Collaboration and Fun

May 28, 2011

Over the past two years I have met a lot of fantastic teachers from all parts of the world via Twitter. I often exchange tweets with many of them and I've always had a feeling that I know these people well. But then Brad Patterson (@brad5patterson) challenged his PLN to a series of interviews in which members of the PLN are asked five questions so that we can get to know them better. And I just couldn't stop reading the interviews with teachers who I thought I knew well. It turned out that there's more to them than the Twitter bio or the About page.

So I immediately wanted to know more about Eva Buyuksimkesyian.

Eva was one of the first teachers who I met on Twitter and who joined my glogster project. Her students made a dozen of wonderful glogs about Turkey and ever since that time I had been dreaming about visiting Istanbul. Our students also successfully collaborated in her award-winning project Celebr8UandMeDigitally. Together we tried to organize two skype chats for our students, but failed both times - once because of a bad Internet connection on my side, and the second time because I was at the right place at the wrong time (I have an issue with time zones). However, this won't stop us, as right now we're planning a third-time-lucky skype chat on Penpal Day, June 1.

I finally met Eva in person at ISTEK in April 2011 and when I saw her on the third floor of the main building at the Yeditepe University I just felt I had known her forever.

So I tried to predict what her answers would be to the five questions of the PLN blogging challenge:

1) If your students were to label you with 3 adjectives, what might they be? If I were Eva's student I would say that she's warm-hearted, caring and innovative.

Here's what she said:
Well, I'm not sure,It depends but I guess most will say 'very strict' (when they first meet me), then they find out that I'm understanding and for a third adjective I'd like my students to think that I'm challenging.

2) What would we find in your refrigerator right now?
If I were a teacher in Turkey, my refrigerator would be full of baclawa and kadaif - absolutely delicious!

What she said was:
Cheese, yoghurt, milk and vegetables and chocolate :)

3) If you weren’t a teacher, what might your profession be?
I thought she would be a writer.

And she said:
I love teaching but if I weren't a teacher, I'd like to be an interior designer.

4) What do you find most difficult about the teaching profession, or What has been your most difficult class as a teacher?
I keep thinking that the end of school with tons of grading and testing is the most difficult part of school year for every teacher.

She replied:
Teaching itself is a challenge and keeping up to date is a must. What I find difficult is that I usually find myself motivating myself. From time to time it would be great to hear that you are doing well. We don't usually have a finished product at the end of the process so we can't know where our students will end up but all of a sudden one of them appears and thanks you. That's one of the things I love about my job. I sometimes feel guilty I steal time from family because I need to work at home too. I once wrote about my most difficult class as part of Shelly's #30 Goals Challenge. They taught me when there is a will there is always a way.

5) What was the last book/movie you read/saw, and what have you seen/read way too many times?
As I think that we have so much in common, I wanted her to name one book by my favourite writer Nick Hornby.

Imagine my surprise when she told me that:
Finally I managed to finish High Fidelity by Nick Hornby (High Fidelity is my all time favourite book!) on my way to IATEFL and started reading The Glass Menagerie by Sylivia Plath on my return and I don't know when I'll finish it. Unfortunately, I spend more time in front of the computer so I read less but I read lots of blog posts :) The last movie I watched was The Pirates of the Caribbean: On strange tides. I watched it on Saturday with kids.

Thank you Eva for doing this interview and for being my friend!

Almost a State Alumna of the Month

May 12, 2011

I first published this post on my Croatian blog, but as I shared it on Facebook, my English-speaking friends saw it and after reading part of the post that was in English, they congratulated me on winning the award - but I didn't win any awards! I was only nominated for the State Alumni of the Month award at the Department of State. According to Ms. Odhuu, the E-Teacher Program Officer who nominated me for this award, I was in the top three in Europe and "the board liked me so much that they put an article about me up on the State Alumni website."

Because they have really written some nice things about me, I've decided to copy it here too. To be honest, this is kind of a show-offish post so you can just stop reading it. Now!

