Thursday, 11 December 2008

Web 2.0 Tools that worked in 08

Recently I've been trying to reflect a little on the year that has just passed (school has now finished for the year for me) and was thinking about what worked and what didn't. So, keeping in line with the internet's fascination with lists, I thought I'd put together my list of web2.0 tools that have given me the most success in the language classroom this year.

1. Quizlet was without doubt the most successful. Boys were motivated to use it, create new lists and outdo each other in the vocab games. Students were even using it in other subjects to help learn definitions, etc. I suggested that they share this fact with their teachers.
2. Voki - again, this motivated students to create and use the language we had learnt. This also proved successful in getting others in the department inspired to use ICT in their language classroom. The languages department went a little "Voki mad" in the last weeks of school - kids loved it.
3. Wikispaces - This has been great for Year 7 & 8 students. One central place they can go to for vocab, grammar review, activities, links and a place to view each other's creations. Simple to use & can be private as well as ad free for educators.
4. My StuDIYo - Students can create their own quizzes, which can then be embedded in other pages (ie. wikispace). Good for mixing culture and language. Worked well with engaging some of the more reluctant students; in mixing culture and language they were able to make questions that matched up with their interests. I learnt a lot about French Rugby Union through this exercise.
5. Making comic strips with the students at Make Belief Comix. There are many sites to do this sort of activity and some that I aim to try out in the holidays but this one did the job well this year.

These are my top 5. Below are some sites I aim to check out during the holidays ...

What worked for you? Any other suggestions???

PS: A note on Ask500 (thanks to Lucy Barrow for the tip)

As I was going over programmes for next year & considering the "old ways" and possible "new ways" of doing things, it occurred to me that we often use little surveys in the language class. "What's your favourite food?", etc. So, as an experiment, I went to the survey site Ask500 to type in my question.
  • Firstly, very happy that it accepted the Japanese script!
  • Secondly, even happier when I went back a few hours later to see that I had about 35 responses to my "好きなかもくはなんですか" (What's your favoutite subject?) question.
  • Even had a comment!
Now, if I was impressed by the world's response to my little question, I guess the students would also be happy. They could then report back to the class in the target language, summarising the responses received. "The favourite subject for .. people was ..." OR "...% like history"

The ability to comment on questions is both a positive and a potential negative. Some of the discussions in the comment are interesting and could be well worth discussing in some classrooms. Unhelpful or inappropriate comments can be "downvoted", meaning that (if enough people subtract points from the comment) the comment will disappear from the default view. Here's mine here ...

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Screencasting & language learning

I've been checking out Capture Fox - a Firefox add-on that I originally came across thanks to the the Ed Tech Crew Podcast. Capture Fox allows you to very easily make a screencast in Mozilla (though only in Windows XP & Vista). Once installed, you're only a couple of clicks away from recording (with voice if you choose) what you are doing in the firefox screen or in the whole window - at this stage you can't reduce the size of the area. The only problem I've found so far is the size of the screencast files, though you can choose to lower the quality and reduce the size.

Anyway, today's brainwave centred around using the add-on to help engage my students in a bit of language learning through some "Virtual ordering at a restaurant". The plan at this stage goes a little like this ...

After installing the add-on in firefox and learning how to use it we will:

  1. Go to the McDonalds website in Japan to have a look at the menu - practising some katakana script while we are there.
    • On second thoughts, I will use 3 or 4 different restaurant / food outlet sites rather than all using the same site. My personal favourite Mister Donuts will no doubt make it onto the list.
  2. Students will write down what they'd like to order, again ensuring they use the correct script. They will need to order more than 1 of each item to practice using the correct counter (our latest grammar point).
  3. Finally students will use capture fox to create a screencast of themselves ordering their chosen food and drink (in Japanese of course). We will then share our creations.
I may need to refine the plan a little but it's a start. Could screencasts like this one day constitute a speaking assessment, or am I taking things too far with that idea? Short of skyping a restaurant in Japan (hmmm... maybe one day), this seems to be the next best thing. On face value it seems like a reasonable attempt to make Japanese more relevant to the students by showing them how they can use their knowledge to order food from a real menu, but we shall see...

Check out my attempt at the task below:

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Opening doors through language learning

Languages open the door is a new website (funded by the Australian Government) which aims to:

"highlight the intercultural, intellectual and vocational benefits of learning languages to a range of key stakeholders;

reinforce existing positive attitudes to languages education and assist in culture change in schools and school communities where there are negative attitudes; and

provide education authorities, schools and teachers with effective promotion and communication materials and products which can be used for a variety of purposes."
This is a positive step in the promotion of language learning in Australia. Too many students, and indeed parents, see languages as irrelevant and as somehow getting in the way of learning our own native language. Nothing could be further from the truth and hopefully this website can not only provide language teachers with some extra resources but also help young people see the value that languages add to their lives.

There are some useful parts of the website in terms of promotional materials. In particular, the Languages Champions section of the website has some bios of Australians who have been able to open up their career paths through being able to communicate in other languages.

Check it out and remember - Languages Matter!

Monday, 27 October 2008

Gathering thoughts on writing a language programme in the 21st Century

I'm currently working / thinking as I blog here - it seems to be the only way a blog post gets written (most are still in the draft folder).

Anyway, I'm trying to come up with a new and hopefully more effective approach to teaching the languages that I teach. There's a lot floating around in my head that I'm trying to gather together and create a relevant 21st Century Programme with. I am fascinated by and love the work of Andrew Churches at his Educational Origami wiki and am looking forward to a time when I can delve further into the wealth of information and ideas there. On the front page of the wiki it is written quite clearly - "Welcome to the 21st Century". Happy to be here!

