Before I even thought about using blogging for the purpose of the Math Is Everywhere project, I had another bigger idea that I plan to incorporate during this coming school year. One area that I know I need to work on as a teacher is encouraging writing within the subject areas that I teach (math and science.) Every year, I've tried to have the students keep a math journal, and I typically would dedicate a portion of the week to journal writing. Honestly, this wouldn't last long throughout the year. Disappointed in my own lack of focus on writing in the content areas, I decided to look for alternatives and that's when I began researching blogging. I saw the following video titled, Blogging With Students, and Lindsay Jordan (@lindsayjordan) does a really great job of delving deep into the subject. The video is 5 minutes and contains a lot of great blogging information:
Blogging with Students Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9T89bC3QF9g
After watching the video above, I knew that I wanted to try it with my students this school year, so
I quickly searched for a safe site to host my students' blogs. I honestly did A LOT of research and the best one that I found was www.kidblog.org. There's a site called Quad Blogging that I follow on Twitter that sounds really interesting too. On Quad Blogging, your students are paired up with three other schools from around the world, so the students have an audience. Students read each other's blogs and give comments in a four week cycle. It's definitely an interesting concept. However, I tried out Kidblog and fell in love.
You can easily set up a class or classes of students to have their own blogs. You can control privacy settings so comments and blogs have to be approved by you first before they are published, or they can automatically be published by the students. You can also set the privacy settings so your students' blogs can be visible to anyone on the internet, or just viewable to students in a specific class.
Here's a quick 5 minute tutorial on how to navigate Kidblog. The video was created a few years ago so the interface is a little different, but the principles are the same.
After you set up your classes, I recommend that you write a few posts as an example for your students. I wrote three posts before telling the students I created their accounts. (PS- I would recommend keeping a log of usernames and passwords for each student on any online website.) I took the students to the computer lab and their assignment for the day was easy: Read my blogs and comment. I purposefully made the blogs light hearted and funny and added in some funny pictures.
1.) My first post was a good luck message to the students on their state standardized test. The students read the blog the week after the test but they were able to thank me for my comments and reflect on the tests.
2.) My second blog was a story about one of the students on our team who won an iPad that was raffled off at an after school parent event. The students were very invested in the situation and knew that he had won, but I gave a lot of background information and side stories that they weren't aware of (Ex. I went dumpster diving to save the tickets so the student could figure out the probability of his change of winning! NOTE: I didn't actually jump in the dumpster, but I did dig through a bag of trash...with gloves on of course!) The kids thought the blog was great and they shared their congratulations to the winning student!
3.) The third blog post was a personal story about when I was a kid and how I once fell in the mud during a game of kickball. Many of the students could relate to being embarrassed at school and left comments about their situations.
My goal with these first posts was simple. I wanted the students to have a positive idea of blogging and I wanted to focus on writing positive comments or offering suggestions. It was important for me to break the 'writing' barrier of so many of my students. Blogging just didn't have to be another writing assignment. I wanted the students to see that they could express themselves in a fun way and receive feedback. That's the great thing about blogging. When writing a blog, you don't know who or how many people will read it, and you're almost guaranteed that someone besides the teacher will read it and offer feedback.
During the last month of school, my students wrote more than they did during the previous eight months. This isn't something I'm very proud of, but it's the truth. I know where some of my weaknesses are as a teacher, and I'm glad I found an online tool that can help me encourage writing in the content areas.
In addition to writing for the Math Is Everywhere Project, my students each wrote a 500-600 word post on the topic "Why My Family is Important to Me." They also blogged about each Skype in the Classroom call that I will explain in more detail in future posts. I've even had a handful of students blog over the summer about their travels and thoughts on the school year. For next year, I plan to use Kidblog and possibly partner the students up at first so they will be sure to receive comments.
Lesson #10: Many fine things can come in a day if you don't always make that day tomorrow.
Blogging has added another dimension to my classroom, and I'm glad I began this past school year and didn't wait until next year. If you're considering blogging I would look into using Kidblog or Quadblogging. I would also suggest writing a few posts first to set the stage for your students and to model commenting. Good luck, and as I end all my blogs with my students...