Science Alive Wiki ClustrMap
18 Mar 2010 to 21 Feb 2011: 35,795 visits shown above

Bringing Science Alive! Total visitors since 15 Mar 2007: 100,190.

In the last 4 years, a little Science Wiki that I created with a couple Grade 8 classes has been viewed over 100,000 times. Wow! Here is what I tried to do with the wiki:

Let’s bring Science Alive!

What do you want to learn about in Science?

Welcome to our Science Alive project!

We are students in two Middle School Grade 8 classes that have been working on a Science topic of our own choosing.

First, we chose a topic and then we had to create our own wiki page that demonstrated our understanding of our topic.

I wanted students to do an experiment, and I wanted them to demonstrate higher order thinking skills, as seen in the Digital Blooms Taxonomy.

The new Blooms TaxonomyThe project was far from perfect. Here is a reflection on it that I often share with teachers who are planning a big project: Wikis in the classroom: a reflection. But the rewards were amazing! Students loved that they had a choice of topics and they really pushed each other to do better!  They loved having free access 24/7 to share their work. Also, as Kimberly said in her evaluation of the project:

“I thought this was a great project because it was always fun, and when you needed inspiration, it was easy to just click on someone else’s page, and see all the neat stuff that they’ve done, and then it makes you want to make your page just as good (or, it did for me).”

This wasn’t about doing a project for a teacher, it was students doing something for themselves and each other. Also, students gained so much from sharing their projects during the process rather than just at the end, like in a Science Fair. Furthermore it continued to be used after the project, unlike a Science Fair poster that gets thrown away, or at best, stored away in the back of a garage or under the stairwell in the basement. Sebastian, one of my students on this project, recently reconnected with me on Facebook. We spoke of this project and he said,

“I have actually referred back to the wiki many a time believe it or not. Various persuasive essays where I have purposely chosen topics we studied so that whenever I started an essay I at least had something to run with! That was a great project though! I wish more teachers where intuitive enough to use something like that.”

This project was also about students sharing their project with the world! I would start class and of the 25+ computers that were turned on, I would see 18 to 20 students taking a look at our large-view ClustrMap.

Our first archived map

… Where in the world did the next person visit from? Some students were emailing friends in other countries to share what they did, so that we could get more ‘dots’ on our map. Incidental Geography lesson occurred. Audience mattered.

Audience mattered to me too! It mattered that I was publishing my daily agenda to the world on the front page of this wiki. I was keenly aware that things went slower than I’d hoped, that I was winging it as I learned to use a wiki at the same time as my students, that I was asking them for public feedback, etc. As I recently said in a comment on George Couros’ post: Why Social Media Can and Is Changing Education,

Teachers are forced to be more reflective when they are open. When I started to open my classroom and share what I was doing with parents, and the world, I thought more about what I was doing and why I was doing it. My practice changed.

As I connected with more and more educators online, I began to learn from them in ways that I was not learning even in my own building. I was working with some amazing educators, but I wasn’t having ‘learning conversations’ with them on my own personal time lines, feeding my passion for learning when and where I wanted to learn. I noticed the same desire for ‘learning on your own time’ by my students who were contributing to our class wiki at all hours of the night, and also at lunchtime at our school (when they should not have had access to computers). Our learning practice had changed.

Being “open” unintentionally changes us so that doing things in new ways isn’t just a possibility, but a necessity and a convenience. To me these are two key point in why social media is changing education:
Necessity – Being open makes us more reflective educators.
Convenience – Being open creates opportunities for anytime learning, beyond the confines of classrooms and schools.

Going back to my reflection post, the comments tell a story… a story about me as an educator that would not have been possible without the audience a blog gives me:

Your reflection goes beyond teaching science, no doubt. Perhaps that is a result from blogging to an audience of teachers at large. You have learnt how to spot the core edu-issues to be discussed. […] Blog readers and commenters become part of the network of your thoughts. They help us to refine ideas, express them in a precise manner and direct them to the people who may continue developing them.
~ Claudia Ceraso

Your mindfulness about trying to approach this project differently and trying not to “steer” students too much was fascinating. Glad to have helped in some small way!
~ Carolyn Foote

I really enjoyed your authentic reflection and willingness to share your learning with all of us. It is this that is probably your greatest success with this project.
~ Dave Sands

I think that I’m a better educator because I’ve created an audience. I think students can benefit from an authentic audience in the same way. We tell students to write to an audience and that ‘audience matters’, but they don’t get it… I didn’t get it as a student or even as a teacher, until I started blogging.

Create an audience for yourself. Create an audience for your students. Raise both the level of interest and the level of concern in your projects and your practice. If you don’t blog, think about what it can do for you and your students. If you haven’t tried an ‘open‘ project, here is some simple advice to help you get started. Being open, and sharing your work and student work online, invites an audience and an authentic audience matters!

