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Learning to write Japanese characters using Doceri

Michael Van Krey began teaching Japanese part time at Evanston Township High School 15 years ago – he had just returned to the US after teaching English in Japan for three years. His Japanese language classes have grown over the years and he now teaches six classes daily.

Hiragana with Doceri

used with permission

Evanston Township, serving a significant portion of Chicago’s North Shore, offers eight world languages: American Sign Language, Mandarin Chinese, French, German, Hebrew, Japanese, Latin, and Spanish.

“We have about 3000 students here, representative of a diverse community,” says Van Krey. “There is a lot of support for the program. About 75 percent of students take a language, even though it isn’t a requirement for graduation.

Van Krey has been an early classroom technology adopter for many years. “I don’t like using text books in my classes,” he says. “I prefer to create engaging curriculum that will give my students a more direct relationship with the language.”

Early on, he recognized the key advantage of the Apple iPod touch and iPad for learning to draw the Japanese language characters which include hiragana, katakana, and kanji.

Van Krey began thinking about the concept of rhythm behind the hiragana. He created an innovative approach to teaching hiragana and katakana, called Kana Beats. Using the Beatwave app, he created a series of rhythmic beats to accompany a repetitive drill of each character. Playing the beats on his iPod, he uses Doceri to create a screencast of the Kana Beats drill on his iPad.

Van Krey used the Web-based Screencast-o-matic to create video lessons on his computer last year, but the match of finger-drawing the kana with the ease of Doceri layout on the iPad was much more natural for creating the hiragana lessons. He first experimented with the ScreenChomp iPad screencasting app, but found a major stumbling block. When recording the screencast, there was a lag between his stroke and when the mark appeared on the iPad screen.

“The most important thing in creating Kana Beats was synching the music with the stroke, and the ScreenChomp timing was off,” he said.

As he began looking for a different screencasting app for the iPad, VanKrey also knew it would be much more helpful to be able to prepare the slides in advance, and then begin recording the audio rather than having to do both at the same time as he had to do with ScreenChomp.

He found everything he was looking for in Doceri.

“I can prepare the visual slide portion of the lesson in advance with Doceri’s authoring and editing tools, then set up my iPod to play the beats as I record the screencast, replaying the lesson on the iPad using Doceri’s timeline,” he says. “Plus, there is no lag in the stroke at all, and the choice of pens and colors adds more interest to my lessons.”

VanKrey posts his Kana Beats screencasts – in addition to other screencast lessons  – on a private Google page as well as on YouTube for his students to access. This way they can practice the hiragana at home.

In the classroom, each student has an iPod touch – which Van Krey obtained through a grant. He can set up the Kana Beats Doceri Screencast and walk around the classroom as students practice the characters on their iPod touches, so he has a more interactive role in their progress.

We commend Michael Van Krey on his unique Kana Beats approach to learning the hiragana, and we’re proud that Doceri is a part of it!

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