But what is that for a language teacher? How can we use the Web2.0 tools available to enhance our student's experience of language learning and indeed get them speaking, reading and writing the language - being able to communicate in the language. Well firstly it brings an overseas country (where they speak the language) into the classroom. But how do I put all these tools and ideas into a programme that would be accepted? Also, my programmes at the moment are based around a textbook; do we need textbooks anymore? Do parents really need (at a school with a laptop programme) to fork out more money for textbooks when all that is in them can be found for free using the laptop? Now that's a programme I want to create and I suspect that Blooms Digital Taxonomy can help us here.

There are some great tools to aid in the lower order thinking skills (when applied to languages) - remembering & understanding. I love the simplicity and fun of Quizlet and, it seems, the students find this a very useful tool; not only do they ask to use it but I happily discovered that the Quizlet bug spread to other students in the year group who are using it in a variety of subjects (unfortunately their teachers are not yet aware of quizlet or that their students find it an effective tool for 'remembering' and thus for revision). Voki is another simple and effective tool to engage language learners.

I know I'm rambling but bear with me - I am trying to gather my thoughts and the endpoint is an effective programme for teaching language in this new era of change. For the moment, let's take it back to the beginning. To be able to communicate in a language you need to remember the vocab and understand the grammar. We'll start with the vocab. Textbooks are full of lists of vocab, usually topic based. I like topic based approaches but sometimes the vocab selected in a list is a little odd (my favourite in the text I use at the moment is 'haunted house'). So, for the next unit with my Year 9s I think I'll take a different approach; trying to make it more relevant using Web2.0 tools. The first stage will go something like this ...

  • The students will need to learn the skills necessary to use a bilingual dictionary - both print and online. I will create a lesson to show them how to best use each of these types of dictionary and ensure that they are choosing the correct word in its right context. They also need to be sure the online dictionary is an accurate and reliable source.
  • They will then decide on the words in their vocab list and work together to build a suitable list of vocab on that topic (using Google docs). My theory is that they will choose words that are relevant to them, they they would want to use. If they thought 'haunted house' was relevant and useful, then it will go into the list.
  • As they have created the list for themselves, it should be easier to remember, but quizlet can always help.
Teaching grammar is always a little trickier but I suspect an interactive whiteboard would serve as a useful tool. Hmmm... we now have one in the library. Need to install the software on the laptop and check it out.

Will have to leave this next stage for the moment ...

Flickr photo:
Scattered Thoughts, Like Scattered Leaves:-)
Flickr user: mysza831

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Make a comic strip with bubblr

I have just discovered bubblr (see above) which comes to us from the people who brought us bookr They have a number of flickr toys that enable you to create with flickr photos. For those who can't read Japanese (or see it as it's way too small), the dog is simply saying - "I want my dinner. What are you looking at. Hurry up!"

It is a very easy way to create simple comic strips - using flickr images. Simply type a flickr user name or tag in the search box and it will provide a series of images for you to choose from. The trick to this is finding images that actually relate to each other. I did find a whole heap of images of one particular dog, which I could have used to create an interesting comic strip - but my students are far more creative than me and so I shall see what they can do in the not too distant future. The comic strips or single images will of course be in Japanese or French (depending on the class) and I think a prize will be on offer for the most creative and most popular (they'll vote on this ... hmmm, could use some sort of online poll for this ...). Anyway, ideas are developing in my head and so will put together a plan and see how it goes ...

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Exploring Japanese with google maps

I am actually typing this as I experiment with google maps.

The subject is Japanese, the topic is "travelling in Japan" & the idea is to create a map in google maps with placemarks that describe various tourist locations in a city (in this case Kyoto). I have created my first placemark at Kinkakuji (The temple of the Golden Pavilion). The description is in Japanese, using vocabulary and kanji characters from the unit.

So, now I've had the idea (since my description says I took a photo there) of adding a photo to google maps. After a bit of searching and confusion (much confusion), I discovered via a google video on youtube that it's really quite simple to add a photo. In your map, click on a placemark...

1. After clicking on the placemark to edit it - choose "Rich text"
2. Click on the image icon and, in the pop-out, insert the URL link to a photo (I linked to one of my flickr photos)

So I now have a google map that describes 3 tourist locations, with explanations in Japanese, and a photo attached.

Why have I done this? What use could it have? Why didn't I simply create a reading comprehension & stick some pictures in?

Well ...

  • The students all visited the locations in Kyoto on a school trip last December so they are relevant to them
  • I will create comprehension questions for the students to answer - a simple activity (but important in gauging their understanding of the unit vocab and kanji)
  • I will embed or link to the map in our class ning so that the students can access the map from anywhere at anytime and comment on the whole process. Easy access.
  • I will invite the class as collaborators (allowing them to edit the map) and have them add to the map. Each student will be given 2 locations that they have visited and will be required to write a written piece in each placemark describing the location and what you can do there.
  • Students will then (via the ning forum) comment on each others creations and suggest grammar and vocabulary that they could have used
All in all, the aim is to engage the students with "real" Japanese. Have them create written pieces that are useful, relevant & easily expanded upon later on if they choose - as further revision, extension work or simply to use the language somewhere that it can be seen and recognized; not simply written in an exercise or workbook, marked and forgotten.

The google video that put it all succinctly for me is below:

Friday, 3 October 2008

Been thinking about ... Flickr

One holiday job I created for myself was to organise my digital photos a little more effectively - beyond uploading them to my computer, and a few of those onto Flickr. I have made progress but this all got me to thinking a little about the possibilities of using flickr more effectively in the classroom.

