Student blogs

Two weeks into student blogging with Edublogs and I’m loving it!

More importantly, my students seem to be loving it.

I have 100+ kids set up with their own blogs and have had them use them for reflection on learning, reflection on products, and as a place to do written summaries of internet research.

I have been leaving them constructive comments which they’ve been using to revise their work. I definitely have seen much more willingness to revise electronic work than with paper work. I have also seen improvement in their ability to explain and justify their learning. All of this has been very exciting.

The next step is to get them leaving comments for each other. I also hope to drive traffic to their blogs so that they are receiving feedback from people outside the classroom.

The Goal
Ultimately, I see the students’ blogs as a way to create reflective ePortfolios. I will have them document and reflect on all major projects/ products. This process will have many benefits.

Application
Publishing their work to the web also helps to provide more application of their work for an audience outside of the classroom.

Communication
Families will be able to easily access samples of their students’ work. They will even be able to provide their own feedback!

Reflection
Most importantly, students are reflecting on their own work. They are explaining their learning. I am challenging them to use their reflections as a way to prove that they learned what they said they did. This has had the added benefit of forcing them to review content and skills. It also if forcing them to practice the critical skill of supporting their statements with evidence.

Overall, the first few weeks of facilitating student blogging in science has been very positive. I anticipate that it will only get better!

The Wordle of this blog

Wordle: Wisdom Begins with Wonder

What a great self-assessment for me to reflect on what I have been blogging about.  This would also be  a great tool to have students make a wordle about a blog or post to see what words they are using the most!

I see it as an extreme positive that I have been talking about students far and away more than anything else.  After all, that is my job!

I’ve also been blogging alot about Edmodo, blog, work, curriculum, school and assignments.  Also good things because they are either new to me (Edmodo & blog) and thus on the front burner right now, or central to my job (the others).

A criticism would be that I need to be blogging more about inquiry and science!  Those two words should also be very big.

It’ll be interesting to update it in a couple of weeks!

Modeling instruction & whiteboard sessions

I’ve never had any formal training in modeling instruction.  However, I’ve read quite a bit about it at the ASU Modeling Instruction Site and done a lot of other internet research about it.  If I lived anywhere close to Arizona, I would definitely attend some of their workshops!

People love whiteboards - why do you think these commercials are so popular?

People love whiteboards!

After reading alot about this program, though, I decided to try using some of the basic methods in my class.  Essentially, I have begun using this process to debrief labs, activities and lessons in class.  The students love using the whiteboards and are much more willing to present their ideas with a visual to support them.  They are also much more willing to revise their models when they are on a whiteboard – in fact, they like to erase and change them!

To me, the core of this method, though, is not the labs or the whiteboard diagrams or graphs.  The core of the method is getting the students to have rich discussions about their ideas for explaining systems, phenomena or concepts.  Anytime you can get students to discuss difficult concepts, disagree politely, explain reasoning, question each other, and negotiate a solution, you are facilitating excellent learning!
 
So, get yourself some whiteboards (good tips for doing this on the cheap here) and get students modeling their thinking!

Technology integration and differentiation

Two of my primary goals for this school year have been to improve both technology integration and differentiation for individual student needs/ interests in my classes.

As I’ve begun to delve into tech integration with Edmodo for classroom communication & assignments and Edublogs for student work, I am now seeing how the two goals go hand in hand.

Edmodo

Aviary edmodo-com Picture 1

Screen cap from my Edmodo site

Edmodo calls itself a microblogging platform for students and teachers.  However, it’s really much more than that.  It’s a place to post notes and assignments for students.  It’s a way to open a backchannel in your classroom.  I contains a calendar for coming assignments.  Students can use it to submit assignments electronically.  It’s truly an organizational tool for both students and the teacher.  One really cool feature of Edmodo is that students can input their cell phone numbers and receive messages from the system.  I used this feature just the other day to remind my students to wear appropriate clothing and shoes for a lab the next day – which students often forget to do.  This time, none forgot – even those who weren’t at school the previous day!

