Why I’m not preparing my students for the “real world”

We often hear education experts tell us how important it is to design learning experiences for our students that will prepare them for the “real world.” And teacher blogs, conference presentations and tweets are also full of strategies they have developed and implemented to prepare their students for the “real world.” By and large, they are good strategies worth exploring in our classes. I wholeheartedly agree that our students need and deserve a world-class education that prepares them for life, work, and citizenship in a dynamic, complex, and evolving global society. However, I no longer tell my students that I am preparing them for the “real world.” And I would encourage all of my fellow educators to also stop telling students, parents, and other stakeholders that they are preparing students for the “real world.”
Why? Lest you think that I have abandoned the greater purpose of education, let me explain. When we tell anyone that we are preparing students for the “real world,” we are perpetuating the already all-too-common belief that that our classes and everything we do in them is something other than “real.” Rather than reminding everyone of the fact that there is a purpose behind every learning event we have crafted for our students, that phrase instead invites all our stakeholders–students, parents, community members and others–to dismiss the majority of the work we do as artificial at best and irrelevant at worst. Think about it: if we tell students, “This [insert activity or rule to be followed here] is important because it will prepare you for the real world,” what are we doing the rest of the time? I have another post coming soon on whether or not our grades and policies really do reflect the “real world” but just looking at our instruction and assessment, we can do better than imply that only some of what we do is relevant. And if it is true that only some of what we do is relevant, then it may be time to take a closer look at our practice.

But if we are teaching, practicing and assessing for proficiency rather than for points on a chapter test, then it is likely that most–if not all–of what we do is exactly the preparation our students need in order to use their language beyond our classroom walls to communicate with others and comprehend the world around them. Just consider some of the most banal examples from my own classes (and probably yours as well): we look at the same documents native speakers around the world are looking at. We talk about them just like native speakers around the world to do. We compare them to other documents from the target cultures as well as to similar documents in American culture. We interact with native speakers as often as possible in person and online. And these are just the “easy” examples. My classes are not artificial and the work my students do provides them with numerous opportunities to participate just as fluidly in French outside of class as they do in class. So I’m not about sell my work–or my students’ efforts and time– short by implying that it is different from a mythical “real world” that in reality looks an awful lot like how we are already using French in my class.

Perhaps the real issue isn’t the phrase “real world” but rather that it’s not enough to tell our students that we are preparing them for the “real world.” We have to do so rather than say so because when we are doing it, there is no longer a need for us or others to say it…or question it. How do we “do real world” instead of telling students we are “preparing” them for the real world? By ensuring that the work in which students are engaged during their time with us is representative of the authentic ways the fundamental and advanced skills of our content areas are used outside of our classes in that seemingly mysterious place called “the real world.”

As a language teacher, our field offers a diverse array of opportunities to do just that. At the most simple, we invite native speakers into our rooms from our communities, as host students, or via Skype, FaceTime or Google+ Hangouts. It’s so easy and natural for us that we almost take it for granted. We also facilitate their progression from using words and structures in controlled environments and contexts to using the language to examine a variety of topics  on a range of issues and interests that reflect authentic cultural perspectives. We do that by using the same infographics, advertisements, articles, YouTube channels and news reports native speakers are reading, listening to and talking about.  We can go a step further by using community-based and online resources to connect our students with target-language speakers around the world in a discussion of those topics. Even a time difference isn’t a problem if we send our contacts abroad links to digital forums we have created for our students to virtually discuss concepts and content. For example, tools like TodaysMeet, Padlet, and Blendspace allow anyone anywhere in the world to participate in the “conversation” if they have a link to the specific thread in question. Want to “hear” them talk? Use tools like Voxopop to create “talk groups” to which anyone with the link can contribute. Use these tools to enhance  your learners’ connections and interactions with their penpals, with humanitarian workers serving in regions where your target language is spoken and with others who are interested in the topics your students are learning about.

Ready to go further? Engage your students in Project-Based Learning, otherwise known as PBL (and for language teachers, Project-Based Language Learning, or PBLL). I’ve been learning about and implementing Project-Based Language Learning for several years, although so far, I would consider my implementation of it to be fairly novice. One of the most accomplished language educators who has made PBLL a fully integrated component of his language instruction is Don Doehla, who blogs on world languages (including PBLL) for Edutopia. Here is just one of his many PBL posts. Spanish teacher Laura Sexton has also done incredible work in this arena. And here is a great overview of best practices in PBL directly from the experts at the Buck Institute for Education.

Why do I like PBL or PBLL to prepare students for a myriad of roles in a society that will define itself after our students leave us?  Through well-designed Project-Based Learning experiences–or more correctly, expertly facilitated PBL experiences–students learn through inquiry, often of their own design. Two critical components of successful PBL and PBLL are

  • the active role the students play throughout the learning, practice and assessment process, and
  • the higher purpose of assessment in PBL/PBLL

Starting with the selection of the essential question or challenging problem the students will tackle, through the cycle of inquiry, reflection, and critique and revision, student voice and choice are the primary factors guiding their work. Students move from learning language for points in the gradebook to acquiring language they will need in order to comprehend and talk about the field they are studying. They move from passively receiving instruction to determining and acting on their own learning needs with teacher support. I’ve even had students work with me to help write the grants that would fund their work and design and publish their own advertising.  And of course their involvement doesn’t end when their research does: I include my students in the choice, design and implementation of their culminating  PBL/PBLL event, which is often open to the community. It is through this event that students demonstrate their knowledge and apply the full gamut of their skills (content skills, language and literacy skills, and often numerous 21st Century Skills). It is the essentially the assessment, but really it is so much more: the culminating event evaluates students’ proficiencies much more thoroughly and authentically than a test grade. The culminating event provides students with a meaningful venue that requires demonstration of both spontaneous and prepared application of their language skills and content knowledge.

Interactions with native speakers in our classrooms and online. Discussion and analysis of authentic media. Assessment for an audience beyond the teacher and a purpose greater than a grade. For the language educator, this is–or should be–our every day, day to day. Just like in the “real world.”



Yes, they CAN understand native speakers!

I often hear teachers say that authentic videos featuring native speakers (and intended for viewing by other native speakers) are too difficult for our language learners to use as listening practice, let alone listening assessment. And yet, I think we can all agree that we would like to have our students listen to “real” products that are authentic, meaning that they were created and published by native speakers for native speakers. In addition to providing real examples of the language the students are learning, authentic videos place that language within culturally authentic contexts, thereby providing our students with windows into the cultures that speak the language and the way the cultures are reflected in the use of the language.

One approach I have found to help students better work with authentic video is to ensure we apply what we know about best practices pedagogy in general to the way we present videos and the ways in which we have students interact with the videos.

