Maravilla: Wonder Projects in the Foreign Language Classroom


Prompted by a post by John Spencer, I knew I wanted to end 2017 in an engaging way. In my Spanish 2 classes, I had the perfect opportunity to have a week and a half open for a Wonder Week/Genius Hour type activity. All semester I’ve been focused on creating authentic opportunities for students to be creators and architects of their own learning. I knew what I wanted to do but wasn’t exactly sure how I was going to execute it. In fact, I had back up Spanish 2 lesson plans sketched out because I didn’t know if this was going to go anywhere.

Now that I’m staring at the results and reflecting on the process, I can share with you our journey and how valuable a time it was.

Una Semana de Maravilla: The Journey of Wonder Week

Day One: Curiosities

I had spent a lot of time looking through Laura Sexton’s reflections on Genius Hour and felt that the the most important part was to do a strong introduction and hook to generate some ideas and spark passion. Based on some of Laura’s prompts and our own unit on entertainment we just finished, I created a PearDeck where the students had to DRAW their responses to some questions. I only have them 3 minutes and then we discussed (and circled with PQA) some of the student responses. We got some good repetition and a fun discussion.

As I started to slide into the investigation project, we watched a TED talk and a few other clips I had seen from a PL class I took with George Curous. The idea here was to show them possibilities that young people can do and to inspire them.

I gave students a brainstorming sheet with some sentence starters that we would refer to for the next week. Their brainstorming assignment was in English and I wanted them to think of three topics or categories that interest them and think of questions that they have about each of these topics.

This was a very full Day One. If I had it to do over again, I would split it into two days. The CI we got from the PearDeck was super valuable and I could have spent a class period on that alone—-probably should have. I definitely cut us off short so that I could intro the brainstorming.

Day Two: Questions

I brought us back on Day Two with a pep talk from Kid President on changing the world. They somewhat laughed at my suggestion that they could change the world but couldn’t argue when I said it was possible.

Around the room I had 10-12 large posters with topics written on them: Art, Technology, Sports, Human Relationships etc. Then I gave them 10 minutes to walk around and write and brainstorm questions they can related to these topics. At first they weren’t sure but seeing other people’s questions on different posters really launched them into thinking of more questions. I had two empty posters with no category and students were encouraged to think of questions that wouldn’t fall into any category there too. By the time my three classes were done, they generated nearly 180 questions on a wide variety of topics.

We discussed how all learning begins with questioning. Their task today was to think of something they want to investigate and come up with THREE questions they are curious to know the answers how.

Foreign language confession: at this point I break from the target language. The questioning done today and the investigation to follow is all in English. Perhaps a breach of FL “best practice” but I shifted my focus to general “learning” for this portion of the project and would pick up FL for the reflections at the end.

Students submitted their three (or more!) questions to me in classroom and I responded by asking at least 3 more questions related to their questions. This was 1) my attempt to guide some students that I knew were going to get stuck, 2) expand the focus of students looking only for basic information and 3) show my natural curiosity in their investigation.

Their homework was to #neverstoplearning about their topic for the next 48 hours. They would ask me questions about “How should we answers? Do you want us to write things down?” and my answer was the same: I want you to learn for the next 48 hours. Whatever that means to you—-just never stop learning. If you think you are done—you are not. Keep investigating for 48 hours. Some did not like this response but it was one of the most valuable things I think I did to encourage them in their investigations.

Day Three & Four: Investigation

I was gone on a professional day so students had freedom to explore and learn. While I wasn’t in the classroom, they were sharing their insights with me through classroom. I asked them to fill me in on the process and this was a rewarding day. To hear from them during the inquiry process was great. There were a lot of discoveries and surprises and I was eager to wrap this up with them and let them share their learning.

Day Five: Yo Tengo Maravilla Presentation

Welcome back to the target language! Remember those sentence starters and phrases I introduced a while back. Well, today it was time to put those into practice. We had a quick informal sharing of our topic information in the target language and then I shared a presentation template with the students.

