After perusing library blogs, I decided it was time to enter the classroom. I was curious how blogs have been employed in the classroom, and I wanted to create a list of “best blog practices” as applied to instruction for my own knowledge. Fortunately, there are many stellar classroom blogs out there at almost every level. I started with elementary school by visiting Mrs. Yollis’ Classroom Blog, winner of the Best Class EduBlog for 2012. Mrs. Yollis is a second and third grade teacher at an elementary school near Los Angeles, CA, and she describes herself as a life-long learner who loves teaching. She also recently completed a Master’s in Integrating Technology In the Classroom. The home page talks about recent lessons and activities completed in her classes. This week, students completed a Longitude and Latitude study using Google maps. To show what they learned, students created a video, and each student read a piece of the voice-over. The video was followed by a few questions for bloggers to respond to.
Each page includes links to classroom tweets, a student blog list, and a list of blogs the class follows. Mrs. Yollis’ blog also included links to How to Comment on a Blog, Learn HTML Code, and Mrs. Yollis Website among others. Curious, I selected Mrs. Yollis’ Website, which is a kind of portal for students and parents. Here, students find links to Homework, Parent Information, Blogging Tips for Teachers, and Class Movies. There are also links to specific areas of study, like Language Arts, China, Math Games, Money & Time, Multiplication, Science, Geography, US History, Art, Music, and Typing Games. Mrs. Yollis’ Blog is a rich source of information for parents, students, and visitors. It includes student work, external links to additional information/extended practice/games, and important information for parents, such as homework assignments, upcoming events, and approaching tests. Mrs. Yollis said her inspiration to create the blog was Open House Nights, or Back to School Nights, where she can interact with students and parents. She said her blog is a way to keep in constant contact and display all the hard work her students are doing. In the end, her blog is a kind of digital portfolio of her students’ year.
Next, I moved onto Mr. Avery’s Classroom Blog, a short-listed finalist for the 2012 Best Class EduBlog. Mr. Avery’s Classroom Blog is for his sixth grade class to share work and continue class discussions. Technically, Mr. Avery’s class is still in elementary school, but where I live, sixth grade is the first year of middle school. At any rate, Mr. Avery’s blog is full of useful information! On the Home page alone, there are links to class fundraising projects on DonorsChoose.org, Scholastic Book Club Orders, Featured Class Videos, and a class Instagram page. Mr. Avery also has a “News” section, which describes a global math project with six other classes around the world. Our World, Our Numbers blog is a collaborative project, in which each class controls the blog for a few days and shares various math topics. Similarly, each page on Mr. Avery’s Classroom Blog has a link to The Tail Trail, a collaborative project with six other classes in the US, Canada, and Australia. The project is to write and illustrate a story through blogs. Each class has a chance to add onto the previous section, and there is a Survey Monkey link to vote on the topic of the story. Mr. Avery also has a link to Blog Guidelines, where he advises students to use first names only, stay on topic, use complete sentences, and avoid offensive or hurtful posts. Each blog entry describes what students have been working on in class. For example, Mr. Avery posted on March 12 about “A Class of Geniuses,” based on Google’s 20% policy. Basically, employees at Google are allowed to spend 20% of their time on any project, as long as it relates to Google. This policy has led to such innovations as Gmail and Post-Its. Mr. Avery applied this to his class with “Genius Hour,” in which the class spent an hour and a half over three consecutive days creating an objective and plan to create any school-related project. Completed products included a catapult, interactive timelines, online games, Google presentations, and videos. Student products were displayed on the blog. What an incredible source of information for this sixth grade class!
