Junior High Distance Learning Students Use the Latest Technology to Express Their Original Ideas

The students in Tsai Hsing’s distance learning think that learning with the iPads is the best. Most everyone in modern society loves using smartphones and tablets, but students in our DL class take utilization of that technology to the next level. By working independently and applying the amazing breadth of information available to them online, DL students show that iPads are about much more than just fun and games when used in the classroom.

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The iPad is truly a multifunctional device. It’s a notebook, a library, a movie theater, a music studio – an all-around creation station. Swipe, tap, hold and drag – students know all the moves to efficiently make the most of their iPads. In just a few short weeks of distance learning class, even beginners soon are on the path to becoming tech experts.

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The assignments that students complete in distance learning class showcase their ability to use English to combine subject areas with technology. The results are as impressive as the students who created them.

For years, students in DL have used tech tools such as Pages, Keynote, Zoom, KidBlog, Class Dojo, Newsela, Edmodo, and Google products like Classroom, Drive, Docs, Sheets, and Slides. This year, students have expanded upon their tech-spertise to include the following tools as well.

Classcraft

Perhaps you’ve heard of ClassDojo, a classroom management tool that allows students to earn points for good behavior and has cute little monster avatars. Classcraft is similar, but it is a much deeper system of points and rewards that turns good behavior in class into an adventure. First, students create profiles complete with video-game style avatars and roles including mage, warrior and healer. Students are grouped into teams, and together the team must survive by answering questions correctly and behaving appropriately in class (because it’s so customizable, really, the team survives by doing whatever it is the teacher deems worthy of survival). Students earn experience points by completing assignments and are able to “level up” just like a video game. Of course, you can lose points, too, if you answer incorrectly or are caught misbehaving (or, again, doing anything the teacher has deemed worthy of losing points). When you lose health points, an interesting dynamic occurs whereby the healer on your team has the option of spending some of their points to keep you alive (which is also in the best interest of the team). If you lose all your health and you ‘die’, your entire team suffers and you must perform a task to come back to life. It’s classroom game-ification at its finest!

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Below you can see the avatar of Andy from Team White Chocolate (teams choose their own names). Patrick, Jessica, Michelle and Jonathan all work together with Andy. They even wrote a creative story together about how their characters met. Looks like Andy may soon need to ask the team healer, Patrick, for some help.

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Classcraft has features that go far beyond what is described above. For example, students can test their knowledge in Boss Battles. In these battles, students must answer questions correctly to defeat a boss villain. Learning grammar becomes a lot more fun when a giant scorpion demon gets killed when you correctly identify a comma splice.

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One of the most popular elements of Classcraft are the quests. The DL teachers program a sequence of tasks that need to be completed in order to unlock the next stop along a prescribed path. Shortcuts are available only to the brave. Below is an example of the quest map. And, these tasks can even take place in some of the following apps.

Khan Academy

Khan Academy – the online library of instructional videos – has become one of the most popular edtech tools in the world. It was started when an engineer (named Sal Khan) noticed that there weren’t any good instructional videos for teaching math to his young niece. It has grown into a worldwide powerhouse of data-driven instruction that include videos on science, reading, grammar, and even test prep. In 801, students are using Khan Academy in a unique way with the support Classcraft.

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As mentioned above, a special feature of Classcraft are the quests. These include several activities students must complete. The first quest for 801 is all about grammar, specifically nouns.

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Padlet & the Global Read Aloud

By using Padlet – a virtual bulletin board – to display assignments, students are able to keep things organized, looking good and facing outward. For the assignment below, students began working with their partners for the Global Read Aloud for the first time this semester. The Global Read Aloud is an innovative international partnership with students from around the globe; millions of students read the same book at the same time and have asynchronous discussions online.  

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As the students embarked on reading the novel A Monster Calls, they first began with an activity called Mystery Padlet. In this activity, both groups in the collaboration offered clues and photos about their respective cities and countries on a shared Padlet “Wall.” They then used the detailed clues to make an educated guess as to where the other group is located. Classes 701 & 702 soon learned that they are partnered with 7th grade classes in Seattle, Washington, in the United States. Over the course of the next few months, the students will continue to connect with their Global Read Aloud partners, using apps, websites and their remarkable English skills to look deeper into the text and grow as language learners and global citizens.

