Nong essentially networks together various social tools all within the confines of my classroom. I saw it at last years PIE Conference and decided to order it for the Pencil Lab. Our Pencil Teacher was angry at first, worried that I would load Nong onto all of the desk tops. I explained to him that Nong was designed to be portable and kids would bring their supplies into the lab instead. Incidentally, I find it strange that we use the term lab, which has a connotation of exploration and critical thinking, to describe a place where desks are in rows.
When I explained the concept to the class, a student said, "I'm Nong Wong, guys." They all did this squinty eye motion with their hands. Nice to know xenophobia and racism are the default humor for sixth graders in the Guilded Age. So much for progress.
The activity began well. It was essentially like the Pen Pal networks with a few extra features. At first I had to redirect students who felt the need to decorate their space with all the colored pencils. Paul the Pre-Industrial Poet asked me if that was actually a valuable learning experience.
"Perhaps in a world as black and white as slate and chalk, this is precisely what students need. Employers need creative thinkers."
Maybe Paul is right, but I doubt that employers are looking for workers who use Seymour Butts or wear name tags with bright pink letters and daisies. I reminded them that they were not writing pen pals, but learning about the Civil War.
After awhile, they caught on. A group in one corner joined a discussion zone, where they wrote their debate answers on threaded sentence strips. Note to self: remind students in the future that a discussion thread is not the place to use short-hand language. Another area involved a group writing plogs (I developed the name. It's short for pencil logs. Very clever I am) and then writing their comments in the margin. Who knew that something like a journal could become so social?
Students even began searching the free encyclopedias to defend their answers. Admittedly, I had to tell a few students that it was illegal to simply bust out scissors and cut and paste parts of the encyclopedia into their plog posts. Still, they figured it out quickly.
Teachers warned me that students might pass notes. While this was the case, I was surprised that most notes pertained to the assignment. Besides, it's not like the students stay one-hundred percent on task when doing group slate board excercises.
On some level, I felt a sense of loss, wondering if a pencil integrated format would mean I lose my role and my power and my status in the class. However, I quickly realized that I now had time to interact one on one with students, join group discussions and write my own comments on the margins of their plogs.
The next day was a nightmare. Apparently the Nong Network uses advertisements. The anti-industrial Populist in me cringes that a child's mind is being sold to marketing firms. Yet, I also see the value in learning tools. It's tricky. I tell myself it's okay to have a few ads, because there are advertisements all over the city. Yet, I would be angry at product placement in the curriculum. Could you imagine an ad with Chester Arthur selling hair care products for those massive mutton chops?
Apparently, the real issue was the content of the ads. A parent from the Temperance Movement believed her child would now become a full-scale alcoholic because of a beer ad. I'm meeting with her after school today.