Archive for February, 2013

Becoming Familiar with the Interactive WhiteBoard (for Unskilled People)

Posted in Uncategorized on February 26, 2013 by teachermariannebard

Hello again friends of the web! You have probably gotten an idea of the kind of attitude that I have regarding my profession. I definitely want to be straight-forward and honest about everything. I like to put myself in the place of the students who are listening to me.

Now, from a overall point of view, I can’t help but feel like a severe cripple every time I am faced with the reality of having to write on a blackboard. I can’t reach the spaces I want to reach for the life of me (Short people for the win!), my writing with chalk resembles pitiful gibberish, and it takes me so long to write what I want that I can’t help but feel like I’m wasting valuable class time. Knowing that the Interactive Whiteboard, or IWB, is making its way into our classrooms, slowly replacing the archaic traditional blackboards and whiteboards, sounds like really good news for teachers like me, with zero ability when it comes to using those infamous chalks.

FOR THE LOVE OF CHOCOLATE-COVERED RASPBERRIES, WHAT IS THIS THING ABOUT?

Praise the simple definitions of Wikipedia, the Interactive WhiteBoard is an electronic device that takes the place of the blackboard as it is generally mounted to a wall and replaces it with an interactive¬† platform that is linked to a computer which projects its desktop onto the board. Multiple tools can be used to control it. Whether it’s a pen, finger, stylus (basically a pen that reacts to touchscreens), or another tool, every person with an average IQ can do it.

Basically, it is meant to get students more involved in the learning process as it’s interactive platform is much more stimulating than an inert blackboard.

SO YOU PROJECT THE BOARD ON THE BOARD, AND THEN, YOU DRAW ON THE BOARD THAT’S PROJECTED ON ITSELF. I THINK THE CONFUSION HAS DONE DAMAGE TO MY BRAIN CELLS.

It’s not nearly as complicated as I would have thought. Every time I hear about how I’ll eventually have to work with some large electronic devices in my classroom, I always imagine¬† it implies that I’ll have to become some bionic teacher with the technological skills of a secret agent. It turns out to be different, certainly, but fairly simple and very convenient. As described on the lovely WhiteBoard Blog, the options are various and definitely more aesthetically pleasing than almost any teacher’s attempt at drawing on the board (We’ll come back to that later.):

      • First of all, as the website states it, just because you have a billion visual options with your IWB, it doesn’t mean that you have to use them all. The excitement arising from the use of a new technology tends to make us (I include myself here.) tempted to engage in a massive RAINBOW PARTY but it doesn’t have to. Convenience comes from the easy access to the tools in a short time-frame, not from the sheer quantity of them, in my opinion.
      • Yes, you still have to manage your (lack of, in my case) handwriting skills. What’s nice about it, however, is that it doesn’t matter if you mess up or if you write so big that you run out of space, because you can just open a new page. BOOM! It’s like a new board. Just like that. Plus, you can open as many as you want. Well, how awesome is that?
      • Here’s one thing that’s almost nearly as sweet as bacon.¬† Say you made this awesome illustrated story on the board and you want to change it up a bit to make it more interesting. Just use the selection tool to ”tap” on the object on your screen and move it around/rotate/enlarge/stretch. Quick, easy, and the students can participate.
      • Now, there’s one thing that rocked my world. You can make text boxes. Now, now. Don’t be confused. We’re not talking about an actual box that pops out of the screen. We’re not into holograms yet. Ok, I’m just kidding. The thing is, you can move those boxes around using the oh-so-fabulous selection tool without having to rewrite the whole thing. Thank you.
      • You get ready-made templates for venn diagrams, tables, graphs, anything! And yes, you can still move all of it around with the selection tool. You can even zoom on some parts, hide others, etc.

OH OK, PRETTY SWEET. WHAT SHOULD I DO WITH THIS BABY? HOW DO I INTEGRATE THIS THING IN MY TEACHING?

