Saturday, August 27, 2011

Why I'm not sold on IWBs

In the numerous #edchat and #langchat sessions I have participated in where technology has been a topic, there are always several people (often myself included) who address the fact that pedagogy must come before technology.  In last week's #langchat, a newbie (identified by her egg) asked how to tell whether you were using technology just for the sake of using technology.  My response to her was to teach the same lesson high-tech and low-tech, and then reflect on what (if anything) was gained (or lost) by using technology.  The bottom line is that every lesson should be planned around learning objectives -- EDU 101.

So this brings me to my current dilemma.  I just took two three-hour workshops on using the Promethean Board and ActivInspire.  My school district has spent thousands and thousands of dollars equipping almost every classroom with an IWB.  Here's my problem:  unless I'm missing something (which I freely admit, I may well be), there's not a whole lot an IWB can do for me that I can't do using free web 2.0 tools more easily, and my students can access everything from home with an internet connection -- no downloads.  I am also struck by the fact that many of the suggested IWB activities seem to be centered around lower-level thinking skills.

Another problem I have, is that while two students can be interacting with the IWB (only two pens), with an unconnected dry-erase white board or personal whiteboards, I can have the entire class actively engaged.

Here is the rest of my disclaimer:  I have taken two workshops, and as yet I have absolutely no hands-on experience with an IWB.  Maybe I am missing something.  That is actually part of my reason for this post -- if I am wrong PLEASE comment and show me the light, because while I am always looking for more effective ways to do things, what I do not want is to find myself using technology simply because it is there.

What do you think?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Globalize your Classroom

Every other Thursday at 7PM EST Jo and Phil Hart present their Serendipity "unwebinar".  Attendees bring topics of interest, all attendees are polled, and the evening's topic is chosen.  Last Thursday's topic -- Projects for Classes and Global Sharing -- was somewhat of a hybrid, since there were many suggestions, and no clear poll winner.  It was a great topic, very applicable to Foreign Language teachers, and may ideas were discussed on the whiteboard, over the mic,  and in the chatbox.  In this post, I'm going to focus and expand on some of the ideas I'd love to see developed among FL teachers on a global level (any takers??)

1.  This idea immediately brought to mind the film short "The Red Balloon" which is a suggestion that comes up without fail as a possible movie for FL week.  The film might serve as a great lead-off to this collaborative storytelling activity.  The idea is to tell the story of a balloon that floats from school to school (in different countries around the world) to seek adventures and learn new things.  So here's my (rough) take on this idea:  using a cloud app like have each class create a slide telling their balloon adventure, in their language, including a photo of themselves with a red helium-filled balloon.  Subtitles could be added to the finished product so all slides are in all languages.  

This one has me so excited, I think I'm going to run with it.  I think I can swing classes from France, Australia and Mali, so I'll be looking for other interested balloon adventurers!

2.  The Lunchbox Project is a collaborative wiki project including photos and podcasts designed to compare school lunches around the world.  So far there are 11 participating countries.  Join the wiki if you are interested!

3.  Two ideas that came up were sharing pictures of your favorite local food, and creating a wiki with favorite recipes.  I have drawn up plans for a similar research project for my classes, and I would love to make it more collaborative!  Here is the link to my gdoc Check it out, and let me know if you are interested in participating in some way (perhaps the Google Map)

4.  The Global Student Blogging Challenge is a very cool idea that could be undertaken as a class with a class blog, or by individual students with their own blogs.  What a great way to have students publish their work to a global audience and get authentic feedback!

On a final note, if you've never attended one of Jo & Phil's sessions, you're truly missing out.  Stop in Thursday (7PM EST) to talk about e-toys.

I'd love to hear your ideas about globalizing your classroom!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Word Clouds in the FL Classroom

Tonight's #langchat topic (boy was it good to be back!) was web 2.0 tools in the FL classroom.  A tool that came up was word clouds.  I checked my trusty "idea wiki" and found a number of possible applications for word clouds that I hadn't yet explored, so I thought a blog post was in order.

Word clouds are something that I really didn't understand -- even up to the first time I used them with my students. My first application was to have students choose 20 words (about a francophone country they were researching), enter them into the text box, and create their word cloud.  Not very clever at all -- especially given what I have learned since then!

