Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Games and activities I'm using right now

 We play a lot of games in my classes to work on building form-meaning associations, both for vocabulary and for grammar. One of the things I've been having trouble with is coming up with fresh ways to work on these things because if I do the same games over and over students get bored and stop participating, so I'm thrilled to have learned about new game types in the last year or so. Here's what I'm using right now:

  1. Bingo: I use this more at the beginning of the unit when I want students to hear a lot of repetitions of how the words are pronounced. I use the site bingobaker.com and post the game links in Canvas, and then students use digital bingo cards. This is a huge improvement over my old paper bingo cards since I no longer have to pass cards and bingo dots.
  2. Quizlet live: There's team mode and solo mode. This is pretty quick so it's a good activity when we don't have a lot of time, and in team mode, it's good when I want students to get up and move around a little. 
  3. Gimkit: My students love Gimkit. There are a ton of different games, so it's easy to change it up so it doesn't get boring, and the games are so compelling (I'm looking at you, Fishtopia) that I frequently hop on and play because it's fun. There's also an option to assign a set (called a kit) as homework. 
  4. Blooket: My students also love Blooket. Like Gimkit, there are a lot of different game modes so it's easy to change it up so students don't get bored, and you can also assign some game modes as homework. 
  5. I started using NearPod to do listen and draw activities. I also have a class set of whiteboards, but I seem to get better engagement when students are drawing on their Chromebooks and they can see their work and their classmates' work on the screen. For our clothing unit, I might describe an outfit and have them draw it, and for our health and hygiene unit, I describe monsters and have them draw the monsters to work on body part vocabulary. 

I used to use pictionary and Go Fish a lot more, but found that it was harder to keep students on task so the time wasn't always well spent. I still do them occasionally to shake things up, but not regularly anymore.

One more activity that I use to work on numbers is a simple number guessing game. I put useful phrases on the board (mucho mรกs, mucho menos, un poco mรกs, un poco menos) and then write down a number within a given range on a small whiteboard. I have students try to guess the number until they get it, and then put them to work in their own groups doing the same thing. I have them write down their number on a little white board to make sure that they're not messing with their classmates, and then they work in groups of 2-4 to guess each other's numbers. It's simple, but students seem to enjoy it and it's an activity that they can do entirely in Spanish. 

Sunday, October 9, 2022

*tap, tap* Is this thing on?

 Hello from the world's worst blogger!  It's been a long couple of years that have completely drained me, but things are slowly getting back to being more manageable. Since my last blog post in 2021, we finally moved from our house that was a 25-minute drive to my school and my son's school to the town that our schools are in, so instead of driving 50 minutes every day, my commute is a 5-minute walk each way. It's been pretty great!

Mostly I felt inspiration to write a blog post because it's Sunday and instead of spending the entire day working and stressing about the school week starting tomorrow, I've donated platelets, read several magazines for fun, had lunch with my family, gone for a walk, and listened to a podcast. This is a new development in my life since switching to teaching K-12, and I thought it was worth writing about. People generally say that by about year 4-5, you kind of have everything set up how you want it and it's not so much work. I teach four different classes and have been making my own curriculum as I go, so it's been a ton of work and I'm not close to done yet. But it still felt like it should be easier than it has been (this is my sixth year teaching K-12), and this year everything finally clicked. It wasn't because I magically figured everything out; it was because this is the third year we've been using our LMS. Because LMS's didn't exist when I started teaching and because I haven't switched very many times, I never remember how much work they are to set up. When I was a grad student, the university set up the courses for us so we didn't need to (and in fact couldn't) set them up on our own. The last few universities I've taught at all used Blackboard, so I was able to export the materials I developed and import them into the new school's Blackboard so I wasn't starting from scratch. But when I started teaching K-12, my school was using Google Classroom, so in addition to teaching a new student population, I had to set my courses up in a new LMS. Three years ago we switched to Canvas. It was the right decision because Canvas has a lot more features that make remote teaching much more feasible, but suddenly setting up a new LMS while dealing with both in-person and remote teaching was next-level exhausting. I didn't really have time to consider what would make the most sense in terms of course organization, so it was a hot mess, but it was the best I could with the time that I had. 

Last summer I had some time (not a lot because I was packing and moving, but some time) to think about how I wanted my courses to look, and during the last school year, I spent ridiculous amounts of time setting up all of my courses, recording videos, etc., and getting my courses set up how I wanted them. It will always be a work in progress, but I've worked on processes to make things easier. For example, I give students assignments from a reading platform (https://garbanzo.io/ is amazing!), but there doesn't appear to be a way to save and re-assign the readings each year. Two years ago I took a bunch of screen shots of my assignments from the previous year to get my new classes set up, but that was pretty tedious, so last year a light went on and it finally occurred to me to make a Google Sheet with all of my assignments for the year as I made them so that when I'm setting up the course each year, I can have my Google Sheet open in one window and the reading platform in another window, and then it is extremely easy to set up the reading assignments. I'm working on a lot more Google Sheets as directories for all of my materials because I realized that I was making lots of new materials and not re-using some of the materials that I'd already created because I would just forget about them. So my task for the next year or two is to catalogue everything I've created so that I'm not re-inventing the wheel all the time. (Yes, this is very obvious, and pre-covid I was doing a pretty good job of making notes for myself, but my organization took a major hit during covid.) 

