Part II: Skype in the Classroom

This article originally appeared in the September issue of BiBimBap magazine, an online journal for EFL teachers in Jeollanamdo, South Korea. You can view the ISSUU version here.

In Part I of the this series I outlined the resources, methods and potential best practices for leveraging one kind of information and communication technology in the classroom – Skype Education. In Part II of this series I’d like to share with you my experience using Skype in two of my 6th grade ESL classrooms, one being a recorded video exchange over a couple months and the other a live video class session.  

Whether or not the Skype VOIP service is best for keeping in touch with your friends and family back home is debatable, but there is no doubt that their service offers the richest platform for teachers trying to connect classrooms across the world. And remember, if you have a simple webcam, a monitor and a broadband internet connection in your classroom, like most of us do, you are one simple download away from getting started.

Recorded Skype Exchange

I mentioned in Part I of the series that I had made a connection with a teacher in Florida and a teacher in an American school in northern China. As it turned out, the exchange with the classroom in Florida just did not work out because of a combination of factors; the learning objectives of that classroom teacher and scheduling difficulties. I have come to think that this is the norm when seeking out a Skype in the Classroom partner across the country or across the world. I probably contacted close to ten teachers via the Skype Education platform in my initial search to find a partner teacher whose goals for the Skype exchange and schedule would work with mine. To date, I have successfully collaborated with two of those ten initial teacher contacts. Keep this in mind! Put a lot of hooks in the water and be patient if your schedule doesn’t immediately align with the first teacher that responds to you.

Nevertheless, I did successfully devise a #MysterySkype plan with the 5th grade teacher in an American school outside of Beijing. Ms. Hart’s homeroom class schedule and my schedule teaching five 6th grade English classes on Wednesdays and Thursdays did not initially mesh well, particularly because I had one deserving high-level, hardworking and outgoing 6th grade class in mind for this initial foray into a Skype exchange. Thus, instead of a live lesson, we settled on a recorded weekly video exchange over the course of a few months.

Since we both taught ESL students, we first established a geography-themed vocabulary list to review with the students in preparation of the #MysterySkype questions to come.  It included words like hemisphere, equator, prime meridian, province, and the cardinal directions. I also prepared a Powerpoint presenting the whole idea and purpose of the #MysterySkype game and showing them how the exchange would work with a sample recording on Skype. My co-teacher translated all and fielded many questions in Korean. Our goal was to have all the students fully understanding the process and intention of the activity so that they could focus on the language and not be confused by the strange new activity that was definitely not from the curriculum.

During April, May and June, Ms. Hart’s class and my specially selected 6th grade class went back and forth asking increasingly specific geographic questions in a race to figure out who lived where first. We started with, “Do you live in the northern hemisphere?” and ended with, “Do you live outside of Beijing in the Heibei province?”

In each successive round of question and answer I chose two new students to work with me to craft an answer to the other class’ question along with crafting our own new question for our mystery friends in China. We worked together at lunch time, where I would sometimes have them write the response on a whiteboard to read during the recording, or we would just practice the question and answer repeatedly until they felt confident they had it down pat. Then we recorded the video message on Skype with me leading and introducing the students. We would watch it once through together to assure clear speech and audio, send it on to Ms. Hart’s and then waited for their response. In the last five minutes of every class I would show Ms. Hart’s class’ latest video and it was always highly anticipated. My 6th grade class and their homeroom teacher resoundingly loved the exchange!

Live Skype

I also mentioned in Part I that I had a plan to do a #MysterySkype class with a 6th grade teacher in Hobart, Tasmania. After much scheduling and rescheduling, we finally connected our classes in mid June, this time with a different, yet no less competent, 6th grade class of mine.

Mr. Fitzpatrick’s class was a group of native English speaking Australian 6th graders. Therefore, I requested that Mr. Fitzpatrick’s class ask us questions about our location and limit my ESL 6th graders to simply responding ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to their geography questions. I was admittedly nervous about asking my students to create ever more specific location questions in response to the Hobart students’ answers in real-time in a live Skype session. Instead, I limited my students participation to primarily English listening comprehension as opposed to production. In addition, I leaned heavily on my enthusiastic co-teacher to keep all the students in the loop in Korean regarding the questions being posed.

