Thursday, March 1, 2012


Diigo is a fantastic organizational and research tool.  The purpose of Diigo is social bookmarking.  Many teachers (in my experience particularly Foreign Language teachers) travel from room to room and/or building to building, and therefore work on any number of different computers during the course of a school day.  I hear frequent complaints from teachers who are frustrated by losing their bookmarks each time they log out of a computer.  Diigo eliminates that problem.

Diigo is cloud based, so it can be accessed from any internet-capable device at any time.  It allows for tagging as well as creation of lists, to facilitate organizing bookmarks.  Teachers can also create groups for their students (public or private), and manage student login information easily through the teacher console.

My French 1 students are assigned a French speaking country that they study throughout the school year. They revisit their research at different points based on the topic at hand.  For example, our current project involves researching street food common to their countries.  As members of the Diigo group I created, students create their individual libraries within the group to house their research, which they have tagged to help them organize their resources. 

But the power of Diigo doesn't stop there.  Using their toolbar called Diigolet, (students must save to favorites each time they log in, but it is a simple step) annotation tools become available for students to highlight and take notes directly on the website they are viewing.  When they access that site in the future, if they are logged in to Diigo, their annotations are visible, no matter what device they use to view the site.
I used to use portaportal to organize bookmarks that I wanted my students to access, in fact, I am still in the process of reorganizing the bookmarks I imported into Diigo from portaportal (it allows you to import all your bookmarks, but you lose the happy little folders that organized them)  I refer to Diigo as Portaportal on steroids.  A great resource!
What do you think?

Monday, February 27, 2012

Wikispaces in the FL Classroom -- Part 1

I would have to say that Wikispaces has proven to be the most valuable Web 2.0 tool I use with my students.  I absolutely love its versatility.  Therefore, this post will be Part 1 in a series of posts about this tool.  I will apologize in advance for the seemingly random order of the posts.  I have a colleague coming to observe my use of social media, and this is the first thing I will be showing her, so please bear with me -- I will eventually cover other uses for Wikispaces (there are so many!)

One of the functions Wikispaces offers is a discussion feature.  I have set up a "Wiki Home Page" for each course that I teach.  When I need quick feedback from my students, I can have them post a response to a topic or question that I create on the Discussion tab.

For example, at the start of class I post the question "Qu'est-ce qu'elle prépare? (What is she preparing)?" as a new discussion thread.  I show a quick video clip, and students must post a response to the question based on what they see in the video.  

Students are logged in to their own Wikispaces accounts, so they are easily identified.  It literally takes me about two minutes to scroll through one class worth of responses, and *POOF*, informal assessment in a cultural context.

Feedback comes in the form of my response to the thread -- I restate the correct answer, and in some cases publicly acknowledge a different correct answer I hadn't thought of in advance (I love when my students teach me!)

The Wikispaces Discussion feature beats pen & paper ALL DAY LONG!

What do you think?

Monday, February 20, 2012


Popplet is a tool that I have just begun using with my students.  So far, I haven't even used it in the way it is intended, but it has worked like a dream for my students who chose to use it.

Popplet at first glance looks like a mind-mapping tool, and could definitely be used as such.  Each "popple" (basically a rectangular bubble) exists as its own self-contained unit or capsule of information, but popples  can be connected as necessary to organize related topics and/or ideas.

Popplet enables real-time collaboration, so students can work on the same popplet, adding to and expanding ideas at the same time.  Images and videos can be embedded in popples, along with text, allowing for multi-media presentation of ideas.

My initial foray into Popplet was to include it, as I did Prezi, as an option for student written product for their family projects.  My students were able to learn Popplet very intuitively, with very little guidance from me.  Each of their family members was represented by a popple, including photo and text.

Here's an example created by one of my students:

I have also included Popplet as an option for the "Things I like" assessment.

When we return from vacation, I will be exploring its collaborative capabilities, having students categorize vocabulary.  Here's the template I will give them to start:

What do you think?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Arthur Alien Assembly

Ok, so admittedly this is a tech tool with a very narrow application, but it solves a problem for me that I have long been wanting to solve, so I thought it was worth mentioning.

