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Redefining the (digital) Classroom

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Friday, May 13, 2011

Speaking Loudly with Virtual Voices: Using Social Networking in School

One summer I attended a series of workshops on reading workshop and literacy group strategies. The most interesting technique I took away from the series was the "silent discussion." Students had a high level question designed to create a discussion - but instead of talking about it in a small group or Socratic Seminar, the students wrote out their answers on a chart paper lying on a table. They silently discussed the question, disagreeing, agreeing questioning, etc. -- all in the form of notes on a large sheet of paper. I loved this concept and have used it many times throughout the years.

Thanks to the technology in my room I am able to take this concept to the next level. Enter Edmodo. In a previous post I wrote about this social networking website that has been specially designed for schools. In addition to using it for turning in assignments, creating differentiated assignments and communicating with students and families about progress, I have also found that it makes an excellent mini-blog. Students are able to have real-time conversations regarding a specific math challenge, or science question before turning in their answers.

For example, this afternoon I had students take a look at one of three differentiated math challenges. Instead of having them move around the room to get into their differentiated groups, I had them remain in their heterogeneous seating arrangement. They logged onto Edmodo, then each saw the challenge posed to their specific group.

Normally, this is when they would work as a team to discuss and problem solve to find the solution. Instead, this time they clicked "reply" under the assignment. They then wrote initial reactions to the problem, discussed misconceptions and supported one another's thinking - all in an instant messenger-style chat format! When they finished, they were able to click "turn-in" and submit their individual responses for a grade.

Through virtual discussions, I am able to assess so much more: 
(scroll down below to see examples of student group chat)

- Collaboration
- Math metacognition
- Written expression
- Math strategy
- Participation (how often a student contributes to the group chat)
- Resilience in challenging situations
- Student answer
- Student explanation for their answer

I've found that by having students problem solve collaboratively in a silent discussion yields much "louder" thinking. By this I mean that the students feel more comfortable to question one another, and be questioned by each other. There is less anger and frustration. The children are more open and generous with one another. The wall flowers come to life, typing their thoughts instead of being shouted over by more dominant students. Somehow when they aren't asked to speak their thinking aloud, and instead type it into a cyberspace forum, my students are suddenly braver and their math vocabulary richer.

And why should I be so surprised? I know - despite the fact that none of my students are old enough to Facebook, Tweet or have MySpace pages - social networking is precisely what they are doing as soon as they get out of school. It's no wonder that they all have such well developed virtual voices.

I will be using virtual discussions for many of my current routines. In addition to using it for math collaborative problem solving, I will begin using it for my Socratic Seminars when reading texts, science discussions, writing share-out, and more! Today I even experimented using blogging sites and Edmodo combined to virtually conference with my students during Writer's Workshop. It was a-ma-zing... more on this in a future post. I will also continue my exploration of different student-friendly blog sites beyond Edmodo: EduBlog and kidblog (both sites to be written about soon on this blog). 

Below are some excerpts of student "silent discussions" we've had via Edmodo. Note that when it says "Me" that this is me - Ms. Magiera - responding or participating in the group chat. Each group chat was around 5-10 minutes in length (what you see below was only a portion of the total discussion). Students clicked on the "Turned in" box under the challenge title after finishing the group chat to submit their answers. Please forgive my students' misspelled words and grammatical errors... the focus of this activity was not writing prowess.. more communication of mathematical ideas in a timed setting.







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