The Reflective Educator

Education ∪ Math ∪ Technology

Menu Close

Tag: blogging

Blogging matters

Blogging matters

 

Chris Kennedy is a public school superintendent in West Vancouver, Grant Wiggins is famous for co-developing "Understanding by Design", Keith Devlin has written many books which should be relevant to the math education community, and Larry Cuban has challenged (and therefore improved or negated) education reforms for decades, and as it turns out, I happen to have replies from all four of them in my WordPress inbox right now.

If you look above, you might feel like I’m dropping names. I don’t intend this picture to convey this, rather what I want to observe is that blogging matters. Can you imagine, in the world before blogs, someone like me, a school teacher, being able to discuss ideas with the people who are driving educational change? This is not an isolated incident either. If I had chosen to capture a screen-shot of my inbox on a different day, you might see Sylvia Martinez‘s or Diane Ravitch‘s names instead.

I believe that blogging and other social media are breaking down some of our social barriers and hierarchies, but I never had quite as definitive proof until this morning.

 

A presentation on why educators should blog

Here’s a presentation I created tonight on why I think educators should blog. I still have some work to do on it, but I thought I’d share what I have so far.

Why educators should blog: A helpful flowchart

Flow chart for teachers. Hard to reproduce as text. Sorry!

OPML file for the 2009 Edublog awards

A few weeks ago the final results of the 2009 Edublog awards were announced.  I looked around for an OPML file, which is basically a way to import and export RSS feeds from your feed reader.  Long story short, much searching, no file found.

So I took the page that Edublogs published with all of the nominations, wrote a script in PHP to parse the page and find the links to the individually nominated blogs, and then extracted the RSS feed for each page.  Finally I used an online service to generate the OPML file, since I didn’t want to manually add each feed.  I tested the import in Google reader, and over 340 blog feeds were successfully added.  Pretty cool.  During the process a few blogs were lost, and I removed the Twitter feeds.

Anyway, here is the OPML file (I’ll get a better version up soon, the last one had a few wikis and Ning activity feeds, not as useful), which you can download and import into your reader.  I recommend not attempting to actually follow ALL of these blogs, but you could spend an afternoon and filter the list to what you actually find useful.  Caution: You will end up with THOUSANDS of unread posts so be prepared for some sifting afterwards.  I’m currently in the middle of going through each of my subscriptions and scanning the blog posts to make sure they are interesting/useful.  I’ve noticed a fair number of feeds of Wikis, which to me is pretty useless if you aren’t involved in creating the wiki.  Stay tuned, and I’ll export my final OPML file and share it here.

Perhaps someone could export definitions for each of the categories of blogs created by Edublogs?

Update: The trimmed version of the OPML file, suitable for an ed tech junkie with an interest in Math or Science education. Just save it to your computer, then import it into your feed reader.  Be warned, I follow A LOT of blogs.

Blogging in Education

I’ve been blogging off and on for a few years now at http://davidwees.com. Actually I have 3 blogs right now that I maintain infrequently right now, my MET program has me too busy to focus on my own blogs. I don’t really find the process difficult, the hardest part is coming up with material to talk about, and then taking the time to write it down.

I have a personal blog, which was intended to be for family members to read, and has mostly been replaced by a photo gallery website. It seems my family members want to see the pictures more than they want to read me discuss the pictures. Hrmmph!

The blog I have put the most amount of effort into is my programming blog. I’ve probably got about 100 posts on this blog, all related to various programming projects I’ve undertaken over the past 4 years. It’s also my most widely read blog, with maybe 20-30 people reading an entry each day. I actually started this blog as a way of both drumming up some business for myself (people who search for solutions to problems might see my examples, etc… I’ve probably gotten 10-12 jobs through my blog so far, all part-time). I also wanted a way to keep track of what I’ve done because to be honest, I forget! It’s a lot of different stuff.

I started an educational blog about the same time I started looking for work for this coming year. I found a job, and I’ve been pretty busy, so this blog is on hold until September. Once I start work again, I’ll probably try and update it fairly regularly, because I want a record of what I’ve tried with my students.

When I was looking at the top 100 educational blogs, the first surprise was that one of those blogs is an acquaintance of mine I met online. It was pretty neat to see his name in the “spotlights” so to speak, and so I took another look at his blog. Pretty cool tech blog, although more focused on technology rather than education.

Blogging is a pretty cool thing to do in education because it takes all of us as educators out of our classrooms and lets us show off what we do. So often educators get so little credit for being good at their jobs, having a place to showcase one’s talents can be very rewarding. As well, other educators become better as we begin to develop institutional memories about our profession. This can only lead to good things.

Multiple blogs, good or bad?

So I’ve started two new courses this semester which will bring my total number of courses taken as part of my Masters of Educational Technology degree up to 6.  If taking two courses works out well, and I don’t end up estranged from my family, I’ll probably do the same both semesters next year, and finish off my degree quickly.

In any case, one of these courses is requiring us to set up a blog on the UBC web servers, which some of the students in the course have objected to, given that a lot of us already have external web hosts with our own blogs, and wish to gather our stuff together, rather than spreading it out.  I’ve already got three blogs, why should I start another?

This situation caused me to reflect on my own practices, and to look at why I have multiple blogs, and whether a blog which only used for a short term, for a single course, is really useful. 

