Why Blogging is So Valuable in the Elementary Classroom

Since I began taking my first Information and Technology In The Classroom course (last year) and began learning more and more about 21st Century tools, I have become so passionate about exploring the idea of classroom blogging. My teaching partner, Ray Swinarchin has also become interested in blogging as a way to engage his students.  Although we know we have much to learn about it and have to work on making it more exciting and interactive for our students, we have come to believe in the benefits of class blogging through reading many other classroom blogs and by learning from many other teachers experiences.

Before discussing the benefits, we would like to talk about some of the challenges that some teachers face and offer some ways in which we have planned to overcome these challenges.  The first challenge is in regards to student safety.  Many people have fears that by posting on blogs we will expose children to the general public.  This concern can be addressed by having lessons that address how to be safe online.  Before children are given access to blogs, we will have them read appropriate posts and practice writing blogs.  A second concern sometimes raised, is that students do not know how to write quality comments.  The reason this often occurs is that students have not been taught how to write these comments.  Teachers often create blogs and expect students to be able to write and respond.  A final concern about classroom blogging is regarding the access children have to using technology.  We are addressing this concern by making technology available to students during class time.  For after hours, children who do not have the use of technology at home can access a computer and the internet at public libraries.  Though there are some challenges with classroom blogging, there are many more benefits to enhance student learning and success:

Supports Reading Skills

Reading other blogs is an important part of the blogging process. By reading posts from other bloggers, students learn about creating interesting and informative blogs. This allows them to make connections and practice reading for authentic purposes.

Helps Students Develop Writing Skills

In our class we will be using blogging to address a variety of writing skills. Writing posts together allows us to look at how to present information to a desired audience. As well, students will be expected to write quality comments that follow a letter format (intro, body, closing). Writing using paragraphs will also become an expectation, which is a part of the grade 4 and 5 language curriculum.

Teaches Students to Build a Positive Digital Footprint and Practice Internet Safety

Most students today are using the internet in some capacity today. They will only continue to access this tool more and more as they get older. It is important to teach students how to be safe on the internet and how to ensure that they are creating a positive image of themselves and their actions online. It is not enough to do this over a few brief lessons; blogging allows consistent regular practice for these important skills.

Encourages Collaboration

Class blogging can allow opportunities for collaboration in many ways. Students can work together to build posts for our readers. Students may work in groups on a collaborative project and this can be shared on our blog for feedback from other students in the class or from global viewers. As well, blogging gives us the opportunity to connect with other classes around the globe and establish relationships. Classes can learn from each other and can have a better understanding of geography, time zones, and social interactions.

Includes Parents in their Children’s Learning

Blogging provides a window into what is happening into our classroom. Parents can see what students are learning about and have regular updates on what is for homework. As well, many parents often wish they could be more involved in their child’s learning. The classroom blog is a great place for parents to leave comments about what we’re learning or ask thought provoking questions about our topics. This gives students a reason to consolidate what they’ve learned and put a response together that shows their understanding of new concepts. As well, parents are able to create guests posts about topics of their choice. Students would love reading about topics our parents know lots about or to hear about some exciting facts from places our parents have traveled to. This encourages our students to ask questions and write quality comments.

Motivates Students

Without a doubt, I know that students love using technology. Students are motivated by the idea of blogging. Many teachers who use blogs report that students show improvements in their reading and writing through blogging. There is also an increase in effort and creativity from students when they know their work is being published for an authentic and immediate audience. Students who tend to be reluctant writers are more willing to write when their work is being published on the class blog.

Students Learn 21st Century Learning Skills

Students today will require a variety of skills when they enter the workforce. Many of them will have jobs that haven’t even been created yet. For this, they will be expected to be confident in using a large variety of 21st Century Learning skills. Blogging teaches students to navigate the internet, how to create digital presentations, how to type, how to work with others in different locations, media literacy skills, reflection skills, and a variety of technology skills.

Mrs. Yollis is a fellow blogger who I am inspired by. She has been blogging with her grade 2’s and 3’s for several years now and has seen many benefits of the process. See what her students have to say about blogging:

Still not convinced, here is a great infographic that the amazing Langwitches shared on her blog:

For any of the challenges that may be faced in the learning process, the skills learned through blogging are invaluable!

