4 February 2013
This week I attended the BETT event at Excel, London, which has taken place every year, since 1985, and attracts more than 30,000 visitors from over 100 countries. BETT is the world’s largest event for those with an interest in learning technology. Attendance is free of charge, and it’s a great space for any teacher to explore current developments, with a wealth of tools ideally suited for TEFL teachers as well as those teaching in main stream schools.
As a first time visitor to BETT, I’m certain it was time well spent, even if my aims were somewhat different to the average teacher. For me, it was an opportunity to research products and contacts for my 7200 nautical mile row across the Pacific Ocean in May 2014, (along with three other TEFL teachers who met whilst teaching in Georgia). The major aim of our journey is to provide daily classes live from our virtual classroom, to make 3D films of the places and things we see, and to visit schools in California, Hawaii, Australia, and Thailand, connecting them via Skype with the children we worked with in Georgia. The money we raise through sponsorship and during the row will provide tablet computers and free online education to children who have no access to formal education, including 4000 orphans who are provided for by the Thai Children’s Trust. The row is about bringing the outside world in to our students, and connecting them with each other, so that they can learn about other cultures, all the while practicing English as a foreign language. So the BETT show was the perfect place for approaching potential sponsors, testing out tablet computers, looking at scientific kit that covers national curriculum topics and elements of our ocean row. For instance, using the water maker to make our drinking water, monitoring the weather, and use of solar chargers and renewable energy. I was also looking for scientific and English as a foreign language resources which we could add to the tablet computers prior to shipping them to our students worldwide, because of them won’t have access to electricity, a classroom or lab, or to the internet.
Here are just a few of my favourite resources and people from the 4-day event:
Linguascope and Activiscope (www.linguascope.com and www.activiscope.com)
These are two web based resources (from the same company) and have an annual subscription, which I’ll come back to in a moment. Linguascope is a series of online games, at different language levels, and really works as a stand alone product, available in English, Italian, German, Spanish, and French. The second resource is Activiscope and this is the one that impressed me most as a TEFL teacher. It’s actually designed for any subject, but would be perfect for those teaching in countries like Georgia or Thailand as you could give the equivalent word in Georgian for example. The fantastic thing about this resource is that you can upload your own sounds, pictures, and videos, and using a simple format, you can enter a question and an answer (such as a maths question 2+2 and then in the second box put 4), or you can simply add in new vocabulary that you want your students to learn. Once the data is entered, the system will automatically convert these to any games or activities you want, such as hangman, anagrams, word searches, or crosswords. These can be printed out, or you can create your own CDs from them.
I think the subscription is well under £200 per year, but for that you could create your materials and games, and then whenever you moved to another country, you wouldn’t have to carry lots of things with you, or create new materials, and you still have the flexibility to tailor the worksheets or games to your students age or level, and as many students (and teachers) as you wish can access this package. If your school has a printer then that will be easier for printing out games, but even if you don’t, you could write the activities out by hand and photocopy them, or draw them up on the board for students to copy. The other nice thing, is that there is an area for teachers to share their resources, great if you are in need of some inspiration, and there is an area where students can access online materials and create leader boards, competing with other students. As I said, there is an annual charge, but because you can turn your activities into a CD, you could sell your activities to other teachers and earn that money back, using the funds to cover the subscription or to give to charity. Alternatively, you might be able to get your current school to pay for the package, and then what ever materials you create, can be used by that school for future generations, even if they just printed off master copies of your worksheets.
eTwinning Portal (www.etwinning.net)
This programme is run in conjunction with the British Council and is a way for teachers in Europe to create links with other schools in Europe. Sadly, it wouldn’t be of use to a TEFL teacher in Asia, but from speaking to them at the BETT event, schools in Georgia would be eligible because the EU has a presence in the country and they are on the border of Europe and a potential future member. I wish I’d known about this scheme before as I had wanted to create links for my students in Georgia, but our postal system wasn’t efficient enough to have penpals, and at that time we didn’t have computers in the schools or constant electricity or any internet access (apart from my personal USB connection and laptop). This would be far more of an option now, and the great thing, is that you can search for a partner school, and then work with that partner to create the kind of project you want to run together, whether that is an hour of conversation practice between students in class, or something more complicated or based on formal lesson plans. Best of all the programme is free of charge and has lots of people already enrolled, so it’s a lovely way to share cultures and traditions.
