Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Making Cartoons and Games with Scratch

I like asking teachers, musicians, and others what their favorite software is for graphics, recording, etc. Last night I asked my friend Charlie Morse what software he uses to teach elementary school students about computers and art. He recommended a free program from MIT for Windows or Mac OS X called Scratch. Here's MIT's description of the product:
Scratch is a new programming language that makes it easy to create your own interactive stories, animations, games, music, and art -- and share your creations on the web.
Scratch is designed for kids, though: kids learn to program by fitting various commands together like a jigsaw puzzle and then seeing the effect of those commands in a cartoon. Here's a test I did last night using a dialogue in Coushatta by Jeanette Langley and Janice Sylestine (click on the image):

Scratch Project

Scratch has many applications for language teaching. Students and teachers could build an image of a classroom, for example, and then attach recordings to different objects in the classroom. Or they could construct a cartoon that could be embedded in a website and shown to others. Kids can even record themselves saying words if their computer has a microphone.

Because Scratch can be programmed, it's possible for kids to create interactive games and quizzes. My second test was designed to teach animals and then test them (a little like Rosetta Stone):

Scratch Project

Scratch is designed for kids aged 8 and up. I would want to spend a lot of time playing with the program before I tried teaching it.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Editing Sounds with Audacity

Linguists and language teachers frequently need to edit or modify sound recordings: they may want to cut just one word out of a long recording, reduce background noise, normalize the volume of several recordings, cut parts of a recording out, or change the format of a recording to mp3 or another format.

Audacity is a free, open-source sound editor that is fairly easy to use and performs all the above functions admirably. Audacity is available for Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X, GNU/Linux, and other operating systems. There are many websites describing how to use Audacity, including this one.

Designing a Curriculum 1: Overview

A curriculum is an entire sequence of studies in a particular field (such as a language). A curriculum is often closely associated with standards and sets targets in different areas (listening, speaking, writing) at different levels (beginner, intermediate, advanced or Kindergarten, first grade, etc.). It's important to have a curriculum so that students make progress and don't keep studying names for animals and colors at every grade level.

You can learn a lot about developing a curriculum by searching for "ESL curriculum" or "French curriculum" on the internet. I was intrigued by this ESL curriculum (careful--it's a large PDF!) from the State of Tennessee Department of Education. For Language Arts, their curriculum specifies standards for Listening (L), Speaking (S), Reading (R), and Writing (W) at each grade level. For Kindergarten Learning, for example, they list the following, among many others:

K.L.1 Demonstrate understanding of everyday vocabulary (e.g., common classroom objects and activities).

K.L.2 Use appropriate listening skills (e.g., not interrupting, looking at speaker, interacting when appropriate).

For Speaking, they list the following:

K.S.1 Recite personal data (i.e., first, middle, and last name, age, address, phone number, birthday, mother's name, father's name).

K.S.2 Identify basic colors (red, blue, yellow, green, orange, purple, black, brown, white, gray, pink).

Your community might decide other skills are important, such as Language, History, and Culture.

A curriculum isn't limited to schools. Since it's just a general plan for teaching the language, it's useful for summer camps, after school programs, and clubs. The curriculum helps make sure that each of these programs helps move kids toward fluency.

Would these sorts of objectives be useful for your community? What are all the abilities you would like students to gain in listening, speaking, reading, and writing during their first year? Who should serve on a committee to develop these objectives?

Language is much more than vocabulary: What sentence patterns ("This is a ___," "I am ___ing," etc.) are important for communicating? What communicative objectives do you have ("Be able to introduce someone," "Be able to ask how to say something," "Be able to greet someone," etc.)? Once you have a curriculum planned, what specific lessons will you develop to meet those objectives?

Making Lesson Plans

A lesson plan is just a written plan a teacher makes for a specific lesson. Lesson plans have a fairly standard format so that teachers can exchange lessons and so that others can see where the lesson should fit within the curriculum. The labels below will help you get started: specific schools may have slightly different labels, though.

Grade Level. When you design a lesson plan, it's important to think about the age of the students, what they're capable of doing, and what will interest them.

