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Published October 27, 2008 | English (Second Language)

Hot Potatoes + Moodle = Fun + Learning

At home they call me "the gadget lady", so when the school's IT specialist suggested that we begin putting more IT into my classroom, I was intrigued. He introduced me to Moodle and then to Hot Potatoes.  Both programs are user-friendly, and although the latter is a little more time consuming to master, they are nevertheless easy to learn.

Moodle = Teaching - Drudgery

Moodle is an on-line teaching platform. What I like most about this program is that I can see which students have completed which exercise, how long it has taken them, and how many times they had to try before they obtained a perfect mark.  I produced exercises that served as homework, on-going practice and help for studying.  From the bank of questions created, I was also able to generate an end of term exam.  Moodle allows you to password protect the test so it cannot be accessed by anyone outside the school, unless you want them to.  Also, students cannot access the test until they know the password.  You can also place a time limit to complete the test. The questions appear at different intervals on the screen so cheating, while not impossible, is difficult.  Since I had over 250 students, the best feature was that the test corrected itself, and the student was given their mark upon completion.

With Moodle, you can create forums for communications between students.  There is also a feature to assemble an on-line lesson.  Moodle lets you create links, whether linear or circular, between different parts of a topic that needs to be learnt or reviewed.  Activities at the end of each tutorial let the student know how much they have mastered, and what aspect needs review.  Also, you can create constraints so that students cannot go on to another chapter until they obtain a certain percentage of knowledge in the current one.  This feature helps you determine where students need more help or what needs review.

Hot Potatoes = On-Line Creativity

Hot Potatoes is a free software allowing teachers to create, puzzles, multiple choice quizzes and cloze exercises and, is compatible with Moodle.  Being very visual, I created exercises where students had to match words to pictures (gifs or jpegs) or conversations to pictures or a combination of both.  I also downloaded songs in Spanish and created cloze exercises.  The students filled in the missing information by listening to the song.  Many students listened to the song so often they came to class singing it!  I also downloaded conversations which they listened to and then selected the correct answers through true or false statements, by filling in missing information or by selecting the best response from a drop-down list.  In Hot Potatoes you can also change the look and color of the background.  Some students opened the exercises just to see what the background would be, but then were motivated to also complete the activity.  A few students were brave enough to tell me that they had asked a friend to complete their work, but when they saw that their friends were enjoying the task, they decided to complete it themselves too. Hot Potatoes also allows you to place time constraints on the files, but Moodle was better able to handle this feature.  Since Hot Potatoes is free, a colleague had the students download the software to create crossword puzzles for each other.  The possibilities are almost limitless.

Hot Potatoes + Moodle > Traditional Methods

At first, I thought students would find it tedious to go onto the Net and do "extra" work as they called it, but I quickly discovered that most students preferred these exercises to reading and completing exercises in a book.  Many would ask me for more, or would automatically assume that there would be exercises on Moodle.  Students told me that their parents would want to complete the exercises with them because they helped them learn or practice what they already knew. One particular student who told me he hated reading, loved completing the visual exercises and puzzles because he didn't really see it as work. Preparing these types of activities requires a lot of time and energy the first few times, but once created, the material can either be re-used or easily modified.

Imagine being able to create exercises or exams that are challenging, interesting, correct themselves and give you feedback on what needs to be reviewed or what students are having difficulty with!  Or, easily having different exams on the same topic! The paper exams I did use required that the student be familiar with concepts and material from the Moodle or Hot Potatoes exercises. If a student did not complete them, or if they had another person execute them, they missed out on help for studying for the test and consequently had to study longer to obtain the same results or, in some cases, failed.

There were only three students who complained about the IT aspect of the course, and this was because they did not like computers.  What I found that these programs did, was to create automatic motivation.  If you tell students they have a vocabulary test and they have to go home to study a certain number of words, you may hear groans.  However, if you tell them they can practice the meaning of these words through fun activities, most will remember and be able to use the vocabulary without too much effort.

Moodle and Hot Potatoes are a great educational tool combination.  Once you try them, you'll wonder how you ever did without them!

Please use the Reader Response feature below to tell us about your experiences with these or other winning combinations for IT.

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