10 Tips for BYOD Classrooms

BYOD or “Bring Your Own Device” is becoming more commonplace in workplaces and conferences, but what about in the classroom?


Important Logistics

Since many students possess one kind of device or another (laptops, tablets, smartphones, etc.), implementing a BYOD approach at school has the potential to address the financial concerns of funding and maintaining school-wide technology.  However, according to an article¹ by Sharo Dickerson, several essential considerations must be made before implementing such an approach:

  • Network security & systems (Make sure the school can handle the additional bandwidth!)
  • Established policies for teacher & student safety (see some examples & this fantastic Edutopia mini-handbook!)
  • Financial support for students who don’t own a mobile device
  • Apps or other software that the school will make available for all BYOD devices at the school to enable effective classroom use

Same Old Learning with Shiny New Gear?

Even when all the above procedural concerns are managed, introducing BYOD could quickly go the way of 1:1 laptop programs without care.  According to a recent study¹, “Computers in K-12 classrooms are mostly used to support the same textbooks, curriculum, and teaching practices that continue to represent traditional classroom settings” (Norris & Soloway, 2011).  Many administrators and teachers, such as Jennie Magiera², experience the pitfalls of assuming that just the presence of technology in the classroom will motivate and inspire learning to higher levels.  During one of my student teaching experiences, I witnessed first-hand a classroom that was packed with all the latest technology, including 1:1 student desktop computers, an interactive whiteboard, and Activotes–yet it still felt the same as most traditional 20th Century classrooms.  Even the high-tech interactive whiteboard was used like a regular whiteboard or, at best, a projector, with ordinary lists of math problems on the board to be solved, or Basal passages for students to read together.

So what do we do to help BYOD avoid the smoke and mirrors of other failed techno-integration attempts?  According to the Dickerson article, it’s essential to include an “adaptation of constructivism in redesigning curriculum and content delivery.”  In other words:

Bill Ferriter
Bill Ferriter
  • The creator of the above picture, Bill Ferriter³, explains that kids aren’t motivated by the technology itself, but by its potential for further opportunities to expand their learning horizons.
  • Jennie Magiera, explains in her article² her realization that she would need to “break down to rebuild” in order to foster real growth.
  • As Wolf Creek Public Schools have introduced BYOD, they are focusing on the “pedagogy before technology,” with the mentality that “It’s not a tech goal; it’s a learning goal.”
  • Edna Sackson, author of popular learning blog, WhatEdSaid⁴, describes 10 “Big Ideas” for deeper learning, including ownership, collaboration, creativity, problem solving, curiosity, diversity, flexibility, relevance, connection, and change.

The common denominator in all these examples of higher level learning with technology?  Technology has the potential to dramatically revolutionize 21st century learning; we can’t expect that to happen with same-old 20th century teaching strategies and mentalities!

Ideas for Authentic 21st Century Learning

As you implement a BYOD or any technology approach in your classroom, you will need to consider the unique needs of your students.  However, we hope this list will give you some ideas to help students authentically use devices to enhance and customize their own learning:

1. Twitter (Click here for our article on Twitter for Teachers!)

Make a unique hashtag for your class that will enable you to post questions, comments, links, or even just regular announcements.  Students could also upload thoughts on their learning using this hashtag, both in and out of the classroom!  You can even use the hashtag to organize TweetChats during class for students to experience a dynamic debate that eliminates the need to “take turns talking.” (Tweetdeck is a great resource to easily view all Tweets within a hashtag). In addition, you could use existing hashtags such as #comments4kids to publish student work and ask questions to engage with a real audience!  (See this free Twitter handbook for teachers for more ideas for classroom use, as well as information to get you started if you’re a Twitter newcomer!)

2. Skype

In the classroom, Skype is a close relative to Twitter in that both have the potential to truly take learning beyond your 4 walls!  Check out our article that goes over how Skype Virtual Field trips work for some specific ideas!

3. App Selection

To help students really utilize technology as a learning tool, choose apps that are “Creation-based over Content-based!”  My article on Practical Student Blogging also lists several resources that include creation-based apps, with Educreations being one of my favorites! Also see apps sorted by topic in my Edutopia post, “Visualizing 21st-Century Classroom Design.”

4. Differentiated Learning

Do you have students who have an IEP accommodation to have a scribe during writing?  Help them discover and use speech-to-text apps such as Dragon Dictation or Evernote, or Google Apps add-ons like Text to Speech with Google Drive!  Do you have students who struggle with remembering assignments or time management?  Help them learn to manage their time with apps like Due or again, Evernote.  Meeting every student’s diverse needs can go from being an elusive ideal to a truly attainable undertaking when we “use technology creatively” (WhatEdSaid article) in the classroom!

5.  Student Blogging

Have students keep digital portfolios of their work and progress throughout the year using blogs!  Check out our post on student blogging for specific ideas to get you started. 2016 edit: Also be sure to check out Seesaw & our privacy-friendly alternatives to blogging.