I’ve also had students using Edmodo from home after school hours to turn in work or to ask me questions about assignments.  Because I get a text message when a student sends me a direct message, I know to login to Edmodo and answer (you can’t do it from your phone yet).  This way I don’t feel a need to constantly check the site in case a student might have a question.

Edublogs

Student blog post about Zinc

Student blog post about Zinc

I’ve set up every one of my 100+ students with their own blog via Edublogs.  While the process has been a bit time consuming, I feel the payoff will be worth it.  So far, I’ve had students using it to post certain assignments (my chemistry students each chose a chemical element to research and made a post to their blog about it) and reflections on their learning.

Toward Paperlessness

Another side benefit of all of these tools is the ability to greatly reduce the amount of paper used in my classes.  While this is environmentally sound and cost efficient, the real benefit of paper reduction has been in the motivation of my students to do quality work.  They are so much more willing to revise and resubmit their work, based on my feedback, than ever before.  When I returned a lab report electronically via Edmodo with feeback integrated (tracked changes in Word) and a rubric attached, I had 10 of 24 students revise and resubmit their work within 2 days.  When I left comments on their blogs with feedback and suggestions to improve their posts, I had students revising blogs and sending me links via Edmodo to their revised posts.  When too few students heeded my reminder to integrate links to their sources within their blog posts, I gave a quick classroom mini-lesson about integrating links.  I reminded them that their work is now on the internet and plagiarism is not just against school rules, it is against the law.  Several students immediately revised their posts to integrate multiple links.

Why are they so willing to revise?  Because they don’t have to start over from scratch.  Because the feedback from me is right there.  Because the tools are the ones they want to use.  Whatever the reason, they are doing it much more than students ever have done for me in the past.

Differentiation

Finally, I’ve been able to differentiate for student needs with these tools.  If a student has already completed the assignment while their peers are still working on it, I send them a note via Edmodo with suggestions for an extension assignment that they post to their blog.  Students who are behind get extra help both electronically and in person.  All students have more choice about how they will approach and represent their learning.  These are all VERY good things.

Inquiry

Inquiry is absolutely crucial in science.  How to get from guided inquiry to open inquiry, though?  Through technology and differentiation.  Students have the tools and resources available to them now in my classes to ask and answer their own questions.  Edmodo provides a means for me to track what they are doing.  Edublogs provides them an outlet for reflection and a place to present the results of their learning.  This is a powerful combination, for science or for any class!

Application and frustration

dvp1453015_tRecently had an interesting day of collaborative planning with several of my coworkers.

The primary focus of this planning was geting staff to use the BERC STAR Protocol.  For those of you who are not familiar, the STAR Protocol is a tool used in classroom observations to reflect on one’s own practice.  In other words, I watch someone else while using the STAR Protocol to focus my observation on what research has shown to be effective, then I reflect on what I saw or did not see and how I can apply my reflections to my own classes.

I have done several of these over the past few years and found it to be a very powerful method for reflecting upon my own practice and planning ways to improve.

The interesting thing about the planning, though, was the course of discussion throughout the day.  As we discussed what works and doesn’t vis a vis current educational research, we found common ground.  We then looked at data for our school and found that the glaring weakness of our school was in application.  This is where is got interesting…

What do I mean by application?  Making connections between your classroom and the real world or students’ lives.  Having students apply their skills and knowledge to other classes/ content areas.  Having students create an authentic product for an outside audience.

Anyway, back at the ranch… we all got really excited at this point and began talking about integrated curriculum across content areas and authentic products for outside audiences.  I became highly engaged in the discussion and was really excited.  My school is finally going to get it!  What I’ve been trying so hard to do in my 5 years as a teacher!

Alas, things got too intense and people got scared.

“This might be too much for people to take on.”

“This might not work because of schedules.”

“Pacing calendars might get in the way.”

“We need to wait to get that new curriculum first.”

“We need to identify our essential standards first.”

Needless to say, the energy left the room.  We were on the brink of something truly exciting.  We let the straighjacket of “education reform” keep us from sending our students soaring.

I feel like we took the easy road.

I feel like we let our students down.

I’m not giving up though.  My students will continue to get those things in my classes – even moreso this year than ever before.  They deserve it.