Let’s give them something to talk about!

CaptureAnother Facebook debate, and still learning more about using technology in the classroom. Again, students were highly motivated to participate, in part because they could use their Facebook accounts and it’s user friendly interface (not punt intended). Giving students an option to use technology they are already comfortable using is crucial in any differentiated exercise involving new technologies.

Since I started this blended-style debate, we have acquired an iPad lab, so no more tiny screen (iPods). Great experience for both me, and the students who participated.

SH9 – Débat : Pour ou contre la fourrure [2013] – Friday January 18th, 8 :00 a.m. to midnight

Rubric based on thoughtful and education contributions to the conversation (including respect, focus on opinion, not on person, frequency of target language)

Required: mobile devices (iPads), wireless connection, Smartboard (or projector), Mozilla add-on (reloadevery – to refresh page automatically every 10 seconds), Facebook account under allias (Jean LaFourrure). Note that access to the Internet also provided students with access to usable materials for the debate. However, they were warned about plagiarizing sentences. All written contributions had to be in their own words. I have writing samples of all students by now, so it is easy for me to recognize their own writing.

Preparation: students took 2 days to read and summarize articles which provide facts for and against fur (leather, and suede). They resumed the important points on large sheets of paper and we put them up around the classroom. All in French. This educated them, and provided them with support vocabulary.

Rubrique /25:


  • DEMANDER LA PAROLE (en levant la main dans la salle) – 1 personne parle à la fois
  • pas de répétition (ajoute à la discussion)
  • pas de dénigration
  • français parlé et écrit
  • 5 contributions réfléchies et respectueuse
  • chaque personne doit illustrer sa position (affiche, boutonnière, costume, t-shirt…)

Comment gagner le débat (pour s’amuser)

  • Compte du nombre total de points pour chaque coté (blocs A & B) à la fin de la journée (minuit).

Summary :

Students were engaged in the conversation online, and in the classroom. Students who never voice their opinion in class were active online and participated well. Students used the material they had read on both sides of the argument, on top of what they had learned in Socials 9 about industrialization, the impact of media on perception, the fur trade.

Because the online conversation was created as ‘an event’ on Facebook, all friends of friends were made aware of this discussion going on, on Facebook during class. It is against the rules at Mouat to use personal devices during school hours on the campus… Only a few students could not resist participating. Most of their contributions were appropriate, even though the fact that they were using their phones in class is not permitted. 1 student used inappropriate language and was promptly called to the office by our ‘mystery guest’, who happened to be our French speaking vice principal. The student immediately removed her comment, and although she continued to use her phone during class time, she made appropriate comments relating to the discussion. 1 student appears to have taken this opportunity to bully one of my students. I will be investigating this further when I return on Monday.

Overall the experience was a positive one. Out of some 55-60 participants (2 classes), reactions to new media technology was different in both groups. Students in the first group (very weak written output in general) participated to a much higher frequency in class, orally. Students in the second group (very strong writers) were much quieter in class during the debate. Rather, they contribute online with extensive written comments, sometimes a whole paragraph long.

Students who were away sick that day joined in without being asked.


We could have used more preparation (reading more articles) but did not have more time. Day 1 we read silently for 15 minutes, then summarized on paper in small groups for 20 minutes, then had a 5 minute class discussion to resume what was summarized and to reinforce the importance of factual evidence in a debate. In total, we prepared 45 minutes for 2 days before the debate.

