Live Mocha: An Online Language Learning Community

While learning a second language in a school classroom is effective, there is nothing quite like immersing yourself into the culture and society of another language. Whether you wish to learn Spanish, French, Arabic, or all of the above, there are many online language learning communities that you can utilize to connect with native speakers all around the world. The most popular of these learning communities is LiveMocha.com and a blog post from a Spanish language learner will assist you in getting the most out of the site.

Live Mocha is a free site that offers online courses and opportunities to connect with native speakers of the language you wish to learn. Vice versa, there are several people on the site that will wish to learn the language you speak. As a native speaker of English, you have the opportunity to see the work of others who are learning your language and you receive points for the amount of feedback you give to these users. As a native speaker, the users whose work you are reviewing will rate your helpfulness. This rating system allows you to differentiate between the users who are interested in helping others with a new language and those who are simply signed up to learn rather than assist others.

Signing up takes only a minute and requires you to enter your native language, the language you want to learn, an email, and a password. The site then directs you to three questions to point you in the right direction for the type of language learning you wish to do. Following these questions, Live Mocha will suggest the types of courses in which you should get started. After entering my information, I was presented with these courses:

I chose to start with the first option I was presented with and from there was given the option of choosing from four levels:

(SCREEN SHOT LEVELS 1-4)

From there, I was prompted to begin Lesson 1 of Unit 1, which covers a variety of subjects as you can see from the screen shot below:

In order to use this resource most effectively, Ryan’s blog post suggests the following steps:

1. Sign up to do the free courses, but ONLY do the reading exercises.

Ryan suggests to skip the other exercises that involve simply clicking pictures to answer questions as they do not do much to help you learn reading, writing, speaking, or listening. Keep in mind that the point of Ryan’s blog post is to assist the user in learning a new language as quickly and efficiently as possible.

2. Immediately review your exercises and offer feedback to those learning AND teaching your language.

Ryan makes a good point that mutual help within this learning community is beneficial. By giving help to those learning your language, you are more likely to receive help from those who speak the language you are learning.

3. Make sure to rate the helpfulness of the feedback you receive.

By rating your feedback, you are not only gaining points for yourself, but also helping others see the usefulness of the user you are rating. Ratings allow all users of the community to be able to judge how helpful a user will be with teaching the new language.

4. Once you have connected with the native speakers via messages and activities, be sure to connect with them via chat.

Ryan asserts that this chat tool is the most powerful resource that Live Mocha has to offer and as such, is the best way to connect with native speakers of the language you wish to learn. Speaking is notably the most difficult part of learning a new language and being able to chat is a good way to practice conversation with a native speaker to help you along the way. The best part of Live Mocha is that often times, the native speaker you engage with will also be a learner of your language, allowing you to teach and learn from each other all in one conversation.

Overall, I found this blog post to be a very helpful guide to utilize this recourse in the most effective way possible. Live Mocha is just one of many online language learning communities that learners can use to gain proficiency in a language or start a new language from scratch.

Posted in Collaboration, Communication | 17 Comments

Using Prezi in the Classroom

Many people are hearing about Prezi as it is becoming a popular tool for classrooms across all subjects and grade levels. It is a tool that can seem like a mix between interactive whiteboard and presentation slide technology as it allows you to draw on a huge digital canvas, move things around, and then sequence the information for presenting as you wish. The video below, created by Prezi, explains the art of Prezintations.

Amy Mayer, an educator who writes about technology in her blog Fried Technology, wrote about Prezi on several different occasions. One post even classified Prezi among the Top Ten Tech Tools for the Social Studies (or any) Classroom! This is because, as Mayer describes in Prezi: Completely Amazing Non-Linear Presentation Tool, Prezi’s nonlinear presentation tends to be more fun for students in comparison to other dated tools. When you think about tools such as PowerPoint or Google Presentations, for example, you create work one slide at a time; Prezi allows you to create all your information in one spot and then make a “path” that tells the program what order you would like the presentation to be presented in. Additionally, the font, color, and symbol combinations are infinite, allowing for beautiful works, and the option to add videos and online links right into the presentation without opening another page. This is also more convenient for teachers and engaging for students. These organization methods are easier done in Prezi than other programs. Prezi’s ability to creatively communicate ideas and complex relationships between ideas on the large space through moving images, arrows, timelines, brackets, and other even more organizational devices can even make feel like a 3D movie.

