A place for wikis in social studies

I have spent this afternoon reflecting on how I use wikis in my middle school social studies class, and I was surprised at the number of examples I was able to come up with! At first I thought literally, what have I used WikiSpaces for? Mostly, I use the page to have my students collaborate on their work. They do a larger website project and this is a place for them to compile their research notes. In the end it looks like an annotated bibliography. Each student adds a few different resources. My students like to start things in school and complete for homework, and I’ve found that having an assignment web-based encourages completion. When they need to transport information back and forth I lose the students in the bottom third. This assignment is used to create a larger webpage, the product they “turn in.” They also peer critique each other on our WikiSpaces page. They review each others’ projects and comment on what should be improved before the due date. This project is spaced out over a month, while we are marching along with the district’s curriculum map. This enables me to give the students time to review each others’ work or to build their notes sheets gradually. Of course, it takes an ability to organize your time and work on multiple assignments. But, 8th grade seems an age-appropriate time for this responsibility, and most rise to the occasion.

Thinking about wikis in a general sense, I think any place where kids can work online to build content knowledge meets the same goal. Collaborative and constructive learning is ideal for middle school kids. If I think about it from this angle, I reflect on the use of VoiceThread, Wallwisher (now Padlet), and website building projects. Even further, I might consider a hybrid type of assignment that structures itself around a webquest like Glogster or Clarkson’s Museum Box. Students work together to discover information and build a report back to the teacher and their peers. I also like the Fakebook/Facebook project for this same reason. Students build a fake Facebook page and write on each others’ “walls” historically appropriate comments.

When students work together to build their knowledge we know that they adapt it to fit their schema. This constructivist approach that incorporates teamwork or collaborative learning helps students find an authentic audience and this encourages high quality results.