The Educator's PLN

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My experience with wikispaces and webs.com- From my guest post on www.freetech4teachers.com

I have never considered myself to be a techie, but after my school brought Will Richardson in to present, I discovered that I was using technology a lot more than my co-workers. I currently have a facebook page, twitter account, and I am a member of personal learning networks. I have been using the internet to make connections in my own hobby for years. I am a cichlidoit, a tropical fish enthusiast for those who do not have this addiction. I am a moderator on monsterfishkeepers.com and a member of another ten to twelve sites dedicated to the hobby. I tell you all this information because here I was using technology to learn and teach others, but I was not using these same skills in my classroom. After sitting through Will Richardson’s workshop I knew this had to change.
Before I get into the programs that I am using and how I am using them, let give you a little background on my classroom and school. I currently work at Stonegate Early College High School, a chartered school, in Indianapolis, Indiana. We serve a population of 70 percent free and reduced. We do not get to pick our students. I teach social studies and college prep courses. This is the first year that I am using these programs in my classroom. I currently host a website for all my classes with webs.com and in both classes I started using wikispaces.com. I also have my students in my college prep course create a portfolio on webs.
Webs.com allows users to create websites for free. I use webs in my courses in two ways. First, I use webs to create a website for my classes. It is free, but I went ahead and bought my own domain to make it more personal. Currently, my students and parents can go to mrdunagan.com to access information for my classes. On my website I keep a page for each class. On the class page I keep the class syllabus, notes, reading assignments, project directions, and links to any other materials that I use in class. My website also has a calendar that I keep upcoming test dates, school events, project due dates, and homework due dates on. I have also created a forum where students respond to questions as homework. In the forum they can link websites that they find helpful while continuing their research from our class activities. I have the ability to control who is allowed to post and view the forum. In my college prep courses I have my students create a website portfolio to show case themselves. This website can be used in the future to help market themselves for college or after college when trying to get a job. This is the first semester that I have had students create these and I am fine tuning what they need to have on them. So far my students keep a resume, contact me page, and an about me page. I have encouraged my students after this term to continue to update these websites. In college prep II we will start next year by adding samples of student work to the page. The website even has a blog feature that I hope to use with the students next year as well. Working on these projects requires a great deal of time in the computer lab. A fair number of my students do not have internet access, but I allow them to come in early, stay late, or use one of two computers in my room during their study hall classes. Most of my students have been able to complete the required work without issue.
Wikispaces is a terrific website that allows educators to create wikis for free. I currently have two wikis setup. In my world history class I have setup a history wiki where students pick a topic from our class and create a wiki page over it. These are the first students to begin working on the wiki. Students are encouraged to take topics like the Ancient Greeks, Carthage, and Ancient Rome and create a page similar to Wikipedia. The students can share videos, pictures, or links in the page. The students that follow these students will add new wiki pages, go in-depth, or edit the wikis that have been created. Wikispaces allows you to control who see and who edits the wiki. In my world history class we have a closed wiki that only the approved users can view. At the end of the semester I can delete the users. In my college prep class I have a wiki that is viewable by others. The students have multiple projects in the course that I have adjusted to be used on the wiki now. The first project we are attempting in class is creating a wiki page for their college research project. I use to have student create a binder about a selected college and share it with the class. Your school requires freshman to research colleges and I thought why not give them a helping hand. So now each student is taking what use to be put into a binder and making it a wiki page. Each page includes information on the school’s history, mascot, sports, top program and degrees, map of the campus, demographics, cost to attend, and campus organizations. The purpose of this project is to compile information on as many colleges as we can and have it in one place that any student can access. Next year we will do a similar project on different careers.
As educators we are now bombarded with this notion that our students are digital natives and we must teach in a way they understand. I agree with this statement, but I have found that most of our current students cannot use the internet beyond the social aspect. It did take a lot of baby stepping to get my students to start using these programs.

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