Teacher Tools that Integrate Technology: Wikis

This article was written by middle school science teacher Todd Williamson for the Integrating Technology column of Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears, an online magazine for elementary teachers. All versions of this article are licensed under a Creative Commons License.

If you’ve used a search engine like Google or Yahoo anytime in the past two years or more, you have undoubtedly run across results from Wikipedia. If you haven’t been exposed to Wikipedia, the idea may surprise you. Wikipedia is a user-created, -edited, -maintained, and -patrolled encyclopedia. Anyone can sign up for an account and add information about the topics covered in the encyclopedia. That information is then reviewed by other users, verified when possible, or marked as unverified if necessary. Wikipedia is a shining example of the collaborative power of the Internet. It is also possible to have that collaborative power in your own classroom, usually for free!

What Is A Wiki?
Wikipedia is just a large example of this month’s teacher tool: the wiki. The name comes from the Hawaiian word for “quick.” In its most simple form, a wiki is a web site that can be edited by multiple users. Wikis in Plain English, a video from Common Craft, gives a quick overview of a simple form of the wiki.

The wiki web page starts in a very simple, very blank form. It resembles a blank word processing document. Anyone with basic word processing skills can get started working on a wiki. Learning to use the “Link” button is what makes the wiki come to life. In Wikipedia, terms in each entry are linked to their corresponding Wikipedia entry. In your classroom wiki, you could have one main page that contains an outline of an intended course of study for the year, with hyperlinks to pages with information about each topic. What makes a wiki different from a static web page is the fact that you, as the teacher, will not be the only person entering information.

Wikis in the Classroom
Let’s take the course of study mentioned above as the example: Start with a single wiki page that outlines the concepts that will be covered throughout the year. Focusing a little more specifically on science, let’s say you intend to cover: weather, systems of the body, and electricity. Obviously there is a tremendous range of information that can fall under each of those categories.

As with any teaching strategy, wikis can exist as teacher-directed or student-directed exercises. On the teacher-directed end, some teachers choose to use their classroom wiki to seed their students’ learning. An example of this would be finding several web sites or videos online and linking or embedding them into the page for weather. This page can be used to give students an overview before they start the unit. The teacher controls the layout of the wiki, perhaps even locking the page for editing by others.

On the student-directed end, other teachers use the same idea, but allow their students to scour the Internet for the information. This allows students to choose what information is important to their learning.

Another idea involves using the wiki to summarize class information. For example:

After completing a section on the water cycle, Jeffery goes in the wiki and posts information about each of the stages. Jeffery happens to not be your most studious child, and he mixes up the concepts of evaporation and condensation. Allison logs on and reads the water cycle page, catches the error, and is immediately able to go in and fix the mishap. Allison also notes that there is more than one type of collection, giving details of surface runoff and percolation. Brittany, who hates to read, logs in and embeds a video from YouTube showing the stages of the water cycle.

But What If
The exchange between Jeffery, Allison and Brittany above probably sounds like the ideal. The reality is, at some point, Angel is going to log in and post some colorful explanation of a system of the human body, or delete someone’s hard work…or any number of other scary possibilities. The great thing about a wiki is that all changes are archived. As the teacher, you are capable of seeing just who made each and every change, when they worked on it, and go back to a previous version of the wiki before Angel’s little stunt.

Wikis in the K-2 Classroom
The revision and editing ideas above are perfect for students who are familiar with the computer and word processing. For the younger student, a wiki is a wonderful tool for introducing word processing. The K-2 classroom wiki will likely be more about adding information than editing. For example, in a class unit on community helpers, students could be grouped together to come up with sentences about firefighters, police officers, doctors, and other community helpers. Once all students had a sentence about a community helper, they could add that information to the wiki.

Another possibility would be to use the wiki to keep track of weekly spelling lists. The teacher could post the list and link each word to a page where students could add the definition and sentences using the word. This would be a wonderful tool to use when new students move in during the school year. Parents could review the words that the class had studied previously. This, of course, would not be limited to new students; any parents could help their child review previous learning. Though the younger students might not get to use all the aspects of the wiki, there are still plenty of possibilities for this tool.

Setting Some Ground Rules
The ground rules you set from the beginning will determine the success or failure of a wiki. They must be put in place early and adopted by all users to ensure the greatest value from the wiki. These rules can include everything from how often changes should be made, to what types of content can be uploaded, and down to the nitty-gritty aspects, like what font sizes and colors to use.

One major issue in this new digital world is copyright. Wikis provide an excellent opportunity to focus on the topic of documentation. Here the issue is not so much plagiarism as it is verification of information. Students often think citation of sources is a way for teachers to “get them” when they don’t do it correctly. With a wiki, the focus shifts to documentation as a way for users to get more information about a topic.