I did ask a small group of higher level English speakers to prepare a show and tell presentation on Korean culture. The small group and I worked together to prepare a presentation on hanbok, ddeok, the danso flute and janggu drum. They practiced their English presentation three or four times for me before the live version.

The class was an absolute hit and went off without any problems except for, of course, a technical difficulty. Mr. Fitzpatrick and I did not test our VOIP connection on Skype before the actual class. Thus we were left scrambling to fix an unknown connection issue, then a mysterious microphone problem, and had to hang up multiple times until the connection magically strengthened and the audio righted itself via restart. It was frustrating and would have crushed the students and I if it didn’t eventually work out. So my big advice is to run a test Skype video call from the classroom computer you will use during the live session. Otherwise, happy Skypeing!  

Ed Reading Weekly: Google EDU, student data privacy, & school funding

Notes on the edSurge interview with Jaime Casap and Jonathan Rochelle. On Edtech Equity and the Future of Google EDU.

  • Jonathan Rochelle, “Nobody on the consumer products side was thinking about education.”
  • Jonathan Rochelle, “Teachers have always been using it, but not because it was built for education.”
  • Jaime Casap, “Ed tech has to be easy to use, manageable, to scale, it has to be invisible and these guys (Google Drive products) are trying to be invisible.”
  • Mary Jo Madda, “Really Google Expeditions is really just improving on the cool things teachers were already doing in the classroom with Google Maps.”
  • The importance of feedback from teachers, Jonathan Rochelle “There is no education classroom that is perfect, it is constant iteration and innovation.” Jaime Casap, “The feedback button has a bad rap with technology…what actually happens to that feedback…Here the Classroom team is actually reading this line of feedback and I always encourage teachers to use that feedback button.”
  • The future of GoogleEDU and ads on GoogleEDU tools, “Search and information are part of education. A lot of these things that students would be doing, they are already doing. Gmail, for example. ” Ads….
  • “Education levels the playing field. Information is education. And teachers taking information and converting it into intelligence…and I think that the web and internet is how (Google) helps to level the playing field”.

NO CHILD LEFT UN-MINED? STUDENT PRIVACY AT RISK IN THE AGE OF BIG DATA

This is a really important issue if the field of education is going to take full advantage of the learning powers of the internet, mobile devices and emerging technologies in general. As an educator who has managed intimate academic and personal data on students in a public school, I know that the well-intentioned push to use data and technology to help students learn can easily push aside privacy and security safeguards for students and families.

Every educator and parent should be aware of the pledges many companies make regarding the collection and use of student data if they voluntarily sign on to the Student Privacy Pledge. In addition, the US Department of Education has created a preliminary set of requirements and best practices around student data use that can be found here.

I am impressed by ed tech companies like Clever that can simultaneously make technology more accessible and more manageable for teachers and students in schools, while also assuring privacy and security of student data. But administrators, teachers, and parents need to keep an eye on the ever changing user agreements of such apps and tech tools. This article really emphasized the importance of district tech directors and school administrators doing their due diligence and actually reading the privacy policies of the ed tech apps used in their schools. Just another thing to add to the plate of overburdened principals, right?!

If you want to read more about the legislative solutions that are being proposed for this student data issue and also let your Congressman know how you feel, get the Countable app and browse through the education bills they have listed there.

How School Districts Seal Their Students Into Poverty

We all know that how schools are funded play a big role in the disparate student outcomes we have in America between racial groups and socio-economic levels. It can be difficult to understand how these often times complex funding mechanisms work, and even harder to visualize them.

Well, this week the folks at CityLab introduced me to the new ed policy center, EdBuild, which has created an interactive map of school districts and the percentage of students living in poverty in each of them. The smart folks at CityLab do a great job of breaking down some of the startling discoveries that can be made by looking at this data across the country, but just by browsing on my own my former district (Seattle, WA) and my prospective future district (Portland, OR), I can start to see my way to an explanation of disparate resources, student test scores and the overall reputations of those districts.

