HanDS: Democratic Schools-an etwinning project 2019/20

When this pandemic began, teachers all over the World were given little notice to shift very quickly to distance learning or e-learning, sometimes with no training. In many cases, we had 48 hours or a weekend to reinvent lessons for an already planned curriculum, learn new technologies, find non-technology solutions to student learning, and figure out how to keep students engaged. But all us etwinning teachers ,also had to balance home and work and how to do our life’s work from afar while simultaneously caring for students, grieving losses, and so many more challenges and obstacles!

For all those -mainly non-European -teachers who keep asking me about what etwinning is about: eTwinning is the community for schools in Europe.

I personally realised that there was only ONE thing that was still there for both me and my students, during the lockdown: etwinning!

eTwinning offers a platform for staff (teachers, head teachers, librarians, etc.), working in a school in one of the European countries involved, to communicate, collaborate, develop projects, share and, in short, feel and be part of the most exciting learning community in Europe. eTwinning is co-funded by the Erasmus+, the European programme for Education, Training, Youth and Sport.

eTwinning promotes school collaboration in Europe through the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) by providing support, tools and services for schools. eTwinning also offers opportunities for free and continuing online Professional Development for educators.

Launched in 2005 as the main action of the European Commission’s eLearning Programme, eTwinning is co-funded by the Erasmus+, the European programme for Education, Training, Youth and Sport, since 2014.

Its Central Support Service is operated by European Schoolnet, an international partnership of 34 European Ministries of Education developing learning for schools, teachers and pupils across Europe. eTwinning is further supported at national level by 38 National Support Services.

TwinSpace

The place where eTwinning magic really happens is the TwinSpace; a safe platform visible only to the teachers participating in a project. Students can also be invited in the TwinSpace to meet and collaborate with peers from their partner schools.

One of the most important elements of eTwinning is collaboration among teachers, students, schools, parents, and local authorities. In eTwinning teachers work together and organise activities for their students. They have an active role, interact, investigate, make decisions, respect each other and learn 21st century skills. eTwinning projects involve the contribution of each member of the team. Take inspiration and explore these awarded projects.

Finally, in eTwinning, our work is important and deserves to be shared and recognised locally, nationally and Europe-wide. eTwinning recognises the work carried out by teachers, students, and schools through National and European Quality Labels, eTwinning Awards, eTwinning Schools and the eTwinning Portfolio.

One of our school  inspiring etwinning projects, this year, was a project about DEMOCRATIC VALUES.

About the project

This #eTw4Democracy project, provides an opportunity for students to make connections with students of other European partner schools, sharing and enhancing democratic values, at the same time.
Our schools are microcosms of the communities in which they exist. They are the perfect environment for students not only to learn about civics and democratic values, but also to experience democracy in all aspects of school life cultivating the way the students become citizens. In a democratic school students and teachers should participate equally in the shaping of school life, thus realising their right to have a say on matters that affect them. The activities in this project aim to support students in promoting democratic values within their school communities ensuring that students understand their rights and responsibilities and have strategies for building an inclusive and equitable school environment for all.

AIMS

The overall aim is to share school democratic values, with others! Children will recognize that their actions affect themselves but also others.
Our “HanDS” project, provides the opportunity to break down classroom walls, too. It gives our students a chance to see a world outside of their walls and teach about Democracy, at the same time. Additionally, our aim is that, the concept of Europe will be understood and our students will become fully aware of the other European partner schools. Therefore, citizenship should become a practical ,rather than theoretical, part of the curriculum.
All in all,our aims are:
To prepare students for their future role as citizens
To provide students with opportunities for learning in a democratic environment
To promote active participation and responsibility in the school environment
To improve students’ communication, collaboration, decision- making and problem- solving skills

WORK PROCESS

The tasks, will be set by all partner schools; the activities and work produced will be shared on twinspace by the schools, on a monthly basis and the work process will be communicated using the journal, on a weekly basis. Depending on the activity, pupils will have the opportunity to work independently or with talk partners and will have membership / access to twinspace to share and see the other school’s work and join in forums. Children will also have the opportunity to work in mixed ability groups in each school or in teams of pupils in different schools, sharing responsibilities. They will also have to work in teams, to think of ideas about collaborative projects and about the hand-print crafts, to fill the parcels that will be sent to the other schools, on different topics. Those parcels will have themes, such as:school life in the past, school life at present ,a day in a democratic school etc
The project, works on two levels: sharing on twinspace and parcel exchanges, by post.