_____  _____ _____ _____  _____ _____

• Related notes: My last post was about AUP’s, questioning their value as opposed to just making online expectations an extension of current school policies. On the Science Alive wiki, I shared our school beliefs as they related to online activities, and when I had a cyberbullying issue, it was dealt with in class as a teachable moment and also treated as a bullying issue in the school.

17 comments on “An Authentic Audience Matters

  1. Absolutely Agree Dave. Of course, the danger is that once we give students an authentic audience they will not want to go back to submitting assignments just to a teacher. This is one of the great frustrations that I hear from students – they have a teacher, like my daughter does in grade 3, who allows students to create projects that can be shared with the world and then these students are in a class the following year that does not embrace these wonderful learning opportunities. The students I worked with during the Olympics last year shared this as their greatest frustration going back to school – it was just not as “real” as when they were publishing for the world.

    I can’t imagine what it would be like now to go back – to lose my authentic audience and network. I agree that I am a better teacher because I have an audience, and I am also a better student because of this audience.

  2. Could not agree more, Dave. Authenticity takes education and personal teaching practice to a whole new level. It’s almost as though anyone could be watching at any time. That is exciting and keeps us, as educators, on top of our game at all times. Of even greater importance, students actually begin to see they are doing something worthwhile.

    In our class currently, students are working on developing their own political interest groups on amazing topics like education reform in the US, social networking in schools, alternative energy sources, etc. with the intent of publishing wikis and creating a campaign for their ’cause.’ Student came to me at the end of class and said, “You are really the only one who actually has us doing something that is real and makes sense in our world. Thank you.” Despite the turmoil and fears for the public education system in America, my students are no doubt the shining light and they shine brightest when the work they are doing is authentic.

  3. You know most people still don’t think this way… It is challenging to get people to feel safe and comfortable to tweet let alone blog, or wow, do an open ed project. So many critical eyes on their ideas, their writing, their approach… but, that doesn’t mean those that have had a taste of being connected to a greater audience shouldn’t continue to encourage their colleagues to do so. It will take time and as more students “grow up digital” (that was Don Tapscott’s book, yes?), and they become teachers, it will hopefully become natural.

    Nice post Dave.

  4. Chris,
    You totally reminded me of this post: “You can’t go back now, can you?”. If we as educators can not ‘go back’, then I imagine it would be equally as hard, if not harder, for students.

    Suzie,
    What an amazing project! I wish I was in your class right now! 🙂
    I love this point: “Of even greater importance, students actually begin to see they are doing something worthwhile.”
    We all want to be doing something ‘worthwhile’ and students are no exception. Students at the Flat Classroom Conference in Beijing talked about a ‘Digiteen‘ project they did where they evaluated the ‘safety’ level of social websites for younger students, (their younger siblings). They did this based on criteria that they developed themselves. I’d call that worthwhile!

    Brian,
    So how do we accelerate this process? How do we encourage our colleagues to engage? I think we need to create an environment where we Teach Less & Learn More, but if we can’t wait for that either, then what works? What can we do, other than wait for colleagues to catch up or wait for the next generation of teachers?

  5. One of my take-aways from viewing Alan November’s TedxNYED talk http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ebJHzpEy4bE was his story about the student who spent hours of her own time writing for the Fan Fiction website, yet chose not to complete homework assignments and whose participation in class was less-than-stellar. He had the chance to talk to her and inquired about why she didn’t put as much effort into her classwork as she did into her personal writing. She said that, “When I wake up, I have to decide if I will do my work for my teachers or publish for the world.” And in her mind, publishing for the world was more authentic and meaningful a task than completing work her teachers assigned.

    I’m currently reading You are Not a Gadget http://www.amazon.com/You-Are-Not-Gadget-Manifesto/dp/0307269647 and while I obviously utilize “Web 2.0” tools to connect with others, I totally understand Lanier’s viewpoint when he fears that communication via technology causes us to lose a piece of our humanity. He states, “You have to be somebody before you can share yourself.” Isn’t that the truth? Who do we most deeply connect with and learn from online? For me, it’s through those with whom I’ve developed a personal relationship (even though most of my contacts I have never met in real life!) Through transparency, modeling, and openly sharing their educational successes, ideas and failures, valued members of my network make connections with their audiences… all in the name of learning.

    Thanks for this post, Dave!

  6. Great contributions to the conversation Lyn!

    It was Alan November that introduced me to the idea of giving students an authentic audience years ago… I love the example you shared! Thanks also for the link (though I’m not sure when I’ll have bandwidth enough to see a YouTube video for a while yet?)

    I think your point about relationships with technology relates really well to Brian Kuhn’s recent post: Technology Obsession.