Going Global in Korea with Skype

This article originally appeared in the May issue of BiBimBap magazine, an online journal for EFL teachers in Jeollanamdo, South Korea. You can view the ISSUU version here

Going Global

In 2012 the Korean Education ministry announced it’s ‘SMART Education’ plan, the ‘T’ of which stands for technology. In an effort to create an education system which is less passive, more creative and more adaptive, the plan called for wide scale integration of Information and Communication Technology (ICT). In fact, the plan set 2015 as the deadline for digitizing the entire school curriculum to make it more accessible to 21st Century learners. Yet in spite of the reported 67% of Korean youth ages 5-19 that have smartphones and the widely touted high-speed broadband access in Korea, ICT is not leveraged for learning in most classrooms yet.

This is where Skype in the Classroom comes in. Most of us have a broadband internet connection, a computer connected to a classroom monitor, a classroom document camera, headphones with a microphone, or, if you are an online “J-Distance” teacher, you have a webcam with a built-in microphone. This is all it takes to get started and begin using the ICT in your classroom to connect your EFL students with native English speakers the world over.

 

Where To Start

If you do not have a Skype account, you should start there. If you already have a Skype account, you can use that as your login for Skype Education. You can create a distinct teacherly profile name, like Mr. Short, add a professional profile pic, enter your location in the world and give a brief description of your aims for using Skype in your classroom.

Next, you can ‘find a lesson’ or ‘find a teacher’. There is a really cool map with classes and teachers pinned all over the world. You can zoom in and out and see more or less teacher pins appear as a result. If you click on a pin it will automatically scroll down to that teacher’s Skype Education profile and from there you can select that person and message them directly.

My suggestion is to ‘find a teacher’ first. I spent some time searching to ‘find a lesson’, I signed up for lessons, and did not get any responses from those teachers. However, when I started searching for teachers in our general timezone, for example, classroom teachers in Australia and New Zealand or International School teachers in Japan and China, I had much more success messaging them directly and proposing a Skype classroom collaboration.

 

A Global Lesson

The trending Skype lesson on Twitter is #MysterySkype. This is billed as a “global guessing game” where students in each class prepare questions, hints, show and tell items, etc. that allow the other class to guess their location. Skype Education recommends that #MysterySkype beginner classes start off playing 20 questions, preparing that set of questions and a few hints to give to the other class. This is ideal for our EFL students because it allows us to pre-teach the target language; questioning, locations, directions, place specific vocabulary and more. You can scaffold the whole process and interaction for your timid Korean students by helping them fully prepare before so they know what language to expect once you are in the Skype call.

There are many more ways that innovative teachers are using this all over the world to support a wide range of content learning. Students are brainstorming conflict resolution strategies via recorded Skype messages across the world and teachers are designing standards-based social studies lessons to compare and contrast their own customs and traditions with that of a foreign culture. The tool can be used as simply as a 21st century version of penpals or as complex as a collaborative research and writing project.

 

My Plan

I am currently planning my first #MysterySkype lesson with a 6th grade teacher in Hobart, Tasmania. For my first lesson I want to give my students the best shot at success, so we have agreed to limit the lesson to the Australian class guessing our location through questioning. This will allow my students to answer questions concerning basic facts about Korea, which they will know. And those questions and answers can be more easily supported by a bilingual Korean co-teacher. I suspect that the creation and translation of questions from Korean to English in order for my students to figure out where in Australia those students are would be very time consuming and possibly discouraging for both parties. At least this first time, I want to be able to scaffold this process so that both parties walk away feeling successful and encouraged.

The other way you can use Skype in your classroom is via a recorded message exchange with another class, similar to the old school pen pal programs. This allows for classes to have an exchange or do #MysterySkype in spite of impossible time zone differences. So, for those of you who know a teacher back home in Canada or the U.S., there is a way to connect with them even though they are in school there while we are asleep here.

I am working with two teachers right now to set up this kind of recorded message exchange, one classroom is located in Florida, U.S.A. and is interested in doing a basic show and tell cultural exchange, while the other classroom is in northern China and wants to do a #MysterySkype lesson over the long-term. In both cases we are planning on recording one short message per week.


Our first message from Ms. Hart’s class in China.

Final Tips

As you can imagine, considering the timidity of many of our Korean students to produce authentic language on demand, planning, preparing and practicing a recorded lesson might lead to a more fruitful exchange than a live Skype lesson. However, there are ways to prepare students for the live chat as well, introducing key vocabulary, sentence stems and making it completely clear in Korean the purpose and goal of the Skype exchange.

