“Project-based learning appears as a complex process, demanding a lot of didactic, pedagogical and technological contribution to improve the quality of education, but it is what I love, in practice and theory.” – Bozena Kraj, Poland
Pope John Paul II once famously proclaimed, “The future starts today, not tomorrow.” It’s a piece of wisdom that has served the beloved Polish-born Pope’s countrywoman, and his namesake school, very well. For Bozena Kraj, a 2015 Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert, it means translating her love of learning into transformative, technology-driven experiences for her students – experiences that help them build better futures.
Kraj quickly understood the potential of technology when she got her first classroom PC. “[It] was a huge influence on my style of teaching,” Kraj says. “Working as a foreign language lecturer, I often encouraged my young or adult students to use PCs as a learning tool. From then on, I began my life-long search for inspiration in new technologies, introduced to the teaching and learning processes.” And when she got the first smart board at her school in 2008, she knew it represented the “proper start for a bright future.”
Her early experiments with technology were challenging, but Kraj says, “I understood the best would come. And it happened just that way. The world of education opened new gates and let fresh ideas and new possibilities in.”
Today, those “new possibilities” are largely centered on a project-based learning (PBL) approach that uses eTwinning to foster global collaboration. Kraj has created the International Language Club of ICT, which holds regular meetings during which language and ICT problems are explained in a creative way with the use of various technological tools: presentations, videos, audio files, online crosswords, collages, panoramas, interactive exercises, etc. The students work on project blogs with international partner schools, with activities like E-postcards from Europe, Our Creative World of Inspiration, My Town in the Old Times, Eureka, My Country through Painting and Eurodance. Finally, the students promote their work, gaining valuable entrepreneurship skills in addition to real-world collaboration experience.
Kraj’s ability to embrace teaching with technology has brought rewards and recognition to both her and her students. And, true to her change-making ways, she’s now contributing her wisdom to the new What’s Fresh blog on the Microsoft Educator Network. She’s also working with peers across Europe to create new programs to advance education across the continent, and is looking forward to learning more innovative teaching approaches as an Innovative Educator Expert. Here’s today’s Daily Edventure with Bozena Kraj.
What inspired you to become an educator?
I have always wanted to do something exciting, something creative, something artistic. As a girl I was taught to play the old piano my grandma had; I really liked drawing and painting and I loved writing compositions because I dreamed of being a journalist. My family lived in a detached house, close to my primary school building, and the sound of the bell was heard in our garden. I could watch my mum in her class through the window of my room – she was teaching. Always smiling and busy with piles of class papers, she enjoyed being an educator and giving her heart to the students.
In fact, I decided to follow in the footsteps of my mum, who as a devoted teacher, had the best [life] of all – she was loved by her students. At the age of 18, I fell in love with English and American literature; soon my book collection consisted of 800 books or more. It is no wonder I decided to study English philology, which was my great life adventure; its episodes with time spent on studying soon changed my reserved attitude of a bookworm to one of being opened to the world, faced with interrelated political, economic and technological changes of the late 1980s.
Do you think I have fulfilled my childhood dreams connected with my interests in music, art, design or writing? The only good answer is “yes.” I can write blog posts or articles on the Microsoft Educator Network or What’s Fresh blogs; I describe my experiences as an educational blogger. My love for graphic design and music is also expressed in the project-based learning I adore. And I must admit, my dreams have come true thanks to technology. Einstein once said, “It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.” And the knowledge of ICT gives this effective dimension of creativity to my daily duties.
What was a defining moment in your career when you felt proudest to be an educator?
My story seems to be full of school activities, which would never be called “routine” by me thanks to the “bright light” of ICT, switched on by my first PC. I have always been proud of my students, their good behavior or proper notes. However, the defining moment came around 2009, when I got interested in project-based learning and eTwinning, which is international project collaboration. To be more competent, I began to learn myself – I used offered online courses, video or text tutorials. I was so happy getting badges on the Microsoft Educator Network and eTwinning.net, and learning from other teachers, making friends all over the world on the Microsoft Educator Network.
Soon, very good results appeared. My students and I were recognized with 10 National and European quality labels – year by year. Next, I won two national competitions to become an eTwinning ambassador and a trainer. What is more, since 2011, I have been taking part in Microsoft National Innovative Teachers’ Forum in Warsaw and became a finalist. I gained a lot of practical knowledge, thanks to Microsoft, and eTwinning Agencies both in Poland and in Brussels. In 2013, I was rewarded with the title of “Eduinspirator” – in the national contest, organized by LifeLong Learning Programme in Poland, and I also got the title of “Leader of Innovation” by the local Board of Education.
The result of those wonderful educational experiences is the International Language Club of ICT, inspired by Partners in Learning solutions. The Club is my own proposition of extra activities which appear to be a wide offer for students of different interests, needs and career plans. The main purpose of the Club is to teach practical interdisciplinary knowledge in English with the use of ICT, so learning together, looking up at the stars and enjoying the time seem to be a priority, which makes the Club attractive and popular.
