WWI Poetry/Visualization Wiki Project

WWI Poetry AssignmentThis year I decided to take my WWI Poetry Activity a step further. In years past, towards the end of the WWI unit we completed the linked handout together in class. By this time the students were well versed in the horrors of this war (from the poison gas to the machine guns to trench foot). Based upon all of this information students were to write a poem from the perspective of a WWI soldier. It has always been a great assignment. I already shared the most memorable poem written by a student.

In 2000, I decided that I wanted to publish some of their poems on my classroom web site. I did not have time to actually teach them how to make a web page, so I asked students to e-mail me their poems or type them in on one of my classroom computers. I then copy and pasted them and put them on html page in Dreamweaver. I repeated that time consuming process several times. Students shared their poems with their parents and family members outside of the area and it was generally well received. I once showed this project off to some teachers at a “general” technology presentation I did and was asked how I did it. I knew as soon as I started that I had lost most of them. They weren’t web designers and they did have the time to become one.

Due to time constraints I dropped the publishing aspect of the poetry assignment in the last couple years. This time around however, I had a new plan. It was time to put that publishing power into the hands of the students (a la Web 2.0). The basic assignment remained the same, but now the students type their poems directly into a wiki I set up at Wikispaces for the project. Then to take it a step further, I had them find five images from World War I and integrate them into the poem.

Here is the basic lesson plan.

  1. Conduct my WWI Poetry lesson plan (the same one I’ve done for years). Assign the poem to be finished by the end of the week. The rest of the week I did other lessons.
  2. After I checked off the poem, we went to the computer lab for two days. A good chunk of the first day was spent getting the students signed up with Wikispaces and into my WWI Poetry Wiki (I’ll discuss the logistics of this another time).
  3. Next students typed their poems into a page I set up for each student (I just typed their names and made them links). Many of the students had e-mailed their poems to themselves so this was a quick process for most students.
  4. Most of the second day was spent sifting through hundreds of photographs, propaganda posters, and paintings from WWI.
  5. Finally they posted the pictures in their poems. Some did not finish in class and had to finish it up at home.
  6. The final aspect had them read each others poems. We finished with a short class discussion.

I know this lesson is not ground breaking, but it is cool none-the-less. I think lessons like this is a good first step for many teachers who might be overwhelmed and not quite ready for a larger scale project. I also intend to do a couple other wiki-based projects with this group that will be a bit more complex. This project essentially gave them a wiki primer and got them Wikispaces accounts that they can use in the future projects. The biggest hassle ended up having to use old technology. Our lab still runs OS9 (won’t run OSX) and none of the available browsers support the visual editor in Wikispaces, something I didn’t realize until I had 35 kids trying to get it work. Fortunately, brand new computers have been ordered and will be ready for use in the next month!
Wikis (and blogs) allow students to publish for a world wide audience without actually spending a lot of time on technology. I spent only moments instructing them how to use the wiki.

Want to see the World War I Poetry/Visualization Project? Here it is.


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Edublogs Awards

My APWH Wiki has been nominated as one of the best educational wikis for 2006. I am in amazing company – and really can’t compete with the likes of Vicki Davis and David Warlick.

The APWH wiki holds two projects I did with my AP World History classes last spring which I detailed in previous posts.

  • I talked about the AP World History Review Project here and here.
  • I talked about the Holocaust Wiki Project here.

My wiki is certainly modest in comparison, but (in an attempt of self promotion) it represents a couple project ideas that other teachers could realistically incorporate in their own classrooms. The other wikis in this category are generally bigger then life (which, don’t get me wrong, is amazing).

Anyway, if you would like to vote, you can click here.


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Wiki Podcast

Vicki Davis (a computer science teacher in Georgia) and Adam Fray (from Wikispaces) were interviewed by Steve Hargadon of EdTechLive.com (the podcast can be found here). They discussed using wikis in the classroom – a topic that has become near and dear to my heart.

