Blogging now begins young

Blogging now begins young

By Christopher J. Cummins for USA TODAY
Posted 11/14/2006 10:15 PM ET

Eighth-grade students Tayler Bernholtz, left, Amy Lostroh and Kelsey Cardiff check out a weblog discussion related to the Civil War historical-fiction book 'Guerrilla Season' At South Valley Junior High School in Liberty, Mo.

Photo By Ashley Bleimes, USA TODAY
About 300 eighth-graders at South Valley Junior High in Liberty, Mo., are blogging this fall about Guerrilla Season, a book about a 15-year-old living in Civil War-era Missouri.

Eighth-grade students Tayler Bernholtz, left, Amy
Lostroh and Kelsey Cardiff check out a weblog discussion related to the
Civil War historical-fiction book ‘Guerrilla Season’ At South Valley
Junior High School in Liberty, Mo.






Beyond blogs alone, some classrooms are adding audio or video podcasts to their online offerings.

Eric Langhorst uploads 20-minute " studycasts" to help his eighth-grade history students at South Valley Junior High in Liberty, Mo., get ready for tests; some even study while walking their dogs.

Mabry Middle School in Cobb County, Georgia, began posting student films as podcasts on iTunes last year. Principal Tim Tyson says that it encouraged students to put more time and effort into their projects.

Tyson says so many students have iPods that it makes sense for schools to respond. "Kids really think the iPod rocks, it’s an extension of who they are, so I want stuff from school to be on it," he says.

First-graders at Willowdale Elementary in Omaha have even recorded a podcast about the solar system, which was posted on iTunes, says technology specialist Cathy Greenwald.

Parents have been receptive to the new technology, Tyson says. "By opening up our school, we have really garnered a massive amount of trust and respect."

Just as important is that it gives parents an opportunity to interact with kids. "It helps them initiate conversations at home," says Langhorst. "They really like that there’s something they can keep up with."


The book’s author, Pat Hughes, is joining in the online discussion from her home in Philadelphia.

"I love being able to communicate with the author because it makes me feel like I can ask anything," says Amy Lostroh, 13. "Most books you read you have to guess how the author named the characters, why they chose to write about the topic or what inspired them."

Eric Langhorst, who teaches eighth-grade American history at South Valley, started the blog experiment last year with his class as an extra-credit assignment. It was such a success with students and parents that they expanded it to include the entire eighth grade. Miller Creek Middle School in San Rafael, Calif., has joined in.

Langhorst says the blog has been a great way to get quieter students more involved in the class. "It gives them a chance to voice their opinion, even if they’re not a kid who raises their hand a lot."

"It’s a way for them to be able to communicate with the author about things that puzzle them or that they’re excited about," adds Hughes. Not only does she respond directly to students’ inquiries, she also has been posting her own questions and even recorded a podcast for students to listen to.

The word blog — short for weblog, an online journal that can be written by many contributors — didn’t even appear in the dictionary until 2005, but now even kindergarten teachers are incorporating blogs into the classroom.

Will Richardson, author of Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for the Classroom, says students can improve their reasoning skills, as well as their writing, if they are given the opportunity to think about and respond to topics on their own time, in their own way.

"It gets kids more engaged," he says. "A lot of kids are more comfortable online these days."

Cathy Greenwald, technology specialist at Willowdale Elementary School in Omaha, says her first-graders take the writing process more seriously when it is going to be posted on a blog. "It’s the real world to the students," she says.

Greenwald says that with students this young, she has them write out what they want to say, then both kids and teacher edit it together and the teacher types it into the computer. The students can then decide whether they want to illustrate or add photos, poems or audio.

Greenwald says blogs are an excellent way for students in primary grades to begin to learn how to organize their ideas into writing.

And students’ grandparents from as far away as China have logged on and seen their work. "It helps get them excited about writing," Greenwald says.

Many older students are already blogging and posting on sites such as MySpace and Xanga outside of school. "We’re trying to play catch-up to where our students are," says Darrell Walery, director of technology for the Consolidated High School District 230 in suburban Chicago.

"A lot of teachers don’t even know what MySpace is," he adds.

One of the biggest obstacles to getting blogs into the classroom is simply teacher training, Walery says. He adds that schools must help teachers learn about these tools and use them in lessons.

Content is also an issue. Not many schools have servers set up for teachers to blog with their students, so most blog on independent sites, teachers say. Langhorst, for instance, uses Blogspot. That means administrators have little or no control over what students and teachers are posting, or who reads it.

"The concern from the administrative side is what blogging is opening up," says Walery.

"What do we need to do to make sure that proper content is being posted? Let’s make sure we are going to use this in the right way."


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