Paul Harrington started a thread in Tapped In that I am responding to about the uses of Web2.0 tools in my classroom. Paul and I are helping in an on-line mentoring programme through links with Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach with pre-service teachers at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. I thought you may be interested.
My class comprises 25 Year Four and Five year old children (8-9 yr olds) in a small rural five teacher school in NZ.
In 2005 we began a three year ICT contract in which the government financed targeted teacher professional development in Information Communication Technology. The funding did not cover hardware or software but in 2006 our school was fortunate enough to be able to finance a pod of 12 Apple laptops that came in a COW (Computers on Wheels) that we are able to trolley around the classrooms on a shared basis.
This year the pod is broken up between classes throughout the morning to allow support for reading/writing/maths programmes and available as a unit for whole class instruction in the afternoons. The COW is supported by wireless access through an Airport Extreme base-station and we all have eight wired access plugs in each classroom. All classrooms have access to our library collection catalogue through the class desktop networked iMac. Our internet access is filtered but our watchdog is happy to unblock any sites we ask within a couple of days.
I had been given the task of constructing a school website and this I managed to do with Claris Homepage- it had individual class pages, a page for newsletters and an email contact address and that was about all, but at least we had a web presence.
In late 2005 I attended a workshop on On-line Learning Environments with Mark Treadwell a NZ educational leader who intrigued me by taking a photo of us and putting it on the internet while we were in quick discussion groups. That was my first experience with blogging. He said it was easy and that he used Blogger.
I went home and made myself a personal blog which I practised with over a month or so and after that felt confident enough to have a go with children. At first I did the writing and taking of photos for our class blog but as we got better at it the children took over! All classes now have a blog and all the school blogs link together with children encouraged to contribute to each other’s blogs through commenting. Each week we have a new pair of blogging monitors whose job it is to record at least one post per week but we often blog much more than that as interesting things happen and I contribute class notices and the like as a means of communicating with parents.
In the blog we have links to a myriad of Web2.0 tools. For example
I made a Bling4yrblog Blog to help you put these into your blog if you would like a few tips.
Last year I also linked the blog to a class Delicious account which is invaluable for being able to direct children to a particular web site without them having to type the URL exactly.
We added a Clustrmap to show where in the world our viewers were and a hit counter gives the children a quick idea how many visitors there are to our blog. This give the students an idea of their real audience and we recently celebrated our 5000 hit party with Easter eggs and a healthy shared lunch!
Next term we will use Dave Warlick’s Class Blogmeister blog as a reflective tool – not really for sharing as I want all children to be able to post to the blog at the same time and not be overly concerned with correct grammar, spelling and punctuation as it would be in a more open published blog like Blogger. Blogmeister lends itself so well as a reflective journal for children to record their thinking.
After this blogging I felt more confident with writing on the web and iWeb came out as an Apple web authoring tool. It is SO much easier and simpler than other methods so I was able to re–construct the school website to be more interactive and thought I might have a go at podcasting because Point England School in Auckland had got an international award for their podcasts and they were on TV so I knew someone else was podcasting in NZ. The ICT contract financed a flight for myself and a local principal for a day trip to the big smoke.
Their podcasting was inspirational and I was hooked. Point England’s podcasts are focussed on improving literacy skills but ours are more general interest focussed on the happening s and learning in our classroom. If we can’t think of something to podcast about we do a book review! After considerable struggle I managed to get our podcasts subscribe-able through iTunes.
Every week I have three monitors who podcast- one to concentrate on the technical side and the other two to do the talking. The children are getting better at the technical side and I am fortunate enough to have a couple who really took to Garageband (our podcasting application) and can do the business pretty much without input from me- I just do the tidying up at then end. I believe every child should have the opportunity to have a go so the quality of our podcasting fluctuates a bit- but hey- we are all learners here! Sometimes we do whole class podcasts so everyone gets a go.
Through commenting on our tagged podcast we made a number of links around the globe- significantly with Paul Harrington’s class in the valleys of South Wales! They sent us a small geocaching bear- Tiny Ted and we sent them a Cuddly Kiwi that we share travels with via the blog.
A natural follow-on from this contact has been a number of Skype conversations, firstly with a local school and then further afield to Wales and Beth Sullivan’s class in Binghamton School, near New York. Again to start with a found one other person to Skype with and practised personally until I got the hang of it.
The biggest difficulty here has been the time differences but when there is a will there is a way and Paul invited his class in one evening so we could chat to them in our early evening. We are soon to do the same as one of my children is intending to spend the day in Paul’s class as he travels back to the UK on a family trip in late April. How cool is that!
In order to share our photos of our geocaching I started a Flickr account and have recently begun tagging photos and blog posts having been showed the simplicity of RSS and the use of Bloglines to aggregate the blogs I follow. We have a class digital camera but I have bought a second hand digital camera that I allow children to take home and take photos with- of specific subjects- and then the child then posts it to our blog. A couple of children have recently started their own blogs which I am really pleased about.
Last year we played with creating a wiki with PBwiki related to our learning on Flight and that was very successful with children contributing from home as well as at school.
This year we are using wikispaces as it is a lot simpler and writing content is easier for my level of children to master.
Children also like to play with Google Earth and look at where they live but we haven’t really used it as a learning tool.
We don’t use a lot of emailing as my class email has been inundated with spam. I will create a new email address for the class when I get a spare minute and we will do a bit more emailing!!!
That’s about it really. There are challenges in using web based educational technologies in the classroom but the rewards are great in the way of communication and engagement from students.
As Paul said these tools were not all started at once and as Sheryl said- you have own something before you can give it away. I think the answer is to become comfortable with the tools yourself and introduce them in a meaningful context and you are sure to succeed.