It has occured to me (thanks to the intervention of my Tech Coordinator) that I haven’t yet described exactly how Peggy and I are going about structuring this project. There has been significant back end planning that I have glossed over here on the blog. In this (and future) post(s), I’m going to try to be more focused on exactly how we’ve managed to get everything going. At this point, I’ve become so used to figuring everything out for myself (being an IT teacher in an international school setting often means I come in to a school with nothing set-up and have to start from scratch each time I move), that I haven’t even thought about organizing this blog into a more practical discussion. Here goes:

The reason I’m even doing this wonderful blogging project with Peggy is because I have been given 40% release time from my teaching load to integrate technology into the middle school curriculum. What this means is that instead of teaching 5 out of a total of 8 blocks, I now teach 3 discrete IT classes and have those 2 blocks left over for integration. The goal is to fully integrate IT into the sixth grade social studies curriculum so that we will not have discrete IT lessons in sixth grade next year. Next year’s focus would be 7th grade, and the following year, 8th grade. It is amazing to have so much more time with the students and to have some real core content to work with. I have always struggled with discrete IT classes because I hate the fact that I have no real “reason” to make webpages, or videos or presentations. We always end up having tons of fun, but brining IT into the core curriculum just makes so much more sense to me.

In addition to having 40% release time, our principal was able to work a major miracle: Peggy and I actually have a common planning block. This means we have 1 and a half hours every other day to plan together! We have actually physically met and worked every single planning block that we’ve had all year so far. In addition to that planning time, I’ve spent all the rest of my free time (and evenings) trying to work out how we can do this project. I guess that’s:

Tip #1: Ensure that you have enough common planning time to prep before the project starts.

Peggy is very enthusiastic and pretty much willing to try anything, so my initial suggestion was to start blogging. I have been reading so much about blogging that I couldn’t wait to just get started. So, the idea for the current events blog was born. I suppose that’s:

Tip #2: Make sure that everyone involved is enthusiastic about the project and open minded about where it might go. (You can’t expect to reach all teachers the first time around, just try to get the enthusiastic ones on board!)

Once we had our project idea down, we started to begin to think of the nitty gritty. For one, Peggy had done current events extensively in her past social studies classes, so she had a general idea of what she wanted to do. We took a look through her old resources and simply modified her paper-based current events reports into a web-based format. The joy of taking a paper-based project and transforming it to an online format is the extensive opportunity to utilize the interconnectivity of the internet. Once we realized how much we could really do with blogs, we added a whole bunch of cool extras. Students will be incorporating full citations, an image of the event, a map of the location of the event, plus active links to definitions or descriptions of any word they don’t use every day. Both Peggy and I see this as an effective way to get the students to think more deeply about their events. The project doesn’t stop at simply describing the event and answering some questions. They must go farther, use their knowledge of the event and their technical skills to find representative images and to really understand all the words they encounter. I would say that’s:

Tip #3: Take advantage of the internet. Allow students to really utilize all the resources they can find to delve even deeper into their chosen topic.

Once we had decided the minimum requirements for the blog posting (which you can find on our resources page) we decided an even more exciting feature of using weblogs instead of paper was the opportunity for discussion (in the form of comments). So we planned a whole section on how to comment to another student’s posting and set up a rotation of students so that they wouldn’t all leave the commenting part to the end. Ah-ha, I’ve discovered:

Tip #4: Having to write a current events posting every single lesson would be a bit much for sixth graders, so we’ve organized a rotating schedule. Every lesson 1 student will present. Since we have 3 lessons per week, 3 students will present each week. During that same week, 3 students will be required to post a comment to one of the presentations (whichever one they choose). This gives the students some choice, but it spaces out the work (and the grading).

Once we had organized the social studies aspects of the blog project, we moved on to the technical parts, which I will go over in my next post.

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