Rooms with a view
Less than one week after my visit to the Microsoft’s Global Forum in Barcelona I took again a plane to the sunny south of Europe. I was invited to represent European Schoolnet at the School on the Cloud project in Athens in Greece. School on the Cloud is a Europe funded project with more than 50 partners: schools, institutes and NGO’s. The aim of the project is to share expertise on organizing and implementing cloud based solutions. The 1st project summit took place in the very well-equipped Doukas school.
In the morning I gave a keynote and told the audience about my experiences as a secondary school teacher. Like many others I have seen the shift taking place of What You See Is What You Get classrooms to environments with an augmented reality. But the same transition took place in the staffroom as well. The cloud brought opportunities for Continuous Professional Development for teachers as they can connect in virtual networks.
The condition of having the benefits of the cloud is that you need to fly. Sometimes there is fear of flying, sometimes teachers don’t have access or don’t know how to reach the cloud.
In my workshop in the afternoon we explored some cloud-based applications. It was fun but the cloud was just a tiny bit… cloudy at a certain moment. Also this is a reality: fast internet is a priority and the school on the cloud is still an ongoing process.
I spent the morning of the next day in the city of Athens and I made a walk around Syntagma and Monasteraki. I enjoyed a Greek salad with retsina.
The Greek sun up in the air was as bright as could be. With the cloud the sky is the limit.
Etwion is the latest educational project that Arjana Blazic and I developed. When the name Etwion was coined it referred to a 5-hour Twitter discussion marathon we organized for eTwinning teachers but also for anyone else interested. The event we held in December 2013 was so successful that we decided to keep the brand as a name for Continuing Professional Development for (eTwinning) teachers taking place on social media channels.
This time Arjana and I set up Etwion in Wonderland, a 10-day online Learning Event for 190 European eTwinning Teachers. As usual we built a Learning Lab platform with resources and descriptions of activities. For the deployment of the tasks the teachers went out to social media. We created a closed Facebook group but we also went to open air, especially on Twitter.
During the Learning Event the teachers explore from within the opportunities of social media for both students and teachers. The interconnection between staffroom and classroom is typical for eTwinning teachers. Teaching is learning and vice versa.
This is the third Learning Event Arjana and I organize, but this one is really special. We have never seen so much enthusiasm, so much creativity, so much innovative attitude. It’s a learning roller coaster. It’s a learning disco.
The climax of this learning party will be the 3-hour #Etwion chat of Friday 7 March. Everybody in the virtual universe is welcome to join us on Twitter. The discussion topics will be chosen by the audience.
Let’s see if the internet is big enough for all of us.
One of the benefits of living in a small country like Belgium is that is so easy and fast to go abroad… The longest distance between 2 Belgian cities is about 300 km.
So far some product information about my country.
Yesterday I took a train to the Netherlands. I went to Utrecht to see the Benelux finals of the First Lego League. About 50 teams of 10 members selected from regional pre-rounds took part. The competition consists of 3 parts. First of all the teams have to build and program their Mindstorm robots to carry out some missions on the tables within a limited time. Teams like the Brain Bots, the Red Tornados, the Atalanta Hazard Fighters competed in different rounds.
A second part of the competition is the presentation of a STEM project the schools have created over the past months. Within this year’s theme of Nature’s Fury they came up with technical solutions for the effects of earthquakes, tornados, floods, tsunami’s etc. The different teams developed higher thinking skills and studied phenomena of nature. They liaised with experts and institutes. At the presentation one of the girls said: “this is not a fairy tale. This is reality for the future. Watch out!”
Finally the teams also get a score on how they function as a team and also how they inspire other teams! One of the teams had a picture on their shirts of a class mate who hadn’t made it to the event because she had to undergo an operation. All day they carried a tablet and connected through Skype with the friend in hospital.
I was really impressed by this powerful and cheerful way of learning. The FLL puts the kids on the stage. This is cool. This is a bit of Rock & Roll.
Next year’s theme will be the Future Classroom.
I spent the previous days in the London Microsoft headquarters and attended a 3-day course on 21st Century Learning Design. I took part in the training Building Educator Capacity.
Adrian and Tracy were the facilitators and I especially liked the combination of some meta thinking and immersion. Learning by doing engages people. Experiencing the learning process from within gives you a full understanding. It makes you committed.
The group of European educators that attended the course was just great. The team work at the end of the last day resulted in some moments of magic that only teachers can produce.
On my last evening in London I treated myself to the musical The Commitments. I have read Roddy Doyle’s Barrytown trilogy. I have seen the film the Commitments. I am a fan.
The Commitments is a hilarious story about a bunch of working class Dublin youngsters who start a band to save soul music. They have arguments, they fight, they split up and re-unite again.
But they also collaborate, they share responsibilities, they all play their interdependent part.
Mustang Sally sounded brilliant.
I started this blog about 3 years ago. It is more or less my professional diary. The majority of the posts deal with travels or with special events I took part in or organized. I am quite sure I will be able to add more posts to the blog next year. 2014 looks promising.
With our small but hard working team of the National Support Service for eTwinning Belgium (Flanders) we will continue to support, expand and inspire the network of eTwinning teachers in Flanders. In March we will also be the host for a European Contact seminar in Antwerp. It is an event to look forward to.
The future for my other job at European Schoolnet looks promising as well. European Schoolnet is an organization of 30 Ministries of Education and the members of staff and experts come from many different countries in Europe. I love this international mix. I also love the mix of different projects I am involved with at EUN: Living Schools Lab, the Future Classroom, eTwinning, The European Schoolnet Academy etc. Most of the projects have a focus on Continuous Professional Development for teachers.
