10 Tips to Help Your Class Blog Stand Out

No one likes dedicating time to an unproductive, thankless task–especially if you’re a teacher maintaining a class blog that no one checks!  Here are 10 of our time-tested strategies to improve your blog, and to encourage your students and parents to visit.


#1: Consistency

Some teachers see this word and want to run for the hills–after all, the list of educational strategies with this recommendation could probably stretch for miles.  However, the good news is that this doesn’t have to be a time-intensive commitment when you employ one or more of the following tips:

  • Maintain a regular post structure so you don’t need to design a lengthy, creative piece each day.  For instance, start each post with some quick highlights from the day, followed by a list of homework, and ending with upcoming school/class events. See my old class blog for an example.
  • Copy and paste content from the previous day and just make changes as needed.  With the above example, you can just edit the highlights section and update any homework/events.
  • Download the app for your blog’s platform if it’s faster or simpler for you to post from your tablet or smartphone!
  • Use the post scheduling feature (included on both WordPress and Blogger) to publish at an exact time each day (that way, you can prepare it whenever you have a few minutes, but you won’t have to worry about hitting “publish” at a specific time after school).

#2: Use Tags

Add a tag or two to each post to help students and parents easily navigate your archives.  Be sure to remember to add the tag widget to your sidebar as well!

#3: Share Pictures

Nate Edwards
Nate Edwards

Students of every age love seeing their pictures, and parents love seeing their kids in action at school!  The result: an effective way to draw in your audience.  This is where your platform’s app may come in handy as well so you can post directly from the device with which you took pictures.  Of course, you may find you’d prefer to microblog your pictures using Twitter, but you can always also add a Photo Gallery section to your blog for students to explore.  For posts with pictures, remember to add a “pictures” tag!

#4: Have Students Make their Own Blogs!

Not only does this get students excited about the concept of blogging in general, but if you put links to each of their blogs on your homepage sidebar, they will have an added incentive to visit.  Get started using our practical (and teacher-tested) guide to student blogging!

#5: Add Helpful Resources (really)

Creating a few drop-down menus of organized student and parent resources is a fantastic way to increase your blog’s usefulness and traffic!  If you’re an elementary school teacher, you can make one page for each subject area that’s packed with links to relevant games and tools.  However, be sure to screen every link, both for safety and for quality–even young students are tech-savvy enough to see through an arbitrary list of “games” that aren’t actually fun!  Check out our list of student favorites!

#6: Don’t Get Discouraged!

It may take a few months before your class blog catches on with a regular traffic flow.  Just keep looking for ways to make it as useful as possible for your students, soliciting their ideas to find out what resources would help them!

#7: Layout: Go for Simple

Ask yourself: do YOU enjoy looking at busy web pages with patterned wallpapers of dogs or bright bubbles that make the words difficult to discern?  Keep the colors solid behind all words, and play with fonts, sizes, and text colors to ensure easy reading.

#8: Add a Twitter Feed & Some RSS Feeds

If you have a class Twitter account or hashtag, make sure you add a widget to your sidebar that projects that Twitter feed (see our post on unlocking Twitter’s classroom potential).  Also, ask students whether they’d be interested in seeing RSS feeds from sources such as TIME’s picture of the week, NASA’s image of the day, daily science news, or even a daily comic strip.

Mkhmarketing
Mkhmarketing

#9: Add link to your email signature

In all the back-to-school paperwork, be sure to promote your class blog link as much as possible!  Let parents know the link is in your email signature, and remind them as necessary throughout the year!

#10: Throw in Intermittent Rewards

A fun way to encourage visitors is to periodically throw in an incentive.  Give students a “Secret code word” in your post every now and then, telling them to write it on a slip of paper and to covertly hand it in the next day for a treat or bonus.

Photo Credit

niXerKG (featured image)

Nathan Edwards

Mkhmarketing

Top Online Games for Upper Elementary Students

Whether you are looking for games to add to your class blog or to your class computer bookmarks menu, we have compiled ranked lists based on games most visited and praised by 5th graders over several years!  All the games are free and kid tested.  Be sure to check out other ways to improve your classroom blog here(All links last checked for safety and functionality on July 29, 2016).

Continue reading Top Online Games for Upper Elementary Students

To Blog or Microblog?

Many teachers are very familiar with and involved in maintaining blogs for their classrooms and students.  However, the advent of microblogging through platforms like Twitter can enhance or simplify your blogging habits!  Read how!


What is Microblogging?

We recently wrote a post that explored the in’s and out’s of Twitter for teachers.  If you haven’t had a chance to read that yet, we recommend you start with that article first!