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Flipgrid & Joyce Visits America

When it comes to learning English, one of the things students need the most help with is speaking. Flipgrid allows students to easily submit short videos on a site that allows for quick video replies as well. It’s like Facebook except with video instead of typing. Plus, teachers can listen very carefully to the videos and give feedback to all students. This is not possible in a traditional classroom and truly allows practice to make perfect.

After reading about Joyce, a young girl from Tsai Hsing who convinces her parents to let her visit Taiwan, students created a Flipgrid to explain a time they had an argument with their parents.

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Andy used Flipgrid to tell a story about a time that he broke his headphones. He wanted new ones, but his dad wanted him to use some old ones instead. Although he didn’t win the argu

ment with his dad, Andy did finally get some new headphones. Yay!

 

 

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A lot like the character in the story, Jessica wanted to convince her parents that she 

 

should go to America to learn English by herself. Her parents thought she was too small to go by herself. But she had good arguments for learning English outside of a classroom, and promised she would write down every day what she learned.

 

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Robie’s answer about being too young to go to a concert was so great, Teacher Travis turned it into a Spark. This is the feature of Flipgrid that allows students to create a video in response to someone else’s video. It ‘sparks’ the conversation. Way to go, Robie!

 

 

iMovie

In order to introduce themselves and share details of their lives with their collaborative partners in the Global Read Aloud, Classes 701 & 702 created All About Me iMovies. These impressive short films included detailed descriptions of Taiwan’s culture, student daily life and the prestige of Tsai Hsing School. Students showcased their superior iMovie skills through the use of all of the fresh features of the new iOS 11 version of iMovie. All iMovies were then uploaded to Edmodo, an online educational website that reinforces and enhances digital classrooms and serves as the primary platform for communication between the collaborative partners.   

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Quizlet

Without using any paper, you can study and organize vocabulary using flashcards with Quizlet. So far this year, students in 801 have studied grammar, learning more about comma splices, run-ons and sentence fragments. Students also have studied vocabulary for the Joyce Visits America story. Below are the top five challenging words or phrases from the first chapter of the story.

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Clearly, the hard-working students in the distance learning program have their work cut out for them between learning English, learning about American culture, and learning all these new apps. Armed with iPads, students can use their brilliant minds to take learning to the next level.

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We Love Classcraft! A BGL Review

Here at BGL, we love Classcraft! It’s a free classroom management system a la Class Dojo but with deeper options and a fantasy-based theme that the students really enjoy.

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One great element is that a given student’s avatar can “die,” which sounds a bit violent for a classroom setting until you consider a few things:

  • Students are organized into teams and there are disincentives built in to the other team members if one of their teammates dies. In other words, students HAVE to help each other in order to avoid team-wide consequences.
  • The teacher can customize the penalty for death with creative consequences that can otherwise benefit the class.

The latter bullet point is the subject of the following video in which Teacher Travis introduces Classcraft to his 5th grade class via distance learning. Please enjoy! Our students definitely do.

 

The teacher dashboard allows multiple views of the class with varying degrees of detail. It also makes it easy to reward/punish groups of students or the entire class at one time with just a few clicks.

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Another element we enjoy with Classcraft is “Today’s Event,” a randomized act that may or may not affect multiple student accounts at one time. It’s akin to some of the squares on a Monopoly board where rewards or consequences are doled out simply for having been in the right/wrong place at the right/wrong time.

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Almost everything in Classcraft is customizable. From a student perspective, they can customize their avatars and earn the ability to unlock special wardrobe elements and skills. The teacher, like with Class Dojo, can customize the rewards and consequences to target specific class behaviors.

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Given this level of customization, there is definitely a learning curve. It seems a bit unwieldy and user-unfriendly at first, but most tech users will find it to become second nature after using it for a short amount of time. Like with most things in teaching, consistency is key – the more you use it, the more effective it becomes.

Using Video to Teach Current Events

BGL’s own Teacher LaCora has experience in front of the camera as a red carpet host here in Los Angeles. She used those skills to create a video about the recent earthquake in Ecuador as part of BGL’s weekly current events unit.

