Its been a beautifully cold, chilly and blue skied day in Tbilisi today, my perfect weather, and perfect for acquiring those health looking ruby cheeks, and drinking a nice wee drop of port of an evening.
Had a brilliant day at school today, and absolutely love teaching both the kids, and the subject of geography.
Bob the Bunny and His Environmental Adventures!
Today we had a change from the norm, and have been working on our entries for the Volvo Adventure competition in Sweden. This fits in perfectly with our current studies on the environment and problems facing the planet, especially for my Key Stage 2 classes, and they seem to have really enjoyed working in groups of up to three students to produce a cartoon strip about a character called Bob the Bunny. Its a brilliant and free of charge educational tool available to any young person from any country in the world, and can be incorporated fully into the curriculum by utilising the computer game of Bob’ Journey, activities, surveys, and worksheets, or as just a stand alone activity which is what I have done as it is too difficult logistically for me to get the children to have access to a computer each. But, it has enabled them to ask some brilliant questions and to come up with ideas about the world themselves, and has also enabled the less vocal students to communicate withe ach other in their native tongue and to excel in the lesson, compared to our regular teacher talk time style lessons.
Funnily enough, I decided to give each class a choice of activities for the lessons and for homework, and weirdly they were far more focused, involved, and completed a lot more tasks than they would have done in a traditional lesson.
The work they produced was fantastic, especially the younger grades, who especially excelled at this. I only have a couple of the cartoons, but will add more when I get them. But what is brilliant, is that their pictures, will be submitted for entry into a published book about Bob the Bunny’s Environmental adventures, along with entries from other children from all over the world, plus the team which creates the winning cartoon, will receive an all expenses paid trip to Sweden for the Volvo adventure finals in June 2012. This is the first year that Georgia has entered the competition, so that in itself really excites me as a geography teacher. What’s more, if they get to go to Sweden, then I get to go with them too!! The idea of competition and doing the best they can, is also an important lesson in life.
End of Year Exams
I also just discovered that I have to set them an end of year exam. A one hour paper to be taken on 26th, 27th, or 28th December as it seems I have school those days because Georgians follow the orthodox calendar, which puts Christmas in January instead of 25th December. That means that I have 4days in which to create an exam paper for grades 3 through to 10!!!
So, I was trying to think of a way that would help to prepare them to take the British style exams in the long run, as revision to Georgians basically means memorise entire chunks of text and regurgitate full yet not relevant material when you see a word you recognise!! My mission is to somehow get them reading and thinking about the question, and writing quality rather than quantity.
The other problem that many of my students face, is that whilst I know that they understand English and know the geography material really well, many of them struggle to write in English, and its going to be a long old road getting them to the point where they can write a comprehensible sentence since English is their second, third, or even fourth language.
My idea seems obvious, but it may be a little controversial in Georgia, so only time will tell. Basically I have asked each student to come up with as many multiple choice questions as possible, based on everything they have covered in class so far. Already they are interacting with the material far more than they have previously, and there are lots of advantages to this technique. First it gives them a sense of fun, challenge, and responsibility, secondly it is in their interest to make their questions, as failure to do so means that I will come up with the questions instead of them! The perception is that the teacher’s questions will be much harder and they won’t have ay idea what questions to expect. Thirdly, by coming up with their own questions, they are learning the material as they go, whether they realise it or not!! The fourth advantage is that it gives them great practice with English, spelling and grammar, as well as an opportunity to learn the differences between the key words in a question: what, why, where, when, how, describe, explain, analyse, list and so forth.
Most importantly, they are having fun! And with fun, comes learning, and long term remembering. Its a nice break from the norm, and good to do something a bit more creative, and for them to see things from the teacher’s view too, to really get into the examiner’s head!!
I’m super proud of all my classes right now, they are working hard, and are fun to teach, and at last I feel like I am able to tap into that creative and competitive drive, whilst also maintaining some control of the lesson. They really excel at the chance to work in small groups, and I guess its a break from the norm, as I’ve not met any teachers in Georgia so far, who routinely use group work for learning. It is a little more noisy, naturally, because they are talking to each other rather than sitting staring at the white board, but I am really finding that the whole brain training (when I remember not to be frustrated and to use it) works perfectly for them and all ages respond well to it. It really works in those situations where you would otherwise struggle to be heard, and I would love to take some formal training into how to use it properly. Its almost designed for Georgian children and they usually remind me about it as they love to work in that way.
