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A Computer/Foreign Language Teacher’s Quest for a Mobile Language Lab Solution

As a former Spanish language teacher, my experience of integrating technology into my Spanish teaching has not yet included mobile technologies. Six years ago, I left a computer language lab with rows of computers in cubicles. While I enjoyed having computers to open the world of cultures and digital discourse to my students, I had not looked back until now. The past few years I’ve been teaching students how to use computers for learning. I thought it was about time that I see how new technologies were now being used in foreign language classrooms.

I had the privilege of attending a workshop put on by the Massachusetts Foreign Language Association (MaFLA) where Renée Dacey and Daniela De Sousa of Burlington High School put together a fabulous presentation called iPads in the Foreign Language Classroom. Many already know that Burlington is a pioneer in the one-to-one initiative providing their students with iPads to use everyday. Over the past two years they have grappled with many of the benefits and pitfalls of mobile learning.

As I recollect the language lab of my past, and dream of what could be, this experience has prompted me to make comparisons to what a non-language lab could be. I aim to find out how much savings can come from not having to purchase a full-blown language lab, maintaining a goal that these mobile solutions compared to the old wooden cubicles would have to demonstrate that they can enhance students’ reading, writing, speaking and listening skills in the foreign language classroom.

My following analysis is based on common essentials of a foreign language lab.

Question and Answer, Multiple Choice, Fill-in-the-blanks and so on

Renée and Daniela highlighted one of my clear favorites, Google Apps. Creating forms is a great way to gather student work. In teaching a foreign language there is always a place for the “fill-in-the-blank” websheets. It is a staple in language learning, and a must for mastery of grammar and syntax. Google forms is quick and easy. Over the past few years, I’ve discovered several grading scripts to make the experience even better, such as Flubaroo which automates the websheet/quiz experience complete with grading.

There are numerous web-based quiz sites available, too. I’ve used Quia and Quizstar. Your online textbook may have plenty to choose from. Polling sites, like Poll Everywhere, are great tools for formative assessment.

Hands on Practice

7691519996_162e98b0ecTeachers across disciplines have heard of Showme and Educreations, but the Burlington duo introduced me to one I was not yet familiar with. Notability, it uses a very user-friendly interface to interact with PDF documents, images and more. Students can open a PDF document and begin annotation. They highlight key parts of speech, draw on images of works of art to illustrate significant aspects of history and culture. Renée and Daniela demonstrated writing in words and highlighting vocabulary to song lyrics while listening to the music play. Students play with realia using sphere or Arounder  or Sphere 360 to view museum tours. Students in their classes read and watch news in the target language on the BBC World app. There is no better way to learn than to have the information at your fingertips to interact with in a holistic way.

Photo by mikecogh

Interactive, multimedia exercises

Mobile devices, tablets, laptops, Chromebooks or even iPods and cell phones have interactive creative potential in a foreign language classroom. As the standalone computer has done in my language classroom, these mobile devices come with a plethora of tools for interaction and creativity. These tools can also be used for teacher-created interactive exercises.

My favorite multimedia project for years was having my students create animations using PowerPoint. Students created very unorthodox slides with animated characters, callout bubbles and voice-over recordings. Finally with the 2010 version, those projects can now be converted into video ready for YouTube.

Needs to be intuitive and easy to use

mzm.fmhxwkdi.175x175-75The iPad has many neat tools similar for creating with multimedia. Some include Puppet Pals, Story Kit, Movenote, Video Editor Free, and many other comic-strip creators perfect for illustrating language usage. Students can listen and record their own voices using many already familiar apps. There are hundreds on any tablet platform and many more on the web that can do whatever creative project a student drives him/herself to do. Plus, many students come already having used said devices.

Recording exercises

One of the main purposes for purchasing a language lab is having the ability to do open recording, simultaneous recording, active-comparative recording, live speaking and listening exercises. Apps like Garageband, SoundCloud, Evernote, Google Hangouts, YouTube has a record feature now. Audio recordings are better with video as the instructor can see how comfortable the student is with the language. This helps the teacher know if he/she is reading from a script or if any editing had been one.

screen568x568Apps like Showme make recorded speaking and illustration more powerful . Imagine walking through a family photo album introducing and describing each person. Draw over a photo of a bedroom describing contents in the room. Soundboards can be created a number of ways to deliver soundbytes instantly to student for aural exercise.

