Making Curriculum Pop

So I've had AIM (known to us 80's babies as AOL Instant Messenger, though the youngins know nothing of this) since 1994, and have had the same screenname since then. My students think this is hilarious, because they change screennames every 10 minutes. Last year, as I was trying to find ways to individually meet with each student in a grade conference in ELA, I realized that time was against me. There were not enough hours in a day (or even three!) to meet with 120 students, so I gave them my AIM screenname, and told them to connect with me online if they wanted to chat about their grades one weekend. I had no idea what would become of this innocent gesture:

Above: sample ichat AIM screen (note: 5 out

of 10 LPS Detroit participants are online!)

From there, I began holding regular office hours on AIM, to help students with questions on homework, understand what assignments they were missing, and to assist them as they were working on drafting or revising essays. I was even able to communicate with students on days when I was out of work and there was a substitute present in my classroom, to be sure that students understood the assignment, even in my absence (see below).

After intially giving out my AIM for grade conferences and homework help, I also realized that it had many other values, too. AIM was an excellent way to brainstorm and coordinate; I planned the bulk of the Detroit trip that I took with my Live Poets Society crew last summer in conversations on AIM with my students. We met once a week, but spoke 3-4 nights a week to plan fundraisers, arrange packing lists and communicate the itinerary - with minute to minute updates. Each student was part of the process of the trip -- from planning our soundtrack in the van, to coming up with games to play in the car and documenting the journey in video/photos.

Above: Convo with LPS Prez Mark, while planning

details of the Detroit itinerary, April 2009.

But there were more ways to use this tool. Today, it's become an ideal way to remind students if they have permission slips or assignments due and communicate with multiple students at the same time (through away messages, im blasts, and AIM-trees - where students tell each other a message when they see each other online). I let the Live Poets know about mandatory meetings, events, fundraisers, changes of plans, and most of them receive the info directly on their sidekicks, so it's often (though not always) realtime communication.

Above: an away message sent out to students when the earthquake in Haiti
struck, to let them know how they could help our clothing/material aid drive.

It also became a way to stay in touch with my former students in Detroit, or students who had transferred or moved. Even though I no longer saw them everyday in my class, it didn't mean that I didn't think about them, worry about them, wonder how they were doing, or make myself available to them for help on their ELA work. I still receive papers and poems from former students through email and AIM all the time!

Above: Convo with Alyssa about putting her poetry

online to stay connected to her class. March 2009.

This is a work in progress, as I'm still learning about new ways to use AIM and other tools that the kids use in their everyday lives. We talk about code switching, and using different languages in school, home, street, friends, etc. I feel that when I'm at home, I need to change the language I use and speak my students' codes in order to reach them. I've found my homework return rate and overall pass rate in class to improve due to this strategy, and I feel like I know my students in a different way.

To be continued... please feel free to use this, and ask questions if you have them!


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Comment by Kathryn Gaertner on April 6, 2010 at 9:28am
Great post, Lauren. Thanks. I also use AIM to communicate with my students and have found that it allows a level of communication that middle schoolers are not always able to accomplish face to face. However, students sometimes share personal information about their lives. A few times it has allowed for valuable and necessary intervention, but at times it is just a little more than I need to know and makes me uncomfortable. Have you
experienced any of this?
Comment by Ryan Goble on April 6, 2010 at 7:08am
Lauren, great screenshots, wonderful food for thought! Keep us posted as your thoughts develop! Ryan


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