Monday, October 09, 2006

Sixth Grade Spanish Teacher Integrates Technology

Chris Craft teaches Spanish and Latin to sixth graders at Crossroads Middle School in Columbia, South Carolina. Having worked in technology-related jobs before becoming a teacher, Chris has actively sought to integrate computers into his classroom. He has his Spanish students using wikis (JotSpot and WetPaint) to explore the topic of immigration, and has set up a blog for each of his students using the Open Source program Drupal--which has allowed him a more tightly controlled environment for blogging.

Chris uses computers which were "resurrected from the trash heap." His only requirement was that they could connect to the Internet and run the Firefox web browser. His oldest machines he keeps running by installing the Linux operating system distribution Xubuntu. He applied early on to what is now Google Apps for Education and made sure each student had a Gmail account. His goal was to take his students from being "consumers" of Internet content to being "contributors," and to truly engage them.

When his students realized that there was an "audience" for their work, even just the audience of other students in the school, the quality of their work "absolutely skyrocketed." They went from "turning their work in" to "publishing it." One really fun project he has them do in Spanish class is to have the students work in teams to create a "radio commercial" on why it is important to learn another language. By using the Free and Open Source program Audacity for recording and editing, which even runs on an old computer with 64 MB of RAM, the students can put in special effects (like echoing) in the commercials.

I asked Chris how the parents have reacted to his students active use of Internet technologies in class. He said that his kids had been talking so much about how much fun they were having in class with these technologies that his classroom was "standing-room only" for the school's open house--while other teachers later lamented how few parents had attend their classrooms. He walked his parents through the online privacy issues, and made sure that everyone was comfortable with what he was doing. He also showed them how to access his class blog, and taught the parents what an RSS feed is so that they could easily keep up with what was going on in class.

Listen to Chris talk more about his experience with me in's "Take 5."