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Gaming Math Classes

DimenxianIn an interesting article on The Journal site, Linda L. Briggs writes about the use of game software in math classes in Georgia. It seems that they are using a game called Dimenxian from Tabula Digita. The game itself seems to have received some good reviews, and the image at the right is from (and links to) a brief review of the product.

Personally, I really like the idea of such products, as they allow students the pleasure of learning from self-discovery. The students in this program seemed to be highly focused on the task, and the teacher even went as far as to refer to the classroom as “the most manageable class ever.” She also noticed a greater amount of cooperation in the classroom:

“Another way the software has surprised Hall: the amount of teamwork it inspires… ‘The teamwork seems to evolve by itself’, Hall said. ‘It might be students that you’ve never think of working together.’ Other skills the software teaches, she said, include thinking quickly, working together, and making decisions with consequences.” Source: Serious Gaming: ‘Learn Math or Die Trying’ : September 2007 : THE Journal

This reminds me of the balance of knowledge/power in the classroom, and how it can effect social dynamics. I wrote about this a bit in a paper for my MA course, and I find the topic very interesting. The teamwork in these situations can occur as “student experts” emerge in the group and start sharing information. This can lead to higher self confidence and mutual respect in the classroom, which may be why Hall noticed odd pairings in her classroom. Suddenly students who existed on the fringe of the social classroom gain attention and respect as their peers see them in a new light. Educational gaming at the great equalizer?

I wish that my kids were a bit older so I could put this program in front of them. Somehow, I think that pre-algebra is a bit too much for six and four year olds…

Are there any similar games for language learning?

Via: Educational Technology

Second Life in Distance Learning

The Wired Campus has a short post about a story on KQED in California about the use of Second Life in distance learning. The interview is with a faculty member at the San Jose State University School of Library and Information Science about how they are suing Second Life for distance courses. The video itself is well worth the jump…

I tried out Second Life (SL) a while back to see what the buzz was about, but the lack of voice chat at the time turned me off. As a language teacher, the lack of synchronous voice was a deal breaker for me. That, and the fear of trying to get through the Second Life learning curve in a second language within a 20 hour course… The video does show live audio being used in SL, which does peak my interest a bit, but I am still left wondering if it is all worth it. With great synchronous tools such as Skype (for free:”Skype(Voice chat is free from PC to PC. PC to landline is available through pre-paid accounts. No, I don’t have an interest in the company, I just find their service invaluable…)”:http://www.skype.com voice chat) or Instant Messaging tools for text chat, is the full virtual environment of SL really necessary?

For myself, I am happy to work withing the limitations of asynchronous discussion augmented with the occasional voice chats to keep things real in my MA studies. The call of the virtual environment is appealing, but until it becomes more commonplace it may just be an added distraction…

Via: The Distant Librarian by way of Educational Technology and Life

A Hot Cup Of Language Learning

LiveMochaThe folks at LiveMocha, who have set their sites on creating “the world’s largest community of language learners”:”MochaTalk(Livemocha is live today! Come join us in our language cafe)”:http://blog.livemocha.com/2007/09/24/livemocha-is-live-today-come-join-us-in-our-language-cafe/ went live with their social network for language learning. I must say that this site is an interesting concept, and it will be interesting to see how it plays out. I was a bit surprised at first when I noticed that none of the main people behind this seem to have any background in language education:”LiveMochaTeam()”:http://www.livemocha.com/pages/team , but they seem to want to stress the social aspect of language learning, so maybe they are not as concerned with SLA theory as much. They actually side-step this point rather nicely in their latest blog post when they say “People want to communicate with and integrate into cultures; they don’t want to be linguists.”:”MochaTalk(Livemocha is live today! Come join us in our language cafe)”:http://blog.livemocha.com/2007/09/24/livemocha-is-live-today-come-join-us-in-our-language-cafe/ This is a good point, and specifically for the type of users that they are looking for. As more web savvy learners seek to create their own PLE for self-directed learning, I am sure that LiveMocha will be getting some of their attention.

LiveMocha LanguagesAs to the site itself, it provides users with three main sections for Learning, Practicing, and Sharing. The Learning sections is focused around courses with online lessons, the Practice section involves scripted speaking activities, both individual and with a partner, and directed writings. These activities can be reviewed by native speaker members in the Share section. Currently, they only have lessons available in six languages, but perhaps they have more on the way. Users can still use the social aspect in many languages even if they are not yet supported by Courses on the site. The landing page for members lists other members who are native speakers of languages you are studying, and members who are studying the same languages as you. These are listed under the heading of “Make Friends Now!” This may lead to making international connections with fellow students or native speakers of languages in your profile. The opportunity for authentic communication is great, and I know that my English students here in Japan have few such chances. Maybe this new tool will put a dent in some of the “practice English with me” calls I used to get so often on Skype…
Bottom line, I like it. It may need some work, but the site is at least a great concept. I am not ready to send my students in headfirst, but I will keeping my eye on this one…

Via Lifehacker

The Sound of All Hands Clapping

Standing in front of a crowd of strangers, or peers for that matter, can be a disconcerting experience for anyone. As an educator, I do this on a daily basis, but there is a clear difference between lecturing in a classroom and giving an academic presentation at a conference. In the context of a conference you are presenting to your peers, people who may, or may not, judge you based on your performance. You may be the “expert of the hour” during your time on stage, but that does not mean that you are the most informed person in the room. On the other hand, in the classroom the teacher’s expert status is less questionable, and is in a completely different situation. The classroom teacher does not necessarily fear the negative judgment of his/her students in that same way that he/she does that of his/her peers.