 

References:

Miss. Azzapardi’s Class. “Why We Blog.” Five White’s Class blog. Accessed 08.04.14

Yollis, Linda. “Rewards of Teaching Young Children to Blog.” SmartBlog on Education. Posted 08.08.12. Accessed 08.04.14

Morris, Kathleen. “Flattening Classroom Walls With Blogging and Global Collaboration.” The Edublogger. Posted 07.02.12. Accessed 08.04.14

Miss. Jordan’s Class. “Why we Blog in 4KM and 4KJ.” 4KJ @ Leopold Primary School. Accessed 08.04.14

Yollis, Linda. “Why Have a Class Blog.” Educational-Blogging. Accessed 08.04.14

Mrs.Yollis’ Class. “What We’ve Learned from Blogging.” Mrs. Yollis’ Classroom Blog. Posted 05.08.09. Accessed 08.04.14

Sinha, Rini. “Blogging in Classroom: Steps and Benefits.” EdtechReview. Posted 05.16.13. Accessed 08.04.14

Tolisano, Silvia. “Implementing Blogging in the Classroom.” Langwitches. Posted 10.08.12. Accessed 08.04.14

Davis, Anna. “Rationale for Educational Blogging.” Edublog Insights. Posted 01.17.07. Accessed 08.04.14

Holland, Beth.”Introducing Social Media to Elementary Students.” Edutopia.  Posted 06.18.14.  Accessed 08.04.14

Morris, Kathleen.  “The Benefits of Educational Blogging.”  Primary Tech.  Posted 03.08.13.  Accessed 08.04.14.

Utecht, Jeff.  “Blogs Are Not The Enemy.”  Tech and Learning.  Posted 04.20.06.  Accessed 08.04.14.

Reflecting on how technology has aided collaboration

My teaching partner, Ray Swinarchin has put together a reflection on our behalf that looks at how technology has aided in student collaboration and in how we as teacher’s can now deliver content. Ray and I have also looked through the grade 5 Ontario Curriculum in the language, science, and social science strands to see where references can be made to technology. You can view our findings from the link toward the end of Ray’s post.

Reflection

As my teaching partner, Chantelle Davies and I explored the grade 5 Science and Technology, Social Studies and Language Arts curriculum, we looked for explicit and implicit examples that referenced technology and 21st Century learning pedagogies.  As we looked over the three subjects that we are responsible for this upcoming year, we found that there were very few explicit examples.  We found many implicit examples of how we could use 21st Century learning to enhance student success and engagement.  For teachers, the curriculum is what is to be taught but it is up to each teacher and their own pedagogies on how to deliver the content.

How we teach and how students learn should prepare them for the world and workforce they are preparing to enter and therefore we should be thinking about incorporating 21st Century technologies into the classroom.  The workforce today is using 21st Century technology in ways that were not possible a few years ago.  To engage students, technology must be used in order to create authentic real world tasks.  Students are using and learning about technology at the same time as some teachers are learning.  In some cases, it can be argued that the students are more than capable of teaching peers and the teacher on how to use some 21st Century technology and tools.  For teachers to use technology to it’s full potential requires more than just access to 21st Century technology in the classroom.  It takes purposeful planning in order to integrate 21st Century technology to create students ready for the 21st Century workforce.

Today’s workforce is using technology to collaborate and create.  In order for students to gain these skills there needs to be a purpose for using the technology in the classroom which takes deliberate planning by the teacher.  When the use of technology has a purpose the students gain knowledge, deepen their understanding of content, and create new work.  All real world skills.  For students to gain these skills there needs to be collaboration between peers and teachers.  When this process occurs, students gain further knowledge and understanding.  When a teacher integrates technology into the daily routine, collaboration also becomes part of the daily routine.  With collaboration students gain different perspectives from a wider range of thinkers.  As Chantelle and I have stated, we would like to expand our the sharing and collaboration beyond our classes so that we can gain insight from other classes doing similar work.  Collaboration and the benefits of collaboration do not occur if technology is not used with purpose.  For example, students who are only allowed to use technology during centre time usually work independently to enhance a skill.  No creativity, sharing, or collaboration occurs at this time.  There is some knowledge gained, but it does not create critical thinkers who can create new work.

