Google Wave, initial impressions

My response to some questions about Google Wave I received from our local student newspaper:

1. What do you know about Google Wave?
Not all that much, in terms of the details.  I’ve participated in a couple of waves so far, but most of the people I know don’t have Wave yet.  Because of that my collaboration opportunities are somewhat limited.
What I do know is that Wave is Google’s attempt to replace the traditional concept of e-mail.  As the video in that link I recommended so eloquently states: Wave is Google’s attempt to answer the question “What would e-mail look like if it were made with today’s technology?”  When e-mail was created, the idea of sending notes and getting answers back in minutes rather than days, entirely without a physical paper trail, was rather novel.
2. Who told you about Google Wave, or where did you hear about it?
3. Do you know anyone (besides yourself) who has been invited?
4. Are you going to promote signing up for Google Wave once it is released
to the pubic?
5. How do you feel about the preview and the bugs?
6. Anything else you want to add.

1. What do you know about Google Wave?

Not all that much, in terms of the details.  I’ve participated in a couple of waves so far, but most of the people I know don’t have Wave yet.  Because of that my collaboration opportunities are somewhat limited.

What I do know is that Wave is Google’s attempt to replace the traditional concept of e-mail.  As the video in that link I recommended so eloquently states: Wave is Google’s attempt to answer the question “What would e-mail look like if it were made with today’s technology?”  E-mail is typically for asynchronous communication — letter- or memo-writing in a digital form — and is almost always text-based, unless a video or other media is attached. From what I can tell and what I’ve read, Wave changes the game in a few fundamental ways:

  1. Both synchronous and asynchronous communication.  One of my pet peeves is when I’m e-mailing someone and get an almost instant response.  I know the other person is sitting as his or her desk, but if I don’t know a phone extension or IM name at which to reach him or her, I’m stuck writing a series of e-mails.  Wave accommodates real-time responses in each conversation, so a wave can act as a e-mail or as an IM conversation, depending on the status of the participants in the wave.
  2. Media embedding. In Wave, I don’t have to attach a video — if it’s on YouTube, I can play it within the conversation.  And since communication can be real-time, a group can watch a video or scroll through photos and chat about those as if they were at the same table.  Putting media into the viewable area of an e-mail knocks out the steps involved in downloading and opening files in order to view them.
  3. Conversation tracking.  Let’s continue with the movie example.  Say a group of us were able to be online and watch the trailer of a movie we were thinking about seeing.  We started a wave and talked about whether this was the type of movie we were interested to see.  But you couldn’t make it until 5 minutes into the discussion.  In a wave, there’s a “Play” button you could hit and Wave would start the conversation all over again.  You could watch the movie and then our statements as we put them in one at a time.  In just a few minutes, you’re caught up and can productively contribute to the discussion.  A Wave allows users to enter into the collaborative process without expending effort on determining who said what when — a time-consuming task when one is copied in to the middle of an e-mail exchange.
  4. Community-added functionality.  After our movie conversation, how would we decide whether to jump or not?  We could certainly type in our ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ but Wave takes these tasks to another level by allowing us to simply drop in a poll.  Developments like the embedded poll are a result of Google’s approach to this project: make something new and then start asking others to help.  Google has opened Wave up to professional and amateur developers whose contributions have created a rich environment for collaboration and communication.
    • Not sure where the theater is?  How about we embed a map into our wave?
    • Need to see one another for this conversation? Let’s include a video chat into our wave.
    • Friend who wants to come but doesn’t know English too well? Why don’t we insert the translator bot?
    • Want to get a video rather than go out after all?  Check out prices on Amazon with a bot for that too.

Wave as a concept has excited a host of creative, knowledgeable people who are both using and improving the tool.  The challenge will be whether such an undertaking will be sustainable.

2. Who told you about Google Wave, or where did you hear about it?

I originally heard about Google Wave from a podcast I listen to, EdTechTalk.  I’ve picked up info along the way from a few waves designated :public within Wave itself, from LifeHacker, and from Tripani’s Complete Guide to Google Wave.

3. Do you know anyone (besides yourself) who has been invited?

I was passed an invitation from a colleague of mine.  A number of educators have received invites, but I’m only aware of 5 other people in our district who currently have Wave (thus the small pool for collaborative opportunities)

4. Are you going to promote signing up for Google Wave once it is released to the pubic?

I’ll recommend it to those who are interested, but until it’s stable I won’t be promoting it to everyone.

