Inklewriter: Creating a story with nothing more than your imagination

If you remember, I presented a software called Audacity in one of my previous articles. This software is a great way to create new stories using your own voice and your own music. Tools like Audacity or Voki allow teachers to evaluate their students’ skills using audio recordings. This is an excellent method to provide second language input to students. However, audio recordings are mostly helpful during oral evaluations and not during writing or reading evaluations.

In order to fix this problem, I decided to explore new tools available on Internet. I was looking for a website or a software in which you could create an interactive story without using music or sounds. I wanted something that was specifically designed to observe students’ writing and reading skills while allowing them to create their own story in the most simple way. I found one of the easiest story creater available online: Inklewriter.

DESCRIPTION

Inklewriter is a free website that gives the opportunity to any person with a mouse and a keyboard  to create interactive tools. It provides teachers and students with the essential tools to try out their writing skills. The website is incredibly easy to use and keeps track of the stories that are not completed. You must create an account to be able to save your stories and access them on another computer. It is exactly like the old ‘Create your own story’ books that were once popular, but without the mess of having to manage an enormous amount of paper to keep your story going. Once you are logged on the website, you simply need to give a title to the story and begin writing it. The interface is easy to use and the title page of the website includes a fantastic tutorial that explains all the tools available to create interesting tales using twists and surprises. Interactive stories offer a wide variety of subjects to use. The only limit to the amount of topics to use is the limit of students’ imagination!

OPINION AND ESL APPLICATION

The advantage of creating interactive stories is the unlimited amount of content available for students. Motivating students to read stories is a difficult task, because they all have different preferences. Some students will like to read stories of science fiction, while others might want to read about criminal stories. This problem is avoided when you allow students to write their own story. If a student wants to write about a dragon chasing a spaceship, the website will provide the essential tools. Instead of relying on a preset storyline, the students are free to add surprises and story twists in the text. Moreover, students are going to like reading their classmates’ stories because of the fact that interactive stories give them the option to choose what is going to happen next. Leigh Alexander said:  »When done correctly, an interactive story can offer players the same sense of risk versus reward as any other type of game, where players are offered complex, meaningful decisions the results of which they can anticipate later, hoping they calculated in a desirable way. » Every time the students write a new line, they can add various choices to that line where you must click in order to advance in the story. An example of what students could do is creating a story about a character who has two different personalities.  When the other students are reading the story, they must choose between the character’s good personality or the character’s bad personality. Depending on their choice, the end of the story can be completely different.

Nigel Lane tried the website with students. They spoke about the linear nature of many narratives and compared them to non linear tales. They drew comparisons to popular video games where the player gets to decide what happens next rather than following a preset storyline. This piqued the students’ interests enough to get them started planning, in pairs, their own interactive stories. This is an excellent strategy to use in ESL classrooms. Not only does it help students practice their writing skills, it also develops their organization and preparation skills. Before letting them write, the teacher can ask students to organize their ideas on a piece of paper. It combines the use of social interactions in the classroom and the development of a written story. Demetri Lales mentioned:  »Inklewriter can also strengthen students’ organization skills since this type of storytelling requires writers to keep track of the different branches of their story. » Once they have shared their ideas and planned their story, students can go on the website and create their interactive tale. Overall, I recommend Inklewriter to every teacher who wants students’ to practice their writing skills while having fun creating weird stories with unexpected plot twists.

I tried the website myself and created my own story, check it out right here!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mobile Devices in the Classroom: Yes or No?

After reviewing games in my previous articles, I realized that I never actually spoke about the use of mobile devices in a classroom. As I have said many times before, my cooperative teacher is a fan of using ICTs with his students. In fact, they are all allowed to use Iphones in class. The teacher was given 30 Iphones (they are old models without a SIM card, so students cannot call or send messages) at the beginning of the year. When students come into class, they can use the mobile device until the end of the class. During my practicum, I had the chance to observe students using mobile devices to complete tasks or find additional information on Internet. I was impressed to see the usefulness of Iphones in ESL classrooms.