 

To teach current events, BGL selects a handful of stories from the week and shares links to the stories along with discussion questions to all their teachers across grades K-8. Each teacher chooses the story and discussion questions that are best suited for the ability and interest of their classes. Choosing more discussion questions – or turning them into writing assignments – takes the activity from a short one (5-10 minutes) to a longer one (a full period or two).

Here are the discussion questions for the Ecuadorian earthquake story. As you can see, they get progressively more difficult so that teachers in older grades choose from the bottom and vice versa for younger grades.

  • What can people do to help when there is an earthquake?
  • Have you ever felt an earthquake? What does it feel like?
  • What causes earthquakes? Are there different kinds?
  • What is the Richter scale? What does it mean to increase exponentially?

How do you teach current events? Tell us in the comments section.

10 Ways for Time-Strapped Teachers to Keep Up with EdTech

Teachers who love technology (like we do!) always want to learn about the next best—and most useful—thing. Whether it be a burgeoning LMS, a free game site with built-in analytics, or an app students can use for creative projects, within the booming edtech world it can be difficult to wade through the tedium to get to the truly fantastic. So, we’ve developed some tips for keeping up with edtech without tearing your hair out in the process.

Image by Shutterstock, copyright Master1305.

Image by Shutterstock, copyright Master1305.

1. SCHEDULE – 2-3 professional development events each school year to attend where you think you can get the most information and learn the most. (Great resources here and here.)

2. Keep an ongoing LIST of new apps, programs and resources you hear about.  Give some description after each listing so you can remember, generally, the purpose it serves. (Some of our favorites are: Zaption, Zeal, Formative, BrainRush, DragonBox, NOVA Elements App, GoodReader, Duolingo, and ClassDojo to name a few.) Make the list in Googledoc for collaborative input.

3. KEEP your entire team WORKING on research and testing new technology that is available. Organize a task list and be systematic about testing for maximum efficiency.

4. CONNECT WITH OTHERS – Keep an open dialogue with your team and with your personal learning network. What’s working and what is not? Some top hashtags to follow on Twitter are: #edtech, #edchat, #elearning, #ipadchat, #flipclass, #flippedclassroom, #iPadEd, #EdApps, #iPadClassroom and #mlearning.

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Image by Shutterstock, copyright Master1305.

5. Go with the “DOES IT STICK?” approach.  After your team starts testing something, ask yourself: “does it stick”?  If it stays on your radar, it’s probably worth keeping. If not, dump it and move on.

6. COMPARE AND CONTRAST… given there are so many apps and services now that serve similar purposes, choose the top two or three and test those against one another.  Have one of your employees try one and another employee try the other.  Have them take notes and then at the end, collect your team, compare the two and decide which to go with for the time being (A great general resource is the EdSurge EdTech Index which offers a multitude of categories and suggestions).

7. DON’T MIX testing and what your company is currently using at the time.  Implement after testing and decisions are made.

8. BE OPEN TO CHANGE – keep your eyes and ears open to what may be new, better, etc. If you stick with a given piece of tech for too long, you may find yourself quickly outdated and unfamiliar with new stuff that’s out there.

9. STEP BY STEP is the way to work through all the new ed tech options otherwise you could just feel completely overwhelmed and do nothing.

10. ENJOY THE PROCESS – Remember to enjoy the process! This should be fun, right??  Don’t get bogged down feeling it’s tedious work.

Image by Shutterstock, copyright Master1305.

Image by Shutterstock, copyright Master1305.

So… how do you keep up? Write a comment below!

