Please introduce yourself, let us know a little bit about you, and where you are from.

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Devon Christopher Adams here from Chandler, AZ. I teach @ Mesa Community College and Basha High School. Been teaching almost a decade now, and I've been a geek longer. Google has really helped me marry my loves.
Hi Anne,
I'm glad you liked my illustration stuff. I wish I had the time to do more.
You were right on the nail about the lack of student participation on my blog. There's not nearly as much as I'd hoped. Although I'm tempted to use the old adage "You can lead a horse to water…" I think it's really mostly my own fault. I started it at the beginning of October and for that first month I only told a small group of adult students about it. I later realized that many of them are extremely shy about their level of written English and don't want their mistakes to be publicly visible. For now, they seem happier to participate anonymously on my wiki pages. I hope I can encourage them to get over this hurdle. If you have any tips on encouraging participation, they'd be very welcome. I want to avoid just telling them "go read my blog" if possible. This week I've told a couple of other classes about the blog and encouraged them to set up their own, so I think I will see an increase in activity soon. I'm also going to set up a wiki page to allow the students to post ideas for theme of each article and then vote for the one they want.
By "deterministic" I guess I'm referring to how teachers often seem to allow the technology to dictate what goes on in their classrooms, often to the detriment of other forms of interaction. I have several colleagues who use 1500 euro laptops and 2000 euro data projectors just to show the text from their course books, (which all the students have) as if this is somehow a substitute for a well prepared, stimulating lesson. I agree with you that teachers should adapt technology as they see fit, but would also add that they should always first question whether using technology is the best or most appropriate solution for the task at hand. Thankfully we do seem to be moving on from the 90s attitude of shoving computers into classrooms, standing back and then expecting learning to take place.
I think we teach to different audiences but I might have some hints. I teach elementary gifted kids and we started a blog a year ago. You can see it here. Several ways to generate some responses is to pose a question that may allow reflection by students. I aslo gathered some RSS feeds (see on left menu) so if you didn't have anything to write about you could read a news article and respond to that. Maybe a little more focus would help at first. N.
Paul,

To help your students get up to speed, break down your expectations into smaller steps. Begin by having each student reply to a blog that contains a question or a topic that could have different opinions. The first time I introduced my special ed students to email was to bring to class (I didn't have a link to the Internet in class yet), some files from a mailing list where students around the world had responded, at their teachers' urging, to the question: What will you eat on Christmas Day (or whatever holiday you celebrate in the approximate season). After letting my class read about twenty replies from many parts of the US and around the world, they were asked to dictate to me a response, explainng what they would be eating on Christmas Day. They had been amazed at the variety of foods that were considered "holiday fare" in other places, and were just as surprised to learn how many differences there were even in our class from a small rural area. Their eyeballs bulged out when they read a response from England that the correspondent would be eating "spotted dick with custard of course", and asked me what it meant. I didn't know, so back to the keyboard, and they dictated a note to the poster asking what "spotted dick" was. They got a very nice reply, complete with recipe, and from there we were launched.

Because my students were also shy of their writing skills, I kept my students mostly in email groups with other special ed students. When we ventured past that, we ran into a lot of gifted kids who found it fun to poke fun at misspellings and mistakes in grammar. This was before spell checkers were invented. So, I kept our correspondence in a limited circle. I did add a small number of adults who I felt could correspond with the students without prejudice, and could bring interesting topics for the students to mull over and reply to.

The steps I used were to first, let the students dictate their replies to me and I typed and sent them. They read the replies, and I typed their reponses. Then, as they gained more confidence, I let them take turns at the keyboard writing for the group, with help from the group for spelling, punctuation and grammar. Eventually, individuals wanted to write on their own and were allowed to do so in times other than when the whole class was involved online. Usually, I reserved Thursdays for online activities. This took place in the early 90's.

In the late nineties, I was teaching primary students (Kindergarten through second grade) in a computer lab. I had each class for 20 minutes once a week. I had a correspondent in Israel who was teaching English to some blind people. We decided that my second graders would correspond with her students. I collected some information and pictures on Israel and hung them in the computer lab. When the kids understood enough to begin to ask questions, I again went to the keyboard and they dictated their questions. The teacher in Israel had her students choose which of the questions they wanted to answer, and they wrote back. Since 2nd graders are not readers yet, I read the replies to them, and printed them out to take home. A few students volunteered to type their own replies and new questions with my help pointing to the keys. For others, I typed as they dictated. This continued for a year until war broke out in Israel and the children started voicing concerns over the safety of their correspondents. During the war, the Israeli students also had more on their minds than replying to my students, and the summer intervened ending the project.

