Thin Walled World

11/18/2007 01:22:00 pm

So much to blog, so little time ... but this is exciting (at least it is to me) and I wanted to archive it here in my outboard brain.

I have had online mentors working with my classes for about two years now. Lani Ritter-Hall has been there from the beginning and continues to model the art and science of effective blog mentorship. (This latest example was fantastic! The kids faces as they heard her voice for the first time was priceless.)

Alec Couros and I are collaborating with his two classes of student teachers mentoring my classes via their blogs this year as well. For the last six weeks they have worked mostly with my Consumer Math 20S (grade 10, aged approx. 15 years) class and recently begun expanding their work to my Pre-Cal 40S and AP Calculus classes. I think it has been something of an eye opener for the student teachers to compare the nature and pace of work and the character of the online interactions in the different classes.

The students in my AP Calculus class have been mentored online going on three years now. I have had the good fortune to teach this same group of kids for three years in a row; I have taught them all their high school mathematics. The group is much smaller now; we're at 11 students down from nearly 30 in grade 10, one of whom is new to the group.

Anyway, their learning has been enriched via these online mentorships and they have started to think of ways they can pay it forward and maybe get a good reference for scholarship applications they will be making in the near future.

Clarence and Barbara are pushing the boundaries of education this year in their Thin Walled Classroom. The students in "this class" are learning at least one thing together each day. Using a suite of online tools, they are creating a classroom with very thin walls where the kids have teachers in two countries and two time zones; one they see face to face, one they don't. (Man, how I wish my own kids were students in this classroom.)

When three of my AP Calculus students approached me with the idea of of taking on the role of blog mentors I tweeted about it and got three bites in short order. I shared the urls of the people who were interested and my kids chose to work with Clarence and Barbara in the Thin Walled Classroom. I have letters of permission from their parents that I keep on file and am keeping tabs on their work from my end. Clarence asked them to be positive in their comments but also to push the younger students and challenge them in their work to help them amplify their learning. They are not to act as cheerleaders but as catalysts for growth. (After their experiences being mentored by Lani for these last few years they knew exactly what the expectations were.) Clarence also asked them to archive and email him with the comments they leave behind every five or six comments or so. It struck me that it would be much better to use a blog to record their comments.

Using Blogger allows the functionality of emailing a post to a unique, user determined, address where the subject line becomes the post title and the body, including all formating, become the body of the blog post. (See my recent test.) Each of my student/mentors is building a blog where they will archive their comments and post urls to the students in the thin walled classroom. After they have done this for a few weeks they will go over the comments they have left behind and post a brief reflection about the work they have done and how they can improve it in the future. This also makes it really easy for Clarence, Barbara and I to monitor their work and creates a concrete artifact they can point to when they reference this work in their scholarship applications.

Yesterday, the first of the new student mentor blogs went live. Grey-M's new blog is called Advice Through Ethereal Walls. He left his first comment to Hannah whose blog is called Believing is Succeeding (great name for an edublog).

I was so taken with this idea that I went to share all this with my principal and discuss how I see this evolving in the future.

How would it be if students who begin grade 9 or 10 at my school, in blogging classes, are mentored via their blogs so that by the time they reach grade 12 they can assume the role of mentor as well to pay it forward? Commenting/mentoring students in the younger grades in our school and our feeder schools builds a self sustaining model so that by grade 12 we may have a cadre of blog mentors that can support the learning of students in our community and abroad. After all, thanks to blogging, we live in a thin walled world.

He liked the idea. We'll see where it goes.

In the mean time feel free to mentor the mentor by dropping in on Grey-M and wishing him well on the launch of his latest blogging adventure.

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