Archive for July, 2009

Yesterday I wrote about the TPACK for FL Teachers workshop that Drew McAllister had invited me to Skype into. It was fun to share some of what I’ve learned with other FL teachers and to see (via video) professionals collaborating over the summer to integrate technology into their curricula. Yesterday I focused on Google Docs and offered some suggestions I have for using that tool with students. Today I want to touch on a few other tools that I think FL teachers in particular might find useful.  If you aren’t a FL teacher, though, don’t stop reading now! None of these are specific to second language learning or teaching, it’s just that either I or my FL colleagues have found specific uses for them with our classes.

I am a big fan of Google applications. [I’m not Google Certified, but if Google wants to set up a Teacher Academy in the Boston area, I’ll do my best to be there!]  In particular, Google Maps and Google Earth really lend themselves to use in the FL classroom. In both applications, students can create tours of cities (in the target language) and can placemark specific spots. Google Maps is web based, making it easy for students to access from anywhere. The street view in G0ogle Maps can be really fun for students. For example, a Spanish teacher had students locate 10 typical items (a bus stop, a supermarket, etc.) in Madrid and create a walking tour with directions in Spanish.  Google Earth is a free download, which could be a challenge for a project if students can’t download it at home.I used the Ancient Rome layer in Google Earth to guide my students through locations in our textbook and students then researched sites of their own choosing and created placemarks or 3D models using Google SketchUp.

A fun one or two day lesson uses Voki to create a talking avatar. Students create an avatar and then record (up to one minute) in the target language. This is a fun activity just before a holiday or between units. Students could record a simple introduction or narrate a description of the avatar they have created in the target language. When the Voki is finished, they submit their final product by e-mailing it to the teacher.

If students are interested in creating simple movies, animoto makes it very easy to put together images and music to create a music video.

If you would rather have students narrate their images instead of providing written captions, VoiceThread is an excellent resources. Students can either upload pictures directly and record an audio caption, or they can upload a PowerPoint presentation and then provide the narration. This introduction to VoiceThread for Education was created by an Michelle Pacansky-Brock, an art history instructor and clearly shows some of the potential this tool has for teachers and students. Other students can then leave comments, perhaps in the target language, either in written or audio format. I saw this tool used really nicely in a “cooking class” for French students. Each slide demonstrated a step necessary to create a food and the students practiced the imperative nicely.

If a comic strip is more what you’re thinking of, try Pixton.  I originally found this site on the recommendation of Shelly at TeachPaperless.  He uses it frequently with his Latin classes for translation. A translation homework assignment becomes fun – and far harder to share – when the presentation is in the form of a comic strip!

If you are looking to visualize text, try Wordle. I really like to create a wordsplash of a Latin reading (simply cut and paste the text) and use that either as an introduction or review with my students. A few months ago I was asked to be a guest lecturer in my colleagues Advanced Latin class. The poem for the day was Catullus V, one of the love poems he wrote to his girlfriend, Lesbia. We used this Wordle to discuss important themes and to visualize the repetition of important words.

Thanks again, to Drew and to all of the participants in the TPACK for FL Teachers workshop. I had fun chatting with you and sharing some of what I and my colleagues have used to integrate technology into our FL classes.


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The other day Drew McAllister contacted me about a workshop he is running in St. Louis on using the TPACK framework for integrating technology into the Foreign Language classroom. The three day professional development workshop, TPACK For Languages, addresses what the TPACK framework is and introduces some great tools that FL teachers can implement in their classrooms in the coming school year. Drew asked me to Skype into the conversation to talk specifically about how I use Google Docs with my classes, but also to mention some other tools that I find useful. I am honored that Drew contacted me and I’m happy to share what I’ve developed and some tips that I’ve learned along the way. In this blog post I’ll write mostly about Google Docs. Tomorrow I’ll follow up with some of the other tools that I mentioned in our conversation.

Last year I started using Google Docs early in the school year, largely to introduce my students to the idea of collaboration and shared documents as well as to familiarize them with some of the Google applications that we would be using. My first Google Doc with my Latin 2 classes was a reflection on a project they had completed in Latin 1. I created the document and invited all of my students in as collaborators. The task was to write one or two sentences recalling the Saturnalia festival they had all participated in the previous year. Because only 10 students at a time could edit the document (and even that is tricky when everyone is typing at the same time), I assigned this as a task to be done within 2 days on their own time. This allowed me to make sure that all students had an e-mail account and to make sure that all students could successfully edit the document. An added benefit is that there is a time stamp and a history for each document. So if Student A says that her work was deleted (for example), it is easy to go back and find out if it was in fact completed, and/or when it was deleted.

The first assignment was intentionally simple, since the learning that was to be demonstrated was using the technology, not language or cultural material.  Later in the year, students completed their group assignments (in my Latin classes, mostly culture or history projects) using Google Docs and they always included me as a collaborator. This allowed me to keep track of the direction of their work and to offer suggestions along the way. It also meant that fewer students missed major deadlines since I could keep tabs of their progress and offer gentle reminders of what was coming up. I even created project deadlines of 11:59 p.m. on a given date; this somehow seemed more fair to students than having something due at the beginning of class. It also meant that students didn’t come rushing into class on the day of a deadline saying that they just had one more thing, could they use my computer?