6. Google Collaboration

Turn writing assignments and other projects into more effective collaboration as students work together in real time in Google Drive!  With their work already online in highly shareable files, they can seek for feedback not just from their classmates, but other peers around the school or even the globe!  We feel strongly that this kind of technology use will empower kids with authentic problem-solving skills as they learn how and from where to seek real feedback (ie, not just their teacher)!

7. Presentations

Thanks to technology, the mediums for presentations have stretched well beyond dioramas, posters, and essays.  Perhaps students will want to make a Toontastic puppet show on their iPad. Others may want to create a Youtube video instead.  Still others may opt for a Prezi (see our post on replacing Powerpoint with 3 highly collaborative, interactive resources).  Whatever the case, with so many options at their fingertips, be sure to give students more autonomy in constructing and displaying their thinking with their BYOD devices!

8. Enrich the scientific process

From digital microscope apps to the simple camera features of devices, students can take scientific learning to a new level.  For example, you can have students take daily photos of an experiment’s progress to create time lapse videos (idea from this WhatEdSaid article), which would help them analyze their data in new ways!  Additionally, students can use Twitter and Skype to ask for feedback from experts or other classes around the world on their findings, or simply to communicate their results!.

9. QR codes

Turning any device into a barcode reader/creator is easy with QR codes!  As you consider the many suggestions available online for their classroom use, remember to hunt for ideas that give students opportunities for ownership and connection–in other words, be picky!  One idea we found that could help fit this purpose include printing and posting some codes around the classroom that take students to various photos or videos to provoke their thinking at the beginning of a unit.  Another idea involves students making QR codes for their research findings that they then post together in the classroom or virtually on the class blog!  Be sure to ask for student input for their use in class as well!

10. Revolutionize Exit Tickets

Rather than sort through exit tickets or assignments after students have gone home with misconceptions, check their progress during learning activities and projects using the program, Exit ticket!  Because you can see their understanding right away, you can adjust your approach to better address their needs.  The program is available on virtually any device with access to a network, thanks to compatibility with Android, iOS, and desktops.

Photo Credit:

Jeremy Keith

Sources:

1 Sharo Dickerson Article

2 Jennie Magiera Article

3 Bill Ferriter Article

4 Various WhatEdSaid articles

3 Tech-Savvy Powerpoint Alternatives

We’ve all snored through text or slide-heavy Powerpoints before.  The next time you have to create a presentation, consider some of these more engaging alternatives!


These 3 resources each explore the what (how the resource works), the when (uses in the classroom), and the how (how they can replace Powerpoint)!

Thinglink

What

Take any image and turn it into an interactive dream as you link in videos, pictures, articles, and comments!  They work particularly well if you have a classroom blog or other website your students can access.  The Thinglink above contains more links with details on introducing you to this fantastic resource.

When
  • Introduce yourself to your students in a fun new way!
  • Instead of assigning your 30+ students to all make Powerpoint reports (taking endless hours afterwards presenting in class), assign them to make Thinglinks, publishing them to a class account or on the class blog!
  • Rather than taking class time to go through a Powerpoint, give them a homework assignment to explore a new Thinglink that gets them thinking!  You can just put up an image with questions for them to start wondering and thinking (see example below), or include multimedia to really familiarize them with the subject before doing further study in class!

How

Say you want to present to your students information on documents and systems that helped influence the United States Constitution: the Magna Carta, the Iroquois Confederacy, the Mayflower Compact, and the Articles of Confederation. With a powerpoint, this would be a very linear discussion, covering each topic consecutively, perhaps with videos sprinkled throughout.  With a Thinglink, however, you can link all the videos, media, and thinking questions into one image, and then publish it to a classroom blog or another platform your students can access.  Students can then explore all the links in a manner that best suits their learning–re-watching videos that were confusing for them, or reading articles at their pace that give them even more information!  Check out an example of how we put this together below.

Prezi

What

A Prezi is a zoomable presentation that engages viewers as it flows from idea to idea in unexpected, animated ways.  The video above chronicles the development and benefits of using Prezi as it goes through an actual Prezi!

When
  • You can embed a Prezi into your classroom website any time you want your students to be able to explore a concept at their convenience.
  • Great when you want to help your students really “be there” with regards to your big idea in presenting.  The Prezi below does a beautiful job of this!

  • Especially amazing when you want to teach about anything connected to timelines.  Check out the Prezi below for an example of what we mean!

How

A Prezi can be used exactly as you currently use Powerpoints–in fact, it even has a feature for you to upload existing Powerpoint slides into a Prezi template!  Only, then, you get to play with the 3D templates and zoomable features to help bring it to life!

