Archive for November, 2010

7 Reasons, 6 Tips and 3 Uses: Wikis In The Classroom

November 30, 2010 Leave a comment

It’s been a while since I’ve used wikis in a class (last May I believe), so I thought I needed to remind myself why I liked using them and how I made it work by writing a blog post. If you find this useful, please share  and comment below!
Reasons For Using Wikis
  1. Honor Each Student Using social media such as wikis helps you honor the ideas of each student. Engage your students and let them know that their ideas are valued – give them a platform to share their understandings, and they will.
  2. Make Understanding Transparent When using a wiki that is accessible with any web browser all students can access the knowledge of their classmates even if they are too shy to talk in class or those who miss a day or even weeks.
  3. Teach Your Students To Reference Ideas Wikis are a very easy way for students to begin referencing other work because they can easily put in links to other web based sources
  4. Learn Digital Citizenship Getting your students working on social media gives you an opportunity to teach digital citizen, and allow students to learn how to become effective ‘knowers’ in the 21st century
  5. Use Multimedia Students can add multimedia to their notes/work; links, video, pictures, interactive web applets, cartoons, etc.
  6. Engage Students similar to #1, but specifically focus on the fact that students will be doing work instead of teacher.
  7. Track Student Work Wikis are one of the few tools that allows you to see exactly which user has done what. Use the history function to track student work and edits to know who has been engaged.
Tips For Making Wikis Work In The Classroom
  1. Set Clear Expectations√ The best way to deal with problem behavior is to avoid it with clear expectations. Talk to your students about being good citizens online, and have clear expectations. Students respond well to candid discussions on this topic.
  2. Provide Descriptive Feedback 🙂 Take a few minutes early in the use of wikis to show students the type of ‘posts’ that are productive and effective, and tell them why. Point out ‘posts’ that are less effective, and tell them why.
  3. Structures Help! Using wikis will be very different, so think carefully about how you structure such a lesson in advance. Usually only one user can edit at once. I brought 25 people online to work on 13 wikis (representing 13 concepts). The first time I did this I made 13 bright yellow sheets of paper with the title of each wiki page on one yellow sheet. In pairs, users were told to only edit a wiki if they had the corresponding sheet. Every 5 minutes we switched sheets, until each group had the chance to add to each wiki/idea.
  4. Scaffold Skills If you want students to do research to find media or information, you need to show them how. You may also need to show them how to reference information, use a wiki, take turns, collaborate, share, respond to classmates, etc. If you don’t teach it, don’t expect them to know how!
  5. Provide Frameworks consider providing structures such as questions for them to answer (please don’t turn a wiki into a worksheet!), graphic organizers for sorting research findings, etc. – anything to help students organize their thoughts and get them started.
  6. Be Present The most important thing you can do for your students is be present while they are working. Circle around the classroom frequently, ask students to show you what they have so far. Question them, and have them question you. If you’re not a part of the learning process than why are you getting paid?
Suggested Uses of Wikis During Learning
  1. As a KWL Chart (what I Know, what I Want to know, and what I Learned) The first time I used wikis in class, small groups shared a wiki throughout a two-week unit of study. I posted over-arching questions on the wiki, and the individuals in the group added and updated it. At the end they had a nice document with pictures, text, links, videos and interactive applets that helped them understand the content.
  2. As A Unit Review I’ve seen a few teachers using wikis at the end of a unit to put together interactive multi-media based notes and questions. In these cases the community knowledge had been less of a focus but the simplicity of a wiki expedited student work.
  3. As The Knowledge of the Classroom It is important to honor the ideas and understandings of every student in your classroom. By using wikis you can give each student an opportunity to share their understanding on a topic; a picture, graph, video, experience, applet or other website/resource that helps them represent their understanding. I seen a math teacher once have students use wikis to explain a data set – at the end there were various types of graphs, links images and explanations which became a valuable way for students to gain the perspective of their peers.

I hope I’ve given you some fresh ideas for using wikis in school. These ideas have developed out of work I have done with my district and with my colleague, Susana Gerndt. I would be interested in hearing your feedback in the comments below! 🙂

This post is the third in a series of posts I call “Reasons and Tips”


Things You Can Do Today To Enhance Student Learning

November 28, 2010 Leave a comment

With all of the talk about education reform and standardized assessments I’m sure some teachers are feeling a bit overwhelmed or powerless. To re-empower teachers (including myself), I started a list of things that classroom teachers can easily start doing tomorrow in the classroom. I’m just starting the list, please help it grow by sharing your own ideas in the comments section.

