Currently browsing Posts Tagged “homework”

Why do I use Web 2.0? Now that is a good question…

Leon filming student

I was delighted to welcome yesterday Theo Kuechel and Leon Cych who came over to my school to interview me and some of my pupils as they worked on a Web 2.0 project in our ICT room. Theo and Leon are filming a number of practitioners across the country in order to put together a number of case studies for an online CPD course on behalf of Naace for the Training and Development Agency for Schools.

Their questions made me reflect about why I use technology and Web 2.0 (nope, I don’t like that term either, but, hey, it’s all we’ve got) in my classes. Using web based applications has become so natural for me now, you could even say normal, that I always forget that those of us opting to enrich our pupil’s learning experience in this way are very much in the minority, for one reason or another.


My interest in using web based applications to enhance teaching and learning started early. Having used computers a lot in a previous incarnation working for a large transport and logistics company, I already felt comfortable with the idea of using computers to help me manage teaching administration, such as assessment data or lesson planning, by the time I started my teacher training,

But it was once I was placed in schools as part of my teacher training, teaching real students, that I realised that ICT could make my life easier as a teacher in terms of administration, and also that pupils were actually engaged and enthused by the prospect of using computers in learning languages.

The use of web applications also allowed my pupils to use software which they didn’t have to install and which could be accessed from any computer as long as it was connected to the internet. This meant that they could work on the same piece of work, the same project, both from school and from home, allowing me to bridge the gap in between the two.

Examples of Web 2.0 tools applied to school work

Looking back to only five years ago or so, it is obvious that I have incorporated Web 2.0 into my schemes of work more and more without really noticing or even without having made a conscious decision to do so. It just happened, because it worked for me and my students. Nowadays, my classes do a project every two or three weeks which involves the use of Web 2.0 applications in one way or another.

These are some of the projects on which we have worked in the past year:

What makes these applications so special and why should you care?

The visual qualities of web 2.0 are very important. When I was a student, I went home after school and relaxed watching tv or reading a magazine. In comparison, the first thing my pupils do, however, is switch on their computers, not the tv. In their computers, they are faced with a world which is bright and visual, rich in images, video and sound.

Using web 2.0 at school taps into this world of theirs and allows pupils to express their creativity in a way which they find familiar, because these websites operate on the same principles of social networking and content creation and sharing to which they are already so used to. So, if we teach them in a way that reflects how they live their lives when they’re not in school, and if we help to ensure that the gap between their school life and real life is minimised, we then become better able to guarantee the commitment and engagement of the vast majority of our students.

Perhaps Prensky had a point after all…

In my experience, pupils come into secondary schools nowadays having already become very familiar with computers and able to easily navigate websites and communicate using the internet. If they are faced with new tools, they have a go and generally learn impressively quickly how to use them.

Yes, of course, this doesn’t apply to every pupil and, of course, they still struggle with spreadsheets and, of course, they don’t really understand what internal computing processes make the animations in Go!Animate come about. And does it really matter? If you think about it, they don’t have to know: you manage to drive a car perfectly well with only a basic understanding of how a gear-box operates or how the fuel is fed to the engine; you are probably perfectly fluent in English but, unless you’re a linguist, you might struggle to tell the difference between the indicative and subjunctive mood or the passive and active voice.

This doesn’t mean you can’t really drive or that you can’t really speak English, just that you don’t need to know the internal workings of how it is achieved, just in the same way a Formula 1 driver does not need to know the width of a piston or a writer does not need to know how many phonemes the English language has. Let’s face it, not everyone is going to be a Flash developer.

My inkling is that my younger students come to us already having developed something akin to web sytax, an internet universal grammar if you like, which they have often already mastered by the time they make the transition from primary. We, teachers, therefore ought to be able to make the most of what abilities these students already posses so as to transform the way we teach them.

Many thanks again to Leon and Theo for coming to see us and for making me think about why I do what I do. As ever, do feel free to let me know, by way of comment, what your thoughts are.

