Thursday, September 29, 2011

Music and Learning in the FL Classroom -- Part 2: Camtasia

More Disclaimers:  Camtasia breaks both of my cardinal rules -- 1.  it is not free 2.  it requires a download.  Again, I make the case that I do not have students use it, and that is why I make the exception here.  It is simply too powerful a tool to pass up!

In my last post I discussed how I use the tunes of children's songs with rewritten lyrics to help my students learn various vocabulary and grammar concepts.  This year, I decided to "kick it up a notch" and create music videos to add a visual dimension.  So far, it has been very effective.

Camtasia is a video editing program, that, in addition to allowing you to edit already created videos, has a screencast feature to allow you to take video of whatever is happening on your computer screen.  There are two free screencasting apps available in the cloud -- screenr and  screencast-o-matic, and Jing, which is free, but requires a download.  I prefer Camtasia because of its editing capabilities.

So, allow me to guide you through the birth of a music video...

Step 1:  Create the video portion.  I use empressr, a free, cloud-based tool for creating presentations similar to Powerpoint or Mac's Keynote.

Step 2:  Run through the slideshow while running Camtasia, to take a screenshot of the slideshow beginning to end.

Step 3:  upload the sound file

Step 4:  use Camtasia's editing features to adjust the timing so the video and music are synchronized

Step 5:  Publish!  I use youtube for no other reason than my students are familiar with it.  It has recently been unblocked at my school (for teachers), so that is not an issue.

So far I am finding that the visual aspect is very helpful to students, even more so than simply having a copy of the lyrics -- the next best thing to "follow the bouncing ball"

Here's an example of the one I made to help them with the verb être:

(Please note:  the song/chant is not an original, it was posted to MFLResources on yahoo.  The "singers"  are my students from several years ago.)

What do you think?

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Music and Learning in the FL Classroom -- Part 1: Audacity

Disclaimer 1:  I am a Mac girl from way back.  My true preference of tool for this purpose is GarageBand, but my district moved from the Mac platform a number of years ago, so I adapt....until I get home.  Also, Audacity is free, therefore that is what I will blog about.

Disclaimer 2:  Audacity breaks the second of my rules about tools I blog about -- it requires a download.  I am making this exception because I rarely use Audacity with students, but more as a tool for myself to prepare lesson materials for them.


3/1/12 -- I just found a way to run a web-based version Audacity.  Sadly it is only available for Windows machines, but one step at a time!!

With that out of the way, I don't remember the first time I used music with my students, but it was about three years ago that I really kicked it into high gear and began researching, collecting (special thanks to Deb Blaz), writing, and enlisting students to write songs to help my students learn vocabulary and grammar concepts.  The majority of the songs I use are under a minute long, some under thirty seconds.  The tunes are familiar -- almost all children's songs -- so the melody and rhythm do not have to be taught.  Many of the songs are just plain corny.  My students frequently tell me they get "stuck in their heads", to which I respond with a victory dance.  The songs are rarely forgotten.  When students ask questions during the writing process, I break into song, rather than offering a dry grammar explanation.  Does it work for all students?  Of course not, but what does?  It gets to the point where if I introduce an irregular verb, they ask for a song, and get all over my case if I don't happen to have one.

So....from pedagogy to technology.  I found most of the background music I use by doing Google searches for midi files of children's songs.  I import these into Audacity, and then record the vocal track with a headset mic.  Audacity allows you to export the completed product in a variety of formats, although I usually use mp3 files.  I make the songs and lyrics available to students via our school website, and (believe it or not) some students have been known to put the songs on their ipods.

As an example, I'm posting my favorite original -- The Passé Composé Song (obviously I didn't spend any time coming up with the song titles).

What do you think?

Monday, September 19, 2011

A Simple Hardware Trick

I blogged previously about my favorite vocabulary review website  At the second BOCES (Boards of Cooperative Educational Services) workshop I took this summer, Teacher Re-Boot Camp, presenter Nancy Schmidt mentioned the idea of using a wireless keyboard with elementary students to increase involvement in activities.  The design of memrise with its percentages and rankings already engaged students competitively.  When they are actively passing a wireless keyboard and mouse from student to student, racing against the memrise timer, they are physically involved, and the intensity and engagement is definitely kicked up.