Based on their research, I wanted them to generate a list of 10 vocabulary words associated with their learning, one phrase that shares their wondering, one phrase of what they learned and one personal reflection about the project and/or their learning. Within the presentation they could also use English for supportive details and extra information.

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This was a great guide and I’m happy with the FL tie-in. It is not much but my goal is to increase their familiarity with these reflective phrase starters so this was a good way to accomplish that. The vocabulary I thought was important and it had two unforeseen benefits. One, we had a discussion about proper use of translators and dictionaries and how to use them. I said that obviously they were going to need to look things up but wanted them to do so responsibly. This gave me the opportunity to teach them how to do this.

Secondly, I was surprised how the personal vocabulary really helped the students build their own skills. The day before break we did a non-wonder-week related game about our “Palabra Más Impresionante” (the vocab word we are most impressed that we know) and a few students used these vocabulary words as their example. And they were words that I didn’t know (I’m not up to date on my fishing and lure terminology) but these kids were able to use the vocabulary correctly. Very impressive moment for me.

Final Day: Sharing

We were up against a holiday break but I know that it’s important for the students to share their information. I wanted this to be shared with other teachers since it is such a cross-curriculum activity, so I had them record their investigative experience in English in a FlipGrid.

Hear our learning here!

I love FlipGrid because you get to hear the reflections of the students in their own words. You can reply and share with a global audience. All learning should be shared with a global audience and I’m happy to share ours with you. If you have a moment, please listen to what they learned and share feedback.

If I were to do it again, I would do something bigger as a sharing component. I wanted to do a gallery walk in Spanish with those presentations and maybe a small group IPA/speed dating activity.

I think that I will do something similar again at the end of the year or maybe 3rd Quarter and then I’ll be able to use some more of these ideas. In the meantime I’m really grateful that I didn’t have to resort to my back up plans and instead had an engaging and meaningful end of 2017 with my Spanish 2 class.

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Student Reflection on Classcraft


I had planned to update my blog this week with a more detailed picture of how we are using Classcraft in my classroom.  While I’m still working on that, I wanted to share something that one of my students recently wrote about Classcraft.  I love that it is in his own words and describes our process in a way that is easy to picture and understand.

Classcraft by definition is “a free online, educational role playing game that teachers and students play together in the classroom.” However I do not believe that the definition I just told you quite captures what Classcraft really is.

The thing is, is that Classcraft is so much more than just any one thing to a person or people. Classcraft is a place where a gamer who doesn’t quite fit in can work side by side and cooperate with a varsity Quarterback on the same level and work as a team. Classcraft is a place where a disinterested student who can’t find the motivation to take time and complete his homework or listen in class can finally have a fun way to learn an otherwise “boring” subject. Classcraft is a place where two girls who maybe aren’t in the same “clique” or do not get along can work towards a common coal (and maybe even become friends in the process). Classcraft is a place where you’re not a Jock, or a nerd, or even the mean girl. It is a place where people forget about the status quo and “the norm” and see their classmates as a level 3 healer who bailed them out so they didn’t have to roll the infamous “Cursed Die” or a level 5 warrior that took a big hit to their HP for you because that’s what teammates are for. And yes, even in some cases as a level 12 mage that stays up way too late completing quests. Classcraft is a place that transforms our classroom from a boring room with a whiteboard to a battlefield where we face other teams in competitions, or a foreign land that we are exploring during a quest. Classcraft can make you or take you anything or anywhere, it really just depends on your imagination.

Classcraft for me personally has been a huge motivator. Instead of procrastinating and waiting till the night before to due homework and projects I know finish the as soon as I can because not only do I get an XP bonus if I do finish multi-day assignments early but if all my other homework is done I have more time to complete other quests that reward me with XP. I also do more quality work because I get more XP if I do. Also by doing quests such as learning Spanish and Spelling Spanish on quizlet I have learned numerous new useful Spanish words that have been a tremendous help on my more recent Spanish assignments.

Classcraft most importantly is a new and effective way to teach kids in an age that students are constantly plugged into technology with their cell phones laptops and videogames. Times are changing and education needs to change with it. We can’t expect new and different generations to learn the same way kids did 50-100 years ago, and in reality our generation is much different from what it was even 15-20 years ago. Classcraft is a proven educational tool that can teach kids in a new and exciting format. Classcraft doesn’t just improve learning it changes it, and for the better.

