Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Crowd-Sourced Information in Class

So thanks to a blog post by Catlin Tucker, a brilliant NorCal English teacher (if you’re not following her on Twitter, do it now), I figured out how to start my world history units this year: crowd-sourcing schema from a unit! Why? Well, before my kids can dive into their chosen inquiry question within a world history unit, they need some schema for that unit. But the question is, how do you get that schema?

Obviously there are a ton of ways to do this, but Catlin’s crowd-sourcing idea was attractive to me for a couple reasons. First, I was able to provide my students with some structure to direct their research. For the Russian Revolution, I asked my students to look at the following six areas:
  1. What were the conditions in Russia in the early 1900s that led to people revolting in 1917?
  2. What did Lenin and the Bolsheviks offer the Russian people? Why was this offer appealing? Hint: think about the context of the Russian Revolution (see question one).
  3. What was the Five Year Plan? What impact did the Five Year Plan have on Russia?
  4. What was collectivization? What impact did collectivization have on Russia?
  5. What tactics did Lenin use to keep power? Describe the tactics in some detail.
  6. What tactics did Stalin use to keep power? Describe the tactics in some detail.
Second, my students had some schema about this era: they had started to read Animal Farm in English and knew some information about the Russian Revolution. By running a modified KWL to start this activity, my students were able to both activate and build their schema and start to figure out what further questions they had about the Russian Revolution. Here’s the perfect time to start crowd-sourcing information! Third, my students got to practice their research skills, but this knowledge came from them. No screencast. No lecture. Their research. Their ideas.

And like anything else I’ve done that’s new, I learned some things. One thing in particular. The maximum number of users you can have on a Google doc is 50 - after that people don’t have editing privileges on the document. No good for a crowd-sourced research section. My classes max out at 28, so I wasn’t worried about this. I didn’t have students log into their Google accounts first period - 27 kids? Why bother? Well, with that many anonymous users on the document, Google Drive freaked out a little bit. Some students started to get an error message - too many editors on document. Which didn’t make sense - there were way less than 50 kids in the class. Next period, my class - 24 kids - logged into Google Drive, then accessed the document they were recording their research on. No problems. No problems the following period either. Weird. Live and learn though - have students log into their Google Drive account before crowd-sourcing information with your students.

It was a great kick-off for the unit. In the coming days, students are going to go back and check out the documents from the other classes and start to find areas that they are interested in spending a couple weeks researching intensely. Even today, as kids were doing the basic schema-building research, they were starting to generate questions that they wanted to answer. Excellent!

It was definitely the right start to the unit - thank Catlin!