Building Online Communities for Youth

Some colleagues from the National Writing Project (Chris Sloan and Paul Allison) are also part of the K12 Online Conference and their work was released today and deserves a good listen as they discuss the ways they have nurtured two Elgg-platform social networking sites for middle and high school students. It is an amazing project and deserves kudos and attention.

Along with the podcast and presentation, they are also opening up the lines of their Teachers Teaching Teachers weekly chat session at EdTechTalk to anyone interested in discussing the project.

All the information is at their K12 presentation site: http://k12onlineconference.org/?p=188

Peace (in partnership),
Kevin

Teachers Teaching Teachers: A Tech Matters Reunion

Last week, I went on Teachers Teaching Teachers once again and found myself in conversation again with some friendly voices from last summer. A few of us from Tech Matters 2006 used the forum to talk about what we have been up to and how we view the use of technology for creation of a vibrant community.

I talked a bit about the ABC Movie Project, my Ning experiment, Youth Radio and a few other tidbits that sprung out of Tech Matters (which is a week-long retreat for technology and technology-minded folks in the National Writing Project). It was wonderful to hear Joe, Bonnie and others once again.

Take a listen to the podcast from TTT

Peace (with connections),
Kevin

Concept Mapping — the WMWP Blog Network

As our Massachusetts Writing Project moves further into the Edublogs network (via premium service), I have started to map out the various connections of our blogs so that we can think about how best to strengthen the ties between the various initiatives. Our hope is to have a vibrant web of activity among our various sites.

I turned to Bubbl.us to work on a concept map. It was fairly easy to use, although I wish I could have embedded it directly into this post. Instead, I have to provide a link (via this picture) and let you wander through the sites yourself. The map includes individual links to various blogs in our network.

Peace (in networks),
Kevin

The Ning Thing

I have been trying to understand social networking a bit more these past few weeks, as I think this is the direction I want to take our Making Connections project that creates an online shared writing space for middle school students in our Western Massachusetts area (this past year, we had about 200 students writing and responding).

My dilemma has been, what platform? I know others are using Elgg and it seems interesting but a bit complicated for teachers in my group who are not tech savvy and need to be able to troubleshoot and help students basically on their own. There are aspects of Elgg that I really like, including the automatic tag-links created via profile writing. Elgg

And then, there is Ning. A few months ago, I became part of the Classroom 2.0 community over at Ning and it has been quite a wonderful experience. Created by Steve H., Classroom 2.0 has grown leaps and bounds since I came on board. And this network has shown the power of the collective voice, as teachers are sharing resources, strategies and questions, and probing deeper into the Web 2.0 tools, and questioning such things as assessment in the connected world.

I also wanted to try my hand at administering a Ning network, so I created an informal one for technology liaisons within the National Writing Project. It was easy to set up my own Ning network — incredibly easy, and we now have 23 members (I am hoping for many more but don’t want to push too hard). I like the ease of administration and the use of widgets that allow such easy access to load and share videos, audio, and anything else you can think of.

 

And again, this is just another tool for creating a sense of community, so I enjoy “seeing” some old friends and some new friends in the Ning space. And that is a big part of the social networking experience, I think.

Peace (with networks),
Kevin

Moving from Manila to Edublogs Premium

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my work with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project and our intent to use blogs more frequently. So far this year, through a generous grant from the National Writing Project, I have worked with almost 30 teachers and WMWP leaders to create their own blogs within Edublogs as a way to understand the potential and tinker with podcasting.

The second phase of that project is to establish a network of blog sites through our entire Massachusetts Writing Project network and we decided to contract with James Farmer and use his new Edublogs Premium account that allows us to create and administer our network, with James doing all the maintenance and upgrade work (Thanks, James!). Plus, everything will fall under the url/banner of a common MassWP web address.

In the past, we have used the Manila platform made available by the National Writing Project and we certainly appreciated the no-cost element to the blogs, but they just never caught on with our teachers, mostly due to the complexity of the platform. I used to see eyes rolling on the back of heads when I gave workshops. I am hopeful that Edublogs/Wordpress will be easier to use (it is) and more likely to become part of our network.

Our hope is that over time, a MWP/WMWP network of interconnected blogs begin to form and that first phase is the concept of online newsletters with rss feeds pulled together. We hope the blogs are not only for individual teachers, but also for the various programs within WMWP and MWP — such as Project Outreach, the Reading Initiative, and the English Language Learners network.

Here are some of the blogs I have established in the past month:

So far, so good.