So what do we know? We know that adolescent brains benefit from multiple opportunities to pause, reflect and apply knowledge at intervals throughout their work with a written or multi-media document, rather than requiring them to read/listen through the entire document before providing them with opportunities to discuss, ask and answer questions, analyze the content, and make comparisons within the language and culture and also to their home languages and cultures. In circles of experts in reading development (even in L1), we often see the reminder for teachers to design a variety of activities for “into, through, and beyond” the reading. I believe this applies just as much to videos: hook them and prepare them to listen (into); help them process what they are hearing and respond to it at multiple intervals during the video (through) and then provide students with opportunities to personalize and extend the video by creating their own responses and products after listening and successfully completing the activities to demonstrate their comprehension of the targeted language and cultural knowledge from the video (beyond).  Today’s post deals mostly with the “through” portion of this cycle. And with another important concept in world language circles (that I cannot take credit for): Modify the TASK, not the content. In other words, provide students with real content (such as authentic videos), but design tasks that are appropriate for their stage of proficiency. In this way, their listening–and their responses–are focused on what they do know and can understand.

Before we look at one of my favorite “high” tech ways to provide this kind of ongoing interaction throughout an authentic video, it’s worth remembering that a lower-tech way to do this is to simply pause the video at various points to engage the students in conversations, personalization tasks or other work that allows them to process what they have heard, connect it to what they know and understand, and use the video as a springboard for their own communication in the target language.

I had already created three Zaption “tours” in preparation for upcoming lessons, but a few weeks ago, I finally tried one of my Zaption tours with my French 2 class. Zaption is one of MANY tools that allow you to edit existing YouTube videos and add student response activities, such as open-ended or multiple choice responses to questions you ask during the video (they automatically appear during video playback), a drawing response, and a discussion thread possibility. In this particular case, it proved to be a very effective and engaging lesson for students when I was absent (which can be the subject of a separate post and is a key concept for me: ensuring students are at least as engaged when I am absent as when I am present).

All of the tools that provide teachers with video editing and student response options differ a bit in their setup and their exact functionality in terms of what you can do with the videos and what kinds of questions we can ask. Currently, I like Zaption best for several reasons.

  1.  It allows me to crop existing YouTube videos without having to go to another program first to crop it. This is really key for language teachers because many videos are either simply too long or they only have a chunk that is usable at the students’ current level of proficiency.
  2. It allows me to make a “tour” of multiple videos on the same topic. Or…multiple crops of the same video (which is how I did it with French 2).*
  3. It has a variety of response/question types, including mulitple choice, open-ended and draw a response.*
  4. It provides me a report with overall success on each question and also with individual student responses.

*The downside is that these two items of functionality are only applicable to their paid version, which I happen to have this year. That said, I like it so much that it will become one of the very few tools I pay for!

So, I will share three samples here: two for French 2 (one we didn’t get to use this year, but I’m looking forward to using next year) and one for French 4/AP. In all cases, the process is as follows:

  1. Create your teacher account at http://zaption.com
  2. In your dashboard, select “New Tour”
  3. It will prompt you to add the Youtube URL for the video(s) you want to add.
  4. Click on “add video” above the video frame to add next clip. If you want to make multiple edits of the same video, just when you click on “add video”, the first video you added will automatically appear in the new window. Just click on it again to add another copy of it so that you can make multiple crops of the same video. So to make a “tour” of three clips from the same video, I copy it as many times as the number of clips I want to use from that video. Then I crop each of the copies to be a different chunk. They will all play together as one video activity when finished.
  5. Now you can crop your video clips. You do this by clicking on “trim”, which appears within the video window, in the upper left.

    Zaption edit screen

    Zaption edit screen

  6. In the same screenshot above, you can also see the tools for adding student responses. Just play your video to the point where you want to add your first question/activity. Pause the video and click on the question type you would like to use from the buttons at the top. Fill in the fields and then submit. Continue for the rest of the clip and then the rest of the tour. It is recommended that you have the video stop playing while students respond, but note that for the “discussion” feature, this doesn’t appear as an option. The students have to begin typing in order to stop the video. Also, you have the option for multiple choice responses to send them back to an earlier point in the video if they get an answer wrong, thus requiring them to listen again.
  7. As students complete the activities in the video, their responses are being saved for you to view. You can see an overall summary as well as individual student results. See screenshots below:Zaption_analytics Zaption_indiv_data

Here are some samples of Zaptions I have made for my classes.

Zaption’s YouTube channel: lots of tutorials here.

And here are some additional, very popular video editing and response tools to explore. Because ultimately, everyone has different styles and preferences. To me, it is less important which tool you choose. I happen to love Zaption. You may love Educanon. Do what you love. The key here is to ensure that authentic videos are not a passive experience for our learners, but rather one that engages them in active listening with multiple opportunities to demonstrate understanding and provide personal responses.

Harnessing the REAL power of technology

I started teaching French in 1993. At that time, the technology to which I had access consisted of a Brother word processor I shared with my husband at home, a high-speed duplicating machine that used a drum and pushed out volumes of paper with blue ink that smeared and faded, a slide projector with carousel for showing dozens of slides, an overhead projector with plenty of overhead sheets and wet-erase markers, a tape player in the classroom (not even a CD player in the classroom yet), and …wait for it….a reel-to-reel film projector.

reel to reel

Photo credit: accessed on “Classic Technnology” Flikr page: https://www.flickr.com/photos/41002268@N03/sets/72157625376698180/detail/?page=2

So when the Internet first became available to me in 1995, to say it transformed my practice would be an understatement. For the first time, I could log onto a computer and within a few keystrokes and clicks, I could see what native speakers around the world were reading in real time, at the same time that they could be reading it. My students didn’t yet have access to a computer lab connected to the Internet at school, but I could print out the documents to share with students. I was ecstatic and took long virtual (and largely text-based) journeys nightly from my AOL account. And this was with static Web pages: text and a few images, no interaction within and among the creators and the users of the content. But I could see the potential.

Fast forward 10 years. By 2005, YouTube and Google Search had both hit the scene…and redefined the Internet as we knew it. The content didn’t just look different. It was different. More dynamic. Audio-visual. Enhanced search capacity. Commenting and interaction between the creators and users of content. And in fact, the line between creators and users started to blur at this point in our collective cyber history: anyone who could figure out how could upload a video to Youtube. Wikipedia turned everyday citizens into content creators and curators. Today, the line between creators and consumers of online content has disappeared completely. We all can be creators if we choose to. And we continue to be users. We can create, publish, edit, republish, share, collaborate, comment, and more.

The true power of technology does not lie in any one tool, suite of tools or newest, glitzy capacity. Instead, the real power of technology as an educational tool lies in its ability to provide ongoing, diverse and dynamic opportunities to inform and connect anyone, anywhere.

As a world language teacher, I am inspired and energized by the possibilities technology affords to help my students become not only more knowledgeable, but more connected to the communities of target-language speakers all over the world.

