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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The most common struggles when introducing wikis in the classroom

Teaching is tough work, I mean, really tough. I've been a business professional, general manager, entrepreneur, and stay at home mom, and the only job tougher than being a teacher is a stay at home mom with toddlers!

The first two-three weeks are difficult because you have to "train" the kids.

Teach them the routines. Teach them the tools. Learn the process.

This is my sixth set of students to have to teach how to wiki and each time, it is the same questions which cause a huge growth in critical thinking ability require a lot of coaching. Here are the most common things I see from the approach of having small teams create a wiki:

Students want to have one student type and the other sit by and watch and both get the same grade.

As much as I love project based learning -- very often, students are not equal contributors in offline projects. Some have just gotten comfortable that their assigned partner will do the job.

This is my theory: if you ask most teachers, they don't pair students with similar strengths (after all, that wouldn't be fair, they say.) So, they pair strong-weak, strongest-weakest, strong-weak. It just seems to be the pattern.

So, when everyone makes a great grade, they pat themselves on the back and say "great project."

However, when one goes to a wiki, you can pair any type of student, and although I like to give a group grade (I always grade via the history tab (via my RSS reader) to determine the level of collaboration. ) If one student bore the brunt of the project, then their grade reflects it. If the other just added punctuation, then their grade reflects that as well.

Technology enables us to measure individual contribution to a group project!

However, it is so difficult to teach this process -- every student has to come up and contribute. AND the stronger students have to stand back and let those who may not be as strong make their own contribution. Sometimes the weaker students want to contribute but may have an overbearing partner!

Wikis basically let you dissect group dynamics and get to what is really happening!

My introductory wiki exercise

I am teaching wikis today to the ninth grade and this was our second day. After another two days, they will have it down, I think in terms of the technology.

You can see the assigned lesson here, but the student work is still definitely in progress. (We have two more days left.)

This is certainly a time of year when I am spending 100% of class time on my feet, coaching, teaching, and encouraging. Praise for great things. ("Everyone look at the __ wiki, they did a great job embedding the photo.") Catching bad habits before they become bad habits. ("I'm telling her/him what to type as we sit here." and "Can't I just copy from the book?")

I can see how someone just starting with wikis would say "I don't have time for this."

However, I can promise you, that if you'll stick it out and then use it consistently that it will work beautifully! And by the end of the year, they will be so engrossed in their projects, they will be autonomous and you can just focus on coaching and moving to a higher level. (Really, the students will be so much more autonomous by their next project, I'll scratch my head and say , "Is this the same class?")

I just have to keep focused on how it will be so I can make it through how it is now!

I give projects that take both students to complete, and the stronger students will be concerned that a "weaker" partner will hurt their grade. That is where I show them the history. They are held accountable for their contribution! I know how much they can do as an individual -- if they do their part, they will receive an appropriate grade.

After receiving this assurance and seeing how meticulous I grade them (and the first wiki I grade extremely meticulously!) -- they will settle down. Usually, they are extremely pleased when we start doing video with their partners artistic/ creative talents and realize that everyone can contribute to the project!

This is great because I think that "academic snobbery" can be as harmful as the "jocks" picking on the scrawny kid in the locker room. No one likes to be looked down upon and everyone has something to contribute!

Students shine when they realize they have something they do very well and having multiple methods of contribution: wiki, blog, podcast, video -- gives everyone a strength.

Teaching past the book.

Students initially want to copy or slightly paraphrase from the book -- they are scared that they will somehow be "wrong" if they trust their understanding. I watch for plagiarism of both the book and the web.

I want them to teach me something. They have to cite sources and look on the Internet to find more resources.

If we're talking about a word and no one knows the meaning -- I tell them to define it using Google (just type define: and then the word) -- and then explain it in their own words.

I want to get students out of the book and into correlating the book and various sources of information with their own knowledge and coming up with meaning. I always say that regurgitation is gross any way you look at it -- don't tell me what the book says, what do you think? And if you don't know, how are you going to find the answer? What can you do to find out the answer? Make it make sense. Be able to explain it.

Can I have fun?

Today, I had the question I always get at the beginning, one student wanted to post a photo and the other said it wasn't "serious" enough. Their question was "Can we have fun with these?" My answer was: your audience is beginners, if it is appropriate and professional and adds meaning -- yes you can have fun.

They know what is appropriate! We're going to embed toondoo's tomorrow in their project. So what if it is about RAM, and cache, and uber-geeky stuff -- it is going to be enjoyable because it is making a cartoon.

The adrenaline rush of making their own complete page full of text, links, photos, video, and graphics like toondoo is exciting to kids. It gives them the power to be a creator and have something to go home and pin on the virtual fridge of their parents inbox to say -- "Hey, Mom, look at this -- look at what I know!"

My question: Can I make it through the first three weeks?

I think this is my question. I'm glad that I have a strategy for introducing these things (and there is one.)

However, in all of my classes, I am training new students who need to catch up, and getting previous students into new routines for the new class -- setting expectations of a new, higher level and what I want them to understand.

Add all of the IT responsibilities on top of my five (and soon to be six classes) and I'm really tired.

My question: Can I keep a positive attitude?

It is when I get this tired that I start getting a little grumpy and find myself thinking whiny thoughts.

That is when I remind myself that I am exactly where I want to be: in the throes of this nutty, busy life -- doing the most meaningful work of my life: parenting my kids and teaching everyone who comes through my door.

I have to keep the main thing the main thing. It is a fight to keep positive when you're a teacher. And if you're empathetic (like me) watch out! It can be like living on a roller coaster!

However, keeping the hope of a better tomorrow is vital to being a teacher who gets things done.

Knowing that you can make a difference is a key ingredient to the recipe of a good education.

To rob a school or teacher or child of hope is to rob them of their very life and reason for being and to invite them to mentally drop out. (Which happens far before a person drops out physically.) Mental drop outs are zombies going through the motions, wishing that someone would wake them up and give them something to be excited about!

So, let me ask you -- as you start school, feel overwhelmed, and ache from every bone of your body -- can you keep a positive attitude too?

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