What should education look like in the 21st Century? Of course, our standard subjects – reading, writing and arithmetic – will continue to be the core of our instruction, but what changes as we move forward? Much of what we teach our students is limited by how much and how fast they can learn as they grow and develop. These limitations will constrain the content of the curriculum. The answer to our question, I think, is not what our students will learn in the 21st Century, but how they will learn.
As education moves forward into the 21st Century, more and more reliance on developing technologies will creep into how we help the students learn. The Ontario Ministry of Education has acknowledged the need to address changing technologies by creating focus in our schools on “teaching and learning 21st Century content…learning skills, resources and technologies.” What better way for our students to become connected and challenged beyond the world of the school using technology than with a blog?
I first introduced the idea of blogging to my students by fumbling my way through a classroom blog of our own. I initially used the blog as a bulletin board, posting information about homework, daily musings, and tidbits of information regarding our day-to-day classroom activities. The students enjoyed the idea of being ‘connected to the classroom’ from anywhere, and were eager to offer ideas for blogging topics. I would post a topic, and the students would respond. It was this point when the students began to see the blog as a learning tool.
Students started to ask for important information to be posted on the blog so they could access it anywhere without fear of it going missing. Students requested everything from project due dates to success criteria for assignments be posted on the blog. Disorganized students began to count on the organized information and web links to make take control of their learning. The blog became less of an entertainment piece, and more of an educational tool.
Soon students wanted more than to comment on someone else’s blog, they wanted to control a blog of their own. Some students created individual blogs, and some students co-created blogs with specific purposes. Every student began to understand the global scope of this form of communication, and became quite committed to safe and ethical use of technology. Subject wise, everything from video game reviews to the royal wedding is being covered by the students in my class. How has the blogging process impacted their learning? Here’s what the students have to say:
“I try not to make spelling mistakes because everyone is watching. I check it over three times and before I write, I have to think about what I am writing.”
“…I make sure everything is perfect. I make sure I remain on topic so it makes sense to the audience.”
“My approach to writing changes when I am writing on the blog because I know that other people will see it, and could comment or reply too. I start thinking about what other people will think about what I’m writing, and how they will respond…when I’m on the blog, I think about other kids’ ideas too.”
“When I’m writing on my own blog I brainstorm to think of a good subject to talk about to draw other’s attention.”
“…I brainstorm like crazy…”
“…I include pics so people can understand more…”
Through blogging, students change how they approach writing. They write with purpose. They write to an audience. They write to communicate. They feel excitement to know that other people from around the world view their blog and, in turn, their ideas. Ultimately, they enjoy the process and the results of writing. Perhaps our question shouldn’t be what should education look like in the 21st Century, but what can it look like?
Here at PECI, we have been blogging with a Gr. 9 Venture English class. Students were asked do a weekly personal post and comment on others’. They could post about anything. We encouraged them to make connections with what they have read, heard, and seen. We also asked them to read other blogs and make comments. Every week there was a required post that related to our English program.
We set up iGoogle accts to facilitate tracking. This is a time consuming job. We need to improve on making comments and giving more timely feedback for their assigned posts. We used a checklist. Next time I would add more details to the checklist. It would be helpful if tracking could be facilitated technically.
Just before midterm we used a rubric to assess each blog.
We gave students and parents a survey to find out what they thought about blogging.
Sixty-seven percent of our students enjoyed blogging. Most blog at home, even though they were given one period a week to blog here at school. Sixty-four percent of our parents liked that fact that blogs were being used as part of their course. Their children had shared their blogs with them at home.
“I think that the best benefits of blogging are how it allows everyone to read about what others think of a certain topic or just what is new in their lives… and people can comment on posts.”
“I think that the benefits of blogging include being able to express yourself in personal way, as well as being able to share your opinion and have educated conversations with others about their opinions too. I like the sharing aspect of blogging.”
“I think that the benefits of blogging include a greater understanding of oneself, and a greater understanding of where your peers are coming from.”
“I think that the benefits of blogging are that you get to see others work and reflect from their work. It’s also a little more interesting than just writing answers on paper.”
Here are some parent comments:
“I have mixed feelings about the blogging project, mainly surrounding Internet security/privacy.”
This was uncharted territory for both of us. It was definitely a bit of risk and we do feel a bit vulnerable posting comments and assignment for all to see.
