Buon Giorno!

January 28, 2011

Ciao!  This is about the extent of my Italian currently, but I think I will be expanding a bit this semester.  I am currently a participant in a pilot project at my college to see how we might use Rosetta Stone in our school.  I’m not sure what the future holds so I am hesitant to make any guesses, but in any case I hopped on the chance to learn the language for free.

At this point I can name some simple objects, bambina/o, donna, uomo, mela, uovo, penne, cavallo, etc.  I’ve learned mangia, cucina, corre, etc for verbs.  I have attempted to use Rosetta Stone before for Spanish and it is the same progression as I had before.  I am hopeful that I will be able to become conversational with a computer-based language program.  At least we have supplemented the program with monthly meetings of the group, but also I am close with several of the people, so I may begin saying random phrases in Italian to them…at least until I get to the point of being able to have a meaningful sentence beyond ‘the girl swims, and the women eat.’  In time it will come.

Right now the one complaint I have is that I am learning phrases to describe other people, not myself.  So I cannot even say “I am learning Italian.”  I’m sure the program gets there.  I also cannot ask questions of others “what do you have?” because I have not been introduced to that conjugation yet.  But again I’m sure it will come.

I think that this could serve as an interesting model for one of our college’s outcomes, which is lifelong learning.  There are several faculty and staff members who have chosen to do this out of pure interest (of course the incentive of a free language class helps).  Perhaps students will begin to see faculty practicing their Italian with each other.  What a cool thing to see…faculty and students working together to learn something new!

It’s an interesting model that does not come without its criticism.  Certainly you do not get a taste of the actual culture where the language is used, which can be important for language comprehension, but perhaps for beginning learners it is a good start.   For now I will practice and try not to let it interfere too much with my need to do real work.  Perhaps at some point in the future I will attempt to write a short blog in Italian!


I am just 30 minutes out of my Tuesday/Thursday developmental psychology class and I am starting to think that I might have found that perfect project for this course.  Before I explain why I am actually a bit giddy today, let me give just a bit of background.

First, I teach developmental psychology quite often.  Usually a few times per academic year.  Though it is my most taught class (and probably best prepped in terms of actually having coherent lecture material and activities) it is a class that I have personally struggled with.  The reason for my struggle is partially the course content and partially my own need to keep things fresh as to not become bored with the material myself.

I have tried several ways to re-create the course.  First, I moved from a chronological to a topical approach so that I wasn’t always talking about one age period but rather all of the age periods throughout the semester.  Second, I tried to include more hands-on activities (an hour 40 is a LONG time in class!) that I thought would be engaging and question provoking for the students.  Then I played around with the course project, making it first an autobiography and then splitting up the autobiography into 5 parts.

I still found myself not totally satisfied with the class.  The content seemed too easy (at least for me) and the course simply not offering the appropriate amount of rigor that a 200-level course should, the students did not seem to be as engaged as I would like, and I just haven’t felt quite ‘right’ about the class.  I cannot describe it better than that, and if you, reader, have ever been a teacher I think you know what it is I am trying to convey.

I’ve toyed with the idea of incorporating a service learning element into my class, but this never came to fruition, mostly because I did not have the resources or the time to find good community locations for a small scale service learning project.  I know it can be done, I just have not done this.  But just recently and honestly just the week before classes begun, I had another idea for a course project.  Have the students develop a public website.

This idea came about for a few reasons: 1) I wanted to try to reduce the amount of writing grading in this course.  In the past I have had massive amounts of writing to grade.  This is not to say I do not value writing, I just needed to bring the amount down a bit (Thirty-two 15 page papers is a lot!). 2) I wanted to have students write for a different kind of audience.  I have thought more and more about ‘authentic tasks’ and in all of my other courses students write a typical college paper or psychology APA paper – not very authentic, unless they are going to be an academic.  I wanted to practice a different form of writing and a form that they are more likely to use in the future. 3) I wanted to encourage my students learn some things on their own.  There are so many topics that I cannot cover in this course simply because it is too large.  I wanted students to choose some topics that they could dive into deeper on their own.

So here is the project, for each new unit (there are five in the course), seven groups of 3-4 students work together on some selected topic in developmental psychology and create a web page to describe and teach that topic.  The caveat is, they need a narrow topic so they can do one thing really well and that the web page must look professional, be organized, be informative, and be creative.  My students just developed their assigned topics a couple of days ago and I (hope) I am feeling the effects that this project now has on the course in general.  Let me explain.

Today is usually a day that is mostly me lecturing with a couple of activities that the students do not really get too engaged in: Theory.  Often it is a yawner of a class as we cover quite a bit (Freud, Skinner, Bandura, Brofenbrenner).  Today I had a different experience.  Today the students were REALLY engaged and ASKED A BUNCH OF QUESTIONS!  I was surprised at first!  Usually there might be one or two question, but I had at least 6 different students ask questions through the lecture.

Now this is simply anecdotal and it may just be today, but if a THEORY lecture can engage students….what will the more interesting topics bring?  Many of the questions were about Freud’s Psychosexual Theory and as I looked back, most of the students asking the questions had chosen that as their group’s topic.  I am hopeful that this is indicative of students having more ‘buy-in’ to some of the content.  They know what their topic will be and will want to know more when we actually come to that topic.  I am also hopeful that for later lectures during each unit, group members will offer information that they have found for the class.

These are extremely preliminary observations…it has only been one class…but I remain optimistic.  I had a GREAT time during this lecture, more enjoyment than usual and I know it is because I saw the students being interested and engaged in this topic.  I will continue to see if this pattern continues…who knows, perhaps there is a study in here somewhere for the future.  For now, I am at least partially reinforced for my choice of course project.  We will see how everything comes together, but for now it is a good start.

I may be a convert…

January 14, 2011

Ok, so forever I have been a pretty strong supporters of non-apple/Mac platforms. It’s a pc world right?!? Tonight I write to you, fair reader, from a loaned iPad whist sitting in the hotel bar with my complimentary glass of cabernet. Though I still do not think that I can justify actually buying an iPad my myself personally, I do believe that I will. Be checking one out rather often, especially while traveling for business.

I find writing this blog entry vey easy with the ‘full-sized’ keyboard of this device and I found it really easy to transfer from typing with a regular keyboard to this touch-based keyboard. I have also found a fee free apps that would be useful for everyday (such as the news apps) but also a few for education and other productivity. I still have to play with some of the more educationally based apps, but I believe they will be useful.

Additionally, as I play around with this device I find myself liking the interface of the apple style product. We now have a choice at out college of choosing either a pc or Mac platform for out work computers. I have thought semi-seriously about trying a Mac for my new computer. Tonight I find myself even more drawn to trying one out. The two platforms are becoming more and more combatible and with the fact at nearly half of my students have a Mac, it is necessary for me to use software and other appications that can cross platforms easily.

My grad school advisor will probably say ‘I told you so!’ he had a few conversations debating the merits of both platforms (he being a pro-Mac guy, me pro-pc). I will need to think about this long and hard, but i think it may be time to make the move. However, I still do not think that I can justify actually getting an iPad. We’ll see what the next generations (likely due out early this year) will bring in terms of updates and pricing.

I apologize for any typos, I cannot seem to be able to scroll up in my text box on this…something this think about apple!