To create critical thinkers; the way content is delivered must change in order to engage students.  Many students struggle to get true meaning from books.  Today with the internet, children are able to access the latest information, find photos and videos to help them gain new knowledge.  An example of this changing way, is the way we plan to explore the science strand of Forces Acting on Structures and Mechanisms.  Specific expectation 1.1 asks student to analyse the effects of forces from natural phenomena on the natural and built environments.  We plan to have students observe video that shows the effects and then let students make their observations based on the video.  When we considered the social  studies curriculum we found that it would be easy to use technology to gather and share information in expectations such as B2.2 gather and organize a variety of information and data that present various perspectives about Canadian social and/or environmental issues.  To see how technology fits in with Social Studies expectations follow the link to  3 Great Assistive Technology Tools.  Although, the example in 3 Great Assistive Technology Tools pertains to the grade 4 social studies curriculum, a similar task using the Idea Sketch app and Read and Write for Google could be designed for this grade 5 expectation about environmental issues. Finally, when we consider the Language document, there are numerous ways to deliver, create and share content.  One way Chantelle and I plan to do this in the upcoming year is to use our recorders of learning.  In this examples, students are creating the content that highlights key learning for their peers. Their peers in turn will offer feedback, allowing for increased collaboration even when tasks were done independently.

By delivering content in ways like this, learning becomes authentic and engaging. It is real to the students and they gain more understanding by actually seeing and doing.  The internet has allowed teachers to take students out into the world whether it is through videos or virtual tours. It has allowed collaboration and sharing of knowledge to occur.  With purposeful planning, access to the internet can be an engaging way to deliver content.

Follow the link to see the examples that we thought referenced technology in the Grade 5 Curriculum.

Inquiry/Project/Problem – based learning…what’s the difference?

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Inquiry based learning, project based learning, problem based learning: what is the difference? Many would tell you there is little difference. I found several compelling arguments that would suggest they are the same thing; with a new name. I decided to learn more.

Inquiry Based Learning, although not an entirely new concept, seems to be the latest buzz word that begun floating around our board these last two years. In an overly simplified explanation, it is simply a way of teaching that encourages students to ask questions throughout the entire learning (inquiry) process. Students are encouraged to ask questions that drive research, sharing of information, testing theories, and ultimately lead to further and deeper questions. Question leads to expanded learning. According to Ontario’s Capacity Building Series there are four phases to the inquiry process:

1. Focus - This is when students begin to define the topic they are interested in, framing it into a big question or a prediction. During this stage, teachers act as a support listening to their  questions, discussing ways they can go about their learning, modeling how to build good questions, and beginning to group curriculum expectations that can be addressed through the topic.

2. Share Learning - During this stage students begin to answer their questions and share their findings with their peers and the teacher. Through sharing, questions are refined in order to dig deeper and encourage rich thinking. It is here that teachers can challenge students thinking and guide them to extend their thinking. There is opportunity to assess any curriculum that has been addressed and teachers help students think about ways to show their learning.

3. Explore - Here students find out more information using a variety of sources. They clarify their questions and ask more questions related to their focus. They discuss their findings. Teachers provide tasks that allow students to add new learning to their existing background knowledge, they encourage sharing of information and peer-feedback, and model reflection.

4. Analyze - This fourth stage is about synthesizing the information that students have gathered. Students are comparing, sorting, classifying, and interpreting information to draw conclusions about the questions they asked. At this point teachers are providing opportunities for students to share their findings and allowing time for peer and self assessment. Even in this final stage teachers support students in asking more questions; to begin the inquiry process again.

Moving on, the reading I have done would lead me to believe that Problem Based Learning and Project Based Learning could both operate as a subset of inquiry based learning. John Larmer, from the Buck Institute of Education said in a post he did for Edutopia, that “[problem based learning], along with project-based learning, falls under the general category of inquiry-based learning — which also includes research papers, scientific investigation, Socratic Seminars or other text-based discussions, etc.” Given my recent learning, I would agree with John provided the PBL (either one) is driven by student questions and not by questions that only the teacher has posed.