The planning and preparation will generally require significant buy-in from your Korean co-teacher, which I know may be a tall order for many of you. You may have to put significant effort into identifying your curriculum’s target language that will be used authentically in the Skype lesson. You may also need to start with a baby step like recording a simple message for another class one time, and then checking in with the co-teacher about the possibility of an ongoing exchange. It is probably obvious to you that the value of the lesson and the time it will take to schedule and plan it may not be immediately understood and committed to by your co-teacher.

Lastly, it is important to strategically choose a class you feel has the makeup to do well and get something out of this kind of global live lesson. You know your students best and you know the ones who are outgoing and who try and chat in English with you all the time. The first few times you experiment with this kind of lesson, you should lean on those students and those classes, if you have them.

I will check back in with more info and tips once I get a few Skype lessons under my belt.

Links:

https://education.skype.com/

https://education.skype.com/collections/skype-guides?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=newsletter_2015_jan_literacy

https://www.edsurge.com/n/2014-12-11-how-you-can-actually-teach-beyond-your-classroom-s-walls

http://genproedu.com/paper/2013-01/full_003-009.pdf

Twitter:

@mysteryskype

@SkypeClassroom

#skype2learn

Student Survey Infographic

Nearly six months ago I conducted one of my first student interest surveys as a teacher. It was a modest attempt to learn about the learning habits and preferences of some of my 5th and 6th grade English students. To fulfill the requirements of the Teach-Now assignment I had to create and execute the survey using the Survey Monkey site. Since then I have learned to create Google Forms, added the Google Forms template gallery to my GAFE repertoire and played around with the results of such forms in Google Sheets.

Lo and behold, what arrives in my inbox just today? An update from the incredible infographics web creator, Piktocharts, announcing that you can now import Survey Monkey results and instantly make eye-catching charts! And what do I find when I start playing around with the beta version of Survey Monkey imports in Piktocharts, that I am able to link Google Sheets (and thus, the results of a Google Form) into a beautiful Piktochart infographic as well! You can watch a quick tutorial of how to import your Survey Monkey results into Piktochart here.

Needless to say, it was a good and productive day. Below you will find the results of my student interest survey in the form of an easily created Piktochart infographic. So easy and so cool and just the first of many to come!

Heads up: click on the infographic for best viewing on the web.

TN Student Interest Survey

An Ed Tech Interview with ME!

I was recently asked by a friend of mine, who is going through a teacher preparation program, to respond to a series of questions about technology in my classroom. As a current English teacher in a South Korean elementary school it may surprise the rest of the world how little technology i see used everyday at my school. One-to-one, not a one. BYOD, nope. APCATBOTD, All Phones Collected At The Beginning Of The Day.

In fact, I did my own informal survey of several students in the 5th and 6th grade and not a single said they regularly used their smart phones as a learning tool. They all had smart phones, they all had data plans and access to the internet twenty-four-seven, yet it never occurred to them that the thing was anything more than an entertainment and communication tool. It was astonishing for a much ballyhooed techie country like South Korea.

I think my answers about the limited use of technology in the different classrooms I have worked in over the years will surprise no one. The common barriers are cliche at this point; lack of PD, device access, and access to integrated lessons that are at least enhanced, if not transformed, by technology. I’m working on it, I’m motivated to experiment, I’d love some good PD and, in the mean time, I’m improvising to leverage technology any chance I get. PLN, PLN, PLN!

Here is the transcript of my Ed Tech Interview:

At what school and grade level do you teach?  How many years of teaching experience do you have?

I teach 3rd through 6th grade English as a Foreign Language at Ansim Elementary in Yeosu, South Korea. I have about eight years teaching experience, in my own English classroom, as a bilingual instructional assistant at a Seattle public elementary school, teaching adults, children, in American and many countries abroad.


Have you had any opportunities for professional development to help integrate technology into the classroom?  If so, please describe.  If not, do you want to learn more about integrating technology?

While I was an instructional assistant with Seattle public schools, we were given our own iPads to support English language development in ELL students, along with math support. However, we were given no professional development support and we had to find our own apps to support learning and design our own ways to integrate the technology. It was an interesting experience in how much work it is to truly leverage technologies for learning and how easily they can become expensive paper weights without the proper training and time for prep.