Vicki has done some amazing things with wikis in her classroom, really bringing the spirit of Web 2.0 and wikis directly to the students. Her educational wikis are great examples as to how to make a wiki central to a class. I have been inspired by this podcast to take the integration of wikis into my AP World History classes a step further then I had initially planned. Instead of using one single wiki project closer to the AP exam as a review guide (as I did last year), I am going to start it now – building a bigger collective of world history knowledge that will help them prepare for the exam. Hopefully the students will buy in and participate.

I did like another point Vicki made about the difference between blogs and wikis. Blogs are for opinions and wikis are for facts. I really think that nails the standard using of blogs and wikis right on the head. In a recent post on her blog, she also outlines ways she uses wikis (each of these are fully explained on her blog):

  1. Lesson Summaries
  2. Collaboration of Notes
  3. Concept Introduction and Exploratory Projects
  4. Dissemination of Important Classroom Information beyond the Classroom
  5. Individual assessment projects

I have long used traditional web pages and even a blog to accomplish #3 and #4. Now I am using Moodle, which allows a different sort of collaboration and communication. I really like the idea of the collaboration of notes and lesson summaries, perhaps created by an assigned scribe. What I would like to see more flushed out is the individual assessment projects. The Design Patterns for EduWikis is certainly a good place to start. Wikis are an incredible publishing tool which provides teachers and students ability to easily create web pages AND collaborate online.

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Review of My NECC Presentation

In my initial post about my presentation at NECC, I included a three links from people who attended the session and blogged about it. David Jakes over at The Strength of Weak Ties blogged about it yesterday and made some critical assessments that I wanted to address. I will probably sound a little defensive, but I am going to look at several of his major complaints. You may want to read his post before going on.

Point #1 – I implied technology should be used only when convenient.

Let me explain some of my technology integration background. I have been working at a school built in 1987 that has received new technology for student use outside of the computer classes once. Between 1999 and 2001, we received money from the California Digital High School program to purchase an open lab and several computer carts. In 2002, teachers in my district were all given a laptop. There was a special program before that for teachers to acquire a laptop if they attended a summer workshop without pay.

Other then a handful of teachers, integration of technology into the curriculum was, and still is limited. There are more teachers with projectors that use PowerPoints to deliver lectures, but most teachers at my school teach the same way they were taught. I came out of my student teaching experience with notion that computers were an essential part of education. I am now known as the history teacher who always uses technology. My casual comment about bringing “some technology into the classroom” did not reflect my feeling that IT IS “mission critical.” I have made it my mission and obsession to always bring technology into my classroom. I have also made it my mission to share those experiences at a couple dozen workshops and presentations in the last 10 years.

Point #2 – I said wikis were a tool that allowed anyone to make web pages.

I really think that as educators, especially those of us with limited resources, we should look at every tool as a tool. I know the spirit of wikis, I understand and believe in it, but I also know it is a tool that allows my students to publish their work on the Internet – something I could not have done in my history classes five years ago. The ability for students to collaborate is an important part and I do include it in most of the wiki projects.

Point #3 – I said kids know this technology and all technology.

I did not say that students knew about wikis, I said students knew how to use this type of technology – specifically blogs, MySpace, LiveJournal, and DeadJournal. These types of skills are easily transferable to wikis. I am also basing my comments on my personal experiences. Like I mentioned in my presentation, I spent 10 minutes teaching them how to use the wiki. If I tried that with a class of teachers, it would take longer – it has taken longer. I was more talking about the environment of the web, not the specific application.

Point #4 – I said I wouldn’t want them to build their own wikis.

For my projects (the Holocaust Wiki Project, WWI Battles, and a directed AP World History review) I would not want to give up the control that would come with students creating their own wikis. This also creates a community of users that would not exist in the same area if students all created their. Each year I have about 160-200 students. Doing these sorts of projects can be a logistical nightmare. Yes, I want some control, they are 15 years old. I also work in a conservative community that is very protective of its students and is not afraid to make complaints. I would rather be a bit more conservative so I can keep doing these sorts of projects – and what ever the next thing I want to do the coming years.

