”All readers are aspiring writers in a way…”

I have just finished my second reading of ‘Norwegian Wood’ by Haruki Murakami. I first read it a year and a half ago after I had acquired it on Aamzon while searching for Paulo Coelho’s ‘Manuscripts Found in Accara’.  The choice seemed random, yet something told me to purchase it instead. ‘Norwegian Wood’ was an immersive experience. Nothing can prepare you for the way a Murakami plot (or lack of) can grab you and pull you in.

My first reading of Norwegian Wood was not as great as my second. At first I think I perceived it to be just pointless surrealism. As a result, I was always uncomfortable afterwards because I continue to profess Murakami as one of my favorite contemporary authors, yet, I greatly disliked one of his most celebrated works. However, the second time around was better. This time I could see more beauty in Murakami’s prose. There were moments when I read sections that gave me that same uneasy feeling that I had encountered before but I was able to find more to love in the novel than previously.

I’ve rambled on in prior posts about why I love reading Murakami’a works and I am certainly not in a mood to attempt a post-reading analysis on this one. What I did come away with (despite a sense of utter helplessness for Toru ) is a sense of awe for Murakami.

The man is a master wordsmith, weaving words into thoughts that can reach your sub-conscious mind without any effort at all. Despite the loose ends that mark Murakami’s works, the stories shine like stars because those cut strings add to the fantasy of it all. Using exceptional descriptions and dialogue, Murakami conveys the deepest, darkest—often hidden—sides of human nature. Many of his characters experience a type of universal, human despair that forces them to question reality. His stories are profound and bizarre at the same time leaving readers with a feeling that is, well – indescribable.

But here’s the thing, when Haruki sat down to write ‘The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle’, he didn’t have a plan. When Margaret Atwood wrote The Handmaid’s Tale, she didn’t know what was going to happen or how it would end. Perhaps, when I sit down to write my story…

inzDon’t get me wrong: I’m not comparing myself with these literary greats, not in terms of talent. But it does give me comfort and succor to know that I’m not the only person who starts simply with an idea, an image, a sentence, and that’s it.

Someone told me this morning that at our core, every passionate reader is an aspiring writer too. That’s certainly true of me and my hope is that in the process of writing and re-writing, I’ll discover a story along the way as well.


Digital Detox

A little while ago I was sitting on my bed reading my daily quota (3 chapters) of Junot Diaz’s riveting novel ‘The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao’. All the while my right hand kept twitching; my mind signaling me to get up and make a grab for my smartphone or my iPad. You see ladies and gentlemen, my name is Sydney Atkins and it’s fair to say I’m a digiholic!

Virtually every hour of my day is spent with some form of technology at arm’s reach. While I am far from the worst offender of this nature, since last night I have been on a self-imposed digital detox; limiting my use of the internet to only e-mails and of course, blogging. Since 11:50 last night this experiment has been underway.

Why am I doing this? For a while I’ve been feeling the urge to try fully disconnecting to free myself from the never-ending obligations and the constant stimuli. I wanted to take a break from it all for a couple of days at least to see what happened. After all, throughout the last few years, I’ve been plugged in 24 X 7, hyperactive to my work e-mail inbox and social media notifications. The PINGS come in torrents and it’s taking me every ounce of will power to press the mute button and ignore them all.

This final push to try going sans internet came yesterday when a colleague advised us on the benefits of disconnecting and doing nothing just for a few minutes in the day. Living in a world where the line between digital and real gets blurred at times I was forced to see the significance of her words and this experiment is step one in my journey to being able to perfect the art of doing ‘nothing’, just for a few moments every day.

As you can tell by this blog post, abstaining is not an easy task! My hands feel restless without something to tap on, and I have begun to imagine my phone sending of subtle PINGS to get my attention. It’s like all the devices in my home are playing mind-games with me. I’m pretty sure this is what withdrawal symptoms must feel like.