So I'm going to start with the suggestions from #langchat.  The first one (courtesy of Katie Aebersold @klafrench) stunned me with its simplicity.  I doubt there are very many FL teachers out there who are not familiar with the flyswatter game.  Project a word cloud onto a whiteboard, and swat away!  Love it!

The next idea (courtesy of Sara Cottrell @SECottrell) is to select vocabulary from an authentic text, show it to students via word cloud prior to having them approach the text itself, and have them hypothesize about the topic.

The last (courtesy of Don Doehla @dr_dmd) is to post select vocabulary in a word cloud, and use the word cloud as a writing prompt.  There was some concern that this idea lacked authenticity, but in my opinion, it could be an effective bellringer activity, activating the vocabulary for students at the start of class.

Moving on from the #langchat discussion, the next idea is original, but the rest originated from 101 ways to use tagxedo (Hardy Leung).  I will offer these ideas, but "tweaked" a bit for the FL classroom.

I see word clouds as a way for beginning students to build circumlocution skills.  Students could be assigned a vocabulary word, and create a word cloud of related words.  Classmates would need to identify the source word from the word cloud.

Students could create a self-portrait word cloud using tagxedo (which allows customized shapes created from your pictures).  The words could come from a paragraph in the target language that students write introducing themselves.  This word cloud could then be used as a SM avatar.

I really like the next one for reviewing and expanding adjective vocabulary:

  • Make a list of 100 values or personality traits

  • Each person give a score for each value (0-100)
    • Love:100 Coolness:50 Control:20 Flexibility:70

  • Feed the data to Tagxedo
    • Use the "Deja Vu" option, show maximum 50 words

  • Normalize Frequency - forcing a ranking

  • Make Tagxedoes and compare

  • The next one Leung calls "Collective Wisdom".  It involves asking a question, and soliciting short answers.  The responses are then collected and used to form the cloud.  This idea immediately makes me think of a website called VYou.  Students could each come up with their own question, and record a video of themselves asking the question, and send it to their classmates, who would respond to either all classmates' questions, or a specific number of classmates' questions.  This would incorporate oral work, listening, and writing.

    The last idea comes from 64 Interesting Ideas for Class Blog Posts, and combines another web 2.0 tool with word clouds.  It's a brainstorming activity involving  Answergarden is another sort of polling tool, but the responses can be exported into wordle.  Sadly, it appears that answers must be typed in via computer, and cannot be texted, but it could be a neat homework assignment that would set up into a future lesson.

    One of the great things about blogging, is that it helps me to process so many of the ideas that percolate through this imperfect brain of mine.  If you have underestimated the usefulness of word clouds like I have, I hope this has been helpful.

    What do you think?

    Friday, August 12, 2011

    Building Student PLNs

    PLN -- Professional....Personal...Passionate...choose your adjective....Learning Network.  I have been actively building my PLN for about five months, and as I have repeatedly twittered, it has changed my professional life!  I have learned more than I can even put into words from the amazing educational minds I encounter in the twittosphere.  That said, I have been trying to figure out a way to bring the power of Twitter to my students next year, and help them build their own PLNs.  I created a page on my "brainstorming wiki" that I use to park all of my ideas in progress, but hadn't really come up with a whole lot after several weeks.
    Lucky me!!  the 8/2 noon #edchat topic was regarding SM and student PLNs.  Sadly, I could only participate for about 10 minutes before having to rush my DDs off to band camp...which is why archives and summaries are such a blessing!
    Lucky me again!!  Last night's #langchat touched on the topic as I noted in the summary since I missed the actual chat (end of band camp....FINALLY!!)

    All that said, here are my thoughts going forward:

    1.  The most appropriate starting point is to connect students with their classmates.  It seems to be a no-brainer for students who forget to write down homework, or who are struggling with something and may be able to connect outside of school.  They do this anyway, why not encourage it!  By having them create twitter accounts for class, they will also have access to classmates they may not normally socialize with, but from whom they may be able to learn.

