Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Student Blogging

Over the last six months I have had several people approach me about the topic of student blogging. Not because I am expert, but due to the fact I am truly passionate about what the process of blogging has bought to my classroom. During these conversation there are a couple of questions that consistently come up:

1. How do you fit blogging in when there are so many other academic area to cover?
I believe that you do not have to give up other academic pursuits when you begin to blog. The wonderful thing about the blog format is that it is so open-ended and it can be used for a variety of purposes or different subject areas. I think the key here is to make the purpose or educational objective guide the content of a blog. With that said, it is important to make sure that the purpose for each blog is well spelled out before students begin the process. I believe that blogging with a purpose gives students a focus and the opportunity to collaborate with each other to develop their knowledge and understanding of the subject at hand. Also with blogging, students continue to develop their writing, reading and higher order thinking skills.

2. The other question is what advice would I give to those interested in getting started with student blogging?
As far as advice on getting started, I would say don’t expect too much from your students’ post right off the bat. It takes them a little while to get use to the blog format and at first they just want to get something posted. Due to that reason, and the fact that I want to teach them that it is privilege to post something on the web I have them type their comment and/or post in Word (or Pages) first. I do this so they can save it in draft form. Then the post can go through some peer conferencing, revising and editing before it is posted to a blog. Again, this will continue to help develop their writing skills.

Another thing, I would suggest is to start with a blog in which the students are only making comments on post rather than posting themselves. That way they can see that blogging is really about collaboration and not just about what they have to say. We were lucky enough in the spring of 2008 to work with someone who was a true model of this two way communication. Mr. Holliday (a father of two of my students) blogged for us when he traveled with the US Soccer Team to both France and China for the Olympics. He was awesome and he did a great job of incorporating their questions and comments in his next post.

Also, I would say make sure that you are going to be active on the blog and find others who are willing to interact there too. If there is no one responding (esp. teacher) it sends the message that what students had to say didn’t matter. Part of the fun about a blog is interacting with your audience. This past spring I reached out to my social network and asked them to comment on a few of my student blogs. It was amazing to watch the students’ reactions to the comments from around the world. This totally helped them to see that they now had a worldwide audience. It is one thing to post something to the web, but it bring things to a whole new level when you know someone is listening. Personally, I would like to again thank those educators who took the time to communicate with my students on their blogs. You all Rock!

In the past, I have heard others recommend that educators blog first before introducing it to their students, but I disagree with this. Truth is, my students and I began blogging together. It has been my students who have been the inspiration and if I had to be a blogger first I do not think we would have started at all. Personally, I would hate to see any students miss out on this experience, because their teacher had not gone there first.

Finally, I thought I would leave this post with a few other articles, resources and examples of some student blogs for those who are interested to look into things further. Please feel free to post links to any resources or examples you would like to share in the comment section below.

The Prose of Blogging and a Few Cons
The Journal-November 2008

Hot Blogging: Framework for Blogging to Promote Higher Order Thinking
The Reading Teacher-International Reading Association- May 2009

6+1 Writing Rubrics
Created on the Rubistar website.

Best Christmas Pageant Ever
Story Element Blog

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing
Students wrote as characters of the story.

Niki's Italian Christmas Blog
Student documenting her travel experiences.

Digital Citizenship Blog

Sunday, May 17, 2009

In Appreciaton

During Teacher Appreciation Week someone asked the question, which educator had inspired us the most? I did not have time to work on a blog post then, but I do want take the time to honor this retired educator now. Her name is Linda Rollyson and she came to Oneco Elementary School right after she had entered the DROP Program. For many years, she had been in the curriculum department in our county and she wanted to be back with the kids in the classroom before she retired.

Honestly, the first two years she was on campus I did little more than extend a causal greeting when I passed her in the hall. That changed at the end of her second year on campus when I was told I would be switching teams and moving across the hall for Mrs. Rollyson. At the time, it was a move I was not very excited about. There had been a huge and ugly personality conflict on the team I was being asked to join. So not knowing the situation I was walking into I was a bit nervous. However, this move was probably one of the most beneficial moves of my career. Not only did I gain an incredible friend and a wise mentor, but I under went a paradigm shift that continues to shape what goes on in my classroom to this day.

Before this move, I had attended workshops on Project Based Learning and my thoughts on the subject were a bit narrow. I thought projects sounded cool. However, I was worried about covering grade level standards and of course my students making the grade on FCAT. Through her modeling and conversations with Mrs. Rollyson I realize that all those objectives could be met while students were participating in project based experiences. I also began to see that with projects students were learning to apply the standards rather than interacting with them in isolation. As time went by, I realized that real learning takes place in the process and there are more important things in education than being able to come up with the right answer.

When she retired two years ago she left me with some video tapes on Constructivism, Steven Levy's book Starting from Scratch and many wonderful examples of giving students a task, a guide and an audience. At least once a day, I am reminded in someway what a gift the three years I worked across the hall from Mrs. Rollyson were. I heard her say many times, "That her goal at the beginning of each year was to make a difference in one child's life and everything else was icing on the cake." I guess that leaves me being a dab of grateful icing.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Iron Teach/Separte Peace by John Knowles

I am assuming that if you are reading my blog you are aware of the
Iron Teach Challenge issued by Michelle Bourgeois and Tom Woodward so I will not repeat the challenge.