Thank you to Creed K. for writing this assessment of Classcraft and allowing me to share it.  He did it for the XP but I appreciate it anyway 🙂

Introducing Classcraft


We are approaching Spring Break and while it’s normally a time to kick back and relax, I always like to use it to start a new project. This year I was going to investigate Classcraft, a “free online, educational role-playing game that teachers and students play together in the classroom.” By accident, I ended up showing this to the students a week early— and they totally went for it.

Classcraft is an online world where the teacher enrolls students and gives them avatar identities like mages, warriors or healers, each with its own powers.  As the teacher, I can reinforce positive behavior by awarding XP, which students need to accumulate to get to the next level. I can also deduct Health Points for negative behaviors like missing an assignment or using their cell phone in class.  Students are motivated by different rewards in the game and have an incentive to move themselves forward in the game —promoting pro social behavior.

Next week I will do a full recap and explanation of how my Classcraft is setup for my Spanish 3 students. I’m only 3 days into this now and I can definitely say this is a game changer for my classroom. 

Here are a few thoughts after 3 days:

  • Students are also on teams so there is a collaborative element. As one student said today to his teammates “I know that doesn’t directly help you out but if you help your teammates, they end up making you stronger so it’s good for you in the long run to work together”
  • Incentives and motivation to do things like turn assignments in early, help other students and get 100% on a quiz 
  • Role playing game like feel is familiar to students and point totals are great visual representation of progress
  • Students can go as hard as they want (staying up to 2:00 AM in one case already—which is not recommended) or play leisurely or rarely. There are benefits to progressing but nothing that would penalize a student that doesn’t want to “game”
  • Something new, something fun, something to fill their downtime 
  • (Most importantly) I’ve crafted some quests to earn XP that require students to practice or drill their Spanish. That student I had that stayed up until 2:00? He said today “Seriously though those helped me so much. Like I feel like I actually learned so much Spanish by doing those quests”

Mic drop.

Check back next week for a full glimpse of Classcraft in the Spanish 3 world.

Triptico Classroom Resources


A few years ago I downloaded a classroom resource application called Triptico.  It had a great graphics look and some nice and easy tools to use in my classroom.  Recently Triptico launched a web-based application where you can save your activities to the cloud for easy use anywhere.  It’s great!

There are tools in Triptico that any teacher can benefit from—regardless of content area or age group.  All of the resources are dynamic and visually appealing to your students.  So besides being useful, they are fun to look at.

Below are some of my favorite uses of Triptico:

  • Student Groups  I created a class list for each of my classes.  On days when we do group activities, I bring up the Triptico Group Maker resource, load that class list and remove any students that are absent.  Then I tell Triptico how many groups I want and it will randomly generate them for me.  The kids love watching the colors pop up and waiting in anticipation to see who is going to be with them.  And it’s very easy for me to use.
  • Timers  There are a lot of online timers and stopwatches out there.  These timers are dynamic and visual.  I like the hourglass timer because it doesn’t show students the exact amount of time they have left (or that you set the timer for) so instead of being focused and worried about seconds, they can just get a visual snapshot of time remaining.
  • Selected Spinner  I’ve only used this one recently but it has been fun!  I put in a list of questions and answers.  Then when I’m ready to run the activity for a class, I put in the names of the students.  With the click of the button, Triptico will randomly choose a question and then randomly choose a student to answer it.  It’s fun to watch, totally random and the kids were glued to the board.  A great way to do a simple review for any test or quiz.

Check out Triptico for these resources and more!

Educational Value of Kinetic Typography


I previously wrote a post about creating kinetic typography videos.  I love finding Spanish kinetic typography lyric videos because they A) are attractive and visually pleasing to watch and B) include Spanish lyrics and words so that you can match the Spanish audio with a word.  I have used these videos as supplemental content for a few years.

