Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Blogging Dayze

Since the beginning of Long Term 2 I have been in a Blogger state-of-mind. I've collaborated on 4 blogging projects, set up 12 different blogs for junior high and high school classes, and taught sessions on the projects, goals & expectations, and how to get started on the blogs. I love it.

The "C-word" - Collaboration -- is the heart and soul of the librarian's purpose in school. In working with teachers to co-plan the design, structure and execution of an information-based project, I support Paideia's educational goals, I support the teachers in their teaching, and I work with students on developing the skills and thought processes needed in finding and using information.

The junior high language class project is an expansion of a project from last year. It's a term-long research project, in which students in Olivia, Mark, Lisanne, & Eddy's language classes research three different topics of choice from three different Spanish- or French-speaking countries. Each topic period lasts 3 weeks. The students' research is self-directed -- they can find out and report on anything they want that's related to the topic, and there's no immediate "end product" required. Later on, they'll pick one of the country/topic pairs to do a more focused and in-depth project for the ¡Fiesta! celebration in May, but for now it's all for the fun of finding out, and learning something more about a culture and words related to their language studies.

The students have run with this assignment and are following their interests, from soccer in Argentina and Cameroon, to Oscar de la Renta (did you know he was from the Dominican Republic??!!) to HIV/AIDS in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Carl's 9th grade World Civilizations and 10th grade American History classes are doing a different kind of project, that also works well on a blogging platform. His classes have a weekly assignment to read a current events article related to one of several specified topics, and write a reaction piece to it. Several of the students are finding their articles through subscriptions in their Google Reader accounts (did I ever mention I love my Google reader??), that they all set up earlier this school year. Some basic skills are involved in the assignment: identify author, title and source of the article (with hyperlinked URL), give a brief overview of the content, and give a thoughtful response/reaction to the article's focus.

The blogging platform works really well for these class activities. We use Blogger.com for several reasons: we can keep the blogs private but allow selected readers to see what students have written; it's easy and attractive; and, not least, a large majority of the students already have Google accounts (because of Gmail, Google Docs, other blogs they've worked with, or Google Reader) so they're ready to get started right away.

We've chosen to use one blog for a group of students (all the American History students, or all students in 6th period Spanish, for instance) rather than individual student blogs. Each student can post and edit her/his own articles, but not anyone else's, and multiple students can write and post to the blog at the same time (great for working in class). Publishing for an audience of peers is more authentic than a teacher audience-of-one, and both teacher and classmates can comment on a student's work.

One of the nicest things that the blogging platform offers is automatic indexing using "labels." A major part of the posting protocol is three labels (often called "tags" on other sites such as Facebook or Delicious.com) for each article: in JH language they are Name, Topic and Country (eg. Alex, Algeria, Music). Blogger then creates an index of every post with each label, so students and teachers can click on the label (say, Algeria), and get a page of all the posts about Algeria. Someone interested in music could click on the Music label and get a page of every music post, regardless of the country. It's also very easy for student to see where they stand in terms of number of posts and also see all their posts collated on one page. World Civ students should have read and responded to 10 different Current Events articles this semester. The index shows the number of posts per label, so when Bob sees (8) next to his name, he knows he has two more to go. It's satisfying how smoothly this works.

In the near future, John & Sydney's class will be blogging and playing with poetry, and a short term Human Sexuality class will use Blogger as an interactive website for information and projects.

I wish I could link you all to the enthusiastic work students are displaying on the blogs, but we've got them all limited to class students and teachers. You can experiment with labels and indexing features on this blog if you want -- click on Teaching With Technology at the bottom of this post to create a page of all articles with that label. The automatically generated index displays in the right sidebar. Cool, isn't it?

If you have a Junior High language student or high schooler in Carl's World Civ or American History class, ask about the blog and how it's going.

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