I have always believed that the internet is one of the most powerful tools available for education today. You know when I first figured this out? When my sister was in high school and I watched her argue with her friends on livejournal over the stupidest crap in the world. She and her friends said things online that they'd probably never say in person (okay, most of them wouldn't). This may sound like a crazy line of logic, but stay with me.
Teens will say things online that they will never say in person. They will argue. They will take a stand. Students who will not ever say ANYTHING in class are actually rather likely to type out long thoughtful responses... and be bold enough to disagree with a classmate and offer support for their argument. When you are teaching a class where learning to argue is key and using persuasive evidence is an essential standard, this is a wonderful thing.
When I was student teaching, we discussed The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in a Google group. It was simple but had the intended results, at least minimally. My very first year teaching full-time, I started a Ning, and students began discussing online. Over the past 3 years, I have used it for online discussions during breaks for students, with powerful results. This year, for the first time ever, I have begun to use it to extend discussions and readings that accompany our in class curriculum. Oh my has it been powerful. I can hardly begin to summarize how impressive their thoughts have been. But I will give you this anecdote:
This week, they read a chapter from Reading Lolita in Tehran where Azar Nafisi's students debate whether or not they should continue to study F.Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, because of its questionable content. I asked (among other questions), "Why do you think the students who oppose studying The Great Gatsby feel so passionately that it should be banned?"
One student's response included,
"As children, they grew up with a picture in their heads of how the world should be and what is right and what is wrong, according to the family's [Muslim] beliefs. Then, in reading [The Great Gatsby] they feel as though they are told that their beliefs are wrong. That makes the students feel dishonored. Being told they are wrong is like being told their parents and religion are all wrong to believe certain things, so it is not surprising that they would passionately oppose it."
I am just so impressed with them and so excited that it is only August. This is going to be an amazing year!
In other news, I can now proudly say that I have actually been the subject of an intervention. Hahahahahahaha. My parents sat solemnly in my living room yesterday and oh-so-calmly tried to convince me to delay my Masters for at least another couple of years. After much explaining, I think they have come to understand the many, many, many things I have changed in my life this year to accommodate this program, and how much it means to me. But the whole experience was really rather touching. Too bad "Be the subject of an intervention" was not on my buried list.