Making Connections: Midway Point, part two

In our big Making Connections project this year (we are in the second year, thanks to funding from the National Writing Project), we asked students to take an online survey before they started to do any blogging. We were looking to gather some data about perceptions of students as writers and users of technology. We have had about 250 students take the survey, which we believe gives us some reliability. Some teachers will be sharing the data with their students and with their administration.

Here are four questions that jumped out at me:

How do you use technology to communicate to others?

Do you think you write better on paper or on the computer?

Do you think schools should teach technology as a ways to communicate with others?

Which of these tools have you used in the past year?

Feel free to poke around:

Peace (with data points),
Kevin

 

Making Connections: Midway Point, part one

I am project leader for an initiative (funded by the National Writing Project) that seeks to use weblogs to connect students. We have 15 teachers from five school districts, and about 300 students using blogs to write and interact.


We just finished the first phase of our project, in which students introduce themselves and comment with each other. We have had almost 1,200 posts on the Manila-based Weblog that we are using (the poor server). This weekend, the teachers all met to talk about how things are going. For the most part, they are not technology-proficient, so this project is pushing them in new, and sometimes frustrating, directions.

Here are some of the teacher posts from this weekend:

Most students from Southampton have made their introductions and have had had a chance to go back on and make comments to introductions of students from other schools. This went very smoothly in Southampton. Many responses were made to students from other towns. We did tell all students to make at least 3 responses to students from OTHER schools first before responding to someone from our own school. We also reminded them to look for studentsto respond to who might not have any responses yet. One frustration some students had was that they did not know who had responded to their introduction. If there was more than one student with the name “Bob”, for instance, they did not know which one in order to respond back to him. Or, students were not signing their response.” — Lisa

The successes include seeing all of the connections that students are making as well as seeing the empathy being gained as they learn that other student are having shared experiences. Hinting about the upcoming experiement has also been a real postitive as students witness the nature of science as others repeat the Skittles experiment to gather more data. — Jack

Everything is going okay so far. The only problem we have had has been gremlins in the machine that won’t accept the kids’ passwords or even their existence as members when they try to log on. The weird thing is that on any given day some kids get on successfully while others do not. There seems to be no consistency in who the particular victims will be – someone may have no problem one day, but may have to try 2 or 3 times to get logged in the next day.” — Mary M.

I was a little disappointed in my students’ introductions, but I think that as soon as they see the traffic that has hit the blog, they will become more enthusiastic. Right now, like me, I think they are a little overwhelmed. — Denise

Our students created self-portraits by hand. We took digital pictures of them and then uploaded them to a photo storage website. The only pitfall was figuring out how to do all of this–trial by fire and LOTS of time. If anyone needs help with this, thanks to just-in-time learning, I am now a Master Jedi. LOL” — Michele

One problem I ran into was that some students would hop on the blog whenever they got a few extra minutes in the day. They were able to get their work finished quickly; posting their own and responding back and forth to several people. This was great, but the problem was that with the extra time, they just started to casually blog to one another. I had to have the “this is not myspace” talk with them and remind them that all of the other people and teachers on the blog can and would be reading what they write.” — Deb

I’m benefitting because I’m gaining some technological skills. My students are improving both their writing and technological skills, and they’re making meaningful connections with students from other communities. I think my students especially enjoyed posting their self-portraits – Michele, who is a technology wizard, helped a great deal with this. The drawings don’t really look like them, but they capture their personalities quite well! One thing I really like about this project is the security of the site and the control we have as teachers. ” — Paula

Many of the students are excited about the project and are looking forward to continuing. It is sometimes difficult to manage all the students as they are not very independent when starting a new endeavor. We are ironing out the wrinkles as far as logistics, scheduling, and other problems go. ” Ann

Things are going well, slow but sure. My fifth grade students are enjoying this ‘new’ way of talking, especially the relaxed writing style. It was refreshing to see some of my more reluctant participants jump on the tech train. I am wondering how I can keep this same enthusiaism as we try to find time and space in the computer lab. The chatter is great. Kidos want to get on and talk with each other. I have one student who got onto the site from home. I’m not sure about this…I wonder how I can control what happens outside my perview? I have a new layer of responsibility that I’m not yet sure about.” — Mary F.

