Archive for March, 2013

Dropbox: Your dog can’t eat your homework anymore.

Posted in Uncategorized on March 28, 2013 by teachermariannebard

Hello fellow earthlings!

So, here’s what happened to me quite recently: I lost my USB device. Of course, I was stupid enough to think ”Nah I won’t put my files on my computer. I carry them with me all the time! I won’t LOSE THEM.

Yeah sure. It turned out I did lose quite a few files. Unfortunately, some of them were valuable. A wash of reckless stupidity and tremendous shame showered over me. I always lose my USB devices and end up having to redo hours of work that was perfectly valuable HADN’T IT BEEN LOST. Ok, let’s calm down. For the past few days, I have been searching for a solution to my apparent inability to not lose my USB device.

While searching for web tools for teachers, I stumbled upon something that I did indeed make the mistake to overlook for too long: Dropbox.

DROPBOX? WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DROP IN THAT BOX ANYWAY? NAME TAGS? MARBLES? BEATS? YEAH, BEATS! LET’S PARTY!

Not exactly. But when I got reminded of the existence of Dropbox, it struck me that this could be useful not only for me as a young teacher but also for students. Honestly, whoever you are, if you are in a classroom setting, chances are you’ve heard the following sentences more than once:

”I forgot to print my homework.”

”I forgot my USB device at home.”

”I lost my files because my computer crashed. I have to redo it all over so I’m not ready to hand it in.”

”I don’t have a printer at home.”

”My dog ate my homework.”

”I tried to light one of my farts on fire. I didn’t calculate my angles quite properly and ended up setting my homework on fire as well.”

”I lost my homework in the fiery depths of Hell.”

Ok, this is getting out of control. It turns out that Dropbox’s main founder, Drew Houston, himself said that he got the idea for Dropbox after several computer crashes and bugs and after repeatedly forgetting his USB device as a student.

SOUNDS LIKE A FAMILIAR STORY.

Thanks for reminding me. let’s get to the point. In short (praise the website’s straightforward ”About Us” section), Dropbox is a free file hosting service. Don’t you worry my dearest collegues for this little darling allows you to share all kinds of files.

Want to share Word documents? Go ahead.

Want to share images? Your eyes won’t be able to handle how many images you’ll put in your Dropbox.

Want to share videos? Well, buy yourself a damn video camera cause’ you’ll be sharing those videos like there’s not tomorrow!

Want to share Powerpoint presentations, Excel documents, pictures of your grandmother knitting sweaters? There’s nothing stopping you, darling.

Hell, you can share practically anything you want and access those files ANYWHERE and at ANY TIME.

MY GOODNESS! DOES IT MEAN THAT…?

Yes, my friends. Finally, students have no more excuses not to hand in their homework, assignments, and term projects of ANY kind. Mouahahahaha! No more excuses!

I JUST HAD A MINI HEART ATTACK. NO.. WAIT. THAT DOESNT’ SOLVE THE PROBLEM OF BUGS AND COMPUTER CRASHES… STUDENTS WILL STILL BE ABLE TO GET AWAY WITH NOT HANDING IN THEIR HOMEWORK…

Actually, it turns out that there’s more to this baby than meets the eye. As I found on French technological website, PresseCitron, there are ways to reduce even more the risks of losing files due to bugs or crashes:

    1. You can synchronize Word Office files with your Dropbox so that it automatically recuperates files if you encounter problems. What’s really sweet about it is that you can choose how often you want the Dropbox cloud to save your files. Do you want to synchronize your files every minute, every 30 minutes, every hour? The choice is yours. Praise the Lord this feature.
    2. Say you’re thinking ”Ah, but what if I forget to put some files in my Dropbox?” Well, you can choose to synchronize entire folders on your computer with your Dropbox. It’s even safer and you don’t even have to think about putting specific files on the cloud. Problem solved!
    3. Thanks to the IFTTT (« if this then that ») feature of Dropbox, you can create connections between pretty much any of your services (e-mail, evernote, dropbox…). There is not a file that cannot be put on the cloud.
    4. You can receive BIG files directly into your freaking Dropbox, darling. Using the free Dropitto.me, it’s easy to retrieve even large files in your dropbox.
    5. The possibilities are endless. You won’t lose your files anymore.

