Image from Will Lion

Image from Will Lion

“Today we are going to start our research project. Go to the library and find 3 sources for your topic…” That would be what my teachers would have said. We had a great collection of dusty books that listed old magazine articles and card catalogs that referenced 15 year old books. I could have found myself wandering into the fiction section of the room, but there were no movies playing, po rn pictures jumping up, or video games within reach all meant to distract my ADD student brain. Being a great student during those days was hard for me. How has technology changed life for me and my own ADD child?

I’m not a librarian, but students have been blessed with some good ones over the years. They taught us different strategies for collecting information such as the Big 6 method. Having a strong research method is imperative. That is the foundation on which students begin to build their work. But where to look and what to do with it has been improved over time as well.

I really do like Google, but it is very much like the picture above. I’m supposed to be a fan of educational web filters, but when I use them I feel like I’m reading the official Roswell or JFK reports with tons of information blacked out, missing, or ‘cleaned up’ for my protection.  Leading students to a proper use of Google is important to me. Model for them the use of the Advanced Search link. Giving specific keywords and keyword eliminators, giving a language requirement, and directing the search to a specific domain help confine the search and eliminate many distractors.  However, the most important distractor eliminator for younger students or beginner researchers is the teacher.

As teachers do lesson preps, they choose which problems, books, or manipulatives would work best for that class. The same can be true for research on the web. A teacher assigning everyone the same five website sources can still get many different variations of student work from them. Sometimes limiting the scope of information is incredibly powerful for classroom discussion and collaboration.

I found my information. Now What?

There are many blog posts that discuss social bookmarking. (Jennifer Dorman diigo, Kristin Hokanson on Social bookmarking is the term for having multiple people share a set of bookmarks online. Whether it is the teacher sharing the required links or students adding links to the group for sources they found, social bookmarking is a good way to collect and catalog online resources.

Years ago, Ms Muecke would have concurred that research notecards were not my friends. Why is it then that I like the idea now? I have found a friend in the discontinued Google Notebook and Evernote. Evernote can be added to your web browser easily and is a resource for highlighting information from a webpage and adding it to your Evernote notebook.  You notebook will contain all of the notes for you to review and use for your research and it keeps the original web source so you can cite your source in your project. Basically, it keeps online notecards for you to access from any online computer.

Putting it together

I have always enjoyed using Inspiration software for idea webbing or organization in the classroom. The makers of the software have recently introduced Webspiration, the online version with many of the same features.  My favorite feature has always been the rapid fire button which lets me type ideas and make ‘bubbles’ as fast as I can type and hit return. After collecting my research, from carefully selected guiding questions, putting the results of the information collection into a web can help better organize key points and the structure of the project. Doing so with Webspiration keeps a copy online, editible from any networked computer.

What else?

There are many different tools that people use online that I didn’t mention. The key is not to use them all, but find one or a few that really work for you and learn to use them well. I like finding the online (web 2.0) versions because they travel with me and are often install-free aids that don’t require special permissions to add to a computer.

What research aids have you found helpful? Please share in a comment below so we can continue to benefit from each other.

Good afternoon! I’m taking this post to welcome visitors from the Texas Computer Educators Association Conference in Austin. I am lucky to have fellow teacher Kathleen Wotring presenting with me today in a session called, “Driving it Home With Your Classroom Blog”. I was running on the “Discover Your Destination” conference theme and probably got carried away with the driving and car metaphors. Kathleen was forgiving. J

To save trees and rely more on digital sourcing, the handout used today can be found here: TCEA Handout. The guide to building your own blog can be found in the reference pages under ‘Creating Your Own Blog’ in the right hand menu of this blog.

We actually have several goals for our presentation today. First, we want to present reasons for supporting blogging in the classroom environment. Secondly, we want to continue the discussion about the different ways a classroom blog can have a positive impact on the classroom. Thirdly, we will spend the last 25 minutes of the session walking through the blog setup procedure. This will be a mountain peek experience since blog setup can take much longer than 25 minutes. We want to provide the basic experience so the extremely cautious new blogger will feel more comfortable getting started when they get home.

The last goal is that we accomplish all of this in an easy, relaxed environment. Sit back and enjoy your stay and ask questions if you have them.

It’s such an awful connotation. “I’m going to stop teaching a curriculum that is student-centered around their interests as those interests encircle our curriculum goals. Instead, I’m going to spend a year drilling skills into their head without regard to promoting the ‘willingness to come to school’ idea.”

