Daily Archives: May 15, 2006

During the latter half of last week, we started our Problem Based Learning program with the Middle Years Learning Unit (MYLU) students. As our teacher-librarian was away in Melbourne at a PBL conference, it was decided to get the students started familiarising and using the cutting edge technology of the wiki before the introduction of the problem. Each class had approximately two hours in the computing room with me and Peter, our extra support teacher for the term. I had already set up the PBL wiki ready to go (or so I thought) with all of the relevant pages set up - the problem, Learning Area pages, sandbox pages, examples, information about wikis and even a link to a Copyright page for kids (poached from Doug Noon's del.icio.us links). I had my plan, use the IWB in the classroom to explicitly walk the kids through the wiki, discuss what a wiki was, touch on the aspects of adding "stuff" to a wiki - text, images, wiki links, outgoing links, navigation, creating pages. I also tried to explicitly show the kids how to join Wikispaces, go to the PBL wiki and request membership to that space. I first worked with my own class although Natalie (my co-teacher) was officially in charge and they had already played with a wiki in a previous lesson. So that went OK - Nat is a very web-savvy teacher and got the kids easily into acquiring space membership and then we tackled the section of the session designed to give them real opportunity to acquire some skills. I had concocted an Internet Treasure Hunt with a page dedicated to it on the wiki where the kids had to track some various web items and put them on their page - links, images, slabs of information. Away they went with varying success. I had also cunningly made all of the items to be tracked of Australian origin so that the kids would already be tuned when we started the problem. I also figured that as I started each new session, my delivery of the lesson and concepts would be smoother and the kids later in the week would be able to get going quicker and achieve more in the two hours. How wrong I was. The spread of wiki-awareness across all of the classes was extremely wide with some of the youngest students being the quickest to create accounts, read the instructions, create their own team page for the Hunt and add content while a lot of the Year Sevens were a bit lost. I also learnt a fair bit about wikis as we went along. For instance, two people can't have a page open for editing and work at the same time because the changes don't update on the fly and whatever is on the page when the SAVE button is hit, it is what is saved on that version. I think it will smooth out as the students gain confidence and they spread the tasks and work on more than just one page at once in their group.
In the three classes that hadn't worked with me before, very few kids had even heard of a wiki and it was interesting that not one of my fellow teachers knew how Wikipedia was constructed. I certainly raised their awareness and I am sure that they will use Wikipedia with a different frame of mind in future. It all depends on your view on "trusted sources" but the kids were really great in identifying the advantages of the Wikipedia system - always up-to-date, links to other resources, many more articles and interactive multi-media extras.
So, in the end, all of the students registered as wikispace users (using net safety aliases, of course) became members of the PBL wiki, created a team page for the Hunt, linked that page back to their Learning Area navigation page and made a start on the Treasure Hunt. It certainly was obvious that the kids and the teachers need more "play time" using this new tool before it is used for the solving of the Problem but I am glad that everyone feels that using a wiki has great potential.
I have to finish with this great little anecdote. In one class, the numbers were odd so one boy had to pair up with his teacher to create a team. That was great - the teacher felt it gave her a chance to get into the task, learn the application and get to know her student a little better. The student? He was fine BUT he was concerned that he was at a disadvantage because he had a teacher as a partner and she might not pull her weight!!