Category Archives: COETAIL

Saving the World w/ COETAIL

I had intended to share both my students’ collaborative projects  as well as the SIC work I have been doing with the teachers in my building. I had NO idea how short 10 minutes actually was to describe a project in-depth,  so I was forced to choose.  Although a tough decision, with the  kind guidance of COETAIL coach, Diana Beabout,  I decided to go with the student project for the video requirement of Couse V.

Feel free to provide feedback here.

Pets and Google Hangouts

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We are making SIC progress!

As part of that progress, last week, we held a Google Hangout.

Although we say it over and over again that “tech is just a tool”,  this meeting was centered almost entirely on the tool. I didn’t get to discuss much of our agenda items but… we all met @alica’s lab, @paul’s cat, @doug’s pug, @chris’ corgi and @tom’s 2-year-old. Laksa made her own two-second appearance as well.  Members learned about the drawing tools, sharing the screen, the integration of Google Drive and how to put fun effects on each other all while on a Google Hangout.  Sharing via the Hangout, which was new to all members, was more about building our relationship as a group than any other objective I had originally in mind.

My objectives should have been:

  • solve problems
  • build relationships
  • have fun
  • finish a few minutes early

We accomplished all of the above with a smile on our screen. How often are such objectives clearly stated and/or would be accepted by administration in our classrooms today?

The Hangout was not without hiccups. I had set-up a Today’s Meet room as a back-up plan if we couldn’t get connected.  We needed that space along with two cell phones, our Google Plus Community and (sadly) our archaic school Groupwise email system to get us all in the same room at the same time.  It took a techno- village.

I continue to be proud of the members of SIC. They are taking risks in their classrooms and starting to feel more confident in participating and in some cases even leading in various face-to-face and online learning environments.

No nos gusta el durián


Screen Shot 2014-10-26 at 10.55.29 PMStudents shared one lie and two truths about their new amigo en Singapore. I captured some video of their presentations so I thought it would be nice to share it with our friends across the ocean. Having started a new iMovie project, I thought I’d capture our feelings on tasting the fruit durian as well. Not wanting our new friends to think we aren’t open to trying and appreciating new foods we added a video of roti prata which we’ve been told is absolutely delicious.

I’m continually amazed at the excitement my students have shown for their new friends in Asia. We will continue to communicate with this class in Singapore and we’ll be adding a new connection with students in Guatemala very soon. Later in the year, we hope to connect with classes in España and Perú.

SIC Progress

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For a few reasons, but mostly my passion in sharing what I have learned in our COETAIL class, I started a Summit Innovative Cohort (SIC) at my school.  Our teachers have had very little professional learning around Digital Literacy, building their PLN, Creative Commons, and using technology in innovative and transformative ways. That had to change.

A few teachers and I have been trying to encourage the use of Google Apps for Education for years (as a start) but haven’t had much luck without district support or school leadership helping to model the tools. Teachers in my school work tremendously hard but I feel we are doing them disservice by not equipping them with the tools, skills and possibilities for teaching and learning today.  This year, I have more hope and even more energy to help lead the change.

Inspired by Tony Wagner’s, Creating Innovators and seeing Dr. Young Zhao this summer at InnEdco, I decided on innovation for the direction of our cohort.  Fortunately, the word sic (think big air) in a ski town goes a long way.

I wanted SIC to be pure awesomeness. Similar to the those restaurants in New York that only serve 20 hamburgers a night.  Also, I didn’t want too many teachers to participate so I could provide more personalized support. I didn’t have to worry; only 10 teachers wanted in. I announced the big winners with lots of excitement leaving out the fact that all that applied were able to participate.

I’m impressed with our group so far.  I’m no Kim or Jeff but I’m hoping to guide these teachers through a similar process while continuing to learn along with them.  We have considerably less time than a normal COETAIL cohort, there is no formal credit attached to their work but I think it’a an important start. Our face-to-face meetings (we’ve had one) is something I cherish. Being part of an entirely online COETAIL cohort has been a challenge for me in building relationships.  However, I want SIC members to learn that although we physically have each other,  which feels safe, the power and learning will come from them connecting with others around the world.

Our first assignment was to join both our Google Classroom and our SIC Community via Google Plus. Teachers are also experimenting with Twitter and each has started a blog to reflect on their learning. A couple of students are already up and posting. I love how Alicia shares her initial hesitation in social media.