Peace (with shifting platforms),
Kevin

Teachers Teaching Teachers: A Case Study

I took part in another Teachers Teaching Teachers show last night that focused in (after some tech difficulties with Skype) on one blogging post by a student of Paul Allison and the question of good examples of student writing. We didn’t get as deep into Paul’s case study as we would have all liked but it was still another interesting discussion around our expectations of student writing and how technology can play a role in those expectations. One interesting component of the show: a teacher from Australia was listening in and had two of his students talk about writing assignments that they thought were well-written, so we had some young voices in the mix.

PaulListen to the podcast

Also, be sure to check out Paul’s slideshow that highlights his young blogger working through a piece of writing.

Peace (with TTT),
Kevin

Making Connections: Final Reflections

My big blogging project — Making Connections — is coming to a close and students and teachers are doing some reflecting on the experience. We had more than 200 middle school students from six different schools (targeted at rural and urban schools that are struggling) working on a variety of blogs. One wing did poetry, memoir writing, and friendly letters, while another wing (which I was part of) did shared science experiences and data collection and science-based fictional stories. The Making Connections project is funded through the National Writing Project.

Here are some student reflections:

“I like this weblog project. I like it because you got to communicate with other students. I liked doing all of the work for the blog. It was fun reading and responding to some work from students from other schools. Weblogging in school is very fun. I learned many things doing this project. I learned different kinds of ELA writings such as I poems. I learned how to use constructive criticism. I learned how to write better in the Blog project. I learned how to respond better to other students. I learned personal thing about my friends and classmates. I have learned a lot doing this Weblogging Writing Project.” – Mike

“I liked this project. I liked it because you can express yourself without getting bullied. Kids could write from the heart. So they could write without pressure on your back. By my calculations 90% of students in 99% of schools are not the way they make themselves seem to be. They could be really smart, but not want to show it because of popularity. I learned how to express myself. I was able to write about Megan without feeling mad or sad. I learned how to be a polite critic. I learned to say nice things about others.” — Rose

“I really liked this project. The best part of this project was when we got to write our different stories. Also another good part of this project was being able to use this to talk to some of your friends you don’t really talk too. It was a pretty fun project overall. This was one of the best projects I have ever done or been a part of. I learned how to read a little more carefully. I mean like being able to find any mistakes in the poems and if they had creativity or not. Also I learned that you can have fun with writing poems and stories. I also learned how to be a lot nicer to people than i used to be. I learned how to listen a lot better too.” – Nick

“I liked this project because I got to learn a lot of different things about computers. I also enjoyed the fact that I got to leave the classroom every now and then. Since we got to use the computers it made writing more fun for me. I liked this project because I got to talk to different people in different schools and grades. I learned a few things from this blogging project. One of the things I learned is to elaborate on certain topics. I also learned that are mean seventh graders who don’t answer the letters we wrote to them. This blogging project helped me to use better grammar, kind of. I learned how to give constructive criticism. Which was very helpful. That is some of the things I learned using this blogging project.” – Emily

“The project, Making Connections, lasted for months through the school year. I liked this project for many reasons. One was that it used technology and a different way of a school writing project in a good way. Another thing that I liked was that the writers got to use feeling into their writing and most of the writing entries were very good. Finally, another reason why I liked this writing project was that you got to interact with many schools in this area. They were also very creative writers and had similar and different opinions as I do. This is why I liked this project. I also have learned many things while using this blog. I learned how to use constructive tips and not hurtful ones. I have also learned that many writers feel the same way I do in some topics. I have also learned about many writing assignments and how to improve them. This is what I have learned from this project. “ — Jim

Here are some teacher reflections from a few who were new to the project this year and had no technology experiences prior to Making Connections:

“I have definitely furthered my technological knowledge through this project. I originally thought I would have some difficulty with the technology aspect, but was relieved to discover that it was relatively easy. I have learned a lot about blogging and how to connect writing and technology. I feel more confident with computer technology as a result of this project. I think my students have learned a great deal as well. They have learned how to blog appropriately and meaningfully, and they have gained technological skills. I think they also learned a lot just from reading about the personal experiences of older students involved in the project. Finally, they learned how to give both positive feedback and constructive criticism in their responses to posts.” Paula, Chicopee.