  • Tools like ExplainEverything, Doceri, myBrainshark and Educreations that make it possible for teachers to ensure that learning, practice and enrichment available to students 24/7.
  • Skype and Google + Hangouts connecting my students to classes elsewhere to talk in French, in real time.
  • Video editing tools like Zaption, Educanon, EdPuzzle and Blubbr that let teachers add questions and other activities to existing YouTube videos.
  • Twitter to share their work to a real audience and to engage in global dialog around current issues.
  • Dynamic tools like Padlet and TodaysMeet where students can quickly post thoughts on any topic and see what others (local and global if the links are shared with others) are posting as well.
  • Collaborative tools, such as those in Google Drive (and, for those schools that use it, Google Apps for Education) thatsymbaloo_pic allow students to collaborate, create and publish–locally and globally.
  • Rich tools like Blendspace that allow users to organize all kinds of content into an interactive, multi-media presentation in which users all over the world can use the commenting feature to dialog about every item in the presentation.
  • Creative multi-media tools like Storybird, Wordle and Tagxedo, Voicethread, PowToon, Animoto and more that help students build capacity to use and ultimately publish their work in their new language creatively.
  • Mobile tools like Toontastic, Tellagami, ShadowPuppet and others that allow students to quickly and effectively combine their own spoken audio with video and images on their mobile devices and publish to an audience with one tap on their screen.
  • Free mobile and online tools, such as WhatsApp, Snapchat, Viber, and more that allow students to foster one-to-one connections in real time with native speakers around the world–allowing them to communicate authentically when and where they want.

I’m fortunate to teach in a place where technology is seen as an ally in students’ education. Virtually nothing is “blocked,” thereby allowing my students to learn, explore, communicate, collaborate, create and publish using a variety of media and tools, right from my classroom. Yes, we have an obligation (legally as well as ethically) to protect our students from nefarious content and people on the Web. But we are also responsible for preparing students to become productive, responsible, and media-literate global citizens: these tools allow my students to learn and practice, but also to produce and share and get feedback from real audiences. More importantly, these tools allow my students to make real connections with French speakers around world right from their residences in suburban Northern California where French is rarely heard on TV and virtually never on the radio or in person. Through their interactions and their experiences with a rich array of authentic documents now easily accessed from their pockets, they increase both language and cultural proficiency by interacting with a variety of people from diverse communities where the language is spoken. As technology continues to shape how we work and interact, it truly empowers teachers and students to transform what it means to “study” a language or to “learn” a language by taking their voices and their experiences out of the book and out of the classroom to the global community.

And the single best tool I recommend to other teachers is….?

Is the phone? a pencil? the paper? the act of collaboration? all of these?

Where is the tool? Is it an app on the phone? the pencil? the paper? the act of collaboration? all of these? none of these?

I’m often asked what my favorite educational technology tools are. The question usually goes something like this: “With all of this emphasis on education technology and 21st century teaching and learning, what is one tool you would recommend to other teachers?” My response?


Before you rush off to the app store or to your computer to try selectivity.com (which is NOT a site, by the way), remember that a tool doesn’t have to be technology. In fact, according to webster.com, the origin of the word “tool” actually comes “from Old English tōl; akin to Old English tawian to prepare for use.”

Although I have a fairly well developed list of great tools for teachers and students, none would make the grade as “one tool I would recommend.” The single best tool in the teacher’s belt is the ability to be selective: there is no ONE best tool; only the ability to evaluate all the available tools and thoughtfully select the right tool for this group of students at this time to accomplish this task–and to do so in a way better than it could be accomplished without the tool.

Let’s go back to Webster’s explanations of the origins of the word “tool.” I find that this etymology is particularly appropriate for education.  As teachers, our work is not to teach students facts, figures, dates, or even words in a new language. All of these can be looked up with a device they carry with them in their pockets. Our role is to facilitate their preparation to use information, knowledge, creativity, collaborative and interpersonal skills for life, work and citizenship. When researching content for history, science, or other classes, they need practice creating effective search terms to narrow the otherwise potentially overwhelming tidal wave of search results provided by Google. Then they need practice critically evaluating those refined search results to determine authenticity, validity and bias. They need to be selective.  When choosing how to prepare their next class presentation, students need practice navigating the dozens of available tools, ultimately selecting the best one for the job and then figuring out how to use it effectively.  Therefore, selectivity isn’t just for teachers. We must endow students with this as well. Selectivity could become the most important tool they take with them after high school to allow them thrive purposefully and conscientiously in a society inundated with information and misinformation; a society replete with great tools they want to use today being replaced by even better tools tomorrow.

Check out teaching activities created in MentorMob and EdCanvas

UPDATE: since publication, both tools have changed their name and also their Web addresses.  MentorMob is now LessonPaths and can be found at http://www.lessonpaths.com. EdCanvas is now Blendspace and is found at http://www.blendspace.com.

After completing my “Side-by-Side” post comparing online thematic content curation on MentorMob and EdCanvas, I ultimately chose to create student learning experiences using both tools.

As noted in the original post, I used MentorMob to create a multi-media introduction in to hunger in the world for my French 2 students to set the stage for an article from the United Nations that they would be reading. Students are exposed to statistics in the form of videos, infographics, running counters and other online resources, all of which are organized into “steps” in the MentorMob playlist.

For my French 4/AP class, I needed something different. With the Peace Corps’ World Wise Schools program, they have been corresponding with a Peace Corps volunteer in Bénin (a French-speaking country in West Africa) since the beginning of the year, but I’ve found that they have struggled to craft thoughtful, detailed responses to her letters to us. So, I decided to use EdCanvas as the platform take her last two letters (yes, we did fall behind!) and chunk them into smaller pieces, including some additional Internet content along the way. And of course, there are activities and other prompts for students to compare, analyze, reflect and respond to what they are seeing in both her letters and in the related content I put at their disposal.

In order to provide the most fair comparison for readers about the two tools, you should see finished activities created for student use. Both MentorMob and EdCanvas provide excellent options for teachers to lay out a rich, multi-media presentation that includes interactivity and is sequenced to enhance student understanding. You can see both the French 2 and French 4/AP activities at the top of the home page of my class Web site.
Class Web Site

Feel free to try the activities out for yourselves…of course, they are all in French 🙂 In my classes, both of these learning experiences are leading directly to a more focused student language production activity. After doing the activities on MentorMob, French 2 students will work in groups to read a chunk of the the U.N. article, write a summary of their section and create a visual representation of the statistics in their section. Then, all the groups will circulate to examine the work of the other groups and rank the different statistics in order of importance. Ultimately, they will create their own infographics using the statistics in the entire article and they will have the option to also include information from the content they will have viewed on MentorMob.
The French 4/AP students will reply to Megan, write introductory letters to the students in the village school, and begin a collection drive for the art and school supplies our Peace Corps volunteer had earlier indicated were lacking in the school.

