Final Reflection

Over the past two years, I have begun to use a blog in class while trying to “scratch the surface” of other web 2.0 applications.  However, this class has opened my eyes to ideas and technology that will allow me to take my use to the next level.

As Richardson points out in his book, blogs work best as a tool for conversations.  Up until now, I have been using my class blog mainly as a way for students to reflect and ask questions.  I haven’t focused on facilitating discussions between students.  I plan to use both blogs and wikis next year, when appropriate, to enable kids to connect, discuss, question, and reflect with each other.  While web 2.0 applications definitely increase student engagement (for they tap into a skill set that my “digital natives” have ingrained within them), I feel that it is my job as a teacher to hone and focus the use of these applications into a meaningful learning experience.  I had a glimpse of such an occurence this year.  When we were studying alternative energy, I wanted students to see what it was like to live in a country where renewables are the norm.  Denmark is far ahead of most of the world in terms of their use of alternative energy.  There is a former King student living in Denmark.  Using our blog, my students worked in teams to ask him questions.  Sam, the former student, then took the time to respond to my students.  His responses were exceptional, but very long.  His responses totaled several thousand words.  However, my students were glued to their laptops as they read his responses.  This kind of engagement, coupled with a meaningful learning experienced (as opposed to talking to someone on a blog just for the sake of talking), is a powerful teaching tool.

This course has also shown me several smalls tools that I plan to keep in my “toolbox.”  VoiceThread, Wordle,  Podcasts, social bookmarking, and RSS are all tools that I will have on hand should one of them fit my learning objectives.  The key will be to keep in mind student learning.  That is, while all of the new applications are fun and exciting, I will have to do some self-editing and make sure to ask myself “is this really a tool that will improve learning, or is it just “cool”?”  One of the best ways to make this determination is to talk over the idea with other teachers.  Having someone with another perspective will force me to really think about the tool’s appropriateness and benefits.  Furthermore, we have a very open staff at my school, so a colleague may have another idea or a way to improve my lesson.

While at times painful on the eyes and backside, being immersed in the read/write web  for over 40 hours has helped me to focus on ways to improve student learning without the normal distractions that occur during the school year.  In that sense, my time this week has been invaluable in terms of improving my practice.

Final Project

My final project is a template, exemplar, and rubric for our 8th grade showcase portfolios. This portfolio chronicles the growth that a student has show during their three years at King Middle School. Traditionally, the portfolio has been housed in a three ring binder and students sift through mounds of their work to find examples of their “consistent strengths,” “strengths developed over time,” and “ongoing struggle.” However, there have been some long standing problems with this format. First, it is a major logistical nightmare for a teacher to organize and check in with each student as they create their portfolio. The amount of paper is daunting and things always get lost. Also, we have a well established and well used file network at the school, but kids are often hesitant to pull from the servers since the “hard copy” portfolio can’t really show media. Lastly, we struggle to find authentic audiences to whom the students can present.

With this online portfolio, students can organize both their digital and hard copy products (via scanning). It will be easy for teachers and building administrators to check in on student progress simply by viewing their sites. Lastly – and, in my opinion, most importantly – students can look at and comment on each other’s portfolios-in-progress. Likewise, the “audience” for the portfolio is greatly expanded, as we can link to student portfolios via our school website and students can easily share their work with families and friends.

RSS in the classroom

RSS could be a valuable tool in the classroom.  Our 8th graders have to do a weekly current event assignment for their social studies class.  It would be interesting to work in conjunction with the social studies teacher to establish RSS feeds from local, state, national, and international news sources.  The immediacy of students seeing a story pop up in their reader can help to engage them (although, on the flip side, over time they may become immune to its effect…much like all those annoying crawls on CNN).  Furthermore, I could establish RSS feeds from the Science New York Times or another science source and have students use their social studies current event skills in my science class.  Whenever kids gets a chance to step back and say, “Hey, wait, this is just like what I was doing in another class….” their learning is improved.

Final Project

For my final project, I would like to develop a template, example, and rubric for an online student portfolio.  At our school, eighth graders create “Showcase Portfolios” that highlight their strengths, weaknesses, and improvements throughout their middle school careers.  As a school, we have struggled with the best way to do this.  This year, we were told to use Noteshare.  However, I was unhappy with the results generated by this program.  I think that a wiki-based portfolio would give students the freedom and flexibility to highlight their work yet still retain the individuality that helps to engage them.

