Tag Archives: Class Blog

Update on Using Blogs in the Classroom

I originally posted about my desires and plans to use blogging in the classroom in my post: “Blogging in the Classroom.” I felt that this was important for my students for several reasons – the rise of blogging in college classrooms really put me over the edge. So many of my former students and colleagues (that had returned for first or additional graduate degrees) were telling me that online assignments and class blogs were becoming the norm in 21st century education. They told me that the greatest challenge for them was simply learning how to use the tools – the less exposure to computers and online tools, the steeper the curve. And of course, as many of us who have been through the college experience, know – it is a rare College Professor that will hand-hold you through the learning process, or even patiently walk you through the process. They expect you to already know it (as part of your own college preparation) or expect you to learn on your own.

I started with a simple blogging assignment that I highlighted in “First Week Using Class Blogs” and followed up on “Update on Blogging in the Class.” I teach three different levels of classes – 9th grade, 11th grade, and 12th grade. So I have geared various assignments for those skill levels. It’s been a learning process along the way and overall, I’m happy with the new addition and think that I will continue with it in the future. Out of all of my classes, I’ve found that my 9th graders have been the most excited and readily adapted to this new medium. My older students have largely been more hesitant – I’m struggling with grabbing their interest. I know that if I could get a Facebook page going, we’d be all there. 😉

With my 9th grade class, we have a weekly assignment called “Current Events in History.” They have to go out weekly and find a “historical news story.” It can be about a new book coming out, an archaeological find, the destruction of a monument in war, etc. They must prepare an oral presentation (with a PowerPoint slide) and do a summary write up for the class blog. Also, they choose the topic on a ‘first come first serve’ – that means they have to check the blog before they post to ensure that they don’t repeat a classmate’s story. Their blog post has to be at least 100 words and include the source. They seem to have really taken to this. What I have seen is that they are better at collaborating (they will tell me before I get a chance if a classmate has ‘taken’ their story), becoming better public speakers (they have 2-5 minutes of practice every week), are better ‘casual’ writers (although sometimes I have to remind them), and are becoming more adept at finding reliable resources. They can also get up to 10 points of extra credit on the assignment for commenting on a classmate’s work – still not getting a lot of collaboration there.

Here is a great example of some of their recent work:

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Update on Using Class Blogs

Last week, I missed a few days of class as the killer strep throat I had contracted was virulent and spread – becoming walking pneumonia. As such, I gave my students a blog assignment to do ‘in class’ on the French and Indian War. I planned for the assignment to take all of class time (anything not completed to be finished at home). The assignment was as follows:

  • How did the French and the English use Native Americans as “weapons” during the French and Indian War. Answer should be in full sentences, using specific examples, a minimum of 100 words, a minimum of two sources cited (MLA format).

I was quite surprised at the work they turned in, well thought out and reasoned responses and included their citations. I also offered them extra credit for commenting on their classmates’ work, but did not get any takers. This is my US History class (Juniors and Seniors) who are more reluctant to use technology. I’m including a couple of examples here. There are a couple of typos, but overall solid work for a one day assignment for a homework grade.

First Week Using Class Blogs

This year, I have instituted a mass experiment of blogging in the classroom. I introduced this in an earlier post: “Blogging in the Classroom.” Instead of the students handing in answers to various questions, I asked that they post their answers on the class blog. Next, I offered them the potential for extra credit – they could get a few bonus points if they read and responded meaningfully to a classmate’s blog post.

I have set up a class blog in all five of my classes: three ninth grade history courses on Ancient History, one US History (11/12th grade), and an AP Art History (11/12th grade). They all have a little bit of a different focus. For example, for AP Art History, it’s more of a tool/resource for the kids to have moderated discussions on topics that interest them. My freshmen have a more formal environment with specific assignments. My Juniors/Seniors in US History fall somewhere in between.

This is the first time that I have instituted this process and I’m fully expecting some bumps and draw-backs along the way (and have already experienced a few). I also have some amazing colleagues that have agreed to become members of the blog to provide their own thoughts and reflections on the process- sharing their insight (much thanks Gail, Karen, and Paul).

Last week, we all sat down in the computer lab and dealt with the technical difficulties, addressed confusions (that some students had), and let them do their assignments hands-on. First period, the students got the information very quickly – they became excited, I heard and saw them help one another, and most of them finished their homework assignment in class. When I walked into my third class of the day (the one right before lunch), I found only three students in the classroom. We walked over to the lab to find all of the other kiddos sitting at the computers waiting, they said “We heard from the other classes that we were in here and doing something really cool!” For the second day in a row, I had students who, when the lunch-bell rang, had not yet packed up their books or notebooks and weren’t eager to leave to ‘beat the lunch-line.’ It was a great experience! I’m attaching a copy here (names blocked out) of an example of one student’s post to the questions as well as a classmate’s response:

Now, just so I am not accused of being too polly-anna-ish, it wasn’t all fun and games and amazing buy-in. I certainly had students who thought that blogging was ‘stupid’ or wanted to submit their work hand-written. Some were readily distracted by easy access to sports scores or the recent unblocking of Facebook and Twitter. There were certainly some bumps and some ways that I will make changes as I go forward. However, as a first time out, I was pretty happy with the results.

