Save the Date!

sparc_logo2tMarch 15, 2014 @Riverton Parke Jr-Sr High

8:00 AM – 3:30 PM


 Keynote and sessions by Yancy Unger 

Build your Professional Learning Network 

sessions on a variety of eLearning topics and tools 

Callout for Presenters and Registration Coming Soon!


Tearing Down Walls


ImageIf someone were to ask me what I am so passionate about online and blended learning, I’d have to say that it is because it tears down walls.  When we choose the right tools and use them in the right way, technology gives us an opportunity for competency-based learning that was never possible before.  It allows us to give every student exactly what he/she needs.  In a traditional classroom, differentiation… true differentiation… is difficult at best.  But there are so many resources available today that make this perfect-world type of teaching a real possibility.   Blended learning can remove the barrier of limitation placed on advanced students who are ready to move on, the barrier of frustration when struggling students are given work they aren’t really ready for, the barrier of students falling farther and farther behind because the test is over and lessons move on but they never really got it.  Before these tools, teachers tried to give each student the content they needed, but it has always resulted in students being labeled and grouped.  No matter how cleverly veiled, students can see through the cute names and know where they fit in the hierarchy of “intelligence”.  If we do blended learning right, these days are behind us.  Every child’s learning path, pace and method personalized just for them.  It’s not impossible anymore.

As SWP began our digital journey, we found a need to define “digital curriculum” to the staff, parents and community.  You’ll find books, articles and blog posts in abundance on this term, but very few true definitions.  So we wrote our own.  We define digital curriculum as “content, learning exercise and assessments that involve digital components which transform learning from static memorization of material to dynamic interaction with concepts, critical thinking and application.  Digital curriculum provides differentiated learning, always current content and relevance for students who have ownership of their education.” (  Do you hear the bricks of the wall hitting the ground as you read that?  Learning is no longer just a lot of stuff to cram in your head.   Student’s are active participants, not robots, and what they’re doing with their learning matters now and in the future.

I could probably write book on this idea of how using technology in education tears down the walls. Maybe I will someday.  But for now, just one more comment.  When we use a course management system, social media or other tool and encourage both private and public conversation between teachers and students, we bring down many barriers for today’s digital generation.  Here’s a personal story to illustrate.  For years I had posted my course content to a website for students to be able to access materials they needed.  One year, I got ambitious (read as bored with my website) and decided to redesign it using a Wiki one summer.  Later, I transitioned to using My Big Campus.  Both methods allowed students to contact me anytime.  I taught both 7th and 8th grade in a small school.  So I had every student for two consecutive years.  Jacob (name changed) was an 8th grader when I made this change.  His entire 7th grade year I think he and I may have exchanged less than a dozen words.  He was quiet and unengaged – the kind of student who can so easily slip through the cracks.  As I started using a platform to manage my course that allowed for interaction, he started interacting.  He sent me messages frequently – questions about the day’s lesson, comments about what he liked and even volunteered to participate in things.  For Eric, verbally speaking these things in class was just too far out of his comfort zone, but through his computer he came alive.  His grade climbed dramatically. Enough that his parents wanted to know what was going on.  There was just one answer:  technology allowed the wall to come down and opened a whole new world in his learning.

Do U Lingo?

duolingo_300x200Let me first say that foreign languages are NOT my gift.  I took four years of French in high school, earned straight A’s but can barely remember how to say “Je m’appelle Rachel” (ok… I confess… I Googled that to make sure I spelled it right, so you get my point.)   My teacher just didn’t hold us accountable for our learning or have very high expectations, and it doesn’t come naturally to me.  I’m thinking I might be fluent in French to this day, however, if I had the good fortune to be born in the digital age and could have used DuoLingo while she repeated her stories of trips to France.

DuoLingo is a “free service that helps you learn languages with your friends while simultaneously contributing to translate real-world content from the Web.” With it you can learn… for free…. French, Spanish, German, Italian or Portuguese.  Check out the explanation video:

Before I suggested it to our foreign language teachers, I gave it a try myself to learn about it’s features.  Amazing.  DuoLingo started me out with very simple vocabulary aided by visual and audible cues. I had to pay attention, though.  It wasn’t long before it asked me to type a word I had just learned with no help!  It challenged me even more when I had to record myself pronouncing the words I was learning.  There’s a gaming aspect to it too.  When you mess up (which I did), you lose hearts.  If you lose all of your hearts you have to start the lesson over.  It’s a powerful component.  It also incorporates social interaction by allowing you to friend other users.

At the end of the lesson you’ll see a chart of the strength of your learning for each word in you’ve worked on.  You’ll progress your way through a skill tree and more advanced learners can test out of the lower levels.  DuoLingo isn’t specifically designed for classrooms, but I think a teacher could easily “Friend” each of his/her students and use the skill progress to monitor learning.  I’ve only recently introduced this to our foreign language teachers, but when they’ve had a little more time using it in class I’ll ask one  of them to guest blog about it.

A little time spent on the concept of how your lessons help translate the web, and using DuoLingo could even be considered Project Based Learning in a sense.  Students are learning a language while also contributing to a global task of making webpages from all over the world readable in many languages.  That’s so cool.

Look out, world!  I may just manage to learn another language after all!