We felt that we were running to catch up. When we do this again, we will make sure all security measures are in place. This became an issue for one of our parents. It is important to inform and ask parents to give permission for blogging. We will spend more time teaching students how to be critical thinkers. We want student posts to be reflective and responsive. We will stress making connections with what they are reading and the outside world. Next time we hope to connect with other schools.
We have some awesome student blogs.
Todd & Susan
We now live in an increasingly globalized, and media-saturated society where our kids are expected to be able to create, publish, share, collaborate, connect, and have a voice. I am constantly questioning whether I am doing what really needs to be done to prepare my students for a world where they will have to be online collaborators, creators, sharers, and contributors?
I am learning and have tried to incorporate some elements of these skills in my classroom. This had been my second year being part of the HPEDSB Blogging Project and what a difference a year makes! This year my students have used the technological and multimedia tools now available to them to design and produce their own blog page, public service announcements, and films. Last year my class and I were learning together – we learned the basics of blogging on one main teacher page . We were also using old cameras and technology to create our PSA’s. I have to say that I am amazed at what my students, this year, can create and the great variation in their technological knowledge.
Blogging for me has been about engaging my students in a way that makes sense to them – being online and taking ownership for what they produce! We started off with discussions about proper online etiquette and what a blog is all about. We deconstructed blog posts and looked at different blog pages and comments and created our learning goal and success citeria. Students were then given their own pages and “set free”……sort of. I asked them to create certain posts on their page, based on ceratin criteria, but they were free to try adding widgets and themes and other technical elements they felt comfortable with.
I have to say, I am truly amazed as some of the results and written output. I have seen a huge improvement in student engagement and writing. Students that, if given a pen and paper and asked to write something, would have barely anything written down, but once they had ownership and realized that people outside the classroom would be able to view their work, their desire to write changed.
Some comments from students about their blogging experience:
“Interesting and enjoyable. Allowed me to take ownership with my writing.”
“I liked the idea of creating my own blog page – it allowed me to create a page that reflected who I am.”
“I enjoyed having my classmates read my writing. It allowed me to get feedback and comments about my ideas.”
“Sometimes I found it difficult to come up with creative comments to post to other people’s pages after reading their posts.”
“At the beginning I found it quite confusing. But the more I posted, the better I got at creating posts and adding details. I think I became more creative.”
Overall I’ve thoroughly enjoyed learning and experiencing blogging in the classroom. I enjoyed reading students work and seeing their level of creative and critical thinking improve. I really think that a majority of my students are well on their way to being critical thinkers and successful in the increasingly globalized, and media-saturated society. They truly do have a voice.
I thought I would take the crazy step of having students blog in a math class. I figured this could be a good idea for a number of reasons:
1. It would allow students to think about their learning and force them to truly understand what they were doing. My hope was that it wouldn’t be good enough to know how to manipulate numbers or to know how to use a certain algorithm. I wanted my students to be able to express what they had learned in words. I wanted them to be able to not only show me the ‘what’ I wanted them to think about, understand and write about the ‘how’ and the ‘why’.
2. I wanted my students to think about how they learn. I wanted them to be able to answer questions such as ‘How do you study?’, ‘What do you do when faced with adversity?’, ‘What are some ways you deal with difficult problems?’, ‘What are other strategies you could try?’.
3. I wanted students to take ownership in their learning. I had hoped that students would take ownership of their blogs. Perhaps they would find a neat math comic or math joke. I was hoping that this would be an easy way to make the learning and math more personal.
Did I reach all of my goals? No. Was I happy with the progress? For sure. I feel that had I reached all of my goals, I wouldn’t currently be as excited to try this again next year. I’m keen to expand upon this work in progress. I want to learn more so that I can help my students learn more. My students had some success blogging, but there is always room to improve.
What were some of the successes?
1. Students enjoyed the change of pace. They enjoyed spending a portion of a period writing rather than number crunching. This was evident by comments such as “When are we going to blog again?” or “I really like this.”
2. I enjoyed incorporating some literacy into a math class. It’s nice to be able to show students that literacy is important in math (and vice-versa). I found that as the semester went on, I heard “This is math, not English” a lot less. Students began to see that it’s tougher to separate the two subjects than it may seem.
3. Having students think and write about their learning is extremely valuable. I was worried that meta-cognition would be beyond students at the grade nine level. I was pleasantly surprised. Students were very honest and had the opportunity to think deeply about topics they don’t often think about. When asked to write about how they planned on preparing for an upcoming test, a number of them said “What should I write? I don’t study for tests.” My response was that they should think about how they should prepare for the test, write about it and then follow through with their plan.
