Category Archives: Virtual Move

Google Portfolios

My advanced class has been keeping google presentations as their ongoing record for the virtual trip to St. Petersburg. I want to remember some things about doing this assignment.

I set up a mock presentation (like a PowerPoint or Keynote) so that the first slide has all the kids’ names on it. I share it so that anyone who has the link can edit it for the first couple of days. That lets me give them the link through Edmodo. Later I change it so that no one but me can edit it (I don’t want them deleting slides by mistake). They have to create links to their own presentations. I know when they’ve done that because there will be a hyper link visible.

Students share their presentations with me, giving me editing rights (I just can’t stand it if there are glaring spelling errors when they are presenting).

The rest of the document is slides that I require them to prepare. Each slide has either a model of what they must include or a list that is also the “B” grade rubric. For instance, on the Halloween slide, they had to include what their costume was for the holiday, what they did, a picture of some sort, where they went, with whom, a link to that location, and two details about the event.

I prepared a bunch of the slides in advance, but now I’ve been adding to them as the project progressed, and the kids use the slides as guidance. In the future I might actually number the slides, because it gets harder to find specific assignments. Most of the students are using my label (“My weekend,” “My favorite place in St. Petersburg”) on their slides. That helps.

This week, everyone had to duplicate three slides, remove all the text, and then talk about them. I had fashioned my little matroshka “signature” so that they would know that the text was more or less correct. I figured it was kind of like the writing clinic that Ashley Hastings refers to in his FocalSkills recommendations. Some of the kids got to sit down with me because I didn’t know exactly what they were trying to get across, and I did misunderstand in some cases. Anyway, the kids were all doing their presentations this week, and it was a pleasure to hear them talk about St. Petersburg so knowledgeably (and correctly…yeah…)!

My next idea is that they are going to read other kids’ projects and respond to them: “I wish I had been with X on Halloween…” “I read about X bridge and decided I’d like to visit too…”

I have to look back at Robert’s virtual move ideas and see what else I have forgotten to do. We haven’t done the cafe visit/poetry reading yet, though we’ve learned some songs, thanks to Natalia. And now I have Internet in my classroom again, so we’ll be able to do more with music again. Hurrah!


Virtual move

I really feel as though I should leave the most recent post up until our conference is over! It’s incredibly exciting to have Outsiders coming to our conference (Outside is anywhere outside Alaska; it doesn’t mean you’re not in our community, because if you’re reading this, you are).

But I thought I should post my current, improved version of our Virtual Move. This year, I had students in the “advanced” class form families, thanks to whoever I sat next to at inservice. Was that Allison? Probably. She said that she tells them they have to have three generations, and the oldest student is the grandparent, the youngest student a grandchild, and the others are up for grabs. I set up families of four. I haven’t assigned seats yet, so if the first assignment is not in families, it makes for a nice movement break when they have to get into families.

I have been forgetting my own instructions on Embedded Reading, and jumped into something too hard for my kids. Then I had to backtrack, and because one of the students in the class claimed in his initial interview to own a resort on an island in the southern hemisphere, I decided to use the structures in that too-hard reading to start a situation about the families’ vacation at the resort. Every so often, we go back to the reading and do some more that is easier now.

The first homework assignment was to pick family names by researching famous names of St. Petersburg. We have Pavlovs, Bloks, Medvedevs and others. The next thing they had to do was to find a place of employment or study, based on their ages. Then they all started on-line bloggish power points that connect to a main one that holds the instructions.

Today the families had to find out the interests of each member in small groups as class started. Later, they’ll have to find places in St. Petersburg where they enjoy practicing those pursuits. One student likes kick boxing, for instance, and will have to track down a location to do that. There were some weird ones, and I can’t wait to find out where they’ll be.

For now, the families are at the resort, while we develop the back stories. I’ve been asking some things about schedules (when, where and how do they have meals) and they’ll have to work that information into their lives. Everything has to hold together.

One family is a group of smugglers (“contrabandisti”!), though everyone thinks they’re perfectly nice, and one family is all vampires, so they don’t lie out on the beach during the day. I guess they’re all going to have cover stories as well as back stories.

This year, I have every level except first in my “advanced” class (though the AP kids are pretty much independent), so it’s tricky finding reading materials that work for them all. At the same time, it must be said that there isn’t really enough compelling, comprehensible material in the Russian world for any level of high school, but I’m trying to make it work. I’m lucky to have interested kids and a wonderful circle of CI friends and support!

