Monday, July 14, 2014

Final Project

The fact that I experimented with 6 smaller projects for my final project (here is my final PPT), I think, shows much about my personality and professional experience. In the past 6 years, I've worked in 5 language institutes teaching English to non-native speakers (often time juggling 2 or 3 institutes at the same time). With this experience, I have had no choice but to be flexible in many different learning environments and learn countless ways to teach & organize my instruction in order to fit into the constraints of each institute. Most importantly, I've learned not to put all of my eggs in one basket. I believe this final lesson is the primary reason for why I decided to experiment with so many different & small tech tools that I could incorporate across many different learning platforms.

Reorganizing my GoogleDocs
My first task (note word choice: task... because there is little fun about this project) was to reorganize my GoogleDocs. Currently my files & resources are organized neatly according to institution. However, this limits me because I think of good ideas to use in one institute and cannot find it when I need to teach the same concept in another. Overall, due to my eclectic career choice, I am very organized... by institution. However, my goal (which is a work in progress) is to organize my files, documents and instruction not by institution, but by language domain and ultimately by concept.

You can see here that I am currently organizing my work by institute (ACE, JWU, IIRI and more not pictured) and then by concept - which is dizzying and confusing as time passes and I cannot remember exactly where & when in the program I taught different concepts.
My project for this summer will be to organize my GoogleDocs by concept and not by institute.
For example, before this project, the folder "Using Context Clues" was filed under ACE Level 3 Reading and JWU Intermediate Reading because I taught this concept in each institute. The same materials were filed in each folder, but the folders were separate. Sometimes I got a great idea when I was teaching context clues at ACE and when I wanted to use that same great idea at JWU, I couldn't remember where in my ACE instruction it was filed.

With this new system, my goal is to file "Using Context Clues" in the Reading folder to make my life easier and keep all my good instructional ideas together. I am dreading yet excited to get this project underway!

Google Forms
To begin each class I teach, I always give my students a "needs assessment" survey. I do this for a few reasons, first, to learn more about their likes & dislikes, second, to see their written fluency, and third, to use up class time on the first day so I can wrap my brain around the new students in front of me.

I have a big confession to make though... I usually never read these surveys. I keep them in my "to be graded" file pretty much the entire semester and never look at them because I don't think this is the most efficient way to learn about my students. For this reason, I am excited to try out using GoogleForms online as my "needs assessment" survey instead of a paper survey.

Another thing that I do on the first day of class is have my students send me a simple email. For this assignment, I follow-up adamantly because I believe in the importance of it. I assign this as their first homework task because the challenge of sending me an email in English is difficult for at least 50% of my class. It is low-tech, extremely important (because they can now communicate with me via email for the rest of our time together) and challenging. I respond to every email and bother the students who do not send me emails, because this is a skill I believe they will benefit from for their entire stay in the US.

From these two situations: my paper survey and my email homework assignment, it is clear that I value meaningful tech fluency in my students. I do not expect my students to be perfect when using technology, but I do expect them to try to use it and communicate any big problems. I believe that by using GoogleForms (pictured to the left and you can find the full survey here) in place of the paper survey, it could serve as a "Step 2/Day 2" introduction to technology to give meaning and purpose to their tech advancement. Also, I hope that by using GoogleForms, I will actually read my students' responses because, from my end, reading the GoogleForms response spreadsheet will be less time consuming than 30 paper surveys.

Digital Mindmaps by WiseMapping
I chose to experiment with digital mindmaps because I instruct mindmaps & brainstorming in much of my teaching. Regardless of the language domain (reading, writing, etc) brainstorming is almost always the first step of a project. I like to show my students lots of different ways to brainstorm because they've probably never done it before and students like to brainstorm once they find the best way for them. You see here an example of one of my students brainstorm mindmaps. Due to the traditional/lecture based educational systems that my students typically come from, I never expect creativity to this level, though frequently - I'm pleasantly surprised. Here is a great example of the benefits of brainstorming/mindmapping.

My students almost always prefer to brainstorm with mindmaps over any other method I show them. However, some students find mindmaps to be too chaotic so for this reason I wanted to check out WiseMapping, the digital mindmap maker. I would not say that this program enhances my teaching or content because usually I am completely impressed by the time and effort my students put into their handwritten mindmaps. However, using the program (which is fairly simple) is a "tool" that students can use if they feel their brainstorming is too messy (which does happen). I would probably use this tool as a graded assignment once and then allow them to use it by their own choosing for the rest of the semester.

Some cons to this program is that you must use keyboard shortcuts, so I'd have to make a "cheat-sheet" for my students to aid their ease in using the program. Also, I find that the visuals that my students usually draw by hand are far more interesting than the visuals included in this program. On the other hand, websites and videos, etc can be linked to this digital mindmap - so this is a helpful pro. Also, the ability to color code threads of ideas is useful to lessen the chaotic feel to a mindmap. This color coding is also helpful to a teacher when instructing how to mindmap (since students often think there is no organization involved). The final perk to this program is the ability to make a group mindmap by inviting contributors. This could be a fun way to have a class brainstorming session. Below is a sample of the mindmap I made for a writing assignment: My Favorite Holiday (Halloween).
Overall, I'd have to try out the program once with my students and see how successful or frustrating it is from my end and to ultimately weigh the pros & cons of using the program. Personally, I am glad to have this program in my toolbox regardless of it's use in my classroom.

