Genealogy Online to Teach Foriegn Language

As a technology integrator I have been fortunate enough to be asked by the foreign language teacher in my school to help her integrate technology into her classroom curriculum. In our last meeting I started by simply saying “what grade would you like to focus on this week?” while substantial rubrics for integration are readily available (ISTE NETS) these tend to be overwhelming for many teachers because the vocabulary used in those rubrics can feel unnaturally unfamiliar (Use multimedia and threaded discussions to enhance a collaborative authoring tool on a wiki or web page). While someday this might be a short reach, right now that would be a big reach. So I ask her what she is doing and I look for an integration that will engage the students and not frustrate the teacher. She answered that the fourth graders were studying the vocabulary for family relationships… mother, father, sister, brother, cousin, aunt, uncle, grandmother, etc. She wondered if we could build relationship trees like the ones in the book, but on the computer. From there we looked into several mapping tools such as,, and Google doc drawing. All of these allow lines (relationships) to be dynamically connected. In other words you can move the people around without having to redraw the lines. We tried this and met with some hurdles that limited the success of the lesson plan. In reflecting on the lesson I wondered if genealogy software would have been a better tool to accomplish what we were looking for, an opportunity to write in the relationships so that students could have lots of practice in an engaging way. In the meantime I did some investigating. After looking at several sites and tools, I selected one that seemed to be the best fit, I was able to build in all the relationships I needed. In other words, I found a way for the students to write in the vocabulary. Here is a screen shot of what that looks like in the software.

Students used this tool to build their family trees and to write in the key vocabulary.

The lesson uses technology to help students get excited about the process of learning about their family history and about sharing with their classmates and family. The excitement that was generated was worth the investment in time and resources. Best of all it lends itself to many follow up discussions and projects.

While a good lesson many of the reformers in the tech ed arena are encouraging reverse or “flipped” models of instruction. How would this class look in that model? In essence this would suggest that the instruction on how to use the tool would be generated in a video instruction and then students would be required to go home to watch an instructional video and to complete as much of the data input as possible while at home for homework. The idea being that the nuts and bolts work can happen at home and the quality discussion and further exploration happen in the classroom where the teacher can respond and redirect conversations and reflection.

For examples of how reverse instruction is working in other classrooms, try these links.


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