Why I Think Wikis are Way Cool

I recently made the observation that my children gravitate toward digital games like Oregon Trail and others that allow users to build their own “worlds.” I asked them what they like most about these games, and their replies were as such:

I like that you can build things.

I like that you can move around and do things.

I like that you can move everywhere.

It seems the essence of what they enjoy about these games can be distilled to two big ideas: FREEDOM and WORK.

How can those two words be in the same sentence, you say? I scratch my head on this one as well, but it seems to clarify some things for me. I personally enjoy the same things my children enjoy. I like the freedom to work as I think I ought to work. Don’t get me wrong. I am not espousing that all employers should blow the lid off of any company regulation. Neither am I encouraging teachers to allow a free-for-all environment in their classrooms. That can only end in disaster.

What I am suggesting is that students want their own “world” in which they can “move around” and “build things.” Children, just like adults, respond to the freedom to express themselves. They also respond well to teachers who trust them until there is reason not to trust.

Risky, huh? It is. But I know from my own experience that when I fostered this type of environment, the students appreciated it, and I was exhausted, but thrilled at the end of the day. This setting revitalized me as a teacher.

So what am I trying to say? A few things…

1) The technology we have at our fingertips today (infused into our teaching practice) affords us with some amazing opportunities to enrich the lives of our students, and to rejuvenate ourselves in the process.

2) Since children like to “build things,” and respond to the teacher who allows them the freedom to build, I suggest that wikis and blogs should be used regularly in the classroom.

3) I understand that embracing this shift away from traditional teaching is something that mandates plenty of up-front time investment, but that there is a rewarding pay-off in the end. If you make this jump, your students will thank you, and you will be encouraged.

I spent 18 years as a classroom teacher, and I had many varied experiences in this capacity. I grew as a teacher alongside technology as it grew to become what it is today. I left the classroom at the beginning of this school year to become an instructional technology specialist. Had I stayed in the classroom, I would have jumped right into the extensive use of wikis and blogs in education. I dreamed of maintaining a class wiki in which a growing body of knowledge would enrich the lives of my students for many years. The idea of community intrigued me. I hope you are intrigued as well.

Some resources:

The Definition of a Wiki

Free Wikispaces for Educators

PB Works for Educators

Zoho

Mediawiki – for the true geek in you

Ideas:

mrcloudsclass.com – my former web site

https://podcast1.neisd.net/users/dcloud1/ – my former, former blog

Ideas for Using Wikis in Education

Wikis in the Classroom

Using Wikis in the Classroom – YouTube Video

Do You Have 5 Minutes?

Ok.Ok. The question about how much time you have is getting old. But I decided to run with it. I was directed to a site that is new to me today. The site goes by the name of World-Shaker, and the focus is mainly on social media and education. The link is here.

What caught my attention above all of the other great content, is the section called “My Favorite Teacher.” I can easily answer the question, “Who was your favorite teacher?” and it only took me about 5 minutes to write the following description of him to submit it to World-Shaker and add to the growing collection of essays about great educators. I think you should take the time as well.

My favorite teacher in all my years of learning has been Dr. Rodgers. He was my Botany teacher at the University of North Texas circa 1988 (yes, I’m old). He began the year welcoming us to Dr. Rodgers’ neighborhood, and continued the theme when he would pass around his daily “guests” (plants that decided to “visit” us during our lecture.

As the “guests” were passed from hand to hand, Dr. Rodgers would share fascinating details (I’m not being sarcastic, here). The good doctor would tell why this particular plant or that particular plant was a vital part of our ecosystem, how it had been used by humans through the ages, and what uses for the plant might surface in the future.

I learned something profound from every lecture. In fact, Dr. Rodgers had a way of making me feel like the lecture hall full of many people was really a family room where important discussions were had. I wonder if any of his former students feel the way that I do about his teaching style, and how it changed the way I approached my craft as an educator.

