A little teacher

January 14th, 2015 | Tags: , , ,

So, casting about for useful online Latin resources as I was wont to do earlier this fall, I stumbled across a little corner of the Web. I was just looking for something to help my struggling level Is practice their noun declensions. At first I scoffed, thinking it was some teacher’s personal pet Latin Web site. But just a little more digging, and I discovered the tip of a rather useful iceberg. Maybe it’s just a floating diamond, who knows. :)

The site is [Magistrula] (“little teacher”). And it’s fantastic.

It’s a labor of love for one former Latin teacher turned full-time programmer, Anna Andresian. It’s all done in JavaScript (and it’s open source, on a [git repository] to boot!), and it provides immediate feedback on a huge variety of exercises, ranging from simple noun declension and verb conjugation, to form recognition, all the way to sentence translation and construction! The exercises are easily tweaked to include or exclude just about any variable you might imagine (person, number, tense, voice, mood, case, gender, declension, conjugation), meaning you can fine-tune what you’re trying to practice.

But the best part about it is the virtual classes. I was able to set up my Latin I students with a series of exercises that I prescribed, and because they registered for my class, I was able to examine their practice data and infer ways to help them along in class. I’ll be deploying it for all my Latin classes this semester, and modifying the way I do homework–the onus can shift to the students to determine how they need to practice. Which allows me considerably more time to spend on teaching them where they’re having real difficulty.

One other huge plus for this semester is that I can finally flesh out the first tool I ever developed for the Latin classroom, the Passport to Latin. I’m sure many teachers have come to some form of this–a little collection of the various patterns and forms we learn in one compact unit. But I had always dreamed of somehow using it to reinforce practice by having students earn ’stamps’ on the various categories. I never got there when it was me facing the notion of finding time to quiz students with paper–making sure they don’t cheat–running off the photocopies–making sure they’re different enough–having enough time to grade them–etc. Now I can just set a series of benchmark practices and have one marked as a quiz–it’s auto-random, and I can view the results instantly.

One last thing to gush about is the game engine. Yep, it has games, too! The player controls a zombie who runs around zapping stars with lightning bolts. But the real fun is the fact that anyone can make a new game! So I’m envisioning having my students create games for each other to practice different skills. Or, you know, simply allowing them to, and seeing what develops out of the chaos.

It’s a great tool for individualization of practice. I must take care not to lean on it irresponsibly; the practices will need to be curated so everyone has a skill level to work from. But I sense a moment of power.

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