In trying to defined the difference between project based learning and problem based learning, John Larmer and several others would suggest that they are very similar. Below is a great chart that John provided in his blog post highlighting the subtle differences between the two PBL’s.

Problem based learning appears to be helpful to math teachers. Several blogs I read, sighted that teachers preferred to focus their inquiry on a single subject question. It was easier to get at the concepts they needed to teach. This makes sense to me, given our jam packed curriculum. Teachers can help guide students in creating problems (or provide the problems, if not student inquiry driven) that focus on a strand in math, but perhaps allow them to address several concepts within the strand. That seems like a lot in itself. In the primary grades, it may be easier to work form a project based learning approach where homeroom teachers have the flexibility to work with their students over longer periods of the day. Project such as designing a new addition for the school (something that will be happening at my school this year) would easily lend itself to discussions and discoveries in science (Forces Acting on Structures), Math (Numeracy – How many new students are coming? How many rooms will be needed? How does this affect the timetable?), Language (reading, multiple forms of writing), Social Studies (Which level of government is responsible for funding in school construction? Who decides which schools open/close?), Art (3D design/perspective, colour theory for classroom design), etc. A primary teacher, who spends many more hours with his or her students has the flexibility to take an idea like this and encourage students to explore it further. It also allows the flexibility to ensure that the questions and answers are student driven, lending itself to the once again popular, inquiry based learning model.

My challenge is, how do we as teachers ensure all of our curriculum expectations are covered in a timely manner. If inquiry is a cyclical process, how do we control (and if not control, know it will get done) that all strands and subjects are covered by June?

 

References:

http://www.edutopia.org/blog/pbl-vs-pbl-vs-xbl-john-larmer:

http://eduscapes.com/tap/topic43.htm:

http://www.cii.illinois.edu/InquiryPage/

http://smartblogs.com/education/2013/02/14/should-i-teach-problem-project-or-inquiry-based-learning/

http://inquiryblog.wordpress.com/

http://www.teachinquiry.com/index/Introduction.html

http://bie.org/about/why_pbl

http://www.pbl.uci.edu/whatispbl.html

 

The World is our Audience

Thanks my teaching partner, Ray Swinarchin for another great guest post. He and I have been discussing the uses of our personal professional blogs and our classroom blogs. Thanks Ray for putting into writing!

 

The World is our Audience

But We Still Need To Know Our Target Audience

Though blogs are in the public domain, blogs and bloggers write about topics to catch the interest of a target audience. As teachers, we try and reinforce this concept to students. When working on writing tasks, we teach students to think of the audience and consider how the audience will affect the style of writing; how much information should be shared; what type of vocabulary should be used with the audience; length of piece; the purpose of the piece and the age/background of the audience. Keeping this in mind, it is easy to see why it is important to have a separate class blog and a professional blog. Each one of these blogs targets a very different audience and the purpose of each is also different.

A professional blog for teachers is about pedagogy, practice, and reflections. The blog looks at what is being done in the classroom and comments on experiences. It is open for others in similar situations to share their learning or practice. It is a place for teachers to connect and collaborate. Through the professional blog, as new ideas and thoughts are added the teacher of the professional blog gains new insight to ideas which allows for personal growth.

The classroom blog is for students to grow. It is a place for them to share their learning with peers. It allows peers to comment and add ideas to what is being discussed. In this case, the purpose of the teacher is to coach students through blogging. To model and guide students so that they can grow as the year progresses. If the student’s and professional blogs were to be mixed it may become intimidating for some students to know that their work is being viewed by many teachers.

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When considering how the formatting would change on each reminded me of a lesson about cereal boxes and targeted audiences. How we set up the format really depends on our audience. If we want the targeted audience, students or professionals, to have interactions with either group the blog needs to offer topics that are of interest to that group, and it needs to appeal visually to the target group. It is important to keep student blogs and professional blogs separate because as they say, “Trix are for kids!”