I have 3 blogs right now.  Obviously one of them is this blog which you are reading.  It’s intended for generating discussion around my professional practices as an educator, and as part of my professional portfolio.  Write down what you think as a professional, and if people agree with it, you get recognition.  It’s not a lot of recognition, but it helps and I am sure it is part of the reason I’m employed full-time next year in what seems like a difficult market for teachers, British Columbia.

Another one of my blogs is for my coding experiments and work.  It’s meant to be a record of what I have learned since I started my foray into web programming 4 years ago.  It hasn’t been updated in a couple of months, largely because I haven’t been doing any programming recently.  I go through fits and spurts, which you can do when it’s a hobby and not your profession.  I’ve actually started to get some work as a result of this blog, in the language with which I have the least experience, which is interesting.

I also have had a blog associated with my school which is expressly for disseminating information to my students, and to give my students a bit of playground with which to create their own summaries of what is happening in class.  I have no idea if anyone outside of my class is reading this blog, mostly because I’ve disabled anonymous comments on the blog.  It isn’t really meant to be a public discourse with the whole world, although it is publically visible.  

Each of these blogs has its own purpose.  They live separately from each other because of this.  People who are interested in what I think about education aren’t necessarily going to care about my programming or summaries of high school mathematics lessons.  The same is true of the other two blogs.

Since I have so many blogs already, I don’t really want to start a new one just for this course.  It’s a lot to keep track of and keep updated.  So my plan is to create the blog as requested, update it for this course (the next 13 weeks) and then migrate all of the content over to this blog and remove the course blog once it’s no longer necessary.  Sounds like a plan?

Using a class blog effectively

Something I have been doing for the past three years now is using a blog with my classroom.  I have developed my practices with the blog over time and so far here are some of the things I have been doing with it.

The first thing for which I used my blog was to distribute information to the students, and provide announcements for the class.  Some of the things I might announce would be dates of upcoming tests, due dates for assignments, and upcoming topics.  I also used the blog originally as a way to provide links for resources, intended to be used in class.  This way students would not have to type in any lengthy URLs and could just click to get straight to the online resource.  Occasionally I would also upload a file to our class blog and expect the students to be able to download it for access.

Now that I have been using a blog with my classroom for a few years, I have found some more sophisticated ways of using it, which I want to discuss here.

One immediate change I made was to transfer the load of publishing to the blog with my students.  In the first year that I tried this, what happened was that one of my classes, an advanced grade 10 math class, posted daily summaries of what happened in class to the math blog.  This responsibility rotated around the class and when each student had posted their blog, they chose the next person.

This worked reasonably well, since occasionally students would come to class with questions they had discovered when reading the blog.  They would also occasionally comment on each other’s summaries and I hope that most of the students read each other’s posts.

The next step I took was logical, having tested out blogging with a class, I decided to try it with all of my classes.  I actually took the time to install the blogging software myself, hosted on my school’s server, so that I would have greater control over the process.  I wanted to be able to easily administrate the students’ accounts and be able to assist them with common problems, like forgetting their passwords.  I also made sure that posting to the blog was a part of the students’ grades, given its growing importance.

As soon as I did this, it became clear to me that not all of my students were reading the blog on a regular basis.  So this year I implemented another change, students would be marked on their full participation in the classroom blogging.  Not only would they be rotating through responsibility for creating summaries of that day’s class, they would have to post comments on the summaries for other student’s summaries.  This way I could guarantee that students were at least reading each other summaries.  The comments students have produced have mostly been really appropriate and high quality.

When I added the commenting on each other’s posts, something fascinating happened.  The quality of the blog summaries improved.  Students were aware that I grade the quality of the blog, but that I use a pretty forgiving rubric.  If students complete their summary, and it makes sense, they get full marks for participation.  What has obviously driven the improvement in their posts has been the awareness that their peers are reading them.

I think a second driving factor in the improvement in the quality of the posts has been a bit of competition, particularly among the stronger mathematics students.  They are basically competing to see who can create the best post.

Some of the posts, especially recently have been exceptional.  Students have become more comfortable with the format and are incorporating humor and more media into their posts.  Graphs and properly formated equations have almost become an expectation for their posts.

The ways students have been creating the graphs and equations have been quite creative.  Some students find images from other websites online, and use these instead.  Some students take the time to create their images instead using programs like Microsoft Paint, Adobe Photoshop, and Geogebra.  For the creation of the equations, most students have been using my built in Equation parser (which means learning a little bit of Latex).  The equations shown in the pictures here are actually created in Microsoft Word, and then exported to pictures using a lengthy process.

I’m not sure what the next step is.  I know I need to collect some information.  At some point near the end of the semester, I plan on collecting some anonymous data from the students to try and answer the following questions.

  • How long, on average, does it take you to create a summary?
  • How often do you check the blog to see if any new summaries are up?
  • Do you read the summaries from any of the other classes?
  • Have you felt any of the comments have been too critical?

In summary, blogging with your students as a class can be an effective way to increase their retention of your material.  They may end up learning some of the material from their peers because of the differences in how it is explained.  Your students will also end up having to view your classroom material in a different format, so it will activate a different part of their brain, and so some students will benefit from this experience (think Howard Gartner’s multiple intelligences).  Your students will also be likely to learn some valuable technical skills from the experience.  Finally, your students may just enjoy the experience, which will make them enjoy (and remember) your class for a bit longer.