But this year I wanted to “up the ante”.  I wanted my students to have to make a kinetic typography video of their own–using Spanish songs and Spanish lyrics.  It was a hefty creative task that required some time from the students.  I just finished grading the final products and now I can reflect on the educational value of this project.

Focus on Spanish Lyrics

This type of video is a lyric video, which means the students had to spend a great deal of time with the lyrics of the song.  I did not give them a copy of the Spanish lyrics.  I gave them other lyric video examples that they could copy from or I think some of them just Googled for the Spanish lyrics to the songs.  Regardless, this creation required students to spend a great deal of time working with the Spanish words.  Even if they didn’t know what the words meant necessarily, it was valuable to have them spend so much time immersed in the target language.  I heard a few comments throughout the last few weeks that “I have that word in my song” or referencing that they learned different Spanish words that we didn’t learn in class just because they are used a lot in their song.  This was the main benefit of the project for me: a way to force my students to spend more time absorbed in the Spanish language.

Hearing Spanish Words

In addition to just working with the lyrical text, students had to work with the Spanish audio of the song. They repeatedly had to listen to their song, making them more familiar with the way Spanish sounds.  A few students commented that they can’t hear the original English version of the song anymore without hearing the Spanish lyrics in their head.  And some commented that they listened to it so often the Spanish song got stuck in their head and they kept repeating it.  Even if they didn’t know the direct translation of the audio stuck in their head, having Spanish of any kind floating around the brain is a great learning experience.

Matching Audio to Words

The lyrical text should be matched to the audio.  When students made their videos, they had to make sure the Spanish words appeared in sync with the Spanish audio.  This requires students to do a few different mental tasks at once (always of great educational value).  Students had to listen to the Spanish audio, look at the Spanish lyrical text in their presentation and physically get them to appear together.  This process of audio and visual matching is a great learning activity for them.  It isn’t enough just to have the Spanish lyrics or just to listen to the Spanish audio.  Having to take both pieces and work them together in sync really established a unique learning experience.

Content Creation

Aside from Spanish, a project like this is rewarding just because it allows the students to be content creators: authors of their own learning.  I gave them project parameters, specific benchmarks they were to be graded on but they were allowed to choose their own path of completion.  Some students chose to work together in small groups while others worked alone.  Some created their presentation using Powerpoint and others used Prezi or just IMovie. The finished projects I saw reflected the individual students: I did not receive two identical projects. Each project reflects the individual or individuals responsible for it.  My students that were a little more tech saavy used that to their advantage to create something really innovative.  Students that were less techy produced simpler projects that still met all project guidelines.  Allowing students to be content creators gives them the freedom to publish their own path to learning.

As a teacher, I’m satisfied with that the projected learning outcomes associated with this project were met. I’m proud of the creations my students ended up with and hope they are too.

Creating Kinetic Typography Videos


I wanted my students to create something new and interesting this year using lyrics to popular songs in Spanish.  I found a selection of songs in Spanish that include the Spanish lyrics.  But unlike most lyric videos on YouTube, these videos presented the lyrics in a stimulating and very visual way.  These types of videos are known as kinetic typography videos because the text moves and is interesting.

Here are some examples of Kinetic Typography:

I would create activities using the lyrics to these songs and noticed that the more I listened to the songs, the more engrained in my brain the Spanish lyrics became. I thought “Wouldn’t it be great if I could have my students do something that required them to pay attention to these lyrics?”.  So I decided to have them create kinetic typography videos.

I looked into the process and it can be quite advanced when you want the final product to be like the videos posted above. Most of the software used to create great kinetic typography 1) costs money and 2) requires training time that I couldn’t afford to do in the classroom.  But could a decent kinetic typography be created on a public school budget (aka: free)?

I figured out a way to do this by creating a lyrics presentation using a presentation tool as simple as PowerPoint.  You can animate or make the lyrics “appear” and move.  If you go through the presentation and play it while playing your song, you can sync up the movements so they match the lyrics.  By using a screenrecording program on your computer (like Quicktime), you can record your presentation.  You have just filmed a kinetic typography video!

I’ve listed the directions and process of building a kinetic typography video below.  Check back next week to see my reflections on this project as my students turn in their final products.


