We talk with Maria Rosaria Grasso teacher at Istituto Comprensivo San Giorgio di Mantova (Italy) recognized by Ashoka as one of five the Change Maker schools in the country. We talk about the Erasmus+ program for students between 12 and 14 years old, the special Feng-shui room they designed in the school and flipped classroom methodology among other interesting things.
You can read the full transcription of the interview below.
E-twinning, a platform to find and collaborate with partners across Europe
E-twinning was the first step, it is fantastic. It’s the community for schools in Europe and it offers a free platform for staff, not only teachers but also librarians to get in touch, to communicate and to collaborate on a project.
Now for example we have an e-twinning project that is the same as the Erasmus project, so we use the E-twinning platform to communicate, to put all our stuff, our work, to work together. E-twinning has become a very important part of the Erasmus+ program. It’s a good way to find partners but specially it is a good way to collaborate with partners.
Basically for each project you have a “space” in E-twinning which is basically a virtual classroom. So inside this virtual classroom we can have videoconference, we can communicate through forums, chat, we can put pictures, videos, work together…it’s fantastic. It’s a community. There are also groups, there are also training sessions. So it’s a way for us to grow to share ideas with teachers all over Europe.
«Erasmus programs are not very common in middle school but we applied for it»
I think everybody knows the Erasmus+ project that is a project that comes from the European Commission and offers schools, universities, organizations, the opportunity to connect and work with different countries in Europe. They gave us a grant. We are lucky that we are part of the project because specially in the middle school, in the lower secondary school is not so common. Usually they do this project in high school or university. But we applied for it, this is our third European project. So our students are from 12 to 14 years old. It’s nice because they have the chance to meet people from different countries, to work with people from different countries, to understand different cultures, to practice English… The students are really happy about that.
Our project lasts for three years, this is the third year. We are six countries working the topic that is “Well-being improvement for new generations at school”. We work on this topic in different ways. Usually we have meetings, one meeting in each country. Last week I hosted here in our school students coming from these six countries, 30 students and 13 teachers coming from Spain, Poland, Finland, Luxemburg and from Greece. We’ve already had two meetings, one in Greece and one in Poland and next year we will be in Finland, in Spain, in Luxemburg. During the meeting, they work together in international groups, but they work also between the meetings.
«The Feng-shui theory helped us creating and environment where our students feel more comfortable»
This is our Feng-shui classroom. We started in 2013 to renovate this room because we wanted to do something new, we wanted to improve our school, we wanted to create and environment where students feel more comfortable.
We were lucky because we met an architect that helped us and suggested us to use the Feng-shui theory. She gave us a hand. This was really nice because we didn’t have too much money and she offered to help us, to create this environment.
According to the Feng-shui theory, all these colours have a particular sense. They are not just colours. We wanted something colourful but we didn’t know what colour to choose. That’s why we decided to use the Feng-shui theory, because in this way we have colours but the colours have a meaning and maybe can help our students to feel well in this classroom.
So we started this adventure. We found some money for the furniture. When we told the people our idea they helped us. They gave us all the paint for the walls so it didn’t cost us too much. Then the municipality offered to paint other rooms according to the Feng-shui theory so now we have 11 rooms that are painted in this way. Of course we don’t have the furniture in most of the rooms, we have old furniture, because we don’t have money. Maybe in the future we will have all the rooms like that.
«With Flipped classroom you can go deeper and practice more at class with the support of the teacher and your team»
I use flipped classroom not all the time but I use if often. Instead of listening the lesson at school the students study it at home using videos or even the books, articles, websites. The main idea for them is not to have lesson in class but to study at home by themselves. When they come back in class of course there is a brainstorming, maybe teachers give them some formative assessment just to see if everything is clear and then in class they practice.
It depends on the subject. For example with grammar they study the rules at home and in class they put in practice the rules with the help of the teacher so they are not alone. Because there is a teacher and there is a group that supports. The most important part of the flipped classroom is done at class.
Talking for example about maths, that usually is very difficult, they just watch the rules, and study the rules at home, thanks to the video explanation. And at home, with the help of the teachers and other students they do the work, the exercise. The teacher is there to help them. When they are in class they go deeper in the argument, and they practice and usually at the end, they produce something that lets teacher know that they are ready, that they learnt something.
«My advice for parents is that they don’t pressure too much students»
Best piece of advice for a parent? Don’t push too much to the students. Sometimes we have just the opposite, some parents who don’t care at all, but it’s ok, because we adopt different methodologies and they can do work in class and not at home. I think most of the job must be done in the classroom with the teachers, this way also people who have not somebody who can support him/her at home, they have the same possibility. On the other side, we have families that push too much, they expect a lot from students and I think this is not good.
«This evaluation system makes the students believe that they are worth the grade they get»
I would change the evaluation system which is very strict. Why is so strict? The thing is that I have to put a grade and I don’t like that. The students think that if I give them the minimum, they are worth the minimum. So I would remove the grades, I know that is impossible because of course the objections are like “In this case they won’d study”, most of the objections are like that. Who thinks like that? Even other teachers or parents because also parents…sometimes is difficult to deal with parents. Because they think that if they have the test, they study… and yes, it’s true but most of the time, after one week or two weeks, they have forgotten everything.
So I prefer that they love to search, to discover, go and find in internet the answer, you know what I mean…of course they can study all day because they have a test next day but they forget all the information that they learn.