Duration. A lesson plan should give some indication of how long the lesson will take.

Topic/Title. The topic or title summarizes the activity or what you want to teach. You should plan the topic carefully by considering the place of the lesson in the curriculum. Examples of titles might be, "A Nature Walk" or "Making Animal Puppets."

Objectives. Objectives are specific outcomes you expect to see students develop. One objective might be for students to be able to demonstrate how to express 'my' and 'your' with body parts in the target language. You can have more than one objective in a lesson plan, but they should be measurable in some way.

Materials/Equipment. Be sure to indicate if the lesson requires any special materials (such as paper or a wall chart) or equipment (a DVD player).

Procedure/Activity. Describe the actual steps to be taken and give some idea of what the teacher should say. For example, "A. The teacher will pass an animal bingo sheet out to each student and explain how to play using the target language."

Practice/Homework. When we teach endangered languages, it seems the lessons are squeezed into just one or two lessons per week. Students can't remember what they're taught unless they have some form of homework. Homework also allows the family to learn what the child is learning.

Assessment. Assessment allows you and others to measure the degree to which students have met the objectives. Assessment might consist of grading the homework, giving a test, keeping track of responses to questions in class, or judging how well the student performs in a trivia contest or skit.

Developing lesson plans can seem quite foreign and untraditional, but many teachers and principals expect teachers to have them. Having a good set of lesson plans is often required before permission is given to teach minority languages in schools. Once you get the hang of it, though, you might enjoy being able to trade activities with other teachers or to search on the internet for "Spanish lesson plans." I did that and was happy to find this site!

Making Dictionaries Friendly

Dictionaries are those thick books filled with lots of abbreviations, right? One way to make a dictionary less scary is to organize words by topic: animals, plants, trees, colors, numbers, family, clans, the house, the classroom, jobs, etc. When you organize words that way, it's easier for people to learn words, easier for speakers to see what's missing, and easier for teachers to develop vocabulary lessons.

A topical dictionary can be made by a language committee or just one speaker. The speakers should agree on a topic to discuss, and then a moderator should write the words on a blackboard where everyone can see. Someone else should be secretary and write or type everything up. The secretary can also make photocopies of the day's work to review and discuss further at the next meeting. We've also found it helpful to make sound recordings of one speaker reading the day's words immediately after each session.

One trap to avoid is fights over differences in the way people say things. We try to document those differences instead of fighting about them: when there are two ways to say a word, we record everyone's initials with their preferred form, and then list the one with the most votes first:

   yanasa (AB, CD, DE), yasana (EF)   buffalo

Another way to make dictionaries friendlier is to add dots between syllables (the way they do in songs):

   ya•na•sa   buffalo

Sometimes it's hard to know what the English name is for a plant, tree, or bird. Field guides sometimes help, especially if they're very local. It's usually better, though, to bring someone in who knows the English and scientific names.

When you have several thousand words or so, it's nice to distribute what you have to others in the community. That gives them a chance to make corrections or add different pronunciations.

Topical dictionaries are usually smaller than alphabetical dictionaries, but they can be quite large. Jim Kari's Dena'ina Topical Dictionary is 397 pages!

You can easily turn a topical dictionary into a children's dictionary or beginning reader by adding pictures and leaving out the hard words. For a bigger challenge, you can find out how to combine written words with sound recordings to make a talking dictionary.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Drawing Software for Kids: Tux Paint

Tux Paint is a free, open-source drawing program for children aged 3 to 12. It can run on Windows, Mac OS X, and other platforms. With Tux Paint, it's easy to make drawings, add stamps (images) from their stamp library, and add text. Each time you use a stamp, the name of the image is read aloud. Below is the sum of my efforts, with a label in Koasati:

Because it's open source, Tux Paint is also customizable. With some preparation and help, teachers can create their own library of images and even record words in their own languages. Artwork can be printed or saved and edited for use in flash cards, calendars, and other projects.

Teachers should plan to spend some time reading the documentation and may need just a little help from a techie. It took me a long time to find where drawings were stored in Vista. I'm looking forward to playing with this more, though, and I'm quite a bit older than 12!