Saturday, May 24, 2008

Teaching Tech: Using The Internet In Language Learning

The internet has made it much easier for "foreign" language teachers to make their subject more relevant and interesting to their students. A few applications include 1) accessing primary resources in the target language, 2) establishing pen pal relationships with people who speak the target language, 3) practicing language using games, 4) practicing language through internet writing (discussion boards, blogs, chat rooms, etc.), and 5) using internet assessments.

One issue about using the internet in any classroom is whether a teacher should allow students to look for their own websites or whether to direct them to sites. I have seen first-hand that student-found sites are often superficial; they may be the first sites off a Google search or they may even just got straight to Wikipedia. It is important that students have the opportunity to do their own web research, however, teachers need to discuss the evaluation of websites with students. It is important to note that even sites from reputable sources may contain (or may link to) false information.

To give students structure to do internet research, I would give them several (3-4) good websites to look at on the topic of interest. In addition to the given websites, I would have students research another website on the same topic and pass in the web address along with a brief description of the site as part of their class or home work. By giving the students several examples, 1) They will have more starting points for their research, 2) They will see examples of good websites and 3) If one link doesn’t work, the whole project won’t be in danger. As students find more and more different websites about the topic, 1) the teacher will save time looking up new websites and 2) new websites will be found to replace expired ones for a project. When I monitored an AP internet class, the teachers of those classes always gave students the web addresses of sites they were to use. When they didn’t, straight to Wikipedia they went.

Of course, this implies there is some work to be done beforehand by the teacher to compile the links but once compiled, the resources will self-replace on the part of the students. I worked under a Hughes Education grant for a teacher doing this very work for about a month the summer of 2003. I imagine funding would be available for teachers wanting to undertake this sort of project, providing the work would be shared with other teachers.

In providing some web addresses for students and giving them guiding questions or an activity, teachers structure contexts for using the internet. Teachers can not send students on the internet to play a game (or do anything else) without a purpose. Internet resources, like any other instructional technique, can only be used after making assessments and constructing objectives. Making assessments and objectives would also help teachers figure out what types of web technology to use. For example, if I want to assess students’ knowledge about “Clauses with si” on sight, I would send them to play the battleship game at If I wanted students to know how to write different clauses or know the answer without a list, however, I would want to assess them in another way.

When you start collecting web addresses, the amount will become overwhelming very quickly. If I was going to organize myself for the internet for the semester or year, I would begin structuring web resources by making an outline of the topics so that websites could be organized by topic. By doing this, I would be able to see which topics are well covered by websites and which are not. I would also see when movies, simulations, video games, or other special internet resources are available for the unit. By knowing what isn’t on the internet, I know what I will have to provide for in class so students have access to the information.

The best uses of the internet for learning another language are accessing primary resources and communicating with native speakers. On the internet, students can listen to French music, read French newspapers and magazines, and watch French movies. Students could for example listen to “Cap √Čnrage” by Zachary Richard and look at the lyrics at the same time. They could then write a paragraph about what they think the song means. In addition to exposure to media, students can communicate directly with native speakers of a foreign language on the internet. Through personal communication, students get the unique opportunity to hear another voice (literally and figuratively) besides the teacher speaking the target language. If a friendship is formed, students also have new motivation to learn the language. With the internet, students can go beyond canned conversation and outdated issues discussed in textbooks. (Before I went to France, I often thought the people there lived in the 1980s based on the culture written about in the textbooks!) The internet has made language learning more exciting and more relevant than ever. The plethora of internet resources and uses makes knowledge and application of internet resources an essential part of teaching and learning in the language classroom.

It would be great if teachers would post their favorite French (or Spanish or any language that is not English) learning sites. It’s been a few years since I’ve done this so there is probably a lot out there I’m not aware of!

Nicole will post "Teaching Tech" (formerly Tech Tuesday) about internet resources for your classroom whenever she thinks of it, which is incidentally never on a Tuesday. She doesn't teach anymore but has her own personal finance blog and web communication business:

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Another Handy Tool from Google

I just discovered another handy tool from Google that seems to be a very user-friendly way of working with groups. It is called Google Sites and is of the wiki persuasion. Feel free to play with the one I set up here. What do you think?

* Oops . . . it appears that an invite needs to be extended in order to edit although viewing can be private or public. Thanks for the heads-up, Sarah Sutter.

OnTIME - Episode 6

Link to latest ACTEM Podcast

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Google Apps Reprise

Why Google Apps?

Google Apps Quick Tour

What Students Think of Google Apps

Question: Are there any reasons that K-12 schools should not use Google Apps?

