May 6

Blogs in the Classroom

This video is from Common Craft explaining what a blog is. Common Craft are an excellent source of explaination videos, and I use them in my classroom regularly. Each of them are free, availiable on you tube, but they charge you for downloads of High Quality videos.

Today, I’m going to be talking about Blogs. Basically, a blog is a website that you can publish easily, that stores entries in a chronological order, like a journal. This website is an example of a blog. There is a couple of ways that I use blogs in my classroom: for maintenance of project work, journals and research.

Using Blogs for student publishing

Blogs are an excellent way to promote student publishing because it’s an authentic publishing experience. When students realise that their work might possibly be seen, it can improve the quality of work drastically. This is also how things work in the real world…people don’t write things to be only seen by one or possibly two people. Teachers generally find too, that some people that may be particularly quiet in class, who won’t contribute, can often be the most verbose online.

The picture below shows the simple interface of edublogs. I find edublogs to be the best system, because you can add student blogs in batches of 15. Blogger is another tool that works well.

The simple interface of Edublogs.

You can also keep a simple “learning log” for any subject. At the end of every lesson, students could be asked to post two things that they learnt that lesson and what it means for them. The simple act of writing connects the synapses in the brain (Marcia Tate) , allows students to remember content more readily.  If you have more time, you could do a lightning writing activity, where students need to type constantlyfor two/three minutes what they learnt this lesson, and you as the teacher can use that to guage student understanding.

Using Blogs for student projects

Students in Technology subjects in Australia are required to keep logs of their work for projects that they are working on. This is a compulsory part of our syllabus and requires students to date their work, and record what they have done for particular lessons. In my opinion, students generally do this, along with all their theory work the night before the assignment is due. By asking students to blog their logs, you can keep a simple and quick check on the fact that students are maintaining this. You can also give feedback in terms of comments on the posts.  It time stamps the blog entry, so that students can’t do it the night before, as the purpose of the log is to promote time management and planning.

I also find the power of giving comments for students work works well. For example, a student could blog what they plan to do next on their project and anyone in the class, or you as the teacher, might decide to offer a suggestion in the form of the comment. I do this in class as a round table format, where students have to present ideas, and give feedback on others. Blogs mean that students can do this more often.

Using Blogs for getting information about your subject.

One of the more difficult things in being a teacher (particularly a technology teacher) is the keeping up with new areas in your subject. Blogs are a great tool for this. At the beginning of each topic, I deliver to students (generally on a subject wiki: Come back for that one) a list of blogs that I recommend that cover the subject area well. For example, the following are some good ones from my web design topic.

* 456 BereaStreet
* A list apart
* Max Design
* The Man in Blue

Students that read consistantly on your topic are more likely to give complex answers to projects and exam questions. There are some students that will read these constantly to try to soak up new knowledge, and some that will just click on the link once to read it.

Sometimes, that’s fine, because they might just absorb a couple of facts that will improve their knowledge. Sometimes I get students to repost interesting content to a blog, and show how they have implemented the knowledge practically, and set this task as homework for a couple of weeks. Find one thing, implement and write about it each night.

I also read all of these myself. (I’ve got a collection of about 100 that I check regularly). I keep track of this using a RSS Reader (also, will cover this later). It’s a really good way to look like you know what you’re talking about in the classroom.

Other reasons for using Blogs in the classroom?

Thankyou to all that posted comments on the previous post, and for all the retweets on twitter. One of the really nice thing about education, in general is that everyone is so into sharing.  Today, if you could share some ways that you use blogs in the classroom, we could all use each others ideas.

Why do I like blogs as a teaching tool? Well…students are more likely to practice writing skills, allows feedback on pages, encourages reflective writing and thinking, can encourage students to back up ideas for their arguments with facts, opportunity for blogging is relatively fair and equitable, and they give an opportunity for students work to be seen by a worldwide audience.

November 28

Lightning Writing

One strategy that has been used to great success in our school is Lightning Writing. This is intended for students to increase writing efficiency, depth and is a really great end to the lesson for students to consolidate their learning, or at the beginning of a topic for a pretest. (with no effort in designing)

Students are given 2 minutes to write as much about a topic as possible. They are to continue to write for the whole two minutes, no matter what they are writing. They aren’t allowed to stop.

Students then count the following:

  • Words: Number of Words
  • Difficult words: Number of words with 3 or more syllables
  • Technical Terms: Number of technical words.

Students are then given a second opportunity in which they are to select a goal to improve the rate of words, difficulty, or technical terms.

Students then get another two minutes to write, count the total, and determine the difference.

This is very good for increasing writing speed, complexity and increase use of terminology, which are essential for HSC success.

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November 25


One strategy that I have used extensively now is the crossword. Students are really highly motivated to complete them, and it’s a great way to get subject terminology across. Particularly because in my subject (industrial technology) key terminology is very important, particularly in exam literacy.

One way to do this and make it more difficult is to do a Reverse crossword. You give students a copy of the crossword, with all the answers filled out, and students need to fill  out the clues. This way, students are generating their own definitions of the terminology. Really, it’s just a tricky way to get students to be excited about doing a glossary.

An option then is to either give students the blank crossword then, swap cluees with a friend and to see if they can complete the crossword. You can also get students to enter their own clues into a program such as Eclipse Crossword, which is a free crossword puzzle program, which then generate a totally different puzzle based on the same clues, which a friend can then do. This then gives students instant feedback on whether their definitions are clear enough for somebody else to do.

Eclipse Crossword can even generate an interactive HTML puzzle for students to complete, if you have access for longer on the computers, or can simply print the puzzle to do.

November 22

Affinity Diagramming/Card Sorting

A PEEL Strategy that I learnt to do from the Usability Research branch of the University of Technology, Sydney was Affinity Diagramming. UTS/Usability labs used this to summarise primary research, where important points within the research were placed onto post-it notes, and then sorted and categorised into different sections. I found this really useful, and have since used it for any research or essay I have written.

I recently stumbled across this post (link) in the Content Literacy Ning which inspired me to write about my experiences.

I have also used it quite extensively within the classroom. Students are presented with different information resources on a topic, and a packet of different coloured postit notes. Students are asked to record each of the main concepts that are presented within their resource on a separate note. Students then group their cards into related categories by physically moving them around. They then summarise the information within each category into a paragraph, using the category as their topic sentence and post-it notes as supporting information.

This PEEL strategy is used to teach students how to analyse and synthesise information obtained from multimedia resources. It teaches students essay and extended response writing skills and how to organize information into categories. This strategy aids all ability levels, particularly students who struggle with the organisation of information, Kinesthetic learners benefit from this strategy, as they more effectively learn when given the opportunity to move out of their seat and physically interact with the content. Similarly, this strategy assists visual learners who have the ability to visually conceptualise the information and therelationships between components assisting the retention of content information. By simultaneously catering for various academic abilities and multiple intelligences, this activity identifies itself as a learning strategy that can promote effective learning.

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