Monday, November 26, 2012

A Very Short Open Letter to the President

Let me open by saying that I have read a lot of Stephen Krashen's work (but not nearly all of it!) and I find inspiration in his writings. I cite him in my presentations and I often refer to his work when putting together my own work. This is a letter that he has given open permission for educators to share, and I'd like to share it with you all. ~Miriam~

A very short open letter to President Obama
November 26, 2012

There is enormous frustration and dissatisfaction among professional educators about current educational policy. Many, especially those in the classroom and closest to the children, feel that current policy, one of closing public schools, encouraging privatization, and imposing more testing than has ever been seen on this planet, is ba
dly misguided and will lead to tragic consequences for our children, damage that will take decades to repair.

Professional educators feel that government is not paying attention to their expert opinions, and is paying far too much attention to non-experts. The voices of respected scholars are not being heard, and highly competent professional research done over the last few decades is being ignored.

The US Department of Education must stop demoralizing professional educators and free them to teach with passion.

Rather than submit another long open letter detailing these concerns, here is a simple suggestion. Please hold a private one-on-one meeting with Dr. Diane Ravitch for a serious conversation about education.

As you may know, Dr. Ravitch is a very highly respected and dedicated professional educator, a distinguished scholar, a very clear writer and speaker, and extremely knowledgeable about the major issues in education today. She does not represent any special interest group other than our teachers and our children.

We hope you will be willing, and eager, to meet with Dr. Ravitch, who has become the spokesperson for educators in America concerned about current policy.

Stephen Krashen
Professor Emeritus
University of Southern California

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Kids These Days: Thoughts on Change and Teaching

I have mentioned before that I consider Google+ an important part of my PLN.  It is an honestly intellectual space for me where I get to converse with great teachers from all over the nation  (and sometimes outside the nation) about education, what education is, what it could be, what I would like it to be, and how it could get there.

Inspired by discussions I've taken part in on G+, I've spent a lot of time lately thinking about students. Even in the sacred space of Google+, among some of the most forward-thinking educators I have ever met, I sometimes see the words "kids have changed."

They are some of my least favorite words.  Mostly because they represent a generational "us vs. them" mentality, and partly because I don't agree with them.

My kids, my students, are much like I and my friends were when I was in high school.  They are at an age that is both dependent and independent.  They worry about how everyone else views them but don't want anyone to know they care about that.  They think about the future but their experience is limited so they spend most of their time thinking about themselves.  And that's okay because they are just now at an amazing point in their lives, a point of self-discovery, the precipice of adulthood and self-actualization, when they learn who they are and who they want to be.  Teenhood is a self-indulgent and exploratory time of life, and it has been that way since we stopped expecting people to begin work and raise families before they turn twenty.

Kids haven't changed.

The world has.

Just last week, I wanted to tell another teacher that I really like his Twitter icon.  I tweeted him the complement in Latin.  It's cool to get communicate with someone in my language of choice, but that's not why I chose to write him in Latin.  It also happens to be our common language--he's from Spain.

The world is getting smaller and technology--specifically the internet--is the reason.  It connects people regardless of national borders or distances between households.  It's all around us: smartphones, tablets, laptops--try going somewhere without seeing at least one of these electrical devices.

And it's pretty much omniscient.

I can't remember the last time I had a question I couldn't answer via Google.  Most likely my students can't remember a first time. 

That is the difference between our worlds.  Right there.  When I didn't know something growing up, I had to either find a book or ask someone, usually an adult.  Teachers were often a source of any knowledge that I could not find easily on my own.  Today, my students pull out their phones when they don't know something.  They don't need an adult to play "fount of knowledge" because they have a real fount of knowledge few humans could compete with.  My students can find out much more about the Romans online than I can hold in my head. There is a constant flow of information online, ever-updated and upgraded, and it's amazingly accessible. 

I'm not necessary any more.  Teachers have become obsolete.

If I subscribe to a traditional theory of a teacher's place in education.  Which, fortunately, I do not.  There is no reason, in a society that is becoming increasingly technology-savvy and in a world where information is available at the touch of a button, to continue viewing teachers in such a limited way.  We should not be arbiters of information but guides, co-learners, helping our students and ourselves learn to utilize information now that it is so readily available.

There is a sort of artificiality to the way schools are run today.  My friend, Justin Schwamm, hit upon the same idea in yesterday's post on his blog:
"Both schools and textbooks function ‘as designed,’ but the design is obsolete, and so is the underlying paradigm (knowledge is scarce and must be transmitted from expert to novice)."

Knowledge is abundant.  So, when schools and administrative sources try to fit students into an obsolete and flawed paradigm, built on a system designed to filter the "good" students (students who sit still, take notes, study, and test well) from the "bad" (anyone who does not fit the previous description) and to train future  factory workers (bells, isolated work stations, absolute authority), they are going to chafe and rebel.  And many teachers, who honestly don't understand the source of the resistance, begin to blame "kids these days" and their "overabundance" of technology, instead of looking at the redundancy of a program that only offers a resource students already can get more easily, more quickly, and more concisely.  

So what do we do?

My opinion is that we need to rethink education.  Figure out what our goal is.  We claim that we want every child to succeed, then we measure success by a means that is definitely not adjusted to the needs of every child.  We claim that we want our children to want to learn, then shove them into static formations and practice a basic memorize-information-regurgitate-information formula that interests no one.  We claim we want to prepare kids for life in today's world, then feed them knowledge and refuse to train them to think for themselves and work cooperatively and creatively (easily necessary 21st century skills).

I myself want every child to succeed, and I want my kids to want to learn, and most of all I want them to become life-long learners who know how to seek out the knowledge they need and utilize it to create, to solve problems, and to organize.  I would love to see a system that cares more about teaching children to use their smartphones in a way that is constructive, instead of a system that tries (and fails) to discourage kids from using the tools that they have and that make sense to them.  I want a system that celebrates failure, as long as it's failure that leads to learning and future success.  I want a system that supports chance-taking and pushing yourself academically more than getting a good grade and taking tests well.

Unfortunately, even though I work for and with great people, and enjoy where I teach in most ways, there is just not that kind of flexibility where I work.  It's not my administrators' faults.  In order for kids to succeed and get a job, they have to go to college.  In order for them to go to college, they have to graduate.  In order for them to graduate, they have to succeed on a variety of tests.  If we don't teach to the test, our kids suffer the most in our current system, and I'm not willing to sacrifice them to make a point.

So, for now, I continue in my position of "fount of knowledge."  I hope someday to have a new title, "co-learner," reflecting a role that is cooperative instead of authoritative.  I hope someday all kids will feel valued and supported instead of filtered out of a system that was not built for them.  I hope then, at that point, no one will still be saying "kids these days" except to celebrate student achievements.