Though it is a little trickier to navigate than other more intuitive tools, there are numerous tutorials to help, such as the one above. Once you master it though, making creations is like second nature. Prezi is neat in that you can also search for works people have already made, and share your own, making it like an interactive, collaborative archive. This can help lighten the load for teachers… just imagine all the lessons already created!

Here are some photos of parts of excellent Prezintations. Clicking on the photos will allow you to view the entire presentation on Prezi’s website.

Photo of Hasso Plattner Insititute Design at Stanford School's Presentation

Here is an example of a Prezi creation that makes use of the possibilities to draw creative designs and use color effectively. It was created for the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford by Balazs Turai.

Photo of English Class Shakespeare Project

This is one of Prezi user "Shakespeare William's" creations. Prezi was used here to show High School English students' research about William Shakespeare's life.

Photo of Martin Luther King Jr. Presentation

This presentation traces the events of Martin Luther King Jr.'s life and could be used in a history class. It shows the possibility for organization devices such as timelines. It was created by Balazs Turai.

Finally, Prezi makes for a great classroom tool because it is free to students and teachers. It’s as easy as signing up for an account, and then you can begin Prezinting today!

Have you ever used Prezi before? If so, what assignments did you use it for? What did you like or dislike about it? If not, would you use Prezi in your classroom?

Posted in Communication, Creativity, Instruction, Teacher productivity | 19 Comments

Google Earth

Do you remember learning about foreign countries, landmarks found on other continents, and other far away places in school? If so, your teacher probably showed you a few pictures of each place and that was that. Wouldn’t it have been so much more interesting if you could have “flown” to that specific site and been able to explore it? Well, with Google Earth you can!

Google Earth is a virtual globe with real-life imagery that allows users to search for certain locations. Whether it be a street address, a country, or a specific landmark, Google Earth will find it and virtually “fly” you to that  location, zooming in to your exact search term.

Mt. Everest as seen on Google Earth

To get started using Google Earth, you will need to download the program to your computer. While this may seem bothersome at first, the program has so many great features that it is worth waiting a few minutes for it to install. Once installed, the Google Earth Feature Tour is a quick way to get accustomed to the many features of the tool. It shows you how you can add a placemark with the name and a customized description of the place, map out a path or trail, or add a picture after searching for a location.

Placemark created for Mt. Everest

When students are learning about a certain location, like a historical city, a famous monument, or a type of landform, they can create their own placemarks and write their own descriptions about the location. Teachers could do the same thing when teaching about a place to provide students with a real life visual, as well as information and facts. I know I would have thought virtually flying to a location on the other side of the globe was much more interesting than seeing tiny pictures in a textbook when I was in elementary and middle school. What about you?

Now, you might be asking yourself how Google Earth is different from Google Maps.  The first difference, which you probably already noticed if you have experience with Google Maps, is that unlike Maps, Google Earth has to be downloaded to each individual computer. Even though this is somewhat inconvenient, especially when it has to be downloaded onto multiple classroom computers, it offers much more advanced features than the more easily accessible Google Maps. Google Earth offers better imagery, along with much more interactivity and functionality. Google Earth is equipped with many more features than Google Maps like 3-D views, elevation measurement, and the ability to draw lines, shapes, etc.

Beyond the simple features of Google Earth, are more involved ones like creating a tour. In a tour, a teacher or student can select locations to be visited and even have the option to record their voice at each location.

