Archive | February 2013

This could be your end-of-the-year project

Since I’m doing my first practicum in an elementary school, I’m often looking at nice ideas I could use with the students or ideas I could suggest to my teacher to get a good evaluation at the end of my practicum! 😉

While doing some research on activities for elementary school students, I discovered a really nice and simple website. It’s called Make Beliefs Comix and I think it couldn’t be more user-friendly. It basically helps students to create their own comic strips by offering a bank of characters, emotions, accessories, scenes, etc. A lot of functions, like moving the characters around, writing directly in the bubbles and changing the size of the different elements, allow students to really personalise their comic strip in just a few mouse clicks. It’s a pretty straight-forward tool but you can find tutorials explaining how it works if needed.

What I really like about this idea is that sometimes we ask students to create really artistic project and they lose half the time (if not more) on drawing and making it look beautiful instead of really focusing on the material learned and the best way to organize their thoughts. Since I’m not an art teacher, I must admit I don’t really like seeing kids spending half a class colouring and making sure they write big and nice letters on a poster. I think this precious time could be used more efficiently. By using Make Beliefs Comix, I can make sure that students spend more time working on their dialogues and building a strong story. They can even go on the website to get inspired by the characters and the accessories. They can also send it by e-mail which is useful if they want to do it at home or it they want to send it to their parents. They can also print it when they are done and I could ask them to colour it at home if they really wanted to. Also, as Richard Byrne says, “creating comics could be a good way to get reluctant writers to take a new look at creative writing”.

As mentioned in Mr. Walker’s Blog, the website also provides a list of 21 ways to use comic strips in the classroom. My personal favorites are practicing new vocabulary words, promoting team collaboration and understanding literary character perspectives.

Getting rid of old school stuff

Secretly, one of the reasons why I wanted to become a teacher was that I could finally write on the blackboard as much as I’d want… However, with the arrival of the Interactive whiteboards (IWB) in the classroom, my plans have changed a little bit… I guess I’ll have to adapt to this new technology (which is definitely not a bad thing)!

To get familiar with the IWB, I read about eight key principles for effective IWB teaching. I must admit that there are many things I could do with my IWB that I couldn’t do with a regular blackboard. I could use the blank page to put my whole lesson plan on it. That way, students would be able to follow with me and they would know how many more activities they need to put up with before recess, for example. What is also good about the blank page is that you can keep all the previous pages you wrote. If you need to go back to the notes you wrote at any previous time, you can always come back to them and show them to the students. Another thing that is nice is that if you make any modifications to your lesson directly on the board, you can save the things you added or edited and keep them for the next lesson or even later. Unfortunately, what you write on a blackboard is gone after you erase it to make room for other notes…

I think IWB is also a really important tool for activities in which I need the whole group attention. For example, while correcting homework, I could put the questions on the board or the corrected version. It’s a great way to provide visual support for the kids and avoid wasting time on questions like “could you spell it?” and “what page are we at?”. To save some time, there is also the possibility to use the open canvas provided with the IWB software. I think these could also be good timesavers. Of course, I think it’s important to go beyond the actual IWB and remember that your screen becomes a direct access to the whole world through Internet. There are a lot of resources where you can find activities designed especially for teachers.

I think that everytime I can put kids and technology together, I have a better chance to succeed as a teacher. After all, it’s a big part of their day-to-day environment and it is what they were born with. I think that it could really motivate them  to listen in class a little more. In addition, some studies show that IWB could play a role in the students’ achievement.

Now, I know that the blackboards may remind you of the time when you were little and  drawing with your friends on the asphalt (or is it just me?) but I think that teaching nowadays could really benefit from the use of the IWB. If you’re not yet convinced, try going over some tutorials to get started…

Prezi

Have you ever been to a presentation where the speaker was literally reading out the PowerPoint slides? For how long were you actually able to focus on the content? Not very long, I suppose. Unfortunately, many people get stuck in the linear format of PowerPoint presentations. The tool I’m going to talk about this week might be a solution to many people’s problem.

This tool is relatively new and is called Prezi. It is an online software designed to help its user create interactive presentations. Instead of being placed on (often overcrowded) regular slides, presentations are built on canvas as big as their creator’s imagination. The user has the possibility to zoom in, zoom out and rotate the screen to show the audience a general view of the presentation or the details of it. If well organized, it really helps the audience to follow the speaker in his/her train of thoughts. What I find interesting about Prezi is that it invites its users to choose a metaphor around which the presentation is organized. They then choose a “path” according to which the different elements of the presentation will appear. Since it is hard to describe Prezi in a few words, I recommand you go on their website to look at an example of a presentation done with Prezi.

I think Prezi is an amazing tool to bring into a classroom. As a teacher, I could use it for almost any purpose! I could give a whole lesson with it, introduce grammar notions, conduct different activities, explain a project, etc. What is nice is that since I’m not really an artistic person, Prezi allows me to choose from pre-established canvas. I can also have access to a database of Prezi presentations that were done by other users to inspire me. It definitely makes your class more interesting and interactive because you can easily add images, videos and links to your presentation. Also, as opposed to PowerPoint slides, where each idea is interrupted each time you change the slide, I think the notion is easier to understand with Prezi because the metaphor you choose for your canvas help students understand the whole idea and how the different pieces of information are related together. The students also have a greater chance to retain the material presented since they can associate it with concrete images and a general picture or framework. In order for your Prezi presentation to work, your information has to be logically organized. However, as Scott Berkun said, it is important not to get too excited about the creative part of Prezi and to stay focus on the message you want to pass.

Also, I would definitely not be the only one to use it in the classroom. I would totally encourage the students to use it for a variety of activities and projects. Since they would have to choose a “path” to follow for their presentations, it would force them to organize their ideas and know their topic in depth. They would also create associations in their mind with the use of the metaphor in their Prezi presentation. There is also a great function for team project, which allows each student of a team to work from home on the same presentation in real time. Finally, Prezi offers a FREE version for students and teachers, which allows us to create private presentations, amongst other advantages.