There are so many amazing ways to engage kids online, and yet for one reason or another we shy away from using online tools in the classroom. Usually it's some form of paranoia about--you guessed it--porn. And yet, despite all of the federal regulations about CIPA, COPPA, and all of the other acronyms that censors (typically employed as technicians, not educators) stand behind, our kids are not getting the kind of practice that they need to analyze quality information when it seems like half of the sites that they try to go to are blocked.
We also shy away when we just don't know how to do something, or don't even know about it, yet. This is me, most of the time. I'm always feeling a couple of steps behind when it comes to 2.0. There are always more cool applications showing up online, more to learn, more to try to understand. I am constantly unsavvy, but I've almost gotten used to it. Luckily, I get to read about a lot of these applications on my listservs and learn about them at conference every year from far smarter people than myself.
What I think I've learned is that there are approximately kajillions of ways to engage students in their learning and increase achievement--and best of all, they're almost all free. And even if I don't know about all of them, or can't understand them, I can promote those few tricks in my pockets with everything I've got. Because it's worth it, well worth it to engage the kids.
According to Sue Patrick, former federal employee who helped to draft the National Ed Tech plan, kids are forced to "power down" both literally and figuratively when they walk in the classroom. I know that this is how it is at our school. Sure, you might get to go to a lab during a given day, but you had better hide your cell phone and iPod while you're in there. "Power down." I thought that was really an apropos description, but one that greatly troubled me and still does.
I've recently come to believe that it's all about product. Not the kind that you can get in any store, but the kind you can get the kids to make. There are countless (safe) ways for kids to have the opportunity to do something useful online as a result of a school assignment. Not only will this engage the kids, but they will also be learning necessary skills online, skills that are near impossible to learn while working around a stringent filter at school.
But blogging (responding to teacher blogging in the form of comments is an easy, cool assignment) Wikis (an effective document sharing website) and social networking groups such as Google Groups can all be ways to wed students to classes and make them more invested in not only what they are coming up with but what their peers are doing, as well. The logic? If they are aware that their classmates are going to have the opportunity to read their work, the odds are great that they will submit a higher-quality product. Nothing like some positive peer pressure!