One school where I taught was very open to me choosing how the curriculum was delivered. I could teach bridge building and castle history as long as I covered my grade-level goals. Another school I was at was much more test-centered and we had little ‘extra’ time for the activities that made students want to come to school.  So, while there are advantages and disadvantages to both, today’s question is, “How can I squeeze a blog into my test-centered curriculum?”

If there is less time for centers rotations or lab time where students can all get hands-on time with the class blog, then use your blog as a one-to-many delivery system. It could be the problem of the day/week at the beginning of class. Show it to the class and after discussing the answer, one student could spend a short time writing the answer so it would be recorded.  Grant bonus points for students who use their independent or after school time to write a response about the day’s answer.

The blogging rationale would be that you would have a record over time of how student answers have changed or improved. In math, the teacher could lead a review over past strategies used to solve certain problems. Blogs are searchable and categorized, so quickly looking for ‘multiplication’ could bring up past classroom solutions that could be re-evaluated and improved upon.  Parents could view the blog so they could have a deeper understanding of what is being covered in class so they could better help Johnny at home.  Blogging using categories similar to tested state standards will help document the breadth of standards coverage in the classroom.  Pull up a particular standards category and view all the ways that it has been discussed through the year.

I’ve handed a set of computers to a teacher before and watch the classroom use them in creative ways to build products that showed understanding of tested material. Yet, the administrator came in and told the teacher to stop using the computers and get back to test practice.  The teacher was crushed.  I would hope that in our accountability-driven environment, even the one-to-many use of blogging would hold up as a tool that would help students communicate learning success and be seen as the valid classroom resource that it can be.

Previous posts have discussed the different natures of blogs in the classroom. There are blogs that are updated once a month or once a week for just parent communication. Other classroom blogs are for student use and may see active posting for a week during one project and then take two weeks off until the next project.  Other blogs maybe an every Wednesday routine. Timing your blog to fit your classroom needs is critical.

But what are you going to have your students blog about? Meeting with a  group of teachers this week,  several  ideas were thrown around.

Language Arts

  • Using your blog to continue classroom discussion is fantastic. When studying character development in writing, could you ask the class to discuss what they are doing to develop  the character they create for their story? Students could ask for feedback or suggest ideas that may help improve their writing.
  • In some elementary grades, blogging can be cumbersome because students are focused on writing mechanics.  A teacher could remove some roadblocks by changing the blog environment for the week.  “This week, don’t worry about spelling” may be used to just get student ideas down without fear of reprimand. The teacher could get more writing from the student and gets a more honest assessment of spelling at the same time. Pick some of the frequently misspelled words for the next week’s spelling list.
  • Instead of a paper assignment for collecting sentences using the grammar skill taught that day, have the students write their sentences in their blog comment.  See if they can migrate from random grammar practice sets to meaningful statements which they own that also show the grammar lesson for the week.


  • Used as a pre-assessment, the blog comments can gather prior knowledge data before you undertake a new unit. Gather student predictions about a lab you will do the next week. Students can predict and revise predictions before the lab ever becomes an assignment.
  • Data collection is easy to teach with fictional data. Increase student ownership and have the students comment about a topic that will include data. “How many of you watched a ‘reality TV’ show last week? Who would watch a reality show take from inside our classroom? How many weeks would you follow the class and why?” There could be significant number generation from their data and you would have real data collection from a source that your students own and value.
  • Find classes in other parts of the country. Convince them to comment about their weather every Thursday.  All of the classes involved would not only have a record of their own weather, but would be able to compare weather histories across the country.


  • Math is often seen as a ‘one right answer’ class. But we know that there is usually more than one way to answer most problem situations. Pose the weekly math problem and have students or small groups create their solutions in their comment.  Students will have a record of the possible answers that they can retrieve from home or elsewhere in school. Additional comments can discuss why the other groups’ answers were or were not correct.  The teacher can give a historical perspective of how groups have been using a particular method of the past so many weeks.
  • There are many online videos that demonstrate a mathematical  method. Include a video in your post. Have the students comment on how they used that method in their solutions that week.
  • A weekly challenge problem can be designed to have many answers.  Students can post their solutions and get points for correct answers. Other students can respectfully discuss errors in other students’ solutions or confirm a solution and get points that way.  Using descriptive words without the ability to add graphics to ‘show’ an answer helps build written language skills and reinforces the use of math vocabulary.