I paid about $40 at Staples for my wireless keyboard/mouse set.  I then (of course) spotted a set at Big Lots for about $10.  Sigh.  The point is, this hardware can be found for a relatively minimal investment, and can add a lot to your class.

What do you think?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Voki v. Blabberize in the Fl Classroom

Whew!  It feels good to be back!  I know it hasn't been that long, but so much has been happening with school back in session, that I'm feeling very out of touch with my blogging!  So...where to begin?

I took a workshop this summer at my local BOCES (Boards of Cooperational Education Services) called "To the Cloud".  It was a great opportunity to spend some time exploring (read:  playing with) web 2.0 tools for education.   Two of the tools we looked at were Voki, which I had previously used with students, and Blabberize, which I had not.

The advantage to both tools for the FL classroom, is that they allow students to record their voices and have an avatar (Voki) or image (Blabberize) speak it.  The beauty of the workshop I took (kudos to Rob Leo who facilitated) was the portion where participants blogged about each tool -- ideas, frustrations, etc.  It was a great opportunity for professionals to learn from one another.  To summarize the reactions to these tools, most of us preferred one over the other, for various reasons.  My preference, at the time, was Voki, because I like the idea of students creating their own avatar. Blabberize, I felt, would be more useful in a social studies or English class where students could express the point of view of an actual historical or literary figure.  My latest FAIL (First Attempt In Learning) with my planned use of Voki changed my mind.

Laptop carts.  They're what you use when you can't secure lab time.  Know that things will not go smoothly.  Always have a Plan B.  ( Is there an echo in here?)

Problem 1:  All of the recording volume settings were set to zero, and had to be manually reset (by me) before students could record.

Problem 2:  Each time a student logs off, the volume settings default back to zero.  See problem 1.

Problem 3:  Voki only worked on about half of the laptops.  Thank you again, Rob Leo, because if Blabberie hadn't been on my mind so recently , and if I hadn't had the time to explore (play with) it, I never would have been able to pull it off.

So...all students whose laptops did not support Voki, used Blabberize.  Since the objective of the lesson was for students to record an introduction (in French) for their electronic portfolios, the tool was irrelevant.  To put it another way, if it had been a written assessment and some students used pen, while others used pencil, the tool would not affect the objective.

My one criticism/caveat of using Blabberize -- if a student does not complete the Blabber (including recording) before saving, Blabberize does not allow a saved project to be edited, where Voki does.

So in the future...I think I will offer students the choice -- Blabberize or Voki.  They seemed to enjoy them both, and met the lesson objective equally well.

What do you think?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

If Technology Hurdles Provided Real Exercise...

Day 2.  Issue 1.

New technology in a new building...well there are bound to be some bugs, but we can work through them.  I'm not ready to give up just yet!

I have previously blogged about BYOD. I am a tireless cheerleader for the cause.  I had great success last year at the high school. However, being back in the middle school for most of the day, I realized that it was quite possibly built as a bomb shelter, because there are very few places where wireless signals can penetrate.  Another sigh.

I am not sure yet how I will resolve this issue.  Today, we texted (even though some did not work) just to practice using polleverywhere and then when there were reception issues, students shared their responses aloud.  I also got feedback from one student that she preferred raising her hand and answering orally -- who'da thunk it?  That actually make me think that perhaps the polling activity in some situations might be better done given student choice of how to respond -- with or without tech, at least when I'm looking for background knowledge like I was today.  I definitely still have some thinking to do on this.

