Good thing I have the whole summer off!
Good thing I have the whole summer off!
Blogging isn’t new. In fact, blogging came on the scene a full decade before my current students were born. But have our students discovered the power of their own blogging?
If your students are writing, I challenge you to move that writing to blogs. And if your students aren’t writing, blogging is one way to change that. When students move their work from paper to blogs, they:
For a few years now I have had my students create digital portfolios using Weebly.com, where they showcase and reflect on the learning they have done throughout the year. I like Weebly because it is a free and easy program that allows students to create beautiful and personalized websites with their own blog pages.
So this year my students built their Weebly sites and published one blog post… and then, in ongoing efforts to regulate students’ access to the internet, our district tightened up the filter. And just like that, we lost access to Weebly.
Sigh. Such is life in a tech-integrated classroom. But we know from experience to think fast, change gears, and pivot to the back-up plan.
Did you know that Google Docs make pretty good blogs? Students write their blog post in a Doc, and then their classmates use the insert-comment option to respond to the post. The authors are then able to read and reply to the comments, and shazam, we have our own blogs with comment threads. Take that, filter.
Last week my students finished reading Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie, by David Lubar, and they were eager to talk about the story. Since they had already blogged their responses throughout the reading, they had a wealth of resources from which to draw for a class discussion.
At the start of class they went to our document of blog links and read entries from six of their classmates’ blogs. In their notebooks, they jotted down the names of bloggers to recommend and topics for our discussion. They shared out what they found and I started a list on the board:
(Bonus points for Mikaela for pointing out the red herrings!)
Then we moved our chairs into one huge circle (thank you, flexible furniture with wheels!) so we could see each other as we talked about these big issues.
I am so proud of and impressed by the discussion my students had. They are 8th graders, which means that sometimes they have the insight and sensitivity of adults, grappling with issues like poverty and the presidential election; and then the very next day (or minute) they are more like 4th graders, rediscovering the humor of bodily functions. But after reading each others’ blogs, they entered our discussion understanding that many of their peers, like Lee and Mouth, have been victims of bullying. They saw themselves in Scott’s family dynamics, as well as in the familiar cliques of Scott’s classmates. They recognized the angst Scott experienced as he pined for Julia while discovering unexpected friendship in Lee. And although depression and suicide may seem like scary and far away concepts for 8th graders, my students discovered through blogging that some of their classmates had been close to those very situations. Their class discussion was polite, mature and sensitive, and covered a wide range of topics inspired by the novel. With all of their blogs as starting points, they could have continued their conversations well past the final bell.
Blogging is a natural for English class (and a powerful platform for English language learners), but teachers and students are also discovering the benefits of blogging in classes like math, science, history and more across the curriculum.
How could your students benefit from blogging? What could they blog about that would further their own learning, as well as prompt their classmates to deeper thinking?
“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”
― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Programs like the Independent Project at Monument Mountain Regional High School inspire me to keep looking for ways to give my students as much control over their own learning as I can. In my 8th grade English classes, students choose the novels they want to read, the genres of writing they want to tackle, and the topics they want to research. But it wasn’t until I started teaching a digital media elective class that I was able to give my students genuine control over their learning. I built a resource website and loaded it up with project ideas, program suggestions (almost all of them free) and links to video tutorials so that students could choose and learn on their own.
The result has been a learning experience for all of us: my students, as they learn to make use of so much freedom; and me, as my role as teacher transitions to one of resource, coach and guide.
As one would expect, some students thrive in this environment. They find what they’re interested in, search out resources to learn more, and take off. Other students jump from project to project, learning a little about one, a little about another. And then there are those students who struggle with the freedom. They shrug their shoulders, say “I dunno,” and are listless and bored without someone telling them what to do.
I’m pretty sure, though, that I need to gently push them to search out their own interests, take advantage of self-teaching resources, and create products of their own design. How else will they some day make decisions about high school classes, college majors, life hobbies, career options? Making all the decisions for our kids, whether it’s which sport to play or what to do in their free time, robs them of the opportunity to learn how to take charge of their own learning and their own lives.
A typical class for my digital media students starts with me sharing project ideas or tutorials, and then we pull out the laptops and off to work the students go, some continuing a project, some starting a new one, some solo, some in partners or groups. Here are some projects-in-progress this semester…
Lindsey uses an online tutorial to create 3D animations with Blender:
Ryan plots his computer game, first on graph paper and then with AgentSheets:
Andrea designs her own info-graphic resume with re.vu:
Chris crafts a 3D sculpture with Sculptris:
Hands are hard, especially backwards and knuckles:
Jolene is also building a digital portfolio of her art work:
T.J. and Isabella use Gimp to edit Minecraft stacks:
Ernan works on a how-to-draw movie; Ian helps to get the camera angle right:
Danielle uses SketchUp, a 3D architectural modeling program, to design a Japanese garden :
Dakota, Sam, Luke and Greg have formed their own company, each taking on a specific role in the development of an app game. They have been teaching themselves how to code so they can build their app from scratch:
Molly explores cartooning with SketchbookExpress:
Sara uses WeVideo to make a book review movie for her English class:
Domenic works on a movie to submit to the first White House Student Film Festival:
Simon adds a car to his computer game that he is programming with the help of Alice:
One of the best outcomes of my kids-in-charge classroom is that my students experience failure in a relatively risk-free environment. They have time to learn from their mistakes, revise, start over and abandon projects without the threat of a failing grade intimidating their learning.
