Monday, April 28, 2014

Celebrating Students!

As teachers, we live for those moment when we can celebrate our students. It makes all the long days and seemingly endless journeys of piles of homework/work to grade that we all take together worth it. I have been blessed to work with high school students for 24 years and I look forward to when we can come together as the York Family and celebrate our accomplishments, to shed light on all those excellent students of the Spanish language. One celebration that is always very special to me is the National Spanish Honorary Society Ceremony held every spring here at York High  School.

Ever since I arrived to this school many year ago, this ceremony has always been a night time event, a formal affair where everyone dresses up, classical music is played by students and new Spanish students are inducted into the Spanish Honorary Society in a solemn ceremony. I love it- it reminds me of just how classy York High School is. The York family places a lot of value on celebrating excellence in our school and I love every minute of the busy Spring season of honoring all of the great things they have accomplished. These students deserve nothing else. I am especially going to miss my group of Spanish AP seniors as they graduate this year and head off to conquer the world- they are a talented bunch of young men and women!

Reflect on how you celebrate students...A formal ceremony? A kind word? A pick-me-up post-it note on their desk? A smile as they walk through the door? A high five after a job well done? Whatever it is, a kind word or gesture goes a long way for each individual in our classroom. Be it a large event or a small act of kindness, every student will appreciate being valued for their talents and contributions to the school and your classroom throughout the school year. Each student is amazing in their own special way- don't forget to celebrate them every day and let them know!    

Friday, April 18, 2014

A #FollowFriday recommendation!

So excited today!  As a result of my recent blog post about the Echo Smartpen and my use of pencasts, I have been chatting with a few people about it and how they can incorporate it into their teaching, and Livescribe has given me a #FollowFriday mention- hooray!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Can do with QR codes!

I love QR codes. If you have not heard of them, a QR (Quick Response) Code is a machine-readable code consisting of an array of black an white squares. They typically store URLs or other information for reading by the camera on a smartphone. I like to use them in the classroom for many purposes:

1. They are quick to create, and easy to embed into documents or pictures
2. They encourage positive and appropriate use of a smartphone by students
3. They can be used in your language class in a variety of ways! and help to create active learning

Here are some way that you can use QR codes in your classroom:
  • use them to make a Scavanger hunt (these really create that active class with loads of movement and learning) can even do this for your language club after school :)
  • post contact information, class syllabus/goals for parents on Parent Night-place a QR code on the bottom of your handouts on Parents Night or conferences. It cuts down on running off copies 
  • post archived notes/agenda from a particular day-have a central place in your class where students could scan the QR codes and access the homework or notes they missed the day they were absent- it will empower them to take more responsibility for their learning!
  • use them to compliment worksheets or hallways displays on cultural topics- these QR codes can provide students with more information, clues, websites about the specific topic you are presenting to the class

To spice up my classroom decor at the end of the year, I recently made a new bulletin board in my classroom based around the theme of "Where in the World Are We?" and included pictures of well-known places around the world. My goal is to have my students appreciate some of these famous points of interest and have a greater appreciation of world cultures.

To do this, I just printed out images of places like Buckingham Palace, the Mayan ruins of Tikal, the Acropolis in Greece, Ayers Rock in Australia and Quito, Ecuador. I did choose to laminate these photos, so that I can easily place and remove the QR codes or change the information that I want the students to go to when they scan the code.

I like the free website QR Stuff ( to create the QR codes. There, you simply paste in your URL of the website that you want the students to visit and then generate your QR code. Next, download the code, copy/paste it in a word processing document. Print off the document, cut the QR codes out and then tape to the image.

Set up your bulletin board and your classroom will soon buzz with interest as they use technology to broaden their cultural knowledge and learn about new places!

Monday, April 14, 2014

The pen is mightier...

