Cartoon Creation Tools: an Interesting Addition for Language Classes

This week, as I was browsing through my fellow classmates’ blogs, I stumbled across two articles (Maxime’s and Charle-Antoine’s) which discuss the ups and downs of two different cartoon creating websites, respectively ToonDoo and Make Beliefs Comix. As both sites seemed very interesting, I decided to look at them myself so as to determine which one might be best used in an educational context. But before presenting my conclusions, here is a little overview of the general benefits a teacher can draw from such resources.

First of all, teachers can use cartoons to make their presentations more lively; including an original comic strip in a Powerpoint or Prezi, or even adding a bit of playfulness to handouts can be effective ways to maintain students’ attention in class. As Med Kharbach points out in his article on Educational Technology and Mobile Learning (which also presents various cartoon creation websites), “you can see the excitement in [the students’] eyes the moment they know [cartoons] are included in their lesson.”
As pointed out by Maxime on his blog, comic strips can also help young students understand difficult or abstract concepts.

Some people think that this is where the use of comic strips should stop. However, I think that teacher use is not the only way that cartoons can be beneficial in classrooms. Although, as expressed by José Picardo in his article, “pupils are likely to get carried away”, creating specific cartoon projects in language classes can be very efficient. In Quebec, because the reform program focusses a lot on social interaction, comic strips can be useful because they employ a lot of “social” vocabulary and gambits. If a language teacher is able to maintain a certain discipline in his group, getting them to create cartoons can thus be a very entertaining and enriching project.

Of the various websites available, the choice is hard to make and depends on your own preferences. I personally looked at ToonDoo and Make Beliefs Comix, and here is a quick comparison between the two. Although they are both fairly simple to use, I found ToonDoo a bit more clearly organized, and so maybe better for young students. Moreover, ToonDoo offers the possibility of taking pictures from you computer and adding them to your cartoon, which did not seem as simple with Make Beliefs Comix. One downside of ToonDoo is that it contains some speech bubbles and actions that are inappropriate for schools, so I would not use it with young students.
Whether you choose to use one of these two sites or a different one, it should be easy to use for your students and offer as many possibilities as can be found!



“Can in Bring my Cell Phone in Class?”

“Of course you can’t!” Or could you…

Being currently out on a practicum as a High School student teacher, I have encountered differing views regarding the use of cell phones in classrooms. While some teachers consider those objects as a nuisance, a distraction for students that is hard to control, others have begun to integrate it for research purposes. Cell phones and iPods can be an easy means of accessing the internet and its endless resources without having to move to a computer lab. Although I was initially reluctant to accept this as a sufficient reason to permit the use of cell phones in classrooms, I have decided to make some research and have discovered many reasons why these devices may now have their rightful place in High School classrooms.

Cell phones, being powerful search engines, can indeed be seen as a fit replacement for traditional computer labs; they can be used from any classroom, and offer the big advantage of being owned by nearly all High School students. As Lisa Nielsen wrote in her blog article, “in a time when schools are facing tightening budgets, using technology that is readily available is logical”.

Another way to use cell phones in class is to adapt quizzes or polls to modern times, in the process making them more interesting for students. As I read in a blog article by MindShift, the program called Poll Everywhere allows students to ask questions which the students will answer through texting. This allows the teacher to collect answers easily without spending on an expensive system of clickers, and gives the opportunity to shy students to answer quizzes without having to speak in front of the group. The teacher can even give the best answers anonymously.

There are many other uses that can be made of cell phones for academic purposes. They can be used to record classes or to take pictures of some notes, and Robert Earl, in his article published online in The Altlantic, suggests that they can also be very good tools on field trips. However, most teachers agree that cell phones have all these positive sides. The reason why they are still banned in a lot of schools is that they also have some downsides.

One of the major worries concerning cell phones is that students may use them for non-academic purposes. In an article published by The Guardian, Eddie Falshaw makes an interesting comment on this issue: “The worry for us, is that the phones will be used more for social purposes, but that is where the education comes in”. His point is that it is the teachers’ role to make sure this doesn’t happen, and to get students to use their cellphones the right way. Schools should evolve and adapt to new technologies, not ban them because of the disagreements they might bring. As Meg Ormiston wrote in his article on Teach Hub, “we didn’t ban pens in our schools because students can pass notes during class”.

Although cell phones make class management more difficult, I believe they should be embraced as a new difficulty that can be dealt with through other means than rejection. After all, school is meant to prepare students for real life, with all it contains. Ramsey Mussalam, quoted in another blog article by MindShift, makes a statement that I find very interesting: “I’m here to serve my students. If we can leverage cell phones in a way that’s meaningful, I’m going to do it.”

Bored in School: Why Not Skype?

No, I am not suggesting that students should get on Skype with their friends instead of listening to their teacher. What I am suggesting is that teachers should get their students on Skype for educational activities. Why? So as to get them even more used to communicating solely through screens and computers? Not quite…

Most people know Skype as a useful tool to make cheap long distance calls or simply to add a video dimension to traditional phones. And that is precisely what Skype is. What most people do not realize is to what extent this can enrich students’ school experiences. Here are a few ways to give Skype an educational twist.

The first aspect of Skype which can be useful is the fact that it gives an inexpensive access to any other Skype user worldwide. This comes in handy especially in language classrooms as it allows conversation between pupils form different countries. Thus, teachers in a francophone environment giving English class simply need to establish contact with an anglophone school giving French classes, and then set up online meetings between their students. This modern version of pen pals offers the huge advantage of practicing conversation skills instead of being limited to writing. This doesn’t mean that it limits the contact to conversation; students can also be made to exchange e-mails, for example. Suzi Bewell, a teacher who experienced this in her French class, gives a good summary of how positive these exchanges can be in her article on TES, a network for teachers (a similar article by Stephen Manning is also available).

Aside from language input, communicating with classes from other countries is a great way to  get students to understand more about other cultures and realities. It can be used to make students aware of a lot of  the world’s problems, and Skype was even a tool in some campaigns led by the organization Peace One Day

At more advanced levels, Skype can be a simple and cheap alternative for getting direct contact with experts in any domain. For example, a teacher who would like to get a conference from a foreign scholar but does not have sufficient funds to actually bring him to school may be able to afford a live videoconference from this scholar, and an expert who refuses invitations because he is too busy to visit schools may still find time for a 30 minute online questioning period with students. Skype is a means of communicating with anyone, anywhere, and at anytime, so the possibilities it offers to schools are extremely vast.

Of course, Skype does not have to be used only so as to communicate with people outside of the school’s walls; exchanges between students can easily be set up. An example of this, proposed by Katie Lepi in an article published on edudemic, is to set up fake job interviews for students through Skype as a preparation for real-life ones. Teachers can also record Skype conversations between students and refer to them when evaluating conversation skills. Although Skype does not record conversations, it is easy to download free complementary software so as to achieve this.

As proposed in an article from Educational Technology and Mobile Learning, Skype can also be a good substitute for traditional after school homework assistance; students can take their regular bus and log on so as to receive help from their teacher or peers at home.

Skype is a cheap and very wide-ranging tool which can be a huge advantage for teachers willing to implement it into their classrooms. Although it may occasionally  interrupt calls or momentarily lose the image, it generally has very good sound and image and rarely lets you down. My suggestion to more wary teachers is that they elaborate a plan B in case Skype is struggling when they want to use it.