21 June 2015

Part 1: App-smashing culture, language, and global themes: MVHS French 2's "Photo de classe"

This will be a two-part blog post about a thematic and 
project-based unit I shared with my French 2 students at 
Mount Vernon High School. The first post is about the language and culture side of the unit. The second will describe the app-smashing technology integration that supported the learning.

In looking to extend the traditional “Family” unit into a more thoughtful project-based-unit that incorporated technology at an intermediate level, I discovered a French Web documentary called, “Photo de classe.” Julie Noël, a third grade teacher in Paris, worked with her class for a full year exploring the students’ families and their ethnic heritages. The students created Web pages with video interviews of their families, audio recordings with personal descriptions, family photos, and personal drawings. 

Photo de classe: Julie Noël (teacher) 

What impressed me about the project is that 10-11 year old students discussed migration, family origins, racism, and 
cultural/national identity. These themes fit in perfectly with the AP themes of identity and culture: Who am I? What are my origins? Do I consider myself “American” or the heritage of my immigrant parents? AP themes can be used at any level if the tasks are appropriate for the learners. 

Julie Noël’s class and my classes mirrored each other in terms of ethnic and financial backgrounds, so I decided to use this as our platform. Nearly 80% of my students have parents or grandparents who came to the United States from a different country or whose families moved to Mount Vernon from a different state. Discussing family history in French class has been a subject I haven’t brought up too often. In our family units, students created imaginary families so that we avoided personal (residency) and stressful (divorce, etc) topics. 

However, this year I decided that our students should know more about their classmates and their stories. Too often, our cafeteria is divided between the ethnic and cultural backgrounds. My goal was to unite the students under the idea that we all came to Mount Vernon from somewhere else – whether it was two years or 100 years ago.

The unit encompassed three sub-themes:

  • Family vocabulary
  • Physical / psychological descriptions
  • Interrogatives and questions formation
  • Verbs such as: has/have, am/are/is
  • Adjective agreement
  • Possessive adjectives.

Nationalities, languages, and customs:
  • Verbs such as: Venir de (to come from) habiter au/en (to live in), parler (to speak)
  • Heritage-based vocabulary: Quinceañera, etc.   

Migration and moving: Unit plan 
  • Migration in Europe vs migration in the US
  • Expressions describing why humans migrate or move  
The three themes were tied together through the Web documentary, “Photo de classe.” Each step included 
authentic listening, reading, and speaking activities to build and reinforce the language and cultural objectives. 

Over the course of three months, French 2 students:

1. Explored each French student's “Photo de classe” page. We discussed the people in the pictures to reinforce family vocabulary and ethnic backgrounds. This made for an interesting discussion as students thought they could guess someone’s ethnicity based on skin color. Using French as much as possible and employing a great deal of Comprehensible Input allowed the students to express their ideas at novice-mid levels. Our goal was to progress towards mid-high by the end of the unit. 

2. Listened to the French children’s audio clips as they described themselves, their favorite activities, their family’s background, and their cultural/national identity. Students filled out Google forms that assessed their listening comprehension. Our students used the French students' audio clips and this handout to help them begin composing their 2 minute oral descriptions 

3. Read articles from “Astrapi,” a magazine for 7-11 year olds, about four of the children from the documentary. “Copains de classe. Copains du monde” (No 808. 15 January 2015). These short reading selections discussed how and why the children’s families migrated to France. Students demonstrated their reading comprehension through an IPA-style assessment. Listened to Faudel’s song, “Mon pays” that discusses knowing where you came from and how you fit in with a culture.

4. Tied in outside authentic reading and listening resources on the recent migration crisis from 1Jour1Actu and other news resources. (Google file with all documents)

5. Created a paper-based timeline of their lives using basic expressions with past and imperfect tenses: When I was 3 years old, I rode a bike. Documents were scanned and uploaded to the Padlet walls. 

6. Created their own “Photo de classe” Web pages in which they presented their own migration and heritage stories. The pages were modeled on the original Web documentary.

7. Discussed with a partner the reasons why people move and migrate and their family's story of moving to Mount Vernon. 
Directions: Learning objectives and contextual expressions for the IPA interpersonal assessment. 