My goals have been twofold in the past couple of years:
1. Don't be afraid to explore emerging technology and try new things in the language classroom ---to jump head first into that vast and wondrous pool of educational technology no matter my comfort level or exposure. I do know that if something goes wrong, I will have many willing students that probably reach a solution with me, and even if the lesson that day did not come off perfectly with the technology, I have taken a chance, tried something new and will reflect upon everything later to plan better for next time!
2. Connect with others outside of the classroom. This has been a big one for me and it has really been wonderful. I do admit that this takes a little of the free time that I do have at home, but because of making an effort to grow my PLN, I have been able to network with gurus in the fields of Spanish and EdTech and my classroom planning/teaching as well as my participation and connection to organizations/workshops have all grown because of it! Worth every bit of effort!

Besides being a member of the York family for many years, I also am proud to say that I am part of the Illinois
Virtual School faculty for the past 2 years now. I teach a high school level Spanish 1 course online and I love it! Yay! A big shout out to Cindy Hamblin and Barb Closen for all their wonderful work and for welcoming me into that family as well <3 If you have not hear about IVS, please check them out! They are an Illinois State Board of Education program administrated by Peoria County ROE 48 and partner with schools around the state offering supplemental educational opportunities to middle and high school students.

In order to reach out and connect with those students better, I purchased an Echo Smartpen by Livescribe and what a fun and effective toy that turned out to be! After installing a very simple piece of software on the computer and reading through simple instructions, I found out that it is very simple!! (Simple: 3 times).

To make a pencast, all you need is the Livescribe Echo Smartpen and the Smartpen Notebook that contains the Livescribe dot pages...I just call it magic paper! Then, touch your pen to the "Record" button on the navigation bar found at the bottom of the dot paper...and you are off and recording. Narrate as you write down thoughts, sample problems, profound thoughts (microphone is right in the pen!) and when you are done, touch your pen to the "Stop" button on the navigation bar. Connect up the pen to your computer via a USB or wireless connection (depending on the model you have)  and download your pencast to the Livescribe desktop program. The pencast is then saved as a .pdf which is great- just place it in your website or course files and anyone can watch it if they have Adobe Reader! And what's even better, Livescribe has really made it easy for users because you can export the pdf to a bunch of different applications like Evernote, Facebook and Microsoft OneNote. This pen is mighty!

Here was a pencast that I made for my IVS students. They were learning about the direct and indirect object pronouns. They needed a little extra support on a particular activity and I find the pencast adds a more personal touch to working with them. With the pencast, students can hear my voice, see my handwriting and they are receiving personalized instruction that at times distance learning can be missing.
Beth's pen
brought to you by Livescribe

Pencasts are an easy way to stay in contact with your students. They are easy to make, and easy to get to your students.  If you are interested in learning more about pencasts, please feel free to email me- I would be more than happy to work with you!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Nothing can compare...

You know the point in certain movies when a giant storm comes rolling in, things start swirling around the sky, everything seems out of control?...And then that eye of the storm moment arrives where the characters see the light, gain clarity, find meaning in something they have been wondering about for a long time? Every movie watcher loves that moment. I love those moments as well! Except today I was not watching a movie, I was watching my students. You can call it organized chaos or whatever you want, but nothing can compare to those moment in my life of teaching when I see my students enter that zone of clarity understanding and learning!

In one of our wonderful labs I have the space to let the students spread their wings and take off with structure they have been studying in the classroom! Today I wanted the students to apply what they had learned about the comparative structure in Spanish (mas..que, menos...que, tan...como) through series of learning stations. I designed these stations to be fun and engaging for the students by including small physical challenges and comparisons, some higher order thinking games, and opinions of current events.

My goal in the lab was to have students visit these stations with their classmates, perform the small task at the learning station to determine who was better, stronger, smaller, more creative etc. and then write a comparative sentence (in a notebook, their journal, a worksheet that you make up) that describes the outcome of the task.

My pictures here capture all the learning going on, and I am always really proud of how well my students work together. Not only does this activity foster learning, but it also fosters classroom community as well :)

Here were the stations my students visited that day. I like these a lot, but you are only limited by your creativity and time in the class period!