    2.  The PLN should be expanded to included students from other classes -- including other levels.  This provides an opportunity for students in upper levels to informally tutor/mentor students in lower levels, in a flexible way and a format that is comfortable for students.

    3,  The next step might be to try to connect with classes outside your district.  For example, my students will be collaborating with classes in Paris.  We will be doing formal activities in class, but I hope to encourage them to continue their relationships on their own, choosing to focus their communication on students with interests common to theirs.

    4.  The #langchat summary provided me with this gem -- the #parlons hashtag (#charlando for Spanish). Other French teachers will have their students tweeting here in French, and hopefully students will make their own connections, further expanding their PLN.

    I think the overriding theme here, is that we guide students in the initial establishment of their PLN, but as it grows and develops, they need to own it, and control who they choose to learn from, in the same way we do -- personal, and passionate.

    Stay tuned for updates as the year begins!


    Google + is  one of the most frequently brought up SM tools for PLNs.  I am not leaving it out for any reason other than I'm just not comfortable enough with it myself at this point, to introduce it to students.

    Sunday, August 7, 2011

    Technology: more than just flashy and cool

    Leave it to Scott Adams to illustrate one of the main reasons why we need  to integrate technology in our classrooms NOW:

    I have heard the arguments that technology as motivational tool is not an acceptable reason to embrace it, because the newest tools will lose their novelty for students long before the teachers (in some cases) have even begun to understand how to use them.  We should not look to technology as a shiny new toy that students will ooh and ahh over and miraculously want to learn the same dull stuff we taught them last year.  That is missing the point.

    The point is this:  technology is where our students live.  It is what they choose to do the moment they leave our classrooms.  They text, they facebook, they blog, they tweet.  They learn new things without being "taught".  They seek out knowledge because it is part of THEIR culture to do so.  My school district bought Robyn Jackson to speak for a PD session at the start of the last school year, and one of her primary themes was about currency.  "Currency is a medium of exchange. Any behavior that students use to acquire the knowledge and skills important to your class functions as currency."  This quote comes from Ms. Jackson's article Meeting Students Where They Are  The behavior that our students are choosing to use to acquire the knowledge and skills that are important to THEM is clearly cell phones, ipods, tablets, TECHNOLOGY.  We need to harness the power of what they already know.  Activation of prior knowledge is a pedagogic necessity that precedes even the TRS-80s that I was using when I was in 6th grade.  Why should this be limited to content?  We need to activate students prior knowledge of information curation, digital communication and creation and direct this power toward the content we want them to learn.

    If we meet them where they are, perhaps they will WANT to come along with us where we want to take them.

    Thursday, August 4, 2011

    Education Reform and the Current Model

    I recently watched this video "Where Good Ideas Come From" by Stephen Johnson

    It really hit home for me.  I'm the type of person who always has numerous unfinished projects that I am working on, some of which I finish promptly, some of which I abandon before completion, and others that I revisit periodically, mull over, change, and adapt...sometimes over a period of years before they are implemented.  In the last few months since I started building my PLN on Twitter, I have literally been bombarded with a constant stream of ideas from some amazing educators -- information overload!  But themes are replayed and rewoven among other themes, and the best of these end up taking root, and ultimately blossom into a blog post (like this one) or something less philosophical and more concrete that I can apply in the classroom.

    I've been saying for years that our educational system needs to be razed and rebuilt from ground zero, but until recently, only had the vaguest beginnings of ideas of what the new system should look like.  Last week I did the summary for the #edchat topic "In light of education reform, what will a teacher look like and be doing in 10 years?" (note:  if you think participating in an #edchat is informative, try writing a summary -- reading and rereading the posts really solidifies things!)  Josh Stumpenhorst (@stumpteacher) pointed out that it's more important to focus on what education will look like in 10 minutes, presumably since we will be there first, and while that's certainly a valid point, I think the question that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later, is what should teaching look like?  Don't get me wrong, imagining the future is a great exercise in creativity, but if we want to make real change happen, we need to be the directors of change rather than mere reactors to the change that happens to us.

    I'm going to start with some quotes and conversations I've been involved with from administrators and colleagues throughout my career that provide me, at least, with some clear starting points for where I'd like to see change.

    1.  "That's education!"