Conversation tool: Guide for the students during the assessment. 

Each Padlet wall included:

  • A collage with photos of family or friends
  • An audio file with a personal description
  • A video with an interview with a family member or close family friend
  • A uploaded scan of the paper-based life timeline 

In the 2nd part of this post, I will detail the apps, Web tools and steps the students and I followed to create our Padlet walls. 

Part 2: App-smashing culture, language, and global themes: MVHS French 2's "Photo de classe"

Missed part 1? Read about the learning objectives and find all of the reading, speaking, and listening resources here: Photo de classe project

In the second part of the post on App-smashing language, culture, and global themes, we explore the technology tools that were used to create the students’ projects. This was the first time that I had students use more than three combined tools to produce a publishable project, so it was a learning experience for all of us. 

In order to create the personal pages, the students needed to use a variety of Web and App tools to video, record, and publish their sites. As part of my technology objective, I wanted to introduce the students to the idea of “app-smashing” so they would have exposure to a higher level of organizational skills and tools in their technology treasure chest. Previously, teachers would require students to use PowerPoint or Prezi to create a presentation. My goal was to move away from these tools and introduce the students to a wider variety of options.

Explore our final projects! French II, P2 / P7 / P8

How long did the entire unit and project take?
We started the basic family and description vocabulary in February, moved on to and integrated the “Photo de classe” documentary in March, began the migration and nationality topics in April, finished the projects in May. This time period included Spring Break, SBAC testing (two weeks), and an A/B block schedule.

What is “apps-smashing?” 
Combining multiple tools or apps to produce an audio/visual presentation. For more information and ideas, visit Meghan Zigmond and Vicky Davis' blogs

Which Web tools and apps did the students use?
Padlet– Electronic and collaborative bulletin board (App and Web-based)

PicMonkey  or BigHugeLabs – Picture collage tool (Web-based)

Chirbit – Sound recording tool (App and Web-based)

YouTube – Video storage tool (App and Web-based)

Thinglink – Add media (images, links, videos, audio) to images to create an interactive board. I used this and PicMonkey to create a more appealing collage.

Which tools were smashed? What steps were involved in the smashing?
Student directions for app-smashing: 

Padlet creation: gMail and Padlet

Step 1: Students signed up for their own accounts using their school gMail. They followed the steps to change the URL of the site, to choose an appropriate background, and to add me as a collaborator.

PicMonkey with email and Padlet: Build a collage of your family pictures

Step 1: Students brought in photos to scan on the classroom scanner or they sent electronic pictures to their school gMail accounts.

Step 2: The scanned pictures were added to their student school drive and Google Drives. This insured that they could work from home.

Step 3: The pictures were uploaded to the site and students arranged them as the preferred. The collage was saved to their student hard drives and they emailed me a copy. Good 
practice: Insist on multiple backups in a variety of places.

Step 4: Students uploaded their collages to their Padlets. Here students learned how to resize and position their collages on the wall so it looked centered and appealing. Teens are not used to aligning on the Web. Tumblr and other social media does it for them.

Chirbit and Padlet: Record your personal description and add it to Padlet.

Step 1: We tried using the Chirbit app, but the iPods are 4Gen stuck in iOS 6.0 and the recordings would not post to our class account. The Chirbit tech support did try to help, but we had to find a work-around.

Step 2: Students recorded using the Voice Memo app, sent it to their email, downloaded it to their school drive, uploaded to the Chirbit class account (I gave them the password), and copied the recording’s URL. This step was a major moment for most of them. It required the students to follow the steps correctly.

Step 3: Add the recording URL to Chirbit.

YouTube and Padlet: Interview your family, upload the video to YouTube, and add it to your Padlet.  

Background: The students had worked on question formation through multiple activities and exposures. For their interviews, I provided ten questions they could use and required four extra questions they had to generate. The interview had demonstrate that they had asked at least ten questions.

Step 1: Record your family! This took time. Almost a month. Students’ lives and family situations don’t always allow the students to sit down with their families and record a conversation in French (and another language). I have nine video cameras (Flips and HD Kodaks) that the students could check out, or they could use their phones. Many of them had never transferred a video from their phones to a computer.

