Monthly Archives: May 2014

Course 4: Final Project Ideas for Course 5

It is the last day of my first year of international teaching, and I’m writing my last blog entry for my first year of Coetail as well. I feel like I’m at both the beginning and the end of a long journey. The year is over. My bulletin boards are stripped, my Moodle and Atlas pages are in order. Everything is packed up for 8 weeks.

But my mind is already 8 weeks ahead, thinking about next year. I got my schedule for next year today. I am teaching 6th and 7th grade French, but not 8th next year. All along I have been planning to do Course 5 centered around my 8th graders because their level of language being more advanced leads to more interesting projects (tech projects as well as traditional). I’ve known for a few weeks that it was likely that I wouldn’t have that class next year, and I’ve started to mull over ways that I can develop a final project with my 6th or 7th graders.

Here are my ideas at this point:

1) Redesign my unit that is the introduction to the past tense, to become a unit focused around digital storytelling. I love the idea. I’m also worried that the level of French in 7th grade is still far too elementary to create digital stories of any degree of interest.

2) Have students create infographics for each unit of a course, and create a digital gallery of the various visual ways of representing the topics covered— perhaps by creating a class blog or website.

3) My final idea is to do something with gamification in the classroom. I read a blog post this week called A New Roll for Avatars: Learning Languages and the creativity behind that idea just amazed me. I had spoken with Laura Blair, our tech integrator at AISC in the fall about how I would like for my kids to play some games in French, but the level of sophistication in this looks like it could be quite impressive. I need to look into it far more before I’m convinced that this is an appropriate final project idea. I would need a way to track my students’ participation and language use within such a program, for example. This is something that I definitely want to explore more.

There are so many fabulous ideas out there in technology. Any other suggestions for a final project for a world language classroom? I’d love other suggestions, as I am in no way set on any of those three ideas! I’ll keep you posted about what I decide when school resumes!

Tech Break in a Tech Rich Environment?

My students are immersed in technology all the time. I walk past classrooms with students on their laptops all the time. They do great tech projects, and use their portfolios to document progress. They live in a tech rich environment, which is great.

Then they go to lunch, or morning break, and many of them immediately open up their laptops or grab and check whatever social media they want.

They do likewise between classes.

Is a “tech break” needed in the middle of a 50 minute class? Or should my students be able to make it that long without checking if they got any messages?

I believe that the answer is yes. Of course, there are exceptional moments, and if a kid is honestly waiting for some email from a coach about whether or not they get to travel on a school athletic trip, of course checking their email to get this off their minds would be useful—- but aside from those exceptions which will always exist, I think that having a “tech break” would just teach my students less focus instead of more.

Already, focusing on using technology appropriately in class without having other windows opened with chats going is difficult for many of them. When they open their computers, gmail chat is already turned on from earlier at break, and the messages start pouring in before my kids even can think to begin what they are supposed to be doing for the lesson. Do I want to answer messages when they arrive too? Of course! But there are times when I know that it is impossible or inappropriate for me to reply to messages. When I’m teaching is an example of this— the same it is inappropriate for my students to reply to such messages during class.

A lot of people claim that they can multi-task well. I have read many times that what we think of as “multitasking” actually decreases our productivity. This article, “How Multitasking Hurts Your Brain (and Your Effectiveness at Work)” describes many of our realities today. Those little pings of messages often prevent me from working at my best, and the same with my students. And those messages are rarely urgent, and rarely are a 1 minute exchange. The chats often go on for quite some time. I feel that if I say 3 minutes of chatting is ok, the moment that time is over will be the start of my students once again wondering what new message awaits them. I think that 50 minutes of time to focus on a class is a reasonable expectation.

Are our classrooms really obsolete?

I started the readings for this week with the article The Classroom is Obsolete: It’s Time for Something New. The article argues that “the classroom has been obsolete for several decades. That’s not just my opinion. It’s established science.” I find it really hard to take an article seriously that makes such an extreme position in the opening paragraph. Is classroom instruction perfect? Of course not! Can we improve our instruction? Yes, and doing so is imperative. Is a classroom alone an adequate environment for all learning to best occur? No. But is it really truly obsolete? Has it really been obsolete since before I was born? I hope not, because if so I feel like I better start finding a new career now. I think that what occurs in my classroom is certainly NOT obsolete. Or am I a some relic of the past that just can’t bring myself to admit defeat?

