Friday, November 9, 2007

Travel Down the Web 2.0 Path

I was reading Darren Draper's blog entry Pay Attention - I Guess It's Time for an Update. For a variety of reasons, he is trying to find out if his video made a difference in the way people teach. I decided that I would spend some time reflecting on the question. I wish I had started this edublog when I began my journey down the web 2.0 path last year. I'll try to see how I ended up where I am today.

I had a blog at Xanga for a few years, so blogging was nothing new to me. I just used that one to post the daily goings on. It was at the request of a group of eighth graders I had at the time. They're juniors in high school now. Since students went to the site, I didn't really make it a place to reflect on my teaching practices.

Last year, I was taking a state sponsored Alternate Route program to get my state teaching certificate. I teach in a Catholic school and it's not a requirement to have the certificate. It kept me on my toes all year. Somewhere in the middle of that I believe I ran into Vicki Davis' Coolcatteacher blog. It was in her blog that I learned about Wikispaces and TeacherTube.

I know that I came to Wikispaces at the beginning of March in 2007. It's shown on the history log of my first of now many wikis. I didn't have any time to really follow her blog or anyone else's for that matter. I decided it would have to wait until June when the Alternate Route program was over.

When I started poking around TeacherTube one of the first videos I came across was Darren Draper's Pay Attention video. It connected to so much that I was learning in the Alternate Route classes.

I was a "corporate trainer" my whole career from the time I was in college (early 80s) until I had my boys in the mid 1990s. I was familiar with learning styles, Bloom's taxonomy, and other pedagogy. I taught people how to use Office, mainframe computer screens for data entry, and 4th generation languages to create reports in Sperry MAPPER. I helped create multi-lingual multimedia training programs on CD for a global shipping company. By the time I was teaching children, I felt like I was ready to take on the world.

I knew that I had to take the students further than Kid Pix, Office, and HyperStudio. I started teaching the kids how to create web pages. We simply used a Mac text editor with HTML. It was a pain to keep track of all the little files and get them FTP'd up to our Verizon web space.

Pay Attention did catch my attention. It starts right up front with the learning styles and then ties it into the statistics of what kids do on the Internet. Now, I know all this from watching each class of eighth graders as they pass through my computer room. But, I also teach middle school math. The first three year that I taught math, I taught it like it was taught to me. We did a lot of pencil work and board work. I did try to tap into their multiple intelligences with chapter wrap up projects. The computer teacher in me never made it into the math room.

A previous principal purchased Accelerated Math for the math department. To this day, I still love that program for its ability to target student's strengths and weaknesses. The students don't interact at all with the computer for that program. They just do the worksheets and fill in bubble sheets. Two years ago, I did start bringing the digital camera to class. I had planned all sorts of PowerPoints to demonstrate math concepts, but even that was limiting because I have to drag the computer out and make sure I schedule myself for the traveling projector.

Darren asks "how much richness does your curriculum provide?". We'll it really wasn't that rich. Also, I saw only half of the seventh grade (at that time) for basic math. The other half had a different teacher for pre-algebra. Last year, I had the entire sixth grade.

This is about when I learned about wikis. I'm not too proud of my first attempt. I had huge plans that fell flat of my goal. I know geometry can become a lost child in the math curriculum. Since I had everyone for math and computers, I decided to have a math project in computer class. I created a geometry wiki page. They had never used the software before so I started by asking them questions and letting them edit the wiki to answer the questions.

Also tying into richness, I realized that the metric system really doesn't stick too well in the heads of most US students. I wanted to provide a better way to remember the terms. Over the course of two half days, they wrote and recorded little metric songs to the tune of Christmas or nursery jingles. I took photos, recorded them in Audacity, and loaded them up onto the Internet. They were really excited by the project. I still wasn't exactly happy with the output, but it was a start. Now I was answering Darren's question of "what do they create?".

This year, I'm continuing to expand my reach. I'm trying to find ways to answer the next question of "are you engaging them?". This was a bit elusive until I started exploring some math blogs over the summer. I was awed by a high school blog and eighth grade blog. This is what I wanted for my students. The idea of scribes and blogs was an interesting way to get the students more immersed in the learning of math. The idea of students getting to ask one question every ten hours makes sense. How do you let all 20 plus students ask questions in the space of 42 minutes and accomplish the needed review, practice, and learning? A blog can do that.

I showed part of Pay Attention and part of Karl Fisch's Did You Know to the sixth grade parents at back to school night this year. I actually go a little chocked up when introducing the videos. It's such a huge concept, to me at least. I did so in order to explain why we're going to be using a blog this year. No one blinked an eye. No one challenged the decision. The parents are making sure the kids are signing on at home and doing the little projects.

It's been so basic so far, but the kids did some research on the CIA World Fact Book about five countries of their choice. Next I asked them some questions about the data they found. At this point, I've asked them to leave comments to three particular students comparing their answers to the other student's answers. In computer class, we discussed appropriate responses and how information put on the Internet can be stored in Google's cache for a very long time.

It's interesting to see what misconceptions they have about the data and how they are responding to each other.

I am also using the blog to post podcasts and slides to help them study for tests. The use of those tools have been underwhelming, but some kids are using them. I think that was a "big takeaway" for me. Some students need more repetition than they get in class, maybe a podcast will get through to someone. After all, once the podcasts are recorded I can always go back year after year and update parts, but the big work for sixth grade math will be done. (As long as I'm still teaching sixth grade math next year.) I can't believe how much I've learned just since I got an iPod for my birthday in June by listening to podcasts.

Back with my computer teacher hat on, I had the seventh and eighth graders collaborate between the three classes to learn about copyright, plagiarism, and fair use. It still wasn't as collaborative as I would have liked, but it will get there with time. The eighth grade created plagiarism podcasts and were so excited to see the ClusterMap's data points from around the world after only 11 days. Several students listened to them again at home when they were bored. Hopefully the plagiarism messages will stick better than a lecture. They also read SurveyMonkey results from their listeners. The seventh grade is just finishing up VoiceThreads on fair use and copyright. I'm looking forward to their reactions.

Now the fifth graders are going to join other students around the world on a Classbraids wiki that is being spearheaded by Sharon Betts.

Hopefully, my students are finding their work is meaningful, interesting, and has a bearing on their future.

Image Citation:
Rome, Jacob. "iPod iPod.” jakerome's Photostream. 11 Nov 2005. 9 Nov 2007.


  1. This is fascinating--thanks for sharing your growth and how you've made these tools real for your students.

    You've also shared some really creative ideas for infusing the math classroom with technology, but even more, you've shown how that passion can make a difference!

  2. I saw your comment on Cathy's blog and found my way here. Love your blog! Thank you for sharing so much of what you do with your students. They are fortunate indeed. It will be interesting to see what these kids are doing when they reach high school. You are giving them such a wonderful foundation of skills.