5. How do you feel about the preview and the bugs?

I’m impressed with the preview. Wave delivers on many of its promises and the bugs, while annoying, are just part of the process.

Reflecting on NADSFL, Day 1

In my next few posts, I’ll be reflecting on a conference I attended in San Diego this week.  I was fortunate to spend two days with the National Association of District Supervisors of Foreign Language (NADSFL) and then an additional day at the American Council of the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) conference.  Each day held its own unique experience (and, therefore, necessitates its own post).  If I can get around to it, I’ll detail my personal next steps in a final post sometime this week or next.

Day 1:

Wow.  What a day.  There are so many coordinators and supervisors here from across the nation, each sharing experiences and strategies for success.  It has been a true privilege to participate in these discussions.  They have expanded my lens quite a bit.

Some general themes that stuck out to me during the conversations I had:

  • Assessment: Assessment should be performance-based and rest on a foundation of formative evaluations from teachers, peers, self, and the general public.  I especially liked how Lynn Fulton Archer (@dlfulton) put it, “We are no longer the sole provider of content, so we can’t be the sole evaluator of that content.”  I think tech can naturally step in to broaden the audience of a student’s work.  It puts a student closer to the experience of “natural” acquisition of language because the impetus to learn comes from all directions, not just from the teacher.
  • Buy-in: Buy-in is a key factor in curricular success.  Both teachers and students should feel that their voices are heard and weighty in the selection, development, and delivery of curriculum.
  • Funding: Funding is an issue across the country, but there are bright spots in the form of FLAP and other federal grants.  There are also entire states who have begun a process of doing more with less, like Utah, but it requires a commitment to languages from the highest levels of government.
  • Modeling: We must participate, as supervisors, professional development leaders, and teachers, in the very tasks we are asking of our students.  Are we using 21st century tools and approaches in our own learning?  Are using the concepts of formative assessments, including performance assessments, to evaluate our own progress as professionals?  Are we asking ourselves to be self-directed, efficacious learners as we attempt to lead students down that road?

These are some provocative questions, ones that I’ll be pondering the next few days (years?).  Again, it’s been a privilege to listen to some very experienced supervisors share their common struggles and victories.

Above all, the biggest theme of the day was how to support the work of great teachers, who are daily in the trenches laboring to encourage kids to value and develop the skills necessary to succeed in our increasingly global economy.  I’m excited to get back among them.

Tech in the foreign language classroom (sharing session 1)


Last Wednesday I was able to sit down with a few foreign language teachers who are incorporating a number of tech tools into their instruction. It was a productive time of sharing and I thought it would be a good one to archive.

The agenda for the afternoon was simple: share what you’ve done or what you’re thinking about doing, chat for a while with a guest speaker via Skype, and finish sharing. A summary of these teachers’ ideas is below, organized by tool. The ideas below aren’t mine, but I took away some great things to share with others and I hope someone else will benefit from these as I did!

Smart Notebook

  • Highlighting — one high school teacher was pleased at how one simple act, highlighting, could direct her students’ attention. During the course of a lesson, this teacher would display the textbook through her document camera, or show a visual, etc., and annotate that by using a highlighter in Smart Notebook. When students had the floor, they duplicated the approach — highlighting during their own presentations to focus the attention of their peers.
  • Interactive Games — Notebook’s gallery sports a number of customizable interactive games, most of which reside in the “Lesson Activity Toolkit” area. These have been welcome additions to lessons for one teacher, who has enjoyed discovering and implementing some of these into her lessons.
  • “Hidden Answer” — a middle school teacher hides the answers to simple questions by setting the background of a Notebook page to the same color as one of her pens. After she inserts the question and answer into text boxes on the page (in a different color than the background), she ‘colors over’ the text with the pen color that matches the background. After students brainstorm answers to the question in the target language, one student gets to come up and “erase” till they find the answer.
  • Organization — another middle school teacher found that transitioning her lesson plans to Smart Notebook slides has helped her organize her own thoughts and collect related materials all in one place. For example, for a given lesson, this teacher uses the ‘Attachments’ tab (the paper clip icon) to keep the related quiz with the lesson itself. Then, if she happens to have too few copies, she can access resources she needs quickly.


