Anchor standard number six of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) asks us to engage our students in collaboration and online publication of writing. Mrs. Ronica Lawrence and I work in different schools that are 70 miles apart. We enjoyed working together over the summer, so we decided engage our students in an invasive species collaborative research and writing project. Read more to learn what resources we used and how we managed over 150 students in this first-time endeavor.
We used Web 2.0 tools that are free for educators. None of them require student email addresses to create student accounts. They also provide options for locking down the sites so only those who are registered have access, thereby providing a secure online learning experience. Be sure to send home a parent letter whenever your students go online. My letter explains the project, informs the parents that their child will be working online, and provides the URL, student user name, and password. Even though I monitor student activity, I encourage parents to also monitor their child’s progress anytime they are online. It is a teachable moment for everyone.
Before the project started, Roni and I spent a couple hours on the phone discussing our student outcomes based on the CCSS, the resources required, and the student grouping. We decided to use mixed-ability, heterogeneous grouping. We grouped high and average and low and average students together. Because PBworks, the platform we were using (see below), only allows one student to edit at a time, we grouped Roni’s 1st period with my 2nd period and her 2nd period with my 3rd period. Roni teaches two sections of 6th grade science. I teach five sections of 6th grade English. Since this was our first cross-district collaborative experience, we chose to limit the cross-district grouping to these two sections rather than spreading her 35 students throughout all five sections that I teach. My remaining students were grouped with English sections in my own school. Students were placed in groups of four.
The picture to the right depicts group members videoconferencing. Our 6th graders videoconferenced twice using Skype, free videoconferencing software. Once Skype is installed on a computer, it's like picking up a phone and dialing. The first meeting was scheduled to allow the students to meet each other and decide on the invasive species their group wanted to research. The second time, they divided research topics into subtopics. After that, all communication was online. I would have liked one more videoconference for an end-of-project debriefing, but the holiday schedules made it too difficult.
Students need certain skills to successfully communicate in a videoconference. Cover the following points before the first videoconference:
Also consider the following videoconferencing classroom management tips:
We used a research checklist consisting of subtopics required for each invasive species: scientific names, native habitat, invasive history, ecological impact, etc. The checklist was a record of who was researching which subtopic. It also allowed students to work ahead. Before we started, the students listed their names on top of the paper in alphabetical order by last name. They numbered their names one through four. Then they numbered the items on the checklist one through four, repeating the number pattern until all items on the list were labeled with a one, two, three, or four. The students with number one researched the topics labeled one. Number two students researched all subtopics labeled number two and so forth. Each student had two subtopics to research. Ultimately, it was a good lesson for identifying supporting details for a topic.
Diigo for education allows teachers to set up social bookmarking accounts for students without requiring email accounts to register. I did not use this social bookmarking tool this year, but I will not do another research project without it. Students did not have access to the same computers every day. They also needed access to their bookmarks when they wanted to work from home. Even though we tracked our resources in a bibliography handout, some URLs are extremely long. One error meant that they would not get back to the Web page. Diigo would have been a precious timesaver when hyperlinking images or bibliographical information.
PBworks is a free Web 2.0 tool for collaborative writing and online publishing. It is a WYSIWYG (what-you-see-is-what-you-get) Web publishing tool. The tool bars are similar to Microsoft Word, so students became proficient quickly. After creating a PBworks space, I created one Web page for each invasive species. For example, there was one page for Burmese python and another for kudzu. Four students were assigned to create one page. Because students work at different paces, I created a PBworks video tutorials library to guide them as they progressed through each step of the publishing process.
Only one student can edit a Web page at a time; therefore, we had students type their informational articles into Microsoft Word. When the rough draft was completed, the students copied and pasted their text onto the PBworks page. Once the rough drafts were posted, students began collaborating online. When in published view, the students could post revision and editing suggestions in the comment boxes beneath the Web page, much as they would with a blog. Finally, students combed through the Web page editing and formatting. During this process, students worked in pairs to proofread before publishing. Below are some PBworks Classroom Management Tips:
Access the Scholastic article “Web Tools for Student Publishing: Tools for Collaborating” for a list of additional Web tools that support student collaboration and online publishing. What are your favorite Web 2.0 tools? What tips do you have for collaborative writing and online publishing?