Posts Tagged ‘Edmodo’

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.

 

 

Leading up to the Easter holidays, with the dark shadow of exams looming over the horizon, one thing I wanted was to be able to monitor was what (if anything) my pupils were doing in terms of revision. I wanted proof that regular work was being done, evidence of exercises done, progress being made and skills being practised. It is true to say that I am something of an obsessive perhaps on this front, though maybe it is just because since I feel I put my fair share of time in to help pupils prepare for exams with extra lessons, loads of mock orals and time spent preparing targetted work and revision sheets, I expect to see that dedication being mirrored to some extent. Do I bother coming into school on a Sunday like I did today for everyone if they aren’t doing what I expect?! (for the 2 pupils today absolutely given how hard they have worked). This need to be able to see what is done in addition to officially set work obviously helps with reports and assessment grades, and can also show parents either how much, or how little their offspring are doing.

I recommend a number of websites to all my pupils – all of them are linked to from our department VLE website. Some of the best of them in my opinion are Languages Online, Español Extra (needs subscribing to), Asi Se Hace, and Oye (see Zut and Gut for French and German respectively) which allow pupils to do exercises and check their own answers. In the IB Spanish B website that I am involved with, Exclusiva (which will soon go live when some subscription issues have been sorted out!)  this will also be a feature, pupils being able to get instant feedback from their exercises. The only problem is that teachers can’t see which exercises their pupils have completed or seen their results. The Authentik Interactive site does have this feature – at least you can see when your pupils have logged on though they seem to have had some problems with the facility that allowed you to see their marks as well. Authentik is an excellent site, though on the pricey side, and they do need to sort out their word translation problems and the ongoing assessment problems for it to be worth the money for the subscription.

This is where two of my favourite sites have an advantage. Edmodo is great for this particularly. Though you have to create your own quizzes and so on, it does allow you to see easily who is doing what. All you have to do is to create the quiz and ensure that the marks go into your gradebook for that group. It gives you quick and easy feedback on how pupils are doing and how often they do tests. I look forward to showing any parents saying their pupils are working hard the evidence of how many tests they did during the Easter holidays. Strangely there is an obvious coefficient between those doing best and how  many tests they have done and those who are struggling to some extent! There is little hiding place to defend anyone’s lack of effort, particularly if you have got everyone to subscribe to the relevant group in a lesson and you know that internet facilities are working! I have also said that pupils will find it difficult to get a ‘1’ effort grade in their orders if I don’t have evidence of extra work, something stipulated in our reports criteria.

Voxopop also allows you to see if pupils are doing anything or not. Here there are a few more excuses for not participating. Some school computers may not have microphones but if you have assured yourself that it does work across the school and / or pupils’ own PCs and laptops, and obviously showed your class how it works, then you have a better chance of everyone being able to use it correctly. Again, I would stress the need to use a few minutes of a lab lesson to subscribe your class to Voxopop and to show them how it works, ideally getting them all to make their first recording too. From then on you can see if they are using the tool or not, although with Voxopop you may need to remind pupils or inform them of new topic discussions as alerts are not sent to emails, unlike with Edmodo.

Blogs are also an easy way of monitoring extra work, this time for writing skills. I intend to start blogs with several exam sets in my new school in September and asking them to produce a regular blog entry, either on a topic of their choice, or about things covered in class. There are various blog options out there, obviously WordPress, Blogger and so on, and it may depend on whether your school has a preference too. Ideally, I would like my future sets to have the facility to embed videos, images, cartoons, animations and recordings onto their blog, and so I might employ Blogger, though I do need to look into this more. (Any advice welcome!) I know that colleagues in the drama and history departments at my current school have asked their IB and 6th form pupils to produce blogs, challenging them to do the extra work expected, and again permitting teachers and parents to monitor continuous progress and revision outside the classroom. My colleagues have also told me that it has led to pupils almost being forced by the efforts of others to put the same amount of effort in, or risk being shown up! There is also a pleasing aspect of trying to outdo each other in what they are writing as they check each others’ blogs.

The obvious downside to this is that you need to be prepared to spend the time checking what your pupils are doing. Some teachers see the marking and planning as the extra work they are expected to do, and may not like the extra extra checking that Edmodo, Voxopop and reading blogs would entail. Personally, this is time I am prepared to invest in order to help my pupils to progress and that support and input can really help improvements. It also puts the ball in the pupils’ court and shows those who struggle to see how to practise their language skills how they can be more independent learners. Pupils need to take these opportunities and the responsibility for their own education and not leave it all down to us!

Today I thought I would do something slightly different; rather than introducing a new program or web 2.0 tool that could be employed in your lessons, I though I would deal with how you go about training or teaching pupils how to use them.

There are lots of time pressures on teachers at all the various Key Stages and the use of some of the tools I have blogged about previously could be seen by some as a luxury lesson. For example, it is all well and good to do a writing task by using a comic creator such as Chogger, Strip Generator or Toondoo (yet to be blogged about, it will happen!) but is this really the best way of getting pupils to write? Do pupils become obsessed about the layout of the cartoon and forget about the linguistic importance of the task they are charged with carrying out? Does humour take over from intellectual and educational relevance? Is it time effective or could pupils produce more work in the time available just by writing in their books in the traditional manner? What happens if things go wrong with the programme or website? What happens if pupils don’t like using computers or find it hard to work out how to use the tool effectively?

My first point is that by using cartoon generating tools you will stimulate interest in the task, and it is likely that pupils will make more of an effort to produce an entertaining and well made piece. The same is not necessarily true of yet another piece of written work in their exercise book, which doesn’t really spark much interest and can be trotted off in a rush. Any language production is worthwhile immediately, and the finished cartoons will almsot certainly be shown off to others in the class and be read by others. This hardly ever happens with exercise book work. A sense of competition, and the desire to outdo others could grow, and as long as you, the teacher, controls this competitive instinct and directs it towards target language production then better work will be elicited. It may be a luxury lesson, but it will in my opinion be productive and something that will enthuse and motivate your pupils. It doens’t have to be done every week, maybe once a term will suffice, and who knows, pupils may be inspired to do others independently.

The difficulty is perhaps teaching pupils how to use the tools without losing much time of the lesson and this is a key factor to debate. First of all, you have to be very confident in using the tool or application. You  have to anticipate what problems could arise, work out how you want everything to work and see what every button does before using it in a lesson, as the last thing you want is for some unsolvable disaster to occur which leaves you looking stupid as you try and work out why you can’t type into a speechbubble, or why something hasn’t saved. One method is to do a presentation demo infront of the class beforehand and restrict the features of the tool that they use. Another is to walk a class through their task step by step, giving a set time limit per stage of the task you are completing. Some kind of handout is probably necessary as well with a basic guideline for using a tool. This is something I will be doing during the summer holidays in fact.

There are various other options as well. Perhaps you could liaise with the IT department and see if they will teach some of the tools in their class. After school or lunchtime hobbies time will also be useful projects, though the downside is that not all pupils will become involved and some could get left behind. There is the chance that interest will spread if pupils enjoy the creative process. If finished projects such as animations, cartoons and videos can be embedded on well published and regularly viewable blogs or department webpages, others may be curious and encouraged to join in. Certainly using these tools in my opinion is an excellent way of  promoting TL use in language clubs for instance, where time pressures are not as restrictive.

In all situations, the most important thing to do is to do the preparation work first. Know WHY you are using the tool and WHAT you want the finished outcome to be. Know HOW it works and have the appropriate support ready fo the pupils. It helps a great deal to have the target language material prepared fully prior to using the tools you are going to use in the lesson, or requiring them to use in their homework.

So far I have had fair success with implementing certin tools. Edmodo has gone down a storm, but then it is very easy to use given its facebook like style and interface. Voki has also worked very well, and my chogger lesson was pretty successful, barring slow running internet issues which slowed the process down and led to rather rushed finished projects.

I am already thinking of how I will introduce the tools I use in my next school. This clean start seems an ideal time to begin properly. I think it will be very important to be organised before this, deciding which things to start with and not overloading pupils with too many things right away. I do intend to ask pupils to subscribe to certain sites immediately, certainly Edmodo and Voxopop to start with. I also would like to get every pupil going with their own blog page, and teach them how to embed their own videos, cartoons and so on as a lasting ‘folder’ of their efforts over the year. I just hope the computer systems at my new school will be reliable!

 

Edmodo is a social network site that is geared up for teachers to set work for pupils. I am a huge fan of this site, given that one of my main aims as a Spanish teacher is to create a ‘Classroom beyond the classroom’ mentality in which pupils are enthused and empowered to do more constructive revision and practise on a regular basis. It has really worked since I started using it about a month ago, and so far I have introduced it to my Lower 6th and Upper 6th AS and A2 groups (Years 12 and 13) and also to my 4th form (year 10). Given that in appearance it looks a lot like facebook, it immediately feels familiar to the pupils, and therefore it is very easy to use.

Basically, the concept is that you create a group that your pupils join and then you create various assignments, quizzes and polls for them. With each assignment, quiz or poll, you can set a time limit for its completion, collect a mark for your gradebook and thus monitor your pupils’ progress. You can also send notes and alerts to pupils and create a library of useful links and resources that pupils can use.

Best of all, it is a free resource. Simply go the website and click on ‘I’m a teacher’ and follow the instructions to create your username and login details. When you then have the option to create a group it will give you a join code, and this is what your pupils will need to know to join the group you have created. When they logon, they will be asked for this code as well as to create their logon details, and they will then join your group.

To create a quiz could not be easier. You have a variety of options to choose from (True/False, Multiple Choice, Short Answer and Fill in the Blank) and then design your questions as you want. You can set due dates for test completion and time limits as well once the quiz is started. So far I have been doing vocabulary revision questions, grammar multiple choice questions and various quizzes on the films my class is studying for their WJEC SN4 exam and my pupils are finding them really useful. Most of the quizzes are corrected as your pupils do them, but you do need to correct short answer quizzes yourself.

Another fun thing is the awarding badges option for good work. I have created a few of my own and things are already getting competitive amongst the pupils to gain as many badges as possible.

All in all, I strongly recommend Edmodo. It can also be downloaded as a free app for your iPhone (don’t know about its availability on other smartphones) and should have a real impact on pupils practising and improving their language use.