Learning Chinese

One of the big challenges of learning Chinese is the ability to recognise Chinese characters. By looking at each character, in some instances, it is possible to guess how it might pronounced.

Besides hazarding a guess, the next thing to do is to search through a dictionary. That can be a little daunting as you will need to be able to count the number of strokes and then also recognise the basic radical that the word is categorised in.

With the iPad, there is an input process that will lend itself well as an easy way for learners to solve this problem – the Chinese handwriting input system.

To set it up, go to Settings>General>International>Keyboard then search for the Chinese handwriting keyboard.


Using this, the unfamiliar word can be written out, or drawn out as might be the case for many learners.

The next thing to do is to use the Speak Selection function of the iPad. To set this up, Settings>General>Accessibility>Speak Selection>On. You can also determine how fast or slow the reading will be done.


With this function activated, when you select the word or phrase, the option “Speak” will be available and the learner can now know how the word is pronounced.

If the learner knows pinyin, he could transcribe the word’s pinyin for future reference. All this works great even with Internet connection.

With Internet connection, definitions can be found by searching the net. By using we pages such as Google Translate, the pinyin with tones for the words will also be displayed.

Tiny Expanded

TinyTap has added new tools which makes this an even more awesome educational tool, especially one that encourages learning through creating.

In addition to its “ask a question” feature, it now has 3 others called “say something”, “sound board” and “shape puzzle”. Personally, I was most excited by the “shape puzzle”. When I tried it out, I was further delighted that an audio clip could be added to each piece of the puzzle.


I created a Chinese Language learning game using all these tools. Using the shape puzzle and sound board, I hope that the learner will become somewhat familiar with all the words presented in the given sentences. Then it was back to more focused exercise to pick out the individual words using “ask a question”. Finally, a round-up was created using “say something”.

You can try this out by following this link.


Have fun learning.


Last week, students from Primary 1 to JC2 were able to try their hands at creating simple stop-motion animation of science concepts. Using iMotion HD and iMovie on the iPad, and only with a brief introduction on how to use the apps, they spent just over an hour in making their first animation.

And amongst the many wonderful creations, some were really impressive.

This ease of animating something really opens up many vistas for learning.


When using Spreadsheets in Google Drive there is a wonderful tool called scripts that can really help the teacher. Spreadsheets may have been created directly or when we use a form as a way of assessing students or just to gather responses.

From the toolbar of the Spreadsheet, look for Tools.

Script 01

You will see a few script related choices, and the best way to start is by looking at the Script gallery.

Script 02

When Education is chosen, there are many scripts to choose from. There is one that comes with a Chinese title as you can see in the screenshot above. It is a simple and useful script for marking MCQ responses, and it does not matter that you cannot read Chinese. It is able to indicate which answers have been correctly answered, the scores for each student and also the score for each question.

Give scripts a try.

Co-op Learning

Co-operative learning is not mere group work. Among other things, 3 important factors are positive interdependence, group and individual accountability and interaction.

It covers a range of effective activities that helps the student own and construct  their learning.

Benefits of cooperative learning

Benefits of cooperative learning

This chart shows beautifully the benefits of co-operative learning. Well-design co-operative learning activities will include demonstration, discussion, practice by doing and the teaching of others.

In considering the design of learning with technology, if we include elements of co-operative learning rather than making the students working individually only, the impact of learning can certainly be enhanced.

For instance, when students work in groups to create a game on Tinytap and each group is working on a slight variation, the learning is further enhanced compared to one in which they all create exactly the same game. Playing each other’s games will be more interesting and there will be learning in that process too. Aspect of technology can be leveraged upon for accountability, for instance, wanting to hear different voices in recording the questions.

Co-opt the use of both educational technology and co-operative strategies to further increase learning.

Google Drive App

As we get students to learn collaboratively and also explore the use of technology in learning, we would go on a look out for apps that allow for collaborative work.

During the design of a distance eLearning project, we found Google Drive to be a really powerful platform for collaboration. Students were able to work on the same document and see each other’s contribution, chat on the side and even have all these activities tracked.

Some students had problem doing this when they were using their iPads at home. It was only later that we discovered the Google Drive app which allows for better interactivity and collaboration.

Since then, we have used it in English classes and this has enabled students to work through their separate iPads on co-created documents. It has been truly engaging for all students.

Update: While writing this post, I was introduced to the QuickOffice app which works with Google Drive. It is now offered for free and it comes with an offer of 10 GB extra space on Google Drive if you link it to Quickoffice.  More about that in another post.

Learning as Conversation

A thought was sparked when I saw the article “Why the next big thing in computing is conversation” and wondered where conversation might fit into learning and perhaps specifically in the use of technology in learning, how the metaphor of conversation might affect how we think about the use education technology. For a start, the 10 features of conversations listed in this article give some interesting food for thought.

