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

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/

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.

 

The Answer

I have had this question rumbling around in my mind lately. “How can I use Simplenote for classroom instruction?” I have scratched my head again and again during the last few days. Then I decided to get more brains involved.

I asked my family to help me with this question. First, I described the Simplenote program to them. I told them the following information about Simplenote:

  • Simplenote is a place where you can keep your notes online.
  • Simplenote is also available in app form for iPhones, iPads, etc.
  • Automatic synchronization occurs whether you are entering notes on your PC or mobile device.
  • Simplenote is free.

The brainstorming session that followed really encouraged me. My family and I had a discussion about the technology involved with Simplenote, and a wonderful list of ideas sprang up. We assumed hypothetically that a teacher would have a Simplenote account opened and displayed on the screen, and that the students in the class would have the SAME Simplenote account opened on their laptops or mobile device. Here is the list of lesson ideas:

  • a KWL chart generated by the students – they type in the note, and they see the synchronization results on the screen, since they are using the same account as the teacher
  • the math teacher poses a math question, and students type in their answer, which then displays on the screen
  • mental math contests
  • collaborative research  –  example: students are studying Abe Lincoln, and they are each given a different aspect of his life to research. They type in the results of their research, and a class discussion follows
  • vocabulary review – the teacher asks for the meaning of a word, and the students type what they think
  • students annotate a poem or other piece of literature – this way, other students benefit from their thoughts
  • students type in what they did this weekend, summer, etc.
  • cloze passages – students type in what they think goes in each blank
  • somebody, wanted, but, so, then
  • flash card answers
  • multiple choice assessments
  • test review
  • quizzes – teachers would turn of projector for this one
  • prewriting ideas
  • teaching outlining
  • teaching note-taking – students get to see other people’s notes

I am hopeful that Simplenote can be used profitably in the classroom. I know there are also many more ways to use this technology in education. Let me know if you use it, and please share your ideas.

 

Addendum – The Simplenote Discussion

So some time has passed since I wrote about the Simplenote/Evernote debate clanging around in my head. Although I refuse to give a definitive cut-and-dried answer regarding my preference as to one more than the other, I will say (for now) I have settled on Simplenote. My decision is based on its simplicity as compared to Evernote’s robust abilities.

I really like the ability to save a web clip, upload a photo, and search text in photos, all in the confines of my personal notes, but I also like just being able to type notes into a simple text file that is searchable by keywords and tags. The simplicity of it all brings me relaxation and satisfaction.

So for now…I am using Simplenote. Case (sort of) closed.

The Burning Question

In the last post, I asked how apps like Simplenote might be used in the classroom. I have given this much thought, and I have some ideas, but I decided to Google the question, and I found some cool stuff.

Here is a link that you might like to check out:

Simplenote and Collaboration in the Classroom

Here is an excerpt from the link above:

To make this work with the students, we developed a lesson to model effective collaboration using Simplenote. We begin by talking to students about how they usually share ideas with one another. Students say that they turn and talk, or talk in their learning groups, or listen to other people when the teacher calls on them. Then we explain that the iPad can give them a new way to share their ideas with one another. Using a document camera and projector, we demonstrate how to create a note in Simplenote. Then, we have a student use another iPad to create a note. Students notice instantly that the student note appears on the teacher’s screen. The teacher then goes in to the student’s note, reads it, reflects on a new idea, and then incorporates that new idea into his or her own note. We explain that the purpose is for everyone to generate ideas about a particular topic, but at the end of class, we want students to be able to share one idea they got from another student’s note. We also make it clear that they can only write in their own note and talk about how it would negatively affect our ability to work together if people don’t follow that rule.

In summary, Simplenote becomes the vehicle for immediate feedback, and thus, collaboration among peers, and from teacher to student or student to teacher. By using a single Simplenote account, a whole classroom begins to build a thought database that anyone in the classroom may access and contribute to.

Whether you are teaching science and are asking students to comment on a recent laboratory experience, or whether you are an English teacher assigning a haiku to each child, and asking students to comment on another’s work, it makes no difference.  It all seems very real-world, and engaging to me. I like it a lot.

I am really excited about the possibilities of using Simplenote in the classroom! Stay tuned.

Personal Note-Taking


OR

If you are like me, your short-term memory fades with each day. Should I be worried? Anyway, I have found a solution for this. I take notes.

My problem with traditional note-taking is that I lose the paper the notes are on, or I get flustered with the amount of notes through which I have to sift just to find the tidbit I seek. Enter digital notes.

I have been using what is called Evernote since March of this year, although I admittedly have not used it enough to praise its abilities or criticize its shortcomings. So I turned to Google to find out more about the program.

Most blogs I read seemed to echo the same thing; Evernote is too clunky. Simplenote is, well, simpler.

I also read a blog post that speaks to the possibilities of both worlds. Basically, Simplenote allows you to send each note you take to an email address, and Evernote gives you a free email address when you sign up. What this means is that you can automatically send each note you type in Simplenote to Evernote. This is a handy feature for those who like the simplicity of Simplenote, and the organization methods of Evernote.

I have been trying this feature today to see if I like it. I’ll let you know. I will say that what I like about taking digital notes is that they are searchable, they sync up with the server when I get online if I add notes while offline, and you can add tags to each note to help with the search feature. I already think I am sold on the idea!

Now the burning question arises…How do we use this in instruction? Glad you asked. I am mulling over that thought as I type. Can I get back to you on that?

I encourage you to try both of these alternatives, and let me know what you think.