Using Technology to Teach Chinese in the Classroom
At the CCFLT (Colorado Congress of Foreign Language Teachers) Spring Conference in Denver this past weekend (February 26-28), I attended a presentation titled "21st Century Learning in the Chinese Classroom." The presentation was given by principal Gail Kozhevnikov and Chinese teachers Jen Pan and Deling Maxon of Chinook Trail Elementary in Colorado Springs. These three educators wanted to share their Chinese teaching styles with the community, particularly the ways in which they have incorporated technology into their classrooms. I felt the ideas they shared were incredibly inspiring, especially the creative ways they adapted new technologies to teaching Chinese.
First, the principal spoke about their Chinook Trail Dream, which is "growing the cross-cultural mind and the international citizen in our own neighborhood." She explained that they chose to offer Chinese at their school, while neighboring schools offered mainly Spanish and French, because it was something new and different. But they also wanted to strongly encourage students to learn about all world cultures by holding a Japanese tea ceremony and having flag throwers from Florence, in addition to having a Monkey King storyteller, Chinese acrobats, and Chinese yo-yo players come into their school.
The kindergartners get 90 minutes total Chinese instruction a week, whereas their 1st through 5th-graders get 150 minutes of total instruction per week. The 4th and 5th graders class sessions run for 50 minutes each, so they can use the Better Chinese online curriculum during that time.
Teachers say the #1 reason they choose to use the Better Chinese curriculum is that it is standards-based and student-centric, as opposed to teacher-centric- which was how the teachers themselves were taught. They also like the multimedia resources and the culturally-rich, authentic content: songs, rhymes, tongue-twisters, etc. Because of the online feature, they encourage their students to practice at home and show their parents what they're learning.
At Chinook Trail, teachers strive to use technology everyday. To get active student participation, teachers use the Mimio Interactive Board almost everyday in their classrooms. From my understanding, the Mimio Board is an interactive whiteboard that is connected to the teacher's computer through the internet. The board is basically a big computer screen. Teachers and students can manipulate the functions of the computer by clicking or drawing on the board with the Mimio stylus pen, which acts like a mouse. Teachers used the Mimio board in conjunction with Better Chinese's online curriculum to do the interactive activities, play matching games, and write Chinese characters.
Another technology that the 4th and 5th grade Chinook Trail students enjoy is using "Clickers" in the classroom with the Mimio board. Clicker systems allow teachers to get immediate feedback about students' learning progress. Teachers would ask a question or pose a question on the board, and each student would log in their answer using their "clicker", which is similar to a remote control. In such a way, summaries of students' answers can be displayed right away and teachers can gauge whether students truly understand a topic.
Another activity I found really interesting and creative is how the teachers used Google Earth on their Mimio board to teach the Chinese names of countries. They would also use Google Earth to take their students on a journey around the world. For example, first they showed the students the location of their school and then flew them across the world to certain sites in China, such as the Forbidden City. Once there, they could click on relevant images and show the students Chinese artifacts like the emperor's throne.
The teachers also loved using a Document Camera in their classroom. Basically, you would use a document camera like a overhead projector, but you don't have to worry about making transparencies. You simply place any object under the camera and would then be able to display the object's image on the board to show the entire class in real-time. You can also store documents in the camera for viewing at a later time. The Chinook Trail teachers used their camera to store songs, show picture books, show students how to write Chinese characters in the correct stroke order and where to mark tones on pinyin. They also used the camera to record videos of their students speaking Chinese, which captured students' attention and really got them participating.
One last thing that the teachers mentioned was the "Chinese Plus" software, which is something they found really useful for making worksheets. With "Chinese Plus", teachers can type pinyin directly into MS Word, add pinyin to characters, remove pinyin from characters, and easily change between traditional and simplified characters.
Throughout the presentation, I was amazed to learn what the educators at Chinook Trail are doing to teach Chinese. It's simply wonderful that they continuously seek out new ways to engage their students and get them to actively participate. The students of Chinook Trail Elementary are truly lucky to have such innovative teachers. I certainly hope that other teachers who want to use technology to teach Chinese in their classrooms would find this information useful!