Movenote allows the student or teacher to show video of him/herself while illustrating a concept, place, or story.


There is no question that a shiny new device raises motivation, however, as Renée and Daniela cited, at their one-to-one environment, kids can be overwhelmed by excitement one day, and then over-apped another. They quoted students as saying “death by ShowMe” (or any app inserted). Too much of one thing can be just as bad. The important takeaway is that even a cubicle language lab will likely also be highly motivational at first.

Relia is important in language learning. Using online radio, Skype calling or a number of messaging or chat tools, will engage the student to become a global citizen.

Portable, Internet-based

My years of having my classes scheduled in the language lab by default has actually had a negative effect on my teaching. When other teachers turned down their days of using the lab so I could in turn use a standard classroom has led to claustrophobic experiences. Many times I longed for the open classroom floor where students sit in a circle and we just talk, drill and practice while throwing a ball around the room. Face-to-face interaction was indeed compromised. A portable solution enables the teacher to “turn it off” and it doesn’t seal up an entire classroom.

Oh, and cost-effective, too (cheap)

Researching for a potential language lab in my new role at my new school, I am discovering pitfalls I had experienced with my old lab. Many teachers of other disciplines managed to use the lab. Many classes, foreign language and non foreign language, pulled and tugged on the headsets, toyed with the hardware and eventually rendered much of it nonfunctional over time. The need for training, pricey repairs, software upgrades, incompatibilities with networks and other software made the overall lab experience unfavorable.

3017586278_2d3562dbf6The costs involved with a full-fledged language lab are enormous, not to mention the maintanance fees. The proprietary systems make it impossible for standard IT to handle the repairs. You need to purchase computers as part of the process. There is some value in isolating sound with cubicles.

Photo by E. Castro

Mobile devices are cheaper by the day. In fact, the iPad2 is currently a fantastic buy for anything mobile. Look out for the less expensiveandroid or Microsoft devices. There are many web creations and interactions, why not Chromebooks? Starting a BYOD? There, you have little or no costs. Sure you may want to purchase some apps, but most are free.

The difference for me is that a real-world tool can be learned through the experience of using a mobile device. As a computer teacher, I find value in real world tools and find little patience for proprietary educational tools.

Renée Dacey & Daniela De Sousa are language teachers at Burlington High School in Massachusetts. Burlington has been awarded an Apple Distinguished School award for their one-to-one initiative.

I have taught 11 years a s a Spanish teacher — 10 of those while using a computer- and hardware-based language lab. I am currently teaching my 6th year at Frontier Regional School as a technology teacher and integration specialist.

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The following story I saw first in video format. Consistency is key.

I struggle with this constantly. If I made a no-tolerance policy, it would certainly help these students get the drift. But we don’t. I’m guilty of softening the consequence for plagiarism. It is 20pts on my Rubric. Some really top students have taken 20pts and didn’t care. Kids really need to understand that they will not look “stupid” when they are pulling in resources for their projects, but rather reinforcing their points. It is rare that anyone has a cool fresh idea anymore. It is pretty much out there already. Pessimistic? Maybe. We know from our experiences. We generate and fill in gaps. Do I need to quote the following I heard from a friend of a friend: “Each of may come up with an average of 7 things that will make us millionaires in our lifetime. The problem is we don’t act on them”. Maybe we think that it’s already been done or it is too unachievable with the resources we have. We may not know how to make a patent .

Funny thing, I used to be a Spanish teacher, when my Spanish 2 students were turning in content that was level 3 grammar (innaccurate) yet terribly translated… It was clear to me, and easy to point out to them.

Even then and now, when doing reports, students lazy the citations. It isn’t so much “hey I caught you saying something that wasn’t yours” it is “you didn’t cite anything”. It is almost like they feel they are communicating that they found information and brought it to me without putting thought into it. Like a dog fetching a stick.