 

Introducing Parents to Our Classes 21st Century Learning Plans

As we look ahead to the fast approaching new school year, my teaching partner Ray Swinarchin and I are eager to try many of the new tech tools we have been exploring. We have grand plans for making blogging, D2L, and iPads a big part of our classroom practice. We know that a lot of this will be a new experience to both our students and parents. In an effort to help introduce our technology plans to our students’ parents we have put together a slide presentation that we will embed into our blogs on the first day of school. As well, we will share this presentation with the parents when they come in for Meet the Teacher night early in the year. I think this may still be a work in progress right up until the night we publish it, so please make any suggestions of things we should add or change.

 

Collecting Resources With LiveBinder

My teaching partner, Ray Swinarchin and I have been working on a collection of resources to aid us in our lesson planning for science and social science. Since we often end up with a variety of resources bookmarked and saved in a variety places, we have decided to open up a LiveBinder account together. By having a shared account we can easily double our efforts in finding materials. This is especially helpful when we are both teaching split grade classes. This is just the early stages of our collection and we plan to add to it as the year goes on. Please take a look at what we have so far and let us know if you have any great suggestions that we should add.

Click here to open this binder in a new window.

Battle of the Blog

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Here is another great guest post from my teaching partner, Ray Swinarchin looking at the difference between having a blog or a website. Thanks for sharing with us!

 

I have to admit that before I began my course, blogging was something I was interested in learning more about so that I could use it in my class. When I would explore other blogs I became intimidated by the look of the blog and all the work that seemed to go into creating one. My teaching partner, Chantelle Davies, used blogs this past year and ensured me that it was not that difficult to create. I still wasn’t convinced, but promised to try. After only a few weeks of using a blog I find it fairly simple to use and feel confident that I can follow through on one of Chantelle and my goals: create a class blog.

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The question before us is why a class blog and not a website? Though both seem to do similar things, I find them quite different. Both a blog and websites offer information on various topics. In a website, the information remains static. It is placed on the site and rarely updated. This is fine if a teacher plans to create a website for a unit where students can gather information about a topic. If the teacher’s need of the tool is to only share and distribute content then a website is a good tool. However, if the teacher would like a collaborative and interactive site, then a blog is the best tool for this application. A blog allows the teacher to post updates and current content and allows others to interact with that content. It is a way of sharing and building upon content. So the answer to the question: blog or website, really depends on how the tool will be used in the classroom.

Websites and Blogs both have a use in the class. To simply create the tool serves no purpose unless children are explicitly taught what each tool is for and how to use it. However, when I think of a website, I think of big name sites(PBS Kids, National Geographic Kids, etc.).

I was wondering if anyone has created a class website and can share it as an example?

A Shared Collection Using Delicious

My teaching partner, Ray Swinarchin and I have created a Delicious account that we are sharing together. We both originally had accounts of our own, but thought that it would be beneficial to create one account where we could both save resources for teaching our common subject area and as a place to collect resources for our students to access.

Recently, we have been collecting a variety of video’s to aid our grade 5 students in their understanding of our science unit: Forces Acting on Structures.

You can view what we have in our collection so far here:

Grade 5 Forces/Structures on Delicious

One activity we have planned is related to our look into the power of natural forces. In an effort to have students use the resources to engage their higher order thinking skills we have created a task using Google Docs where they can collaborate with other members in their group on the videos they will watch. The video’s are available through the Delicious link above if you add the tag “natural forces” to the collection that is already there. However, we have also added the links to the Google Document students will be working on.

Here is the Google Docs assignment for our students: The Power of Natural Forces

 

Universal Design Learning

Here is another great guest post by my teaching partner, Ray Swinarchin, that pulls together many of the ideas we’ve been working on together.

As I work through the course Integration of Technology into the Classroom, along with my teaching partner, Chantelle Davies, we continuously reflect on our past year and consider our upcoming year to come up with ways to improve what we have done.  We have created some work that we are proud of but we seem to ask ourselves the same question at the end of the planning.  Will our struggling students be able to do this?  Our answer to this is usually to add assistive technology for the struggling students.  The problem is that this can further isolate these struggling students because they have been “made to use” the technology.  At the same time there may be a number of students that become upset because they do not get to use the technology.  To overcome this problem we need to apply the Universal Design for Learning Theory.

