Tuesday, December 18, 2012

My top tech tools for 2012... part 2

Last week, I started my review of my top tech tools for 2012.  There are so many tools out there, but some are much better than others.  Some are more practical for my purposes that others as well. My opinions are just that and you may not agree.  I am sure there are tools that work better for you than for me. Keep that in mind.

One Note via skydrive or office suite.  I never realized the full potential of one note until a teacher asked me to find a way for her to store some curriculum she bought.  I investigated places to save files, add files, etc.  Evernote is great, but you need to pay to get more space.  One note, on the other hand is part of our office suite already.  I experimented with my classes taught the kids how to use it and even they are hooked.  I have one student who is using it for a research paper.  She super organized herself and feels better about the end result.  Who couldn't appreciate it.  The fact that whatever you do can sync to the skydrive and that you can use any type of device to do it makes it even better.

Dropbox.  I am a real newbie to dropbox, and I have no idea why I waited so long to use it.  What a time saver and a lifesaver.  I made all of my students download it and create accounts through me.  I got free space, they put files there it's a win-win. I have shown it to a few of our teachers and some of them are now using it to share videos with their students for their flipped classes.  They put them in, leave them until the unit is over and pull them out.  Less work, less excuses, what's not to love?  Our Science teacher is using it for videos.  No excuses for missing work.

Google Drive (formerly docs) with Flubaroo. What can I say?  Make a form, write a test, after kids take it, Flubaroo grades it for you.  Of course it has to be a multiple choice to be graded, but think of the time saved.  I have been using it for quick assessments a lot lately and I couldn't be happier.  I also use it often for quick polls, exit slips and entrance slips.  It doesn't take much to create anything and they last forever! I have made a lot of surveys for the media center.

Thanks for checking on my blog.  This has been an interesting journey for me and my new years resolution is to continue it.  Because of Final exams, holidays and such, I will be taking a break from blogging.  My next post will  come out Tuesday January 8.  Not sure what I will write about, but I will think of something.  Have  happy holidays!

Friday, December 14, 2012

My top tech tools for 2012... part 1

As the end of the year approaches, I think it is only appropriate that I look back through the year and evaluate some of the tech tools I have used in class successfully.   I have tried a lot of them, some were huge hits, others not so much, so let's do a quick review of what has worked for me. I am splitting it into two parts. 

CLEAR RIA tools.   I can't say enough positive things about CLEAR, especially the audio dropbox.  it has saved me a lot of time roaming the room.  I can let the kids practice, record themselves and then grade it. It is a fantastic concept.

Edmodo.  My kids don't always appreciate the site, sometimes they whine when I instruct them to login and get their assignment, but, I like the many options it offers:   Links, the ability to embed things (such as audio dropbox) , a library you can save and share, the capability of adding files, making quizzes that self grade, need I say more?  I love the communities offered and the many people you can collaborate with.  The PLN building is fantastic. I could go on and on.

Twitter.  Yes, twitter.  I can't live without it.   I love, love, love the PLN I have built.  The fantastic collaboration, weekly meetings and PD I receive from people I don't know but connect with.  I enjoy the ability to make a statement and get 15 people saying how they handle it.  It is wonderful.  I love the diversity of my PLN.  I have met some fantastic colleagues who I feel closer to than my co-workers (I am the only French teacher and the only librarian, so I really don't have a lot of people who I can collaborate with.)

Simplemeet.me.  My students like this one.  I like the ease, and the digest.  We chat, we practice skills and then, I get an email with the final version.  I grade it, we are done.  I really think if you are doing any form of collaborating in your classes or are doing a chat with other schools, look at this.  It is really cool.

That's it for today.  I am going to continue Tuesday with part two and then, because I get to have final exams next week and holidays following, I am taking a few weeks off. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Mightybell: Using spaces for collaboration

I received an email from Library 2.0 with an invitation to a chat with a woman named Gina Bianchini who co-developed Ning and also a new site called Mightybell.  I was instantly curious.  I checked it out and was drawn to the concept.    It reminded me a lot of Pinterest, but in a much more organized way.  I saw a similarity to Wallwisher and linio.it as well.   

The concept is newer to me, but useful.   Once creates a space, invites people to visit and those people can tag items to the space.  The options and the postings are vast, videos, links, posts, images and files.  And an even cooler part, the participants can CHAT! 

