Guest post: Liana’s making Wikis (with the help of Year 7)

You know that feeling when you think things aren’t happening, but then all of a sudden you realise that your efforts are starting to pay dividends? Well, that’s what’s happening at my school (Toorak College) now. I feel like we are making inroads. Kids are using Nings and Wikis and it’s becoming the norm. There isn’t the questioning that used to come with the introduction of new ideas. Teachers are starting to take on board what I’ve been rabbiting on about and they are seeing how effective the learning can be using collaborative tools.

Liana Gooch teaches at my school and was part of our PLP group. Here is her guest post. Take it away Liana!

Coming from a country in which bush fires do not feature as a significant hazard as they do in Australia, the events of February 7th 2009 have left an indelible mark on the memories of myself and my students.  It was extremely heart breaking to view the images of destruction and loss experienced by those people involved in the Victorian Bushfires. As well as the human cost, it is also essential to consider the havoc wrecked upon nature. A lot of creatures were helpless to escape the fury of the flames and many that did manage to survive have suffered immense injury. 

When it came to consider a unit of study related to endangered species with my year 7 Humanities class, I was determined to create a research unit that was not only compelling but also relevant. Students would usually choose to explore overseas endangered species but coverage of the Victorian Bushfires’ impact upon many already endangered species alerted me to taking a more local focus. In the back of my mind I also was concerned about the potential lack of knowledge regarding their own state’s endangered species. My suspicions were confirmed when I surveyed the class about identifying the state’s animal symbol, the highly endangered Leadbeater Possum – only one student was able to identify it. Thus, the inquiry ‘ How can we protect our backyard?’ emerged. 

Another focus of this inquiry project would be to expose students to a range of technological tools that would be easily transferrable across their range of subjects. Working with Jenny Luca and Megan Davies, we decided that a wikispace would be an ideal medium for students to post and convey their research to the rest of the world. While the students knew I would be assessing their page, they knew that this inquiry was going to have to be authentic due to the wikispace being open to the public. Students were taught how to manipulate many of the tools available on the wikispace and a lot was learnt through the process by trial and error. As students were working collaboratively it made sense to use Google Docs which allowed students to simultaneously work and edit a written piece together on different computers. It also eliminated the age old problem of when students are absent and have the written piece with them thus hindering a group’s progress. This tool proved invaluable and it has been exciting to observe students use this tool for other projects since this inquiry.  Jenny also taught the students about a range of websites where students would be able to use copyright free images for their pages. Another skill gained was the ability to write comments using the pins of Google Maps. One student produced her own clip of a journey through the affected Kingslake area and used voice thread to create her own commentary.  Students found the application of technology to be an effective tool which made the learning process a lot more interesting. ‘It is a lot of fun and instead of being boring the work was challenging and interesting so it made it a lot easier to work. It is a great way to become more familiar with internet tools and skills.’ (Hayley) 

 I wanted students to actively engage with concepts we had explored earlier in the unit related to sustainability. Students were initially exposed to Dr Seuss tale of The Lorax’ which made many of the complex components of sustainability easily attainable. A reflective component of their inquiry which would test their understanding of some of the big ideas would require them to reflect upon how the Lorax would perceive and comment upon the causes and effects of the Bushfires as well as  the ensuing actions to reduce their impact.  Following through the list of aspects to be explored students would be able to explore a range of both primary and secondary resources ranging from newspaper clips, you tube videos, podcasts from experts and contact with applicable organisations. Students constructed questions to inquire about the actions taken by their selected organisation’s actions to assist with affected animals. Many students were extremely excited about receiving information directly from organisations especially when a lot of the information could not be directly found in the range of resources available online or otherwise. 

The inquiry took about three weeks in total during which time students were completed engaged and engrossed in their research. There were several occasions when it was actually difficult to get the students to stop working! It took considerable time to do my initial research and creation of the inquiry assignment. I also had to learn some of the new technological tools before I could launch the project, however the benefits of undertaking a project with which many of the students were so connected were immense. Their understanding of endangered species in their own backyard and the critical role that humans play has been significant. ‘it shows that we have to be aware of sustainable development and reducing our resources for the future. The Victorian Bushfires has decreased the amount of trees, land, homes and animals, and that reduces many resources for the future.’ ‘This project has made me think about animals in a completely different way then I had before.’ Rather than just producing an assignment which would only be viewed by the teacher, themselves and family, Students were courageous as they gallantly rose to the challenge of creating commentary which was up to scrutiny by the public.  It was also extremely encouraging to hear students comment about taking social action as a result of this project. One student has become involved in adopting a koala and to date, our class are considering fund raising to either help adopt an endangered animal or contribute to a wildlife fund. Another student is starting to consider a career path related to the care of injured animals. To me, this is what learning that is inspiring should be all about – making authentic, meaningful and relevant links to the world around us.