Reading the subtitles

Today all my juniors, who make up a large part of my advanced class, came in brain-dead from taking the WorkKeys test. They asked to do something “easy,” and so I practiced MovieTalk on them with the first 12 minutes of a Russian film (taking up 75 minutes of class). It turned out that I did a mixture of three things: MovieTalk as I understand it (no sound, my narration, with pauses on the shots that I want to talk about), discussion of the people, places and events in the film, and reading of appropriate subtitles. I put necessary words up on the board, and got to realize that figuring out the themes of a movie is really important, because then you can then direct all your talk that way for the day. I needed to have figured out that I might talk about relationships, about choosing one’s path in life, or about how technology influences our lives. How many of our choices for friends depend on our environment? Why do we go down one path? When do we decide to listen to our gut feelings and not to those around us? I ended up throwing out questions about being late, rather than starting with any big themes. I guess we could later talk about how being late says something about how important a person or event is to us.

Reading the subtitles for this movie was perfect, because the kids know most of the language, but it went by pretty fast for them to get if they didn’t have the subtitles. I felt like that gave them support when we watched the few minutes with the sound. I’m not sure whether that’s what I should be doing, but it felt right for this group. We’ll see whether we can fit a few minutes of this film into our days.

We’re watching Piter FM…one of the kids asked whether she could move from Moscow to St. Petersburg! Not this semester, but you can visit!

If anyone out there knows a similar kind of film about Moscow, I’d love to know the name. That is, one with a school-appropriate plot and lots of beautiful scenes from the city, that would be great.

On the other hand, they’re all taking pictures of their neighborhoods and their weekend excursions. We’re finally going to talk about the weekend we “just” had for our next class period.

Speak Russian!

I was working to get everyone to speak Russian today.

My advanced kids moved into their hostels last night (virtual move to Moscow), and I had a map of Moscow laid out on a table. They got to the room before I did, and they were all gathered around examining it. Evidently a map on a wall isn’t fascinating, but on a table it is. They took those post-it arrows and pointed to the locations of their hostels. Thank goodness for Smartphones with google search. It’s a brave new world.

Anyway, it took everything I could do to get them to discuss their hostels in Russian, even though yesterday they had to write to a Ukrainian “friend,” explaining why her choice of hostels was not theirs and they were supposedly thus primed. Once again, they took over the class to make a chart of who is living where, so that they can do Monday’s homework: report on where/what they ate, and one excursion that cost less than $50. (Moscow is an expensive city.) They said that it was a whole new kind of homework. I guess so…really to find out what’s happening in the city, and where cafes are located and what they serve. I don’t have to do anything except be ready for the predictable two or three who won’t get homework done. Those kids are going to be visiting factories and cooking their own food.

Now we’re also starting to look at news that would be interesting to young people in Moscow (the recent sentencing of the singers who sang anti-Putin songs in churches). They do have to know what’s going on in their city, right?

My beginners and I had a lovely time singing the “Blue Train” song, and maybe because I didn’t tell them myself, they were coming up with the metaphors on their own (turning the calendar, going down the tracks ever more quickly, not being able to see again the moments when we did something we’re not proud of). Then we had some time left and I decided to start our prep for the speaking part of their midterm. I asked them for all the verbs they could remember, and they came up with many more than I’d expected. After that, I wrote on the board:
1. character
2. problem
3. what/where/how
I told them that they were going to get into groups of three, and use Russian only to figure out their characters, the problem, how the characters would try to solve it including where they’d go, and what they would do. I pointed out that if they didn’t know a word they could always use a proper noun. I wandered around among the groups and was happy to hear that they were mostly planning the plots in Russian. Stories work a lot better when the kids start in Russian, rather than in English.

I think it helped to brainstorm all those verbs, to give them a reminder of what they know how to say and can use.

Back stories

In my advanced class, we had a few details to take care of. For one thing, I had to ask the kids whether they would mind it if a Russian tv journalist came in to video the class. That took a long time for some reason. A couple kids weren’t paying close attention, and they thought I was just making it up. When they figured out that there was something really happening here, I had to go back to the beginning and retell it.

Finally we got to one back story. I had the kids add something that they remember from five years ago (in their new persona), mostly because “remember” was a structure from last week and they didn’t know it on the weekly quiz. So when I saw that one kid had put that he remembers proposing to his girlfriend in a hot air balloon and that she turned him down, I had to follow that lead. It took the rest of the period to establish that this is the same girl that he was suspected of murdering, provoking his departure for Russia, where he is now working. Strangely enough, these are the kids who have been “raised” on Storytelling, and now, even though we are supposedly not doing stories, they still are.

