Simple Tools for the Digital Classroom
The hardest thing for teachers to do is make the transition from paper and pencils to online media: Not enough computers, not enough knowledge, not enough time and a whole new way of doing things. We work with hundreds of teachers in the same situation and we offer this advice:
- Take small steps.
- Find a couple of tech-savvy kids in each of your classes to help.
- Explore the digital world on your own.
- Seek out people in the school or in professional development spheres to mentor you.
- Don’t be afraid to fail.
- Don’t be afraid if you don’t have all the answers – your kids will help.
Teacher Knowledge — Exploring, a few links
- Making Teaching Public Website. A digital exhibition of teaching experiences and tips from elementary school teachers around the country.
- BECTA’s Research Indicating Benefits of Web 2.0 in the Classroom
- BECTA’s study on impact of Web 2.0 on students’ skills in writing
- Clarence Fisher’s Top Ten Tools for the Classroom. List created by a very thoughtful and innovative teacher who uses digital technology to teach all subjects – from social studies to math – in a rural school in Canada.
- Teachers teaching teachers. Pretty self-explanatory. Not the smoothest looking resource in the world, but filled with good stuff.
- Bud Hunt is a teacher who has been blogging and focusing on digital education for years.
- Ewan McIntosh is also a formidable expert in digital education.
- An interesting middle school teacher’s blog.
- Edutopia, this is a wonderful resource of information, best practices and ideas.
As a side note, there are ways you can speed up your learning with an hour a day, or, even, a few hours a week by subscribing to digital educator’s blogs (use Google Reader — click here for 5-minute video)or by, gulp, breaking into twitter.com. I use twitter to link folks to cool posts by students at our site, youngwritersproject.org, but I also use twitter to follow folks who know a lot about digital education. As a start, you can follow me , twitter.com/ggevalt, but not to see my posts, but to start following some of the folks I’m following – many are leading experts. Their links and posts will help you explore what’s out there. (For a really basic video on what twitter.com is, go here.
Student Blogging – Taking a small step
Lucy Gray has a great post here on November Learning which offers some simple guideposts, apps and links. I encourage you to read it. Rather than duplicate it here, I’ll just say what our experience has been and remember our first focus is writing and our second focus is digital civility and literacy:
- Commenting has been key to the success youngwritersproject.org and the YWP Schools Project digital classrooms. As I discuss in an earlier blog, getting kids to claim ownership of this digital space will yield great results and the secret to that is to get them commenting on each other’s work and sharing work outside of school.
- Some software makes it difficult to easily comment on each other’s work or to see other’s comments or it puts the kids’ work out in the blogosphere where it is unlikely to get any feedback at all. Develop strategies to combat that.
- Here are some links about commenting.
- A how-to guide on commenting.
A forgotten aspect of getting kids to blog, is ensuring they have:
- keyboarding skills; a site that recommends good tutorial software for keyboarding.
- Adequate computers and/or Internet connection at home; many students do not, and offering these kids opportunity to access school equipment is a viable solution. (One teacher up here is actually organizing a project to refurbish corporate computer discards and give them to kids.)
So with commenting as a key aspect of blogging, here are a few recommendations:
- ywpschools.net This is not shameless promotion; we are a small nonprofit and we do not yet have the capability of setting up classrooms outside of VT and NH, but will be doing a few national pilots in the coming school year. These sites are best thought of as “containers” that allow teachers to assign, critique and track all student work – even that done on outside Web apps; and allow students to respond to assignments, give and receive feedback and incorporate any multimedia they want. (For the techies among you, we use Drupal.) FYI, one 7th grade class using our sites this year has 48 students and, in 3 months has produce 669 posts and 1,449 comments to each other!
- wordpress.org This software is relatively easy to use and set up. It’s free. But it does take some time and effort to do right; can a school tech person help? ALSO, there is wordpress-multi-user that may be an option for your school; it is also free.
- kidblog.org Also a free service for student blogs; good functionality in being able to encourage commenting and see what others are doing.
- blogger.com While you can’t beat the price and it’s a great way to get started, it is hard to administer and track student work; it is also hard for students to build community or offer a flurry of feedback.
- edu2.0.com This seems more oriented to classroom management, but it’s free and people are using it for class blogging.
Modest cost alternatives
- edublogs.com This has a limited free offering — storage is low and some advertising. But worth looking at. This service was great and free, but they changed the financing model.
- ning.com This was also headed in a very nice direction — intuitive, free — but recently started charging. Check it out though; has many fine features.
- 21classes.com The free version really is not that useful — little storage, to name one drawback — but paid is relatively inexpensive and offers some good features.
In upcoming posts, I’ll offer you thoughts on podcasting, using images, video commenting, slideshows and other experiences from our digital classroom experiences.
Geoffrey Gevalt is founder of Young Writers Project, a small nonprofit in Vermont that works with hundreds of teachers and thousands of students in an effort to improve students’ writing skills and digital literacy. To see the project’s work, visityoungwritersproject.org, digitalteachers.net or ywpschools.net He can be reached at ggevalt (at) youngwritersproject.org or 802-324-9537