I have found flickr and applications like FlickrStorm & the Creative commons search really useful in finding images for the various slideshows and videos I have created for use in the classroom. A couple of flickr users in particular stood out for me in providing relevant and insightful images of Japan. jpellgen has literally hundreds of photos of Japan and for many of them he has used the ability to add descriptions / captions to your photos to include informative descriptions of the places he has captured. Descriptions could include important historical or cultural information or an explanation of signs in the target language. This and the ability to add notes to photos is surely something that we could utilise more in the classroom. Anyone can add a 'note' to a photo; to add meaning to the photo, explain something or translate something in the target language. But wait, there's more ... Adding comments to images could also help engage students in meaningful discussion of photos and their cultural or historical significance.

This could all be done in the confines of your own private group or it could be done in the public domain. I have already started to add some English descriptions to my photos and aim to write some in Japanese (for higher level students) and maybe even some in both languages.

So, in summary:

  • Use captions to provide background information on the image and its location
  • Use notes to explain details
  • Use comments to create discussion and engage
For language teachers, this could be all done in English (to emphasis culture) or in the target language. For teachers of History, Geography, English, ... the possibilities perhaps go further.

Have I missed anything? Is anyone out there already using flickr successfullly? I would love to hear of any ventures into using flickr in the classroom.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Some thoughts on professional development

I am liveblogging and so .....

It's the last day of term and professional development day for staff. I had been looking forward to learning some new things which I could mull over in the holidays and put to good use. - today is ICT centred PD. The session I'm in at the moment is giving me something to mull over but not what I had planned.

The session is on IWBs. We now have one in our library and I thought, having seen and heard all the inspirational people out there talk about smart boards and how they can be used in the classroom, that I should work out how we can use it. The session got me thinking not so much about interactive whiteboards but more about how we present these sorts of tools to teachers. The session has been showing us more about the basics of using a whiteboard and what it is, rather than showing us all the amazing things that can be done with the IWB. If I had not know anything about IWBs I would have learnt only that it is a glorified whiteboard / laptop screen / overhead projector; not what you can actually do with it - engage the students, have them involved in their own learning. Most teachers in the session are as switched off as the students often are - or completely off task (writing blog posts).

To attract teachers into using these tools, shouldn't we be showing the amazing things others have done - and that have worked. Shouldn't we be showing how they can engage the student, inspire the student, not simple update the chalk and talk to a "magic pen" and talk, talk, talk ...?

So what will I take away from my pd session on IWBs ?

  1. The IWB has a "magic pen".
  2. It is not necessarily the technology itself that is turning teachers away (or not pulling them in) but the way it is presented to teachers.
  3. I can learn so much more from an online PLN and from social networking / bookmarking sites / microblogging sites than any PD session; and this is ongoing - everyday, anywhere PD.
  4. I'm ready for a holiday - to catch up with some blogging and some professional development from the comfort of my own home.
Hopefully the after lunch sessions will be better.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Slideshare: World's best presentations

The winners of Slideshare's "World's Best Presentation" competition have been announced and some of them are truly amazing, not to mention thought provoking. The overall winning entry is called THIRST (it is also the Education category winner) and highlights the water crisis on our planet. There are winners in a variety of categories and also honourable mentions. Here's one of my favourites, as well as the winning entry:

Life in Commonalities
View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: photographs life)

View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: crisis design)

Check out the results page here.

Monday, 1 September 2008

Trailwalker - a journey

Looking up at the wall next to the computer desk here is a little note with my goals for the year on it. They include things like using wikis more in the classroom to running sub 90 minutes for a half-marathon. The other main ‘sporting’ goal is to run a marathon. I probably won’t achieve that this year as I expanded on it, readjusting it a little. This happened early in April when I agreed to join a team for Sydney’s Oxfam Trailwalker.

So, last Friday 500 teams of 4, including ours, set out from Brooklyn on the Hawkesbury river in Sydney and made their way to Mosman (on beautiful Sydney Harbour) along 100km of bush track, fire trail and a bit of bitumen. The idea is to raise funds for the work that Oxfam does in 26 countries around the world; and, it’s always good to readjust your goals to challenge yourself further.

Here are my reflections on the 20 hours and 19 minutes it took our team to complete the 100km…

Looking back on things, it is mental strength (some may call it obstinacy) which will get you through. Those who can control their own mind and harness all that lies within will always get further. I knew that before, but in terms of personal experience, I know have proof. Breaking down your goals into manageable bite size pieces is paramount. Looking at all that you want to achieve can sometimes be daunting, but breaking it down into smaller pieces will enable you to get there in the end; one step at a time.

We began at 7am under a cloudless sky – the forecast was for possible coastal showers so the fantastic weather we had on the day was a relief. The first kilometer or so of the course was on the road and we spent this running at a fairly decent pace; the plan being to stay up near the front until we got to the spot where the course winds up a narrow staircase and onto the fire trail. The plan worked and we had room to move all the way to the first checkpoint at the 14km mark. We spent 3 minutes at this checkpoint, during which I ate a banana and one of the best peanut butter sandwiches I have ever eaten. It seems that some foods taste a whole lot better during an endurance event. The cup-a-soup I had later that evening was also beautiful, yet when I tried one a few days previously I had trouble finishing it; until I needed it, it was truly horrible!