Side by Side: comparing EdCanvas and MentorMob for curating online content for students

This week, my students in French 2 are continuing their study of food and nutrition. In order to further their study and take it beyond lists of foods to memorize, I wanted to use an article I tried with French 2 last year. The article, Ten Things You Need to Know About Hunger, 2013 comes from the World Food Program (funded by the United Nations)– and is available in French and English  as well as in other languages. The article is redone every year with new statistics. Those statistics that haven’t changed are used again the following year. The article is broken into 10 small chunks, making it very easy to work with in a world language class, although the students do need some vocabulary support.

Last year, I had students work in groups with just one “chunk” from the article. They read and discussed their assigned part and then converted the statistics printed in that part into some kind of visual representation for the rest of the class: a bar graph, pie chart or other representations. They also wrote a summary sentence about their statistics in simpler French. Students then circulated, visited all the groups and ranked the different statistics in order of importance (based on their own opinions. The activity went quite well, but I wanted to expand on it for this year, so I decided to provide an introduction to the article by first having students examine online, multi-media information about hunger in the world (some of which is the same information in the article they will see). I needed tools that would allow me to organize and annotate the resources so that the students can progress meaningfully through the various photos, videos and infographics I had found.

I chose two tools that are both designed for education for this purpose and created essentially the same curated site of online documents and activities in both tools. The first tool I tried was EdCanvas and the second tool in which I organized the same resources was MentorMob.  And the idea for a side-by-side comparison was born. So, here is my first side-by-side tool review: MentorMob and EdCanvas.

What they do

Both tools allow you to select web content, images, and files you want your students to examine and experience. Both tools also help you to put those resources in order so that students see them in the order you would want them to experience them, even if you are not the one clicking “next”. This allows them to view the content anytime, anywhere and still experience it in the order you intended.

Here are images of the two home screens (what you see when you sign in). You will see any items you have created using the tools in a list.

Ease of use from a desktop or laptop computer

MentorMob is very intuitive for both teachers and students, especially if users have experience with Web 2.0 tools that allow online editing. Content you add to MentorMob is organized in a playlist. Each item in the playlist is called a step. Students click “Next” in order to proceed to the next item in the playlist. Once they have moved to step 2 or beyond, students can also click on “previous” to revisit content they have already seen. EdCanvas is also very intuitive, especially if users have experience with Web 2.0 tools that allow online editing.    The content you add to EdCanvas is organized into “tiles” and the students will view the tiles in the order you have prescribed when creating the canvas. Students click on the left or right arrows that appear on the sides of the content to navigate to additional items.

Ease of use on phones and tablets

Here, there is a distinct difference between the two products. I tested them on an iPhone and an iPad, knowing that Flash objects are usually problematic with that operating system. MentorMob definitely came out on top in that regard. MentorMob (below, left) does a better job optimizing the pages for viewing on the mobile devices. In EdCanvas, the user has to move the image around in order to see the whole thing, as displayed in the two images on the right, below.

One issue that did come up with MentorMob on iPhone and iPad deals with “challenge questions” and “pop quizzes”. These will be discussed in more detail below, but users need to know that neither option currently works on mobile devices. I contacted MentorMob and they are working on making this available for mobile. For now, students need to be on desktops or laptops to respond to these activities.

Ease of creating and editing content for one’s project

MentorMob has an easy interface for adding content, but you have to have already identified any online content you wish to add. You can’t search from within MentorMob (although you can always open a new window/tab and search from there). You will notice that you can create a “step” that is a “quiz”. This feature is discusse da bit later. You can add links, upload files, write new content directly into a MentorMob step (as an “article”) or create a “pop quiz”, as shown in the image on the left.  In addition to adding your own documents (as in MentorMob), EdCanvas allows you to search for content for your project from within EdCanvas and the results appear in a window on the right of your current EdCanvas project (see below, right). You can also preview videos from within this search.  The Google button has a toggle switch to choose to search Google Images or Web search.  You can also upload documents from your Dropbox and Google Drive accounts.

Annotating your content

MentorMob gives you two ways to annotate your content: you can “write an article”, which becomes its own step (see the photo above), or you can edit the “details” for a step and those details are available as students look at the content for a step.

EdCanvas also has two ways to annotate content: you can create a description or add a comment. If you create a description in advance, it will appear as the first comment, to the right of the “canvas” when students are viewing it.If you choose to add a comment while watching an EdCanvas presentation, you may record 30 seconds of audio by clicking on the microphone, or you may type a comment, as indicated in the photo. The comment that is already there was added by creating the description of the tile in advance.

Creating student response activities

MentorMob has a clear advantage here if students will be viewing the playlist on a desktop or laptop computer rather than on a mobile device. You can create a “challenge question” for any step in the playlist. Challenge questions will pop up when the student clicks to go to the next step after viewing a step with the content on which the challenge question was based.


You can also create a “pop quiz” or “test”. These are actually the same thing, but the name changes depending on how you access it within MentorMob. When you want to create one, you choose “pop quiz” as the type of content you wish to add. When you’re actually editing/creating it, it is called a “test,” as you’ll see here:

One downside is that tests and challenge questions can only have multiple choice or true-false options in MentorMob. However, users can get around this by also using other online tools, such as Google Forms, PollEverywhere or Socrative to create an activity, and then they could make a new “step” with a link to that activity. Another downside, as mentioned earlier, is that neither quizzes nor challenge questions will appear if students are using mobile devices. If teachers know that students will be using mobile devices, they should plan to include these types of activities using other online tools such as Google forms, PollEverywhere or Socrative and inserting the links.

When it comes to creating activities for students to do as they view your curated content,  EdCanvas is at a clear disadvantage. There are no built-in options for student interaction with the content. Teachers using EdCanvas have the following options:

  • to type directions for some kind of activity either in the description or the comments (see above),
  • to provide an activity on paper,
  • or to use another online tool, such as Google Forms, PollEverywhere or Socrative to create an activity and then they could insert the link to that activity as a new tile. This can also be done in MentorMob and  is discussed further below.

Adding other types of content from online tools

MentorMob and EdCanvas both do this very easily. In MentorMob, you find (or create) the online content you want and then choose “Paste link” to put the URL for that content into your play list. In EdCanvas, you find or create your online content and then choose the “Web search” icon to put the URL for that content into your playlist.

Adding content while browsing the Web

If you use Chrome as your browser, you can install an extension for MentorMob that will allow you to add an online resource to any playlist you have already created just by clicking the MentorMob extension. EdCanvas has a “bookmark this” snippet so that you can bookmark any Web document to EdCanvas while you are browsing.  Simply drag it from the bookmarked resources onto the new tile. It does not require you to specify which canvas you wish to add the bookmark to. Instead, you will later select that bookmarked item while you edit the canvas in which you would like to place the item as a new tile.

The nitty gritty….MentorMob or EdCanvas?