It’s kind of like Ben Slavic’s Realm, where he would come up with an imaginary kingdom and people it with wood carvers and magicians and other people out of a sort of mythical past. But these kids are creating their own world inside the virtual reality. It’s easier for me because I can always step out and introduce some real information about Moscow, for instance, than it would have been to deal with the vocabulary for a mythical world. Instead, we have a real world in which stories go on as always, but they’re even more kid-directed than they used to be.

The only problem is that the kid with the dead ex-girlfriend is the same guy who was “on” for a whole day last week. At this rate, we’re going to take the entire year just to figure out the lives of these characters. Maybe that isn’t such a bad thing…but I suspect we need to get on to the business of actually moving. Maybe I will impose a time limit on how much we talk about each person.

All I can say is, “Thank you, Robert Harrell!”

(Oh…and I had the intermediate group continuing their embedded reading. I took the very lowest group, and all the other groups worked with a leader at their own paces. I always love ER for the way that the kids relax into it; once they realize it isn’t all new stuff that we’re doing, they start enjoy reading. Thank you, Laurie Clarcq.)

Robert Harrell…more notes!

From Robert: The book that gave me ideas and help was “Move Your Students to a Virtual City” by Sue Fenton. It’s available from Teacher’s Discovery. The book is in English and is intended for teachers of any language.

I’m working on a new website: – a couple of things are on it, but I need to do some real work soon.

From Michele: The rest of the notes are a jumble of answers he has sent me…not his fault they are disorganized but mine.

Thanks to Robert for letting me share!

Robert on Virtual City

The A year we do Vienna – Poesie – Märchen
I use the second-to-last chapter of Sabine und Michael to help introduce the city, and I have various materials I have prepared to set up a “virtual move” to the city. During the second semester when we do poetry, students write a “poetry book” using highly scaffolded templates for poems. One day we have a “Vienna Coffeehouse” where we sit around drinking tea or coffee or hot chocolate and eating pastry (I get Apfelstrudel from Costco), then students stand to read one of their poems. It’s a great setting for students to do an oral presentation – very low affective filters.

The B year we do Berlin – Middle Ages
Berlin provides an opportunity to look at the modern Germany, Reunification, Cold War and Inter-war years. We read Emil und die Detektive, among other things. For the Middle Ages I have developed my own semester plan, based around my book Ritter von heute.

I chose not to do Munich because we cover the city with Sabine und Michael.

Michele’s note to Robert
Could you be a little more specific about the “various materials” to set up a virtual move to a city? I have been thinking that first kids would read about hostels, then room rentals, then jobs, and after that (and after having reported or argued about which ones are better or worse, or maybe having written e-mails to their teacher about their success as opposed to the reality) they would start checking out reviews of restaurants and clubs and dry-cleaning establishments and so on. I’m not really sure what to have them read as an entry into the city, but I have friends I can ask.

From Robert
One of the things I do for the set-up is create a “passport*” for each student. I created a template that I use. Students fill in the blanks, and I take their picture to past or staple into the booklet. Information does not have to be true. Then I stamp the entry and exit visa spaces when we start the year, at Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks and at the end of the semester. By the end they will have about six stamps in their “passports”.

Last year I added another aspect of role-playing to the project. Have you ever played Dungeons and Dragons? Using the same idea, I had students roll dice and create older versions of themselves. They were all graduate students enrolled at the University of Vienna and working for the UN at UNO-City in Vienna. The dice rolls determined the following:
Major at the university
Number of classes per week
Job at UNO-City
Number of work hours per week
With that information they determined what kinds of things they would do based on amount of free time and funds available. Most formed groups to share an apartment and then traveled together. They had to take a couple of trips during the year – most went to Oktoberfest because it wasn’t that far away – and report later about it. Each week when we talked about plans for the weekend or what they had done on the previous weekend, students had to talk about their activities as if they were in Vienna.

Students had to look up prices for hotels/hostels to stay in upon arrival and apartments for long-term living. One group wound up camping while another stayed in a luxury hotel. (Difference in money available.) They also checked out restaurants, and we talked about typical Viennese foods. A couple of supermarket chains have websites, so we compared prices and offers between the US and Vienna. Students had to visit some of the big tourist attractions in the city but also decided what they would do in their free time during a normal week – lots of skateboarding, bicycle riding, going to cafes, playing sports, going to Danube Island for swimming, etc. We talked about where they could do that. We also looked at the layout of the city. Next time I might have them look at the Austrian soccer league. I didn’t do anything with laundry or dry cleaning, but that would be a good thing to do – do they have laundromats? What does it cost to do wash?