Another slippery slope with technology tools like a wiki is equitable access and grading. There are ways of grading a wiki that involve students making “significant contributions” to the wiki during a certain time period. The key is to make sure there is a clear definition of “significant contribution.”

Ideally, the grade for the wiki is only a small portion of the student’s overall grade. It is difficult to know for certain when Allison and Brittany come to you and say they were working together over the weekend but only Allison logged in. Your relationship with your students is important in these situations.

Yet another major point is picking a wiki service that allows you to create the usernames and passwords for your students. Some services require that students have email addresses, others do not. Wikispaces, one of the more popular wiki providers, inputs the teacher’s list of usernames and passwords so the teacher can know who logs on and when.

Getting Started
Starting a wiki is a simple process. One big decision to make at the start is who will have access to your wiki. Some wikis are public, which means they are open for all users to read and edit, like Wikipedia. Others are protected, available for everyone to read but only registered users to edit. Some wikis are kept entirely private and only registered users are able to read or edit the pages. You can start your wiki as a private wiki until “things are rolling” and then open it up for outsiders to view.

One wiki service provider, Wikispaces, offers free/inexpensive ways for educators to start their own wikis (http://www.wikispaces.com/content/wiki).

The site walks you through the basic process. First you must create a username and password. This username allows you to access your wiki, as well as any others to which you may decide to subscribe.

Next, you will be asked some questions about your wiki. Create a space name which will become the URL for your wiki. Decide about the visibility of your wiki – public, protected, or private. Certify that you will use the Wiki for educational purposes and you’re on your way. Wikispaces provides a tutorial to get you started once you’ve registered.

The last thing you need to get your wiki rolling is usernames and passwords for your students. Wikispaces makes this easy. Rather than having the students sign up for Wikispaces accounts, you are able to control their usernames and passwords. All you have to do is create a comma separated document with your students’ names, usernames, and passwords. For example: Allison Smartypants, asmartypants, wiki*01

Students may figure out that they can later change their usernames, but remind them that as you track changes to the wiki, you only know the usernames you set up. This can be played up as necessary to prevent changes, since you can’t give BabyGurl1229 a grade because you don’t know which student she is!

A Powerful Tool
Wikis really are one of the most powerful tools of Web 2.0. The implications for education are immense. We are teaching students who have grown up in a digital world and need to see the relevance of the topics we are covering. Wikis provide a way to make classroom content relevant as well as technology content. Students will be allowed to take part in a collaborative experience that will be useful in their later job experiences. Remember, however, since creating the wiki is a collaborative process, the ideal is that no one person has too much control over the finished product. Not even you as the teacher!

Useful Links

Two wiki service providers:



For more information about wikis and wiki service providers:

A website that compares different wiki providers. You input features you are interested in, and it lists available sites.

A wiki about wikis created for the North Carolina Middle School Association Conference in March 2008. Includes links to examples of classroom wikis and other resources.

Teachers First Wiki-Walkthrough
An overview of the use of wikis in all content areas.


We Want Your Feedback
We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org. Post updated 1/3/2012.

Teacher Tools That Integrate Technology: Educational Blogging (Middle School Version)

This article first appeared in Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears online magazine August 1, 2008. The article has been modified to include middle school math and science examples. All versions of this article are licensed under a Creative Commons License.


Over the last few years, blogs have evolved into an exciting web-based publishing tool for individuals who want to communicate opinions and ideas, participate in online communities, or share their knowledge and experiences. As of February 2008, the blog search engine Technorati was tracking more than 112 million blogs, which is probably just scratching the surface. Thanks to free blogging software, anyone can “blog” and obviously does!

What is a Blog?

A blog (combining the words web and log) is a web page on which the owner can publish, or log, many entries. The entries are displayed as they are added and can look like journal or diary entries. Authoring a blog, maintaining a blog or adding an article to an existing blog is called “blogging.” Individual articles on a blog are called “blog posts,” “posts” or “entries.” A person who posts these entries is called a “blogger.” Posts consist of text, hypertext, images, and links to other web pages and to video, audio and other files. The most popular blogs (the ones that have the most viewers and links from other web pages) cover politics, gadgets, and entertainment.

Why Do Teachers Blog?

Unfortunately, not many of the most popular blogs are educational, but blogs do have many uses in education, including knowledge-sharing among teachers, students, and parents. Teachers will often start a blog to communicate with students and parents. This can be just the posting of homework or other assignments in one easy-to-find location. Other times a blog can be a rich description of the things taking place in the classroom, drawing the parents into what their children are working on or helping a student who is absent.