EXPECTED RESULTS

Children will learn about civics and democratic values, but also experience democracy in all aspects of school life,through their dialogue, written work and the parcels that they will send and receive! Children will also practice writing and communicating in English and children in all countries will familiarize themselves with aspects of each other’s school life, promoting democratic values within their school communities.


Our project, helps us to widen our horizons, reconsider our perspectives, improve self-esteem, increase understanding of different cultures and values , enhance democracy in the school environment and prove that “communication is at the basis of understanding others”.The process is always constantly about learning to learn collaboratively, building an inclusive and equitable school environment for all.
The pupils are expected to be inspired and motivated and participate equally in the shaping of school life .

“CUbeS: CUlture and Smiles in a Cube” An inspiring etwinning project 2018-19

My non European colleagues, often ask me what eTwinning is all about!

Well….

eTwinning is a free online community for schools in Europe which allows you to find partners and collaborate on projects within a secure network and platform.

Through participating in eTwinning, your school will be able to:

  • enrich learning and motivation of pupils (aged between 3 and 19) and staff
  • access high quality professional development and ready-made resources
  • raise standards across the whole school community
  • gain recognition for your commitment through eTwinning awards and the International School Award.
  • Search for an Erasmus+  partner to carry out projects with and apply for mobility funding.

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There are, also,  special quality labels, for students, teachers and schools!

Quality labels

1.National quality label

A National Quality Label is awarded to teachers with excellent eTwinning projects and indicate that the project has reached a certain level of quality in their country.

2. European quality label

The European Quality Label is a second mark of success and indicates that the project has reached a certain European standard.

3. eTwinning School label

In order to recognise the eTwinning work done at school level, there is now, a new label  available – the eTwinning School Label.

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The concept of recognition for work done in eTwinning has been in existence since the start with Quality Labels being available to teachers for their projects both at national and European level. However, these labels are applied only to the work of individual teachers in projects. In order to recognise the work done at school level, a new label is now available to apply for – the eTwinning School Label.

The principle behind this new label is that eTwinning wants to recognise and appraise the involvement, commitment, dedication not only of scattered eTwinners, but of teams of teachers and school leaders within the same school.

The concept of attaining the status of an eTwinning School is that of a developmental journey with components that can be objectively assessed. It is not a competition, but rather a progression from one level to the next.

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A summary of our project, this year

twinspace page

Our project celebrates culture and happiness.

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What the four partners ( Greece, UK, France and Poland)  propose is that, students produce a presentation or “Culture and Smiles in a Box” on their partner country in groups, both in class and on twinspace Forums. To be able to do this, students  gather information about their own country and life and send it to their partner schools, which are responsible for producing the presentation on their partner country’s cultural assets on twinspace Forums .

Students :

– Consider the definition of culture, and reflect on what this means to them

– Share relevant information about their lives with their European partners

– Create”Culture and Smiles in a Box” presentations

– Reflect on what they have learned about the other country and the differences and similarities between the two cultures

– Write reflective essays on what they have learned

 Objectives

1) To help pupils to identify, explore, and become aware of European values.

2) To raise pupils’ awareness of what makes them happy and share this happiness with their peers in Europe.

3) To assist pupils to identify European linguistic diversity and become aware of the importance of learning European languages.

4) To develop pupils’ insight into the similarities and differences among nations.

Our project in detail

This  #eTwForCulture project ,lasted the whole school year 2018-19. 

There were tasks to be completed to share SMILES in many ways such as passing a ‘messages and our CULTURE in a box’ from one country to the other.

This is a project on happiness; it is about helping students find happiness and sharing it with others. It focused on ourselves, well-being, friendships and relationships. Children have truly enjoyed communicating and participating in a variety of tasks and realising that they have many things in common with their e-pals. Pupils have learnt about the culture of their e-pals / friends (tangible and intangible). It was definitely a project celebrating internationalism and individualism.