While I was going through the Teach-Now program, there was more PD on how to integrate technology, of course. In my current school district in Korea, there does not seem to be any push to leverage technology in the classroom to support or enhance learning and therefore I have received zero tech PD here. I have tried to use the knowledge and practices I gained from the Teach-Now program to integrate the limited tech that I have in my classroom and even let the students use learning apps on my own smart phone sometimes.


Describe your classroom simply, highlighting the technology available to you.

I have a large flat screen monitor connected via HDMI cable to a computer. That’s about it. Students have their smart phones taken away from them at the beginning of the day. I teach a couple extra classes after school and try to utilize my students’ smart phones then, BYOD style.


What’s your motivation for using technology in the classroom?  

I particularly like the SAMR model for tech integration in the classroom. I think technology can have a motivating power over some students, it can facilitate collaboration and authentic learning via publishing or researching on the web with other students and experts in a field. It can also allow students to exercise their curiosity whenever and wherever they want if they know the tech tools and resources available to them on the web. Tech can also encourage and enhance parent-teacher communication and collaboration.


Which form of technology do you use the most?  Why?

I use Quizbean.com to create English vocabulary and target language mastery tests. I am planning a digital storytelling unit for 3rd and 4th grade to create stories collaboratively using StoryBird.com. I have used smart phones to look up and translate new words for students. I use ClassDojo for a visual class management system. I use them because they are free and effective in engaging my students.


What are some of the challenges of using technology in the classroom?

The limited hardware or devices I have available to me, the culture of tech integration for learning in my school and the students’ limited ideas about what a smart phone is for, ie games and texting friends. But most of all it’s the lack of identification and training on curriculum aligned technologies to support English literacy. This makes it so that I have to do all my own research on what technologies I want to use, how they work and how they would fit into a lesson and achieve what language objective.


Please provide a brief example of a lesson that went well and that integrated technology.  Why was it successful?

I have created learning centers in my extra classes, where students are working at different stations independently or in pairs, practicing a language acquisition target. The most popular center is the computer station where students independently take a quizbean.com quiz on new and old material that they need to master. Students love the visual elements of it, and the continually updated score that indicates their level of proficiency or mastery. They all want to get 100% and conquer the test.


Please provide an example of a lesson that integrated technology but it didn’t go well.  Why was it unsuccessful, or how could you improve it?

I can’t say that I have enough experience in experimenting with new technologies at this point to give an example of a lesson that fell flat. I hope to have that opportunity to fail with tech integration and learn from it and improve one day soon!


Do you have a tech coordinator at your school?  If so, what’s his/her role, and have you utilized those services?

No, we do not have a tech coordinator at my school. We have IT professionals, but no one who is in charge of integrating tech into the learning.

Student Focused: Effective teaching through learning centers

The following post was first published in the January edition of BiBimBap, the bimonthly Jeollanamdo, South Korea teachers and foreign residents newsletter.

The Logic of Learning Centers

Learning centers are a constructivist teaching method designed for Pre-K through 3rd grade classrooms, where students engage in self-guided work, either independently or cooperatively, that attends to multiple learning styles and ability levels. The students are split into manageable groups which then rotate through different areas and different activities. The teacher acts as a facilitator, creating different stations or “centers” where groups engage in different activities that will educate and stimulate them. This is a student-centered method wherein teachers provide structure via planning, modeling the activities, and guidance during the center’s rotation. When I think of the Centers Model, what comes to mind is my Montessori pre-school days of rotating between an art activity, making block patterns, and counting hundreds of tiny toy soldiers; but it can be an effective teaching model for many of us, as well.

The Logistics of Learning Centers

Many NET’s in Jeollanamdo teach small groups of students in extra classes after school or work in rural schools where the class sizes are small. Learning centers are ideal for groups of fifteen students or fewer, especially if there is a wide range in ability levels and managing students is a challenge. However, learning centers are also used in large pre-K through 3rd grade classrooms of twenty or more throughout the world.

There is a significant amount of work up front in the form of planning, creating materials, and modeling the activities for each center. You must also practice the rotations, reinforcing the behavior expectations for individuals or pairs at each center and ensuring that centers are accessible to all students while also providing a challenge for those able to do more.

