Archive for June, 2012

Dropbox

Posted: June 24, 2012 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

I’m on the point of moving schools, and am needing to store the mountain of resources I have created over the last 12 years of teaching. I have got a portable hard drive which does the job nicely but another way of storing certain things that I need instantly wherever I am in the world is to use Dropbox.

Dropbox is an online store which you can also download to your computer and even as an App on the iPhone (I presume other platforms as well, but can’t confirm. It gives you a certain amount of space into which you can easily upload files from your computer or mobile phone, making it therefore much easier to access rather than having to rely on a memory stick or portable hard drive. To start with you have 2GB of space, but you can add to this by inviting other people to join Dropbox, by linking your account with Twitter and Facebook, and various other means. The maximum you can have is 50GB which you have to upgrade our account through paying!

To begin with go to www.dropbox.com and click on ‘Download Dropbox’. Follow the instructions on your screen to download the program onto your computer and in a short time you will have succesfully registered and you will have installed it onto your computer. You will have icons that you can click on to load dropbox, or you can open the website and sign in as well.

When you are on you will have a screen something like this below, with a list of folders in my case that you can add to that you have created, or that other teachers have shared with you. Here is a screenshot of my current dropbox contents:

Twitter users may be interested in the MFLTwitterati folders.These are dropbox folders set up and used by many wonderful MFL teachers across the world. Apart from the Spanish one that I am a member of, there are also French and German MFL Twitterati folders. To join these, you will need to be invited – I am more than happy to invite you to the MFL Twitterati and Twitterati Spanish folders (send me a direct message on twitter to @pedroelprofesor) but ask on twitter for the others using the #mfltwitterati hashtag and someone will oblige – you get extra mb space if you do so people will be keen! If you aren’t on twitter, send me a message via the comment facility on this blog. The folders contain a great deal of resources and ideas and are well worth joining and contributing to.

From your dropbox homepage you can easily create new folders, upload your documents and share files with others. Just have a look through the various icons at the top of the page (Upload, Create New Folder, Share Folder) or use the left hand left buttons (Sharing, Events, Links and Getting Started). It works much like your normal way of navigating through folders, so it should not be difficult to use successfully.

So how can Dropbox be used in the MFL classroom? For me it could be used as an alternative to a VLE. It could be an easier way to share files, exercises, websites, photos and resources with other teachers in the department plus with your classes as well. Giving pupils access to folders would allow them to access things at home, at school and on holiday which could make things easier for them, particularly for revision and due to illness. Edmodo offers a similar system to this with its library options, but Dropbox has the advantage in terms of how it can be used on smartphones and as a download as well, not just online. Similarly pupils could send preps to you in a similar way, and you can collate best efforts for others to learn from. I may well employ Dropbox for just this purpose in my new school, as it will save me a lot of time uploading files to a VLE when there is another alternative .

As a collaborative device, Dropbox has a lot of advantages, though you have to make sure you don’t exceed your memory quota. As a school or department, it could be worth while investing in premium accounts for teachers (though my new school declined my request for this having sent me the staff handbook via dropbox!) Please do ask to join the MFL twitterati dropbox folder as it is a very useful resource in itself.

 

 

Social networks are controversial topics in schools. Much has already been written about the pros and cons of trying to integrate various social network sites into the classroom and I don’t really intend to add to this debate a great deal. I’m aware of the issues, the risks and the importance primarily of ensuring that pupils are aware of how they can be at risk as well.

What is certain though is that social networks are a fact of life, something used daily by probably 99% of the pupils we teach and to my mind it is important to find where they can be useful to improve pupils’ education and in our case, language skills. With a bit of care, there can be various benefits to the language teacher and student using social networks, and I am going to deal with how twitter can be used.

AS A TEACHER

I originally joined twitter more out of curiosity rather than anything else and didn’t really see the immediate benefits apart from it being a status update type site, or somewhere where you could find out what celebs were up to. Our MFL HoD then organised a summer competition to see how could get the most followers on twitter and I began to look into it, and began to establish a network with other language teachers and cricket coaches.(note, I won the competition but the HoD has yet to come up with the prize, a nearly full academic year later…) I should say straight away that i am @pedroelprofesor on twitter, feel free to follow if you don’t already!

