Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Web 2.0 Tools: Wallwisher

When I start new units I like to use different types of activators to help determine what students know and get their brains firing about the topic we'll be covering over the next number of classes. I have a couple different types in rotation, depending on content and grade level, and I am always looking for different activators to try out or ways to improve on what I do.

In this situation, I wanted to see what students could come up with relating to the causes of the obesity epidemic in the United States. Because my students sit in groups, the prompt was easy enough: "In your groups, brainstorm as many causes of the obesity epidemic that you can think of." I usually post some guiding questions to help stimulate discussion, and I tried to get students thinking with these: "How did we get to this point? What factors have changed from years ago? Think small scale and large scale." We would go over the responses, start a discussion, and then shift to the notes they had to take down that day. Yes, sometimes my students have to take notes.

Normally, students would have regular lined paper, a larger piece of chart paper, or some of the whiteboards that I'll use for activators or other brainstorms. I've also considered using sticky notes, with one idea per note, and having students plaster them over the white board. This isn't really cost effective and there was not a way to easily save the work to re-examine it at the end of a unit.

But last week, I just happened to have the laptop carts in my room for my seventh grade "Tobacco Prevention Experts" projects. We were able to get about 9-10 of the 15 in the cart to work (an excellent rate, believe it or not) and they were just sitting there during my eighth grade classes. I also just happened to have taken a class in teaching using Web 2.0 and other technology tools. It was the perfect opportunity to try out Wallwisher, so when planning for this lesson I mad sure to incorporate this tool.

Wallwisher is simply described as, "Paper for the web." Wallwisher can be used for many different reasons; in response to the question, "What can you DO with Wallwisher?" the site provides many options: make noticeboards, teach, discuss, brainstorm, plan events, learn, and make lists. As I stated above, I used it for brainstorming.

A user logs on and creates a wall, which is customizable with different backgrounds. A wall creator can even create their own URL for the wall they create; I simply linked the walls from my class website and did not use this feature. Students then access the wall where they can post their own thoughts. All they have to do is double click, enter their name, and type their text. Students can also post links to websites, pictures, videos, and other media forms. Students can take to the Internet in search of items they could contribute to the wall. So, I had students log on (we had to share laptops, but students are used to this and did fine sharing) and begin posting away. I did have to delete a few silly posts, but for the most part students were engaged in what they were doing. I was able to give comments as posts happened, and students would respond.  As the creator of the wall, I was able to move the responses around in real time, and the students could not. This allowed me to be by the computer or Smartboard and create categories as they were created. If a teacher has a tablet, it would be even easier to create categories on the go!

An options exists if you wish to moderate posts by having to approve them before they post. I did not feel the need to use the option and feel like it would detract from the feel of using Wallwisher, and my students are pretty good about following technology protocols. It is easy to control how long you want the wall to remain open for students to write on by switching the "Who Can Write" option to "Only Me." Users can even subscribe the a wall's RSS feed. I had two students grab their iPhones and post to Wallwisher from their mobile browsers. Both had no issues and reported a positive experience.

I've embedded an example from one of my classes below. If you scroll around, you will seen numerous posts with images or pictures, as well as links to websites. This is what the product looks like after I arranged posts into a few rough categories. Scroll down for some final thoughts on Wallwisher.

Students covered a lot about fast food, but also hit upon points like stress eating and the availability of healthy foods. By clicking on each post, it is made bigger for easy viewing and whatever content is posted there fills up the page. You can scroll through each post this way, and you can also share posts via Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites.

I enjoyed using Wallwisher because students were able to complete the same objective that they normally would if I used the "old school" brainstorming methods, but they were able to take it further and further, as deeply in the content as they want to go. After we were done, we had a conversation that segued nicely into our lesson. Because this was the start of a unit, I did allow about half of the class period for this activity.

As much as I enjoyed using Wallwisher, using it or similar brainstorming tools again would be very easy to use all the time if my district allowed students to bring their own web-enabled devices to school OR if we had access to reliable technology for students to use. Where I teach, enough students have smartphones or even laptops to make this a reality; any students who do not have access to a device could share with those who bring them in. I'm going to get off my soapbox now, but these are just points to mention the difficulties many teachers may face in implementing Web 2.0 tools in their classrooms.

As always, please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions, comments, or concerns.

Additional Resources: For more information on Wallwisher, check out the following resources:
  1. Check out Wallwisher
  2. Using Wall Wisher in the Classroom by Richard Byrne at Free Technology for Teachers
  3. Follow Wallwisher on Twitter

Saturday, December 1, 2012

"I Can't Breathe" Pam Laffin Video: Streaming on Vimeo

During my later elementary school and early middle school years, I remember seeing many anti-smoking advertisements sponsored by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. The advertisements that I remember the most focused on a local woman named Pam Laffin. Pam was in her late twenties and suffered from emphysema. The advertisements were more graphic in nature than other advertisements I had seen, and I'm sure the DPH wanted to hit viewers with emotional advertisements.

If you know me as a teacher or have seen some past posts of mine, you know that I am not a fan of showing videos in a health education classrooms. I feel that videos are too often used as a cop-out by teachers who have no health education experience, or that they are not used appropriately. I do use a handful of video clips in class, but I only show two or three videos that could be considered somewhere close to a full length class period. Videos CAN be used appropriately, and the students sometimes enjoy them, but as I am shifting to a more skills-based classroom I don't see the need. Plus, it's not as fun as actual teaching!

One of the videos that I do show is an MTV True Life Episode entitled, "I Can't Breathe." "I Can't Breathe" was produced by MTV with assistance from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, and documents Pam Laffin's experience with cigarette smoking and the negative health effects (cumulating with emphysema and a failed lung transplant) she dealt with. The video is short and to the point, and I use it to tie together the previous lessons we dealing with tobacco: smoking's effects on the body and the straw walk. The video is only twenty minutes long, but by using my go-to video viewing protocol (Record, Elaborate, Extend) as well as answering the numerous student questions that come up, this takes the full 53 minute class period.

I will say that some students will find this video a little graphic. They compare a healthy lung to a smoker's lung on an autopsy table, and the lungs are cut into to be examined. There are also some clips of Pam's lung transplant surgery. I know where these points are and give the students warning before they come up. 

You can stream "I Can't Breathe" directly from Vimeo. My district blocks YouTube and for some reason Vimeo is not blocked. Please note that I am not sure how that video is posted there or the copyright laws it may be violating. All I know is that this video has been effective in my classroom and you may find it effective in yours.

Here is a link to "I Can't Breathe" on Vimeo. Here is another link to the video viewing protocol I use for the few videos I do show.

Please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions, comments, or concerns.

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