Monthly Archives: March 2012

Kids These Days!

Alright, alright. If you saw the title of this post and expected to join me in some eye rolling and lamentations about how much better we were when we were kids, just go away. Because I’m about to get all impressed by some kiddie bloggers out there in cyberland. Today, I’m exploring some of the best student and classroom blogs out there, hoping to get some ideas for how I might incorporate blogging in my English classes as well as how I might use them if I become a media specialist someday. I decided to write about some specific student blogs that are representative of an entire class since the students in one class all seem to complete similar assignments.

Haille’s Happy Blog. Nine year-old Haille lives in Australia and is part of a whole class of bloggers at her school, which is pretty amazing and is giving me all sorts of ideas. But I’m getting ahead of myself. The posts are mostly school-related, and the comments seem to be from teachers, classmates, and Haille’s grandmother. Haille writes about field trips, swim lessons, and the  class’s Skype conversation with Jenni, a scientist who works for the National Dinosaur Museum (how cool an experience is that?!)  Beyond the overwhelming cuteness of a happy 9 year-old blogger who uses fantastic Australian slang, I love how Haille ends each blog entry with a question or two for her audience. What a great way to invite readers to engage directly with her!

Through the Edublogs web site, I found Huzzah, an entire class of 10 and 11 year-olds who are blogging together. From looking at the class blog page plus several individual student blogs, it seems that there are some common assignments students have been completing, and it’s all giving me some good ideas of ways teachers and librarians can use blogs in the classroom. I’ll use Bekkam’s Blog as an example. First, Bekkam seems to be using the blog as a place to complete surveys for a class inquiry project. Her topic is hockey skates, and she has used Google Docs to create a survey about skates. Bekkam is also trying to start a jewelry-making business and has created another “market research” survey to help her in this endeavor. The blog also includes a post titled “Me as a Reader” which describes her reading habits and preferences, a poem about snow, and info about bald eagles, one of Bekkam’s favorite animals.  One thing I really like about this blog is that each post is edited by two classmates; I love the authenticity of having classmates edit work for publication. Though I appreciate that each image the students use in these blogs are linked to the original site from which the image came, I would encourage the teacher to require students to include proper citations when using images. It’s a habit students should begin at a young age.

Simone is a teen who has some great stuff on her blog. This blog is filled with examples of the work Simone is completing for her classes at school in all content areas; it’s giving me many ideas of how I can use Web 2.0 technologies as well as blogs with my student. In effect, Simone is creating an online portfolio of her academic work, something that I would encourage all students to do. I found posts about her favorite movies, a glog and a prezi presentation she made for science class, and public service announcement she created for health class. There’s an entire section devoted to Underground to Canada, a book by Barbara Smucker that Simone read and discussed with a small group of classmates.  Again, Simone could use some lessons in respecting copyright, as there are a lot of unattributed or uncited images here. Overall, though, a great student blog to visit.

The Jets Class Blog documents the activities of grade 2 students in Derbyshire, England.  The blog is written by teachers, though the students seem to be active commenters. I found pictures from an outing the class took to the park, videos of class performances to explain the water cycle, information (including a BBC Video) about an artist the class studied, and even a collection of poems written by the students.  The families of students seem to be the primary audience of this blog, which elicits a lot of comments. It’s a great way for teachers to keep in touch, and also for parents to sit down with children and talk about what they did in school.

In Session: Sentiments from Silveri’s Class is one of the high school blogs I found. It’s interesting and a bit disappointing that high school blogs are harder to find than elementary and middle school blogs. Silveri uses her blog in some good ways to generate online discussion. In one section, titled “With All Deliberate Speed,” she creates a space where her AP Language and AP Literature students can interact and share ideas about the same text. She uses her blog post to introduce the assignment (which includes reading one common document, followed by independent research, followed by responses to specific questions) and resources for it. The “comments” under her entry are where students post answers to the questions and responses to each other. When I checked, there were nearly 100 comments. In addition to using this blog almost like an online discussion board with her classes, I noticed that Silveri’s love for her students comes through constantly, and that she includes spaces for students to discuss some less academic current events, like the death of Whitney Houston.

