Ready to Cram?

Let’s face it; we have all crammed the night before an exam at some point in our lives. Most of us had probably been told by teachers or relatives that cramming is not the solution to succeeding. As teachers, do we really want our students for pull an all-nighter cramming for one of our exams? The answer is most probably no. The thing is that the people who told us not to cram never taught us effective ways so as not to cram. We were just told not to start studying the eve of an exam. Drawing on my personal experience I find it more effective to ask myself questions about the subject matter days or weeks before the exam and to read simply my notes the day before. I think that showing our students to create flashcards is a good way to prepare them for an exam without cramming like hell the night before. Cram is the solution!

The user needs to create an account. From there, he/she can create his/her own flashcards. There is also the possibility to browse already-made flashcards by subject. In one’s account, the user can, as mentioned earlier, create flashcards. When creating them, the user has to give a name to the set of flashcards to be created. The subject also needs to be written. A description can be written, but this feature is optional. One good thing about this tool is that it is very easy to use. When creating flashcards, the user has to, of course, edit the front and the back of the card. Images can be added to a flashcard. There is the possibility to use a language keyboard which can come in handy when it comes to learning a language that uses symbols that we do not have on our regular keyboards. Three-sided cards can be created as well if need be. Once a set of flashcards is created, it is added to the dashboard from where the user can manage the sets of flashcards he/she has created. There are four options so as to study a set of flashcards. 1) One can simply read a flashcard and click on the keyboard’s arrows to flip it in order to see its reverse side. 2) One can use the Memorize option that allows the user to be shown a flashcard and then say if he/she had the good answer or not. This can come in handy because the user is shown the result, out of 100%, that he/she obtained when a whole set of flashcards has been covered . 3) There is also the Test option. Basically, the questions and answers of a flashcard are given and the user has to match them together. 4) The Game option allows the user literally “play” a game. Cram uses the flashcards from a chosen set and creates a game with it. It is to be noted that the created sets of flashcards can be edited at anytime. If the user choose a specific set to be “public”, any person can find it by using the website’s search bar. This tool also has a smartphone application. Therefore, students can carry their flashcards everywhere they go.

Why should we tell our students to use interactive flashcards? According Jeff Burke, “flashcards appeal to a variety of learners.” It is interactive and it makes students “practice” rather than learn everything by heart. Flashcards can also be used across all kinds of subjects. Jeff Burke points out that “93% teens ages 12-17 [use] the Internet.” It tells the importance of incorporating technology in the classroom. Using electronic flashcards is one of the solutions. This website shows useful tips as to how to effectively create flashcards. For example, a teacher can show those tips to his/her students in the attempts to showing them how to prepare for an exam. One of the tips is to “keep your flashcards simple”. A teacher can also make students practice how to synthesize information enough to put it on a flashcard. Since Cram allows its users to make their flashcards accessible to everyone, a teacher can verify if his/her students have understood the concept of synthesizing the information by asking them to make their flashcards public and check these afterwards. Student can use the flashcards they have created to study in view of an upcoming exam.

 

In my opinion, Cram is a very effective tool when it comes to preparing for exams. As a university student and future teacher, I will certainly use it both as a student and as a teacher. I love the four study options given by this tool, especially the game one. According to the author of this website, “flashcards can often become boring when used repetitively without altering the way that they are used.” This is why it is good to create games with the flashcards. We always learn more when we play than when we re-read our notes endlessly. With the sharing feature, I will surely create flashcards myself and tell my ESL students to search for them in order to practice for exams. The fact that Cram possesses an application is good because students have access to any set of flashcards anywhere they go.

In conclusion, Cram is a great tool that is easy to use. It allows the user to create unlimited amounts of flashcards. It is a good tool to make students aware of because it gives them the possibility to review the subject matter in a playful way, which does not involve cramming the night before an exam. Moreover, it gives them pointers as to whether they understand or not. By using online flashcards, they can study anywhere they want without having to carry real sets of flashcards with them; everything is on their phone.

 

Penzu!

As ESL teachers, we constantly want our students to write because writing is part of what we have to evaluate. The old method to have our students write is on a piece of paper. The thing is that writing on pieces of paper is not trendy nowadays. Our students’ generation tend to prefer to write on the computer, if not on Internet. Here is an original online tool for your students to practice their writing: Penzu.