  1. Get rid of rows of desks, get kids sitting in groups. Learning doesn’t happen in isolation.
  2. Have a class discussion. I don’t mean talk to your kids about something, I mean get all the students talking! (shameless self-plug, but it makes my point)
  3. Take a break from grades, and give students descriptive and useful feedback. Read more about this on Joe Bowers blog
  4. Engage students with Post-it notes – students can write comments and questions on them while reading/learning/listening and stick them in their books. Very simple, very effective.
  5. Let student questions drive the learning – a simple example of how this might look is given by John Scammel on his blog
  6. Student lead reviews – at the beginning of class, get students to review what they learned last class, and use this as the starting point for the new learning.
  7. If it’s in their textbook, don’t make them write it. I used to do this too; give notes that students don’t really need. If you really want them to have summary notes of the textbook, teach them to take their own – that is much more powerful learning. Read about the Cornell note taking system for an idea of what I mean.

This is by no means a comprehensive list, so I encourage you to share your ideas by commenting below. Good luck tomorrow

The Role of 21C Skills in Learning Mathematics

November 26, 2010 Leave a comment

This post is the written form of a presentation I gave in a class that I am taking. The purpose was to show how I’ve been dealing with the tensions between 21st century skills and the work I’ve been doing in some math classrooms. The prezi (which lacks detail but shows a good over-view) is available here.

Twenty first century skills have been a topic of discussion in Alberta since 1987 when Alberta Education published Essential Concepts, Skills and Attitudes for Grade 12.  Since then various organizations have used the term ‘21st century skills’ to refer to a set of overarching skill sets and competencies to be developed throughout a child’s schooling (ISTE, 2007; Partnership for 21st Century Skills, n.d.; Alberta Education, 2010).

There seems to be consensus among the educational organizations regarding what 21st century skills are, each noting the following skills: critical thinking, problem solving, communication, collaboration, information fluency, citizenship and technology literacy. As a 21st Century Literacy consultant my job is to foster 21st century skill development of students in my work with teachers and in classrooms. It has been particularly difficult to do this in mathematics classrooms which has led me to wonder: do 21st century skills have any place in the mathematics classroom? I analyzed the Alberta Mathematics Program of Studies 10 – 12, as well as research in the field of mathematics education, looking for a relevance of 21st century skill development in the schooling of mathematics.

There seems to be a clear connection between 21st century skill sets and the tenants of the Mathematics Program of Studies in Alberta. The philosophy of the program states “Meaningful student discussions also provide essential links among concrete, pictorial, and symbolic representations of mathematics” and “The learning environment should value, respect and address all students’ experiences and ways of thinking, so that students are comfortable taking intellectual risks, asking questions and posing conjectures”. These statements directly identify the necessity of disciplinary discourse in the learning of mathematics.

The program further identifies 7 processes that are “critical aspects of learning (Mathematics Grade 10-12, pp 4). These processes include: communication, connections, mental mathematics and estimation, problem solving, reasoning, technology and visualization. Even though the program explicitly states a need for discourse, communication and reasoning, these processes aren’t built into the outcomes as they are in other Alberta Education Program of Studies (Social Studies, Science and English/Language Arts).  Another point of interest are the 21st century skills that aren’t mentioned: collaboration, innovation, information fluency and digital literacy.

Research in mathematics education does suggest that at least some of the 21st century skills are important to the learning of mathematics. Lampert (2005/1990) distinguished there was a difference between traditional school mathematics and the discipline of mathematics. Traditionally, school mathematics has involved students being told mathematical principles and then using those principles to solve problems. In the discipline, ‘knowers’ of mathematics make conjecture, identify assumptions, and challenge one another and themselves to develop new understandings that are shared by those involved in the discourse of the discipline. Lampert suggested in order for our students to become ‘knowers‘ of mathematics “[A student] needs to be able to stand back from his or her own knowledge, evaluate its antecedent assumptions, argue about the foundations of its legitimacy, and be willing to have others do the same” (Lampert, 2005/1990 pp 154).  This type of conjecturing, reasoning and arguing is how students develop an understanding of the mathematics as a discipline and it occurs through authentic discourse between students.