They all got a 10!!!
Of course, the best bit about being able to vary your teaching and activities, is that it gives the quieter students a chance to get 10/10 when normally the most they can ever get is a 9/10 because they are not interacting in class vocally, answering questions, or talking to team mates. So that has been really nice, as its hard to balance activities for them sometimes and I know that they are just naturally quiet people, and one or two are elective mutes, so it feels wrong to punish them each lesson for not participating, especially when I know that they are bright and able.
I’m also really looking forward to seeing their faces when they receive the Christmas cards I sent them as part of the Key Stage 2 lesson on addresses and writing letters. I was originally going to send them a postcard from the UK on my visit, but it ended up being easier and cheaper (still cost around £100 in stamps!!!!) to send them a Christmas card instead. Cards are not traditionally given in Georgia, and most of the students have never received a letter in their life, so I hope that they will enjoy this little activity. Its probably going to take about 3 months for the cards to arrive at school, if they get here at all with the almost non existant postal system here, but I am really keeping my fingers crossed, as I think that seeing something traditional, and Christmas related from England will be exciting, as well as being able to keep it and to see what an English stamp looks like, especially as we were learning about them.
Actually, I took a photo of them at the post office, lets see if I can find the photo:
The big brown envelope contains the children’s letters to the Queen, so lets hope that her letters arrive with her before ours arrive here, and better still, let’s hope that she replies to them!! That would be fantastic, although I am not sure what she will make of them as most seem to go along the lines of ‘prinseza, I am a boy, I am 7 years old, I live in Tbilisi’.
Blogs and Student Websites
So, I’m also really impressed at the students on the blogging front too, one or two have taken up my challenge to write a blog about where they live as part of our key stage 2 work on ‘settlements’, and some of the Oceans Project students have also started blogs or websites, which makes me really proud. You should definitely check them out:
Copy and paste is still a big issue with the kids, and they don’t always understand that they need to do things in their own words, or make things themself rather than buying them, but slowly we will get there, and I am just happy to reward effort at this point. Not entirely sure how to drive this message home to them, but sure I will come up with something at some point. For now, its just a question of telling them, and encouraging them to do their own thing, not just copy and paste wikipedia!! We have the same issue with the presentations they make on Oceans Project and they they find that they cannot pronounce or worse still, understand the fancy words that they have copied! But they are making progress, and as listeners of those presentations that are just coped and pasted, they are quickly learning that the best presentations are those which are from the heart and in the speaker’s own words.
Oceans Project Georgia
I’m really excited to be off with some of the Oceans Ambassadors in an hour or so, so meet with some film directors at the film office in Georgia, to show them around and to make their first pitch to raise money for the funds they need to make the film they have written. Will update more later!!
Tonight’s Homework for Me….
So tonight, I have to do some work on my PhD which is about the environmental attitudes of young people, and which should hopefully tie in perfectly with the Land Rover Go Beyond bursary.
The plan is to visit some of the most remote schools on our journey from London to Georgia, and to run a quick workshop, set the kids we meet on a data collecting project, and then to connect them all up via the web so that they can all participate in the summer camp version of the Oceans Project. There will be 4 summer camps, each of 3 weeks duration, so the schools we meet will join each camp of Georgian children, and the winners of each camp will go off on an Earthwatch expedition together, and meet face to face for the first time. So I have a lot of expedition planning, ferry organising, cargo shipping, and budgeting as we plan to leave London after our off road driving and remote first aid course in London in May, and will return back to London in October. We also have to figure out how to get Mac to sponsor us, so that we can leave ipads and internet access at the schools which have no internet facilities, and also want to set up some camera traps to film or take pictures of local birds, mammals, or other animals as a way of getting the kids interested in nature. It is going to be a HUGE project, and the Oceans Ambassadors have been brilliant at coming up with ideas for us so far, so fingers crossed that we are successful in our application!
The expedition will be a massive leap forward for Oceans Project, and will be a great way for me to collect data on the environmental attitudes of the young people I meet, as part of my PhD.