Penzu is a tool that focuses mainly on creating an online journal or diary. The way it is formatted resembles a normal notepad. Before starting to use the tool, the user has to create an account. Once the account is created, the user can give a name to his journal/diary. By using Penzu the user can print his/her diary, save it, insert photos, share it (with people that are not necessarily members of Penzu), do any text formatting (just as in Word), comment, and adding a password for more privacy. Other features consists of adding tags to the entries to the journal, customizing it with colours, and exporting the journal to different types of files (e.g. pdf). The latter features are only available for the users that have upgraded their accounts for a fee of $19 per year. In order to create sections in the journal, the user has to click on “New Entry”. It automaticly creates another page which can be given a title.

One of the benefits of Penzu is that it is paperless. The author of this article, on the advantages of using this tool, says that the fact that you can add a password to your diary is for privacy (of course). I would add that it offers a double privacy because the user already has a password in order to log in to the account. Another benefit is that this tool can be used across all kinds of devices ranging from computers to mobile devices. This is also a downside of the tool. In order for a user to use Penzu on his/her tablet, he/she has to pay for upgrading his/her account.

How do we use Penzu in education? On her blog, Elinda Gjondedaj talks about the ways Penzu can be used in a classroom. She gives the following ideas: encourage students to keep their own diaries in English, encourage students to keep their e-portfolios, and encourage students to send each other letters in English. On this website, the authors have put together an extensive lists of projects (for different grades) for which students would have to use Penzu. Those projects are mostly related to getting information on a subject and to writing students’ own thought in a journal.

I think that Penzu is a great tool to use in class. I love the idea of Elinda Gjondedaj that consists for students to keep their pieces of writing all in the same place. Therefore, they can see their progress from the beginning to the end of the year. Also, I believe that it is a great tool for writing in general. Students can write more formal texts (even if it is in a diary format) as well as informal texts, such as letters. Moreover, the fact that the journal can be shared with others that are not Penzu account holders is great. For example, the students can write something to their parents for any given holiday and send it by e-mail. They can also add a picture to personalize their message.  Any piece of writing done with this tool can also be sent to the teacher for correction or to any other student for revision. I think that when it comes to writing a text, this tool is less boring than other online writing tools. The reason is that for other online writing tools, the user often disposes of a blank page only. In the case of Penzu, the user disposes of a “loose-leaf sheet” kind of page that is more appealing to the eye. The two major downsides that I see for this tool is that a paid upgrade has to be done in order for a user to use it across all types of devices and to export what he or she writes to a word document. Still, these downsides would not stop me to use Penzu with my students.

Socrative Your Teaching

Many teachers have started to use technological tools in their teaching. The main goal in using technology in class is not only to have the teacher use technological tool, but to have students use them. One of the biggest issues that teachers need to think of is the time to set everything with the students in order to carry out an activity efficiently. I have found an online tool that I think can be of great use to the teachers in want of technology in their classes. This tool is called Socrative.

Socrative aims at creating interactive online quizzes. A teacher has to create an account. Each created account is assigned a “room number” that can be changed by teachers if they think that the number is too complicated. In order for the students to do a quiz each of them has to access either the Socrative application for tablets or the Socrative website. If students access the website, they will have to click on the icon “Student Log In”. Whether students use the application or the website, they will have to enter the room number and click on “Join Room”. Once they are logged in, they see a message telling them to wait for the teacher to start the next activity. On the teacher’s side, he/she sees the number of students that have joined the room. From that point on, they can start all kinds of questioning activities. There are two types of activities that can be done. With the single-question activity, teachers can ask a question out loud, give multiple choices to students, and activate a multiple choice question activity. On their side, the students see five choices (A, B, C, D, or E) and have to click on any of them to give their answer. The same thing can be done with true-or-false questions as well as short-answer questions. With quiz-based activities, teachers can create, edit, and duplicate their own quizzes. When creating a quiz, teachers can choose to add multiple-choice questions, true-or-false questions, and short-answer questions. When students are taking a quiz, the teacher can decide whether the students do it at their own pace or the teacher decides that they move on to the next question. The latter can be used if the teacher dispose of a limited amount of time. When having students taking a quiz, the teacher can activate or deactivate three optional features, which are: randomize answer choices (students do not have the same order for multiple-choice questions), disable immediate right/wrong feedback (students do not know whether their answers were right or wrong), and hide question explanations (students are not given explanation when they answer incorrectly). There is also the possibility to use what is called an “exit ticket”, which can be used at the end of a class to assess the students’ understanding of what was covered. Moreover, it is possible to do a “space race”. It consists of little spaceships that get ahead of others the more students from each team have good answers. For any of the quizzes done by students, teachers have the possibility to download reports of quizzes’ answers on their computers or email themselves the reports. What is good is the fact that before taking a quiz, students have to enter their names. It gives teachers an idea of who understands and who does not.

