Monday, February 28, 2011

Free and Easy

Recently in our ICTL team we've been talking about blogs and other Web 2.0 tools that are making a difference to both our students and teachers - and that are absolutely free.  We have decided to devote the next few Tech Train PD sessions to blogging with the expectation that eventually all our teachers will have class blogs and that this will allow students to give and receive feedback in a way that a static website cannot.  Blogs are so easy for EVERYONE to use!

Over the past week or so I've started blogging with our Grade 1 students.  Right now they are working on writing goods comments to prompts provided by the teachers on their class blogs.  Of course our Grade 1 students can't type yet, so writing a few sentences on the computer is quite a challenge for them (especially with upper case keyboards!) but what I've seen today is that the students are quite capable of recognizing a word underlined in red as a spelling mistake and then using the control-click to correct it.  Reading and writing are important skills being developed in Grade 1, and commenting on blogs is helping them to develop these skills.

I've recognised other ways that Web 2.0 tools are making a difference too (my thinking about these comes from the recent Tech & Learning report How Web Based Tools Change Teaching and Learning):

  • Blogs:  we have class blogs in Grade 1 and Grade 3, and individual student blogs in Grade 4 and Grade 5.  Students try hard when writing their blog comments as they know their writing is public.  Because they are reading each others comments and responding to them, they are also focusing on careful reading.  
  • Wikis:  we are currently using wikis for our student council.  Wikis are ideal for collecting ideas and sharing, and for building on each other's knowledge.  Along with blogs they provide an ideal platform for peer review.  For teachers it's easy to see who is contributing most, and to track edits and changes over time.  
  • Microblogging:  we haven't used this a lot with students though last year one Grade 5 class had their own Twitter account
  • Social networking: connects people and builds communities.  We used Netvibes last year during the PYP Exhibition.
  • Tagging:  we have shown our older primary students how to use Delicious to tag their bookmarks and students now tag and label their blog posts by adding keywords to describe them.
  • Multimedia:  students are making their own videos and podcasts which they are posting on their blogs so they are learning how to be contributors as well as consumers of information.
These are the skills our students are developing using these free Web 2.0 tools:
  • Critical thinking and problem solving:  in particular synthesizing information to create new understanding.
  • Communication and collaboration skills:  students are now becoming very comfortable posting and sharing their work in order to get peer comments or to collaborating using Google Docs with their classmates.
  • Creativity:  students are having more choices in how they express themselves, which in turn builds up their confidence.
  • Information literacy:  we work hard to develop analysis in our students, to have them question what is true, false and biased.  We teach our students good search strategies and encourage them to use multiple sources when finding information.
These are the skills we are trying to develop in our teachers too - and in addition we are trying to change the way they think about and use technology.  This year I've seen that teachers are more comfortable letting go and they are confident that students are able to use these tools both in the classroom and at home with very little help.  The challenge for our teachers is to keep abreast of the changing technologies and to integrate them in meaningful and relevant ways.

For both our students and teachers Web 2.0 is proving to be the way to go.  If the tool they are trying to use doesn't quite work for what they want, we haven't made an expensive investment and we can switch to something else easily.  The fact that these tools are online means everyone has access to them all the time.  These tools are free, engaging and motivating for the students and easy to use.  The genie is out of the bottle and it is not going to go back in.

Photo Credit:  Webbed Dome by Mutasim Billah

1 comment:

  1. Hi Maggie,

    I just landed on your blog based on a random Google search. I enjoyed your blog for the day, especially your conclusion about "the genie out of the bottle".

    Coincidentally, my learning games company is called Genii, plural for "genie" and "genius". We just launched the beta of our first game VocabGenii, targeting older students. Come check us out!

    @ Genii =(G)