It would have been helpful if I had posted links on our website that students could visit during the day to help them find more facts. Next time, I will change my rubric to:

Rubrique /25:


  • DEMANDER LA PAROLE (en levant la main dans la salle) – 1 personne parle à la fois GOOD –Keep as is
  • pas de répétition (ajoute à la discussion) More structure needed. Students need to become more aware of others’ comments and need to use them as a spring board to further the discussion.
  • pas de dénigration no put downs work for my students, but not for those who infiltrated the debate. Some prior warnings need to be clear and posted on the event’s page.
  • français parlé et écrit Good – no changes needed
  • 5 contributions réfléchies et respectueuse Good – but students still don’t understand the difference between arguing against a point of vue and arguing against the personne who expresses that point of view. This could be because these students have  limited skills in French. They don’t understand that when you say ‘you’ in French, it does not infer a neutral point of vue… Rather, it is very much person-specific. We need to practice using ‘on’ and ‘nous’ and other alternative vocabulary to keep things neutral.
  • chaque personne doit illustrer sa position (affiche, boutonnière, costume, t-shirt…) Here I need to be more specific… Students wearing running shoes tried to argue that they were for leather for example… We could have taken an extra 5 minutes to discuss creating an artifact to express a particular point of view.

Comment gagner le débat (pour s’amuser)

  • Compte du nombre total de points pour chaque coté (blocs A & B) à la fin de la journée (minuit). Here I will simply count the number of contributions (no matter how small) and tabulate a total just for fun so that 1 side will ‘win’. But I will explain that in a debate, wins are highly biased depending on who is evaluating the participants’comments. For example, poles during an election…

Using Mobile Technologies to Create a Language Lab?

Just thought I would share some really cool stuff I am learning, and thinking about…

French Immersion students experience challenges on all fronts:

1. in this context, they are not fully immersed
2. French is an incredibly complex language to read and write
3. even if students know what to say, they often can’t pronounce it so that they can be effectively understood…

When the oral final exam comes in grade 12, they are faced with a huge challenge: getting a stranger to understand what they are trying to say… A task largely based on pronunciation competencies given that the person evaluating them has no idea, prior experience with the student’s accent, or visual clues as to what students are talking about… It wasn’t until this year, my first year teaching FRAL 12, that I realized what a handicap pronunciation will be in their final and most important summative evaluation….

Wanting to help students work on pronunciation in preparation for this major hurdle, I created a series of assignments that would force students to speak using proper syntax, and encourage them to pronounce words correctly… I learned a lot from this experience. I loved that students could complete this task using new technologies of their choosing… Of all ‘homework’ assigned, this was the most likely piece to be handed in. In the screen shot, you can see that students are in fact using a variety of tools from iPhones, to Blackberries, to iPods to complete their homework… One student reported that she completed her homework while at work, another, while waiting to play in a volleyball tournament. Some students are using iPods that belong to the French Immersion department, but most are using their own devices. At the onset, they supported each other to figure out how to complete their homework, after a couple of assignments, they all knew what to do… without any support from me. (I like that… and this is important in that we can deduce that educators need not know all there is to know about new technologies to use them).

Another thing I learned was that, by listening really closely to my students (evaluating their homework), I became even more aware of the difficulties they are facing… (Picture yourself answering a 10 minute call from a person in Beijing, or Croatia, or Brazil or the Philippines… trying to understand what the person is saying without any visual clues… Imagine that this person is not at all fluent and often makes mistakes in their lexical, syntactic or idiomatic expression choices… Give that person a score based on the information that you understood.)

In the next few months I am hoping to use our iPads to connect students from our school to other schools, with a focus on pronunciation. In my opinion, the reason why we are not as unsuccessful as we’d like to in this area, is that, because our students communicate ONLY face-2-face with other students (and teachers) they know REALLY well and are able to be understood without ever correcting themselves or being corrected. One the evils of teaching a language in this context is that, we don’t want to correct speech since it would discourage it, thus exacerbating the frequency issues we are already experiencing…

By connecting students with different accents and skill levels on a regular basis, I am hoping that achievement levels will be greatly enhanced by this missing piece in their language learning path. In essence, I believe that we can use FACETIME or the likes, to create a new kind of language lab experience…

The task here will be to develop lessons, and support materials to facilitate this experience… But we do have the technology… And I hope that we can put it to good use.

iPad: $500 – Enthousiam: priceless…

iPad – Day 1

So, once the hysteria of the new toy calmed down (a wave of smiles and giggles filled our little windowless room for the first 5-10 minutes – even the concrete walls seemed to glow), kids got to work.

