Sunday, September 20, 2015

DIY Document Camera

I tweeted a picture about my DIY Document Camera this week for #teach180.  Here's a little more about it:

I use guided notes frequently with my students.  Prior to this year, our district's textbook was written all in German (even for first year) and even then offered very little in terms explanations of concepts.  It was basically like teaching without a textbook, so my students needed a lot of additional teacher-created material in order to have an opportunity for success.  It was a lot of work!

This year, we have a new MUCH better textbook.  (Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who helped in the textbook adoption process!)  Our new textbook, Mosaik, is designed so that it can be used at either the high school or college level.  It is very well written and I like it a lot, but some of my students still need some support to go along with the book.  So, we do foldables and guided notes.

It works best for me to fill out the notes with the students as we talk about new topics so that they can see what they need to write down.  Which means I need students to be able to see what I'm writing.  

Back when I first taught math and physics from 1999-2001, I used an overhead projector for this.  When I returned to work in 2011, I started as a half-time English as a New Language aide in my children's elementary school.  (Which was a fantastic way for me to go back to work after being home full time for 10 years.  I learned SO much from those fantastic elementary teachers!)  The teachers there all had document cameras, and I immediately fell in love with them.  It was like an overhead projector but so much better.

When I started teaching high school German in 2013, I was dismayed to find that the high school teachers didn't have them.  I asked and asked for one, but apparently it was viewed as an elementary tool.  So, about mid-way through the year, I came up with a way to make my own.  At that time teachers had iPads, and we have AirServer in the buidling, which allows me to project whatever is on my iPad to my computer screen and thus onto the projector for students to see.  All I needed was some sort of stand to hold the iPad at the right height so that I could write.  After some trial and error, I found that two cabinet shelf thingies from Goodwill would do the trick nicely.  

I put this on an old wheeled overhead cart, and because it's cordless, I can move anywhere in the room.  There's normally no delay between when I write on my notes and when the students see it on the screen.  Once in a while AirServer gets cranky, and it freezes for a few seconds, but then it catches up.  Occasionally AirServer won't work at all and we have to go old school and use the chalkboard, but that's only about once or twice a month.  I can definitely live with that!

And, just recently, I've tried using my iPad in this way to record a video of our notes for students who are absent or need a review.  More on that in another post!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Puzzle Cards for Verb Conjugations

The first verb my students learn, sein (to be) is also the most irregular verb in German.  (Similar story in English...)  Actually, I haven't taught students regular verb endings yet, so they don't know just how irregular sein is, but they do know there isn't much of a pattern.  And so we have come upon one of the hard truths of language learning: 

Some things just have to be memorized. 

It isn't particularly complicated, nor is it very exciting; it just takes some time and effort.  I try to offer a variety of ways for my students to practice. 

We start with guided notes:

We use Quizlet:

Another one of the options I have is these puzzle cards.  

They contain a variety of subjects and then the different forms of sein for students to match up.  I made them using some puzzle shape clip art I got from Teachers Pay Teachers.  I printed them out on card stock, and I plan to have them laminated when I get a chance.  

Want to try them?  Click for subjects and sein cards or haben cards.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Accusative Case

Last week was a big week for German 1 - they learned their second verb, haben (to have), and their second case, accusative, which is used for direct objects.  Definitely an occasion for a foldable!

First, we conjugated the verb haben.  Then, we took a trip down memory lane to elementary school when students learned parts of speech.  Almost everyone remembered that the topic of a sentence is called the subject and the action in the sentence is the verb.  Yes!  Students were more uncertain on what to call the thing that receives the action of the verb, but the term direct object did ring a bell for some of them.

This information went into the foldable:

Next up was recording the definite articles (words for the) for masculine, feminine, neuter, and plural in both the nominative and accusative cases.  Color with purpose!

Finally, we wrote some example sentences.  

We did a second foldable for indefinite articles (a/an) the next day, following the same format.

It went very well!  This is our first year for this textbook, and it introduces the accusative case much earlier than our previous textbook, and even though it's a bit challenging, I think it's good.  It give students a lot more time to get used to the idea of cases and to become comfortable with the accusative case before introducing the dative case.

What I would change:  The foldable is a little small.  I did this on purpose so that I could fit 4 to a page and save a bit of paper, but I think it might be better to just increase the size and have 2 per page.  Next year...

Want a copy of the foldable?  Click here.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Meet them Where They Are

I have three sections of German 1 this year.  Last year I only taught German 2 and German 3, and it's nice to have students who are just starting German again.  It's fun watching them figure out how logical German is - that ein Bleistift - a "lead-writing-utensil" is a pencil.  The flip side is that I hear "die" pronounced like die in English (long i), rather than like dee (long e) as it is in German, over and over and over again.

All 3 of my sections of German 1 are full - with 30 to 32 students in each.  They're all a mixture of 9th, 10th, and 11th graders.  And all 3 have more boys than girls - a ratio of about 2 to 1.  Which makes me wonder - where are all the girls?  French?  Spanish?  I'm not sure...

But that's where the similarities end.  The first two sections are pretty challenging.  There are a wide variety of students - some are socially and academically where I'd hope for high school students to be.  But both sections also have a significant number of students who don't yet have the skills they need to be successful.  

This is a first year language class, so I'm not talking about a lack of German knowledge.  I'm not even talking about weak English language skills.  This is more a lack of school success skills.  Students who sit for 20 minutes and don't take notes with the rest of the class because they don't have a pencil, even though extra writing utensils are available in the room.  Students who are absent and don't make an effort to get caught up, even though I give them a paper with everything they missed:

Students who call out "I don't get it!" loudly as soon as they can't do something, rather than reading the directions, trying a bit more, looking at their notes, or asking a tablemate.  You get the picture.

It reminds me a lot of my first year of teaching when I had a very squirrely section of 9th grade algebra, and my wonderful mentor teacher advised me that it's sometimes just as much about teaching social skills as it is about teaching math skills.  Meeting them where they are and helping them get to where they need to be.

So, after those two classes, I start wondering what it is that I'm doing wrong, what I should do differently, etc.  

Then I teach my period 5 class.  And everything goes perfectly.  They listen to instructions.  And follow them.  They participate, try, and help one another.  They have all mastered logging in to their online textbook by now (the 6th week of school).  And they are mastering the material, as you can see by the number of students in just this section who got an A on the last quiz:

There are still some weak students, but there are enough strong students that they set the tone.  The weaker students (sometimes) follow their example.  

It's fascinating to me just how different these classes are, even though on paper they are indistinguishable.  

So, now I'm thinking about how to help the two weaker classes learn both German and academic success skills.  I pondered this a lot on my run last weekend.

One thing I've noticed: I normally have my students seated in table groups of 4 so that they can work together and practice speaking with each other:

When I'm giving an assessment, I move the desks into rows.  I noticed that on those days period 3 and period 4 did much better.  They were more focused and listened better to my teaching and my instructions.  So, I decided to keep the desks in rows for those two classes for a while.  

For period 3 it has already made a huge difference.  Period 4 is still a work in progress.  It's not ideal - the groups are much better for sharing materials and speaking activities.  But I think it's what they need, for now.  As we progress and students are more clear on my expectations, we'll try groups again.  For now, though, I'm meeting them where they are, and working to help them grow to where they need to be.  Stay tuned...