The Power of Wikis In/Outside the Classroom
A little over a month ago Anne Low, an 8th grade teacher at Parker Middle School in my town, and I had the idea to help ease the course placement and transition process for 8th graders by hooking them up with 9th graders. Although I now teach high school, we taught 8th grade history together at Parker for the past two years. We noticed that students get a lot of information in a formal way (through presentations from RMHS administrators and guidance counselors during the school day or through evening meetings at RMHS that are expressly for incoming feshmen) but they never get a chance to really ask the questions that make them the most nervous about high school. Questions like...
- I think I have the choice of going into all honors classes for my freshman year. Do you think I could be able to do that and still have a social life at the same time?
- I heard there are different lunches for each grade. So is there some freshmen in a lunch with a few kids from each age? And how many kids are in each lunch at a time?
- How often do we use the computer lab? Do we use things like Google Docs and wikis like we did in middle school?
- How much time does it generally take to complete all your homework? When we get projects how much time do we usually get to do it?
These are real questions from the wiki, and there are more where that came from! We decided that the easiest way for our students to communicate would be via wiki.
You can check out the results here.
- First we created the wiki. Since both Anne and I are administrators, we both edited the home page with our expectations for our respective students.
- Next we showed the wiki to our students. The freshmen were excited, but had to wait before they started editing because we needed the 8th graders to post questions. Anne took the 8th graders to the computer lab for a day or two at Parker to help them become members of the wiki and post their questions on the appropriate page.
- The freshmen followed suit, but they had to learn to become members and edit the wiki on their own time. Based on the amount of exposure and experience they have had with Web 2.0 tools in my class so far this year (and based on the fact that they are all honors level students) I told them that I expected they would be able to figure it out. There were a few who had trouble and came for extra help before and after school last week, but in the end we accomplished our mission.
Although the results aren't necessarily pretty, mostly because there were almost 200 students editing one wiki website, the students did a nice job coming up with and answering questions. Some of my freshmen even embedded video clips, images, and provided links to some examples of their work from the school year so far. I'm not sure how satisfied Anne was with the process I have a few reflections.
- I wish my freshmen were able to answer each and every question on the wiki, but without assigning certain students to each other it was not possible. Maybe we can set it up that way next year.
- The freshmen really liked the activity. Some remarked to me that they had the same questions as 8th graders a year ago. They also liked that they felt like the "older kids" for a change. As the lowest underclassmen at RMHS, it was a nice moment for them.
- I was pleased with how genuine the 8th graders' questions seemed to be and how considerate the freshmen's responses were. They really took the time to answer the questions the way the 8th graders wanted them to.