Besides calling each other, and trying to call every teacher on the list of the ‘facetime’ application, all students managed to save a minimum of 3 articles for their research projects, read and summarized 1, all saved in their individual EBSCO Host folders. Some even started to put together their essays, one student, who had completed everything I had asked for, asked me if she could read ‘juste pour le plaisir’, because she found and interesting article ‘The Princess Syndrome’.

There was no learning curve here: everyone was on EBSCO, using the tools, and downloading PDFs without any effort. I know they don’t generally use their iPhones for this purpose, but having used iPods either in the classroom or their own devices prepared them well. They were at home from the start. One boy (towering over me by several inches), was so excited, he even ran out of the class at one point when he saw our drama teacher, Mr. Billo walk by, shouting ‘Mr. Billo, look what we’re doing in class today!’. Another boy, who’s a chronic bathroom user and the best escape artist I have ever met in my 7 years at Mouat never once left the room; I believe this was a first!

One student, who has poor fine motor skills, struggled some, but even at that, she smiled through the entire 77 minute class and completed all tasks on the agenda.

Among the ground rules: no drinks of any kind on student desks. All iPads are signed out to individual students by number, and all activity is traceable (admin tells me).

One problem was that the MS Doc. application didn’t seem to have a language option; this has to be installed manually for regular Office 2007 and I assume the same applies here, at least I hope. It was frustrating for one student to see a red squiggle under every single word she wrote (even though she was only taking notes in point form), at the same time, the APP. would not suggest a correct spelling.

Student success was a combination of iPad affordances, and Web applications. EBSCO Host was the right tool to use for the task. Students saw the potential time savings, liked that they could easily enlarge the print they were reading, and found the organization tools in EBSCO Host Tools to be simply magical. Proximity also played a role in students’ success. Where as students in a lab can help each other out, being close to friends, and  having unrestricted access to view their work platform made it much easier to support peers.

In all, did they do a better job than if they were at the lab? I’m pretty sure that they were more productive, and I noted that they supported each other much more than in the lab. They certainly were engaged for the entire time. The proof is in the pudding: JT never once left to use the washroom!

What a great way to end the week. I love my job (and my admin too!). 🙂

Are we going to use iPad to its full potential in the near future?

A colleague asked me a couple of days ago, why I was using the iPads when it was just as easy to use the computer lab? Or better yet, why wasn’t I using the iPads to do something that couldn’t be done with a regular desk top… Why wasn’t I using the incredible APPS… A-P-P… Such a great buzz word… After he left, I though about his question, and it bothered me because I have always been an advocate of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. There was no real need to use the iPads, other than the fact that I wanted to find out more about them…

It got me to thinking: If we all wait for teachers, teaching a full load with no prep time, to spend time finding APPS and trying to figure out how they can integrate them into learning, no one will ever use these machines! Machines are like people, in order to really know them, you have pretty much have to live with them (this is why every administrator should buy one for each of his staff member!)…

I think that, the more we use the iPads, albeit for doing things we already know how to do, the more we’ll get to know its ins and outs…

Besides, APPS are fine and dandy, but unless they serve a particular purpose in our curriculum, and are obviously advantageous to students, there is no point in forcing the fit. Apparently, there are millions of cool APPS, but I could only find a few in FRENCH. At that, none that would make a difference in secondary level kids trying to develop language skills… Except perhaps for ‘Facetime’.

What would be really cool, would be to hook up with another class in the francophone world, and spend some quality ‘Facetime’… But this is easier said than done. There are very few schools that fortunate enough to have access to technologies like video-conferencing, or iPads… Even in the developed world. Sometimes I feel like, we’re living in a castle: all the toys in the world, and no one to play with…

Another possibility would be to use ‘Facetime’ to take virtual tours, to discuss various topics with experts… I JUST KNOW that the possibilities are endless… But I need to live with iPad in order to really know it! 😉