York, PA’s Weary Arts Group – A 4G Field Trip for Students of Shakespeare

There is perhaps no better way for students to dive into the art of theatrical performance than by studying the greatest playwright of all time, William Shakespeare. While reading an adaptation of the comedy Much Ado about Nothing, BGL‘s 8th grade distance learning students explored the themes of the story while learning how to add expressiveness to their acting of the play’s scenes. This 4G Field Trip with the Weary Arts Group in York, PA brought the concept home for these students in a fun and informative way. Our gracious and dynamic hosts, Calvin and Dante, mesmerized the class with their performances, and the students were grateful to learn from some experts.
Thanks to Teacher Jackie for facilitating the trip and for creating short and long versions of the field trip video. See them below!
SHORT VERSION:
LONG VERSION:

That’s Crafty! Our 4G Field Trip to Tom Colicchio’s LA Restaurant

Wow! BGL’s 501 Class was very lucky to take a virtual field trip to Tom Colicchio‘s Craft LA, one of the best restaurants in Los Angeles. The charming and well-spoken manager, Todd Thurman, led the tour and gave the 5th graders a unique insight into the process behind creating some of the world’s finest dishes.

Manager Todd Thurman introduces Taiwanese 5th graders to Craft LA.

Manager Todd Thurman introduces Taiwanese 5th graders to Craft LA.

“Teacher Todd” first showed us around the patron area, discussing the nature of the owner’s fame and the concept behind the design of the dining space.

Students are introduced to Craft's formal dining space.

Students are introduced to Craft’s formal dining space.

The real fun started as we headed into the kitchen. As we visited each of the stations, Teacher Todd told us some of the work that goes into creating such unique food. All of the fruits and vegetables are sourced from Farmer’s Markets up and down the state of California. Some markets will come by the restaurant with a huge selection of food with only the most superb ingredients chosen by special Craft staff.

Chef de Cuisine Ray England addresses the students.

Chef de Cuisine Ray England addresses the students.

We had the pleasure of meeting the head chef (or, “Chef de Cuisine”), Ray England, who talked to the students about Craft’s use of the entire animal after butchering. This made sense to the Taiwanese students, whose culture celebrates the eating of many foods that we might consider “exotic” in an effort to waste no part of butchered animals.

Dessert!

Dessert!

Of course, the students were most excited when they saw the gourmet chocolate chip cookies and, especially, the homemade sorbet and ice cream. One student wished that there was a machine that would allow people to “throw stuff through the television screen” so that they could eat some of the ice cream. The Craft staff got a kick out of the enthusiasm the students showed for their favorite sweets.

Afterwards, Teacher Seth was so hungry he had to sit down and sample the octopus and summer squash puttanesca and orecchiette with lamb and fava beans.

The best octopus I've ever tasted.

The best octopus I’ve ever tasted.

Orecchiette with lamb and fava beans.

Orecchiette with lamb and fava beans.

All in all, a fantastic experience for students and tour guides alike. This was a great way to wrap up our food unit, which also had us taking a virtual field trip to a farmer’s market and conducting a recipe collaboration with the Environmental Charter School in Pittsburgh.

Many thanks Teacher Seth’s good buddy Jim Wisniewski for setting up the trip! Here are some of the best thank you notes from the students:

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Kung Fu, Zen Buddhism and the Shaolin Temple – An Independent Research Project for 5th Graders

Our 5th graders in Taiwan are new to our distance learning program, so one of the first units we do with them is a familiar topic – Ancient China. We teach about Chinese New Year, the Great Wall, important rivers and inventions, and China’s greatest teacher, Confucius. But the most popular lesson is based on a trip that Teacher Seth took to the Shaolin Temple in the Henan Province of Central China.

First the students read a brief chapter on the history of the Shaolin Temple and its importance to Kung Fu and Zen Buddhism. Then, they watch a video about Teacher Seth’s trip:

Then, the students complete the following assignment:

Today, you learned that the Shaolin Temple is the birthplace of Zen Buddhism and of Kung Fu. You will choose ONE of those three topics – Zen Buddhism, Kung Fu, or the Shaolin Temple – and do Internet research on that topic.

Then, answer following questions.

1 – What is your topic?

2 – What are some important things that happened in the history of your topic?

3 – What are some things people do to celebrate or practice it?

4 – Who are some famous people who are associated with your topic? What is their relationship to it?

5 – What is your opinion about your topic?

The best of those reports are linked for download here:

Jasper:                                                            Tiffany:

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Annie 21:                                                            Moe:

 

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Christine:                                                         Nicole 30:

 

 

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Angelica:                                                         Sherry:

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What awesome research projects has your class conducted? Leave a comment!

