Using Google Forms And Wikispaces

If you have been following along with my recent blog posts, you know that I have been incorporating a classroom wikispace into my sophomore English class. The class is composed of students with very low reading levels. Thus far, they have really enjoyed the wikispace and I wanted to share two items (The second item will be featured tomorrow) that I have incorporated into the space that anyone can use in their own classroom wikispace.

The first item we use daily is Google Forms. Each day I create a new Google form and embed that form into my wikispace. The form has a prompt and a space to answer the question. You can select from a variety of response options such as, check boxes, multiple choice and text responses.

In the span of two days into the new trimester, my students have come into class, opened their laptops and logged on to the wikispace. I had them set their browser homepage to our class wikispace (NOTE: THIS IS A MUST! OR ELSE YOU WILL BE SPELLING OUT YOUR URL EVERYDAY!). Once the bell rings they read the prompt on the Google Form and begin working. Once they finish the prompt, they hit submit and their answer is sent to a Google Doc Spread sheet that I can view. It is simply amazing! When my students finish we have a brief discussion about their responses and this usually leads into our daily lesson. In the span of 10 minutes you have students reading, processing, responding,verbalizing and making connections. All the while, students are consistently engaged.

This also sets a great tone for the class and will help me organize for upcoming exams and quizzes. I can easily access the Google Doc Spreadsheet that contains all of their responses.

I really urge you to try this method if you have the ability to do so in your classroom. Here is an example of my “Do Now” prompt from today.

As I mentioned in my previous post, if you would like to join our wiki and observe the process, please feel free to contact me via e-mail. I will send you an invitation and you can be apart of the learning process. Let’s call it “Classroom Observation 2.0”.

My Letter To Parents

To Whom It May Concern:

This trimester in English Literature and Composition, my class will be taking a new approach to learning. We will be utilizing various technology resources to communicate, collaborate and differentiate instruction within our classroom.

Each student will be setting up their own free e-mail account for my classroom. We are utilizing the G-Mail platform through Google Applications. This e-mail will only be used for our class. I told each student that they will have the opportunity to communicate with me through this e-mail and I ask you to do the same regarding any questions or suggestions you have for this venture.

Secondly, I have created a classroom website that will only be used for my class. It is a completely separate platform from the school’s webpage, but serves many of the same functions. Our website is created through a wikispace. A wikispace is a site where we will communicate, collaborate and engage in a variety of classroom activities. The wikispace is a private platform and can only be accessed when you are invited by the organizer. I briefly showed the students how to use this site and informed them that they now will have 24-7 access to their classroom. If students miss class or are absent for some time, they can keep up with their work simply by accessing this site. All that is needed is a computer and an internet connection.

We have created classroom rules for this venture and on Wednesday, I had the students come up with their own rules for technology use in our classroom. They know these rules will be enforced and you can view our rules on the reverse of this page.

Finally, one of my primary goals for this venture is to include everyone in the learning process. I invite you to join our wikispace and become a part of the learning process. If you have any questions please feel free to e-mail me or call me (e-mail and number to follow). If you would like to be a part of our wikispace learning community, please provide me with your primary e-mail address so I can send you an invitation to our page. Please provide your name, signature and e-mail at the bottom of this page.

Sincerely,

Mr. Andrew P. Marcinek
e-mail: amarcinek@boyslatin.org
Phone: 484-416-0424

Parent/Guardian Name (Printed):__________________________________________________________

Parent/Guardian Signature: ______________________________________________________________

Parent/Guardian e-mail:_________________________________________________________________

ACCEPTABLE USE POLICY FOR TECHNOLOGY

The Following Rules were designed by periods 1 and 2 at Boys’ Latin Charter School of Philadelphia

  1. No social network sites in school
    1. Myspace
    2. Facebook

  1. No games
  2. Laptops are not to be used for notes
    1. When teacher is talking, laptops are down
    2. Notes can be written and transferred to computer
  3. No Youtube unless it is being used for a presentation or reference
  4. No inappropriate searches for images
  5. Background must be a solid color


