Rome News Tribune (Kristina Wilder - RN-T.COM)

Tech aids Spanish Class

Spanish teacher William Carvajal listens as one of his students, Colby Couch, speaks with native speaker Senora Flippen from Cuba.

Technology managed to bring two cultures together and add to a lesson recently, as a middle school Spanish class not only had the opportunity to work with a native Spanish speaker, but also to learn about Cuba’s traditions and history from a woman living in the country.

William Carvajal’s Spanish class at Model Middle School spent Tuesday afternoon conversing with Senora Flippen, a native Spanish speaker living in Cuba.

Flippen joined Google Classroom at the appointed time and spoke with students and answered questions about Cuba. The students recorded the responses in a graphic organizer on their Chromebooks as part of Carvajal’s lesson plan for the day.

Floyd County Board of Education members attended the class to see classroom technology use in action.

Recently, the board approved a $250,000 purchase of Chromebooks to further the system’s goal of getting all schools to a one-to-one ratio of students to Chromebooks. Board chair Chip Hood expressed interest to Craig Ellison, executive director of technology and media services, in seeing the technology being put to good use.

“We asked Craig to set this up,” Hood explained. “You hear a lot about needing the Chromebooks in the classrooms, but to see the devices in action is amazing to watch.”

Hood commented on how engaged the students were, all participating in the discussion Flippen was having with their classmates, as well as taking notes about her answers.

“It’s great to see this, as opposed to my Spanish class in high school where we had the book and the teacher speaking it to us,” Hood said. “This sort of thing is invaluable, because I know people who graduated and assumed they were fluent in Spanish, but then they speak to native speakers and they are told they don’t know how to really speak Spanish.”

Carvajal said the lesson allows the students to learn more about communicating.

“Don’t be intimidated, ask questions,” he said. “That is the most important thing. If you don’t understand, ask. This is an immersion class and an opportunity to practice a language like this is, that’s what it’s all about.”

Because this technology wasn’t available to the system even just five years ago, Ellison said he is “amazed” by the opportunity.

“Speaking with the teachers and the students and getting feedback from last semester when they spoke with a native Colombian, I am encouraged by this,” he said. “It’s a tremendous opportunity for our students to converse digitally with a native speaker using devices they were basically born using.”

Ellison said he was pleased to show the board how the money they allocated was being put to good use in ways that helped so many students.

“People sometimes get confused about technology and forget that it can be a tool that in the hands of the right teacher, can make a huge difference in education,” Ellison said.

Rome News Tribune (RN-T.COM)

Technology opens the world to Model Middle School Spanish class

It is not your parent’s classroom anymore with the influx of technology opening a whole new world of learning. In the baby boomer’s Spanish classroom there may have been an occasional video or recording of someone speaking Spanish played for the class.

Today, technology is bridging the distance between people to bring native Spanish speakers into the classroom for interaction with language students! William Carvajal’s Spanish class at Model Middle School recently used their Chromebooks and Google Hangout to connect with Cat Flippen, a technology specialist for Oconee County Schools and a native speaker of Spanish. Some of Flippen’s relatives came to America from Cuba and many of them still live in the island country.

The students were able to connect with the native Spanish speaking visitor and ask her questions about Cuba. Flippen and the students interacted in Spanish until late in the class when Mr. Carvajal turned the class language card to allow for English discussion. Students used their Chromebooks to record Flippen’s responses to their questions in a graphic organizer and they included information in their regular classroom electronic journals.

The Chromebooks were obtained by Carvajal at the end of 2016 through a Floyd County Schools’ grant. The class received enough Chromebooks for every student in the classroom and a charging unit to keep them ready for use each day. Competitive grants were used by the school system to distribute Chromebooks approved for purchase by the Floyd County Board of Education. “The Chromebooks allow me to match instruction with the individual child at the student’s level of proficiency in the language,” stated Carvajal.

The Floyd County Board of Education visited the classroom to see the technology in action as the students talked with Senora Flippen. All five board members looked on as students engaged in conversation with her in Spanish. “The board wanted to see the technology in action in the classroom and this was amazing to watch,” said Chip Hood, chairman of the Floyd County Board of Education. “It was awesome to watch those students use the technology,” commented Dr. Tony Daniel, board vice-chair. “They just looked like they were at home as they were so at ease with the use of the technology in the classroom.”