The National Council for Teachers of Mathematics also identifies  the importance of collaboration and verbal exchange. They state “Interacting with others offers opportunities for exchanging and reflecting on ideas… Students should work effectively with others” (NCTM, 2000 pp 349). Mathematics and mathematical understanding doesn’t develop in isolation – it  develops through frequent and meaningful interactions with others in a community.

Twenty first century skill sets are well-defined and agreed upon by various organizations. These skills are very directly stated in the Alberta Mathematics Program of Studies showing their importance in the program, despite not being as well-developed as in other content areas. They are also showing up in research and important literature, suggesting that 21st Century skills were important far before the 21st century – simply put,  these skills lead to the learning of mathematics. The question that will further drive much of my thinking is how can teachers develop 21st century skills, specifically discourse and collaboration, in the secondary mathematics classroom?


International Society for Technology in Education. (2007) National Educational Technology Standards for Students (2nd ed.)

Alberta Education. (2010). Inspiring Action on Education: A Discussion Paper [Data file]. Retrieved from

Alberta Education. (1987). Essential Concepts, Skills and Attitudes for Grade 12 (2nd draft). Edmonton, AB.

Partnership For 21s Century Skills. (n.d.). Framework for 21st Century Learning. Retrieved October, 28 2010, from

National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. (2000). Principles and Standards for School Mathematics. Reston, VA.

Lampert, M. (2004) When the Problem Is Not the Question and the Solution Is Not the Answer: Mathematical Knowing and Teaching. In Carpenter, T. P., Dossey, J. A., & Koehler, J. L. (Ed.) Classics in Mathematics Education Research (pp. 153-169). Reston, VA: The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. (Reprinted from American Educational Research Journal, Spring 1990, 27, 29-63)

Getting High School Kids To Talk “Math”

November 24, 2010 3 comments


Today I had the pleasure of working with a dedicated and gifted first year teacher. Tim is doing an impressive job teaching pre-calculus grade 11 and 12 math; he has well prepared lessons and examples, clear explanations and solid answers to student questions. Tim invited me into his classroom to work with him and his students to develop some mathematical discourse with the kids.

The unit of study for todays grade 11’s was circle geometry; students had to learn, prove and apply both the Tangent Radius Theorem and Equal Tangents Theorem

Equal Tangents Theorem: PA = PB

Tangent Radius Theorem: Angle OPQ = 90 degrees

The lesson played out as shown below. Keep in mind the focus is on student talk.

Part 1 – Modelling Teachers (Tim and I) stated the Equal tangents theorem for the students, and walked them through the logic of the proof

Part 2 – We Do Together Teachers stated the Tangent Radius Theorem and elicited ideas from the whole class regarding their understanding of the theorem, the diagram, assumptions, and conjectures. Students were encouraged to use relevant math terms and were probed with open ended questions to guide their thinking.

Part 3 – You Do Together (whole class) a) Students solved a problem that most students could easily prove. b) Then, as a class (this is the “do together” part) students brainstormed relevant terminology and theorems used to do the example proof.

Part 4 – You Do Together (Pairs) Students had 60 seconds to use a diagram and the terms from part 3 to explain/prove the problem to a partner – after 60 seconds they switched roles from listened to speaker.

During part one of the lesson no students used the language of mathematics verbally. During part two, students struggled to use the language (either they weren’t comfortable doing so or they didn’t know how). By part four of the lesson students were very talkative and on topic. The sentences formed by students seemed to be perfectly logical and mathematically correct. It was quite exciting for both Tim and I to see how quickly students became engaged in mathematical discourse when given clear structures and expectations. Tomorrow we will be trying out a write-around (recently called paper-blogging in the blogosphere) and I am quite excited to see the results. My personal agenda is to get students using social media to engage in discourse by the third lesson (approximately 160 minutes of lead up instruction time).

If you’ve been wanting to get students to talk more in your math classes – just give it a try. A couple of simple structures and a few minutes of planning seems to go a long way!

