What happened when I went on holiday to France for the first time in about 3 years? Obviously I had a very nice time visiting interesting places, enjoying the local cafes and generally relaxing. I also discovered that I had forgotten a lot of very basic words and phrases. Not good – and entirely down to a lack of practice. It seems I need to do a little more than read the odd article in l’Equipe from time to time in order to maintain my limited language skills.
Since I’ve finally finished my M.Ed course (huzzah!) I’ve got some time available for languages again, so I decided to give Duolingo a try. I’ve been impressed so far.
What is it?
Duolingo is a website that allows you to learn a language for free. The activities that I have used are a mixture of simple tasks to practise reading, writing, speaking and listening. The activities are straightforward, but they are sufficiently varied and introduce enough new material each time to keep me interested.
What’s so good about it?
It’s free and easy to use. I find the Duolingo lessons are most effective on my laptop, where I have a keyboard, but there is also an app, which works quite well on my iPod. I’ve not tried the Android version, because nothing works well on my phone!
Regular practice is encouraged. The lessons are short, varied and can be completed at any time. Duolingo also sends very polite (and very optional) daily reminder emails to encourage me to keep going. Finally there are virtual rewards available for regular daily practice.
Progress is recognised and rewarded. The lessons and practice drills for each language are arranged in a ‘skill tree’, which unlocks gradually as each level is completed. Duolingo also awards points and a virtual currency called ‘lingots’ for successful completion of lessons, levels and so on. I was a little surprised at how much this kind of gamified scoring appealed to me once I got started.
Regular reviews of earlier work are encouraged. Each block of activities has a bar indicating progress, but this progress bar doesn’t stay at the maximum level unless you practise the skills regularly. After a week, I discovered that some of the bars on my skill tree had started to drop down. Redoing some lessons or completing a practice session topped them back up.
There are flexible start points. In German, I simply started at beginner level. I have studied German before, but I had forgotten almost everything. However in French I was rusty, but not a total beginner, so I opted to do an assessment test. This immediately ‘unlocked’ a large section of the skill tree and assigned me a starting level. The level was obviously about right – I’ve been able to complete the tasks, but I made a few errors and needed to learn a few new words. There are also options to take tests that unlock all activities up to certain key points, so if I did find the work too easy, I could move on.
After 10 days, I’m already seeing an improvement in my vocabulary, which is exactly what I’d hoped for.
What’s the catch?
Well, Duolingo is free with no ads, which made me wonder how it is being funded. According to their site, Duolingo has received some capital from investors and it makes money from what appears to be crowd-sourced translations. I’m not sure how viable that is as a business model, but I really hope they succeed. It’s a great site – I’d happily pay a subscription or donate to keep it going.
Picture: Duolingo banner © Duolingo, Inc.
Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.
attributed to Seneca (via Lifehacker)
How true. I’d like to wish the best of luck to everyone who is taking GCSE Mathematics exams this week.
Regret for wasted time is more wasted time.
Mason Cooley (via Lifehacker)
I’m very aware of just how fortunate I am to get such a long break over the summer. As usual, I started the holiday with a list of things to do that would take months to complete, so I set some priorities: I wanted to do interesting things, get fitter, complete the work for my TAM course, complete a few jobs around the house and garden and do some preparation for the new school year. Oh, and do some relaxing.
The holiday is almost over, but I think I’m pretty much on target. I’ve not done everything, but I’ve made good use of my time. No regrets for me.
Over the last year I’ve invested quite a lot of time following MEI’s Teach A Level Maths (TAM) course. There have been study days, online sessions, lesson observations and assignments to complete. It’s not just an investment of time, the course was funded by the DfE, so the big question is, what was the return on these investments? MEI asked us to sum up the TAM course in 100 words, here’s my response:
Dave Brailsford attributed British cycling’s recent success to the aggregation of marginal gains. This idea sums up how the TAM course has developed my teaching. I’ve gained from seeing Autograph and GeoGebra used to respond to questions and check answers. I’ve accessed new resources and tried rich problems. I’ve gained from reflecting on my own practice and from seeing other people teach. I’ve discussed how students learn and what misconceptions might need to be addressed. All of these – and more – have produced small changes in my teaching, but like the cycling team, I’ve seen how those marginal gains really add up.
Photo: Team GB by Matt Martin on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons Licence.
I often get given calendars and lists of events as Word documents or Excel files. This is not very convenient for uploading to my calendar – especially if the list of events is quite long. Today I managed to wrestle a Calendar from Word, via Excel into my Google calendar with relatively little editing. Here’s how:
- Copy all the events into Excel. I was copying from tables in a Word document, so this was pretty easy.
- Make sure each event is on a separate row – this involved a bit of editing
- Google Calendar will accept an import from a CSV file, but it must have exactly these headings:
Subject,Start Date,Start Time,End Date,End Time,All Day Event,Description,Location,Private
Yes, exactly these headings – that does seem to include the capital letters. Extra spaces are not allowed, so make sure there are no extra spaces at the end of each heading.
- I added these headings, in this order, to my spreadsheet so that I could fill in all of the relevant data quickly.
- I used Excel formulae to grab the event title (Subject), Start Date, Start Time, End Date and End Time for each event from the list I had been given.
NB If the times are blank, the calendar will assume it’s an all day event. If the times are present, there’s no need to put an end date.
- Once I had filled in the first line, a quick copy and paste updated the information for all the events on my spreadsheet.
- I put "True" in the field for Private on each event, although my calendar is set to Private by default, so I could probably have left this blank.
- It is vital that the the dates and times are formatted correctly. (Actually, I did this on my second attempt. If the formatting is wrong, the events won’t get imported, so this part is important) The dates must be in the format MM/DD/YYYY; I formatted the times as 24 hour times, ie hh:mm
- Now copy all of the data and formats from the Subject, Start Date, Start Time, End Date, End Time, All Day Event, Description, Location, Private columns into a new spreadsheet (not a new page in the same workbook, it must be a completely new spreadsheet).
- Save the new sheet in CSV (Comma delimited) format. Click through the eleventy-nine “Are you sure?"… "Are you really sure?" warnings that appear.
- Almost done! Finally, I headed over to Google Calendar. Clicked the settings icon, chose Settings, then Calendars and clicked the Import option. I followed the instructions to upload my file, then did a triumphant dance when 108 events uploaded in seconds.
I would not faff around doing this for just a few events (it would be much quicker to type them in!), but it was definitely quicker than uploading each event individually for this number of calendar entries. Now I know how to do it, next time will be even quicker Google do warn that there is a 1MB limit for the upload file, so that might be a problem for a really long list of events.
I got my instructions from:
… and here’s a sample CSV file (with a very short list of fictitious events!)
Photo: Calendar from Calendar Project by Caroline on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.