“I felt it was very important in the beginning of this project to get together as a group. We were able set timelines and goals for ourselves and the group, which was very important and helpful for me as a way of keeping focused and on track. However, sometimes time limitations and trying to work around so many peoples’ schedules made this difficult. One of the most productive professional development sessions happened during a scheduled leave day from school. This was an opportunity for us to spend a good amount of time together and actually utilize the computers and learn by doing, not just listening. . One of the easiest parts of the project was having each student post their own introduction. Students love using the computers. I think many students find writing on the computer easier than writing on paper and so we’re more willing to write and share more about themselves or respond to others. We have a mobile computer lab so each student is able to have his own computer. The only problem at times is access to the computer cart. Our school only had one cart at the time of this project and many teachers use this cart. It can be frustrating to know that you have a deadline and then not have access to the computers in order to meet this.”Lisa, Southampton.

I think the biggest goal that I had this year was to incorporate technology into the lesson modeling that I needed to do as an ELA coach. I was also concerned in the beginning as to the benefits of this project in terms of being a more effective way of writing than traditional. The students responded in a very positive manner to this project and I think that blogging made them forget their sometimes negative feelings about writing.”Michelle, Chicopee

Peace (in reflection),
Kevin

Podcasting and Speech Class

Some friends, Troy and Dawn, from the Red Cedar Writing Project, have been working to integrate podcasting into speech class, and then researching the impact such Web 2.0 tools may have on student learning. They are doing this for a variety of reasons, but one of them is that they are writing a chapter for a book I am co-editing on emerging technology and learning (yeah!).

Troy and Dawn recently guest-hosted Teachers Teaching Teachers and I wanted to share the podcast of their show, since it was very informative on many levels.

Listen in on the discussion

Peace (in a pod),
Kevin

The Collaborative ABC Movie Project

For the past few months, I have been overseeing (with my friend, Bonnie) a collaborative project designed to bring teachers from around the country together to experiment with digital storytelling through video. The project is nearing (every so slowly) the first phase, in which about a dozen teachers have been working on short movies based around letters of the alphabet. Later, when all 26 movies are finished, we will use an online site called Jumpcut to collaborate on the editing together into one big movie.

The small movies have been amazing to watch. There have been heartfelt tributes to nurses and horses; childhood stories, both humorous and emotional; and evocative videos that create a sense of place. Many of the folks have never done anything like this before, so some of the use of tech has been a struggle and we are learning as we are going. I am urging them all to share their scripts and their reflections with the bigger community. This is the blog that Bonnie and I set up — called Using Tech to Tell Stories — where much of the work is being shared.
This is my intro movie, which is based on the picture book Chicka-Chicka-Boom-Boom, and I used ToonDoo as a platform for making short comic frames:

[kml_flashembed movie="http://video.google.com/googleplayer.swf?docid=5504345373755011847" width="400" height="326" wmode="transparent" /]

If you want to view all the movies submitted so far, you can head to my Wiki site where I am slowly collecting them at one site. Go to the ABC Wiki.

Peace (with partners),
Kevin

Hello Windy City

On Friday, I am off to Chicago for a Monograph Book Project with the National Writing Project. My colleagues, Bruce P. and Susan B., and I have been writing the story of what happened to our Western Massachusetts Writing Project when three seismic events took place:

  • We lost all of our state funding for supporting writing teachers in our region
  • One of our founders and guiding forces died suddenly and unexpectedly
  • Another founding member and longtime director announced that he would be retiring

This was all before my time at WMWP, so it has been quite a narrative journey for me to discover the history of our site. In Chicago, we will be meeting with editors and other writers from other writing projects to discuss our progress and how things are going.

Essentially, our book is built around these ideas:

Þ The creation of an inservice coordinator position to spearhead our efforts to reach into more schools by tapping into the expanding knowledge base of our teacher consultants.

Þ The addition of a technology liaison who not only helped move us forward into technology in new ways but also became part of the leadership team that allowed our site to view what we were doing, and how we could improve, through a different spectrum.

Þ A model of mentoring in which veteran leaders of site-based programs would ask for newer, less-experienced teacher consultants to become co-leaders and this not only gave us flexibility in times of unexpected crisis, but also expanded the number of leadership positions at our site.

Þ Writing out explicit job descriptions for leadership posts, from co-director to technology liaison, as a way of not only explaining the roles and responsibilities of the position, but also leaving a paper trail for the future.

Þ The recasting of our entire leadership structure to feature rotating co-director slots with three-year term limits and the launch of a task force structure that allowed more teacher consultants to get involved in the decision-making process of our site than had happened previously.

Þ Increased efforts to create partnerships with organizations outside of our traditional circle of friends that allowed us to expand our visibility and reach in a wider geographic and demographic area. These partnerships included Westfield State College, the Wisteriahurst Museum in Holyoke and the Springfield Republican newspaper.

Peace (with reflection),
Kevin