Croatian E-Teacher Alumna Creates Award Winning Websites to Engage English Learners

Posted on 2011-05-11 11:04 am
ZAGREB, Croatia -- Even before joining the E-Teacher Scholarship Program and completing the course “Building Teaching Skills through the Interactive Web”, Arjana Blazic was a self-starting user of the Internet for English language instruction. In fact, between her two exchanges, the 2005 School Connectivity Project and the 2010 E-Teacher scholarship, Blazic created an award-winning website, "Greetings from the World," which is a virtual repository of multimedia posters (glogsters) created by learners to teach others about their countries.

Through the "Greetings from the World" site, students can take a “trip” around the globe. In this way, students are actively engaged in learning from and with their peers about their countries and cultures. In creating this site, Blazic successfully exploited new web technologies to develop students’ reading and writing skills and foster mutual understanding through cross-cultural collaboration. “Greetings from the World” is a growing community, now with 500 students and 24 teachers participating from 15 countries across five continents. Blazic continues to maintain this site and actively recruits international students. Applying the skills she learned in her E-Teacher course, Blazic continues to use this project in her classroom by focusing on the learner autonomy that this project fosters: students do not look to the teacher for knowledge, but instead look to their peers and to themselves to construct knowledge.

"In my classroom today I try to find activities that cater to different learning styles," Blazic explains, "and I think that I have made headway in making my students take control of their learning and become responsible for it.”

"Greetings from the World" won the Croatian Microsoft Innovative Education Forum award in 2010 for its innovative method of online community-based learning. The site reached the semifinals in the European Innovative Education Forum 2010 and the finals in the Worldwide Innovative Education Forum 2010. The project has also been recognized as the Best Educational Wiki by Australian Edublogs for two years in a row, in 2009 and 2010.

Blazic began a second project, “Cultural Profiles,” in her E-Teacher course. Her classroom technology skills and her desire to create autonomous learners helped Blazic create this project for her students. Students from her class research with their peers from Belgium, choosing and investigating an English-speaking country’s culture and norms. As the students conduct this online research, they expose themselves to opinions and stories beyond what they would uncover in a regular classroom. They collaborate, learn about web 2.0 tools, and share their knowledge with the world. So far, Blazic has repeated this project with three separate classes.

Blazic is also one of the three co-founders of “Moja Matura”. She collaborated with two teacher colleagues at her school to create this website, which enables secondary students from all over Croatia to access free interactive exam preparation materials for their standardized exit exams. The founders interact daily with students visiting the site, and as such it has become a unique place for senior-year students to prepare for the exam. Though this project began in December 2009, Blazic has since applied the knowledge she gained in her E-Teacher course to this site by adding webinars, changing the way the founders interact with the students, and introducing the students to a new way of independent learning. As a result, the site’s popularity has grown immensely. On any given day, this website may have up to 12,000 visitors. The founders and students also interact on social networking sites, such as Facebook, where they have more than 5,000 fans.

Blazic’s innovative strategies for engaging students in the learning process encourage teachers and learners worldwide to participate in the rich and unique online learning environment. With her pioneering use of technology in the classroom, Blazic is influencing educational objectives around the world as teachers adapt Blazic’s projects into their own curriculum. The future of education is evident through her projects, as students who are thousands of miles apart work collaboratively online. Her example of peer-to-peer learning in an international environment, through her “Greetings from the World” and “Cultural Profiles” projects, will certainly lead education toward the next great theoretical foundation.”

Volunteers and webinars

May 6, 2011

Have you ever wanted something so much that it almost hurt? No, nothing personal, but something for a greater good. And you knew that you could achieve it only with the help of a bunch of other people? And when those people responded with an enthusiasm and commitment that matched yours, did you feel that you could fly and touch the sky?

Well, I just did! Sonja, my friend and the co-cofunder of Moja matura and I came up with a terrific idea of organizing free webinars for school-leavers from all over the country. In the webinars, given by teachers who teach different subjects, students would be able to get all the necessary info on the upcoming school-leaving exams and also ask as many questions as they wanted. So all we had to do was to find a platform for free webinars and teachers who would be willing to present online - for free.

And we managed to do it! The Croatian MS Partners in Learning community kindly provided as many Live meeting rooms as we needed, eight teachers from IX. gimnazija (my school) and Medical school from Varaždin enthusiastically embraced this unique opportunity to share their knowledge not only with students from their schools, but with the students throughout the country.

So over the next week, eight teachers will give nine webinars covering 12 subjects for the national school-leaving exams. Now we just need the students.

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