Using Diigo in the Middle School Classroom

One of my goals this year was to teach my students to use Diigo.  With a focus on inquiry-based learning, my students do a lot of digital reading, and collaborate within and outside of the classroom.  Diigo is an excellent tool that enables students to bookmark, tag, highlight and annotate their online text, which can be accessed anywhere, anytime.  This annotated text can be privately or publically shared with other students or groups, depending on their settings.  In addition, Diigo allows my students to make more efficient use of their time by accessing similar sites from other Diigo users with shared interests.

While Diigo offers education accounts, I chose to have my students set up their own accounts.  As these students move on to high school next year, it’s important they carry their virtual filing cabinet with them.

I began the class by showing an introductory video, followed by a tour of my own Diigo library and network.  Next, my students set up their own accounts using their school appointed email address, username and password.  Within minutes, they had figured out how to follow me (“I’m creepin’ you Mrs. D!”).  Imgine that, students wanting to see what the teacher is planning!

Once my students had added each other as followers, I directed them to my “responsibility” tag in my Diigo library.  Using various web 2.0 tools, each student will be creating a biography on an activist of their choice who demonstrates this trait.  Rather than post the introductory link on the class wiki, Diigo saves time as I can bookmark the site once, and direct my students where to find it.  Once they had saved the specified site into their library, they spent some time surfing through the site, highlighting text and writing sticky notes.  It’s important to let students “play” and discover when learning a new tool.

The students love it.  “No more mess of papers that I can’t find.  Everything for my project is here”.  They were excited, and were planning out their next steps.  “Summarize the text on the sticky note, copy my “jot” notes into a Google Doc to edit, and post the final project on my blog.”

My next step is to have students create their own groups as we move into shared readings and collaborative projects.  Within these groups, they can set up a topic and have discussions, similar to a running a chat room.  Bill Ferriter, a 6th grade teacher, shares a wealth of social bookmarking uses in his wiki, Digitally Speaking.

My students recognize Diigo as a tool they can use to collaborate and share, improving their productivity and learning.  They’ve taken another step as they develop their digital footprint.


Reaching Back: The Value of Blogging in Middle School

Today I suddenly realized one of the most important reasons why our students should blog – to stay connected to their peers.  While I’d always thought the primary value of a student blog was to reflect and connect with others outside of the classroom, today, the value of connecting from within became very clear.

One of my grade 7 students deals with Asperger’s disorder.  Due to issues with bullying, his parents moved from the big city to our small-town community, hoping that he’d have a more peaceful life in school.  He has.  My students quietly understood, accepted him, and made sure he was included in all activities.  It was beautiful to watch the grade eight boys convince him to play football.  Sweet.  During independent writing time, when the room was dead silent, he sometimes angrily spoke into his microphone while using Dragon Dictate.  “I said SCRATCH THAT!”  The grade 8 girls, sitting near him just smiled and kept working.  No dirty looks.

Last week, very abruptly, this student’s family moved from this community, a small village with a population of less than 1000, back to the big city (population in the millions).  While I certainly understand his parents’ reason for moving, it doesn’t dull the anxiety I feel for him as he moves back into a rotary system, his computer and scanner stored in a resource room.

Today, less than a week after his move, my former student blogged about the differences between his old and new home.  It’s clear he misses his old life, and is reaching out to his former peers.  From afar, we’ll encourage him to share the positives of his new school community.

I often thought of blogging as a way of helping students reach out to others.  While this student doesn’t have Facebook or a cell phone, he does have a blog that he set up in my classroom.  He is using his blog to reach back to us and maintain some social interactions.  I am so thankful he is still connected to us, and we to him.


Securing the Connection

As we end our third week of the shared read aloud of The Book Thief, it’s clear the students in Ontario and Manitoba are supporting each other in their learning.  Today as I read via Skype, Clarence participated in the backchannel discussion.

Good prediction @Jason/Jordan     Heaven/Jessica at 11:47 AM

@Heaven/Jessica, Thank you. What do you think will happen?     Jason/Jordan at 11:49 AM

Liesel has an overactive imagination.     Alex & Juli at 11:55 AM

Agreed @Alex & Juli !  Hailey; Melissa! ☺ at 11:56 AM

and my favourite…

It was like you were here reading with us Mrs. D     Alex & Juli at 12:03 PM

Following this activity, the students posted comments on the linoit wall and each other’s blogs.  Students then checked their incoming comments, and as time ran out, some promised to reconnect tonight.

Kassie’s Blog

Across this 2 700 km link, Clarence and I are developing relationships with each other’s students as we comment on their blogs. Reading into the computer microphone to all the Idea Hive students,  my classroom takes on a new feel.  We are larger, stronger, more connected.

Tonight, I have a deep sense that we are truly becoming one. The Idea Hive is growing closer.

@Alex and Julie, I felt like I was with you today too!

We Will Remember Them

Although most collaborative projects this year connect my students with those in their age group, and another province, their latest Remembrance Day project meant connecting with primary grade 2/3 students from just down the hall.

The primary teacher, Pat Evers, and I started this tradition last year, after Pat shared the music of Joe Satriani’s, Ten Words.  In an interview, Satriani, one of the world’s top guitarists, told his audience that he wrote this song on the evening of September 11, 2001.

