Blogging in the Primary Classroom

November 22, 2009

For some time now Robin Hood School has been working on developing the use of blogging in the classroom, and the abundance of class blogs was something which attracted me to the school in the first place. In our school every class has their own blog, which is set up by the ICT co-ordinator with an account for each teacher. The blogs are used to different degrees and purposes by different staff, and they have primarily been used for reporting events that are significant to each class, as a way of sharing what they are doing with parents, each other, and the world. This purpose has been very successful, with the blogs given prominence on the front page of the school website, and a significant number of hits.

I strongly feel that tools such as blogs should be used to extend learning, rather than just to teach children the skills of ‘blogging’, so after using our blog for a few weeks I took a step back and evaluated what it was I really wanted them to get out of using the tool. I decided on two main purposes for our blogging. The first was to provide an audience for our work, much as had been done before, but focusing on sharing the work itself rather than just reporting on it. I strongly believe in the social constructivist notion of authentic learning, that is that children should be provided with real experiences in order to allow them to bring meaning to what they are doing in school and create true understanding. On a practical level, producing a piece of work for a real audience is likely to encourage more motivation, and hopefully deeper thinking as a result of wanting to produce the best finished product.

The second thing I wanted the blogs to achieve was reflection from the children. Talking about the lack of time for reflection in the current packed curriculum is becoming something of a cliche, but it is true that meaningful reflection is not an easy thing to accomplish with primary age children. Blogging should be a tool that encourages this, as it allows the posting of an item or idea, and asynchronous reflection on it through the medium of comments.

Objectives set, I began by expanding what we were sharing in the blogs from photographs and reporting of ‘events’ to specific pieces of work which the class have produced. I also emphasized the authenticity of the work we were doing by sharing with them the hit count, and promoting the blog on my own twitter feed to encourage some comments from outside of our school community.The children were thrilled with comments on work such as their Tudor dance from people outside of the school. They have also been using it to show parents and family what they have been doing at school. We have even also had comments from children at other classes in our school, and even from cousins who attend other schools in different parts of the country.

I then used the blog with the class as a whole to reflect on the work. Rather than accessing it from what was stored on my own computer I showed them where they could find it online, and modeled the process of reading, evaluating and commenting by transcribing their oral evaluations as comments on the blog. This encouraged lots of children to start looking at the blog in their own time, something which I think was helped by the setting up of our class website, which they seem to really feel ownership of.

We shared lots of work, and used looking at the blog as a plenary or review activity in a number of lessons. Whilst the children were producing quite evaluative comments orally when discussing the posts in lesson time, their independent written comments were still lacking in any real focus. Therefore, I decided to start helping them to structure their responses by providing an ‘In the comments..’ activity with suggested focus for responses at the end of the blog posts. I introduced this this week with the post on our trip to a Tudor house, and set commenting on the blog as an activity in our History lesson on Wednesday.

This resulted in a terrific response, and saw our blog get 256 hits in a single afternoon. Each time we work on a web based activity in class it seems to inspire more pupils to continue the work after school and we have quite a number now who revisit our class work as soon as they get home. Granted, many of the comments left are not that evaluative, or even answering the questions, but I intend to spend some time reflecting on their reflections as a class, and I am excited to see how this develops as they evaluate and model reflection to each other.

Eventually I would like to expand this communal reflection to a more personalised reflection with the development of either learning journals or digital portfolios based on a blogging platform.

My first ideas was the development of learning journals, where the pupils would have their own blog (possibly private but shared with me, or our class) in which they could regularly record what they had been doing at school and what they had learned. The fact that we have 1 netbook per child in our class should make this very manageable, and could be very valuable in terms of encouraging them to evaluate their own learning and think more deeply about it.

The second idea was more in response to a problem than a point of learning. As we are starting to do more and more work using different web 2.0 tools as part of our school drive to utilize the entire web as a VLE, pupils work is increasingly scattered across different sites. The longer this continues the more likely it is that pupils records of learning and improvement which is served so well by traditional folders and exercise books could be lost. As increasing numbers of these services allow users to embed their work in other sites and tools, a blog could be a powerful way of collating the work pupils do across different tools into one place. This would allow us to replicate the strength of exercise books in keeping a record of learning, but could also encourage reflection as children could return to older work to comment and evaluate, bringing to it their later learning.

