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I am going to be teaching 125 8th graders in Santa Ana CA, this year, and I am interested in finding out about how to set up an on-line discussion for texts we read. I am supposed to have 3 sections of Honors, although that may well change by the time I get back to school! I went to the NCTE conference in San Antonio and tried to learn about this in the hallway presentations. Not very satisfying because couldn't ask questions and it was hard to see what was going on with 25 or more people around the computers! I saw a super one where kids were responding to The Raven, but I don't understand how it worked. Is it necessary for the district to have a service such as School Loop in order to do this? Soes anyone know of an on line site that can teach me how to set something like this up? Can anyone help?

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Comment by Mary Henton on July 22, 2009 at 8:53am
I like pbworks as well. And Wetpaint. I don't have classroom experience with these, but our project team for MSP2 has relied on the wiki platform (pbworks). It's great, especially as the main project staff are across three different offices/organizations, along with the other collaborators, advisers, Teacher Leaders--all at different sites.

I like the ability to look at different versions of a document to see changes that people have made. From a classroom perspective this would be advantageous. A teacher can see exactly what and how each student has contributed to a document (especially important when monitoring cooperative learning activities).

I agree, Todd, that using the tool before committing to classroom use is important. I started "playing" with wikis with just one other person as we were working on a small task together. I also played with the wiki in my personal life--used it with my adult children to plan a trip.

For a teacher--maybe use a wiki to do some planning with a colleague on a lesson or unit or a presentation you might have to make for a faculty meeting. Also look for ways or people who would be willing to try out a wiki via some other aspect of your life--e.g., family member (even something as simple as planning meals and grocery list) or a volunteer or church committee.

Commoncraft does a great explanation about wikis (general explanation...not specific to education) called "Wikis in Plain English." You can also find this video on YouTube.
Comment by Todd Williamson on July 21, 2009 at 10:12pm
I'm going to throw in my two cents and vote for a wiki from pbworks. It's easy enough to create and really begs for collaboration. You can create collaborative pages for analyzing the texts. You can also create individual pages for each of your students allowing them to have a "blog-like" area within the wiki for reflections on what you read. I strongly encourage you to use the tool first before trying to introduce it to students. That is one of the major keys for ANY Web 2.0 tool. Just because they know what they're for doesn't mean they have a clue as to how to use them for meaningful, educational, collaborative, learning.
Comment by Nondra Khali on July 20, 2009 at 10:37am
I am familiar with Google Groups as an easy to use free source. Ning also might work well for you.
Comment by Tom Jenkins on July 18, 2009 at 9:34pm
I use Moodle (I would use the forum or wiki pieces for your project) and am conducting one of the Tech Talks. If it is available in your district, i'd be more than happy to help. Thanks for the edmodo link David- I'll have to check that out as our district will not allow Twitter.
Comment by Mary Henton on July 17, 2009 at 10:46am
Love the Twitter suggestion!

We have Tech Talks scheduled on Moodle, wikis, and interactive notebooks. These might be good opportunities to look at and have some high level, initial conversation about these strategies.
Comment by David Hayward on July 17, 2009 at 9:49am
Karolee has mentioned a few great options. I especially like wikis and Google Tools such as Groups and Docs. Both of these online tools make for easy collaboration between students. If you are interested in building a wiki I use www.pbworks.com and www.wetpaint.com. Both are free and easy to use. If you would like to look at an example wiki go to http://wiki.woodward.edu/hannalee/doku.php?id=hannalee.

I have also used Moodle and it works well if you have access to it. Check with your school to see if they are running Moodle.

Another option would be a service like Twitter. Twitter is a micro-blogging tool giving people 140 characters or less to make comments. I find students enjoy the format. If you or your school is not comfortable with Twitter then try www.edmodo.com. A similar service to Twitter but created for classrooms.
Comment by Cathy S. Balas on July 17, 2009 at 8:30am
I am not familar with School Loop. We use "Moodle" and it works well for discussions and other sharing.
Comment by Karolee Smiley on July 17, 2009 at 2:19am
Hi there
We are just getting School Loop, and it seemed pretty limited in student posting, but I'll know more about that in a couple of weeks. There are several ways to set up student communication and collaboration. There are plenty of free programs out there. Which one you use all depends on how you want them to interact and what you want as the final project.

A quick overview of some options that come to mind (and I know I will miss many because it is late at night):

Blogs - There are a couple of ways that most teachers seem to use blogs. One is where the initial text or questions are posted and others can respond. The other is where a student makes a post and others may comment on the post. Nice thing about blogs, posts are time stamped and an individuals work is only edited by that individual. You can see several of us have "blogged" here and others are leaving comments so we can discuss someone's blog post.

Wikis- If you are going to a final product that has been reviewed and cleaned up, wikis are great for collaboration. All those with access to edit the wiki can make changes (and all revisions are recorded) so that the "document" can be written, proof-read, edited, revised, rewritten, and so forth amongst a group. Its great for collaboration, if you have a group of students trying to create a final refined piece.

Social networks - GoogleGroups, Ning, and so forth allow you to create a group that allows communication via email and discussion groups. These are very robust, and allow a multiple of avenues to find information and share info. They may also require more training and facilitation in use.

My personal experience:
-I do not use blogs as much with my students, except as an online journal. The blogs they kept were closed so that only the individual and myself could view them. It became more of an online journal.
-I am incorporating more wikis this year, since my goal is to create a final product as much as having students involved in the process.
-I have used Google Groups for a couple of years and found them to be one of my favorite collaborative tools. I could post documents and create pages for references for the kids. I could send out assignments out to the "group" and each student would receive an e-assignment. Also, students could work collaboratively on creating final products through Google Docs or Google Slideshows. We are on Ning right now, so you can get a feel for that network too.

There are tons of other options, but this is what I am most familiar with. All of those are Web 2.0 tools - so they are free, platform neutral, open-source tools.

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