Sunday, October 29, 2006

Why Use Wikis?

I’ve heard about the Wikipedia. Sometimes students even use it for a reference. But, what’s a wiki? Are wikis used for anything else? And why do they have such an unusual name? I decided to do some research to learn more about wikis.

What is a wiki web site?

A wiki ( is software which we can use to easily create web pages, add content, and maintain these pages using a web browser. Working on a wiki page feels like working with a word processor.

A unique feature of wiki pages is that you may choose—if you wish—to allow others in addition to yourself to edit them. You may create a list of persons each of whom has permission to edit… or you may allow everyone to edit… or you may allow no one other than you to edit, if you wish.

BTW, the word “wiki” comes from a Hawaiian word for “fast” or “quick.” So, a wiki is a web site—designed for a special purpose—which can be created and maintained very quickly.

Which wiki sites are interesting or useful or…?

A variety of collaborative writing projects exists that takes advantage of the ease of using wiki software.

The Wikipedia ( is the best known of the wiki projects. This encyclopedia has versions in English, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and other languages. The English Wikipedia ( contains more than 1,400,000 articles covering the areas of the arts, biography, geography, history, mathematics, science, society, and technology. It even has a reference desk where volunteers serve as virtual librarians.

Those involved in writing wikiHow: The How-To Manual That Anyone Can Write or Edit ( want it to be the largest how-to manual in the world. It is a free resource for solutions to problems we encounter in everyday life. wikiHow’s more than 13,000 articles are written mostly by volunteers.

The EmacsWiki ( deals with eMacs, of course. The contents include learning about, downloading, installing, and customizing eMacs. Also included are programming eMacs, bugs, and wish lists.

Wikitravel ( is a free travel guide. Persons throughout the world have written more than 11,000 articles for it. Areas covered include Africa, Asia, Australasia and Oceania, Europe, Middle East, North America, South America, Central America and Caribbean, and others.

WikiNews ( is a free news source written by volunteers.

Wiktionary ( is a dictionary in English. It contains synonyms, antonyms, and more. Over 297,000 entries are currently available.

Wikibooks ( consists of free textbooks that can be edited. Currently there are more than 1,000 books.

Wikiversity ( is a site to create and use free learning materials and activities.

Wikispecies ( is a free directory of species including Animalia, Plantae, Fungi, Bacteria, Archaea, Protista, and others.

Media files can be stored in the Wikimedia Commons ( Topics currently included are nature, images, society, sound, science, and video.

Why might educators be interested in using wikis?

Wikis are 21st-century tools which are
• easy to access
• easy to edit
• accessible to groups
engaging and motivating and
• appealing to multiple learning styles.
Wikis have an authentic purpose and an authentic audience.
They allow students to connect with peers and experts.
Wikis maintain a history of a document’s revisions and include the ability for the editor to revert to a prior version.
Both students and teachers can use wikis for group work and they can be used to communicate to others.

Are there any possible problems using wikis in education?

Mark Warner (in the conference presentation mentioned later in this article) lists information literacy concerns, inappropriate content due to multiple editors, intellectual property issues, fraud and identity theft, and stalkers and predators. These concerns should sound familiar. They are, for the most part, typical of concerns for any type of web publishing. As with any web publishing which involves students, appropriate measures should be taken including education about protecting personal information and using permission slips.

What are some ways to use wikis in education?

Some teachers have their students develop class projects on a wiki. Collaborative editing and peer review are easy for the students. The teachers can view successive drafts of the projects and comment throughout the process.

Group authoring works well with wikis. There is no lag time from one author’s comments and revisions to those of another author. All the authors have equal access to current versions of the document.

A wiki is a convenient spot for members of a group to keep track of their activities and resources as they work on a common project.

These and other ideas for using wikis in education are discussed at

If you go to, you can view a presentation from a k12onlineconference held in October 2006. The speaker, Mark Warner, shares three wikis that are being used by educators—two to help elementary teachers plan classroom activities and one that a secondary language arts teacher uses with his students—and then Warner explains how to use WikiSpaces, a site which hosts wikis. The movie is a full conference presentation, so it’s long… but, it’s very good.

What do I do next if I’m interested in trying a wiki project?

I’ll share some specific ideas for getting started with wikis in a subsequent article.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Web Sites to Use in the Classroom

I've been looking at some web sites recently that can help us to teach and help our students to learn in our classrooms. Here's a list of sites appropriate for a variety of grade levels and of topics.