Teachers can take advantage of the comment feature of blogs, allowing students and parents to ask questions or for clarification of a post. Teachers can also use a blog to post questions about current subject matter as a way to introduce students to responding in writing and contributing collaboratively in online discussions. For instance, a teacher might pose thought-provoking questions about a book the class is reading and ask students to respond through the comments feature with their ideas. Teachers can blog for other teachers, in their school or around the world, about teaching experiences, philosophies, and methodologies.

Getting Your Students Blogging

Not all students will take to blogging (just as not all students enjoy writing), but with some students blogging creates enthusiasm for writing and communicating their ideas. Blogging can give students experience in real-world digital knowledge management, working with groups, and information sharing.

Consider providing older students with an individual blog. Younger students could take turns posting to a class blog. Whether done through software programs that allow teacher control and filtering of posts and comments, or through publicly available Internet services with oversight, blogs give students an opportunity to discover the work and joy of communicating their ideas in written form, and then getting feedback from others. Blogs don’t have to be accessible to the public; feedback can be confined to classmates or other approved individuals. With older students, the feedback can come from the wider audience of the World Wide Web. Student blogging has to be overseen with coaching and training to make sure that personal information is not shared and that blog posts are appropriate.

Home Delivery

Instead of going to a blog site every day to see if new posts have been added, readers can subscribe to services, commonly called news feeds or web feeds, that deliver the latest content to their desktop, PDA, or cell phone. RSS is a subset of the XML programming language that supports the distribution of content over the World Wide Web. Feedburner is a subscription service that delivers the actual content of the post to your email inbox. Not all blogs support these services but most do.

Getting Started

Starting a blog is easier than you think. Here are five steps** to consider when starting out.

1. Choose a Free Blog Service

First, check with your school’s technology center, which might provide a blogging service or have specific recommendations. The following free services have typical RSS features and much more.

ePals offers a free blog tool, called Schoolblog, to schools worldwide. Teachers can set different levels of monitoring, even for individual students. Teachers and students can make pages public, or limit blog views to particular audiences, including workgroups within a class. Students can upload files or photos, create polls, and use a calendar. The technology received an award for excellence from Teaching & Learning Magazine in 2006. With free student email from ePals, teachers can connect students to classrooms in 200 other countries and territories.

Edublogs is built on WordPress technology, which means bloggers can also create static pages, manage comments, password protect individual posts, and create multitiered and complex web sites without ever needing to know html. The system is ready-made for podcasting, videos, and photos. There are excellent video tutorials. By the way, this blog is based on WordPress.

Blogger is the easiest of the three to use, but it is designed for the general public, not just for K-12 educators. There is always the possibility for students to go to web sites they shouldn’t visit, so we do not recommend using this service for student blogs. Blogger allows simple customizations and interacts with Google mail accounts. You can hide the top navigation bar so unsuitable content is harder to find. You can also set up comment moderation so that comments come to your email before they are published.

Edublogs and Blogger allow you to choose RSS feeds as you set up your blog. To add the free Feedburner subscription service go to the home page and click on Blogs and Get Started. Feedburner supports Blogger and WordPress blogs – Edublog has a WordPress backend so click on WordPress if you are using Edublog.

2. Pick Your Audience

Is your blog directed to students, parents, other educators, or your family? Stay true to your audience.

3. Stay Focused

Precise, coherent, newsy, and insightful blogs on a specific topic attract readers. If you are focused on a single topic, search engines are more successful in helping direct users from around the world to your blog.

4. Include a Variety of Media

Mixing your text with images, multimedia, and presentations in your posts can be very compelling. There are many places to find images that can be published without special permission or fees. Be sure to follow the rights information found with the image you want to use. One caveat – make sure to follow your school’s policy on using student pictures or work on public web sites.

YouTube and TeacherTube are two sources of videos you can share with your audience. Slideshare allows you to upload your own PowerPoint presentations and link to hundreds of PowerPoint presentations.

Image Databases:

Creative Commons allows you to search multiple collections. A Creative Commons license means that images are available for re-use, provided that certain conditions are met.

Flickr is a site that allows users worldwide to upload and share pictures. To find images that are free for use, use the “advanced search” option and search for images licensed under a Creative Commons license.

National Science Foundation Multimedia Gallery includes images, audio, and video from NSF-funded research. Permission to use images and clips can be requested by contacting the webmaster.

All digital images on the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) web site are in the public domain and available for use.

The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Online Catalog is a diverse, searchable collection. You can also search particular collections of interest.

