Blogging with students – a reflection

Eye reflectioncc license by Eye@CCPiXel.net http://www.ccpixel.net/2009/09/eye-reflection/

Eye reflection

This past year was my first experience blogging with students. It certainly had its ups and downs but was a positive experience overall for me and for my students. To read why we were blogging in science class (and why I think your students should blog) go here:  “Why Are We Blogging in Science Class?”

How I started:
In September, I set up each of my 100+ students with an Edublog of their own.  I used the tips found at The Edublogs Community and The Edublogger liberally. The gmail hack for setting up their accounts and the tip to use Google Reader to follow their blogs were great.   Actually the whole series on setting up student blogs that begins here is a must read.  I set up folders in Google Reader for each of my classes and followed all of my students’ blogs from there.  I also followed all of their comment feeds to monitor them.  All blogs were public and comments were not moderated.  I have had to remove ~50 spam blog comments this year but the process is quick and easy.

Once they were set up, I asked my students to play around in Edublogs by setting up a theme they liked and making a first post called “What I Want to Learn this Year.”  This got them familiar with the control panel and the posting process.

How it progressed:

I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted the students to do with their blogs.  I had them do a few assignments that were posted there, I had them reflect on completed projects, and I had them do extensions there.  I quickly realized that they needed to know what makes up a good blog post.  So, we brainstormed that together and I made this post:  “What Makes a Good Blog Post.”  The posts (for the most part) continued to improve.

Problems I encountered and how I addressed them:

  • Lack of computers at times – addressed by booking labs when needed and buying more computers for next year (I’ll be close to 1:1)
  • Lack of computer access at home for many students – I gave ample class time to complete assignments and plenty of extension opportunities for those who finished more quickly
  • Attendance – ample computer time and extensions (see above).  I do think that the electronic structure of my classroom with Edmodo and Edublogs made students more aware of what they had missed and more likely to catch up
  • Note: these are all problems that I had encountered before and will encounter again
  • Some students wrote too little – I left them comments with specific feedback
  • Some wrote too much – feedback comments
  • Many did not read the comments that I dutifully left them – I need to work in more regular interaction with their blogs in my class

Benefits & Successes:

  • Many students wrote much more on a blog than they ever would have written on paper
  • Students were much more willing to revise their work than they would have been with paper assignments
  • The blogs integrated photos and links to sources.  I enjoyed reading them much more than I enjoy reading lab reports or research papers
  • The blog became an excellent tool for differentiation – my class was more differentiated last year than ever before.  My faster working students were able to continue on with greater depth or extension assignments of their choice while I was able to provide more assistance to students who wanted or needed help
  • The combination of Edublogs and Edmodo (free online course management software) helped me to keep up with student work as it was posted and I provided much more specific feedback than ever before

My vision for the coming year:

The students’ blogs will be their electronic portfolio for my class.  I hope to rope in some other teachers to this as well and if I can, each student’s blog will be his or her electronic portfolio for multiple classes.  Students will create pages to demonstrate work samples and best works and reflect upon them.  They will journal along the way as well, although I won’t mandate any minimum number of posts (maybe I’ll give them a maximum).  I’m going to use the new RSS import feature in Edublogs to roll students’ posts through my blog as well.  I also hope to find time to get them reading and commenting on each others’ blogs more.  I hope to use Jing (thanks, TeachPaperless) to give student quick screencast feedback, rather that just written comments.

Eye reflection – cc license by Eye@CCPiXel.net http://www.ccpixel.net/2009/09/eye-reflection/

Why are we blogging in science class?

I’ve been asked by students and a couple of parents – “why are we blogging in science class?”
Students collaborating

There are several reasons:

Paper reduction

In my experience, students do not value paper.  They see any work done on paper as disposable – worth little more than the paper itself.  Paper assignments are constantly left laying around my room – from my class and from others – even work that has not yet been turned in!

We go through WAY too much paper in schools – nearly all of which ends up in the trash – wasting money and natural resources

Reflection for learning

I want students to reflect on their learning.

In my opinion (supported by educational research), students retain much more of their learning if they take the time to reflect on it.  This means thinking back on what they learned and why it is important and/or valuable.  This means evaluating the quality of their work and their level of effort.  It also means setting goals for future learning experiences!

Public nature of blogs

Students’ work on their blogs is public – visible to the world.  This raises the value of the work because it will not only be seen by their teacher.  Already my students have received comments and feedback from teachers around the country and from fellow students in Minden, Louisiana.  Parents and peers can also view the work and leave comments.

Creation of an electronic portfolio

Students in my classes are creating a year-long digital portfolio of their work.  At the end of the year, they will be able to look back on what they’ve done and reflect on how much they have learned.  They should be able to see evidence of their learning and their growth.

At the end of each semester, I plan to have my students compile some examples of their best work to post to their blog and reflect on.  This will be part of the final semester assessment in my class.

Revision

I have found this year that students are MUCH more willing to revise and improve work that has been done electronically.  Handwritten assignments that must be completely rewritten are rarely revised – even if the student is not happy with his/her grade!  It’s just too much work in their eyes to rewrite the whole thing!

This is the world that we live in!

The world that we live in – that my students have grown up in – is digital!

This is what they know and, more importantly, this is what their future lives will center around.  I am doing my part to help to prepare them for that world – as a student, as a future employee, and as a citizen

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!