4-D-1 Wikis in the Classroom

Literature circles are empowering to readers because they are authentic student driven book talks. Virtual literature circles can occur using a wiki that are as impressive as face to face small groups. This week I had the chance to visit the wilsonlitcircles to see how a group of students share ideas and new thinking about books they have read and digested. I was very impressed. Virtual literature circles are something I had made a plan to do and then got sidetracked with other school responsibilities. This year I intend to try them. Students in virtual literature circle wikis have opportunities to have virtual discussions and practice varied comprehension techniques. Communication skills are sharpened as students use supporting evidence and explain inferences and connections. Writing skills are also put to good use. Because of the small group format, an intimate learning network is formed as students are propelled forward in the book and community is built around the week’s reading.

The virtual literature circle has some advantages over a face-to-face literature circle. The need to use paper to complete role sheets is eliminated because ideas and thinking can be expressed in the wiki. This of course saves paper. It eliminates the student cries of I cannot find my work. There are no more excuses of I left it home, or my younger sibling ruined it, or even my mom spilled coffee all over it. Students can work from home and at school. Considering the number of days and hours missed because of inclement weather this is a big advantage over face to face groups. Everyone can complete work and move forward if work is entered into the wiki even if a group member is absent. Students do not miss out because there is an archive of the work.
As teachers circulate around the room it is hard to know if work is being accomplished when multiple discussions are happening at once. Sometimes teachers cannot tell if some students are quiet while others dominate the discussions. Virtual wikis can help identify exactly who contributes what in the group. The wiki becomes a collaborative workspace and students have chances to see models of completed role sheets and see ideas written down, not just spoken. There can be many authentic examples for students of reading concepts they are studying such as connections, thick and thin questions, and inferences.

At the end of the discussion group, there is physical evidence of the work completed in the wiki to share with others. This work can be part of a portfolio. The wiki work can be shared with classmates, family and the world. Some wiki users do not make the wikis public until after all the work is finished. Literature circle wikis can be informative to students and serve as book recommendation sources, as well. All that is needed to get the virtual literature circles off to a good start (explanations, directions, tips for setting up links like author interviews and biographies) can be housed on pages of the wiki. Another impressive virtual lit circle I viewed this week is available for you to check out here.

Are you ready to change your face-to-face literature circle into a virtual one? What do you think the drawbacks will be? Comment about your experiences with virtual lit circles in wikis.

I will use social bookmarking. I will use social bookmarking. I will use social bookmarking…..

Why will I use social bookmarking? Well, now that my enthusiasm is coming back for organizing and storing resources in the cloud, no, it’s not just the caffeine talking, but the relaxing atmosphere and the arousing aroma of coffee beans at Starbucks does help me get into a “I can do it” mood, it’s because I made a plan. I’m excited about this plan because it is a collaborative one. Next year, I will work with the specials teachers at my school to help plan curriculum and document the work in a professional learning community. The school is a small one, about 145 or so students from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade. Most of our specials teachers are a department of one. Most are part-time teachers or individuals who have more than one responsibility in the school. Some teach Lower and Middle School students and some only teach one division. I volunteered for this assignment because these folks are fabulous, creative workers and thinkers. Besides, our recertification team will arrive in about three years and I want to start out with a slow jog not a running start.

I am certain that if we form a Diigo Group we will be able to help each other by suggesting materials to enhance our practices. I love the fact that it is so easy to add items and share them. I like that there are multiple tags because we do a lot of integrated lessons and thematic units. We can develop a folksonomy. We will be able to develop a sound system of organization for our resources and use them for a framework to show evidence of curriculum planning. Sometimes, because of our schedules, we do not get to share worthy resources with each other. Using social bookmarking, we will be able to enter resources and access them from where we are. Now that’s convenience. Many of us carry multiple bags around stuffed with any number of books and papers. We are trying to be a “greener” campus and Diigo can help us achieve this. Yes, we can save trees, people. Another thing I appreciate about social bookmarking is that we are able to write why we think the resource is worthy and suggest how to use it.

First, I will create a Diigo Group. For now, it will be a private group only for invited teachers from my school who teach a special discipline like art, music, Spanish, library, computer, P.E., etc. Next, I will hold a meeting explaining how to use Diigo and show my account via the Smartboard. I know the teachers will be excited. All the teachers have iPads so installing the free app will be a piece of cake. I am sure they will want to use the educators upgrade since we all do research projects with our students and it will be easy to create a custom group of resources for their use based on reading levels, interests and specific disciplines. The primary use for the Group the first trimester will be for teachers to put in, tag, and comment on the resources. Finally, at our first in-service, we will meet to see how it is going. I will be the contact person to check on the progress of individuals and encourage use. During the coming school year, we will study the continent of Asia so we even have a common thread to start. It is my hope that by using social bookmarking we will have a way to connect even if our schedules do not always coincide.

NetVibes: Neat, Nifty and Noteworthy

Okay, Gang. Time for you to get publicly connected with NetVibes. I did. Check out  the resources I use and suggest more.  I absolutely love the wealth of language arts ideas, lessons and interactives I find on Read Write Think and now I have them all in one spot. For years my students spread their love for and  excitement of Calvin and Hobbes and now I have a link to the current ones. Math, science, local news…Yup, you’ll find all types of appealing resources if you check out my public page. It was so easy to create and I am just getting started. You know you’ve gotta get one, too! Visit my page and tell me about yours.


Assignment #3-B-2 Speak to Me, Universe. Please….