In reflecting on his first movie, Jacob said, “I had to fail over and over again before I got it right. I’m really proud of how it finally turned out.” And when I told Dakota that he and his team of coders would need to document their journey, he said, “It will be full of our failures!” How often do kids smile when reporting on their own failures? Dakota has learned that failures have been an important part of the learning process that is getting him closer to selling his own app game.
How do you give your students opportunities to learn to yearn? Are they choosing what to study? Or how to demonstrate their learning? I would love to hear below how you put students in the driver’s seat of their education.
Asking middle school students to write (and share) book recommendations isn’t new. It gives them the opportunity to write about literature they have enjoyed, be inspired to check out books that their peers have loved, and demonstrate their growing reading and writing skills for their teacher.
But move those book recommendations to the students’ own blogs, and suddenly they are learning a whole hard drive’s worth of new skills. As my students created their own blogs and crafted book reviews for their first blog posts, I wandered around the room, amazed at the myriad skills they were learning. Here’s a list, probably incomplete:
Next class we will talk about how to post appropriate, academic comments on a blog. And wouldn’t it be nice if all online users had the same lesson?
Are your students blogging? What benefits do you see?
If your students are participating in NaNoWriMo (in T – 3 days), then they are probably chomping at the bit to start writing. There’s nothing like telling students they CAN’T write until a certain date to get them begging for permission to write! If they have created their characters, crafted their conflicts and plotted their plot, then they are probably more than ready to start chapter one.
But being ready to write doesn’t mean they are ready to deal with the inevitable road blocks that will get in their way once they get past the first page. Be proactive and get your students ready before they crash and burn:
If you are a teacher interested in bringing the magic of NaNoWriMo to your students, check out my NaNoTeacher website for oodles of help.
Bring it on, November! We are ready-WriMos.
I’ve been teaching English language arts for over 20 years, and as much as I love it, I have always wanted to add some variety to my work load by teaching an elective class. I envisioned this class as a break from the deluge of papers and a respite from the pressure of test scores, a place where I could have more fun with my students and let them explore interests outside of the traditional academic subjects. And I was right.
Last year my principal asked me to design an elective class around digital media, and she put her money where her mouth was by sending me to the CUE conference in Palm Springs, the ISTE conference in San Diego and a Google Apps for Education Summit in Santa Clara; and when I got accepted to the Google Teacher Academy, she paid my way there, too. I spent last summer building a Moodle page for this new class, offering my students choices and tutorials in a wide range of digital media opportunities.
Our digital media class changes as often as we find more websites, programs and tutorials to add to our list of choices. Take a look at what we have done so far:
Our junior high semester ends with three days of finals: two classes per day, two hours for each class. I could easily create a semester final exam that would take my students two hours to complete, but I’m not sure that would be the best use of our time (nor am I convinced that junior high students should be taking two-hour finals). So each year I look for effective ways to fill that two-hour block of time, allowing students to demonstrate their knowledge in a variety of ways, providing time for breaks and collaboration.
This year’s two-hour block of time? Best. Final. Ever.
When my students walked into the classroom, they found the desks arranged in groups of four, with a laptop on each desk. They located their seats by checking a list of teams that I had projected onto the whiteboard. Once they were settled, I distributed a page of directions, and they were off and running.
The designated team leaders were given directions to create a new presentation in their Google Drive, and then share it with their teammates (via gmail) and with me. Then each team worked together to create a presentation about themes in literature. Using lines from a poem as a prompt, they identified one theme that was expressed in a novel and two movies we had studied. They were directed to create slides to present the information, and to include a symbolic image on each slide.
A sign of success, right off the bat, was that all the groups got to work right away. If they had questions, they asked each other. Most had never used Google Presentations before, but they are familiar with PowerPoint, so they could figure it out. And while they were demonstrating their knowledge of theme, they were also learning how to create effective visual presentations: carefully choosing the words for each slide, finding compelling symbolic images, inserting and citing the images, and creating a unified appearance from one slide to the next.
They worked for a little over an hour, and then each group shared their presentation with the class. Although many groups were working from the same lines of the poem, their interpretations of the themes varied, as did their examples from the literature and movies. One student asked if she could play a song from her phone during their presentation. I asked her why and she said the song expressed the same theme and would add “mood” to their project. Beautiful.
Three days before winter break, junior high students actively engaged in academic work for over an hour, and then attentively watching their classmates’ presentations?
Best. Final. Ever.
Bonus for me? I could grade them as they presented and have my semester grades done before winter break starts. Awesome.