Skype Virtual Field Trips

What

The definition of what makes a Skype virtual field trip is confined only by your own imagination!  Watch this video on Skype’s education page for a wonderful introduction!  Connecting through Skype, you can interview activists, have docents show your students around museums, or even take students on virtual road trips (see that field trip described in more detail here, along with 4 other amazing examples)!  An article from Scholastic explains how it provides “customized curriculum” and “global connections.” You can either pick existing lessons from Skype’s page on classroom use that you can schedule right away, or connect with other teachers around the world with similar project goals using your Skype account and profile!

When
  • Meet classes with whom your class is quadblogging
  • Give students an opportunity for authentic learning experiences when budgets for actual field trips are tight!
  • Explore other cultures as you connect with people and places outside your own country!
How

Forget making a Powerpoint with the who, what, when, where, and why of wolves in North America: Schedule a Skype interview with an actual wolf expert for students to interview and learn from after they have prepared some questions!  Not only does this dynamically bring learning “off the page,” but it hones students’ communication skills as well!

Photo Credits: Photographer (featured image)

SourcesWays to Use Thinglink in the Classroom

Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation: 17 Practical Application Ideas

http://honorsgradu.com/intrinsic-vs-extrinsic-motivation-17-practical-application-ideas/

As teachers, we have heard the dialogue on intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation, and the importance of instilling authentic passion for learning.  But in a day of real-life frustrations and desperation for student cooperation, where is the realistic balance as we apply this important classroom management principle?

Continue reading “Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation: 17 Practical Application Ideas”

Common Core Standards: Parent & Teacher Resources

With its recent implementation in 45 states, the Common Core has garnered praise and criticism alike.  This article offers a few resources to help dispel some of those worries for both parents and teachers.


 

Resources for Parents

In our experience, worries from parents about the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are often due to misinformation from the media.  For example, when my own students’ parents would come to me with CCSS concerns, they were consistently shocked when I told them that the CCSS currently only covers math and English Language Arts.  This is because many articles had led them to believe that the CCSS were requiring sex education (for Kindergarten, no less!) or sweeping Social Studies alterations.  If you, too, have concerned parents at your school, here are some resources to which you can direct them to help clear things up! (Update: Be sure to also check out our newest article, “My Common Core Story, & Why You Should Share Yours, Too“).

→ “CONVERSATION: A THREE-MINUTE VIDEO ON COMMON CORE STATE STANDARDS

 

CCSS logo→ MYTHS & FACT SHEET ABOUT THE CCSS

 

talking-to-teacher-467x267[1]→ ARTICLE: “TALKING TO PARENTS ABOUT THE COMMON CORE
→ FACT VS. FICTION BY STATE:

Of the states that are using the Common Core Standards, about half adopted them verbatim; most of the rest adopted them with modifications.  Click on the infographic below for a clickable map of state fact sheets.

Resources for Teachers

The concerns for teachers tend to be more related to implementation.  Experienced teachers are familiar with the constant ebb and flow of new programs and curricula, and the expectation to repeatedly scratch old material and start over.  While it can certainly be frustrating to tackle yet another new curriculum, there’s great news when it comes to the CCSS: for the first time, teachers across the country are in the same boat!  As such, we can now share resources with one another in heretofore unheard-of quantity and quality.  We believe that this is one of many ways in which the CCSS will increase the quality of national teaching practices.  Check out some of these resources below that are designed for this purpose!

LEARNZILLION:


Teacher Boaz Munro described his experiences as a new teacher in this article, sharing his realization that “All of the lessons I planned started with…a modeling of the skill I was trying to teach—and yet I was not watching enough people model the skills I was trying to learn.”  LearnZillion is a resource that allows you to watch how experienced teachers model and explain CCSS-aligned concepts.  Some features include marking your favorite videos to help you keep track, and a sharing code so that you can easily assign students to watch the videos!

KHAN ACADEMY:


Khan Academy is similar to LearnZillion in that you can set up a class account to invite students, as well as lesson videos in both English Language Arts & Math!  However, it also includes a setup that allows students to practice the skills after watching the videos within the lesson set, complete with hints that model the skills again!  This in turn allows you to monitor student progress!  This resource is filled with visual data!

BETTERLESSON:

BetterLesson is unique in that you actually choose lessons from real master teachers.  These are lessons designed more for you as the teacher than for students, and can be very informative as you work to develop lesson plans in math and language arts.

Related Reading:

10 Tips for 21st Century Teachers

Photo Credit: InThePotter’sHands (featured image)

 

5 Teaching Tips You Didn’t Learn in College

You braced yourself for difficult student behavior, long hours beyond contract time, and mounds of grading, but your professors didn’t prepare you for everything!  Check out some tips that may help ease your first year teaching expectations and planning.


#1 Create a Copies System

This may seem like an random, less significant tip, but it can be a life-saver when it comes to keeping your never-ending supply of copies from mounting into menacing, unorganized stacks that hijack your desk and sanity!  We have found it to be one of the greatest keys to your organization.  One of the members of our Honors Grad U family used the following system, but you’ll want to play around with your options to find what will be most effective for your needs!

