Sunday, April 10, 2011

Language Labs part 2

I have been remiss in posting lately.  Busy semester plus ideas only in their infancy are to blame.

But I read an interesting post this morning on the TeachPaperless blog and I loved it:

 21 things that will become obselete in education by 2020

So many of these topics have come up at my school and district in the past couple of months!  The point about language labs becoming obsolete though really hit home for me.

Hope it gives you a few things to ponder before class starts tomorrow morning.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

New semester, new students

Week one of semester two is over and done, and I have met my lovely new students in French.  Having just finished exams it's nice to start fresh and get a new bunch of recruits in.  I have a nice group it seems and I'm looking forward to getting them going as they seem pretty keen.  I'll admit that on day three with them I had the overwhelming sense of "holy crap, how am I going to get them through all of this?".  I like to start speaking as much french as I can from the outset, which means lots of blank stares when I say "Sortez une feuille de papier" etc, and it always feels a little scary.  I don't think that I'm the only teacher who gets a bit nervous when the new semester or school year starts, but sometimes it's nice just to acknowledge that it's hard to believe that I do what I do for a living and that so far have survived the first week jitters again.  I think it keeps me on my toes too, which isn't a bad thing!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Open Source, Linux and Language Labs

Our school will be moved away from a Windows/PC environment at spring break this year and into a ThinClient/Linux system.  There has been a huge amount of uproar by some of our staff because of the impending change.  (Personally, I'm looking forward to it).  The main reason people are citing for being up in arms is software access.

Cries of "But, but, but, I won't have WORD!"  have been heard around the school on multiple occasions, and despite reassurances that OpenOffice will meet the needs of your basic word processor (and then some), there are still some very anxious and (dare I say) pissed off staff around.

However, one of the programs that 'may' not work in the Linux environment is our language lab program - CAN8.  Now, the version that we have at school is at least 15 years old (although built in Windows, looks like it's DOS based on screen) and did cost a big chunk of change.  And as much as I find it useful for students to practice on, I can't help thinking "Isn't there something better out there?"

So I've been trawling the internets tonight trying to find a) alternatives to Can8 that run natively in Linux and/or b) some open-source options.  I've found a few possibilities, but I'm not sure how they would work for French or Spanish as most of them seem to be geared towards ESL learners.

Anyone have any suggestions? Anyone running Can8 in a Linux OS?

Saturday, January 8, 2011

WiFi access for students

Lately there has been a lot of talk in our school about 21st century learning and how we need to change how we teach to address our 'new reality'.  Among the topics discussed was the use of technology (finally!) in the classroom by students. Most schools, including ours, have a policy of no cell phone use in class, and as yet, no iPads/iPods/laptops either (at the discretion of the classroom teacher). 

The conclusion being: WTH?  How are we going to allow students to use technology and be on board with technology use if we're not letting them use the technology that they already own?  I'm sure ours isn't the only district who would have a hard time funding school-owned laptops for all students, so why not take advantage of what the students have already and get them using it?

Along the same lines, students aren't allowed access to our school wifi, much to their disappointment.  Personally, if I'm doing research or preparing a lesson, I have a very difficult if not impossible time if I don't have access to the internet. I can only imagine how frustrating it must be for students to not have this access. 

I know that there are security issues, and many teachers and admin get worried about appropriate use of technology and wifi, but if we're not teaching them this, when will they learn it? Would future employers not appreciate employees who know what's ok and what's not when it comes to appropriate use of technology at work?

Does your school/district have wifi at school and do students have access to it? How is security of the network maintained?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

SMARTBoards vs Tablet PC

One of my colleagues recently got a Tablet PC (IBM ThinkPad) to use in his class.  He teaches senior math and physics and is quite interested in using new technologies at school.  There was discussion among the math department about getting another one, or getting a SMARTBoard instead. So we had a little 'field trip' last week to a neighbouring middle school to see their smartboards in action.  Nearly every classroom in the school has a smartboard, so one of the teachers their kindly gave us a quick overview of how they work, the systems required, the software and an introduction to what you can do with them.  It was an interesting idea and one of our teachers is very keen to get one.

Me... not so much.  One of the benefits that the presenter and our colleague was promoting was "you can get kids up to the board and doing stuff with the smartboard!".  In my experience, when a kid is in grade 6/7/8, going up to the board is COOL!  But when you're 15, um, no way dude.  Rarely do I have more than 5 hands up in class to come up to the board to write on it, I don't know necessarily that this number would increase significantly if I had a smartboard.  Teenagers will be teenagers.  Add to that our district is moving over to linux/ubuntu systems in the next year, and the smartboard technology does not work will with that (mind you, neither will the tablet PC especially) and I'm not ready to jump on the smartboard bandwagon for high schools.  Do any of you use a smartboard at high school? Are the students more engaged in lessons when you use one?

More interestingly though, was what one of my other colleagues starting talking about.  "Well it would be great, but I'd really like to be trained on this. Get a trainer in, spend lots of time with us walking through how to do things, you know because I don't have time and I can't figure this stuff out on my own. It takes too long".  Which I think confirms for me what I have thought about teachers and technology for a while: there are people who are happy to muck around with new technology, learn how to use it, make mistakes, try new things... and there are people who are not.  The former group are those who are going to embrace anything new, and roll with it, and with the way technology is changing in society and schools this is an essential skill.  These are the kinds of people that I want to work with and learn from.  It's not about having an 'expert' come in, it's about everyone becoming an expert and sharing the knowledge that they gain with each other.  I tried to point this last point out to my colleague and she said "But that's not fair to you and the people who spent all the time learning it, I shouldn't be bothering you about this".  My point was that we all need to learn and share, not just one or two and the rest just get to be sponges.

More and more new technologies are going to be coming out in the future in general and specifically in schools.  How do we get teachers to realize that they have to get on board and start trying new things? To not expect 'training'? To get in there and muck around with new stuff?