5. Post Often With Meaningful Content

Keep on readers’ radars. Don’t blog about anything you don’t want your daughter, your principal, or school superintendent to know. Set a good example for your students.

One thing to keep in mind before you decide to start blogging: some personal information makes the blog more credible but address and phone number aren’t required. Once you are a pro at blogging, you might want to check out widgetbox, where you can choose from a gallery of photos, games, animations, functions and more to enhance your blog. Happy Blogging!

**The five steps were modified from the print article “Blog design and writing tips for newbies,” written by Nora Carr. The article appeared in the May 2008 edition of eSchool News.


Need examples or more information? Here are some blogs and posts to get you started!

Background Information Posts

Rationale for Educational Blogging

Blogging for Teachers and Students, Made Easy

Using Blogs in Science Education

Education Blogs

ScienceGeekGirl: Bad Science

Blogs for Learning

MiddleWeb: Middle School Blogs

National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) SciLinks: Middle School Blog

Links to School Bloggers

Thoughtful Blog Posts

Learning to Blog: The Elementary Way

Middle School, Day By Day From a Teacher’s Point of View

Almost Monday: Wildwood’s Weekly Staff News

We Want Your Feedback
We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org. Post updated 11/21/2011.

Teacher Tools That Integrate Technology: Publishing on the Web (Middle School Version)

This article first appeared in Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears online magazine June 1, 2008. The article has been modified to include middle school math and science examples. All versions of this article are licensed under a Creative Commons License.


Have you ever wondered how you could get your own web site on the Internet, how much it would cost, or what technology skills you would need? Have you ever wanted to put one of your lessons on the web so that students could access it whenever they needed to? Have you wanted to share some of your favorite online resources with your students and their families? What about videotaping the directions for a class project and having the video available 24/7 so that your students and their families could watch it whenever they liked?

There are hundreds of free web-hosting sites; in addition, most email providers give customers access to a personal web page as part of the regular service. However, the “charge” for most free web-hosting sites is that the host gets to advertise on the page. Storage and download amounts can also be an issue. Once you’ve found a free or paid web host, there may be many things that you need to know and be able to do before you can publish your content to the web.

Three hosting sites specifically designed for educational audiences allow you to publish to the web for free in a relatively painless way – Instructional Architect (IA), Filamentality, and TeacherTube. Both IA and Filamentality provide template-driven interfaces for designing and publishing web pages. Filamentality has templates for five formats – Hotlist, Treasure Hunt, Sampler, Scrapbook, and WebQuest. IA allows you to build folders similar to Favorites in Internet Explorer and then organize those links, adding introductions, questions, and instructions for students. With TeacherTube you can upload videos and attach support files, which can include lessons and activities, assessments, and video notes.

IA was developed at Utah State University in 2002 with funding from the National Science Foundation. IA enables teachers to design lesson plans, study aids, and homework assignments using online learning resources from the National Science Digital Library as well as other web sites. IA is intended to increase the utility of online learning resources by allowing teachers to make these existing materials relevant to their students and school setting. With the template interface, you choose the background color and graphic icon and, in a text box, add content linking to resources assembled in folders. The resulting web page can be either publicly viewed or password protected so that only your students can view it.

IA was developed for teachers to use with their students, but students can also use it to create projects. Step-by-step directions for developing lessons are available. An IA Project Showcase provides access to recently published pages. You can browse and search IA lessons using author, grade level, and subject.

Project Examples
Polar Geography
Science Careers

Filamentality, funded by AT&T, is a fill-in-the-blank tool that guides you through picking a topic, searching the web, gathering sites, and turning web resources into appropriate activities for your students. The goal of Filamentality is to make web-based learning more effective and efficient than wandering around on the Internet looking for “good stuff” and hoping for positive outcomes. Filamentality users can build five different kinds of web-based learning pages:

Hotlists: This format allows you to assemble collections of resources found on the web.
Scrapbooks: In this format, students dig through the collection of Hotlist resources and make a digital “scrapbook” on a topic. Students could be asked to organize the collection into a newsletter, presentation, collage, bulletin board, HyperStudio stack, or web page.
Treasure Hunts: The basic strategy is to find web pages that hold information that you feel is essential to understanding a topic. After you’ve gathered these links, you are then prompted by the Filamentality template to pose one key question for each web resource to which you’ve linked.
Subject Samplers: You can present a small number of web sites organized around a main topic. What makes this a particularly effective way to engage students is you’ve chosen web sites that offer something interesting to do, read, or see. Students are asked to respond to the web-based activities from a personal perspective.
WebQuests: Students are presented with a task, scenario, or problem to solve. All students begin by learning some common background knowledge, then they divide into groups. The students have a particular role, task, or perspective to master. They become experts on one aspect of a topic. When the roles come together, students must synthesize their learning by completing a summarizing act, such as emailing congressional representatives or presenting their interpretation to experts on the topic.