Well done Liana and well done Year 7. You’ve created a rich resource for others to use and you’ve learnt some new skills in the process. Make sure you visit their wiki.

17 Replies to “Guest post: Liana’s making Wikis (with the help of Year 7)”

  1. Fantastic effort Team Toorak! It’s amazing to hear that nings and wikis are becomming common teaching and learning tools. Toorak is certainly leading the way.

  2. I think that what you are doing it’s amazing and it should be taken as an example of the best practices of the use of nowadays technologies in education.

    Well done, and looking forward to read in the near future how this continues to grow.

    1. Thanks Daniel for the encouragement. Have had some great suggestions from the comments that people have made and am looking very forward to implementing them in this year’s project. Thanks!

  3. Congratulations Liana, Jenny and your students for getting this together – a fantastic effort and somthing for us to aspire to. Well done!

  4. You said it better than any comment I could leave:
    “Rather than just producing an assignment which would only be viewed by the teacher, themselves and family, Students were courageous as they gallantly rose to the challenge of creating commentary which was up to scrutiny by the public… …To me, this is what learning that is inspiring should be all about – making authentic, meaningful and relevant links to the world around us.”

    1. Thanks Paul! You’re absolutely right. It’s amazing to observe the shift in students’ attitudes towards a task when they perceive it to be real.

  5. Wow. This is an amazing achievement on so many levels. Liana, Jenny and everyone else involved – congratulations on creating a rich and authentic learning experience.

  6. Liana, thank you so much for sharing this! I forwarded it to a colleague who will be quite interested. I appreciated your “trial and error” comment. At my school, they don’t want you to attempt anything unless you are expert. It has a chilling effect.

    1. Pat, I can’t help but wonder what your school believes teaching and learning are. Trial and error is a wonderful way to determine baseline info, develop a hypothesis, or check for understanding.

      You may need to be a pioneer in that environment in order to experience true learning. The essence of teaching is in taking risks, trying something new, and if it fails, learn from it.

      Good luck!

    2. Thanks Pat! It is a project that I truly believe teachers everywhere would find beneficial as a means for students to discover and apply sustainability in a very real sense. Please let me know if your colleague would like any more details about the project.

  7. Liana,

    Congratulations on a wonderful experience right out of the blocks.(Track and Field metaphor):)

    It is a wonderful example of how each of your students has taken control of their learning and it illustrates the importance of the network. Each of your students acted as node within that network but the network grew in strength, in quality of information, and you were able to utilize a very topical event.

    You have a fabulous mentor in Jenny and I wish you and your class much success as you continue your journey. I suspect the next set of conversations will be around curriculum. Which is more important breadth or depth of knowledge? If this assignment is any indication I believe you may started to develop your thesis.

    Be well.

    St. Christopher’s School
    Richmond, VA

    1. Thanks Hiram for your encouragement! Jenny is an amazing mentor and my application of technology in the classroom has flourished due to her recommendations and encouragement. You raise a very important point regarding the evaluation of what is more importn breath or depth of knowledge driving our teaching. It will definitely be something I will consider and reflect upon with my colleagues.

  8. I particularly liked how you made the assignment personally meaningful to the students by focusing on your own “backyard.” Using 21st century technologies doesn’t mean always working on the other side of the world, but rather working more effectively in your own corner of the world, wherever that may be.
    Kudos on a great unit!

  9. Hi Liana,

    I think that your post needs to be shown to every teacher who uses the argument that technology is a distraction that gets in the way of the curriculum. It seems to me that your students learned a great deal about responsible citizenship, critical thinking, synthesizing key points, connected and collaborative writing, etc.

    The tools that you had the students use simply enhanced the learning that was taking place. These are skills that will give them an incredible advantage over others who are never exposed to these tools.

    You raise a great point about having the students think deeply about the consequences of the bush fires. It’s great to have students develop global awareness, but not at the expense of ignoring their own backyard. You did a great job acknowledging this with your students. This is a terrific post Liana; I enjoyed reading this!

  10. Doesn’t the best work emerge from essential questions such as yours? And that the students could become activists as a result of this work–wow. Thanks for sharing the details of your work. I plan to share this with our teachers.

  11. Thanks so much everyone for posting a comment here for Liana. I know she is absolutely thrilled to know that so many of you have taken the time to give her feedback. The next part of Liana’s learning journey is figuring out how to get a comment on here. We’ll tackle that tomorrow!!

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