What kind of noise does your final exam make?

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It’s that time of year when our library is buzzing with the sound of scantrons being graded. The vast majority of my colleagues still use multiple choice testing as their final exam. It’s been over 10 years since I have used that ancient machine. That being said, my finals are not always perfect and they certainly are not quick to grade. With 30 plus kids in a class, six classes, and grades due the next morning, I understand why a teacher may chose the scantron option.

Still determined there is a better way, I’m constantly searching for a summative assessment that demonstrates proficiency and won’t keep me in PowerSchool all night.

This year, based on my learning from COETAIL and a conversation with another DP Spanish teacher on the need for more culture, I came up with Pecha Kucha Cultura as our final oral assessment. Students gave a mini Pecha Kucha style talk on a topic related to culture from a Spanish- Speaking country.

The result: the sound of applause.

The goal: students would…

  • Explore a new cultural topic (historical figure, tradition, food, geographical feature, piece of art, etc.)
  • Learn about presenting Pechu Kucha style
  • Apply CRAP design principles to their presentation  (I recommend Design Secrets Revealed)
  • Interpret new information
  • Present new information in español to a small audience

To prep the lesson, I composed a list of cultural topics. I then put three topics on a card. I had 25 unique cards.

On the designated final day (we had a 2-hour block), students:

  1. Chose a card randomly.
  2. Investigated the three topics on the card and chose their favorite.
  3. Created a Pechu Kucha style presentation (10 slides,  20 seconds a slide, 3 minutes and 20 seconds in total) They had about 60 minutes.
  4. Presented their cultural topic to a small group of three or four students.
  5. Accepted applause and praise from their peers.

We didn’t have time to figure out how to set their presentations to advance automatically after 20 seconds so each group had a designated timer. That person advanced the slide every 20 seconds. It was endearing to see how timers supported their presenters by either cheating forward or holding their finger until after a thought was completed.


I’ve never seen my students so engaged in learning the last day of school.  Each of them worked hard on their Spanish, content and design.  And yes, as my colleague suggested, our World Language Department needs to focus more on Culture (Standards 2.1 and 2.2). In brainstorming cultural products and practices I realized how many of these cultural treasures were new to my class. I’ve already shared the list with my entire department and we have a plan for next year:) Students enjoyed the activity as well.  On my final course evaluation, a couple of comments included Pecha Kucha Cultura as one of the activities that helped them learn most this year.  I chose not to give the topics to my students until the last day.  I was unsure of this decision, but in the end, I think it was best as our kids are so slammed this time of year and the fact that they could not work on it the night before was probably a blessing for many of them. Plus, this assessment was more representative of spontaneous discourse than a memorized speech that would have happened if students had had time to prepare. The only change I would make in the future is possibly videoing the talks. Because they presented in groups I wasn’t able to hear each student’s complete talk or assess them “officially”. Maybe that’s OK. I would like, however, for them to have had a copy of their talk so I think recording it would have been good.

We stress the importance of teaching from bell-to-bell. I feel like Pecha Kucha Cultura allowed for learning up until my students physically walked (a few ran this year) out of my classroom for the year.

What were your final exams like this year? Any changes you would make?

Course 5 Projects Ideas

So many options

I’m teaching one (higher level) Spanish course next fall. It’s a new course. I’ll have two sections of about 20 students in each section. The rest of my job allocation will be dedicated to coaching teachers and helping run our district’s K-12 Dual Language program. Here are a few ideas I have in mind. I’m thinking redefinition.

**Electronic Portfolios for Dual Language students entering 9th grade and/or Electronic Portfolios for entering DL Kindergarten students.

  • Use Google Sites to create a skeleton for them.
  • Help students chose important entries to mark important milestone
  • Help all teachers see the importance of students reflecting on their work over the course of many years.