The following year, I initiated a correspondence between my 2nd graders and a friend who was a professor at a university in New York City. He asked the students to consider how they learned, and compare it to how others learned, and encouraged them to accept that people learn in many ways (he is a neuropsychologist). Again, I started out typing for the kids as they dictated, and they began to take over the typing as they got into the project. In the spring of that year, my friend came to Virginia to visit the students who had written to him and participated in the projects he had set up for them.

A few years ago, I took a series of classes online which involved getting the class (all teachers) to use a discussion board in conjunction with the class. The intructors again started everyone off in baby steps. First, write an introduction of yourself. Next, tell a funny story, or explain your favorites (food, etc). You may want to consider using similar steps before you ask your students to suggest themes for upcoming classes. Let them get comfortable writing about themselves first.

So, to get your started, after all this verbage, set a week in which you tell all students they will be graded on whether they post to the blog and introduce themselve. Since the blog is semi-public, they should be instructed not to use their last names, or, if they live in very small towns, the name of where they live. They can use first names and regions instead. They can describe what they look like physically, or explain some favorites, like food, color, cars, subjects in college, etc. The next week, after everyone has posted an introduction, you can ask them to describe someone else, their boyfriend/girlfriend or parents, whatever seems of interest, and again grade them on completing the assignment. Every week post a new assignment, and every week require that everyone replies to the question/s in the assignment on the blog. You may want to answer the replies individually, or grouped a few to a reply.

If you want to do what I did, and bring in an outsider to correspond with your students, I will be happy to do so. I will ask them to tell me about Portugal, its people, its customs, its food, and their opinions on world issues. I will reply individually to your students or, when they make similar replies, I may lump together replies, but I will include the name of each student in a reply. I know how important that personal touch is in this endeavor.

As to your explanation of deterministic, I think you are saying that teachers are not yet aware of the full range of possibilities with using the internet. Certainly, displaying text that is identical to what is in textbooks serves no purpose, but sharing text that provides a different point of view, or displaying a primary source which is available online but not easily found in the text, is useful. If the textbooks are available online, then the students should not have a textbook at all. They should do all their learning from the "text" online. The purpose of the Internet should be to expand what is in the textbook, not to regurgitate it.

Keep me informed on your progress, and let me know how I can help.
Hi Anne,
Thanks for the great tips! I think the idea of coaxing them to participate by asking questions is a good idea. I've been doing that already with most of the articles I've posted on my blog, but the questions are often right at the end and not prominently visible. In yesterday's blog I ask several questions and have placed them where they are easy to see. I also loved the idea of getting them to describe themselves. This is something I ought to have done right at the beginning as not only would it have been a good way to introduce some nice vocabulary, it would have helped to personalize the blog and create more of a sense of community. I can see I have a lot to learn, but that's why I started this up in the first place so it's all good!
The idea of grading them on their participation would instantly solve the problem of getting them to join in, but I'm still reluctant to do that. I want them to want to! At the moment I rarely use the blog in classes as we don't have the necessary equipment available to do so on a regular basis. So, it's been a case of using it to extend the themes and language we study beyond the bricks and mortar. Another Issue I have to deal with is that in Portuguese schools, students still aren't encouraged to participate much in classes. It's 19th century style spoon feeding for the most part. At my university the vast majority of classes are still given in lecture form, with students quietly and passively taking notes. They just aren't used to contributing anything themselves.
Thanks for your kind offer of communicating with my students. Rather than writing to them, it might be nice to get you in "live" as a guest via Skype video conferencing, They could interview you and practice their spoken English. Let me know what you think and we can try to set something up.

Thanks again!
Paul,

Glad you find my tips useful.

I will need your guidance to set up a Skype link, since I have never used video conferencing. I think, somewhere in my junk box, I have a little video camera that could be used, but, since I never had anyone to link to for that, I haven't figured out how to use it. Today is a major holiday, Thanksgiving, here in the US, and my son will be coming out for dinner. If I can find the video ball, I will ask him to help me get it set up to use. He is a techie who works for a major bank in the US, but I don't know if he does video conferencing. Mostly, he flies all over the country to set up stuff for the bank. He flew home from Reno, Nevada last night.