Implications

I started with very few ideas of how I could use blogs in my classroom, and now I have many! Thanks, world! I love the collaboration across disciplines evidenced in Simone’s blog, and think the learning implications are fantastic if teachers from all content areas could work together to have students reflect on what they are learning in all subject areas, emphasizing areas of connection and crossover. It’s a tall order, but exciting to think about.

I can also now see that blogging can be a powerful tool to make a home-school connection, particularly with parents of younger children. If teachers can get parents involved in reading classroom blogs, there are so many possibilities for how that could open up communication between parents and teachers, and between parents and children.

Finally, the blogs I found gave my some great ideas of new ways to use technology in the classroom. I now have ideas of how I could incorporate Google surveys, Skype, and digital video both on classroom blogs and in class. And taking my cue from Haille, I’ll end my blog with some questions:

  • What are your thoughts on why great high school class blogs are harder to find?
  • Do you have some more examples of innovative class blogs?

Works Cited

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Nerds, Skunks, and Educational Theory, Oh My!

I’m a high school English teacher considering making the transition to becoming a school librarian/media specialist. So in seeking out teacher blogs to read, I’ve been looking for some bloggers who would offer some creative ideas for the English classroom as well as some new ideas for how to incorporate technology in teaching.  Makes sense, right? Does to me, anyway. I found three very different blogs, all with something to offer.

The Blue Skunk Blog

Doug Johnson is Director of Media and Technology for Mankato, MN, public schools. His blog, The Blue Skunk Blog “serves as a sounding board for ideas [he is] currently thinking/writing about.” (I include this blog under the “Educator Blog” category because it seems to me that Johnson writes as an educator who happens to be a librarian. In addition, this is not a blog primarily representing a school library.) This blog is funny, conversational, and thought-provoking. Johnson has been an educator for 35 years and his love and passion for the profession come through in his posts. Some of the things you will find here:

You’ll find a lot more, too, including a thoughtful community of followers who comment on and question Johnson’s ideas. I really like this blog a lot. Everything from the casual tone to the questions Johnson asks seem designed to help educators step back, consider some larger issues, and reflect on the role they have in the education of this country’s children. There is a LOT to explore here – Johnson has been writing the Blue Skunk since 2005 – but exploring it seems like it will be a pleasure.

Moving at the Speed of Creativity

Moving at the Speed of Creativity is technology educator Wesley Fryer’s blog. As he explains, he focuses “primarily on issues related to engaged learning, web 2.0 technologies, digital storytelling, educational leadership, literacy, blended learning, creativity, appropriate uses of educational technologies, digital citizenship, and educational transformation.”  As soon as I read this, I was excited to explore, and I had a fantastic time reading ideas about the intersection of technology and the classroom.

Some of these posts are dense and contain A LOT of ideas. Take this one titled “Serving and Delivering does not equal Teaching or Learning. Fryer uses a 60 Minutes piece on online education content creator Kahn Acadamy as a jumping off point to address the idea that delivering content doesn’t mean students learn the content. He then moves on to examples of how when students teach others and create their own online lessons, they learn more.  He makes the point (with a Bill Gates quote as reinforcement) that access to resources, technological and otherwise, is important, but isn’t everything; access to good educators is just as important, ones who don’t simply think knowledge is something to be passed from the teacher to the student. Fryer cites Paolo Freire and others as he builds his argument, concluding that he supports online resources like Kahn Academy, yet also sees them as ways to help us “ask basic questions about teaching and learning.” In other words, this is somewhat heady stuff – don’t expect feel-good fluff. In reading one of Fryer’s posts, expect to do a lot more, including watching linked videos, visiting other web sites, reading outside blogs, and revisiting some of your grad school educational theory. Whew! I’m exhausted!

Here are a few other entries that grabbed my attention:

The Nerdy Teacher 

Nicholas Provenzano is an English teacher in Michigan and has been blogging since Jan. 1, 2010, about ways to incorporate technology in the classroom. He even has a Masters degree in educational technology and presents regularly at edtech conferences around the country. Honestly, I was kinda turned off by the brag sheet that is Provenzano’s “About Me” section, and almost left the blog after my eyes glazed over from reading about how great Provenzano is (Case in point: “In December 2011, my blog was voted the 3rd Most Powerful New Blog in the World. 🙂   I was also nominated for Best Teacher Blog as well.”). Despite my misgivings, I soldiered on. I am I glad I did, with reservations. This blog is full of technology ideas and, I hate to say it, but the 3rd Most Powerful Blogger in the World knows his stuff. The guy seems to live, eat, and breathe an intoxicating combination of education, literature, and technology.

The downside of this blog is that it’s a little like stepping into a sci-fi novel about half way through. I was immediately greeted with LOTS of acronyms (MACUL, ISTE), techno-jargon, and references to something called “The Rebel Alliance” which seems to be some sort of Twitter-based education reform movement, not a reference to Star Wars .  I couldn’t find an organized archive of any sort to help me negotiate the blog. After scanning through a bunch of posts, I stumbled upon something familiar – a post about Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Finally! Back on familiar ground. I read three posts about Provenzano’s Twain project (here and here) and I was struck by how it combines the familiar (students putting Twain on trial for racism) with the new (using iPads, Twitter, and streaming video at various stages during the project). This is the best of what technology can do; it doesn’t reinvent good teaching, but it does facilitate it and keep it engaging for students. I wish Provenzano had included more details about the ways in which he integrated these technologies. I wonder if he includes information in earlier posts about how he managed to get iPads for his students, for instance, or how he uses Twitter as part of his class. Again, an organized archive would be helpful.

I’m still exploring this blog. It seems like being a subscriber or regular reader could pay off and that teachers of all content areas would eventually find some great ideas, including reviews of great classroom tools like this digital microscope. Provenzano even has guest bloggers, such as this one by an employee in the education division at Adobe about the importance of tech ed.

My next step with this blog is to see if I missed something in terms of its organization. I’ll keep you posted on the results!

Reflections and Implications for My Life as an Educator

As I’ve begun exploring more blogs in the education world, I’ve been a bit annoyed at myself. I’m annoyed that I didn’t start reading educator blogs earlier in my teaching career. I found myself writing the following in my Learning Log for SLM508 @ McDaniel College: “The best part about reading [blogs] so far is that in the absence of regular discussions about education through classes and professional development, blogs seem like a fantastic way to keep my teaching new. There are so many great educators with so many fantastic ideas out there, and just reading about them inspires me to try new things and take a different approach. Teaching is the most intellectually and emotionally demanding job I have ever had, and the longer I teach, the more I realize how important it is to surround myself with a community of enthusiastic educators. Whether this community is physical or virtual does not matter that much; either way, it is key to helping me remain committed and enthusiastic.” So for me personally, I plan to use blogs to continually inspire me to be a better educator.

I was thinking about how I will be able to “spread the word” to other teachers about how inspiring blogs can be, and I have a few ideas. First, if I do have my own library one day, I think that might give me a good platform to keep my own blog that I can share with other teachers in my building (could email them when I post a new entry and also ask them to subscribe).  I believe the key to getting teachers to do something voluntary is to show them how it can be useful and make their lives easier. As a librarian, I could target specific groups of teachers (one content area, for example), and write a blog entry with resources for them, then share it directly with those teachers in my building. I could also work with my building’s admin to design some presentations on the power of blogging at faculty meetings. This could be a great way to recruit new readers of my blog and to show other teachers how easy it can be for them to become bloggers themselves. In the virtual world, word of good products spreads. If one department head finds my blog useful, she is likely to tell a colleague at another school, who will let others know about it, etc.

I’m still struggling with how I would use blogs in the classroom. For the second part of this assignment, I had planned on looking at librarian blogs, since I plan to become a school librarian. I think, however, I may shift gears and look at student blogs, as I am hoping they will give me ideas for how I might be able to actually use blogging in the classroom.

Works Cited

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Getting Started

Welcome to my first attempts at blogging for SLM508 at McDaniel College! Keep your eye on this page for reviews of educational blogs and web sites, as well as some thoughts about how Web 2.0 technologies can be harnessed to enhance student learning. Happy blogging, everyone!

– Kate

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