So after all of this, which one did I choose for my students? Both were easy to use. Both are free. Both are promising in terms of curating content for students and guiding them in their interactions with the content. Both also have glitches and quirks. But in the end, although I was impressed with the in-program search, drag and drop features of EdCanvas, I ultimately chose MentorMob for the following reasons:

  1. With “challenge questions” and “test/pop quiz” features, MentorMob allows for more fluid and intuitive creation of student activities to help them process the content you’ve curated and interact with that conten. In fact, just having these features present reminds teachers to engage their students with the content rather than have them passively view it. Admittedly, this will be an even bigger selling point when it works on mobile devices, given how many schools (including mine) depend on student devices in order to increase students’ access to the Internet at school. Our one computer lab form 2,000 students is almost always reserved and we do many of our online activities using students’ phones and tablets.
  2. With both EdCanvas and MentorMob, when students explore links you’ve provided, they also have access to all other hyperlinks on those pages, which merits a cautionary note by itself: those links may lead to content you did not intend for your students to see. I highly recommend that teachers “play student” and click around on the pages they are linking to their MentorMob and/or EdCanvas activities. That said, MentorMob has a helpful feature that is missing in EdCanvas: when students click on a link within a page in MentorMob, a message pops up at the top of the page letting them know they have left the original page and giving them a hyperlink back to the original page. Better still, this message appears even if the students click on two, three or several links that appear on a page.
  3. With mobile devices, the page layouts were typically more correct on mobile devices with MentorMob than they were were with EdCanvas.
  4. The interface of MentorMob is generally more attractive (this is opinion, but then again, a lot of decisions we make are at least partially driven by opinion). For example, the “Double Click to Add Text” feature in EdCanvas doesn’t have any formatting options for that text. I only wanted to type a small description, but a full-screen white page appears in the student view with tiny type at the top.  There is no way to designate a header or do any other formatting.


In MentorMob, this same option is achieved by inserting an “Article”. When you do, you are prompted for a title, description and then content. Although you may still have a lot of white space on the page if the content is not long, the ability to designate separate titles, headers and descriptions provides students a more authentic and natural way to receive content in a format that is generally more attractive.


Unfortunately, in the mobile version, the “article” view in MentorMob would benefit from a programming adjustment: it currently places the article too high on the page so the title of the article is difficult to read.That said, it does still possess more formatting than is present in EdCanvas mobile or desktop, making it easier for students to process the information presented. But, there is a lot of white space…scroll down to see the rest of the article.

Stay tuned for the next article in my “Side By Side” series: Using PollEveryWhere and Socrative to create engaging student activities and formative assessments they can access on their mobile devices.

Still so far to go

For this post, I think my recent communications with a colleague and subsequent posts (and related comments) on social media will speak for themselves.

Let’s begin at the beginning with this email thread….names removed (except my own), of course.

From: Teacher A
Sent: Thursday, January 24, 2013 3:28 PM
To: Nicole Naditz; Teacher B
Subject: Foreign language required for graduation

Hi, Teacher B and Nicole:

Our district is in the process of writing new graduation requirements.  Our school would like to know if you are in favor of making foreign language a requirement for graduation.

Teacher A

From: Nicole Naditz
Sent: Thursday, January 24, 2013 5:55 p.m.
To: Teacher A, Teacher B
Absolutely!!! If we are serious about preparing students for work and citizenship after high school, language and cultural studies must become a part of the curriculum. And if our district is serious about the 21st century skills as adopted in our strategic plan, then graduation requirements should be established that provide students with the curriculum necessary to meet those skills (world languages are listed as second, only behind English, in terms of core subjects in the 21st century skills adopted in our district. Additionally, those skills documents call out cross-cultural awareness as a key skill needed by our business and industry and world language classes are one of the only places this happens).  I have plenty of data and research to back this up.

I sent a follow-up almost immediately…

From: Nicole Naditz
Sent: Thursday, January 24, 2013 5:57 PM
To: Teacher A, Teacher B
Subject: RE: Foreign language required for graduation

However, if we actually establish a requirement for two years, for example, we need to honor and recognize those  students who are already bilingual. While we should encourage them to start on the road to multilingualism, they should not end up feeling “punished” because they are already fluent in English and another language.
Nicole Naditz, M.Ed
National Board Certified Teacher of French
Google Certified Teacher
Bella Vista High School

And now, the “debate” on the issue begins. Except, my colleague doesn’t really debate the issue. Her arguments revolve solely around the fact that she (and she is not the only one, unfortunately) simply does NOT want to have to teach everyone. As long as world languages aren’t required, she and others will keep having a fairly select group of students. Hmmm. I didn’t think that’s what we were talking about, but I’ll let you decide for yourselves. Here is the thread of our “debate.”


From:Teacher B
Sent: Thursday, January 24, 2013 9:47 PM
To: Nicole Naditz; Teacher A
Subject: RE: Foreign language required for graduation

We have discussed this many times in the past. Although it seems to be a good idea for our job security it may be disastrous for our classes. Can you imagine all students having to take a language?  I don’t know about your school but it seems like we are already lowering our standards and rigor to accommodate different levels of students. I think we would have to add lower academic Conversational classes in the mix and possibly Honors level for university bound. Would love to join in on any meetings you may have concerning this.


Hi Teacher B,

I knew we would disagree on this, and we both feel equally strongly.

I’m not thinking about my job security (I probably wouldn’t be a French teacher at all if I was). I’m also not thinking about lowering my standards or anyone else’s. I’m thinking about our students and our role to prepare them for work and citizenship. Business leaders have been quite clear: schools are NOT providing them with employees who have language and cultural skills and they are not equipped to do that; they count on schools to do that, including K-12 because not all jobs/fields require a college degree. We still have a large percentage of students who go from HS to work. Literally 200,000 Americans are denied jobs every year because they lack the language skills the company seeks and those jobs are across sectors and education levels. The companies are then forced to give the jobs to native speakers and pay for them to be relocated to the U.S.

World languages already ARE a requirement in many, many districts, many of which have a much higher “at-risk” population, including the district of our national language teacher of the year 2007 (from Natomas). She and her colleagues in Spanish don’t lower their standards–they teach for proficiency and give students the tools to be successful.

We in SJUSD do the same for our students now. Why are we thinking we can’t teach students? We have all answered a calling to teach students and prepare them for the future–not just teach the cream of the crop or just the ones who select our classes. I think our district language teachers are quite skilled. I encourage anyone to visit my class. Differentiating to meet the needs of learners does NOT mean lowering standards.

Nicole Naditz, M.Ed
National Board Certified Teacher of French
Google Certified Teacher
Bella Vista High School

Then, Teacher B decided to provide “data” to prove her point that world languages are not appropriate as a graduation requirement. By the way, Teacher A and B are also both language teachers. In the email thread she sent me as proof, I do have to give her credit for attempting a bit of advocacy for world language education. But only a little bit!

Here goes….

From: Counselor
Date: Friday, January 25, 2013 8:15 AM
ta spot first period

I have a sophomore, (name removed) who injured himself and is unable to remain in P.E. first period. Does anyone have a need for a ta? Please let me know if you could utilize some help.


