Moodle Madness

Teachers like being organised. It helps the lessons, the classes and even the students, but sometimes staying organised can be complicated when everything is on paper. Loosing assignments, misplacing agendas… these things are common and can really throw a teacher off. So, why not have everything online? Well one could say that it would take too many websites to manage and would be just as confusing as with paper.

Although, wouldn’t it be great to have a website where you can put lesson plans, where you can correct assignments, where students can blog, interact, chat, peer review, take quizzes, make their schedule, listen to podcasts and where parents can stay in the know? Sounds ideal doesn’t it? Well it actually exists.

Moodle is an online “community” of sorts where teachers can create a whole online classroom. The teachers profile has a calendar to manage events or things to not forget. There is also a comments section on the teacher’s personal page that enables them to write reminders that will stay there. Moodle is great because the teacher can upload files (whole classes or just reviews can be useful), he or she can also grade on the computer and submit the grades on Moodle, the teacher can also give out badges to students for different things (the teacher can create his or her own badges). Moodle gives the teacher so many opportunities to be organised and to make the class more fun. With Moodle, the teacher can also give many resources for exam revision and studying. Teachers and students can collaborate on class “Wikis” to summarize the content of a class or of a semester. Because the teacher has control over it, he or she can change or delete any false information while still giving the students a chance to share their knowledge.

For parents Moodle is also great because they can check their child’s progress and see their grades. Actually, the teacher can decide exactly what the parents can and cannot see, the parent role is not there by default and the teacher has to create it. I think this is great because the teacher and the student know what the parents can see, the teacher can control exactly what is permitted and the parent is satisfied with being involved. I think that a really inclusive teacher could even let select or volunteer parents participate in the forums to answer questions and help the students. Parents can even be assigned to oversee a debate or chat.

The students have a similar page to the teacher’s that is, they have a calendar, comments and a section on the left where all classes are listed and where the blog and forum are. I think that Moodle can also make teamwork easier because students can chat live and work on “Wiki” pages at the same time. For students, Moodle can be an encouraging platform to do assignments and homework, I think that technology and cool tools like Moodle motivate students to want to work because it’s fun, it’s easy and it’s all online.

I think that in an ESL class, Moodle would be a great tool because let’s face it, not every student likes English class. I think Moodle would make a class more interactive and would make students want to make more efforts. I think it is great that students have access to all their classes and that they can easily communicate with other students and with the teacher. Debates and discussion can easily be hosted on the chat and I think that it is motivating for students because it can count for easy participation points. The teacher can ensure everyone is there and participating and give points for that. Another thing I think would be very useful for an English class is the podcasts. I think that for oral skills it would be great for ESL students to get and create podcasts on pronunciation. The teacher could put one up about the sound “th” and then ask students to each make one with as many words containing “th” as possible. It would be a way to ensure everyone practices and would also be a lot of fun for the students. For writing skills, with Moodle it is easy to get students to do peer reviewing which, in my opinion, really helps students writing skills and not only that but gives them practice on giving good critiques and also on not taking critiques too personally. I think it’s just a good life skill and their writing will only get better for it. Just for the teacher, receiving assignments online is really great because there is no more paper involved and so so more lugging assignments around, loosing them, tearing them by accident etc… Even better, no more wasted paper, Moodle is very green.

Another great great great thing about Moodle is that it was translated in many languages and on top of that it is FREE. Now how many tools like this can you find for free…And it’s not just free it’s also OPEN SOURCE which means anyone can modify it or add plug-ins and share it with everyone else. Moodle is a community program that only gets better and better without any licencing problems.

For me, the downside of Moodle is that is can look complicated in the beginning. The website offers a good demo in different roles to help get used to the website. I think that to set it up, it would have to be done progressively just so the teachers, students and parents can get used to the new kind of classroom. I had a hard time getting around at first and I found it a bit overwhelming. Once I got usd to it a little I could see how it would be a really good tool. Another small downside is that it is on the internet. Now, in school usually children have access to the internet but a select few might not have it at home. I think that is something to think about and to check before starting Moodle with a class, otherwise some students could be left out.

A part from these small obstacles, Moodle is a great free tool that can really turn a classroom around. It can make students interested and invested in class and I think it’s a great thing when students want to learn and know it will be fun. I think Moodle could create this really fun kind of atmosphere. 

 

My ClassDojo Mojo

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Students can sometimes be unfocused and they can often go off task when they are either distracted by friends or by themselves. They can also get excited and misbehave during class. As a teacher, it is not easy to keep every student on task at the same time and it is not desirable to be spending every minute trying to discipline the class. There are time-outs, extra pieces of homework and multiple punishments, but why not use a positive system of rewards to encourage students to behave and focus.