However, the question must be asked: Is it good or bad to use mobile devices in class?

THE POSITIVE

It is clear that using Iphones or any cellphones in class can be effective. It brings creativity to an environment where motivation is at its lowest point. I am not saying that every student is bored in a classroom, but keeping students stimulated is a difficult task. Using mobile devices in class brings many essential characteristics to the classroom: autonomy, spontaneity, varied tasks and content, and cooperative learning. 

Allowing students to work by themselves is crucial for their personal development. The full autonomy given to students working on Iphones helps them reach a higher level of proficiency in English. For example, when they cannot find a word or a synonym during a writing activity, they can get a quick answer by looking at an online dictionary. If students use this strategy in class, they will use it again in other situations such as having conversations with English native speakers.

Varying tasks and the content of activities is an excellent way to stimulate students in class. Justin Ferriman believes that the mobile approach can encourage student engagement with the content. Since they use cellphones and other mobile devices in their free time, students are always glad to use them in the classroom. It is easy for them to work with such tools. The fact that each student has their own device (in my practicum) makes it easier for the teacher to conduct new activites. While students think answering questions on a piece of paper is boring, they rapidly change their mind when the answers must be given with their Iphones. My teacher uses Socrative to evaluate his students and they enjoy this new form of evaluation. Evaluating students using Socrative and Iphones makes it feel like a game, thus reducing students’ anxiety and stress caused by exams. I have also presented games to try in a classroom in my previous articles.

Using games stimulates cooperative learning. Rick Allen says:  »Combining elements of computer gaming and curriculum concepts, the activity helps students work in teams to gather information. » This is crucial in an ESL classroom, because students need to interact with each other in order to practice their second language. Performing a group activity becomes much easier for students, because students can be empowered with access to learning resources with supplementary multimedia for better understanding regardless of time and physical location. Instead of relying only on the teacher, students can consult their mobile device or ask other students.

THE NEGATIVE

Since nothing is perfect, the use of mobile devices in the classroom has its disadvantages. The major problem with these tools is the distraction they create. Like I mentioned previously, students are used to work with cellphones and they can get access to a high amount of games or videos that are not designed for the class. Even if the Iphones used in my practicum had no SIM card, students could still communicate with each other using Facebook or Twitter. Justin Ferriman adds that it is difficult for students to avoid distractions, opting to watch a funny YouTube video instead of the lesson lecture. The only way to avoid this situation is to keep an eye on every phone used in the class, which is nearly impossible.

The access to instant communication in the classroom also leads to cheating. If students are not cheating by sending messages to each other, they might be cheating by looking at a website which is not permitted. Students can exchange text messages with test answers on them without the teacher’s knowing. Hiding webpages on a mobile device is quite easy for students who know how to work with these tools.

Another problem is the cost of using electronical devices. While using mobile devices like cellphones are cheaper than using laptops or computers, they will eventually stop working. Whether a student accidently dropped the phone or something mysterious happened to it, the school and the teacher have the responsibility of handling the fees.

OVERALL OPINION AND ESL APPLICATION

By looking at the pros and the cons of using mobile devices in the classroom, I agree with the usefulness of these tools. I think they should be used more often, because it changes students’ vision about school. Marc Prensky says that our students have changed radically. Today’s students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach. This said, the classroom must be adapted to the students’ needs. They will feel more comfortable to work on cellphones rather than on a simple sheet of paper. Internet offers a variety of softwares and tools to create new activities in a classroom, but these tools require mobile devices to work effectively. That is why I believe in the future of mobile devices application in English teaching. As an inspiring teacher myself, I will do my best to be able to use them with my students. I will be able to create interactive stories where students can participate actively in the classroom while using their cellphone. Moreover, I will save a lot of paper by handing out tasks online, using tools like Todaysmeet and ClassDojo!

3D.City Review

Following my previous article, I decided to explore the gamification available for teachers. After exploring different websites, I stumbled upon one which is both interesting and confusing. In this article, I will give you my opinion about using 3D.City in class.