In my spare time I will be busy as well and be active with projects in the same field. There will be other social media events like the Etwion I organized with Arjana Blazic. I have some pending invitations as well for keynotes, consultancy and workshops.
I love this blurred wealth of opportunities, but they are not served on a plate, I can tell you. And sometimes things don’t go as you want. But that’s life. I enjoy it. I don’t want to move in circles but to step forward.
Each time I leave the Schuman train station in Brussels I see the statue that inspires me. The man has one foot on the ground. It’s his solid background, his expertise, his common sense.
The other foot reaches out to an adventurous future.
I often call my friend Arjana Blazic my professional compagnon de route. Together we have been on the road so often with many different projects and yesterday we made a nice trip again. We organized and moderated the first Etwion, a 5-hour Continuous Professional Development Twitter Marathon.
The days before the actual event we interacted with our audience and introduced the event in our social networks. On the blog (etwion.tumblr.com) we created, we explained the procedure and provided some easy-to-follow steps for people who were new to Twitter. It was amazing to see how many Twitter newbies wanted to take part and created an account just for this event.
And then yesterday night at 6pm we went on air. During the 5-hour session Arjana and I kept in touch on Skype and discussed the questions and tweets we as moderators would send to spark the discussion. It all went well. It was wonderful to see how real communication took place in this at first sight chaotic universe of tweets.
So yes, we think it was a success. It is not easy, however, to monitor into detail how many educators were involved in this event. We know that around 150 different educators sent a tweet with the #etwion hashtag. We estimate that around 1700 tweets and retweets have been sent. But with events like these you also have the many lurkers who want to watch the show but prefer not to send a tweet, a retweet or a reply. And that is okay as well, of course.
We want to keep the Etwion brand in the future and reuse the hashtag for similar events and for CPD tweets that might be of interest to teachers inside and outside the eTwinning community.
We will be #back!
Tweet summary: chirpstory.com/li/177778
Etwion blog: etwion.tumblr.com
This week the world has said goodbye to Nelson Mandela.
I visited Robben Island in the aftermath of the Microsoft Worldwide Innovative Education Forum in Cape Town in 2010. I must say it made an impression on me. When you arrive by boat at the island you take a bus with the words Driven by Freedom at the side. Since then I take these words with me.
Many of the guides are former prisoners of Robben Island. Our guide was a student leader who had protested against the apartheid regime when he was brought to prison. We were led around in the buildings and squares where the prisoners had to do their monotonous and meaningless work: cutting a rock into small pieces. The guided tour ended at the prison cell of Nelson Mandela where he spent so many years of his life.
When visiting Robben Island I got mixed feelings. On the one hand it was very depressing to see in which conditions the prisoners had to survive… or didn’t survive. On the other hand you could also smell the spirit of freedom and hope.
Charismatic leaders like Nelson Mandela gave the prisoners a strong will to survive and to keep their dignity. Education played an important role. Each teach one. The prisoners shared their knowledge and they taught each other.
Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.
Let’s not say goodbye to the spirit of Nelson Mandela.
Networks are the new classrooms. Networks are the new teachers’ rooms.
We are all sentenced to lifelong learning and it is a gift for life. Yesterday I had the honour, for the 4th time already, to moderate an online professional discussion for teachers on Twitter. For my job I am involved in the Living Schools Lab project organized by European Schoolnet. The aim of the project is to mainstream expertise of innovative teaching in schools and countries in Europe. Advanced schools and advanced practitioners take a leading role in this process of upscaling.
Living Schools Lab wants to connect to a wide community of teachers and contribute to this virtual future room teachers’ room of continuous professional development.
Living Schools Lab adopted the Twitter discussions already taking place for some years in networks like Edchat and Edchatie. Every fortnight we organize a one hour discussion on a certain educational topic. Teachers find this discussion by searching for the hashtag #LSLCHAT. When they contribute to the discussion they add the same hashtag to their tweet. It is as easy as that.
Yesterday we had the discussion whether students could or should bring and use their own device in the classroom. I can tell you I was a very lively and interesting Twitter chat. Teachers posted the pros and cons, they mentioned the barriers and shared their expertise.
At the end of an LSLCHAT all tweets are chirpified and collected in an online summary. This means you can read all the tweets and have access to all the shared resources.
Keep an eye on the next LSLCHATs. They will be announced on Twitter (#LSLCHAT or @bartverswijvel) or on the Living Schools Lab portal.
Some resources shared during this session:
He’s here again. The man with a child in his eyes.
I was in Billund, Denmark for another eTwinning Professional Development Workshop. The seminar took place in Legoland and around 115 science teachers from 27 different countries took part.
The participants had a 3 day programme of keynotes, partner finding activities but above all… playful learning. My favourite toy of my youth, Lego bricks, played a predominant role during the PDW. There were workshops on Lego Mindstorms, Stop Motion. There were Lego board games, etc.
The seminar was not about Lego as such. It was about the pedagogical idea of learning as a creative process. Learning as a discovery, as an inquiry, as a social process as well. We can all be engineers. With this idea students are not just receivers anymore. They learn and teach. We must push for distributed expertise, Chris Rogers, one of the keynote speakers, said.
At the PDW we played the Lego duck game. All participants got the same set of bricks to create a duck. 115 ducks, yet all slightly different.
I love ducks. They fly to meet other ducks… in the cloud. To inspire and to get inspired. Yes, this is what eTwinning is about: it is about building and flying.