If anything, it’s what you can do with it. Here are a few of my suggestions (and personal insight) for high school students, plus some which were brought to my attention in class by one of my teachers (Place ad for Computers Applications in ESL teaching here.):

  • Have the students use the whiteboard in preparation to a subsequent task. Say they’re about to write a text. Have them brainstorm on a mind mapping tool.
  • Have them list the elements of a text, story, legend, etc. on the board.
  • I’d use it to explain some foggy concepts and inner workings of the English Language. Sometimes, there are subtleties about English syntax and morphology that confuse students like hell broken open. What in the world is the difference between ”He takes three pills a day.” and ”He is taking three pills a day.”?? It might sound simple to us but to students, it’s not. A nice little illustration with text boxes and images from the oh-so-fabulous image bank that comes with many IWB softwares can go a long way.
  • Have them use a graphic organizer to better understand the structure of a specific kind of text. Deconstruct it to make them realize why failure to follow the structure leads to nonsense. Yes, you can learn by counter example.
  • If you’re really bad at transferring the ideas from your head onto the board, you can per-prepare templates for your lesson so they’re ready to fill in in class.
  • When class ends, save your lesson. Next class, start where you left. Students will have a easier time following along because it’s the exact same thing they saw the class before. It makes it easier for them to remember.
  • Use it to explain grammar points.
  • Have students create a vocabulary bank for an upcoming activity.
  • Write scrambled sentences on the board using text boxes and have the students unscramble them. I would definitely use this to explain grammar points.
  • And so much more… The Interactive WhiteBoard is basically a blackboard on steroids in an Armani suit, riding a Lamborghini, and hanging out with Isaac Newton’s ghost on weekends, who makes up for his lousy disabled cousin blackboard’s unfortunate limitations.

I JUST DIED OF SHEER AMAZEMENT.

That’ll happen.

Go home Powerpoint. You’re drunk and Prezi is your driver.

Posted in Uncategorized on February 21, 2013 by teachermariannebard

Here we go again. It’s oral presentations time. Get your trash cans and anti-nausea medicine because things are about to get ugly. Literally.

No seriously. Have you ever looked at some kid’s powerpoint presentation and thought ”This has to be the lamest, ugliest presentation eve. Did he or she even try?” only to end up thinking the exact same thing of the next kid’s presentation?

Let’s be honest with each other here. Powerpoint presentations are getting boring for all of us, teachers and students. Aside from stimulating our gag reflex, they don’t seem to be doing much. I myself, being the queen of terrible Powerpoint presentations, find it utterly urgent to bring some life back into visual aids.

Very recently, I ran back into this little darling that I had overlooked all too foolishly a few years ago, back when my messed-up student brain was still trying to master the oh-so-complicated arts of powerpoint use. Long story short, I have rediscovered Prezi.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

PRETZELS?

Not even close. As the software’s website explains it, Prezi is a ”virtual whiteboard that transforms presentations from monologues into conversations: enabling people to see, understand, and remember ideas.”

MY EYES ARE BLEEDING. I DON’T UNDERSTAND THIS MYSTERIOUS LANGUAGE.

In short, this little baby allows people with zero ability in graphic design like me to create nice, interactice presentations with original and alluring designs that stimulate the audience and inspire them to stay tuned rather than fall asleep. It sounds like a good plan to me.

SO WHAT?

At first, when I read that this thing was very different from Powerpoint, I thought ”Not interested! I can barely handle Powerpoint!”. It turns out to be quite simple. As the lovely Benoit Descary explained on his personal blog, instead of creating a traditional presentation in which slides just follow each other in a very linear fashion, creating a Prezi is much like putting together a little film.

BUT I AM AN INNOCENT LITTLE STUDENT! WHY USE PREZI?

Above all, I think that it’s a great way to remove some of the stress factor and boredom from your oral presentations. Prezi is like a game, so it doesn’t call for a stiff, boring, and steady approach. You’re not a politician, you’re a student. It lets you be dynamic. Man, you can even zoom in on what you’re doing, go back and forth, insert videos, sounds, and animations that will work when you need them to (I’m sure this brings back great Powerpoint memories to all of us…), etc. Do that and I, as your teacher, will worship you forever. Ok, perhaps not, but it’ll definitely earn you originality points. It isn’t making top lists for learning tools for no reason.

I AM A FELLOW DISTURBED TEACHER. WILL THIS SAVE MY LIFE?

Well, for one, I feel encouraged that this can work for us too. After all, we also have to use visual aids to introduce material to students. It sounds to me like they’ll be much more interested to see where this little animation is taking them than to copy down notes from your oh-so-beautiful black and beige Powerpoint presentation. I am all in favor of a presentation that follow the stream of consciousness of the students which is, let’s face it, often everything but linear and well-structured. Prezi seems to make it much more logical than our previous made-up logic about clear-cut visual aids.

LET’S GET REAL. WE CAN’T RESORT TO WACKY PRESENTATIONS!

