LisaHillSchoolStuff's Weblog

'If students can't learn the way we teach, we must teach the way they learn' (Ignacio Estrada, via Tomlinson)

Archive for June, 2009

Using Wikipedia wisely

Posted by Lisa Hill on June 14, 2009

Wikipedia is in constant use around the world today, and nearly all of us use it as a frontline source of information now.  Somewhere, I have read that while there can be inaccuracies, research showed that there were actually fewer errors in Wikipedia than in the Britannica, especially for more recent information.  Well, maybe that depends on the entry.  Wikipedia’s team of scrutineers monitor contentious topics (e.g. Israel/Palestine) and sometimes ‘lock’ them so that changes have to pass scrutiny; sometimes there is just a warning to be wary, as there was when I used the entry on Muhammed Ali  as a source for one of my students who had chosen him as a subject for our current Biography unit of work.   Overall, I find it remarkably helpful, especially when seeking information about countries that don’t feature so much in US/UK encyclopaedias – not least Australia!  Some of the entries are excellent, and have been written with clarity and expertise, as I found when I wanted to know more about Modernism, (see my post about it at ANZLitLovers). 

But there can be pitfalls, and I am indebted to my good friend Sue Terry, from Whispering Gums, for the following advice about using Wikipedia wisely.  All students should be made aware of these tips for sorting out the good from the bad:

  • check the footnotes/references: good Wikipedia articles cite their sources, not just as references at the end of the article, but in-line at the point statements are made.
  • make sure the sources are valid: look at the domain names (such as dot gov and dot edu) and the authority of the person or organisation behind that source. Blogs, for example, are great to read but they are not necessarily a reliable source for an encyclopedia article.
  • look for multiple sources: these can provide a double-check on statements made, particularly the more controversial ones
  • check that the sources themselves don’t cite each other: circular referencing can be common in the on-line information world.
  • look under the “Discussion” tab: this is where articles are assessed (though these are not always up to date) and where discussion about the article occurs – contentious issues, exclusion versus inclusion of information, definition of terms, etc, can be discussed here.
  • look under the “History” tab: while many Wikipedia editors are anonymous or semi-anonymous, you can get a sense of who has been involved and the level of their activity and involvement.
  • note any tags on the articles: editors tag articles that have problems, such as poor or no citation of sources, incomplete or minimal content, and so on. Some of this may be obvious but sometimes these tags can clue you in to how useful the article may be, where its weaknesses are.


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Prep unit of work: VELS Level 1, Wild Animals

Posted by Lisa Hill on June 11, 2009

Have uploaded a new unit for VELS Level 1 on the Goodies to Share page. It’s called Wild Animals and its focus is on introducing non-fiction to Preps.

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Encouragement, praise and rewards

Posted by Lisa Hill on June 11, 2009

Today I stumbled on a really interesting article about the place of encouragement, praise and rewards in the classroom on the UK TES site. The article is called Good for You and it explores some research that says praising students for a job well done may be counter-productive in the long run…. 

Punishment, we all know, rarely solves anything and most of us spend our teaching day encouraging, praising and rewarding students in order to try and help them achieve their goals…

But what if we are creating a culture that precludes children from developing a sense of pride or satisfaction from a job well done? What if ‘rewards inflation’ means that children are no longer content with a sticker or a smile?

Read the article, it’s food for thought.

(Had to laugh about the schools that were offering iPods and mountain bikes and spending £30,000 on rewards!  Imagine having a school budget that meant you could afford to do that!)

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Why Wikis are wonderful!

Posted by Lisa Hill on June 4, 2009

On a day when I had all kinds of grief with the library server, a Prep tantrum and a flood of spam from an Educational DVD supplier, I also had one of those magic teaching moments when it’s all worthwhile.

Years 3 & 4 are doing projects on Australian Farming and although the plan was that they would research agricultural products such as cheese and honey, two groups chose to learn about chocolate and chewing-gum. Well, why not, if that’s what they’re interested in, I thought.  We had a couple of books about these topics: Chewing Gum, and Chocolate, both by Natalie Jane Prior (published by Hodder Children’s Books) so I thought it would be okay.

Alas, while these are great books,  the text is a bit difficult for primary students of this age group.  I thought the solution would be to set up a Rollyo search to help these students find appropriate information online, but couldn’t find anything that was easy enough….

Wiki chewinggumwiki chocolateSo I decided to write a wiki page myself on my new LisaHillSchoolStuff Wiki.  It took over an hour, because I didn’t know much myself about how chewing gum and chocolate were made, but it was worth every minute to see the kids’ reactions.  They had been struggling with the books and perhaps were regretting their choice, and then suddenly the task became easy.  They were rapt!  I had the Chocolate group using the circulation desk computer, with a laptop beside them so that they could write their newfound facts straight into the Inspiration template I’d made, while the Chewing Gum group did the same in the adjacent ICT lab and the rest of the groups were in the library classroom.  (We have large windows everywhere, and there were other teachers in the lab so there was plenty of supervision even without me racing around from one group to another. )

Quote of the day was, ‘It’s like information that’s written for grownups but it’s easy enough to read’.

BTW #1 I can’t upload the Inspiration template I designed for this task to EduBlogs, but if anyone wants a copy, leave a comment with a return email address and I will email it to you.  It will only work if you have Inspiration 7 or above.

BTW #2 Just in case you’re wondering why the children needed a laptop and a computer and used them in a different workspace, it was because the network was down and the WiFi was misbehaving. (There had been some sort of problem beyond our control in the city yesterday and it’s not fully resolved).  The children couldn’t access the work they’d done the previous week which was stored on the library drive, and while the internet was working on some but not all of the computers in the lab, it wouldn’t work in the library at all.   So I’d had to race around at recess with a USB and install the template into My Documents on each of my five laptops, so that the children could start again and save their new work in the laptop’s My Docs, so that come what may, at least next week they’ll be able to get at their work.  This is a reality that teachers have to deal with all the time – no matter how creative and innovative and keen we are, we need reliable IT to make it all happen.  

I’m hoping that if other staff join me in writing kid-friendly information pages, this Wiki will become a really useful resource.

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