Why do you feel passionate about innovation and technology in the classroom?
My students and I are keen on innovation and technology. We appreciate project-based learning with its ICT dimension, which has always made a big difference in well-planned didactic processes, and resulted in tangible achievements — both didactic and pedagogical. Why? Technology makes learning and teaching efficient and ICT tools are widely used to reinforce the aims and the results of educational tasks. I am also aware that my role as a teacher is significant. The wiser the teacher, the better the results. According to Bill Gates, “Technology is just a tool. In terms of getting the kids working together and motivating them, the teacher is the most important.” Therefore, PBL appears as a complex process, demanding a lot of didactic, pedagogical and technological contribution to improve the quality of education, but it is what I love, in practice and theory.
It is worth saying that usually our latest solutions are the best. “Our Colorful World” was a project integrating schools from Europe, Africa and Asia. The main idea connecting us was nature with all its beauty: colors, shapes, smells, characteristics both observed from the artistic point of view and from that practical one.
The main product is an educational blog – a beautiful and safe place to learn. Students decided on its appearance: the theme, the header and the widgets. On the blog, full of colorful photos, collages, presentations, videos and audios, imagination, curiosity, adaptation and passion helped to change the students’ attitude towards nature. The project made them open to an unknown strata of knowledge which was easy and attractive to gain with ICT. To learn about each other, the teams conducted Skype interviews with partners and took turns asking questions about nature and their daily life. Posts and comments were good sources of information, too.
We organized the European Day of Languages to celebrate and learn our partners’ languages. Our school photographers worked hard and a few thousand photos were collected during the three seasons of the school year 2013/2014 resulting in an eAlbum of Plants. Autumn 2013 brought our students’ great idea of an international photo competition and an exhibition and some great artistic works attracted our attention. Young researchers using their cameras, mobiles or tablets took photos and notes about the observations of growing beans. It was a challenging experience.
Whether it’s a day-to-day challenge or larger problem, what’s the biggest obstacle you or your country or region has had to overcome, or will have to overcome, to ensure a quality education for students?
I think schools should be institutions in which numerous initiatives ought to take place to make the process of learning effective and raise the standards of education.
Our John Paul II Gymnasium in Daleszyce is an excellent example to follow – a beautiful building, well-equipped, with a great atmosphere. The good of students is a priority for us. Therefore, we offer attractive forms of learning to meet the students’ needs and expectations. It is necessary to promote foreign languages, computer technologies, physical education, good social communication, positive attitude and behavior to raise our students’ knowledge.
Our experience at teaching students practical home economy resulted in the title of the School of Entrepreneurship. We are recognized with the name of School of Talents due to the efficient program of teaching methods to discover and develop students’ interests and talents. Our successful eTwinning projects are also worth mentioning. European Comenius projects are good practices promoted internationally. We are the School of Quality and lately, according to the rules of Microsoft Educator Network, we got the title of Microsoft Innovative School. And we are very proud of it. Our motto is “Healthy body and soul.” Our girls’ football team was the best in Poland, and our student (a girl) became a world football ambassador. We believe “we can fly high,” and do our best every day.
In terms of education innovation, what are you most excited about for the future? What is your biggest hope for today’s students?
I am convinced education innovation must be one of the priorities in our school life. Thinking about the future, I am now working, as a Polish coordinator, with a group of teachers from other countries on the Erasmus Plus project (KA2 – Cooperation and Innovation for Good Practices), titled “Activating Teaching Methods.” We hope it will be approved and students will enjoy its outcomes.
The main objectives of this partnership are: to strengthen the quality of teaching by delivering high quality methods, dealing with complex classroom realities and adopting new ICT tools. The project will support the development of innovative ICT-based content, services and pedagogies.
Working as a secondary school teacher of the John Paul II Gymnasium I feel happy and excited to teach my students not only English itself, but also positive behavior and proper attitude towards their daily duties. I say “The future is yours, demand of yourselves” to make the world better (John Paul II). As a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert 2015, I feel responsible to be an advocate for school creativity, innovation, good practice, and world integration. My motto is: “Our school ICT challenges = our knowledge progress and better life.” I believe my students, my school, my society can develop in meaningful directions thanks to ICT technology, which has a great mission to serve in every life area to make a difference.” And the future starts today…
About Bozena Kraj, Secondary School English Teacher, Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert
John Paul II Gymnasium
- Birthplace: Kielce, Poland
- Educational background: M.A. in English philology, B.A. in English philology
- Website I check every day: Microsoft Educator Network, eTwinning.net, my school website
- Favorite childhood memory: Christmas with my parents.
- Favorite book: Quo Vadis by H. Sienkiewicz, The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
- Favorite Microsoft product, tool, technology: AutoCollage, OneNote, Sway, PowerPoint
- What is the best advice you have ever received? Our school Patron once said: “The future starts today, not tomorrow.” What a great sentence concerning education, ICT and pedagogy.