But right now, we can talk.  Most of my ideas were spawned or inspired by some really great conversations on Google+, where we encourage each other to seriously discuss education, from all angles.  Talking about these sorts of things helps us understand our own thoughts and our own opinions more clearly, or sometimes exposes us to possibilities we never really knew were there.  Join the discussion.  The more we talk, the better chance we have of being heard and making a better place.  Or at least helping someone think, whether they agree with us or not.

Change is coming.  We can fight it or we can accept it, change ourselves, and become better than we were.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Singing a Song for Memory's Sake

I think I need to start by apologizing.  I have let almost two months slip by without posting anything.  I am sorry.  Miriam and I started this blog because we hoped to share ideas and generate conversation about classroom practices.  That really cannot happen if I don't bother to post anything.

I have excuses; some of my excuses will likely actually become blog posts.

Generally, though, it's the beginning of the school year, when I spend most of my time trying to get my head on straight and my feet firmly planted.  I only started reading blogs regularly again about a week ago.

And now, a week later, a blog post.

One of my and my students' favorite activities so far this year has been a simple one that I have actually done before in class--without integrated technology.

I believe in using art to help students elicit better and truer connections between concepts, help them learn or memorize the many, many forms that Latin tends to ask out of them, and help them create their own relationship with the material we cover.  Sometimes I have them draw.  Last year I made them write a haiku (an activity I hope to develop more fully this year--I enjoyed the exercise and Latin, with its lack of emphasis on word order, is particularly well-suited to haiku).  And there is always music.

We sing in my class almost from day one.  A song for the present tense.  One for the noun forms.  I have songs on a CD I purchased, songs handed down to me by other Latin teachers, and even some that I have created myself.

All of that helps, and when students fill out surveys at the end of the year listing what worked and didn't work in my class, the songs are always listed as the most helpful aspect of class.  They are also often listed by some of those same students as the things that they disliked the most--but I can take the bad as long as I get the good.

About a month ago (sorry again!), my students were being asked to learn the forms of hic and ille, which are very irregular words.  I actually don't have a song in my pocket for those forms, so I couldn't offer them a quick recording they could put on repeat at home until they learned all the endings.  Instead, I chose to ask students to form small groups (this is Latin II, so they have all had my class before, we have a good rapport, and I don't need to either give them a seating chart or choose groups for them) and create songs that incorporated all of the different forms.  The rule was that the songs couldn't be too long and they had to be catchy.

Roaming around the room as students worked, I found some students singing various children's songs together while others were furiously thumbing through their music lists on their smart phones, playing bits of songs they thought might work as the rest of their groups listened and commented.  Each group had to repeatedly sing each form to test the forms with each new song.  Each group had to sing the forms several times to practice and get the song right.

Then came the recording.  This part of the activity needs some tweaking before I do it again, and it really just came to me as a whim when a student asked me "Will we be singing these for the whole class?"  She somehow managed to look both hopeful and worried, and I found my normal answer ("No"--because I don't like putting students on the spot when I don't have to--besides, even without incorporating a class performance, I was getting what I wanted out the activity: practice and repetition) somehow lacking.  Instead, before I knew it, the words "We'll be recording them" had slipped out and she left pleased.  I stood in place, wondering how I was going to pull it off.

Enter VoiceThread.  You have probably heard of it.  It's an online service that allows you to choose an image, set it up as a "voicethread" and then open it up for "comments," which can be recorded audio, typed, or drawn.  There are many ways to use this service, most of them much more creative than my simple public repository for student songs, and I promise a future blog post that highlights this free web tool.

The next day, when they were due to have their songs completed and ready to record, I showed my students how to make a voicethread and how to record their songs as a comment on an image of their choosing.  I logged them in to my own account, offered them a microphone, and let each group take a turn.  Most groups took a couple of tries to record their songs successfully (just think--more repetitions!).  I had the rest of the class working on a different activity while a group at a time recorded.

That evening, I quickly posted links to each voicethread on a blog I created solely for this kind of purpose, created a QR code (via Kaywa) that linked to the blog post, and posted the code outside my door.

The one thing I would do differently if I had it to do over (and I will--next year) is to have one voicethread for each class, or perhaps choose a different repository system altogether.  Not that VoiceThread isn't pretty, but it has its limits.  On a free account, for example, I can only create five of my own voicethreads (a problem when you have 10-12 groups recording).

My students really enjoyed this, took songwriting much more seriously when they realized they would be recording their songs, and got to repeat the forms of two difficult Latin words over and over, without it feeling rote.

What are some ways you incorporate songs--especially songwriting--into your own classes?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Power of Study Guides and Data

There are few questions I despise more than "Will we get a study guide?" It isn't that I won't or that I hate study guides, but sometimes I feel like kids only ask that so that they don't have to listen during class. Having been a student for the better portion of my 25 years of life and having been a teacher during this age of testing and data overload, I feel as though I've been on both sides of the fence. Last and this year, I started something new with my testing practices and I'd like to share the successes, and failures, with you.

My testing has evolved over my short time in teaching from giving straight up paper tests to online testing. I started with paper testing and paper study guides, then moved to paper study guides and online tests, and this year I am doing online tests and online study guides. I hope to provide some tools and reasoning that you can take back to your classroom and school and give you a heads up about struggles you may face if you decide to go digital.

Paper Tests
This seems to be everyone's starting place and is a comfortable place. Even in my second year of giving online tests, I still feel more comfortable with a paper test. Maybe because it is physical and it isn't just pointing and clicking. One of the reasons I feel like I like paper tests is that it requires more than pointing and clicking, it seems like there would be less room for mistake, but many times students will mark incompletely, mark two, or just skip a question. I can't go back while grading at home and ask "which one did you mean" or, "You skipped #5, what answer would you have marked". I also think the argument, "well they didn't bother to double check, so why should I ask them" is invalid, especially if we are only grading on student knowledge. I ultimately abandoned paper tests for the most part due to the things listed below. I will sometimes still give a paper test to a student, especially if they have computer anxiety, consistently do not test well despite proving good study habits, or if they are retaking at test for me.

Positives of paper tests
  • I automatically have to take time to grade each and may catch mistakes not seen before.
  • Easy to hand back for review or grading
  • Easy to put pictures, charts, etc. with little formatting problems
  • Good for students who take extra time to think, require an aural test, feel rushed at a computer, or who like to doodle while testing (yes, I was one of those)
Negatives of paper tests
  • cannot get immediate feedback and data must be hand entered
  • Lots of extra work for teachers whether grading, looking at demographics, or collecting other data
  • not good for students with general test anxieties, students who are intimidated by writing, or who cannot write well
  • Easy for students to make a mistake by skipping, double answering, etc.
  • Students must wait days/weeks to get a grade back and, if they did poorly, cannot immediately work on areas needing improvement.
Online Tests
These can be daunting, especially since some state tests require it and it is now the "hip" thing to do. Those of us who don't feel technologically savvy can feel overwhelmed with all the options and sometimes this is more complicated than it should be. I'd love to hear what programs or websites you use. Personally, I like Quia. Quia makes it really easy to create a variety of complex or simple quizzes and breaks down scores in a number of ways. Online testing makes data collection easy as most of the websites and programs I've seen break down data for you. When students take a test I have access to the class average, the middle grade, the highest, and the lowest grades. I also have access to specific question data, as in how many students got it wrong or right. Many people are nervous about online testing in regards to student mistakes and anxiety. I have not seen any massive difference in anxiety levels in students. Many who panic on paper tests were calm at the online test. I did find that if a student was extremely accustomed to a paper test, it took two to three tests for them to become comfortable with an online test. Once this happened, however, it was second nature to them. Many online tests can be set up so that a student is notified if they don't answer a question. They can also choose to skip a question if they don't know it and don't want to try. With this method I give an online test originally and, if the student retests, I give a paper test. This eliminates any mistakes on the computer and also gives a second medium to compare to.

