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!


Not Too Much: Slowly Approaching the 21st Century Classroom

Moodle, Google Docs, Glogster, Edmodo, WordPress, Blogger, Vimeo, Diigo, and Wikis. Are you out of breath yet? If your not, you are one of the 21st century educators who are implementing digital tools into their classrooms. If you are just laying foot to path and beginning your journey into all of the wonderful digital tools that have the potential to transform your classroom, the choices can be a bit overwhelming. This is just one of the many thoughts I had yesterday attending the pre-conference sessions at MACUL. As I sat through a moodle and a web publishing session, I began to wonder what my prospective would have been if I was new to all of this. Rocking in the corner with my arms wrapped around my legs came to mind. It wasn’t that long ago when I went through the summer writing institute and our director Troy Hicks gave us a plethora of digital tools to use. There were days I had anxiety, but everything in the end worked out. I get excited about challenges and persevered through it all. I honestly believe teachers can transform their classrooms into 21st century portals where the students can once again be excited about learning.

So, how do you begin with this barrage of digital tools being thrown at you? First, simply start by picking just one tool to implement into your classroom. A great colleague of mine Kevin Hodgson commented to me about students and technology users alike are leaving “digital debris”, meaning we try new things out and think it is great, but then we never use that tool again. Students and users have created accounts, used it one time, then never go back. I know I am guilty of doing this very thing this year with Edmodo. By choosing just one tool, you can use it over and over during the school year. Essentially, by the end of the year, your students and you will be become an expert on that tool. Furthermore, you as the leader in the classroom, won’t feel so overwhelmed. Then, the following year you can stretch your zone again and try something new.

Next, after you have chosen the digital tool you want to implement, ask yourself two questions. First, why am I using this in my classroom? Second, why is this tool valuable to my students? The first question was an eye opener for me. I have to thank Troy Hicks again for pushing me in this thinking. Now, I am passing it on to you. Simply using a digital tool because it looks fun or the students like it, aren’t the most important issues here. Some tools are geared towards a language arts classroom, where another one might be more science oriented. In addition, some schools may not have up-to-date technology capabilities that support the tool you want to use. More importantly, with increased rigor and higher order thinking wrapped around the Common Core, it is essential to stop and think about how the tools we are using are helping to develop these very traits within our students.

I leave you with the the advice to go slow, find what is easy and works well for you and your students. We all have to shift our learning styles and our minds to the 21st century and how our classrooms are going to look.

Cheers!