Below are the steps and directions that I gave to my students:

There are stages and steps necessary in creating a Kinetic Typography Video.

  1. Download the audio (Find a song to use)
  2. Take the lyrics to the song and create a visual presentation
  3. Film of your presentation (Screencast)
  4. Create a video using your presentation film and the song audio

Continue reading “Creating Kinetic Typography Videos”

Death to PowerPoint (or PowerPointed to Death)


PowerPoint has been one of the greatest educational presentation tools since the lightbulb overhead machine.  I want to start by saying that:  PowerPoint is great.  It’s a slick, beautiful way to deliver instruction to classrooms.  It beats a laundry list of notes or outlines any day.  And it’s a great assessment tool as well.  Having students use PowerPoints to demonstrate their understanding of a concept can be much more concise that reading a standard paragraph report.  Plus there are themes, designs, transitions and bells and whistles to keep even the apathetic viewer interested.

PowerPoint is great.

But it can be overdone.

Just as with any classroom instructional practice, students and teachers can fall into a rut and fall victim to overexposure and overuse.  I’ve heard one of the downfalls of 1:1 classroom environments is that students end up attending PowerPoint University–constantly exposed to PowerPoint instruction and PowerPoint assessments.

So for a recent classroom project, I banned PowerPoint.  The students have to create a visual informational presentation of some kind, but they are not allowed to use PowerPoint.  I created the project standards for them and it is up to them to figure out how they are going to execute it and with which tool.

To help the process, I started investigating some alternatives to PowerPoint and gave them the following page of bookmarks.  These tools range from fancy animated presentation tools to simple Google Presentations (to which the students said is the same thing as a PowerPoint.  To which I said, but it isn’t A POWERPOINT).

Alternatives to PowerPoint

I’m interested to see what they come up with.  And even better, I’m interested to not see a PowerPoint.

Kahoot!


Recently a tech colleague passed along a great free online resource to use for formative assessment and classroom activities.  I’ve done little quiz games or review games in the past using online resources like Socrative, but this one has a new twist.  The website is called Kahoot.

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Kahoot reminded my students a lot of the quiz games played in restaurants like Buffalo Wild Wings.  A question is displayed on the front board and each student selects an answer to that question from their personal device.  (I’ve had students use computers, IPads, Kindles or phones for this activity).  If you get the question correct, you get points.  If you answer faster, you get more points.  After each question, the student sees their ranking on a leaderboard.  It’s a lot of fun and provides great motivation for the students.

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Teachers can create “Kahoots” from getkahoot.com.  It gives you the option of creating quizzes, discussions or surveys.  Right now I’m only using the quizzes.  The teacher creates multiple choice quizzes and has the option of adding in pictures and video in the questions too.  After a Kahoot is made, you are ready to share it with the students.

The students just go to kahoot.it.  From there they will type in a pin code that is assigned to the Kahoot the teacher is running.  The quiz is teacher paced, meaning that the questions only appear when the teacher is ready.  Once ready, the teacher shows the students the question on the board.  After 5 seconds, answer choices also appear on the board.  Each answer choice is color coded.  On the student’s individual device, they see the color coded choices but no words—they have to look up at the board for the question and the answer choices.  They select the color associated with the choice they think is correct.  Once all students have answered, they find out how many points they earned (if any) and what their ranking is in the leaderboard.  At the end of playing a Kahoot, the teacher can download the results, which gives you question by question analysis of how students did and you can easily see questions that were the most problematic.

We loved using Kahoot and now I’m just under pressure to create more Kahoots for us to do in class!

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SnapChatting Assignments


SnapChatI’m surrounded by students with smartphones.  Not every student, but it seems like the majority.  It’s a handheld, personal device that they have with them at almost all times.  I’m constantly looking for ways to combine our classroom objectives with the personal lives of my students.  I believe that when learning is made personally meaningful to the life of the learner, it’s truly transformative.

