Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Ontario's $150 Million iPad Investment

Technology fused with education? Or a hub of distraction? Source
Investing $150 million for iPads in Ontario's classroom

Technology is slowly but surely becoming an integral part of our classrooms in Canada. I remember a time, not long ago (well, 12 or 13 years) when my classmates felt like students of the future. Scrambling to find the nearest Apple personal computer with the super futuristic aqua coloured frame so that we could browse on Netscape, while quietly chatting up the nearest downloads on Napster. ICQ reigned supreme and photoshop was uber cool to use, let alone have it installed on our desktops at home. Then came the famous "brick" Nokia cell phone. Ever reliable, you could play dodgeball with it and still be able to use it to call your Mom to pick you up after school.
Super futuristic Mac Source
All those advances in tech made our classrooms very much interesting. Graphics class was incredibly fun, but so was the ability to head to the library at lunch and check our lineups for the fantasy soccer league that afternoon. Students could express themselves better and even enjoy some of the fun aspects of web browsing. Yet, we continued to rely on pen and paper in the classroom, reading extensively from books and texts, our memorization skills tested to their conventional fullest. Call me old-fashioned. Still, there were some who thought: Could we do more with these gadgets?
Indestructible: The good old days of reliability mixed with weight Source
With the announcement of Ontario's Education Minister investing $150 million in funding for technology earlier this September, one can't help but think how iPads will directly contribute to increased grades in school. More importantly, as someone who has first hand experience using iPads extensively within a classroom, I find myself wondering if they will be more of a distraction in schools.

Having taught in England and in the Middle East, I have seen two different approaches when it comes to teaching. In London, the focus was very much on texts, handouts, and plenty of writing within workbooks. This is the very system I grew up in. Nevertheless, positive stimulation of a pupil's mind comes into play here, as does differentiated instruction. Yes, Powerpoint presentations by educators and different methods of teaching can improve the process of learning, however, technology offers a different level of learning altogether.

Having taught in Abu Dhabi, U.A.E. as well - where iPads are fully integrated within the system of teaching in many schools within the capital - I saw the effects that too much technological freedom and innovation brought on a practical level each and every day in school. On the one hand, iPads gave students an incredible tool to create fantastic Powerpoint presentations and allowed them to use so many different apps to increase and improve their knowledge and skills in various subjects. However, it also hindered simple things, such as classroom management, as well as forcing teachers to constantly check that students were on task and not just playing or using one of a plethora of games and apps that the device provides.

Nevertheless, I also found that certain International schools within the city, particularly IB (International Baccalaureate) schools had the right idea and implemented iPads very wisely - using them in focused lessons and sparingly. This enhanced their lessons greatly.

We need to find a balance where using iPads or any other form of technology can help students "think differently" when tackling a math problem or geography question, while also making school fun for students again - keeping in mind that higher scores are also a priority. I truly hope that this infusion of money into a fascinating piece of technology will be successful and long lasting in Ontario.

In the end, in these early stages of this new global implementation of technology - such as iPads and cell phones - within schools, there are many instances of success as well as failure. It depends on so many factors. I hope to delve into these possibilities even further as time goes by and we see how teaching methodologies evolve.

The debate continues.

Vital Links: article on the $150 million investment

Monday, September 15, 2014

Classroom Canada on Twitter

Classroom Canada on Twitter: News, updates, educational discourse and insight @classroomcanada

I am very pleased to announce to our teachers in the UK, Canada and all educators around the world that Classroom Canada is finally on twitter! I have always enjoyed posting on my personal twitter account and it dawned on me during the summer that twitter was the exact central hub I wanted for all things Classroom Canada and education in general - sprinkled with a little tidbit or two on traveling around the UK and beyond!

The focus will be on education in the UK, through various fantastic twitter accounts that we follow ourselves. From UKedchat to UKEd Magazine, there is so much to see, read about and discover in the digital world. However, I will also delve into education systems, info and tips from around the world, from the extensive use of technology in the Middle East to the innovative teaching happening in Finland and Asia. There is so much to learn from our global colleagues.

My main goal is to provide all updates regarding Classroom Canada's blog and facebook posts, teaching opportunities, as well as teaching tips from some of the best sources of education around the world.

All are welcome!