Between Checkpoint 1 (C1) and 2 (C2) lay another 14km and some of the most beautiful bushland and views around. The ridges and valleys between Cowan and Berowra are great for bushwalking! It’s also our backyard. The team are all from Berowra and we knew the terrain well but the terrain didn’t know that, or care. By the time we got to Berowra (C2) my right knee was starting to cause some discomfort. Berowra was the first checkpoint where support crews were allowed access and so we were able to access our personal supplies and restock on powerade, gels and whatever else we had set aside. Being from Berowra also meant that we had quite a few supporters around; including my wife, our daughter and a teammate’s children. This lifted spirits and helped us on our way to Apple Tree Bay, 13.5km away. It was this section that was to be the most physically punishing on at least half the team. Soreness in my right knee was exacerbated by the downhill sections, despite my attempts to skip down some sections of the trail to avoid bending my knee. Changing my “running” style resulted in lower leg pain later in the race. Meanwhile, toenails were coming off the toes of others in the team. We didn’t see too many other teams on our way to C3, eventually arriving there at about 2pm. More rice triangles (おにぎり), peanuts, a muesli bar and 12 minutes later we were on our way to C4, 8km further on.

The trail to C4 was fiddly with lots of tree roots to avoid tripping over. Mind you a couple of the large sandstone rocks across and beside the trail provided the perfect place to lie down to try and manipulate the nerve in my leg from the spot where it was pinching and providing flashes of pain down the side of the knee. There were other interesting things along the Gibberagong track. A massive goanna was spotted as we ran past one point and at another point my mind was distacted from the pain by a couple of big and quite beautiful Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos. These birds make an amazing sound, quite surreal in that situation. The weirdest thing was passing a young guy in T-shirt, jeans and a pair of thongs – and of course earphones in his ears. I can remember wondering where he was going and from where he had come. Still, these are the things that help keep you occupied as you travel 100km.

After a relatively quiet couple of sections, the trail from C4 to C5 (9km) was one of the busiest. At one point there were 4 or 5 teams weaving along after each other; one of which provided their own karaoke playlist – Their “Grease” medley was my favourite! Walking with other teams not only provided some entertainment value but talking with others and getting their perspective on things (their goals and so on) was refreshing. St.Ives Showground was the next checkpoint and 58.5km into the course. It was here we got changed into our nighttime gear – already it was getting quite cold and darkness was on its way. The feeling of putting on a clean shirt, socks and long skins was something I’ll always remember. A bit weird having memories about putting on clean clothes, but this sort of event will do that to you. A new perspective on things is often needed in life. The picture on the front of the trailwalker map book shows a young girl carrying 2 large buckets full of water through a field – that is the reality for many people around the world. Compared to most, we have it so easy here in Oz. There were several points along the rest of the trail when I wanted to complain about the pain in my legs and used this image to help me through.

We left C5 with headtorches and warm clothing ready to take on the last 41.5km. Our support crew was doing a fantastic job in keeping us well fed and positive. We eventually crossed the line as a team of 4 but in reality there were 6 people in the team and without the extra 2, we could not have got as far. On top of that, the support of the volunteers cheering us into each checkpoint and on nearby corners was also enormous and massively appreciated. Thank you all organisers and volunteers! Loved those peanut butter sandwiches!

Just outside of C5 another member of the Berowra Bush Runners club, which we were representing, joined us on the trail for a while, again providing us with a welcome distraction and some updates on things in the real world. By the time David left us to make his way back home it was well and truly dark. Our night training run a couple of weeks prior to the event had been done with a full moon. This time there was virtually no moon and once we descended beneath suburbia, even though it wasn’t far away, it was very dark. Walking at night is a weird thing. There are times when time moves really quickly but then later it seems to stop. You are never really sure where you are or what is around you. I have been along that section of trail 3 times now, yet have no idea of the surrounding scenery. I know the sounds and smells of that area but do not know what it looks like. I like that how it is.

C6 was 70.5km into the course and knowing there were only 2 checkpoints after this one was a positive. We were starting to need positives and a call to our support crew prior to arriving at the checkpoint provided further incentive to reach C6. They had cheese and bacon rolls! You can only eat so much rice in one day. Fatty bread sounded pretty good to me. Coming out of C6 there were a lot of downhill sections, mainly on roads and paved fire trails. It was here I took the Trailwalker experience to a new level. The pain in my shins was quite severe and at its worst going downhill; so why not go uphill whilst going downhill? Walking backwards helped quite a bit and despite concern that I might fall over (fair enough – darkness, fatigue, etc), I persisted with this normally bizarre habit for most of the remaining road downhill sections of the course.

The 10km from C6 to C7 was mainly flat, but tricky – rocky overhangs, creek crossings (at least the tide had gone out when we passed) and fallen trees provided a bit of an obstacle course. This section also seemed, at least to me, the longest section of the course. As I wrote above, at times when walking in the dark the passage of time simply stagnates, and here beside the inner reaches of Middle Harbour, time (in my world) seemed to almost stop (yet I still moved through it). This section went on and on and on … But, we did make it to Davidson Park and the cup-a-soup did taste really good and at that point I knew we were going to make it across the line as a team and achieve our goal. I left this checkpoint really positive and it seemed we were all a little more positive and determined to finish any way we could. The conversation picked up a little and silly jokes made it back onto the agenda. I had also found a new friend called ‘neurofen’. I’m one of those people who only takes medicine when really necessary and had been saving my use of the anti-inflammatory pain killers for C7. My logic being that we were then about 4 hours from the finish line. The plan worked.

From C7 to C8 was the shortest section of trail at 7.5km and was much better than anticipated. On the 2 occasions I had done this section previously I had face planted and rolled my ankles; I did not have good memories of this section. Maybe that, and the fact I was taking more care than usual, helped. C8 was the last checkpoint and a huge landmark for us all. We spent more time there than we anticipated but at that stage it didn’t really matter. Barring major injury, we were going to make it and that’s all that mattered; besides the heaters in the tent’s checkpoint were really nice!