Thanks to Dr. Rodgers for making a difference!

Blog vs. Wiki

I have gone around and around with this. I have been wrestling myself over which medium to use, and I think I have come to an answer. As with most of these types of questions, the answer often ends with “both.”

And so it is. I have come to a peaceful conclusion. My blog will serve as the forum for ranting and raving and exposition of something great and new and earthshaking, while the wiki will serve as a repository, or even my place for scribbling in the sand. I like how I can brainstorm real quickly in a wiki and then leave it for another time.

I’m glad I came to this conclusion!

You’re welcome to go to my wiki and have a look around. Everything is new and fresh, and you can still smell the paint on the walls, but go for it.

The address is as follows:

http://mrcloudsclass.com/techwiki/

Cars With Wooden Bumpers

Cars with wooden bumpers intrigue me. I am amazed at several things in this regard. The fact that someone would consider such a proposition in the first place is pretty cool to me. And then that someone would give such a thought flesh and bones is another thing entirely. I like the fact that someone brought an idea to life that others might deem impossible, or at best, useless.

I hope to do the same in my craft. I am always seeking to make possible the things that myself or others at first shrug off as a worthless endeavor. I have enjoyed looking at tech resources lately that make me scratch my head as to how to make them useful in the classroom setting. Specifically, I have been trying to look at Web 2.0 resources that logically lend themselves well to ELA instruction, but that could be used in the Math classroom. I am trying to construct a wooden bumper.

Here are some thoughts…

Holt Interactive Graphic Organizers

Now here’s one that we would not normally think of as a math resource. This site offers many fillable, save-able and printable graphic organizers. Perhaps you would have students use a particular organizer to map their thinking about a math operation you’ve recently studied. Or maybe you could present students with word problems, and ask them to use a graphic organizer to analyze the problem. You could even use a sequence chart to have students teach others the order of operations or the correct sequence for solving one problem or another. This is a great way to stretch students’ thinking and integrate math and ELA.

Popplet

This is another site that is usually not the first choice for math teachers. Popplet allows the user to make “popples” which are little boxes that can be filled with text or pictures. Here’s a picture of an example:

This popplet obviously deals with an historical topic, but you could easily use this format to have students outline different math concepts. The students could use Popplet to take notes about geometric shapes (including pictures), a sample problem that was solved in class, or they could even use a different popple to represent a different part of an equation.

One of the neat things about Popplet is that the popples can be shared with others. Users can generate a link to the popple, or an embed code can be retrieved, allowing integration  with a web site. Of course, emailing the popple is also an option.

Today’s Meet

Today’s Meet is another resource that has potential in the math class. This site allows for users to login to a created online room in which thoughts may be shared and questions may be posed. The transcript of conversation can be preserved and revisited for up to a year. Users may also print the record of the forum. There’s no reason why math teachers couldn’t post a problem on Today’s Meet in anticipation of students giving input on how to solve the problem as well as giving the answer itself. This would be another way to encourage dialogue and writing in the math class. Go Soap Box is another site that functions similarly to Today’s Meet, but offers more bells and whistles. I think it’s possible to build bumpers out of plastic wrap there.

So this is part one of a thought I’d like to continue sometime soon. Stay tuned.

 

SMART, Web 2.0, and iPads, Oh My!

Below is the description of my teaching experience today. I taught a lesson with Marguerite Kane at Nimitz Middle School.

We continued today with a lesson about animal adaptations, and our focus was the Tasmanian Devil. We presented some video and pictures of the Tasmanian Devil via SMART Notebook, and we handed each student an iPad, and asked them to visit Today’s Meet at the following address: Today’s Meet

Hint: you’ll have to type tasmaniandevil in the blue box and press enter to see the room we created.

Today’s Meet is a site that allows the user to create a room for discussion and invite others to collaborate with them. You can follow the link above to see what our discussion looked like. The students absolutely loved being able to type in a response, and see it appear on the screen.

