Saturday, December 07, 2013

Making Classrooms Work

So here we are in the 21st Century and still stuck with 18th century schoolrooms and 19th century desks.

I've been exploring different seating arrangements for groups, and still like the easy mobility of wheeled chairs, central gathering places, and ways to quickly create breakouts of small groups that can still see the teacher/board and report back without too much furniture noise.

This younger children's class (described by Amy Spies at TeachingChannel  shows a nice option using the furniture at hand:

The groups of four are open-ended at the side facing the teacher/board, and the space between the desks holds a 3-drawer cabinet with supplies like paper, pencils and crayons:

SteelCase offers a much higher tech option, adopted at the U of Oregon's Yamada Language Lab, that is sleek and classy. Three boards/projection screens allow students sitting in any direction to see what is happening. The teacher is no longer fronting the class--at least in theory--though the computer/projector now seems to be the center:

What students have to say about it is very interesting:
From the Steelcase video

With the flipped classroom, the projection multiplication may be a bit of overkill, but at least there is a strong move to put students' heads together.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Embed Plus - Video Annotation

I just discovered -- from R. Byrne's great blog, Free Technology for Teachers -- an excellent video annotating tool, Embed Plus. Here is a sample of how the embedded annotations appear from a video at YouTube by the U.S. Department of State/University of Oregon, Shaping the Way We Teach English:

You will notice that you have all the usual features of YouTube videos, such as closed captioning and expand to full screen, but also the video can be slowed and a button allows an easy repeat of individual scenes. The nice thing is that because you are embedding rather than downloading, you don't have to own the video to annotate it. You can also get the video to start at a specific place, rather than the beginning, thus eliminating sometimes annoying introductions.

The editing interface to add captions is extremely simple (see left), and it's easy to change your mind, replace annotations, etc. You can use any YouTube video and embed in your blog, as I have here, or embed in WordPress, which has a slightly different interface. Although the site is fairly new, there are several examples to show you how it's done.

 I'd strongly recommend this tool if you are using authentic video, documentaries, etc. If you upload your own videos to YouTube, Embed Plus would make them more valuable to your learners. You could, for example, add directions for note-taking, as I have in the sample above. Or place a strategic assignment. Pro features, for as little as $14.99/lifetime, may be worth the cost, since you could then link to other websites.

I don't see how this tool can continue without charging anything, unless Google buys it.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Bloom's Taxonomy -- Is It for Language Learning/Aquisition?

I've been poking around in the various versions of Bloom's taxonomy of learning lately, while developing materials for a DoS-UO MOOC. I've decided it has a few inadequacies as a way of talking about language acquisition. Below are two recent versions of Bloom (old and new):

 (from Overbaugh & Shultz)

 We can immediately see that language learners often comprehend/understand language when it is appropriately contextualized, but they may not remember the actual words later. So these attainments cannot really be measured or tested.

Also, being creative (top of the pyramid) with language is quite possible long before the learner is able to evaluate or analyze new terms. In fact, being able to describe or define new terms is often quite separate from being able to appropriately use new terms in context.

So the language teacher must keep in mind that  Bloom's taxonomy is not really a one-way street, bottom to top in the pyramid. In fact, trying to get students to remember words before they have had an opportunity to understand or apply them can be deadly. We see this in classroom practices where students are "introduced" to vocabulary before a reading. Or (failed) attempts to memorize long lists of vocabulary words in isolation, which is still the practice in some EFL situations.

I suspect Bloom's taxonomy, although it is superficially useful, will be "overthrown" eventually. As you can see from the old and new versions in the illustration above, there is already some pressure to revise.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Using for student self-introductions

I've been away, mostly vacationing, but also working with the Electronic Village Online, which has been experimenting with some new venues, such as Edmodo and Hope to have more time to report later, but here is my personal page:

Oddly, when I tried to embed it here, the script does not show the snazzy overlay with my picture. You'll have to visit the page at to see it. However, it is kind of a handy way to do a short biography. The "3-2-1" snippet about me is an idea suggested by the EVO Coordinating Team to introduce ourselves quickly. Might be a good way to do introductions in a class. The student chooses the background and icon, and writes the text.