The next problem we will have to solve is the time factor. I know you are some number of hours ahead of us, and your class is on a schedule. Let me know what time your class meets, and I will figure out when it is in my time. Do your classes meet every day? I will warn you that I live in Virginia, which is in the eastern south of the US. My English is with a southern twang, which may pose a problem. I will have to make a point of speaking more standard English. Not a big problem, but it may end up giving us some funny episodes.

Hubby is excited over the idea and is going to help me look for the video camera. It is possible that the digital camera that I use for taking pictures could be linked up. John (son) can help me with that. So, I have a project set for the next few days to get this up and running from my end. And I do look forward to chatting with your students and helping them learn English. I also look forward to learning more about Portugal and the Portuguese people. Perhaps they can help me understand something I have run into in a book I am reading to create a children's story. It is about a Spaniard who explored the American southwest in the 15-16th century - Cabezo de Vaca. I understand the Portuguese were also explorers and may have visited the New World long before Columbus made such a splash with his visit. I will be most interested in what your students can tell me.

Anne
Hi Anne,

I've been ill all week but I'm back on my feet now. I'll get in touch with you this week and see if we can sort something out.
Hi Paul!

I am also interested and willing to collaborate with your students. I am not clear on the grade level, (age) , but I am in a similar situation. I have launched my own site recently, and will be using it to discuss topics in the forum. My students have been blogging on the school site and it is gradually growing in popularity. I think they are ready for the forums and I plan on rolling out a discussion next week. I give them "bonus" points for blogging and it is catching on. Another idea I ran across is to make it a game, and keep score as to who is in the lead. They get a "goal" let's say if they make a post-- who has the most "goals"-- you probably get the idea!

I am interested in helping as well. We could set up a collaboration between my students and yours on a topic in my forum. Perhaps something relating to the holidays, sports, whatever cultural aspect is relevant to both of us. I have 9th graders in global studies so talking to students from other cultures would be of interest! I am going to be floating a request for this generally anyway, so let me know if you are interested!

I have to get back to the turkey!
I've had the flu all week, but I'll get back to you on this and we can work out the details!
Paul,

Your illustrations are wonderful, and the idea of your blog is great. I didn't see much coming back from your students. Perhaps they aren't ready yet.

You may find the link: http://www.educationalsynthesis.org/books of interest for your students. They are personalized books written for children of all ages, and may be good practice for your students. The books that will be of most interest are the History Hat stories, especially if anyone is interested in American History. The newest story is "Ride with Teddy Roosevelt", and a very popular story is "Visit Jamestown with Pocahontas". Teddy Roosevelt was the US president in 1909, and Pocahontas was a Native American who met the first English settlers who came to Jamestown. I am doing research to do a story on Cabeza de Vaca, who explored the south coast of America in the 15th century. The story of "Helen Keller" is also quite popular, but I'm not sure it would be an interesting to college age students as it is to elementary students.

As you will see when you look at my stories, I am not an illustrator. I use photos from the Internet and clip art.

I'm not sure what you mean by "deterministic", unless it is the fact that some educational material comes with specific directions on how to use it. That does not mean you cannot use the material as you see fit. My website for educational content (mostly for elementary), is http://www.educationalsynthesis.org .... and for the most part, I present the content, sometimes with suggestions on how to use it, and otherwise, you can use it as you please.

I am now retired. But, when I was teaching, I used the Internet to provide my students with practice reading and writing by corresponding with students around the world. My students were special needs kids. It really helped a lot. In that spirit, I will offer to email with your students in English (I don't know any Portuguese, but I once knew a little Spanish). If you are interested, I will give you my email address. I would love to hear from some of your students!

Anne
Hey, Wm Chamberlain is my name. I am an eMINTS teacher from Missouri. I teach fifth grade science to 3 classes with a reading/grammar homeroom class. I have been using computers in my classroom for five years, but I am tired of continuing to use them as expensive worksheets. I have become more involved in the web and its wonderful apps and am trying hard to get other people in my building to do the same. Right now my main goal is to decide what the purpose of education is.
Hi, William,

I am a retired teacher who is using her retirement to help develop instructional content on the web. I don't have a lot for science at your level, just a bit on elements that I started last month and haven't gotten back to as yet. I have some content for biology, mainly pictures of animals that can be printed and used in sort activities, I'm thinkin probably at the primary levels. You can take a look at what I have for science at: http://www.educationalsynthesis.org/mrsp/science and see if there is anything you can use. If there is anything I can make for you, let me know. I have the time... (grin)

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