Google Earth in English

Thanks to Tom Barrett for the inspiration!

After finding this blog entry, I quickly went to find one of our more open-minded English teachers (Mr. Whatley) and shared with him what I found. I was particularly interested in the unit on Travel Writing that he does and thought that Google Earth would be a perfect medium for giving his students – many of them EAL students – that extra bit of scaffolding needed to really create some extraordinary writing.

He did me one better and has decided to use Google Earth as the tool for creating life maps for the students. The ability to embed images and videos as well as add written text will really help these life maps come alive! Plus, with the ability to create a narrated tour, the students will also be focusing on the oral component of MYP English.

Mr. Whatley is also having the students create a map of the nomadic protagonist’s journey in Bloomability, a la Google Lit Trips. I can’t wait to see (and share!) the results.

Backchannel in the Middle School

Last week our Science Head of Department was ‘lecturing’ to her Grade 8 class, reviewing the different parts of plants. In addition to providing a cloze-type graphic organizer, Andrea decided to open up a backchannel using Today’s Meet  for the students. After briefly explaining what a backchannel was and how the students might use it, she started on her lecture. In her own words:

When I was first exposed to back channel chat at a conference last year, I couldn’t really think how I might use it in class. A year later, with my 8th graders happily typing and inking away on their tablet PC’s  I was eager to try it and see what the possibilities might be.


I decided to use Today’s Meet in a class that was more of a lecture style. Students would be responsible for listening to my lecture and filling in blanks about our Plants topics Roots and Stems. I was curious to see how it would go and my initial idea was that it would be a way for me to check their understanding. I instructed them that if they had a question they could type it there and I would stop to check every 5 minutes or so and answer any questions. I also mentioned that if they heard me say anything interesting that wasn’t on the notes they were given, they could add that too.


The kids signed in and each said hello and I was curious to see if they would stay on topic or not. Interestingly when I first stopped to check, there were questions and comments about my speed (I was talking too fast for some) and even better, some students had already started to answer questions that had been posted by others! I immediately thought that this would be a great extension for kids who are better listeners and quicker at lecture type activities. I taught them how to use the ‘@’ symbol to do a direct reply so that if they were replying to only one student, it would be easy to see who they were answering.


We continued on and they stayed focused. I prompted them to find websites and post them in the back channel if they found things that they thought might be helpful. Many of them did. I was very happy to see the majority of students flipping back and forth between the note and the chat with ease-it seemed to work well for most of them!


I was also amazed that one of my quietest students, who won’t raise his hands in class was asking loads of questions of me and his peers on the back channel.


It was a great experiment and helped me to guide my lecture during the process which was great. Most students were eager to use it again, after all chat is an interface they are VERY familiar with! Today’s meet also can be copied and pasted into a word or One Note document so that a transcript of the session could be available for students too.

After the lesson, we discussed the positives:

  • The transcript is a huge plus for EAL students.
  • The students really got in to helping one another.
  • For the vast majority of students, they were in a comfortable environment (IM’ing is a favorite past time of most students!) and adapted easily to the ‘academic’ nature of the task.

And the possibilities:

  • Student can supplement the discussion with links.
  • The backchannel can be used as a differentiation tool: it can be used to extend the strong students (by finding additional content/support/links) and to support the weaker student.
  • It can also be used to accommodate different learning modalities.
  • If you collect data on learning styles (such as Sternberg’s Triarchic Theory of Intelligence or Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences), assigning different dedicated scribes with different learning styles might capture a more complete picture of the lecture.

Do you use a backchannel in your classes? What effective strategies have you discovered?

Image Credit: What’s Your Backchannel by debs (CC BY NC SA on Flickr)