1. Browser: Flock or Firefox. Why?:
a) On the one hand, students need reliable tools, and the time to get acquainted with them. A class should choose one browser: familiarity with one user-friendly, ever-developing browser will breed students' confidence as technology-users, not their contempt.
b) Flock has the advantage of integrating many tools into its own makeup. The teacher could guide the class in integrating their blogs, RSS-Feeds, Favorite Sites, etc, into the browser. Indeed, the best situation would be a school-version of Flock, pre-loaded with settings which classes require. (Compare this school-attuned idea with the Flock Eco-Edition, which I have on my computer.)
2 Language Tools:
a) My top choice: Lingro . Why? It's an open-content web-application which hyperlinks each word on a page to a dictionary for easy look-up. Why is this app so cool and imminently useful, when (as I recall) similar apps exist? Here are a few reasons:
1) When the browser has the Lingro plug-in (Lingro currently supports Firefox, Safari and Opera), then the translation pops up in a small window on the same page (quick, easy, user-friendly). One-click on the button [lingro! this page], and the student has a hyperlinked page before him.
2) The translations are simple and discrete, usually just one word (thus far as I have explored the plug-in). This makes the decision-making much easier on the student. I have yet to explore how Lingro works with very idiomatic, idiosyncratic expressions, though.
3) Lingro claims to remember which words you look up. For a short text with target-, to-be-learned vocabulary, such a feature would be useful as a study tool. (I assume there is a self-check/self-quiz feature that will work hand-in-hand with this capability, allowing students to review before a test, for example.
b) Bab.la not Babelfish . Consistent, guided use of bab.la will help students learn and use vocabulary more efficiently and more on-target (which, I insist, is an adequate adverbial phrase.)
c) Hyperwords: a web application and browser plug-in which is almost as versatile as Lingro seems to be. With Hyperwords, the user highlights word(s), right-clicks, and is given a multitude of translation- and research-choices. I cannot help but think that all school computer labs should install this plug-in in their browsers.
3. A Google Account: giving access to GMail, Blogger, and GoogleReader. A student population which reads and sorts email productively, learns to participate in a community- and civic-minded blogging culture, and productively organize research and/or personal interest via a RSS-Feed Reader such as GoogleReader, is prepared for college, the workforce, and living in a digital age.
4. Blogger: Why not begin to foster a learning community online even in the first year of a language (I have not taught middle school; I have in mind a high school audience when I think about blogging in language classes.) By Chapter 6 of Komm Mit I, a German textbook, the amount of writing demanded spikes suddenly. Why not begin to transfer these assignments to a more contemporary medium?
Granted: the "blogging" done in the first or second year would not be astonishingly substantive. But: do we really know what the results would be? If part of a student's "blogging grade" included the frequency and quality of comments on classmates' blogs, most students will warm to the medium for the sake of the report card. There is nothing wrong with that. At the end of 2 years of (say: weekly) blogging, I wager that the students will emerge much more proficient both in Web 2.0 technologies and the language they study than they would have otherwise.
One comment re: cyber-safety. Each blog could be set to only be read by the members of the class (via emails). But as well: there are many blogging platforms devoted to education: Edublogs, 21classes, and others.
5. Diigo: Social Bookmarking and Web-Highlighting. Though del.icio.us is ubiquitous, diigo is the better research tool and allows for more end-user interaction. It is the better tool for education, and for the students to take with them to college.
Especially as a German teacher, I have a number of avenues for finding partner-schools and -classrooms in Germany to work with. Why not have networked penpals via grou.ps, which invites any group to form their own cyber-community. (In this context, I believe Nings serve the same purpose.)
Group.s acts as a social aggregator. Students could get acquainted in a more authentic format, but one where the teacher(s) had oversight. How this could be meaningfully integrated into class time is a necessary question, but the potential for types of Project Based Learning offer themselves up: especially as group.s also has an integrated wiki application.
7. Audacity: Freeware for recording audio. Upload to a school server and/or to individual student accounts on an aggregator, such as Second Brain.
8. Second Brain: Teach students how to aggregate schoolwork and -research, as well as personal interests in one place. A type of Personal Learning Environment.
9. Microsoft Photo Story 3; or Vuvox (currently in beta-testing): teach students to work with the language in many forms, and work towards synthetic, more personalized assessments. Also an excellent avenue to teach about Fair Use Laws and other legal issues.