Sunday, January 20, 2013

Adventures in apps

It's been a while since I published my last post--health, holidays and midterms all have taken a toll on my blog writing lately. But now that midterms are mostly behind me, I'm ready to focus on second semester, and I'm excited to explore a couple of promising new apps.

I've already tried out Showbie with my iPad class. This app allows you to distribute materials and collect and comment on student work without paper. (I was sweating this process at this time last year.) What's really cool is that it works with many different apps, so you can upload a PDF to Showbie and students can annotate the PDF in a variety of programs (like iAnnotate or Notability) and then, using the "share" button within those apps, send it back to Showbie, completed. Then I can mark up their work again using a PDF annotation app. Here's an image of a completed assignment that I commented on. The student wrote in red and I added my comments in blue.


Though this isn't the most creative use of this app, I thought it was a good idea to have students get comfortable using the app for low-priority assignments before overwhelming them with all of its possibilities. Showbie can also be used with iMovie, Explain Everything and a host of other apps; another plus is the 43 support videos on the Showbie YouTube channel. I think this would be a great app to assist teachers in keeping track of assessments. You can create an assignment and attach as many files as you want to it. So, my idea is to create one assignment that will encompass all of the assessments I want to collect and/or grade in a given unit--be they grammar accuracy checks on PDF worksheets, recorded conversations, student-made movies, or visual presentations--and students can work on them at their own pace and turn them in when they're satisfied with their product. I'm hoping to try this out after midterms are done. We have about three weeks between the beginning of the third quarter and our week-long February break, which is just enough time to do a mini-unit introducing the Spanish Civil War.

I really love teaching the Spanish Civil War, because there are so many incredible authentic resources out there, but it can also be one of the most challenging units because my students are sophomores and most of them don't have a lot of background knowledge about European history. In the past I have fallen down rabbit holes trying to explain the difference between communism and fascism to fifteen-year-olds (and forget about trying to do this in Spanish). So, this year, I want to approach it differently. The essential question for this unit will be "How do young people respond to adversity?" and we'll explore the war through children's eyes. The students will read the short story "Bernardino" by Ana María Matute and, after the February break, watch a film to reinforce the theme and gain more cultural knowledge about the civil war, possibly "El viaje de Carol", "Secretos del corazón" or "La lengua de las mariposas." I'm thinking that the language focus will be expressing emotional reactions to situations (using the beloved subjunctive, of course).

So where does the app come in? I'm very hopeful about using Subtext with the short story. I found the full text online, and I uploaded it to the Subtext app, which converted it to a more readable format (it kind of looks like iBooks). You can take notes in the margins, which the students can see and respond to, and they can also take their own notes and respond to their classmates' comments. I also linked my Edmodo account to my Subtext account, automatically importing my classes from Edmodo into Subtext (time saver!). I think this also means that students could read and respond to the story and comments from within Edmodo, which I might try with my non-iPad classes. The only downside I see so far is that there isn't Spanish language support. This is a total bummer, because Subtext has text-to-speech and instant word definition capability, which would make reading in a foreign language so much more accessible to my students. And I've been trying to put together a vocab list from within Subtext but I haven't quite figured out an elegant way to do that yet.

Two new robust apps--pretty good for so early in the year, right? What apps are you excited about using in 2013?

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