Monday, November 28, 2011

Gratitude [grat-i-tyood], (n)

Week 10, final week

There is a famous theme park in Holland called the "Efteling". Efteling was opened on 31st May 1952 as a Fairytale Forest with ten fairytale attractions in a woodland setting. In the years that followed, the park grew into what is now known as the World of Wonders, where fairy tales are brought to life in spectacular theme park attractions. With 4 million visitors each year, Efteling is the most popular tourist attraction in the Netherlands and one of the leading theme parks in Europe.

My favorite attraction at the Efteling is the garbage can. It is shaped in the form of a giant sailor (called Holle Bolle Gijs) whose mouth is wide open. He repeatedly says (in Dutch) in a deep resounding voice:  "Papier hier" (Paper here). Whenever you throw paper in his mouth he politely says: "Dank u wel!" (Thank You). The following video shows this splendidly:

What I like about Holle Bolle Gijs is his gratitude towards whoever "feeds" him. Not only is it a great gimmick to get kids to throw paper in the waste bin instead of on the ground, it is also an educational way of teaching kids how to show gratitude towards those who helped you in any way. I grew up in Holland and visited Holle Bolle Gijs many times. I learned to say thank you....

The word gratitude originally meant "good will" and came to us from the Latin "gratus" meaning "thankful, pleasing". "Gratus" is also the source for the word "grace".  Synonyms are thanks, thankfulness, appreciation, gratefulness. All these express pretty clearly how I feel.

I would like to express my gratitude to Robert, our course instructor for a job very well done. I have administered online courses myself and I know the amount of work that goes into the planning and the day to day monitoring and accommodating. I know from experience that it is sometimes even more intense than giving a regular F2F course. However, Robert's reactions were always prompt, on the ball and showed a lot of expertise. I think we were blessed, "graced", with such a wonderful instructor!

Furthermore, I would like to thank the American Embassy in Israel for sponsoring my participation in this Oregon University Course. I highly appreciate it and hope they will continue sponsoring Israeli English teachers so that these will help improve the level of Israelis studying English. I know I will most certainly use what I have learned during this course in my future lessons.

As they say in Dutch "Dank u wel!" 

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Satisfaction [sat-is-fak-shuhn], (n)

Week 9

I worked hard on my final project for the course and I feel I did a good job. I set up a website with online quizzes for my students to take and the site works wonderfully. I am satisfied but also sad. Satisfied that I managed to complete the course successfully and sad because it is almost over.

The words sad and satisfied are actually etymologically connected. Satisfied comes from the word satisfy which came to us through Middle and Old French from the Latin satisfacere meaning "discharge fully, comply with, make amends," literally "to do enough," from satis "enough". When we look at the Proto Indo European base we find the combination of SA (= to satisfy) FACERE (= to perform). The root SA, meaning satisfied also came to mean satisfied as "having enough", slowly becoming "having too much", "too heavy", "weary/ tired of" until it finally became the base for the word sad, meaning "unhappy".

So etymologically speaking it is ok to feel satisfied and sad simultaneously and as this best expresses my feelings right now I will leave it at that.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Disappointed [dis-uh-poin-tid], (adj.)

Week 7

I started off this week in high spirits. I had ordered a computer room for my students and was all set to let them try out the webquest I had created for this course. My webquest is on the origin of the expression "Before you can say Jack Robinson" and I was really excited about having them go through it.

The result, however, was quite disappointing. First of all, I had not taken into account that for them too, this was their first webquest and they had no idea how to navigate the site. As Simon and Garfinkel sang "Slow down, you move too fast". Thankfully, I understood this right away and concentrated their attention to the board on which I projected the site and gave initial explanations, something I should have done from the start.

The next hurdle was a broken link in the quest which I had to fix on the spot. This took me longer than expected with students sitting and waiting for me. Bad, very bad.

But the biggest problem was that the quest turned out to be badly constructed, confusing and with an abundance of hyperlinks that only steered the students in the wrong way. In short; a total disaster. Students didn't understand what they were expected to do and even worse – lost total interest in the whole idea.

The word "disappointed" comes from "dis" and "appoint" originally meaning "to undo an appointment or to remove someone from an appointed position" – this obviously is a rather "disappointing" experience. To "appoint" comes from the Old French "a" (=to) "point". The ground sense here is "to come to the point" hence to agree on something, to settle something.

Taking this knowledge into consideration I understood that my Webquest must be clearer and more "to the point". I have therefore edited it and changed it considerably to guide students more and hopefully get them to where I want. This will in its turn, I pray, lead also to more student satisfaction. The revamped webquest can be found here. I will try it out with another group of students and keep you posted.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

minimalism [ˈmɪnɪməlɪsm], (n)

Week 6

The topics of this week are Student Centered Interactive large classes and Interactive Powerpoint Presentations. Having worked 5 years as Manager at the English Content Production department of Time to Know which is all about student centered interactive large classes I decided to focus on the part of Interactive Powerpoint Presentations hoping to learn some new tricks.

In the past, I have created many interactive ppts with multiple hyperlinks and embedded games. I therefore expected some state-of-the-art techniques but when I opened the sample show by Deborah Healey I felt cheated and disillusioned. The "interactive techniques" presented (Blank slide, ConcepTest, Think-Pair-Share, Interpreted Lecture, Rapid Reflection, QuickWrite) were not interactive at all! Or were they?

Ever since my initial viewing of the presentation, I have been thinking about these tricks and have tried them out in class. True, they do not turn the presentation into an interactive one. They do, however, change the lesson/ lecture into an interactive one instead of a one-way presentation with teacher presenting and students watching (and hopefully learning).

I used the concepTest is one of my lectures projecting a question on the screen and having students discuss this in pairs and reporting back before I continued. I also used the interpreted lecture technique in which I stopped my lecture and asked students to explain in their own words what I had just screened on the board. But what I actually liked most was the "blank slide" - just a black slide with nothing on it. It refocuses the attention on the teacher and helps create transitions between different topics. It is so simple and so effective! A minimal addition to a slideshow with maximum outcome.

"Minimalism", a term coined in the1960s is the Anglicization of the Russian term Menshevik, and means the creating Minimal Art. Minimal comes from "minimum" Latin for "smallest" and the superlative of the Latin "minor" (which is still used in English for someone underage). "Minor" itself comes from the term Latin "minus" (= less), also a term which has been adopted into the English language. So minimalism, minimal, minimum, minor, minus are all etymologically connected.

As mentioned, I have become a frequent user of the techniques mentioned above. It is actually saving me time because instead of working hard on creating interactive powerpoint slides, I work less but more efficiently on creating interactive lectures. "Less is More" goes the 19th century proverbial phrase first recorded in 1855 in a poem by Robert Browning. Do others feel the same?