I have a group of enthusiastic bloggers this year. Although they are not as advanced with technology as my group last year, they are tenacious.” — Eva

It has been difficult for us to “squeeze” the blogging into our curriculum, but the kids are enthusiastic and most want to do more. It’s interesting how these kids perceive the responses they have been getting – some were disappointed to find out that they were corresponding with “white kids”, and others were disappointed to have responses from younger students “Miss, why are you trying to “hook me up” with a 10 year old!” But, it’s good for them to see outside of their culture and very limited horizon. And once they began to understand everything, they were accepting and look forward to the experience.” — Wendy

Again, I’m having trouble when I really wasn’t expecting to. I planned to blog with a class that I had a support teacher with and that is usually a pretty enthusiastic bunch, the principal had been notified and seemed to be on board, etc., and Wendy said she would help if I needed her. Then- My support teacher and Wendy were assigned to new Lindamood Bell classes during that block, the principal got MCAS panic, and my class, for the most part,decided they are not that interested!” — Mary D.

So, as you can see, there is a lot of reflection going on with the project, and many hurdles to overcome. In the next day or two, I will share the data from a survey we had our students take around technology.

Peace (with connections),
Kevin

Student Survey

The image “http://www.unl.edu/casnrde/images/survey_icon2.gif” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.The introduction to our Making Connections Weblog project (through the National Writing Project) involves an entrance survey, just to gather some data about student perceptions and use of technology. My students took the survey the other day (online, through Survey Monkey) and it is quite interesting to see the results.

Some observations:

  • Almost 80 percent of my students say they are on the computer more than two hours every day (that’s a lot of time — too much time, if you ask me — they should be outside, playing football or tag or something)
  • Almost 60 percent say they regularly use Instant Messaging to communicate with friends (and we often see the results of this IM in the morning, with hurt feelings and rumors run amok)
  • 50 percent said they enjoy writing (whoo-hooo) and almost 20 percent said they love to write (double whoo-hooo). Four percent said they don’t like to write at all (boo-hoo)
  • 78 percent said they think they write better on computer than on paper (interesting and not sure how to interpret that, although we talked about it in class)
  • 86 percent that schools SHOULD teach how to appropriately use technology to communicate with others.

All in all, interesting, and it will be even more interesting to compile the data from all six school districts involved in our project. I’ll share that out when it comes together (now I need to learn Excel)

Peace (choose A, B, or C),
Kevin

NWP in T.H.E. Journal

The National Writing Project is featured in the recent edition of T.H.E. Journal magazine as one organization that sees the potential and benefits of technology in the classroom. The article notes that blogging has a strong foothold in the NWP network (we know this ourselves). The article also mentions the Technology Initiative, which my Western Massachusetts Writing Project is part of through our Making Connections project (more on that to come soon as we are almost set to launch our second year).

From the article in THE Journal:

“Whether the digital vehicle is e-mail, blogs, or podcasts isn’t significant; what matters is that these are all tools that involve students in writing and bring them into the company of distant audiences, which supports the learning that comes when writers see what readers make of their work.” — from http://www.thejournal.com/articles/19919_3

Peace (with the Writing Project),
Kevin

The Laws of Jim Grey

Jim Gray founded the National Writing Project in California in the early 1970s as a way to gather teachers together to share best practices in the teaching of writing and to become writers themselves. He passed away in the past year. (He published a wonderful book called Teachers at the Center about the early days of the writing project).
The Voice, a publication of the NWP, recently published some wonderful reflections on Jim Gray’s impact on our network of teachers, and this retrospective included the so-called unwritten Gray’s Laws that seem very insightful.

The First Law:
No one, in any way, at any time, or under any circumstances, likes criticism.
The Sixth Law:
If you become defensive, you lose.
The Second Law:
Everyone, without qualification, is starved for recognition.
The Seventh Law:
When issues are controversial, communication between opposing sides is mostly impossible.
The Third Law:
Incompetence flourishes in all fields and in all walks of life.
The Eighth Law:
The Macbeth Family Factor — It pays to consider the consequences, lest you go mad.
The Fourth Law:
No one can see ‘the truth’ unless predisposed to see it.
The Ninth Law:
The Iago Factor — There really are a lot of mean-spirited people in this world.
The Fifth Law:
No one wants to be told what to do or what to think.
The Tenth Law:
Anyone who has made up nine laws will add a tenth.

You can read some of the stories about Jim Gray through the Bay Area Writing Project site.

National Writing Project: Nashville Podcasts

While I was in Nashville for the National Writing Project Annual Meeting, I decided I would create an audio postcard for some of our writing project fellows back home in Western Massachusetts. These audio files are also being linked to our WMWP Online Newsletter for others to listen to.

Here are the two audio postcards:

  • Day One: some workshop presentations, interviews and reflections Day One
  • Day Two: general assembly of NWP, interviews and reflections Day Two

Here I am with a Jason, a good friend and colleague from Colorado, who is part our Youth Radio Project.

