Monday, March 28, 2016

Education Around the World: United Arab Emirates

"The real asset of any advanced nation is its people, especially the educated ones, and the prosperity and success of the people are measured by the standard of their education."
-- Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan

Let’s travel to a part of the world that has not yet been spotlighted in my continuing series about education in other countries!  Susan from Teaching Doodles is an American who teaches in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).  She offers a comprehensive look at the education system in that country and what it is like to work there. 
Learn about education in the United Arab Emirates as experienced by an American teaching there.
Location of the United Arab Emirates, highlighted; source: The CIA World Factbook
In her own words:

School Calendar
Because the UAE is part of the Middle East and an Islamic country, our calendar can often vary throughout the year due to holidays being observed based on moon cycles. Generally, school starts at the end of August and ends at the beginning of July. This year we are scheduled to have six weeks for summer, two weeks at Christmas (plus one week of professional development) and one week for Spring (with an additional week for professional development). There are other holidays that allow a day or two off throughout the year such as National Day, Martyr's Day, Eid, and Ramadan.
Learn about education in the United Arab Emirates as experienced by an American teaching there.
A field trip to a student's camel farm; source: Teaching Doodles
School is a five-day week but is Sunday through Thursday, with Friday and Saturday off.  Schools are closed on Friday because it is the Muslim day for prayer.  To see some United Arab Emirates-specific pictures, students might enjoy my bilingual Arabic and English UAE Calendar Kit.
Learn about education in the United Arab Emirates as experienced by an American teaching there.
Click HERE for more information this resource by Teaching Doodles
General Information about the Public Schools
Most local students, referred to as Emirati, attend public schools. The majority of the workers here are expats and their children attend private schools or homeschool. The public schools are also considered religious. There is often prayer practice and studies throughout the day and they are taught Islamic Studies.
Learn about education in the United Arab Emirates as experienced by an American teaching there.

Map of the United Arab Emirates; source: The CIA World Factbook
School begins in kindergarten, which is referred to as KG. There are two grades in KG: KG1 and KG2. KG1 is similar to preschool and has mostly ages 3-4. KG2 is like regular kindergarten and is prep for grade 1. Grade 1 begins the Cycle 1 school system which covers grades 1-5. Then students go on to Cycle 2 which would be like middle school and Cycle 3 for high school. Then hopefully they will attend university. Ages are not as important here when determining proper grade levels and birthdays are not usually celebrated so I am not sure about the age breakdowns for the grades.
Learn about education in the United Arab Emirates as experienced by an American teaching there.
Students wear school uniforms--dresses for girls, shirts and dress pants for boys; source: Teaching Doodles
A Typical Day
I teach in a public government school.  Currently, I teach Grade 2.  The ages are approximately the same as the United States, with a few exceptions.

A typical day in KG is much different than a day in Cycle 1. Only in KG do students receive dual language instruction (in Arabic and English) throughout the day, with the exception of Islamic Studies which is only in Arabic.  I have a blog post that details a typical day in KG here.
Learn about education in the United Arab Emirates as experienced by an American teaching there.
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi--a truly amazing place to visit in person; source: Teaching Doodles
For Cycle 1, the EMT (English Medium Teacher) has two full classes of students for a total of six periods a day; each period is 45 minutes. The AMT (Arabic Medium Teacher) may only have two or three periods of teaching a day with the same group of students as her EMT partner. For example, I have an A and a B class. Class A will come to me for Periods 1, 2, and 3 where I will teach English, Math, and Science. Then they will have a short 15 minute snack/play time and go to a specials class or the AMT (Arabic teacher). I will have a 40-minute break at this time to prepare for the next group of students. Class B will see me for Periods 5, 6, and 7 where I will repeat the same lessons I taught for Class A in English, Math, and Science. Then I walk them to the bus area for dismissal. Twice a week we will have professional development after school, for a total of three hours each week.