Hotlist Examples
Wild William’s Weather Hotlist
Algebra Made Easy: Internet Hotlist on Algebra
Scrapbook Examples
A Scrapbook on Weather and Temperature
A Scrapbook on Fractions
Subject Sampler Examples
Weather Sampler
Geometry Scavenger Hunt Sampler
Treasure Hunt Examples
On the Hunt for Weather
Journey to the Algebra Mines
WebQuest Examples
Weather WebQuest
Fractions WebQuest

TeacherTube officially launched on March 6, 2007, with the goal of providing an online community for sharing instructional videos in an educationally focused, safe venue for teachers, schools, and home learners. The developers of TeacherTube wanted to provide anytime, anywhere professional development with teachers teaching teachers as well as a site where teachers can post videos designed for their students to view. Today the site has evolved to a place where students can upload videos they’ve made as part of school projects.

Users of TeacherTube, called community members, can:

Upload, tag and share videos
Upload support files such as activities, assessments, lesson plans, and video notes
Browse hundreds of videos uploaded by community members
Find, join and create video groups to connect with people who have similar interests
Customize the experience by subscribing to member videos, saving favorites, and creating playlists
Integrate TeacherTube videos on web sites using video embeds or APIs
Make videos public or private. Users can elect to broadcast their videos publicly or share them privately with those they invite

TeacherTube community members are encouraged to make constructive comments and use the rating system to show appreciation for videos of value to educators or learners. Users also have the ability to flag inappropriate videos. TeacherTube staff review flagged sites and will remove inappropriate posts. Users are urged to check their school’s policy before including students in videos. Copyright tips provide an overview of the copyright laws.

Video Examples
Mr. Duey Raps the Fractions
Abbott and Costello Maths Problem
USB Flash or Jump Drives to Share Drives Between Computers

Copyright June 2008 – The Ohio State University. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0733024. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

We Want Your Feedback
We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org. Post updated 11/29/2011.

Word Problems

Problem solving, one of the NCTM Process Standards, is critical to learning mathematics. Students may feel confident with computation, measurement, and statistics, but they can feel completely lost when asked to apply those skills to a word problem. How to start? What to do next? This page offers an introduction to problem-solving strategies, followed by a treasure trove of word problems at the middle school level.

Figure This! Math Challenges for Families
Created for students in grades 6 to 8, the site offers math challenges that focus on everyday life, such as how fast your heart beats, what shape container holds the most popcorn, and how much of you shows in a small wall mirror.

Word Problems for Kids
A wide range of carefully selected problems! Organized by grade level from 5 through 12, each problem links to a helpful hint and to the answer; the more difficult problems offer complete solutions.

Problems with a Point
Here you can search for word problems by topic, lesson time, required mathematical background, and problem-solving strategy. Take the time to do the short guided tours of the site, and then look at favorite problems selected by teachers—a great set of problems at the middle school level.

We Want Your Feedback
We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org. Post updated 10/25/2011.

NSES: More Than Just Content Standards!

The National Science Education Standards is more than a document for reference when state or local content standards are written or revised. The book, available online and in print, contains a wealth of supporting information for you and other educators in addition to the K-12 standards for science education content.

Professional Development Standards
If you are involved in planning in-service, you will find criteria here for professional development that implements the national standards.

Assessment Standards
The assessment standards provide criteria for judging the quality of practices employed by teachers and by district, state, and federal agencies. The chapter closes with two sample assessment tasks.

Example: The Insect and the Spider
Throughout the content standards are links to detailed examples of lessons that implement teaching, assessment, and program standards. This is an example for grades 5-8.

Science Content Standards
The content standards are grouped by grades K-4, 5-8, and 9-12 with the aim of a seamless science program. The standards outline what students should know, understand, and be able to do.

Science Education Program Standards
Putting it all together, this chapter provides criteria for the quality of and conditions for science programs. Teachers, department chairs, curriculum directors, administrators, and school committees, all those who must translate the standards into programs, will find guidance here.

Table of Contents
Browsing the Contents will give you an idea of the depth and breadth of the Standards. In a position statement, the National Association of Science Teachers says, “It is incumbent upon classroom teachers to become as knowledgeable as possible about the Standards and then, in turn, assist in the dissemination of the vision to colleagues, administrators, parents, community leaders, and policy makers.”

We Need Your Help

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Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We want your feedback on all of the NSDL Middle School PortalNSDL Annotation publications. Email us at msp@msteacher.org.