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The Possibilities of Student Blogging

Andrea, Silvia and some students reflect on student blogging.

This video will be used as part of a free, online course for teachers.


Thinking About Learning Differently- Talking to Strangers

Our third graders are learning about different communities.They have spoken via Skype with classes from a suburb of Los Angeles, CA , an rural community in Missouri and a city, Weatherford, TX. The latest connection was with Anna Faridaku, a teacher and children's book author from Indonesia. Students took turns speaking with Anna, who was just amazing in connecting (via the screen) to the kids, answering and asking questions. She engaged them and pushed them to deeper thinking about similarities and differences about our communities.

Will Richardson talks about Three starting points to think differently about "Learning. In addition to "Thinning the Classroom Wall" and "Being Transparent", he lists "Talking to Strangers" as one of the starting point!

Being able to connect and learn with strangers is an important skill for all of us, and especially for a generation that will be learning online for the rest of their lives.

The above image visualizes how we are taking learning about a country from only looking at a map and reading about it in a book to talking to a "stranger "who lives in that country. We still used the map and books for background knowledge and preparation, but information is amplified:

  • Information comes from a primary source
  • Information is fluid, not rigid, it will adjust to the questions the students have (a book will only hold the information that editors have decided on including and will not magically switch in front of your eyes :))
  • Information can take on directions, tailored to your students' interests
  • Information can

"Talking to Strangers" is a critical skill to possess. It contributes to information fluency. It so dramatically contrasts the drill we heard over and over again from our parents. We used to be taught "DON'T talk to strangers" and now need the skills to do precisely that.

Disclaimer: I am not talking about talking to a stranger in a dark alley at night! :)


State of the Blogging School Address

State of our School Address (regarding Blogging)

3 years ago, we created blogs (WordPress platform) for ALL classroom teachers and resources. There was an expectation for teachers to be at least on the first step of the blogging ladder, illustrated in the image below. Their classroom blog needed to be, as a minimum,  a replacement of a weekly folder filled with parent-school communication and homework assignments. Teachers were expected to learn how to update their blogs (at least on a weekly basis), insert images and videos and categorize their blog posts. (Getting to Know your Blog- A Beginner’s How To Guide)

This was a steep learning curve for some teachers. In addition,  it was extra time consuming, as it was taking teachers longer time to learn and be comfortable with uploading and inserting images, creating photo galleries, creating links, posting, etc.

Then the question shifted from How to We Did it… We Built It…Will They Come? Some teachers continued to email parents weekly, pointing them to the blog to look at images and news, others resorted to “bribing” students with extra credit if their parents went on the blog, yet another class created a  Blog Tutorial for Parents & Grandparents video.

In preparation for our students to become actively involved in contributing on the classroom blogs, as a school, we needed to Update & Upgrade Our School’s Media & Publishing Release in order to reflect the shift from students as consumers to students as producers.

Some teachers felt ready sooner than others, to climb the next step on the ladder. They opened their classroom blog up for comments to their students. They started to shift from merely pushing out information to parents and students to see the opportunity for a conversation. Teachers were learning to, not only post information, but posing questions for students, encouraging them to think and to participate in a virtual conversation. – Preparing Students for Commenting with Wall Blogging.

Once students were well on their way to begin. They were comfortable in logging into their accounts, reading posts and submitting a commenting, the next step was to focus on the QUALITY of their writing. What constitutes a quality comment? One class answered this question by creating a newscast- Quality Commenting Video by Third Graders

The next step on the classroom blogging ladder was for not only the teacher to produce content/posts, but for students to take ownership. For one teacher, it meant the realization that her classroom job list was in need of a 21st century update What is… What Will Be Obsolete…in Second Grade?

