Having just posted about the failure of one pbworks project, I’m set to start work on another! However, this time there is one big difference - rather than making a site for teachers to use, I’ve been asked to prepare one for the 5th grade students at my school. There is very little in the way of opportunities to bring technology into the classroom at my school so I’m keen to make sure the wiki is a success. The purpose of this post, therefore, is to sound out some ideas and hopefully get some more from you, the wonderful members of my PLN!
Reach for the sky - Image by Blue-Interface
But first, some background on the programme and what is expected….
What they (the school) want
A wiki set up on pbworks has been used over the last couple of years in the 5th grades. From what I gather (I haven’t worked with this grade group before), some activities (such as reading passages, true/false statements, quizzes etc.) were uploaded to the site every couple of weeks and set as ‘e-homework’. There was also a cross-curricular ‘Computers with English’ lesson once a month in which students could add work to the wiki. However, this had to be checked and approved before being added and the lesson itself would be given by a computer teacher rather than an English one. Beyond that, links were also posted to other sites the kids might like to look at in their own time.
There have been some problems though - only about half of the students were actually doing the homework tasks and even then, due to the sheer volume of kids we have (over 420 in the 5th grade alone so even half of them means more than 200), nobody wants to be lumbered with checking the answers!
So, I have been asked to make something ‘exciting and enticing’ so more students will be willing to do it but also something that does not put much pressure on the teachers to check and mark it. It should also complement the readers used and the preparation for the Flyers exam.
A few of my ideas
First of all, I think a change of attitude is needed from the school’s side. The belief that work can only be uploaded to the wiki after it has been checked defeats the whole point of a wiki, doesn’t it? If students are allowed to write directly to the wiki and then edit their work, it would allow for greater self-awareness of language errors and input from teachers and peers as well. That would also reduce the need for the teacher to ‘mark’ the work as the emphasis changes from product to process. If I can achieve that (big if!), the possibility for writing projects such as short stories would be created and could be used to increase motivation to write.
At the start of the school year, I thought an orientation-style activity getting each student to navigate the site and leave some comments on their class page or create their own personal page would be good. I might try using a screencasted video to demo this and then give them some instructions to follow.
As for the readers, I’m thinking of adding some quizzes, vocabulary exercises and summaries of the story so far (using Hot Potatoes for example) as well as creating some tasks similar to the reading/writing questions from the Flyers exam for practice.
I’d also like to go beyond just answering questions and writing tasks so I would like to include some web 2.0 tools such as Voicethread to get the students speaking and video embeds to create listening exercises. These could of course be thematically linked to the main content of the in-class syllabus such as the readers.
There are some limitations and issues to consider though. First and foremost, the options for working in class are limited to one computer and a projector. This means I can demonstrate new features on the site and show the activities I want them to do but there will be little chance of allowing students to work on their pages in class. They must do most of the work on their own at home.
We do have computer labs at school but these are very much the domain of the computer department and it would be difficult to get permission to enter the labs beyond the once-monthly ‘Computers with English’ class.
As for using pbworks, I have little choice in the matter. For whatever reason, all English departments in different branches of the school are required to use it so there’s no option to use Moodle, Kidsblog or anything else like that.
Also, the school wants a system in place to check not only who has logged on but also what they have done on the site. This may create a problem with embedded activities from other sites or servers. Would it be possible to implement some kind of tracker to record all that information automatically.
So, over to you. What would you do in my situation? What kind of activities that can be done from home would engage the kids and help them develop their language skills? All suggestions welcome!
If you want to see what the current site looks like, check it out here: www.tak5.pbworks.com