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.