From: Teacher B
Sent: Friday, January 25, 2013 8:57 AM
To: Counselor
Subject: Re: student in need of ta spot first period

How about a real class like Spanish 1, 1st period.

[Thank you, teacher B for suggesting a valuable option that will provide him with more learning experiences than being a TA]

From: counselor
Date: Friday, January 25, 2013 9:33 AM
To:Teacher B
Subject: RE: student in need of ta spot first period

Sure. But, not sure that this student is up for that. I can suggest it to him though!

[It should be noted that this is a block school, so although the date is January, the Spanish one class to which the teacher refers just started three weeks ago.]

And then, her coup de grace, the whole reason she feels she has proven her case. This message to me about why she forwarded this thread.

From: Teacher B
Sent: Friday, January 25, 2013 10:32 AM
To: Nicole Naditz; Teacher A
Subject: FW: student in need of ta spot first period

Hi Nicole,
Interesting that I just received this e-mail from the counselor.  Please read from bottom to
top. [Note to reader: I have already fixed the order.] I always promote Spanish, but even the counselors would not put just everyone in
a language.
Teacher B

And, finally. My reply to Teacher B:

Hi Teacher B.

Thank you for giving this serious consideration. The dialog is good for all of us.

I still believe students should be given the opportunity to meet the gamut of standards we have in place for success after high school. That doesn’t mean I’ve never had a student fail at semester. I had two students drop F at semester, but that was after substantial effort on my part to work with them and their counselors and parents to meet their needs–the students themselves did not reciprocate. That said, this is the first year I’ve had drop Fs.

On the other hand, I can give several counter examples for every year that I have taught of students whom the counselors actually fought to keep out of language (but parents and myself prevailed and got them enrolled in language classes). They were being denied access because of their grades in other classes and now, they are A or B students in French. No one should be making generalizations about a students’ aptitude. I prefer to their work in the actual course speak for itself.

I still feel we are doing the a disservice if we refuse to even try. And, we have many, many examples of districts and schools who have for years required language for graduation. We can look at their practices and their results. I don’t believe “disastrous” is used by their teachers to describe their situation or they would have abandoned the practice. I would encourage you to talk to Christine Lanphere about how it works in Natomas–almost 95% free-reduced lunch, majority non-white, and yet the expectation to receive a high school diploma is (and has been) two years of language. [I must insert a correction here: I later found out that Natomas requires one year of language, not two; however it is a graduation requirement]. In fact, I share your concern about rigor and standards; we have the lowest standards for graduation now (compared to Natomas, Sac City, Elk Grove and others) because WE don’t have language requirement. Who’s watering down?

Nicole Naditz, M.Ed
National Board Certified Teacher of French
Google Certified Teacher
Bella Vista High School

This email conversation made me so sad…are we still so naive and self-centered in our thinking when it comes to discussing educational issues. Well…rather than compose my thoughts again, I’ll let my social media feed save me a bit of time…

Post 1:

So in response to whether or world languages should be required for graduation in our district (as is already the case in most districts near us, including the two comparably-sized/population status districts), this is what one teacher wrote: ” Although it seems to be a good idea for our job security it may be disastrous for our classes. Can you imagine all students having to take a language? I don’t know about your school but it seems like we are already lowering our standards and rigor to accommodate different levels of students.” Really??? We shouldn’t consider it because you don’t want to teach everyone? Or because you don’t want to learn how to truly differentiate (the definition of which is in fact to NOT lower standards, but to design instruction that allows all students to meet and even exceed the standards)? Really? So you want to base our curriculum and our requirements on what’s easy for you and not what’s best for students? *sigh

Follow up:  In other words you want the conversation to be about your needs and not the students’. And not at all a reasoned dialog about the pros and cons of language and cultural study and the relationship between that and students’ (and employers’/communities’) needs post high school.

And another follow up:

And I see the need for debate and there a lot of factors to consider. For example, students already fluent in English and another shouldn’t feel “punished” by a language policy. But the discussion should center around data helping us make an informed decision on the issue and its impact on and/or benefit to students.
One of the great comments to this came from a former student who just arrived for a year in Paris:
 I agree. I think that is important for students to be bilingual and prepared for the professional work. Although it may seem intimidating to high schoolers, it will pay off in the long run and teachers must understand and sacrifice some time to better the future for the student. (like you Madame)! If it werent for you and Sr. Teacher [name removed], I wouldn’t have been accepted into my school abroad where everyone is bilingual and 80% trilingual. I also think some of the teachers have to consider that most countries require students to learn a foreign language at younger ages which is an even more rigorous task. A lot of selfish souls. 😦
My reply back to my lovely student:
Actually, it’s easier for young children to learn language. So, ideally, we should start younger, and have well-articulated language program that provide students really long sequences of language instruction so they achieve really high levels of achievement. And we need to consider scheduling issues: currently, with our inflexible, traditional high school schedules, students don’t have room for one more requirement. But I’m on the blended learning task force. We may one day fairly soon have options to take some classes online. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend world languages for that, but if classes that are more suited to it are offered online, students will have more flexibility in their traditional school day for others. Or …. Wait for it…. We could schedule for learning rather than convenience and really make a difference in what students can do during their education.
And so it goes. #stillsofartogo

Google Teacher Academy….the next few hours

Now that you’ve had some time to digest my experience of the first couple of hours of the Google Teacher Academy in London, here are some of my favorite takeaways from the subsequent (but still not all of the remaining) hours.