From now our goal was close and we were buoyed by the fact that there was only really 3.5km of bush trail left, though pretty rugged trail. We were pretty much ‘over’ (sick of) bush trail by then. After that it was mostly roads and pathways. So along these roads we walked; one step at a time, until the final cruel obstacle greeted us a kilometer from the end. After 99km someone had decided to build a staircase (it had probably been there for a while), a seemingly endless staircase. On either side of the staircase was a fence and there were signs telling you that shooting on or over this land is an offense under the crimes act. Reading that was a weird experience. Further on a sign read “500m to the finish”; I began to count my steps, 1,2,3,4,5… I’m not quite sure how far I got but it was at some point that I realized I had moved ahead of the rest of the team and so slowed down to re-group. Several minutes later we crossed the finish line and the feeling of elation, mixed with fatigue, pain and all the rest, was simply amazing. Euphoria indeed!

So, as I sit here in PJs that I have been in for a day and a half, looking down at feet that do not look like mine, but which can move a little more normally than this morning, what have I learnt from all of this? Do I want to do it again?

  • Challenge yourself beyond what you think you are actually capable.
  • Aim high but when it becomes overwhelming, break it down Checkpoint to Checkpoint, step by step, one little thing at a time.
  • Enjoy it while it’s there. Enjoy your challenge – take in some of the scenery on the way. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Remember, a good (or not so good) rendition of the Grease soundtrack can do wonders to lift your spirits - Thanks go to The Bustin’ Strutters team for that reminder.
  • Every now and then, put things back into perspective. You may be doing it tough but someone is always doing it tougher.
  • Plan! The old adage it true – "Failing to plan is planning to fail”.

If you’ve made it this far into this post, I hope you enjoyed my ramblings. We are still raising funds for Oxfam and if you are now inspired to sponsor us (despite us having already finished), please do so at the following link: Berowra Bush Runners Too. Well done team!!

Sunday, 17 August 2008

Google Custom Search

There is more to Google than I know what to do with but one way to help refine your student's searches when they are given an assignment is to create your own mini search engine with Google Custom Search. This allows you to select the sites that you want students (or anyone else that looks at it) to use when looking for information on a particular topic. You can set up the search engine so that it only uses the sites you choose, or gives preference to those sites.

By clicking the "more" link on the Google homepage (or your iGoogle page) and then clicking "even more" you will find yourself with quite a spread of Google products and innovations. It is here that you will find the Custom Search option under the banner of "Explore and innovate". Setting up your own search engine is then quite simple. Fill in the name, description and keywords for your search engine and then select the sites you want that engine to search. The Standard edition also has the option to not show ads on the results pages if you are a non-profit agency, University or government agency. My first offering is here or use the search box below:

Saturday, 2 August 2008

Remembering Hiroshima & Nagasaki

For those of you who have visited Hiroshima or Nagasaki and have looked through either of the museums in those cities, you would most likely have been affected by what you saw. Some believe the bombings were necessary, some believe that they could have been avoided. I believe that this debate is no longer necessary. There is no doubt that the bombings of Hiroshima on August 6th 1945 and Nagasaki on 9th August 1945 caused unbelievable suffering and devastation. What we must do now is not debate whether what happened was right or wrong; we must simple never forget what happened and learn from those events.

Each year in August I try to educate my students as to what happened in those cities and to encourage them to never forget the power of the nuclear weapons that still cast a shadow on our world. This year I have used searchme to try to bring together various websites that can help do that.

Thursday, 31 July 2008

Searching for surveys - network to the rescue

For a while now I have used the first Japanese lesson yr7 have with me to gauge their impressions of Japan and try to find out exactly what they think of when they think “Japan”. Until last week I have done this via the whiteboard and class discussions – first asking them what words they come up with and then discussing stereotypes. This week I thought that I’d try to combine this with the ICT available, feeling that this would allow me to get through things quicker and represent things visually to the students through word clouds, so that our discussions would be more meaningful. So I though I’d search for some sort of online survey.

Enter my slowly but surely expanding personal learning network (PLN). Within a few minutes of posting a question on Diigo, asking if anyone had used surveys effectively, Jess McCulloch came through on Skype and the ensuing discussion led me to a variety of sites that could create surveys (Thanks Jess!). However, the forms function in Google spreadsheets seemed the simplest way – and worked a treat! I was able to email the students the question and they could simply click on the link in the email and type their response. The responses are automatically updated in the spreadsheet – magic! You are also able to add a variety of gadgets to the spreadsheet – I added a word cloud as this is exactly what I was looking for in the first place. A visual representation of the student’s impressions (stereotypes) of Japan. The result is below.

So, when I got to class, some boys had already responded and some results were in the spreadsheet already. If this had not been the first class with the students I could have got them to answer before class, for homework. This would cut out the initial time spent responding.

All in all I was pretty pleased with the way it went; simple but effective - and all I did was use the Google Docs Help centre. The word cloud was good but when you put it into wordle it looks so much better ...

Thanks network!