The Real Social Studies

November 23, 2010 1 comment

Something Close To My Heart

In 1985 my father was 28 (my current age), a classroom teacher, department head, volleyball coach, and father of 3 small children. Needless to say, he was very busy. A small local (Fort McMurray, AB) charity called Santas Anonymous was being run by a handful of volunteers, one of them my dad, Gil Espejo.

Santas Anonymous is a charity that provides food, books, toys, juice and Christmas dinner to families without in the community and surrounding areas of Fort McMurray. In 1985 the charity was serving so many families that the volunteers couldn’t keep up and the Christmas hampers couldn’t easily be prepared in any available space. My dad had what I think was a simple but profound idea; run the charity out of his school (Father Patrick Mercredi Community High School) and have the students volunteer their time to help out. There were skeptics at the time who thought that students wouldn’t help, but my father believed in them. As busy as he was, he found the time to make it work.

Fourteen years later – by the time I was in grade 12 – Santas Anonymous had grown to become probably the largest single-school student run charity in Western Canada; possibly in all of North America. In a single weekend the students could raise up to $30 000  in what they call a Miracle Marathon.  In addition to the money, the weekend lead to the collection of truck loads of food, toys, books, and clothing. During a Blitz weekend, which usually occurred 3 or 4 times in the months leading up to Christmas, hundreds of Father Mercredi students would drive around the entire city in small groups, going door to door spreading the word of Santas Anonymous and collecting non-perishable food items and other donations.

I remember in the first week of December dozens of students would go shopping at the local Zellers department store, buying toys for age groups of needy kids that we hadn’t quite collected enough items for during our campaign. We would go around the store and almost clear it out, using funds that we had raised. I’m not certain if this exact activity still happens, but it gives you an idea of the range of work students would take on.

In usually the second week of December all of the food and toys (10s of thousands of items) are moved to the schools gymnasium. The food, collected by students, is piled in a row about 4 ft high, 5 ft deep and 90 ft long (the length of a high school Div 1 basketball court). The toys, books, stuffed animals, and sporting goods form an even larger pile on the opposite side of the gymnasium. In between these two piles are rows of hundreds of empty boxes with the names of families and children – these boxes become the hampers that are driven to recipients by community volunteers and students.

The last day of school before Christmas vacation (December 17th for 2010) is called packing day, and it is one of the most inspiring sights you could ever see.  It is the day where all of the food and other items are carefully packed into hampers for families. Hundreds of volunteer students and community members are organized into teams.  Various teams exist, including: a welcoming committee (human logistics), packing teams, quality control teams (‘Santa’ checks every hamper twice!), loading crews and delivery teams. About 3 or 4 students share the title of “Head Leaders” – they orchestrate much of the activity that occurs throughout the campaign season and on packing day.

For the 1999 campaign season I was a grade 12 student and a co head leader with some great friends; Coady, Carla and Stephanie. At that point I had spent every Christmas season of my life (since 1985 when I was 3) being a part of Santas Anonymous; it was a part of my identity. The last family that I packed a hamper for that year was for a family of 6; two parents, four younger kids. Carla helped me pack it. We chose the soup, canned vegetables, meats, and desserts. We chose the toys and books for each of those children. We wrote cards to the kids by name, wrapping the gifts ourselves, and signed ‘love santa’ for every child. By the time the ‘hamper’ went out the door it was probably 4 or 5 huge boxes full of food, toys, books, and a complete Christmas dinner including turkey, milk, dressing and everything else you can imagine. Christmas is a hard enough time of year of many people – we believed we could at least alleviate the stress of worrying about the necessities and a few gifts.

Last year Santas Anonymous celebrated its 25th anniversary at Father Mercredi. My dad is still working at the high school; now he is the principal. The campaign is still important to the community, and I’m sure will always be influential on the lives of the young volunteers. At least one of the current staff members at Father Mercredi was once a students volunteer with the Santas Anonymous campaign back in the 90’s. Now she is taking the time to facilitate the same amazing experiences and opportunities for her own students.

I think a social justice ‘project’ like santas anonymous is one of the most effective ways to build community within a school. It empowers students and connects them to each other and to the broader community in a way no other activity can – if you don’t believe me please go visit Father Merc during the campaign season where the benefits of the campaign are self-evident.

