Pool of resources

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By John Foster

Please excuse this statement of the obvious: Teachers at Goshen Elementary each have their own set of knowledge and opinions. If there were only a way to pool all of that knowledge and sort through those opinions. The problem is, during the course of a school day, teachers on the south wing of the school normally don’t see teachers on the north wing of the school, School Technology Coordinator Cindy Smith said. How does a school faculty pool that knowledge and those opinions effectively? Faculty meetings are useful, but they only go so far. It is difficult to schedule meetings at a time convenient for everyone, she said. And there is inevitably too little time for everyone to share their knowledge and opinions. Some teachers, especially newer ones, may find it intimidating to air their thoughts in that setting. Smith sees Web 2.0 technology as part of the solution. As a result she has set about creating a “virtual learning community” at Goshen. Using airset.com, teachers can post information to wikis — a collaborative Web site where content can be edited by anyone with access to it. In this case, teachers. Literacy coach Donna Monroe works with Smith on the project. She said this allows teachers to pool resources – including lesson plans and useful Web sites. When Monroe led a three-hour presentation on guided reading last year, she was able to post the information on the airset.com site. This year, new teachers can access that knowledge by accessing the site, without Monroe having to present the material again. She said the back-and-forth nature of posting information to the site has helped the faculty nail down what they mean by “professional development” and “collaboration,” among other topics. “This is a way to keep the conversation going,” she said. Monroe and Smith find the online approach especially useful for them, since they are the only faculty members with their position at the school. The virtual learning community approach allows them to more easily collaborate with media specialists and literacy coaches at other schools. Teachers aren’t the only ones pooling knowledge and opinions at Goshen. Students are getting in on the action.Teacher Winn Wheeler used a wiki for a segment of her class to explore more about plants. They pooled knowledge on topics like photosynthesis, plant parts and why plants are important. Teacher David Wallace has a classroom Web page like other teachers in the school where he can disseminate information to his students and parents such as announcements, homework and a classroom wish list. He also created a link to a class blog — an online journal, short for Web log — where he posts questions about literacy. Students are able to access and write answers, adding an interactive feature to the site. In students’ responses it is evident the blog allows them more freedom than a classroom assignment. They write a congratulatory “Happy Birthday” or the exciting news that their friend’s mother is going to have another baby.Sometimes they get a little silly. “I typed this,sincderly [sic], guy who wrote this” But mostly they stay on task, even embracing the idea of discussing reading strategies. And get this – it’s totally optional. What would be viewed as homework on a printed page becomes something some choose to do at 7:30 a.m. on a Saturday. Wallace posts questions like: “What do you do when you are confused with a word, phrase, or section of a reading passage? What strategies seem to work best for you? Hint: think about all that we do as readers under the “tip” of an iceberg...” And they respond with answers like: “When I’m confused with a word or phrase, I go ask my mom. If she doesn’t know, I go ask my dad. If he doesn’t know, then I go to the dictionary. If the dictionary doesn’t give me any help, then I go to the Internet. If THAT doesn’t work, then I give up. But normally it doesn’t get past dad. The only time it really ever gets past him is if it’s in a language he doesn’t know like Indian or Japanese or Mandarin.” The class has posted more than 75 entries since August. Kallen Sebastian is a regular blogger from the class. She said she likes to read, so she likes to express her thoughts about her reading on the blog. She writes on it as much as possible, she said. She said if Wallace issued the same question as a homework assignment on a piece of paper, she wouldn’t be as excited to answer it. “It just seems that when it’s with computers, it’s just more fun,” she said. Goshen may be at the forefront of using this technology, but it is certainly not the only school in the district to incorporate blogs and wikis. Kimberly Flanders’ third- and fourth-grade class at Crestwood Elementary uses the class blog to discuss what they learned in science in a week or chat about that day’s writing celebration. Angie Heibert’s third- and fourth-grade students use a blog to discuss how liquids turn into gas, among other topics. At Buckner, the fifth-grade teachers use Airset.com. Harmony Elementary also makes use of blogs and wikis. Oldham County High School business teacher Wes Husband writes a blog. Even Locust Grove, which will open in August, has a blog. Principal MariAnn Arnold maintains a blog where she answers parents’ questions about the staffing process and other topics. At Goshen, Smith said she doesn’t believe the school has maximized the abilities of current technology. Beyond expanding the use of blogs and wikis, she would like to see the use of podcasts. She thinks parents could subscribe to a podcast, where students would outline what they had learned in school that day or week. It could also be used for an absent student to stay caught up with the class. Maybe even a class could do a “radio report” on the American Revolutionary War for podcast, she said. Like Monroe said, “This could turn into so much more.”

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