    • Use “street view” in Google maps to give context to literature and historical events and to facilitate students’ pre-thinking before doing written tasks. Want to go even further? Turn your students’ annotated Google maps into videos (including their own narration) using a tool such as http://animaps.com. I hope to use this as one of the main tools students use to complete the “Through their eyes” project referenced in the last post. I hoped to embed a sample, but it didn’t work so here’s a link to a quick example I did using Jing to narrate and record the street-view of my high school. This is just a sample; I don’t have anything special to say. But your students might! Just imagine going on street view to “tour” the sites where history and literature took place!
  • Video creation tools students and teachers can use are already compiled in a list provided by YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/create. With carefully crafted goals, objectives, directions, and rubrics, you may find your students demonstrating their knowledge in ways you had never dreamed. Or you could present your own material in new ways. I would encourage you to play with the tools first, however, if they are new to you. It will help immensely in your planning for the first day the students use the tools. On a related note, I almost always plan “play time” first with a new tool before assigning a “high stakes” project to be completed using the tool. This way the students are given the time and support they need to understand the tool before also trying to demonstrate content knowledge using that tool. This is especially true of online animation tools. The students are still speaking French when they “play”; they simply aren’t also worrying about the “project.”
  • I’m starting to teach myself some basic Java scripting in order to maximize the potential of certain Google tools, including Google Forms and Google Sites. One of the most useful scripts allows students to click a button on your Google Web Site to submit their assignments (created in Google Docs) directly into a collection in your own Google Docs folder.
  • One online tool with great potential–especially for collecting data on how well students are understanding and applying concepts, you can use Flubaroo (which includes the scripts you need) to create self-grading quizzes you can insert into a Google spreadsheet
  • The Chrome store could be its own source of great tools for teachers. It is a lot like the iTunes store, but for the Chrome Web browser–the link I provided to the Chrome store will probably only open if you’re in Chrome. Since I haven’t brought this up yet, it’s worth saying here: in case you didn’t already know, Gmail and Google Docs (and probably other Google tools) don’t play nicely with Internet Explorer. Those of you who are experienced Chrome users can skip to the next section, but for the rest of you who are new to Chrome, read on: A few months ago I caved and downloaded Chrome browser in order to increase the functionality of both Gmail and Google Docs. I was very pleased with how well both tools worked once I wasn’t using Internet Explorer. But it wasn’t until Google Teacher Academy that I realized how much more one can do with Chrome browser compared to traditional Web browsers. Imagine you’re on Chrome on your home computer and you find an application or extension  you like. Extensions are buttons you ask Chrome to install that appear to the right of the address bar allowing you to access certain tools or carry out certain activities with just one click no matter what Web page you currently happen to be looking at.
    The red arrow in the picture below is pointing to two extensions that are installed on my Chrome Browser. The first one (the “plus” sign in the orange background allows to easily share and bookmark. I didn’t have to look for that extension because it is part of Chrome when you install Chrome. But the red box with the “@” symbol I installed. It is discussed below.
  • Anyway, you find an extension you like, and you install it in Chrome on your home computer. Then you get to work and open up Chrome on a different computer. Once you sign in (with the same account information you have for Gmail or Google Docs),  everything you installed at home is also installed on the work (or other) computer. For example, I added the red “@” extension above that allows me to send any Web page I’m viewing to Evernote just by clicking on it. For fun, I also downloaded apps from the Chrome store just so I could see how this worked. I tried an online typing test from the Chrome store and I also put my WordPress account on my Chrome home page. When I logged into to my computer at work, everything was there for me–the apps, the bookmarks, and the extensions!
  • Gmail has “translation bots”.  First, find the email address of the language(s) you want. For example, for a translation bot to go from English to French, the address is en2fr@bot.talk.google.com. Add that address to your Gmail contacts.  Start a “chat” and invite the bot for the language you want as a participant. Then students can then type in English, and it will do a passable translation into French. As a language teacher, I won’t be using this, but I could see other classes using this if they have collaborative projects going on with classes in other parts of the world. In playing with the French-to-English translation bot, I did find that spelling matters. Some language teachers might find this useful because the students would in theory know what they were trying to say when they typed the sentence in French, but if the English result comes back garbled, there is clearly an error somewhere in the sentence, and the students would have to find out where that error is. But this only has limited application and usefulness in the modern, proficiency-oriented language classroom, the same way students can test their pronunciation by trying to get the French Siri on the iPhone 4S to understand their questions.
  • Ngram viewer: this tool is part of the Google books suite. It does a comparative analysis of search terms and works in English, Chinese, French, German, Russian, Hebrew and Spanish. I ran a sample search in French, comparing the terms “holocauste” and “Shoah” from 1920 to 2000. While most English speakers refer to the deportation, imprisonment, torture, and killing of Jews (and other populations) as the “Holocaust,” the term has been replaced with Shoah in French (and I actually heard on NPR recently that the term Shoah is starting to come into usage in English as well). Holocaust technically refers to any destruction or slaughter on a mass scale and originally was a religious term coming from ancient Greece, meaning “whole offering” or “burnt sacrifice”. The Hebrew word Shoahmeans “calamity” or “destruction” and some feel it is more appropriate when applied to the campaign of genocide that occured in WWII. When you look at the results of the Ngram viewer, you can see the change in language usage occur in French literature over time.

If you click on one of the dates in the table displayed below the image, it will bring to you search results in Google for books using those terms.

For example, I clicked on the box on the top left (1920-1989). Here was the result:

I’m still sorting out my own thoughts on the conversations we could have in class regarding the results of carefully selected search terms. I can only imagine the implications in literature and social science courses!

More Google Teacher Academy reflections coming soon…..

Google Teacher Academy United Kingdom: A whirlwind of inspiration, dreams…and yes, technology

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader

                                                                                                                                                  –John Quincy Adams

And with this quote, the whirlwind day and a half at Google Teacher Academy in London began.

I’ve been home from the Google Teacher Academy for four days….and my head is still swimming with everything I learned and with the powerful thinking and philosophy that is challenging my personal status quo. As someone who is accustomed to being relatively savvy when it comes to technology (educational and otherwise), it was a new and refreshing experience for me to be near the bottom of the pack in terms of my familiarity with the full potential of Google tools. As I have told many people who asked me about the experience, GTAUK (as it is affectionately known due to its location in London, England) took me so far out of my normal comfort zone that I felt like a newly-credentialed teacher attending my first professional conference. Yes, I learned that much…and yes, it was that amazing, that energizing, and that overwhelming!

To give you some perspective on just how much there is to learn, internalize and implement at a Google Teacher Academy, consider the fact that I returned home and two days later, signed up for the Google Apps for Education Summit in California this July. And I know full well that many of the topics we explored in London will be repeated there. That’s why I’m attending. I think hearing about them again will work much like recycling material in our K-12 classes: the learner (me) will be better able to apply the material the second time around.

Don’t get me wrong; I definitely intend to implement some of the tools and features, and especially the philosophy (summed up as “Dream Out Loud” and “write our own chapters in the use of Google apps”) this school year, but I suspect I need another go-around with the information before I’m personally able to implement the tools at the deep level of rigor and resourcefulness exhibited by our facilitators and “Lead Learners”.

Here are just some of amazing things I learned that I hope will begin transforming the times, places and spaces in which my students learn.