The article argues for a different school set-up, basically one where learning can occur more organically and across disciplines. Not a bad idea at all, once I get past that opening paragraph. Once you get further into the article you discover that you can even still have a classroom-like space; you just have to call it a “learning suite”! Most of the key principles listed in the article as being essential for a school of tomorrow are things that I already see daily in my school, despite it being cursed with classrooms. Student-centered? Yes. Safe and secure? Yes. High expectations? Yes. And the list goes on.

After having read this article about the need for a more open school design, I also read the articles about Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs).

In theory a MOOC is a great idea because a student can progress through the course at his or her own speed, and can investigate his/her own questions through online research or interactions online with others in the course.

My question is this: If classrooms are “obsolete” because they “are based on the erroneous assumption that efficient delivery of content is the same as effective learning,” as stated in the EdWeek article, then does a MOOC which is designed to effectively deliver content to hundreds or thousands of people offer any great of a solution? Of course in a MOOC, a student can do additional research, interact with peers, and push him or herself to learn more about what aspects of a course seem most relevant to that student. But should our students be encouraged to do the same in our physical classes?

Of course, MOOCS offer other benefits as well— I could register for a MOOC that presents information that I currently do not have a way of learning in another way. My students could take a MOOC to learn something else in any given subject as well.

However, at the end of the day a class has to be interesting to a student, has to be relevant, and has to be student-centered to work well. This can be done online (although I really do think that a MOOC with thousands of people in it would be extremely difficult to create in a genuinely student-centered way). This can be done in a non-traditionally designed school with open spaces and “learning suites,” and this can even be done in a physical classroom with real living students, a real living teacher, and technology to help us in pursuing our interests and answering our questions.

For now, I’m going to hold off on calling my classroom obsolete. I am not renaming it a “learning suite,” and I’m also not yet ready to believe that a MOOC can offer the same level of personalized instruction and interactive quality that I strive for in my classes.

I’m Not Ready to Flip

A “flipped classroom” is one in which the student uses time at home to basically experience what would have been a lecture in a traditional classroom structure— usually this comes from a video, but it could come from other types of multimedia instruction as well. By having the traditional lecture done outside of class, this frees up class time for other purposes— applying the information that has already been presented.
This infographic explains the concept well.

I think that, as the infographic shows, the videos being limited to 5-7 minutes is what makes this method of teaching more practical than what I had previously imagined. I don’t give “lectures” to middle school kids in French class. I do, however, often spend about 2-5 minutes explaining a grammar concept. Having videos explaining those concepts could be a great way to expose students to the concepts ahead of class, so we are prepared to dive right into applying those concepts to our own work.

My one major concern about depending on a flipped classroom model is the 10% of students who don’t typically do homework, and who especially find online work easy to avoid because they can always claim that the internet wasn’t working at their home (a believable enough situation here in Chennai—- often the internet works fine, but my own home internet has been too slow to allow me to streams videos for some weeks). I like the idea of flipping my classroom, but I’m not sure the time for that is right yet.

I should make or find videos that serve the purpose of allowing students to watch the video at their own pace as many times as needed, but I imagine this as a supplemental tool, and not the only way of presenting that information. I still do find value in presenting key points live in class to my students and am not yet convinced in the value of doing no direct instruction in class. Obviously, the days of the teacher standing in front of his or her class and “lecturing” for a full hour are no more, which is a good thing. I’m also not yet convinced that a 5-minute in-class explanation of a concept is necessarily something that should always be put on a video to watch at home instead.

Projects

Project based, problem based, and challenge based learning are all authentic student-centered ways for students to learn. I think of the three as being separate, but also existing along a continuum, with projects being a good place to start, and problem based and challenge based being more advanced. They are all ways to keep kids engaged in their own learning, and to connect it to the use of knowledge and skills outside the classroom. Best of all, students of any age really do love to do projects.

The Buck Institute for Education says that project based learning is “a systematic teaching method that engages students in learning knowledge and skills through and extended inquiry process structured around complex, authentic questions, and carefully designed products and tasks.” Problem based learning focuses on solving a problem, which is a more specific type of learning than project based (which includes so many various types of projects). The website Challenge Based Learning explains that “Challenge Based Learning is an engaging multidisciplinary approach to teaching and learning that encourages students to leverage the technology they use in their daily lives to solve real-world problems through efforts in their homes, schools and communities.”