**Create/or Participate in a Global Collaborative Project with my Spanish Course.

  • Students connect with students from primarily Spanish speaking countries to improve language proficiency, gain insight into culture, to build relationships and become effective global citizens.
  • Students could solve an authentic problem.  This is always more challenging than I think. I often have SAVE THE WORLD as one of the guidelines on our projects but haven’t ever dedicated the time necessary to SAVE the WORLD.
  • Give students 4 or 5 choices of a semi-structured project so it’s more manageable for me to help them and they’ll have classmates with whom they can collaborate.
  • This could be a semester long 20% project for each student.
  • Access to technology will be a challenge.  Maybe I could attempt to run a BYOD mini program for my students. I could probably get 50% to participate. I would have more success if I had some other teachers/classes in the building on board.
  • Send kids to a Flat-classroom Conference.
  • Have students present during the Global Education Conference under the Student Strand.
  • Have students blog (and comment) regularly as a way to communicate, connect, document and share their global projects.
  • Tie their project to the three novels they will read. Share the content created with other Spanish teachers reading the same novels.
  • I have ordered Flattening Classroom and Engaging Minds to help me create this course.

**Help our HS school with a 1:1 Roll-out plan. Just typing this out made me cross it off the list. It’s a huge job but not for Course Five. 

**Use technology smartly to improve language learning in all Dual Language Classrooms K-12.

  • Create flipped content that can provide repetitive, creative, compelling comprehensible input for students.
  • Help teachers build their PLNs.
  • Help teachers and students include more digital storytelling into their classes.
  • Help teachers create positive digital footprints for themselves and their students.

**Becoming a much more prolific blogger and sharer of educational practices with a larger audience. 

  • I’ll be working with six new Spanish teachers to our district and need effectively communicate with them all.
  • How can I help them assimilate to our country and help them be effective teachers?
  • Can technology help improve the conversations, classes, materials, technology, etc. that I’ll be sharing with them?
  • What technology structures should I be thinking about putting in place to help these new teachers?
  • I’m also attending and presenting at a few WL conferences and could be sharing best practice, reflecting and connecting with more WL educators.

I’m looking forward to flushing these ideas out over the summer and coming up with something that will best represent my learning in this class. With one week of class left to go before summer break, I’m excited about the possibilities for next fall. That’s always a good sign. 

Lake Michigan
Lake Michigan in July.





I’d FLIP tortillas in my classroom

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Flipped Instruction in World Language Classrooms is a hot topic these days.  It’s been on the Moretprs listserve a lot this month and was the main topic of discussion of #langchat two weeks ago.

Traditional Flipping–Flipped instruction is when the teacher provides material (usually videos) of new concepts and students watch/learn at their own pace at home. Back in class, students work on what was originally called “homework” and solve problems. The role of the teacher is reversed; more of a facilitator in-class and a traditional lecturer at home (via the video).

World Language Flipping–This makes sense (and may seem transformational) for the majority of language teachers who still insist on teaching their students the difference between ser and estar and drilling the rules for using the preterite. In their case, I guess it makes sense to teach the rules outside of class and then use the language during class time. This approach may also reduce the packets and worksheets commonly given as homework.

For me though, the concept of flip means you are still teaching or providing the same content but mainly changing the order. I teach for acquisition and knowing the rules unfortunately doesn’t lead to the ability to use the language.  Students need to hear and read repetitive compelling comprehensible input (CI) in order to gain proficiency in the language. There is no need to flip the isolated grammar instruction.  It does’t lead to kids that can spontaneously ask questions,  tell stories, share opinions, and argue a point. I’d vote for flipping it out of curriculum all together.

The vast majority of WL Classrooms (that I have seen) that are “flipping” their lessons are merely providing grammar lessons of some sort for students to view at home. This type of instruction (flipped or not) gives the original concept of flipping a bad name just like poor use of technology does the same for technology integration. 

Just like many pedagogical approaches, flipping has come to mean lots of things to different people in different content areas. I believe many teachers are having success at providing alternative learning experiences. I remember when our school adopted the IB POI.  The concept of inquiry teaching was new to many teachers and IB got the credit for helping teachers move more toward inquiry.  I think, perhaps, the flipped approach in WL will help teachers think about what learning activities do and don’t lead to language proficiency.

My first flip 

When my students (learning Spanish) were in 2nd grade I wanted to create additional CI opportunities for them out-of-class. I knew packets and worksheets wouldn’t suffice. Much of our in-class time was dedicated to creating personal stories but I knew my students needed more repetitions and more practice with our language structures. Luckily, I was awarded a grant for iPods. Inspired by Juan Tejada, I started creating enhanced podcuentos**. These were little mini stories (cuentos) I created (often with students during recess) for students to view outside of class with the hopes of providing more engaging CI. Although the plan had been to use the videos out-of-class, they proved to be a stellar additional piece of in-class content. Because the videos were personal, funny and comprehensible, kids watched them over and over again–increasing their language proficiency without even knowing it.