I don’t think it’s wacky. After all, the website offers layouts and presentations structures for business, education, design, portfolios… Oh, you can be wacky. My favorite students are always the ones who give out crazy presentations. Ironically enough, they tend to be the ones who make the most sense. The neat part, in my opinion, is that this type of presentation leaves us with quite valuables outcomes:

  • Dynamic, quirky presentations that reflect the young people we teach
  • More natural, smooth, thrilling teacher presentations
  • More efficient teamwork, since students can collaborate on presentations online (Honestly, how often have you seen a student complain that his or her powerpoint isn’t complete because their partner did not ”send their part of the Powerpoint”…)
  • More relaxed students who are less reluctant when it comes to oral presentations
  • Etc.

RADICAL!

I have to agree here.

Every Story Has Wings

Posted in Uncategorized on February 20, 2013 by teachermariannebard

Writing in a second language. I, myself, would write all the time if I could, but let’s face it: I’m a teacher. Of course I love writing and all that nerdy stuff.

Unfortunately, I can’t help but notice that more and more students seem to despise the idea of writing texts in English. After all, writing seems to have lost a great deal of its creative aspect in the school system. Students couldn’t feel less motivated about sitting in a classroom while having to write a 600-word argumentative text about global warming. I realize that it is time to put the ”fun” back in writing. Hey, I heard you all ”BUT MARIANNE, HOW IN THE WORLD DO WE ATTRACT SUCH TECHNOLOGY-DRIVEN KIDS TO THE ARCHAIC TASK OF WRITING TEXTS???”. Do not panic, my friends, for I have found a nice little tool for us, teachers.

This baby is called Storybird.com. I am not ashamed to admit that I was mostly attracted to the web page’s title. I am, of course, a bird lover. The great thing is that, as a teacher, I find it is as much of an exciting tool to present to students who are reluctant about writing as it is to introduce to students who already appreciate writing.

Sans titre 1

WHAT IS IT?

In short, the website describes itself as a ”global community of readers, writers, and artists of all ages”. On it, everyone can read/post stories and create their own visuals for them.

SWEET, ANOTHER COMMUNITY OF NERDS.

Hold on for a second. We have to think about what this implies for our students. Now, not only can they be creative and write stories without feeling like isolated misfits, but they can also share their stories with each other in an online community. Not only is it more fun for them to know that someone will actually read what they wrote, but it also gives them inspiration that is abundant and easy to access to. With the easy click of a button, they can feed their imagination and produce much more valuable texts for their classes. What is better than stories when it comes to imagination?

LET ME GUESS. BORING TEXTS ABOUT TREE-HUGGING PEOPLE? STUDENTS WON’T LIKE THIS.

You’ll find topics for every single person. From romance to animals, going through education, sci-fi/fantasy, adventure and poetry, you’ll find great general topics for your students to write on. StoryBird’s Quick Glance Guide gives clear indications on how to get started. In other words, don’t worry because your students won’t get lost in the instructions. The stories can be published online or kept private. A great collaborative idea is to match students in pairs and to have them collaborate on a story. Students can switch roles using the ”It’s your turn” button and/or invite someone to contribute to a story. That way, even the entire class can create a story together. In other words, the tool can be used both in group work and individually.

STORIES ARE FOR KIDS.

Actually, they’re not. And the website proves it. Stories are categorized in age categories, ranging from texts for preschool level kids to stories for adults. There’s something for everyone, which mean something for every educational level.

WHAT ARE THE ADVANTAGES ALREADY?

Well, aside from the ones previously mentioned, registration is free, which is always good. After all, students hate to have to pay additional fees for anything school-related. Pedagogical website Recit.qc.ca and StoryBird’s blog stress the main ones, in my opinion:

Students can search for writers, specific themes or titles directly. This saves a great deal of time trying to find that one text for which you remember the author but not the title, or the story, but not the name of the person who wrote it.

Students can save their favourite stories from other authors as they browse through the site.

The website is linked to a twitter page, which makes it easy for students to follow updates about new stories.

The website is also linked to a blog, which frequently posts information, tutorials, and updated tools for writers to refer to.

For teachers, this tool is convenient because it requires little preparation.

Students can include amazing artwork in their writing and feel free to be creative as they can always go back and edit out their stories.

Students can comment on, read, and exchange other students’ stories.

Above all, it brings the ”fun” back in writing AND reading.

ALRIGHT, I’LL GIVE IT A TRY.

That’s what I wanted to hear.