There are so many possibilities for the classrooms.  I invited my French three/ four students immediately and decided we are going to use the site as a platform to expand our skills.  I am going to start posting images to prompt their conversation and attempt to post videos. (When I say attempt, I mean, post videos kids can watch.  Our school blocks video right now, except for school tube and united streaming.)  

I wasn’t able to add my audio Dropboxes to the site.  They are embeddable. If I want to use them, I have to send the kids to my school website or to Edmodo, but organizing the items into one space is an awesome concept.    

I like to use sites like wallwisher, simplemeet and linio because they are easy and kids can do peer edits.  This site has a little bit of everything.  I can see a district using it for PD, a department using it for PLN development and collaboration. Teachers can use it for group work and projects.  It is good for PBL because you can create spaces for specific groups, act as the moderator and invite specific students and monitor their collaboration.  You can have numerous spaces at once and you can make them private or public.

I am very excited to explore this site and discover the limitless possibilities to use it in my classroom.

Friday, December 7, 2012

How epals is helping my students

I have been teaching French since 1996 and all but four of those years I have had a decent amount of access to technology for my classes, but I never really spent a lot of time using that technology to let my kids meet others abroad until this year. 

I have had a membership to epals for about 8 years, I have seen it change through time. This year I decided I needed to do more to get the kids global.  I needed to do more to practice their grammar and their vocabulary and maybe build a little more confidence in their language skills.

I had no idea what I was missing all these years. My class has been connected with two different classes in France.  My students, despite their level of language skills are able to do a lot with their penpals.  As they  grow in their skills, the kids are adding more and more to their letters.   The French one class has been very directed with what they write.  I give them a topic, and tell them exactly what I expect to see in their letters.  They get graded on what they write.  My older levels are a little more fluent.  I give them a topic and let them roll with it.

I get asked almost daily if there is email.  It was awesome to open the mailbox a few weeks back and have paper letters.  The kids don't know a lot about snail mail, and getting a letter written from someone in France is a very unique lesson for them. We end up spending a lot of time talking culture, comparing the paper, the penmanship, the grammar and language skills the kids have.  It is a spectacular way to introduce the kids to cultural things they often miss.

I am very grateful that I decided to locate a class this year.  I think my students are going to get connections outside the classroom they never would have had and I am certain their language skills will be expanded greatly.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A followup to Simplemeet.me

Several months ago, I wrote a post about Simplemeet.me as a way to have a private chat room in a classroom.  I hadn't used it yet with my classes, so I decided I would do a quick followup post about it because it has become a very well liked tool in my classroom.

I introduced it to my French three class about a month into the school year.  We had just completed the imperfect tense review and I needed a way to practice the grammar and do more vocab expansion.  We started it up.  The kids loved it.  They were quick to join, quick to get excited.  I started out asking questions in the tenses and the girls were immediate to respond.  I noticed instantly extra vocab words popping up, self correction as well as peer correction and I noticed them trying to expand their grammar by asking me different questions about things outside what they know.

The girls beg me often to do simple meet.  We did it with other grammar points and I found it to be one of the better forms of review. I am very impressed by how effective it has been in my classroom.

I have had a few glitches with technology, occasional kick offs, a few times the kids are logged in as two different people. After all is said and done, however, they are benefiting from the tool.  I think this is one of the better tools I have come across and I am certain I will use it a lot more often in my classes.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Using Bubbl.us to brainstorm in class

I came across an article from edudemic with a list of 35 web 2.0 tools that are the best for the classroom.  I was really intrigued about bubbl.us as one of those tools.  I had to check it out.  The reason, because our district has talked about paying to get Inspiration for one of our teachers (or installing the old version we have from seven years ago on the student devices. Before spending all of that time, I decided I best check it out to save hours.

It is very simple to use. You create an account (takes about thirty seconds) and press the start brainstorming button in the middle of a large space. Start filling in your information.

You can add new sheets to continue your brainstorming process. I think the reason this was picked is because it is so simple to use.  It is easy to share with others, it is easy to export and import lists.  The format for adding additional pages reminds me a little of excel, adding tabs.  These are, however at the top instead of the bottom.