Perhaps a hybrid of the two is what we really need, and I would be interested to see examples of how others may have used blogs in this way to help me come to a conclusion about where I am taking this next.

In many ways I think we are a long way from fully achieving what we can with the technologies we are using in terms of childrens learning beyond the world of ICT. However after a whirlwind half term getting to grips with my teaching and the abundance of ICT in our school I am starting to see where I need to go to develop what I am doing to achieve the enhancement of learning through technology I believe in.

With all of the superficial reports in the national press about children being ‘taught blogging’ and twitter instead of traditional subjects, I think it is ever more important to reflect on what we are trying to achieve with these tools. Given the pace of change in technology, the mechanics and etiquette of blogging may well be dead in a few years. However, if we can utilize these tools to provide children with transferable and valuable learning, such as the reflection and skills I have detailed here, then the effects of their use will far outlive their lifetime as a medium.

Links

Class 4OQ’s Blog – My class’ blog

Robin Hood blogs – Class blogs from our school

Porchester Junior School – Using blogs as digital portfolios

Digitalteacher.co.uk – Detailing the setup of the above.

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The drive to be social with technology

November 22, 2009

I have been using Google docs with my class for some weeks now, and I have been really astounded at how proficiently my class of 8 year olds have been using this tool.

As I have described previously, rather than wowing the children with the collaborative features of google docs from the offset (as Tom Barrett opts to do), I decided to being our work in quite a traditional way.

As we are all new to the routines of having 30 netbooks in a class I began by conceptualizing google docs to the class as the digital equivalent of what they are used to on paper. I created templates in my own docs account, which were really digital worksheets, and shared these with the class in the manner I would hand out paper worksheets. When they had finished working on them I described the sharing process using the concept of ‘handing work in’ to me.

However, despite this presentation of the tools several of the girls decided to share their work with others in the class, which was not something I had even told them was possible, let alone showed them how to do. This is something that really didn’t fit with the way I had conceptualized the tool in my presentation of it, and therefore displays a big leap in thinking and confidence with technology. It also shows a drive to share and be social even in the context of individual work which I find very interesting.

Since then quite a number of the class have started using Google Docs sharing like email to send each other messages and conduct conversations. I have not yet enabled email on our domain yet, but their drive to be social with the tools they have has found a way round that very quickly. Despite the fact that Google Docs has only every been presented as a work tool in class, this use of it is much more personal, and is something they did not feel the need to ask my permission to do. I am sure that if I had introduced Google Docs in such a way to a class of adults they would not have so spontaneously started to use it this way.This could be seen as evidence that they do not have the awareness to separate the  work and personal spheres of their lives yet, but to me it shows them taking ownership of the tool and using it for their own means, something which I think is quite important for children to become truly engaged with web based learning.

Interestingly they have also decided to copy me in on many of their conversations, something they must make a conscious choice to do given the way sharing is set up. Whether they have done this seeking praise for their use of the tools, or because they see me as a mediator to their classroom discourse I am not sure, but I am glad they feel we have an open enough atmosphere that this communication would not be seen as subversive.

Whether or not you subscribe to Prensky, this is a definite display of flexible and social thinking from children who have been immersed in technology all their lives. I find the drive to use these technologies in a social way fascinating, and perhaps I was wrong to shy away from such uses in my class’ first experience of a tool which is designed around collaboration. Hopefully this social aspect is something we can tap into to enhance learning, and this is something I am very interested in following up for my MA action research.


Birmingham eSafety strategy launch

November 17, 2009

Earlier this week I was made aware of the fact that Simon Whitehouse from Digital Birmingham had used some of my work with 4OQ on web tools at the launch of the new Birmingham eSafety Strategy.

You can read his write up of the event here, and his presentation is below.

