In the summer of 2009 I started using Twitter to connect with other teachers. I had no idea the influence it would have on my teaching, my classroom and my perspective on education. It was amazing to me to find so many like-minded and forward thinking teaching professionals sharing and collaborating online! Everyday I logged in I found so many useful resources and ideas that I couldn’t wait to try them out in my classroom. I knew it was going to be an exciting year, and if I was excited it had to spill over to my students. However, everything you do for the first time always has challenges and failures. This past school year was no different, but I’ve learned from them and I know next year will be that much better. So here are the tools we used this past year and what I learned about implementing these tools in my middle school computer lab.
1. Edublogs.com: The kids loved the idea of having their own space to share their thoughts and post their work/projects to the world. They were excited to see comments left by their peers as well as others from around the globe. It gave them an audience like they had never had before. Cluster Maps was a visual that helped the students see that even though people may not post comments, their work and words were being seen. Challenges: Students got frustrated at times that I wouldn’t just let them spew random thoughts whenever they wanted. They felt their blog was their space, (like facebook or myspace) and they should be able to say what they want. Although I gave time for free-writing, there were more structured blogging activities than they would have liked, but this is middle school. They are a tough crowd and hard to please, so I think at the beginning of this year I will be better at explaining how their blog is to be perceived. Resources: Last year Kim Cofino’s Blogging Guidelines helped me get started with a basic framework and gave me something to build on. Here’s a link in case you need that for your classroom as well.
**Side note: I only used Edublogs with my 8th graders last year and I will continue this school year, but I may use kidblogs.com for my 6th and 7th graders. I just need to research the idea more. The important thing is that everyone (my 6th, 7th and 8th graders) has a blog.
2. Animoto.com: This multimedia site was one of the faves of my students. I used it to teach the kids multimedia concepts and as a way to reflect over topics we discussed. I also loved using it to create introductory pieces to lessons to grab their attention. It always worked. Here are some examples of attention grabbers. This one was to introduce a conference presentation at TCEA 2010 and this one was to introduce a learner profiles lesson. Challenges: Only students with email accounts and that are 13 and older can sign up. Teachers have to do the gmail trick of adding a number to the end of their email address to create accounts for students under the age of 13. Ex: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com and so on.
3. Cover It Live: Although this site was intended for bloggers and media companies, I have found it very useful in education. If you have a website or blog, you can get a free account with cover it live, then embed a “live blog” window into your page. I used it for my students to comment and participate with each other during the speech President Obama gave to students in the Fall of 2009. I could have invited others from around the world–I did post it on twitter, but only minutes before we started. There wasn’t enough prep time to put together a big discussion, but the potential was there. I know a class in Colorado did this same thing and had a wider audience participate. I continued to use it with other teachers in my building and we were able to have our students share their thoughts with one another without being in the same room. It was a great experience. Challenges: Just the prep time. It’s not something you can prep for 5 minutes before class. The great aspect of Cover It Live is you, the teacher, have complete control as the moderator. No one will see anything in the main blogging window that you don’t want them to see because you have to approve it. I did have a couple of students that I would give this job to because it can become cumbersome for just one person.
4. Edmodo.com: This site was also one of my students favorites! It has a facebook feel to it so students can live in their social networking world but only with their assigned class. No one else can see inside the walls of a certain class period unless they are signed up as a student or teacher for that class. I would invite the principal and master teachers to sign up for my edmodo classes so they could see how it worked and how powerful the site was for students. I used this site to publish student work, post assignments, have students turn in assignments electronically and to give grades. Challenges: It’s more of an inconvenience than a challenge, but there is no gradebook integrated with edmodo… so what you grade you have to transfer over to your gradebook. The students love the instant feedback, though (a lot like in Moodle).
5. Glogster: The kids loved to create these online posters! I used it mainly for researching topics or for an “all about me” project. The great reward of teaching the kids this tool was that they used it in other classes when given the opportunity. Here is an example of what one student created in another class. Challenges: For some students the learning curve seem to be a bit high, meaning, they couldn’t figure it all out on their own. Doing a project together first helped the students learn all the tools.
6. Twitter: This was my biggest challenge of the year and the one tool I will change and revise it’s use of for next year. I’ve seen teachers on twitter that used Twitter in the classroom successfully, but my experience was not as great. I’m not sure if it was me, the way I implemented it, my students, their age, the subject area or all the above. I just know it was a struggle and I ended up dropping its use in the middle of the year. My idea, starting out, was that I wanted it to be used as a backchannel in class for students to post questions and answer each others questions without inturrupting the flow of the lesson. We practiced and had some good experiences, but inappropriate comments kept popping up and I would have to address them repeatedly. I also wanted to use Twitter as a way to communicate and collaborate with other classrooms but I never got to that point. We mostly used it to gage everyone’s reflection over a lesson or idea so that it was all compiled in one area. It was great as a quick assessment and it allowed everyone to participate, especially those that never raised their hands. I see it’s power in the classroom, but I think I will use another secure tool to teach them about appropriate responses and staying on topic. My students had a habit of using it like a texting tool and the classroom twitter page was not the right place for that, especially when the world is watching. So I will try using the facebook like feature of edmodo that I am familar with and I would like to dabble with todaysmeet.com as well.
7. Jing/Screenr.com: I LOVED making videos for my students! It put the students in charge of getting what they needed, when they needed it instead of being at the mercy of the teacher. It also helped not answer the same questions a million times. There’s not a huge difference between the two. I would create a jing video if I just wanted to send out a link to my students of the video and I would use screenr if I wanted to keep the video embedded in my blog for others to reference later. It’s a matter of preference, however the free Jing account does limit you to bandwidth usage. My students also really were amazed by the fact that I created something they could see online and that it was catered just to them.
I used several other tools that I’ll just list briefly here. I really loved Voki and created a Wikispaces page to show the kids how to embed them. Anything the students can publish I try to find a way to do that. It gives their work a broader audience and makes it easier for their parents to see what they do in class. Myavatareditor.com was also nice for creating profile pics.
TED Talks Videos: The 6th sense was a video I used at the beginning of the year to get my students excited about learning technology and all the possibilities that technology brings to our future. I still had students reference that video towards the end of the year. TED has a ton of great videos to pull from that can relate to many lessons in your classroom.
So to wrap this up, all in all it was a good experience. The kids learned from each tool, but what I learned the most as a technology teacher, is it’s not all about the tool, but the content you have to work with to teach the tool. Without good content, the tool has little meaning or significance to the student’s daily lives. Did I always know how to create good content? No. I ran into some snags throughout the school year. At times my clear vision of how I saw these tools engaging kids in my classroom became blurred, but that is when I would go back to the drawing board, reach out to my PLN and get back on track. I look forward to taking these lessons and making them better for the next school year. I know some of my students didn’t like being “guinea pigs”, as many knew they were, but we all have to start somewhere and most importantly learn from our challenges and mistakes. Is there anyone out there that can relate?