So, teachers. It sounds to me like trying this out would be worth a while. No more getting away from duty on the part of the students… and on our part as well.

OOPSIES!

Everybody makes mistakes. This just reduces risks of making some of them.

Make Beliefs Comix: Making it Fun

Posted in Uncategorized on March 19, 2013 by teachermariannebard

Hello fellow earthlings,

I’m back in town…and sick! There’s always a downside to every thing. Don’t you worry my dear friends of the web, I vow never to fail to fulfill my duty and always serve you the best of what I have to offer. It’s just what I do.

So, I’ve been looking at my students (which is kind of useful when you’re teaching them something) and I’ve been thinking (which can’t hurt either). I always try to identify what it is that makes it hard for them to figure our English, and one of the clues that I seem to observe is that many of them often can’t visualize the language. They just get lost in an immense jungle of suffixes, affixes, and syntactic puzzles. They end up feeling like there’s too much to handle.

You know I always like to encourage students’ creativity, so I was very happy when I found a web tool that linked creativity and concrete visual support. This baby is Make Beliefs Comix.

Prepare yourself for some modernized oldschool goodness!

YAY!

Ok, so let’s think back to when we started learning English. It all sounded kind of weird and seemed like an alien language to many of us. Visuals are important. In that sense, learning grammar doesn’t always reflect that. That is what attracted me to Make Beliefs Comix in the first place.

WHAT THE HELL IS THIS SILLY CONCEPT? WE’RE TEACHERS, NOT COMEDIANS.

Let’s be honest: Learning grammar is no fun show. It often feels heavy and difficult for second language learners. They may come to resent the entire language as a result of painful grammar lessons. The first main thing that this tool brings, in my opinion, is laid-back visuals in the style of the comics which young students read. Yes, we’re teachers and yes, we want to be taken seriously. That being said, we’re not helping ourselves if we’re losing the students in our overly structured and strict perspective of how teaching should be. Dedramatizing can be our friend, if we know of to use it smartly.

OK. SO WHAT DOES THIS BABY BRING TO THE TABLE?

There’s a lot more to this website than meets the eye. As explained in the About Us section of the website, this tool can serve not only regular students and teachers but also students who are homeschooled and ones with special needs. Yup. There’s actually a portion of the website that’s dedicated to special needs students. At the moment, the section is still under construction, but it’s definitely a nice touch to those students whom, all too often, seem to be left behind.

I’M NO PICASSO. I CAN’T DRAW FOR THE LIFE OF ME. CAN I USE THIS?

Here’s the good thing: No need to be an artist to work with this tool. With a video tutorial on how to use it, it’s easier than drawing a straw man. The thing I like is that students can choose from a wide variety of settings, characters, times of the day or night, moods, shapes, etc. to create their comic strip. So, it’s versatile and it doesn’t require too much effort on the part of the students to express their ideas. Students are free to create little illustrated stories that integrate new vocabulary that was learned in class, to practice conversational skills by creating a fictional dialogue between characters, to illustrate their life story using the target language, or just to create comic strips for the sheer fun of it.

OK. BUT WHAT ABOUT RELUCTANT LEARNERS?

I do think that it’s essential to draw students to English outside of the classroom to maximize the efficiency of their learning process. What I love about this, and this has also been pointed out on the oh-so-amazing technological blog put together by Richard Byrne, is that it attracts reluctant writers to the world of creative writing. Let’s get real: Chances are they’ll be more likely to work if they’re having fun along the way. In that sense, comic strips are appealing. For anyone who’d like to explore other ideas, the Teacher Resources section of the website, offers many other interesting ideas.

SWEET, BUT IT DOESN’T SOUND VERY PROFESSIONAL TO ME…

You may think this isn’t the most pedagogical tool there is and I’d have to disagree with you. Students often don’t see opportunities for using English outside of the classroom. No student ever sits at home, thinking ”I’d like to do fill-in-the-blanks grammar exercises right now.” It just doesn’t happen. The point is it, no it’s not always fun and games, but it can be sometimes, and this is one occasion to make it a little less painful for them.