Socrative can be very useful in education. The best use of Socrative may be for formative assessment. It helps the teacher know whether he/she needs to spend more time on a given subject matter or not. Moreover, the “exit ticket” can help in knowing  whether students understand the subject matter of a specific class or not. Most of the teachers have to deal with limited budgets regarding photocopying. Socrative is a very good way to overcome this issue. For example, the author of this blog loves Socratic because it allows him to go paperless. Dave Rudey also uses Socrative to test students. He uses the features which gives him the possibility to randomize the answers on the side of the students. This way, it prevents them from teaching.

The main benefits of using this tool is that it is fast and easy to use. The only thing that students need to do is access the Socrative website and log in by entering the “room number”. If they have access to a tablet and they have the application, it is even faster. Moreover, students love it because it is electronic and it gives them immediate feedback on whether they obtained the right answer or not.

Honestly, Socrative is the best online tool that I have so far discovered. I will use it in my classes for sure. I love the way teachers can manage quizzes and the way it engages students. In my opinion, the most interesting feature of this tool is the “exit ticket”. From what I have so far experienced in teaching, it is hard to know for sure if our students have retained anything from what we have said. By downloading an “exit ticket” report, it is possible to be sure. We, as teachers, do not have to wait for our students fail on an exams to brush up on a specific subject matter. Also, the general purpose of the tool helps to be aware of the students that have more difficulty in general. The “exit ticket” can also be used to take attendance since the students have to provide their names for taking this type of quizzes. The fact that it is paperless and that I try to be as paperless as possible myself  certainly grabbed my attention. The only flaw that I have noticed when trying the tool is that a student cannot go back to a question even if the feedback feature is disabled. Therefore, it is my belief that this tool is not suitable for summative test taking.

In conclusion, try it and you will love it!

A Brand New Binder for Free!

Something teachers always have to deal with is students forgetting their material. Nothing is more frustrating than when a student tells you that he/she has forgotten his/her binder, pencil cases, etc. For years, teachers have been thinking of ways in order for students not to forget to bring the necessary material to class. One way is, for them, to carry everything electronically. The only thing is that the students need to have access to whatever electronic device they have at hand (laptops, tablets, etc.) Say hello to LiveBinders!

In short, LiveBinders is an electronic tool that simulates a binder. The user needs to create an account just as he/she would do for any other web-storage tool. Once the user is logged in, the fun can begin! The way it works is that the user can first create “shelves” for different aspects of his/her life. For example, one might create a shelf for each semester at university. A “binder” can also be created for each course to be taken during each semester. The “binders” can be separated in tabs and subtabs to help organizing it. For example, the user can organize one course’s binder followingly: one tab for the course outline and one for each week of the semester. If a course’s course outline is available in pdf format, the user can upload it to the course outline tab for instance. The content to be added to each “binder” can either be a hyperlink, an existing file (of any format), other content (Flickr, Youtube, QR code, Dropbox, other “binders”, etc.), or a text layout. The possibility to assign tabs colours is great for the ones who are visual. Also, any uploaded document can be downloaded in its original format afterwards. As for inserted text boxes, they can be printed directly from the binder. When uploading a file, the user is always asked if he/she wants to overwrite the previous one. Binders can be shared with other people. When sharing a binder, the user has to provide the shared-with users with a key to access the binder in question for more security. Moreover, a binder can either be copyable or non-copyable. Basically, the user can give the possibility to the person with whom the binder is shared to copy the binder in question or not. Another great feature of this tool is that it has a “present” mode which allows the user to display a binder in a presentation mode to show it to others. Here is a tutorial to know more about the endless features of LiveBinders.

How to use LiveBinders with students? A good way to use LiveBinders is to show students how to organize themselves. Moreover, when showing students how to organize themselves with the help of technology, it proves that you can integrate technology to your teaching. Here is an example of it. Students love it. What is great is that if you use it every year with your students, you/they can reuse the previous years’ binders because they are all stored on the same account. The good old physical binder is no longer thrown away at the end of the year; it becomes a useful tool to be used many years later. As seen on this website, LiveBinders can be used to carry out team projects (examples of team projects with LiveBinders). The teacher can also share a binder to transmit information to the students. Furthermore, students can take notes directly in their binders by using a text layout. Possibilities are endless.

Every tool has its downsides. While the access online resources is a major feature of LiveBinders, it also is its downside. If a teacher wants his/her students to use this tool during class time, the students need to have access to electronic devices. It is awesome if they can use their tablets or laptops (if they ever have such devices) to go on LiveBinders either on internet or on the free application. Moreover, LiveBinder’s account holders need to be at least 13 years old. Therefore, a teacher cannot have primary school students use it. Still, a teacher can use LiveBinders to share information with them (or use it in class) as binders can be accessed even without owning an account.