If students want to build their own wikis, all the power to them.

Point #5 – Design patterns are limiting.

The purpose of the EduWiki Design Patterns and the WebQuest Design Patterns (both were authored by SDSU Professor Bernie Dodge) are to give teachers ways to incorporate these types of projects into their classrooms without trying to reinvent the wheel. They provide options and direction. Students are not going to just magically create “collaborative content in response to an educational need or learning objective,” they need direction, a specific task, and a creative approach. The design patterns help provide models and to inspire teachers to be more creative then they might otherwise have been. They are not the only way to use wikis or WebQuests, nor do they claim to be. They are just some ways to use them. Maybe an anti-pattern needs to be added.

We need to remember that for many teachers (both old and young) doing these types of projects are tough to envision and create. Design patterns may just get a few more to cross that divide.

I also take a little offense at the comment “perhaps this is an attempt to force wikis into a familiar and comfortable teacher zone…” I have always pushed the limit. When I look out at the web for examples of K-12 teachers using wikis, I am one of the leaders and have some of the more creative uses. These projects are time consuming in their development and their actual implementation. It would certainly be easier for me to lecture and give a few worksheets. These projects look a little different. These patterns do not reflect standard teaching practices.

Final thoughts…

Again, I apologize for being defensive. I appreciate David’s comments and understand his points from a theoritical standpoint. I just feel the reality and practicality is not always in line with the ideal. I have spent many hours planning these projects out and actually using them in my classroom. I also know that after 10 years of teaching, these have been some of my most successful projects for a variety of reasons.

I am a big believer in the Internet as community. Through Moodle and the wiki projects, I have successfully foster a sense of community in individual classes and across all of my classes. But, I also know the reality that I teach in a lower-middle class suburban high school in California. I have standards I must address. I have students with varied amounts of motivation. I think that exposing them to a variety of technologies, even in a somewhat limiting form, is better then not and better then not giving them some sort of structure.

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NECC Has Left the City

NECC has left the city. For the last three days, the National Education Computing Conference, put on my ISTE and sponsored by CUE visited my city of San Diego. I have wanted to go for the last few years, but a variety of circumstances got in the way. This was year. As a first timer, I was amazed with the great diversity of sessions, the famous faces of the ed tech world, and the massive number of venders.

One of the major ongoing themes of the conference was the importance of Web 2.0, the read/write web. There were dozens of sessions on blogging, a number on podcasts, and a handful (mine included) on wikis. They covered logistics, specific implementations, generalized applications, and pitfalls of these new technologies. The message was clear; this is the new toolset we need to utilize. Our students are growing up in this environment, we can’t ignore that fact.

In the vender area I was surprised to see the shear number of online community services available to individual teachers and school districts. I also saw two Moodle service companies that do installations, customization, and support. What a brilliant idea. The software is free and the support from Moodle.org is free, so the only costs you have involve server space and transportation for training. Not bad. Hmmm.

I went into this conference with the idea that I might be job hunting (I even threw together a resume). As much as I love the classroom, I seem to want something more. However, after I wandered the hall for a couple hours, I realized that the corporate world, both big and small is so cut throat and so desperate for business. People were being bribed with t-shirts or the chance to win an iPod to sit through a ten-minute presentation about one product or another. As a presenter, I received about ten e-mails prior to the conference from venders wanting me to plug their product during my session. I also realized as I wandered from session to session, that the exhibitors were mostly stuck down in purgatory that was the vender hall. I ran into a few people I had known earlier in my masters program, both of them in the corporate world – they said they knew what the new ideas were, but they had no experience with it. They weren’t the ones expanding their experiences through cutting edge sessions and then applying it to their classrooms or schools or districts.

As I drove that 23 miles home today from NECC, it became clear that I would not become a corporate shill – not that there’s anything wrong with it :) . If I leave the classroom, it will have to be in a way that still touches teachers and students directly.

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