Sunday, March 27, 2011

Social Networks in the Elementary Classroom

Students have finished working in most of their assignments since labs will mainly be used for MAP testing in the next two weeks.  Fifth grade classes continued with Internet safety lessons and watched a thought-provoking video that focused on protecting reputations online. 

After watching the video, students participated in an interesting online conversation using Edmodo. Edmodo is an educational social network where students may post comments and reply to their classmates within class groups in a user-friendly online environment. The website functions solely for education, so fortunately, there are no publicity-images nor any other distractors displayed on the site. Throughout the task, students were quite engaged in their chat. Even though they were using a social network where the wall worked somewhat like Facebook, students were expected to use appropriate language, capital letters, periods, etc., and were reminded that they were participating in a class assignment within a school setting. It was exciting to observe the great conversations that were taking place.

Here’s are some samples of their conversations:

Coincidentally, as I was writing this blog, I received one of my favorite blogs, Kelly Tenkely’s iLearn blog, and noticed it talked about Edmodo as well. Edmodo has provided a safe, teacher-controlled, social network and has made amazing discussions possible in my class. In addition to the great conversations, I was happy to read and agree with the author's statement in that:  “Using social networks in the classroom provides you with the opportunity to model proper use of social networking, digital citizenship, and teach Internet safety in an authentic environment”. I expect to keep using this helpful social network in my lessons.

If you have used social networks in your lessons, you are welcome to enter suggestions and comments!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Publishing student work in a class wiki

This past week 5th graders wrapped up their lego-mindstorm unit by publishing their final projects in a class wiki. With eight sets of lego-mindstorm robot-cars to share within groups of 22 kids, students worked in teams to learn basic programming skills and generate a final creative, programming task. A few of their favorite tasks were: getting the car to follow a line, making the car bump on walls and steer, advance the car along with a handclap, and having the car take reverse when detecting a wall. All these actions involved various sensors that were previously attached to the robot.

Sharing in a class wiki brought more excitement into the learning process. Each team was assigned a section which had to include their project title, a description of the robot's task, an explanation of how the team was achieving it, a video, and important screenshots of the software commands that were used. Clarity in their writing was a big goal for students as they published their wiki  since they knew that their immediate audience, other classmates, may want to perform the same task and would need to follow clear instructions.

Here’s a sample of their work:

Last year we worked on similar projects but used Pbworks wikis instead. Even though it had been a good option, we decided to use Wikispaces this time as an opportunity to explore a new alternative. Now that students have used both and I am able to compare, I liked last year's final wikis a lot more. Both were easy to set up and quite user-friendly, however for some unknown reason, students were not able to embed their videos in Wikispaces. They ended up adding a link to the video, making their final page not as attractive as it could have been. I assume there is a way to do it, however we were rushing to have the wikis ready for student-led conferences, leaving us no time to look for a better solution. Here’s a sample of last year’s wiki:

Photos were not a problem at all, they were easily embedded into the webpages. This feature allowed students to add screenshots of their programming instructions and were able to explain in a more visual way.

It was a fun, team-work unit. Students collaborated, helped each other understand commands, problem-solved again and again, and created a challenging task using the skills that they had learned.

If you have worked with lego-mindstorm robots in elementary and would like to share your experiences, please add your comments.