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?

Friday, November 5, 2010

GoogleDocs Fail...

Well, maybe not a fail per se, but it's not a technology that I have been having a lot of success with since my last post.  I tried using it for uploading/downloading documents, but the problem is the formatting for printing.  In order to print a document (like a worksheet for students) that I had loaded onto GoogleDocs, GD would generate a pdf for the purpose of printing.  Invariably the formatting would not translate to the pdf, so I would spend far too much of my time going back and forth trying to get tab stops to line up in the pdf by making them not line up in the online version.

Major pain in the butt.

So until the time comes where GoogleDocs makes formatting seamless for printing, I've given up on it for now.

Or until all my students have iPads.  Which should be in about 5 minutes. (Well, maybe I'm exaggerating a little on that time line).

Anyone from Google want to chime in on how to fix this problem?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Verbs, verbs, verbs

I have been struggling for a few weeks now with one of my FSL classes.  They are not at the level that I expected them to be at in their writing or speaking, and I am struggling with what to do with them.  In particular, we have 3 new verb tenses to learn this semester, and they all struggle with conjugating regular and common irregular (etre, avoir, faire, aller) verbs in the present tense and also have a hard time distinguishing between the present tense and the past tense (passé composé).  I have spent a great deal of time reviewing with them things that they should know from previous years, and I have a hard time just letting them flounder because a) I hate seeing kids flounder and b) I don't know how we are going to learn new tenses if we can't keep the old ones straight.

So I have 2 ideas. 

First, is to give them an opportunity. I give them a worksheet/practice sheet with 7 verbs that they must conjugate in present, passé composé, imperative and futur proche. They can practice as many times as they like and write the exact same sheet as a quiz maximum once per week until they get 100%.  For this effort they would get 20 bonus marks towards their overall writing grade.

Second, send them off to, create a quiz and log practice time until the students get 100% on the assignment, and get the same 20 bonus marks.

My dilemma is now - which is less work for me?  I understand the frustration of having to create an account, check the kids' practice time and collect the marks from a web-based tool. I also envision many of my own (wo)man hours correcting multiple opportunities of the written quiz.  So one is front-loaded work, the other is back-loaded work.  Which one will the kids choose? Which one will get them more motivated? Which one, after all is said and done, will get them to learn the $#%^&#@ verb conjugations?

Do I offer other enticements? Like a "100% Club" poster in the room for all the students who do achieve those 20 marks?

Your thoughts, please.  I am struggling with this.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Alternatives to microsoft...

I had an interesting conversation with a couple of students in my French 9 class last week. We were in the library, working on their Francophone country project and most were still at the research stage. I had shown the class some samples from last year; one of which was hand drawn by a former student and it was by far the most visually appealing of the lot.  I was speaking with a few of the boys in the class about the samples and they were shocked to learn that another boy had done that sample.  "I can't draw like that! What am I supposed to do?".  I suggested to them that they type up their sentences/information and then cut and paste into their brochures. A couple of them responded "but I don't have Word (or Office) at home! I can't type it up!".  Firstly, I was more than a little surprised that they didn't have MSOffice on their computer at home and secondly I was surprised that they didn't have the alternative or hadn't heard of it.  It is really that unusual to be using OpenOffice?  None of them had heard of it before.  I have only been using it on occasion over the past year or so, but I know that our school district is planning on switching over to Ubuntu in the next year or so, and therefore we will all be using OpenOffice at work then too.

I guess I'm always a little surprised when I am a little ahead of the 14 year old set when it comes to computer programs!

Have you heard of OpenOffice/Ubuntu before?  Do you or do you know anyone using it regularly, at home or at work?

Pro-D for math teachers

I volunteered at the end of the last school year to help plan our school's first two professional development days for the year.  I'll admit that my decision to volunteer was rather self-serving; I was ready to throw something at the speaker about halfway through last year's first pro-d seminar and didn't want to sit through another presentation like that one.  So here I am, helping to plan this year's day 2 of in school pro-d.

We had a brief meeting at lunch last week to discuss the plan, and in particular, we discussed what we were going to be doing in the afternoon. Our school teacher-librarian made a couple of suggestions for things to do and present technology-wise to the staff and I was keen to have an hour to browse through what our library has for online resources.  The kicker was what the question that was raised after her explanation:

"But what about the math teachers who are going to be bored/annoyed/not interested in this? What are they going to do?".

As someone who also teaches math as well as a modern language, I was partly offended but partly intrigued by this question.  There is no doubt that very little pro-d is offered for math teachers from what I have experienced in our district.  Or, at least there is very little offered for secondary math teachers.  On the other hand though, every once in a while during a semester teaching math I think "god this is boring".  Last year I discovered a few math teacher blogs that have piqued my interest as to why I find the monotony of textbook questions boring, and have been doing a lot of reading about what this is all about. I think it's really unfortunate that
a) math teachers are underserviced in pro-d
b) math teachers get a bad rap for not being interested in pro-d
c) math and its teachers get pegged for not wanting to be part of the crowd

Consequently, I volunteered to find something for the math teachers among us to keep them interested in some technology related pro-d.  Wolfram Alpha anyone?