Furthermore, a major component of the Showcase Portfolio process is that the students have to present their portfolio to an audience.  This is usually their crew teacher and their parents.  However, some students choose to present to a panel of school administrators, city government, and school visitors.  I think that the wiki will allow a much broader audience compared to traditional three-ringed binder or Noteshare portfolios.  Hopefully, the knowledge that their portfolio could be viewed by anyone will “up the ante” for some kids and improve engagement.

Lastly, the online nature of the wiki will allow students within my homeroom to examine each other’s work and to comment on the progress and ideas of their peers. Also, since this is a year long process, the wiki will allow students to easily update their entries.

The benefits of one step back

In his post “Ready To Go” from Web 2.0 In The Classroom, JBlack reflects on the  experience of quitting web 2.0 “cold turkey.”  It is interesting that in his return to nature, JBlack was able to gain perspective on his technology instruction.  Maybe this is just a plug to those people who whine that “teachers don’t have to work in the summer,” but the ability to step back from your profession and reflect on other things surrounding you is a good thing.  Ultimately, it makes you able to connect the world around you to your content.  And, after all, isn’t that what teachers are supposed to do?

In another cautious tale of “Web 2.Overload”, Will Richardson, in “What I hate about Twitter” on Weblogg-ed, talks about how new technology can suck in users and morph into something its not.  He discusses how people are using Twitter for things it wasn’t intended.  For example, while it was designed for short messages, people are posting hour long presentations by snipping the files into tiny bits.  It’s not without irony that Richardson longs for the good-old-days when people blogged more and read more…the frontier days before Twitter condensed conversations and thoughts into take-home sized morsels.  I wonder what Richardson would say to a “newbie.” Would he want us to stay away from twitter and go “old school” by posting traditional blog posts?

A tasty and del.icio.us classroom

Social bookmarking could be a powerful tool in the classroom. First, as a teacher, I (or my students) often come across websites and I want to save the url. Other times a teacher finds something I may be interested in and they slide me their laptop during a meeting. However, since I use Safari at school, and Firefox or a PC at home, organizing and compiling links from several machines and programs is difficult and inefficient. Del.icio.us offers the ability to travel with my links and access them wherever I need (and, should the Apple gods descend upon me someday with a pearly white and stainless steel iPhone blessing, delicious will certainly be helpful.)

While del.icio.us can help me with my own reasearch and lesson planning, I can also see how it would be a helpful tool for students. I could bundle links for my students into lessons and units. Furthermore, I could tag each entry with keywords from a unit, so if a student has a question, they could sift through tags to find the answer that they need.

At the risk of blurting out some dreaded educational jargon, one of the most exciting things that del.icio.us offers is the chance for students to engage in a little bit of metacognition (that never hurt anyone, did it?) If I set up a class del.icio.us account, then students could author their own social bookmark list. In groups, they could investigate a website and summarize its “take home message” and “point of view” in the “notes” field on del.icio.us. Then, they could tag the entry with key words. Both the notes and tags are valuable summarizing activities. After some serious front-loading on website evaluation, students could even rate the quality of websites. As a class, we could establish “quality” tags such as: “reliable” “questionable” or “whaky!” Then, students could tag each bookmark with one “quality” word. When searching back through their sites, students could first select those sites that are tagged with a particular subject. Then, they could select a secondary “quality” tag.

I teach a large unit on alternative energy. Students pick one type of renewable energy and then write a persuasive essay about its benefits or drawbacks. As students research independently, they could add appropriate websites to the class del.icio.us list. They would follow both the note and tag protocol as well as rate the quality of the sites. Then, as other students in other classes attempt to research the same type of renewable energy, they would have at their disposal a list of websites compiled by their peers.

It will be interesting to see how my students handle learning about “tagging.” My guess is it won’t be too much of a stretch, since YouTube videos and online photo galleries use tags.

NETS for Teachers

For the past few years, our teaching team (and building) has struggled with creating a meaningful and engaging portfolio process for eighth graders.  While students come to the eighth grade with a massive quantity of digital and hand done work, it is difficult to have the students distill this catalogue into  something representative of their experience at the school.

The NETS for teachers say that teachers should “design and develop digital-age learning experience and assessments.”  One such digital assessment that could have a significant impact on our students’ learning and metacognitive skills could be for them to create, maintain, and update a digital portfolio.  As Richardson suggests in his book, a Blog would be an appropriate online tool for such a portfolio.

I hope to use my time in this class to create a sample and template for our “showcase portfolio.”  When doing a tradtional paper-binder portfolio, the students often have a hard time thinking about their work — they just want to shove it all in a folder.  I’m hoping that the engaging and organized environment of a blog will help to ameliorate these problems.