It sounds like our work provoked much discussion, with some people asserting that is raised “concerns about using social media tools in practice and how it might lead to inappropriate behaviour and a blurring of the relationship between (in this case) youth workers and young people.”. I would have been interested to hear these points of view, and the chance to respond, especially as I feel a lot of the thought that has gone into my work is not really visible from looking at the end products.
It was really encouraging to see my work being defended by Andy Pyper, the lead on e-Safety within Link2ICT, and Tony Howell, the Director of Childrens Services for Birmingham. It is nice to see figures of the establishment in our city looking at what we are doing, and being realistic about weighing up the benefits with the dangers rather than clamping down on it, as large establishments can sometimes do in matters of eSafety.
As an NQT it is also encouraging to see what I am doing recognised and debated at this level, and has encouraged me that despite this year being challenging it is well worth pushing on with what I am trying to achieve.
The first part is about Home Access programmes (which looks very interesting), our work begins on slide 26.

Using twitter on a school trip

November 17, 2009

4OQ Visit Selly Manor

I always think one of the most powerful uses of the social media that has grown around twitter is for reporting and reflecting on live events on location.  Some time ago a friend and I experimented with some ideas for a club night based around social media and, although we eventually shelved it, it made me think about using social media for our school trip today to Selly Manor in Birmingham.

I have been using twitter and blogging with my class since September to reflect on learning, share their work with an audience, and get them to the different places on the web easily on their 1:1 netbooks. Some of this has been through twitterific on my iPhone , which has allowed me to tweet their reflections outside of the classroom, and get them all to links quickly without having to return to my own computer.

Today we used Twitterific to document our trip, both using text and its capability to take  photograph with my iPhone and upload it straight away to our twitter news feed. I also used the iPhone app tweetmic pro , which allows you to make audio recordings and immediatly upload them to your twitter feed. Whilst I had to mediate the text updates as I am the only one proficient with the iPhone keyboard, this allowed the children to more immediatly and personally make their observations and reflections.

So, whilst this is a very ‘cool’ thing to do, many people may be asking what the value of it is for the children. Personally I think there are a few things it adds to our trip, the first is a nice timeline of the day, and the activities we engaged in. Whilst this could easily be achieved using a class blog or just a camera, the ability to mix text, audio and images and have them arranged chronologically should be very useful when it comes to reflecting on the trip when we are back at school. Of course this could be achieved by other means, but it is so immediate using twitter. Once it has happened and been captured it is documented, and there is no need for someone to upload photographs, organise them into order and publish them.

This immediacy has another benefit- although we were short of time when we got back to school we could immediately open up the twitter feed and all the material we had collected was there to be reflected on straight away, even as the children were sat in their coats waiting for home time. No doubt some of them will have also logged on when they got home and shared their day with their parents well before I would have had time to update our class blog.

Another purpose of these tools was to encourage reflection on learning throughout the day. Undoubtedly this could have been done by teacher questioning, but the act of recording and publishing their reflections should be a huge factor in engaging the children and encouraging them to think more meaningfully about what they are experiencing. Let’s face it; you are going to try harder with your reflections when being broadcast to the world than if you are scribbling them on a piece of paper that will often be only seen by your teacher.

I was really hoping to use these tools today to encourage some solid reflection from the children, but given the lack of thinking time beforehand, and the fact this was my first school trip as an NQT I did not fully achieve what I had hoped. We certainly created a record of the day, which hopefully will help with later reflection. However, the amount and level of reflections were not quite what I had hoped for as my time and energy was largely taken up by making sure none of the children got on the wrong bus, fell down the stairs of the tudor house or got lost going to the toilets! Despite this I do think with a bit more experience these tools could be really useful in encouraging reflection and extending learning on a school trip, and I will certainly be using them in a more focused way next time.

Twitpics: http://img188.yfrog.com/i/gofk.jpg/

http://img256.yfrog.com/i/4slq.jpg/

http://img685.yfrog.com/i/v36.jpg/

Audio tweet: http://tmic.fm/ox6b1o54azd

Our class twitter news feed: http://twitter.com/4oq

Class blog on the trip: http://class40q.wordpress.com/2009/11/17/trip-to-selly-manor/