Universal Design is the idea that assistance targeted for a specific group can help or have benefits for all.  According to Education For All, Universal Design for Learning or UDL’s aim in education is to make curriculum accessible to everyone regardless of age, skill, or situation.  Each student is unique and as a result, the idea of UDL helps provide a pathway for each student to help them reach their learning goals.  As we move forward, Chantelle and I need to keep the ideas of UDL in mind in order to create content that is flexible, supportive, and adjustable in order to ensure access to content and to ensure success for all students.

As a result of reflecting on the past and looking to the future, Chantelle and I have created a list of teaching strategies/ideas that use technology in order to enhance learning for all students and not just struggling students.

1.  Recorders of Learners

We have discussed this strategy in a previous post  Recorder of Learning – Using Photo Editing Apps.   This idea is that students will document key learning moments in the classroom to share with the class at the end of the week.  All students will benefit by having peer created documents that sum up the weeks learning to reflect and refer to in the future.  It will make learning accessible to all anytime they need it. Students will be able to use tools like Voicethread to varying degrees depending on their learning needs. Some students will use it to briefly document learning, while putting much of their learnings into a written format. Other students may offer up most of their learning through the Voicethread tool, with only a small portion of written work to introduce what they are saying in the VT.

2.  Deliver instruction through multiple forms.

One way we plan to try this in the upcoming year is to embed lessons into Desire 2 Learn (D2L).   Prerecording a short lesson or sharing a clip allows all students to watch and learn at their own pace.  The students can watch the clip several times or refer back to the clip if they need as they work on tasks and build new skills.  This also allows the teacher to work with small groups in order to give further support if needed. Finally, this strategy will engaging as we access the students and communicate with them on devices they are more comfortable with.  We will no longer be isolating the struggling group by making them use technology. Once again, learning is accessible to all students.

3.  Gather information and give immediate feedback.

Exit cards are a great strategy to help gather information and allow teachers to see where further instruction is needed.  In D2L, a quick way to do this is through the quiz feature.  One nice component of this is that you can set up your quizzes in a way that will not open new content until the student receives a satisfactory mark in the quiz.  As the instructor, you have the option to have the student take the test over until they reach the mark you have predetermined.  Another option, which works well for all students in the class is to create a test that sends students on various paths according to their quiz result.  For students who reach a satisfactory mark, the instructor may add an extension task or may have students move on to the next skill.  Those who may have not met the required mark may be given a task to support the learning that needs to be reviewed.  In either case, the students are receiving the support they need and are continuing their learning.

4.  Use technology to define key terms.

As new units begin we always wonder how to introduce vocabulary?  Many times the dictionary can be confusing and true meanings are difficult for many students to grasp.  A way around this that would make vocabulary terms and definitions engaging is to let students use technology to show meaning.  There are many tools and formats that could be used to display vocabulary meanings. Some tools to display meaning include GlogsterEDU, Pic Collage, VoiceThread, MindMeister, Lino.  With many options and ways to present terms, students can use tools they are most comfortable with.  Students who may struggle with reading tasks will have many options on how to show their learning.  An engaging activity for all that will be available to all students to refer back to when the term comes up within a unit.

5.  Use of audio recording tools to capture learning.

Capturing learning by allowing students to record their voices is not a new idea for those who struggle.  This is a great way to get around the frustration many students have in getting the ideas they have on to paper.  One way I have debated on using this type of tool is when doing our boards Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA).  For some, writing down ideas gets in the way of what they truly want to say.  If the student is allowed to orally express their thinking they may be able to give greater details to support their thinking.  Getting thoughts on paper is something that most students struggle with; so again this is an idea that can work for the whole class. If the response must be written then the students can use their recorded answer to help them recall key ideas.

We are wondering how UDL has enhanced the learning in your classroom?

 

3 Great Assistive Technology Tools

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All students are different and need varying support in reaching common goals

 

Looking deeper into some of the 21st Century tools that we have been exploring, Ray and I believe some of these tools will be very valuable for our students who require some extra support. However, the great thing about many of these tools, is that they are also beneficial for all students. In the link below I will demonstrate the use of three great assistive technology tools; VoiceThread, Idea Sketch, and Read and Write for Google.

Assistive Tech VoiceThread