The Arthur Alien Assembly Game allows students (or teachers) to create original alien creatures with minimal effort.  The website will then allow you to print the alien you have created, or alternatively, you can take a screenshot of your creation, and embed it into a web page, wiki page, etc. 

Why would a foreign language teacher be interested in this tool?  Body parts, numbers, and colors.  It's a concept most teachers of novice language students must teach.  I have long drawn absurd pictures of alien creatures for my students to describe to one another, but my art skills leave a lot to be desired.  If students have to ask me what body part appears on their paper, I have failed.

So here's how I use this in class:  Each student spends less than five minutes creating their alien.  Without showing their partner, they need to describe the alien (including numbers, body parts,and colors) to their partner, who must attempt to draw what they hear.  Partners then switch roles.  Drawings are compared to the actual alien creations to see how well they described/understood the description.

Here's a sample :

What do you think?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Empressr is Impressive!

I discovered last spring.  The format is similar to Powerpoint (or Keynote for the Maclovers out there), except it is more streamlined, and it is cloud-based.  It also allows for creation of audio, video and photos within itself, as well as allowing files to be imported into your library.

Is it free?  Of course!  Is a download required?  Absolutely not!

I am a MacGirl, and had been primarily using Keynote for years.  Yes, Keynote will open Powerpoint files, and yes, it allows you to export from Keynote to Powerpoint format, but it never works perfectly in either direction. 

I have long had issues with students using a version of Powerpoint that is newer than Powerpoint 2003 (which is what our school computers have) and the files are incompatible. 

Another benefit to empressr -- NO MORE FLASH DRIVES!!!  I have no particular beef with flash drives, I just always seem to lose them, which defeats their purpose. 

No more need to remember to email myself a presentation I created at school, because it's in the cloud!

Downsides?  It is definitely more bare-bones than Powerpoint or Keynote, but I acually find this to be an upside when working with middle-schoolers who often tend to over-focus on aesthetics to the detriment of content when too many options are available to them.  Also, I have been unsuccessful at embedding empressrs into wikipsaces pages, so we have to settle for a link.

My first attempt at using empressr with studetns involved having an empressr presentation as an option for their family tree project (other options:  paper poster, popplet, prezi, or glogster).  I had only one student choose to use empressr, with little or no guidance from me -- technologically speaking.  The vast majority of questions I was answering were content-related, or research-related.

Bottom line, I am impressed with empressr.

Here's an example:

What do you think?

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Prezi: Love It or Hate It

Prezi is an online presentation tool, à la Powerpoint, but which is anything but linear.  It zooms, it spins, it allows the creation of text within images within text down the most minute unreadable size until zooming in on what is important at a specific point in the presentation.

Honestly, I HATE Prezi.  I hate working with the platform, and for the most part watching Prezi presentations makes me dizzy.

HOWEVER, my students LOVE it.  (Go figure).  I took a workshop over the summer, and was forced to make a Prezi.   I used the opportunity to update my opening day Powerpoint, and my students thought it was "really cool".  I haven't made another Prezi since, and I don't feel I'm missing anything.

When many of my students reached the point where they were ready to create a project about their families,  I bit the bullet, and made Prezi an option.  The students who chose it, really enjoyed the platform, and they required very little guidance to create their presentations.   The most difficult part for them seemed to be creating paths -- some did not do that at all, but with only five "slides" required, I could easily click through the presentation and see what I needed to see.

I have to laugh, because after attending a workshop dedicated to Prezi (prior to the one I attended this summer) and still I struggled to make a Prezi I was happy with, yet the majority of my students took to it very intuitively.  Pretty amazing.

Colleagues I have spoken with seem to either love Prezi, or hate it -- a left/right brain thing, perhaps?

Although I am definitely not in the "love it" camp, I will continue to make Prezi an option for student presentations.  If it's something that inspires them, who am I to crush their creativity for my own comfort?

What do you think?