Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Breaking The Wiki and Other Lessons Learned Inadvertently 

or, Trust Yourself, and the Teaching Will Follow

Three days ago, in between projects with my eights grade classes, but curious to see how far beyond the normative expectations of the preadolescent mind the could be pushed, I loosed the improvisational pedagogist, let myself go all socratic and unplanned.

I suppose some of what I had in mind was killing time. The kids are on a three day on, three day off rotation; the grading period ends next Friday; by then I will have seen them for one more triplet, hardly long enough to begin a project, and who wants to be in the middle of a project when grading comes around?

Instead, somewhere between the top-of-the-head board-list on Monday and today's impromptu assignment, a unit emerged. Over three one-hour lessons, in two otherwise unmanageable sections of 8th grade computing, we moved fluidly from description of common neodigital phenomena blogs, wikis, virtual communities, collaborative productivity tools and interlinked texts, into an online exercise, a half-virtual self-led class assuming an ability to follow directions and focus previously unheard of at this grade level.

Yesterday, after a short introduction to the wiki much too far above their heads, I actually found myself announcing -- with the caveat that it might take us a while to understand what it really meant -- that the new wave of digital technology transforms the way we think about time and space. And then promising that they would actually understand this sometime in the near future under my care, and that the realization would tranform them, empower them, make them all twice as aware, three times as productive.

To a room full of twelve year olds.

And I got so excited, I sent them home to try to break Wikipedia.

These have been my difficult classes. Each section is half-full of special education students from the truly hyperactive to the sloth, and it shows. Add that the usual mix of middle school hormones, mix in the inherent impossibility of trying to teach to a bunch of kids staring at bright shiny screens, bursting with the power of their digital generation.

But today, the kids were with me, en masse, for the first time since I lost control of 'em early in the term. They loved the homework, loved testing the limits of the world of information and ideas instead of simply examining it from outside like they usually do.

They were proud of how silly they were able to make the world look, and stayed with me, sharing and laughing, as we explored the culture and infrastructure that allowed, nay, depended on collaboration for its very existence, yet reverted most marred pages back to their previous, groupbuilt norm within minutes.

Made heady by the sudden realization that they could actually make change in the world, even if only for nine minutes at a time, these kids wanted to know what else they can do.

So, I told them next week, they start projects based around ideas -- each will have to declare that technology changes the way we are and can be in some significant way, and then use analyses of new tools, and interviews and observation of worlds on- and off-line, to prove it.

And for the first time, all of them walked out thinking.

Talk about chutzpah. I've got middle schoolers doing sociological analysis. My head spins with visions of powerpoint presentation on topics from which part of me is my username? to schools without walls to collaboration: how the world works now.

They'll have to do this all as primary-source research, of course. You can't expect a kid to do much with Sherry Turkel's "Second Self" or Howard Rheingold's "Virtual Community."

But, by God, it just might fly. Imagine the potential of a fully self-aware digital generation.

posted by boyhowdy | 9:18 PM |

that's what a good teacher does, ya get yer students thinkin'. And if they keep those lessons within their minds over the years, even better.

Anyway - so, about that Ipod. I'm tellin' ya man - ya gotta have a picture of Doug Henning on the front of it. No one will steal this one...
That is what a good teacher does, gets the students curious and interested in something new to them with extreme potential. If you can get students interested in something as vast and full of knowlege as wikipedia they will learn on their own and with your aid far more than most students their age. I would have killed to have you as my teacher in 8th grade.

They will be thanking you for years to come for helping them gain more knowlege of the digital age. I personally think being fully aware of the potential of their technology will make them much better students in general.

I miss taking classes with you, you were always very good at inspiring a lot of interesting discussions and making us really think not only about what we were learning but how we were learning and processing it.

(IK. I am majorly babbling on. What I really meant to say was I think what you are doing with this class is awesome. I also wanted to thank you for being a great teacher for me as well)
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