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Windows Movie Maker

It's holidays here in NSW and holidays means a little extra time to investigate things further. So, inspired by Dianne Krausse's clip Que savez-vous, and compelled by the fact that I needed to come up with some trivia questions and challenges for our Year 7 Languages Day, I sat down to create some simple photo story / movies using Windows Movie Maker. Now, for the seasoned campaigners out there, some of the following may be old news or no news, but lets hope there is some good news in here. Regardless, having found the time to play around in movie maker, I discovered a couple of useful things to share:

Video Effects - In the Edit Movie menu of movie maker is the "View video effects" button. Clicking this provides you with the opportunity to change your photo or video clip in different ways - subtle and not so subtle. If you are using a clip that is not of the best quality, use the "Film age, Old" effect; I found that as it is designed to make it look older, it covers up the fact that the clip is old or pixelated - not perfect, but it helped.

Splitting Clips - The ability to split clips into two or more parts and to take snap shots of movie frames enables you to have some fun with your video clips and edit them. Change the order of events in a clip, place photos or text in between parts of a video clip or simply edit out certain parts of the clip. My first ever attempt at a screencast is at the link here to help you with this - I did try to embed it, but it was huuuge (took over the whole blog). I used jing to create the screencast.

And here is the resultant movie. The finished product:

Monday, 16 June 2008

Now where was I ... Bookr looks good

Wow, haven't been here for a while! I have been thinking about it a lot but never quite got here.

Anyway, the reason I am here is that I have just had a very quick foray into Bookr , a site which allows you to make very short and simple story books - using Flickr photos. Very simple to use and I probably haven't yet explored it enough but ... In an attempt to make 'daily routine' as a topic in Japanese a little more interesting (we are now learning to tell the time and I was looking for the next step) I went back to some very old bookmarks and this is where I ended up:

Simple, but when trying to inspire the students a little more than usual, it may work .... I'll let you know what happens.

Flickr photo by: svenwerk

Thursday, 17 April 2008

"Language teachers of the world!"

Inspired by several things & (more specifically) people - including the work being done by Jess McCulloch, Don Osborn and the International Year of Languages itself - I have decided it is time for me to try to contribute to the theme that "Languages matter!".

This all began with the creation of an ICT assignment for Year 9 Japanese. In trying to come up with something original and something related to UNESCO's Year of Languages, I decided to give them a scenario:

Japanese has become an endangered language. The number of people speaking it in the world has rapidly declined and it is in danger of becoming an extinct language (like many of our own country's Aboriginal languages). Your task is to help save the language.

In order to complete the above students were given various tasks, including making a movie or slide show depicting Japanese language and culture and what it means to them. However, it is the last part of their project(slightly adapted) which I would now like to assign to language teachers and any other bilinguals out there. The idea is to share our experiences with students to encourage them to persevere with their language learning.

As part of your task to promote the learning of language, you are to use voicethread to give your opinion on how learning language is important to you. Why should we study language? How can language learning help us to grow personally and where has learning a language taken us?

This is an invitation for all language teachers around the world to reflect and share with the students of the world why we continued with learning languages and what we have discovered on our language learning journey. I have created a wikispace entitled "Our Language Journey" and a voicethread for us to do this. It will take me a day or so to add my journey but I invite anyone interested in language - and encouraging our students to learn languages - to participate.

ありがとう、merci, danke ...

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Meme: Passion Quilt

Well, I have been tagged by Isabelle Jones to carry on the Passion Quilt, started by Miguel Guhlin. The task is to find an image that captures what we are passionate about in our field of education; what do we want our students to learn at school?

Let's call the photo above - "Now & Then"

I took the photo above at Kiyomizu temple (Kyoto, Japan) whilst there in December last year with a school group. So, for me, it is not only the picture but also the circumstances of why I was there that contributes to the "passionate" theme. It was tiring work travelling around Japan with the school group, but well worth it. Seeing them respond to the places and the culture they were engaged with was, in their words, pretty cool. Watching them using the Japanese language to do this was even better. Seeing them passionate about Japan was very satisfying.

Now to the picture itself. My main teaching area is Japanese and this photograph encapsulates what drew me into Japan and subsequently the teaching of Japanese; that Japan is a modern nation but at the same time is so ancient / traditional. This is the original reason for choosing this photo. However, the photo represents more than simply Japan & Japanese. It represents my passion for teaching the students not only about language and culture but also about broadening their thinking, expanding their horizons. Despite the world having shrunk, there are still many students who do not see outside of their area, let alone their region or their country. Furthermore, expanding on this from my subject area (& thinking about some of what I've read over the past couple of months), this photo also represents the need to embrace the new directions and opportunities in ICT, whilst remembering that there are pieces of 'the old' culture that we still must learn from and use. My passion in this area continues to develop and grow - thanks to those in my expanding networks out here ...

So, now it is my turn to tag for the extension of the Passion Quilt ...

  1. Jess McCulloch
  2. Anne Baird
  3. Lisa Stevens
  4. Graham Hughes
  5. Tom March
3 simple rules of the Passion Quilt meme are as follows:
  • Post a picture from a source like FlickrCC or Flickr Creative Commons or take your own that captures what YOU are most passionate about for kids to learn about and give your picture a short title.
  • Title your blog post "Meme: Passion Quilt" and link back to Miguel Guhlin's original post.
  • Include links to 5 people in your professional learning network or whom you follow on Twitter/Pownce.
This has been a most useful exercise!

Monday, 7 April 2008

Clipmarks - bringing things together

I am in the process of experimenting a little with Clipmarks which allows you to take pieces of text and images from different sites and put them together into a 'clipcast', like the one I have pieced together below. Without much thought, I collected the excerpts from 2 different sites about the Japanese animated movie Spirited Away and placed them into a clipcast. If you haven't seen Spirited Away - I recommend it!

