Monday, June 8, 2015

Improving Wikipedia, one article at a time

After dabbling a bit with OneNote, I decided to give it a try with our second Simple English Wikipedia project which challenges fifth grade students to counteract the pervasive geographical and gender bias in this popular resource. 

I chose Simple English Wikipedia (SEW) because it serves young readers and English language learners so the expectations for the complexity of the work was more realistic for a group of 10- and 11-year-olds.

Working in their table groups, students compared the treatment of a single topic in regular and SEW and recorded their comments in a Venn diagram:
Next, they brainstormed the likely audiences for each version so they would have their readers in mind as they wrote. Working in pairs or individually, students selected topics that would help rectify the imbalances they had learned about.

Another aspect of this project was improving their research skills by requiring them to use the wonderful databases from the public library to gather information:
The final step was writing their articles in OneNote. Here is what part of one team's work looked like:  
It was an interesting experience moving this unit to the OneNote environment! This change made it a lot easier for the students to collaborate in a meaningful and efficient way. I'm sure I can find ways to take this even further next year. 

Want to see what they produced? Keep in mind that due to the nature of a wiki, what you read now has likely been edited by other users (which builds in another information literacy lesson for the students!) but I am delighted that this site that is accessed by millions worldwide is now broader and more inclusive.

The joys of storytelling!

Storytelling is experiencing a revival these days, from exposure on podcasts such as The Moth to the thousands of attendees at the National Storytelling Festival to local guilds and events, such as our own PowellsWood Storytelling Festival every July.
I bring one or two storytellers to campus every year to expose students to this wonderful art, and also engage students as active tellers through games and activities.
The National Storytelling Network's position paper on the importance of storytelling in education, says that "Storytelling helps students be active not only in presenting but also in focused listening and reacting, enhancing the vital skills of communication. Storytelling is an ancient art that strengthens and enhances skills that children need to acquire to function in today’s world." Of course, it is also a great deal of fun!
Fourth graders spent a couple of weeks playing storytelling games in pairs and circles. Finally they each learned and performed - in one class session - a Russian folktale from one of Martha Hamilton and Mitch Weiss' books. First they practiced telling the story to the wall, then to a partner (see above). Next, some volunteers shared their versions with the whole class. Check out these wonderful examples:

Monday, June 1, 2015

The Case of the Missing Carrot Cake.. and the OWS kids who were hot on its trail!

The Case of the Missing Carrot Cake by Robin Newman is a new beginning chapter book that introduces a pair of intrepid mouse detectives hot on the trail of a dastardly cake thief! In Kindergarten and First Grade we spent several fun weeks on this story which is full of clever puns and word play. Readers also have to pay close attention to the clues to figure out who might be guilty...

First we discussed the mystery genre and some specialized vocabulary words. To test students' skills as witnesses, I asked them what Ms. Bishop, our LLC Assistant, was wearing as they'd walked past her just a few minutes before. Here is a typical set of answers and a shot of what Ms. Bishop was actually wearing that day:

Next, we started reading the book, taking notes about the various suspects in our detective notebooks:

We discussed our suspicions with classmates and wrote down our conclusions before reading the final chapter and discovering whodunit... (You'll have to read the book yourself to see if this guess is correct!)

The real icing on the cake was our video chat with the author! Students were full of great questions and Robin gave us an interesting glimpse behind the scenes.

Here they react with stunned surprise upon discovering that the process of writing and publishing the book took 8 years! (Not the "couple of months" they had guessed!)

Not only did we have a lot of fun with The Case of the Missing Carrot Cake, but students learned the importance of paying close attention to information in texts and making predictions, as well as a better understanding of all the hard work that goes into being an author!