3D.City is a free website which allows you to create your own city. There are currently three levels of difficulty: Low, Medium and Hard. When you open the page, you have the option to begin a new map or load one you used before. In the game itself, you can build roads and train rails to create a new city. You must build residential, commercial and industrial buildings for your city to grow up. Coal factories and nuclear factories are required to provide electricity to your city. Once you acquire positive comments from your community, you can build airports, stadiums and ports.

Instead of typing all the details about the website, here is a simple tutorial I made!

PROS

  • It is free. Using free softwares and websites is important for teachers and students, because paying for real games (SimCity, The Sims or Cities: Skyline) is forbidden.
  • The game looks nice. The animations are great and the cities look realistic. Look at SimCity or Cities: Skyline and compare!
  • The player is free to build like he/she wants. The possibilities are not limitless, but there is a wide variety of things to create.
  • The actual game is hard (reducing pollution, collecting taxes and increasing your population), but the city creation is easy. You simply need to build roads and houses!
  • It teaches new words and concepts to students of every age. Dr. Allen Mendler says:  »When are we going to ever use this stuff? is a protesting lament heard by most teachers several times a year. It comes from students with little patience to put up with ideas or concepts too abstract or irrelevant for them to fathom. » When playing with a game where you create cities, students will like to learn about taxes management and engineering.

CONS

  • It is nearly impossible to manage your city without proper training. Tutorials are rare and there is no explanation when you play the game. Students might be dissapointed to see that their city is falling apart. The best way to counter this is to warn them about the difficulties of the game.
  • It requires the teacher to know how to work with the website. If the teacher wants to allow each student to create their own city, there is going to be a lot of questions asked by students. The confusion is going to be hard to manage.
  • While some students will like to create cities, others will think it is boring. It is hard to please everyone and there will be criticism coming from students.
  • It is not appropriate for young students who want to work alone. If they are not familiar with English and computers, they won’t be able to create a functioning city.
  • Creating the city is enjoyable, but the interface is confusing. Since you can’t save more than one game, students will eventually lose their city if they don’t save it correctly.
  • The lack of explanation or tutorial is a pain. There will be problems when students create their cities!

OVERALL OPINION AND ESL APPLICATIONS

For a free website that offers a simple game to use with students or individually, I think 3D. City is a great application to use in the classroom. However, I don’t recommend building a city for each student. Like I explained above, the website is difficult to understand and students won’t feel comfortable working with it. What I do recommend is creating a city for the whole class. Doing so allows the teacher (who previously tried the game) to lead the creation and avoid disasters. Eliciting students’ participation with the development of the city is a great to way to develop interaction amongst them. Mike Acedo mentions:  »Given that the class design is a collaborative effort, it will give students a sense of ownership toward the outcome of the class, and in turn, motivate them to participate and succeed within the class narrative. » In that manner, building a city becomes a fantastic activity to do with your class. Every students will feel involved in the process of creating an effective society while communicating in the second language.

The game also provides useful words for students to learn. The terms used in the game are not words students are used to see. Building the city slowly while explaining the functionality of the different buildings is a good example of the input the teacher can give to students. Teachers need to show the city on the projector or the Smartboard for students to see. Jack Richards and Theodore Rogers (2001: 44) regard pictures as one of the most important visual elements in the lesson. Students will love to put an image on the words they are learning. It is an effective way for them to remember.

Play the game by clicking here!

ClassCraft: The future of class activities

I have recently learned a new word: Gamification. Gamification stands for the use of game design elements in non-game contexts. Seeing this word made me think about the academic usage of video games. As a huge fan of games myself, I decided to plunge my hands in a new software called ClassCraft.