**I realize the files on the link above don’t work. I just thought it was fun to find them on the web. Our site and presence in the iTunes store fell apart when mobile me went down. I’m inspired to find these files and get them posted to share.

What I flip today

  • Output activities. Google voice. Screencasts. Voicethread.
  • Tons more input activities. Sound Cloud versions of our class stories. Videos. Commercials. Raps. Songs. Telenovelas.
  • Reading.
  • Sharing successful language learning with parents.
  • Differentiated content.
  • Anything in English that is worth seeing/hearing/reading.
  • Full-length movies related to culture.
  • Creation of Digital Stories. Out-of-class is a good time to learn tools.
  • 20% Google Passion Projects.
  • Connecting with Native Speakers.
  • Authentic interactions in the community (Safeway has a nice self-checkout in Spanish).
  • Online chats via Edmodo or Today’s Meet.

Many of the “flipped” activities above can also take place in-class.  Advantages are that I can help facilitate the activity, all students will experience it, and we can build on (as a class) these experiences.

Lastly, the idea of flipping is closely aligned with homework. I believe in purposeful homework but have drastically reduced the amount I give to HS students. I don’t plan to increase the volume of out-of-class work just because I’m calling it flipped. I do plan to be deliberate with both my in-class and out-of-class learning experiences, hoping to increase their proficiency.

I’d love to hear about your CI-based flipped lessons and/or resources.


Global Projects: Dream or Reality?

Sara and Turner working on their collaborative stories with their amigos en Costa Rica.

The excitement and possibilities of global projects makes me want to teach 5th grade. ( I currently teach HS Spanish.) My dream would be to turn my entire class into a global collaboration project. I would surely have to fly under the radar as 5th grade teachers in my public school have a few things on their plate. Common Core, Lucy Calkins, Benchmark reading program,  Everyday Math, NWEA testing (3 times a year), Units of Study, PYP Planners, a new Health curriculum, CMASS testing and DRA testing (3 times a day) to name a few.

I’d like to think I could make it work. We’d have an amazing year learning with and from people from all over the world. We’d all become more effective global citizens.

For the moment, I’ll be living my dream within my Spanish courses.

Connecting with students in other places has always been a part of our curriculum. Typical of most language teachers, I suppose. The excitement of different shaped envelopes arriving with cool looking stamps from pen pals in Mexico or Africa or Spain was (and still is) a big deal.

Recently, technology has made these conversations and connections a whole lot easier. I remember the first Skype conversation we had with a teacher from Turkey almost six years ago. I had first stayed up late to chat with her class and then she did the same with mine a week later. I was teaching English as an Additional Language at the time and both our classes learned a lot from each other.  I used to keep track of where and with whom we had these conversations on a wiki. I wish I had kept up with it over the years. Moving our connections to our blog and class wiki was more efficient for my fourth grade students. They connected with a class in Costa Rica and shared thoughts on politics, uniforms, music and school life.  The highlight was their collaborative stories and authentic conversations.

A few years later, there seems to be many more options for global projects. Kim’s step-by-step post is helpful in getting started. I’m looking forward to connecting my students even more this next year and hopefully have them solve authentic problems in the process.

Here are a list of specific projects and/or resources if you’d like to jump in.

I’ll be sharing the above links with the teachers in my buildings, hoping they see the importance of teaching their students to be global citizens and sincerely hoping they can fit it in under the amazing pressures of standardized curriculum and assessments.



Flipping Cinco de Mayo

Image by Visit Lubbock

Our course work on Flipped Instruction this past week reminded me of a lesson  we just completed on Cinco de Mayo. It’s not directly related to the traditional concept of flipping your classroom but it got my thinking.

I typically don’t spend a lot of time on Cinco de Mayo, but it’s good to be sure my students don’t go on believing it’s Mexico’s Independence.

I planned to spend just one class period on the event.  So…

1-I gave the students an overview of why the holiday is important here in the USA and why (not so much) in México.

2-We learned a few new words they were going to need to access a reading on the topic.

3-Students then read about La Batalla de Puebla in teams of two or three.

4-Each student summarized the reading (in writing) in their own words.

5-I taught them about why and how to give an Elevator Pitch in case they came across an American who wasn’t familiar with the meaning of the holiday even after having attended a Cinco de Mayo party the night before.