As you save your lists, it adds them to the sidebar.  It allows you to refer to them again later.  I can see this as a great tool for research papers, for short stories, for poetry assignments, for yearbook or even for French class.  It could even be a way to organize that great first novel.

If students share the sheet they build with the teacher, there could be a potential for grading.  Kids could really benefit from using this program for organizing.  I think that is one skill kids lack is organizing.  This is a way to teach them how to organize their work.  I suggest if you have a task for students to complete that involves using organizing and brainstorming, look at this site.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Using Wordle to practice vocabulary

Being a foreign language teacher, I often need to find lots of ways for my students to practice their vocabulary.  Early in my career, I started requiring my students to write their vocabulary words several times each as a means of practicing spelling. A few years back, I attended a conference and spent the entire lesson focusing on merely tech and web 2.0 tools. Someone did a presentation about wordle.  I took it back to my students immediately and had them attempt to use the program for word practice.  They really liked how it worked.

Wordle is a simple way to do a word graphic.  Students type in the words several times and each time the work is input, it gets larger on the final output of the graphic. The outcome is a really neat visual of all of the vocab words.   The students finalize it and embed the link into edmodo or email it to me directly.  It is a neater way to do an old fashioned assignment.

Wordle does more than just vocabulary.  Students can also write simple sentences, poems, definitions and create a visual of the words.

I can't tell you if kids are actually retaining the words doing it this way, but it is a different approach.  A few tips, however, if the words have articles, it is best to connect them together (lestylo) because the wordle will make the article huge and the words small. It also helps to keep the word and the article together.

Overall, this is a simple tool for the classroom. I think it has a lot of potential ideas for a classroom.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

An update on the Genre Shift/ Book Store Model

I decided to take a few minutes this week and update my readers about the Book Store Model/ Genrefication we are doing in my school library.  We are about 60 percent done with the non fiction section and I am already seeing a lot of benefits from the change. I am also seeing a lot of criticism.  Justifiably, I did this to help kids.  When a student comes to the media center, they need information and they need it fast. They are no longer given time with the Common Core Standards and the many assessments they need to do each year to spend hours in the media center roaming the stacks looking for books.  They also aren't effectively trained to use the catalog because doing so with a whole class setting doesn't happen. There just isn't enough time.  So we decided to move away from the classical setup of a library and shift ourselves into the new millennium.  A place where patrons can find things easier and staff can be more organized.  We have spent a lot of time talking and planning.  We are also spending a lot of time walking through the library and physically observing the things we have.  I am finding on a frequent basis that our collection is lacking and we are in need of newer things. I am also learning about what our kids are needing.

My critics feel I am not teaching kids the necessary library skills.  They comment that I am taking the lazy way out of running a library.  I disagree. Schools today don't have time to teach library skills the way they used to.  I get maybe five minutes per class to show them skills because the Common Core Standards require so much to get done.  I do a lot of one on one or very small group training.  It isn't uncommon to walk into the library and see two or three kids looking over my shoulder taking notes about a database or about the catalog.  Or, me making a quick training video and sending it them on email so they can learn it on their own. I am not lazy about this, I am efficient. I am not avoiding teaching them library skills, they learn skills, they just don't look for numbers developed 110 years ago, they look for categories.   When they leave my school, go to college or to the real world, they will do the same thing they do here, ask a librarian.  I hear adults at the public library asking for help all the time, how is my way any different?

Since I started this implementation, the kids are checking out Non-Fiction titles they never even glanced at before.  We label each section with a different sticker.  The kids see the sticker and it pops out at them.  They are pulling things based on what they see. They are reading books now that haven't been checked out in 5 or 6 years because of the location; the genre; or the area they see it. It is AWESOME!  If you are a school librarian and finding kids not using the library because there is no time in the day or because their teachers are rushing them in and out to meet the standards, look into it.  It is an awful lot of work, but the end result is so rewarding!

I am always willing to answer questions about the process.  I have been trying to establish a photo log of the process as well.  You can see my genre library dropbox and get an idea of how things are being developed as well as some ideas of the process we take.  Feel free to borrow ideas and email me if you ever have questions.

Because of Thanksgiving and the fact that Friday, I am taking a much deserved rest and shopping, I will not have a second post this week.  Look for more CLEAR posts after the holiday.