Like I’ve said in my other articles, my cooperative teacher uses Iphones in his class. I was impressed to see how glad students were to be able to use mobile devices in the classroom. If you have been in a high school in 2015, you probably haven’t seen any students who were not using cellphones or Ipods. It has become a major trend. What can we do with it? Can we stop it? My answer is no. What we can do is use it to our advantage as teachers. In 2013, Shawn Young came up with a brilliant idea: create an online application that allows teachers to use electronical devices in class without changing their class plan. This idea holds the name of ClassCraft, which ressembles to popular games like World of Warcraft, StarCraft and Minecraft. ClassCraft is a free application (it is free to use, but you must pay to be able to use the application on mobile devices) that creates a stimulating class experience, different from what students are used to.

Each student must choose between three specific classes: the Mage, the Warrior and the Healer. Each class holds different roles and abilities established by the teacher, which are great to reach different types of student. Students are grouped in teams that are called  »Guilds ». The teacher holds the role of  »Game Master ». He/She can give experience points to guilds and decides what tasks the teams must complete. The students’ characters have HP, which stands for Health Points. When tasks are handed late or not completed, the Game Master can remove HP. Once their HP reach 0, the teacher must penalize the ineffective students. This is a good way to motivate students to stay on task.

PROS

  • ClassCraft is incredibly easy to use. There is no downloading or installing process. The only thing that ClassCraft requires is a laptop and a projector (or a Smartboard) for the Game Master to use. Students can work on computers and laptops.
  • The application stimulates teamwork and group sharing. While students can receive experience points for their own character, their guild also receives points. Each student feels responsible for the development of their team. Shawn Young said:  »Success is an individual thing in our society, which is a bit bad for education […] You work better working in teams. »
  • Effective students and guilds can be rewarded with in class rewards, such as arriving late to the class or being able to listen to music during a certain period of time. All the rewards are decided by the Game Master and must be adapted to the school rules.
  • The variety of powers given to each character class (Warrior, Mage and Healer) are free to change from a class to another. Each student will find something interesting in at least one character.
  • While the application is great for English teaching, it is useful for a bunch of other class. For instance, Stephanie Carmichael used ClassCraft in physics class.
  • Awards can be given from outside classroom activities. For example, the Game Master may give experience points to students who are involved in school committies. This is another excellent way to motivate students to work harder.
  • ClassCraft does not require teachers to change their class plans or their teaching methods. Homework, tests and feedback can all be posted on the ClassCraft main page. Joshua Ducharme mentions:  »I can’t tell you how many times my students were discussing among themselves about not forgetting their homework, studying for tests, and going the extra mile to complete some challenges that I created for them to earn extra XP. Teachers can still use their class books and regular homework to evaluate students. The only difference is that feedback is now given through ClassCraft.

CONS

  • Caryn Swark says that ClassCraft is a big time investement up front, and if it is not properly modified and framed it could be more punitive than supportive. This means a lot for teachers who are not willing to prepare in advance the ClassCraft activity. It does require a lot of time and a lot of extra work from teachers.
  • The fantasy-themed application can be a major turn off for students. In my practicum with secondary 4 students, I know the students who would like to use ClassCraft. However, I know a lot of students who would think it is childish and not suited for their interests
  • While the application is free and includes a demo for teachers to use in their class, the game operates on a freemium model, with several important features including mobile access and character customization locked behind a paywall.
  • Teamwork can be difficult to manage for teachers. Shy students might be criticized for not participating enough. Students can develop conflicts amongst their own guild and it becomes even harder for the teacher to handle the problem.
  • The gifts awarded to effective students can develop jealousy in the class. Some rewards, like leaving the class earlier or being able to receive a specific answer to a test, will make other students angry. These rewards can also be abused by some students.