  1. Find some space to keep 10 hanging files: an open crate of hanging files, or maybe part of a filing cabinet drawer.

  2. Label the files Monday-Friday twice so you have 2 weeks of files ready.

  3. Stick your files in place.  Any time you make new copies, check your planner and slide them into the day you’ll need them!

  4. At the end of each week, move the 2nd week bunch of files to the front of your crate or drawer!

#2 Planner: Old School or Digital?

It’s possible that your professors did in fact cover this one with you, but given the 21st century technology integration fervor, it’s likely that they strongly advocated for all-digital planners–after all, free apps and programs like Planboard are available for such purposes!  However, having tried both digital and paper approaches, we’ve found that digital may not necessarily be the best tool for everyone, even if you absolutely love all things technology.  Your planner will be critical in your time organization, so be sure to consider several factors to decide what will be more beneficial for you:

  • Collaboration:  Evaluate how your school or team collaborates with one another.  Do you share every detail of your schedules, or is it more general?  If the need is more on the side of specifics, you may find that going digital may be more time-effective, especially if everyone else on your team is using the same program!  For this reason, it may even be a requirement at your school to use a specific type of digital planner, so be sure to find out!

  • Schedule Flexibility: Does your principal have a habit of announcing assemblies at the last possible moment?  Are constant interruptions to the regular weekly schedule more the norm than a regular weekly schedule?  If that’s the case, you may want to consider the wonder of the seconds it takes to pencil in a few arrows to shift around your schedule, rather than minutes (or more) as you try to determine your platform’s ability to edit the template.  Paper planners continue to perform reliably when it comes to quick edits!

  • Internet/Printer Logistics: If you’re more inclined toward the digital route, be sure to consider a couple logistics.  Do you plan to keep your planner handy on a tablet or laptop?  If so, make sure there are offline options, such as downloading a program to your desktop or an app that will keep things available even when the internet is not!  You don’t want your internet dependence to leave you high and dry when it comes to your daily plans if there’s an emergency!  If your plan is rather to just print your plans each week, that may be a good solution to these kinds of tech logistics.  However, be sure to consider whether you want to rely on printing plans all year long, when you can buy a paper planner that already has all the pages in one place!

  • Neatness: This is probably a no-brainer, but be sure to examine your own handwriting neatness!  It can be frustrating for you to be unable to decipher critical plans in the moment you need them–not to mention for a sub!  Typed plans can be a dream if this is an issue for you.

#3 Coworker Socializing

In the overwhelming workload of your first few months, you may be tempted to spend your lunchtimes barricaded in your room to catch some extra grading minutes.  We don’t dispute that this may be essential at times.  However, we highly recommend taking a break to socialize with your colleagues whenever possible.  The reasons for this are varied:

  • You’ll form relationships that go beyond just professional acquaintance.  Not only is this a bonus for the sake of making friends, but for enhancing collaboration experiences as everyone becomes more comfortable around one another.

  • You will feel mentally refreshed to finish your day when you give your mind a rest from teacher-mode!

  • You will be able to build solidarity with other teachers as you share experiences with one another–it can be incredibly comforting to realize that experienced teachers are facing your same struggles, along with some of their insights to solutions!

#4 Classroom Planning: Recognize What’s Fluid and Solid!

As you plan your classroom design, policies, management, and more, you may get caught in the overwhelming and stressful trap of thinking you need a plan for everything by day 1!  While there are some areas that do need to be addressed by then, many others are what we consider to be “fluid,” meaning they will adapt as you go.  Here are some examples of what we mean to help you distinguish between the two as you prepare your classroom:

  • Solid

    • Disclosure document: This includes policies on homework, grading, and other items that would be stressful for students and parents if they get changed too much.  Click here for a sample disclosure document.  Work with your team to develop this!

    • First two weeks of plans

  • Fluid

    • Classroom incentives: Don’t feel like it all has to be set in stone from the beginning for students to be motivated!  In fact, an element of mystery may enhance their interest!

    • Floorplan: especially if you’re an elementary level teacher, you’ll be moving things around all the time anyway!  You’ll get a better feel for how you want to move through the space as the year progresses.

    • Your daily schedule: Obviously, if you teach at the secondary level, this is already determined for you.  For elementary levels, however, you may feel strained as you try to make time for everything.  However, as you create and try out a basic schedule, you will discover necessary adaptations throughout the year–some things will require more or less time than you planned for!  So don’t worry if there’s not a neat time slot for absolutely everything at first!

#5 Cut Yourself Some Slack!