Over the course of the last 26 years santas anonymous has helped tens of thousands of families and has developed important skills, moral and ethics in thousands of participating students. This wouldn’t happen without the hard work, volunteering and dedication of the teachers involved. Its been said before by many, but I want to reiterate: thank you to the staff members of Father Mercredi for allowing such a program to exist within a school, especially to the teachers (some former) who influenced me personally while I was a student. Mr. Abraham, Mr Henstridge, and especially, my Dad.

My dad recently asked for my help with setting up a webpage. To make it easier for him and others to edit, we set up using wordpress. Tonight he called me with his next problem – people can’t find his site. He’s not connected enough online. Please share the link on your own blog, website, or twitter account to boost the google rankings and help the campaign network with the people who need it and the people who can help.

How Prezi Can Change Your World (or keep you boring)

November 21, 2010 4 comments

When I first was introduced to Prezi ‘way back when’ I thought it was so awesome, as most of you I’m sure can understand. It’s clean, simple to use, it looks great, and it’s pretty solid regarding performance. But after a few interactions it got boring – fast. In the end if all you do is move your PowerPoint presentations onto prezi you haven’t really changed your pedagogy or advanced your teaching. All you would have done is made it a little prettier. So how can it change your world of teaching?

A few months ago prezi announced a new feature – prezi meeting. Up to ten users (last I checked) can collaborate in real time on a presentation, watching each other type, edit, upload media, and work on layouts. It works incredibly well and other users are represented in the 2D space by little avatar dudes. Think about how this can be used in your classroom (or outside of it for that matter).

Now your students can be the creators of information, relying on the knowledge of the group/community to develop a common understanding. Visualize having groups of students creating thought webs, brainstorming together – but everyone is responsible for writing and coming up with ideas. Things happen faster on prezi because everyone can work on the same document at once, and all students are engaged. Students can see each other work as it happens, and still be working themselves.

My avatar along with Susana's avatar depicting both of our places while editing a prezi document

Even as a teacher/consultant this changes the way I work. While preparing for a recent presentation on social media my co-presenter, Susana, and I were able to collaborate online ‘side by side’ while working from our respective homes over 100 km’s apart. It was a faster process than e-mailing each other a document back and forth, or logging in and out of a drop box, worrying about over-writing the others work. It also allowed us to share ideas, chat, and truely collaborate to make the presentation a product of both of our thinkings.

With the proliferation of so many synchronous tools online the learning environm ent has a real opportunity to change. I hope we can embrace these tools to genuinely better the education of our students, not just to dress up the same old classroom.

A few things that would make prezi (or a similar tool) even better

  • apps for ipad/iphone/android
  • chat feature – so far i’ve just been typing randomly in the prezi to talk to people, and sometimes have forgotten to delete a few comments before using the presentation
  • tracking to know who has done what work
  • comments such as that on MS word for reviewing with peers

Presentation: Developing Academic Rigour with Social Media

November 19, 2010 1 comment

As presented at the 2010 ATA Science Council Conference at the Fantasy Land Hotel (Edmonton, Alberta). Below is an overview of the presentation that will be updated in more detail after the presentation is complete. Additionally, you can view the prezi here.

Part A:Social Media?

What Is Social Media?

First we analyzed the meanings of these two words, and then teachers put those meanings together. Susana Gerndt (my co-presenter) and I offered this definition for social media.

Social Media is the information of the community. It is cordial. Gracious. Informative, popular, and neighborly. It is created by people for people. Individuals become active participants in a communal understanding that is not limited to their own thoughts, or the thoughts of a select few individual ‘experts’, but they are linked to the understandings of the world – would you rather leverage one person or dozens, hundreds, thousands, even millions of people?

Archimedes is credited for saying “Give me a place to stand, and I will move the earth” referring to his understanding of mechanical systems such as levers. I think this idea can be true for social media. Every individual is given a platform up which to stand. The earths population (or at least it’s english speaking ‘connected’ population) is the audience that we are trying to engage as bloggers, video-sharers, etc). An effective social media user can influence thousands, even millions of users.

What Is the typical Social Media experience?