Photos by Theo Kuechel

Integrating Glogster into my lessons

When I first discovered Glogster just over a month ago, I realised straight away that it had great potential as a tool to engage my students and to get them to want to write and even speak in the foreign language.

In this case, I decided to integrate the use of Glogster in this week’s schemes of work and, as I did not want to leave myself to the mercy of our school network, I decided that in this first attempt at using Glogster, I would play it safe and set the creation of an online poster for homework.

My students, a Year 8 group (13 year olds), first year studying German, had recently been learning vocabulary relating to family, such as father, mother, sister, etc and in the previous lesson I had just introduced vocabulary pertaining to character, such as nice, boring, intellingent, etc.

On the day the homework was due to be set I dedicated 15 minutes (out of a 40 minutes lesson) to introduce Glogster to my students, demonstrate and exemplify its use and to explain clearly what I wanted them to achieve. This is what I outlined to them:

  • Make up an imaginary family, pick four members and describe their age, their character and their relation to you, as well as their name. You must be one of the members of the family.
  • Upload photos, add banners and text as you see appropriate.
  • Absolutely no offensive or inappropriate content.
  • You must email me the link to your Glog in time for our next lesson.

My objectives were:

  • My pupils should demonstrate knowledge of vocabulary acquired in recent lessons.
  • Pupils should demonstrate their ability to use the verb heißen (to be called) and sein (to be) to describe themselves as well as other people (first and third person use).

As the homework started to show up in my email’s in-tray, it was clear that the boys (I teach boys only) had done exactly what I had asked of them and it was patently obvious that they had enjoyed themselves in the process. Not only that, but it also made my marking much more enjoyable!

This is a very tentative first use of Glogster and I deliberately kept it simple by not requesting on this occasion that they recorded themselves speaking in the target language in order to add their voices to the poster. This is however something that I am certainly keen to explore in the near future.

Have you used Glogster yet? What do you think?

Glogster – create online posters

I’ve been meaning to take a closer look at Glogster for a couple of weeks now, ever since I was having a chat with a colleague from school who was as fed up trying to get his students to make a brochure using Microsoft Word as part of the ICT provision. It turns out that his students were fed up too trying to make Word do things it wasn’t designed to do. I thought there should be a better option out there, and I think I’ve found it in Glogster.

Glogster is a Web 2.0 tool that allows students to create online posters or glogs, as they call them, which can then be shared on the internet and, crucially, they can be embedded on school wikis.

Many subjects, not least Languages, make brochures using computers every now and then. They are great for acquiring ICT skills, motivating students to do some research on a topic and write in the target language and, if planned properly, they are also fantastic peer assessment tools.

But why limit yourself to only writing? We live in an age of rich media and instant communication. Our pupils go home, get online and watch videos on Youtube, listen to music on MySpace or and comment on each other’s videos or profiles. That’s what they do. They most certainly do not open Word for fun.

That’s Glogster’s advantage in my opinion. It offers students an environment which they are used to, it allows them to be intuitively creative (dragging and dropping, resizing etc), have fun and, most importantly, it allows them to include sound and video. Click here or on the picture above to go to a glog I made earlier today, notice the sound and video players.

If you are a language teacher, you’ll immediately realise how useful the ability to add sound files is. Students can record themselves in the privacy of their own headsets or at home, removing any reticence to speak in the target language in front of peers or teachers. If they get something wrong, they just delete it and try again, as many times as it takes to get it right. It’s brilliant.

So, next time you’re thinking of getting your students to do a brochure in the ICT rooms or as homework, get them to do a glog instead. I can guarantee that you will be pleasantly surprised with the outcome (it’s often the quiet ones who really shine, in my experience) and that you will have students wanting to speak write and research about your subject. What more do you want?

A very nice touch from Glogster is that they offer support for education by creating private school accounts. So no worries about safety then. Visit the Glogster Education page for more information.

After half term, I’ll be using Glogster with my Year 8 German group (12-13 year olds) to make posters about where they live. I’ll be back in touch with the results.

What do you think about Glogster? Can you think of any other alternatives to the good, old word-processed brochure?

Animate your homework!

