Wordle is not only a fun site to use, it also can be an illuminating tool for learning in different contexts. Tag clouds are commonly used on social bookmarking websites like delicious.com and photo sharing sites like Flickr, but with Wordle anyone can create a “word cloud” about anything. According to the Wordle homepage:
Wordle is a toy for generating “word clouds” from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. You can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes. The images you create with Wordle are yours to use however you like. You can print them out, or save them to the Wordle gallery to share with your friends.
Note the third word in the predicate of this definition: “toy.” Use of this noun connotes an appropriate and intended purpose for many web 2.0 tools and websites which we as educators should heed more often: Play!
Before turning your students loose on the Wordle website, however, note the following warning and disclaimer from the site’s creator:
Wordle, as it stands, is inappropriate for classroom use. This is because I do not censor the content that appears on Wordle (I couldn’t possibly; there are thousands a week), and, therefore, it’s possible to find images in the public gallery that are entirely unsuitable for younger users. I regret this, and hope to address it some day, but that’s how it is for now.
Two weeks ago I was in Mid-Del Public Schools for our Celebrate Oklahoma Voices partner’s workshop, and saw this great wordle poster describing priorities for the Mid-Del instructional technology department. This is on display in one of the district’s technology training labs equipped with dual-booting new 20″ iMacs:
I used Wordle.net to create two word clouds this evening, one for my own delicious social bookmarks:
…and another for my last 30 blog posts, which are included in my feedburner blog feed:
Until seeing this Wordle cloud, I didn’t realize just how much I’m writing about and referencing Oklahoma these days! 🙂
Wordle is a great example of a web 2.0 visual tool which should be of interest to large numbers of teachers in multiple contexts. Wordle can not only be used to explore, it also can disclose patterns and help communicate ideas visually in powerful ways which can be much more difficult or time consuming when we constrain ourselves to only traditional, text-based tools.
I took my son to Home Depot today so we could purchase some small pieces of plywood for him to use in making a hornbook next week in his 5th grade social studies class. According to the current English WikiPedia article for “hornbook:”
A hornbook is a book that serves as primer for study. The hornbook originated in England in 1450. The term has been applied to a few different study materials in different fields. In children’s education, in the years before modern education materials were used, it referred to a leaf or page containing the alphabet, religious materials, etc., covered with a sheet of transparent horn and fixed in a frame with a handle. In United States Law, a hornbook is a text that gives an overview of a particular area of law.
According to the worksheet Alexander brought home for school showing the dimensions of the plywood he needs to make a hornbook, hornbooks were “the first books used in the New England colonies.”
It is mind boggling to consider the differences in power and potential represented by a hornbook on the one hand, and my son’s laptop computer connected to the Internet on the other. Will he be introduced to the power and possibilities of analyzing digital texts at school this year using Wordle? I doubt it. None-the-less, he SHOULD (with supervision) be introduced to this powerful tool, and so should all the teachers in our classrooms.
Could a tool like Wordle and a digital writing environment like a moderated blog be at all relevant as my son seeks to develop his own writing skills in advance of our state’s 5th grade writing test this coming spring, and as he develops skills as a literate communicator and citizen? Most definitely. What are the comparative potential benefits, from a literacy standpoint, of my son creating a hornbook or being encouraged to write and analyze his own writings using a blog and Wordle? Probably pretty stark.
Authentic learning is so much more than simply “filling a pail.” Real learning is about exploration, discovery, play, and surprise. When is the last time you were surprised in your own journey of learning? With tools like Wordle at our fingertips, opportunities for surprises abound. If you haven’t already, give Wordle a spin and then make it a point to share Wordle with someone else at school or work next week.
What have you learned or discovered with Wordle lately?
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- UNT Socialists Protest Upcoming Speech by former President Bush - 2010
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- RockMelt: A Chrome-based Browser for the Facebook Generation - 2010
- Riding the Shanghai Maglev at 267 miles per hour (431 km/hr) - 2009
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