Microblogging, according a journal at the University of Stuttgart, can be explained in the following definition:

“Social networking and microblogging services such as Twitter, Facebook, or Google+ allow people to broadcast short messages, so-called microposts, in continuous streams.” [source

So, while Twitter is not the only microblogging platform (see article that compares 10 others), we will be referring to Twitter as our main classroom tool for the purposes of this article.

How Microblogging with Twitter Works

Microblogging for your class can be very effective in conjunction with a classroom blog as it gives you a place where students can access your feeds, links, etc.  However, that does not mean additional efforts–in fact, this approach will likely save you precious blogging time!

If you already keep a classroom blog to post pictures, homework, and general tidbits about what’s happening at school, chances are that you have experienced difficulty in posting content consistently or on the same day the pictures, activities, and videos actually happened.  It may be easy enough to snap some pictures in the moment with your phone, but those can be easy to forget in the shuffle at the end of the day–and even when you do remember, it can be tough to scrounge up the time to upload your photos to your computer and then a new blog post, complete with a description!

Instead, consider how the above situation changes with the tool of Twitter microblogging:

  1. Open your Twitter app on your mobile device
  2. Next to “What’s Happening,” snap your photos within the app
  3. Add a quick, 140 character phrase describing the discovery, instantly creating a feed that looks like this (thank you for sharing, Catherine!):

If you don’t have a classroom blog, you can simply give parents and students your handle (@_____) and have them follow you with their own Twitter accounts (and for this reason, we highly recommend that you keep a separate Twitter account for your classroom than for your personal use).  If you do have a blog, then you can further spread the word by using a widget to upload your Twitter feed to your blog homepage, which can be especially helpful in reaching those who don’t have Twitter accounts! Below are steps to create your widget:

  1. Click on the Settings icon at the top right corner of your Twitter page.
  2. Select “Widgets” from the menu on the left-hand side of the page
  3. Create and personalize your widget.  There are several choices for what your feed will reflect.  One option is to display posts for a specific hashtag (especially perfect if you have created a unique class hashtag that you include in each of your Tweets!):

Twitter feed--#pypchat

If you have a class Twitter account, you could also display your own feed.

Once the widget is created, inserting it into your blog varies according to your platform.  Click here for a great WordPress tutorial!  For others, you may need to copy and paste the widget code into the HTML of your site–many have an HTML widget you can insert for this kind of purpose!

When to Blog or Microblog

→Blog

  • Giving instructions
  • Explaining a project
  • Sharing reflections
  • Sharing any media you want embedded into your blog (ie, Prezi, video, etc.)
  • Reminding students of several upcoming events (perhaps in a list)
  • Posting archived Tweets or entire class Twitter debates that you don’t want to get lost in the shuffle (Storify is a great resource for this kind of archiving!  See this article for ideas on how several educators make use of this!)

→Microblog

  • Sharing student lightbulb moments, questions, and discoveries
  • Sharing short reflections on student–or your–learning
  • Giving quick reminders of individual assignments or events
  • Posting pictures and videos you take in class
  • Sharing links to any media or websites that have the Twitter share icon (which is just about anything!)
  • Sharing (and actually having) Twitter debates–just remember to have students include your unique class hashtag in each of their tweets!

This combination can make for a powerful and efficient solution to reaching parents and students effectively, but remember to work for a balance that will maximize and save your precious time!

Photo Credit: Kārlis Dambrāns

Sources:

1. Lohmann, S., et al. (2012). Visual Analysis of Microblog Content Using Time-Varying

Co-occurrence Highlighting in Tag Clouds.

Unlocking Twitter’s Classroom Potential

If teachers want to truly prepare students for the future, we must accept that social media is not going anywhere.  Read on for tips on getting started in Twitter as an educator!


Isn’t Twitter just another mundane way to micro-share everything in your life?”  “Twitter just seemed too complicated with all the symbols and rules.”  “Even if there are educational resources on Twitter, I just don’t have the time to join another social media website.

Do any of these thoughts sound like you?  If so, you’ve come to the right place, because we’ve been there, too!  This article is designed to help you understand its benefits as an educator, as well as to provide basic steps and ideas to get started–all from the perspective of a fellow educator!