Using RSS is not a new concept for me. I used the now defunct Google Reader and also have a Feedly account. I admit that I acquired these things because I was required to obtain them for classes. It was certainly not because of some overwhelming desire to have blogs and current news sources eagerly awaiting my attention. I signed up for the PLS recommended Old Reader account a few days ago. Did you guess why? Yep, that’s right!  It is a course requirement. I decided I really needed to stop and consider how I could use RSS beyond the confines of a requirement. More importantly, I stopped to ask myself the same question that I have on many occasions when I encounter the same situation again and again, “What is the Universe trying to tell me, now?”

I began to mindlessly enter the class blog list and the required number of new RSS feeds into the Old Reader system as I mindfully sought answers. For some reason I decided to look over information on RSS from one of the previous encounters. When given a choice of readers to use previously, I remember I moved on to Feedly because of difficulty accessing the first one I picked. I needed a break after so much thinking so I grabbed the iPad and headed out the door. A short while later, I sat at my local caffeine establishment and decided to look for a Feedly app for no specific reason. Low and behold there was a super quick and easy download and I was connected to blogs and information that I truly like to read thanks to cloud sync! I realized that when I am on the desktop I am usually completing assignments and requirements for school or work. I try to stay on task so I don’t stray to blogs. When I have stopped to read things in my reader in the past, I have felt guilty.

On the iPad I play games and explore new ideas, mostly. It is sooooo enjoyable. That is what has been missing for me. Joy. My RSS plan is to reconnect to the “stuff” that I love to read because I find new ideas for teaching, learn about new tech tools, get to ask questions and comment on sites I’ve included because of personal interests. I think I have rekindled the spark that I had the first time I saw RSS in Plain English when I learned to “turn the arrows around.” My goal for using RSS is to make it work by really being committed to use it. I am pretty confident this time round because I am associating RSS with play and pleasure. Besides, I take the iPad everywhere. Wi-Fi rocks!

What about you? How do you schedule in time for RSS?

How Do You Eat an Oreo?: Blogging About Math

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One inspirational idea I have for my class next year is math blogging. I have required students to write in composition math journals in the past. I think kid blogging is an awesome method to go forward using 21st century tech tools and skills. Blogging is a fantastic way to get students to explain math thinking, ask questions, and make fabulous authentic connections. While reading Math blogs on http://kidblog.org, I learned about the Oreo Project from Alyssa T.’s blog. If you read the comment I left on Alyssa T.’s blog, you will learn about an estimation project my 4th grade class already does. Next year my students can blog about that project and other math experiences.

A huge benefit of writing about math is that students get to think about how they know what they know then write about it in a way that others understand the strategies and processes they used. Comments help create discussions that assure that students are investigating math ideas and looking at multiple problem solving techniques not seeking only right answers.Remember, effective communication is on the list of survival skills for 21st century learners.

I love the way descriptive writing becomes a natural part of Alyssa’s blog post as she recounts eating the oreo cookie. As I conjured up sensory images of the cookie melting in my mouth, I made a connection to the Mindfulness Eating Unit we do. I am sure you will have your own ideas for integrated units. Take time to check out some of the other math blog posts of Alyssa T. and her classmates to start the juices flowing on how to spice up lessons you currently teach or how to expand on these ideas to create spin offs for new lessons. It’s okay. I understand it might not happen until after you go in search of some cookies to munch as you read!

Gaining Comfort

Last year I learned that I was a digital immigrant. I want to be more comfortable using Web 2.0 tools and lose some of my accent. If my comfort level increases then the comfort level of my students will increase, also. I want to continue to be introduced to tools that other educators have decided are of quality and try them out and evaluate them myself. I am not afraid to try new things and experiment with tech tools. Sometimes, I think fear holds back educators instead of propelling them forward to learn from mistakes and discover new connections and ways of being.

I learn a lot by exploring independently, asking others to show me how to do specific things I know about or see, and figuring out how to do something if I learn about it virtually. For example, I never learned how to thread a sewing machine in a consumer science course as a child. When I finally decided to give my sofa a makeover, I consulted YouTube for step-by step directions to make a cover. Of course that meant needing to use the sewing machine and learning to thread it! YouTube has also taught me how to replace an outdated electrical outlet and repair both my lawn mower and heater!

I want students to be able to not only access the Web for information but to also post information, opinions, responses and questions. It is my desire to help them to connect in ways that we have not even thought about, yet! And maybe someone who yearns to do a craft project or simple repair can learn a thing or two by using Web 2.0 tools, also!

Seasoned Teaching

I am a life-long learner. Sometimes, my learning is independent, like when I read books and surf the web for ideas to spice up lesson plans. I also attend workshops and conferences on all matter of subjects each time school is on a hiatus. Then there are the “for credit” courses I have experienced during my long teaching career and the many F2F and online trainings. Yes, I am sure the picture is coming in clearer. There really is no such thing as a summer off for this teacher! In fact, learning continues during holiday breaks, weekends and even a lot of times after school.

Why do I do this? I want to stay on the cutting edge of my teaching practice. I refuse to be the older teacher who dusts off the monthly folder of lessons and activities to teach the same thing year after year. I want my students engaged, and truthfully, I might start to nod off during the lesson myself, if I do not keep my practice alive and refreshed with new ideas. This time the focus is on technology.

I have been introduced to various Web 2.0 tools in the past and have enjoyed the smorgasbord of offerings. Staff meetings at school have included time to explore tech tools and “play” with apps and programs. Now, it is time to get serious and figure out what kinds of tech I feel an affinity towards and what can work in my class. This summer I am learning how to be a more connected educator with the help of an online community of learners.

Leave a comment on ways you stay “seasoned” and tell me about “Must Haves” for the connected classroom! I am all ears.