Curriculum and Assessment
There is a national curriculum we must follow that is loosely based on the British curriculum and New South Wales curriculum. As an American abroad, I also find many similarities to the Common Core in the standards, or outcomes as they are referred to here. Students are taught English, Math, and Science in the English language only (for Grade 1 through Cycle 3 or high school) and also receive studies in Islamic, civics, and Arabic. My first two years here, we were given outcomes to follow but not materials or basals. This year we have reading, science, and math books which are often supplemented to meet students' needs.
Learn about education in the United Arab Emirates as experienced by an American teaching there.
The Burj al Arab in Dubai; source: Teaching Doodles
Students are required to take the national exam called EMSA starting in Grade 3. It covers English, Math, Science, and Arabic and is given in both written languages (Arabic and English) for Math and Science.  That is, the test is written bilingually for math and science and students must choose to read and respond using only one language throughout the test.

Teaching English
English is taught as if it is a native language; however, it is a foreign language for all the students I teach. The expectation of the Abu Dhabi Education Council is to teach the required outcomes to students using the English language but not to be teaching English as if it is a foreign language. As you can imagine, this presents a series of unique and challenging circumstances in the classroom.  My Number Posters, as a result, are in both Arabic and English.

Currently there is no special training to be a teacher of the English language. My job title is EMT which stands for English Medium Teacher. All students refer to teachers by "Miss" and their first name, which takes some getting used to!
Learn about education in the United Arab Emirates as experienced by an American teaching there.
Teaching Doodle's school--brand new this year; source: Teaching Doodles
All teachers must hold a minimum of a bachelor's degree. Because the UAE is in an educational reform, most of their hiring is done out of the country and they only require the training of your native country to be acceptable for a teaching position here. Throughout the year, teachers (Arabic and English teachers) complete many hours of professional development training each week.

Final Thoughts
Teaching abroad here can be quite a difficult and challenging situation. Many teachers often leave before their two-year contract is fulfilled due to these challenges.  Being a teacher in the UAE has been a remarkable experience.  It has really opened my eyes to other nationalities and beliefs I did not know much about before moving here.  The UAE is a true melting pot and is quite respectful of others and their religion.  It's a journey that I am truly glad to have taken.
Learn about education in the United Arab Emirates as experienced by an American teaching there.
Flag of the United Arab Emirates; source: The CIA World Factbook
To see some great photos of her school and read more about her teaching, please check out Susan’s blog, Teaching Doddles: Adventures Abroad in the UAE.  And you can find lots of examples of her students’ work on her Instagram account.  Since I've never been to the Middle East, I have certainly learned a lot from this blog post.  Thank you very much, Susan, for sharing your knowledge about education in the United Arab Emirates!

I invite you to read the previous Education Around the World guest posts about Scotland, Quebec, and South Africa.  And please stop by again next month for another post in this continuing series!

Monday, March 21, 2016

2 Things I Learned About Technology Last Week

"I'm not afraid of computers taking over the world."
-- Thom Yorke

I’m so happy I have a time machine!  No, not the one I created for my end of year world history product but a real Time Machine that came with my MacBook Pro computer.  You see, my hard drive failed last week.  (Note to self: Don’t accidentally knock it off the armchair you sit in while watching Poldark or Downton Abbey...and expect it to work perfectly months later.)

Lesson Learned #1
I would have lost everything had I not backed up my system using an external hard drive and Time Machine, including my 18,000+ photos and all my TpT work.  A nerve-wracking week went by as I anxiously counted down the days until my computer would be fixed; surprisingly, it was repaired faster than I’d expected.  (During the week, I used an excruciatingly slow old computer I’d kept as a back up in case anything ever happened – but thank goodness at least I had that.)  So I spent last night restoring everything, once I figured out how to transfer my data back onto the computer. 