Some teachers:

  • had daily  student “bloggers”,  who were in charge of updating the classroom blog, being the Official Scribe of the day.
  • had students take (handwritten notes) summarizing the daily learning during each subject area, to be then typed and uploaded on Friday to the blog (younger grades).
  • highlighted best work from students as it was produced.
  • put students in charge of photographing classroom/resource activities and learning taking place during the day, the class discussed and voted on the final images to be uploaded at the end of the day and write a short blurb to each image. – Let’s Ask the Kids: 2nd Grade Bloggers

Some classroom blogs were growing beyond homework assignment, as teachers found opportunities to amplify the use of their virtual spaces to get kids involved and engaged in conversation

As commenting and posting to the classroom blog became the routine, especially in the upper elementary grades, students were eager to “earn” their own blogs. It was up to the teacher to set the criteria for students to earn them (ex.5 quality posts moderated and published on the classroom blog).

Once having earned that promotion, students became administrators of their own blogfolio , a combination of an online portfolio and a learning blog. Students were able to choose their own theme from a variety of pre-approved themes available. They chose their own title and tagline, and wrote their About Page.

It takes time for the faculty to see that the students’ blogfolios are NOT a project from/for the Language Arts class. We are not there yet.Teachers, still need to take advantage of pulling in resource teachers and student experiences. Non-Language Arts teachers still need to realize that the blog is a platform for learning for THEIR students too. All this is a process for teachers and students to work through.

We had Professional Development workshops helping teachers subscribe to RSS feeds (Subscribing via RSS & Google Reader to Classroom Blogs) in order to streamline the process of reading AND giving feedback to all their students. This is a daunting task for many teachers, as they are feeling overwhelmed. I have met too many teachers (at other schools) who, precisely for that reason, gave up blogging with their students. It was simply too much work to read and sift through all the writing and commenting (!!). We are committed to working through this at our school though. We are concentrating on finding new ways to embed the reading, the writing, the commenting, the conversation into the “way we do things”, not something we do in addition.

I created the following infographic to demonstrate the flow of blogging in the classroom. The hope is to deflect from the emphasis on technology and the “translation” from analog work to digital work during the blogging process.

You can download the infographic as a pdf file.

There is so much to consider when blogging with your students. You will be able to read about some, some you will hear from teaches who are already blogging and some things you will just have to experience and go through for yourself in order to make it work for you and your students. What we do know, is that no teacher can attend a 3 hour workshop on blogging and is ready to blog with their students the following Monday. I wrote extensively about the process for Stepping it Up- Learning About Blogs FOR your Student as a guide for teachers who want to see blogging as a platform for their own professional development and as a medium for student learning.

Ann Davis, on her blog wrote a post titled “Rationale for Educational Blogging“, an article (and the following comments) worth reading! David Jakes responds in the comment section speaking directly to the teachers “who have kids write for the refrigerator”.

Ann Davis’ quote of “It is not just a matter of transferring classroom writing into digital spaces”, resonates deeply with me. It is a challenge, that we are continuously reflecting on in school, as learning and literacy coaches, but need to do a better job in helping faculty work through this as well. Tough questions need to bubble up  to the surface:

  •  Where it the Authentic Audience?  by Andrea Hernandez
  • What does it mean when students, teachers, parents feel “blogged out”?
  • How do we prevent student blogfolios from becoming an accumulation of “Homework for Thursday”, “Homework for Friday” posts?

Where do we go from here?

We will continue to seek the following through our blogs:

  • quality writing and commenting
  • documentation of the learning process
  • hub for learning artifacts
  • reflections
  • meaningful discussion
  • metacognition
  • authentic feedback
  • global awareness and connectedness

We will encourage, support and participate in activities that will foster the above goals.


  • quad-blogging
  • commenting mentor program
  • blogging buddies
  • professional blogs for our educators to build reflective teaching practices, connections to a global network of educators and building a personal brand


Tweeting with 4th & 5th Graders

Guest post by Stephanie Teitelbaum, our 4th & 5th grade Language Arts teacher.

You can follow @4thmjgds & @5thmjgds on Twitter.

Students have been enjoying tweeting weekly in class.  Mrs.Tolisano has been coming in each week to teach the process of tweeting.  She developed this info-graphic for us to follow.

