No doubt, Facebook is one of the most popular online activities today with its over 400 million active users (according to website-monitoring.com). When I unofficially polled several classes of ninth graders about their Facebook use, I was definitely impressed when at least 3/4 of their hands went enthusiastically in the air. Tapping into that enthusiasm to find relevance is the core of this week’s best practice highlight on how a Facebook type activity is being used in a history and an English classroom with teachers Jen Demharter and Chris Ruggeri.
In both classes, the idea started with creating a Facebook style info page for a historical figure in world history and for a Romeo & Juliet character in ninth grade English. There is actually a great powerpoint template for this online at the blog Tech Tools For Schools (http://techtoolsforschools.blogspot.com/2010/01/facebook-project-template.html). This in itself would be a good project because kids and most teachers are very familiar with powerpoint. In both of these classes though, we wanted to incorporate the web 2.0 aspect of Facebook, allowing kids to have actual online discussions from their character perspectives, so we decided to use a wiki to host these projects.
Both projects utilized a wiki page template modeled to look like a Facebook info page. Students created their character/historical figure pages by selecting the template, plugging in information from their research, and replacing the Einstien pic with one of their figure.
Ms Demharter found the kids liked the creativity aspect: “The students seemed to enjoy making mock pages for their person; they especially enjoyed getting a little creative by coming up with television shows and email addresses (i.e. one student who chose Leonardo da Vinci said that da Vinci watched the Bravo show Work of Art).”
Both projects approached the Info page similarly, but when it came time to “discuss” online, each had its own slant, using different technologies to build dialog between characters.
In the history project, students created a dialog between these famous historical figures in a “dinner conversation” where they were asked to highlight significant historical and biographical information. To facilitate this, students used a tool called Primary Pad which allows for real time document collaboration with up to five contributers. The other useful feature of this is the teacher could look in on the conversation as it developed and give comments as necessary. Here’s a screenshot of what it looked like under development, note Ms Demharter’s comments on the right:
Ms Demharter’s overview of the approach:
I must say that overall I was impressed with the work that they did. It sometimes took a good amount of effort on my part to facilitate and stimulate ideas, but it was worth it. I will also say that the Primary Pad was a really neat and helpful tool. It didn’t always let you log in or stay logged in, so that was frustrating, but when it did work, I was able to “check in” on the groups’ conversations during class – without leaving my desk (it’s almost like a chat room that you can sneak into). I was even out sick one of the days that the students were working, and I spent a few minutes during each class period popping into a few of the chat rooms so that I could make sure that they were taking advantage of class time and also answer any questions.
In Mr. Ruggeri’s English class, we used the discussion tab on the wiki for students to post “Status Updates” for each act of the play, for a total of five posts. They were also to respond, in character, to another persons status update five times for a total of ten posts per student. The posts were graded for how well they tied into specific plot events, and how well they were able to capture their character’s personality and voice. After students did two initial posts/responses, we took a class period to review good, mediocre and poor posts with students. For that, we used a Google Doc to have the students review, then discuss several sample posts. You can see that document here, as well as a strong example post from the Nurse’s perspective.
Mr. Ruggeri’s comments on the project:
I think that the students really appreciated our effort to make the assessment relevant to something that they use in their daily lives. This effort on our part created an experience that was both engaging and rigorous for them. It required the students to do something that requires a very high level of character analysis and creative thinking. However, they were able to do this in a less intimidating arena by modeling the writing as a facebook status update. We were even able to take their involvement with the assessment to a higher level by adding a reflection component. When (we) allowed the students to analyze high and low quality responses through a survey and class discussion, the students were able to clearly see our expectations manifested in student samples. I’m excited to see how they take our discussion and apply it to their posts in the future.
In both of these lessons, students can find relevence in connecting to content through a 21st century tool most of them use on a daily basis, and even more so from examining history and literature from the inside out. After all, as Atticus Finch once professed “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
Tech Tools used in this project
- Wikispaces –as a teacher project resource and for hosting student projects and discussions
- Google Docs –as a formative assessment and survey tool for students to review and evaluate peer work
- Primary Pad –as a formative assessment and collaborative writing tool