Anyhow, in case you’re wondering why my twitter feed is silent or why I haven’t uploaded another selfie on Facebook, well now you know! I’ve got another day to go. I am fully aware that  I’m  not going to be any less of an addict on Friday morning, but I’m learning to handle the craving for my digi-highs and I’m sure it will make me appreciate my time a little more. For my twitter followers, you might want to download tweetdeck and mute my account this Friday. I have a feeling I’m going to be tweeting to make up for the 48 hours spent offline!


P.S This blog post gets shared to my twitter and Facebook feed automatically, I do not cheat.

Stop and Stare! #HappyDigitalLearningDay

In today’s tech-obsessed climate, we share almost everything online – even pictures of our food! We let everyone know where we spend our weekends, when we check into restaurants, where we’re holidaying, who we’re having coffee with, even who we’re engaged to marry! We’ve given an online dimension to almost every aspect of our lives. The internet now does the same for teaching and learning and that makes this one the most exciting times for educationists and students around the globe.

Today the world is celebrating #DigitalLearningDay and while it’s easy for those standing on the sidelines to point out the shortcomings of using educational technologies, not many are so eager to find and apply a solutions to make learning more robust and enjoyable. Many educators fear that the development of social media and educational technology will have a negative impact on the education of young people. But at one point in time, people were afraid that the emails and laptops would stop people from being able to handwrite, which hasn’t happened yet and we all know how we’ve integrated e-mails into our daily lives.

Don’t get me wrong, traditional education is important and I am fully aware of and understand its significance. Still, it has many shortcomings and may not be ideal for students in the 21st century. As a teacher, I’ve tried to take what’s best in my classroom (student discussions and collaborations) and bring it to the online space, where all of my students, regardless of their academic standing or anything else, can exchange knowledge and skills. In case you weren’t already aware I have an educational blog as well and I’d like for you to see how the students are using the internet and technology so responsibly to learn their course content. Here are a few examples I’m happy to show off in honour of World Digital Learning Day.

Blog: ‘My Reassigned Classroom’ provides students with an informal online learning environment to share ideas, discuss subject matter and interpret content. A few months ago my grade 10 literature class read a Chinua Achebe story that made them question the ideas of arranged marriages, romantic love and age-old religious traditions. Soon after the lesson I posted a question on the blog and was amazed by the responses of the students. I think we had a better discussion online than we did while we were actually reading the text! (Click the hyperlink below)


Voicethread: provides a wonderful opportunity for student self-expression and creativity but more than anything, I find that it is a wonderful tool for differentiation allowing students to comment using video, voice or text responses whichever they are most comfortable with. Have a look at this summer assignment on poetry that brought out some wonderful responses from the children.

(This is a hyperlink – click the title to open the page) Stopping By Woods

TestMoz: Children today are overburdened with assignments and tests. Using online test generators like TestMoz makes it fun and engaging for students to participate in summative assessments and collaborative quizzes. These tools also help teachers to collect data and other statistical information that is crucial to their own planning and progress.

Twitter: Is already the most widely used social media site today.  It is now being used as a tool to encourage discussion, collaboration and easy access to the teacher when in doubt. (See screen-shot)



While these are just a few examples of how I am using EdTech it would be prudent to mention that following a Web 2.0 tools workshop conducted last year, teachers in my school are currently using a wide-range of educational technology. In addition to these they employ the use of wikis, Edmodo, YouTube Time Machine, Class Blogs, Facebook, Evernote, Prezi, Glogster etc.

The main aim here is not technology for technology’s sake. It remains our consistent endeavor to provide students with ample opportunity to hone 21st century skills such as working online, collaboration, independent research etc.

Today we don’t shy away from technology; we acknowledge the depth and breadth of its influence and embrace it for its powerful impact on teaching and learning. We are currently setting the stage to introduce digital storytelling and the use of augmented reality in our teaching-learning. (click on hyperlink to open)


These are exciting times for both the students as well as me as a teacher.

I’ve said it before and I will say it again. EdTech is no longer an option for schools and educationists. It is a 21st century requirement. Whatever we do, it’s unlikely that the students won’t use the new technologies they’re discovering every day. Perhaps at this point it’s time to stop the conjecture and start learning how to keep up with them!




