Sunday, February 24, 2013

How to...Wiki

I have recently begun to explore Wikis. Wikis are an easy to use web-tool which can be a great way for collaboration among students in the classroom.

What is a wiki? A wiki is a webpage (or pages) where people can collaborate and use to write, edit, and add different elements to the wiki. Think of it as one big work-space that everyone has access to and are allowed to input their ideas as well as edit or erase someone else’s.

Click here for "Wikis in plain English"

Although there are many options, the most common wiki sites for educators are:


Wikis can be used in a variety of ways. As educators, we traditionally work on our own when it comes to curriculum, class resources, etc. Although emails are an option, they can get a bit messy and hinder genuine collaboration. A wiki would allow for more efficient teamwork; it provides educators with a way to post and share information as well as to build on one another’s work. It also allows a way to keep the conversation going even after the project has ended. This idea can easily be applied to students.

Teachers have had great success with using wikis in the classroom. Supervising and fostering teamwork and collaboration becomes easy with a wiki by allowing students to easily work on their ideas with one another (from anywhere) and share them with the teacher. A big advantage of a wiki is the fact that the teacher can always go back and see what changes were made and by whom (previous versions of the wiki are automatically saved).

Here is a great resource with over 50 different ways one can use a wiki in the classroom. Teachers are using wikis all over the world; the opportunities are truly endless. How do you use Wikis in your classroom?

Monday, February 18, 2013

Virtual Environments for Education

I love technology and I believe it has and will continue to have a tremendous impact on education. But I also believe that just because something is technology, doesn't mean we must find a way to stick into the classroom.

One example of this is the concept of a virtual environment platform such as Second life. Second life is a program in which students create for themselves an avatar in which they build, interact and explore with other avatars.  Although the idea sounds nice, I think it distracts the student from learning how to build real life social skills and adapt to our surroundings

My fellow classmate, Yitzchak Jaffe, in his blog post "Virtually Ridiculous," expressed it beautifully when he wrote: " Not only do I think such an experience can become addictive, but I think it fosters a false sense of confidence in who you are not. In a virtual environment, if you want to be a pro-wrestler spy who is rich and suave, go ahead. But are you learning to be the best YOU that you can be? One of our jobs as educators is to help students learn how to maximize their potential. But it still has to be THEIR potential. And anything less will ultimately be very unfulfilling.But I also do think there are advantages of creating virtual environments to help us better understand and experience a situation that is not possible to explore in the real world.

For example, creating a virtual city during the second temple. I don't mean just building a model but also exploring how the city's inhabitants would look and interact. I am not an expert but I've heard wonderful things with Minecraft and how schools are using it for purposes similar to what I have mentioned.

Here are a few links to get you started:

Sunday, February 10, 2013

How to...Websites

“ I've found a new hobby… creating websites!”


“Yea, it’s great. I can’t get enough of it!”

“But all that coding and those complicated command lines how do you have time?”

“Nah, it’s easy, just a click here and a drag there…”

“But I thought it takes hours to make a nice website. Maybe you’re referring to those boring Wikis everyone is in to. You can’t “click here and drag there” the kind of stuff the Rabbi from room 304 is doing. He has an amazing website for his class, but it must have taken him days to make it…”

“A couple of years ago, you would have been right, but ever since Web 2.0, things have been getting a lot easier around here…”

This is the typical back and forth that’s been going on between me and my colleagues at Magen David Yeshivah. I have literally become a website creating addict, creating and working on them every chance I get.

The truth of the matter is, that creating websites was something that the only the experts and C++ nerds had the opportunity to play around with. But with Web 2.0 paving the way and allowing everyone a chance to get in on the action, it is now one of the easiest Webtools I know. My students love the websites I've created, and I feel I am able to share so many more resources in an easy and visually appealing way.

There are tons of sites out there that allow you to custom build your very own website. Virtually all of them have some type of free account which provides the essentials an average educator will need (with Wordpress, you need a host!). So lets get started"

First, the usual suspects::

All of them have their advantages and drawbacks. I personally advise Weebly due to its easy and user friendly interface. It has just enough to keep you busy and happy at the same time. Here are a few examples of sites created using Weebly. All of them did not take more than an hour to make!

Google sites is also an excellent choice but not as simple as Weebly. The big advantage with Google sites its easy integration of Google apps (i.e. Goggle Docs, Google Forms etc).

For those with a “techie” side, Wordpress is the way to go; Many more options than the last two, but a little html know-how is in order.

There are numerous reasons to create a website for your classroom. I find that that the reason that tops my list is "resources." Unfortunately, most students are not yet as inclined to search the myriad resources that can be found on the internet as I’d like them too. Being able to post links to the resources I want is great.

I also love using it as a digital bulletin board. Giving students the ability to check the website for homework postings and test dates is a lot easier than sending out emails or giving them sheets to take home. Additionally, I make sure to post any documents they might have received in class on the website as a downloadable document, just in case someone ”lost” the homework or was “out sick” that day. Once you have your website set up, updating it is easy.

If you're interested in starting your own website, I would first advise looking around at other teacher’s class websites and then think about what type of items you might want on it too. Once you have it planned out in your head, just jump into it. I Promise you won’t be disappointed.

Any suggestions or questions, feel free to comment below.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Social Networks and Me

One of the fastest growing "thing to do" in the world today is joining a Social network. Every corner you turn, a social media website is mentioned. 

Sometimes its about "liking" a frozen yogurt store you visit (Facebook). Or snapping a picture to show your friends (Instagram) Other times its just to "follow" your favorite movie star (Twitter). But everyone agrees that the trend is here to stay.

So the question is twofold: Can I use it to my benefit (i.e. as an educator) and how?

I've already touched on the questions on my post about Twitter where I mentioned the great benefits it has both for the classroom as well as for professional development. And I believe the answer is a resounding "YES!"

Think about it. As human beings we are social creatures. We want to hear and listen from others. Time and time again research has shown that students learn better in collaborative settings. But this is not always feasible within the classroom walls. Social networks eliminate that barrier and allow us to connect with each other in an easy and efficient way.

It is always great to see, when I have a questions about a topic that I need help in, that I can just send out a tweet and watch the answers pour in. There are so many amazing CoP's (communities of practice) that enables one to connect and share ideas and problems with educators from all types of backgrounds.

Some of my favorite include:

And for students, its no different. They love immediate feedback which is what they get on any of these websites. I have tinkered with a Facebook-type called Edmodo. It seems to have all the benefits a social network offers (i.e. comments page, immediate feedback etc.) and not the drawbacks (i.e. personal information in public forum).