In conclusion, LiveBinders is a great tool for both teachers and students. After all, Educational Technology and Mobile Learning says it: “LiveBinders: The educative tool teachers should not miss.”

iPedagogy

Teachers constantly need to adapt to new teaching techniques. Technology is something that teachers have been required to include in their everyday teaching for a little while. Various ways to do so were discussed in my previous posts. One thing that teachers want to use in their classes is the iPad. As seen in my classes, many teachers expect to find applications related to their own speciality on App Store. Most often, they cannot find such applications. In fact, they should use the technology related to iPads so as to contribute to their teaching rather than create their teaching itself. For example, if a teacher wants his/her students to do a writing assignment he/she can have the students use an application as a dictionary (i.e. Merriam-Webster Application). Moreover, if each student has a Google Docs account they can write their texts using this app. This way, the teacher has the students use technology, especially the iPad that the students may already know very well.

Some people might question a teacher’s desire to use iPad in the classroom. For instance, some people could say that it would be a disruptive tool for the students as the screens cannot be blocked like in a computer laboratory. As seen in class, a teacher who desires to use this kind of tool needs to establish guidelines with the students beforehand (i.e. iPads are to be used only when students are told to use it.). According to this website, the use of this kind of technology is beneficial because an iPad combines many features such as libraries and educational websites. Basically, the use of the iPad makes any type a classroom a computer lab, a library, and even more. In this article from the BBC, Anne Laura, a teacher, says that she loves having her students use iPads in class because of instant feedback they get from it.

Some people might also question the use of iPads in education because of the cost related to it. Buy an iPad alone costs around $500. Therefore, parents cannot always afford to buy such a tool. Also, according to the Los Angeles Times, a school that would like its teachers to have access to iPads must be ready to pay around $700 per tablet. Gladly, many of the applications available in the App Store are free. From my own experience, I know teachers that use iPads in their classroom who have their students buy an iTune/App Store gift card at the beginning of the year. This way, when they know that students need a paid application, they can either buy it with them live in class or tell them to download it at home. There is no place for complaining regarding the price of an app since everyone has his/her own prepaid card. The purchase of the prepaid card compensates for other materials (i.e. notebooks) that students would need to buy at the beginning of the school year.

I find that a good way to integrate iPads in a classroom is to show students how to study with an iPad. For example, students can be shown the application named A+ Flashcard. This application is designed to use flashcards interactively. Students can design their own flashcards. By clicking on a flashcard, it turns to the reverse side to show the answer. Moreover, students can create different piles of flashcards depending on their understanding of different subjects. Having their flashcards always ready on their device, students can study anywhere their want.

The previously mentioned article from the BBC shows some ways iPads are used by teachers. They include making videos, notetaking, revision, and more.

To know more applications that can be used in education you may consult this website.

Say “Goodbye” to Plagiarism; Say “Hello” to Plagium!

Students of all levels and all backgrounds are constantly reminded of the importance of not plagiarising by their teachers (see the definition of plagiarism by Merriam-Webster). Students can sometimes find it ambiguous as to whether what they write is plagiarized or not. If the case ever happens that they are caught plagiarizing, some of them might not even have done it on purpose. The good news is that it is now possible for them and their teachers to see whether what they write is plagiarized or not. So, say “Goodbye” to plagiarism; say “Hello” to Plagium.

If you want to have a better idea of what plagiarism is, you may consult this website.

Plagium is a plagiarism-checker tool that can be found on internet. It is very simple to use. The only thing the user needs to do is to copy and paste any desired piece of text in the box on the main page and to click on the Quick Search icon. The tool can verify a piece of text having a maximum of 25 000 characters at a time. Everything from spaces to letters is considered a character. When Plagium does not find a match for the text a user enters, the following message appears: “Plagium did not find documents making use of the text that you entered.”

Try it yourself! Copy the first paragraph of the section called Fighting Over Water of this article from National Geographic in Plagium search box and click on the Quick Search icon. If you have done it correctly, you should see that 100% of the paragraph can be found on National Geographic’s website. In this case, of course, this is plagiarism.