We are developing a routine in class so that students are able to tweet on a regular basis.  We start with a “paper tweet”.  Students write down their tweetable moments on an index card.  We check our followers (3 times a week), then we check who has mentioned us.  If we have a question, we answer it, and then, finally, we write the tweetable moments.  We have twitter directors in class, and it is their job to type in the tweets.  We have to be sure our tweet  is 140 characters.  It is a new way of writing, and the students are improving each week.  We are working on developing tweets that target a global audience.  We have discussions in class to determine if the tweet is geared to our audience.  Recently, we tweeted a teacher in Singapore who will hopefully make it possible for us to tweet students regularly in Asia.  The students have been intrigued and motivated to connect with other classes globally.


4th Grade Part of International Action Research

An International team of four classrooms partnered to do action research. They asked the questions: Does Blogging support and improve QUALITY student writing?
Our 4th graders, together with their teacher, Mrs. Teitelbaum, are part of this fabulous blogging adventure during the month of March 2012 .


Support their efforts and visit their classroom blogs (with student blog links) and model quality comments for them. '



Last year we began working with students in grades K, 5 and 8 to create digital portfolios. We used WordPress blogs (like the one you are reading now) as the platform for the portfolios. Portfolios are a digital collection of a student's best work  with a reflective component. This type of reflective practice is new for most of our students and is a process which will take time. As we began the process, we realized that it was almost a tease giving students a versatile, customizable, blogging platform and then not allowing them to freely blog. So the "blog-folio" was created-- part blog, part reflective portfolio.

Portfolios give students a chance to develop metacognition, set goals and internalize what "good work" looks like. Blogs offer a platform for creativity, communication, connection and the practice of digital citizenship. "Blog-folios" are the best of both worlds- using a blogging platform to develop writing skills, provide opportunities to connect with an authentic audience and increase reflective practices. Instead of using the entire site as a portfolio, students will use the category "portfolio" to designate those selections that represent high-quality work and reflection.

Blogs are Transformative:

As educators, we are in the business of helping each child bloom into the flower that he or she is meant to be. The goal is to help students reach high academic standards while developing their unique selves, growing at their own rates and discovering their personal passions. Blogs are a space for sharing ideas in almost any format, a place for self-expression, connection, and reflection- literally a platform to explore, document and record the growth of the learner. The tool (blog) is transformative in that it allows instant publishing and the possibility of an authentic audience, as well as bringing in multimedia communication and creation. It is also transformative in that, unlike many school assignments or projects, blogging is a long-term "project" that incorporates many different "subjects" and skills.

Student Blogging Challenge:
We have started  this year by introducing the blog-folios to our 5th graders through participation in the Student Blogging Challenge. This activity has approximately 300 participants from around the world.  Students are enjoying the opportunity to customize the look of their blogs, write about areas of interest and interact with other student bloggers. As teachers, the blogs enable us to get to know our students better, to model good writing through our comments and to target instruction. Blogging is, by definition, differentiated instruction.

Blogging challenge checklist


Part of the joy of blogging is knowing that someone is reading what you've written. All of our student blogs are open to receive comments, and all comments will be moderated (by the students) before being published on the blog. We invite you to read and comment on any of the 5th grade blogs listed here.  The big idea is to engage students in the act of writing as communication. Please encourage students by responding to their content, not correcting their mistakes. By leaving a comment, you can model good writing skills. Know that the blog-folios are a work in progress and a long-term record of a student's growth. Each child's writing and thinking will show growth over the year(s).

A student's notes to himself about blog topics.


Mystery Skype Call with Fourth Grade

Mystery Call

We had a blast with a "Mystery Skype". Two classes connected without knowing WHERE each one was geographically located. The idea was, by asking targeted questions, to find out the city we each lived in.

We stated the rules at the beginning of the call:

  1. One class starts asking a question to determine the geographic location of the other class.
  2. Questions can only be answered with "Yes" or "No".
  3. If the class who asked receives a "Yes" answer, they continue to ask another question until they receive a "No". It will be the other class's turn then to ask a question.