Once you have the learning centers running, you are free to confer with students as they engage in the different activities. You can also take advantage of flexible grouping so that a lower ability level student has a strong peer model to work with at each center.  However, the real benefit of establishing centers is that you, the teacher, become a learning center where you can provide targeted, differentiated, one-on-one (or small group) instruction to help a struggling student or encourage challenging one that is excelling.

The Lowdown on Learning Centers

I have implemented five learning centers with my extra class of ten 3rd grade students. We meet twice a week for 40 minutes, so it took me about one month (or eight classes) to plan, model, practice, and gradually release the students to work in pairs at the five centers. I do not have a co-teacher in my extra class, so clearly and repeatedly modelling both the task and the behavior expectations was essential. I used ClassDojo prodigiously up-front to reinforce both good and bad behaviors that I saw and then wanted to either encourage or snuff out at the centers.

11 Examples of Tiered 3rd Grade English Learning Centers Activities (easy to challenging):

  1. Shapes, Colors and Numbers practice, draw 10 green squares, 9 purple triangles, etc.
  2. Letter/Sound Recognition practice
  3. Spelling practice with a list of three letter words, a whiteboard, a reader and a writer
  4. Vocabulary matching or memory game with word and picture cards
  5. Number Scrolls, students write the word and the number together using a number grid visual aid, the rolled numbers papers become a scroll
  6. Rhyming word practice with ending sound examples, write as many words that rhyme with ‘am’ on the whiteboard or paper as you can think of
  7. Body Parts Labeling using pictures of people and animals
  8. Phonics Sliders, create sliders with all the vowel sounds so students can see and hear the difference between ‘bat, bet, bit, bot and but’ (nat, net, nit, not, nut)
  9. Word Fragments or Sentence Fragments, students have to put the fragments together and categorize them based on key words
  10. Quizbean.com, create a visual vocabulary mastery test on the free online site and create a station at a classroom computer
  11. Buddy reading, provide a level appropriate text for students to take turns reading to each other

Currently, my five centers activities are tiered, meaning they vary in difficulty level for the students, and are fully based off the content we have previously covered in the extra class. During the roll-out, I wanted the content of the centers’ activities to be easily accessible for the students even if the task was new. In this way, I hoped to scaffold their entry into the self-guided pair work and set them up for success.

The centers have been running for almost three weeks now. The students are really responding to them and have their favorite center. They are taking responsibility for their own learning, their own behavior, the clean-up of their center before rotating to the next and they are working well with their partners. The next step is adapting and evolving the centers to respond to the learning growth and interests of the students.

If you would like to see my centers in action, feel free to watch a video of my extra class here:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B8Ahbqb_1JzeVHRxSHAxLWhIR2s/view?usp=sharing

If you would like to see an expert teacher implementing and managing learning centers in their classroom, watch this Teaching Channel video here:

https://www.teachingchannel.org/videos/classroom-management-guided-reading

Resources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Learning_centers_in_American_elementary_schools

http://www.talesfromoutsidetheclassroom.com/2014/10/using-powerpoint-to-manage-centers.html

http://www.naeyc.org/files/yc/file/200707/OfPrimaryInterest.pdf

http://www.abcteach.com/free/l/learningcenters_rev.pdf

https://www.google.co.kr/?gfe_rd=cr&ei=zMpyVJbhDcGJ8QeG24GgDQ&gws_rd=ssl#newwindow=1&q=classroom+learning+centers+elementary

 

The Context of Teaching – Student Demographics

Student Data Analysis - KWS (1)

In Module Two of the Teach-Now certification program we are asked to collect, analyze and create an infographic representing essential student data in our own school, district or national teaching context. While I am currently teaching in South Korea, I do plan to return to the classroom in the United States, and more than likely in my home city of Seattle.

The infographic will show the English Language Learner numbers as a percentage for Seattle Public Schools as over against those of the nation and Washington State. You will see the same national versus district and state comparison with the numbers on Special Education and percentage of white students. In the last two Piktochart blocks there are graphic bar graphs comparing the 4th grade ELL reading growth and the 4th grade urban student math growth for Seattle Public Schools and the nation as a whole.

Here is where I found the district, state and national data:

1. Seattle Public Schools district reports and scorecards

2. Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction Report Card

3. National Center for Education Statistics