This is a great instructional video to help you learn how to create your own tour.  Jacqui Murray’s blog post, Wonders of Google Earth, provides one of her lesson plans for using Google Earth tours in her classroom. Students select a few different landforms, for example: Ayers Rock, Mt. Everest, and Victoria Falls, and then create their own tour with information they have learned or researched, and their own voice, to share with the class. This is a much more interesting way for students to learn about famous landforms around the world and gets them actively involved in their learning. This feature of Google Earth can be utilized for many more topics than landforms, as well. Students could use cities, or even specific buildings as points on their individualized tour.

Besides just being able to see the Earth’s surface with Google Earth, it is also possible to virtually visit the Moon, Mars, and even underwater. With these exciting and unique features, Google Earth can be used for much more than geography and history lessons. Teachers can use these extra features of Google Earth to teach about space and the world under the surface of the water.

For more resources on how to use Google Earth or how to incorporate it into your classroom, visit these websites:

  • The Google Earth Blog, while not directed towards educators, has quite a few great ideas on different and creative ways to use Google Earth.
  • Google Earth for Educators offers tutorials, tips, and lesson plans for teachers to use.
  • Google Earth and Education gives a few interesting ideas on how to use Google Earth in subjects like literature and history, rather than just science.

So those are just a few ideas how Google Earth can be used in a classroom! Do you think they would be helpful for students? How else do you think Google Earth could be used by teachers and students?

Posted in Instruction | 18 Comments

Wallwisher

Sometimes class discussions get overwhelming. Sometimes every student in your classroom is talking at the same time, but other times no one is talking at all. Wallwisher is a resource teachers can use to have class discussions without the overwhelming volume or chaos that sometimes occurs in the classroom. This way, those quiet students who have a lot of insight and clear ideas also have an opportunity to share their thoughts without being intimidated by speaking up in class.

In Mrs. DeRap’s blog post on Wallwisher-Interactive Communication, she discusses how she has used Wallwisher on two occasions, and on both she has been more than impressed with the students’ use of images and text to develop a deeper understanding of either a writing assignment or as preparation for a literature unit. As seen on Mrs.DeRap’s Wallwishers, the most important thing about this tool is its ability to be whatever the person needs it to be. On the capital punishment Wall, the students used only text and a lot of informal language, as this was simply a way for the students to casually start planning their arguments. The Crucible Wall is text and photos, as both of these exhibited what life was like for Puritans during the time of the play.

So how can you use Wallwisher? It is quite easy, as all you have to do is create a free account, and then explore! They even provide a demo wall (shown below) in order for you to see what kind of interactions exist on Wallwisher. You can click on this screenshot and it will take you to the demo wall.

Wallwisher's demo wall

With Wallwisher you can control who posts the sticky notes on your wall while you also have the power to approve sticky notes before they are posted. This means that you can prevent students from randomly posting comments that may not have to do with your content.

Wallwisher also gives you the opportunity to create your own URL for your wall. Therefore it is easy for you to give that URL to your students: it is not a bunch of random letters and numbers that they could easily mess up. For example, the wall I created just uses cis220 as its identifier, as is shown in the screenshot below.

CIS220 URL

The best part about Wallwisher is that it creates multimodal communication: it uses video, music, images, and text to communicate with other people posting on the wall. Students can create their own wall easily, or they can contribute to a class wall. This is a resource that takes collaboration to the next level, with layers and layers of text, video, and images creating complex communication.


Below is a list of resources you can use to discover more about Wallwisher

What specific ways can you see Wallwisher being useful in the classroom? This time, instead of posting comments on the actual blog, you will put sticky notes on the wall I created.  Step one will be to create an account, so the comments are not all anonymous. Go to the Wallwisher home page and create an account. Then, after you have signed in, go to the CIS220 wall and post a sticky note that answers my question. This will serve as the replacement for your comments on the blog, so by registering (making a username that will appear when you post) Professor Taylor will give you credit!

Posted in Collaboration, Communication, Creativity | 2 Comments

TodaysMeet

I attended the NCTIES Conference with Professor Taylor in March, and I had the opportunity to learn about many great technology tools that could potentially be used in a classroom. One of these tools, TodaysMeet, was not even the main focus of the talk; it was merely used to facilitate discussion. However, I was so fascinated by the tool (which is part of a larger concept called backchanneling) that I chose to do some research on it and make it the topic of my own blog post.

todaysmeet logo

This is the logo for TodaysMeet.