Positives of Online Tests
  • Seems to help eliminate some anxiety, especially over time.
  • Students get immediate feedback and can, depending on what you choose, see the correct answers or just see what they got wrong. Students can go back and review without waiting for a teacher
  • Data is easily organised and, with some sites and programs, downloadable. Data is clear and easy to read and analise.
  •  Teachers can control how students take the test from how many questions they see to whether or not they can right click. This can helps with anxiety and security.
  • Without the hassle of extra printing or copy and pasting, teachers can create multiple versions of the same test or use a test bank.
Negatives of Online Tests
  • Can require some technological knowledge and can be complicated to use the first time
  • require the use of a computer lab or laptops
  • when typing, student noise is louder
  • students may require scratch paper if you allow it. 
  • Because grading is automatic, sometimes teachers may not catch their own mistakes. That being said, the automatic collection of data can help fix this and easily point out "bad questions".
  • If the internet/network goes down, so does the test.

Paper Vs. Online Study Guides

Having done a variety of these, I thought it would just be best to compare these side by side, simply. Additionally, most of my information about the usefulness of these comes directly from student input. Below I am comparing a traditional Q&A/fill in the blank paper study guide and a reloadable online study guide. I have colour coded it to make it easy to read Blue for student input and Red for teacher input.

TopicPaper Study GuideOnline Study Guide
Ease of Accessgreat to have physical copy, easy to leave behind; hard for absent students to get a copycan’t usually print; easy to find; absent students are included; students can access, if available, throughout the chapter for practice, students can re access for review
Usefulnessstudents forget work from class, cannot re-do answers, straight memorisationstudents must re-do work at home, can play multiple times, can take time to look at wrong AND right answers
relation to testif put in same format, students might memorise exactly; often difficult to prepare for with; can be misleading (students just look over it and assume they are ready)often not in same format, students can receive questions from a bank (forces them to have to play multiple times)
“fun” factorstudents are easily bored, can only do once, may be intractive in class, but not at homestudents can play many times and ways, a variety of activities, very interactive

I am more and more convinced that a traditional paper study guide does not serve students the best way possible. While it is definitely helpful to go over this material in class as a review, students often do not remember how they got the correct answer at home. By providing games and study guides that students repeatedly do, they start to figure things out on their own... and studying becomes less of a daunting task that they put off until the last minute.

So.... what does my data look like? Students' grades, for the most part, increased one letter grades when we switched to online testing with paper study guides, but this was inconsistent at best. The class average remained in the C range. It really depended on a variety of factors that weren't consistent enough to make an argument for it. This year, we switched to online study guides and various techniques including timed writes, embedded stories, TPRS, etc. Most student grades are high Bs and low As with quite a few high As. There still were some students who made Cs and Ds and Fs, but there were much fewer. When I polled students about this combination and our class practices (see future post on weekly schedules), this was the overwhelming response:
  1. Students are more motivated to study because it is fun and they see a purpose behind it
  2. Classroom techniques this year have really helped them understand and make connections (particularly with the technique called embedded stories)
  3. I should give them more time and more opportunities to read after I tell a story.
  4. Students enjoy being able to play a game over and over and never get all the same questions.
  5. Students like being able to see the right answers, but still be able to play again and try again before the test, whereas with paper study guides they wrote the answer down and that was it.

Online testing may not work for everyone. I still use paper tests and I will continue to use paper tests for a number of reasons. My goal is to reach as many students as possible in as many helpful ways as possible and I think we've hit on something important in regards to comprehensible input, technology, and by using games in the classroom. I know I am looking forward to more results from my students. I also know that I will continually re assess my methods and update them as necessary.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

They Won't All Be Classics Majors -- IRL enjoyment of reading

A discussion was recently held on an online forum quoting a recent post from Stephen Krashen:

Indoctrination into the classic literary canon supersedes all other aims for the readers in our classrooms. Teachers can always point to a few students who love these classics, but I argue that they are a minority or that few become future readers as a result. Why would they? Every student that moves through our classes is not destined to become an English literature major and we cannot gear our teaching as if they were. (Donalyn Miller, The Book Whisperer, p. 124)

The question was raised: What if we taught Latin so that every student could make progress and enjoy reading? I'd like to address that today.

I always loved reading growing up. I still do. I read every chance I get: in bed at night, during commercials, and (much to the annoyance of my husband and daughter sometimes) while waiting for food in restaurants. I love books. My daughter, on the other hand, is not so eager sometimes. She's learning how to read more difficult books as she gets older and she is talented at it, but sometimes quickly loses interest or just refuses to try at all. As Latin teachers, we often have very similar experiences with Latin students. Sometimes it is because they've been told how difficult Latin "is" and lack faith in themselves. Sometimes it is because they are struggling and the communication link between us has failed or been dropped. Sometimes it is because (and this is often the case) they feel like they are doing something that they have no interest in or don't see the point in.

I firmly believe that if we address these three points, we can have students enjoy reading and communicating in Latin. Today, I'd like to provide you with some techniques to help inspire reading for enjoyment, enrich the reading and curriculum you use, and provide some real life experiences as to what this kind of instruction can do for you and your students. 

