13 May 2009

Creative Commons License

Last week, @wmchamberlain tweeted:

I had a general idea of what creative commons was about due to my hours of listening to NPR, but wondered what the license actually stated. After checking out Mr. C's classroom blog (quite an amazing place, I caught the tail end of a live Ustreamed Science lab a few weeks back), I got the link to the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

I felt like the license described my philosophy, both in education and in life: share. I enjoy offering ideas and am excited to share what I'm thinking in the hopes that someone will in return share their thoughts. It's also how I encourage my students to learn from each other.

So, if something in one of my random posts happens to get you thinking, please feel free to use it. Then, do us all a favor, and share your thoughts. Share and share alike.

05 May 2009

An Experiment: Using Wikis in Moodle with Literature Circles

[This is another reply to a question I posted on the Elementary Teachers - English Companion Ning.]

A few months ago, I wrote about a few different things that I wanted to try in my classroom in regards to exposing my students to the 21st Century Literacies. Last week I was doing some personal learning using 21st Century Literacies and experimenting with my students. I'd like to share some of my thinking, learning, and experimenting in the hopes that we can potentially put many minds together and see where this could take our students. This reply possibly belongs in the technology section of the Ning, but I am not as tech savvy as many that are out there and believe that many of us classroom teachers could pull this off with a little time and trial and error.

One of the things that I wanted to try this school year was having my 4th grade students create a wiki. I had talked to a high school teacher in my district who was using pbwiki.com, but the free version only allowed for one user name which her whole class shared. Then a week or so ago, I was on Twitter and @lasic, an Ed Tech in Australia, shared a link to a video he had created about using Moodle. [Moodle is free software, read more about it. Talk to your local tech person about getting you set up! :>)] I pulled up the video on YouTube and while I watched it I created a wiki within Moodle.

Part of the focus in our Reading Workshop for the week was Literature Circles. My students chose books on Monday and I asked them to finish by Friday. It was a tall order, and two of the groups with longer books had to discuss on the following Monday. Yet, they were motivated to dig in to their new books and have the opportunity to discuss them with their classmates on Friday. I knew that in order for their face-to-face discussions to go well, they would need an opportunity to work with the books during the week. This is where I saw my opportunity to use the wikis in Moodle.

On Tuesday, I explained to them in general terms how wikis work and that their group of five students would be working together to create a wiki that included a list of the characters with brief descriptions, a summary of what they had read so far, and what they felt was the theme with evidence from the text. As they read during workshop time and at home that night, they began to make notes in their response logs about what they would add to their group's wiki the following day. The following day, we spent 40 minutes in the computer lab explaining how to use a wiki and allowing them to get started. As a wiki only allows one person to edit at a time, I created separate discussion groups for them to discuss their books while they waited for their group member to finish editing. We had used the discussion (forum) feature of Moodle before, so they knew how to post questions and respond to their classmates. As Moodle allowed me to set up groups based upon the book they were reading, each student was only allowed to edit their own group's wiki and post in their book's discussion group. They could, however, view the other groups' wikis and discussions. We worked for another 45 minutes on Thursday and while they didn't finish their wikis or discussions, I believe they were better prepared for their face-to-face discussions on Friday because of the time spent thinking and working during the week.

If you'd like to take a look at the wikis they created (remember, the goal wasn't the product this week, they certainly are not final drafts), you're welcome to log in to our Moodle course as a guest. Use the enrollment key "path" to get in. Unfortunately, as I can't assign the guest to a particular book, you won't be able to view their discussions. It will tell you there hasn't been one started, but they're really just hidden.

Reflections... Could this same work have been achieved with a notebook and pencil? Sure. Would they have been as motivated to do it? Maybe, maybe not. Did they experience a little of what it means to collaborate using technology? Yes. Did I learn how to set up wikis within Moodle for projects next year? Yes. Did I share with my students how I used the 21st Century Literacies in my own learning how to set this up? Yes. All in all, a pretty good experiment.

02 May 2009

On Being Connected

Last week I joined my students in an attempt to remain screen free with the exception of work-related computer use. For the first 24 hours, it felt great to be disconnected -- like I had one less responsibility during the day. However, by Wednesday (day 3) it was feeling strange and after a colleague started a conversation about Twitter during morning recess I began to slide back into Twittering from time to time.

Staying away from the computer the rest of the week was a challenge and I would hop online for 15 minutes here or there, but I tried to remain committed to my promise to my students. It wasn't until the weekend when I sat down to peruse the 175 or so posts on my Reader that I realized what I was missing, connection.

In the past, I've held the opinion that connections, maybe relationships is a better word, could not be developed online. I felt they had to be developed in person first, then they could be maintained online. My participation in screen free week changed that opinion.

When I finally opened up my Reader it was like walking into a room full of great conversations that I had been missing out on, like I had shown up to the party late. As I read through the posts from the week, it was as if I could hear the authors' voices in my head. The voices of Will, Karl, Mary Lee and Franki, Kevin, Cole, and many others (too many to link) who fill my Reader with great thinking each week. I will probably never meet these folks face to face, but they have become a part of my professional community that challenges my thinking and helps me to see the great potential that exists within the walls of my classroom everyday.

[As I side note, it is interesting how connected one can be these days. I am writing this post from my in-laws' cabin in the northwoods of Michigan where even here there is wireless...]