Skype in Class

I have a confession to make: I have never used Skype. So it is as a neophyte that I write this blog. Anyway, like most members of my generation, I figure that if I ever have problems using Skype, all I have to do is ask my kids for help.

I’m interested in Skype because I see it as a great way to connect my students with fellow students their age who are native English speakers. As I look on the Internet, I realize that the good people at Skype set up an Education section on their website. Though this site covers almost every subject, the posts World Class 4 Kids and Comparing Schools Around the Globe are particularly promising when it comes to connecting French speaking Québec children with native English speaking children from around the world.

Writing this blog opened up my mind to another possible application of Skype in the classroom: the possibility of linking my future students with famous individuals from fields like sports, politics or science. This Time magazine article shows how some teachers managed to get their students have a Skype conversation with celebrities (Shaquille O’Neal chief among them) during their classes. Skype allows schools and teachers to introduce their students to new cultures and experts at a low cost. Now that is something that I find absolutely great! Skype provides me with the opportunity to ask my future students who they would like to talk with (as long as that person is a native English speaker) and give them a chance to actually communicate with him or her. This can happen with little or no cost and regardless of the distance that may separate my class and the person my students Skype with.

Educators everywhere are getting on the Skype bandwagon. Sites like edudemic.com and theedublogger.com provide helpful hints on how to use Skype in class and what are the possible activities that this technology provides in a pedagogical context. I find the The Peace One Day and Around the World in 80 Classrooms initiatives very interesting. In my view, they both allow students to open up their minds to new cultures and realities and the force Québec children to analyze and compare their situation with that of other children around the world.

As I see it, Skype is a great technological tool that can be used as a low cost, high speed gate to the world that can be easily used in a classroom. Teachers everywhere are already using Skype in order to help their students better understand the world we live in. In my case, Skype is also a great tool allowing my future students to practice English with native English speakers. It seems to me that the possibilities that Skype offer in a classroom are only limited by the teacher’s imagination and will to experiment. The question is then: as a future English teacher, am I game?

Spice Up Your English Class

Ah spices… Countries went to war for them. Some historians argue that Europe embarked on the Age of Discovery because it wanted to find new trade routes in order to import the Orient’s spices. I guess that teachers need to spice up their classes, no matter what subject they teach. As long as I am concerned, an easy way to do this is to use You Tube.

There is a number of ways a teacher can use You Tube in order to make his or her class more interesting for students. As a matter of fact, You Tube created You Tube Teachers which is aimed specifically at teachers. This site already offers over 700 000 educational videos. These videos cover subjects ranging from science to mathematics and including geography and literature.

On top of You Tube Teachers, there is also You Tube for Schools. I find this section of the site to be less interesting since it automatically translates into the language of your area (which is normally a good thing, but when you wish to teach a foreign language, it can be problematic) and because you must sign up to it in order to have access to the videos that it has to offer.

As an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher, I have a clear advantage: I can choose whichever topic I find amusing, build a chart that my students will have to fill in, and voilà! I came up with an activity that helped my students develop their reading, writing and listening abilities. The other great thing about this is that it changed the pace of the class which can be seen by the students as a welcome recess. Since most classrooms are now equiped with a computer, a screen and a projector, it is now very easy to show a You Tube video during class.

Though most You Tube videos can be seen as just fun and games (I mean, where else can you see a clip of John Lee Hooker playing with Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones), there is now more and more serious content that is posted on the site.

Because of all of its advantages, You Tube is, at least to me, the best way to spice up an ESL class. No need to go to war about it.

Prezi : Mindmap Meets PowerPoint

As I looked through the Internet for inspiration regarding the use of technology in ESL learning, I came across Prezi. To me, a Prezi presentation is a cross section between a Mind Map and a PowerPoint presentation.

The first thing that strikes me about Prezi is that it is nonlinear. A PowerPoint presentation allows you to go from one point to the other to the next. You can go back a few slides, but you cannot really go from one idea to the next (which is the main goal of a Mindmap). A Mindmap on the other hand, allows you to go from one idea to the next, but since it is not thought of as a presentation, it is hard to predetermine certain actions like zooming in and out. Prezi, by allowing you to jump from one idea to the next and by allowing you to preprogram zooms, offers you the best of both worlds.

Since Prezi presentations are built on a map format, all the information you wish to share is on the same “slide”. You can therefore “jump” from one idea to the next without having to lose time trying to figure out on which slide that idea was. This means that you can respond quickly to the students’ interests and questions. That responsiveness and the easy to add images and videos (you only need to save them from You Tube), win me over.

