly, that you can upload most formats (like Photoshop .psd) aside from mainstream .jpgs and .pngs.
I also love Flickr, for its simple user interface, the unlimited storage even on the Free Account and the further ease in sharing through both Android and iPhone applications.

If, however, you’re a bit more design-savvy or willing to learn, I’d definitely recommend editing using Adobe Photoshop 7.0   (because it works like a dream, even when you stress it) or Photoshop Elements and then making up your mind on where you’ll share them.
Keep in mind that it doesn’t necessarily have to be in one place. Different accounts on separate hosts make pictures accessible by more people!

Success!

Success!

After deleting several duplicates and pictures I didn’t really like or thought I could use, the number of photos was finally reduced to 7104. Much more manageable. They’re all sorted now and will soon find their place in my Flickr and Picassa albums.

Last minute reminders:
-you can use all the pictures within this blog (under Creative Commons Attribution), unless otherwise noted (for images I’ve borrowed and/or edited from other sources)
-I’m only sharing what I have found useful; not endorsing any products.
-Your feedback is highly valued! If you have any suggestions, please submit your comments!

My seven-day #staycation – 7 paths to explore

Do teachers really have holidays? I’m not so sure. Not that we don’t have a break every now and then, particularly in the summer, but somehow everything around us seems to spark thoughts on lesson plans, activities and projects even though we’re technically off work – or is it just me? In any case, as of today I am officially on holiday for seven whole days. Yay!

Galatsiou Av. in Athens, August 7, 2013, 18:25

Galatsiou Av. in Athens, August 7, 2013, 18:25

This time of the year is by far my favourite. A serene atmosphere right at the heart of a normally busy and noisy city, nearly empty streets which reduces moving around times by half and endless opportunities to rediscover your home. It’s also quite productive in terms of development, as a no-obligations period helps you work on your skills at a slower pace (works remarkably for me and I plan to take advantage of it!)
I haven’t left Athens in August since my early twenties exactly for those reasons and have never regretted it.

I might be on holiday, but I’m still me (very difficult to escape yourself!), so I have a rough plan on how to spend those seven days. Nothing too restrictive, just a couple of things I want to get done before going back to work, like finally organising my endless array of pictures, working properly on this blog, exploring new tools and brushing up on skills. Well, maybe more than a couple. I’ll be blogging about what I discovered ( or rediscovered) each day, so we’ll see how that goes!

There are some other perks, of course . . .

Grapes and figs straight from Dad's garden

Grapes and figs straight from Dad’s garden

Goal 6: Choose your battles – #30GoalsEdu

Pick your battles, now there’s some good advice. . .

In this crazy world it seems we are called to fight battles every day, on the streets, at home, at work, even in our own head (my personal favourite, since I like to come prepared). It’s important though to know when to fight and have a clear idea of what it is you’re up against. Focus on the significant issue, not the insignificant.

Another battle around the corner?

Another battle around the corner?

But how often can we be certain of the significance and magnitude of a problem? Is there a concrete way to distinguish between important and unimportant issues? One of my biggest fears is to wake up one day and realise that all the problems I deemed small and unimportant have merged into a massive insolvable issue. It hasn’t happened so far, but. . .

That’s why I try to find the root of the problem before attempting to deal with it.
It can actually be a fun process: Put yourself in the investigator’s shoes; gather the clues, make assumptions, ascertain the facts and try to put the pieces of the puzzle together. And as any self-respecting investigator, you should have your sidekicks. I usually assign that role to my family, my friends or my colleagues who, depending on the issue at hand, often offer invaluable advice and sometimes the imaginative solution.

gathering clues . . .

gathering clues . . .

Once you know what the actual problem is, decide on the best tactic and move ahead. Personally, I find it more productive to choose tactics that eliminate the possibility of failure – not the brisk, super-hero confrontations with unpredictable results. If we are to see ourselves as generals, leading the way in everyday battles, we might as well be great generals.

”Battles are won by slaughter and maneuver. The greater the general, the more he contributes in maneuver, the less he demands in slaughter.”
Winston Churchill

 

Step out of your comfort zone Goal 5 – #30GoalsEdu

Stepping over a shadow in my back yard

Stepping over a shadow in my back yard

Next Wednesday, the 31st of July, I’m celebrating an anniversary quite unlike others in my life: fourteen years of teaching English as a foreign language.  I was 17 when I first started as a volunteer teacher at a local youth club, an experience that follows me to this day and each time I’m reminded of it I smile with the biggest smile I’ve got.

