Aches & Pains in Using the Friendliest EdTech – Quizlet

 

Smiley Crane (Naomi's Photos)
Smiley Crane
(Naomi’s Photos)

For me, the clever flash card app (and website) called Quizlet, is about as convenient as educational technology can get. Not only is creating study sets simple, the fact that there are auto-defintions to choose from (no need to switch languages!) and built-in picture options saves a lot of time. So easy to learn to use!

Add to that the fact that my deaf and hard of hearing high-school students are completely (and understandably ) addicted to their cell phones. Some of them don’t even have working computers at home anymore. Everything is done on the cell phone. Since my students also have a lot of trouble remembering vocabulary, I decided to add Quizlet to our program. It works on Android and Apple phones. I even treated myself to the paid version so I could easily track students’ progress.

Beware! Naomi's Photos
Beware!
Naomi’s Photos

I’m ashamed to say that I thought there wouldn’t really be any woes worth mentioning when implementing THIS Edtech.

Ha ha.

First there were a lot of problems getting the students to join the classes I opened on Quizlet. Those who opened an account and joined the class on the class computer BEFORE downloading the app on their phone had no problem. However, those who downloaded the app before I sent them the invitation to join the class did not find the invitation when entering the app and did not join. I tried telling them to refresh the app to see the invitation but some had promptly forgotten their login information (despite my requests to write it down). By using the classroom computer we solved that problem, one student at a time. Good thing I only have 45 students in all three grades!

I have an Android phone. Students using Apple phones didn’t find the invitation link I sent via WhatsApp to be clickable. Luckily a student showed everyone that when they forward the message back to me, the link becomes clickable.

Fishing Net Naomi's photos
Fishing Net
Naomi’s photos

Some students registered using the Facebook account. Which is a huge advantage over losing your login information every lesson! But the user name students receive by registering this way is a number, not their name. I had to make a list in my diary of the students who registered through Facebook and their corresponding names (except for the ones with a very clear picture). A one time thing, to be sure.

Only two students immediately deleted the app after class, being annoyed that I’m taking up space in their phones. But many didn’t pay attention to the app (even though I told them that I’m using words and phrases from their exams!) until I began showing them Quizlet’s reports on student progress. The fact that they can’t just argue with me that they DID use the app when I said they didn’t is powerful. I get a report detailing students’ activity on the app. This fact has begun to sink in!

As of today I have a new “woe”.  After some time has passed, I remove old sets of words / phrases from classes when adding new ones. I get a progress report for each set. So I don’t look at sets that have been removed. However, it turns out that unless students refresh the app, the previous sets remain. Some students practiced the old sets and I thought they hadn’t used the app at all because I no longer checked those sets.

Sigh.

I still think that choosing Quizlet was the right decision. But implementing it is not the “piece of cake” I expected.

Saturday’s Book: “The Rosie Project” by Simsion

A red moon in honor of Halloween? Naomi's Photos
A red moon in honor of Halloween?
Naomi’s Photos

Just a pleasure to read. I just let myself go and enjoyed reading, read it in a few days. I didn’t try to think too much, or use my knowledge in special education to analyze the likelihood of certain things.

I enjoyed the comic aspects, enjoyed the fact that someone who is different is being celebrated and enjoyed knowing there would be a happy end (that’s not a spoiler, it’s quite obvious).

I also enjoyed the fact that the timing was perfect. I went to the library to return Primo Levi (which was awesome but hardly a happy book) and “The Rosie Project” had been returned minutes before. Just what I needed!

Saturday’s Book: “If Not Now, WHEN?” by Primo Levi

Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos

What an amazing book! I was completely blown away by this one. The author got me hooked by page 2. His style is different from any author I have read before and he presented me with a whole new perspective.

The thing is I had absolutely no intention of reading a book about Primo Levi. I knew the Italian author had written “hard-core”  books about surviving Auschwitz and I didn’t think I could deal with that. I do read about the Holocaust and have read many books about WWll but Levi scared me.

Then I read a very convincing article about Primo Levi and his books in the New Yorker Magazine. The book that caught my attention the most (it was highly praised) was one called ” The Periodic Table”. From what I understood the author (who was a chemist) used various elements as a tool to describe members of his family and other people in his life.