People of all ages are using social media to connect with their friends and family. We find out when new babies are born, look at photos from someones graduation or wedding, and receive invitations to baptisms, birthdays and halloween parties. We find out about the latest election information and international news by reading blogs or through status updates on facebook and twitter. We are entertained and educated on youtube, flickr, vimeo and other video sharing sites. We also take part in conversations, edit wiki’s to share our understanding, and post tutorials and questions on youtube. Social media is an every day part of the life of many people in western society.

Part B: Learning

What is the Traditional Classroom experience?

Sitting in rows, students listen, teachers talk. Once the ‘teaching’ or ‘learning’ is over, students may get a chance to ‘practice’. Sometimes there are conversations in class, which really consists of teacher asking many questions and a few students participating.

How do we Learn in every day life?

We touch, manipulate, see, hear, smell and taste. We analyze. We inquire, formulating various questions to guide our learning. Today we will often do an online search rather than ask an individual. Connected people, instead of asking individuals, may ask thousands of people online by posting a question on youtube or to wiki answers. We also apprentice, practice, apply, communicate, explain, and collaborate.

Part C: Rigour

What does it mean for learning to be Rigorous?

  • The foundation of our Science Curriculum (at least in Alberta) has four components: Science Technology and Society, Knowledge, Skills, and Attitudes
  • Learning is Rigorous when students ‘get it’. ‘It’ doesn’t refer to all of the facts that we expect students to know for our standards based tests (Think provincial exams/diploma exams). ‘It’ refers to the purpose of teaching and learning about science. We want our students to
    • 1) think critically, problem solve, analyze, communicate, collaborate, create and innovate. The purpose of science education is to foster these skills as well as to;
    • 2) develop an understanding for the interactions of science, technology, society, environment as well as for the nature of science (theory, experimentation, observation, theory revising/replacement)
    • 3) develop positive attitudes and appreciation for science as a discipline.

Can Students complete tasks, do ‘well’ and still not get it?

One observation that Susana and I have made is that sometimes students can complete social-media based assignments, meet the requirements, get a good mark, but still not really understand the underlying concepts. Many of us have seen beautiful posters that describes all of the ‘content’ (maybe the biotic and abiotic factors of an ecosystem), but the student still doesn’t understand. Has that student done well on the assignment?

How do we make Social Media Projects Rigorous such that they have to get it?

This graphic organizer has been developed based off of the experience of many teachers and consultants. We think that there are some key components within it that get teachers asking the right questions that will lead to rigorous projects, assignments, and tasks in the classroom.

We start on the left hand side of the graphic organizer, looking at student learning outcomes. This has to include not only the knowledge outcomes but the skill and attitude outcomes as well. We need to consider what vocabulary is important for students to use, where the students might make mistakes, and then a look at content literacy strategies (you can interpret this to mean learning strategies). These types of strategies include things like KWL charts, venn diagrams, discussions, questioning strategies, reading strategies etc.

On the right hand side of the sheet are four questions that we think get at the heart of making learning rigorous for students (with social media or without).