No you stole it


Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Creakyboards Coldplay

Inquiry in Education

Strategies for curriculum include, assignments that encourage students to assess the need for tools, technology rich or not, to illustrate knowledge and understanding of a particular topic. Engagement is important. The Big 6 Skills Approach highlights this idea well.

The importance of Inquiry “memorizing facts and information is not the most important skill today. Facts change, and information is readily available – what’s needed is an understanding of how to get and make sense of the mass data.” And “schools must change from a focus on “what we know” to an emphasis on “how we come to know.” “ ( Much like the Samuel Johnson quote in my week 1 post.

When reading about the Information literacy movement I continue to fixate on integration among all curriculum an being paramount.  As a computer teacher, I still see a need for teaching the tools as well. In my classes, we look at current information, in the news or otherwise, and  use the tools to demonstrate understanding. I suggest possible tools, and guide their utilization of those tools.

The project based learning described on the edutopia site show how kids learn what they “want to” learn about. Kids give input by being at the center of the educational process. Reading the forum discussion under the PBL article was also very fun to read. ProjectBL takes teaching good strategy and planning so that the facilitation is educational as well.

The bottom line is making learning meaningful to students. Having creating products which make a contribution to a larger global community.

Website Savy

My favorite is Nothing on that site is incorrect. That is, What they state is true about dmho, but is most misleading in tone forexample, the FAQ’s

  • Death due to accidental inhalation of DHMO, even in small quantities.
  • Prolonged exposure to solid DHMO causes severe tissue damage.
  • Excessive ingestion produces a number of unpleasant though not typically life-threatening side-effects.
  • DHMO is a major component of acid rain.
  • Gaseous DHMO can cause severe burns.
  • Contributes to soil erosion.
  • Leads to corrosion and oxidation of many metals.
  • Contamination of electrical systems often causes short-circuits.
  • Exposure decreases effectiveness of automobile brakes.
  • Found in biopsies of pre-cancerous tumors and lesions.
  • Given to vicious dogs involved in recent deadly attacks.
  • Often associated with killer cyclones in the U.S. Midwest and elsewhere, and in hurricanes including deadly storms in Florida, New Orleans and other areas of the southeastern U.S.
  • Thermal variations in DHMO are a suspected contributor to the El Nino weather effect

Interesting, Years ago I had taken the teacher exam. One of the readings and responses included the California Velcro Crop story. That was before I knew about the site. I feared my response, which was entirely accurate. I wrote how bogus I thought the article was, and wondered if that was going to lower my score. I wondered if I had shot myself in the foot. I was feeling out of line by responding on a standardized test that way. Clearly that was the answer they wanted.  Really interesting  to have a reading/question on a teacher exam like that one.

And the VIDEO:

Remember the VCR?

Remember when knowing a VCR was the most “techie” skill? As kids growing up with it, we spent a ton of time on that kind of task. Our parents did not.

When teachers at my school tell me they fee “bad” because they don’t know some technology, I remind them that it is all aboput how much time you dedicate to something. Kids today will “play” on the computer. I asked a student the other day, “why do you know so much about hacking a phone?” he said, “it’s because I lie there in my bed afterschool for hours pressing buttons”.

I slowly feel like I’m falling behind the ball on some of the technology. But I remind myself that I have a job, kids, and try to keep excercise into my daily routine.

Kids are knowing technology by the time they spend on it. They may be missing the little corners we find value in them knowing. That is our job.

Boy would I love to spend my days playing with Adobe CS5. Oh, and another to do.. buy an expensive MAC, and PLAY with it.. someday 😦

Classroom focus

One time I got completely frustrated with a class because they were all over the place on the computers, headphones and all. I was delivering needed instruction verbally and it appeared that I was being ignored. So I insisted everyone stop what they were doing and asked them to turn to look at me. I asked them if they knew what I said, each of them were able to tell me in stunning detail. They were listening, they were multitasking and having an experience of information bliss. To me it seemed chaotic. To them it was paridise.

21st Century Skills – Multitasking

An employer needs the job done in a specific set of time. Distractions are not good in most situations.. How will bosses be in 10, 20 years? How will production needs be different? …Take a reporter today. I bet they don’t sit at their article that they need to write and only focus on the article that they are writing without checking tweets, resources, answering texts and calls about the article even watching youtube.. at the very same time. They might even be checking facebook about another unrelated article to write about. Does the first article get done in 30 minitues or des it take all day? Is it better that the overall information has been processed all over the web in sync with other authors??

