Review of “Moodle 1.9 English Teacher’s Cookbook”

The great thing about “recipe” books like the  Moodle 1.9 English Teacher’s Cookbook is that they spark off ideas in you and motivate you to  try them out with your own classes. I found that here from the very first chapter: suggested activities flow fast and freely from one page to the next, enthusing you with the desire to go off and personalise them. The author, Silvina P Hillar is an  English teacher with a passion for technology and her technical reviewer,  PHM Ben Reynolds is an award-winning fictionist and teacher of Writing. A lot of expertise has gone into tailoring the activities to the English classroom. You can read a breakdown of all the chapters here, but I’ll take them one at a time:

In Chapter 1 we enable our students to make connections, using the matching activities of a Moodle Quiz and Hotpotatoes;  wikis, forums  and the journal. Interestingly we used MS Word to generate pictures which we pasted into Paint or Inkscape to  make an image file – a bit of a Windows bias but I imagine the majority of readers will use MS Office at work if not at home – and in fact, in Chapter 2 we use Open Office in a forum activity so that brings  the balance back. Silvina makes frequent use of the journal module – the precursor to the online text assigment (I am not sure of its advantage over the online text assignment) but -as she points out with HotPotatoes – these are disabled by default and need to have their “eye” turned on by the Moodle admin.

Chapter 2 covers matching pictures and text. Again we turn to Word to make a comic strip which is used as a prompt for a quiz, and I was intrigued to find she then used the Exercise activity module for students to match a paragraph of writing with its corresponding picture. I confess I hadn’t used the Exercise module before (as it’s a non-standard module ) so it gave me the chance to explore it. It seems a lot of what it does has been incorporated into the Workshop module (which is greatly enhanced in Moodle 2.0) but is simpler to operate. Later in the chapter, Silvina does use the workshop for a writing activity about Salvador Dali. I think it would have warranted more explanation however; the workshop (its eye closed  by default in Moodle 1.9) is a complex beast but well suited to peer assessment – yet I think for this task it is used as a regular assignment but taking advantage of the workshop’s assessment elements. I liked the use of wikis for collaborative writing such as working together on an advertising campaign.

Chapter 3 concentrates on writing imaginatively in the first person, using the Quiz essay question and the journal and then students are encouraged to contribute words to a glossary – another collaborative effort – which are then used by the teacher in a Hot Potatoes crossword.  We do encounter the online text assignment later on (why not sooner?) along with the upload a single file and Advanced uploading of files assignment. I believe it is really important to get students sending in their work online so they really feel a part of Moodle, rather than just reading static resources. Silvina does this very well with her emphasis on forums, glossaries, wikis etc but what I think the book really misses is the view from the students’ side: once we have set up each task – we leave it – and move on . It would have been nice to see how it looks to a student and even possibly to see how the online marking works. But this is a cook book- maybe we’re focusing on making the cakes, rather than eating them!

Chapter 4 deals with different types of sentences and Silvina manages to turn what could be a rather dry topic into a fun one by including exercises with embedded video, online games (What2Learn) and other fun sites (Classtools) These are popular, particularly with younger children as I wrote in my own book

Chapter 5 takes us right into Web 2.0 with Twitter and Facebook and you can read it here as a sample. Silvina rightly points out child privacy issues which vary according to your country but which are always there to protect. We can’t actually access either of these sites at my school but the exercises could still easily be set as homeworks. Included here too is a neat related database activity – many people are put off the database module because it appears complicated  but it can be used in a range of imaginative ways.

Chapter 6 taught me a new phrase -the cubing technique (look it up!) Use is made here of the resource auto-linking feature (which needs to be enabled by admin)  and a fun site if you are graphically minded – floorplanner.com The Exercise module appears in this chapter too -I’d be interested to know who makes regular use of this and what they like about it, not being famililar with it myself.

Chapter 7 -on comparing using Venn diagrams -  brought another tool new to me -which I’ll try:Microsoft Visio while Chapter 8 gets our students to “compose new sceneries” with a variety of my favourite Web 2.0 tools including Animoto and (from the makers of Hot Potatoes) Quandary 2 I started using Quandary a few years back (when you had to pay for it!) and really like it -it is easy and can be customised to  look attractive. Unless it has changed in the meatime however, it doesn’t connect to Moodle’s gradebook as Hot Potatoes does. Should you want that, an alternative (but trickier) way of doing the fun “Becoming your Idol” task could  be the Lesson module.

Chapter 9 covers mind-maps – I have never got my mind around them :) I am a words person but I realise they’re great preparation and revision techniques while to finish our delicious cookbook, Chapter 10 looks at a Discussion clock -another term new to me! We used Word to make a clock with twelve areas for discussion, uploaded it to the course and created writing activities around it. These included a forum with an embedded mp3 and another collaborative glossary. We learned how to use the track changes feature in Word to correct students’ work but it was a bit confusing, I felt, as there was no context to it – perhaps setting it  up as an Advanced Uploading of Files assignment where teachers retrieve, correct and send back students’ writing might have made it clearer?

In conclusion, this is a tasty cookbook – try it for yourself!

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