Friday, November 16, 2012

CLEAR RIA tools: Conversations

To continue my chat about CLEAR RIA tools, we have to talk about the conversation one.  So often, foreign language teachers have to assess lots of kids with just a little bit of time. I have some classes where I am spread thin and not able to meet each child several times during the duration of the class, especially if I am differentiating and helping someone who is confused about a step.

Conversations allows the teacher to record a series of questions and embed them into a website for students to respond to orally.  It is a super easy tool to use and I don't think it has to be used solely for the foreign language classroom.  I can see success with this in a variety of classes.  In a Social Studies class, students can use oral responses for a portion of an assessment.  Special education students who rely on dictation as a means of testing can respond orally. A speech teacher can strike an impromptu speech showing students an image or a question.  The ideas go on and on.

I am going to use it to get my French One students to talk about the weather.  The time setting it up may be a little more lengthy than a normal assignment, but as I do it annually, it can be recycled.  Check it out.  You may find something to do with the software.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

CLEAR RIA tools: Viewpoint embeddable videos

Being a foreign language teacher, the need to use videos is often very necessary in the classroom.  With all of the talk of flipping classrooms and using video for instruction, the need grows for many educators.  CLEAR from MSU has a program for videos called Viewpoint.  You can actually record video, audio and embed it directly into your school website or into Edmodo (and probably My Big Campus too). One thing I like is the fact that our school does not block these video streams.  Since they are directly coming from CLEAR, my school doesn't block it.   It saves a lot of time with the process to unblock websites for classroom use.

The program has a few options for you.  First of all, you can record a video with a camera and upload it to the site.  You can also record directly onto the site.  There are places to make a collection of videos as well.  You can also add your students to the site and have them respond and upload video.

It's something different to do in class and with so many people starting to talk about the flip, it might be a way to do it successully. 

Friday, November 9, 2012

CLEAR RIA tools: Revisions

Do you have your students do writing assignments in the target language you teach or in English, Social Studies, Science etc?  MSU CLEAR has established a tool that allows students to peer edit online.  The cool thing about the program, it also allows kids to record audio and add it to the file.  I spent a little time experimenting with it to see how I can use it in my class and I already have a few projects in mind.

First off, you have to have a CLEAR account.  You open Revisions and create classes. (Don't worry, there is a series of mini tutorials to help you get started.)  Invite your students to the classes.  They join, you add them and they accept the class.  From here on, you get to work.

There are tabs available for each class and here, you add assignments.  I decided to do a short writing assignment and sample the program.  It's awesome.  Each student can type/ record their thing and then they can edit each other's work.  The teacher can see a revision list with who does what.  It is easy.  I have used one note before and this program reminds me a little of one note, but, I think the teacher has more control of the actual outcome.

I tried using it a little last year and had my students work with poetry.  They translated a piece and then read it aloud onto the computer.  It was easy to do and to grade.  I recommend it to anyone.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

CLEAR RIA tools: The Video Dropbox

For part three of my CLEAR tools, I decided to talk about the video dropbox.

If you read my post about the audio dropbox, you will know how easy these tools are to use.  Merely create an account, login and go.  You embed the dropbox into a website or Edmodo and voila, kids can record anything right off the bat. The fact that the teacher can set a time limit on the dropbox also helps 

I used this a few times last year to record short skits in my French class but I think the tool could be use

d for so much more.


school is a 1:1 school.  All students have a device with a webcam.  I can see a video dropbox being used for oral history reports, weather reports, broadcasts, and presentation.

The one disadvantage to the CLEAR tools is the teacher has the account and the final product is only accessible to the teacher.  It would be hard to use it as a collaboration tool or to share information online with others. (Perhaps a presentation to sister school or something.)

Take a look at it, if you are in a district with webcam capable devices, it could really work for you.

Friday, November 2, 2012

How we handle Dia de los Muertos, in French class!

I am not a teacher of Spanish so dealing with day of the dead is not typically part of my cultural component in French class but, my partner in foreign language crime and I started a tradition a decade ago that we are happy to say continues to this day.