And although I lost the latest revisions I’d made to two of my TpT resources, I can live with that.  Time Machine worked when I needed it and I am grateful and very relieved.  The upside is that this new hard drive has a faster processor and 25% more memory.  While I certainly don’t advocate intentionally destroying your hard drive, at least there was a silver lining to this whole experience!  From now on, I'll back up more than once a week, just to be safe.

Back in the Old Days...
Years ago, before all computers had hard drives, I had a Compaq computer that I was using to write a master’s thesis for my first graduate program.  One day, something happened and the floppy disk was unreadable.  But because I had been faithfully making a copy of my info on another floppy disk, I didn’t lose all my work.  Ever since then, I’ve been pretty consistent about backing things up.
Two lessons were learned when a computer hard drive fails | The ESL Connection
My first computer, the "Suitcase" Compaq Portable; source: Wikimedia Commons
As a result, when my students went to the computer lab or used the mini-lab of four computers I scrounged and set up in the back of my classroom, I made sure they frequently backed up their work.  Whether they were typing essays or creating glogs with Glogster, I would periodically remind each student to stop what they were doing and click the Save button. 

Occasionally something weird would happen, though, and a student would lose his or her work and have to start all over.  Not only was this frustrating for the student, it was problematic for me because I then had to give additional time to the student so s/he could complete whatever the assignment was.  That meant rearranging my lessons to accommodate that student and having to find something to keep the rest of the class occupied for that time since not all of my students had computers or Internet access at home, and there were no late buses offered by my school -- they only had the time in my class to do the work or the 15 minutes in my before-school homework help program.

Lesson Learned #2
But last night, I found a solution to that problem: Use Google Apps for Education!  During the #ELLEdTech Twitter chat I co-host with Laurah from Tools for Teachers by Laurah J, I discovered that being a GAFE school just means you use the Google suite of apps.  I had thought a school had to go through some sort of credentialing process or be certified in some way, but apparently not.  That makes it easy for any teacher to adopt the use of Google’s education apps.
Two lessons were learned when a computer hard drive fails | The ESL Connection
Screenshot of Google Drive menu; source: The ESL Nexus
I also learned that Google Apps for Education means more than just using Google Docs, Google Drive, Google Earth, and Gmail.  That if you use Chrome, you can access a slew of programs to enhance your teaching.  Laurah recommended Flubaroo for grading and using the translation app within Gmail, which I never knew existed.  My school only just started using Google Drive the last year I was there and up until then had used Explorer as its browser, so I never had the chance to really investigate all that Google offers in the way of apps for education.  If you have particular Google apps that you really like to use with students, please share them in the Comments section below.
Two lessons were learned when a computer hard drive fails | The ESL Connection
Flubaroo home page; source: Flubaroo
But I do know, from using Google Docs and Google Drive, that all work is saved automatically so there is no need to click on the Save button every 15 minutes.  This is wonderful for students and makes using technology in the classroom so much easier since they will never be at risk of losing all their work if they don't save it in time.

Although I already knew it, because I love learning new programs myself and I enjoyed introducing my students to Web 2.0 sites in my classes, I was reminded this past week once again that technology is great!
I'm not afraid of computers taking over the world.
Read more at:
I'm not afraid of computers taking over the world.
Read more at:
I'm not afraid of computers taking over the world.
Read more at:

Monday, March 14, 2016

Google: Do You Love It, Hate It, or Ignore It?

"Don't be evil."
-- Google motto

Is Google evil or just everywhere?  I remember when the company introduced its search engine.  Up until then, I had used Yahoo, or Yahooligans with my younger students. AskJeeves was also great because kids could just type a regular question into the search bar and not worry about using key words or Boolean logic.  Then, not long after that, a colleague told me about Google’s search engine and I decided I had to check it out.  It took only a short while to get used to it and once I did, I was converted and have never looked back.