Still, the thing that's made the biggest difference this year is Canvas's course copy feature. I literally just copied my classes from last year and put in the new dates, and I have all of my assignments, links, activities, lesson plans, and EVERYTHING SET UP FOR THE ENTIRE SCHOOL YEAR!!!!!๐ŸŽ‰๐ŸŽŠ๐ŸŽˆ๐ŸŽ‰๐ŸŽŠ๐ŸŽˆ I was able to copy content in Google Classroom my first three years, but because it was limited in terms of features, it still took a decent amount of work to put my classes together every year. But this year, I have finally hit my goal of getting things ready for Monday on Friday afternoon, leaving for the weekend, and doing very little or no school work over the weekend, and it's almost entirely because I don't have to go digging through layers of files either online or in my computer to find my lesson plans and activities. They are all in Canvas, neatly organized by week, and they basically need the dates edited, plus some minor pacing tweaks because every class is different. 

So here I sit at 7:00 on a Sunday evening, drinking tea and listening to my son play, enjoying the view of my string lights on my new porch because I'm not sitting at school all day working like I have pretty much every year before this one. I'm finally to a place where I can really start fine-tuning things, so next year I'll start overhauling things by tightening up my unit objectives and incorporating more activities that will get us to those objectives (more interpersonal speaking activities and writing activities of all kinds and assessments that are more communicatively focused now that I have more time to do things that take longer to grade), in addition to speeding up my units and starting to use this free online textbook for my Spanish 4/4th semester college Spanish course: https://acceso.ku.edu/.  I'm not totally crazy so I'm going to phase everything in so that my curriculum overhaul will be complete in 3 years (editing a level every year). 

I'm thrilled to see how well my students are understanding Spanish. We still have plenty of room for improvement, but we've come a long way from what I was doing 5 years ago, and I'm proud of them (and me!). One of my students who graduated last year took two years of Spanish with me took the language placement test at one of the universities I used to teach at and placed into 4th-semester Spanish! (One year of high school Spanish = one semester of college Spanish, so she skipped a full year/semester when she tested into fourth semester, and I was over the moon when she told me!) I hear my students using Spanish in the halls and I can now have full conversations with my upper-level Spanish students. This has been my goal since I started, and it's been frustrating not to have been able to get here faster, but it is so satisfying to have gotten this far.  Life is good!

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Online shopping activity template

Once upon a time I needed a book that was written in English but published by a German press. It was before Google Chrome/automatic site translation, so there was no just translating the page. I didn't speak any German, but I was able to successfully order the book by copying and pasting a few essential phrases into a translator, and using my existing knowledge of how online shopping works. 

We're currently in our house unit in Spanish 2, and I thought one useful skill for students to have would be to navigate a Spanish shopping website. So I picked a website (IKEA Spain), made a shopping list, set a budget, created a spreadsheet that tracks their budget, and created a slide presentation for them to copy and paste photos of their items in. 

This activity could work with a lot of different topics...if I have time, I will make one for school supplies, clothing, toiletries, and anything else I can think of. In addition to the benefit of having students navigate a Spanish-language website, it also exposes dialectal differences. For example, my students were confounded when a search for "refrigerador" only turned up one item, but when I told them to try "nevera" (a more commonly-used word for "refrigerator" in Spain), they had a lot more options. Most students really enjoy it, and if you make your shopping list long enough (like furnishing an entire house), it's an activity that can take most or all of a class period. 

If you have Google Classroom or Canvas with Google Assignments integration, it's incredibly easy. Just copy my slides presentation and spreadsheet into your Google Drive, and then make an assignment that makes a copy for each student. If you don't have those, you can copy them to your drive and make them visible to but not editable by students. Post the link and have students make their own copy of each document, and then submit the link to the finished products.

Here is my Google Slides template.

Here is my Google Sheets budget

Monday, May 18, 2020

Overcoming depression

My sister is a licensed mental health practitioner, and she recently started a podcast on mental health.  After aggressive lobbying on my part, she interviewed me about my experience with depression. (It wasn't really aggressive lobbying; I had offered because I thought it might be useful, and despite the fact that we've known each other for almost 40 years, she thought I might be offering just to be nice. I reminded her that I never offer to do something just to be nice. ๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿ˜‚)

Anyway, here it is. I was about as low as you can go, and today I'm thriving. If you are dealing with depression, you can feel better. If you need to connect with someone, email me at aksaalfeld AT gmail.com. If you are suicidal, PLEASE call the Suicide Hotline 1-800-273-8255. Crisis textline-74174.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Resources for giving feedback on pronunciation online