I hope you enjoy reading the tweets, re-tweets, news and information on our Twitter account on a daily basis. Feel free to comment, re-tweet and have your say whenever you feel the need!

Enjoy the journey @classroomcanada

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

September 2014: A Back to School Promise

Summer makes way for school halls and educating young minds

It's time. Time for another year of intellectual growth, epic battles of dialogue with students of all ages, paperwork, marking and even more marking! It's also the time when our teachers in London are officially back to work. Some long term teachers have already organized their classrooms and met their new students. While others - predominantly new cover teachers who have just arrived in London - are waiting anxiously for their first phone calls to begin their substitution duty and exploration of the UK school system. After almost two weeks, I can say that the hectic year has started already.

The weather is already cooling in London and autumn is just around the corner. Brisk morning walks to the tube, changing leaves, the toll of another church bell, peaceful strolls in parks after school. Shopping for last minute school supplies. Yes, it's a great time to be in London teaching.

As with any year, the challenges and workload pile up, yet we learn from each other as we go along. Whether it is from a fellow teacher at work, a caring sibling, or simply one of our students. Besides helping provide the best opportunities for Canadian teachers to find work and be successful in the UK, this blog is also a bountiful resource. This year, I promise to bring to all of our teachers in London, Canada, and from all over the world, even more insight into this teaching profession that we love and can sometimes hate. Further input on teaching methods and styles, classroom management, use of technology, interviews with teachers in London, and of course, travels in the UK and beyond.

The internet is our forum to share and I hope that we all have a busy, prosperous and fulfilling school year this 2014-2015 academic year!

Vital Links:

Classroom Canada website - to apply for new teaching jobs, ask us about teaching in London or just to get to know us better

Check out our new twitter account: @classroomcanada

Friday, August 22, 2014

Things to do this Fading August in England!

Festivals and good cheer since the days of old @ Source
Summer holiday events abound in the waning days of August

With the beginning of the school year rapidly approaching, many teachers can relish in the comforting thought that we are refreshed and recharged for the year to come. I can only hope that everyone will feel the same way by the time September returns to our calendars. Nevertheless, another one of the reassuring aspects of life in the UK is the plethora of events that happen all year long throughout the island. The month of August is no different.

Perusing the trusty 'Visit England' website in eager anticipation, I came across many fascinating adventures ripe for all to see and experience! August itself boasts 29 upon my initial search. The events ranged from the Oxford Foodies Festival, End of the Road and Bournemouth Air Festivals to three days of music in Leicestershire and the Robin Hood Festival. With a fantastic list to choose from, I only wish I had the opportunity to see it all!

Take a look, choose and enjoy.

As always, wherever you are in the world at this late stage of the summer break, I can only continue to emphasise the great importance of enjoying your surroundings and unique experiences anywhere you go, either by yourself or with your family and friends. Whether it is Canada - as you pack your bags to go back to London in the next couple of weeks - or Istanbul, on one of your final vacation stopovers this summer; or finally England itself - if you were so inclined to remain there this summer. It's what makes the difference between feeling like you are just doing a job in another country and knowing that you are having the most incredible time teaching and traveling in this vast world.

Vital links:

Visit England official website - list of events this August

Monday, August 4, 2014

John Venn's Big Day

The big 180 for Johnny V.
Happy Birthday John Venn!

Indeed it is John Venn's 180th birthday. For all of us here at Classroom Canada, I wanted to extend a heartfelt thanks to the man that created the essential, vital, eternal Venn Diagram.

Its use varies extensively, to say the least. From logic to statistics, Math and Geography, to Computer Science and even English. As definitively summarised by Wikipedia, the Venn Diagram is a diagram that "shows all possible logical relations between a finite collection of sets." For example, the relationship between creatures with two legs and creatures that can fly. Simple, yet ingenious, it allows us to find the common variables between two or multiple points of study.

Many times I have found myself using it in my English classes, from evaluating the similarities/differences between two poems on love, to comparing Lady Macbeth with the murderous advances of other nefarious characters in literature. The Venn Diagram brings perspective, order and focus to students who crave understanding and vision.

Venn Diagram showing which upper case letter glyphs are shared by the Greek, Latin and Cyrillic alphabets. Source

A man who began his education in London, in today's Highgate School, and ventured on to Cambridge to complete his degree in Mathematics - John Venn is a testimony to ingenious creativity mixed with pure logic and philosophy.