  • Use Google 80/20 time in the classroom!!! What is 80/20? It is the Google philosophy (and put into practice at all Google work sites) that gives employees 20% of their work time to freely play and experiment and create. Google firmly believes that some of their most innovative advances developed out of what was originally one or two (or more) people “playing.” So they pay their employees to play 20% of their scheduled work time. How does this work in the classroom? Some teachers at GTAUK were already doing it, but most of us haven’t implemented it yet. As a French teacher, I would have to have the caveat that the 20% be in French and connected in some way to francophone cultures around the world. Beyond that, I want my students to play, explore and experiment with topics and language of interest to them! If I implement this, I would do it once a week, rather than daily and I would have them journal about the experience each day:  What question/topic did they explore? What did they learn? What did they enjoy? What was challenging? Will they continue with the same topic next week? Why? What new questions or ideas do they have now because of the exploration they did today? I also would like to see this culminate in a showcase of some kind. Perhaps a “Google Night” where the students can share what they learned, created, explored, etc. and they could use any format, media or tools they wish to share their findings and creations (or to show the “flow” of their explorations over a period of weeks). Initially, I see this working best with my advanced class, so that’s where I plan to begin implementing it. Then I will work backwards from there, refining the use of “Google time” in my classroom to best unleash the intrinsic learning motivations of each of my students at all levels.
  • Google Earth Outreach (projects using google maps to collect data, address real-world problems and propose solutions)  http://earth.google.com/outreach
  • In Google (search), one can create custom searches where the results are already filtered. Consider embedding the search on your class Web site, give QR code or shortened URL (using goo.gl or Bit.ly). It’s a great way to provide students with pre-screened, relevant  sites for them to examine.
  • What do you Love search: get results from your search query across multiple Google products: Web sites, maps, blogs, videos, all organized in an attractive page for you to explore.
  • In Google Calendar: You can text in an event from my cell phone if you add your cell number to your Google Calendar. Then, to add a new event just type in the following order: event name AT time With person IN/AT location and it will automatically fill in all the fields and populate your calendar. If you already have a calendar in Gmail, to to Calendar Settings, then Mobile Setup, and give it the cell phone number. When you’re ready to add to your calendar from your phone, text the new event to 48368 for it to go to the calendar.
  • Consider creating a specific calendar for homework for your students. If you share the calendar with them, it will automatically update for them (and they can even receive “push notifications” if they choose).
  • Appointment slots are now available in Google calendar. Must be in day or week mode, not month. When clicking on a time, you now see option to make an appointment slot calendar with 5, 10, 15, 20, 30-minute intervals.
  • Need students to go to a Web site from their smart phones, tablets, or even a computer? Some sites have long, nasty URLs. Shorten them at goo.gl (or at Bit.ly or OW.ly). But if you do it with goo.gl, you can go into “details” and there will already be a QR code created of the same site for you.
  • Google sites (a Web platform) allows you to not only design clean sites for use by you or your students, but to embed script objects, including a “submit assignment” script that will automatically put their assignment into a collection in your Google Docs account….OK, this is a little more advanced. But I figured it out and created a simple page in Google sites specifically to play with what I learned at GTAUK, and I successfully edited and added the script and then tried submitting my notes from GTAUK, and presto! The notes appeared in the collection I had created for student work in my Google Docs.
  • Google Moderator…functions like a back channel, giving your students (or participants in a group or teacher training) the ability to comment on the content, ask questions and share online resources. Click on “create series” to start your own backchannel. Here’s a sample series we did during the Google Teacher Academy using Google Moderator at GTAUK to describe ideas for how to use Google Moderator in the classroom. Note how participants can vote and comment on suggestions, giving it more functionality as a back channel than other options, such as TodaysMeet.
  • Why does a presentation have to involve only one media (such as PPT (or Google Presentation): why not flow from material in a Google Doc to data on the same topic in Spreadsheet (maybe with a motion chart…AWESOME: click on the “play” icon under the graph to see the data flow over time from Jan. 1, 1988 to July 1, 1989) to video content you’ve curated on YouTube to Presentation to Forms, etc. If the different media are tightly connected in content, and well organized to blend seemlessly from one to another, this can transform the way students (and others) present their knowledge.

This list is just what impressed me within the first two hours of Google Teacher Academy! Needless to say, I have a lot of work to do and a lot of ground to cover in order to realize my dream of seamlessly and purposefully embedding Google (and other) tools into my practice in order to revolutionize the learning experience for students. Speaking of which, I mentioned we were told to “Dream out loud”, so I might as well share my “dream” use of Google tools here. All participants in a Google Teacher Academy have to develop an action plan of how they will implement Google tools to make a difference in the students they reach (directly and indirectly). So….let me share a bit of my action plan here so you can “hear” my dream:

Even before Google Teacher Academy, I had read about the Google Science Fair and I was intrigued. Here is an event that will feature students from around the world sharing their scientific knowledge with a panel of experts. In this case, the students apply online and the finalists are invited to participate in an in-person event, the Science Fair itself. But the concept got me thinking: how can I create a “World Languages Student Expo” in which students from around the world apply to present in the languages they are studying and their audience would be other students studying the same language as well as native speakers? How can we do this virtually, using Google Tools as well as others to provide virtual spaces in which the students can present and interact with their audiences?  I see this as running a bit like the Global Education Collaborative Virtual Conference and the Social Learning Summit, both of which are global, entirely online and free. Initially, I’ll try it with just French, but I hope to figure out how to design a bigger event involving numerous world languages. Our students deserve the chance to show the world what they can do with their new languages, and the World Languages Student Expo could prove to be just the venue.

A similar project I intend to pursue is the “Through Their Eyes” project, which I am already doing with a village in Burkina Faso. Since our partner village in Burkina Faso has no electricity and no Internet, my students and I do all correspondence through traditional postal mail, including sending disposable cameras to the village so the inhabitants can take pictures of life “Through Their Eyes” for us. But with Google tools, we can now connect students with peers around the world to create online presentations of life “Through Their Eyes”. They would begin by constructing a tour in Google maps showing their hometown or through their eyes, with photos and text embedded in the map as they lead the viewer on a tour of their hometown. These maps could be narrated and automated so that they run as a video using a tool such as Animaps. Subsequent “chapters” of the “Through Their Eyes” project might include photos, text, and voice describing themes such as “family life”, “holidays,” and “daily life”. The point is to blend photos with text and audio and other information, such as maps, to give the partner school and their students a window into the lives of peers from another culture. Of course, in a language class, this has the double benefit of providing substantial, relevant language practice.

So there you have it…my first comprehensible (I hope) thoughts among the many more that are still swirling about in my brain after Google Teacher Academy.

Virtual World Languages Student Fair?

I’ve been seeing really exciting posts about the application period for the Google Science Fair and of course, that got me thinking about what that would look like for other subjects.

To be sure, there may not be money to invest in actual in-person fairs the same way the Google Science Fair finalists are invited to attend an actual event. But what’s stopping us from having our students use the incredible range of virtual tools to create virtual fairs and symposia with our students as the speakers/presenters/designers/creators?

Personally, I’ll be looking into designing a virtual world languages fair featuring (and connecting) students from around the world presenting/sharing in their target languages on a theme–or one of a choice of themes–I haven’t decided yet. Of course, I would prefer to do such an event during Discover Languages month, so my target is February of 2013.

Our students are becoming the leaders, creators, innovators and producers of an increasingly complex and connected world. Why not use the tools at our disposal to give them opportunities to connect with other students on topics of relevance (and interest) to demonstrate their knowledge and use the skills they are developing in school?

More to come…after I work out how to make this work. Perhaps a post during or after the Google Teacher Academy in London this April, when I’ll have a chance to talk to some other incredible educators and also Google experts about the logistics of making this happen!