“AHA!” I thought and set out to look for the book. The library doesn’t carry it. “If Not Now, WHEN” was the only book by Levi in English they had. Since it was also mentioned favorably in the article I decided (gulp) to try it.

I’m so glad I did. It’s about people. I know that’s odd to say, most books are. But it’s about people on the move, partisans, refugees, soldiers, peasants, people of many nationalities, thrown into unexpected encounters because of the war. The perspective of a Jewish Partisan, coming from Russia and crossing parts of Poland, Germany and Italy is not one I have encountered before.

Most importantly. Levi did not overdo anything. He didn’t attempt to spoon feed the readers, particularly with gory details. One sentence can often be more powerful than supplying too many details. Levi managed to be engrossing while saying just enough.

I don’t want to say any more and spoil it for you. Just read it!

I

Lessons I Learned from a Chocolate Chip Cookie in Class Today

 

Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos

Who said only students learn things in class? Today I learned quite a few things! Here they are, in no particular order:

* Everyone DOES know what a chocolate chip cookie is. Even my 11th grade hard of hearing students who display dismal language skills in their mother tongue. However, it seems that the concept of a “chocolate cookie” is unfamiliar. It makes it hard to argue the point that Mrs. Wakefield was surprised when she took the first batch of chocolate chip cookies out of the oven.

* It may be 2015 but it still makes the most sense to the students that Mrs. Wakefield baked for her husband. The text does mention a husband, what more information could possibly be needed? That’s what women do. Duh.  True, to find out that she ran a hotel with her husband and baked for the guests would have required a lot of painstaking reading and translating, which seemed a waste of effort when the answer was so very obvious.

Naomi's photos
Naomi’s photos

* Candy bars manufactured by Nestle are actually sold in the school vending machines. I have never been interested enough in the company to follow which of their products are sold in this country. Or in what is sold in the vending machines. A student discovered the name on the packaging of her candy bar and showed it to me. The other students were convinced “Nestle” was “Nutella” (sweetened hazlenut chocolate spread) which made perfect sense to them. I’ve complained bitterly about the machines, I won’t let one useful candy bar change my opinion about them, right?

Iddo Epstein's Photos
Iddo Epstein’s Photos

* The word “like” goes with the word “popular”. Another “duh” moment for me. If your post on Facebook/Instragram gets a lot of likes, it means its popular, right?! Students were asked to copy 2-3 words which show that the writer likes chocolate chip cookies. Why bother translating a long word such as “delicious” when there now are “hundreds” of such cookies in the market? The description “hundreds of cookies” sounds like a lot to them, without regard to the fact that the reference is to hundreds of recipes…

I must admit I think these cookies are  delicious, too! It’s a good thing the next text isn’t about them, all this analyzing of chocolate chip cookies may make me reach for the cookie jar!

 

Saturday’s Book: Paying my Respects to the Late Oliver Sacks

He gave us a window to look through. (Naomi's Photos)
He gave us a window to look through. (Naomi’s Photos)

I know such posts usually start with the line “I first encountered a book by Oliver Sacks in….” but I would rather begin with the last thing I read by the famous neurologist-author, written shortly before his death.

It’s a wonderful and moving short piece in The New Yorker Magazine called “Filter Fish”., Sacks shares his “romance” with Gefilte Fish, beginning when he was very young, and ending as a sick old man. In between there was an African-American housekeeper who absolutely excelled at the art of Gefilte-Fish making, but understood (and stuck to it!) that the name of the dish was “Filter Fish”!

When Sack’s book about deafness “Seeing Voices” came out, I was given it twice! I was pretty young in those days and found it difficult reading. Not the top part of the page, but dealing with the huge amount of footnotes on every page! Sometimes there were more footnotes than text on a page.

For years I was afraid to read anything else by Sacks, until I started reading The New Yorker Magazine regularly. Then I began avidly reading each of his pieces. I believe I read his book about Music as well, though my memory is a bit foggy on that one.