In my opinion, the  main benefit of Plagium is that it is multilingual. It can check for plagiarism across five languages: English, French, Italian, German, Portuguese, and Spanish. Moreover it is available to teachers as well as students. It is a great tool for teachers of any subject, not just languages. Teachers can verify whether one of his/her student’s piece of writing is taken from someone else’s text. Furthermore, a teacher can show this tool to his/her students to help them in their writing. A teacher can also include this tool in an activity aiming at making students aware of what plagiarism is. I have tried many plagiarism checkers and Plagium is, without a doubt, the best one. The reason is quite simple; it is free and and support a large amount of characters (25 000). Other tools of the same type are mostly not free; and if they are, they cannot support large amount of characters.

The major downside of this tool is that it only searches for the exact same words that the user enters, whether they are in the same order or not. Still, it does not search for ideas We know that plagiarism does not only consist in using the same words, but also in using someone else’s ideas without providing references. I think it would be hard or impossible to find a tool that would search for plagiarized ideas anyway. Plagium allows its users to use the checker for a maximum of tries per day.

Plagium is not a mean to all ends; it is just a tool to help identify unwanted copy of sentences. But, a question remains: do students really need it? According to this article, students who do not plagiarize on purpose happen to do it because of their poor writing skills. In other words, they probably were not shown to either cite, paraphrase, or reference beforehand. On its website, the University of Glasgow says that most students are aware that plagiarism exists but do not recall what exactly they were told about it. I believe that as teachers, we should constantly remind our students of this issue. Drawing on my own high school experience, my teachers used to tell me ”that it was bad to plagiarize”, but hardly showed me how to avoid it. I think that it is a teacher’s duty to make sure that students not only know about it, but that they know strategies as to how they can avoid it as well. Since students are going to face this issue in their future career, it is important to make them aware of it as soon as they can understand what it is. Plagiarism checkers, such as Plagium, are good. However, they should be used as a last resort. Therefore, teachers should not swear by it; they should inform their students that such tools exist and tell them that these are good up to a certain extent. Still, they should emphasize the fact that it does not solve all problems related to plagiarism.

If you do not like Plagium, check other plagiarism checkers.

Education Goes “Tweet!”

twitter-bird-1Twitter is a social network/microblogging site that people use to share information. The principle of Twitter is that the user cannot post messages that are longer than 140 characters.

There is specific terminology related to Twitter. The most important elements to remember are:

> Tweet: A standard Twitter message that contains 140 characters or less;

> Retweet: A tweet that has been re-shared by a user;

> Hashtag: The symbol # is used to tag keywords in tweets, making it easier for further research purposes;

> Feed: All the tweets of the users you follow (accessible from you Twitter homepage);

> Direct message (DM): A private message that a user writes to another user.

Twitter is an easy-to-use website. If you would like to know more about Twitter terminology, you may consult this website.

Using Twitter is simple and convenient. The first step is to create an account by going on Twitter. Once your account is created, you can choose the users that you want to follow. You can also tweet. Simply click on the box in which it is written “Compose a Tweet…” and write what you want to share. Do not forget, the website will not allow you to exceed 140 characters. Also, be aware that EVERYTHING counts as a character, from letters to commas/apostrophes, even spaces. For example the following tweet: “Twitter is the best”, has 20 characters. Moreover, links can be shared but your final word count will be reduced. The beauty of Twitter is that everything is about being concise. In order to retweet something, you can leave your cursor on any given tweet and click on the retweet icon that will appear. This will automatically send the tweet to your feed with the mention that it has been retweeted.

The main benefit of Twitter is that it is fast and easy to use. Furthermore, it can be used across all kinds of platforms, from mobile devices to computers. It provides the user with live information. For example, the author of this post tells that when the bombing occurred at the Boston marathon in April 2013, what he/she was seeing on Twitter was coming quicker than what was broadcasted on T.V. The information was most likely shared from witnesses or from people listening to the radio broadcast. All of that to say that by using Twitter, you know information ahead of everyone who does not use Twitter.

What about the use of Twitter in the field of education? A teacher who wants to use Twitter with his/her students can tell them to create Twitter accounts related to school. Then, all students can follow each other as well as the teacher. Many things can be done from that point on. One thing that I find interesting is to give the students the challenge of creating a post that has exactly 140 characters. A good example is micropoetry. It aims at creating a poem that has exactly 140 characters (to know more about micropoetry, click here). It would teach students how to be concise in what they say in order for their message to get across well. Also, using Twitter is an easy way to remind them of tests or homework to be submitted. They can even write tweets for the others to remember school information. Another way to have your students use Twitter is to ask them to do a research on a current event. By doing that, they can use twitter as a searching tool. Remember to tell them that there are the official users and the unofficial users; and, that they should rely on the official ones to use Twitter as a search tool. Here are more ways to use Twitter in education.

You would like to use Twitter and want to have a demonstration, see this 4-minute tutorial.