On our end, we gave students different jobs to help figure the location out.

Questions & Answers

  • Q & A: students were in the "hot seat" asking and answering questions in front of the webcam


  • Scribe: Student who wrote the clues we received on the board to keep track of positive and negative responses




  • Researchers: Students were ready and waiting with Google Maps open on their computer or with an atlas to take the clues received and narrow the search down and to feed information to the Q&A speakers.

We had a blast trying to figure each other's location out and learned that we need to learn to ask good questions that will narrow possible answers down. We also learned that we all need to work together (Q&A, researchers and scribe) and communicate in order to solve the mystery of our Skype connection's location.

Here are some of the clues we figured out:

Our skype mystery connection lives:

  • in the USA
  • where it is cold right now
  • in the North of the USA
  • does not live in North Dakota
  • in Michigan
  • about an hour from Detroit
  • close to a lake
  • in a small town

We needed some help to continue finding their exact location: We received the following clues:

  • they are close to the border with Ohio
  • the first part of their city's name is a "baby sheep"

Our mystery class was from Lambertville, Michigan!

This mystery call was a lot of fun and teaches students critical thinking skills as well as collaboration, communication and geography skills!


Christopher Columbus Creates 21st Century Explorers

Christopher Columbus Creates 21st Century Explorers

It all started out with a planning meeting with our 5th grade teacher. We used iThoughtsHD on the iPad to brainstorm and sketch out some of our ideas for the unit. The visual helped us see the big picture and made it easy to add components in areas that we felt needed upgrades in terms of 21st century skills and literacy. We wanted to give students research opportunities that went beyond their textbook and library. We wanted them to be exposed to multiple perspectives and come up with their own conclusion about the historical figure "celebrated" here in the USA on October 12th of every year.

Christopher Columbus Unit Plan

We had a meeting with students to talk about the Christopher Columbus unit. Collaboratively we created a KWL (Know, Want to Know, Learned) chart on the iPad and got them thinking about THEIR contribution to the research about the historic figure. We decided that the culminating project and assessment would be a class movie. Each student would contribute a segment with their research findings. The segment could be a presentation, dance, song, etc. Mrs. Z, their teacher created a Google Doc, which she shared with all her students. After thinking and negotiating project partners, they added their contribution ideas to the document. Some students needed more help than others form their teacher. Using Google Docs as a class community greatly contributed to the collaborative nature of the learning taking place.

  • Jilliyn- Skype with people Mrs. Tolisano has made contact with in other countries.
  • Shira-”Skype Team”-when we interview students from other countries about what they learn about Columbus. You must research first about the other country and then formulate your questions for the interview.
  • Josh-research statistics about Columbus’s voyages-how many sailors were on board, etc. and formulate questions to ask when we interview people about Columbus and interview Ms.Stein.
  • Edyn-perform a play about Columbus. Either write your own play based on research you do on Columbus or check with Mrs. Tolisano -she has a play you can use.
  • I think it would be good if you had commentators to speak after you do your play. They would decide whether your performance was mostly fact or fiction based on research yes
  • Hannah-Dance-BUT-you must also create a song about Columbus based on research about his life. Interview Mrs. Tolisano.
  • Ryan-research and see if any movies and/or video games have been made about Columbus--Maybe check educational channels too such as Discovery and PBS and try to view the programs (with your parents or my approval first)
  • Allie- I will interview Mrs. Rogo. about Christopher Columbus, be in a play and make a Power Point about important dates in Christopher Columbus’ life.
  • Sabrina- Find books about Christopher C. and see how the authors portray him and interview Mrs. Rogo--must submit interview questions to me for approval first and you will need someone to film the interview with the flip camera. Also-did you want to perform in the play?
  • Max-videographer...commentator/fact checker
  • Daniel-I know you are interested in you will research and make a timeline of Columbus’s life. Include at least ten important dates.
  • Rachel-Why did Christopher Columbus take his journey? What happened to the prisoners after the journey? How hard did he work during his journey? You must research several sources to find you answers and TELL me what sources you used.
  • Montgomery-research why Columbus decided it would be a good idea to sail West and not East.
  • Lance-I would like for you to interview Mrs. Reppert and ask her questions about Columbus. You will need to do some research so you will know what you want to ask before your interview. I will need to approve your questions first. You will also need someone to film with the flip camera.
  • Samuel-I would like for you to meet with Mrs. Leonard and email the contact she found. (I will give you her name) I want you to tell her what our class is doing (our Christopher Columbus project) and ask her at least five questions. You will discuss this on the video. Sam and Josh z will do special effects on video.
  • Claire--skype interviewer and help Rachel
  • Shelby-see Edyn’s name
  • Reesa- I will make a song and dance with hannah
  • Josh-you will do research about Columbus’ s voyages. You will tell us where he went on each of his four voyages.