Social Studies

  • What text book doesn’t have open-ended questions at the end of the chapter? These questions can be great discussion starters.
  • What if questions were never my favorites as a teacher, but students sometimes feed off of them like candy. “What if Abraham Lincoln didn’t get elected?”  “What if Thomas Jefferson were president today?” Students can bring in primary sources or reinforcing websites as links in their comment  to show that they are really thinking their answers through.
  • Biography studies can show commonalities between historically important people from across the time line. “Name a person in history who was a failure during his lifetime, but who later became ‘successful’ due to his previous achievements.”

Looking at topics such as these, it is important to keep in mind that some student comments can be impromptu thoughts and others may require problem-solving or research before leaving the comment. Your blog is what you want to make of it.

What are some other general or specific topics you have used or have seen used with students?

I recently heard some comments from teachers about not wanting to blog because they didn’t want to have to do it all year. “It’s such a long commitment.” Today, we break that barrier as well.

Many people (small businesses especially) use the free blog as their web presence. It’s their home page. Maintaining a home page does require some commitment. But creative teachers often use tools for new purposes or bend the rules for old tools. For the blog, we can make it fit our needs for product creation, assessment ability,  and authentic communication between teacher and student. But how many of us have a project or unit that goes on all year? Very few.

The short-term project blog can be a great asset. A teacher can set up the blog for the classroom as a project-based blog. Use it for the two week unit on butterflies and then give it a rest. Later, during our weather unit, use it to track and discuss weather systems. Towards the end of the year, start a discussion on how they intend to use what they have learned over the year. Perhaps the last project you start with them could carryover through the summer.

The big idea is that you don’t resist using a wall chart tablet because you don’t want to ‘have to’ fill out all the pages. You use what you want and then pull it out when you need it again later. The blog can be your record of a unit and the student input can help with assessing their mastery of the material. Using inserted media, the teacher can put the unit’s KWL online and end with review material gather throughout the unit. What a great tool for the over-absent student. When the unit is over, post a “Gone Fish’n” sign until you have another unit that would work well with this learning tool.

Think about the purpose of the blog in the classroom. It’s a tool that facilitates communication, helps students practice technology skills needed for graduation, and provides an archive of work done in the classroom. Using the classroom blog for a while several times a year at least could benefit both teacher and student.

I had the pleasure of meeting with high school and middle school journalism teachers this week. I was asked to come lead a discussion about using web 2.0 tools in the classroom. Some great things came out of the meeting and I have a number of future visits to classrooms already planned. Nice!

One very authentic use of blogging was shared by a couple of photoj teachers. (Okay, it took me a second to connect ‘photo journalism’ to the name, photoj. What a great class name!) Anyway, one high school class is using a blog to share their photo essays throughout the year. Each student has their own blog through which that post their latest assignments. Some assignments were text-based reflections on in-class work. Others had students posting photographs and discussing them using the classroom criteria.

What a great way to extend learning!

  • Students were writing some very meaningful ideas about what they were learning about photography. The teacher doesn’t have to carry folders or boxes of student pictures, but can view them from any computer and give feedback there as well.
  • Students were using advanced digital skill in personalizing their own web presence. Some showed great aptitude for web design and construction that wasn’t necessarily part of the classroom assignment.
  • Photography examples were often taken away from campus. It looks as though students were practicing their skills and uploading their work during non-school hours.

It was great listening to the teachers at that meeting talking about how they are using different websites as a part of their journalism curriculum. Conversations covered, “What are you using for your online newspaper?” to “How are you grading online student work?” (BTW, the online newspaper suggestion was ASNE’s and it’s for primary and secondary schools.) Perhaps creating student blogs will enhance the community of student journalists by having more teacher and more student interschool communication.

I’m waiting for permission to post the actual classroom blog, but I’d love to have teachers comment here and leave other examples of using the blog in their journalism (or other) classroom.

Okay, so the title should say, “Blogging Bloom’s”, but I liked the figurative language picture of little blogging flowers. (I lost a man point on this one, but gained an Early Childhood Class point.) Anyway, I wanted to return to the idea of “How are we using a blog with students in the classroom?” It’s easy to come up with a simple Answer-The-Question blog, but how can we use it to really push learning?