5 Reasons You Should Join Twitter As an Educator

#1: Professional Development:

We very purposefully place this reason first!  Resources like Twitter are the reason professional development is increasingly becoming a personalized experience at schools.  Once you establish yourself with few educational hashtags combined with tools such as TweetDeck (see Simple Steps below), you will instantly have a wealth of current topics and resources to explore. For example, check out the screenshot that I randomly took of my own Twitter feed below:

Tweetdeck screenshot

Just glancing at the feeds, you can see resources and conversations ranging from math fact apps, to tips for using QR codes, to ideas for supporting inquiry!  Many professional development days at schools currently involve the entire staff listening (often halfheartedly, especially if it doesn’t apply to them individually) to a couple of admin-selected trainers.  Envision PD instead becoming days when the staff breaks into groups to spend the day truly exploring their areas of professional interest/needs–reading/discussing articles and contacting experts online with questions.  Twitter has the potential to revolutionize each teacher’s development as professionals not only on a school-wide basis, but on a personal basis as well!

“The Twitter shift puts each educator in control of her own professional development with self-direction and personalization of content at any time…during planning periods or outside of the school day…If I want, I can get a daily dose of professional learning to go with my early morning cup of Joe. Through the Twitter platform, I discover best practice, research, solutions and ideas delivered to me in 140 characters or fewer, for just in time learning.” ~Meg Ormiston [source]

#2: Relevance

The relevance with regards to using Twitter goes beyond just relating to our more tech-savvy students (although that can be quite significant as well)!  It goes back to what we described in professional development above.  Twitter is an incredible vehicle for teachers and other educational experts to quickly and effectively share their most innovative and valuable ideas.  If we continue to “go it alone,” despite the ready availability of such a goldmine, we will quickly lose touch with the growing possibilities within our own field.

“Social Media is here to stay. Its form may change, and certainly the applications we use will not remain the same, but the idea of openly exchanging information in whatever forms it is produced is not going away. As educators we can use it or lose it. If we don’t start to understand and use this technology soon, we will lose the opportunity to harness it, because we will be irrelevant. We don’t need social media to teach, as much as we need it to learn.” ~Tom Whitby [source]

#3: Help Students Recognize Global Society

As long as our discussions regarding current events and issues throughout the world remain within the confines of our own classroom, such ideas will continue to seem remote to students.  Once we use Twitter to communicate with individuals actually involved in those issues and/or living in those places, students will begin to see themselves as real participants in a global community.

“Educators who participate in Twitter networks are well placed to support students in the use of relevant digital technologies because the Twitter community shares knowledge, resources and expert advice.” ~Tania Sheko [source]

#4: Transparency

Resources like Twitter provide educators with heretofore unheard of levels of genuine, global collaboration.  We are perfectly poised now to share what works and what doesn’t, to seek and receive feedback when we’re stuck, and to showcase examples of great student learning.  This last ability in particular can create increased community connectedness as parents truly witness and participate in their children’s learning.  Classroom learning today looks drastically different than it did a generation ago–it calls for increased focus on process over product, on problem solving skills over memorized facts, and on student ownership over teacher control (see more ways learning has changed).  Parents, administrators, and fellow teachers need to see the benefits of such changes in order to cultivate understanding and support; in other words, we need transparency across the board to further improve teaching and learning practices!

“…they started with the why, and then created a vision for sharing beyond the walls of the classroom. Their purpose was to share with the community the great things happening in classrooms in the three-building prek-8 school district.” ~Meg Ormiston [source]

#5: Professional Development

Wait, did we say that already?  Yep.  It’s that important.

“Imagine if every teacher shared just one of their best sources with other educators, who in turn could tweet them out to the tune of 700,000 tweets in a half hour. Everyone would benefit. The idea here is to get educators familiar with the concept of connectedness and its possibilities…” ~Tom Whitby [source]

Simple Steps to Get Started

Twitter is less simplistic than other social media platforms when it comes to maximizing its use, especially in a professional capacity.  However, it is well worth the time invested in establishing your own Professional Learning Network (PLN–check out our article on building PLN’s here).  We have included some simple steps below to help you get started!  Also, be sure to check out the 13-page Handbook from plpnetwork.com, which breaks down definitions and steps in easy-to-follow detail.

  1. Twitter handbook--plpnetworkSet-up a username using the @ symbol (called your Twitter handle)
  2. Upload a picture and short bio to help potential followers know who you are!
  3. Find hashtags that interest you!  Some of our favorites include #edtech, #edchat, and #comments4kids.  Click here for a fantastic list of other educational hashtags recommended by PLP network!
  4. Download TweetDeck!  In our view, this is an essential tool to manage your time on Twitter, because it allows you to easily scan through happenings in your favorite hashtags, as well as your own notifications and news feed.  Just add columns by hitting the + icon, or by searching for individual hashtags/people and clicking “Add Column.”
  5. Start following individuals and leaving comments to grow your network.
  6. When you start creating Tweets, if you want to share a link, be sure to use URL shorteners such as Bitly or Owly to conserve your precious 140 characters!
  7. Start participating in educational Tweetchats, which are scheduled at live times for people to have discussions.  Many hashtags schedule regular Tweetchat times for their followers to have live discussions (ie, #pypchat schedules every other Thursday at 7pm Eastern Time), and keep an eye out on educational blogs you follow for their scheduled chats!
  8. Check out the Infographic to the right for additional information and details, as well as the PLP Handbook!