  1. How can we powerfully activate students ‘need to know’ content?
    • we want to make learning experiences relevant to our students. If all I do is talk about biotic and abiotic factors with my grade 7 students some will be interested but most will just be learning because they are supposed to. But if I can talk about an issue in an ecosystem that they are curious about and know about I will have them hooked into the learning. A few years ago talking about the coral reef and the movie Finding Nemo may have had this affect. This can happen simply by having a story at the beginning of the unit and a framing question to refer back to throughout the unit.
  2. What strategies and activities will be used to build 21st century skills (Collaboration, communication, critical thinking and problem solving, creativity and innovation, inquiry and questioning)
    • If you want students to communicate in various ways (using pictures, sound, video, text, spoken word, etc) and you want them to do so effectively you will probably have to talk to them about communication. If you are going to include a song on a digital poster (like the ones you can build on the Glogster website), how is that song going to be relevant? How are students going to choose the text, font, colors etc. This is something that should be addressed, and it doesn’t require much time.
    • If you want students to guide their own learning in an inquiry project and develop their own questions to guide their learning you should be teaching your students about levels of questions using some sort of questioning guide (three level questioning is shown in the prezi; another good tool set are Barrets questioning guides)
    • If you want students to collaborate, we need to teach them how to honor the ideas of others and how to structure their groups such that everyone is responsible for their own learning yet they are also able to learn from each other and develop common understandings. Common understandings can be developed through collaborative brainstorming sites such as popplet, edistorm and mindomo
  3. How will students justify their choices/explain their products
    • students need to be engaged in some sort of dialogue (be it written or verbal), and required to explain what they have done. If they have created a cartoon on a site like toondoo. To learn more about using cartoons in class, check out this older post on cartooning in class
    • When students are having an online discussion, and they express an opinion, they should be required to back up what they are saying. Find a quote in the novel they are reading from a character they are analyzing. They can find a source (online or print) that backs up their comments on global warming and carbon sequestering. Find an example of something happening in the world from a news article or video from (as an example) to support their comments and beliefs about technology and its influence on science.
  4. What are the expectations of students and how will they receive feedback from teacher and classmates?
    • If you want students to do a good job you need to communicate to them what ‘doing a good job’ looks like. Expectations need to be clear, and students should be given an opportunity to receive feedback from both teachers and students.
    • This is when we can start talking about the need to do things during class time. If you can’t honour the students work by giving them the time in class to do it and to take that time to give them feedback, you send a strong message about the importance of a task. Online discussion, wikis, digital posters; all of these things should be started during class time so that you as the teacher have the opportunity to see where students are and guide them to where they need to be.

Part D: Social Media: Developing The Foundations of Science

What Skills Can Online Discussions Develop?

If you are interested in using online discussions, you can learn a lot more about them here on a previous blog post

  • Online discussions give students an opportunity to participate in important disciplinary discourse. They learn to use the language of the discipline – to think like a scientist (in the case of a science class). Discourse is also a form of collaboration, not only should students be talking about their own ideas but they should also be responding to the ideas of each others in an effort to further develop the understanding of the community (in this case the community would be the participating students)
  • develop class communities for online discussions on Ning or Edmodo.

What Skills Can Wikis Develop?

Depending on how you implement their use wikis can develop skills including: writing, information fluency, collaboration, questioning and critical thinking

  • How does a wiki work? (wikispaces, pbworks)
    • A wiki is a collaborative website that is usually very text heavy but can include videos, pictures, and links to other sites. Users can edit the content of these sites easily without knowing anything about web programming; it is almost as simple as typing in Microsoft word.
    • Wikis generally host extensive history of the page, so that you can see who made changes, when they made changes, and what changes they have made
  • An example of when to use a wiki and why.
    • a wiki can be great to use throughout a unit of study. You can begin a unit of study with an empty wiki (assigned to a group of maybe 3-5 students) that would just have some titles or questions (students may be required to come up with the questions or add to the questions), but very little information.
      • Students could start off by editing the wiki on an individual basis, putting in what they already know about the topic (this is called front loading, activating student prior knowledge).
      • after each learning experience (some notes, a video, a reading, a lecture, etc) students can go back into the wiki and add more information. They can also fine tune info or delete info that they figure out to be incorrect.
      • at the end of the unit you would have a huge document with text, pictures, links and videos that represents the understandings that students developed throughout the unit. To keep all students accountable throughout the unit of study you can simply look at the wiki history to see who did edits and when they did them

How Can Synchronized Collaborative Work Change Everything?

There are some websites that allow multiple users to live edit and collaborate, watching each others every move and being able to respond to each other without every refreshing the page. A few of these sites that I like are:

Imagine having 36 students, all brainstorming/mindmapping and just use as the teacher trying to keep up with everybody writing on the board. It could take most of a class and each student will be limited to a few short interactions. Get every student on edistorm or mindomo and you can have the whole class brainstorming at once, contributing to ideas, making connections, organizing each others thoughts, voting on thoughts, and responding to thoughts. It becomes a very different experience when every student for just 10 minutes is fully engaged in such an activity.


If you want to use these tools effectively in your classroom and ensure that the activities are academically rigorous, you can use the Project Planning Page and it should help you consider the following:

  1. What expectations should I have for my students regarding behavior, and how will I communicate these to students
  2. What skills will be developed and how will I scaffold these for the students to ensure success?
  3. How will students justify their thinking/choices/ideas
  4. How will students receive feedback from me as the teacher and from their peers?
%d bloggers like this: