Recently, Wesley Fryer forced me to realize that I am simply "digitizing school 1.0 (as he put it at NECC)". While I thought I was using my classroom blog (www.mrfowler.wordpress.com) in an innovative way, I am pretty much just having my classroom have a conversation with themselves electronically. While this does improve typing skills, it doesn't incorporate conversation with the outside world. For this reason I have a few questions:

1. How do others incorporate blogs into the school day?
2. What type of topics do you blog about?
3. What strategies have been effective in bringing in genuine collaboration between students and professionals in the real world?

I am very anxious to hear what others are doing!

Cheers,
Mitch

Tags: Blogs, Collaboration, Elementary Education, Wesley Fryer, blogging, elementary

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Do you really think, that by introducing your students to such ideas, you have just been "having my classroom have a conversation with themselves electronically."

What you have been doing is streets ahead. At least your classroom are in dialogue.

In the UK your web work would be seen as revolutionary by many...

I set up a Physics blog and a few of the students engaged with it, we concentrated on Physics topics. ning will take its place next year.

I always think of the fact that although these students have a lot of digital resources around them , they are living in homes where the parents may be very limited in terms of their awareness and use of new technologies. Our role is to let them develop new and valid uses of what to them might seem a purely social tool. Theres nothing wrong with school 1.0 if the students/parents are expecting school 0.0

The best collaborative experiences I have had in my lessons have been when I have let go of the content and the need to deliver it and instead focused on the outcomes and how they might best be enabled. Learning is not proportional to teacher effort!
I agree with Dave... Don't be too hard on yourself! I was a little disappointed in our blogging this year also. Then I realized that we had actually accomplished several things. The students basically did current event blogs- What they learned 1) how to synthesize information well ( not cut and paste) 2) they developed expertise and personal intrests..one student worke don immigration issue, one on health one on animals
3) they learned about commenting on each others work4) the teachers learned how to work with blogs
Now we are ready for the next step... To reach out to the larger community....
I will introduce blogging this year to 4-5th graders, and am taking all of your comments to heart - thank you. I plan to change some of what we would usually do in Word, and share in blogs instead (for example math/science explanations or problems). I love the idea of the authentic audience - we stress to consider your audience in your writing, and this is real and now.
I have set up blogmeister.
What I am wondering is if blogging will generally work in a lab setting - or is it too many at a time? I have heard about snags such as this.

The logistics- I have the class blog set to private for now. If I want to monitor blogs before posting - will I be able to monitor 135 students' blogs in a timely manner during class or will they have to wait? (I teach all students one class at a time - so projects are across the grade level.)

Thank you for sharing your thoughts here.
JoNelle
Hi JoNelle,
I blog with my 5th graders on Blogmeister and am able to keep up with my 25 during lab and/or during classroom rotations while they're working...that is only 25!
But using the New Approval Tool it goes fast...I don't correct any spelling or grammar though...
I bought the domain name MyDragonBlog.com (not case sensitive) to get parents and students to our ClassBlogmeister page easier.
Jaylani Evans aka Professor McGonagall
www.mydragonblog.com
http://classblogmeister.com/blog.php?blogger_id=100229
JoNelle,
I teach tech in a lab setting, with approximately 125 5th Graders. Mine are blogging and for the last couple months of the year I'd love for them to have some interaction with other schools and classes. We are working very simply in Kidblog.org. Do you think we could do some type of collaboration?
I think you are moving in the right direction, Mitch.

In my case, I have used a blog similar to you (classroom sharing and responding) but also on a bigger scale as part of a venture funded through the National Writing Project. Called Making Connections, the project has sought to reach out to middle school students in some urban and rural schools in Western Massachusetts and get them blogging and connected through shared blog space.

We just ended our second year (with six schools, 12 teachers and about 200 students) and it has been mostly positive, but some mixed results. The students loved the interactions and this year, we broke down into smaller communities -- some were doing language arts writing (poems, friendly letters, etc) while another group did a shared science experiment and shared data via the blog, and then wrote and published fictional science journal stories.

The difficulties have been that my teachers are not tech teachers and there has been a steep learning curve for them; that their school districts are under the gun from the state and some are being taken over by the state, and flexibility for curriculum like blogging is difficult; and access to computers remains a major hurdle (in some schools, the labs are used most of the time for standardizes testing, or the tech person is wary of letting my teachers use the computers, or the tech person is out and no one else can have access to the lab).
I still see the great potential that this technology has for connecting kids, and our aim is to connect kids from socio-economic areas who otherwise would not have access to these programs. Oh, and the blog platform we were using was Manila, which is extremely complicated to use.

One reason I am so intrigued by Ning is that I am wondering about a new platform for Year Three.

Good luck
Kevin
I basically use my blogs class blog as a publishing forum. The kids publish the formal assignments I lead them through, they publish "writing projects" (self-selected writings), and (almost) weekly writings about the news.

I, too, wonder whether the work I do with my is having any results? Are the kids getting to be better writers?!

I don't know! But I do find myself thinking just as much about the writing lessons I could be teaching in face-to-face mini-lessons as I do with all this "web 2.0" technology. I need to get better at the face-to-face teaching of writing!

I would like to think some of the kids are getting to be better writers simply because they have an authentic audience. Many (not all) seem to be motivated by getting comments from others besides me or their friends. I think finding the audience for their work is the key. I work hard at and keep a close look out for potential classes we can comment to. Inevitably those classes comment back to us and that gets the ball rolling.

I always take the pontificating about blogs and "web 2.0" and the "read\write" web with a grain of salt when I think about using it with 5th graders. I think getting an authentic audience for their work is a good start! Yes, I want to do more but what can I expect with 4 classroom computers! If I had a class set of laptops then I could really start to envision things. . . !

I also want to start moving towards some concrete collaborations around specific curriculum topics using blogs or wikis or ning or whatever. But this is my 3rd year in 5th grade and, honestly, I'm still getting a handle on the curriculum itself and finding segments that lend themselves to collaboration. I also have to be careful about getting into collaborations that don't necessarily forward the specific content of my curriculum. There's so little time and so much to "cover." Sad but true!
Gordon,

I think the "social" in social networking can start "small." If we get our students accustomed to working together on projects in class, then they are already learning some of what they need to be successful in a social networking environment. I teach 6th graders and would LOVE it if some of them had a blogging experience coming in to me. That could possibly happen in the next year or two as we have had more elementary teachers trying blogging with their students.

I think your work is having a result that you may not even know about. Is their writing improving to the point of quantifiable data? Maybe not in one year. But you are giving them the sense of audience and the realization that writing, in general, is for more than themselves and the teacher. That sense of audience is huge.

I saw the list of blogs your class commented to during the year. Wow! That's an area I need to improve upon this coming school year. Finding ways for collaborations to occur via the blog is a goal of mine.

I thought when I started using the blog that we could get to collaborative writing. However, that hasn't really happened. Perhaps the blog environment isn't conducive to that. I've started thinking about using a wiki in conjunction with the blog for that purpose.

It would be great if we could get our classes together on a collaboration project. I teach 6th grade Language Arts. Here's our class blog.

Julia
I think you may be right about collaborative writing and blogs -- not quite a good fit, I have found.
Wikis may be better, but even then, there are limitations.
Kevin
Gordon
I think your story is more of where most people are than my story.
Access to computers and curriculum integration -- these are legitimate areas of concern.
Plus, we really have to think -- this is cool, but does it advance learning?
(I say Yes, but everyone has to decide that for themselves, you know?)

You make the point about comments, which is why I am interested in the social networking -- the connections between kids gets them hooked, and then perhaps we can do more integrated projects with them that connect to the curriculum. (The old fishing analogy)

Kevin
I think you're right on to question weather or not these tools are beneficial to the students and not just fancy technology that makes the educators or administrators look good. The point brought up earlier that blogging provides a sense of audience that doesn't exist with an assignment is a good one. I think there's also a healthy competitiveness that is built into being involved in an online social network that doesn't necessarily exist in most real world environments. For one, the kids are stripped down to their intellect and writing ability. However, you also have to be careful that the kids who don't get it as quickly don't loose enthusiasm. Online social networks require a degree of control for kids that should equal the playground. There need to be ground rules and expectations about behavior. I think most teachers are very aware of this and see it as yet another thing to keep an eye on. This problem is compounded by the amount information 30-45 kids can put up online in a very short period of time.

I'm interested to know what teachers here see managing online educational tools daunting.
I'm about to begin my first year with a classroom blog for writing assignment publishing and a wiki for creative writing, reflection, and collaboration. The concept of providing an "authentic" audience is one of the key reasons I am doing so. For my 3rd/4th grade students, who are almost all second language learners from low-income familes, providing access to the technology taken for granted by others is also appealing. I want to make sure to expose them to some of the web/tech tools that are quickly becoming part of our cultural norm as part of what we use for information and entertainment as well as in many workplaces. Even though the tools will change again before they start working, most new ideas build on a previous one.

I think that sometimes many of us get overwhelmed by all the possibilities "web 2.0 offers". Right now I'm TRYING to look at it like all the other curriculum tools we have. First, we have to figure out what really works effectively and efficiently...the right tool for the right job. There are many good tools out there, but there is no way possible to incporporate everything I would like to. I would personally need 20 more computers and about 20 more hours in the day!

Oh...I love the idea of looking for other class blogs to comment to. It's seems so obvious, but completely missing from my plans before now. Thanks for the idea Gordon!.

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