Consequences

  1. First policy offense – cannot use laptop for the rest of the day. Parents and Administration notified
  2. Second policy offense – cannot use laptop for the week and assignments will be done through another platform (i.e. pen and paper). Parents and Administration will be notified. Student will also have an after school detention.
  3. Third policy offense – student will lose laptop privileges. Parents, Administration, teacher and student will have a conference. Student will have to earn his laptop back by completing the following:
    1. Write a laptop reinstatement letter to teacher and administration detailing why they broke policy and why we should let them have their laptop back. **


**If student has his laptop reinstated and break a policy rule again, the laptop will not be used for the rest of the year.**

This is my letter to parents. I welcome your feedback and ask you to share your own experiences with incorporating technology into your classroom. How did you involve parents? Administration? What was the experience like with parents working within the website? I look forward to hearing your experiences and I plan on writing about mine as we progress in the classroom. Also, if you would like to join our wikispace and become an observer, please feel free to get in touch with me at the e-mail listed below.


Let’s make learning ubiquitous!

Presenting Your PLN

In my last post, I talked about three easy steps to setting up and implementing a Personal Learning Network (PLN) in your school. In this post, I am catering to the visual learner and have created a Power Point that will surely engage your audience at your next PD. It involves four simple slides, four prominent words and four familiar images. There are no bullet points and no spiraling text. It is clean, crisp and allows you to vocalize your ideas on creating and implementing a PLN.

Use this Power Point! In fact, STEAL THIS POWERPOINT! Take it, impress your colleagues! Be the first to show what Power Point 2.0 looks like. Leave the bullets and spiraling text at home. Put it away and your colleagues will thank you. They will high-five you and smile in your general direction! You may even be carried out of the PD on the shoulders of your administrators.
Keep the presentation short and sweet. Show them how creating a PLN within your school will stimulate collaboration and enhance content. In the end, creating a PLN and accepting this is as simple as this Power Point. You will be resistance, but stay the course and don’t back down from an opportunity to enhance, stimulate and save your colleagues lots of time. All the while, helping students achieve 21st century learning skills.
If you use this simple presentation, please let me know the reaction you receive. Or if you have your own PD presentation created, I would love for you to share your ideas.

Creating A Grassroots PLN at your School

Recently I have been providing some of my colleagues with web 2.0 resources for their classrooms. They ask, “this is great, where did you find it?” I casually say, “well in my free time (meaning all day) I am quite the avid twit.” A light laugh ensues.

In a new charter school that is struggling with performance standards and catching up students who have been left behind by urban public school systems, it is hard to thread technology into the conversation. However, in the next few weeks I am going to propose several new initiatives to our administration. These new initiatives will include the following items…

1. Creating a learning network within our building


This learning network will include several key ingredients. First, I plan to inspire my colleagues to obtain a twitter account. I really feel like twitter has become the stepping stone for jumping off into a world of endless resources and collaboration. Since joining twitter two years ago, I have met so many great minds and educators. They have all helped to provoke and motivate my thinking in ways that make teaching an exciting venture. Now, I am sure I will encounter the questions


“what value will this have in my classroom?”


“we have enough to do, I cannot add anything more to my plate”


“this will just distract from teaching, no?”


These are some of the questions that I expect and I am sure there will be more. My answers will flow something like this. Twitter is what you make of it. It is not required to teach and is certainly not a distraction from my own teaching. Our kids are behind because most of them received a 20th century education that included copious amounts of “busy work”. Having a twitter account will allow you to find other teachers, principals and administrators who are encountering the same hurdles. You can begin by posing a question and segue into a discussion in which you are solving problems through twitter. At that’s it, twitter is simply a forum that allows us to engage in a rapid exchange of ideas. Twitter is what you make of it. It can be a distracter from lessons and work if you let it be, but for the most part, it is an integral part of my own teaching and has provided me with more insight into becoming a dynamic teacher than any other forum in my career.


There will always be those who are afraid of trying something new, however, if you want to start a PLN at your school, like I plan on, start with twitter. Show your colleagues the value of the rapid exchange of ideas and resources and they will never look back.


2. Wiki or Ning


Once you have your colleagues tweeting up a storm and delivering new teaching methods because of twitter, introduce them to a place where you can house all of your plans, units, ideas, calendars, meetings, etc. I am not partial to either of the aforementioned platforms, and have had great success with both in my experience.