Because 2041 Beckons…

The Global Countdown – http://2041.com/

Visiting the Antarctic is a dream that many nurture but only a privileged few are able to fulfill. If you go as a tourist the cost usually means you have to wait until much later on in life. So imagine how great it would be to go as a student and not just visit Antarctica but to actually be part of a global movement dedicated to preserving this final pristine frontier from the very real dangers that threaten it each day.

935873_153856004815049_1158433249_n9 lucky students from GEMS Modern Academy, Dubai are planning a trip to the Antarctic making that distant dream a very present reality. They will be accompanied by Sir Robert Swan; environmental leader and the first person ever to have walked to the North and South poles.

Needless to say, this will be a life-altering experience for them. It will expose these 9 students to all kinds of environmental and social issues and give them a much broader perspective of the planet on which they live. In my mind, going to Antarctica is kind of like going to another planet and once you’ve done that you can’t help but be affected by it – for life, can you?

I’m so proud of the students of my school, every single one of them. While 9 students get to actually experience the wonders of this white wilderness, I’m amazed by the dedication of all the other pupils who are so keen to make this the most historical undertaking Modern has ever had.

In today’s day and age, raising environmentally passionate future generations has got to be at the center of every educational institution’s philosophy. As teachers, there are only a limited number of things we can do or say to press home important facts about preserving and protecting our planet. But unless children are exposed to the harsh realities of the real world, progress and action will continue to be scant.

As Modern’s 9 buccaneers prepare to set out on their once in a lifetime expedition and be part of the Leadership on the Edge conference in Argentina, we hope that you will support them by spreading the word about their endeavors. You can follow the progress of Modern’s Buccaneers on their facebook page ‘Modern on Antarctica’ or follow @beckyblitz97 and @sydneydxb on twitter for more updates.

Watch this space for more information.

Confessions from a Flipped Classroom

Today has been interesting. In a lead up to the International Flipped Class Day, some of my colleagues and I have been working extra-hard to make virtual lessons exciting and engaging. We’ve taken the pledge and we’re sticking to it!


The group of boys who’ve unknowingly become part of my experiments with EdTech, Web 2.0 tools and flipped learning is really becoming more and more comfortable with my new methods and are participating quite enthusiastically – but I have also had moments where ( and I hate to admit it) I have not been in control. Wi-Fi connectivity issues and students without mobile devices continue to pose issues that I have not got down to dealing with as yet.

imagesCAIKXK34Fortunately though, the boys have taken over the ‘learning’ bit almost entirely.  This afternoon I watched them offer each other really constructive feedback after a very successful voicethread assignment they’ve just completed online.  The application and the manner in which they’re drawing contemporary parallels for texts written eons ago  is really impressive and suddenly it seems that literature has become *that* much more interesting and relevant to them.

There are times in a lesson where I’ve felt somewhat unnecessary though, I no longer have to stop to explain a piece of prose or dwell on implied meanings that are interwoven into the short stories or poems we’re doing this year. I find myself listening to what is being said and agreeing most of the time – some of them are becoming little subject experts.

A year or two ago, this method of teaching would have made me feel completely out of my zone.  Today though, I’m able to see the multiple benefits of turning learning upside down to cater to 21st century students.

I must make a confession here, while the classroom has been less stressful on my energy levels, the preparation for this flipped classroom is much more detailed and intense than the preparation I would have done for a more traditional face-to-face class. There are bound to be issues when you try something new. What matters more is finding ways to get past them. So I find myself making more cups of coffee in the evenings, increasing the sugar content and searching for resources more frantically.

In spite of it all, the outcomes continue to amaze me and unnerve me – in a good way of course. Teachers today are at the brink of monumental change in pedagogy and education and while failure is inevitable sometimes the long-term results will always outweigh everything else!

If you’re a teacher and you haven’t tried it already, turn your children’s learning upside down and try a flipped lesson once in a while. The whole world is going ga-ga by the payback it brings!