Monday, May 2, 2011

Podcasts for Practical Education

With today's technology, just about anyone can record and publish a podcast.  And in today's society, just about everyone does.  This can make those of us that are more cynical about publicity and the tendency of today's public to broadcast everything about their lives not engage with podcasts in general.  However, recent course requirements have made me take another look at most technologies, including podcasts.

Having explored a number of educationally-geared podcasts, I now can see how many of them would be useful in the classroom.  For example, I found a podcast detailing how to say goodbye in English.  This would be very useful for a class of low level ELLs.  It would help with vocabulary and pronunciation, as well as with pragmatics.  I especially like the pragmatics possibilities associated with this type of podcast, because pragmatics are often neglected by teachers, and are more difficult to teach than straightforward vocabulary and grammar.

A podcast of this type can be used for listening skills, such as with a cloze activity.  It can also be used as an example before setting up similar situations for students to orally practice as well.  It can be used to reinforce reading by giving the students the the text to follow along, as well.  And these are only options to follow with this specific podcast.  Other options abound depending the podcast chosen.

The bottom line is, all of us cynical people who assume we know what technology is used for, and that it has no place in our classrooms, need to reevaluate.  If we fail to do so, we are missing opportunities to engage our students in new and exciting ways.

Monday, April 25, 2011

ePals - A Twitter Alernative?

To me, ePals seems to be an alternative to the most exciting features of Twitter.  This is another great method of communicating with parents, and bringing them into greater contact with what is happening in the classroom.

ePals has a number of features that I think are great for this purpose.  It has calendars that can be updated with upcoming school activities, assignments, and assessments.  It also has options for posting comments and allowing parents to connect with the teacher and question them.

I think that parent involvement is crucial in any child's education, so naturally the methods of connecting with a parent excite me.  However, there a number of other features that make ePals great for students as well.

ePals offers connectivity for students across distance to expand one's classroom anywhere the internet can reach.  This may mean learning about alaska and then connecting with a classroom there for students to ask their peers in alaska questions.  Or, it may mean learning spanish, then connecting with a classroom in a spanish-speaking country to practice the language with spanish-speaking peers.  Allowing for this actual contact makes what students are learning real and relevant, and therefore much more memorable.

Additionally, there is a literacy aspect to the programs offered by ePals that I find interesting.  I feel that I would need to explore the topic more to know if it were right for my students, but as an ELL teacher, I think that it's possible that this could be a wonderful addition to the focus on literacy that would exist in my classroom.

As has seemed to happen every week in this course, I feel that I have just been exposed to another method that not only can make my teaching more exciting and relevant, but can also make my teaching more of a community effort.  After all, it doesn't just take a village to raise a child, it takes one to educate him too...

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Tweeting for Teachers

I have have to admit it - I'm definitely one of those people that rolled her eyes at Twitter.  I've always associated it with celebrities who tell the world things no one cares about, and wannabe teenagers who think the world should hang on their every word.  Yeah, just not a twitter fan.

I must say, though, that now I have a completely different view of Twitter from an educational perspective.  And the most powerful reason I say that?  The ability to use Twitter to keep parents informed of what is going on at school.  In the article The Ultimate Twitter Guide for Teachers, by edudemic, a list is given for possible uses of Twitter.  Number one on that list was using it to communicate summaries of the day and major assignments.  I could almost literally feel my jaw dropping when I read that....

One of the biggest problems in education today that one hears from so many educators is that parents are not involved enough in their children's education.  I agree with that in general, but I also think that we as teachers need to take every opportunity we can to give parents the tools to become involved.  Parents have no clue what goes on in any given classroom with the child on a daily basis.  In many cases, they do not know when assignments are due unless the child shares the information.

If a parent could read a tweet about what was covered in class that day, it may give the parent the ability to start a dialogue with their child about the topic.  It gives the parent an "in" to become involved.  Additionally, if the parent knows about tests or assignments that are coming up, they can help ensure that the child is prepared for that assessment.

I honestly think this is such a great idea.  I wish schools mandated it.  I just can't understand how there could be a downside to this kind of use of Twitter.  It's such a powerful tool to aid parental involvement....

Of course, this isn't the only use of Twitter for teachers.  A number of examples were also given on a Twitter wiki on Perdue University's website.  Per this site, Twitter can also be used to communicate with students.  Students can receive reminders about assignments and tests.  They can also use Twitter to ask questions of each other and of the teacher as they work through certain topics.  Twitter can also be used to connect students with other students in different schools, either in or outside of the United States.  For ESOL students working to develop their English written skills, this incentive to communicate in written form could be very motivating.

I still believe that celebrity tweets and tweets from the average person about his or her personal drama are ridiculous.  I will never be a person who wants to share my personal business that way, or wants to read anyone else's.  BUT, I absolutely am a convert to Twitter for educational purposes.  It's a powerful, useful, and easy tool for teachers to achieve a link to parents as well as students.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

PBS - When Did They Get Teachers on Staff?

I recently saw a post on on the blog Free Technology for Teachers about a teacher using a clip from PBS in his classroom.  Not only that, but the PBS website included enrichment activities for teachers to use with students in connection with the video.  I had no idea this was available!

I have a vast library of DVD recordings I've made of shows on The History Channel and TLC.  Most of them are about American holidays - the history of Thanksgiving or the biography of Santa Claus.  I have just started watching PBS shows, just for my own enjoyment.  But this entire resource is something I was clueless about.