We don’t mean this in the general, pat-yourself-on-the-back-for-working-hard way.  Rather, we mean that your professors probably didn’t warn you that as you prepare for and begin your first year teaching, you will likely (ok, definitely) check out Pinterest for inspiration from time to time.  And, just like in the classic, “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie,” if you explore Pinterest for teaching ideas, chances are you’ll find more inspiration than you can handle.  You’ll find teachers who craft perfect, personalized student holiday gifts (from Christmas to Columbus Day!); you’ll find teachers who structure every lesson into engaging, hands-on, inquiry based instruction; you’ll find teachers who have built international networks with classrooms around the globe for regular Skype and blogging interactions; you’ll find teachers who have mastered the art of grant-writing so thoroughly that not only is their classroom a floor-to-ceiling library of highest quality literature, but every student is equipped with an i-Pad.  Chances are that when you see all this spectacular inspiration, you will get discouraged.  This brings us back to emphasize the initial tip #5: cut yourself some slack!  You may fall absolutely in love with these experienced teachers’ Polar Express parties, or their inspiring bulletin boards, but the thing to remember through it all is that they are experienced teachers.  You have enough to do during your first year of teaching without adding on stress of what else you could be doing, because there’s always going to be something more you could be doing!  By all means, keep track of those Pins for future reference, but always keep in mind some perspective in your teaching pursuits!

Featured Image: University of the Fraser Valley

 

Chemical vs. Physical Changes: Let’s Get it Straight!

Breathing, cooking, exercising, and more: we are surrounded by changes every day! But how do we keep straight which are physical and which are chemical?


Physical Changes

Physical changes involve chemicals getting rearranged in a new way, but without getting destroyed or irreversibly combined. The molecular structure of the original substance(s) is the the same after the change, which means it is still the same substance. A common example is of water freezing; the liquid water becomes a solid, but it is still water. Ripping paper is another example because while it may be in pieces, it’s still paper. Signs of a physical change include:

  • Expected color change
  • Change in size or shape
  • Change in state of matter
  • Reversible
  • No new substance formed!

Chemical Changes

Chemical changes, or reactions, involve chemicals getting rearranged in irreversible ways. We bring in the term “reaction” when dealing with chemical changes because the chemicals involved actually react with one another to form a new substance (that’s why we call the parts in a chemical reaction the reactants). The ways chemicals can react are many: two substances can combine to create a totally new one (Direct Combination), a substance can permanently break apart, separating into different substances (Decomposition), or maybe a substance combusts as it reacts to oxygen (Combustion) (see more types of reactions here). Whatever the reaction, it’s important to recognize that one or more new substances are formed! Burning wood is a common example of a chemical reaction because as the wood reacts with oxygen after it has been ignited, it creates smoke and ashes. Signs of a chemical reaction include:

  • Unexpected color change
  • Change in temperature as energy is released or absorbed
  • Gas created
  • Irreversible
  • New substance formed!

Confusing Cases

In many cases, it may seem a simple task to distinguish between the two, but it gets more complex when we’re dealing with changes that seem irreversible when they’re not. For example, we may look at a glass of Kool-Aid and think to ourselves, “I made Kool-Aid. It was water and a packet, but now it’s dissolved together to make new drink, so it’s a new substance.” However, if you think back to the list of signs of a physical change, you’ll realize that not only was there an expected color change (the water didn’t turn purple when you added red Kool-Aid!), but that it is reversible–the water could evaporate in the form of gas, leaving red Kool-Aid residue behind! The water is still water, and the Kool-Aid is still Kool-Aid, and since no new substances were formed, it is a physical change!

Another example of confusion is in cooking eggs–after all, isn’t it still an egg before and after tossing it in pan? However, on a molecular level, the egg has changed completely as the proteins have bonded in new ways, making it a new substance. Additionally, because of the change, it is not possible for the egg to ever become raw again, and since a new substance was formed, it is a chemical change!

For some practice using the different lists of signs for each type of change, and to view several other examples in action, check out this Prezi below!

Photo credit: Faris Algosaibi

Other Sources:

1

2

Foreign Language Programs: A Basic Review

Seeing that one out of three Americans can speak a second language with conversational fluency, it’s probably safe to assume that most people have a desire to expand their vocabulary to include a foreign tongue. Between everyone at the Honors Grad U offices, we hold a ratio of 1:1 foreign language speakers: Spanish is spoken fluently by 1/4 in the office, with everyone having some sort of Spanish education at some point. Other languages include French, Chinese, and even Tagalog (Filipino language). With all of this experience, we’ve decided to put together this review and list of resources for learning foreign languages:


Getting Started: Choosing a Language

One of the hardest things to decide when you’re thinking about learning a foreign language is choosing which language to study. If you’re in the United States, the U.S. census released last year lists the largest minority as Hispanics, totaling around 38.8 million nationwide. If you’re American and want to communicate with the majority of people in the country, it just makes sense to go with Spanish (Latin American rather than Spain);

However, one of the greatest things about languages is you have hundreds to choose from! You can pick whatever you want! Maybe you want to travel, maybe you’re heritage is in Germany and you want to be able to speak to your grandmother that doesn’t know English–maybe you think Italian sounds cool and you want to do it “just because.” Whatever the reason for picking a language, these resources can help you:

Language Software for Purchase

Let’s just get this one out of the way. The three main language learning software are Rosetta Stone, Fluenz, and Pimsleur. Out of the Honors Grad family, we have some experience with Rosetta Stone, but none with Fluenz or Pimsleur. So what’s the difference? We took three of our Honors Grad family at the office and each went through demos for 2 languages per program.

