Teachers use forums, blogs

The History and Foreign Language Departments have started using online blogs and forums to help connect and educate their classes, Spanish teahcer Nancy Holme-Elledge said.

After a two-year hiatus, Holme-Elledge and Latin teacher Paul Chenier have re-implemented online forums in some of their language classes to enhance the experience of learning a foreign language.

The History Department has decided to change the current events format to a blog, enabling some teachers to control what newspaper articles their students read.

When the language forums, which are accessible to students in the applicable course via the school website, were first tried two years ago, logistical delays prompted Holme-Elledge to revise the program.   Student comments had to be approved by her before being posted, making the process slow.

“The students were very polite about it,” Holme-Elledge laughed.  “But it didn’t work very well; it wasn’t very nimble as a program.”

This year, she hopes to reap the benefits of the forums with less technical hassle.  After viewing student projects online, students will have responsive discussions in class rather than virtually to avoid the lag time that caused delays in the past.   

“The goal is to expand the audience for student work,” she said, “Why should it stop after the teacher reads it? They can learn so much from each other.”

For Chenier’s AP Latin classes, forums serve a broader purpose.  The most popular link helps students translate “The Aeneid.”

In Spanish III, the forums are used to share projects, while in Latin they provide study tips, newspaper articles and AP exam preparation advice.

“It allows the class to cooperate beyond the classroom,” Chenier said.  “It’s like a virtual binder.”  

Holme-Elledge is pleased with the results thus far. 

Projects on the forum feature audio recordings complemented by rotating artwork, courtesy of the program Photostory 3. Chenier hopes the future will bring an even more dynamic tool for the classroom.

“It would be nice if [the forums] evolved as a sort of fusion between what they are now and something like Facebook or Myspace, so it was more than just text,” he said.

Holme-Elledge emphasized how rapidly the opportunities for technology in the classroom are advancing.

“There are so many new tools available,” she said.  “Sometimes it is overwhelming, but the excitement far outweighs the trepidation.  It’s a very exciting time to be an educator,” she said.

The history team decided that it would be much simpler to have students read controlled news articles on an online blog, as opposed to having students find their own articles in the newspaper.

During a United States History team meeting, teachers discussed possible ways to get students more involved.

Many students found it difficult to determine which stories were of importance and which were not.

History teahcer Ari Engelberg suggested the idea of a current events blog, where the stories would be posted online. Engelberg, along with fellow history teachers Nini Halkett, Dr. Leslie Rockenbach and Greg Gonzalez, are using the system in their classes.

It is easier to quiz because she controls what stories the students read, Halkett said.
In her classes, students take a quiz online and are obliged to comment on at least five stories on the blog. The goal is to stimulate discussion among students.

“I went to this format so that students could essentially have online conversations about the news,” Halkett said.

Students have had mixed responses. Ryan Ashley ’09 said that the blog is a more interesting and organized way of reading the news.

Sean Kesluk ’09, on the other hand, believes that the blog isn’t really worth the effort.
“It’s a waste of my free time,” Kesluk said.

There is also a glitch in the system. Due to blocks on blogs, students have been unable to comment about stories on school computers.

“The students still cannot comment on the stories from the school’s computers, but we are looking into the possibility of changing that,” Halkett said.