Although clipmarks does have a character limit of 1000, it doesn't seem to limit the images you put in. Once saved, you can email it, embed it or post it straight to a blog - which is what I am doing right now. It not only allows you to put it on your site but also onto facebook , myspace, iGoogle & more. You can also add comments to other people's clipcasts & favourite them. Try the explanation on YouTube.

10-year old Chihiro becomes trapped in a forbidden world of gods and magic when her parents take her to investigate the other side of the tunnel. In order to survive, Chihiro must work and make herself useful, and find within her the courage and resolve she needs to save her parents and escape from a world where humans are dispised.

clipped from
Names are equally important in the characters’ quest for
freedom. After Yubaba steals part of Chihiro’s name, Haku warns
Sen not to forget her former name or she will be trapped in the
spirit world forever. Sen must remember the qualities that make
her who she is and remain true to them
Only those characters with the inner strength
to hold onto their names and identities can free themselves
Words play a role in both Chihiro’s initial enslavement
at the bathhouse and her eventual escape from her contract.
 blog it

Sunday, 23 March 2008

Just YouTube it

It seems the amount of truly useful and inspiring videos on YouTube has no end ... This morning I came across Joe Dale's post on an animated version of the Bayeux Tapestry - an almost surreal experience for me, not having seen the tapestry for a very long time (it sped me way back to a Primary history class). Well worth a look.

Meanwhile, I came across my contribution below whilst searching for illustrations of movies about Japan and how people relate to Japan and the Japanese language - part of a Year 9 ICT assignment. It's not only a fantastic concept - illustrating a trip to Japan in 2400 photos, 4 minutes and 43 seconds - but also extremely well thought out and well put together. Enjoy!

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Using placespotting for languages

A few weeks ago I came across placespotting amongst someone's links on - my apologies, but searching through my google reader I couldn't track down exactly who I should be thanking for the link.

Placespotting allows you to create riddles with google maps. By dragging and zooming the map (within the placespotting site) you can select any place in the world for people to find. You then create up to 4 clues to help people find the answer to your riddle. What's in it for language teachers is that you can write your clues in a variety of languages. I have recently being doing comparisons with my Year 11 Japanese class and so in order to reinforce this, I created a couple of riddles using "bigger than..." and "closer to... than..." type clues using the target language. It could also work well for directions and descriptions of places, to name just a couple of other topic areas.

It is also possible to search for riddles created in various languages. By clicking on the 'search' tab and selecting the language of the hints, you can find riddles that others have created in the language you are teaching or the language you are learning. Once you have created your riddle it also enables you to share it via email, put a link into a page or embed it. You can also add random riddles to your iGoogle homepage or your webpage.

Below I have embedded an example in Japanese and also the random riddle embed. The site can also be quite addictive so be careful!

Sunday, 2 March 2008

Some things I've seen on the way

It occurred to me the other day that the start of the school year is a bit like starting a triathlon. The swim leg in the triathlons (short ones) that I have been in are generally a triangular swim - out to a buoy across to another buoy and then back to shore. Once you start, you know where you are headed and frantically try to get there whilst avoiding being kicked or punched (accidentally of course) by everyone else trying to do the same thing (see picture). A couple of minutes into it the field spreads out and you then try to find your own space and a bit of rhythm. The fact that you are swimming in open water, without the benefit of the black line at the bottom of the pool to help you go straight ahead, means that after a while you become a little unsure and have to look up to make sure you're going the right way. I've done that a few times this term. After a bit of a look, without breaking your rhythm too much, you put your head back in the water and keep on going.

I have now reached the first buoy! I have swum around it and looked up to judge my course to the next buoy. It's assessment writing time between here and that buoy. Then it's back towards the shoreline - mind you I'm not quite sure where the end of term and holidays fits into this analogy. Perhaps the holidays is the transition area - where you lose the wetsuit and jump onto the bike. ??? Plenty to do before then.

Anyway, I have seen a few interesting things on my way towards buoy #1. For example, check out Quizlet. It calls itself a tool for learning vocabulary and that it is; but it is more than just flashcards. Once you have registered you can create word lists (it also works for Japanese script - so I assume other East Asian scripts as well) and it will then generate various activities and tests to help you remember them. Again, I have not delved too deeply into it but it looks very good and well worth it. The ability to share and access others lists is also there. There is one activity called 'scatter' that you can actually embed - see below. I've already added this one to my Year 11 ning page.

Give it a go!

Monday, 25 February 2008

What worked - Week 4

It’s been a hectic few weeks but it often seems that at times the simplest things are the most effective. This is the story of a Year 7 French class – we were learning the numbers from 1-20.

Lucky enough to have a projector in the classroom I have been able to use projected images as part of the fly swatter game, used occasionally by language teachers. The fly swatter game is something similar to the card game snap. In pairs students are required to snap up the relevant card (usually a vocab item) before the other person. Sudden inspiration (the kind that finds me whilst running around the neighbourhood) had me using pictures of various national football (soccer) teams, the kind where they’re all lined up and smiling before the game. Football players conveniently have their numbers on the front of their shirts as well as the back, so we projected these images on the screen, called out a number in the target language (French in this case) and it was on… The winner in each case was able to stay up at the board to face their new challenger and, after it was all over, confectionery was passed on to those who had been able to stay up at the board the longest. To keep them on their toes the picture was changed to a different team, just as they got used to it.

Projecting the image onto the board minimised any damage that could have happened to the flashcards – as a result of over-enthusiastic language students (all boys). It enabled those not involved and not so confident to take it all in before they had a go and at the end of it all, some who knew very few of the numbers were able to identify them. Reasonably happy with this one.

