Several months ago I had the opportunity to work with the awesome teachers at Lakeside Elementary School. We explored ways to setup and use a blog for learning. I am not easily impressed, but I must confess to having been very impressed with these teachers' positive, boundless energy and enthusiasm for their work with children--even after a long hard day "at the office." These teachers love their work.
After a couple months, I received an email from Mrs. Cockrell with a link to her new class blog. While having only had the class blog for two months, her initial efforts with third grade students have really been impressive. And since I have numerous questions from elementary teachers about how to leverage Web 2.0 technologies on the elementary level, I was delighted that Mrs. Cockrell agreed to be featured in this spotlight interview series. I'm sure all of our elementary colleagues will want to follow her work next year as she says she's just getting started!
1. Gayla, I understand that you have been blogging personally for about 7 years, since 2002. How has that personal blogging experience in any way informed what you are doing with your professional, classroom blogging?
Probably more than anything, it just prevented me from being wary about starting a classroom blog. I feel like a lot of teachers are unsure if they would be able to "figure it out," when in reality, it's quite simple once you just get started. So honestly, I feel like blogging is SO easy that it didn't even make much of a difference that I had been doing it personally for a while. Which is to say, if you haven't been blogging as long as I have (or at all, for that matter), it makes no difference. It is very user-friendly!
2. You just started blogging for your classroom this school year. There are so many ways a blog can be used by a classroom teacher. What are the different ways you are using your blog, and what results are you seeing from having a classroom blog?
In addition to the obvious uses (communicating upcoming dates and events, reminders, project due dates, test dates, etc.), I have found several ways to use our class blog to get the parents and students interested in it.
Some of my favorites:
- Posting videos of class performances (readers' theater, presentations, etc.) so parents can watch them at home (even students have told me they watch themselves many times!)
- Polling students and/or parents about a specific question
- Homework assignments (Usually to read an article and then answer a question in the comments section of the blog entry--I want to keep assignments short & simple for my 3rd graders so they don't get discouraged)
- Posting a game where students can actually practice their multiplication facts ON my blog without going to another website—check it out!
- Posting links to websites for specific holidays or topics
- Recording videos of “how-to” step-by-step directions on my Smartboard and uploading them to the blog so parents and students can view the directions at home. (Obviously not everyone has a Smartboard, but you can also find videos on You Tube or Teacher Tube and do this same thing.)
I know there are many more ways to use the blog, and I plan to incorporate it a lot more during the upcoming school year, but I didn’t even start my blog until April this past year! There are so many possibilities.
3. Would you share with us how the students are reacting to this new adventure in their classes?
They love it! They have their own class website, how cool!? It’s similar to how they love to look at pictures of themselves and how they love to watch the videos of their performances. I don’t know how to explain it, but they are so open to technology. Of course, they are part of a new era where they’ve never known life without technology, so it’s only natural that they would be more open to new technology than we are.
There’s something about kids wanting to feel important, and I feel this is another way to do that. Giving students the chance to respond via comments gives them a voice; the opportunity to participate and contribute to their learning. I want them to feel like their opinions and ideas really matter, because they do.
4. What do the students' parents see as the advantages of your blogging for the classroom?
For parents, I can tell it is just another way to forge positive communication between parent and teacher. I work at a school where a lot of parents are involved in their children’s education, and they really want to know what goes on in the classroom. I think they really appreciate that extra effort to include them in your classroom activities. If you think about it, it’s really great; when parents know more about what their children are learning daily, imagine what great conversations they can have at home to further develop that knowledge. Not to mention that we are essentially preparing these kids to grow up and enter a workforce that requires a sophisticated knowledge of technology. The more practice they can get, the better.
Also, parents (or students) can choose to “follow” your blog so that they receive email notification each time you update, which makes it even more convenient for parents so they don’t have to continually check back to see when you have added something to the blog.
5. As an elementary school educator, do you have any issues, concerns, or words of caution you care to share with other elementary teachers who might be considering beginning a blog for their students?
I think you definitely want to consider the safety of the students first and foremost. Keeping in mind that my blog links back to our school’s homepage, I make a point to not put their names on any pictures, and if I do include names with a video, I put the names in random order. I don’t want any stranger off the Internet to be able to drive up to the school and call my students by name!
If you find that several of your students do not have access to the internet at home, you would want to give them the opportunity to explore your class blog during computer lab time or free time.
There is also an option you can choose that requires you to “okay” any comments before they are published to the blog if you are concerned about the appropriateness of student comments.
6. Time is a huge factor for educators. How much time, above and beyond your normal teaching duties, does your blog require of you, and how do you measure this cost with the benefit of having the blog?
It depends on how much time you WANT to spend. The initial creation and set-up of my blog is what took the most time, but you only have to do that once. If I am just adding upcoming dates or writing an entry to remind parents of an upcoming field trip, etc., it only takes me about 5 minutes to update my blog. Even adding a poll to the sidebar only took me 5 minutes!
I added some music to my blog that would play whenever you visit the site (through playlist.com), and that took a while longer, but that is in no way a necessity! Also, I only had to do it once. If you want to upload a video or photos, that will take a little bit longer, of course, but I definitely feel the reward is worth the extra time. The time I spend on updating our class blog is NOTHING compared to how much time I spend creating lessons for my Smartboard! =)
7. Anything else you wish to share?
If you consider yourself a novice at new technology, ask around; there are bound to be at least a few teachers you work with who are familiar with blogging now that it has gotten so popular. I bet they wouldn’t mind helping you get started until you’re familiar with how to post an entry, etc. Just think of the possibilities. How much more fun is it to read an article on the internet and then answer questions as a comment on your class blog than to read a piece of paper and circle a multiple choice answer? It really speaks for itself!
Special thanks to Mrs. Cockrell for sharing her experience with us! And I hope she has given our elementary colleagues some ideas for putting their classrooms on the grid!