Well, it occured to me this morning, as I was looking at the picture of Benjamin Bloom on the front of the Wheaties box, that using Bloom’s taxonomy for catagorizing questions can be a great reminder for how we are to meet the needs of all students with the same blog post. If my post for today’s literature group work is, “How old is Brian Robeson?”, then everybody commenting after the first two kids can just copy the previous answer. I would get many similar answers if I posed the question, “Tell what happened with Brian’s plane crashed at the beginning of Hatchet.” Again, the kids commenting later have the advantage of just copying someone else’s work.

As I added the third spoon of sugar to my bowl, I remembered some of the great discussions in my classroom and how the divergent thinkers would get us sidetracked. It was great! They were putting the work into their mental environment and authentically applying it to their own experiences. By giving the blog post an opening for synthesizing or evaluating the classroom lesson, students will see a much broader answer base and have much greater room for dialoguing with thier peers about their answers.

“I don’t think Brian really wanted to go home and leave the forest. Using only information from the book up to Chapter 11, convince me that he did or didn’t want to go home. Using accountable talk, question other students about their answer with evidence you feel is appropriate.”

How can we use Bloom’s ideas in a Math teacher’s blogg? in Science? You can start discussing while I put my cereal bowl in the sink.

I always had a love/hate relationship with the ‘What if…’ questions in the classroom. On the one hand, the class can get so derailed by those questions, the main class objected gets held for ransom and learning is missed. But on the other hand, it is exactly that curiosity that fuels student interest and motivates them to go deep into the content of the lesson. In Science, Inquiry-based learning is very open ended and provides many of the What If learners that chance to not only get the lesson, but to go beyond the lesson.

Blogging is a nice resource for the Science classroom because it gives voice to the extended questions that may be missed or not spoken during class time. After a lab exercise, students usually regurgitate the exercise into their lab notebooks or worksheets. Have the teacher post their Science prompt early in the week and have a deadline on Thursday for all students to participate in the discussion. “How would you design the experiment differently and what results would you expect?” Students have their open opportunity to share their ideas, but also can collaborate with peers to improve their own ideas.

B Smith: I would use pipe cleaners for the support piece since they have wires on the inside.

C Clancy: I like B’s pipe cleaner idea. However, I think the fuzzy cloth on each pipe cleaners would probably stick to the base of the unit. How about putting the pipe cleaners inside a straw?

F Thoms: I want to suspend the beaker instead of resting it on the unit. I like the pipe cleaner as a way for wrapping around the top of the beaker and hanging it from a tube rack. Nice idea B!

By the end of the week, the teacher can pick one of the popular ideas and perform the exercise on last time, but as the student designed it. A short comparison chart can compare and gauge student comprehension of the main idea.

One effective use for a blog in the classroom is the Character Study blog. As a Language Arts tool, it reinforces written communication, probes novel comprehension, and provides an opportunity for students to use this study as an online collaboration excercise.

Say, for instance, your class is reading Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen.  As the teacher, you could present character questions based on that day’s chapter. During literary circle centers, students would take turns getting online, reading your prompt, and then writing their response. In the time left before that rotation is over, they can also question or respond to other students’ writings.  At the end of centers time, the teacher can pull up on a tv or projector the blogging done that day and debrief the student resonses.

Another great use of the literary blog is having a character study led by a student. This week, Bobby will respond to student comments based on a teacher-given prompt.  Brian Robeson gets frustrated after the storm. Bobby writes an initial post describing what Brian may have been thinking. As students rotate through, they can ask ‘Brian’ a question or respond to his comments.  This could be a great enrichment for the advanced learner (Bobby) as he must fully comprehend and expand on the novel.

I really enjoyed having the the written reponses designed to compare the class novel with their own novels.  The prompt would be created so that students had to show knowledge of the class novel and also compare the two texts or sets of characters.  As students read their peer’s writing, the students are exposed to other novels they may wish to check out later. Also, when the comparisons involve so many other books, the student that comes to blog late in the rotation doesn’t have to worry about all of the ‘good answers’ being written already.

Key to the teachers success is the ability of the student to self-assess.  Clear guidlines or rubrics need to be established for the expected student product so that feel confident in their efforts since the work is being shared immediately with the class.  How many sentences are expected in a good post? To encourage depth of writing, do you acknowledge a relaxing of spelling expectations? Did you create personal-safety guidlines and are they followed?

How would you incorporate a Character Study into your classroom blog?