#1: Fluenz

fluenz_logo

Fluenz prides themselves on having an “actual” tutor, instead of the immersion software used by Rosetta Stone. Here’s a snippet from the Fluenz website:

Rosetta Stone believes in fully immersing the student in the language, without using any English to explain phrases. Fluenz believes adults learn best when they can relate the grammar and syntax of a foreign language to the structure of the tongue they already know.

Fluenz offers 6 languages: Spanish (in both Latin American and Spanish dialects), French, Italian, German, Mandarin, and Portuguese. You can experience a demo version through their website (for all the languages). Our critiques:

Brittany:

I decided to do demos for Spanish and French. I have no prior experience with Fluenz. Right off the bat, Fluenz’s advertising seems bent on letting everyone know how much better they are than Rosetta Stone. They are less well-known, but seem sort of like the jealous sibling that’s willing to throw their competitor under the bus to prove how much better they are. Perhaps they should see if their work is good enough to stand on its own!

Cons:
  • Sonia Gill is difficult to watch. I wouldn’t be able to go through an entire lesson with her blinking at me every second. Like seriously. So blinky. Also she talks like a robot.
  • Moves too slowly. It pauses entirely too much and drove me crazy.
  • The “write the words you hear” part wasn’t very conveniently designed. They should play the recording immediately after I get the answer right on the previous one. That way I don’t have to lift my hands from the keyboard. #lazysowhat
  • Typing everything OVER AND OVER is a little redundant to me, and time consuming.
Pros:
  • I like the conversation you can listen to with subtitles. They talk at a normal pace, easily understandable, no limit as to how many times you can listen.
  • I like the word matching.
  • It’s really nice to see a mouth make the words. It’s easier to copy sounds when you can see the words.

Overall, I’d say that I’d rather pay for an actual tutor or class so that I can move at my own pace and not have to wait for every pause in the little ten minute lessons. Also, is there a way to track progress? Do they test where you’re at, or your comprehension level at all?

Ashley:

I knew nothing about Fluenz before starting. I hadn’t even heard of it. I decided to do demos in Spanish and German.

Cons:
  • Boring videos to introduce each section
  • “Workouts” seem to test skills not covered in the lessons.
  • People in videos are obnoxious–slow, long pauses, like we don’t speak English in addition to whatever we’re trying to learn. Possibly because they don’t speak English very fluently.
  • It jumps around a lot, rather than learning one concept at a time.
  • Feels like what I’m learning is mainly superficial, to get me through the “workouts.” I didn’t/don’t feel comfortable speaking what I learned afterward.
Pros:
  • Taught by native speakers
  • Flexible pace
  • Maintain the same settings for multiple lessons, so we can get comfortable with all conversation in a single place before moving on.

Overall, I didn’t feel like it was much more helpful or effective than a high school level language class.

Mary:

It has a clean, transparent interface on the homepage. I’d never heard of Fluenz before, so it was helpful that they even had a “Compare Us” tab on the front page to fit it into what I was already familiar with. They also have an easy-to-access “Live Chat” feature, which is helpful as I find my way around a new resource! I chose to do the Spanish and German sample sessions.

Cons:
  • I found myself getting distracted by the light reflecting on Sonia Gill’s hair as she kept tilting her head this way and that–and she sounded like a robot in the German one!
  • The pace was incredibly slow, but that might just be because I did introductory sessions, and I have some Spanish experience already.
  • I wish it would list how many workouts there are so you know whether you’re close to finishing the session or not!
  • I wish it would just move on if you click or type the correct answer (maybe with an animated bubble popping up to say you’re right, or saying what you’re missing if you’re wrong). Instead, you have to keep clicking “Next” over and over!
Pros:
  • The meanings and structure of sentences are broken down very clearly. (kind of cool animations in conjunction with Sonia Gill!)
  • It’s nice that all the settings are at the top of the screen during the “workouts” so you can easily turn off the music or check how to add a Spanish accent on your keyboard.
  • Pleasant backgrounds
  • Variety of workouts

Final Comments and Pricing:

The cost for levels 1-5 of all languages is $358, except Mandarin and Portuguese which offer levels 1-5 for $298 and $278, respectively.

#2: Pimsleur

Pimsleur

An audio-based language learning system that is available on any device that plays mp3 audio clips. From their website:

The heart of the Pimsleur Method is the audio lesson. You listen. You participate. You learn … exactly like a young child who picks up a language effortlessly.