Learning as Conversation

User persona, user affinity, user goals and user environment (PAGE) – the 4 contextual dimensions of conversations. How do these apply to how we perceive the learner? In the typical classroom, perhaps each of these dimensions is fairly fixed and assumed to be aligned by the structure of schooling. As technology enters the equation, this consistency could be disrupted. For instance, in the case of an online lesson, how might the physical environment of the learner affect the learning? If students could adopt different virtual persona, what potential for learning could be explored?

It is often our hope that a learner would continue to mull over and extend their learning even after they leave the classroom and no matter where else they might be next. In this way, like a conversation, learning should have continuity, ubiquity and authenticity. With the introduction of technology in learning, especially mobile technology, these three aspects can take shape not just conceptually but, almost ironically, in concrete form. Technology enables the learner to continue with the learning process beyond the classroom through access to information and more importantly to fellow learners, and they could be literally anywhere when doing so, and  could quite easily include authentic inputs from the “real world outside the class room” into their learning.

This is just my initial musings on this idea of learning as conversation, and would love it most if I am able to continue this chat with anyone reading this.

On another note, this marks my 52nd post. When I started, I have challenged myself to maintain a weekly post for at least a year. Looking back, I have found this to be a really rewarding exercise in noting down my own learning and ventures as well as trying to sharpen my thoughts and words.

Happy Talking

In crafting an eLearning experience, we decided to explore Google Education Apps. We made a few discoveries mucking around.

One aspect that we wanted was to have an online conference. Since we are working with both primary and secondary students, we wanted the setup to be as simple as possible.

Initially, we thought we had to download the Google+ extension and set up profiles. This would have meant too much technical setup at home, especially for the young ones.

Then we discovered that within the Gmail interface, we could have online conference too. But first, we need to upgrade from Googletalk to Google Hangout.

At your Gmail site, look at the bottom left-hand column. If you see a simple speech bubble icon, then you need to upgrade by clicking on green button on the right of your profile pic which will open a menu.


Click on the topmost item “Try the New Hangouts” and it will refresh your page. After that you will see a new icon on the left bottom corner.

Hangout Icon

Now, we are all ready to invite colleagues and students to an online conference.

When we collaborate using Googledoc, there is also a chat icon through which collaborators can chat with each other.

This has been fun to discover, and we look forward to an exciting first foray into eLearning.

Afternote: After this post was initially written some weeks back, I had wanted to publish it. However, Google took this feature away just about then. So, I held the post back. Now, Google has left things as it is described here, but not sure till when.

Mediating Tool

In a reflective piece after conducting a lesson with iPad, a teacher mentioned that the “iPad should always be seen as having a mediating role in the lesson: it is a tool at the teacher’s disposal. A lesson should be enhanced by an i-Pad but will always be possible without it.”
This set me expanding on this thought.
On the one hand, we should be able to teach well with or without a myriad of tools, including the iPad. In the hand of a good teacher, even a humble piece of chalk can be used to greatly enhance learning.
On the other hand, each tool brings with it unique possibilities which one should exploit for the sake of learning. In the case of the iPad, there are functions in this mobile all-in-one media device that we should leverage upon. These give us the opportunities to not only enhance or augment teaching but also modify and even re-define learning (using the SAMR modell).
The tension is perhaps how we might be afraid of becoming too dependent on the technology once we use it at the level of modification and redefinition.
All said, I am of the opinion that the learning objectives are still to be our guide and our pedagogical skills will inform our approach, including how we use teaching tools such as the iPad, to achieve these objectives. These knowledge of a competent teacher will help a teacher respond to changes in situation, such as when technology fails us, in a way that helps learners stay on course towards learning.
This is perhaps still thought-in-progress as we pioneer the use of iPads in the classroom.



Comics are visual nuggets complemented at times with some text. Whether in single frame or a long series, the best of comics can draw the viewer in, bring about clarity and pack a punch .

There are the regular cartoons and strips in newspapers and magazines, superhero comic books and Japanese manga. Not forgetting the European ones like the Tin Tin and Asterix series. Online, there are many sites with comics and cartoons too.

Retro Chinese comics

Retro Chinese comics

Many teachers have used them in teaching though most likely in an ad hoc manner. The reading of comics and cartoons as part of learning is still somewhat controversial.

With technology, students can now more easily create their own comics. This is an interesting way to engage the learners.

Pixton is a website to explore for this purpose. In fact, it has a section specially dedicated to educators and in it, you can even find suggestions of how the creation of comics can be used for learning.  The suggestions are for a wide variety of subject areas and this, as well as other parts of the site, can even be viewed in different languages including Chinese.

There is a good range of templates and characters to choose from to get started and the characters can be posed and speech bubbles added with ease.

In a recent eLearning sessions, students were directed to this site to create their own comics. Without too much instructions from the teachers, the students were able to create their first comic strip. These were posted for the teachers and classmates  to view and leave comments.

The ability to create Pixton comics on the iPad is probably  in the pipeline.

The Storyboards app on the iPad shares some similar functions.