With just over a week of school left for this year, I thought that now would be a good opportunity to officially declare the wiki collaboration between my Year 5/6 class and Doug Noon's sixth graders open. Now, it's never ever been closed to anyone on the web but this is an official invitation to any educator who's interested to take a look and offer some feedback. It's called Spin The Globe and I blogged about its progress a little while back. At times, it's caused a flurry of emails as Doug and I have endeavored to iron out the chinks and retreat from some of the blind turns that we've taken our classes down.
So what's Spin The Globe and what did the students do? It was an idea of mine that would match my students with somewhere far removed from their everyday experience. I also wanted to work with someone I already knew and respected with hopefully similar ideals about how these type of global projects could be implemented at a ''grassroots" level. I approached Doug and he was keen but with guarded caution - not about the goals or potential but the implementation. Some of that has been documented in my prior post or may be expanded on by Doug in his own time and place so I'll stick to what the wiki project has become at this point in time.
I'll be honest here and state the goals that Doug and I negotiated have been our guiding light because the process and the final product has been constantly malleable and subject to redefinition. The big difficulty was making this project important to two very different groups of students living very different lives. My class enjoyed the advantage of being the initiators and being very settled as we were well into the second half of our school year. They knew me, I knew their capabilities and by that stage in the year I knew them all well enough to enthuse them about this mysterious project we were doing with "the kids from Alaska". Doug, on the other hand, was just starting his new school year and was still working out his group's particular tendencies and skill sets. From my perspective, his position was always going to be trickier to manage. But I have to pay tribute to his support, his diplomomatic balancing of some of my hare-brained ideas and ultimately suggesting ways to get around some of the barriers (cultural and technological). One of the best pieces of advice actually came from his wife, also a teacher, who pointed out that a top-down approach that dictated specific roles and topics for students was somewhat at odds with the inquiry based approach we were actually wanting for them. In my class, the project gained its largest boost of momentum when I spoke to my students and announced that the shackles were off and they were free to develop whatever pages of the wiki they wanted. After all, Wikipedia contributors don't get assigned to write specific articles by a superior. I know that a classroom effort can't be quite as organic as that but productivity and engagement went up noticeably from that point on.
The students started with what they knew, then progressed to asking questions, answering questions, doing additional research both on their Alaskan focus and on Australian topics in order to give back useful information to Doug's class. His kids initiated and created del.icio.us accounts that we linked together via the network function - these were useful jumping off points and become links we could embed back in the wiki. We had a fantastic day excursion that refreshed (and for some kids, introduced) information about our own part of the world and captured images that we placed in a flickr account. The students who were really keen spent time adding descriptive text and adding notes to explain the photos we had taken. Then we started to develop the final wiki entries. I built a navigation page, tweaked the sidebar links and students used a similar formatting plan to Wikipedia to write up their entries based on their primary source information gained from their Alaskan counterparts. It was starting to look good.
Some kids really thrived on this sort of project. One child who is so self conscious of his handwriting skills that his written work is minimal and lacking in depth blossomed with detailed writing and obvious pride in getting the presentation right in his section on Alaskan Transport. Some kids would edit punctuation on others' entries, fix up the formatting or help rephrase a sentence so that it was clearer.
The whole project showed other benefits that you won't find actually on the wiki but were lightbulb moments in the classroom. Looking at some of the pics from Doug's class was one of those moments - most of my kids have never seen snow and were gobsmacked to see the playground and buildings coated in the stuff at this time of year when things are warming up. It added meaning to another lesson where we took a mathematical angle on our respective monthly temperatures. We collected monthly maximum and minimum temperatures from the Adelaide weather website, found an equivalent Fairbanks temperature source and converted those statistics to Celcius. The kids listed down both sets of data in a table - as numbers they didn't mean that much even side by side. But as I demonstrated how to construct a line graph on the interactive whiteboard, some students began to cotton on the massive differences in seasons and temperatures. And as they constructed their own line graphs, there were comments of "Whoa!", "I can't believe that it gets that cold!" and "Check this out!" as they watched the contrasting curves cross over on their pages.
Every time kids read a new piece of information from their Alaskan peers, they would try to make sense of it through the lense of their own experiences. Sometimes it wouldn't make sense, sometimes it helped to crystallise a concept but collectively a better understanding of life on the other side of the globe started to take shape. Now you can check out what they have found out by checking out the wiki. Please feel free to leave some feedback in the discussion tabs - let them know that the world is watching by telling them where you're visiting from. Don't forget they are mainly 11 and 12 year olds and I'm very proud of how they have used web tools to communicate and construct their own learning in a very collaborative way. Thanks once again to Doug and his group of sixth graders - without them, there would not been a Spin The Globe project. The teachers have very much been learners along the way.
Thanks. After 487 edits, it's time for you guys to take a look.