There was always a bit of disappointment that he couldn’t cure any of the cases I read about it. But his curiosity about everything and his article writings (without the footnotes!) were contagious and I always ended each piece in awe of the intricacies of the human body and brain.

It is a gift to be curious and he shared that with us.

Maximizing Classroom Space – The “French Cafe” Way

The French cafe classroom
The French cafe classroom

It was the day before school began. Another teacher stood at the doorway, surveying the complete facelift the little classroom had undergone. She didn’t say a word.

“It’s too red, too loud, isn’t it?” I prompted worriedly. I hadn’t really planned on red table coverings for the different work stations. Especially as some of the coverings (some!) have polka dots. But I’m not known for my taste in matching colors and we already had some red coverings available so I was convinced red was the way to go. By August 31st  we had the stations all set up and I was feeling quite overwhelmed by the red and worried that the whole idea wouldn’t work.

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I had been teaching in the format of a learning center for many years. In fact, a great many years if you count all the years I didn’t call it that. To me it seems the only way to deal with the absolutely huge differences in level and ability in every class of deaf and hard of hearing students I have ever taught.

But for a large portion of that time, I had a large classroom. It was easier to have students working on different things at the same time without bothering each other.

P1050095

The whole system was in risk of collapsing last year when we moved to a much smaller classroom. All my efforts to resist having the tables arranged in the traditional semi-circle facing the board (so students who can’t hear well can see each other as well as the teacher) failed.  The students would push them back, the cleaning lady would push them back. There didn’t seem to be enough room – it was too distracting.

And now I was worried that the red (especially with the polka dots!) would be distracting!

P1050091

“It is a bit loud” she said. “But just tell the students to imagine they are in a French Cafe. It will be okay”.

And it is. Really. The room feels much bigger. Even when I have students going off-task and the classroom is full, they don’t bother the other students. The distance between the students has grown and the whole atmosphere is more relaxed. The red doesn’t seem too loud anymore, just cheery. Much of it is, of course, covered most of the lesson with papers and books.

The strangest thing to me is that almost none of my students commented on the change or the colors. EVERY SINGLE ONE commented on the fact that we had finally gotten a new, good quality door to the classroom, but most ignored the changes! Meanwhile, students from the “hearing” classrooms stop by to peek in and go ecstatic, saying that they want to study here too…

Station Tracking Charts
Station Tracking Charts

That teacher was absolutely right about the French Cafe image. On a recent family trip to France we stopped to eat lunch, and the sidewalk tables had  THE EXACT SAME TABLE COVERINGS!

(Belated) Saturday’s Book: “Never Cry Wolf” by Mowat

It's a Puka, not a wolf, but we are rooting for them too! And I haven't seen any wolves... (Naomi's Photos)
It’s a bearded seal, not a wolf, but we are rooting for them too! And I haven’t seen any wolves… (Naomi’s Photos)

I’m somewhat confused by this book.

On one hand it was a great read – easy to get into, funny and informative. A very engaging tale about the author’s adventures as a young man, about half a century ago, when he was sent by the Canadian government to research arctic wolves and their impact on the dwindling Caribou population. The author knows how to tell a tale and is very convincing about how we should care about wolf conservation.

On the other hand, it is very disconcerting that the tale is presented as true, while there is lots of material online that explains that much of it isn’t. The author meant for the book to be pro-wolves and many scientists recognize the importance of the book in stopping systematic decimation of the wolves. But if lots of the facts are inaccurate, that would mean that beyond reading a well told tale (which is a good reason to read a book, though not a non-fiction one) what have I actually learned about wolves? I don’t have time to research online what was accurate about the tale and what wasn’t! The author freely admits that the point is what counts, not the accuracy.

Confusing. Still, it was a fun read!

(Belated) Saturday’s Book: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Skloot

Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos

What an absolutely fascinating book! I’m so grateful to Arlene Blum for telling me about it!

This non-fiction book gives the reader much more than I expected and sustained my interest all the way through, including the appendix (!!!). I had it as an audio-book, and the readers were excellent.

It’s a tale of medical history, explaining how important (big-time!) advances came to be. But it’s also a well told story of the real people behind these advances, their lives and how events affected them.