In his blog post about TodaysMeet, Greg Swanson talks about the general idea behind backchanneling. A backchannel allows individuals to voice their thoughts, questions, and ideas about a topic into a general, often anonymous, forum. Anyone involved in the discussion, including its facilitator, can see these thoughts and choose to respond to them. Swanson likens it to being able to read the mind of a room full of people when you’re giving a presentation. Backchanneling essentially allows you to see what people are thinking in real time–how cool is that?

TodaysMeet is a type of backchannel that allows you to create a “room,” which you can leave open for any period of time up to one year. Users only have to click on a link, or type it in, and they have access to the room and all of the comments being posted in it. Essentially, one click allows any individual with the link to be a part of the live conversation. Watch the video below to see how easy it is to create and use a TodaysMeet room!

In the presentation I attended, a TodaysMeet room was set up so that those watching the presentation could post questions or comments as the speakers went through their main points. For example, I had a question about Google Chromebooks–so I asked it! During a short break, the speaker went through the TodaysMeet room, found all of our questions, and answered them.

Greg Swanson asks the same question I did about TodaysMeet: How can we use it in a classroom? Swanson has established a system using TodaysMeet in his school, one which is different from the simple brainstorming that the earlier video suggests. In study hall sessions or tutoring classes, there is a computer, a projector, and a TodaysMeet room, accessible across multiple physical classrooms in the school. If students need help in one room, all they have to do is post a question in TodaysMeet.

This is also a great tool, Swanson points out, for students in class who might be too shy to ask questions out loud. If they can post their question anonymously to TodaysMeet, the teacher can see the questions and answer them without embarrassing the student or taking time to call on those with raised hands.

In general, I see a lot of positives associated with TodaysMeet. The fact that students could potentially access a room for an extended period of time means that they could go back before a test and study the questions and comments placed in the room, as a mechanism for review. I also think that it allows teachers and students to feel more comfortable posing awkward or uncomfortable questions about topics that still need to be discussed. I can see some downsides, though. There really is no way to monitor what goes into the TodaysMeet room; if students aren’t mature enough to handle the responsibilities of such a tool, the room could be filled with inappropriate comments that cannot be erased.

Our TodaysMeet room

Our TodaysMeet room


What are some positive and/or negative things that you see about this technology? How could you apply it in your subject areas? I’ve created a room for our class to use where you can post your responses (instead of in the comment box–Professor Taylor approves, I promise!). Just make sure you put an easily identifiable name in the “name” box so that Professor Taylor knows that it was you. You can access the room by clicking on the image above.

Here are a few resources to help you learn more about TodaysMeet:

  • Learn TodaysMeet in 5 Minutes! – This site has a nice Youtube video tutorial that goes into more detail about the conversational abilities of TodaysMeet. However, it was created at a time when you could add a Twitter hashtag to every TodaysMeet room; this is no longer an option, so just skip over that part!
  • TodaysMeet in Middle Grades – This blog by Brad Currie briefly describes how middle school teachers can use TodaysMeet to help their students master concepts. There’s a really cool story about vocabulary in there, so be sure to read it!
  • GoSoapBox, an Alternative to TodaysMeet – Check out this tool, which is similar to TodaysMeet. What are some facets that you like better? What do you think could be improved?
Posted in Collaboration, Communication, Teacher productivity | 1 Comment

Skype in the Classrooms

Do you use Skype to video chat with your friends or family? I know that I have used Skype many times before. Well have you ever thought of using Skype in the classroom? Chances are, it’s never occurred to you, or at least I hadn’t thought of it until reading a few blog posts about the power of video chatting in a classroom. As a teacher it’s important to keep up to date with technology and utilize tools, such as Skype, to make engaging lessons for your students.

In Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano’s blog, Langwitches, she gives many tips for how to teach effectively with today’s technology.  Silvia presents and consults with teachers on topics of technology integration, 21st century skills and literacies, digital story telling and connecting with schools world wide. Last April, she published a post titled, Bringing in Experts. Transformative Teaching & Learning discussing how teachers can effectively used Skype in their classrooms. Silvia worked with a fifth grade classroom at Martin J. Gottlieb Day School during their unit on the American Revolution, inviting experts to video chat with the class. Silvia’s class had a chance to learn from Travis Bowman, a 6th generation descendant of Peter Francisco.  The class asked him questions and learned more about his ancestors.

The fifth grade class also invited a history teacher from Maine, named Richard Bryne to Skype with them.  Mr. Bryne could teach the students a lot about the American Revolution, because he teaches a unit on it to his high schoolers.

There are many other lessons that teachers could use Skype for.  Video conferencing can be an alternative for field trips. If a school has a tight budget or a strict field trip policy, one could look into video conferencing with experts instead! Students could video conference with historians or scientists, who could teach the class something unique and in-depth that matches up with their unit. This could be an especially good way to use Skype in the classroom for topics that may be more difficult to engage children in because they’ll become excited by the idea of using Skype, especially to learn from an expert! When Silvia’s students video chat with an expert, she has them think of thoughtful questions for the expert, forcing them to use their critical thinking skills and become interested in the material.

A third grade teacher of 25 years who recently received her Master’s degree in Integrating Technology in the Classroom, Mrs. Yollis blogs about what her class has been doing with technology. In her blog post, Skyping with Canadians, Mrs. Yollis shows how she used Skype with her class to video conference with a classroom in Canada that she calls their “blogging buddies”. The two classes shared with each other geographic information for their country, for example the area, population, flags, and even their national bird.  Check out her blog post to see some exciting photos from the class’ Skype session and for more tips!

I definitely plan on using Skype in the classroom. Both Silvia and Mrs. Yollis’ ideas for using Skype interest me. I may also like to get my class involved in “Around The World with 80 Schools”, a project that connects students with Skyping partners from around the world. There are so many other ways that Skype can be used in a classroom setting. How do you imagine yourself using Skype to teach your students?

Posted in Collaboration, Communication, Instruction | 17 Comments

Popplet: A Multi-Dimensional Tool

As a student, do you ever have problems organizing your ideas? Do you ever wish you had an easy way to plan your papers and presentations? As a future teacher, do you want to do the most you can to help your students stay organized so they do the best they can on each assignment? Do you want a tool that can help those students who learn information better when it is presented visually? Do you also want a new and easy presentation tool you and your students can use to keep class interesting?

Popplet is one free tool that can assist teachers and students in making visual  presentations and organizers, whether for classroom or individual purposes. This video gives a brief introduction of how to use Popplet.

In his blog post, Best of 2011 So Far – Popplet, Richard Byrne describes Popplet as “a service that combines the best of online sticky note services like Wallwisher with collaborative mind mapping functions.” Popplet allows its users, both on a computer and through the Popplet iPad application, to create “walls” on which they can create “Popples,” or individual bubbles, to provide images, drawings, information, videos, and other media to convey learning. These Popples can be color-coded, organized, and shared with others. Because of these features, Popplet can be used by both teachers and students in multiple fashions, including as an organizer and as a method of presentation.

Popplet as an Organizer

A hand-drawn graphic organizer.

Attributed to Ken Stein.

Unlike other presentation tools, Popplet allows users to connect one thought to another in the form of graphic organizers (i.e. Venn Diagrams, flow charts, tree charts, etc) that can be helpful for organizing ideas and details for papers, projects, and presentations. One frustration I have when forming graphic organizers by hand is my inability to add additional information after completion, as illustrated by the image to the left.  Popplet overcomes this problem by allowing users to enter new connections and thoughts as they come, as shown in the screenshot below which links to my Popplet.  Byrne further states that “For visual learners this could be a good way to outline an essay by using a combination of their own notes with images and videos they find on the web.”