Discipline can take up a lot of precious class time. The teacher sometimes has to sacrifice his or her teaching to take care of discipline problems. There are many ways to reward students for good behavior: gold start, stickers in their agenda, etc… ClassDojo is a new way to make the students aware of what the are doing right or wrong. 

ClassDojo is an application for IOS and that also has a online website. Each students has a little avatar with their name on it and next to their name is indicated the points they got for good behavior and the points they lost for bad behavior. The teacher can display this on the SMARTBoard so students can track their progress live. Teachers can even give points directly from their iPad or iPhone and a pop-up message appears on the website (or SMARTBoard if it’s used). This is great because the teacher can go around the room and still monitor children’s behavior, I think it give the teacher more time to teach.

There are many different types of points that a teacher can give: +1 for participation, for teamwork, for hard work, for persistence… The same thing goes for points deducted, for not paying attention, for talking out of turn, etc… Here is a great guide to ClassDojo with images.

Another nice feature on ClassDojo is the “random” button, it picks a student’s name randomly and displays it on the board. This can be nice to use to call on students for answers. There is also a feature that lets the teacher check off absent students so they don’t pop up when using the “random” tool. 

Some find that giving these types of public rewards is humiliating. Having behavior displayed like that might give some students self-esteem issues or even make them angry. Most reviews I have found are positive, but it is something to think about because it is true that not every child will like having their faults displayed so publicly. 

Often students are proud to display their rewards and parents like to know how their child is doing in school. With ClassDojo, parents can login with their own username and check on their child or teachers can send the results by e-mail. ClassDojo also compiles the day’s points into a handy visual that gives the student a grade for the day’s behavior.

I think ClassDojo is a great tool for any classroom. In an ESL class, I think it is even more important because often students are even more distracted because it’s an “easy” subject. ClassDojo is not only useful I think it is fun for students to be able to track their progress. It is motivating for them and gives a little bit of healthy competition. Also, the fact that their parents can see what goes on in class with their behavior is motivating to the students. I would use ClassDojo with younger students because it might seem condescending to older students to have little monsters with their names and counting points. All in all I think that with elementary grade students, ClassDojo is a really good tool to use and it might really improve students’ behavior in class.

 

How to give with Socrative

Slowly but surely, laptops and smartphones are being made part of the classroom.  Even if teachers don’t like it, students will always try to find ways to use their phone or whatever electronic device they have, in class. In my practicum I had a discussion with my cooperative teacher. Her tactic is to let them be and she noticed that they actually use their cellphones less when they are allowed to use them. Using them as an educational tool seems, to me, to be a way to get the students to see cellphones as something more than a Facebook machine. Because cellphones and laptops are starting to be included in class, some people have started creating websites and apps tailored to their use. Socrative is a free and, in my opinion, great website to use in class. Socrative is a website where teachers and students can login at the same time.

Teachers can create quizzes and polls to get the general feeling of the class.  There is a feature called “Exit Ticket” that allows teachers to poll how students understood what was shown in class. http://www.graphite.org/website/socrative-teacher-review/3888744 This teacher uses the exit ticket every class to get students’ feedback. I think it is a useful tool because students can express if they didn’t understand or didn’t like the class. It is a way for teachers to tailor their classes to the students’ interest. Also, for  shy students who do not want to say they do not understand, the exit ticket ensures the teacher is made aware of the problem. The exit ticket also allows teachers to know when they have to clarify material. The website shows the statistics instantly on the teacher’s computer, and so the teacher can know instantly if the class was not clear or too difficult and can clarify certain things.

In Socrative, teachers can also create quizzes that contain multiple choice, short answer and even longer answer questions. These quizzes can serve as a review before exams or even at the end of the week to check students understanding of the content given during the week. The website also gives the grade report to the teacher by e-mail after a quiz is completed. Socrative also gives multiple and short answer templates of sorts. In short, the question does not have to appear on the Socrative app. The teacher can simply say it aloud and students can answer on their phones. http://itbabble.com/2012/02/06/socrative-com-a-review-2/ This blogger believes this tool was made as is on purpose so as to not slow down the class by having to type every question the teacher wants the students to answer. There is also a tool called “Space Race” which allows the quiz to be made into a sort of race game. I think this is a nice addition for younger students.