  •  John Piazza suggests that rarely are textbooks set up to help students enjoy reading. He suggests two ways to combat this and help foster a love for and proficiency in reading
    • Create stories with students and have this be the basis for in class reading. You can do this using Teaching Proficiency Through Reading and Story-telling and by Asking a Story. (I've included a link to Rachel Ash's write up of her SCOLT/FLAG presentation on this). This method involves students and gives them a way to show interest. If they are interested, they will come back.
    • Create embedded stories based on textbook readings. When using this method, it is important that students are able to understand at least 90% of the material and that there are no more than 5 glosses per page. This method sets students up for success in reading. When they succeed, they will read more.
  • One thing I'm doing this year, with the help of John Piazza's notes above and guidance from Bob Patrick, is to use embedded stories. I'm trying to reach my upper level students by using embedded versions of news broadcasts from the Nuntii Latini website (Nuntii Latini is a Finnish radio station that broadcasts the news in Latin every week). Here is our process:
    • We listen to the original broadcast and read along the original transcript twice
    • I retell the story using an embedded version (simplified vocabulary)
    • I circle with comprehension questions and answer student questions
    • We finish with a five minute timed write. Students write everything they can remember.
  • This is the first year that I've had a fourth year in a separate class. One of my goals, especially for those students who chose the AP route, was to expose them to more reading and literature, but do so in an enjoyable manner.We spent three weeks on poetry and are now beginning a proverbs unit. Even though this is assigned reading, I only did topics that could be related to current events or something they can discuss and relate to. While not a perfect example of compelling input, I did have one student say the other day, "Wow, I really like this. Can we do more?" I think this is something we strive for. Students to take an assignment and own it. In my proverbs unit, I am asking them to own it even more and asking them to relate personal experiences to the reading. Granted it is short, but meaningful.
  • A colleague of mine and guest blogger, Keith Toda, writes about a story he introduced to his students the previous year. The story was not finished yet and so he only introduced a piece of it. This year, with a 2 month summer break in between, students approached him to ask for the next bit. I cannot think of anything more exciting than to have students asking for more reading! 
Keith points out an interesting thing. What we Latin teachers need more of are adapted works in Latin. Things that kids know or are hearing about in other places that we can give them in Latin. The problem is with some of the ones out there, is that the Latin is too difficult for even third and fourth year students. What we need are adapted texts that we can offer to Latin I, II, III, and IV students for enjoyable reading. John Piazza also suggests that while many texts that are in Latin need to be modified, students will accept more and difficult input if they are really enjoying it.

I would like to finish with this: last week we took our daughter to the bookstore. Over the summer she was able to see me reading for pleasure and talk about reading. She asked if she could start reading chapter books. Now, a week later, she puts herself to bed every night with her book and she is so proud, she often takes it everywhere with her (and models my bad habit of reading everywhere). I believe this can apply directly to the Latin classroom. If we as teachers show passion and enjoyment for reading in Latin, then we have the tools to inspire students to enjoy reading as well. Students are often afraid of reading because they don't think they can do it. If we teach our classes so that everyone can make progress and enjoy reading, then we open the door to compelling input and can give students the tools they need to enjoy reading.

Friday, August 10, 2012

ACL Institute: Acquiring Vocabulary

Acquiring Vocabulary: It's More Than Just Flashcards
by Keith Toda

Keith already wrote a great guest post for us earlier in the year, so you may already be at least somewhat familiar with him.  He is doing great things in the world of spoken Latin instruction and I always attend his presentations because I know they are going to be valuable.

Acquiring Vocabulary
Keith emphasized the term "acquiring."  Too often students live and survive class via "cramming and flushing" information.  We know this.  There is not one person reading this blog who has not sat the day/hour/minute before class quickly jamming as much information in his or her head as could possibly fit just long enough to empty it all out onto a piece of paper and get a grade.  Then the information is lost, with only an echo remaining to reflect the fact it ever was there.  Ask me about the state capitols.  I can name five.  But I got 100% on my test in 4th grade because I am one of the most skilled people you have ever met when it comes to cramming and flushing information.

Which is why it's important to try to help your students acquire vocabulary instead of cram it.  Acquired vocabulary should stay with your students--they should be able to recall it days/weeks/months later when they need to read some Latin.  How often are your students flipping through the book, asking a student, or asking you for the meaning of a word?  Some students need help on nearly every word.  Sometimes these are the same students who have somehow earned 100% on every quiz they've taken, yet they can't read a five-word-sentence without looking up four of the words.

Of course, then we come to the point of the presentation.  How do you teach vocabulary in such a way that students are given a chance to acquire the language?

Vocabulary Experiment
Keith cited some research that addresses this problem. In her book, When Kids Can't Read, What Teachers Can Do, author Kylene Beers describes an experiment which she conducted with some middle-school Language Arts teachers.  The teachers were required to teach certain vocabulary words, 20 words per week, and students were quizzed over those vocabulary words.

The teachers made a plan: first, the teachers themselves were required to learn the 20 words.  Second, two weeks before the quiz, the teachers would have to incorporate the words into their daily speech and discussions with students to help the kids become accustomed to the words in context.  Lastly, the week before the quiz itself, the students were given the list of 20 words to study.  The idea was that by the time the students would see the actual list of words, they would already be familiar with them.

The results, however, were not great.  Several things contributed: the teachers themselves were simply unable to learn the list of words beforehand.  The sheer number of words was overwhelming to not only the students but the teachers who were being expected to learn and use them.  The words were impossible to keep track of--the teachers could not make sure they were using them in context enough to make them meaningful to the students.  In addition, the words were so unrelated, it was difficult to use them in the same sentences or even conversations.

Because of this, the teachers reassessed their approach and made some changes.

  1. The teachers narrowed the lists to ten words each.
  2. They chose words that worked together.
These changes are simple but they paved the way for the teachers to learn the words, use them effectively in class before the words were assigned, and of course fewer words made them accessible to the students.

The result was simple.  The students' scores improved.

In addition, and much more to the point, the students' use of the words in speech and writing improved. 

And that's the point of studying vocabulary words in the first place.

This all went to prove something many researchers have been saying for years.  In order to be effective, vocabulary instruction needs to be meaningful, contextual, and full of repetitions.

So why do we need more than flashcards?

Flashcards are a commonly recommended method for learning vocabulary.  However, they have a few faults:

  • Flashcards really only work for certain types of learners.  There are all kinds of learners, whether or not you subscribe to Gardner's theory, and some students really get almost no benefit from flashcards.
  • The words themselves are isolated and out of context.  This really matters.  Recognizing a word isolated, on a piece of paper, and connecting it with an English meaning is completely different from reading a word in a sentence and understanding its meaning without resorting to English or getting the feel of the word in that particular context.
Other options for learning vocabulary

Total Physical Response is not a new concept anymore.  The idea behind TPR is that students attach a movement, a physical action, to a word and through modeling, repetition, and teacher leadership learn to think of the word in the language they are learning.  And, with the right teacher, it can be extremely fun.

Keith had an unusual experience in the last school year that helped him see great value in TPR.  Due to a book shortage in the district, he had to wait for three weeks before his first-year Latin students got books.  Facing this situation, he decided it was the perfect opportunity (excuse?) to do a really intensive TPR-based introduction to the Latin language.

To his surprise, the experience was not only fun for his students, it was fun for him as well.  He felt freedom instead of pressure.  And when they finally received their texts, the students were more than prepared to breeze through the three chapters they hadn't been able to begin until that moment.

Of course, Keith did not exclusively TPR with his students the whole time.  One of the shortages of purely learning a language via TPR is that you really can't work on non-concrete concepts.  To deal with words that are not literal, Keith also incorporated a few other methods, such as storytelling and question and answer sessions.

