Technology as an Accelerator for Language Learning in Immersion Classrooms

Chinese Immersion in the Minnetonka, MN School District

When the Minnetonka, MN schools began Mandarin Immersion in the schools in 2007 they knew there were many challenges ahead in starting a new language program. What they didn't know was just how fortunate they were to have a variety of rich technology tools already in place in all Kindergarten through grade five classrooms. Smartboards and other innovative technologies in the immersion classrooms are proving to be an incredible tool for accelerating student learning of their second language.

The Smartboard is a touch sensitive whiteboard connected to a projector and a computer. Smartboards, or interactive white boards, are essentially a giant mouse pad. It allows teachers to create and view images but also allows students and teachers to interact with them. They are a powerful addition to the immersion classroom for a number of reasons. Because the Smartboard is used with only one computer it uses technology efficiently and essentially makes one computer serve all the students in the classroom.

Inherent in immersion teaching is the need to present ideas using TPR or total physical response. The Smartboard creates opportunities for higher levels of engagement in particular for whole group instruction. For example, in a recent visit to a Kindergarten classroom ideas were presented using sound, visuals and actions. These were paired with spoken language and characters to build min2understanding. The teacher used the Smartboard to teach her new Chinese learners the names of fruit as well as the sentence pattern "I like and I don't like." Students took turns walking to the Smartboard to say the name of the fruit. They then touched a digitized image that was synched to the teacher's recording of the correct pronunciation of the word. They immediately heard that they were correct in naming the object. Later students used the Smartboard to drag fruits to the matching characters in a small group learning station. Students working in a math lesson used the Smartboard to move images of strawberries, bananas and apples to create addition problems using visuals.

Smartboards enhance collaboration with colleagues as well. Teachers using Smartboard technologies are able to create lessons, store them and call them up for classroom use. Because lessons are stored digitally, teachers down the hall or across the school district are able to share materials simultaneously. New teachers are able to tap into materials that were created by veteran teachers. Teachers can work collaboratively to share and improve materials which are incredibly efficient compared with needing to work face to face. Teachers have been using the Smartboard to find innovative ways to present content.

The Minnetonka Schools uses an internal web system called Blackboard to communicate with parents as well as to store Smartboard materials. The ability to place materials on the web site allows teachers to easily prepare lessons from home to be used the next day.

Materials can be placed on the teacher's web page for parents to use to support learning at home. Jie Gao, Excelsior Kindergarten teacher, appreciates that with “Blackboard, parents can get announcements and view photos about school life. They also can download the podcasts and learn Chinese together with their child at home. The uploaded newsletters and calendar can help parents have a better understanding about the immersion learning school. Teachers have also provided podcasts for parents to use for their child to practice at home.”

Another tool being utilized by the Minnetonka School District is Sound Field Solution Technology. This tool is used by many teachers is used in classrooms for its even distribution of sound around the room. Each classroom is equipped with a small teacher microphone and a sound system that broadcasts the teacher’s voice evenly anywhere in the room. Jie Gao says “Sound Field Solution can help students hear clearly no matter where they sit. The better hearing enables student to develop more native like speaking of the language. It is also a great help for those students who have hearing problems.”

The extent of technologies impact came as somewhat of a surprise to those who had been using Smartboards in regular classrooms for a number of years. Because students were new to Chinese, the opportunity to use the tool to bring an abundance of images into the classroom deepened their ability to quickly grasp ideas. No longer would a teacher need to copy or cut and paste to place visuals in front of students to enhance understanding. Teachers have access to an unlimited number of resources from the web at their fingertips. They are indeed able to bring the world into the classroom.


Lee Drolet, Principal, Excelsior Elementary

Joe Wacker, Principal, Scenic Heights Elementary

Jie Gao, Tingting Wang, Ming Yan, Qingling Yang, Chinese Immersion Teacher

Minnetonka Public Schools

Minnetonka hosts a Tech Site Visit for educators and technology staff. Click here to find out more.