Then we had each student bring up the iPad and take a picture of a Tasmanian Devil that was projected on the screen. Once they had the picture, they were asked to open it in a free app called Educreations Interactive Whiteboard, and write about it. If we hadn’t run out of time, we would have asked the students to record their thoughts in Educreations, as it is also a screen and voice recorder. Maybe next time.

Overall, the students were extremely engaged, and the teachers were excited to see their reactions.

Great day!

A Twist on Math Instruction

Math has not always been my favorite. I’m sorry to admit to this, but I am just being honest. Today, my opinion may have changed, though. I attribute the change to the way I taught math today. If I must teach math, then give me an iPad!

I had a lot of fun teaching math today. Did I just write those words? I was charged with the task of reviewing the addition and subtraction of mixed numbers, and I turned to a few pretty cool apps to help me achieve this. Educreations Interactive Whiteboard, Airboard, and Sketchpad 3 – Unlimited Canvas are the apps.

I began the lesson with Educreations Interactive Whiteboard to display a few types of problems that the students would encounter. I prepared the videos on the app prior to the lesson, and then connected my iPad to the video and audio connections of the projector. I played the lesson, and stopped the video at critical points for discussion. I think the video engaged the students more than my regular presentation of the topic would have.

Then I presented some word problems using a Keynote slide show that I had converted to PDF and dropped into Dropbox so I could retrieve it and display it on my iPad (I don’t have Keynote on my iPad, but the PDF worked rather well).

I asked the students to solve the problem using either Sketchpad 3 or Educreations Interactive Whiteboard. I continued this pattern for several problems. The students would solve the problems themselves on their own iPads, and then I or another student would solve the problem in front of the class on my iPad to ensure understanding.

Finally, I introduced the class to Airboard by creating a session, and asking each student to join the session with their iPads. Of course, I let the students play with the app a bit. It’s pretty cool how numerous iPads can join a session and how each person can make their input on the same session. It can also get pretty messy in a hurry without some parameters.

After this, I cleared the session, and set up a new problem on my iPad (still in Airboard), and began to ask questions about how to solve it. As input came from the students, I asked them to write their input for all to see. It seemed like a powerful thing – each student (if they chose) had a voice, and could contribute in turn, to the solution of the problem. I hope to use Airboard much more in this type of instruction!

I’ll say it once more…if I must teach math, then give me an iPad.

 

 

Start Flipping Those Pages

Page Flip Flap is a neat site that I just discovered. This site offers a free service in which the user may upload a doc and have it converted to an online book. Here is the description given on the site:

Transform your doc, pdf, word, movie into an interactive flipbook. It’s very easy: upload your file and you will receive an email with the url to your creation. You can share this with your friend, family… by email, on your blog, on facebook or twitter.

Here is a link you can follow to see the results of a PDF I uploaded today:

http://www.pageflip-flap.com/read?r=PWYxJG9QSEimhqT

The process is painless and quick (I uploaded and received an email with the link and embedding code within 3 minutes).

I can see this as a great way to organize instruction. Here are some of my thoughts about bringing this tool into the classroom:

  1. The teacher compiles information he/she wishes to share with the class into a Word or PDF file, and then converts it to a flip book for use in a lesson.
  2. Students collaborate on a research project, and store their findings in a document. The doc is converted to a flip book, and then all the data becomes searchable, so students can use the book to make another doc for presentation that will then be converted into a book to share with the class.
  3. Elementary students create their own flippable story book using pictures they illustrate and words they author. This could be done first in PPT, and then converted to a flipbook. The students would be able to access the link from home to share with family.

Here are a few of the capabilities this program offers the user:

  1. Search for a keyword in the document
  2. Print any page in the document
  3. Zoom
  4. Flip pages (sounds like pages turning)
  5. Full screen
  6. View thumbnails of your document’s pages

I think this is a useful site for teachers and students. Let me know what you think.