Overall the blogging project has been a great experience. It was nice to get our feet wet. I look forward to growing this project in my own classes, within the school and across the district.
Since being “let loose” in November with a classroom footprint, I have seen student engagement and critical thinking expand by leaps and bounds.
While I have been lucky enough to have a group of brilliant, resourceful, and driven young people in an enriched Grade 7 environment, it has not meant that student literacy required little or no incentive to reach for higher learning.
Prior to the blogging experience, our literacy components included a number of resources which required depth in reading responses and personal risks in narrative/persuasive writing exercises. The content was terrific, the personal connections, intriguing.
However, given their own viral space to explore stories and events that mattered to them, the students have been quick to immerse themselves in news events and human interest stories from which they have chosen to provide personal insights which far exceed my expectations. Further, these learners have deepened their skill sets by taking on peer editing roles with each other. As well, they have been quick to engage in dialogue and debate on various issues in the Comment sections of the blog posts.
Another area of growth for students has been in the technical side of blogging. Once I demonstrated how to include an image/video or add a “widget” to enhance the appearance of a blog to one student, the rest would follow through peer sharing.
The negatives? Truly pressed for this. Really, the only downside of this experience is the lack of resources to produce work on a daily basis. This is a known issue; we’d all love to have computer access daily (hourly?). I do see a time, however, in the not-t00-distant future, when students will have their devices at the ready at their desks. It will take time. We’ll need a vision from our senior administration, patience from our teachers, and a clear understanding from students of the role that technology plays in our classrooms.
Finally, two things come to mind for me in this pilot project of blogging. First, the students have never been allowed to compromise the art of exemplary writing when publishing their work. The vast majority have followed the writing process as would be expected with or without a “web” presence. Second, these students have transformed themselves into social activists by becoming acutely aware of the world around them and the issues/events that are shaping their future. They are doing their research, responding with opinion and concern, and developing a sense of social responsibility as they get older. This would not have been tapped into without their own digital presence in the ‘blogosphere’, if you will.
I’m grateful for the opportunity to mentor this group. However, the credit should go to them for exploring their interest in multimedia and media literacy. Really, they have become even deeper critical thinkers over the course of the last five months. I’ve been entertained and informed beyond my expectations.
WordPress has recently released a new version of the blogging platform – 3.1. You may have noticed the option to upgrade to WordPress 3.1 when you are in your dashboard. If you upgrade, you will notice that 3.1 has a somewhat different look and feel. Those of us that are using it are still trying to learn the ins and outs of the new look. The one major change that you will notice right away is the tool bar at the top of the screen. When you are logged in, the tool bar follows you regardless of whether you are looking at the front end or the back end of your blog. It is quite a handy feature and makes navigating to areas quite efficient. Another thing you will notice is that the “Super Admin” area is gone… However, not to fret it has just been re-located. When you are in your dashboard area you will notice a “Network Admin” link in the top right corner. If you click on this you will be taken to the more familiar “Super Admin” area.
Here is a link to a helpful resource that outlines some of the changes that come with WordPress 3.1.
There will be some growing pains with the new version, but please don’t hesitate to use it and ask questions along the way. The blogging team is here to support you and assist with trouble-shooting any problems you may experience. The more we dig into the new tool, the more we will learn about it.
In an effort to keep everyone up to date we’d like to periodically highlight a blog. For our first spotlight, we’d like to welcome some new bloggers to our pilot project – Janice Ruggles-Bolton and David Fry from Athol Central Public School. They are currently introducing their grade 7 class to blogging. They have only been up and running since mid-February, but there are some great things happening.
It was exciting to see:
- -Success criteria posted for blogging as well as other curriculum tasks
- -Peer feedback in action as they critique each other’s brochures
- -Encouraging student ownership of the blog by soliciting input regarding the blog name
Click on the image below to check out their class blog directly.
Came across some great ideas last week for our HPEDSB bloggers. He describes a great way to introduce the concept of blogging, commenting and digital citizenship to junior/Intermediate students. Read more in his article ‘Paper Blogging’ at The Cleaver Sheep
Sue Markle shared this amazing site this week full of new Web 2.0 tools it will take me a year to explore. Looking for something new?
I was so excited this week to create personalized avatars on ‘BitStrips for Schools’ with my Grade 6 bloggers yet I quickly realized they had no way to upload them on to their WPMU profiles. Time for another plugin! Here is what you will need for students to upload avatars from personal files. Once installed they need to add the avatar to their personal profiles.