ClassActPortals – 2004 Intro

this article now appears on the EQ web site

A Solution for Easily Integrating a New 3Rs into Every Classroom By Tom March

2005 marks the 10th anniversary of many people’s first experience of the World Wide Web. In that decade “WWW dot” has transformed the way we live, work and play. Yet research reveals that less than half of teachers who have Internet access in their classrooms use it for instructional purposes. Avoiding the Web hurts both students and teachers because its most valuable attribute for education is that it can make learning more Real, Rich, and Relevant. The purpose of this article is to raise a call to action for all teachers in all states and all systems throughout the world to make 2005 the year that we infuse a New 3Rs for all students.

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Those teachers who already “work the Web for education” regularly add links as resources to their units of work. Others have gone beyond that and design goal-based activities that prompt knowledge acquisition. A fewer number already engage students in affective experiences and the best kind of WebQuests. To ensure that all teachers use the Web in 2005 to infuse a New 3Rs, this article introduces a new format that facilitates an easy integration suitable for every Web-connected teacher.

Introducing the Class Act Portal

The new format is called the Class Act Portal. “Class” because it involves whole classes of students. “Act” because it supports authentic, active learning. “Class Act” because it provides a real world forum for students which will prompt their best efforts. Finally, “Portal” because the site will serve as a gateway for resources, information and activities. But what is it actually about? Class Act Portal focuses on one topic of passionate, personal interest to the primary learner in each classroom: the teacher.

What’s a good topic?

The only requirement is that the teacher is passionately interested in the topic because such enthusiasm is contagious and a great model for students. What topics are suitable? Current online examples follow fairly conventional curricular interests such as periods in history, works of literature, and environmental causes. The savvy teacher will also know which curricular topics hold a special interest for students. This said, if a teacher can manage it, choosing a topic of all-consuming interest to students is a great way to illustrate that all subjects are related and that sophisticated learning can evolve from deep immersion in any topic. So besides “Antarctica” or “The Cane Toad” you might also choose “popular music,” “videogames” or “blockbuster movies.”

How about an example?

One example that I have been celebrating for years is the Child Slave Labor News at Immaculata High School in Somerville, New Jersey in the USA. To quote from the Web site: “the senior U.S. History II Honors class, taught by Miss Joann Fantina, publishes numerous newsletters throughout the year covering many aspects of child slave labor. A new group of students takes over the project each year as the previous class graduates. It is a common interest among the students and is continued enthusiastically year after year.” Visiting the Web site immediately conveys that this is a pursuit of passion, a public service, not an exercise in Web publishing. Currently 32 student writings are listed with three additional years’ worth in the archive. Although much more could be done to leverage the Web’s power, the Child Slave Labor News is compelling in its effectiveness and simplicity. No teacher should be intimidated about starting a Class Act Portal: it’s what you and your students want to make it.

Why a Class Act Portal?

The best use of the Web connects learning with resources unavailable elsewhere. It also allows us to communicate with others who share our interests. We can collaborate or become a member of an active online community. Furthermore, we can contribute our own personal expressions onto this Web of learning by posting writings, photos, videos or music. Using the Web in this way counter balances many students’ passive use of things like interactive games, cheat sites or music and celebrity pages. Thus, a Class Act Portal provides ongoing lessons in the more active and engaging aspects of the Web’s potential.

What’s in a Class Act Portal?

Because the purpose of a Class Act Portal is to feed a passion for learning, placing mandates on either the format, teacher or class activities might constrain creativity, so the following should be seen as suggestions only.

Gather a Hotlist

When most people begin exploring a new topic on the Web, they usually start by compiling a set of resources. Most classes creating their portal on a subject will do the same. If the subject is a part of the school curriculum (“recycling,” “dinosaurs,” or “Impressionists”), then the best place to begin collecting resources Filamentality. Another great location is Teoma where search results present “Resources” link collections from experts and enthusiasts.” Finally, and especially if the topic lay outside the usual school subjects, choose Google. A safe bet is that the first site listed will also provide its own hotlist on the subject.

Join your Community

Learning is more authentic when there’s a real audience. When the audience provides feedback, we venture into a correspondence. If we work toward a common interest or goal, we have a collaborator. All of this can come from nurturing an online community. Typically, the most effective approach to initiate such a community is to immerse students in the sites of your Hotlist and send emails of appreciation to the people behind the most interesting Web pages. Many real world teachable moments arise as you facilitate students’ review of the Web sites and composition of email messages sent for this authentic purpose.

Grow what you know

Once you have created a Hotlist and you have a nascent online community, the life of the Class Act Portal really begins. Collaborations may prompt investigations. Classroom activities may generate an Image Gallery of photos, paintings or cartoons. Writing lessons may lead to poetry, essays, stories or reviews that can be added to the portal. Ongoing observations of local events or experiments become useful data posted for everyone’s benefit. Similarly, daily review of important Web sites or RSS feeds can keep students revisiting and enriching their understanding of the topic and how it relates to the world outside their classroom. If you’re really keen you can integrate new functionality like online discussions, Blogs and Wikis as they emerge and catch your interest.

Let Learning Thrive in 2005

The very best thing about a Class Act Portal is that it hums along in the background as an honest contribution to the world of learning. Over time it will evolve in breadth and sophistication. It’s there when needed, but it doesn’t demand that you radically change the rest of your program. You turn to it when there’s time. This makes it a great place to start for those who haven’t yet taken strides to integrating the Web into their classroom’s life. And remember, not everything will go as expected. The Web will change. Communication tools will become more powerful. Problems might crop up. Sometimes we will lose student interest. This is great, because the process shows that we strive to make our teaching more Real, Rich and Relevant. And if we all do this together, 2005 can mark the beginning of a new era in education.

How about sharing your thoughts?