Step 2: Upload your video to your school YouTube or class YouTube account.  We did have difficulties uploading videos from their phones to YouTube. My solution was to connect the phone to my laptop, show them how to access the DCIM folder, and download the video to the hard drive. There were moments of frustration as I learned that the students couldn’t upload videos to their student accounts from certain school computers. For this reason, I have a class YouTube account.

Step 3: Find the shared URL for the video and add it to the Padlet.  

Scanned document and Padlet: Add your scanned timeline to the Padlet wall.

Step 1: Scan your document on the class scanner. Ours was supposed to be able to scan to email, but there was an issue with the printer. I ended up scanning the documents at Fed-Ex to my hard drive. I then uploaded them to a shared Google folder and the students downloaded them to their Google and school drives.

Step 2: Upload the scanned document like you did with the photo collage.

Which devices did the student use to record and publish?
Class iPods to record their personal descriptions, class video cameras or their own phones to video their parents, 7 class laptops/Chromebooks, school lab (4 visits).

How did the students learn how to use the tools?
Contrary to "popular" belief, not all students know how to use Web tools and apps beyond the basics of taking a picture and uploading it. Some people  "tinker" on sites to learn how to use the or they watch YouTube videos. That's my style. However, others need step-by-step instructions in order to be successful. To accommodate all groups, I provided a variety of approaches to learning how to app-smash.
I demonstrated the creation a Padlet wall in class before we went to the lab. For the demonstration, I added the video and audio links and uploaded a scanned document and the picture collage. Each day in the lab had precise directions (Sheet 1 / Sheet 2) on what was to be completed. The project could be worked on from home or any other computer. Several students became tutors for the others. As soon as they demonstrated their skills, I assigned them to other students as tech support. There were many collaborative moments in the lab and in the classroom throughout the project, and students remarked that they had learned more tech skills from this project than they had learned in their Freshman technology classes.

Did everyone finish? Was it worth this effort?
No. Yes! As with any project, paper or technology-based, there are students who don’t finish. They had over a month to work and the due date was the last day of school. It was part of the Collection of Evidence, so if it wasn’t completed, they either dropped a grade or didn’t pass the semester. I understand the technology access issues, the situations with families, and the personal nature of the project. For each issue, I offered students options: Can’t interview a parent? How about a family friend? Don’t have pictures of you as a baby? Take a few with your friends and family tonight. Lost your interview questions? I have a copy in my email. I stayed late after school helping students who needed tech and French support. I used hand written work as proof of progress. The main goal of the project was not to produce a Web site, but to grow in the language and to develop confidence in new skills.

Long-term, multi-level projects are difficult for students of lower SES. They do not plan as well and cannot always imagine finishing a project. They are more concerned with just getting through the day. I supported these students by providing day-by-day goals that were broken into feasible chunks: Write three questions, take a picture of yourself and add it to the Padlet. Each time that we went to the lab, I focused on the students who needed the most guidance. I separated the checklist into two components so the work wouldn’t seem overwhelming. The 2nd list stated the objectives that were already met. However, I was also firm: Tenacity and task-completion are skills that students need for life. If the language skills were not demonstrated, the result was a lower grade. If the technology objectives couldn’t be met, but the efforts were visible (some work was completed), I was more lenient.   

What will I do differently next time?
A few people of asked me why we didn’t do a blog. That might be something I consider for a future project, but I prefer a tool that takes very little time to learn. If we were adding our writing projects, students could put a link to their Google document on the Padlet. Secondly, while the students did explore and reflect on each other’s Padlets, I might consider adding messages on the walls. Students could leave and reply to questions directly on the wall. Lastly, I would like to connect my students to another Francophone or French-learning class so we can compare our school population and migration stories with others around the world.

For a first time with multi-faceted directions on a personal topic such as this, I am quite happy with the results. The student growth in both language and technology skills bolstered me when I thought it was not going to work out. I grew as well. I tried my best scaffolding, modeling, and support techniques and found that students reacted well to my low level of stress. They understood that the group was working towards a quality product that would be shared with the world. They worked consistently to make their descriptions more interesting and their pronunciation clearer. I look forward to next year’s group!