I do have some suggestions for efficiently using Google Docs with your classes. First, this is a good time to remind students that their e-mail address is a reflection of him/herself. Particularly older students should consider creating an e-mail account (if their school doesn’t already provide one) that can be used for academic/serious work. From the perspective of a teacher, it is easier to keep track of student work coming from JimmyS-at-gmail.com than SwimStar274-at-gmail.com.  A second tip is for you to create a standard name for student projects that will simplify your paperwork. I found that a label like “Amanda and Sammy – Colosseum” was easy for me to recognize and to organize as I graded dozens of projects from several classes. If you have multiple classes working on a project, it is easy to sort the documents into separate folders by class which could further facilitate grading. Finally, I graded the projects using a Google Spreadsheet; this meant that I could do all of the work from my laptop (either at home or school) and that I didn’t have to use a calculator, since the Google Spreadsheet can complete the calculation for me.

One final thought on Google Docs came as a bit of a happy surprise. One assignment I gave my students was to placemark Roman Monuments in Google Earth. This was a bit tricky since the placemarks required the students to work with a certain amount of html code [I believe that Google Earth has since changed this]. I’m not a skilled programmer, so I found that many of my students were better able to handle that than I was at first! When the written work was drafted in Google Docs and then cut and paste into the placemark, there wasn’t any hidden code as there would be using Word or other word processing software.  This ended up being useful for students (and teachers) who wrote blogs, as well, since documents cut and paste from Word ended up with changed formatting from what was expected.

Thanks, again, to Drew and to all of the teachers attending the TPACK workshop. I enjoy sharing what I do and what I’ve learned from my classes. It is also useful for me to think about the lessons that I’ve done when I have time to reflect, as I do over the summer. Tomorrow I will talk about using Google Maps and Google Earth in FL classes and mention some (non-Google) tools that I like.

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Ah, summer…

Flowers_in_Summer_sun_by em-si_via_flickr

You may have noticed that I haven’t written here in quite a while. As soon as school ended I became full-time mom again and have tried to take advantage of time away from school to relax and get rest. I’m always surprised by my (non-teacher) friends who tell me how luxurious it must be to have time off during the summer. Yes, this is a well-needed rest. But there are very few teachers I know who walk out the door on the last day of school and live a luxurious life of leisure for the next 8 weeks. [To be honest, I can’t think of any teachers who do this – but there must be someone out there, right?]

So what have I been up to? I’m happy to say I’ve only gone into school twice. I had one student who was too sick to take exams with her classmates, so I wanted to spend time getting her final grading done so she could receive a final report card. I’ve also decided to do some tutoring over the summer and had to go pick up some books I had stored in my classroom.

Occasionally I’ll tutor students from other schools throughout the school year. It’s interesting to see what other teachers are doing, to learn what the expectations are from school to school. In this case, a talented advanced student found me on-line and wants to advance to AP Latin next year. His school has provided me with the curriculum materials for the 3rd year course and we’re working through the literature he normally would’ve covered in an entire year. We’re reading some Livy, Catullus, Cicero, Vergil and along the way discussing the political and social events that influenced the fall of the Roman Monarchy and the end of the Republic and subsequent spread of Empire.  For the past few years I’ve taught the introductory and intermediate Latin courses exclusively and it has been some time since I have really read literature with students. Although I am “working” I am thoroughly enjoying the translation, the discussion, and the learning that my discipulus is doing.

I did not manage to get to NECC in Washington DC, although I did follow along on Twitter and have been reading as many blogs as I can.  Richard Byrne of Free Technology for Teachers attended NECC through the generosity of Beth Still, her PLN, and VoiceThread. He reported on his experiences with reflections and video interviews and Tweets to keep those of us not in attendance informed about what was happening at the huge edtech conference. Shelley at TeachPaperless also reported back from NECC. His liveblog of The Oxford Debate (Are brick and mortar school detrimental to the future of education?) is an important read for all educators.  TeachPaperless also wrote critically about Malcolm Gladwell’s NECC keynote address. He shared a link to the The EdJurist‘s critique of Gladwell’s book Outliers (Outliers = Dangerous) that articulates what so many have thought about this influential book.

Although I am not “working” in the strictest sense of the work – I am not going to school, not planning lessons, not grading papers (mostly) – I have been thinking and planning and learning this summer. I have been reading historic novels set in Ancient Rome (maybe I could use them to supplement my classes) and I have been working on presentations (2 proposals I submitted with colleagues to present at MassCUE were accepted for the conference in the fall).  I hope all of you who are on summer vacation are enjoying time to rest and learn this summer.

Photo: Flowers in the summer sun by em-si via Flickr

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