  • Directions — a high school teacher has set up a Voicethread project where she asks students to give directions from one place to another. Using the drawing tool within Voicethread, students can illustrate turns as they describe them, which she found to be a nice addition, especially when she was unsure of a student’s pronunciation.
  • Getting the year started — another high school teacher took video from a trip she and her husband had made over the summer and created a discussion to start off the year for her level 5 students. Over the short clips she embedded into Voicethread, the teacher talked a bit about her summer and then asked questions inviting students to talk about their summers, using the target language. Feedback from her classes was positive, with some students even commenting that the assignment didn’t really “feel like” homework.

Google Earth

The same teacher who mentioned directions in Voicethread, talked about how she brought some context to those directions through Google Earth. Using the zoom function within Google Earth, this teacher was able to bring students to the city where sheonce lived and point out points of interest they could find there.

Digital Storytelling —

  • Tar Heel Reader — Another high school teacher spoke passionately about engaging students in the writing process as soon as possible, and providing a space for public display of those works. The site she shared, Tar Heel Reader, has some valuable examples of doing just this from in a variety of languages, all from a simple-to-use interface.
  • StoryBird — there are a number of other sites which can host examples of student stories in a similar format to the Tar Heel Reader. I brought up Storybird because it was the subject of a recent meeting I was able to attend with some UK modern language teachers. This site hosts the work of a number of different illustrators and invites students to pull work from these artists to create their own stories (a la The Mysteries of Harris Burdick).

Webcasting —

  • Skype — Two teachers from different high schools within the district are planning to give their students an authentic audience for some upcoming performance assessments. Students in these upper level classes will be writing and performing skits, but this time those skits won’t just be for the teacher and their peers. They will be performing for another class of kids they don’t know who are studying the same material.
  • Tokbox — Through a contact in New York, one teacher had a chance to pair her students with students from Mexico for a one-on-one conversation in the target language. Due to a few difficulties (weather shutting down the lab in Mexico, only 5 students able to talk at a time due to lab restrictions there) the teacher is looking to pair with another class. Some things learned from the process were that our students aren’t really comfortable talking with someone they don’t know and that they need directed help to prepare for holding a conversation.

Noah Geisel

Our guest speaker for the afternoon, Noah graciously agreed to chat with us about a couple tools he’s been trying out in his classroom. An accomplished teacher, Noah is also an adept presenter, even working through the limitations of Skype.  He took us through two tools: and

  • TodaysMeet — This tool is essentially an online chatroom. In Noah’s terms, it helps teachers harness the “backchannel” of their classroom, encouraging participation from all students through text. One unique feature of this chat is that the teacher can designate how long she wants the chat to exist (from 1 hr to a year) and each student response is limited to 140 characters, the size of a typical text message. One way Noah incorporates this tool into his instruction is by using it as a way to spark comprehensible input from his students. Later in a unit, after students have acquired some target vocabulary and phrases, Noah grabs 6 or 7 random photos from the internet and introduces a storytelling activity in which all students participate. Opening up a TodaysMeet chat, Noah asks his students to “help him” tell the story by writing captions for each photo as he displays them one at a time. For a few minutes each photo, students type and retype captions using the target vocabulary. They vote on which will be that photo’s caption, and then move to the next. While diacritical marks aren’t yet supported by TodaysMeet, Noah chooses to use this tool for communication activities that work on skills where such marks aren’t essential.
  • BeFunky — This is a simple photo manipulation tool. With only a couple clicks, you can make a photo into a comic book. Noah uses this tool to create review activities after a skit project. Noah identifies that student who needs something to do during the skits and asks him to be the photographer for the period. Once the skits are over, Noah selects one skit to transfer in BeFunky to comic form. Each photo of the skit he then drops into a word document and adds areas where students describe the action (the ‘handout’ form in PowerPoint similar to this). When students walk in the next day, they recieve a worksheet where they must “retell” the story using target vocabulary. The project has greatly motivated language production, as students are eager to put words “into someone else’s mouth.”

I’m looking forward to another time of sharing next semester!

Google Everything

I’ve been asked to do a presentation on “Google Everything” for high school social studies teachers in our district.  In 3 hrs.  Including time to allow teachers to incorporate elements of these tools into a lesson.

Which means, in short, that we won’t get to everything.  Thankfully, I have a Google Certified Teacher, Bill Bass, from whom I can pull great Google ideas.  Below are some ideas Bill sent my way and I’ll be expanding later during the time.  I may stream my presentation, but probably not the Google Earth portions.