I think it's great that they not only make the shows available for use in the classroom, but the break them up, so you don't have to try and fast forward to a certain spot.  Additionally, they have someone who is clearly in education develop activities that build on the information presented.  What a time saver!  And it's always nice to present information to students in a voice other than your own.  Sometimes I think they start to tune out when they hear us begin to talk.  :D  They usually enjoy videos, though.

Richard Byrne, the blogger who wrote this post, indicated, the activity wasn't appropriate for the age level he teaches.  It's probably that activities suggested will not always fit one's specific group of students, BUT those activities can be modified.  Or those activities can be the basis for some other activity the teacher develops on his or her own.

I was just really pleased to see that there was this resource out there.  I can easily picture myself making extensive use of it in my classroom as long as I can find items that support what I am teaching.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Social Networking - No Really! It's for work!!! :D

In looking for a social network that would serve me professionally, I tried to strike out on my own - but all I did was literally strike out.  I could not find a social network that wasn't defunct.  After deciding that it would probably be better if I just checked out some that Dr. Burgos suggested, I clicked on EFL Classroom 2.0.  I love it!

This site has everything you could ever want in one place.  Twitter feeds, blogging updates, articles, pictures of EFL classrooms, suggestions for activities and literatures, simply everything.  It would probably take me awhile to explore everything that's on it completely, but that's exactly what I plan to do!

Going back to the idea of connectivism, this is a network that gains power with each person that joins it, and MANY people have joined.  This is a wonderful resource for teachers to develop new and exciting things to do in the classroom, to access new ideas, to get suggestions on how to deal with problems, and just to develop relationships with others in the same profession.  I highly recommend the site to ESOL teachers.

Connecting Learning to the Power Grid

A learner is like a node in a power grid.  As each power plant adds power to the system, the whole network becomes stronger, and each node has access to more power.  

This is true for learners, as well.  In George Siemens seminal article, Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age, he presents the concept that "connections that enable us to learn more are more important than our current state of knowing."  He privileges the networks learners form in order to access information over the information a learner simply knows on his or her own.  He states that "learning is no longer an internal, individualist activity," and that "[o]ur ability to learn what we need for tomorrow is more important than what we know today."  All these comments from his article suggest that he is aware that, in our highly technological society, if we have the right networks we can answer nearly any question within a short period of time.  We simply need access to a network that has someone in it who can provide that information.

Further, Mr. Siemens has gone on to speak about this aspect of connectivism.  In his video The Network is the Learning (see below), he speaks to the relative power of these networks.  He points out that we can stay connected to people around the globe more effectively than ever before, which allows us to stay current with information and learning.  But, he emphasized the need to constantly evaluate the nodes or links in our network, decreasing those that don't serve us well.  However, when we connect with a new, powerful node, "the entire network is amplified."  That new connection "casts light on the rest of the network." not just on our node alone.

For these reasons, I think that a learner is like a node in a power grid.  In New York State, the power grid stretches from Niagara Falls down through New York City.  The entire grid is flooded with power from all the generating stations.  When one station goes offline, the entire grid dims.  When another station comes online, the entire network is brighter.  If NYC needs more power it can access it through the grid, taking power from generating stations in other cities.  That also works in reverse.  To me, this is like a learning network.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Pay Attention - To Which Population of Students?

I just finished viewing the Pay Attention video (see bottom of this post).  I have so many thoughts, I'm not exactly sure where to start...  How about here:

ESOL Students - Maybe I find part of this video hard to relate to because I know the majority of my students will be refugees.  I don't think that their technological background will be similar to an average American student.  Given their financial situations, I don't think they will have cell phones and ipods at their disposal. They may not even have a computer at home.  I definitely think that there is a place for technology in education for them.  I think, if nothing else, it will expose them to the technology that is out there, and get them more comfortable with it so that they can use it later in their academic careers.  But I just can't believe that these children will be addicted to technology the same way mainstream American children are.  And I think that by posting podcasts and trying to use their cellphones at teaching tools will only make them more aware of their financial situation, and more aware of was that they are different from the dominant culture.

American Students - I also found the statistics about how much time American kids spend with technology disappointing.  I can understand why the NFL is promoting physical activity and why there is a concern that kids are lacking interpersonal skills.  This topic is much too large to address in this response, but I honestly believe that this trend toward spending more and more time with technology is not a good thing for kids.

Teaching through Technology - Okay, having said all that, I think that, in a number of ways, the video is right.  If you have a group of students who all have access to the same technology, then I think you should take advantage of every means you can to interest them and make your lessons relevant.  I think it would be great for a mainstream teacher to put review sessions out on podcasts.  Students could make videos of responses to literature, reenactments of a certain historical event.  We've already seen how blogs could be used.  As long as all students have equal access to the technology, I think a teacher is silly not to use it.

I have to say though, out of all methods mentioned in the video, podcasts have me the most interested.  As I mentioned, I don't know how helpful they would be to me as an ESOL teacher, because my students will probably not have the devices to play podcasts at home, but for a mainstream teacher what a wonderful way to give enrichment.  The possibilities are endless.  And I can honestly say I'd never thought about them at all!!  It almost makes me want to change my teaching focus.  Almost....but not quite.  :D