Picture Flashcards
Keith has also created flashcards to help his students visualize Latin words.  You can scroll through the flashcards starting at slide 13 in the PowerPoint above.  He emphasized the need for the flashcards to be "obvious"--meaning they can't be mistaken for some meaning other than the one you intend.

The point of the flashcards is similar to the point of TPR--connecting Latin language to concepts rather than English.  The less time students spend "translating" a language, the more time they have free to think in Latin.  Some of his flashcards help guide students in attaching meaning: they ask simple either/or questions.  Is this a boy or a girl?  Is it one dog or many dogs?  That allows students to look at the picture, think about the Latin question, and answer without resorting to translation into English.

Where Are Your Keys
The last vocabulary teaching method Keith brought up in his presentation is Where Are Your Keys--or WAYK--which is a system both I and Miriam have blogged about ourselves (here, here, here, here, and here) so I won't add yet another description in this post.  Unfortunately, due to time constraints, Keith did not have a chance to present very much over WAYK.  Perhaps next year he can present a session over that by itself (hint)?

Finally, Keith's presentation was about thinking outside the box.  Moving beyond the way we learned vocabulary ourselves and finding a way of offering vocabulary to our students that is more effective and efficient.  Helping students acquire vocabulary rather than temporarily memorizing it.  

Making vocabulary and language-learning fun.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Join us: The Google phenomenon -- Google Drive/Docs


This summer, my computer was up for re-imaging and I had to remove all my documents from the computer. Two USB drives later, I was ready to go. Also this year, my personal laptop finally gave out and my husband pulled all my things from the hard drive. So, now we're at 3 USB drives, a separate hard drive, and various documents saved in emails. At some point, it just becomes too much. Enter knight in shining armor....


But seriously, it was my frustration with all the programs, and ports, and operating systems, et cetera, et cetera that prompted me to try the new Google Drive (originally Google Docs). 

Google is fairly user friendly and I certainly don't want to spend my whole post talking about setting things up, but I do want to point out a few new features of the Drive:
  1. The Drive is a downloadable file/program for your computer -- You no longer have to go to the website to upload documents. This file automatically syncs with the online drive!
  2. You don't have to sit and watch files upload -- Since the drive automatically syncs, all you need to do is move files to the Drive folder. Google will automatically update the online drive for you and your files will be accessible
  3. You don't need any programs -- My personal laptop does not have Microsoft Office and I have no plans to purchase it or download it. Instead Google Drive has all of those formats in it already. I can upload any of those files from my old computer and they are usable on the Drive. When you upload a Microsoft document, you will convert it to a Google Document, but than you can download it in a number of formats (doc, PDF, etc). 
  4. You can broadcast to students using the Drive -- I am not sure how long this has been a feature of Google. One of the reasons I was hesitant to use Google Docs/Drive was that I didn't want to make a presentation in Google and then have to download it and present it, thus requiring the programs I was trying to avoid. I have recently discovered that not only can you turn a PPT into a Google presentation, but you can present from it. It works just like a PowerPoint and has a full screen option.

What I really want to focus on is how we can apply and use these tools in the classroom. There are many uses both directly in the classroom and in planning. I'm going to highlight a few here and, eventually, add another post updating ideas. Please feel free, and I encourage you to, to add your own ideas in the comment section! The more ideas we have, the better!

  • Planning
    • Above is a view of my own Google Drive. I have organised the drive into general folders and then into specific units/themes. I can easily jump from one folder to another without having to go back to the main Drive folder. I can also easily see the last time something was updated. This makes planning really easy and allows me to move quickly between classes and levels.
    • Another thing Google does really well is collaboration. I can open any document and share it with anyone, even if they don't have a Google account. I can also edit their role. I can send a document I don't want edited (like a syllabus) or a document that I only want comments on (like a paper or presentation). I can also allow them to edit the document themselves or own the document (that is, allow them to delete it and change basic things). I can also choose when to stop sharing with everyone. This would be especially great if you are having someone collaborate on a lesson or test, but then want to personalise it for your class. You could initially share the document and then unshare the document. Similarly, you can create your own copy of the document to keep a separate, pesonalised, copy.
    • When I am ready to print or email a document, I can download it in a variety of forms. If it is a closed document (syllabus, paperwork, etc) you can download as a PDF. If it is an open form, or an assignment with blanks/spaces for activities you can download as a word document. I can also download basic documents as text, html, open documents, PowerPoint, Excel, or an image. I really like this because then I can upload something to my Google site and students can work from their computers, but I'll talk more about that in the instruction portion.
    • As mentioned in my previous post, Google is greatly connected. Any file in my drive can be easily linked to in the calendar (see my next post!), a Google site, an email, etc. This makes it really easy to update things from anywhere.
    • The Drive offers a variety of document styles and makes it really easy to create forms. You can create polls, registration documents, and contact documents, as well as collect data and organise it in a spreadsheet. You can keep track of money collected (for those of us who also collect money) or keep track of points and averages.
    • I'll start with the connection to planning: student collaboration. This goes two ways: I can collaborate with students and students can collaborate with each other. If I connect a document assignment in my website, students can then go and access that in the Drive. Students can work individually or share the document (so they don't have to be sitting together) and work together. I require students also share the document with me. I can then view their document and see what they are editing and what they are saying in chat (not to be sneaky or creepy or anything).

      We recently did a project that spanned 3 weeks. Students were in groups presenting their case in Latin and had to do lots of research and writing. Each group created a Google Document and shared it with their groups and with me. I was able to check on student progress while handling other issues and answer questions without running across the room every 2-3 minutes. After that class, I could go back, check their work and leave simple comments to direct them the next day. Within the comment function of Google Docs, I was able to leave comments that they could then "resolve" or respond to for further instruction. This cut down on time spent in class handling small, minor issues. I could do them at home, overnight, and have them ready for class the next day without taking home massive quantities of paper. Using Google Docs also made it really easy for students to evaluate each other's work quickly.
    • One of the new features of Google Drive is that you have more presentation options when using that function of the Drive. As I said previously, I was a little more than hesitant to use the Drive because I hated having to download a presentation to present it. Similarly, it was quite difficult to make template options stick and have animations work well. Whether I have become more tech savvy or if these issues were fixed, I am now very pleased with the presentation aspects of Google Drive. I can easily upload a presentation or template into the Drive and edit it from there. Inserting animations is particularly easy and the templates carry over well. The only issue I've seen thus far is that, sometimes, the animations loaded in PPT do not fully come over with the uploaded presentation. Inserting them is very easy and so this issue, for me, is not one that bothers me.

      When compared to some of the programs for presentations, I find Google Drive to be the better option. Inserting animations doesn't take over your whole screen and easily pops up next to your presentation without negatively affecting what you see. You can quickly see a preview of the animations and reorder by dragging instead of highlighting and clicking.
    • Finally, as I mentioned in the planning portion, Google Drive makes assignments very easy. Because it is saved on an internet drive, documents are accessible anywhere. I can email an assignment out or share access for collaboration. I can also connect a document to the website via the Drive (which also connects to the calendar, but that will be in my next post). Students can then access the documents in a computer lab or on their phones and work there.