Practical K-12 Uses

If you teach at a BYOD school (Bring Your Own Device) or in another circumstance in which mobile devices are 1:1, the ways for students to use Twitter in the classroom are broader.  Below are some specific ideas.

  • Debates: Your students can engage in a voices-off debate in which they must articulately craft their responses into 140 characters.
  • Research: The possibilities are endless in collecting both secondary and primary resources on Twitter–particularly since experts on virtually every topic are available to give short responses to tweets.
  • Build their OWN PLN:  Students can begin networking with other individuals and experts who share their interests, well beyond just a pen-pal capacity.

On the other hand, if your students are very young, if your school does not use BYOD, or if, for any other reason, you are the only person with access to Twitter in the classroom, there are still incredible and practical ways for you to use it!

  • Microblogging: Download the Twitter app to quickly snap photos, upload videos, and post Tweets on amazing classroom happenings with your mobile device! Add your own classroom hashtag to each post to keep them organized in one place!  (Read our article on when and how to blog vs. microblog!)
  • Parent Involvement: Not only can you boost parent involvement through microblogging, but you can also host your own regular Tweetchats using your classroom hashtag!  Simply share with parents the above steps to get started on Twitter, and then give them the date and time for your chat!  You can either set the topic in advance to generate interest and ideas, or you can have an open forum for questions on homework, school events, projects, etc.
  • Facilitate Student Research: You don’t have to let students’ inability to personally tweet hold them back when it comes to their research!  When students generate their own questions and consider who would be knowledgeable on the topic, you can act as their Twitter research facilitator by sending tweets to experts on their behalf!
  • Seeking feedback for student work: This is similar to the above idea, but with the additional idea of sharing all student work! Using hashtags such as #comments4kids–designed specifically for sharing student work with other classrooms–you can share their essays, questions, blogs, and more, with the added benefit of receiving feedback from other classes around the globe!

Happy Tweeting!  We’d love to hear your success stories in the comments!

Featured Image: Scott Beale / Laughing Squid

Sources:

Practical Student Blogging

If you’re like most teachers, you have 47 other tabs open besides this one: your grade-book, email, lesson plan resources, and a couple articles on stress management.  So how can you implement student blogging without tipping the scale?


Blogging Benefits

The countless benefits of student blogging are likely what led you to this article today!  Some that we at the Honors Grad U family have witnessed through experience include:

  • Authentic audience: Parents, teachers, peers, and even fellow students across the globe can view, comment, and contribute to the learning!

  • Developing practical tech skills: Besides the obvious benefit of typing practice, blogging is a perfect tool for introducing and practicing skills from copying and pasting to simple HTML editing to maintaining various digital accounts.

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  • Multimedia Literacy:  Growing up, we all made dioramas from shoe boxes, wrote 5-paragraph essays, and crafted posters.  However, 21st century students can and need to also become fluent in an ever-expanding pool of digital resources.  Blogging gives them practice in creating and sharing pictures, Youtube videos, Educreations, Thinglinks, Infographics, Prezi’s, and much more!

  • Engaging Assignments/Projects Through Student Choice & Variety: It can be difficult to keep the passion burning when you introduce a persuasive writing unit.  However, when you also introduce the idea of also including persuasive imagery, as well as actually sharing their work with their intended audience, suddenly things get much more intriguing and personal for each student!

  • Simpler Teacher/Student Collaboration: You’ve experienced the dredge of writing comments on dozens to hundreds of assignments–and that’s only after deciphering questionable handwriting!  Once students have posted various artifacts to their blogs, you can easily type feedback–and depending on your platform, that can even be made private!

  • Easily Accessible Digital Learning Portfolio: Say goodbye to clunky binders with half-ripped-out pages from September by the time you get to March!  If you just consider the use of a few tags, you can already imagine how much easier it would be to navigate the archives of a digital portfolio.

Simple Steps for Success

  1. Pick a Platform:  Spend time exploring your options, privacy needs, and budget.  Most platforms are free on a basic level, but if you want more storage, you’ll want to consider budgeting for your account.  You can even try talking to your administration for some budgetary help, especially if they want to purchase a group package for your school!  Kidblog, WordPress, and Edublogs are all common options that allow you to add users with you as the administrator and moderator!