Image by robert_a_dickinson

Thursday, 7 February 2008

Using Sketchcast to teach scripts

Sketchcast is a great little tool for drawing pictures; also with the ability to add sound or narration. There is a simple registration process to join up and once you have done this and created your artwork, the sketch is loaded onto the website - it doesn't seem to have the ability to keep your creations private. It is also helpful if you have a tablet laptop as it is a little hard drawing with the mouse.

As soon as I discovered sketchcast I saw it as a way to capture some of the things I have been drawing on the board for years. When teaching the Japanese scripts (and this also applies to Chinese characters or any language with its own alphabet / script) I have always tried to get the students to make connections with the sound, to enable them to remember how each character is pronounced. Most Japanese teachers here in NSW will be familiar with the "Hiragana in 48 minutes" (Hiroko Quackenbush et al) flashcards, which create pictures out of the hiragana to facilitate memory and learning. Sketchcast enables us and, more importantly the students, to do this in our own special way!

Here's my attempt. My Year 8s have been given the challenge to improve on my creations. That shouldn't be too hard.

Monday, 4 February 2008

Where exactly am I ...

This world out here is truly amazing. Talk about flat!

Driving home this afternoon through the Sydney downpour - the one that seems intent on sticking around for the rest of this week - I was half listening to an interview with UB40 on the afternoon drive show. Mid-way through this interview the announcer began talking to a caller who, and you'll have to forgive the lack of detail, was talking about a YouTube video he had posted that was suddenly getting a lot of hits and was now up to 10,000 or so. Having only started to listen in half-way and more intent on seeing my way through the rain, I pieced together that he had put up a song about his teenage son. A mental note was made to try and find it later. Not much later and the mental note had washed away with the rain.
Until ...

Just been reading Cool Cat Teacher's proclamation that Monday should be "Funday Monday" on your blog, and there it was! Writing from the other side of the world she had inadvertently pointed me exactly where, earlier in the day, my curiosity had wanted to take me. So here it is again - Sort Of Dunno Nothin'

And to add to the funday feel, here's my contribution. This one came out of a search inspired by the fact that it is UNESCO's International Year of Language. I had been looking for some things to help along the discussion of why we learn language. Here's one reason ...

Sunday, 3 February 2008

Comiqs for story telling

Having read about comiqs on the Integrating ICT into the MFL classroom blog, I decide to check it out; comparing it in my mind to other comic generators like stick generator & ToonDoo. I spent 20 minutes registering and creating a very simple little cartoon using pictures uploaded from my desktop. There is also the option to get photos from the web but I'm yet to check that part out.

For the moment, it seems to be an easy and convenient way to create comics. The ability to upload and use your own photos appealed to me, especially as our recent school trip to Japan harvested many relevant photos for the Japanese classroom. Perhaps we can create a comic story similar to the one by Argoed High School about their trip to Paris. If I can produce the one below in 20 minutes (if that), imagine what our creative students could come up with using the target language and a pile of photos we took in Japan!

Saturday, 26 January 2008

Still thinking about ning

It's time to just sit down and write.
I've been thinking about ning and how I can use it in the classroom; it seems that many are doing this and finding it useful. For those of you who don't know, a ning is basically a social network that you have control over. You make it, you manage it. Anyway, as seen in a previous post, I used one on our trip to Japan - and it worked really well for that. Now, to use it in the classroom (as a language teacher) ...

Within the ning we can use its various tools. Time to think aloud ...

Blog - students can blog in the target language. Perhaps students are assigned days on which they must post a blog in the target language. We can then connect with other classrooms - domestically or overseas (Japan for me).

Podcasts -
the ning allows us to upload music. Create podcasts and place them on the site. Podcasts of grammar explanations, speaking questions, listening comprehensions. Of course the students too can put up their speaking answers and so on.

Member profiles: students can write their profiles in the target language, adding to it as they increase their grammar and vocabulary base.

Embedding objects: videos, sketchcasts, brainstorming activities using can be used in all sorts of ways. I have already found self-introductions in Japanese (from You tube) that are appropriate and can be used as listening resources or stimulus for the students own speaking or writing tasks; however, finding these does take time. Sketchcast is something I'm keen to use as it could be used in Asian languages to help explain their scripts. Students should also create their own explanations - moving, purpose built flashcards. All these can be embedded into the ning.

Forum: Questions in the target language could be placed on the forum and discussed. Homework could be to answer these things.

There is probably a lot more to it than this but it's a start.

Thursday, 10 January 2008

Travelling with ning

Must post a blog entry, must post a blog entry ...

After a whirlwind trip to Japan with 17 of our school's finest and then the Christmas / New Year period, I've finally managed to get back to what I started out here.

Prior to leaving for Japan, I set up a ning network for parents and the school to use to track us on our adventures. All seemed to find this useful; though in hindsight, I needed to explain how to access it a little more effectively. I set it up as a private network - by invitation - and some parents were confused by the invitation in their email inbox. Anyway, it was a simple way to post pictures, videos and blog entries on what we had done and where we had been. Really simple. We did not have a laptop with us but the hotels we were staying in all had computers, albeit a little slow, we could use. Feedback on the ning has all been positive and if you are going on a similar expedition, I would recommend setting up your own little network. Ning's can be set up as a private or a public network. The best one to check out is Classroom 2.0. If you're a teacher, I highly recommend it as a place to network and learn. Professional development at its best.

There are, of course, many other features we could have used but didn't, for no particular reason. Next time, I would set it up a little earlier and use the forum to answer questions (that came via email or phone). I'm sure there are plenty of other things that can be done. The next plan is to set up a ning for the language classroom ...