This article first appeared in Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears online magazine August 1, 2008. The article has been modified to include middle school math and science examples. All versions of this article are licensed under a Creative Commons License.
Over the last few years, blogs have evolved into an exciting web-based publishing tool for individuals who want to communicate opinions and ideas, participate in online communities, or share their knowledge and experiences. As of February 2008, the blog search engine Technorati was tracking more than 112 million blogs, which is probably just scratching the surface. Thanks to free blogging software, anyone can “blog” and obviously does!
What is a Blog?
A blog (combining the words web and log) is a web page on which the owner can publish, or log, many entries. The entries are displayed as they are added and can look like journal or diary entries. Authoring a blog, maintaining a blog or adding an article to an existing blog is called “blogging.” Individual articles on a blog are called “blog posts,” “posts” or “entries.” A person who posts these entries is called a “blogger.” Posts consist of text, hypertext, images, and links to other web pages and to video, audio and other files. The most popular blogs (the ones that have the most viewers and links from other web pages) cover politics, gadgets, and entertainment.
Why Do Teachers Blog?
Unfortunately, not many of the most popular blogs are educational, but blogs do have many uses in education, including knowledge-sharing among teachers, students, and parents. Teachers will often start a blog to communicate with students and parents. This can be just the posting of homework or other assignments in one easy-to-find location. Other times a blog can be a rich description of the things taking place in the classroom, drawing the parents into what their children are working on or helping a student who is absent.
Teachers can take advantage of the comment feature of blogs, allowing students and parents to ask questions or for clarification of a post. Teachers can also use a blog to post questions about current subject matter as a way to introduce students to responding in writing and contributing collaboratively in online discussions. For instance, a teacher might pose thought-provoking questions about a book the class is reading and ask students to respond through the comments feature with their ideas. Teachers can blog for other teachers, in their school or around the world, about teaching experiences, philosophies, and methodologies.
Getting Your Students Blogging
Not all students will take to blogging (just as not all students enjoy writing), but with some students blogging creates enthusiasm for writing and communicating their ideas. Blogging can give students experience in real-world digital knowledge management, working with groups, and information sharing.
Consider providing older students with an individual blog. Younger students could take turns posting to a class blog. Whether done through software programs that allow teacher control and filtering of posts and comments, or through publicly available Internet services with oversight, blogs give students an opportunity to discover the work and joy of communicating their ideas in written form, and then getting feedback from others. Blogs don’t have to be accessible to the public; feedback can be confined to classmates or other approved individuals. With older students, the feedback can come from the wider audience of the World Wide Web. Student blogging has to be overseen with coaching and training to make sure that personal information is not shared and that blog posts are appropriate.
Instead of going to a blog site every day to see if new posts have been added, readers can subscribe to services, commonly called news feeds or web feeds, that deliver the latest content to their desktop, PDA, or cell phone. RSS is a subset of the XML programming language that supports the distribution of content over the World Wide Web. Feedburner is a subscription service that delivers the actual content of the post to your email inbox. Not all blogs support these services but most do.
Starting a blog is easier than you think. Here are five steps** to consider when starting out.
1. Choose a Free Blog Service
First, check with your school’s technology center, which might provide a blogging service or have specific recommendations. The following free services have typical RSS features and much more.
ePals offers a free blog tool, called Schoolblog, to schools worldwide. Teachers can set different levels of monitoring, even for individual students. Teachers and students can make pages public, or limit blog views to particular audiences, including workgroups within a class. Students can upload files or photos, create polls, and use a calendar. The technology received an award for excellence from Teaching & Learning Magazine in 2006. With free student email from ePals, teachers can connect students to classrooms in 200 other countries and territories.
Edublogs is built on WordPress technology, which means bloggers can also create static pages, manage comments, password protect individual posts, and create multitiered and complex web sites without ever needing to know html. The system is ready-made for podcasting, videos, and photos. There are excellent video tutorials. By the way, this blog is based on WordPress.
Blogger is the easiest of the three to use, but it is designed for the general public, not just for K-12 educators. There is always the possibility for students to go to web sites they shouldn’t visit, so we do not recommend using this service for student blogs. Blogger allows simple customizations and interacts with Google mail accounts. You can hide the top navigation bar so unsuitable content is harder to find. You can also set up comment moderation so that comments come to your email before they are published.
Edublogs and Blogger allow you to choose RSS feeds as you set up your blog. To add the free Feedburner subscription service go to the home page and click on Blogs and Get Started. Feedburner supports Blogger and WordPress blogs – Edublog has a WordPress backend so click on WordPress if you are using Edublog.
2. Pick Your Audience
Is your blog directed to students, parents, other educators, or your family? Stay true to your audience.
3. Stay Focused
Precise, coherent, newsy, and insightful blogs on a specific topic attract readers. If you are focused on a single topic, search engines are more successful in helping direct users from around the world to your blog.
4. Include a Variety of Media
Mixing your text with images, multimedia, and presentations in your posts can be very compelling. There are many places to find images that can be published without special permission or fees. Be sure to follow the rights information found with the image you want to use. One caveat – make sure to follow your school’s policy on using student pictures or work on public web sites.
YouTube and TeacherTube are two sources of videos you can share with your audience. Slideshare allows you to upload your own PowerPoint presentations and link to hundreds of PowerPoint presentations.
Creative Commons allows you to search multiple collections. A Creative Commons license means that images are available for re-use, provided that certain conditions are met.
Flickr is a site that allows users worldwide to upload and share pictures. To find images that are free for use, use the “advanced search” option and search for images licensed under a Creative Commons license.
National Science Foundation Multimedia Gallery includes images, audio, and video from NSF-funded research. Permission to use images and clips can be requested by contacting the webmaster.
All digital images on the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) web site are in the public domain and available for use.
The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Online Catalog is a diverse, searchable collection. You can also search particular collections of interest.
5. Post Often With Meaningful Content
Keep on readers’ radars. Don’t blog about anything you don’t want your daughter, your principal, or school superintendent to know. Set a good example for your students.
One thing to keep in mind before you decide to start blogging: some personal information makes the blog more credible but address and phone number aren’t required. Once you are a pro at blogging, you might want to check out widgetbox, where you can choose from a gallery of photos, games, animations, functions and more to enhance your blog. Happy Blogging!
**The five steps were modified from the print article “Blog design and writing tips for newbies,” written by Nora Carr. The article appeared in the May 2008 edition of eSchool News.
Need examples or more information? Here are some blogs and posts to get you started!
Background Information Posts
Rationale for Educational Blogging
Blogging for Teachers and Students, Made Easy
Using Blogs in Science Education
ScienceGeekGirl: Bad Science
Blogs for Learning
MiddleWeb: Middle School Blogs
National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) SciLinks: Middle School Blog
Links to School Bloggers
Thoughtful Blog Posts
Learning to Blog: The Elementary Way
Middle School, Day By Day From a Teacher’s Point of View
Almost Monday: Wildwood’s Weekly Staff News
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. Post updated 11/21/2011.