  2. Permission: Make sure you discuss your school’s privacy policies with your administration before you get started, especially if you’re the first teacher at your school to start student blogging!  You may just need to make a permission slip from parents for each student, or you may find that media permission slips have already been submitted to the school!

  3. Carve out class blogging time: This is probably the hardest step of all!  However, if you are an elementary school teacher, just a weekly 30-45 minute time slot should be enough to get them started!  For secondary levels, you may be able to do more at-home blogging assignments, but you’ll still want to establish at least a little class time for modeling how to use the resources (see below).

  4. Internet Safety & Respect:  Before students enter their blogs for the first time, make sure they are all familiar with basic safety rules, including sharing their personal information (this website is full of teaching ideas).  Also, practice proper etiquette in commenting on paper (see lesson ideas here), before launching into the real deal!  Creating and signing a class blogging contract for future reference is always a plus, too!

  5. Establish clear expectations:  Decide what’s most important to you for their blogs.  If you expect capitalized titles, tags for every post, and a reflection, make sure it’s clear from the beginning.  Let students know you won’t publish any posts missing basic expectations (but make sure they are reasonable for your students’ level as well)!

  6. Choose a few resources: While you’ll definitely want to introduce them one at a time (see below), spend some time beforehand identifying and familiarizing yourself with the main resources you want to teach your students to use.  We recommend choosing one resource for each subject you want your students to be able to exhibit.

    1. Math: Educreations is fantastic resource that allows students to explain their thinking as they draw while also recording their voice!

    2. Reading: You can use Audioboo to have students record their reading skills throughout the year!  Particularly for younger students, it would be powerful for them to literally listen to their progress from September to May.  For a free option (Audioboo maxes out after 3 minutes), you could also use Youtube, even covering up the camera so it just records their voices.

    3. Writing: Obviously, the simple text of a blog post is a great way to share student writing throughout the year. However, you can easily liven things up by introducing a word cloud maker like Wordle.  Not only would it add some beauty to their published piece, but it can also help students visualize their most common word usage in essays!

    4. Art: Older students will likely already be familiar with Photobooth to simply take pictures of their art pieces, but you may need to spend time teaching younger students how to take and upload photos to their blogs.

    5. Science/Social Studies: Thinglink allows students to collect several online articles, videos, and photos into one beautiful interactive presentation!

  7. Introduce one at a time:  Even if it takes several months, it is worth teaching and  practicing just one resource at a time!  Before moving to the next resource, thoroughly familiarize them by allowing them to explore several examples, create a few of their own on their blogs, and collaborate with one another’s work through commenting.  We’ve also found it effective to print and display a board of step-by-step guides for each resource for students to reference in the future.

  8. MODEL, MODEL, MODEL!!  Every chance you get, model how you would like them to use each resource.  Using your own blog account, create multiple examples of each resource for them to reference.  Remember to also model quality comments on their own blogs throughout the year!

  9. Make sure it’s accessible to parents: One of the most rewarding aspects of student blogging is to watch parents connect authentically with their child’s work!  Make sure links to student blogs are available on your classroom blog, and/or email reminders to parents after students have finished blogging projects!

Additional Ideas

Once you get into a groove with blogging, here are a few other ideas to consider to keep things exciting for your class:

  • Student Blogging Challenges: Websites like this one offer wonderful challenges for students to tackle in their blogs!  You can always get creative and craft a few of your own!  For high schoolers, this can even be in the form of working on scholarships, such as our very own Honors Grad U Scholarship, as students share their progress on their blogs!

  • Quadblogging:  This is one of the best ways to connect globally with classrooms just like yours!  Four classrooms form a quad, with each class taking turns being the  highlight classroom, while the other three visit their blogs and leave comments!  One member of our Honors Grad U family has experienced connecting with classes from the U.K. & China!

  • Consider social media: Another way to break down your four classroom walls is social media, including Twitter (Click here for our post on Twitter for teachers)!  Educational hashtags can allow your students to quickly find feedback from around the world.  For example, #comments4kids is specifically intended to post links to student work for others to leave comments!

  • Badges: www.classbadges.com is a fun way to motivate students to work to visually earn various achievements!  You could also use them in conjunction with your student blogging challenges!

Hopefully, these steps allow you to tackle student blogging in a manageable, practical way!  Leave a comment if you have any questions or additional ideas as you get started!


photo credits: DeathToTheStockPhoto (featured image)