Social bookmarks are Web tools that allow users to save a personal copy of any page they have visited on the Web in an archive. Social bookmark services allow users to set up free accounts that are accessible from any computer. Once you have set up an account, you can begin creating a personal archive of Web pages, making it easy to locate the sites you want to find again. In addition, users can share the resources and links they find with others. This feature makes social bookmarking a useful tool for collaboration.
Online tools help teaching teams plan thematic projects across distance
Two eighth-grade teachers meet before school each week to work on interdisciplinary units they team-teach. Hillary Miller teaches math, and Theresa Harris teaches science. Like other teams in their middle school they focus on developing units that connect their content areas in meaningful ways.
Miller now has a longer daily commute, making it practically impossible to plan with Harris before school. However, both teachers know that many students learn better from thematic, interdisciplinary instruction than from a traditional single-subject curriculum. Neither teacher wants to give up the regular planning time, which they consider critical to their teaching process. They need a way to plan, communicate, and share resources over time and distance.
Planning thematic units takes time. Harris and Miller use the Internet for researching ideas, activities, standards, references, and primary sources, helping them build a coherent and powerful curriculum. The brain is a pattern-making organism, but does not develop patterns in a logical, sequential manner. Students need to connect new information to existing understanding to help embed those patterns.
To select a theme, Harris and Miller look at the national standards for both content areas. They know that significant algebra and geometry experiences are key in eighth-grade math, and that science calls for students to use inquiry and testing.
They decided that a theme for their students could focus on questioning, testing, validating, and proving phenomena from the natural world. They arrived at a thematic idea to anchor learning across their entire year. They called it, "How Do You Know?"
The teachers reviewed a number of online environments to select one they would both use to gather and organize their material. Their criteria included browser and platform independence, because one teacher had a Macintosh and one a PC. Also, each shared her family and school computers with others, so it could not interfere with others' use. And the site had to be easy, free, stable, and safe.
The Web site they chose, called Furl, has more features than they expected. Furl (F 'ile' + URL = FURL) allows the user to create an "archive" of any collection of Web pages. Users can define their categories before they begin, modifying and adding as they gather resources. Descriptive text and search terms can be added, making retrieval and use easier and more organized.
Harris and Miller registered for one "team" Furl account. They had already listed the content standards for their unit, which would form the main categories of their account. Then, they added a few more to help guide their searches. They added:
They divided the task of searching for, selecting, and saving the Web sites right into their Furl account archive. Each would save to the team account, using the categories they had created. They agreed to rate, explain, and comment on each resource, increasing understanding and adding focus.
Their goal of using technology to help students meet standards was now to be tested. They still had to pull the pieces together, and create a curriculum from the resources, but they were much better prepared to help their students meet standards.
Harris's and Miller's lack of meeting time was mediated by the time they spent online communicating through Furl and Instant Messaging (IM), which they used to chat briefly about an idea or concern. They looked forward to re-using many of the sites for planning, and hoped to involve other teachers in their team the following year.