My Google (Non-Search) History
But Google is so much more than a search engine.  I used several programs in my teaching: I used Sketch Up with a few of my 8th grade boys, but I didn’t really know what to do with it in my ESL Social Studies classes so that didn’t get very far.  I used Google Translate to communicate with the parents of some of my students. I liked Google Earth and used it a fair amount in my teaching even though it was very slow to load.  Outside of teaching, I used to use Google Maps but now I’ve gone back to MapQuest because I don’t like the new version.  Obviously, I also use Blogger – and have been using it since before it was acquired by Google.  I’m not really an early adopter so it took a while but eventually I created a Gmail account, too.  Of course, YouTube also gets a pretty good amount of my attention, too!  You can read about the history of Google and when various programs began here; I thought it was interesting to see how the company has evolved.

Google Apps for Education
Why am I bothering to relate all this history?  Because the second #ELLEdChat is all about using Google Apps for Education!  But I have to confess that for various reasons, which I’ll try to go into during the chat session, I didn’t use them very much.  So I am really looking forward to learning more how educators today incorporate them into their teaching.  On the other hand, Laurah, my co-host from TPT store Tools for Teachers by Laurah J, is a Google Certified Education Trainer so I’m sure she will have lots of great ideas.

Whether you use Google apps every day in a 1:1 classroom, share a set of Chromebooks with other classes, occasionally use Google Docs or Slides with students, or just wonder what the heck is all the fuss about and how does Google Drive work – you will probably find something of interest on March 20th at 7pm Eastern when we discuss how teachers are using Google Apps in Education today.  And who knows -- you might just change your answer to the question I posed in the title of this blog post.  :-)
Join the #ELLEdTech Twitter chat on March 20, 2016 at 7pm Eastern
Join us on March 20th for the 2nd #ELLEdTech Twitter chat!
Schedule and Questions
7:00 = Tell us your name, location, level and subject taught #EllEdTech
7:05 = Q1: How many of you are currently using Google Apps with ELLs? #EllEdTech
7:13 = Q2: Which Google tools are you currently using with your ELLs? #EllEdTech
7:21 = Q3: How are you using these tools to support language growth? #EllEdTech
7:29 = Q4: What benefits do you see from using Google Apps with ELLs? #EllEdTech
7:37 = Q5: What advice do you have for teachers just starting to use Google Apps with their ELLs? #EllEdTech

Directions for Joining the Chat
1. Log into Twitter on Sunday; the chat runs from 7:00 - 7:45pm Eastern.
2. Search for tweets with the hashtag #ELLEdTech in the search bar.  Make sure to click “All tweets.”
3. The first five minutes will be spent introducing ourselves.
4. Starting at 7:05, @ESOL_Odyssey or @The_ESL_Nexus will post questions every 8 minutes using Q1, Q2, Q3, etc. to identify the questions and the hashtag #ELLEdTech.
5.  Answer the questions by prefacing them with A1, A2, A3, etc. and use the hashtag #ELLEdTech.
6.  Follow any teachers who respond and are also using #ELLEdTech.
7.  Like (click the heart icon) and post responses to other teachers' tweets.

You can schedule your answers to the questions in advance by using an online scheduler such as TweetDeck or HootSuite (and remember to use A1, A2, etc. and #ELLEdTech).  Links are encouraged, but use tinyurl, bitly, or to shorten your link so it can be included in your tweet.  Just click one of those links, paste the longer link in the app's box to shorten it for Twitter, then paste the shortened link into your tweet. If you have relevant images, we encourage you to post them, too.

Is this your first Twitter chat? Here are our rules:

1. Please stay on topic.
2. Please do not post about paid products unless explicitly asked.
3. If you arrive after the chat has started, please try to read the previous tweets before joining in.
4. Feel free to just read, like, and/or retweet if you prefer -- we know the first time can be a little overwhelming!
5. Always use the hashtag #ELLEdTech when tweeting.
6. When responding to someone, please be sure to "mention" them by including their Twitter handle.
7. Make sure your twitter feed is set to "public." (And do remember that Twitter is completely public; that means anyone--students, parents, teachers, school staff, administrators--may see what you tweet.)