One of my favourite contacts of the day, a project run by teachers, and we’ll be working with some of their students to create educational apps linked to our Pacific Ocean row. But another great resource for TEFL teachers, and for students. This website is an easy way to build an educational app, registration is free, apps can be added to any app store which makes sharing easy, and you can use them to build course content for your students.
USB Flashdrive (www.usb-flashdrive.co.uk)
This one is really for the gadget geeks and business minded amongst you, particularly if you wanted to build up your own TEFL brand as a teacher. This company produces branded (and regular) USB flashdrives, and is something that I’m considering as a little extra for our Pacific Ocean row educational packages and for selling as a fundraiser. The company produces a whole range of flashdrives, and the cost depends on quantity ordered, size of the flashdrive, and what it is made from. As an environmental education programme that primarily teaches students with English as a foreign language, I very much like some of the wooden, recycled paper, and bamboo based USBs, but it could be a great way for each of your students to have a flashdrive where they can save their work from class. The prices range from around £2.50 upwards.
Oxford University Press (www.oxfordowl.co.uk)
I have to admit, it was almost a little strange to see actual book people at an educational technology event, but what with times changing, it seems that even books are going digital these days. Better for the environment, easier logistically than shipping books, better for students ergonomically to not carry around heavy textbooks, and cheaper to produce (though I’m still a sucker for the smell and feel of a nice new book). I spent a large chunk of time with Oxford University Press, because they have a fabulous resource that would be perfect for TEFL teachers: 260 FREE ebooks, some of which are talking books, and would be a great way to listen to native English speakers. Some of the books are simply picture books, but their content is culturally very interesting, with a ‘visit to the dentist’ or a picture of a London bus going down a rainy street. Some of the books are very simple, so would be good for those new to reading in English script, and others are more advanced. Again, these are all web based, so their usefulness would depend on how much internet access your students had, but it may be possible to download them (though I haven’t investigated this as yet). If I’d known about these when I was teaching in Georgia, then I would have brought by laptop to my younger classes and used by USB modem to connect to them, in the usual way that a primary school teacher would have students sitting around listening to a story being read to them, depinging on the number of students. If you have a portable Projector you could display the books to larger groups of children (we have one for our educational outreach for the ocean row, that we got from HP and it displays the picture very nicely on a plain wall, especially if tied up with speakers, and these are all able to run off a solar laptop charger).
Not an obvious TEFL tool, or even something I’ve much considered for the classroom environment, but would definitely be the icing on the cake as part of our Pacific Ocean row educational packages that we’ll be shipping out to students worldwide in September 2013. Stopmotionpro are the people who supply the animation software for films like Wallace and Gromit, and can be used on both Windows and Mac computers. You would need to pay for the software, and you also need a webcam (or built in camera on your computer), a tripod, some plasticine or paper for your story or characters. Stopmotionpro sell kits which include the software, webcam, and tripod from around £62.50 (I imagine you wouldn’t have to pay the VAT or you could reclaim it if you were based outside of the UK?). Obviously use of this one might depend on where you are teaching and the nature of your students, but it could be a brilliant tool for having students create their own mini animation films, using English as a foreign language. For instance, a short video about numbers, colours, or a scenario such as ordering in a restaurant. You could even run a competition whereby each group of students has to produce a film, but they must communicate with each other in English whilst making it, their characters could speak in English, and then they will be practicing English as they watch the videos that their peers have made. Huge potential as a tool for teaching!
Refurbished Computers (www.hardwarespares.com)
Not necessarily TEFL related, but might be of interest to schools worldwide and TEFL teachers who want to give something back. This company provides refurbished Dell computers to schools and organisations. Each computer has a 1 year warranty, and follow up service. There are quite a few providers of this kind of service, so if you wanted to donate computers to your school, then this could be a cost effective way to do so, or to serve your teaching needs whilst based at the school, that you could then leave behind. I met several providers of printers at BETT, some of whom have funds to provide a free printer to those in need, which is definitely something worth pursuing.
