It has taken about 5 lessons for Peggy and I to get the students up and running with their blogs and the larger concept of current events. In retrospect, there are quite a few things I would do differently.
First of all, I would have actually started with the IT tools first (which goes entirely against my gut instinct, by the way). Just one lesson — set up the blog, learn how to do basic formatting (which we just did on the 5th lesson), and post something fun like this assignment. The reason we didn’t start the unit this way is because we wanted the students to focus on the content first. However, they ended up having more trouble understanding the content because they were learning two new concepts at once. I also think we might have been asking a bit too much of them at the start.
Secondly, I would have thought more carefully about the username for our blog at edublogs because about halfway into the project, we realized that we broke our own blogging rules. So, this weekend, I spent hours creating a new blog and re-posting everything, one post at a time. If anyone knows a more effective way to do this, I’d love to know (although I hope to never ever have to do that again).
Third, I would have had the students comment on our blog less, and post on their blog more. The fact that formatting a comment is virtually impossible if you don’t know any html, means that our students didn’t really have the chance to learn how to properly format a post until they set up their own blogs. Which, this time around, took us about 3 lessons. Far too long. We needed to get them going on professional looking posts much earlier.
And now some things I would like to do (keeping in mind everything I’ve learned):
I want the students to set up an RSS reader so they can more easily keep track of all the blogs. I was reading Will Richardson’s RSS Guide and Quentin D’Souza’s RSS Ideas for Educators. How amazing would it be if my sixth graders were able to use RSS to track news stories about their current events stories? Harnassing the power of technology to learn social studies content — that’s what it’s all about, right?
So, I’m trying to figure out how I can set this up for the kids. On the one hand, I’ve tried Bloglines and I don’t like it. I know that’s what “everyone” uses, but I find it user-unfriendly, so I’m using Google Reader, which I like very much. I find it especially convenient because it’s linked to my gmail account, but I can’t force all of my students to get a gmail account. On top of that, not all of the students even have their own e-mail account because the school does not provide one for them. Right now a few of them are using my school account for their blog, but I think that’s going to have to stop. Any ideas?
And the more important thing I would like to start doing is getting all of the other sixth grade teachers on the blogging bandwagon. Why not? We’ve already set the whole thing up. The kids can blog in their sleep now. They love the idea and they’re clearly excited about it. Wouldn’t it be great if their Sixth Grade Social Studies Blog became just their Sixth Grade Blog? For me, this is always the challange with integration. You have one teacher that’s so willing and enthusiastic, but it stops there and then the kids don’t really get the chance to understand what integration really is. It’s not enough just to integrate these tools into social studies. What about English? And why not math and science too? They must do some sort of writing in all their classes. This is going to be my challenge to myself for the year. Getting those blogs completely cross-curricular. Wish me luck!