Just Hanging Out…and Learning

This week has been crazy to say the least.  On the other hand, it has been phenomenal!

Tuesday, my 2nd hour seventh grade class began an adventure I felt was worth taking.  For quite some time a writing project colleague and myself had discussed having our classes collaborate with each other using Google Hangout.  If you do not have prior knowledge of Google Hangout, it is just that, an online space for people to collaborate via web cams and voice chat, or…hangout!  I believe up to 10 people can chat at the same time. The idea was brought on by our discussions we have had previously about using digital portfolios.  Eventually we decided we wanted our students to collaborate and discuss the myths that each our classrooms were reading and writing along with have the students publish their writing to a broader audience.

As we searched for a common time for our students to meet online, it occurred to us that we needed to introduce our students to each other before we did any real collaboration about the myths.  Each of our classes had written “This I Believe” essays, and we decided we would use these essays as a mean for our students to get to know one another. Because my own students had already written their essays at the beginning of the year, it was a great time for my students to reflect back on their writing to polish it and decide if their beliefs had changed at all.  Furthermore, they needed to understand their writing was going out into the bigger world for people to see and they needed to clean it up before publishing.

Prior to work with the essays, we showed our classes our school websites, discussing  with students what they noticed.  In addition, any questions they might have.  Before our meeting on Tuesday each of our classes composed questions to ask one another.  As we were hanging out, the students went in front of the camera  and asked questions about each other’s school.  For example:

  1. What types of writing have you done this year?
  2. How many students do you have in your middle school?
  3. What sports can you play at your school
  4. What do you do for fun?
  5. Can you choose your own electives in middle school?

After the students took turns asking questions and answering them, we talked with the students about what we were going to do next with them.

As I mentioned earlier, the students are using their “This I Believe Essay”  to get to know each other more. My colleague and I decided we would have the students post their essays on Youth Voices. Youth Voices is an online platform where students can publish their writing where other students can discuss the same topics or issues.  By having the students post here, they could read each other’s essays and respond appropriately.

Youth Voices (youthvoices.net)

Youth Voices (youthvoices.net)

This allows the students to see what beliefs they may have in common or what they may not have in common as well.  Regardless, we feel that our students are now publishing their writing for a broader audience besides their teacher or classmates. Furthermore, they will get feedback that can have the potential to make them better writers in the future.  After our students have posted to Youth Voices and everyone has had a chance to be paired up to respond to at least one other student, we will move forward and participate in doing more live hangouts where our students can discuss myths.

Reflection

Doing something this simple with technology has long lasting impacts on the students from each class.  First, I would like to say our schools are very different when it comes to the dynamics of the number of students and the cultural diversity.  My middle school consists of 120 seventh and eighth graders.  My colleague has just over 500 in the same two grades.  My school consists of about 98% whites where his school has Latinos, Hispanics, Arab, African American, and whites.  With this being said, I felt it was wonderful for my students to be emerged into this type of cultural diversity.  Our students need to learn they will be working with a very diverse culture when they enter the work force.

I was also surprised at how my students “locked up” when it came time to talk on camera.  They were dead silent and if it wasn’t for the fact I had students assigned for each question being asked, I would not have had volunteers.  My students were very shy and I was shocked at this.  In the end, when it came to them talking on camera, they needed to speak up too.  My colleague actually felt his students were rude and too loud.  A concern, I actually thought was going to arise.

Overall, Google Hangout and Youth Voices are great tools, especially ones that can help meet the demands of the Common Core Standards. The ideas behind using the online tools were to:

  • Collaborate
  • Practice communication skills
  • Publish student writing to a broader audience
  • Receive feedback on student writing
  • Become connected with other learners
  • Be exposed to more diversity as is such in the real world

Cheers!

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Positive Social Media

My brain has been swirling around a lot of 21st century learning this past week and I know the only to keep my thoughts straight is to write about it.  There is no doubt social media is becoming more and more apparent in the classroom.  Though school policies may ban it from districts, teachers and students are fighting for it. Yes, I know, I may not be saying anything new, but I wanted to share what will be taking place this year in my classroom and at my school and how I came to this point.
What to choose?
Twitter, Facebook, Celly, Edmodo, Schoology, Remind 101, Etc.  I am sure I am missing a few. It is tough to decide which social media platform to choose.  It can be really overwhelming and rather perplexing.  First, I suggest choosing something you are either familiar with or you can familiarize yourself with and won’t take up too much of your time.  My wife uses Facebook. She is a band director and at the beginning of this summer she launched a group page. She know I am technology savvy and asked me how to do it and I honestly could not give her an answer because though I have a Facebook account, I am not the huge of a fan of Facebook and didn’t know how to complete the task she was asking. She trudged through, figured it out and now has a over two hundred parents and students as part of that group.  She uses it to send out reminders, answer questions, create events, and keep an open line of communication of between herself and parents.  It works for her and she is having success. For example, she had a fundraiser event and she had over forty student volunteers because her students are a part of that social media page/group.  Facebook, on the other hand, doesn’t work for me.  Facebook was never intended to be used in schools and therefore, you have bullying issues and students can private message each other and that opens a dangerous door.  Other social media platforms are simpler to navigate and upload images,files, assignments, etc.
During the 2011-2012 school year, I tried to use Edmodo in my classroom. Edmodo is a great social platform that mirrors Facebook and students can dive right in and they don’t skip a beat as Facebook users. Messages can be posted along with links, assignments, etc.  The issue I have with Edmodo is that students can get off topic easily (This can be an issue with any social media website) and students can still send private messages to each other like Facebook.  My student’s wound up creating digital debris this past year because the more I worked with it, I didn’t care for it.  Teachers can belong to groups and get other ideas from teachers.  I am sure with more training and practice, I could have made it work, I just wasn’t sold 100% on it. This doesn’t mean it won’t work for other teachers.
Celly was my main social media platform I used this past year and you can read about in my other blog posts or go to the National Writing Project’s Digital Is website and read about it.
What I Am Doing 2012-2013
At the end of the school year we had a department meeting. My high school colleague introduced Schoology to myself and another language arts teacher.  Like a professional poker player, I am all in!  Schoology rocks because my students and parents can join it once I give them an access code (Edmodo does the same).  Students can NOT private message each other.  All messages are public and viewable by me the teacher, eliminating cyber bullying.  Resources can be shared amongst teachers, assignments can be uploaded to students along with links.  The greatest thing about Schoology is the fact students can upload Google docs to the site, which I have not seen with other social media platforms. I use Google Docs in my classroom and essentially had a paperless classroom by the end of the year.  We are going to be a Google Apps school this year and we will house the students portfolios there.  We agreed between the three of us we would incorporate this social media platform into our classes.  It makes sense for us to keep our lines of communication open with our students and parents and we want to properly assess our student writers by using a writing portfolio that can be passes from grade to grade.  We will at least have grade 7-11 covered using a digital portfolio.
What ever you consider or choose, just keep in mind that there will be students and parents who may not have internet access.  Also, consult with your principal and read your policies on using such a tool.  Also, create a sample student so you see things from their perspective too. Believe me, it helps! Each of these social media sites have apps for smartphones too.  I believe the Celly app is still in the beta stages. Also, investigate Youth Voices too. I will be blogging about this site this year as I incorporate into my writing lessons.  Social media is a digital writing tool that should be considered for any classroom as we teach the 21st century learner.  The collaboration can be endless with using such a tool.  It isn’t just about students sitting in front of their computer, phone, or mobile device.
Look for more blog posts this week. I am going to try and do one at least 3 times this week. Connected Learning kicks of this week too at NWP.
Cheers!