  • Google Earth
    • Searching for .kmz and .kml files using Google’s Advanced Search
    • Saving .kmz files on a website (like the Revolutionary War tour I found at the History Tours wiki), opening those in Google Maps, and then embedding the result (see below)
    • Embedding media in .kmz files, especially video from YouTube or our district’s video hosting solution Parkway Digital — I’ve pursued extending this with foreign language teachers by embedding Voicethreads along a tour.  This allows kids to practice the target language while following a typical tour.
    • Using the slider tool to view change over time
  • Google Docs
    • The power of collaborative, individually accountable group work
    • Self-grading quizzes
  • Other Google Goodness
    • Goog411
    • Google Labs (maybe looking at Google Squared?)
    • Google Voice

This is the beginning, at least.  I’m sure I’ll be adding to this list.  I’ll list updates at the bottom of the post.

View Larger Map

My first MFL flashmeeting

Today I attended my first MFL flashmeeting, an  ‘virtual’ face-to-face meeting with some great folks from the UK.  Thanks especially to Samantha Lunn and Isabelle Jones for their active involvement in and promotion of this great learning opportunity.

While I’m largely unfamiliar with the curriculum delivered across the pond, many teaching practices described during our meeting were similar to those I see with our teachers here in Missouri, though many, including the FLIP Approach, were new to me.   And although I hadn’t attended the conference that made up the greatest part of the discussion, I began thinking about how wonderful it was to gather a group together through this medium for direct reflection about that experience.  As I look forward to attending ACTFL here in the states, I’m already wondering about how I might organize or join in on an effort like this one stateside.

Kudos to Esther Hardman and Joe Dale for keeping the conversation on track, to Lisa Stevens for some great observations and an impromptu performance of la vaca lola (I’ll definitely be sharing that video with teachers here), and to all those who participated in this meeting.  I learned a lot from listening, and I look forward to participating next time!

Out of bounds

Today is the last day of an 8 week professional development course I’m teaching on the importance of understanding and expanding our professional/personal learning networks.  It’s been a good time for me — a time to reflect on my own practice, a challenge to think about these things more intentionally, a time to evaluate how successfully I’ve been engaging in networks myself.

For me, I’ve come to a few conclusions:

  1. I need to partition my life a little better.  I’m getting overwhelmed with all the information heading my way lately.  And I’m feeling the burden of a “need to connect.”  Planning how and when I access these networks, and letting it go when I don’t, is something I’d like to see in my own professional practice.
  2. Reflection is good.  I knew this already, but the face-to-face collaboration that I’ve enjoyed during this class has reinforced this understanding again for me.
  3. These tools are worth the investment.  I think they’re worth my time primarily because, as David Warlick so eloquently says, “it’s not about the technology.”  I’m grateful that people are so willingly sharing their interests, questions, and expertise online.  It has helped me grow as a professional and as a person.

I’m looking forward to contributing to more of these conversations, outside the typical bounds of face-to-face connections, in a more intentional and consistent way, in the next few months.   I hope the teachers in my class have taken as much away from this experience as I have.

Google Voice and blogging

I’ve been thinking about how to maximize my time … in many ways.  One of those has been my drive to work.  At the moment, it’s been a great time to reflect, but I can’t archive those thoughts in a way that’s meaningful to me.  By the time I reach school I’m thinking about my day ahead and what needs to be done.  I’ve lost those reflective thoughts and, most of the time, I can’t get them back.

With a nod to Kevin Honeycutt’s Driving Questions podcast, I’ve been looking around for ways to make that drive time meaningful.  I think I’ve found one way — the transcription service embedded within my Google Voice account.  If I get time, I’ll write a bit more about this later, but for now, here’s my first “memo” to myself, embedded below:

And the transcript:

Trying out the voicemail feature voice and thinking about using it as a way to virtually were right new blog post about ideas that I have in things that I’d like totry, so let’s see how this works.”

Not perfect, but something I can use as a rough draft.  I’m excited to see how it may impact my content production.  We’ll see.

Thanks again, Google, for creating such a great service and kudos to the guys on the forums who pointed me to this solution!   Now I’m only waiting for that Wave invite …

Google Translator widget and ESOL

I was shown Google’s new translator widget by jrooks and it sparked an idea about accessibility for teachers who provide information to students and parents in our English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) programs.

Our teachers are coming online with websites more and more across our district. But for our parents whose first (and perhaps only) language is one other than English, how can we ensure that important information is being disseminated?

Google has recently created a tool that could help. Google’s Translator Widget embeds easily into almost any webpage. Wondering what that would be like? Check it out below.