1. Who can make the most words in Spanish out of the phrase "La Clase de Espanol"? You have 2 minutes.
2. Who is the strongest? (arm wrestling station- my boys loved that one!)
3. Who has the longest legs? (Keep a measuring tape next to this station)
4. Who has the biggest head? (Keep a measuring tape next to this station as well)
5. Who is the prettiest/most handsome? (I clipped some pictures out of a People magazine)

If you were in a space that allowed food you could have even more fun with:
1 Which cookie is better, Cookie A or Cookie B? (I usually buy Oreos and then a package of generic "Oreos")

I love this activity every year because the learning is personal and meaningful (and fun!) for the students. You know it is a successful class when the students mention how quickly the time flew by!


Sunday, April 6, 2014

A cookie and a circular story...

One of the ways that I like to develop the writing skills of my students is by creating circular stories. Circular stories are ones where the plot becomes interlinked so that the endings leads back to the beginning. These are pretty simple to set up and seem to be a perfect fit when you are teaching “si” clauses in the upper language levels.

I like to use the idea of circular stories because it gives my students an opportunity to put on their creative hats and it really lets my students practice the conditional tense in a different way, asking them to create meaning in their own way. Students add some creative design and color to the story. The stories make a great bulletin board display and really let you showcase the great things that are happening in the classroom!

To get this lesson rolling, start out by reading the Spanish version of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff. You can use the Elmo projector or if you have a small class, sit down and have a little reading session in a cozy corner or quiet area of your school.
image found at:

After reading the story with your students, have some conversation with your students about the literary technique of a circular story, and what makes this a circular story. Do students know any other circular stories? (This sort of conversation leads to valuable cross curricular connections!) Chances are the students are very familiar with this little book, and will be able to tell you about the story and will be very excited when you tell them they will be constructing their own.

I model the expectations of the assignment with the students with an example of my own that I share with you below

Si tocas una trompeta con un tigre por la Sra. Leidolf
Si tocas una trompeta con un tigre, escucharás más música.
Si el tigre escucha más música, querrá aprender del artista.
Si aprende más del artista, le gustará viajar al extranjero.
Si viaja al extranjero, visitará las ciudades del artista.
Si el tigre visita las ciudades del artista, aprenderá el español.
Si el tigre aprende el español, le interesará la música mariachi.
Si le interesa la música mariachi, querrá tocar la trompeta otra vez.

 Feel free to take your kids to a multimedia lab or grab some laptops where the students can do their creating online! You can use any word processing program and students can even create their own drawings using a Paint program or Web 2.0 tools. Some students may want to draw their own, or take pictures and import their own works. 

To assess this activity, you can use one of your Presentational Speaking rubric that already use. Students really enjoy creating and sharing these short circular stories with you and their classmates!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Feeling red, green, yellow and blue all over

Yesterday I successfully completed my 5th exam to become a Google Certified Educator. Phew! There are a couple of important things I learned in that process.
1. Google is all about sharing, so get together with some other interested colleagues and have some collaborative sessions. Take the tests at the same time- Google gives you all randomized tests anyhow, so no one person has the same test at any one time. The power of working with my colleagues on this was amazing- we were able to support each other in many ways!
2. You need to have some familiarity with the Google Apps. That helps get through some of the questions fairly quickly.
3. You should be able to search online quickly and effectively for the answer if you don't know it. Some of the questions can get detailed and knowing where to find the answer is key given that you have 90 minutes to answer 60 questions.

Overall a great experience and I am happy to have this as our school moves forward with 1:1 computing.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Considering other possibilities...

Given an emergency situation/evacuation at your home, 
what 3 cherished items would you take with you?

To wrap up the last week before Spring Break and end on a techy note, I took my Spanish 4h students to the Mediascape lab where they thought about this same question and what they would do. (Yes, we were studying the conditional!)

The Mediascape once again provided that rich environment for my students to create and collaborate. All I had to do to get this activity up and running was to create a Google Presentation, include the directions on the title slide, model a slide with my own ideas and share it with them. Then, each student authored 1 individual slide of the presentation, filling it in with pictures representing items they would take with them (some were even their own they had creatively downloaded- go students go!). Some even want farther and personalized their slide with different backgrounds and transitions to show off their individual likes and preferences.

Once the techy piece was in place, the students were able to move into presentation mode and share in the target language the items they would take with them and why with their table mates. So much conditional tense happening in the room it brought a smile to my face! This activity was great because it asked students to use the language to communicate about a real-world situation!