I am particularly excited about the final 3 tools I tried out because they allow students to truly use a technology to enhance their understanding, as well as, produce final projects & display their learning in a meaningful way. 

Cartoons by Pixton
As I mentioned in my final presentation, I graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in Graphic Design from the art school. This means that for 4 years, while my roommates were studying for tests & exams, I was painting, sewing and using a floor-loom to hand-make my final projects (clearly I have an experimental & curious personality type). With that said, I love being creative for the sake of learning... cue my hand-drawn cartoons from 8 years ago.
These are always a crowd-pleaser in my grammar classes. My students love to make fun of my drawing ability and interpret my pictures in strange ways. For me, I am so happy to hear ideas I never expected, as well as, have my students bring my two-panel stories to life with their creative grammatically-risky writing. I am almost never disappointed by their excitement and effort to "tell the story" about what happened in each cartoon situation.

I decided to experiment with Pixton digital cartoons in order to update my drawings (since my students have started to call me "old"). Below you can see an updated version of my old cartoon "Man Gets Bitten By Alligator" (top, left) from above.
What I am excited about by using the Pixton program is having the students use my cartoons to then produce their own. I've never had students make their own drawings before and I think this is a fabulous way to help them mix grammar (boring) with creativity (exciting) - especially for higher-ed learners who are very particular about being treated like children. Pixton is not a childish program, so I think students will be excited to express their ideas through the program and not be insulted.

Finally, what I like most about using comic strips is that they are not a one-time-use tool. Especially for grammar classes, where language tenses are continually introduced and scaffolded - I think assigning a comic story for each "unit" and then being able to put together a "portfolio" of comics at the end of the semester is a very useful project to make individual grammar points more cohesive and meaningful. Also, being able to use one tool repeatedly throughout a semester but without it getting boring & repetitive is a big perk. I believe Pixton allows for this flexibility.

I hope I teach a grammar class soon (I have never said those words before) so that I can see what my students make!

Writing with StoryMaps
I decided to try out StoryMap as a tool to use in the writing classes that I teach. Typically, in a mid-level writing class, students write primarily from their own experiences & lives so as to avoid any chance of plagiarism and cheating from the internet. Some topics might include writing about:

  • 3 interesting cities you've visited for vacation
  • 3 reasons you admire a hero
  • 3 reasons your best friend is truly the best
  • 3 reasons why I love my favorite holiday
Usually the writing process stops at the final draft (or second full writing) and looks something like this:
This is a typical final draft of any piece of writing. However, after discovering StoryMap - I've realized that students could push their writing and understanding of paragraph/essay organization further and create a true masterpiece as their final product. Below is the exact same piece of writing "3 Cool Places I've Visited" but visually enhanced by StoryMap. 

Here you can view my entire 5-slide StoryMap project

I really enjoyed using the StoryMap program because it was controlled (very few bells & whistles to confuse the user) yet allowed the user to really make a beautiful presentation of their writing. I know my students would thoroughly enjoy transforming their paragraph into a StoryMap to then share with their friends & family back home, therefore, bragging about their English & technological knowledge. This program truly allows students to take their "production" one step further.

The goal of any tool that I intend to use in my teaching is to be able to use it more than once. Usually the first time my students use a new skill, program, etc. it is disastrous & frustrating. However, with continual use, the process is more enjoyable for everyone. The same could be said for using StoryMap in the classroom. Originally, I thought it could really only be used in the one way I tested, however, after seeing my peer Jayna's use of StoryMap - I began to think differently.  She assigned students to map geographical points around the world using the program. By seeing StoryMap used in this way, I can envision using it more extensively in class which would allow for more student familiarity, teacher enjoyment and student creativity.

I'm also excited to try this tool out in class.

Infographics with
Lastly, I tried out the program in order to see it's use in a high level reading class that I teach. Typically in this class, I assign students to really dig in to research and different sources of information available to American students. I budget lots of time for this conversation because I think it is very useful for the students. Though messy and complex, my students believe everything they find on the internet with very little critical analysis as to who wrote it, why, etc. I stress to them that to use research in their work means that they have to spend a lot of time finding the right source. Wouldn't it be a shame to spend hours finding the perfect piece of research only to have your professor say, "This information isn't credible" because it was from and they had no idea said website is a complete joke.

To drive my students crazy even further - I stress the importance of "source." What is the source of the photo? Of the statistics? Of the article? etc. They hate me for constantly asking them about this.