Is this a bad thing? Maybe, maybe not. As classroom teachers, we certainly need to take into consideration the way that our students perceive us, particularly as many of us step out of the “teacher-as-expert” model and embrace more open approaches which empower students to take more control in the classroom. In this situation, the teacher can no longer safely hide behind his/her expertise, and must rely more on social relationships to foster a positive learning environment.

But what about when speaking for peers? Is this fear of negative evaluation by peers a bad thing? I think that it is a matter of how you look at it, and it is also a function of your own personal learning style. Do you enjoy collaboration? Are you open to constructive criticism? How do you react to criticism? When you don’t know the answer to a question someone asks you, do you panic or see it as an opportunity to learn? I think that all of these questions, and certainly many others, can have a profound effect on your confidence when speaking publicly.

I have been putting a lot of thought into the Art of the Presentation lately, as I have been in a number of discussions with peers on the subject. In the last few weeks I have worked with a number of people on polishing their presentations for conferences, polished a few old presentations of my own, and done a bit of research for the English Presentation course that I will be teaching next semester.

I would not say that I have formulated a bulletproof formula for the perfect presentation, as I know that I still have a far way to go, but there are a few things that I do keep in mind when giving presentations to my peers:

  • Be early / Be prepared: Get set up early and make sure that you troubleshoot any technical issue before the audience arrives. If possible, visit the location earlier in the day to do a dry run.
  • Meet and Greet: If you are presenting in a more intimate setting, introduce yourself to the first few people to arrive, get them on your side.
  • Relax: Don’t be afraid to move around and/or laugh a bit. Your audience is like a mirror, if you feel stressed and uncomfortable, so will they.
  • Involvement: Get your audience involved. Make them active participants, not mere receptacles of information. You will enjoy yourself more, and so will they.
  • PowerPoint: Keep your PowerPoint slides short and simple. KISS is the rule, don’t forget it. Your PowerPoint slideshow is not your presentation, it is support for your presentation. No complete sentences, no complicated graphs. Don’t give your audience the choice between listening to you or reading your slide. If you do they will read and wonder why you are even there…
  • Timing: You have a time limit, keep to it. Leave ample time for questions and discussion at the end, you just may learn something.
  • Follow-up: Take the time to speak with member of the audience one-on-one, or in small groups, after the presentation. Exchange business cards and make some connections. You just may discover your next research project and/or partner this way.

Some links for good presentation tips

And finally, How NOT to use PowerPoint
This video should be a required step in the registration process for PowerPoint!

Putting a Face on Social Bookmarking

Shared Stuff ProfileIt seems that Google is jumping into the social bookmarking market:”Google Wants You To Share Stuff(TechCrunch)”:http://www.techcrunch.com/2007/09/20/google-wants-you-to-share-stuff/ with their new service Google Shared Stuff. Although there are already many good social bookmarking sites out there, Google has finally put a face to it. They have included a profile section on your shared page, complete with photo, occupation, location, links, and even space for a self intro. Facebook meets Del.icio.us?

Although Google has become a huge part of my own PLE:”My PLE(:I use Google Reader, Gmail, Google Documents, and iGoogle on a daily basis.)”:, I must say I am on the fence with this one…

What they have done well:

  • The addition of the profile. Simply adding a photo and a little personal information makes social bookmarking just a bit more social. I am a very visual person, so being able to connect the face to the content is important to me.
  • Integration. Google is a core part of my PLE, so keeping things in the family appeals to me.
  • Sharing options. The Shared Stuff pop-up gives you the additional choices of sending the bookmark as an email or even posting it to other social bookmarking sites.
  • Subscriptions and RSS. Maybe this is a given, but I need to give them credit for it. You can either subscribe by RSS (Google Reader, perhaps?), or add a widget to your iGoogle page.
  • Article Preview. There is an option to inclue an image of the page with your bookmark. You can even cycle through images to choose the best one.

What needs work:

  • No option for importing bookmarks. This will probably come with time, as Google has a track record of rolling things out a step at a time. (Do they do this to avoid software bugs, or to allow users to gain confidence with the interface before “complicating” it?)
  • No Tag Cloud, or Tag list. Again, this may come with time.
  • Article Preview. You can add an image of the page, but it is saved as a very small image and does not link to a full size image. (Are the Google servers running out of space?)

These are just first impressions, and the service is still young, but until they enable bookmark importing I think I will hold off for now.