    That was an administrator's response to a push by myself and several of my colleagues to change the structure of our foreign language program to allow students to repeat a course they had failed, rather than be systematically pushed to the next level of study with little hope for success.  I have come to realize the tragic truth in that administrator's statement of frustration intended to shut down our request.  That is education in a very broad sense.  The arbitrary grouping of students by age and the too common practice of social promotion ensures that many students will arrive at the next level of instruction in at least one subject area without having sufficiently mastered the material from the previous level.  What happens to a house build on a faulty foundation?  How about when a hurricane hits?  The same thing that happens to a child's education that is build on a foundation with significant learning gaps, especially when that child hits an emotional hurricane like parents divorcing, moving, change in economic situation, or simply the emotional storm we call puberty.  So why do we continue to try to reform a system that is so fundamentally flawed?  Meaningful reform cannot take place as long as we connect academic progress to a student's age.

    2.  "She doesn't have the necessary work ethic to move to the next level"

    An ironic contradiction to the above example, but our program while moving unprepared students along from level 1 to level 2, "weeded students out" before level 3.  This quote is from a conversation with a colleague and our department leader at that time in regard to one of my students who scored in the 90s on her final exam, but whose overall grades for the course were failing. Myron Dueck covered this issue quite well in his June blog post She met the learning outcomes, but she doesn't deserve to pass. My questions are these:  are we really assessing what we should be? or even what we want to be?  Is success based on learning or compliance?  Why do we hold back students who have mastered the material?  Where's the logic?  What in the world would motivate this student to repeat a course in which she passed the final exam, do the "work" for a course whose content she has already clearly mastered?

    3.  Although I don't remember the exact quote, the gist of a conversation with an administrator and my former department leader was that I needed to stop focusing on student comprehension, and move more quickly so that I "covered the curriculum".  I know I didn't misunderstand, because I incredulously asked for clarification.  Again, where's the logic?  But this is an educational model that is enforced by standardized tests, the message to teachers being "Don't teach to the test, just make sure everybody passes".  The reform that is being pressed upon us now does nothing more than punctuate the initial message with a resounding "or else".

    So here is what I propose to turn this broken system on its head and start making real change that can lead to real learning:

    1.  We need to recognize the difference between having high standards and standardizing.  Standardizing makes the assumption that all students are the same.  Having taught for a year in a school whose population was 85% children from military families who had lived in Alaska, Germany, Korea, and many places in between, while the remaining 15% were children from the farming community many of whom had never been more than 10 miles from home, I can tell you firsthand that children are not all the same. Their life experiences are different, and their talents and abilities certainly are varied.  With standardization, if the bar is too high for Suzy, she shuts down in frustration and falls short.  Johnny, on the other hand, is capable of surpassing the standard, but slacks off when the standard is met because he has no motivation to achieve more.  The reality is that if our standards are tailored to each student, everyone achieves higher.  Standardization fits no one.  Individualized instruction plans need to become the norm

    2.  The Space-Time Continuum

    We continue to hang on to the 10 month agriculturally-based calendar that no longer has any functional purpose, and inevitably results in significant loss of learning during the summer months.  Technology (you knew it was coming) makes the classroom walls at best irrelevant, at worst confining and inhibiting to learning.  We need to mobilize and globalize our students' learning experiences.  Students need no longer be restricted to classroom connections.  Students should be texting, tweeting, skyping, blogging, communicating and collaborating with their peers around the world -- not just during class time, but "just in time" so that learning becomes a continuous passionate process that students want to continue on their "own" time.

    Even locally, communities should be directly involved in student learning, so the lines become blurred between school and the "real world".  Authentic experience should be embedded into the curriculum.  Bring the "real world" into the classroom, and take the classroom out into the real world.  Hillary Clinton used the African proverb "It takes a village to raise a child" in her 1996 book title.  If that is truly the case, then it takes at least that to educate our children.

    These changes I suggest may seem radical, but who can deny that radical change is needed to solve the crises plaguing our educational system as it currently exists.  How do we get there?  The best each of us can do as professionals in our own learning communities is to effect change in our realm of control.  It starts in our own learning spaces, and it starts today.  If not us, then who?