My idea was to have students be old enough to go and do things on their own, have them be self-sufficient (jobs), but at the same time have some responsibilities (jobs, classes) so they had to figure out how to manage their time. I also wanted them to imagine what they would talk about as older versions of themselves – school dances became club nights, school sports became club sports, concerts took place in Vienna, etc.

At the start of the project we read and discussed a vignette from Michael Miller’s Sabine und Michael in which Michael goes to Vienna and has a nightmare experience. I also showed slides of Vienna that I have taken. Students learned their way around the city. We explored the transportation system and did an activity in which students looked up what films are playing in Vienna and where they are playing, then made a “date” (not necessarily romantic) with another student to see the film

We also read a short story about a robbery in the Art History Museum that I adapted and translated from a story created by the COACH group I work with. After we read the story we looked at articles about a real theft that took place in 2003 and discussed similarities and differences.

A lot of what we were doing involved output, but by level 3-4 students are ready for it. I structured the assignments so that students could do a lot or a little output and graded on what I knew about their ability.

The “culminating event” was a presentation about what they had done during their year in Vienna. It was a group project, which allowed students to take roles that supported their abilities. As part of the evaluation, each member of the group had to sign a statement about whether each member of the group shared fairly (not equally) in the work. The presentations were very creative, and we enjoyed them a lot. The language was also good. I believe I mentioned in another post that one group had some grammar errors on their PowerPoint slides, but when I engaged them in a conversation about their trip, they corrected all of the errors in their spontaneous speech. Another group had a member who works late at night and has a hard time staying awake in class. We of course give him a bad time and do things to help him stay awake. In the presentation he kept falling asleep and having things happen to him, like waking up at the end of the streetcar line and not knowing where he was.

Second semester we continued with the Vienna idea but shifted focus from the city to literature. We looked at German poetry of various sorts, then did the project that finished with a “Viennese Coffee House”.

*I use card stock for the outside of the “passport” and regular paper for the inside. The cover has the Great Seal of the United States and looks like a real passport. The inside is designed to look like a passport as well (though I think I need to update this – just got a new passport). For anyone who doesn’t know it, all publications by an agency of the federal government are public domain. You do not need permission to reproduce them – 0f course, you can be prosecuted for using them for fraud or other illegal activities, but we aren’t doing that. NASA photos are also public domain.

I hope this answers some of your questions. My intention is to get all of this collected and publish a how-to manual. The basic idea is the same, no matter where you go, but it would be great to have materials and guidelines for specific cities from various target cultures.

I originally posted this in Variety Pack 4, but here it is again:
I do a two-year rotating curriculum for my combined 3-4-AP class. For it I do the following
Year One
-First semester is a virtual move to Vienna: learn about Austrian culture, students role-play older versions of themselves at the University of Vienna and UNO City*, readings based on Vienna, get to know the city. (*for example, Monday chats revolve around where they went and what they did in Austria over the weekend; did you take the train to Munich and visit Oktoberfest? Did you go skiing? Did you go to Danube Park with friends?)
-Second semester study fairy tales and poetry; enjoy a “Viennese coffeehouse” experience

Year Two
-First semester is a virtual move to Berlin: talk about modern Germany, Re-unification, Cold War, interwar years. Similarly to Vienna, students talk about where they went and what they did “in Berlin”.
-Second semester is a trip back to the Middle Ages; my medieval book is the organizing principle for the semester, and we use it for jumping-off points to explore medieval history and culture 

Robert Harrell’s Virtual Move

We have started our virtual move to Moscow. The kids brought in their job descriptions from the job site today. Some had forgotten and therefore got the ones I’d picked out.

The students are so excited about this that it’s almost hard to run the class. They have many more ideas than I do, and they want to go with them. What I noticed is that taking on a persona is making what might have been a boring, repetitive conversation be interesting to them all: what is your job (“As whom do you work?”) and how much do you earn? It’s so funny…those two questions kept us busy for most of an hour today. I wouldn’t have known what to do if someone had told me I had to teach them. The kids figured out right away that those with the higher salaries were going to get to do more fun things in Moscow in their free time. I didn’t point out that higher salaries also demand more time. Might have to talk about that some other lesson! They’re already deciding who’s going to room with whom, and realizing they have to know what different areas of Moscow are like. We might need some guest speakers on the topic of “the city.” Whoo hoo!

I am grateful to Robert for this crazy, wonderful idea! It’s a reality story!