Jason and Kevin

Peace,
Kevin

National Writing Project: Nashville

I returned home from Nashville yesterday afternoon from the annual meeting of the National Writing Project armed and ready with new ideas and full of questions about which direction our Western Massachusetts Writing Project site and my classroom should be going, given the influx of new tools and ideas that are out there.

I will be podcasting some of my audio postcard that I created this past week at Nashville for our WMWP Newsletter site but until then, here are some insights:

  • Once again: What an amazing group of teachers we have in the NWP network and it is at all levels. I am most closely connected with the Tech Liaisons but this annual meeting really drives home the passion and energy of teachers who view writing as central to the learning process. I am not alone in the woods! 🙂
  • I took part in three workshops, including one about writing in the digital age. I presented a case study about digital picture books but other presenters showed a virtual museum, video storytelling, audio and writing connections and the change in audience, and others. I am not convinced writing has changed in these studies but it was fascinating and inspiring work.
  • With the launch of the second year of our large Weblog project called Making Connections (using technology to connect students in rural and urban districts), I suddenly became aware of how the Manila blog platform just isn’t what we need and now I am scrambling to find a better platform (Elgg is one under consideration). It’s a bit scary to change, considering we have intended to launch Year Two in the next six to eight weeks. But the NWP network will do that to you — inspire you to reach out in new directions. And, I figure, if the goal of our project is to build community among writers and the Manila just isn’t cutting it, then let’s be bold and find the right platform to accomplish our goals.
  • Finally, it was great to connect with fellow technology powerhouses from both Tech Matters (this past summer) and to connect faces and voices to blogs on my aggregator (Bud the Teacher, etc).

More to come later …. until then, peace.
Kevin

Why Use Tech: Composition Considerations

In a few weeksl, I am heading to Nashville for the National Writing Project Annual Meeting and I am taking part in a workshop about writing in the digital age. (Here is my slide presentation using SlideShare — a new favorite) I will discuss a Digital Math Picture Book Project that I did with my sixth graders last year that used Powerpoint as the platform.

But the question is: Why use the computers to compose a picture book? Why not just stick to paper and pen?

Here are my thoughts:

One guiding question that I went into this math picture book project with was, how will the composing process change for my sixth graders as they create picture books using technology (Powerpoint) as opposed to previous years when it was all paper and pen? They had to write a story that taught a math theme to an audience of younger students.

First of all, the planning did not change much at all. We still did all of the brainstorming work and storyboarding on paper before the computers were even turned on. But early in the process, some students began to think about the various aspects of PP (images that can move in and off the screen and transitions and the integration of audio) as possible ideas for complementing their writing. (They had been introduced to PP earlier in the year). They also had to integrate their own art into the picture books — they could scan in images they drew or they could use Paint and then import. (Most of them used Paint, although that was a struggle for some).

The result was an interesting combination of old and new for my students.

Some composed “shows” that allowed the reader to listen for clues to math problems embedded within the story. Once the reader has some ideas of an answer to the question, they could use the mouse click to “remove” a picture and reveal the answer. Sometimes, the audio file was merely a word of encouragement and sometimes the audio was a narration of the story. We invited younger grades (mostly k-3) to our classrooms and set up computer stations. My students then not only shared their work but they also explained to the younger ones how they made their books on the computer and how the tricks were accomplished (such as moving images). Some made changes to the books after getting a reaction from one round of readers. Unlike paper, they could make changes immediately and in a few minutes time.

We did not go into hyperlinking to other pages in the book or outside of the books but that is something that might provide an even more powerful platform for extending their knowledge base (and the reader’s base of understanding) from the local (their book) to the global (the world).

The final step was publication. We actually printed out two paper copies of every book (one for the student and one for the school) and then I converted the books to PDF and posted to our Weblog site for families to view. (There were too many and they were just too large to post as PP shows but that would be have been ideal). What happened, of course, is that I had to flatten everything out to two-dimensional space, which meant that the audio files were deleted and any hidden answers had to be revealed or else they would be missing from the printed page, which led to an interesting discussion about the differences between composition on paper and composition on powerpoint. Many of the writers were disappointed but I encouraged them to bring in a blank disc or flashdrive to save their shows as originals, and some did just that.


Peace,
Kevin

More Six Word Stories

The NWP Six Word Story Wiki site is gaining momentum in the last few days.

Here are the latest entries:

I can’t wait to see what comes next …

Peace,
Kevin