As of late, my constant bothering has stopped at me asking about sources. For a final project, my students usually have to find an article from an online source and tell me all about it's credibility (from the AAOCC credibility checklist). However, I realized that it would be very cool to push students to take this research further and actually produce a source of news. They would produce this news source in the form of an infographic. In order to experiment with this, I tried out the program:

From a learner's point of view, the program was ok. The designer had little control over much of the details of the design. From a teacher's point of view - limited control is a beautiful thing because making an infographic is challenge enough. I'd like my students to focus less on the technicalities of making the poster look good and more on the source and credibility of their information. allowed for this shift in focus.

Below is a sample of the infographic I made and I would use as a sample in class. I would assign my students to make something similar. Also, here is the link to full infographic.
The discovery of this tool changes the focus of my teaching. Originally, the final project was finding an online source and defending is credibility. However, with this new twist, finding an online source would now be the mid-semester project, allowing the final project to be completely produced by the student. This is very exciting for me because before I never was able to conceive how to make research come alive. Or even to help students understand that anyone can produce a professional looking source of information (for the good and the bad). By trying out this program, I feel like I can really dig in to all the messy complications of producing a reliable news source. I am excited to challenge my students with this as I think it is an extremely valuable lesson for them. And ultimately - they will feel very proud of their final project!

I imagine the final project to be to produce an infographic that incorporates some definite pieces of a news source and some optional pieces. Their infographic definitely needs to have:

  • an article & author (with source & credibility)
  • a photo (with source)
These elements will be explained by the student in a presentation to the class as to why they were chosen as reliable and credible sources.

Next, students would need to use 2 or 3 of the following elements to bring their infographic to life and add credibility:

  • a chart/graph
  • a map
  • a video
  • facts & figures
  • pull-out quote
All elements must have the source clearly noted and student will explain to the class how and why they constructed these elements as they did.

Linguistically, technologically and pedagogically - this project (in theory) is a home run. I don't know exactly how it will happen and I'm not 100% commited to using as the means for production, but I will continue to experiment with the resources on Josh's livebinder (the guest speaker from class) to find the best means of producing a news source. Regardless of the question marks I have, I am extremely excited to try the project out because I think it will be beneficial and meaningful for the students in so many ways.

Techno-traditionalist vs. Techno-constructivist?
After having some fun trying out many different tools for my instruction, I believe 3 tools position me as a techno-traditionalist and 3 tools position me as a techno-constructivist.

My GoogleDocs reorganization, GoogleForms & Mindmap program allow me to do something that I already do better. GoogleDocs allows me to (hopefully) be more efficient with my organization and therefore provide better instruction (since my dynamite ideas will be easier to find). GoogleForms also allows me to survey the students as I always have, but in an updated way. I do think the skills my students will learn from completing this "online exercise" are transferable to future tasks they will be asked to do and for that reason I'd be willing to commit to the frustrations I can foresee happening. However, the mindmap tool I am on the fence about. I am not convinced that it will be worth the frustration that it will cause me and my students. I enjoy the mindmaps that my students already produce and I think they are also proud of their work so using the WiseMapping program might just be more of a hassle than a meaningful tool to enhance their learning. I will try it with a motivated group and see the outcome. 

The final three tools I tried I am most excited about and that is because they allow me to do something that I didn't think was possible before and therefore position me as a techno-constructivist. Pixton cartoons, StoryMaps and Infographics were all things that I might have imagined before but couldn't conceive actually coming to fruition. Having the time to try them out from a "learners" point of view was invaluable. 

In all cases, I'm able to take an already existing project in my instruction and push students to take it further. With Pixton, students can produce their own cartoons and, in turn, a comic/grammar portfolio. What I like about adding Pixton to my instruction is that it can be used repeatedly but differently - to allow for tech fluency and less anxiety each time it's used by my students.  With StoryMaps, students can push their writing and academic organization to the next level. This next level does not include writing another draft but instead, making their writing come alive in a way that I am sure they will find meaningful and be eager to share with others. StoryMap also has many different ways it can be applied to help students express their ideas each time with less anxiety and frustration. This is an important aspect of any tool that I'd like to use in my instruction. Finally, the infographic is a tool that helps me teach a complex idea more deeply. I never thought I'd be able to achieve this. By having students produce their own professional news source, they will more clearly understand the importance of analyzing exactly where they get their news, research and information from. Although I can already foresee the headache that will come with this assignment, shifting my instruction to allow for this in-depth analysis is a priority of mine. I know students will have a love/hate relationship with the final project they produce. 

In so many ways my scattered final project experiments correlate perfectly with the type of career that I currently hold: a few meaningful tools scattered across many different applications. I am very happy to have had the opportunity to use my curious personality to benefit my instruction. I have always been one to push to make teaching and learning as efficient and meaningful as possible and I think being able to explore these tools (and more!) will allow me to take efficient & meaningful learning even further in the future. 

Thank you!


  1. Your eclectic project adventure is inspiring me to be bold and try more of these tools myself. Wonderful reflection, too. Good luck trying out all these new things with your students!

    1. Thanks for your encouragement! Fortunately (for me and for them), I wouldn't make all of my students do all of these gadgets :) I'll still need good luck though! Thanks