Monday, June 27, 2011

Wow! Wikispaces history project is a hit!

Just wanted to share with you a comment e-mailed to me by one of my students' parents about my first Wikispaces project for my U.S. History II high school class.*
 Hi this is XXX's father XXX and it's nice to actually see a teacher that lets the parents get involved with the children's work. This is the first time I have ever seen anything like this and it is a true teaching accomplishment. XXX's video was very interesting as it pointed out many harsh realities of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Also, the paragraphs written after were very coinciding with the video, especially the one referring to the Japanese concentration camps due to fear of another attack of some sort. The discussion board is also very insightful and will be a huge help to those students who need help understanding one of the topics posted.
My 11th-grade students researched good-quality videos on World War II, then posted them to their own Wikispaces page on our class site, and wrote introductory texts as well as a paragraph explaining how their video augmented, illustrated, or even in some cases contradicted their textbook.  We spent time in class discussing the criteria that would make a video "good-quality" for a history class - things like accuracy, availability of metadata (who created it, where,when, and why; intended audience, and so on); the source of the video post, the production values, and whether the video showed evidence of any bias or interventions after its original creation.  We talked about primary and secondary sources and what would make a video qualify as one or the other.  (Basically, a primary source is created during the period you are studying; a secondary source is later or at some remove.) Students weren't required to add photos or illustrations to their pages or change the fonts, but I taught them how to do it as well as how to alter their layout and colors.  Many of them chose to embellish their pages in this way, even though it wasn't required.  Many took great pride in their work.

Next, after all the videos and pages were assembled, students were required to view and comment on at least three of their classmates' videos and posts, and I commented on all of it as well.  Here I modeled comments as well as prompted students to improve their pages; and students were able to see their peers' work, and see skilled and not-so-skilled examples.  They also joked around and encouraged one another.  They seemed to like having control over many aspects of the process.

In a related exercise, I posted four discussion questions about topics we had discussed, read about, or viewed in a film on World War II we saw together in class, and students were asked to post to at least two of them.  The questions were designed to prompt students to synthesize the material from these print, aural, and video sources in order to join the discussion.

For the project, we discussed the criteria in class and I posted instructions and a jing about using Wikispaces on my school blog.  When I saw the project was turning out to be pretty exciting, I wanted students to share their work with the adults in their lives, so I offered very modest extra credit if they showed their work to a parent and the parent e-mailed me a note saying he or she had seen it.  I didn't ask for anything more than that, but many parents wanted to write and say what they thought about the project.

Needless to say, I'm thrilled.   I didn't even know Wikispaces existed four weeks ago.  [note: this entry was originally written in late May 2011 and updated in June]
So what did they learn?
  • Synthesized information from a variety of media, including print, digital, and face-to-face interaction.
  • Developed their writing skills: description, summary, analysis, critique
  • Evaluated the content and reliability of web sources as well as concerns inherent to the medium like production values or production interventions (editing, photoshopping and the like)
  • Presented their work to an audience of peers and parents
  • Commented on peer's work
  • Created, organized and designed simple web pages
  • dipped into HTML and WYSIWYG editing
  • Produced knowledge base on World War II

*Because it's a school Wikispaces project, to protect students' privacy I can't publish it to the whole web.  If you'd like to know more about the particulars of setting up this kind of project, e-mail me or contact me via the comments.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Prezi and the Economy

One of the most exciting tools for educators I learned about this year is Prezi, a presentation tool that zooms all around a matrix that you create.  Basically you design something like a poster or layout, then you create frames and links that allow you to jump all around in any direction.  It's a lot less linear and one-up than PowerPoint.  Or at least it can be, because you can see several elements of the presentation at once, and then zoom around to whichever one you want.  Of course, if your purpose warrants it, you can always run your Prezi linear fashion, so viewers see things in the order you want them to see them.  But the big difference with Prezi is the feel.  Elements swoop, zoom, and spin - it's a lot less static than Powerpoint, and makes even Powerpoint's animations seem kind of stodgy and lame.

But why read about it, when you can see?  Check out this award-winning Prezi by Jonathan Chan:

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Wikipedia Redux

Those of you who read my post on the Great Wikipedia Question  ("Edupunks, Latin American Literature, and a Wikipedia Confession" ) will be interested to see how it's handled in a rubric developed by Linda Goldsworthy, a high school teacher in Wisconsin.  Rather than forbid the use of Wikipedia and its ilk, Goldsworthy evaluates student research papers by applying criteria of "overview sources," "directly credited sources," "authoritative quality of sources" and finally, formatting:
> My research paper/project  Works Cited Rubric includes "Overview
> Sources" which can include things like wikipedia, World Book, etc.
> so that students gather key names, places, events, etc.  It is
> meant to give them an idea about their topic. It consists of 10% of
> the rubric.   I let them know that in many college courses,
> wikipedia is an unacceptable source and my goal is to wean them
> from it.  I do spend some time pointing out the references at the
> bottom as potential places to get better material.
> Next, I use "Directly Credited Sources" which can include primary
> sources, secondary sources, etc.  My high school subscribes to many
> databases including things like ABC-CLIO, Opposing Viewpoints and
> Jstor. This may be worth as much as 30% on the works cited rubric.
> The third, and most important part of my rubric uses "Authoritative
> Quality of Sources"  This is usually 40% of the Works Cited rubric.
> Kids know that I spend a lot of time looking at their sites and
> the QUALITY of the sources they use.  The use of the subcription
> databases always let me know that authoritative quality is much
> higher than other sites students frequently want to use.
> The remainder of my rubrics deal with MLA/APA/ASA or whatever
> format I am using as well as spelling, etc. for the last 20%.
> I worked very closely with the librarian at out school to develop
> this rubric.  She's actually assists me during the early stages of
> teaching the students as she knows what works best.
> My goal is to wean use of overview sources and encourage thinking
> skills that help them fine tune their researching abilities.
Wikipedia isn't going away anytime soon, and do we really want it to?  I like this approach because instead of flat and futile prohibitions on using the source we secretly use ourselves, it guides the students towards learning to evaluate and make judgments about web sources on their own.  The sooner the better, I say.

*About the illustration:  I created this by downloading an image of a confessional from the web, then uploading it to  Be Funky, and using this free photo-editing web tool to paste in a speech bubble. Then I cut and pasted the Wikipedia graphic (badly, I admit) using Sumo Paint, a free web editing and painting tool.  It took me all afternoon, and I loved it.