I find a wiki space would work best for creating a forum to house lesson plans and school documents that parents, guardians and other teachers can access universally. I have used wikispaces with many of my classes and the kids find it easy and the parents adapt to the accessibility of information. The wikispace also allows everyone to be an active participant in taking ownership of the site.


However, if you simply want a forum to exchange ideas and resources links, then I feel a Ning would be best for you. A ning has less manipulability than a wiki and works best as a way for faculty, parents and administration to communicate and spread announcements rapidly in one place. In the Ning, you can also create groups for your departments. These groups can have remote PD’s through the chat forum and create and respond to discussion threads.


Again, both have their merits, but find out what you want your PLN forum to look like and choose which works best for you entire district.


3. Start organizing resources through Diigo


Diigo is the third part of the trifecta of creating a PLN within your school. I have really benefited from the Diigo groups that I have become a part of. I have found and promoted many blogs via Diigo and I cannot say enough about the ease of use. Diigo is a very easy to use site that allows users to bookmark a site, define the site and then categorically organize your sites. The web interface allows you to tag all of your websites you save and access them easily by each tag. You can also create groups and add friends to share in all of your bookmarks. When you add a colleague you both will be able to share and exchange bookmarks.


Creating a Diigo group is a great way to organize your department this fall. E-mail your department colleagues a link to a Diigo group. Tell them that you want to create an online resource library for links and blogs that fit your discipline. For those who say, “Now what? Something else to sign up for and receive junk mail” bribe them with candy. I usually go with Butterfinger, but also provide moist towelets, because no one wants a sticky keyboard!


Once you have them hooked, branch out and look into creating cross-curricular groups! Create a digital bridge with language arts and history; math and science. With Diigo, users have the ability to create wonderful learning communities and collaborate with each other. Building an online resource library should be on the “To Do” list of ever teacher this summer!


So that’s all. These three steps, along with standards and edu-tech curriculum examples, will serve as my platform for creating a PLN and a culture of education technology in my school.


I am tired of hearing my students complain that they do not get to use their laptops enough and I plan on changing that. Students need 21st century skills to compete globally. These skills are just as essential as reading, writing and math. If we keep pushing it off, it will only fade into wasted resources within our schools. We cannot let this happen. And we need to lead by example. Get your PLN started and give all of your colleagues a high-five for trying something completely different!

The Student Portfolio Solution

“Students, make sure all of your work is placed in your folder. Once your latest writing piece is in your folder, close the folder and stack them in the back of the room in alphabetical order.”

How many times have you said this as a teacher? Like most print media, the student portfolio is in a period of transition, however, there seems to be too many options for housing student work. For the past few years my department has debated ideas about how we should transition the student-writing portfolio. Here were some of our suggestions…

  1. All students get a flash stick
  2. House student work via Google Docs
  3. House student work on class wiki
  4. Give all students another flash stick to back up when they lose the first.

While all of these ideas are valid and practical, there is one glaring problem. Why are we housing the student work?

Anyone?…Bueller?

Most districts have students keep their prominent writing throughout their academic career. As a 12th grade English teacher, I am in charge of handing them their stack of yellowing papers that they have stored in folders or binders for the last few years. I encourage students to keep them and that I always enjoy reflecting on my own writing folder from high school to see how far I have come and for simple sentimental value. After this speech, the bell rings and soon enough my trash can is full of student writing folders.

So what is the solution? What is the point of housing these documents if they will only be recycled or trashed?

The first step is to find a housing method and implement it throughout the district or school building. Students do all of their writing on a computer and save it over and over again. Let’s face it, there is no need to keep paper in a folder for four years of high school and three years of middle school. Here is my suggestion:

  1. Elementary and Middle School (K-8)
    1. Each teacher will have a flash stick for student work.
    2. When Students create a writing piece they will save the work on the flash stick and on the school server for backup.
    3. If students create a visual piece the teacher will scan and save the work.
    4. The teacher will host a class wiki and feature student work each week. This is great to collaborate with Administrators, other faculty, parents and grandma who lives 3000 miles away from little Mary and can now see the work she is doing in school on line!
  2. High School (9-12)
    1. Students receive their own flash stick at the beginning of their high school career.
    2. Their work is already uploaded on to the flash stick and is also archived on the school’s server.
    3. At this point, students are capable of maintaining their own wiki space. During freshmen orientation, students will attend a workshop on how to maintain their own writing portfolio wiki.
    4. Students will upload to their wiki throughout their high school careers and also interact with this portfolio.

