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Got Wikis? Grab Great Project Ideas

EducationWorld is committed to bringing educators the practical tools they need to make good decisions, engage in effective leadership and implement strategies that work. To further this commitment, we have formed a content partnership with Stenhouse Publishers. EducationWorld is pleased to feature a variety of book excerpts as part of this collaboration. Check back frequently as we feature additional excerpts from Stenhouse titles.

The following excerpt comes from chapter 5 of Can We Skip Lunch and Keep Writing?, by Julie D. Ramsay (Stenhouse Publishers, 2011). The book retails for $20 and is available on the Stenhouse Web site.

This excerpt explains what wikis are and offers successful strategies for using them in the classroom. Be sure to check out two more excerpts from this book: Digital Storytelling Breathes New Life Into Lessons and Tech-Enhanced Writing: Strategies and Safety Tips.

What is a Wiki?

Appropriately named for the Hawaiian word wiki, which means “fast,” this tool is indeed quick and simple. Creating a wiki is fairly intuitive. After visiting the Web site (in my case, Wikispaces), you sign up, register an e-mail address, and start creating.

There are various restrictions you can set up for your wiki. You can create a wiki that the general public can view and edit. You can also choose to let the public view the wiki, but not edit it; with this option, someone has to make a request through the wiki and get approval from the creator (which was me, in this case) to make edits. I chose the second option because it met all of my criteria: free, viewable by friends and family, and safe for my students.

I also discovered instructional videos on YouTube that demonstrate the how-to’s of technology applications. At the YouTube site, you can type “wiki tutorial” (or another Web 2.0 application) in the Search box. Common Craft offers some of the easiest tutorials to understand and follow. I discovered Common Craft videos on YouTube, but you can locate all of their tutorials on their Web site. Similar sites, such as TeacherTube, may have the same tutorials and usually are not blocked by district firewalls. The tutorials are free—welcome news for all of us on tight budgets.

Ways to Use Wikis in Your Classroom

A wiki can work in a classroom that has only one computer with Internet access, which was where I started. In subsequent years I acquired six classroom computers by writing grants, talking to area business owners, and stressing the importance of preparing students for the future to our school administration. With these additional resources my students spend more time writing and less time waiting to write.

About Stenhouse Publishers

Stenhouse publishes professional development books and videos by teachers and for teachers. Their titles cover a range of content areas -- from literacy and mathematics to science, social studies, the arts, and environmental education -- as well as a variety of topics, including classroom management, assessment, and differentiation.

We currently use wikis for two ongoing projects. Because many of the state science standards are not addressed in our fifth-grade text, I created one wiki for our science class. Not only can I provide extra resources in different learning modalities through the use of this wiki, but the students also create content for each of the science units. Parents love that they can view the wiki and guide their children at home in preparation for assessment.

Our other ongoing project, The Coast to Coast Chronicles, is an online journal created by students across the country. The wiki is an excellent way for students in multiple locations to compile their writing projects for easy access. Each edition has a different theme, selected by the students, which drives their writing. After we published one of the editions of The Chronicles, students from our partner schools asked in a Moodle post how we came up with such clever and cool writing ideas. Brooke responded to them: “We had twenty-five brains working together coming up with ideas. That’s much stronger than just one brain.”

Wikis are an extremely versatile tool to implement, regardless of age group or content area, because students can be in the same physical classroom or on the other side of the world working and writing collaboratively. Here are a few other suggested applications for wikis:

  • In a math class, students can create problems and have other students respond with a written solution.
  • Students can collaborate on a class constitution or create project guidelines.
  • Students can maintain a class, schoolwide, or district wiki newsletter.
  • Students can brainstorm ideas to solve social, ecological, or cultural challenges in their communities and debate the advantages or disadvantages of various solutions.
  • Students can submit portfolios of their work, which are open to feedback from their peers.
  • Students can discuss literature, similar to a book chat or literature circle. The prompts can be student driven or teacher driven, depending on the age, content, or ability level of the learners.
  • Students can submit journal entries for a historical figure or time period, which requires them to think from another point of view.
  • Students can submit lab reports, observations, and conclusions based on hands-on experiences and research about a scientific principle.
  • Students can compose a cross-curriculum journal of varied modes of writing based on a central theme, idea, or concept.

Related resource

Fresh Ideas: Using Wikis in the Classroom

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