      We don't have a computer for every student in our classrooms, which can make collaboration and technology difficult. One of the ways I combat this is by using Google Docs (which is free for smartphones). One student can keep a set of notes to share, one student can keep a running vocabulary list, etc.
I have found Google Drive very useful in my class and I intend to continue to use it. Here are some ideas for activities that you can do using Google Docs:

  1. Peer Review (using the comment function)
  2. Collaborative Writing (using the share and chat function)
    * Scripts
    * Stories
    * Question and Answer/Interview
    * Essays
  3. Collaborative Study Guides (which students can access at home, at school, or on phones)
  4. Fluid vocab lists (easily editable without making a new list)
  5. Easy grading for essays, stories, other written assignments, and PPT presentations (using comment tool)

I'd love to hear what kinds of ways or what ideas you have for Google Drive! My next post will be on the Google Calendar, which has many new features and is easily compatable with the Drive as well as email and your phone.

Friday, August 3, 2012

ACL Institute: Latin Immersion

Linguam Latinam Latine Doceamus!  Latin Immersion for the Beginning Latin Classroom
Presented by Suzanne Henrich

One of the sessions I attended was presented by Suzanne Heinrich of Ascanius.  Ascanius has many, many projects going, all of which seek to help children of all ages get a chance to experience the Classics.

In this presentation, Suzanne talked about a Latin immersion camp Ascanius has developed and some of the practices used at the camp that can be used in your own classroom to initiate Latin immersion--even if it's just for 10 minutes each morning.  She finished by presenting over teaching materials Ascanius is currently developing based on their experience in running the immersion camp.  The materials will already be organized and ready-to-use which makes them a great way to take a first step into an immersive classroom environment.

So, why should a teacher try to create an immersive environment in his or her Latin class?
According to Suzanne, teaching in immersion
  • provides meaningful context
  • teaches students that Latin is a language and not just a code
  • helps students develop direct associations between meanings and the Latin language
  • evens the playing field for students of other languages or backgrounds
  • improves reading and composition
And, most importantly to me, it's fun!  I value fun in my own teaching, so I appreciated Suzanne's emphasis on enjoying class.

Some background on Ascanius' Latin Immersion camp:
  • It is a two-week summer camp designed for middle school
  • The camp offers 10 days of curriculum (2-2.5 hours of Latin immersion material per day)
  • It introduces students to basic Latin grammar, conversation, culture, and Roman mythology
  • Students discuss themselves, their preferences, their surroundings, and the Romans
  • Topics move from very personally-focused to descriptive of the world around them
One of the most interesting things I learned from Suzanne's presentation (aside from the happy news that there are Latin immersion camps for middle school students!) is the concept of transition.  I think that it can be easy to forget how difficult it can be to toggle between two languages.  I know that when I and other teachers meet to practice conversing in Latin, there is a certain amount of time I prefer to sit quietly and sort of soak up the Latin the other teachers are speaking before I am ready to take part.  Yet I had never really thought about that need in my own classes.

At the summer camp, students have a song that they sing to enter the Latin language, and a song they sing to exit back into the world of English.  The important thing is offering a transition, something that helps students activate the Latin in their heads, whether it's a song, a countdown (also utilized at the camp), or even a moment of silence.

Once you have initiated Latin-only time in class, there is the issue of how to introduce new content without using English.  The Ascanius approach uses three techniques:

  1. Students learn the "Words of the Day" (verba huius diei) in a TPR/TPRS type of dialogue.  This gives them a lot of repetitions with some context.
  2. There is a puppet skit that is performed by the teacher.  This dialogue between teacher and puppet illustrates new vocabulary and any grammar structures or idioms that students need to gain familiarity with.
  3. Students watch a video that reillustrates the same vocabulary and structures (you can view some sample videos here--they are still in progress, but it will give you an idea of where they are going with the videos).
You can see that there is a lot of repetition provided to students so that by the time students are asked to use what they know, they have had a chance to truly acquire the vocabulary.  

And they are asked to use their new information.  Students are asked questions in Latin in a system that is again influenced by TPRS.  They are paired up to hold conversations similar to the conversations they witnessed during the puppet and video skits.  Students write in Latin, either answering questions or creating simple, guided compositions.  They are even asked to complete activities that require them to remember vocabulary and grammar structures from the previous days' work.  All of this adds up to a knowledge of Latin that, while it is built in only two weeks, has a steady foundation.

The last point that Suzanne made in her presentation is that Latin immersion can be taken on in baby steps.  Her suggestions for using the Ascanius materials to teach Latin immersion in class:
  1. First week of Latin I class as an introduction to Latin
  2. Setting aside one day a week or a month as a "Latin Day"--or even designating the day after a test, etc. as Latin Day.
  3. Teaching only in Latin for the first ten minutes of class each day.
  4. Using it to introduce certain class topics.
  5. As a transition between activities or subjects.
So how am I going to use this information in my own classes?  

I think it is important to use Latin as a language.  At times in my teaching career I have spent more or less time tantum Latine depending on the requirements in my position, but I have always found that not only do my students respond better to speaking and learning in Latin, they show better facility with the language when reading and writing after we've spent a significant amount of time speaking and listening. 

And isn't that what we're after?

Monday, July 23, 2012

ACL Institute: The ACTFL Latin Reading Test

I am sincerely sorry that I haven't been posting as of late.  As most of you who are teachers know, summer is a time of rest; it is also a time to research and learn, plan and collaborate, and restore your family connections.  I spent a great deal of June traveling with my son, and less time focusing my energy on writing.

I did, however, attend the American Classical League Annual Institute in Las Vegas this summer, and though I was often busy with various duties (I am a board member in the Excellence Through Classics committee), I was glad for the chance to attend several presentations.

Over the next few posts, I'll be writing about some of the presentations that I attended.

ACTFL Latin Reading Proficiency Test
Presented by Sherwin Little and Sally Davis

One of the things that sometimes makes it difficult to be a Latin teacher is the way we're perceived by the wider world and even the smaller world of language teachers.  I can't count the number of times that I have been disregarded with well-meaning smile and a simple, "Oh, well, that doesn't apply to Latin, does it?"

Several wonderful people have been working on at least a step towards unifying Latin and modern language assessment.  A team of teachers and experts, composed of both ACL and ACTFL members, has been creating a reading proficiency test for Latin.  The important thing to note there is it's a reading proficiency test.  Not translation.  It's an important distinction.

Reading indicates a process of comprehension that is holistic instead of step-by-step.  If a student doesn't get a word or understand a point of grammar, can the student still comprehend the passage?  In a traditional translation-based test, both of those setbacks can be worth points off.  In a reading-based test, these setbacks don't necessarily prevent a student from understanding the passage itself and correctly and accurately answering comprehension questions concerning the passage.