Every year, we build a cemetery in either the library or the courtyard (depending on the weather of course). Each of us require our students to write obituaries in the target language for themselves but not typical ones- comical ones. We also select a few teachers each year to add to the cemetery. We make tombstones for each and draw pictures and make them fancy. Their methods of "death" are often odd (the typing teacher died if key stroke, the librarian died of bookworms etc.) The kids do help write up the tombstones and the teachers are begging to get in.

How do we assess this? I use it as a writing grade and I also have my early level students figure out the tombs and answer questions. Some of the information is historical in nature- for example, Marie Antoinette and Edgar Allan Poe are included. The language related history is phenomenal and the kids leave learning a little bit about famous people who influenced language and history.

I love the reactions when kids walk into the library and see the tombs and the response as they scramble to see which teacher made it this year or which senior was lucky enough to go in.

The project is a process but, the outcome is really worth the time. If you are interested in any information about this project, you can access some of my files from the IFLTA conference a few years back. I will post those as soon as I track them down.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

CLEAR RIA tools: The Audio Dropbox

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the CLEAR (MSU language research center) has developed a plethora of tools to use for the language classroom as well as for teacher who need students to do interactive learning.  I don't think a language or ESL teacher are the only ones who would benefit from the services.

I decided I would start your journey with these tools with the easiest one to use: the Audio Dropbox.  I have used the Audio Dropbox for about three years now.  I embedded it into all of my websites and also into edmodo. (Yes, it can be embedded into your edmodo library and used over and over again!)

The dropbox is simple to use.  You start off creating an account at the CLEAR RIA website once you do that, you are asked to jump to a page. Where you see some places to make folders or dropboxes. I made one dropbox per class so I don't have to constantly embed different dropboxes, but if you wanted to, you could set it up for each class and have specific boxes for each chapter or each project.  It is really dependent on what you are planning to do.

I assign the kids various speaking activities and they record them directly into the dropbox.  I log into my account and grade them.  I notate into a rubric and send it directly to the kids.  It's a great way to share their grades with them as well as tell them the things they are stuggling with.  After the nine weeks ends, I delete the files and start over again.

I do have a few recommendations.  Embed the link into edmodo or the edmodo library. If you put it on a website, kids get confused about the different dropboxes and accidentally record into the wrong one.

One great thing about the CLEAR RIA, you do have a documentation sheet with each site that explains how it works and how to use it. Take a little time and check this site out. It's really easy to use and can do a lot for your classroom.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Using CLEAR RIA tools Part One

As a foreign language teacher, I am often introduced to tools and techniques at conferences that are not normally shared with teachers outside of the foreign language realm.  Some of the tools available are really fantastic for the language teacher, but, those outside the language box can also benefit from the tools.  Michigan State University's CLEAR (Center for Language Education and Research) is one such place.  CLEAR has a large assortment of what they cal RIA tools which are awesome ways to have students complete oral and video tasks.  I am going to take the next few blog posts to talk about the tools I use in my classroom and some of the advantages of them.  Check out the site, especially if you teach classes that require students to interact, respond and do speaking or video tasks.  The site also allows you to link to YouTube, TeacherTube and SchoolTube videos or upload your own.  They can be modified to meet your needs in the classroom.

The first thing to do, is take a look at the CLEAR site and look at some of the options available.   The site to check, is the RIA site.  These are Rich Internet Activities.  I use them at least twice a week, especially the audio dropbox.  The tools can be embedded into a website, including Edmodo.

There are also webinars and white papers.  Some of them are not for everyone, a majority are geared primarily for the language teacher, but something there might be of interest to a different content area. There are assessment tools, a quiz break, just to name a few.  Look around the site, I will be posting about some of the cool RIA tools in the next few posts.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Tubechop, the time saver

Have you had one of those lessons where you had a fifteen minute YouTube video and only needed a small, three minute clip to share?

I have been introduced to a cool site that quickly chops your video and lets you share it with students.  (I think it will be effective for those videos where the psychos are trying to insert inappropriate things into educational videos.) 

Here's how it works:  Find the YouTube video you intend to share with the kids. (Don't forget to check for creative commons and sharing rights), go to the tubechop website and insert the link to the video you want to clip. Press search, the video shows up and you select the parts you want.  Click the chop button and you see a series of links, and methods to share.  It's that simple. 

