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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Dear Tom Part 2: Let's talk about Wikis and Blogs



Tom Harrison has sent me another email.  (See our first email conversation about wikis.)  We laughed about nicknames -- I thought it was ironic that his name is tom and I'm "cool cat."  (i.e. TomCat - he is called "biogeek" where is from - sounds like he named his blog already!)

Something about the way he asks questions and shares what he is doing gets me to writing, and so I'm sharing the next in our series of "letters."  To me, Tom represents all that is good in a veteran teacher who is beginning to learn to use these tools.  he's open, thorough, works on it on the weekends, and asks questions of others.  He teaches and he's teachable and ultimately he makes the best decision for his classes based upon what he knows.

I hope top will start blogging soon... oh actually, I realize, he already has.  See our letters below - my remarks are in blue:

"
Vicki,
Thanks for the follow-up.  I have been working hard and you have helped tremendously.  So far I have created wikispaces for each class.  I have registered every student to their appropriate wikispace.  Right now I am putting together the list of assignments and creating the templates.  Over the weekend I am recruiting my wife to act as a student and make sure everything works.  If I feel truly brave I may email you the link and have you check out what I have done.  I want to make sure things work first though!

You are so right to test things, just remember that nothing is 100% and that when you try it with students that the first lesson is ALWAYS the worst and most frustrating.  I go ahead and tell them that they will have "wiki wars" right off the bat AND I LET IT HAPPEN.  Then, I show them how they can copy and paste out of the history.  The trick to doing this well is that you just do text at the beginning, not photographs or videos (which would require you to go into wikitext to copy the changes -- something that just sends beginners into orbit! Stay out of wikitext with your beginners!)

Great work!

Please email the link and share it but remember this -- a wiki is a work in progress - it is never perfect -- and student work represents from F - A. 
I will check out the blog post later on today.  I was reading your blog last night and came upon the sites you mentioned for flashcards (proprofs) and the classtools site.  Have you been successful with having students create activities and use them as projects for posting?  I was intrigued with the idea and plan to present them to students to see what they can do with them.

I have a homeroom and my daughter is in the class (7th grade).  I've made a private wiki and when she and I make "games" to study on Classtools.net, I've taught her how to embed the games and let the other students play them.  I've found that many of the boys are doing a lot better on their tests (from what the teachers are saying) and I let them play the games in homeroom to study.  Interestingly, I haven't taught the students how to wiki and have never taught them, they are just learning it on their own.

  Making video games to study is one of the best things I've seen for test review, especially for boys.  Interestingly, I have found that many of my girls make flash cards and boys make video games, although this is not always the case. 
Well, time to start teaching.  I will consider the blogging idea a bit more seriously.  The really big issue is time.  When do you sleep?

 I think for me that I have to view blogging as "sharing" and also documenting it for myself.  I often go back and look up things on my own blog.  If I set out to "write a blog post" I get a total mental block and cannot do it.  However, if I set out to "share something cool" or "give my opinion" or "try to right a wrong that I see," then it flows out.   And really, you've just been blogging here with me and you can take these first two "blog posts" and share it on you. 

I like to work with people who blog because I can look and see where they are coming from.  It gives me a window into their thoughts and I feel like I can trust them when I know this!  So, you don't have to blog a lot.

Also, I do anything I can to automate.  ONe of my powerblogging tools is Diigo. They have a cool link to post feature and everything that I tag "education" goes to Cool Cat Teacher.  Everything I tag "ad4dcss" goes to the Advocates for Digital Citizenship Safety and Success Blog.  Then, each day it rounds up all of those links and posts them to my blog for me!  I used to have to do it through feedburner, but now it goes onto my blog.  It is a fast easy way to share because it is through bookmarking which I do anyway.

Also, I often "blog ahead" and will take Saturday and write 5-8 blog posts and schedule them ahead of time.  My Diigo posts at around 4:30 am and my blog posts usually around 7 am.  I do this to prevent the misunderstanding that I blog at work, which I don't.  I could set it to post at any time, though, and if an event is coming, often schedule it to post on the day of the event.

Also about blogging is keeping priority.  If you don't run something, it runs you.  I am a human who blogs not a blogger who humans.  My God is first.  I have my life, my children, and my family and they are SECOND.  My classroom and students they have to be THIRD.  And then, this other great stuff, this is part of my professional career and also my belief in sharing and helping others -- it has to come a distant FOURTH. 

It is about keeping the Main thing the Main thing.  And when I get my eyes off the main thing and start going on bunny trails about stats or readers or anything that will give me a swelled head and get my focus off what is important... life becomes really hard because it is a pathway to selfishness.  Blogging is not about me, it is about sharing and helping others and living a real life and sharing what happens in a real classroom.  It is not about using it as an entree to "get out" of the classroom but about getting the bumps, bruises, and best practices out of my classroom to share and compare with others who more often teach me far more than I teach them.

Thanks for the great questions and I hope we can keep "chatting" and sharing.  Sometimes having questions like this from someone who is transparent about what they are doing like yourself helps me share in better ways.  Thank you for taking the time to email! 
Thanks so much for all your help!
Tom"
 Let me know if you like the format of having people post questions and sharing the answers.  If it helps you, particularly if you are a "beginner," I'd like to do more!
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