Proficiency reflects the skill students display when reading a text they have never seen before.  Can they cope with new textual readings?  Are they only capable of reading simple lists or can they comprehend a paragraph as they read it?  The test will measure student capability and assign it a designation based on the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines for Reading.

What is great about this test is that it only tracks progress.  A proficiency test does not assign a grade or measure our students against students in other places in the world.  It simply reflects the skills students have developed under the guidance of a teacher.  I could see this as a great tool for those of us who are being asked to start measuring student progress from year to year as proof of our educational success.

Okay, so what is in the test?  I've been talking a lot of theory and not a whole lot of reality.

The test is comprised of Latin texts at all levels, and comprehension questions in English.  There are no glossed words, just the text and the questions.  When the student answers a question right, the test will automatically probe into a higher proficiency level by asking a harder question.  If a student answers a question wrong, the test will move back into a question that is aimed at a lower proficiency, until it finds an area of consistent comprehension.  This type of test--computer-adaptive--has existed for a while but until now it hadn't been applied to Latin.  

Five years ago when I asked a company's representative--he was at a conference to present over their new computer-adaptive tests in different languages--whether there could be one in the works for Latin, the answer was "there isn't enough demand".  

Luckily, ACTFL is not just about supply and demand.  And perhaps they noticed a trend in Latin instruction that could support such a project.  The test itself is only $10 and is administered on a computer.  Because my district is asking us to start measuring progress in our classrooms, tools like this have suddenly become very valuable to me.

So, overall, I'm very happy about this initiative.  I believe it is a step forward toward a culture of Latinists who read Latin for pleasure, not for the privilege of parsing the words. 

Monday, June 4, 2012

How Many Hours Does a Teacher Teach

As an experiment, I decided right before school started this year to start keeping track of the hours I spend on school.  I wrote about this earlier this year to celebrate the half-way point, and I'm writing now to celebrate the end of school.

I will say that results didn't surprise me, and I'll give a basic rundown after I post the chart below.  I am happy to note that I improved as the year progressed--in that I spent less time working on a weekly basis and I made a concentrated effort not to work during breaks so I could be a decent member of my family.


Hours Worked

Normal Salary Hours














































Overall, I worked around 12 weeks more than I should have worked over these past ten months (that's right, teachers work ten, not nine, months), and of course didn't include anything I got paid separately to do (SATs, one of my professional development opportunities) or random side projects that are education-related but not exactly class or class recruitment-related (i.e. this blog).

The "Normal Salary Hours" represent all the hours someone might be expected to work as a salaried worker during those ten months.  These include spring break, fall break, and winter break hours, all of which have been counted into those totals.  The problem with that comparison, though, is that those are actually not the hours I have been paid to work.  I have been paid to work 188 days, or 1504 hours.  This is clearly stated in my contract, which also lists my daily pay rate and my yearly total pay (which equals my daily pay times 188 days).  Therefore, I have actually worked 674.13 hours more than I was paid to work.

So, what does all of this mean?

From August 1, 2011 to May 31, 2012, I worked 2178.13 hours.

This is 482.13 hours (or 12.05 weeks) more than a normal, salaried, 40 hour week would entail.

It is, moreover, 674.13 hours (or 16.85 weeks) more than I have actually been paid to work.

And, though the hours should only slowly accumulate now that school is out, I'm not done.  There's still June and July.

Amazing.  Again.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

My Own Journey into the world of PLNs

"PLN" has been a buzzword for a while now.  I myself first heard the term right before school started this past year at a local conference.  It didn't really have much meaning for me at the time, and the idea of having my own "Personal Learning Network" seemed overwhelming--I already was very busy (aren't we all, as teachers?) and couldn't imagine fitting something else into my schedule.  That changed, though, when Miriam and I started writing Pomegranate Beginnings in January.

The blog's name ended up being a lot more meaningful than I realized at the time.  The pomegranate is associated with rebirth and fertility in many cultures, and seemed fitting--we were planning to use the blog as a way to share our ideas, experiences, and experiments with other teachers and hoped not only to offer help but to receive comments and critiques in return: a way to improve and innovate in collaboration with educators from all over the world.  Or at least with our friends, who would read the blog out of pity, if nothing else.

However, the symbolism has gone further in the short five months since we began.  Pomegranate Beginnings has become a true representation of the fruit, and Miriam and I are willing Persephones, who tasted of the seeds and have found ourselves in a new home.

Dramatic metaphor aside, the blog really has been a doorway for us into the amazing and endless support system available online.  In terms of my own personal experience, it was in my attempts to build the blog and find a forum for the blog that I began to discover the power of online learning.

Most of us have attended great conferences, full of great people who have great ideas, where we spend hours not only attending sessions that help us focus our attention on methodologies, activities, and research, but talking, really talking with others and expanding concepts that might have just been a flitter otherwise.  For me, the conversations are the best part of conferences, the places where I honestly learn the most.  It's instantaneous idea transfer, innovation and feedback, in a pure format that a formal session just can't replicate.

On the internet, on Twitter, Google+, and some other sources, those kinds of conversations are taking place.  They're taking place right now, and I'm taking part in a couple as I type this post.  That's the power of a Personal Learning Network.  It's personal.  I have chosen people to be part of my network whom I respect and want to learn from, who have great ideas, know new and useful (and free) tech, and/or can offer me viewpoints I haven't yet considered.  Some of my connections are Latin teachers, some are language teachers, some are teachers of other subjects, and some aren't teachers at all, but they still teach me things.

PLN for the Beginner: Watch and Learn

You don't have to write a blog to build a Personal Learning Network.  You don't have to write anything to build a PLN.  You can simply find people who write things you find useful and read their stuff.  The best part?  If you don't have spare time, you don't have to participate.  Choose a few blogs to read, some great people to follow on Twitter, and call it good!  Get online when you have a moment, see what people have to say, check out a few ideas, and move on.  

Gathering Blogs
Since you're reading this, it means you probably already have started doing this.  This is where I began.  I read a few other blogs regularly, and I can be a fickle blog reader--if I don't feel like I'm getting my time's worth, I'll stop reading a blog quickly.  Because, like you, I don't have huge amounts of time on my hands.  

Some EduBlogs I currently read that are aimed at educators in general:
  1. Hack Education: Audrey Watters writes honestly and helpfully about all kinds of educational technology and educational technology concerns.
  2. Educational Technology Guy: This is not as thorough as Hack Education, but it is prolific.  Once in a while it has something I'm interested in.
  3. SpeEdChange: Some very thought-provoking ideas here that keep you mindful of how many different types of learners and learning there are.
  4. The Nerdy Teacher: Often uses free technology and always offers new ideas.
Of course, I also follow blogs that are specific to my subject area, such as The Everyday Language Learner and techna virumque cano.