The same way that I am working towards the “redefinition” goal on the SAMR Model, I also see Challenge Based Learning as a great goal to work towards. I’m not sure how to do this in a language class, to tell you the truth. From time to time we discuss problems that exist and how to solve them, but that is as far as we get, and even this level of discussion is rare in the first levels of French.

Currently, I would say that project based learning is what I am doing in my classroom. My COETAIL final projects have all been project based learning, and of course we have done other projects throughout the year also. Don Doehla has a great blog entry on Edutopia about using project based learning in a world language classroom— I think I’ll try his alphabet book idea next year! I’m eager to use even more projects in my classes next year, and to look for ways to push myself towards doing problem based and challenge based projects as well.

Labeling my tech integration level

I’m currently swamped in almost-the-end-of-the-year grading. Somehow I managed to plan in a way that every class finished a unit this week and had a test. My oh my. Grading is not my favorite part of teaching. At all.

When I think about the SAMR Model, I feel like I’m grading myself. Am I bad at using technology? Then I’m just doing substitution. Am I great? Then I’m up at the modification level… or maybe even the redefinition model!

The problem with grading in general is that it is hard to slap one definition on anyone’s abilities. Many of my students have a mix of grades in the grade book for the year. If I looked back at my own tech integration over the past year and assigned grades of S, A, M, or R, I’d also have a mix. If a student gets an A on a test, it doesn’t mean they are completely immune from ever doing mediocre work again. The same is true for me. I’ve had my technology high points over the past year, and some real low points as well. I have some projects going well right now, but I don’t feel comfortable saying, “I integrate technology at the modification level.” Honestly, I feel like technology for me is two steps forward, then one step back.

Sometimes I have students fill out a shared Google Spreadsheet with information. That is pretty much substitution. I could have taped a piece of paper to my whiteboard and had kids write what region they want to research for a project and accomplished the same goal.

More often, however, I have students do activities such as practice their vocabulary at home with Quizlet online flashcards. I would say this is augmentation or maybe modification, because the activities you can do with these flashcards go well beyond what you can do with traditional paper flashcards. My students love to compete against each other in games on Quizlet, for example, and that wouldn’t be possible with traditional flashcards. I would also say that the RSA videos we made a while back, and the infographics we are creating in class now are something between augmentation and modification as well. Sometimes I feel like infographics are little more than sleek digital posters. At the same time, my students can use them in their digital portfolios and share them in various ways, which I think of as being more indicative of a modification-level activity.

I need to keep searching for ways to really redefine what my students are able to do with the help of technology.

Course 3: Final Project!

This is my first year teaching internationally. I love a lot about it. Out of all the many things that I love though, my students are at the top of the list. They are amazing! They come to class excited to learn, and the progress they have made this year in French class is impressive. I feel this is particularly true of my beginning level students. In one student’s ePortfolio she made the observation, “At the start of the year I didn’t know any French and now I can tell almost everything I do in a week in French!” It is exciting to see students learn a language from the basics up. This is made even more enjoyable by the fact that my students are such enjoyable people to be around and to teach.

Unfortunately, one downside of teaching internationally is that these amazing students leave too often! As the end of the school year approaches, I feel like I’m learning every week about another kid who will not be returning to AISC next year. I’m sure that I’ll get a number of other wonderful students next year, but right now I’m more than a bit sad to see so many of my current students leaving.

As I think ahead to next year, I know that everyone will be meeting new people. I’ll meet new students. The students who are staying at AISC will meet some new classmates. Those who are moving elsewhere will also meet new peers and new teachers. There will be a lot of introductions.

Before this school year finishes, I want to do a project with my beginning French students to create an infographic that tells about them, what they do in a typical week, and communicates their likes and dislikes. This is a great way for my students to showcase the French they have learned this year in a visually appealing way that they can be proud of. It is also a product that leaving students can use to introduce themselves to new peers and to a new teacher. For students that I will be teaching next year, we can use this in the fall to review and to introduce ourselves to new students.

I am going to begin this project with my students in the next week, and I’ll post an update showing some of the finished projects before the school year is over.

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