My proposed project was to create a classroom blog so that my third grade students would have an online presence. The goal was two-fold. First, I wanted to have students explain classroom procedures and routines (the behavior chart, morning meeting, writers' workshop, etc.) using both text and visual images, so that parents would have an open view of the daily happenings in their child's classroom. This was the transparency piece. The second goal was to have students create tutorials, much like those found on Khan Academy, on various math topics. I had hoped this type of activity would not only strengthen students' understanding of the content as they created the tutorials, but that absent students or even parents who needed further clarification could watch the tutorials for help. This was the reverse teaching piece.
What worked? What didn't?
Much to my surprise and relief, my principal gave me permission to create a blog that my students would contribute to. This is a huge step forward for my district, as policies in the past have forbidden teachers from having websites and from posting student work online. However, with a new grades 3-5 school currently under construction, a new superintendent, and a new assistant principal, there has been a renaissance of technology taking place. I am now a STEM lead teacher, with a major emphasis on technology integration. All of these key changes have helped push our district into focusing on 21st Century learning experiences.
I originally planned to use Blogger or Google Sites to create the classroom blog. However, after a lot of online research and a few failed attempts of trying Blogger, I decided upon edublogs.org. Edublogs allows each student in my class to have a blog "under" me. I can choose to have students contribute to the main blog (mine), to their own, or to both. I can also manipulate the privacy settings in a plethora of ways. At this time, student blogs are only accessible through the main blog, and cannot be searched for though a search engine. I also have an option to make the blogs completely password protected, meaning that visitors would need to create their own accounts in order to access the pages. This availability of privacy options helped me sell the idea of a classroom blog to my principal.
As far as the blog itself, my students have created screen names and avatars, most of which have been uploaded to the blog. Unfortunately, this process took much longer than I had hoped. By the time I received permission to have the blog, with the two-week NECAP testing window and an additional two weeks of NWEA taking over the computer labs, it was difficult competing for lab time. However, my students now know how to log in to their accounts and are just now learning how to navigate the dashboard.
But despite not yet having made their own posts, a lot of work has already taken place--offline. During class, we have discussed Internet safety, the need to keep passwords private (between student and parent/teacher), and good netizenship. We have reviewed other elementary classroom blogs and have dicussed the types of information we'd like to include in our own blog. Students have learned how to operate the digital cameras, and have practiced taking photos that do not include the faces of other students (current district policy). As a class, students brainstormed a list of topics they feel should be addressed in the blog, and they have worked in small groups to hand-write their blog entries.
Whats next? How will you change it?
As students haven't yet been able to make a post, this is the next step in the process. In order for this to be effective, I need to have students in a computer lab where I can demonstrate how to create posts and upload photos. Students at the third grade level need repeated practice of specific skills before most are able to do the tasks independently, so I anticipate several trips to the lab will be in order. As soon as a few students learn the process, I will be able to have them help others who still need assistance.
Eventually, I'd like students to be able to work independently on one of three desktop computers in my classroom, as part of a weekly rotation system. My plan is to have specific days of the week that each student is responsible for posting a new blog entry or responding to the (teacher-monitored) comments from visitors.
Although my original goal was to have a transparent classroom with elements of reverse teaching, I'd also like to work toward a third goal of maintaining student portfolios within the blog. Since each student has a blog space, this seems like the perfect opportunity for them to display the work they are proud of and to share it with their parents and extended family.
My project is still a work-in-progress, but I'm liking the direction it is headed.