The most surprising thing I found in my beginning PLN was how useful Twitter is.  I originally opened an account because I was told it was a good way to promote our blog, and since I wanted interaction enough to make the blog useful, I did what I was told.  
Then I did some research.

I learned how to effectively use hashtags and which hashtags were worth following as an educator (my favorites are #edchat, #edtech, #langchat, and #latinteach).  I found a couple of Latin teachers to follow via the traditional search.  Then I got clever (not especially clever, just cleverer than I was before) and looked to see who those people were following.  I grabbed several people that way, and soon had around 30 people to follow on my Twitter feed.  That will seem like very few to some of you, and a lot to others.  It was a great starting place for me.  

I still only follow 76 people, but I find my 76 people post useful information to my feed: links to new tech, articles over methodology, Latin facts I could use in class, etc.  I have custom-built a resource, and have a constant stream of useful information that I only have to tap into when I feel ready.

More Advanced PLNing (yes, it's a verb now)

Of course, I am not very good at just watching and not participating.  I was the annoying kid in school that always raised her hand when the teacher asked "Does anyone have any questions?" (though in college I learned to let my questions wait until after class).  I like being part of a discussion.

The easiest way to join the discussion is to, well, join!  Comment on people's blog posts (that's how I got the incredible chance to write a guest post on Aaron Myer's blog!), tweet great articles you read or cool resources you find that you think other teachers might appreciate.  Chances are, we do appreciate the things you have to share.  At the very least, there won't be any pointing and laughing in the digital world.

Okay, you've heard the hype.  There is an amazing anti-Google+ publicity campaign out there, generally accusing G+ of having no users.  There are also 4 million plus users who generally pass the publicity around and laugh at it (fine, some pointing and laughing happens in the digital world, but not at teachers sharing information and resources).  

The real deal about Google+ is that it is not another Facebook.  That's what makes it so valuable.  It's something between a blog and a social network, and if you choose your "circles" (a.k.a. groups of friends) wisely, you can spark conversations that are as addictive as they are informative.  

Like Twitter, you don't have to be a contributor to get something out of Google+.  Just choose people to follow who write about things that interest you and read what they have to say.  Or read what others say to them.  I grew my G+ network by friending ("circling"?) one person (a Latin teacher) and then friending people who made intelligent comments on her posts.  Again, you have control over your information flow here, and if I don't like what someone posts, or they post too many things that don't interest me, I don't have to continue following that person.

However, I would recommend posting there.  The possibility for real conversation is probably largest in the Google+ community because of its unique format (and because you aren't limited to 140 characters).  You can set up your groups of friends ("circles") wisely and choose who can see each post.  I generally make mine public--because I want open discussion--except personal things like pictures of my son (which I limit to my circle of "friends and family").

Other PLN Sources
Twitter, blogs, and Google+ are my three top must-have picks for building a PLN.  That said, there are several other possible sources and resources out there.  I have already posted about using Pinterest, and I also have created a account where I follow the posts of other teachers and curate my own topic.  Miriam has posted about using Diigo and I have played around with Storify as well. 

Most importantly, find things that help you and help you learn.  This year I have had the most rich learning experience I have ever known as a teacher--I am constantly being fed a near-plethora of ideas and tools.  My hope in sharing this information is that others can find something similar.  Feel free to comment, ask questions, or recommend other resources!  I am always glad to learn something new.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Join us: The Google phenomenon -- Google Basics

I have wanted to do a post on Google for a long time. I remember way back when the concept of a computer was a large (twice my size at 6 years old - or so it seemed) screen and hard drive with keyboard, and mouse, and speakers. I also remember the old Apple computers that required 3 1/2 inch floppy disks. Technology certainly has come a long way since then, but it can still be intimidating. It wasn't until my fiancee sat me down and showed me what Google could do that I began to really feel comfortable collaborating, archiving, and +1-ing things. Since then, I use Google for almost everything: my website, my calendar, my email, my pictures, social networking, basic research, music, and e-books.

Now, before you call me a lemming (insert grin here), let me make my case.

There are plenty of reasons to like Google or the products associated with it, but here are my top five:

1. Ease of access -- Unlike programs downloaded to a computer, I can save my work anywhere and access it anywhere. Any document I create on the Drive is easily accessible from another computer in another place. When using Chrome, I can log in and access my bookmarks on any computer with Chrome. On any Google site, I have access to the tool bar on top, which connects me to my email, pictures, documents, videos, music, maps, calendar, and (was there ever a doubt) search tools. Furthermore, I have apps on my Android phone for all my Google products. I can access it all on my phone, making it really easy to double check things really quickly or keep track of notes/ideas.

 2. Universality -- Even if you don't have Chrome, Google products are incredibly easy to access and you can still see the toolbar on Google sites. Unfortunately, however, it won't always work as flawlessly as it does with Chrome. Documents on the Drive can be downloaded in a variety of styles like PDF, word, txt, etc. (although not with Apple products) and these files can all be uploaded to the Drive as well. My email and Drive talk to each other and I can open an email attachment in the Drive to edit and save it; and everything talks to my phone, where it is also completely compatible.

3. It fits all aspects of my life -- I use Google for just about everything. I have a work gmail, a home gmail, and a couponing gmail (yes, I'm one of those). I can link all my accounts so that, instead of having to check 3 emails every hour, I have one email open and all three show up. I also have my Junior Classical League email accounts on gmail. It is really easy to access them without connecting them to my own email accounts. I don't have to log out, I can access them through the profile menu (see picture to the right). The downside, however, is that this feature is only available for email. If you want to access another accounts pictures, or documents, you have to log out and log back in. I rarely do this, but when I do, it can be a bit annoying, although easily fixable.

4. It's a fairly decent search engine -- Google doesn't simply look for webpages with the words you search. It has a method of ranking pages from most to least important and relevant. You can put search parameters on that include only showing images that are available to share or use freely. You can also preview websites before you click on them. I am not an expert on using search engines (I am more comfortable using a card catalogue in a library), but you can look at this nifty infographic on getting the most out of your Google search.

5. It's free -- Every Google product that I use is free. Free for my computer, free to access anywhere, free for my phone. I have not paid for anything, save music that I've downloaded on Google Play. Often times, when we get free things, they are difficult to use, or lacking in uses. This is not the case with Google. In addition to the basics, Google offers maps, sky maps, hangouts and voice, news, chat, groups, and much more!

These are the basics, that is why I believe Google is a great tool for teachers and why I intend to continue using it, of Google. Over the coming weeks, I will be blogging on some of my favourite tools: Drive, Calendar, Google Sky, Google Plus, and Voice. I have used all of these either in class, for research, or collaboration for teaching. Check out this neat infographic on how to use Google's products with Bloom's Taxonomy!

So, another plea for comments! Let me know what you want to know about Google. It can be something you want me to answer in one of my posts about the above products, or it can be a product you want me to play with and make a post on.

Next post: Google Drive

See you then!