Issue 2

Gmail.  I referenced this issue yesterday, and I figured out the problem with students setting up their accounts in school. In order to avoid creation of spam email addresses, Google restricts the number of gmail accounts that can be created from one location.  So, when my entire class tried to create accounts simultaneously from the same location, we had no success.  Unfortunately, after I created a certain number from home (not nearly enough) I encountered the same issue.  Google Apps is not a possibility because I do not own my own domain, and it is not supported at my school.  I am not willing to make waves on that at this point, because I just got an OK to get Evernote on all of the computers, and I am so thrilled that I don't dare ask for anything else for at LEAST a week.  :)

OK, so this one isn't really too crucial.  My students really can create their own gmail accounts from home, and it will be OK, really it will, this one is just a personal letdown because I had wanted things to go smoothly, and planned, and tested it, and.....time for plan....C

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

When Technology Fails (or Why Flexibility is One of the Two Most Important Words in Education)


That was my relationship with technology today.  The first day of school.  Sigh.

The sad part is how long I spent prepping today's lessons.  And to be fair to myself (which I really don't feel like doing at this moment in time) my four classes at the middle school went fine.  My embedded Prezi apparently no longer exists, but it was on the Prezi website, so it was all good.  (Always have a plan B.)

Then I went to the High School.  I had reserved the laptop cart; I had my wireless keyboard and mouse set up and tested; I was good to go!  Or so I thought.  The students couldn't log on.  I checked everything (I thought), and then (mercifully) my sophomores had to go to an opening day assembly, so I called for tech support.  Our Goddess of Technology (Cyndee Brazill) came down to my classroom, did a recheck, and (with a smile) pointed out that my ethernet cable wasn't plugged in.

FAIL!!  Did I say my sophomores were out of the classroom?  They were, but I have two freshmen and a senior who were there to bear witness to my moment of stupidity.  Oh, it gets better.  One of the freshmen is my darling daughter, so you KNOW when I'll hear the end of THAT one...just as soon as her sister stops reminding me that the toaster won't work unless it's plugged in...but I digress...

So we were all plugged in, ready to go, waiting for the sophomores, trying to log in...and...FAIL

The almighty Ms. Brazill returned (nope, no chasm opened into the earth for me to disappear), but as it turned out THIS time, it wasn't my fault!!  The new laptops hadn't been properly configured.  Brief relief, but still no tech.  SuperCyndee invited us to the computer lab.

Step 1:  students set up gmail accounts....FAIL due to....I'm not really sure, but it works on my home computer, so something at school is blocking it.  OK, move on...I can set up the accounts myself later....

Step 2:  BREATHE...

The rest of the lesson went along quite smoothly all things considered....if you don't mind a large shadow in the middle of the projector screen, but I think I have proven my adaptability, and I wasn't going to let a shadow get me down at that point!!

Here is my point:  technology can be a friend or a foe.  There will always be those FAIL moments.  If the lab hadn't been open?  I would have punted, and done something else.  It bears repeating:


Even those of us who use technology in our classes will have moments where we just go dim (really, you have to plug it in) or when technology fails us -- even the experts, and I am far from one of those.  Don't be afraid to try.  This is what we ask of our students every day -- especially in foreign language classrooms.  We ask them to sound silly -- in front of their friends, and generally take major social risks.  We need to be willing to do the same, and laugh at ourselves when we fail.  And at the risk of sounding corny, this has been tweeted repeatedly over the last couple of weeks, and I just love it:


It's all part of the process, so don't be afraid.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

More on the Student PLN

OK, so if you follow my other blog then this video should look familiar from my last post.  It's Adam Grant's TED Talk about gratitude, teacher burnout, and why you should always wear a dark suit. does this connect to student PLNs?  Two things came to mind:

1.  Grant talks about connecting with alumni.  Social media makes that much easier than in the past.  My thought is to contact former students -- particularly those who have continued with the language -- and invite them to contribute to the #parlons Twitter hashtag.  It gives students another dimension to their PLN, extra support when they are struggling, and perhaps inspiration to continue in the language.

2.  I love the idea of gratitude.  I think it's something that doesn't necessarily come naturally to teens, and I think, particularly in a "professional" capacity, that it is a skill we should develop in our students.  To that end, I propose incorporating #jvvr (je voudrais vous remercier) into #parlons.  I am not entirely comfortable with using #FF, because students suggesting follows is a little bit too far outside of my comfort zone, and I like the direct "thank you" of #jvvr.  I do like the idea of designating one day a week for this, perhaps Friday for the sake of consistency.

What do you think?