My hat off and a toast to you, good sir!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Misusing English Words

Misusing English since Chaucer's days

What do the words Travesty, Ironic, Bemused and Enormity have in common? Why, they are simply part of a series of words that we have all been probably misusing since we first heard of their existence!

In '10 Words That You've Probably Been Misusing,' Tyler Vendetti has cleverly outlined ten of the worst offenders in terms of improper word usage. He touches on the fact that there are plentiful words in the English language that have had their definitions mixed up because of the simple fact that there are so many words in the English language itself.

Which begs the question: How long have each of us been using some of these words incorrectly? Rather than contemplate that question, I would rather turn your attention to Vendetti's 10 most common culprits:


Sound familiar? To find out what you think each of these words mean, followed by an entertaining explanation of what they actually mean, be sure to check out Vendetti's post in the Vital Links below. Enjoy!

Vital Links:

10 Words That You've Probably Been Misusing 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Social Media: Bridging the Gap between School and Home

Embracing Social Media

The extensive use of social media in every aspect of our live is undeniable. It's a part of our daily routine, some more immersed and intertwined in it than others. The fact is that it's there to stay, no matter how many people can't stand it, blaming it for their children's woes and failings in schools, and claiming the 'unplugged' life as the key to success. Be that as it may, social media is an important part of almost any successful profession, and it waits for those students who grow up and graduate from school. However, that's their future. The focus today is on our current students at school in the here and now.

I think the first underlying point we need to accept as educators is that kids enjoy using social media. It's one of the main ways they feel they can express themselves, keep in touch with their friends and thrive in a way of socialising that is quite different from the traditional, old school ways of 'hanging out.' Even students who don't fully embrace it use it, knowing it's a normal part of life, inside and outside of school. It incorporates both aspects of 'chat' - being able to talk, gossip and comment - as well as 'visual' - sharing photos of each other, whether to show their friends what they're doing on the weekend, or simply to take a picture of something they find interesting. As an extensive user myself, I find those aspects of social media brilliant.

As it stands, eradicating social media is an impossibility. Parents and teachers can try to curb and limit it's use, but inevitably it is there at the end of the day, waiting for eager kids and teenagers to resume their digital socialising ways with intensity. It think the more wiser choice would be to first understand the use of social media, the mentality behind its use; followed by embracing its positive potential and implementing ways of utilising it to help students achieve their goals at school - while also understanding your students better.

Constructive feedback through social media

Recording feedback onto an online system - which parents can then access -  via a smartphone is a great way to provide constructive feedback to your students while also keeping their parents up to date on the progress of their children, including their strengths and weaknesses. This parent-teacher-student interaction does not have to be limited to only parents' evening anymore, or end-of-year reports. It's now, immediate and interactive.

ClassDojo is another great program which enables teachers to record feedback for students which they can see immediately, both academic and behavioural - it's a great resource for enforcing better classroom management. Students can be rewarded for good behaviour, while also being reprimanded for poor antics. Best of all, it's all recorded and all parties can see students' habits and progress over time. Some teachers even choose to blog and tweet about the work their students are doing. Apps such as Evernote enable teachers to share students' portfolios with their parents. Edmondo lets parents see the written work of their kids, including teacher feedback and homework for any particular day.

I think all of these great tools really push students to work harder since they know their parents are watching their progress, as well as their teachers. As for the parents themselves, it gives them a medium to keep in touch with the school work of their children in a more efficient and manageable way - rather than the old method of letter sending.

Finding a balance amid the risks of social media and networking

Naturally, with each social media platform comes risks. Namely, the spread of false information, gossip and plain lies. Closer interactions with parents can unfortunately lead to a forum for complaints, inappropriate and uncomfotable situations, and cyberbullying. And it's not the students that are necessarily doing it.

Vigilance, careful planning and execution is paramount. We need to have a sound strategy of how to implement each social media platform, understanding its full capabilities, potential, and knowing exactly how we want to use them. This, of course, varies with each teacher. The ultimate goal is to get students to work harder and take responsibility for their schoolwork. Not being shy to use the tools out there and getting parents more directly involved will only aid in this quest for academic betterment.


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