This may seem like a lot of work and yes, there are many things that could go wrong, but this comes with any new venture. The problems are no different than a student writing portfolio getting lost or misplaced. I think my suggestions cover many bases and allow access to the material throughout their academic careers and beyond.

Many Colleges and Universities ask for writing samples or student work. This allows students to access their work anywhere or even point admissions officers directly to their personal wikis. Also, this is no simply limited to the language arts curriculum. This can be done for computer science, art, history, etc.

Some ideas for portfolio integration:

  1. At the end of each year, students write a reflection piece on their writing for the year. They cover the following items:
    1. How you have grown as a writer
    2. Writing Strengths/Weaknesses
    3. Three goals for writing improvement next year.
  2. Senior year: Students write a comprehensive reflection piece that covers their writing career. Students can also add one visual element to this piece:
    1. A film trailer that captures their writing career and style
    2. A collage of all their writing pieces
    3. A presentation on their writing evolution
  3. Revise several pieces from previous years that focus on
    1. Style
    2. Voice
  4. Students write an editoral-esque review of every piece of writing they submit to their portfolio. Their voice will be that of an outside reporter covering the writing process that just took place. Students can reflect and comment on their writing strengths, weakness and goals for the future.

Finally, this idea can also be used for educators. Last year I created my own wiki for my education portfolio. Since then I have used it in interviews and for updating my lessons and curriculum. It is the same concept and my work is always accessible. This also works well with Google Docs, but I like the idea of inviting someone to view my wiki and they can simply see the educational work that I have posted.

Here are two screen shots of what I have created for my educational portfolio

My Goodness, My Wiki

Since it is a holiday weekend for most, I thought I would take a break from eating chocolate and jelly beans…mmmmmm jelly beans and make two videos on how I utilized my wikispace in the classroom. 

In my classroom, I found my wikispaces to be a great source of collaboration and student engagement beyond the classroom. Students were always connected to the classroom – which they hated – and rarely had and excuse for not knowing about an assignments. Plus, as a teacher, it helped with my organization. Gone were the days of file cabinets and manilla folders!!! 
Classroom wikis are free and easy to set up even for those who don’t describe themselves as “tech savvy”. It also works as a forum in which parents can look in on the classroom and keep up to date with student progress. I made sure to set up my wiki as private and allowed access through teacher invite only. Before I started this wiki, I consulted with my administration, technology director and parents. Anytime you venture into the “Interweb” (as my parents like to call it) it is good to cover your bases with the higher powers. I also invited all of my parents to join the wiki. This was partially done through back to school night. Parents would sign in with their name, student name and e-mail. I then explained to them what a wiki is and how we would be using it in the classroom. Parents were very receptive to this idea and loved having a consistent stream of classroom updates. 
For my students and parents I first showed them a common craft video that simply explained a wiki. 
After the video I prompted students with several questions:
HOW CAN WE USE THIS IN A CLASSROOM?
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF A WIKI?
WHAT ARE THE NEGATIVE ASPECTS OF A WIKI? AND HOW COULD WE IMPROVE THEM?
HOW COULD YOU USE A WIKI OUTSIDE OF THE CLASSROOM?
Students provided great responses that generated a lengthy class discussion. I then modeled the basic elements of a wiki and provided a screenshot hand out that I made for them to reference in the early stages of accessing, using and posting on the wiki. Overall it was a success!
Positive Outcomes
  • Provided a central hub for all class updates, projects and handouts
  • Great for student and teacher organization
  • Collaboration!
  • Allowed parents to keep current with class assignments 
Recommendations 
  • Be patient! 
  • Set aside at least one or two class periods for initial wiki introduction and set up. It may seem like you are distracting from teaching, but will benefit in the long run.
  • Consult administration, technology director and parents before using web based forums for classroom communication
  • Include Parents in the wiki!! 
Here are two videos that I made through the use of JING and screencast.com. These are two great free resources – that allow upgrades to pro accounts – for any classroom.