The was the main philosophy behind bringing SnapChat into my classroom assignment portfolio.  SnapChat is an application where users take photos using their handheld devices.  They can add text, annotate or draw on the picture and send that picture to another user.  The uniqueness about SnapChat is that the picture can only be viewed by the recipient for 10 seconds and then it ceases to exist.  Short shelf life, easy concept.

When introducing a new section of Spanish vocabulary, I often have my students do some type of immersion project: something that requires them to spend some time getting to know their vocabulary better.  I always include options in these types of projects.  Some students prefer to do more artsy things with their vocabulary words, some prefer typing or online gaming drills, others prefer writing projects, etc.  Giving options is important in letting the student create a unique learning experience for themselves.

One project option that I usually put out there is a photo labeling type of assignment.  Find words from our vocabulary list in the real world, take a picture (or find a picture on the internet), label that picture and assemble all your pictures in a slideshow for me.  My students usually made these on VoiceThread or by putting the pictures together in an IMovie.  I see the picture + they have the word labeled correctly = project completed.  They have met the objective to recognize and identify the vocabulary.

Giving the option to SnapChat this project seemed like a perfect fit.  The application (which the majority of the students were already using and familiar with) is the perfect way to capture a photo and label it.  In a matter of seconds, students can SnapChat their photos with Spanish vocabulary captions and “turn them in” by sending them to me.  Easy. Instant. Real life.

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I was extremely pleased with the results.  As with any project, I went back to reflect on weak spots or any potential problems for the future.

  • SnapChat is essentially social media and I think you have to be careful mixing with students in the social media world.  That’s why for this SnapChat assignment I created a neutral Spanish SnapChat account (espanoldhs) to make it “official”.  I feel like this established that you are sharing your photos with “Spanish Class”, not “Emily Huff”.  By not connecting the SnapChat to myself personally, I feel like it keeps a wall between me and the students.
  • Once it was established and understood by the students that this was an “official” school related SnapChat account, we discussed posting ethics.  Particularly that if anything inappropriate was shared, it would result in school consequences. (Equivalent of standing in front of the class and doing something inappropriate)
  • One potentially negative effect of SnapChatting the assignments is the short life span of the photos.  Ten seconds is enough time for me to view and assess the objectives (did the student label and identify a Spanish vocabulary word?).  The work can’t be saved and shared but I think I’m ok with that.  The purpose of these assignments is just to make sure my students have some time with our vocabulary.  I don’t really need for the project to exist after the objective has been met.  And I’ve seen enough students throw projects away immediately to know that isn’t a main concern for them either.
  • I don’t require this from students.  It is one way to complete one of the options they have for an assignment.  I don’t give special consideration for students that choose this option vs. any other option.  I grade the objectives only, not the method of delivery.

Getting Started with LanSchool


LanSchool is a program that we have at Denver Community Schools that allows teachers to monitor computer activity and control computer activity.  As we have all of our students 6-12 on Macbooks during the school day, it sounds like it would be a lifesaving and proactive dream program for teachers.  (see why it isn’t that simple below)

Before a teacher can begin controlling computer activity or even monitoring the students in individual classes, a teacher needs to create a class list of computers.  This way, the teacher is only looking at the monitors in his or her room and not everyone on the network.  Looking at the 20 monitors you care about vs. looking at 200 monitors of everyone.

See a tutorial video here.

All computers on our network can be found at Channel 0.  You need to be on Channel 0 for the first initial set-up of LanSchool.  After you have created your class lists, get off of Channel 0 and put in your own personal channel.  At Denver, your personal channel is your phone extension.

Your students need to be on their computer in your room in order for you to build your individual class lists.  This isn’t something you can prep at night and have ready for class the next day.

The tutorial above shows how you can build and save your class lists.

Problems:

As we’ve found with most monitoring software programs, LanSchool isn’t perfect.  The average “success” rate is about 80% – – meaning that if all of your students are on their computers, LanSchool will only be able to discover about 80% of them.  There are constant updates and things that we can do on our end to try and help that, but we need to accept that reality.  Silver lining: it’s better than nothing!  And it’s sometimes perfect.  I was using it for the first two weeks out of the year with 100% success everyday.  Then, not so much.  It’s just glitchy.