Monday, May 19, 2008

Who would ever think pain can feel this good?

by Ed Latham

I am not a masochist, but I am a boy scout leader which some may mistake as the same thing, at times. This weekend, I had the pleasure of attending a district scout camporee with 7 fine individuals from our small town of Frenchville Maine. Our crew ranges from 6th graders through high school juniors with most of our scouts falling on the younger range of the scale. Our scouts are not gifted athletes and half of them are not academically outstanding. In short you may say our troop is a typical sample of students you may have in class in any rural area.

One event at this camporee was the tug of war. With the lack of physically dominant kids, I figured this would be one of the events that our kids dreaded. In fact, it was one of their favorite. The leaders in charge of the camporee threw the tug of war event in more as a time filler as opposed to any serious intent of competition. When boys were finished other events, they would come over to the rope and just start pulling each other around the field creating grass stains that any laundromat owner has nightmares about. The boys had an official pull that they did very well at and then continued trying different permutations to test themselves. At one point only two of our boys were taking on an entire troop of younger, smaller boys. The testosterone was in the air and I have to admit I caught a good whiff of it as I watch the boys preening and strutting their stuff.

I got up off the grass and started sauntering over to the rope as I pulled up my sleeves getting ready for a major lesson. The two scouts that had been dominating were whooping and hollering nervously as a "real challenge" was coming in their mind. I weigh in close to 250 pounds and these two boys totaled 350-400 total. Still everyone was all charged up and eager to see this old man take on the young studs. When we started, everyone was dead quiet and you could actually hear a few joints in my legs "adjusting". We pulled and held each other. They had mass but I had leverage, experience and a confident attitude. The boys learned quickly that if they tugged together, simply weight ratios demanded that my body would be lifted off the ground. I would gain an inch, they would lift me 4-5 inches before I could land and pull back another inch or so. I saw the end coming and started laughing as I bounced on my butt as they dragged me across the line. I knew the pull was unfair. I knew the competition was in no way balanced and I knew I had little chance of winning. The boys did not know that last part of course. Still I congratulated the boys on a fine pull and everyone had a blast with no excuses. I think I pulled a groin muscle or something as I started experiencing a good amount of pain about an hour or so later. Ah, old age catching up with a young mind.

Fast forward a few hours. At the evening bonfire, the leaders had determined there was enough interest in the tug of war earlier to have a pull offs between the two top teams. Our troop was one of the finalist. Our 7 were up against 8 other boys that were marginally bigger than ours. Our team was able to pull on a downhill grade which I figured was to account for the more mass on the other side. The pull was very tight and only after a couple min of pulling did our boys succeed. Then they switched sides! More mass going down hill, I was a wreck. The boys quietly took their new post and gave it their best. They were dragged with ease. They got up proudly as it was pronounced a third pull would decide it. Evidently there was no call to change sides. The boys did not complain once, but dug in to do their best. They held a few seconds then proceeded to get dragged easily away.

All the way back in the crowd they never once hung their head, and never offered an excuse. They were proud of what they did in spite of everything being stacked against them. When they got home and parents asked about the weekend, the tug of war topped every boys list of cool things.

I started walking through the halls of a school today and those part of my body that chose to not keep up with my mental youth were reminding me of my group of scouts and how their learning experience this weekend was so much different from what they may be experiencing in class today. I look to almost any school vision and I see words like perseverance, courage, creativity and so many other positive habits of mind. Until this weekend, I had never seen what the attainment of those traits actually looked like in a group of students. I have seen glimpses in individuals in school, but never the entire group sharing the experience and the learning. In the scouting program, many of the skills and habits of mind are programmed into their activities and merit badges. Watching these boys tackle very clear challenges, failing, and still relishing the experience helps to show me how much is missing out of a student's typical day at school. I have four adolescent boys and between the four of them I might hear of one thing each week that one of the boys might have experienced at school and he thought everyone should know about in a positive way. School just seems to be happening to them with little involvement or personal action.

I limped back to my room at school with my problem solving brain in high gear. Thoughts of Competency Based Education models, Mastery Teaching, and the Scouting Model bounce around my head as I start looking over the revised Maine State Learning Results. Why can't our curriculum look more like these models? The inner puppy in me was barking like crazy that it was time to play with possibilities and revisit hopes and dreams for education. Although, I am sure the muscles will be reminding me of my foolishness for days to come, the aches will help remind me of what real learning can look like. My legs, back and other parts of my body may be quite uncomfortable, but the feeling in my head and heart is oh so good!