Depending on the activity, children had the opportunity to work independently, with talk partners both in class- in 2s, in small mixed ability groups or in whole class situations and on twinspace, using ICT for research or to communicate and present their ideas in different ways.

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Pedagogical Innovation and Creativity

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The overall aim was to realize that, happiness comes from within us but can be spread and shared with others!

Children reflected on themselves as individuals, identifying positive things about themselves, valuing their abilities, qualities, strengths and achievements as well as their mistakes, sharing and comparing them with their European peers, at the same time!

Children recognized that their culture  affected themselves but also others; they thought of ways to make others smile, by means of intercultural projects !

Children considered their own and their partners’ feelings (empathy) and thought of appropriate strategies to cope with uncomfortable feelings as well as skills for solving problems and different ways of behaving to different types of intercultural relationships.

Children also focused on intercultural relationships and they explored the value of these relationships as well as their feelings within the context of important relationships, including family and friends of a different cultural background.

Children made each other smile through their dialogue, written work and through technology!

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 All in all:

Children felt able to be creative with their audience in the partner schools in mind and dare to share and compare.They also used their imagination and creativity as well as their artistic skills, in order to fill their CUbeS with content.

The learning from the project was so significant that it will not be lost from children’s minds

Our  project, provided the opportunity to break down classroom walls. Happiness in learning, became a practical ,rather than theoretical, part of the curriculum.

 Our work  provided in the shared learning environment were a meaningful pathway, towards understanding  the concept of feelings.

The true revelation has been that  people in Europe are essentially very similar with shared values, cultures and interests. Surely, this  helped us to overcome our prejudices and made us more open to intercultural cooperation. 

Curricular integration 

The work was mostly linked with the English, MFL, Topic and Computing objectives. To help partner schools to fulfill their statutory responsibility to support their cultural development and prepare them for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of life. To use and combine a variety of software (including internet services) on a range of digital devices to design and create content that accomplish given goals, including collecting, analysing, evaluating and presenting data and information.

 The theme was chosen deliberately to ensure that the project and its work was as cross-curricular as possible. The areas of ,EFL,  social studies, expressive arts, citizenship,and basic IT , have all been integrated into the sharing of our common project activities .

The main focus was to improve the learning of English.

This fitted well into the Curriculum and all the pupils benefited. 

OUR EUROPEAN COOKBOOKf12

We held a European Day of Languages to get the rest of the school know our European friends better. We also had etwinning school  days, when our students presented their etwinning projects to the rest of the school.

A second focus was citizenship. By exchanging information about each other’s towns, lives  and heritage, the pupils learned a great deal about each other’s environment, way of life and culture. Our coursebooks , are based on both cross curricular and cross cultural topics quite relevant to our Etwinning project theme! 

I  made sure that, ALL my 95  students, in different age and  language level, took part in our  etwinning project.

Communication and exchange between partner schools 

We used a variety of ways to communicate with each other and as a group: the teacher bulletin in twinspace, a messenger group,  email. Communication was regular and effective.

The tasks were mostly set by the coordinating schools in the United Kingdom and Greece  but we were open to suggestions and ideas of the fellow teachers. The activities and work produced was shared in pages of twinspace by all schools and the work process was communicated using the journal. I coordinated the work but also set responsibilities and supported teachers in using a variety of ICT tools so that they successfully participate in the project.

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From the beginning, there was a strong plan on twinspace Pages, which gave the teachers guidelines, responsibilities and timescale for each element of the project. 

Students were encouraged to interact with their partners,and share their  work on twinspace,both from the school ICT lab and from home. This all gave a real purpose and meaning to learning a foreign language.

Our students were able to share their feedback on our Twinspace “DiscussionsForums Threads” , on a regular basis . The pupils shared information and experiences, and thus learned from each other and strengthened their communication skills. 

Collaboration between partner schools.  

In collaboration ,we all decided on the range of topics that we would cover and the optimum time for posting/sending/receiving the correspondence items. 

We tried together  to do some pre-matching of pupils and classes , based on their known interests. 