I have found a lot of great videos to use in my classroom but often I don't show them because I hate buffering, searching and waiting. With this, I just clip the part I want and voilà the video is ready to go.  I can share it via social media, embed it into my website or add it to Edmodo.  The kids can watch the clip several times if they need to, which is good for some kids.

Check tubechop out.  It is easy to use and makes some of the things we need done get done faster. 

Friday, October 19, 2012

A first nine weeks overview

Believe it or not, the first nine weeks of the school year has come to a close.  It's one of the fastest I have experienced, but, it has also taught me a few lessons along the way. First of all, it is a very real possibility to offer coursework in a different, real world way using technology.  Secondly, it is also a possibility to teach a class with technology and do so effectively.  Finally, it is possible to flip back to the old way when things aren't going right the new way.

I spent several days collaborating with my students this nine weeks, generating ideas, potential assessment solutions and getting kids excited about doing things differently.  For the first time in years, I set my students up with epals.  They ask daily if we have received mail.  They are excited to talk to kids in France and are I am excited because they are taking their language skills and making them stronger through collaboration and interaction. They are expected to write in French and their new friends in English.  The cultural differences alone are making kids realize students abroad have as much trouble learning a foreign language as they do.

I also spent time talking to kids about ways to learn better. I found through that discussion that providing a standard written assessment isn't going to always be the best way to see what they know.  Guess what! I changed my ways.  Yes, the kids still took a short vocabulary test but, I used a Voicethread for their unit test and asked them different things to discuss and handle.  My older kids actually took what they know and created a story which they read aloud. I hit so many standards with these lessons, it was amazing!

I also discovered something I already knew- teaching a class with technology CAN be done.  I stopped using paper last year, and I am again on the same track.  I use web 2.0 tools to help my kids get better.  We do quizlet reviews, epals, simple meet meetings and are looking into doing some mini oral collaborations through some different sites I have used for audio recordings.  (I am thinking they are mashups.)  I can ask the questions, kids do the answers.  I use a simple rubric to grade them.  I have no longer used paper for tests, I started using google docs for the short vocab quizzes.  Flubaroo grades it all.  I don't spend hours grading papers anymore.  I do it fast now.  Kids get results the same day.

Finally, the jump back to old ways.  I hate to even talk about this, but, the old way sometimes works just as well, especially when the technology isn't cooperating.  It's OK sometimes to grab a textbook and pull speaking and vocabulary review from them.  I have to remind myself that being a 21st century teacher and learner, I have to be able to think about what is best for the kids.  Sometimes, it may be spending a day looking at a book or using the book's listening and workbook activities is OK.  Sometimes kids need that skill.

All in all, the fastest nine weeks on history has been a learning experience for me as much as for my kids.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

How Quizlet is helping my students

So, are you a classroom teacher with a content area that requires a lot of vocabulary? Looking for a way to get your kids to review and be a little more successful with their information?  Take a look at this:  Quizlet

Last school year, one of my French one kids came in and said "Mrs. Wells, I have found this awesome site and it helped me study for the test we took today." (She had the highest score, by the way.)  So, I plugged her laptop into my projector and showed it to everyone.  I was hooked. 

Quizlet is a flashcard/ game/ testing/ review site where kids and teachers and go and study ANYTHING, yes, ANYTHING.  It even has obscure foreign languages on it.  I am using it a lot with my students, especially my French one kids.  I am requiring them to use it in class as a review for unit tests, quizzes and vocabulary assignments.   I have been fortunate enough to not re-invent the wheel.  Someone else already inserted the necessary cards for my textbooks so I just copied them to my account and shared them with my kids.

I like Quizlet because it is really user-friendly and it offers lots of different options for the kids.  It offers a visual version of a word as well as an audio version.  It hits a lot of the senses.  It also has the option of uploading an image for each word. (That could easily be a summer project) Or, have the kids work on that.  I was thinking if all of my students made a quizlet account, they could each make a set of cards and add the images to them and we share them.  Saves a lot of time for the teacher, but, helps the kids learn even more.

After the students review the flashcards, they can then play a few matching games and do a quiz/ test.  I even had my students take the test before the actual written component of a unit test to see how they did.  It truly could help students assess their learning and decide what components on which they need to spend more time.

I recommend looking at the site.  There are so many ways kids can review.