7th and 8th grade social studies
I have been teaching middle school social studies out of a computer lab for two years now. I was able to get the room due to a scedualling fluke last year and haven't looked back since. I can't imagine what it would be like to be back in a normal classroom. I have been paperless for a year and half and can't begin to explain how much easier it has made life for myself and my students. I currently use www.wikispaces.com as my main class site and have no plans to change (even though our building has moodle available).
Why do you use a Wiki?
I have never been a big fan of moodle or blackboard. In my opinion they have a slightly higher learning curve and much less creative freedom. You could easily use a website or blog for what I do and get a very similar effect. What makes wikispaces stand out in my mind is their overall painlessness and limitless collaborative options. It also helps that they offer tons of great free stuff for teachers. These are just some of the highlights:
- lots of space (2 gigs)
- no ads
- unlimited wikis (I have 8 that I run!!!)
- bulk user creation and management
- very easy to use WYSIWYG editing: I always tell other teachers that if you can use Microsoft Word then you can use wikispaces
- great for group projects: easily track changes, monitor effort, give feedback (via talk pages)
I don't use wikispaces alone. I embed google forms into many of my pages and all of my students have their own blogs on http://posterous.com/. I have been experimenting with thatquiz for my tests and find that the students and teachers love it. I don't think that any one service will ever be enough. There is so much out there that I see no reason to be locked into to just one site or service. Especially when so many of them are free for educators.
What is the feedback from your students?
- students love it (they all have their own personal and group wikis full music and videos and school projects)
- they like that it creates a very open and transparent class: good for students, teachers, parents and administrators. Anyone can view my page and see exactly what we are working on and what they missed. I have suspended and sick students that submit all their work from home. There is no mystery to what you have to do in my class.
What are the draw backs?
- if you don't set up your permissions right then students can mess with your stuff. One of our teachers made this mistake and a kid erased his whole wiki! Lucky for him we were able to track what happened through the history. The teacher learned quite a lesson that day. Thank goodness for the revert page option. It is important to understand when to allow everyone to have editing power (group projects) and when it is not (teacher pages). I don't allow any members on my main page but allow members on individual classroom wiki pages.
- if you are working on a wiki project you can often find yourself in a "wiki war". This is where students simultaneously edit a page and accidentally erase each others work. This can be frustrating, but once the students understand what is happening they learn how to avoid it.
What is your vision for the future of your hybrid course?
This year I have pretty much stopped "teaching" and instead taken the on the role of a "facilitator of learning". I set out a learning goal or project and float around answering questions and keeping people on task. I have completely removed all direct instruction from my lessons. I want the entire class to be completely self guided and exploratory. I have almost a terabyte of server space that my IT department lets me use to host videos, documents, etc. We have no filters on youtube or google, so finding content and differentiating assignments is never a problem. This has been very successful so far and I want to refine it more in the years to come. My next big push is to have youtube lectures and other content created by myself, students, and guests (other teachers, experts, etc) become part of the curriculum. Our middle school just purchased 2 imacs for each classroom which I plan to treat as mini production studios. Hopefully my class will be on its the way to serious content creation by the end of this year.