(Incidentally, my most favourite math teacher blog for the last while is:
Check him out!)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


I was at a summer teachers conference this year and someone did a presentation using Prezi.  It's a neat web-based presentation program that is a) easy to use and b) WAY more fun than powerpoint.  I'm sure powerpoint will hold its place in the realm of presentations for a while to come, but Prezi is fun, visually appealing and free for educators!  Well actually, it's free for most anyone, but educators get a more, shall we say, souped-up version with a few more features. 

I tried it out with my French 10 students the other day, and they were enthusiastic about it. One of the Prezi's biggest selling features for students is that you don't need to carry around a "nerd stick" when you want to present at school.  Just login to the site and your presentation is ready to go.  All this when I showed them my mediocre intro to our new unit in class; mediocre in that my prezi creating skills need some work.

Give it a try!  Tell me what you think!

Friday, September 10, 2010


First week of school is over, and here is what I have been thinking about the most.
How do you get students to speak French in class?  I have been trying a new tactic for me for a little while now, and that is giving students 'jetons' when they speak French in front of the class.  They must collect a certain number per term and the number they get contributes 10-15% towards their speaking/oral communication mark.  I like the idea that this is a participation mark, but it starts to get annoying when they kids say whatever they need to say in class (like "est-ce que je peux avoir une feuille de papier s'il vous plait") which is immediately followed by "jeton?" and a beatific smile.  I have in the past run the classes without jetons, but it meant a lot more marking and trying to find opportunities to evaluate speaking skills that were more formal, not just on the fly.  Not to mention the counting of jetons and keeping track of them for the younger students in envelopes kept in class. 

How do you get students to speak French in class, particularly those who aren't super keen students?

Monday, September 6, 2010


Over the past 2 years, schools in our district have been switching over to Moodle webpages instead of the usual web 1.0 (information only) webpages.  I have been to two schools now that have made this transition, and I am still not sure what to think of Moodle and the new websites.  The new site for our school has clean lines, fairly easy to navigate and looks pretty sharp, so in that sense it is a definite improvement.  However, I don't think that the 'power' of Moodle is being used to its advantage.  I know that Moodle was developed as a way to deliver course content online for universities. 

So what's the problem? 

Firstly, I work in a public high school and there seems to be a lot of fear among the staff and admin that allowing students to contribute and post online on the school site is inviting trouble.  "What if a student writes something inappropriate?"  "We can't let students write anything on the site on their own, they might not abide by the rules!"

Secondly, I work in a face to face environment, where students are expected to attend each class every day.  So why would I put content on my moodle page that tells students what we covered and what the homework is?  Does that teach them to be responsible for their own learning?  Or does it give them an out if they decide to skip class today?

Both of these issues rely on the same point: give students the freedom, and they will do something bad.  I don't have a problem with students writing on the website (in a forum for instance) because no one is anonymous on Moodle. So the likelihood of a student putting inappropriate content on the site is small because they aren't going to get away with it.  I do have a problem putting up homework and class notes because a) it creates more work for me and b) it doesn't help deter students from missing class.  Chances are though that for a) I could easily make it part of my routine and b) the ones who are skipping class probably aren't going to be the types to do their homework anyways!  So perhaps that point is moot.

I'm still struggling with the concept and not sure how I am going to implement it this year (if at all).  That being said, I don't think any of our students know how to create an account to login to the school site anyway, so perhaps having them contribute on the site is, again, moot!

Does your school have a moodle/WebCT/other interactive site? How do you use it?  Do students contribute or is it teacher-centered only?  I'd like to hear some ideas on how to use it for student interaction and not just for information.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Bilingualism has its benefits

Interesting article from the Globe and Mail this morning about the benefits of knowing both of Canada's official languages:

Bilingualism pays

As someone living in the ROC (Rest of Canada) I definitely have benefited from knowing both official languages.  I was hired for more than a few of my summer jobs growing up because I could speak both French and English.  Most of the comments posted on G&M articles I find pretty inane in general, but in the case of this article there is a point to be made about how being bilingual pays most often when working for the federal government.  I would agree that this is true, but there are multitudes of other jobs where it is beneficial to speak another language.

At least a few times each semester I do have this conversation/argument with my students.  Invariably there is a student in the class because their parents wanted them to take French, not because they have an interest in it.  So at least I have a bit more fodder for why they should stick with it!  (A second language is no longer required to graduate in BC, but is required for some universities as an entrance requirement to specific faculties).

Other than as a teacher, where have you used your second (third, fourth, fifth) language skills?  Is a second language required for graduation in your province/state?