After all, we should always be looking for new ways to stimulate the students’ interest towards English. That is a much more pedagogical perspective, in my opinion, than drilling them with theory.

Weebly: Because We’re That Easy to Confuse.

Posted in Uncategorized on March 13, 2013 by teachermariannebard

Hello fellow Earth walkers, I sure hope you’re enjoying yourselves.

WHAT IN THE WORLD? SHE’S STILL ALIVE? IS SHE EVER GOING TO LEAVE US ALONE??

Well, I’m currently in my hometown, a lovely little town on the countryside with a population of roughly 3000 people and about the same number of wild animal species and crawling insects. Peace.

Luckily enough for me, about 6 months ago, electricity found my shed hometown and we now have computers! Ok, let’s get as serious as this blog allows me to be.

Alright, prep yourselves fellas because I found a blogging solution for all of us (teachers and students) with enough hands and fingers to write but not enough patience and/or easiness with HTML codes and/or motivation to write. It’s called Weebly, more especially its version for educational purposes.

ALRIGHT. ENLIGHTEN US WITH YOUR KNOWLEDGE.

Roughly, the website describes itself as ”the easiest way to create a website”. Oh, and it’s free. That’s right, people. As long as you have two arms (preferably with hands connected to them), a functional brain, and a computer, you can create your own website. But what interests me the most here is that they’ve thought of something especially for us lunatics (most people call us teachers). That’s right, there’s even a version for educational purposes (if you recall what I wrote just a few lines above).

FOR REAL? WHAT COULD I USE THIS FOR?

Well, as suggested on Richard Byrne’s lovely technology-related blog, because it’s one of the easiest blogging platforms to understand, it can serve as a digital portfolio for classwork. Why not have the students communicate with us through it? Hell, they’ll be on their computers anyway. Asking them to submit work through their blog makes it much easier for them and, let’s be honest, I believe it enhances the chances that they’ll even hand in the work. I may be a young teacher but I’ve already learned one major lesson: NEVER UNDERESTIMATE A STUDENT’S LACK OF MOTIVATION.

Of course, you can have you students create a blog that’ll allow them to post homework, various assignments, stay updated on the course, etc. but you can even create your own website for the class. It even turns out that the people who designed this little baby thought of features specifically for educational purposes AND that can be useful for both teachers, students, AND their parents.

WAIT. I HAVE TO CLEAN THE POOL OF BLOOD THAT I JUST CRIED OUT OF SHEER AMAZEMENT. OK, CONTINUE. WHAT’S SO NICE ABOUT THOSE FEATURES?

Well, as mentioned earlier, not only is it easy as pie, but it’s also customizable. CONTROL YOURSELVES. That’s right, you can customize that baby. Thank the Lord. It’s not a mere online replica of a word document. It can LOOK great too. That’ll attract a great deal of students.

I would like to highlight that it’s a risk-free, safe, and ad-free web tool. No ads do not guarantee that our students’ pure and innocent hearts will not be corrupted by the vicious world of online advertisement and irresponsible online behaviour, but I think it minimizes the chances of having to handle such situations. Plus, who said we couldn’t use it to promote safe online behaviour?

Privacy setting can be adjusted. What happens in class can stay there. Again, let’s be honest.. Do you really want to have your unmotivated student’s defamatory essay on the class’s obligatory reading for the world to see?

NOPE.

That’s what I thought.

Plus, because we’re not all Picasso’s of the internet, the website offers over 70 built-in designs that can, again, be customized indefinitely! For class purposes, I’d ask the students to pick one that the website offers. I’d like to reduce the risks of having to deal with some Playboy bunny background.

The multimedia features (pictures, videos, audio players, documents, maps, and even photo galleries!) allow both teachers and students to submit all kinds of work assignments. It’s a heck of a universal platform. Don’t we all hate to have to go through e-mails, loose sheets, class notes, online portals just to find out when is the due date to hand in a piece of work?

Thank goodness, there’s finally a one-stop shop for sharing classroom documents and information.

LIKE STARBUCKS?

Not really but my favorite part is that it allows the students to be creative. Honestly, they have enough rules to put up with. Let them put that rainbow at the end of their homework assignment. The best part is that (as mentioned on Wikispaces’ digital tutorial for Weebly), because it’s creative, students can actually enjoy what they’re doing while working in a pedagogically-controlled environment, while working in their natural habitat  online environment.