The above is an animation by Adam, a year 8 pupil (12 years old) who has started learning German this term.

I have always enjoyed setting fun homework, as both my students and I find it’s a welcome change from the old exercise book. Every so often I set my younger students a comic writing ICT task. Whereas on previous occasions I’ve generally opted for Toondoo, this time I’ve gone for GoAnimate.

I set out to use GoAnimate to assess my student’s ability to produce a dialogue in German that would showcase their knowledge of the different vocabulary and grammatical constructions they have acquired this past half term. I simply tweaked this week’s schemes of work to include GoAnimate as an assessment tool, instead of a dialogue on a sheet of paper or exercise book.

During the course of three lessons this past week I introduced the tool to the students by showing them GoAnimate’s demo video on the Interactive Whiteboard (IWB). They were immediately engaged and couldn’t wait to go home and start writing in German! As you can imagine, a very welcome change!

I also laid out clear expectations of the quality and quantity of the work, as well as what was acceptable and what wasn’t in terms of content. We then spent the rest of the lesson drafting possible dialogues and enacting them in class.

Once I had received all the homework, i.e an email link to each student’s animation on GoAnimate, I carefully checked each student’s dialogue and made notes of common errors that had cropped up and followed them up in my next lesson with them.

I used the IWB again  to show some of the animations containing the most common mistakes, such as ich hieße, instead of ich heiße, or simply missing out the capitals for nouns and then asked the students to comment on and assess each other’s work.

Although I didn’t take advantage of it on this occasion, GoAnimate also allows you to upload sound files, giving you the possibility to add voice recordings to the animation. On this occasion, as it was a homework task and I could not expect every pupil to have a microphone at home, I decided not to use this feature. It could, however, be successfully used if choose to do this type of work within lesson time in suitably equipped ICT rooms, for example.

Although it’s not something I wouldn’t do every week, mainly because both my students and I would bore quickly when the novelty’s worn off, it is certainly something I’d recommend doing every so often, at the end of a sequence of lessons, for example.

What do you think? Can you see yourself using GoAnimate in this way? Do you have any other suggestions?

I now need to go and find out what ein Bettlerhaste is…

Using Voki and a blog in a sequence of three lessons

I have recently been looking into motivating pupils, boys in particular, to speak in the target language and I have been studying the use of Voki and my subject blog as the means to achieve this objective. Having laid out the rationale for the use of Web 2.0 for this purpose in a previous post, I would like to explain exactly what I did in these three lessons and how I planned them.

I was very careful to introduce the idea of using Voki to my pupils so that they would be immediately engaged and enthused by the prospect of using it. I therefore decided to plan for serendipity and cheat slightly by making them think it was their idea to use Voki all along: I purposefully showed them a Voki during a lesson which had been recorded by my three year old son speaking in Spanish. I then waited until one of my pupils suggested that they could use Voki in their Spanish lesson, what a brilliant idea!

From this moment on, I deliberately tried to become a facilitator or a collaborator: a senior partner who would mentor them through the process of acquainting themselves with the new application and with the creation of their own Spanish-speaking avatar. After a quick demonstration in which I explained how to register on the website and how to obtain the necessary code to embed their finished Voki in our subject blog, we decided that it was really easy and that we should use Voki to practise the latest topic that we had been revising: My Town (Home and Local Environment).

I had, however, a main concern regarding using this method to achieve my purpose, which is encapsulated in this question: what evidence is there that using  ICT would be a more effective way to achieve my aims and objectives than standard teaching practice?

Given that my objective was to increase my pupils’ confidence in speaking Spanish, in answer to the above question I surmise the following: since it is generally agreed that ICT both motivates and enthuses learners and it has been firmly established that pupils’ motivation bears tremendous influence in the process of language learning and acquisition, it follows, in my opinion, that motivation and encouragement should, per se, be an objective to be sought as a language teacher.

Introducing the use Web 2.0 tools in the form of blogs and Voki into my schemes of work is therefore justified on the grounds that it will engage my pupils to a greater extent than traditional teaching methods and it will bestow in them a wish to participate.

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