This connection with fellow teachers is hugely beneficial. You can share resources, ask for advice, chat about problems and discuss issues with people doing the same thing as you across the world. Within maybe an hour of putting a question out on twitter, you may have several replies giving you ideas and help, and this can be incredibly useful. Once you have established a link with a couple of teachers, you get suggested the chance to link to various others and your network will grow increasingly.

A good place to start is by using hashtags (#) to follow topics. One of the best to start with is #mfltwitterati and other good ones are #flteach and #spanishteachers and there are certainly various others worth searching out.  When you search for this, you will see a list of recent tweets by people using these hashtags. You can then follow regular contributors. Also you could just use the search facility to find other language teachers. The more people you follow, the more will follow you, particularly if you include in your profile about the fact you are a teacher. Retweeting messages, favouriting posts and commenting or replying plus regular tweets yourself will start to grow your network. Through using twitter I have got to know quite a few other teachers personally, and have gone on to meet them at Language events such as Language Show Live.  I have benefitted quite a lot already from using twitter, and not ust to publicise this blog either!

I have followed a lot of Spanish language magzines, newspapers, radio stations and so on that give very regular headlines. This can be a quick and easy way of finding and up to date article as well as just keeping up to date about what is going on in the Spanish speaking world. Some good ones include: @Madridiario, @la_informacion, @TelemundoNews, @milenio, @muyinteresante, @publico_es, @CNNEE and @el_pais, amongst many many others.

A good idea is to use Tweetdeck to organise your tweets. You can create lists for common hashtags, and easily find tweets on these topics, rather than having to scroll down for ages. (I tend to use this more on my smartphone for some reason more than my laptop, but it is good!) Creating a list for news sources for example could give you an easy filler at the start or end of lessons, just showing the latest Spanish news tweets for instance and getting pupils to find out and translate news headlines. A quick translation (remember tweets are only 140 characters long maximum) and a quick way for pupils to be more aware of what is going on in the target language country.

You can also use twitter to remind pupils of homework, give news and pass on links they might use. As with all things, you will have to get pupils to subscribe to the service first and show them how it works.

FOR THE PUPIL

Here is a quick list of ideas:

There are various receptive benefits, particularly on who might be worth following. 6th form students could follow newspapers and magazines such as those mentioned earlier. They can also follow Spanish speaking celebrities such as footballers, musicians or actors. Famous Spaniards on twitter include footballers such as Cesc Fabregas (@cesc4official), and Carlos Puyol (@carles5puyol), and actors such as Gael Garcia Bernal (@GaelGarciaB).

In terms of productively, you can use hastags to to get pupils to write on certain topics, and just to produce regular language. 140 characters is a quick and easy amount to produce and you may get a bit of a trend developing as other pupils look to see what other classmates have produced.

Some other links as to how Twitter can be used are as follows:

https://wordpress.wildern.hants.sch.uk/blog/2011/11/20/using-twitter-in-mfl-to-promote-and-engage-language-learning-outside-the-classroom/

(updates https://wordpress.wildern.hants.sch.uk/blog/2011/12/13/an-update-using-twitter-in-mfl/)

http://www.onlineuniversities.com/blog/2011/12/60-inspiring-examples-of-twitter-in-the-classroom/ (not just language specific)

 

After the first school inspection I was involved in at my current school, one of the recommendations that came out of it clearest was the need for pupils to take more responsability for their own learning and to be more independent with their learning, or at least have more opportunity for this. I had been told that a lot of our pupils did expect to be ‘spoon fed’ to some extent, and this is a habit I have been very intent on changing. Ironically though, you have to ‘teach’ your pupils how to become more independent learners!