IS THIS HEAVEN?

Not quite, but it’s not that far away from it.

In the zone

Posted in Uncategorized on March 5, 2013 by teachermariannebard

Hello dear worshippers.. I’m kidding. Hello everyone!

Recently, I came across this sweet little website while working with my students : RhymeZone.com.

Upon seeing it, I couldn’t help but think ”For the love of chubby birds, this would have made text-writing so much easier when I was younger…” Oh, I hear you already:

RHYME ZONE? WHY THE HELL WOULD YOU WANT EVERYTHING IN YOUR TEXTS TO RHYME? WHAT, YOU’RE GONNA WRITE AN ENTIRE ESSAY THAT RHYMES? GET OUT OF HERE. NOT EVERYTHING IS MEANT TO SOUND LIKE A POEM.

Naturally, most people associate rhymes with poems.

POEMS ARE BORING.

Well, as explained on the website, RhymeZone can be used for more than writing poems (I’ll get to that later). Of course, the website’s first and main tool is the rhyme finder. It’s actually much more awesome than you’d think. I mean, seriously, what’s nice about it is that it gives you many options for one word. Let’s say you enter the word ”parrot” and select the ”find rhymes” option. Well this baby gives you not only 1 syllable words, but 2 and 3, even 4, 5, 6 syllable words, depending on what you need. Hell, say you’re writing a sonnet and one of your lines is 3 syllable short. Well, just look under the ”3 syllables” heading. I’d pick ”beauty spot” and write ”The parrot’s beauty spot gives me deep food for thought”…

WHAT THE HELL IS THIS? POETRY FOR DUMMIES?

Okay, I’m not exactly a poet but I think you get the point. I think it makes things a lot quicker and easier than having to sit down and think ”Okay… What rhymes with ”sky” and goes along with what I want to say?”. Reality is, we’re not walking rhyme dictionaries. That is one of the reasons while a lot of students hate to write poems. It’s a pain.

Let’s explore another possibility: songwriting. Here’s another option that’s not just for professional artists. Looking at the ”Rhymezone” topic on Fawm.org, a forum in which song writers share resources for songwriting, I found out that all kinds of people use Rhymezone to express themselves.

OKAY. SO IT’S NOT ALL FANCY, BORING LANGUAGE FOR POETIC NERDS?

Thank God, it’s not all fancy language for Frost wannabe’s. What’s pretty freaking sweet is that, as explained on the wonderful Wikihow.com, there are even colour codes for different levels of language. Prefer basic language? Common word are in bold blue, baby. Looking for deep, Beaudelaire-in-the-middle-of-the-desert type of words? They’re in grey. Just looking for general other options? The color’s light blue, honey.

I AM ONLY EXPERIENCING REGULAR EYE BLEEDING. PLEASE, CONTINUE.

Back to original topic. I love to inspire students’ creativity. A lot of them are really in touch with music and constantly use it to express themselves. Why not have them write a song on a topic that’s relevant to the unit they’re working on in class? Have them write a song against bullying (an unfortunate reality for many high school students), or mental illness awareness, anything that gets them to think… or have fun! Hey why not have them write a freaky rock song as Halloween approaches? Pretty much anything’s possible.

WHAT ELSE CAN YOU DO WITH IT ALREADY?

Really, it’s like the world’s greatest dictionary!

Nothing rhymes with ”orange”? Use the ”Find near rhymes” option! (Hey, it’s better than nothing!)

Struggling to make your writing more varied? Use the ”Find synonyms” option!

Not sure what’s the opposite of a word? Use the ”Find antonyms” option!

Not sure if the word you used in your essay really reflects what you want to say? Use the ”Find definition” option!

Not sure if the definition you wrote in your essay really represents the concept you summarized? Use the ”Appears in definition of” option!

CAN I GET FRIES WITH THAT?

No, but you can find homophones, quotations, related words… They’re not nearly as tasty as fries but it sounds to me like there’s a tool that could make student writing, whether it’s essays, poem or songs, as well as teacher writing much easier and creative.

PRETTY SWEET.

Definitely.