After all students listened to the song, the grade 7/8 students were challenged to write a phrase framing PEACE… Ten Words.  Grade 2/3 students wrote ten comments or words about Peace.  Following the writing, the intermediate students worked with their primary partners to create Wordles.  These projects were presented during the Remembrance Day assembly.

This year, our intermediate students and their primary partners, using VoiceThread, created a presentation  about Canadian WW II veterans.  To begin the project, students listened to many of the veteran’s podcasts posted in the “The Memory Project” and then chose one veteran to focus on.  The Memory Project offers an unprecedented account of Canada’s participation in the Second World War through thousands of firsthand veteran testimonials. Each testimonial includes a podcast, narrated by the veteran, and a text account, making it a perfect site for students of all reading levels.  The site allows students to search for veterans based on many criteria such as name, service, campaign and battle.

Pat and I noticed a transition that took place with the students as they worked through the project. Younger students, who often view war as “shooting” and “bad guys”, began to understand the sacrifice and sadness of war for the common people on both sides of the conflict . The older students became teachers, guiding their young partners through the process.  They helped to coach meaningful quotes and connections from their little partners after listening to the veteran’s stories.  Often it was everyday reflections that connect the younger students to the veterans’ experiences.  These little details transformed the veterans from mere names to real people.

“Olive had two brothers.  I have three brothers.  I think she wouldn’t have missed them for a little while, but then she’d miss the things they did to bug her.” Makenzie, Gr. 2

“When Harvey Douglas Burns was part of the Navy, the boat he worked on had only two or three washrooms for sixty other crew members.” Breelle, Gr. 3.

Once their scripts were written, the intermediate students uploaded an image of the veteran into a collaborative VoiceThread, and helped their little buddies record their thoughts.

Some students, like Shelby and Josh, focused on a positive message, such as that of Burton Edwin Harper.  “Burton dragged himself to a house after being wounded, and found a nurse to care for him.  He and that nurse recently celebrated their 64th wedding anniversary.”

Garrett, in Gr. 3, was impacted by the words of Norman G. Dawber and shared his words. “Norman said he was surprised that the birds were still singing, even though gunfire and cannons were going off everywhere.”

Tanner, Gr. 7, shared the story of Mendel Thrasher, ending with Mendel’s words, “Terrible things take place through wars.”

Each intermediate and primary pair of students made this year’s Remembrance Day ceremony their own – something they will never forget.  It’s one of the most poignant teaching experiences of the year for both Pat and I.

Thanks Pat, for sharing your students, ideas and enthusiasm for this project.  H.D.

View the completed project:  The Memory Project VoiceThread 2010

Holocaust Education via @langwitches & Group Skype

This week, the Idea Hive experienced a significant “first”:  a shared read aloud of The Book Thief using Skype, backchannel chat, and Linoit, a virtual bulletin board.   In previous posts, Clarence shared the beauty of this story, and the pre-reading activities leading up to the book, designed to develop students’ knowledge of Germany in WW II.  In the Hive Thinking classroom, students collaborated to produce research summaries of various topics including Hitler Youth, Jesse Owens, Hitler, Kristallnacht, and the Holocaust.

Following this step, students viewed a video created by Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano, Kristallnacht- Night of the Broken Glass.  While viewing images, including many of her Jewish grandparents in Germany, Silvia narrates her family’s story surrounding that horrific night on November 9, 1938, when Hitler showed the world his plans for the Jewish community. Please take the 9 min. needed to view her story.  I assure you it will be worth it.

The next day, the Idea Hive students met via Skype to share questions they planned to ask Silvia in a follow-up group video call, a new Skype feature.  During that group video call, it was incredible to watch students in Ontario and Manitoba listen and interact with Silvia as she spoke to us all from Florida.  This call allowed our students to experience together, the emotions shared by Silvia, as she answered their questions.  Silvia helped students learn how similar behaviours are mirrored today in social media sites such as Facebook.  Students connected, as they learned together in an authentic environment.  One of my student’s parents shared the impact this experience had on her daughter.  “When she came home, she talked and talked about the Holocaust.  She cried.”


After the call, I asked my students to share their thoughts on how Skype affects their learning.

When we Skyped with Silvia, what happens years ago, makes more sense. She told us way more than I’d read in a textbook. She made me put myself in Germany during the night of broken glass.

When you’re talking to someone on a Skype call, with people around the world telling their story, you realize how really brave they are, like Silvia. They inspire us to share more of our experiences.  Brad P.

Skyping helps us learn. When our class Skyped with Silvia Rosenthal, she told us more information about the holocaust and WWII than a textbook would have told us. This makes it exciting for us because we can see her expressions and it makes it more real.  We can feel her emotion.

In order for this to work, there must be preparation involved so you have a reason to Skype. Preparing for a Skype call is just as important as studying for a test or practicing a speech for your History project. We prepare because it helps us present the information the way we want it to sound. We also prepare so there is a serious conversation, and so we don’t stumble over words as we are speaking to our audience. Ethan J.

During the Skype call, the students are very quiet and involved.  We are very interested with the call because we are not just reading a boring old textbook.  We are hearing somebody’s story. When we had a Skype call with Silvia on Monday, we got into it, asking questions that we’d previously planned.  And we all know you cannot ask a textbook questions!  If you have access to this technology, why not use it?!  Alyssa H.

The group Skype feature enables our students to share powerful, emotional learning experiences together.  It’s another step in our year-long goal of creating a community of learners in the Idea Hive.