Where do I start with a Wiki? 7th Grade Teacher Tom Harrison and I Talk

I got permission to print this recent email conversation for those of you getting started with Wikis this year.  Tom's questions are pretty common so I thought that the time he and I spent exchanging information might be beneficial for some of you — add your questions below and I'll answer them as well.

My answers are in blue!

Hi, Tom — OK, my wiki is at http://westwood.wikispaces.com – you can see how I'm doing it this year.

On Thu, Sep 4, 2008 at 1:40 PM, Harrison Thomas wrote:

Dear Vicki,
My name is Tom Harrison and I am a 7th grade science teacher in Middletown, DE.  This past summer I had the pleasure of attending NECC08 in San Antonio.  My first session at the conference on Monday was the one you did with Adam Frey on how you use wikis in your classroom.  I first learned about wikis the previous summer and set up one for my team and a couple for me to use with my students.  However, your talk about how you used them in your teaching inspired me to try a similar path with my students this year.  The trouble I am having is figuring out how to organize the wiki and associated templates to accomplish what I want to do.  I am hoping that you can help me get this set up or at least put me on the path to finding/figuring it out.  I have a read a ton of stuff and searched lots of sites, but I can't find what I need.  So, with that intro, let me tell what I am attempting to do.

a) Each student has their own USER id.  You can sign up for all of them connected to your email address.  This is important!  They must log off and log on as their id, no one else's.

My class is essentially kit-based science where students work in groups of 2-4.  I teach 4 sections each day with about 27 students in each section.  I have 2 desktop computers in my classroom for student use and access to a wireless computer lab with 15 Dell laptops anytime I need it.  My vision…students work through lab activities at their own pace with my support as needed.  When they are finished a lab, they move to the cart, take their assigned laptop and work on their summary sheet on the wiki.  They also go to the class/team FAQ page and post some information.  When they have worked through a unit “chunk” they finish up their summary sheets for the “chunk” and turn them in.   I loved your idea about students using wiki templates to create their work and then using the “turnin” tag when they are finished.  The questions are:
1.  Should I create one unit wiki for the team to work on for the FAQ site or one for each section?

To begin with, I would start w/ one for each section.  Teach them how it works there.  Then, I'd connect between the classes.  Start very very simple and manageable, then progress to connecting between classes. Don't bite off more than you can chew — keep it simple at first — I did!

I highly recommend a START PAGE — I've got one for each class — if I were you, I”d have one for each of your classes — that is where they go to get their assignment for the day — they should never have to ask you – but have ONE place.  Kind of like we park the car in the garage and know where to find it.  Same thing — park assignments in the same place all of the time.

2.  How do I create a template that each student team (of 2) can access to complete their lab summaries?  Where do I create the template?  (I have created templates for use on my wiki sites, but am not sure how to manage that with 55 different student teams.)

Click on Manage Space and then Manage templates.  I just have one template for each major project — put in headings, etc.  Put instructions in italics.  Again, here is  a look at mine – http://westwood.wikispaces.com/space/createtemplate — the efolio is a good example of how I do it.

I started using them heavily at the end of last year — when I give an assignment and want them to use a template, I put it in the assignment and TELL THEM to use a specific template  You may want a numbering system to line up with the page numbers.

Here is the information on templates from wikispaces – http://help.wikispaces.com/Help.Templates

You might want to pilot ONE class first before rolling it out to all of them, if you can do that.

3.  What's the easiest way to register students on the wiki site?  Individual invitations?

For 7th grade, you set it up with your ID.  This is the easiest way to set up for students en masse – http://www.wikispaces.com/help+teachers#toc5 
4.  How do you work your students through the process of building a wiki?  I am trying to figure out the best way to do the instruction and I really don't want to re-create the wheel if I can avoid it.

Start simple – you build more of it for them and progress towards independence. I usually only do one day of learning how to wiki but we are still examining a topic.  See the very first project my class and I did. It was really a great, simple place to start.  Do use the turn in tag, but be very careful not to overwhelm them with details.  Be simple.  They will progress but it takes time.
I guess what I am looking for is the “nuts and bolts” stuff (like you mentioned in your recent blog post about proposals for next year's NECC).  I want to use the technology, but I am in the lead here in our building and no one I know personally has ever done this before.  In fact, I am in the lead in my entire district as far as I can tell.  It's a scary place to be, but I look at you and realize how far behind you I am…a little humbling!  I also know that you have done a good deal of the learning curve already.  I am hopeful that you can help me get past it on my end.  I promise to pass it on!

I've been there and I stay there every day as I see schools with 1:1 laptops and tablets — we can't do that due to money — we're doing our best. All you can give is your best and get into the network and learn from one another. 
I know I have lots of questions that I have forgotten to ask.  I had a much more elegant email prepared yesterday, but the district web mail server timed out on me just when I hit the send button from home and wiped the whole thing out.  Anyway, thanks in advance for any help you can provide.  If you need more information please let me know.
Talk about passing it on, if you give me permission, I'll share this email sans your phone number (if you have a link to a blog, that would be great.  I think these questions could help others who may have the same  questions but not have anyone to ask.  Do you mind seeing your name in print?  I'd like to leave in the blue and then your questions.  What do you think? 

Tom Harrison
Science Department Chair
Meredith Middle School

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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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