They offer a number of languages: Albanian, Arabic (Easter, Egyptian, or Modern Standard), Armenian (Eastern or Western), Chinese (Cantonese or Mandarin), Croatian, Czech, Danish, Persian (Dari or Farsi), Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Haitian Creole, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Indonesian, Irish, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Lithuanian, Norwegian, Ojibwe, Pashto, Polish, Portuguese (Brazilian or European), Punjabi, Romanian, Russian, Spanish (Latin American or Castilian), Swahili, Swedish, Swiss German, Tagalog, Thai, Turkish, Twi, Ukrainian, Urdu, Vietnamese–and even English for the ESL students out there!

The ESL languages are English for Arabic, Cantonese, Mandarin, Farsi, French, German, Haitian, Hindi, Italian, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Vietnamese speakers. That’s pretty thorough.

Brittany:

I decided to do Spanish and French. I have no prior experience with Pimsleur.

Cons:
  • It’s hard to hear the sounds being made without seeing a mouth sometimes.
  • 30 minutes is kind of long. I’d hate to lose my place and have to try to find it again.
  • They say you can do it from wherever, but I found that I sometimes had to pause to think about what I needed to say. You can’t do that easily if you’re running around. You’d definitely need to be somewhere to give it your full attention.
  • Sort of boring without images.
  • You obviously don’t learn to write the language.
Pros:
  • They go through each sound, instead of repeating words endlessly and expecting you to guess.
  • Straight to the point, no fluff.

The whole audio-only is something that would work maybe for a very specific group of people. For me, it was easily tiresome and boring. Also, I would want to learn to write the language, not just speak it. That means I’d have to buy other products to go along with Pimsleur, which is obviously annoying.

Ashley:

I have heard of Pimsleur, but I don’t know anything about the program. I’ve had one or two friends mention it as a good language program. Guess it’s time to see if I can continue to trust them… I did Spanish and German.

Cons:
  • Cheesy music
  • Wish he would stop reminding me to speak aloud
  • A lot of repetition of words out of context. Not a particularly good method for learning real communication.
  • So……bored…so much….repetition….
  • This is literally a half hour lesson dedicated to two sentences
Pros:
  • Cheesy music
  • I definitely know how to ask if someone understands English. Oh, wait, I forgot 5 seconds later…

Since this is just audio/oral learning, I’m guessing the goal is to make it easy to listen and learn while doing other things. But for me, at least, language requires more focus than that, so it just ends up being boring and repetitive without any actual retention.

Mary:

On first impression, I feel like Pimsleur is a bit “in your face” in trying to sell you the product, rather than giving you information about their software.  I didn’t have any prior familiarity with the software, and I chose to try out the sample lessons in Spanish and German.

Cons:
  • I got distracted pretty easily just because it’s audio-only–and I was just sitting on my couch. I don’t know if I could multi-task while listening to this very well!
  • I don’t think you would learn the conjugations and structures of the language very well (ie, when to use the conjugation of various verbs) because it never directly explains the difference between using verbs for different pronouns–but maybe that was just the sample session!
  • WAY too much repetition in one session!
Pros:
  • Shorter intro, and I feel like things get to the point a lot faster in general
  • Breaks down the pronunciation of the parts of words to help improve your accuracy.

Final Comments and Pricing:

For being an audio-only software, Pimsleur can be fairly pricey. Each product lists five 30-minute sessions at $21.95. Per 30 sessions, the price depends on the popularity of the language. For example, their most popular languages (Latin American Spanish, French, Italian, German, Mandarin, and Japanese) are all $119.95. That, however, is only for the mp3 version. For a CD version, the price increases to $345. Each set of 30 sessions is considered a unit. Spanish, French, Italian, German and Mandarin all have 4 units. Japanese has 3, and most others have only 1.

The price also decreases for less popular languages. Armenian, Irish, and Lithuanian, for example, are only $41.95 per unit (of which there is only one, containing only 10 lessons instead of 30).

You can buy all units of Spanish, French, Italian, German, and Mandarin for $450 on mp3, or for $970 in CD form.

#3: Rosetta Stone

LOGO_RosettaStone-1024x434

Most people only know about Rosetta Stone when it comes to language learning software. It is indeed the most heavily advertised and most successful of the three, but is that just because it came first, or because it really deserves to be there? The reason it is such an acclaimed software is because of the immersion techniques used. From their website:

The company was founded in 1992 on the core beliefs that learning to speak a language should be a natural and instinctive process, and that interactive technology can activate the language immersion method powerfully for learners of any age.

Rosetta Stone offers 28 different languages: Arabic, Hebrew, Polish, Mandarin Chinese, Hindi, Portuguese, Dari, Indonesian, Russian, Dutch, Irish, Spanish (Latin or Spain), Italian, English (American or British), Japanese, Swahili, Filipino (Tagalog), Korean, Swedish, French, Latin, Turkish, German, Pashto, Urdu, Greek, Persian (Farsi), and Vietnamese.

Brittany:

I did really well in Spanish in high school, so my dad bought me Rosetta Stone in Latin American Spanish when I was in 12th grade. It’s safe to say I have experience with it. I decided to try demos in Spanish and French.

