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Friday, May 19, 2006

Improving writing using think.com: A four year user talks about her success and how she did it.



Great podcast about think.com from a four year veteran
One of my favorite edubloggers dynamos, Wesley Fryer, commented on my post yesterday about how our school using Think.com for my summer assignments and pointed out his incredible podcast entitled Think.com and Digital Social Networking where he interviewed Cheryl Oakes’, an elementary technology facilitator who has used Think.com in Wells Elementary School in Wells, Maine. Last summer she kept think.com up and saw students using it over the summer.

He has some great show notes which includes Screenshots of the Think.com environment.

Telling the story
This is definitely one of those stories that we need to tell about the positive impact of social networking in schools. Cheryl talks about how the emerging "digital natives" that she is seeing in elementary school has caused the use of tools like think.com to "mushroom" over the past few years.

Observations from Wesley's and Cheryl's podcast

Here are some of the things that most impressed me about Wesley's and Cheryl's great podcast!

Positive things Cheryl has seen online:
  • She has observed great interactions from surveys and writing.
  • She starts very simply. (What is your favorite color, etc.) She talks about how surveys progress and as student results come from around the world from other students which give great opportunities for students to interact and understand people from around the world.
  • She has seen that after students start surveying in basic topics, that their use turns into more academic subjects. (Remember, she is talking about elementary students.)
  • She has seen significant improvements in writing abilities without any degredation into IM speak.
  • She is noticing a fascinating development in poetry writing where students around the world each write a line.

Problems:
Her school has a "no strikes allowed policy." She allows no bullying and in the first year, she had three students lose theirprivilegess and think.com account. She did say that most of the comments were innocuous (on a scale of 1 to 10 she rated them a 1,) three students still lost theirprivilegess. She has seen no one lose their privilegess this year because of their immediate action.

Other Great notes!
  • Wes thinks it is important that kids need to make mistakes when adults are around so that they can get feedback and be steered correctly.
  • Wes also thinks it is so important to leverage the interest that kids have in using social tools to improve their writing.

On Selling the use of think.com to administration
Cheryl has been using think.com for four years! Wow! She had difficulty selling it to administration at first. The explained how limited it was and how easy it was to shut down. She has the children and parents sign an internet use policy. Cheryl has the students sign out their permission form and gives the parent the option to shut down the page after the school experience was done.

Myspace
Cheryl also talks about how she has recently handled myspace questions that have emerged from parent teach conferences and how she addresses the concerns.

Privacy Protection
She also points out the think.com policy of no personal photographs on the site. Cheryl does enforce it (and I do to.) Every photo goes into the review queue and I have to approve them. That is where you stop the use of the photo.

Profanity Protection
She also points out how it handlesinappropriatee words. Students get a notice that they've usedinappropriatee language and the teacher is notified that the student tried to use the word and what the word was. The list is quite long and you can look at it in Think.com if you really want to look at curse words!

Digital Citizenship
They also have a great discussion on digital citizenship. She talks about how students from other countries may seem "rude" when they are typing in English as a second language. She also discusses the differing school calendars between hemispheres.

I love think.com

After a day of working on think.com with my students, they have responded very positively.

If your school is having difficulty with myspace and blogging, this is definitely a way that you can go!
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