Blogging Hare vs Blogging Tortoise

Hare_vs_TortoiseWhich kind of blogger are you, a Tortoise are a Hare? We grow up learning the story of these two rivals, and taking away the lesson that slow and methodical overcomes fast and impulsive, but does that lesson apply to blogging as well? Or, more specifically, to all forms of blogging, or just some?

I find myself thinking upon this after coming across two blog posts today: one arguing for quick blogging, the other for slow blogging. They both seem to raise valid points, but they also seem to be looking from different perspectives. Amy, the author of the post How to Blog Without the Time Sink, makes some excellent points about blogging for professional development. She recommends using your blog as your “backup brain”, and making it part of your “ongoing process”. I highly recommend reading her post, as it is an excellent framework for how to use a blog for professional development and social networking.

On the other hand, there is the Slow Blog Manifesto, written by Todd. Todd seems to be looking at blogging more as purposeful writing and art, and currently “publishes words and images with deliberate infrequency”. He makes a rather nice argument for thoughtful blogging, but ironically seems to have a “quick blog” of his own as well. I guess that he also agrees that not all blogs should be slow blogs, but I for one am glad that there are slow blogs out there. I keep a few in my reading list to dip into when I escape from the work/study cycle. After all, “all work and no play…”

So what about this blog, is it a slow blog or a quick blog or a slow blog? Currently it seems to be more of a slow blog, based purely on pace, not the quality of the prose ;^), but that will change with time. This blog, and site, were created as a reaction to my studies in Educational Technology & TESOL. I found that in addition to reading information, I needed to also create and discuss to better internalize concepts and develop deeper understanding. To meet these goals, I think that will focus more on following the three suggestions of Amy in her post:

  • Blog your initial brainstorming
  • Blog your research and discovery
  • Blog your interactions

I wont say that I will go as far as to stop using my draft folder on the blog, but I do think that I will focus more on sharing ideas, and less on polishing them. The learning is in the discussion, not the editing. It is better to put up raw ideas and discuss them than to leave them both unpublished and ignored…

So, although I know that the tortoise always wins the race, I think that the hare may have more interesting discussions and make more connections. Also, learning is a path, not a goal, so let the tortoises focus on the finish line. Personally, I don’t think there is one.
:”Image source(Cropped slightly, as permitted by the CC license)”:http://www.flickr.com/photos/99136715@N00/63271035

Yahoo Teachers

It seems that there will be a rather big player jumping in to the educational social networking market. Yahoo! is currently in Beta with Yahoo! Teachers, a site aimed at bringing large-scale peer networking/sharing to educators worldwide. At first glance it looks rather interesting, but it seems that we will have to wait until later this year for the public release:”Source(Via the Educational Technology News Blog)”:http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/08/27/BU81RNIF0.DTL …

YahooteachersThe brief Sneak Peak video on the site shows what looks like a fairly easy to use tool for collaboration. Teachers can upload content to share, view content shared by others, and compile information together using the oddly-named “Gobbler”. Although there was no specific information offered, the site also seems to have information about state educational requirements built-in to the system. That alone seems like a lot of work to get things going…

Overall, this looks like an interesting social content repository that may have promise. It currently seems to be limited to K-12, but there do seem to be Beta users across the globe, so Yahoo! Teachers just may be coming to a village near you soon…

Social Networking for Educators

Stephen W. Henneberry's Facebook profileThe fact that social networking sites are popular with students is obvious, but what I did not realize was how popular they have become with educators. One of my recent goals has been to work more on entering in discussion for professional development, and this blog is actually one of the first steps. I first learned of the motivating force of online discussion firsthand through my past experience with a personal blog. The discussions that began there led to interesting insights, wonderful tangents, and even a few good friends. The old personal blog has now faded away, but I want to now apply the same principals to professional development. Enter Ning, Facebook:”Facebook(My Facebook profile)”:http://www.facebook.com/p/Stephen_W_Henneberry/678357752, LinkedIn:”LinkedIn(My LinkedIn profile)”:…

I have been a member of LinkedIn for a while now, even though I was pretty sure that there was not much focus on education there, but I have found the experience interesting. Even though many of the discussions there are not related to education, I found that I was enjoying the process of the interaction. After all, even though as an educator I may be tied to one discipline, as a teacher I am not. I have long felt that being a teacher is not a job, but a lifestyle, and LinkedIn has helped to remind me of that again. I like to help. I like to teach. This is why I am a teacher, and this is why I find the discussion so interesting. Armed with this experience with a general social networking site, I decided to create my own focused social network using Ning.com.
Ning is a site where you can create your own social networks, and would probably be a pretty good tool for managing classes as well. I quickly created a network for myself and my fellow MA students, and the discussion began. Now we have our own “walled garden” style network for discussion and sharing. The reason I felt that we needed this is that we are all distance students, we simply cannot meet down at the local pub or student union to tip a beer and talk shop: Ning is now our pub. And our pub is not the only one on the block. I have already come across other groups of educators in both Ning and Facebook and joined in with them. So social networking for educators? Yes, most definitely. Although I would not say that I have made any “real” connections as of yet, the discussion and learning is happening…