And then there’s more. Much more. These medical advances are intertwined with American history, the history of African-American’s migration to big cities and their relationship with the medical establishment (who knew that John Hopkins hospital once had segregated wards, and that’s because they were the only hospital in Baltimore that would treat the African-Americans to begin with?) and even a connection to the question of why the members of Klu Klux Klan wore white sheets.

If all that wasn’t enough, there is the legal aspect. What rights did patients have then? What rights do we have now in related to cells and tissue taken from our bodies?

Through all that, there is a very personal story of Henrietta Lacks and her family, over several generations.

I really recommend this book!

 

 

Visualising School – Photo Pause

A teacher gets “new eyes” with camera in hand!

No rain to clear up that huge sandstorm we got – just the endless dripping of the air-conditioners.

Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos

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Should we read anything into the fact that teacher’s chair is facing away from the others?

Naomi's photos
Naomi’s photos

 

I guess someone’s Mary Poppins themed lesson didn’t work out too well – that’s one kite that isn’t going “…up where the air is right”…

Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos

 

Two lanes in the hallways. Reminds me of that old lovely book about teaching in New York “Up the Down Staircase”!

Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos

There are actually some really nice pictures with inspirational quotes along the hallways, but you can’t see them from this angle.

Note: This is an educator’s blog, so only school related pictured are posted here. To see what this teacher comes up with when pounding the pavement of her hometown, see here:

Pounding The Pavement in Kiryat-Ono

The Sticky Issue of FOOD in the Classroom

Tel-Aviv, 1947. Summer camp for city children to help them GAIN weight. Photographer unknown.
Tel-Aviv, 1947. Summer camp for city children to help them GAIN weight. Photographer unknown.

Allowing students to eat in class, during a lesson, really is a sticky issue. It is a multi-sided problem full of “yeah, but…” that crops up mainly during lessons later on in the day or during the very first lesson of the day. In most schools in this country there are no “lunch periods”. Students (and teachers!) eat during the breaks between the lessons. One break is longer than the others to allow for eating time.

A hungry student, especially a child or a teenager, cannot concentrate. Particularly so when it comes to children who have trouble concentrating at school in the first place, though I have seen the same phenomenon with adult students.

That’s a fact, as far as I’m concerned. That hungry student might as well have been absent – he/she isn’t taking in much (if anything) of the lesson. A sheer waste of time.

One thing on its mind! (Naomi's Photos)
One thing on its mind!
(Naomi’s Photos)

However…

If you let students munch on sandwiches as they study, you run headlong into “THE STICKY” & “THE SMELLY”.  In my classroom we have a lot of shared materials which risk getting all sticky, smudged and unpleasant. In addition, some students bring food with distinct odors, pleasant to some, offensive to others. Such smells tend to take over the room and can cause students who weren’t hungry before to become hungry too…

So…

When I see a student whose hunger is the only thing on his/her mind I tell them to go outside for five minutes, eat and come back to class. This policy works really well with some students, who study effectively for the rest of the lesson. The problem arises particularly after gym class when the child feels particularly hungry but the time spent in the locker room “ate up” all the break time.

But…

School management doesn’t want students outside the classrooms during the lessons when there are no hall / yard monitors. And the student is missing out on whatever is going on inside the classroom.

Not a school, but cool reflections... (Naomi's Photos)
Not a school, but cool reflections…
(Naomi’s Photos)

And a different kind of BUT…

Some students are quick to take advantage (emphasis on “some”, others emphatically do not). Why should they waste their precious break time eating when they need to talk? Why should they waste their time standing in line to buy food during the break when there are no lines during a lesson?

Now and then (since I teach in a high-school) there are a few cases of those dieting teenage girls who haven’t eaten a single thing all day and then “oh so surprisingly” (to them, not me) start feeling faint with hunger when they hit sixth period (not to mention seventh and eighth…).

I try to adhere to a policy of “drink only” during a lesson (I sometimes need a sip of water during a lesson too!) and I let the students chew gum.  But three weeks into the new school year the “absolutely dying of hunger teen” has already showed up three times.

This seems to be an issue that I cannot be completely consistent about.

Sigh…