By all means we  ‘recycled’ language that pupils have previously learnt in their English class . 

We created a teachers’  e-mail exchange, too and a frequent collaboration on the Teachers’ bulletin.

We created  our 6 CUbeS threads on Forums , which we often updated with the help of our students.

Teachers and children participated and collaborated in monthly activities  such as: they uploaded posts in padlets, liked and commented on other posts, worked together to produce web presentations to introduce the schools , towns and countries ( taking-drawing pictures, writing the scripts and deciding on the school areas/town sights/country favourite places to present) and to share customs and traditions on collaborative web tools, they participated in a drawing logo competition and explained their reasons  in a forum, expressed what they have learnt in forums, shared playtime games and healthy recipes, made, posted and received cards, little gifts and beautiful origami crafts , which made them smile, shared well being strategies. They have enjoyed their twinspace membership, participated in all the activities, emailed their e-pals and expressed their views in forums – and they even suggested their own questions to be added in the forums – and joined in live chats, supervised by teachers! Children have thoroughly enjoyed participating in the project and have majorly contributed to its success.

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Use of technology

Children had the opportunity to use ICT to communicate and present findings in a variety of ways.

All children had Twinspace membership and emailed their epals; however, before using the email feature, we had lessons and discussions on the appropriate use of email, what information to include to be safe and respect each other while considering cultural differences. Children expressed their views in forums ,supervised by teachers!

The project linked with aims / objectives of the ICT / computing curriculum. Pupils were taught to select, use and combine a variety of software (including internet services) on a range of digital devices to design content that would accomplish given goals, including collecting, analysing, evaluating and presenting data and information. They created work for a specific audience making sure that the content would be interesting but at the same time reliable. Children were also taught how to use technology safely.

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Specifically: I had small  groups of my students,to use Photoshop to enhance and crop photos and then put them into Movie Maker to produce our videos and also had them  create a Quiz on pages. We also used Movie Maker to make short videos, Padlet to work on collaboratively, and a Word Cloud Generator,for feedback. We also used other collaborative web tools such as:  GoConqr for our mindmaps, Google Tool Builder for our virtual travel guides ,Thinglink for our interactive photos , Artsteps and Classtools.net for our 3D exhibitions,Canva and Linoit for our posters, Issuu for our Cookbooks.

 Through eTwinning,my  pupils learned to use ICT tools in a pedagogically meaningful way. 

They wrote comments in the forums, chatted with real people, did interactive exercises, took and uploaded digital photos and videos, searched for information, etc. And all this took place in the pedagogical context of studying English communication.

Results, impact and documentation

This project, enthused and motivated the children. Children fully enjoyed and participated in the project. It enabled the pupils to use new technologies, to learn about the culture of their European friends (tangible and intangible) and experience through their communication how English is not only a school subject but an indispensable means of communication. Most importantly it extended their cultural awareness and knowledge, it enabled them to learn about, respect and celebrate similarities and differences among them, celebrate individualism and internationalism through fun activities and tasks. Children were HAPPY, shared and received HAPPINESS AND SMILES!

Here’s the link to : OUR EUROPEAN COOKBOOK

Children need to understand the diverse world they live in, respect values, different languages and faiths by working together and this is achieved through enhancing pupils understanding of their place in a culturally diverse society and by giving them opportunities to experience such diversity.

Our project, helped us to widen our horizons, reconsider our perspectives, improve self-esteem, increase understanding of different cultures and feelings , enhance tolerance and prove that “communication is at the basis of understanding”.

MIND MAP

All in all, we achieved   : 

  • to promote group activities  for tolerance and cultural understanding; 
  • to strengthen my students’ intercultural competences in order to be ready for responsible understanding of Europe’s identity and common values;
  • to develop the European dimension through arts education (origami crafts etc) and creativity with the aim to promote multiculturalism and tolerance between students; 
  • To develop “Out-of-the-box” activities that would encourage mutual support, team building and group cohesion ; 
  • Encourage personalized learning approaches by acquiring new artistic and pedagogical skills with the aim of developing new ideas and creativity of the students involved in the project.

 

 

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