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6-Students gave Elevator Pitches (in Elevators constructed by kids) as to the significance of Cinco de Mayo. They were awesome given the short amount of time I gave them to practice.

7-Lastly, we went outside and played a game of soccer against the French Class. My Spanish class played with 8 players and the French class with 12 to represent the approximate ratio of Mexican to French soldiers.

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Fortunately, not having to re-write history, my underdog Spanish class won the battle/match. ¡Bravo!

Sound good? Nope. I had two students ask me (en español at least) why the French had so many players. Oops…

My reflection- Of course I needed to have done a better job and checking for understanding along the way.  More importantly, I should have flipped the order of the instruction. I guarantee had we played the match first and kids saw and felt the difference in the two teams, there would have been understanding for all students. Plus, the reading and listening activities would have been more meaningful to my students with more background knowledge.  Why do we often wait util the end of a lesson for students to experience the most important aspect of the learning when we could have flipped the instruction (in our rooms) for higher levels of success?

Tech Integration: “I know it when I see it.”

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What does technology integration look like in your classroom?

This is the question posed to us in Course 4. I’m attempting to answer it with an example from my class.

A few years ago I had a 5th grade student, Cass, who wanted to teach others Spanish. Her level of Spanish was amazing and I suggested she teach an online mini course, not having any idea what that could really look like. Cass decided to give it a go and created a Google form seeking potential students and/or classes. I sent out her form via Twitter to spread the word. When someone responded she instantly shared the news with me.

cas email

A Spanish teacher in Florida wanted her to teach her 6th graders.  Cass composed an email to the teacher in Florida. She cc’d me in on the conversation but the letter came from her. They chose a date. The Florida teacher then sent Cass the material she wanted her to “cover”.  Feeling a bit overwhelmed, Cass shared with me the list of 40 plus words present in the traditional end-of-chapter pages.   I was sad, yet not surprised, this teacher was still using such a traditional textbook/approach, but that’s another post.  Cass and I decided 40 words weren’t practical for one lesson and chose six important verbs from the list.

Cass prepared her lesson. She asked for the names of a few students in the actual class and learned that the class would be visiting the Dali Museum in the near future. She created a lesson that integrated the students in Florida and the new vocabulary with an imaginary story of the theft of an important piece of art at the Dali Museum. She created flashcards with images to use in her lesson. She practiced in front of our class and received valuable feedback from her classmates.


She also came to my 1st grade class and practiced the lesson in front of a bunch of eager 6-year-olds. We then Skyped a friend of mine in Costa Rica who was learning Spanish so she could practice the lesson once more over Skype.

The big day arrived. Cass was ready and excited. I was a little nervous.

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Ready to teach va (goes).

The lesson started fabulously but almost immediately the video feed in Florida went out and Cass couldn’t see the class.  She could hear them but she couldn’t see them. Fortunately, they could still see and hear her so the lesson continued.  She was slightly rattled but continued like a pro. I would not have remained so poised. Reminds me of last night’s episode of The Voice where the contestant continued singing after her mic went out. Cassidy finished her lesson in about 25 minutes and we were both thrilled. The teacher thanked her and then wanted her students to thank her as well. We quickly created an Edmodo group for an easy location to continue the conversation. Each student in Florida wrote a post to Cass thanking her and sharing their new learning.

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Although it was time for lunch and recess, Cassidy stayed in and personally answered each reply.

This lesson represents for me true integration of technology (or redefinition) according to the SAMR framework.

The funny thing…

My biggest take-away with her lesson had nothing to do with technology. It was when the Florida teacher commented to me that she thought it was quite interesting (I believe she meant interesting in good way) that Cassidy made the lesson personal and chose to teach the vocabulary in the context of a story.

This brings me to the TPACK model of technology integration which has always been a bit complicated for me in the past.  As transformative as the technology can and should be, pedagogy and often content trump the technology for me every time.  Even moving up the SAMR scale won’t be truly transformative if content and pedagogy aren’t addressed in the learning.

Hopefully Cassidy’s lesson inspired another WL teacher to possibly look differently at her pedagogy and content.  Then again, the inspiration would never have happened without the amazing possibilities that the technology affords us today.

Could effective technology integration be like Justice Potter’s definition of pornography, “you just know it when you see it” but cannot define it?