I’m usually asked why I got into teaching at that time, when I could be having fun and preparing for further studies.
Did I know all along that I wanted to become a teacher? My answer is always no. I simply knew nothing back then, I was testing myself, trying things. And I didn’t consider my work as ”teaching”, it was a lot more like ”sharing”. Sometimes I think that those first years at the youth club totally defined me as a teacher. I’m not much different today really. I still see myself as more of a motivator and a guide rather than a teacher. I’m still a student, even though there are things I know well and practise well, and which I share with others.

When I became a professional EFL teacher and started teaching at language schools, I found my comfort zone. I knew the ropes, I could handle the pressure and I could anticipate difficulties. It was easy to sit on the educational side of the table. Not to mention how much I enjoyed it.
Things change, however, and so should we. Taking a step out of your comfort zone and into the unknown might not always be the preferred choice, but it might be necessary to guide you towards what’s best.
In my case, it’s not a step out of the comfort zone, it’s a push. That’s the problem with comfort zones, you feel confident in what you have and forget to look around to see what’s happening. I’d been devoted to the teacher and had left all other parts of me behind and it took a series of some fortunate and some unfortunate events to wake me up from the slumber of assurance.

I thought it over again and again; at this time in my professional life I’m prepared to take steps that will benefit me, for a change. As things become more challenging around us (Greece being a prime example of a challenge right now) and my level of tolerance seems to be reaching a new low every month, I think I’m ready to open the door to the unknown. I’ll give a try at freelancing for a while, to see how it suits me. I’ve never done that before with teaching, so it will be a learning opportunity, in the very least.

So a big step, or push, out of my comfort zone takes place now as I’m making my way as a freelance teacher.

Goal 4: Revisit an idea – #30GoalsEdu

Ideas…and a mind full of them. All sorts of things running through your head, before, while and after your teaching, possible small miracles that you need to see come forward and take their place in the whirlwind of your life.
I suppose it’s not very original to say that you can’t always put all your ideas into action, but the opportunity to revisit an idea can be absolutely innovative, given that an idea you’d had a few years back will be approached from a new angle, the point of view of someone more experienced and further educated: you.

It was about three years ago when a class I was teaching brought forward the opportunity to combine two of my favourite subjects, English learning and creativity. In a usual cartoon-style fashion, a light bulb appeared and ”Art of English” came to life (have a read here). In the following years, ”Art of English” became bigger, better and a lot more tech-driven, brought together teachers and students from different schools and made me think that I’d got something there, something that I ought to push further. At the time, though, it seemed that there just wasn’t enough time or people to work more on it. It remained, therefore, in one of the boxes in my head, under the labels  ”Creative Teaching”, ”Projects”, ”Sometime in the future”.

#ArtOfEnglish #worldwaterday #creative learning

Art of English Drawing & Painting subgroup – preparing for World Water Day Event

Reflecting upon it during the last few weeks (reflection that has thankfully led me to all the things I’ll discuss in my #Goal 5 post!) I think I’ve decided that now is a good time to revisit this idea; It seemed that ”Art of English” had closed its circle, but only when approached as an extra-curricular activity of a school. What if it were to open up to everyone interested? What if there could be an independent group of students that wished for a more creative approach to language learning?

So, there I had it. An idea that could prove worth revisiting and reorganising, firstly in my head, then in a practical, day-to-day scheduling and promoting. I decided to start with some scouting and have put together a small group of students who found the idea appealing. I’ve arranged for a friend’s garden to be available once a week for our meetings. We’re still working on the what and how, and maybe this time it will all come together quite differently, but wonderfully nonetheless.

A view of the garden in Athens where Art of English will reform

A view of the garden in Athens where Art of English will reform

As most of this project is still working away in my head, somewhat behind the scenes, I’m not sure how it will develop, but I’ll be sharing all progress in the hope that it turns out as magnificent as I imagine and want it to be!

Goal 3:My personal theme song – #30GoalsEdu

”Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.” Victor Hugo

#kitten #amp #music views

Andrea’s favourite sleeping spot!


It seems that in every single moment of my life a different melody was playing in the background. I remember myself humming songs randomly, while studying or cooking and loving games like ”conversation: musical” where you have a discussion in lyrics.

It’s really hard to choose one song, so here are some I really love, each for completely different reasons:

– Because it pops up in my head every afternoon

Stereophonics-Hurry-Up-And-Wait

Stereophonics-Hurry-Up-And-Wait

– Because it makes me feel lighter than air and Labri’s voice is incredible

Carrickfergus - Labri Giotto LIVE

Carrickfergus – Labri Giotto LIVE

– Because of its powerful lyrics and because some of my students said ”I haaaad to” listen to it (they were right!).

''Sing'' - My Chemical Romance

”Sing” – My Chemical Romance