Friday, April 20, 2012

Building Sites, Building Leadership

This is part 9 in a series about 5th grade musicians in their quest to create Google Sites about composers.

Coming back from Spring break, the students needed something a little fresh to renew our excitement for our research project.  Before break, a handful of students had each created a Google Site about their composers, just to test if it would work.  This week, our task was to get everyone to create their own Google Site ... in a 30 minute period (gasp).

It was nice to have a few "experts" who had created a Site already (building leadership capacity in your own classroom).  Creating a Site is a simple, but very step-by-step process, and you really start to see the differences in elementary students.  One of the things I have found working in the lab is that there are a few kinds of computer students:

• Students who click ahead and always know what they are doing.  These students probably have had considerable computer experience at home and from previous teachers.  These are the leaders who will log in from home and try things on their own.

• Students who will follow right along with what the teacher is demonstrating and are usually successful.  This is the largest percentage of students.

• Students who know what to do, but will not proceed without approval.  These students are easy to spot because they raise their hands ... a lot.  The problem is that the teacher will end up doing nothing but answering questions from these few students for 30 minutes.  In response, I have instituted the rule that before you ask the teacher a question you must try asking at least one other student.  This does three things:  1.  It increases student collaboration,  2.  It builds student scaffolding and builds leadership, and  3.  It ensures that questions that are directed to the teacher are more serious problems.  Sometimes these are students who just fell a step or two behind.  They don't necessarily need the teacher - they need the information, which can come from other students faster than waiting for the teacher.

• Students who stare at the screen and wait for the teacher to realize they need help.  This is a very small percentage of the class, and I find that it gets smaller all the time.  These students can be harder to notice because they do not raise their hands.  You find them staring at the computer, unsure what to do when a pop-up dialogue box appears.  In response, I have suggested to students that if it didn't work the first time, just try it again (Isn't this what we all do when our own computer doesn't react the way we want the first time?)  I compared this to a baseball player who gets a strike - you don't walk back to the dugout right away.  You try again.  But, if you get more strikes, raise your hand and ask for help.

Back to our Sites - we had no problem creating Sites.  The biggest issue was naming the Sites.  The students had to be sure to spell the composer's name correctly, but we needed to add something else to make the website specific to the class and year without giving away the student's identity.  I am thinking towards the future - naming the Site "Beethoven" would create a URL in our domain that could not be reused next year.  So we add a combination of letters and numbers after the composer's name to uniquely identify the classroom and year (i.e., "Beethoven S12").  We are keeping the Sites only viewable in our own domain at this time, but will open them up later.

One side note - teachers seem to default to collaborators/editors on student Sites in Google Apps for Education.  This means teachers do not have 100% access to student Sites, especially sharing settings and deletion abilities.  I'm sure it exists at a higher administrative level in Google Apps.  But as a pilot project, it is something we will continue to look at.

Once the Site was created, we immediately created two pages.  This gives us practice with the edit button and the new page button.  The first was a biography page.  We will embed biographies on this Site next week.  The second was a page called "Where in the World?"  I asked the students to insert a map on this page of either the city where their composer was born or lived most of their life.  Easy as pie.  The "insert" command will be very valuable going forward, and I wanted them to get a taste of how to insert items into their Site.

So, by the end of 30 minutes, every student had a Site with 2 pages, including a map on one of the pages. Pretty crazy, but completely exciting for the students.  I think we are refreshed and ready to forge ahead!

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