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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Ohayo Gozaimasu: Technology Helps Students Develop Friendships Across the Globe

A grant for this Hawaiian high school gave the students the technology they needed to communicate with students in Japan.
By Diane Curtis

Japanese language teacher Gina Nakahara is learning that technology enhances her teaching.

Credit: Edutopia

Japanese language teacher Gina Nakahara knew basic word processing -- and that's about it -- when technology came knocking in the form of a grant opportunity. Moanalua High School Principal Darrel Galera likes his faculty to be aggressive in applying for grants that incorporate technology into the curriculum. Nakahara liked the idea of having her students communicate with students in Japan, but snail mail, she found, was "always very slow, very frustrating" and the idea of getting Internet-connected computers that would allow for e-mail exchanges appealed to her.

The school got a state technology grant that allowed for creation of a World Language Learning Center at Moanalua, and the e-mailing began with students at Kokutaji High School in Hiroshima, with which Nakahara had already established a relationship when 300 Kokutaji students visited Honolulu.

Nakahara uses a combination of technology, projects, and textbooks to teach Japanese.

Credit: Edutopia

The Internet in Two Languages

The relationship has grown. Moanalua students have created English/Japanese Web sites to further introduce themselves to their Japanese peers, co-written a petition on nuclear arms, and continued the e-mail correspondence.

Installation of Blackboard, an online classroom area that includes a threaded (sorted by subject) discussion board, an area for file uploads, tests and assignments, and a gradebook, has further enhanced both classroom administration and learning. Nakahara's initial use of Blackboard has been to encourage her students to chat in English via computer about Japanese novels they've read and reactions to such assignments as watching a video about Hiroshima.

"Because the topic area is very complex and advanced, I would need them to discuss in English, which to me is a waste of class time," says Nakahara. "Therefore, I decided to utilize the Blackboard forum which would allow students to discuss online from their home computers and keep the English discussion in class down to a minimum."

Nakahara oversees a computer discussion group on Japanese novels and a project on nuclear arms.

Credit: Edutopia

A Mix of Old and New

A visit to Nakahara's classroom reveals a mix of projects, traditional grammar instruction using a worksheet, immersion in the culture through such activities as performing a Japanese dance for a Lei Day (May 1) celebration, and use of computers.

When Nakahara, who had bought a Japanese word-processing program while on a fellowship program in Japan, realized that she couldn't integrate technology by herself, she asked for and received from Principal Galera part-time technology help. Although her students "know ten times more than I do" about computers, she says, "it's hard for me to depend on them" because they aren't always around when she needs the help.

During the summer, the teacher assistant, who was hired with Technology Challenge Literacy Funds, and Nakahara met and "threw around ideas" about what technology would be useful for the following year. Some students previously had done "Day in the Life" presentations, which had been a huge success. With learning center funds, the school bought six computers and three digital cameras. The teacher assistant started Nakahara on her technology education by teaching her PowerPoint, how to hyperlink and load the PowerPoint on the server, and how to create a Web site front page.

A student shows her Japanese-English Web page that answers the question, "Who Am I?"

Credit: Edutopia

Open to More High Tech

When Blackboard became available, Nakahara realized it would be "perfect" for the Hiroshima discussion. The teacher assistant showed Nakahara how to start the initial discussion, make links, and let the students reply. "It was amazing to me how easy it was."

Now Nakahara has the technology bug. "It makes the communication so authentic. It brings excitement to their learning other than just sitting there and memorizing and doing vocabulary lists," she says. "My overall goal when I started as a teacher of language was that students would understand that people on the other side of the world are not that different. It would break barriers."

The once technology-shy teacher, who takes advantage of the professional development opportunities at Moanalua, is now eager to add high-tech goodies that help her students. She notes that the school has a "nice new machine" that allows for teleconferencing.

"That is something that would be fun."

Diane Curtis is a veteran education writer and former editor for The George Lucas Educational Foundation.

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