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


Mediawiki – for the true geek in you


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

Today’s Meet

I encourage you to visit the site known as Today’s Meet. It is a site where you can host online discussions, and there is no sign up needed. You simply visit the site, name the meeting room, decide how long you would like the conversations to remain, and send out (to desired participants) the URL that is generated when you create the room. The duration options range from 2 hours to 1 year. This way, you, your students, or peers may revisit the discussions you had on a particular day.

Some classroom applications would be to collaborate with other classes within your school or district, or even buddy with a teacher across the country or in another part of the world to participate in discussions related to curriculum.

A helpful resource for ideas about Today’s Meet is Lisa Johnson’s Blog (another ITS).

Be sure to let me know how it goes if you use this in the classroom.




Google Earth and Environmental Changes

I am teaching a lesson this week using Google Earth. The objective I’m trying to hit asks the question, “How have people in San Antonio adapted to or modified their physical environment?”

I decided to use Google Earth to focus on a couple of facts about San Antonio, Texas. We San Antonians really would like it to rain more, and we San Antonians like to dig quarries, and then build things in the hole that is left over after the quarry is spent.

SO…I pinned places in the city to Google Earth, saved a .kmz file, and then dropped the file in the school’s student_shared drive. Once Google Earth was up and running on the students’ computers, I had them click file/open, and navigate to the file to open it. This brought up all my saved places with the informative notes that I had written about each place.

The places I included are Medina Dam and Canyon Dam (both dams that really changed the physical environment around them), Six Flags and San Antonio Zoo (both built in a quarry), and Olmos Dam (a change to the physical environment that PROTECTS the city from floods rather than causing a lake like the other two dams).

We had great discussions about how these things have changed the environment, and about how to navigate around in Google Earth. As a fun highlight, I pointed out that I had pinned their school to Google Earth. I asked them to look at the place where they spend much of their time. I think this lesson went well overall.

Possible extensions?

One of the teachers at this particular school mentioned that a great way to extend this activity would be to ask each student to find a place in Google Earth where they have visited, and then write about the experience they had in this place. I might have to try that sometime.

A side note…

Just yesterday I did not know how to pin places in Google Earth. I asked a fellow ITS, and she gladly explained it to me, and I am so thankful for that. I mention this to give credit where it is due, but also to emphasize the importance of continual learning. I am always glad to learn new things.

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.