Twitter in the classroom

I have always been interested in using @Twitter as part of a class activity or curriculum, and today was a day to utilize the service. I was not the teacher for this class, but I was the adviser for the activity.

Our English Workshop uses a textbook from @CengageLearning and @NatGeo (National Geographic) titled Keynote, which uses @TEDTalks to engage students in various contents while studying EFL. For this particular lesson, students were focused on a lesson on page ew of book 1 titled, “WRITING Social media post”.

The teacher created an obscure hashtag, in this case #KGNKN32 and while having her phone connected to a classroom projector, posted the post written in the textbook:

Help! I want to buy some secondhand items, such as clothes, music, comic books, and furniture. where’s a good place to shop? All ideas welcome. Thanks! #KGNKN32

students then searched for the post using the hashtag and replied with their ideas. As the teacher’s phone was connected to the classroom projector, all students could see the replies of their classmates on the screen and discuss their ideas amongst each other.


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An example of a flipped classroom

We hear a lot about the flipped classroom and how great it is, but then when we find ourselves wanting to try it we’re not exactly sure what to do. It seems most see it as out-of-classroom self-study, but it is a lot more than that. In a flipped classroom, it is the the students who are teaching each other. The teacher provides guidance and support on where to find the information, but in class they let the students take the lectern.

In my example photos below, students were given four terms to learn from a provided reading, with 2 students being assigned one term. After gathering as much information as they could from the reading and other resources to which students have access (on their own time), they return to class to teach each other these terms. During this process, students listen to each other and take notes, asking questions where and when needed. The goal is for all students to have similar information they can use to move on to the next activity.

At the end, the class put together a multi-flow chart demonstrating the causes and effects, in this case how an increase in climate change patterns affect the increase in intensity of severe storms and the floods that follow. The terms students took upon themselves to learn were water contamination, damage to housing, food security, and stressful conditions.

The brilliance of this method is that students are receiving multiple pieces of information from multiple sources in multiple formats, increasing the likelihood of intake (and not just memorizing information to take a test).

And the teacher’s role throughout this process? Watch, ask questions, and guide when and where needed. After all, a flipped classroom is student-centered, and is active.

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6 degrees of Climate Change

The iPads have been great in substituting teacher-centered video lectures with small group interaction activities. Today, we tried a different activity that involves the use of Keynote. I call it, 6 Degrees of Climate Change in honor of the infamous online social game, 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon.

Students were placed into pairs and given an iPad with a preloaded Keynote file that consists of various text boxes and shapes with phrases brought up in our EFL class. Students then have to create links of if…then statements, starting with a red box and finishing with a blue box, that describes the impact(s) of climate change, noting that students have to use at least six boxes to complete the activity… creating a form of storyboard.

Once the links have been made, a screen shot is saved and sent to the teacher. Finally, students receive copies of the different storyboards and are instructed to verbally explain what they see… in sense giving a verbal explanation of an effect or impact due to climate change.

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Leading by example

Since arriving at my current school 5 years ago, I have been pushing for a stronger, and more relevant ICT environment for both students and teachers. As an introvert, I find myself having difficulty in explaining to colleagues what it is I’m doing, how I’m doing it, and why I’m doing it, mostly in regards to tablet use in the classroom. And so, my most viable option in promoting tech in the classroom has been through the notion of leading by example.

With iPads for the last few years, I have transformed a video listening class from a teacher-centered cinema format, to a student-centered format. In doing so, students are divided into groups from 2 to 4 students sharing 1 iPad with the necessary videos uploaded. This allows students to work with each other in completing the required work, with the teacher engaging with small groups, rather than an entire class.

The situation has always been that this was my style of teaching and that others were fine teaching the other way. Today however, a second teacher decided to try my format. His response was that he had never seen students work as diligently on their assignments as they had today. As a cinema format class, the teacher controls the video, and is responsible for keeping all students on task. This raises concerns because students learn at different paces and learn through different styles. When they are in the small groups, students can focus on their learning strengths and help each other, and it seems that my colleague took notice of this.

On a plus side, these same students had taken my class the year prior and had no issue changing into the group format, expressing their preference over the cinema format to my colleague.

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Exploring a more active and student-centered approach to vocabulary

Vocabulary is in general not fun. It mainly deals with rote memorization of words with little context or use in everyday conversation. For learners of English as a second or other language, many of the vocabulary words presented for study, especially as they reach intermediate and advanced stages of L2 acquisition, have little to no relevance to their language use. This is especially true for students who participate in courses designed for test preparation. In my case, I am responsible for TOEIC test preparation for high school students looking to enroll into universities that use the test as a proficiency check.

Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC) is especially popular in Japan and South Korea, and focuses on context derived from business encounters. I have been particularly interested in the effects the class (and in some ways the test) has on students’ motivation towards the L2 as they move through the year-long course, but I have also taken interest in how to best study vocabulary. Many publications print out vocabulary lists based on levels students want to achieve. What I have found is that none of these authors can really tell you which vocabulary will be used on the test. ETS has a published book of common vocabulary that I rely on for my lists. The challenge now is what to engage the students (or rather to get the students to engage themselves) into not only studying these vocabulary, but also how to use and manipulate them.

icon180x180Two years ago I began experimenting with Quizlet, an online service that digitizes study cards for not only you to see wherever you go with your smartphone or tablet, but also to share with others, either within a class or with the world. Prior to trying Quizlet, students were assigned sections of a vocabulary list and assigned to fill out a form for each word, then copies of these forms were made for other students in the class. A lot of paper and very time consuming. Though the pair forms still exist, students can now transfer their work to Quizlet for others to see. For, that solved one problem of peer-to-peer collaboration, and also reduced my time at the photo copier. But now, how to engage with it?

This year I experimented with group game/activity. I brought in iPads, 1 for every 4 students, and engaged in a gameshow-like activity. On the board were categories:

  • Example sentence
  • Word families (changing the word into different parts of speech)
  • synonyms
  • antonyms
  • similar sounding words

Students as a class decided the point value of each category based on what they felt which categories were easier or more difficult than the others (more difficult gave higher point value). The iPads were used as an answer board using one of the many Whiteboard apps available. Each group took turns deciding a category while the teacher decided on the word. Students could use Quizlet on their smartphones to review the word that was chosen. The feedback on the activity was positive and provided a ‘fun’ time for the class.

Though this activity is one to hold on to, I still ponder on its effectiveness in vocabulary intake. Surely it allows students to converse on the chosen words, creating valuable dialog, but it is difficult to understand if these dialogs support vocabulary intake or not. What I do know is that Quizlet itself is a game-changer, with one student, in an evaluation she wrote for the class, stated that Quizlet was useful for her, but would like to see it used in class more.

So the search is on. In the meantime, promoting to take full advantage of Quizlet and its many study activities is a priority, with the iPads coming out more often for group dialog on individual words is on the table.


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IT or not IT?

If today is not an indicator of the importance of a stable IT infrastructure for classroom use, then I don’t know what is. Four teachers vying for what little equipment we have in order to present video activities to students, and myself running back and forth between them to make sure use of equipment is useable.

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Parent-Teacher conference via Skype

imageEven though we are a Japanese high school, we attract returning students who have grown up outside Japan. In the case of one student this year, her parents live in Australia as she is schooling in Japan.

To allow the home room teachers have a proper parent-teacher conference, we were able to take advantage of our limited Wi-Fi and iPads to make the conference work and connect the two sides with Skype.

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Preparing EFL students for an EFL Model United Nations

Last June, my school completed its 26th Model United Nations project with our 3rd year (Senior) students. Though our curriculum shows our students beginning the preparation process in January (third term of second year), the preparation spreads farther, at least 2 years, from when the students first entered the high school. The first 21 months can be seen as a pre-MUN curriculum, with the next 6 months as the MUN curriculum.

Read the rest of this entry »

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A much need Google Sites update!

The Totally New Google Sites

We use Google Sites extensively for the Kansai High School Model United Nations (@KHSMUN). For as old as the technology is, it has been a juggernaut in our approach to collaboration between schools on working draft resolutions.

I am quite excited to hear the the service will finally be updated. Expect a review once the update rolls out.


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Calendar for syllabus sharing

I work in a team-teaching environment, with multiple teachers working with the same curriculum in different classes. As different teachers establish different styles of relationships with students, the pace of the classrooms can also change, and even more, teachers need to be given autonomy to teach how they philosophically feel teaching is best for them. Given all that, as a team we still need to share information and make sure that throughout the term we are in sync with the objectives of our course. With each of us working 15-17 class hours per week, finding the time to collaborate daily is a challenge. This is where Apple’s calendar app comes in.
We all use iPhones, so Apple’s calendar app was the simplest to setup; however, even Google’s calendar would work. Allowing to share multiple calendars within the app with notes gives all teachers easy access to needed information in an organized manner, and for non-tech savvy folks, not having to download and learn a classroom management app can be ideal, especially in an environment where I am trying express the usefulness of wireless devices in education.

All in all, if you’re looking for a way to collaborate with colleagues with as little complications as possible, then looking no further than your OS’s calendar and its sharing capabilities may be all you need.

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