A new round of competitive grants has been announced to continue to provide technology for teachers and students to use in the classroom. Teachers will be eligible to submit lesson plans detailing how they will use the Chromebooks to improve learning opportunities. “Today was an opportunity to see how the money we approved to buy Chromebooks is benefitting our kids in the classroom,” said Jay Shell, the board member for the Coosa area. “There are some great things going on with technology in Floyd County Schools!” “They did not even know we were there -the students were so engaged in the lesson,” noted Melinda Jeffers, the board member for the Cave Spring and McHenry areas. Dr. Melinda Strickland, the board member for the Model area added, “It was phenomenal to see the excitement in the student’s eyes and I even learned some new Spanish words!”

Floyd County Schools is working to have a Chromebook device available for every student in the system called a one-to-one initiative. The system has made tremendous strides in the last few years as the computer to student ratio in 2013 was 5.28 students per computer device compared to the current 1.64 students per computer in 2016.

Rome News Tribune (Spencer Lahr - RN-T.COM)

Model Middle School Spanish teacher William Carvajal likes to do things his own way, emphasizing hands-on learning

William Carvajal, an innovative Spanish teacher, says he would like for the learning of a second language to be the rule in the U.S. — like it is in Europe — instead of the exception.

By Spencer Lahr -

When walking into William Carvajal’s classroom at Model Middle School, an observer won’t find students hunched over Spanish textbooks, flipping to a page number shouted out by the teacher to begin the drudgery of another unit.

Rather students will be speaking and practicing the very language they’ve come to learn, exemplifying the spontaneous exchanges of human conversation and building a base for proficiency — which is the essence of teaching any language, Carvajal said.

On Wednesday, Carvajal will begin his second year at Model Middle, which is part of a school system that has given him the full range of freedom to implement his own curriculum focused on hands-on learning that was carried over from his previous school, he said.

Before the educator of almost 20 years landed in Floyd County, he taught at the Innovation Academy in Massachusetts.

Originally from Venezuela, Carvajal moved to the U.S. around 15 years ago, after spending several years of teaching in private schools in South America. About two years back, he had some friends who were moving to Georgia and they encouraged him to do the same with his wife and two kids.

Carvajal, who became a U.S. citizen five years ago, admits to wanting to get away from the long and frigid winters of the Northeast, but also wishing to move to the country for a slower life.

With several options on the table for where he would teach again, Carvajal said he found a home at Floyd County Schools, where he could be himself as a teacher and do things his own way.

He still recalls one of his earliest experiences in the system, with Superintendent John Jackson reinforcing in his mind to not be afraid of bringing new ideas into the classroom.

The overarching feature of Carvajal’s teaching philosophy is that the interests of students is what drives instruction, and the rigidity of a textbook-teaching format can be done away with, he said.

Conversations in the real world do not follow a cut and dried outline, but they move in a free-flowing manner. And learning a language, in Carvajal’s eyes, is to emphasize what students can do over what they know.

One of Carvajal’s lessons is to have students create entries into a video diary. Students record three-minute videos of themselves speaking Spanish without any help from notes, giving them a backlog to track their progress.

They reflect on their areas of weakness and find points of strength, leading to them setting self-defined goals on how to improve.

Also, through the help of Google Classroom last year, students on two occasions were able to participate in video chats with native Spanish speakers. This gave students the chance to alleviate their fear of conversing with those from Spanish-speaking nations, Carvajal said.

Carvajal pushes students to give it a go in testing their Spanish with native speakers, who are more likely than not going to be sympathetic to the effort shown in such an attempt, he said. And even if this conversation only lasts for a few minutes, it should reflect an accomplishment in practically applying what’s learned in class in the outside world.

Carvajal said he would like for the learning of a second language to be the rule in the U.S. — like it is in Europe — instead of the exception. To do this, second-language courses would need to be brought down into the elementary schools, as learning another language only becomes harder with time and it’s better to start when kids’ brains are still developing, he explained.

Learning for proficiency cuts to the bone of what being able to speak a second language is, the ability to bridge a cultural divide and to begin seeing the world through the eyes of someone different, Carvajal said. Language has the power to break through the cultural barriers of stereotypes and fabricated generalizations, he continued.