Sunday, April 21, 2013

Wicked Problem Implementation

Over the past 2 weeks, I have been implementing solutions to my wicked problem.  My wicked problem is students not feeling confident communicating in Spanish.  Some of my solutions include using Skype, VoiceThread, and Pen-Pals to increase their confidence in writing, speaking, listening, and reading in the target language.  I can now see why I chose this as my wicked problem.  There is no easy solution!  Though my ideas have guided me in the right direction, there is still a long road ahead.  I am going to explain what ideas worked over the past 2 weeks, what ideas may need to change, and how I plan to continue to solve my wicked problem.
I discovered a great tool while implementing my solutions.  That tool is Evernote.  Evernote is a great resource to organize notes, pictures, important emails, screenshots, and more.  I personally used it to keep all of my observations in once place and have found it very resourceful.  I would highly recommend this tool to others.  

I began to implement my project in my Spanish 1 classes.  I have 2 classes made up of 8th and 9th grade students.  Spanish 1 students struggle with confidence using the language and practice a lot of writing about themselves.  It can be monotonous for the students writing similar things over and over again and it becomes monotonous for me reading the same thing over and over.  I thought pen-pal writing would be an authentic way to have students write to real people in Spanish speaking countries.  I encountered a problem because finding pen-pals was harder than I thought!  I used websites provided by the textbook, and, but they didn't seem to fit very well with what I envisioned.  I was surprised to find that Penpals Now had inappropriate adds in the margins especially since it was provided by the textbook.   It didn't feel very 'safe' to me and I would not have felt comfortable sending my students to that site.

I continued my search for a educational and safe website.  I found  ePals global community. The website is more geared at connecting classrooms together rather than just one pen pal at a time, like the other sites suggested.  I am in the process of contacting teachers, but don't know if I will be able to implement the actual pen pal writing within the next two weeks.  Instead I will get the students ready by writing mock pen-pal emails.  They will still get the written practice. 
As soon as I am contacted by the teacher, the students will be ready to send their emails.  I had students write emails on their school Google accounts and save them for later use.  I will give them a prompt so they include some needed information, but I will also let them write what they'd like.  (Obviously it needs to be school appropriate.)  Please feel free to view the assignment.  I've found that students write more when they have freedom in their writing and when it is to an actual person.  I strongly believe that students will write more with less restriction from the teacher.

Email to ePal teacher in Spain.

Currently the students have written the emails and have sent them to me.  I would like to check them before they are sent out to the recipients.  I am not checking the emails for grammatical errors because I think that the students that respond may tell my students what they need to fix.  I am checking the emails to make sure that all things written are school appropriate.  
I have not yet been contacted by any teachers matching up with the needs I am looking for in pen-pal communication which poses as a problem.  I will continue to use ePals to contact other teachers.  The practice emails seem to be very good so far.  The students included a lot of great ideas in Spanish and seemed to be writing with confidence, but I am still seeing common grammatical errors.  One good thing I saw while students were writing is that they seemed more concerned with their emails sounding good because it was going to a person, not just me reading it off of their test.  Overall, pen-pals seem to encourage students to write authentically and with more confidence.    

The next thing I looked into was signing up for a VoiceThread account.

Signing up for VoiceThread.
Signing up was really easy and the website offers video tutorials on how to use VoiceThread.  However, there was a big bump in the costs money!  I contacted oue technology expert at the school to see if our district has an account.  

Email to technology expert.
Unfortunately, we didn't have an account.  The next step I plan on taking is contacting our PTA to see if I can get a grant for the use of VoiceThread.  I hope that they will support me and see the educational uses that VoiceThread has to offer Spanish students.  
I have not had the opportunity to research Skype, but I have used it in the past so I am somewhat familiar with it.  I need to make good relationships with pen-pals before I can move onto Skyping with them.  I am excited to look into the uses of Skype.

I discovered many great ideas from the survey I conducted.  I was delighted by the thoughtful responses of my peers.  If VoiceThread and Skype don't work out as planned, I have various other ideas on how to have students practice their speaking skills and gain confidence.  Future ideas that I can use are Audiboo, CLEAR, Garageband, Google Hangout, and Google Voice. I look forward to looking into these ideas.

Overall, I am very happy with the pen-pal writing and ePals website.  It will be a great way to increase students' writing and reading skills.  I am going to continue to look into VoiceThread and Skype to increase students' speaking and listening skills.  I am confident that technology will help improve the confidence of students using their Spanish skills in the classroom.

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