Class Meeting

KWL Chart created with and by the students. Again, using iThoughts we passed the iPad around the table and asked students to add a bubble to the chart. We will later re-visited the chart to add WHAT they have learned about Christopher Columbus.

KWL- Student Chart

I blogged and tweeted a call for "experts" who would be willing to be contacted by our students and interviewed about their knowledge and perspectives of Christopher Columbus.

Our school's librarian was also able to pass on an e-mail contact of a Native American from her network.

Call for "Experts" willing to share knowledge and perspective

Greta Sandler from Argentina and Melissa Techman from Virginia responded via Twitter, Maryna Tsehelska from the Ukraine and Steve Wilmarth from China answered our calls through the Around the World with 80 Schools site.

In an effort to support our students as collaboration and communication coordinators, we passed the task to e-mail and communicate with the "Experts" on to them. I met with the students to create a draft for their initial contact e-mail. They took it from there to coordinate Skype calls.

Student e-mail to Skype Contact

Skype with Argentina

Mrs. Techman read a book via Skype to the class

Skype Call with the Ukraine

Other students eagerly got started in preparing their contribution to our collaborative project.

Enthusiastic E-mail from Students

Then came the moment when the class formulated questions to be used in a survey asking others to share their thoughts, ideas and knowledge about Christopher Columbus. The survey was then embedded on the classroom blog. I tweeted and blogged about their survey and asked my network to please take the time to answer their questions.

These were the questions:

  • Where do you live?
  • How old are you?
  • Do you think Christopher Columbus was a Hero, Victim or Villain?
  • Explain your answer
  • Do you think Christopher Columbus discovered America?

Survey embedded on Classroom Blog

The survey generated just short of 400 entries from over 12 countries! Students were enthralled when we projected the survey spreadsheet and the entries were "falling" in as they were watching! We shared the Google Document with all the students, so they would have access to it anytime.

How exciting as the survey responses were being updated live on the spreadsheet

As a class we analyzed the responses of the survey in the spreadsheet, although I received nightly updates via email from excited students as the numbers of participants climbed steadily.

Analyzing the Survey

The following Wordles were created with the answers for some of the questions.

Location of Survey Contributors

Survey: Do you believe Columbus discovered America?

Survey: Do you believe Columbus was a Hero, Villain or a Victim?

You can download the survey entries as a pdf file here.

Once students completed their research, we started working on the Newscast video, which would be the collaborative product of our learning.

Newscast Brainstorming Session

How will each section be recorded?

As students were watching the final version of the CC Newscast, I sent my iPad with the original KWL chart around. Each student added a "bubble" about what they had learned:

  • that C.C did not discover America
  • That CC took prisoners as his sailors.
  • that c.c. was not such a nice person.
  • There were different perspectives in Argentina about CC.
  • I learned that Columbus almost gave up when he was trying to go to America and that the sailors almost had a mutiny.
  • I learned that Christopher Columbus was not always a hero.
  • I learned that Christopher Columbus was not nice to the Indians.
  • Columbus was born in Valladolid Spain
  • The Tainos killed some of Columbus's men when Columbus went back to Spain to get a new ship.
  • People have a lot of different opinions about Christopher Columbus.
  • Columbus didn't go were he planed to go. ''''
  • Columbus wanted to rule the land he discovered. Also Columbus died in 1506
  • C.C. Had a dark side to him.
  • In 1504 he returned to Spain.
  • He sailed lots of ships not just 3
  • There was so many things about Christopher Columbus.

