Scottsdale students are practicing their Spanish skills with teens in other countries — without even leaving their classroom.
Mary Walther, a Spanish teacher at Desert Mountain High School, is piloting a program that uses technology to “make language more real” for her students who learn from textbooks, but lack the reallife applications they need to become more fluent.
Using a laptop in the center of the classroom on Friday, students took turns using an Internet messenger service to chat with Walther’s niece in Costa Rica, Ana Maria Jaén, 18.
They discussed food, movies, dating, families and weather.
The class of roughly 30 teens remained engaged in the conversation, which was projected on a large screen in the front of the classroom.
The Scottsdale Unified School District is increasingly encouraging the use of technology in classrooms, as officials plan to ask voters to approve an $89 million budget override in November that would outfit all schools with “technology enabled classrooms.”
These rooms could have wireless Internet access, DVD players, ceiling projectors, high-tech computer tablets for each teacher and other devices.
The tech upgrades would benefit such foreign-language courses, which have traditionally not used technology as much as other subjects, said Ernest Nicely, the district’s executive director of information systems and technology.
This year, Walther’s class has used the messenger service every few weeks, also speaking with teens in Mexico and Spain.
As students take turns typing and asking questions online, Walther helps them with the language.
“Ask her if she has a boyfriend,” suggested one student on Friday.
But the class had difficulty understanding the reply until Walther explained that “ya no” means “not anymore.”
When students wanted to know what type of coffee Jaén drank, Walther explained that Costa Ricans use the word “tomar” to say drink — not “beber” as they had learned in their textbooks.
Throughout the class, she helped the students to conjugate their verbs properly.
Perhaps most helpful was that by actually typing to a native Spanish-speaker, the students learned slang worlds and colloquialisms — things they don’t often get from textbooks, Walther said.
“You’re seeing a lot of expressions,” she told her students. “That’s why I wanted you to do this, because you’re seeing things that are said, versus written.”
Even though senior Carly Goldberg, 17, earns As in Spanish, she said it’s still very difficult to hold a conversation in Spanish — something she believes chatting online could make easier.
“We use a lot of technology in here,” she said. “We even watched music videos on the Internet and part of the Latin Grammys.”