An Inventive Renaissance Project with 8th Grade ELL’s

While the Renaissance is an important period in history and the artwork is truly amazing, it is not always the most interesting topic for students to study (especially those in the midst of junior high ennui). However, a class of BGL’s ambitious 8th graders at Tsai Hsing School have worked their magic to bring the study of the Renaissance to life.

First students learned about Donatello and through his work were introduced to the techniques of Renaissance artists. From this stemmed an art critique assignment in which students chose a work of art by Donatello and unleashed their best inner art critic. This met with some interesting results, some of which are below.

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Next we learned about Michelangelo. This led students to an in-depth look at his famous works at the Sistine Chapel. They learned that Michelangelo created this art to represent the story of Genesis in the Bible. Students ran with this, creating their creation artwork. For a twist, students traded artwork, then wrote a story about the creation of the world. Below are just a few examples of their endeavors.

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The next famous Renaissance artist in the study was Leonardo, who is famous for his unique perspective on the human form and his many incredible inventions. Students used this a springboard for their own inventions. They chose one of Leonardo’s inventions, but found a way to improve on it.

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Finally, the students studied Raphael, who is arguably one of the most talented painters of the Renaissance and is famous for his realistic portraits. Students channeled their own inner artists to create self portraits. What a beautiful and talented group!

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This class will be moving on to study Shakespeare in the coming weeks. Keep your eyes peeled for the actors and actresses to unveil the works of Shakespeare through the lens of a Taiwanese 8th grader.

Moe’s Blog: A 5th Grade Student’s Perspective on Distance Learning Class

Hello, friends! My name is Moe. I’m a fifth grader studying in Taiwan at Tsai Hsing Elementary School. Today, let’s talk about our special and interesting English class.

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There is a special class in our school which is called distant learning class. We have video teleconference calls with teachers in America. We learn many interesting things. Last semester, we studied different biomes and rainforests, and we also learned math in English. Although I wasn’t used to learning in English last semester, now, I clearly understand the content in class and I like it a lot.

Of course, any great class has a wonderful teacher. We have two great teachers from California. The first few minutes in class, we chat and the teachers will talk about interesting things that happened to them. And then, they use easy and humorous ways to teach us some new knowledge. We also have assignments that we really have to use our brains to think about. It is not as easy as the traditional homework, such as memorizing vocabularies. We have to read an article, understand it, and write our own opinion about it. Instead of copying the answers, we have to think about the information in different ways. It helps us to think outside of the box.

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During class, we also have a lot of group work. We work with classmates in a group of four, and the teachers want us to utilize the different abilities of different teammates and work together. The best example was the presentation of “How Do People Celebrate New Year All around the World.” First, we had to find a website for kids where we can look for information. Then, we chose a country we would like to write about. We read an article about the country and made a Google Slide presentation. Each of us made one page of the presentation. So a six-page Google slide presentation was made from our team effort.

 

This semester we are studying about Confucius, the great teacher in ancient China. We are learning his legacy and his main ideas. We know that he tried to tell the world about “virtue”, and he tried to put his ideas into practice.

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For our assignment, instead of think about things that we already know, we have to think forward. We have to think about the “virtue” for typical jobs in modern life. For example, how should a president behave, or what does virtue mean to a citizen? We also compare different virtues for each job.

 

I know that many of our classmates think that this class is hard. It seems like it’s a lot of pressure for them, but I think this class is very practical for me. First, it improves my English abilities, no matter if is it grammar, understanding, or researching with the iPad. Second, it also gives me the chance to challenge myself to do my best job, and I will always try to make the assignment perfect in the shortest time I have. Third, it helps me understand how kids from other countries learn in class. I also get to do many things that I never had a chance to do, such as making a presentation, making a map or drawing a comic book. All of them make me feel excited.

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I also try my best to help my classmates and I have to say that they are showing great progress. It is pretty difficult, but before, some of our classmates couldn’t communicate with English speakers. Now, they can talk fluently and with confidence.

Well, those are most of the things we do in the distant learning class, but that’s not all, I will keep posting photos and interesting things about our class. I also hope you like it. Farewell!