My answer to the need to develop independent learning was to set up an all encompassing department website or VLE, something that required a hell of a lot of work, but certainly was a pioneering resource in my current school and was in fact used as a model for what VLEs could or should be for other teachers and departments. The idea was it for to be  place where pupils could find resources quickly at whatever stage of their language learning they were at, and for pupils to be able to catch up on things they had missed without any problems. I saw the purpose of the VLE being a resource bank for teachers and pupils, as well as being a jumpstation towards other sites on the web.

Being a self-confessed ‘completionist’ I wanted to put absolutely everything I could on there, and perhaps our VLE has become a rather sprawling monster with far more resources than even the most dedicated of pupils will ever use. There is something for every pupil from the absolute beginner to the potential Oxbridge candidate, and are I say it, the university student as well. I am very proud of it, and hope that it will remain useful as I leave my current school. I also hope it will be udpated but frankly it has really been 99.9% my own project as few of the other Spanish teachers’ resources have been uploaded by them. I know that my new school has a limited VLE that apparently is rarely used and so I can already see what my first major job will be – to bring this up to date and make it the pinnacle of department websites straight away. There will be a daunting amount of material to upload and to organise but perversely I am actually looking forward to it.

Before starting your VLE, it is critical to organise its layout and plan where everything will be. You need to ask yourself questions such as ‘What is the purpose of the VLE?’, ‘What do pupils really need?’, ‘How can it be used most effectively?’, ‘How complete do I want this VLE to be?’, and ‘Do I really need the reinvent the wheel, or what is already out there that I can use without creating things myself?’ Is your VLE going to be something your pupils can add to, is it something that should be constantly being updated, is it mostly an information service or resource bank, or is it something that can be used actively to practise the language.

My homepage serves as a jumpstation to essential resources. I have a an information box at the top that to be honest is not used as much as it should be (I had ideas for this to be a homework area, but it mainly serves to advise pupils of upcoming Spanish society events). Below is an essential links section for each yeargroup, containing links to the best practise sites on the web and then a general links section. This is where I will be putting links to webtools that I have blogged about here eventually. I also have a couple of widgets, such as a verb conjugator and a word of the day widget. I suspect these are rarely looked at though! I also have a link to my blog, which I think should run alongside the VLE.

As my menu bar I have a link to every yeargroup as well as a grammar and vocabulary section, an audio and video section, a Spanish society section and a cultural interest section for links to Spanish speaking countries, authors, film directors and so on. In each yeargroup menu bar I have submenus for each chapter of the textbook we use. These pages contain all the audio recordings from the textbook, worksheets produced for lessons, a brief scheme of work for what will be taught in each unit, powerpoint presentations, links, podcasts and in some cases exercises that I have created on ‘Hot Potatoes’. There is an exam section for these yeargroups needing it with past papers, markschemes, audio recordings etc and an essential document section with tips, helpsheets, and revision notes.

The grammar section is for all yeargroups, containing publisher documents for verb tenses and other grammar point, links to websites where pupils can practise or read more about them, and also podcasts and links to Youtube clips. In the Audio and Video, there are various Authentik resources, including recordings from the CDS that come with the magazines, and practise paper type exercises. There isn’t much video as for a long time YouTube and so on was banned on our school servers and we can embed videos or animations, something I would now really want to have the facility to do.

One thing that I will be looking to adapt is having a page that pupils can add to. It may not be possible to allow this facility on the VLE, as you would need to give editorial access, something which would be highly risky, but this is possibly where using posterous could come in. Alternatively, a blog allowing embedding could be more useful and relevant, perhaps having a blog for each yeargroup might be good.

This all took a lot of time to set up. Uploading recordings, linking everything and so on will take weeks, not the odd evening here and there, so it is worth bearing this in mind before embarking on such an ambitious undertaking. Given the scant amount of things to do in Norfolk  I considered it worthwhile and had the time! It has been a vital resource, and has hopefully given a lot of Spanish pupils the extra help they need in their language learning and practise, as well as exa revision. I know my Upper 6th have been accessing it regularly over the last 2 weeks!