Sites reviewed: www.epals.com & www.connectedprincipals.com

| June 23, 2014 | 0 Comments

Reviewed by: Fiona de Villiers

Searching for a free quality teaching and learning site that’s safe for your students? EPals will allow them to practise their online skills to experience responsible digital citizenship, and you won’t need any complex new digital skills to join them on their journey.

Powered by well-known Cricket Media, ePals is a crosscurricular teacher’s dream that to date connects nearly a million classrooms across the globe. The home page is cleanly designed and bears the intriguing image of an empty room – an exciting place to explore when you sign up, using a protective software that keeps unwanted visitors away. Up front, pupils and educators can learn more about what the site has to offer. There’s plenty to see and it’s all easy to find. The Junior Folklorist Challenge, for example, is open to anyone on planet Earth. The idea is to find a ‘tradition bearer’ in your community and digitally document a song, a story or other ageold ritual via video, audio or photograph. Learners can then edit and upload their discoveries and share them via podcast, video or slideshow.

Learners can also enter the ePals Sparklab Invent It Challenge, sponsored in part by the Smithsonian Museum. This challenge asks five- to 18-year-olds to think of a real-world problem, follow the guiding steps on the website and come up with a real-world solution. While this year’s deadline has passed, visitors to the site can watch videos posted by previous winners to get inspired for 2015. EPals also offers its global community of teachers and students a wealth of lesson plans and projects to try out.

Teacher Jyoti Aggarwal, in India, for instance, joined with four other teachers and classes from different countries to create an exciting detective story on a shared wiki. Some school principals may be more tech-savvy than their students, but no one has the time to trawl the net for inspiration or advice. Connectedprincipals.com was a useful discovery for me. It’s always a pleasure when a site doesn’t dazzle you with overwhelmingly ‘bling-ish’ graphics, pointers, advertisements or other distractions. This one states quite simply: “[This] blog is the shared thoughts of school administrators that want to share best practices in education. All of the authors have different experiences in education but all have the same goal; what is best for students.” Likewise, the principals who have signed up via e-mail to join this thriving community all adhere to a sound set of principles. Consider this one, which may well correspond to what you’re trying to achieve in your own school: “All educators need to be lifelong learners.

Only through continuous reflection, respectful conversation, and collaboration will we ensure that we are continuously serving the needs of our students. As a whole, we must be attentive to and thoughtful about the myriad of ways in which the world is fast changing, and ensure that we are in continued alignment with the needs and demands of the changing world without ever abandoning core principles.” All the contributors to the blog (are you already one of them?) are listed in alphabetical order, and there are a couple of really useful resources for principals to adapt to their own schools’ specific needs. Interestingly, the connected principals community is trying out its own kind of Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) and you can find out more about that, too, on the #Leadership20 page. This site proves that no matter how techno-smart a school leader becomes, it’s the power of words that will always move mountains.

In a post on 19 April 2014, titled ‘Teacher to learner: the power of words’, Johnny Bevacqua suggests a simple exercise, transposing the words ‘teacher’ and ‘learner’ in a variety of contexts. You may find the results refreshing and revealing. Even more interesting, perhaps, are the comments posted by readers. One explained that she had ‘persuaded’ teachers to integrate technology into classrooms by retelling the story of the Wright brothers, reframing the teacher’s modern role as a jet pilot who needs to be to be trained in a whole new way. The moral of the story? A pedagogy of possibility is out there waiting for you: just get connected!

If you would like to review an appropriate internet site for our readers, please contact the editor, Fiona de Villiers, at: fiona1@acenet.co.za.

Category: e-Education, Winter 2014

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