Blogging in the Classroom

I’ve been toying for a while (a few years now) with the idea of having my students blog. There are plusses and minuses to this idea (some unique to me and others common to all educators). I’d be interested in other peoples’ considerations and thoughts.

So, why do I want my students blogging? I like the idea of collective thoughts and ideas in a single place that the class and I can access. I feel like blogging can replace homework assignments that I currently have, the traditional “answer this question or write a reflection on this idea and turn it in.” Not only is it wasteful in terms of paper, but (due to my peripatetic nature being sans classroom), it lends to more frequent “lost” assignments (I’ll put it in quotes as this is an easy claim to lob at me) and allows for very little reflection or consensus. And having them email or dropbox them to me doesn’t really solve the issue as, well, have you had 90 kids emailing you their assignments (all entitled “homework”) over a series of a few days? Trust me, it’s a nightmare – especially when you don’t have ready access to a printer.

What I would like to do is provide them a safe space where they can write up their thoughts, synopses, answers to critical questions and then respond to the work of their classmates. I feel that not only would this give them the traditional reading/writing/analysis exercise, but also give them a ‘safe’ place to learn to read and constructively critique their classmates’ work (a much needed lesson in Digital Citizenship).

So, a few potential problems, hiccups, and issues that I see for me – many educators have other speed bumps.

  • No classroom sets of computers. I’m a floating teacher and most of my rooms do not have a classroom set of computers. Out of five classrooms that I had last year, only one had a true class set.
  • Heavy filtering. My school has a heavy filtering system. I’m sure that our amazing technology administrator would be willing to work with me, but this would require a lot of work on both our ends.
  • Addressing parent concerns about their child being online. I was surprised last year that I had a few students who were not permitted online in their homes without a parent present. While I understand the parents’ motivation, this can be a problem for homework.
  • Students can only do this exercise from a stable location (home or school). A lot of our students participate in sports or extra-curriculars and (during their sports season for example) are not at home until 9 or 10pm. Homework is usually done on the go – on the bus to/from a game, in a hallway waiting for an activity to begin, and so on.
  • Student “buy in.” Believe it or not, teenagers are not always as excited about their education as I am. I find it shocking that they are not as interested in History or ancient peoples as me – I mean, it can’t mean that I’m a nerd can it? Surely not… Students don’t always ‘buy in’ (at least initially) to what we are trying to convey to them and don’t always respond to a rational argument. Shenanigans. Think of all the times you called your Biology teacher’s homework “stupid” or questioned how you would use your grasp of analogies in the real world?

So, I’ve identified a few of the potential problems and now I have plans on how to tackle them:

  • Because of the limited classroom time, most blogging activity would have to be limited to homework time. Other classroom activities, computer lab time would have to be booked well in advance. This will require a lot more planning on my part.
  • Meeting with the tech administrators and outline my exact needs.
  • Educating parents about what their children will be doing online and how their privacy will be protected (e.g. blogs set to ‘private’)
  • Limiting blogging to a regular, weekly activity that students can plan in advance – e.g. every Wednesday your blog entries on ‘xxx’ topic will be due and three meaningful responses to your classmates’ work due every Friday.
  • In terms of student ‘buy in,’ all I can do I think is explain to them what we’re doing and why and show them the products of their work. I think I need to accept that this won’t be an overnight thing.

Tools – what are the best blogging tools (hosting and writing) for students? I’ve been examining this quite a bit. Key features: multiple authorship, privacy settings, and ease-of-use.

WordPress – Clearly I like WordPress (as I host my blog here). I like that it has an iOS and Android application (even though they’re not the best). Also, the UI is excellent. Also, I can have 35 users per blog for free ($29.97 a year after that). If I set up one class per blog, this is more than enough. If I want some cross-class platform, then I can talk to my administration about the $30/year. Heck, we would spend more money printing their homework. I can also set blogs to private.

EduBlogs – I’ve played around with EduBlogs but am not the biggest fan of their UI. Still, the fact that they are entirely devoted to an educational platform helps in terms of weeding out potentially problematic blogs (considered graphic, adult, etc). They also have extensive privacy features and do not require email addresses to create a blog (key for those teachers who have students under 13). However, you do not have the management features that you find in WordPress unless you have the paid features. To see an outline of the features and cost, click here.

Blogger – As blogger is tied in with Google, there are a lot of benefits and draw-backs here. One it is tied in with your Google account. This can be an issue with privacy. However, it can also be immensely convenient in terms of tie-in with your Google Reader, YouTube account, etc. Blogger also has free Team Blogging, highly conducive to a class blog feature. Also, you can set your blog to private.

So, these are my thoughts right now in a nutshell. Still toying with it and may not implement it – or may do it with one class as an experiment…. I think that there is a lot you can do with it but there are a lot of obstacles to overcome. Right now, it’s still an idea and a toy…

Added on: Here is another great post about How to Organize a Class Blog (to help manage the logistics).