    …and I couldn’t agree with you more about online relationships! My post on Connected Principals, A Somewhat Dis-Connected Principal, exemplifies how strong relationships have evolved for me within a network of friends/colleagues/mentors whom I have never met.

  7. Dave,

    I noticed your comment to Brian above. It is a difficult process and I work in a school where like Brian, students aren’t always eager and willing. Accelerated the process doesn’t necessarily need to be ‘accelerated’ so to speak. You just have to start somewhere. Start small. Sure, we’d love to talk to other faculty, get everyone on the same page, etc. but it doesn’t always work that way. The best way to facilitate it is just to do it and then let the kids start talking. Pretty soon, there will be colleagues that come and say, “How’d you do that?” In my situation preaching to the choir doesn’t go very far, but doing right by my students can move mountains.

    Right now reading Kerry Patterson’s, The Influencer http://www.amazon.com/Influencer-Change-Anything-Kerry-Patterson/dp/007148499X. This approach has worked better for me than trying to educate others. Just do the work. Set the example. This is a great conversation!

  8. Suzie,

    I love it when a teacher basically says, ‘You just need to be the change… and they are!

    “…doing right by my students can move mountains.” You need to put that on T-shirts and coffee mugs! 😉

    What’s great about this discussion is that we are all going down the same path, but from different places. To give you a little background, I’ve worked for (and am heading back to) the same school district as Brian, and Brian oversees the technology department for the district. So when I ask him those questions above, I’m asking: How do we support teachers (such as the ones you mention) who just want to start ‘somewhere’ and ‘start small’?

    Both of us are in leadership positions where we want to create opportunities and systems to help foster meaningful tech integration… and we want to provide opportunities for teachers such as yourself to be leaders as well! In many ways leading from where you are actually gives you leverage to have more influence than us!

    Currently, a teacher across the hall from you might gain some benefit (some influence) from you and your students doing what you are doing… but what about a teacher in the next school or across your school district? How many of them would jump on the idea of having ‘students work on developing their own political interest groups on amazing topics’? That is, if they new about this project, and if you had a venue to share your project with them. How do we extend your influence?

    …and how do we support you so that your next project is easier to facilitate than the last one? So that it’s easier to provide your students with an authentic, global audience in a challenging, personalized, and engaging way?

    Brian and I, (and Chris & Lyn too), may not have our own classrooms, but we too believe that “…doing right by [our] students can move mountains.” So, how can we make things easier?

    How can we support teachers like you and also teachers just starting out?

    Thanks for the link to the book, it looks like a fascinating read. My reading list is growing as this discussion continues.
    _____
    ps. I think Chris, who is a Superintendent of Schools, still teaches a course!

  9. Suzie and Dave – my comment was mostly in the context of working with school principals. I find these folks to be tentative in putting their toe into the digital realm. Senior exec staff I work with are very tentative although I did manage to help our Superintendent become a regular blogger. Teachers, well, it depends. We have 1850 teachers and it really depends on the school’s culture (is it open, trusting, risk taking) which often depends on the school principal. Which takes me back to principals… a colleague of mine and I are going to try to make a concerted effort to get more of our principals familiar with and embracing social media tools this next year. We expect this to have a positive affect within schools. Principals can make it “safe” for teachers who then may feel empowered to try new things with their students.

  10. Apologies. I just came back and read through the additional comments AFTER I continued this discussion in my own post. This is tough. It is difficult to answer because I am trying to encourage the same in my own school, but I am working from the bottom up, not the top down. And like I mentioned, it is just easier to do and let it be contagious. I literally just began my blog last week. I have been immersed in technology, connected my students on a global level, etc. for several years, all with accolades from a very supportive administration. However, I was always reluctant to start my own blog because I do not have a blogging administration. And no, no Twitter, either.

    It would have a positive impact on most teachers to have principals as examples who are modeling professional digital citizenship in the blogosphere. Many teachers will continue to be reluctant to do so given the litigious nature of our society (speaking from a US perspective, here) and the ills of the possibility of misconstrued perceptions. When you ask how can you encourage & support teachers like me it seems simple. Praise works well. Sometimes recognition or acknowledgement helps. Use those teachers as an example to others and provide encouragement. Those are the things that work for me because I “get” technology. Most of us just need to know that we have your support and that in a potentially sticky situation, we have your backing as schools here can be very political.

  11. […] Real and substantive conversations.
    Students talk: to the teacher, to each other. The learning environment encourages and nurtures the open sharing of ideas. Students converse through a variety of media as part of the reflective process. They create and share with authentic audiences. Students make distinctions, form generalizations, and dialogue with elaboration. If you’ve never taken a step back, found an inconspicuous part of the room, and just sat and listened to students engaged in a conversation, do it. Like, tomorrow. They will astound you.

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