I think I've found a new love! While looking for something to use over the summer for blogging (that requires less maintenance on my part than class blogmeister), one of the classblogmeister forum participants recommended think.com.
Think.com is a free service for schools sponsored by Oracle. It has a whole range of interactive tools that are so very easy for students (and me) to use!
Strict Authentication gives protection to students
This is the part I like best, Oracle has a rigorous authentication process and a contract that the principal or lead administrator must sign about the school's use of their think.com account. I've been working on this for around four weeks now (it could take less time, but it is crazy right now.) The contract is extensive and requires a lead administrator's signature to execute. After spending a day setting it up and training students, it is worth every second!
In a world gone crazy over profiles and social software, this is the safest forum I could find
The Literature teachers and I will be using this to encourage writing over the summer.
How will we use this?
Students who do not read and write over the summer go "backwards." That is why so many schools are taking stabs at year long schooling. We have resisted that trend at our school here and I see think.com as a forum where I can encourage intuitive learning on topics.
In my first entry, I asked an open ended question and expect them to research and answer the question. I'm using my last week to familiarize my classes with Think.com and giving several assignments on there. (I take grades until the day before school gets out! Time is too short to waste a day!)
Think.com is so fun that they are excited. I'm requiring 10 entries, but many of them expect to do so many more. I will have topics for their posts and have covered my expectations for their behavior (and privacy) online.
Introduction of key concepts
I have thirty vocabulary words each year for each class that I emphasize. This is a technique emphasized by our curriculum director and it works very well. (I still have many more but we keep coming back to these thirty.) I will use these entries to explore ten of these words that I've designated for each class. (One word for each post.)
How do I get started on think.com?
If you want to use think.com, just go to www.think.com and click Enroll now. You will then be given a temporary password and information to use.
Think.com will give you a temporary username and password for your students as well.
Student set up
For students to activate their accounts tell them to:
1) Go to www.think.com
2) Give them the temporary username and password for your school.
3) Have them set up their information.
Then, you must add them to your school.
1) Go to www.think.com
2) Log in with your username and password.
3) Click on "Admin Tools" in the top right corner.
4) click on Manage Accounts (on the orange bar on the left of the page.)
5) Click on "Student Account Requests"
6) Check the students you wish to approve and click "Approve."
Add them to your class (if you're a teacher.)
You can then go add them to classes by clicking on "My Class", and clicking on "My Students" in the orange bar.
Remember, you can add other teachers to your school so you don't have to set things up twice. If you're the administrator, just go to Admin tools --> Manage Accounts --> Add Teachers.
You will then printout a username and password for the teachers you wish to add!
This is so easy and great! Once you're in, try to write something by clicking the write button. If you want to interact, then click the interact button. There you can do polls, post debates, post topics that will allow students to interact like on a message board.
Remember, that you can just allow your students to participate or you can open it up to anyone on think.com by clicking on "Edit Page Info" when you are looking at your page.
I think this is an excellent and safe tool (and did I say free, Oh, I think I did say FREE, but I just love FREE!)
I will still check the postings on think.com but I don't feel that I will have to watch it as closely because I'm not moderating every post and the world is not looking at their work. They will have a purpose and they will be writing (and learning.)
Engage them with new tools!
If it is engaging and exciting and gets them to talk about a subject in the summer, it should be done. I often wonder why parents (and teachers) automatically suspect anything that is fun. I happen to think learning is fun. I've always loved to learn! This helps engage those students who don't have that innate desire to learn.