I like Socrative because its interface is very user-friendly and it takes no time to understand how everything works. In under half an hour I figured out how to use every main tool on the website. I also like to think that students would appreciate using a tool like this in class. It can also be used with practically every grade level. The interface is so easy I think even elementary school students would have not problem using it with a little instruction.

However using online tools like these can become a challenge. http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/app-of-the-week/app-review-socrative/ this associate professor brings up the problem of  dealing with students having access to the internet. Because Socative is used online in brings up the problem of managing a class of 25 students who have access to the internet. Teachers have to be wary of what students will do. There are ways to block access to inappropriate websites and content, of course, but even better I think is to explain why they shouldn’t be looking at unrelated content during class. Some students will still do whatever they want and it is then that the teacher has to decide on a technique to use to keep the students on task.

That being said, used wisely Socrative is a great tool to include in more technological classes and because it’s free I don’t see why teachers everywhere wouldn’t give it a whirl!

WHAT? IPAiD FOR THIS?!

iPads are becoming a worldwide phenomenon. Other than for playing FlappyBird (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lQz6xhlOt18 from 4:15), iPads are now used in education. As classrooms are gravitating towards a more technological approach, some schools are going an extra mile and buying iPads, sometimes even for whole classrooms. As with all new technology, iPads have advantages and disadvantages.

First off, the main thing that comes to mind when thinking of buying iPads for a whole classroom is cost. iPads are expensive and fragile. One could wonder if it really is a good idea to give a 700$ machine to a child that might not understand its value. Solving this problem is not difficult is is just costly. For one, buying sturdy cases is a good idea when giving iPads or tablets to children, but this solution adds another few hundred dollars spent per class. The other solution would be to forgo iPads with younger children and use more child friendly tablets (http://www.trustedreviews.com/best-tablet-for-kids_round-up_Page-1). http://fluency21.com/blog/2013/09/17/10-big-concerns-about-tablets-in-the-classroom/

Other than the price, iPads or tablets can be a great tool for students to have a more interactive learning experience. For teamwork, an iPad is great because children can pass it around easily and move things on it and  touch it. I think projects become more concrete when children can have more direct contact with them. Another advantage with tablets is that they are portable, if children are learning about trees or leaves it is possible to bring the iPads on the school grounds to look around and research nature at the same time. iPads become much more than what a computer could be, they are not just a note-taking device but can become a door to plenty of information and learning for children.

iPads are also much harder to lose than paper assignments or handouts. A mother here says her son always knows where to find his iPad but always looses loose sheets (http://www.spokesman.com/stories/2013/nov/23/tablets-are-changing-the-classroom/) This is a great advantage that iPads have, students like them and become attached to them. Sheets of paper do not have the same emotional value or use to students and so they don’t care if they loose a sheet, but loosing their iPad is a tragedy.

Also, tablets are a way to have everything at the same place, assignments, homework, notes taken in class. Everything. Of course, a laptop can do the same but is much heavier and difficult for a child to carry. Laptops are also much more expensive. iPads are light and portable, they can easily slip into a child’s backpack. Another thing about iPads is that they can also be kept in class. Teachers and school tech-support can control what apps go on the iPads and also can restrict the AppStore and internet access to keep the students on task even with the new exciting technology.

There are many good apps on tablets that can be useful for students. There is EverNote so students can take notes during class and even do assignments and even record important points in class and make lists. Students can record what is said in class directly in EverNote to access it later. They can also attach the class files to the notes they take in EverNote and have everything for one class in the same place. This makes being organized much easier. In an ESL I think the recording feature could be very useful when the teacher is demonstrating pronunciation or new words. I also think that because students can take pictures and attach them in EverNote, they can keep important information with their class notes to add depth to their studies.

For ESL and second languages in general, there is also Duolingo that offers classes in Spanish, Portugese, English, French and German. I tried Duolingo for learning Spanish and I thought it was really user friendly and the exercises were fun and tailored to my language level. When I started Duolingo, I had to do a test to determine my level, I think this is great because the app then makes every exercise useful and meaningful. Duolingo even sends reminders by e-mail so students don’t forget to do the daily exercises (http://www.teachthought.com/apps-2/the-55-best-best-free-education-apps-for-ipad/). Duolingo would be great in an ESL class because it is directly on the iPad and its cute layout is motivating for the students. I think the exercises are simple, fun  and especially effective.

All in all, i think iPads or tablets are a potentially good tool to use but that teachers and schools really have reflect on the implications before taking the iPad plunge. If they do decide to do it, I think there are so many possibilities to make classes more interesting and more motivating.