Saturday, September 06, 2008

Hopes for the New School Year

I am asked at the beginning of a new school year what my plans are for my students. People who know me know that they can expect a response that has nothing to do with technology tools. My response goes something like this, "I plan to help my students become reflective thinkers who take ownership in their learning while making connections and collaborating with others." After the inital disgust from the person asking (as if to say, "That's not what I was asking"). They respond with, "Well, what tools are you planning to use?" Now that's a different question!

This year, within the first four weeks of the new school year, all of my students have been enrolled in our moodle classroom, taken online quizzes, uploaded and downloaded files from their digital locker in moodle and posted and commented on our class blog. It is amazing to me how much time it still takes every year to get the students acclimated to these different types of tools. I am excited that this year I am not the only one using moodle or a class blog. Last year, I think there were 3 of us who used moodle all year. This year we have over 700 accounts in moodle with 16 of those being teachers. Every teacher in our Jr. High Math department is using moodle. One of our Jr. High Science teachers has really embraced the different tools in moodle and has chosen to use the blogs, wikis, etc., in moodle. While moodle is a "walled garden", if we can get teachers and students excited about using some of the tools, it doesn't take as much to help them understand the benefits of collaborating on a global basis.

My post on Fresh Faces, Fresh Ideas talks about one of our teachers who has really embraced blogging with her students. She has encouraged me to try a different approach with my own class blog in hopes of my students really "owning" that tool as well. I plan to have weeks that students are required to post on a "free topic." That topic can have anything to do with what a student their age might need to learn. As long as it is interesting and appropriate to students in 6th grade, it is a topic that can be used. I plan to encourage them to read the newspapers or RSS feeds of the same as well as magazine articles for ideas of what to write on. Their writing must include evidence of reflective thinking, how this topic relates to their own life and must include links to sources. In addition to this, we have been asked by a 3rd grade class in Canada to be their blog buddies. This is an opportunity for my students to experience the role of mentor.

This year, we will expand the use of our class wiki. Once we get started with our inital project which will really run throughout the school year, Grammar Gurus, then my hope is for the students to come up with what we need to do with the wiki that can help them and other 6th grade classes. I've been toying around with the idea of Scribe Notes much like one of our high school teachers' is doing. The difference would be that my students would be the ones putting out the information. I believe the high school teacher is actually doing that for his students. Also, since my classroom is a very active place, not much "lecturing" goes on. So I imagine the scribe notes in my class to be "recording" what went on and what the discussions were.

Part of my hope is for my students' toolbox to expand this year. By using photostory, voicethread, slideshare, google docs, flickr, etc., I am hopeful that the students will be exposed to many different kinds of tools and then take ownership in choosing those tools that best fit their own learning style. Additionally, I am on the "lookout" for great global collaborative projects to join much like Many Voices for Darfur last year.

Putting these thoughts, ideas and hopes into action as tangible learning experiences is the challenge. Wish me luck!