Friday, February 20, 2009

A Department Meeting to Remember

Yesterday I had the opportunity to meet with our world language teachers. They had invited me to talk and share some “technology” with them. I decided to solicit some of the WL teachers who are already on the edge to share some of their successes. Fellow department members have much more street-cred than I do. This was important since (like many groups of teachers) there was a wide range of ages, experience, and tech know-how.
I gave these volunteers one “rule”: Show the success, NOT the tech.
What followed was an incredible sharing of learning successes I have not seen in a long time.
Bob, a Spanish teacher, and a fellow tech guy, shared wikis that students created on Aztec and Mayan culture, complete with text, images, multiple pages, and hyperlinks. Bob went on to tell how the research generated by students was then used by the entire class. Yes, that’s Jon’s fist pumping in the back of the room. Another teacher commented, “Wow, it looks so professional…like a real web page!”
French teacher Isabelle showed “group blogs” where students wrote stories in French, then commented on each others’ grammar, diction, and syntax. One observer noticed “Reading this is like getting inside the kids’ minds.”
German teacher Trish uploaded segments of a story her kids are reading as mp3 files. After listening in class, students can go home, log on, and replay the segments in case they missed something. Next step? Download the files on the iPod…so they can listen to it again, and again.
Sarah shared how her students used goanimate to create simple stories in German. The advantage was that kids had to sync movements with words, thus demonstrating their vocab skills. Sure it is a “fun” tool, but colleagues were impressed with the level of sophistication of diction.
Jennifer shared how her ELL kids complete a Digital Story using Photo Story 3, describing a “real” or “make believe” vacation and classmates need to decide if it was real or not. Aside from the obvious creativity unleashed, Jennifer was impressed with the way that kids have the ability to speak, listen immediately, process, and rerecord better. All of this can be honed without fear of embarrassment, since there is no other audience during creation. Then when the final product is finished, it’s a matter of hitting “play.”

The buzz that these presentation created was palpable…excitement, confusion, and clarity permeated the room—not to mention the pride that the “expert” teachers clearly had.
I gave the group a single charge: make the effort to use ONE technique this year, just one.

From the reaction, I think they will.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Global Awareness and RSS

RSS. At first glance, most people recognize this as an efficient method for channeling information directly to the consumer. But, is that all there is?
Creating RSS feeds for students is not brand new either. For a project, researchers can not only get feeds to news sources, but can create “custom” feeds as well. Let’s say two students are researching Global Warming and decide to get a news feed from a national source. Miguel gets his from Fox, Ashley, from CNN. Needless to say, these two students are going to receive considerably different information on the topic.

The problem? The information is coming from a single source. Solution: Create a custom RSS feed through Google. Here’s how it’s done: After a typical search (hopefully, using advance search features), click the News link on the top left. Then click the sort by date link. This will show the most recent news hits on the “news” web. From here, click the RSS link on the bottom left, and copy the new URL in your Google Reader. You now have a custom feed on the topic from a variety of sources.

But there’s one problem.

Chances are, these news sources, although varied, will reflect a very “American” view of the situation. Many forward thinkers have stressed the need to create “global citizens,” and a sense of empathy and awareness of cultures, beliefs, and attitudes world wide. Unfortunately, history tells us that Americans have an especially egocentric view of the world. One way to increase understanding is to add another step to the creation of the custom feed by including a “Country Code” to the search. To do this, add to your search words “site:” followed by the two-letter country code. This way, you will get returns ONLY from news sources in that country (Just one of many advanced search features on Google).

Imagine the possibilities.

Today I did staff development on RSS, and when I mentioned this technique, the light bulbs went off. Imagine reading the news on topics from the other side. Here are a few ideas for “localizing” searches:

“Nuclear” from the perspective of North Korea

“Satellite” from Iran’s point of view (I did this, actually…very eye-opening)

“The Gaza Strip” Doing not one but two separate feeds and comparing. You can guess the countries.

Now, what can students do with this information? At very least, some ignorance will be snuffed.

But think of the discussions:

“What would cause them to believe this?”

“What does this information suggest about the culture?”

“What is their opinion of our country?”

“How much can we trust their news sources?”

And, therefore, how much can we trust ours?

Hopefully, all of these questions can lead to some reflection

and maybe, some empathy, tolerance, and compassion.

Image By Flickr Contributor poederbach