Popplet screenshot

This Popplet is an example of how to organize your ideas through Popplet.

In the blog post Tips2012 iPad App Guide #16: Popplet, Dr. Jenny Lane suggests a few more ways Popplet can be used in the classroom as an organizer. In addition to organizing and planning papers, she suggests utilizing the tool to “Remember, organise and comprehend new information” and “Map concepts and create timelines,” which could help students organize their thoughts so they can better understand the subject matter and study for tests. As teachers, we could even make Popplets for our students to help them review for tests by providing videos, pictures, links to practice problems, and key terms and ideas to know.

Popplet for Projects

Popplet is a great tool for students to provide information, images, videos, links, and more about specific topics learned in the classroom in a creative way. Students can make timelines, collages, profiles, and much more not only to manage their ideas but also to demonstrate their learning. See the Napoleon: History Popplet for an example of how Popplet can be used for student projects and presentations. Also, see the Cabin Project: Mood Popplet for an example of how Popplet can be used to create a image gallery or collage.

Popplet also has the ability to be embedded into blogs or websites. It is relatively quick and easy to do as long as it is supported by the website (WordPress.com does not support it). If you have a class wiki or blog, students can post their Popplets for their classmates, teachers, parents, and other viewers to learn from as well. If you would like to learn how to embed Popplets into a blog or wiki, check out the blog post Using The Embed Code in your Blog and Webpages.

Popple showing author's name

Popplet puts the name of the author of each Popple in the upper left-hand corner, so a teacher can know who did what in a collaborative project.

Another great feature of Popplet is its collaborative abilities. Through Popplet, users can invite people via email to collaborate on a single project. Popplet includes the name of the author of each Popple in the upper left-hand corner, so teachers can easily see who contributed what to each Popplet. Also, as demonstrated by the blog post Playing with Popplet, Popplets can be edited by multiple users at one time, making it easy to work as a group on a Popplet during class time. And – good news – there is no limit to how many Popplets each user can make, so if your students enjoy this tool, you can use it again and again.

Popplets can even be presented for an audience, much like a PowerPoint or Prezi. All the student has to do is get online, open their Popplet, and they can present. They can even set an order for their Popples to present in if they don’t want to scroll around. The screenshots below show how to sequence the Popples in your presentation.

Screenshots showing how to present with Popplet

Popplet has the ability to present your Popples in a specified order.

Popplet Presenter Tutorial Popplet Screenshot

This tutorial teaches you how to download and use the Popplet Presenter in your classroom.

Popplets can also be presented offline with the help of the Popplet Presenter application. The image to the right links to a tutorial on the Popplet Presenter.

Popplet in Teaching

In the blog post Tips2012 iPad App Guide #16: Popplet, Dr. Jenny Lane provides some ideas for how teachers can use Popplet to their personal advantage. First, Popplet can be saved as an image so it can be easily shared. This allows Popplets to be used both on the computer and printed to make hard copies. This can be advantageous because Popplet can be used to create study guides for students, note sheets or worksheets for them to fill in,  create lesson plans, plan out bulletin boards, and share what they develop with other teachers.

Some additional references and ideas of how to use Popplet in the classroom can be found in the following blog posts:

  • Some creative ideas for using Popplet in the classroom provides ideas of how to use Popplet in classrooms of a variety of disciplines.
  • The Using Popplet in Presentation Format blog post gives detailed instructions about how to use Popplet Presenter and provides tips of what to include when sharing a presentation, as well as benefits for using Popplet Presenter.
  • The blog post Playing with Popplet gives examples of ways Popplet can be used in the classroom, as well as advantages, disadvantages, and reactions of one group of students who used it in their classroom.

As discussed above, Popplet can take a number of different forms. After learning about Popplet, think about how you can use it in your classroom. Do you think it’s a good tool to use? What activities do you think it would be useful for in your classroom? Can you think of any other uses other than the ones mentioned in this post?

Posted in Collaboration, Communication, Creativity, Instruction, Research tools | 16 Comments