Finally, I visited Gryphon Science Blog for the League of Extraordinary Scientists, or LOES for short. Also a short-listed finalist for Best Classroom EduBlog in 2012, this is a high school science blog from the United Kingdom, mostly for year 11 students. The blog is a resource for students in A2 Biology and AS Biology, and each page has a tab for relevant topics. A2 Biology has links to Field studies (class lectures on powerpoints), Ask A Biology Teacher for a live feed of student questions, Revision Materials that are password protected, and Specifications, or to use an American term, syllabus. The AS Biology class also has Ask A Biology Teacher, Revision Materials, and Specification. Gryphon Science also has a tab for Independent Studies, with examples of student responses, and guidelines for answering exam questions. The Extended Project Qualification or EPQ describes the students’ independent research requirement on a topic of their choice with examples of superb student products. The LOES tab links to student videos of class experiments. There are also tabs for Blog Guidelines, Feedback Page for student ideas, a Hall of Fame for students who go above and beyond, and Onion Girls, which is also password protected. On the right side of each page, there is a link to BBC News – Science & Environment with a few recent articles listed. While not as extensive as the blogs for elementary and middle school, the Gryphon Science blog would very useful for students.
What surprised me in the classroom short-listed finalists on EduBlog was the abundance of primary-level blogs with some middle school represented, but the overall lack of high school level blogs. Is it because high school teachers have not tapped into the power of the blog? Or are high school level blogs more dry and straightforward content as compared to the creative elementary blogs (thus not featured in the short-listed finalists)? If the former is true, why haven’t high school teachers integrated blogs in their instruction? Is it reluctance on the part of administration? Or are content-area teachers in high school just not as technically savvy? What’s really going on here? If you have any insight, I would love to hear it. Otherwise, I hope to learn the answer throughout the course of our SLM class.
In the three classroom blogs I viewed, blogs have only enhanced the educational experience of students. They are used to showcase exemplary student work, and keep both students and parents informed. In some cases, they are used to facilitate collaborative projects with other students all over the world. Clearly, the teachers who “own” these blogs have a passion for teaching and for their students. In many ways, I think their students will be better prepared to enter the working world because they will have some experience with cutting edge technology. As compared to library blogs, I noticed significantly less emphasis on copyright and citations. Moreover, the classroom blogs allow for additional practice, and for conversations to continue beyond the bell. I know I have been in class with a great conversation happening, only to disappointingly move onto a different concept the next day. I have also seen how literacy and technology can be incorporated in every subject. Unlike the classroom wiki, which is more static and less reflective of students, the classroom blog can be a living, breathing educational journey for students in a class. At the very least, a classroom blog is a portfolio of the students’ journey throughout the school year.
After reading about libraries and classroom blogs, I have some thoughts about how blogs can be used in the high school setting. In my ideal world, there would be one overall school blog with links to all departments and the school library. Each teacher would have a class blog linked to their department’s website or blog. I would definitely want my classroom blog linked to the library blog since the librarian is a gateway to searching the worldwide web. On my page, I would want to showcase student work, have a historian-detective corner, and links to external sources. I would want to include information on primary sources and links to good places to find primary sources. I would also want a Teacher’s Corner, devoted to best practices and sharing ideas. The Teacher’s Corner could extend beyond just my subject area to other content-areas in the school. Finally, I would love to create some sort of collaborative history project with students, or another class around the US. Through the use of my blog, I want to prepare students to live in a digital society. This includes explicitly teaching “Digital Communication,” and “Digital Etiquette” as part of the “Nine Elements of Themes of Digital Citizenship” (Ribble, 2013). Each blog I read contained a section on “Blog Guidelines,” which not only taught students how to technically make a comment, but also instructed them on the content of comments. It is essential for students to learn how to express ideas in complete sentences without being disrespectful or offensive.
In order to meet the National Education Standards for Teaches, I think it is essential for blogs to become a part of the norm of instruction. Blogs are the perfect place to model Standard 3, “modeling digital age work and learning” as well as Standard 1, “facilitating and inspiring student learning and creativity” (NETS, 2008). As citizens of the new millennium, students will have a digital footprint no matter what. As educators, we need to teach them how to have a positive digital footprint starting in elementary school all the way through high school and beyond.
“National Education Technology Standards for Teachers 2008.” International Society for Technology Education. ISTE, 2012. 13 March 2013.
Ribble, Mike. “Nine Themes of Digital Citizenship.” Digital Citizenship: Using Technology Appropriately. n.p., 2013. Web. 13 March 2013.