We were also contacted by Steve Wilmarth, who is currently teaching in Wuhan, China at a Middle School Attached to HuaZhong Normal University.
He writes:

I would love to have my students in China join in the discussion about Christopher Columbus. They would like to share with your students the story of the great Chinese admiral, Zheng He (, and his exploration of the world 50 years before Columbus set sail.

My students are studying US history this semester, and we are exploring the topic of the "Columbian exchange;" how the the early explorations brought plants, animals, and diseases around the world for the first time.

What an incredible opportunity to connect with these Chinese High School students with our 5th graders. Learn about the exploration in Asia. Although Christopher Columbus day as come and gone and the 5th graders unit on the historical figure has (officially) ended, we will continue to make connections to expand our horizons and learn from different perspectives.

Learning can be sooo exciting!!!


Celebrating Language, Culture & History via Skype

Students from MJGDS and Amirim School from Binyamina, Israel celebrate Jerusalem Day together: Language, Culture & History.

Yom Yerushalaim- Jerusalem Day from MJGDS on Vimeo.


Skyping with Andrew Evans from Bus2Antarctica

Here is another example how cross grade level & subject collaboration among teachers and students, social networking and communication can take teaching out of the confines of traditional classroom walls and into a 21st century learning arena.

I follow Andrew Evans on Twitter. Nothing extraordinary, since I follow more than 1400 people, but... Andrew was not tweeting about classroom projects or the newest tool to improve teaching and learning. Andrew, sponsored by National Geographic, set out in January 2010 from Washington, DC/USA to travel by bus all the way to Antarctica (...well with a boat ride here and there).

Using Twitter, Andrew allowed his 2500+ followers to experience alongside him his journey through the US, Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Argentina all the way to Antarctica... All by bus...

What an incredible experience. Andrew also blogged about his adventures on the National Geographic Intelligent Travel Blog. Since our 8th graders are studying South America, I felt it could not hurt to try to contact Andrew to see if he would be available and willing to skype with our students to tell about his adventures and answer questions. I contacted him.... and he said YES!!!!

We set up a day and time to skype. On my end , I involved Mrs. R, our Middle School Social Studies teacher, and Mrs. Z, our 5th grade teacher, to prepare their students by reading through the Andrew's blog and explore the @bus2antarctica Twitter feed "backwards'.

It was a wonderful opportunity to have 8th graders and 5th graders working collaboratively. The older students were charged with preparing relevant interview questions, guiding and mentoring 5th graders on how to go beyond questions that require "yes/no" answers. 5th graders were in charge of documenting the skype connection via their blog, flip and digital camera, backchannel (we use and entering data into a form, which goes to a spreadsheet.

Prepping for Skype Call

Skype call with Andrew Evans

Here are a few questions students asked:

By Marni S.

Why has going to Antarctica always been your life-long dream?
What was going through your mind when you were crossing the Strait of Magellan?
How did you get National Geographic as a sponsor?
What was it like getting on a plane and flying home in a few hours after 6 weeks of driving in buses?
Did you learn any new languages on the trip? Or new words in language?

By Shaina P.

I read that you were on a bus with a few Israeli's. Did you learn any Hebrew from them? If so, what?
How did National Geographic support you on your trip.
What was going through your head when you crossed the straight of Magellan?
What were the different weather experiences you encountered?
Was the Mate good? What did you like about it? What did it taste like?

Video Taping and taking Digital Images

Live Blogging during Skype Call

Data Entry of Facts we learned about


Download our backchannel pdf from the Skype call here : Bus2_Antarctica_Backchannel