Thankful for a "Student Wiki"

Our school is off to a blazing start with our 1 to 1 laptop learning initiative. We have rolled out 205 shiny MacBooks to our 6th grade students. Lots of preparations have been made to assure sufficient technical infrastructure, professional development, parent communication, inventory control, and more were ready to the computers in the hands our our learners.

Now, the dust is settling and as we round the Thanksgiving break corner and head in to the Christmas Holidays, teachers will be challenged to keep the students focused on constructive learning. One strategy our teachers are using is a– student wiki.

Our district technology department set up an Apple X Server and configured a wiki for our students. We set the wiki up so that students must log in to be able to view anything about the wiki. This would really disqualify the site from being classified as true wiki. But, our 6th graders have been very impressed with it. They have use their built-in sight cams and modify the photo by using effects. They can comment on their classmates wiki posts and poke fun of each others photos. The comments are moderated, which in addition to it not being live to the world is another modification we have considered needed. This brings me to an interesting discovery. The comments so far have been almost all –appropriate. It has to be the fact that it is new and the students know the comments are moderated. The students that I consider our “early adopters” are family with online social network sites.

One cleaver use of the student wikis came from one of my middle school mathematics teachers. Michelle Strickland,  our Academically Gifted and Talented mathematics teacher, came flying into the Help Desk room and shouted- I get it! She was so excited to share that all her students were now doing their homework in her class with their MacBooks. Her 6th grade class of 18 students all had turned in their homework that morning–online. The students posted their work on their individual student wiki page and she had been assessing their work during her planning period. She loved not having to round up their papers, beg them to turn their work in, and not having to put them in their mail box after commenting on their work. I did not ask if she grades each item or whatever, maybe I will ask her next week. [Note to self- follow up with Michelle and see how she plans to use the student wiki to assign homework.]

Our student wiki as generated some interesting applications for learning in one of our computer skills classes. In Elizabeth Roberson’s  8th grade class, her students created PowerPoint presentations and exported the into Movie Maker on their PC desktops in the lab. They attached their final product their wiki page. Prior to this assignment, Elizabeth’s classes posted a response to a writing prompt and photo on their wiki page. The prompt, which I do not have the exact quote, but it asked them to reflect on what strategies they thought they would need to use to successfully transition to the high school next year. I read many of the student posts and noticed many students think the wiki is their cell phone. Lots of “texting” jargon, misspelled words, and punctuation errors. One the other hand, she has some really creative writers in her classes. From a technology stand point, our Apple wiki page does not seem to support .WMV movies. We are looking for a reasonably priced or freeware application that will convert .WMV to .MOV or .MP4.  I use VisualHub to convert .WMVs, but was disappointed to learn they are no longer supporting VisualHub. I downloaded the student’s .WMV files and converted them to .MP4 format files and posted them back to their wiki. Could I have done it for a couple of hundred students- no. So, before we expand this use, we need some way to convert on the student’s computer. Maybe Apple has a plug-in for their wiki that supports .WMV formatted videos. If you know, please post a reply.

Our wonderful journey continues. We are looking for engaging strategies to use with our 6th grade 1 to 1 program. Streaming video was not in our budget this school year. I am working on it for this coming school year. Our alternative school funded their streaming video and I have been hearing raved reviews from those teachers. In my next blog, I hope to have some success stories from their prospective.

It helps to remember– We are all learners and we are all beginners.

P.S. (do people still do this?) Hope to see ya’ll in Greensboro at NCETC, Dec 3-4.  If you on on Plurk, look me up or add me to your follow list on Twitter. My Plurk and Twitter user name:  blakej 

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