As I sit down to start writing this I have to admit I feel a bit out of my element. I currently teach and have yet to teach anything above elementary age students. Also, until a couple of weeks ago, I could not remember ever hearing of the book Separate Peace. Still the main reason I feel out of my element is due to a weakness that is always with me and that is dyslexia. I do what I can to compensate and I utilize a ton of editors. However, I would be lying if I did not say that I worry that every time I put something out in written form it will illustrate more of my weakness than the content of what I have to say. Still I could not help myself, I was becoming more intrigued with this project upon reading each new blog post and Twitter comment to not get involved. It only took to the end of the second day of conversation on Iron Teach for me to have Separate Peace loaded on my iPod for me to listen to during my daily commute. Just figured at the very least I would be able to listen to a good book and if an idea or two popped into mind I would humbly share it.

Before getting into those ideas, there were a few general concepts about planning that I try to keep in mind when approaching a new project.

- Plans (activities) should be as interesting as they possibly can be. I really feel that learning should be fun and life is too short to spend too much of it being bored.

- Learning takes place in the process and I am not afraid learn and create with my students.

- That the students need to be producing at least twice as much material then I do. I feel that students learn by doing and that does not happen if I am preparing the lectures, presentations etc.

- I am aware of and have gone to some wonderful training of Blooms, State Standards, Kagan Strategies, differentiated instructions......., but I usually use those things to evaluate and readjust instruction rather to guide the plan from the beginning. I do believe this is just a personal preference of mine rather than some thing I would recommend to others. I am a global thinker so I usually look at things as a whole first and then look at the elements.

-Projects should be open ended enough that students have the freedom to be creative.

-Rubrics should guide students in producing quality work, aid educators in evaluating what is quality work, but not limit students' creativity.

Now for Separate Peace, I found it to be an interesting book full of tradition and the unsureness of the high school experience regardless of when you attended. In the challenge the two 10th grade classes were described as being willing to talk about their personal experiences. It was my thought that by focusing on making connections to the characters' high school experience that these students maybe more willing to interact with each other and the content. With that said, both my ideas are based around the setting of the Devon School and incorporated things common to the 10th graders of today.

1. “Reality” Radio Show with the characters from the book. Since there was no TV in the 1940’s we could have our characters living out their lives on the radio, much of like The Real World on MTV. Students would be required to write scripts as if they were the characters from the book. These characters would need to both interact with each other and also each character would be required to take a couple of sessions in the confessional (where they share their feelings and talk about others etc.). I also think it would be a great idea to have students take it one step further and create their own sound effects (and/or sound stage) to use while they were recording each episode much like those of the 1940’s.

Teacher's role in this project will be a guide and push students to really look at how each character's motives and insecurities lead to his actions.

Student Rubrics
Podcast Script Rubric
Podcast Recording Rubric

2. Have the students create a fake yearbook (or just a few sections) for the Devon School. There was such great details in the book of both the settings and activities these boys took part in. It would be fun to see what visuals the students could come up with. Along with adding a memorial page for Finny and superlatives would fun too. If you wanted to take that one step further you could have a copy of the yearbook printed and then have the students sign the yearbook as the characters of the book.

Teacher's role in this project is to be a guide in the process. By pushing students on their task of illustrating both the details from the book and the time period in which the the book took place.

Student Rubrics
Yearbook Rubric
- I did find this rubic on RubiStar. It was a big help due to my limited knowledge of yearbook editing.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Why Technology?

Why technology? Honestly, a couple of years ago I did not give much thought to that question. In reality, other than using the Internet for research, I did not use technology much in my personal or professional life. However, about two years ago I had several things happen in my career that lead me to increase my use of technology in my personal and professional life.

One day in Spring of 2006, I received an article from a colleague entitled “Listening to Students Voices-On Technology". This article was research-based and focused on students’ perceptions, behavior with technology in and out of school. According to the article, the students seemed to have some ideas about why technology was not being used more in American schools. The students, felt that many of their teachers are behind them in the use of technology and tended to fear it. The day after I read this article, I happened to be spending some time with some students from another county and I mentioned some of the things in the article to them. Their responses were mixed with laughter as they related to the things in the article. They told stories about breaking through firewalls just prove that they could. Teachers being so fearful of the Internet, they have outlawed the use of it in their classrooms. They also discussed the frustration of having to wait until they got home to work on certain school projects, because of these restrictions. However, they went on to talk about the teachers who perhaps didn't know a lot in regards to technology, but they wanted to learn. They enjoyed helping and learning with those teachers. When asked about their interest in going around firewalls etc. in those classes they said, “We don’t have to. We are too busy with other stuff.” It was then that I realized that I could no longer put my head in the sand and pretend that the world is not changing around me. Sure the Internet is a little scary, but I would much rather my students face those dangers with guidance then alone. To say nothing of the fact that with some education, some of those issues could be avoided.