You are welcome to let any of your teacher friends who might be interested in joining us know about this Twitter chat. We can't wait to chat with you on Sunday evening!

Can't make it to the chat? Check out the archives to see what you missed!

Monday, March 7, 2016

Enjoy the Ides of March (and a Freebie)

"Beware the Ides of March."
-- Shakespeare, Julius Caesar

What’s the difference between a solstice and an equinox and, um, tell me again:
Why are there seasons?  Something to do with the Earth’s rotation...or is it the Earth’s revolution...?  And hemispheres – that has something to do with it, too, right?

The Problem
Typically, I taught about the seasons in the fall and so I could refer to the fall equinox in September.  I also liked to point out to my students when it was the winter solstice, i.e. the shortest day of the year in December, and the spring equinox as well.  Sometimes, in my world history class that covered Ancient Rome, I brought up the Ides of March, which is the reason I am writing about this topic now.

However, although I love science, I always found it difficult to clearly explain to my students what causes the seasons.  The textbook I used had diagrams to illustrate the concepts but because so much of the vocabulary was new, it was hard for me to break it into manageable and comprehensive chunks that were engaging for the students.

My Solutions
One activity I did that helped, which is not something original I made up, was to call on student volunteers and position them in the classroom as the Earth, the sun, and the moon and have them rotate and revolve around each other as appropriate.  Of course, they all loved being able to get up and move around, which really showed me the value of kinesthetic learning.

Where The ESL Nexus bought squishy moon balls to teach about seasons etc.
Kitt Peak National Observatory in Tucson, AZ; source: The ESL Nexus
I also used squishy balls to explain why we have seasons. On a visit to Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona one summer (when I still lived in Massachusetts), I bought a few soft rubber balls that looked like the moon to accompany the “Earth” balls I’d acquired at an ESL conference at some point.  Using red balls that did duty as the sun along with the “moon” and the “Earth” balls, I explained how seasons occurred and what the phases of the moon were.  Then I asked my students to position the balls to show night and day or summer and winter in the Northern and Southern hemispheres.  They certainly enjoyed rolling the balls around on the floor!
Moon and Earth squishy balls used to teach about the seasons; source: The ESL Nexus
A Supplemental Activity
Another activity I did in my class when teaching about the seasons and hemispheres was play songs that referred to the day or night or the moon or seasons or just time in general.  Here’s how it worked: I played one song as background music as the students entered the room.  I asked students to listen and write down or call out – it depended on the class – any words that dealt with the concepts they were learning.  Then they shared what they’d heard and we discussed how they related to the unit we were studying.  For homework, I asked students to find a song they liked that included at least one of the vocab words or had words about seasons/days/nights in it, then write down at least one verse of the lyrics, and give me a URL so I could access the song online and play it for the class.  (My school was not a BYOD school.)  Over the next few days we listened to those songs and picked out the relevant words that were heard in them.
Grab this freebie playlist of 20 songs about the seasons, days, nights, the moon & time to aid when teaching about these topics | The ESL Connection
Download a copy of this playlist HERE
It didn’t take long to do this, which was just as well because it was more of a fun activity that gave students some listening practice than a task that was closely tied to the curriculum.  I’ve put together a freebie with the playlist of 20 songs I compiled and you can grab your own copy here.  Each song is linked to a YouTube video where you can hear it being played.  If you have other songs about the seasons or which contain the words day or night or the sun or the moon or time, please let us know in the Comments section below.  (And for another freebie about weather, please click here.)

In recognition of the upcoming Ides of March on the 15th of this month, here are a few websites with information about it:
* Top Ten Reasons to Beware the Ides of March
* Ides of March: What is It? Why Do We Still Observe It?
* Things Shakespeare Got Wrong About the Ides of March

March 2016 Excelerating ELL Education link up: The seasons, Shakespeare, Roman gods/myths & Latin roots of English words | The ESL Connection