Enjoy! :)


Read the headlines from the front pages of 561 newspapers from 52 countries. Play a news trivia game that includes questions about today’s news and some of the historical information in the background of today’s news. View editorial cartoons. Read in-depth stories. Run your mouse over a small image of a newspaper’s front page and a larger image will be displayed.

ARTS ______________________________________________________________________

View the works of American artists—Heade, Lane, Peto, Decker, Homer, Eakins, Church, Bingham, and Kensett—at

View the works of artists Dali, Moses, O'Keefe, Cassatt, Escher, Warhol, Rodin, Picasso, and Wood. A webquest and other resources are also available at

Read the biography of Leonardo da Vinci. View his sketchbooks. Take a virtual tour of his studio. You can do all this and more at

HISTORY ___________________________________________________________________

Read stories from war veterans about their roles in obtaining military intelligence at

Learn about the art, inventions, science, and people of the Renaissance in Europe. Additional resources are also available at

Read about Woodrow Wilson and his presidency. Check out related resources at

Read about Theodore Roosevelt and his presidency. Check out related resources at

Biographies of the US presidents and their wives plus related resources can be accessed at

Go to to study the 1900-1909 decade in America’s history.

Dates That Matter ( is a teacher resource ready to display on a screen for the class to read. The students are given a clue about the date. Hints are provided to help them. When the actual historical event shows, more information is added. Teachers can see an annotated view of the event.

SCIENCE __________________________________________________________________

Read about research being conducted in the Arctic and the Antarctic at

Read about hurricanes, earthquakes, and volcanoes and what the research is discovering about minimizing their effects at

Learn what scientists have discovered about climate at

Watch animations and listen to experts to learn more about cancer. Learn about causes, diagnoses, and treatment at

Read a fifth-grade teacher’s journal of her 56-day cruise into the Antarctic and what the crew members learned about ocean circulation and its role in determining the world’s climate at

Learn about monarch butterflies at

This web site ( for kids explores the brain and nervous system.

ScienCentralNews shares recent developments in life sciences, physical sciences, and technology at

View weather-related simulations at

Resources for food chains and food webs are available at

An overview of our planet’s ecosystems can be found at

Learn about forests at

Learn about wetlands (swamps, marshes, and bogs) at

Resources about producers, consumers, and decomposers with respect to food chains and food webs can be found at

Read about tropical and temperate rainforests in the US, Tasmania, and South America at

Learn about stars and watch a video at

Read about eclipses at

Considering the recent discussions about whether or not Pluto is a planet, the web site about Kuiper belt objects ( should give some timely insights.

LITERATURE _______________________________________________________________

Lesson plans and activities for “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” by Barbara Robinson are available at

Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven has become interactive at

GEOGRAPHY and FOREIGN LANGUAGES _______________________________________

Learn about Costa Rica at

MUSIC _____________________________________________________________________

Read—and watch and listen—about some of the modern types of music (e.g., jazz, country, rock and roll) at

ESL _______________________________________________________________________

Learn how to adapt lesson plan activity types to meet your ESL student’s needs at

Friday, October 13, 2006

Catalog Your Book Collection Online

More than 90,000 members have cataloged more than 6,000,000 books online at LibraryThing (

This web site allows you to very easily enter your books on virtual bookshelves… and it connects you with others who read the same books. You can access your catalog anywhere you have access to the web... even on a mobile phone.

You can search 60 libraries in addition to the Library of Congress and Amazon to help you post information about your books. You can tag your books as well as import and export your data. Tagging the books in your catalog creates an index based on your ideas about your books.

The first 200 books may be entered for free. If your catalog has more than 200 entries, the cost is $10 per year or $25 for a lifetime membership.

A variety of groups are available on LibraryThing, including book talk, librarians who LibraryThing, science fiction fans, historical fiction, tea, Christianity, medieval Europe, science, humor, children’s literature, Japanese culture, and made into a movie.

The message boards appear to be quite active, including What Are You Reading Now, Bug Collectors, and Political Conservatives.

LibraryThing has been described as "MySpace for books" or "Facebook for books" or “social networking for bookworms.”

You could catalog all your books in a database… but then you’d have to look up all the relevant information. Using LibraryThing is like having a librarian do all the time-consuming research and data entry for you. And, in addition, it publicizes your interests to other book lovers and, thus, creates a community.

If you love reading, this site is worth checking out.

Thursday, October 12, 2006


1990... 1995... 2000... 2005... today... What differences do visitors to our schools notice in teaching? in learning? in the environment? What ideas in technology and instruction are worth investigating? Which web sites have information that will educate... motivate... interest? How can we better use technology as we teach and learn?

There are many questions. I would love to have you join me as we explore for the answers... and for more questions!