Cons:
  • Literally nothing. I’m realizing now I might be biased, but the only thing I can think of is that their demo is very brief and barely indicates the capacity of their software.
Pros:
  • It doesn’t just test memorization, as indicative by switching the images around.
  • You can move at your own pace.
  • There are clear visual associations.
  • UM LIVE TRAINING YES PLEASE

In the end, Rosetta Stone seems like the clear option. It’s changed a bit since I got it in 2008, but I’d make the same choice! I think it comes down to how much effort you’re willing to put in. I imagine it’s the difference between a fancy gym membership and a not-so-fancy gym membership: you’re still going to come away better than you were. I think it would come down to the best “bang-for-your-buck” scenario. Ugh, I can’t believe I used the phrase “bang-for-your-buck.”

Ashley:

I have used Rosetta Stone a little bit before, and I think it is a fun program, however, I don’t feel like my short experiences with it yielded any real results, so I’m not sure about retention. Once again, Spanish and German.

Cons:
  • Easy to move quickly through the program without any actual retention
  • Calling it “immersion” is misleading. You aren’t immediately immersed into full conversations. It can actually be a really slow program as you learn things word by word.
Pros:
  • Intuitive
  • Speech recognition
  • Learning what words mean by seeing them in context rather than in translation
  • Mobile apps

Seems like an actual improvement over high school courses. It isn’t a fast and easy course, but I think it has the capacity to be more helpful than the other programs if you are willing to put in the work.

Mary:

I’ve seen the Rosetta Stone commercials way too many times, complete with the smooth line, “The fastest way to learn a language,” so I had high expectations when I visited the website for the first time today!  It has a clean, easy-to-navigate interface, including different tabs depending on your use: personal, work, education, etc.  I did the demo for Spanish and German.

Cons:
  • I didn’t feel that the microphone picked up my voice very well if I spoke at the same pace the tutor did–only if I slowed way down.
Pros:
  • I like how it shows a complete timeline at the bottom to show how far you’ve progressed in the lesson, and how much you have left!
  • Gets straight to the point!
  • I like how it gives you feedback immediately on whether you’re correct or not, and then if you’re right, it moves on automatically without having to do extra clicking!
  • Much more comfortable in general with the words and phrases building naturally, and no long, awkward lessons from a filmed lecturer!

I found that Fluenz had lots of variety, but it just felt endless, and there were some user issues that annoyed me. Pimsleur served its purpose for an audio program, but I don’t know how effective it would really be (especially if you have audio issues like me!) Rosetta Stone was the only one that actually felt enjoyable, with smooth, effective design and variety.

Final Comments and Pricing:

The pricing for Rosetta Stone is done by levels. The most popular languages have 5 levels, which can be purchased for individuals at $324. That price is the same for digital copies or CDs. Shipping is free. You can purchase on a payment plan. There are different rates for business, schools, and other purchasing entities. Other less popular languages can have only a couple to 4 levels, or may not have levels at all and are only available for “online subscriptions” that are about 6 months long. We were unable to determine pricing for those languages.

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The Verdicts

After reviewing the demos, websites, and pricing for the three language software programs, the office has come to the following conclusions:

  1. Rosetta Stone is the clear choice. It’s cheaper, has more fun stuff, and the most popular software for a reason.
  2. Fluenz is not a rip-off, just slightly more expensive and less interactive.
  3. Pimsleur is rip-off. It’s more expensive by a mile, and only focuses on a small part of the language-learning process. The only way this would be beneficial is if you would like to learn a language that is not offered by Rosetta Stone, Fluenz, or any local classes, or even YouTube.

Price Breakdown:

If I wanted to learn Spanish and buy the full sets each program has to offer, I would be paying:

  • $450 for 4 levels of Spanish from Pimsleur, on an mp3 download. $970 for CDs.
  • $358 for 5 levels of Spanish from Fluenz, on CDs.
  • $324 for 5 levels of Spanish from Rosetta Stone, on CDs or as a download.

Other (Free) Language Resources

  • DuoLingo. Arguably the best free website/app you can find for learning a language.
  • Podcasts. Like Pimsleur, but free. Also sometimes funny.
  • StudyBlue. App and website, you can study the words you know and learn.
  • YouTube. Don’t knock it ’til you try it. There are always people on YouTube either speaking in your language or offering brief tutorials on specific facets of the language.
  • Skype. You have a friend you met on the internet that lives in your country of choice? Call ’em up on Skype and just talk to them for a bit! This will help a lot with your language and conversational skills. There are also websites on which you can pay for this service.
  • WordReference. A fantastic website that doubles as a dictionary and forum where you can ask about nuanced aspects of your language: slang and context, to name a couple.

If you’re going somewhere for a specific reason, say travel, you can often Google phrases like “Travel Spanish” and find awesome websites that tell you what you need to know. Make sure to double check anything that doesn’t sound right, and pick the right dialect!

Featured imagePulpolux !!!