Multitaking – Texting and Driving

I don’t like to iron.. So I need to take my clothes out of the dryer right away. Can’t telly you how many times the clothes sat in there wrinkled. Multitasker? YES.. Many do

The PSA from the UK on texting and driving. Very graphic.  I won’t embed it here just post the link. DO NOT WATCH if you hae a weak stomach.

Blogging 101

I’ve been reading and reading, engulfing my life in the overwhelming nature of Web 2.0. I’m a technology teacher at a regional high school, have been following many of the regular bloggers, twitters and Facebookers. While I thought about blogging myself, I always held myself back. I never considered myself a writer. When I thought of what I was going to grow up doing, writing didn’t cross my mind. Will this web 2.0 product be gone tomorrow? Will this host fold under the extreme nature of the startup one hit wonders? How will this particular blog entry be rolled to the bottom and perhaps never read by anyone.

I turn to the meta potential of blogging. I realize now the power of reflection. I spent much of my life always doing. I’m the worst at being. Social Networking has been a task for me. I never considered it being a respite. Do I want to open myself to the world? Do I want to engage in social encounters online any more than I already have been? This has been tearing me up inside and I’ve only held onto it.

It has been somewhat selfish of me to read and gather everyone else’s wisdom. Most of my reluctance has been the mere lack of time. I’m constantly working applications to their ends, creating with graphics, video and more. Cable access has become my biggest outlet. I can create for an audience even if my audience may have deleted the channel from their lineup on their remote. YouTube seems a bit disjointed compression has been a new challenge while uploading to Vimeo.

Why am I blogging now? I have a lot to process, reflect on and, well, share. Why share? Do I not want to keep it all to myself? Do I not want to be the know it all? Why would I want to give it away? Is it worth anything? Is it worth anything monetarily? I guess, that If I get it out there, someone will selfishly gain from it and maybe the world will be that much better, incrementally. It’s amazing to think that every word I type may be searched and found, perhaps by accident. From a professional stance, how can I teach technology and not be a blogger? I’ve always found gratifying the process of “doing”; I learn by doing. On the technical end of things, I see how blogs can be transferred from one platform to another with ease. If I have to change my host I can with little hassle. Those discoveries are important to me if nothing else.

Social Networking, if nothing more, is therapeutic. I watch as others in my life embrace social networking as well as almost every student who has entered my class. PBS Frontline’s “Growing Up Digital” inspired me to change. I’m seeing a very powerful shift in socialization and it is WORTH blogging about. What moves me most is how the PTO mother has been feeling excluded from her son’s life. That is a powerful feeling that I’m no stranger to with technology at the root. I grapple with the idea that while we were once phone users and everyone in the house heard at least ½ the conversation and made up the rest. Today, we communicate with individuals in secret and seem to lose touch with our loved ones.

How many parents are in their child’s Facebook? That is a fact that I would be researching if I wasn’t sitting here writing. If I have time, perhaps I’ll return to edit this entry. Heck, If I don’t keep going, I may never return to writing this blog. It is my hope that if a reader of this blog comes back, they will find that answer in a latter entry.  It is important to me, my personal life, my students, their social lives, home lives, and futures. It is important that I gain enough insight so that I may raise my two young children with well informed decisions.

Relationships seem defined by the experiences we share. From the games we play, meals we eat, places we go, the feeling of being alongside another builds a bond. Even TV and movies have been a source for being alongside another individual. Today’s experiences are stranger than ever. Videogames have gone through a period of solitude. New games have gained multiplayer modes. Internet experiences, in the past, have gone through a solitude-like phase and have arrived at a complex social experience.

I’m blogging about the digital social progress and examining the possibilities of social networking in families, communities, nations and the world. I want to begin by blogging my second entry about the 350 global event Internet happening tomorrow, October 15th. To raise awareness, embrace social change and find truth in communication. I have pulled together a group of students who are interested in the cause. WE will be celebrating the day of action by posting a picture of students lined up in the 350 form.