Thursday, June 28, 2007

TRIPLE FIRSTS: Using Audacity to record reading passages, pbwiki to create a webpage to access them, and Gcast to podcast 'em!

Marian Thacher and David Rosen keep reminding people about wikis and how easy they are to use so I finally decided to try my hand at one. I'd also been thinking about how nice it would be for my students to be able to listen to me read passages from the stories that I use regularly in class for reading practice. I've developed some quizzes (using for certain motivational stories that are featured in "Everyday Heroes" (Beth Johnson, Townsend Press) so I assign the same stories every semester. Once a week, I have "reading time" where I read paragraphs aloud so students can listen for pronunciation (They only listen, I read and then discuss vocabulary and content paragraph-by-paragraph). Unfortunately, students who are absent miss out and I never repeat myself due to time considerations. It's always bothered me that the students don't get to hear the paragraphs as many times as they need to really grasp the pronunciation. (From what I've been reading about the latest learning theories, repetitive listening is important.) Sooooo, to make a long story short, I finally put into action some thoughts that had been bouncing around in my head.

I downloaded AUDACITY and a separate associated program called LAME MP3 ENCODER (the Audacity website explains everything) so I could record passages. I had seen lots of demonstrations of how easy it is to use at the CUE 2007 conference, TESOL 2007 and CATESOL 2007, and indeed, it really is easy to use. (Make sure the microphone is working, click on record, click on stop recording, trim the ends using a simple editing button, click on "export as MP3", save the file to a location on your computer and voila! you've created an MP3!)

I signed up for a free wiki at pbwiki (stands for peanut butter wiki because they say creating a wiki is as easy as making a peanut butter sandwich) and created a wiki page for the class. I uploaded the MP3 files of the first paragraphs I recorded directly to the page in paragraph order. (Also easy: click on "attach file", find the file, upload it, etc.)

I signed up at Gcast for a free podcasting service. I uploaded the same MP3 files to my podcast page there so that they can be downloaded to student's devices or computers. (Same story here: click on "upload new audio", find the file, upload it, wait a few minutes and refresh the page and your podcast is ready.)

So it's a start! I have three paragraphs done and available at this moment and hope to get the entire first story completed this week! Please check everything out at the following URL's!

My new wiki page is at

Mr. Bakin's ESL podcast is at

I'm using both because podcasts are displayed in reverse order and I'm not sure if that can be changed, whereas I can display the listings for each paragraph in page and paragraph order on the wiki very easily.

It's now 4:45 p.m. and I've been at this since about 1:30, but that includes downloading all of the software, reading about how to use it, recording three separate paragraphs, uploading them to both websites, and writing and editing this blog post! The nice thing of course is that the reading passages will be available for students to listen to on their own time. I'm hoping that at least some of them will be sitting on the bus sometimes, the text open in front of them, reading along as they listen....

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The world's smallest scissors!

Found a reference to an article about the "world's smallest scissors" on teentek which appears to be a blog about technology written by teens who use technology which in turn I found out about by reading Jeff Utecht's "twitter" blog thethinkingstick which in turn I found by reading Will Richardson's blog...

Lot's of reading, but since I've been working with comparatives and superlatives in the classroom this week, the "world's smallest scissors" article is a perfect "real-world" example of superlatives and comparatives for my students to take a look at. See the assignment that it became! You can find the link to the original article there as well.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Revived Classroom Blog

I've also revived my classroom blog. The classroom blog is at
The classroom blog serves as the homepage on the student computers. Whenever they open up a browser, they'll see the classroom blog first. I have used it in the past as another means of communication between myself and students and as a way to give new assignments. You can see examples of both uses in the two new postings. One posting is simply an announcement about the latest project that I have introduced, and the other is an assignment.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Storing Students' Flash Drives

You might be wondering how I manage the USB flash drives now that we've completely transitioned away from floppy disks. The school purchased about 40 32MB flash drives from an online provider at 3 for $10. I assign two or three students to a drive and they're stored in the hanging organizer that you see in the photos. Each drive is numbered and has its own slot. I can easily see if they're all present at the end of the class with a quick glance. The hanging organizer is easily available. You can usually find them online or in stores that work with sewing, crafts, or jewelry. Try searching for "hanging organizers"!

The new computers are set up (well almost)

Today was the first day that I was able to let students use the 6 new computers. They're not completely set up yet as not all of the software that I've gotten used to and is available on the other computers in the class has been loaded yet, but the basic programs are up and running and the Internet connections have been established. Tom Saeedi, our technical support person spent several hours making sure everything was working and will probably be spending many more hours to completely configure the computers the way I want. We're also trying out something new for the computers in my classroom. All of the new units are being protected with Deep Freeze; software that completely erases anything new that is saved to the computers at the end of every day. The idea is to maintain the integrity of the existing software and save downtime or technician or teacher time when students accidentally or purposefully alter basic software or coding. One new folder is created where students can save documents that is not erased, but it's isolated from the important areas of the computer so no damage or permanent alteration to the system can result. I have to train all the students in the new procedure for saving documents and I also have to get used to it myself! Eventually, the software will be loaded on all of the remaining computers as well.

I introduced one of my favorite projects today. One Word Poems! I learned about this project at the CUE conference in Pasadena earlier this year from presenter and consultant Tammy Worcester . I highly recommend her presentations for anyone interested in learning new projects that students can do using PowerPoint. She also presents and has written books about using other programs as well, but I've only attended the PowerPoint presentation to date. I learned several great ideas, but in fact, the One Word Poem project was worth the entire conference for me. It's been a big hit with my students.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Reviving Tech4ESL

Since finishing up my Masters in Educational Technology, I haven't really revisited the Tech4ESL blog that I created while in my course. I was inspired to revive it after reading Adult Basic Education instructor Delondra Williams' blog urbanreadingteacher and realizing that perhaps using Tech4ESL as a forum for sharing my ongoing experiences with integrating technology into an adult-level ESL Intermediate Low class would be of use to other instructors thinking about using technology. So here goes!

Two items of note today. First, my new computers arrived! The 6 older student computers (didn't even have USB ports) are on their way to salvage and have been replaced by lovely new Gateways with flat panel screens. It's easy to see that the stations that had been the last ones to fill up if at all (they'd become almost unusable) will now be priority destinations for my students! The truth is, they had become almost unusable, and a big headache as well since they had become so unreliable. I've also moved my students to using USB flash drives to save their work and since those computers didn't have USB ports I still had to create floppy disks everytime anyone did work at the older computers. Now, I can phase out the floppy disks completely and use them as a new example whenever I teach the word "obsolete."

Now comes a period of adjustment as I, with the help of our school technical support person Tom, go about configuring the new computers with all of the programs, settings and icons that my students are used to. These will be the first computers that I'll be using that have a "protection" software installed so I'm interested in seeing how that will work out. We're going to be using "Deepfreeze" to help maintain them. I'm hoping that I won't experience new difficulties and that it works as advertised.

The second item of note is a new online application called Bubblr that I came across. Bubblr is an application that works in conjunction with Flickr the photo sharing website that lets anyone browse through the photos at Flickr and add their own speech "bubbles!" You can turn any of the public photos at Flickr into a a little comic strip of one or more frames. I've been doing this project using Word and ClipArt for several years and it's always been popular. Now I can introduce an online version of the same project. You can see one of the first examples I created here: