NETA 2015

As the year begins to wind down here in Nebraska, I finally have time to update my blog! The last few weeks have been a whirlwind of conferences and track meets. In this post, I want to tell you about my trip to NETA – the Nebraska Educational Technology Association. This year, it was held at the lovely CenturyLink Center. I’d been to concerts there before, but never on the conference room side. It was very nice!

Before outlining things I think might be useful for fellow language teachers, I have to say – it was nice to be around My People. In every session, people had tablets and phones and laptops for note taking. People took copious amounts of pictures. During the keynote, it was not just allowed, but expected and encouraged to tweet/blog/whatever about anything that came to mind. The two keynote speakers (Adam Bellow and George Couros) were fantastic. Adam made us laugh, George made us cry. But through the whole conference, it just felt nice to be around people who said, ‘We can do it! We have the technology!’ and then laugh because I don’t look old enough to get the reference. There were novice teachers and veteran teachers. There were digital natives and digital immigrants. Some were there because they wanted to learn how to use tech in the first place, some were there to push their tech use further. I also like how the presentations were by fellow teachers and techies that are in schools, in the classrooms, that run into the same problems that we all do – and maybe have a solution. I loved seeing everyone working together – the kind of stuff we dream of for our classrooms.

The first session I went to was on Minecraft. I don’t play it, nor do my students (this year’s big thing is Clash of Clans) because I’m pretty sure it’s more of an elementary thing. However, world language is weird teaching universe where we are essentially using elementary-level tactics to teach to a secondary-level group. The teacher demo’d some sample lessons for us. One involved exploring different biomes and then taking a ‘quiz’ through Minecraft using locked doors. Another sample lesson had students creating a setting for different civilizations. Since I teach an ancient civilizations unit in AP, I could easily adapt this to my class. I just don’t know if seniors would be interested. (They probably would… as long as nobody knew they were playing a kiddo game.) Another potential use is to have students design a house. In the language classroom, you could have a student describe the house they want and the second student has to build it to their specifications, then give feedback. Although my Parade of Homes activity isn’t going to be repeated (at least not in AP Spanish,) that would be a perfect unit to pair it with. If Minecraft sounds interesting to you, a good resource is MinecraftEDU.

Another session I went to was run by my amazing cooperating teacher, Janet Eckerson. She was fantastic to work with when I was still learning the ropes, and it was just as fun to see her teach again. She just has that shining enthusiasm and exuberance when she teaches, no matter which language she’s teaching in. As a veteran-ish teacher, I can now see how lucky I was to learn under her guidance. In any case, she touched a bit on Google Forms/Flubaroo for formative assessment, then on Google Voice to do speaking assessments that are low-stress and can be reviewed at the teacher’s convenience. Google Voice is a free internet telephone number that students can call if you are a lower tech environment. Personally, since I have the tech, I will probably choose to things like Vocaroo where students can re-record if they totally mess it up, but I think it’s a useful alternative for people who aren’t 1:1. Janet’s sneaky trick here was to push students into practicing their speeches. Most of us will ask our students to do some sort of presentation in their time with us, and this is a way to have them practice AND give the teacher evidence of said practice.

On the second day, I hit a session Zondle. Zondle came up in my blended learning conference a few weeks ago, but this was a bit more in-depth. Zondle is essentially a smashup of 123TeachMe/Duolingo/Kahoot. In it, teachers create assessments or activities, and students can play various games to practice. A nice thing about Zondle is that it tracks student progress. It’s a bit late to add Zondle to my repertoire this year, but it might be handy next year.

The final session worth noting was a session on videosmashing – how to make watching videos more interactive or interesting for students. The first part discussed the differences between Edpuzzle, Educanon, and Zaption. All three are basically video programs that allow you to stop and ask questions as you go. Edpuzzle seems like the most adaptable for our use. The other one I really liked but never heard of before was This app is attached to Google Drive and it’s super cool – the student loads the video on the left, and take notes on the right. The notes are automatically timestamped, so when students go back and select that particular note, the video also jumps to that spot. I do a lot of video+’write down what you hear’ activities to work on listening comprehension – novices certainly aren’t going to catch EVERY word, but they can catch a lot! Sadly, we found out that if Youtube is blocked at your school, is unable to load the video as well. Maybe next year.

There were a few other sessions I visited, but the only other one I really took something from was the women in tech conversation session run by Beth Still. Long story short, things are not always so rosy for women in technology. I am very lucky that my administration has been supportive and I haven’t received any discrimination from my coworkers, but I was joined by a help desk operator at a local community college, and three women who worked as IT support in a large school system who all had some disgusting stories of sexism directed at them in the workplace. Although we didn’t cover any new territory – we’ve all been down that road – it was nice to share some moral support with other women and a hope that someday, our work will lead to a different future for the women who follow behind us.

I really enjoyed my time at NETA and although I’m not sure I’ll go next year (I don’t like missing so much school), it was a worthwhile experience and I would encourage you to visit tech conferences, whether in Nebraska or any other state. And of course, blog about your findings! Let’s share our knowledge!


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