Professional Development can be the most maddening hours you spend as a teacher or it can lift you to new heights, make your head explode, and completely change the way you think about your classroom.
Recently, I was exposed to the head exploding/change the way you think about your classroom type of PD. I learned new ways to teach Google search skills to my students, added helpful apps to my Chrome browser, and created an online textbook for my students to use and add to right away.
The biggest mind shift though came from a discussion I had with Jeff Utecht about Wikipedia. For a long time I have been torn about this resource. It is the largest encyclopedia in the world. It is written in all the languages that my students speak. It has pictures and excellent maps they can legally use in their projects and presentations. It is sometimes the only article they read that makes clear sense to them.
But Wikipedia is bad, right? Any crazy person can edit it, right? Kids should never EVER use it, right?
Well maybe Wikipedia isn’t so bad after all. Amy Antonio, from the Australian Digital Futures Institute, in her article “Is Wikipedia Really Such a Bad Research Tool for Students?” states,
“The crowd-sourcing review practices of Wikipedia, though criticized for favoring rapid turnaround over reliability, are forcing educators to reconsider the value and credibility of digital resources, or at least to rethink their attitude towards them. As scandalous as it might sound to old-school academics, Wikipedia is arguably subject to more rigorous review practices than are many scholarly publications.”
Have you ever taken a look at Wikipedia's review practices? Of course not! Few teachers have the time to really dig into what it is that Wikipedia actually does to review an article, but maybe that is exactly what we should be doing. And we should also be introducing our students to these practices as well.
We teachers have rubrics we use to grade our students’ work. We have strict guidelines for content, layout, and for how we want our students to cite their information. Wouldn’t it be great to show our students that, in the real world, real people use the same types of rubrics and guidelines to create the online resources they use everyday?
Wikipedia has a rubric for how it rates its articles. If you know where to click, Wikipedia shows what grade each article received as well as what that grade means. If the article received a lower grade, Wikipedia also shows exactly what must be revised to make that article score higher on the rubric in the future.
This is amazing right? So right now, go search for something on Wikipedia. Yes, right now. Once on the article, you will see two tabs in the top left corner near the Wikipedia logo. One will say “article” and one will say “talk”. Click on the “talk” tab. Voila, there is the grade the article received. What kind of article did you choose? Was it considered A-Class? Or was it an article that is still a work in progress?Isn’t this exactly the kind of stuff we want our students to do? We want them to be able to evaluate sources. We want them to be able to judge what is good and what is not so good. And isn’t it amazing that they can see first hand why a group of experts and editors deemed an article OK, and where they feel the article needs work.
And if the kids find an article that is a "stub" or a "start", wouldn’t it be cool if your students actually tried to make the article better? We want kids to write an essay on this or that, but what if that essay was out there on the web for all to peer review? What if your students were creating real content for others to use?
This is exactly what some universities are beginning to do. Howard University, in collaboration with NPR and the Schomburg Center, is seeking to increase the amount of "stories of color" on Wikipedia. At Pomona College, some professors are actually having their students submit reports to Wikipedia as articles rather than collecting the reports directly. How empowering is that? The research report is no longer a conversation between the student and the teacher, the research report is a conversation between the student and the world.
My 6th graders probably couldn’t write a very in-depth resource about a topic, but maybe I'm underestimating them.
Do you allow your students to use Wikipedia during the research process? Is Wikipedia your first stop when trying to find information on a topic?