ESL Applications

Overall, while doing the pros and cons, I realize that ClassCraft is highly effective in English classes. With 7 pros against 5 cons, ClassCraft comes in handy for teachers using ICTs in their classroom. Giving homework and tasks does not become easier, but it becomes funnier for students to complete their homework. It is difficult for the teacher to manage the application, but students are more inclined to work effectively due to peer pressure. Instead of feeling bad for receiving a  »C » grade on their last test, students will be happier to see that they have received less experience than the mage in the other guild. This evaluation system develops a strong sense of teamwork. Weaker students are going to feel bad for not doing enough work, since their guild will fall behind the other guilds. Meanwhile, it also encourage competition in the class. To a certain measure, competition can help students push their limits. If a student wants to be the best warrior in the class, it is crucial for this student to prove that he/she can do what it takes to earn experience points, for instance participating in outside classroom activities or helping other guilds in the classroom. While some students will be bothered by the competition in the class, I think it is a great way to motivate them to work effectively. If the application can become free of any charge in the future, I certainly think it will positively change teaching methods.

The best way to see if it works is to try it out!

Here is a tutorial on how to work with Classcraft

For those of you interested in going the extra mile (paying for the application), here is a great Screencast of what ClassCraft looks like on mobile devices

Todaysmeet: An Alternative to Twitterature

If you are not familiar with the expression Twitterature, let me explain it to you. Twitterature is a combination of Twitter and Litterature. It became popular in schools because a lot of students know how to work with Twitter. It is free and easy to access on any mobile device. Students can be evaluated on both reading comprehension and text production when using Twitter, because they must read the texts and create new ones. It is a simple tool used by teachers to evaluate their students.

What if their is a problem with Twitter? What if students can’t share texts with the rest of the class?

Here is my answer to these questions: todaysmeet.com

DESCRIPTION

TodaysMeet is a free website used to create discussions during a specific amount of time and on a specific webpage. This means that those who do not know the name of your TodaysMeet page cannot gain access to it. You can use the website without creating an account or you can use different tools when creating one. You only need to give a name to your room, choose the amount of time you want it to stay open (between one hour to one month) and click on  »Open Your Room ». Students can join the room using the correct website URL once it is launched. They simply need to write down their name before writing in the text box. The strongest similarity between TodaysMeet and Twitter is the limited amount of characters. Students can only write 140 characters, which correspond to two or three sentences.

If you are interested in using this website, here is a list of 20 useful ways to use TodaysMeet.

ESL APPLICATION

As a teacher in becoming, TodaysMeet comes in handy. Even though I have never used this tool, I can already picture myself using it in the future. Jane Hart compiled a list in 2014 from the votes of 1038 learning professionals in order to identify the best tools to learn. TodaysMeet is rated 94 out of 100, Twitter being rated first. It means that even if it is not as popular as Twitter, TodaysMeet is a good option to consider. In fact, Kim Kingdom said:  »I regularly use this tool when Twitter is not appropriate to create a backchannel ». TodaysMeet is used to create discussions where students and teachers can share their thoughts. I would use it for an activity done with a movie or a book. I would present the movie or the book to students then ask them to write something they like and disliked about it on the class webpage. This activity can be done in class (if students are allowed to use Iphones or laptops) or at home since TodaysMeet can be used everywhere. You could even do this activity with students from other schools!

TodaysMeet is also useful for teamwork. When doing group activities, students can access TodaysMeet to do a brainstorming. If they are in teams of four, each student can log on the webpage assigned to their group to share their ideas. This is great because students are going to be able to reach this page at home to pursue the work done in class. The teacher can look at this page to give feedback to teams who are not working equally. The teacher can post a question on the TodaysMeet page and allow students to answer directly in the text box. James Socol value the fact that the advantage of backchannel chat is that every student has a voice, no matter how shy.

As effective as it can be, there are some disadvantages of using TodaysMeet. Erin Brereton thinks that additional graphics and sounds would make the design more dynamic. After exploring the page, I do realize that it is confusing at the beginning because not everything is explained on the website. It looks like a blank page and nothing jumps to your eyes. Erin also said:  »Teachers will most likely need to propel conversations with initial and follow-up questions ». I agree with this statement because students will not be able to begin discussions by themselves, especially in their second language. TodaysMeet requires preparation before conducting the task. After trying both Twitter and TodaysMeet, I must say that Twitter is easier to use. It is more intuitive and self-explanatory.