Friday, August 27, 2010

Starting a new blog is daunting

The most intimidating factor in starting a new blog is not the writing. It's not the ideas.  It's not the design. It's not trying to get readers.  It's not finding your "niche". It's not learning the new programs and apps.

It's that so many other bloggers have so many other great things to say!

How do I keep up with reading it all?  How do I contribute something new that hasn't already been said?

A few other blogs' posts that have made me really think about teaching and education this week:

1 in 2 Americans will own a smartphone by Christmas 2011

Not That Your Kids Care about Labor Negotiations...


Thursday, August 26, 2010

New school year prep...

As cheesy as it sounds, when a new school year rolls around I try to make a few "new year's resolutions" for things I want to try and implement or learn during the year.  This year is no exception!  One of my pet peeves last year was technology-related, so I will try to rectify it this year with some new technology! 

My pet peeve was the following:  I have MS Office 2007 on my computer at home.  At school we have MS Office 2003.  (I'm sure you know where I'm going with this).  At the beginning of the school year issues with the .doc and the .docx extensions were a pet peeve; remembering to save as a .doc instead of .docx did not always happen at 11:30pm, which caused a few glitches in my lesson planning!  Then my peeve was with the following events that happened every time I prep'd a document at home.

1. Write new doc/file/worksheet/W.H.Y. and save to C drive.
2. Upload doc to file folder on district's web-based email program.
3. Arrive at school at 0800, login to network.
4. Wait for slow computer/network to login. (it's now 0805)
5. Open internet browser (which unfortunately was not firefox...)
6. Login to email. (it's now 0807)
7. Download doc I wrote last night.
8. Open Word and document (it's now 0809)
9. Print.
10. Run to photocopier and pray that there is one free. (it's now 0812)
11. Copy enough copies for class set.
12. Bell rings for first block.

And that was if I only had one new document.   The length of this process annoyed me, both in number of steps and time that it takes.  Yes there were a few steps I could have saved myself but for a variety of reasons did not.

So my resolution this year is to try and get onto the GoogleDocs bandwagon and see how it goes.  I started playing around with it yesterday and here is what I've figured out.
Pros: only ever have 1 version of a document, don't have to upload and download said document multiple times, don't have to open district email program, don't have to deal with incompatibilities between .docx and .doc files...
Cons: not so many formatting options, but then again, I think I spend too long on formatting anyways.  Haven't found any other cons yet.

I've written a few course outlines (well, actually, uploaded a few .docx course outlines and tweaked them a bit) to GoogleDocs and so far so good!  I particularly like the ability to insert an image from it's location on the web without having to save it to my computer first. 

Have you tried GoogleDocs?  What are the best features of it that you have found so far? Any cons to it that I haven't discovered yet?

I'll update you on how it's going once we are a few weeks into the semester...

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

"there's an app for that..."

In less than 2 weeks (eek!) I will be starting my 5th year of teaching, and my 4th year of teaching french as a second language.  I have only taught French 9 to date, and this year I will be teaching both French 10 and French 11 as well.  As you can imagine, dictionaries are hot commodities in class!  Last year I only had 5 good, extensive dictionaries and despite telling students at the beginning of the year that they should also get their own good, extensive dictionaries, many either did not get one at all, or went to their local office supply store and got the $5 version.  So with 27 students there was a lot of sharing and a lot of "Madame, comment dit-on (blah blah blah) en français?".  It was not ideal.

A couple of weeks ago I found that Larousse offers both an online dictionary and an iPhone/iPad app!

Larousse French Dictionary

The iPhone app is $5.99 which is both significantly cheaper than the paper version, and much easier to lug around in a backpack.  I know that not all of my students have an iPhone but many have an iPod touch so if I could get at least a few of them to get the app then that would free up some dictionaries for the other students.

This does bring up a question though for all of you:  do you let your students use their iPhone/iPod touch in class?  Would you let them use an app like this one?

On commence!

A bit of background:  I'm a teacher at a smallish high school in British Columbia.  I am relatively new to the profession and have been a keen blog-reader for a while now.  Most of the blogs I follow had been about my hobbies and interests, but in the past year I've started reading a few other teacher blogs and have been inspired to start one of my own.  I teach math and science and french.  There are more than a few math teachers blogging out there who write insightful, interesting and funny blogs, but I had yet to find any similarly interesting blogs about teaching modern languages.  So I have decided to jump in to blogging with hopes of filling in the gap a little!

My goal is to blog about teaching a modern language in this new era of web 2.0/technology/smartphones.  There may be some interludes to discuss the state of teaching in the public system today too.  Being a french teacher, there will be some posts in french, and about french language and culture.  I hope to integrate some web 2.0 tools into my teaching bag this year and look forward to hearing feedback from other teachers about integrating technology in the modern language classroom.

Alors, commençons!