Last week, I joined an online conversation with folks through Teachers Teaching Teachers that explores the convergence of technology and teaching in its many varied forms. I have been curious about the concept of Elgg communities and jumped into the conversation with some questions (for my own benefit and for my wife, who is a high school teacher). As far as I can tell, Elgg offers the possibility of a safe online community that links members together through shared interested and through related “tags” that they create in their profile. It mirrors Facebook and MySpace, but without the advertising and mess of those sites. Dave Tosh provides a good overview of Elgg at his site.
You can listen to the podcast of that conference through the Teachers Teaching Teachers site. Or you can find that link here:
Listen to the podcast
Meanwhile, I notice that the authors of one of my favorite blog sites — Bud the Teacher — is posing his own inquiries into Elgg, so I hope to follow along that conversation, too. And I have joined a teacher Elgg, too, just to tour around and get familiar with the tools that are there.
The first writing project for my sixth grade this year is a BioPoem in which our young writers create an 11-line poem about themselves based on a series of prompts that explore emotions, fears and family.
To move beyond the personal and more towards a community of writers, we created Class Audio Biopoems in which each student contributed one line from their poem.
Take a listen:
Some days, you just stumble across a very neat idea and have to share it with other people, you know? Someone fed me this link to the Museum of Museums through a Delicious account and I was hooked.
This Museum of Museums collects links to the sites of any variety of museums from around the world, with the very ambitious idea of linking every single museum together for one mass site of collective knowledge. (It’s nice to have reasonable goals, I suppose). Art galleries, dinosaurs, music and any other topic that you can think of is someone’s museum obsession and can be found within the categories of this site. You can even view the Museum of Bad Art, if that is more to your taste.
And then, there are those virtual museums — the places that don’t exist in the real world and yet, are repositories of information. For example, there is a museum for toaster ovens, if that is your thing. And the Museum of Talking Boards (meaning: Ouiji) that can raise some goosebumps on people.
I can envision some neat virtual field trips from my classroom, with links and reactions and descriptions right from the class Weblog site.
The connections between writing and voice is an interesting one, particularly in this age of podcasts and audiocasts across distance and time, and I know that my NWP colleague Chris S. in Utah has been very much into capturing the voices of his students and researching the ways that voice can influence and enhance writing.
Last year, my students were part of a Cyberpal exchange with some students at Jefferson Junior High School in Washington DC (through another NWP partnership with Maria) and they shared some of their own personal narrative writing via an audiocast.
Students wrote a short personal narrative piece that focused on an object that represented some memories. Take a listen:
Today in my Sixth Grade Writing Workshop, students learned a bit about point of view narrative techniques in writing.
- First Person Narrative: stories told from the view of a character.
- Third Person Narrative: stories told from a perspective outside of a particular character
- Second Person Narrative: stories that insert the reader into the story.
Students then wrote in a First Person Narrative style that captured a leaf falling from a tree in Autumn. Some of those young writers, after sharing their writing with the class, agreed to help create this audiocast.
It was Day One of the school year, and so I demonstrated to my sixth graders all the steps necessary to creating and posting audiocast to our Weblog site by actually doing it together (in 30 minutes!!) and we ended up with this audiocast:
On the first day of school, my homeroom students created a podcast about their expectations for sixth grade and/or their concerns for the year ahead.
Listen to Their Voices
Oh, if you are wondering about what Quidditch is, here is a visual guide:
In the past two years, I have been on the local NPR affiliate (WFCR) two times — first, as a guest commentator speaking of the values of nurturing student leadership and community service at my school (Norris Elementary School), and, second, as a leader of the National Writing Project-funded Making Connections Weblog Project.
As I continue to explore ways to integrate audio into Weblogs, I figured this would be a time to link those two radio files to this site.
I have always shared information with my parents and students right from the first day of school because I believe it is important for everyone to know what is ahead in my sixth grade writing class. It should not be a mystery. This year, I decided to take it a step further and put together an overall curriculum map and distribute via our school website (which is being revamped) and my classroom Weblog site.
It was a valuable experience for me, as a teacher, to realize the scope of work being accomplished by my students over the course of a school year. I also realized that there are endless mini-lessons and activities that fall outside the scope of this generalized curriculum overview. But I guess it is a start.
Here is the curriculum map for parents and students
I always start off the school year by sending home a letter to all of my incoming students (whom I have already met last year) that welcomes them to my classroom and provides a quick overview of what is ahead for the coming year (excitement! fun! adventure!).
I also give them access to our writing class weblog (The Electronic Pencil) and instructions on how to log in and post some writing. I start them off with the basic “what did you do this summer” query in the days before school starts and then closely monitor what happens.
In the first few days, four students have already posted some initial writing and begun commenting on each other’s writing (all good) and then today, I get a post in which a student describes in some detail their dating habits this summer and the ups and downs of being a sixth grader. It was a good piece of writing (as writing goes) but not within bounds of our Weblog. So I had to delete their writing and insert a comment from me about the parameters of acceptable expression. And that made me feel awkward and I realized how artificial a classroom weblog becomes when this happens, and yet, as a teacher, I really didn’t have much choice. The post was too specific on too many topics.
I know I will have to pull this student aside on the first day and have a discussion. That’s a good thing (the discussion) but I still feel a tingle of uneasiness between what I hope the site can be used for and how I have to act as gatekeeper.
This student promised to write again tomorrow, so I look forward to reading the next post … 🙂
School is just around the bend and those frantic dreams have already begun for me (and for others, I notice, as I read some other Weblogs of teachers). So this is a perfect time to reflect a bit on last year and think about projects that were successful and projects that need a bit more thinking time. 🙂
For my sixth graders, learning how to use Powerpoint was an eye-opener. I know that PP is so overused in so many different ways, but it still a valuable tool for research dissemination for students. However, I wanted to use PP in another way in the writing classroom — as a template for creating picture books.
So, my sixth graders spent about six weeks (much longer than anticipated) writing stories for a younger audience with a theme of mathematics, and then using Powerpoint to create picture books. No clip art was allowed!
When they were finished, we invited younger grades to tour our classroom and watch the Powerpoint Picture Book Shows and ask questions about the stories, technology and production. I then arranged to have print copies made of the shows for both my students and for our school library. Finally, I uploaded all of the picture books to our Weblog site so that family members could also view the shows.
The results were wonderful — students very engaged in writing, integrating math into writing instruction, and the use of technology in a meaningful way.
You can view the Math Picture Books yourself, if you would like.
If you are a teacher, good luck at the start of the year!