My Eco School (www.myecoschool.co.uk)
Again, not directly TEFL related, but might be an interesting project for conversation and help to provide funds for English materials. ‘My eco school’ is a project that installs ‘smart metres’ at your school, and can be used to monitor where energy is spent, how much, and then how to reduce it. In this way, the ‘smart metre’ can free up funds where they are being spent unnecessarily, and that could then be spent on other things, whilst teaching children to be energy efficient.
Frogos is an online tool for building games and educational materials, and can be used by students or teachers. It has some facilities which are a little like Facebook, and a nice scrapbook for photographs, which we’ll definitely be using for our Pacific Ocean row as a way to connect with students worldwide. The scrapbook is currently free of charge because it is new, but will likely be available for a charge as it becomes more popular. This company provides so many different tools for education, that I just won’t do them justice by trying to explain them, so I suggest you visit their website and have a play around for yourself!
I first came across ‘Filmclub’ when I worked in the UK film industry, just prior to arriving in Georgia as a TEFL teacher. My first contact was therefore with students participating in the project, and I distinctly remember how excited I was, and the huge potential it had as a tool for learning. When it first began, Film club was a pilot project in 25 UK schools, and today runs free of charge clubs in 7000 schools. It isn’t available outside of the UK sadly, but having used the film ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ to teach English to my own students, I definitely recommend it as a way to reach students in a new way, especially if they are less keen to learn English or to participate in school based activities, and the Filmclub website is a good jumping off point for starting your ownTEFL version. In the UK, the project is funded as a charity and the school can order from a list of films they would like to see. This provides ample opportunity for discussion, and is often combined with visits to a film set, workshops, and the chance to talk with film professionals online. This worked well for me in Georgia, because I’d already built up some Georgian based film contacts and Georgia has a rich history of film and art, so it was something that students, parents, and co-teachers could easily relate to.
Whilst not immediately obvious as a TEFL tool, I wanted to share this one because it might help those teaching in schools where resources are scarce, and is definitely something I plan to include in our Pacific Ocean row educational packs. This educational product is free of charge, and has been designed by a company called Urenco who produce nuclear power in the UK, USA, Germany, and the Netherlands. One of their products is a free book with a section all about what nuclear power is, and a section at the back as a notebook, all of which is in English, is bright, colourful, and educational. The website has lots of other interactive features, and they run competitions for schools to win ‘activity kits’.
Macmilan Books (www.macmillaneducation.com)
I was personally delighted to see Macmilan at the show and to be able to speak to them face to face, because these guys had been to Georgia and worked with the Ministry of Education and Science (my bosses) to chose books for the schools I was teaching in. When I first arrived in Georgia we had no resources at all, but new teachers to Georgia receive a set of ‘English World’ books, to teach primary age students.
Channel 4 are one of the major television stations in the UK, and are working as a part of ‘espresso education’ to provide cross curricular digital video learning for secondary schools. Primarily aimed at UK schools, I believe that their clips are available to those teaching internationally, and could be a nice addition to any TEFL class, particularly if you are teaching specific topics, or want access to spoken English materials.
School Radio Solutions (www.schoolradiosolutions.co.uk)
This was one of several companies I met at BETT who offered the equipment for schools to set up their own radio shows. Again, it wasn’t something I’d ever thought about for teaching English, but it has the potential to be a great way of getting children speaking and listening to English, all whilst developing their radio and communication skills.
I’ve saved this one until last, because I really love what they are doing in Africa, and I’m very excited about the potential to provide our Pacific Ocean row and educational package to them longer term. This organisation is based in the UK, but works with local partners in Africa, to turn shipping containers into classrooms, which house refurbished computers. These computers don’t necessarily have internet access, but the computers are a great tool for learning and the students have access to a range of educational software. For any TEFL teachers already working in Africa, then you might be interested in contacting this organisation to help them out locally, or perhaps for providing your own students with a classroom and computers.