During the COVID-19 closure, I'm still doing weekly questions to make sure students are getting a little practice speaking. I could use FlipGrid for this, but one thing I've learned in teaching with technology is that simpler is better than more complex, and every time we introduce a new tech tool into the classroom, it adds a layer of complexity. When I was on a tech committee, one of the tech people at my university reminded us that even if we're only asking students to learn 2-3 new tools, if every teacher is asking students to learn 2-3 new tools that are different, that adds a lot of extra work to their load. Since we're already using Google Classroom and Google Classroom allows students to upload video files, I've just been using that for the weekly question. The upside is that they're already used to submitting assignments via Google Classroom, so there's little to no learning curve. The downside is that Google Classroom doesn't currently have an efficient way to leave audio or video feedback. (You could make a video and post a link in a comment, but multiply that by 100 and you can kiss doing anything else goodbye.)

I can give feedback on comprehensibility, sentence structure, and vocabulary choice using the comment feature, but giving feedback on pronunciation without using audio or video files is harder (and this is where FlipGrid may yet convince me to use it, since this feature is already integrated). But for now, when I notice a pronunciation issue, I put Google Translate and Word Reference to good use. Both websites include the option to play audio of whatever word you put in. So I send a link for the word or words that students are having trouble with, and then they can listen to the Google Translate or Word Reference pronunciation. I prefer Word Reference because it appears to be a real human voice rather than a robot voice, and it also has options for a few different dialects of Spanish. But either one will give students the main idea of how a word is pronounced.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Customizing Google Slides masters to save time

A little while ago I read this post by Amy Lenord and realized that I wasn't using Google Slides to their fullest potential.

When I was making slides for my son's homework assignments, I realized that I could save time by customizing a master slide to fit my needs so that I could just click the slide type I wanted with the text already on it instead of retyping or copying and pasting.

I made custom master slides for words, sentences, and nonsense words for my son's homework so that I could just click the "add" button and my slide had everything except the homework word.

I use Google Slides to make my vocabulary lists for my Spanish classes, and then students go on gallery walks with a notes page to get their vocabulary for our unit (in normal times; not right now when we're not in school). I put the images in sheet protectors so I can re-use them, and put little sticky labels indicating whether they're for Spanish 1, 2, 3, or 4 since I frequently do our vocab days on the same day for all classes. I thought that was pretty clever, but then I realized that I could eliminate that step and save time by customizing my slide master.

I added a custom master slide layout with Spanish 1/Spanish 2/Spanish 3/Spanish 4 on the side.

My master slide layout menu.
The nice thing is that once you've used the slide layout, when you click the add button to add a new slide, Google Slides keeps using the last one you used until you tell it to use a layout. So I don't have to copy and paste to get the layout I want; I just click the add slide button and it gives me the layout I want.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Moving online for COVID-19

The nice thing about my school is that we're already 1:1 with Chromebooks, and pretty much everyone has internet access at home (I know I am extremely spoiled). So I've already been doing the kinds of activities that will work well online and just need to make a few modifications.

To keep things simple, I created a weekly activity list for each class in a Google Doc that I shared with students, and will stick to the same or similar activity types. During our normal class, I have a weekly question that I ask students every day Monday-Thursday. However, when I've been gone for illness or professional development, I've had students submit their answers as videos, and what I've learned is that it takes me a LOT longer to give feedback on 100 videos than it does to quickly move around the room and give feedback during class time. So I decided that instead of having students make a video every day, we'll do them on Monday and Thursday. I'll give feedback on Monday so that they can make adjustments, and then have them try to answer without notes on Thursday, just like we do during class. 

I'm using Google Meet to do a few games online. For the sake of simplicity and organization, I set one time for both sections of Spanish 1, one time for both sections of Spanish 2, and one time for Spanish 3 and 4. I posted the link to Meet in Google Classroom, and then I share my screen to do Quizlet live on Mondays, and I'll call bingo games on Wednesdays (all of my bingo games are online here, and my Quizlet sets are available here). 

I'll keep doing my listening and reading comprehension activities using a Google form, but I'll make a YouTube video for the listening activities and add it to my Google form so that students can do it on their own. Edited to add: I've created a public Google Drive folder where I'm putting copies of all my materials here

My other concern was trying to get information out to parents, and having everything in one place so parents could easily access it. I had already created a course website using Google Sites when I started teaching at my school, but I hadn't really used it for anything except posting pictures of Spanish Club activities. But it's really easy to edit Google Sites, so I embedded my weekly activity list document into each course page, and then as I edit my Google Doc, the edits will show on my course website

Then I thought that maybe other people would like to have a ready-to-go website that they could use to push information out to parents, so I made a copy of the site and turned it into a publicly available template here: https://sites.google.com/a/ftcpioneers.org/sample/. If you'd like to use it, just click the "Use this template" link on the top of the page and follow the instructions to make your site. You'll need to change your permissions to share when your site is ready, but you could have the site up and running in a matter of minutes. I hope it's helpful to you!