This hungarian software is winning over people of all interests and of all walks of life. Even Power Point and Forbes are enthralled by it. Like any tool, it offers great promess which is why many teachers have adopted it for their classes. As long as I am concerned, adopting Prezi in class makes perfect sense. It is only logical to use a tool that works like the minds of the people that we teach. My mind sure does not work in a linear manner, just ask my wife! For their part, learners are very positive about this software and for good reasons. They enjoy the esthetic of the presentations that can be lively and colorful and learners appreciate the fact that it is easy to link an image or a video to a concept that has just been explained.

All these things make me very excited about the possibilities that Prezi offers and I am beginning to think of ways I could use it in a classroom. At least in my case, it will not be death by PowerPoint, but rather, death to PowerPoint.

Teaching Through Games

When I look back at my school years, my English classes usually were the fun classes. We would do everything from watching cartoons, to covering the history of rock n’ roll and watching television shows. To add to the fun, the best teachers would have us play games like “Simon Says” and “Hangman”. I thought the whole thing was great : recess while still in class. Life was sweet… Little did I know that, through these games, I was actually learning. Years later, I understood a very important thing: I tend to perform better and be more motivated when I am enjoying myself. As a future teacher, I believe that the same logic applies to all individuals; if people are enjoying themselves, they will perform better and be more motivated.

As a matter of fact, two researchers from the University of Hong Kong made the same claim and came up with interesting conclusions. During the course of their research, they studied two groups of engineering students who were taking English classes. One group was playing on line games in order to learn vocabulary, while the other did not. The group of learners who played games not only enjoyed themselves more than their counterparts, but they were also more motivated and had better results in the end. It seems that it isn’t just kids who wannah have fun in class!

As I looked on the internet and on Youtube, most online educational activities are aimed at children. I think that there should be more activities aimed at teenagers, especially since it is harder to motivate this group of learners. Most sites I have visited, tend to the needs of children aged 3 to 12. One site that is great for an older audience is the “Educational” section of the Nobel Prize site. The activities cover the subjects rewarded by a Nobel Prize (physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, peace and economics) and help learners know all sorts of facts about these subjects and the Nobel Prize Recipients of each category.

I feel like I need to study this some more but that there are great possibilities for a class. Furthermore, some games that are aimed at a younger audience, can work with older learners (Online Hangman anyone?). Using online games can boost the learners’ motivation and enjoyment of their English class which will translate into better results. Is there a better way to learn than when you acquire knew knowledge without realizing it? I don’t think so. As long I am concerned, teachers should explore the possibility of incorporating online games to their lesson plans, I know I will.

WebQuests

Some people would call me lazy, I prefer the term efficient myself. Here I am, having to write a blog piece about something that is both technological and pedagogical, and my teacher has also asked me and my classmates to design a WebQuest. Genius! I will do the research I need to get going on my WebQuest project and use that information to write my weekly blog about the pedagogical applications of ICT (Information and Communication Technology). As long as I am concerned, that is efficiency at its finest!

In order to get started, I think it is important to define what WebQuests are. They were designed by Bernie Dodge, a professor at San Diego State University in the mid 1990s and have been used in different fields ever since. In short, WebQuests are wrapped around a doable and interesting task that requires higher level thinking and that makes good use of the web. An ideal WebQuest will have learners go on different sites so that they can find the information they need. Learners will then need to process the information they gathered in order to understand it and then be able to present it to their peers.

WebQuests can cover any type of subjects. The site WebQuest.org gives examples of WebQuests, templates and WebQuest categories that teachers can use in order to design their very own. The examples cover a wide variety of topics and cover many different fields (history, biology and geography). Other sites provide examples of WebQuests while others give tools so that teachers can use in order to build their own webquests. I would argue that a good way to get started would be to start with an existing WebQuest, adapt it to your needs and then present it to the teacher. A lot of WebQuest authors think that way since they state that their WebQuests are available for others to use as long as they mention original authorship.

As long as I am concerned, WebQuests offer great possibilities and have many advantages. Since WebQuests are often group projects, they help students organize and share their work. Students learn about a subject, but they also learn to interact and work with others. Since my kids love their computers and everything that they can find on the web, giving them the opportunity to do just that in a class project is a sure way to get them interested. To me, the greatest advantage of a WebQuest is the fact that it blends many areas of knowledge. In an English class context, it blends the knowledge and learning of English with the use of ICT. If I take the WebQuest I am currently designing, I can add the subjects of science (mainly physics) and philosphy to that mix. By studying one topic (English), the learners end up covering many others.

WebQuests have numerous advantages and I am looking forward to trying them out with my future students. They also present an interesting chalenge : make sure that the students get to analyze, synthesize, solve problems, create something new and judge a situation. Coming up with an activity that does all that is a problem I look forward to solve.