Why Wiki?

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Yesterday I had lunch with an old friend from a previous school. As we were discussing ed tech happenings I remembered one of those great stories we all have for why using technology in the classroom with students is so important and can sometimes give you goosebumps. I had to share it.

This year after statewide testing my students completed project where they had to design and build a roller coaster. In previous years each group also had to create a trial-and-error log, a materials list, and a team-member responsibility sheet. The return rate for this portion of the project was always atrocious. It was so bad that I often gave full credit for turning in at least one part. I always ended up with great looking roller coasters and a last minute pathetic attempt at a trial-and-error log. The kids loved creating the project, but hated the tedious record keeping assignment and therefore never did it. However, as scientists learning to keep records is quite important.

This school year I thought I would try something different and I used a wiki instead. On our class Moodle page each roller coaster group had a wiki which only the members of that group could edit. All of the groups could view each other’s wiki for ideas. I wasn’t 100% sure how the wiki editing tools worked, but I figured it was worth I try and I showed my students the basics including adding text and changing fonts. One morning as the students were working on their wikis I heard this conversation from the back of my room. My thoughts during the moment are in blue.

From a female student I will call Amy, “No, I don’t think you cut and paste in the picture. Instead you need to get the URL from Flickr, but not Photobucket because sometimes that is blocked at school and paste that URL into the page.”

(I didn’t know URLs would work. I will have to share that with the next period. When did they learn how to upload photos? Who taught them that? Photobucket is blocked? Good to know if someone else tries that.)

Then from the student being helped, “Oh look, how cool my picture is showing up!”
(Great! It worked!)

A few moments later I heard another student ask the group at large, “Hey, do you know if I change the background?”
(Yeah, how do you do that?)

Amy responded, “I think you need to click the HTML button and type in this code. Its kind of like MySpace.”
(Did she seriously just say that? I had no idea she knew what HTML was. I wonder if it will work.)

As these students sat in the back of the room editing their pages I had to chuckle. They were finding ways to customize an assignment which previous classes had given little if any thought. Suddenly something that had been mundane was now interesting. A group of 8th grade girls decked in their best Abercrombie & Fitch outfits (not exactly your computer nerd stereotype) were sitting in the back of my room discussing how to edit HTML. My master plan worked (insert evil laughter here).

The next day I privately complimented Amy for helping her peers and my jaw dropped. During our conversation I found out she had a little side business editing other student’s MySpace profiles. Apparently, the going rate for an entire MySpace page on my campus is about $20. Although for her friends she will simply show them what they need to do for free.

Okay, so maybe my master plan wasn’t so master-minded after all. I was just connecting the curriculum to what they already knew and allowing the students to express their knowledge in a format which they preferred. Anytime I can do that my students are definitely learning.

Joe

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