Next week my senior science class will start one of my favorite learning activities, the 20% project. This activity is based on the ideas started at Google where the employees are given 20 % of their work time to pursue new learning or serve the community. At the start of the year students choose a topic or service project that they can work on in class every Friday for the whole year. There are only a few requirements; they are learning something new, they must work in class, the topic is school appropriate and they can create a plan showing it will last the whole year. Students must also keep track of their learning and are expected to share what they have learned at the end of each semester. None of this is for a grade. It is learning for the love of learning which is something that students do not get the opportunity to do and will serve them in the future.
One of the biggest challenges for me has been to find effective tools to help student keep a record of their learning and to share what they have learned with an authentic audience. Students can use a paper log sheet or keep a note book. Some have even kept a blog. But many do not want to use paper and pen to record their work. A solution to this problem may be found in internet tools. Often, using the computer seems less like work to the student. They will write, or record, and share more readily when given the option to use a computer. By choosing the correct tools students will have a better product to share and an easier way to do so. I am looking for tools that are easy to learn and use, safe for students, are accessible at school and do not cost anything. I am evaluating three of the tools recommended in Untangling the Web by Steve Dembo and Adam Bellow that I hope to use this year.
Students have choice in how they record their progress and planning during the project. In the past I have suggested notebooks, paper logs, blogs and photo journals. The students who maintained their notebooks had the most success in progressing through the project and when creating their final presentation. The few who maintained blogs has similar success, but the blogs were difficult to keep track of and share with other students due to privacy issues. Sadly, no one has taken advantage of a photo journal or video log yet.
Kidblog is a web tool where teachers and students can set up a free account to blog as a class. I was able to set up my teacher page in a few minutes. It appears that it will be just as easy for my high school students to join my class and set up their own pages. This site also allows teachers to moderate posts and comments. Having this will not only protect the students but it will give me the opportunity to help correct posts before others view them. Parents can sign up to have viewing rights so they can see what their students are learning. Posts and comments can be limited to class members only or opened up to include any one who goes to the site. When opened up to the public, the moderator still can choose to approve either before they are posted. The upgrade cost is minimal and might be an option if enough students choose to take advantage of this service. With the blogs appearing in one place, they will be easier to access by other students. One issue that may be a problem is the space limitation. If students wish to post pictures or videos to their blogs they could use up the allotted space. Over all I am willing to give this a try for those students wishing to record their 20% project by starting a blog.
Since my students have access to laptop computers and iPods, video edit tools are very limited. I have one unit that ends in students creating a documentary or movie trailer instead of a standard written lab report. I would like to extend this same activity to the 20% project as a way to record progress and communicate learning to an audience beyond the classroom. The authors of Untangling the Web suggest wevideo for cloud-based video editing. The capabilities of this are similar to expensive editing programs like camtasia. Students can easily create videos using pictures and video clips the adding music and narration. This tool has a free version and an educational version that costs $149 per year. The free version is very limited in space and the ability to upload the product. Students could individually sign up for an account, but I would not have any ability to moderate their work. They do require names and email addresses to establish an account. Unfortunately this web tool does not meet my needs or the needs of my students. Students will still be able to use video to record their progress, but we will continue to use the programs we have.
To help students find good information and easily access the blogs and videos of their classmates I need a curating tool. Symballoo is a suggested site I have wanted to try. Since the publishing of Untangling the Web, SymballooEDU has been introduced. This is a free tool that provides a single place to post links to give students easy access. Setting up an account and getting started was easy. The account requires email verification for the teacher, but students can use the site without an individual account. The format is pleasing and can be changed to suit the user. I can add the student blogs for those who wish to use their own established blogs. If desired, the page can be set to private and shared with only those who have the link. It will be interesting to see if students will use this site to access information and view the blogs of their classmates.
Of the three tools, two will be worth trying in my class. Student information is either protected or not required, there is not cost and they were easy to use and will not overshadow learning. Wevideo would be useful for a school that needs a cloud-based program and is willing to purchase the license. Since our laptops have editing software already, that is not an option for my class. Now, the real test is what do the students think about the sites and will they really use them.
Dembo, S., & Bellow, A. (2013). Untangling the Web. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.