The past week I have come across different edubloggers talking about a fifth graders who writes a phenomenal blog. In a short amount of time the blog had received over 30,000 hits and is still growing today. Even though I have worked with fifth graders a number of years, I still find myself in awe and inspired by the outstanding work students do with and about technology. I find May of every school year to be bittersweet, as I am sure most educators do. The approach of summer and the end of another school year means helping fifth graders transition to middle school as sixth graders. We hand the students off to the middle schools and hope for the best. The author of the the “Twenty Five Days to Make a Difference” blog, Laura, I am sure will no doubt be successful in sixth grade and in any venture she undertakes.
In her blog, she shares how why she created her blog and is dedicated to helping those in need:
In December of 2007, I decided that the best way to remember my grandpa during the holiday season would be by living my life like he did, by making a difference and being a leader. I decided to honor my grandfather’s memory by trying to make a difference every day for twenty five days. I wanted to be able to do little things, like kids my age typically do, instead of HUGE things that are sometimes hard for kids like me. I decided to write about my adventures here, and I also created a challenge.
I challenged everyone who read my blog to TRY to do something every single day during the holiday season to make a SMALL difference in his or her world. I explained that whoever made the “most difference” in December would win a $25.00 donation to the charity of his or her choice on Christmas night. I SAVED ALL OF MY ALLOWANCE ($25) FOR THE MONTH OF DECEMBER, AND I WAS REALLY SURPRISED AND EXCITED WHEN SEVERAL PEOPLE GENEROUSLY OFFERED TO MATCH MY DONATION (OR MORE)!
You can continue reading the post to see who matched her donation and learn about her monthly donation contest to the charity of the reader’s choice. She is doing extraordinary things for readers around the world that would not be possible without the use of this technology communication tool.
I am quite certain that her fifth grade teacher is filled with pride over her accomplishments. Probably more proud than the blogger’s parents! I know I would be knowing that I had that type of impact and made such a difference in a young person’s life. As an educator that is our ultimate reward, paychecks of the heart.
After you check out this fifth grader’s blog ask yourself, “Am I smarter than a fifth grader?” In some instances, the answer may be ‘No!’.
A few minutes ago I was reading an email containing my daily Diigo update and a bookmark from my Project Based Learning Group that submitted the blog site, “Wikis for Everyone“. The post, “A Classroom Wiki Webquest“, caught my attention featuring a teacher conducting a wiki webquest with her students about rock and roll musicians.
“For their first project, they created a Webquest about the 1980’s rock and roll scene. “Students were required to research about music in the 1980s and design a rock exhibit for a rock and roll museum. Students worked in groups to create various products – feature articles, press releases, teaching and student guides, and museum calendars – explaining the exhibit highlights.”
This project led to a project on the 50 greatest rockers resulting in the creation of a project wiki. The “RockWriteListen” wiki is laid out well with an introduction to the project, a webquest and student products. This was so awesome to see the extent and detailed length the wiki was utlized to facilitate this project. Initially, instruction on how to use the wiki and communicate expectations to the students took place.
“There had to be an entire mini-lesson on what was an appropriate response in the discussion section. The experience was useful. Looking though the discussions you will find that a lot of the students had great insights to add. And this insight went beyond `great page, cool graphics.”
Laying the foundation with clear expectations communicated is essential to the success of any project and as elaborate as this project became it was a necessary component that had to be woven into the instruction of the content as well. The teacher featured commented how the students had to work together to complete the components of the webquest project. Eventually, the teacher structured the 50 greatest rockers project so that each student was responsible for editing his/her own page.
Using wikis to their fullest potential is like venturing into new territory. You blaze a trail and learn from trial and error of ways to better facilitate and structure group projects such as those mentioned in the post. The teacher commented that using the wiki really expanded the learning opportunities and she also participated in the learning process.
“As for photobuckets and other widgets, the students really showed me how to do that. Once one student started it, I asked how to do it, then taught other students. We were learning from each other – myself included.”
That comment really struck with me. Students look to us to know all of the answers to their every question. Many teachers feel insecure about saying that they don’t know the answer but this is real world learning. This teacher took a risk, her students took risks and an outstanding project resulted that focused on content but provide so many rich, real learning experiences that is greatly needed for the 21st century flattened world.
The other day I received a bookmark in the update I receive from Diigo from one of the online groups I am a member of to the edublog entitled, “Betchablog” authored by Chris Betcher. I was reading the post, “You say that like it’s a bad thing“. He shared an anecdote from Will Richardson who was speaking at a conference that I found astonishing. As I reading the post, I made an assumption that most teachers would feel the way I did and would have responded as I would have regarding the student’s assignment below.
“In particular, one of the stories that seemed to rankle a few listeners, including my colleague, was the one about a student who was given a research task by his teacher and how he approached this task.
The student found very little information about the topic, not even on Wikipedia. What would you do if you were this student?
Here’s what he did. He created a Wikipedia entry using the limited information that he did know. Over the next few days and weeks, the Wikipedia entry on the topic was edited, amended, added-to and improved by many other people. All of their individual little bits of knowledge gradually built up the topic until there was quite a comprehensive article written about it. The student then used this article to submit for his research project.
Apparently, the student’s teacher discovered what had happened and the student was awarded an F – a failing grade.”
Prior to sharing this anecdote, Betcher shared a definition of a ‘zealot’ and went on to describe his views after sharing with his colleagues:
“One of my colleagues from school also attend the event, and when I got back to school the next day I asked how he enjoyed it. His reply was fairly lukewarm, with the comment that he thought a lot of the things Will was saying made him sound like a zealot. Google says that a zealot is a “fanatically committed person“, or “one who espouses a cause… in an immoderately partisan manner.”
I don’t think my colleague used the term zealot in a particularly positive sense – I’m sure it wasn’t meant as a compliment. Personally, if a zealot is a fanatically committed person then I think we need more zealots in education. I also have strong beliefs about the nature of school and learning and think that we need to act quickly and radically if schools are to maintain any sort of relevance in today’s world. I also think we need to be fairly drastic about making these changes, so I guess that makes me a zealot too.”
Similar to Betcher’s response, I too would not have given the student a failing grade. I would have commended him on his ingenuity and tenacity of seeking information on a topic that had been sparsely documented. I would have had a conversation with the student regarding the accuracy of the information received and ways to verify the validity of the information. If all of proved true and his sources were properly cited I would gladly have given him a superior grade.
If we want students to employ and utilize the many web 2.0 tools, we must model and support those strategies in the classroom. Misguided teachers or administrators that do not believe in their students or staff must be shown there are secure, safe ways to instruct students on using blogging, wikis, etc. If that makes me a zealot for tech integration, then please call me a zealot! In my world flattery gets you everywhere.
You can find the UStream recording from Will’s talk here, and his conference wiki here.