“Interdisciplinarity is the keyword for success. Subjects related to the arts are at the bottom of our system, neglecting creative and talented students” – Portugal

João Carlos Ramalheiro, Music Teacher and Music School Director, won the second runner-up price in the Educators Choice category for his project “Oratio Classroom” at the last Partners in Learning European Forum in Lisbon. When he first started teaching music, he knew how critical it would be to reach his students on a creative level. He also knew he had to take a different approach, creating conditions for the best possible learning experience. “To use the complex symbolic language of music and the theories in the traditional way wouldn’t work, so I based my methods in pedagogical lines from Jos Wuytack to Zoltán Kodály and created stories, drawings and other materials using the suggestions of my students,” Ramalheiro says. “With the right speech, the right didactic songs and with the right activities, we could have fun while learning.”

Out of this work came Oratio Classroom, a visionary way of conducting classes that are dynamic, interactive and kinetic, but with a strong pedagogical foundation. The concept of Oratio is to use it as a tool to teach children almost all basic curriculum content as if teaching a native language. The idea is “learning while living it,” using an interactive smart board. Ramalheiro shares more on Oratio (which means “idiom” or “language”) with us, along with his views on what’s wrong with the way the world values arts education.

Can you describe how Oratio works?

For each lesson, we created the concept of a journey to a mystical world, rich with the content of our music education program. Each musical note became a living being and I could explore the imagination of my students while improving their knowledge building.

In 2010 our government and the city council introduced the Magalhães and the interactive whiteboard in each classroom, giving me and my students the opportunity to take this concept and methods a step higher — much higher.

What has changed as a result of your efforts?

The first change we could immediately observe was that all students were more involved in the lessons and we increased their attention and motivation by immersing them in our adventures and activities to reach the goal in knowledge building. While increasing their motivation and their interest, we could change results and achieve global school success.

How can others facing similar challenges implement what you’ve learned through  your work?

If we face our profession with total passion and if we are open-minded for progress and improvements, the challenges and the solution in our subjects are obvious. We have to lose the fear of sharing materials and experiences, and open the borders of our structural limitation: the classroom. Empower our students using the right tools to unfold their creativity and improve our mission in teaching. Technology is a reality in our daily lives. Ignoring it in our classroom is a mistake that will eradicate the opportunity to improve education and to show our students the right use of technology in a more creative and productive way.

How have you applied technology in innovative ways to support your work?

With the use of technology we were able to explore our world of wisdom in a more dynamic way, creating conditions of interaction between our creators in a digital scenario. We shared the digital materials developed by our students and used different tools and software to sub-line their learning process. We are now collaborating with other music teachers and encouraging teachers in other areas to develop didactic lyrics, songs and activities with their students. In the early stages of this collaboration, I was able to include my co-creator Miguel Rijo, who baptized this project with the script of the adventures of our mascot, Oratio, who introduces our students in this fantastic world. Now we are working on the possibilities of connecting students, teachers from different subjects, schools, and parents worldwide to share the joy in teaching and learning!

What is the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome to ensure students are receiving a quality education?

Very often our biggest obstacles are the lack of motivated students based on our established education system, which gives us a reduced space to unfold creativity and arts. Since the industrial revolution, the hierarchical system of subjects hasn’t changed; subjects related to arts are on the bottom of this system, neglecting creative and talented students. In history we have a lot of examples of this.

On the other hand, teachers need to be open-minded for progress. Problems of ignorance in using technology for our advantage and the fear of sharing materials beyond classroom walls are delaying progress in education. The first difficulty was to motivate colleges in using technology and to show them the easy way to do it. I also felt that there was a lack of software options to ensure consequent dynamic teaching methods. I have to confess that this was for me the turning point and the biggest inspiration to do something, to help improve education, so I started with it in my classroom with my students.

What is your country doing right to support education? What conditions must change in your country/region to better support education?

The Portuguese government established the idea of modernizing classrooms and creating
conditions so that each student in primary school has a personal computer. Our city council took this mission a step further, and installed interactive whiteboards in each classroom in primary schools. So the tools were guaranteed, but now there are two problems to solve! A large numbers of primary school teachers need to enhance their skills in ICT and they need to know how to use these fantastic tools to their advantage. The Magalhães initiative was canceled, and our new incoming students don’t have the same possibility to achieve. So, the first goal is to secure the infrastructure and maintenance services, and to help innovative teachers share their knowledge with other schools, so that we can increase the movement of educators who want to improve education. At the same time, worldwide education systems have to attach a higher importance to artistic subjects so that they have more possibility to move hand-in-hand with the other areas of wisdom. I think “interdisciplinarity” is the keyword for success.

What is the best opportunity for innovation in education?

The best opportunity to innovate is when we feel the need as professionals to improve our conditions, so it seems to be obvious that now is the time to initiate changes. With the support of worldwide companies like Microsoft, policy-makers and the collaboration of teachers, visionaries and risk takers who have the passion to connect technology and education, we have a great opportunity take education a step higher. Technology is continuously changing and our new generation of students uses technology in their free time. They intuitively learn to use these tools much faster.  We have to be attentive to this reality and direct this faster learning process to our advantage.

What advice would you give a new teacher (or to anyone wanting to make a difference in education)?

As teachers we have to live each lesson, to face each lesson like an adventure of knowledge, creating conditions to help students to express themselves.  The first step of all:  see the school through the children’s eyes. What would we expect today from school as a student? How would we face the challenges? What emotional perspective would we have as a student of the 21st century? How can we use ICT to get their attention? There is always an emotional motivation to do things differently to a significant level, changing the traditional view of education.

What educational “trend” do you think is helping students? Is there a trend that is getting in the way of learning?

The trend of communication via social networks like Facebook and the world of digital gaming can be adapted to help students in an educational way. Obviously these habits aren’t always at all educational and our speeches to elucidate parents and students will never stop. We can’t stop the evolution of technology, but we can take the attention of our students showing them how to do it wisely. So take the trends of gaming and network sharing to school and we get more motivated and enthusiastic students and fans!

If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?

Oratio Classroom! Because my working team and I are projecting the most dynamic, didactic, intuitive and easy-to share-platform. It allows more teachers to be innovative in their classrooms and draws a smile in each students face while learning using ICT.

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About João Carlos Ramalheiro
Music Teacher, Music School Director

Birthplace: Isny im Allgäu (Germany)
Current residence: Lousã (Coimbra/Portugal)
Education: Degree in Music Education
Websites I check every day: www.youtube.com, www.facebook.com, www.jn.pt,
Person who inspires me most: Ken Robinson, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Steve Vai, Esther Hicks,  Hans Zimmer, Ron Clark.
Favorite childhood memory: playing drums at a family meeting at the 80s and
getting my first PC — the Schneider CPC 464
Next travel destination (work or pleasure): Los Angeles or New York — work and pleasure I hope!
When was the last time you laughed? Why? Today seeing this great video of Don McMillan: Life After Death by PowerPoint
Favorite book: The Element by Ken RobinsonThe Secret by Rhonda Byrne
Favorite music:
Andy Timmons, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Foo Fighters, Beatles, Muse, Hans Zimmer and John Williams (soundtracks), Nat King Cole, Tom Jobim, Maurice Ravel, Beethoven

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