Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Meaningful Blog Comments

Having spent the last several weeks teaching my 7th grade classes how to write a blog post and upload a legal, relevant image, I decided that this past week was the time when we'd embark on commenting. Given that these students are intimately familiar with MySpace, it was a bit surprising how much they did NOT know about online commenting (on blogs or otherwise).

Since I only see my students for 45 minutes, 9 times a quarter, I was not able to use projects or discovery type learning to teach a fantastic lesson on this topic, as I know many others are able to do. (Here are sources one & two I used to form the basis of what I taught, and another I just noticed today.) Instead, I ended up just telling them the most salient points.

These were the sections all students were to include on every comment they left:
  • First, write something positive or a compliment. Just as teachers can always find at least something positive to say about a student's writing, we should all be able to find something positive to say about a blog post.
  • Second, give a suggestion or ask a question about what they wrote. This tells the author that you are interested in what they have to say on a given topic.
  • Third, add information to what they said. This might be a related experience or information that they might not know about their topic. This way, the author's knowledge is deepened by your comment.
  • Sample comment: That's cool that you like bracelets. They're colorful and very creative. Do you make them yourself? Colors of bracelets have meanings too!
I also explained these qualifications about commenting, hoping to eliminate hostile, inappropriate exchanges:
  • Comments are NOT private communication between you and the post author. Anyone in the world can read them, LITERALLY, including parents, friends, principals, teachers, people in China, etc. (I emphasized this a lot to 13 year olds!)
  • People form opinions of you based on what you write. You want to make sure that people know you are an intelligent human being by using proper grammar, spelling, and that you double-check for silly mistakes before you submit comments. This also means no text language! You don't want someone thinking that you think the word "you" has 1 letter! Also, 17 exclamation points are unnecessary. One or two get the point across just as well.
  • You are free to disagree with blog posts, but you must do it respectfully. This means not saying "Your crazy, that idea sucks!" but intelligently stating your opinion WITH REASONS, without being rude, insulting, or hurtful. Stating an opinion without reasons makes people dismiss your comments immediately.
Throughout the week, I moderated the comments to delete the one-sentence comments (as I had told them I'd do), inappropriate things, and to generally keep tabs on the conversations. Had I discovered this comment earlier in the week, it would have been my perfect example of how NOT to comment: (I would link to it, but I deleted it!)

This post, however, has some much higher-quality comments on it. While there is still a lack of punctuation or improper grammar in some of the comments, I think it turned into a decent little group of thoughts. I would spend more time ensuring proper conventions in writing, but with 26 different classes a week, I just don't have time. If I catch them before they've posted it, I'll have them fix it. Otherwise, as long as its an intelligent comment that adds to the conversation, I'm willing to let some of those things go, momentarily. But it will be addressed every time we blog, as a reminder.

I think these guidelines should make for a good baseline for all online commenting in my classrooms throughout the year.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Teaching in the Dark Ages

On Tuesday, the biggest storm Phoenix has seen in years swept through the Valley, leaving a trail of hail-pitted destruction in its path. The first wave of the storm hit around noon, and shortly after, it began hailing, which is nearly unheard of in Phoenix. (See my pic above.) At this point, I was supposed to be teaching a photojournalism class with a very rough group of 8th graders. After about 5 minutes of "class" we watched a power line short out in front of our window, and very shortly thereafter, the power went out. It quickly became clear that the best that I could hope for was that they would sit down and watch the storm out the window. Eventually, their teacher ended up taking them back to class since there was literally nothing I could do without power.

This was almost a shock to me, because I've always prided myself on being able to make anything into a learning activity. And, in this case, in a regular classroom, I could have. In regular classrooms, there are still books, textbooks, paper, pencil, etc. One of the other 8th grade teachers had his students write stories about it (what I would've done), and another had them paint pictures of the storm. However, in a computer lab, there was literally NOTHING I could do in terms of computers without power (short of taking them apart, and I couldn't even do that with Macs), and I obviously wasn't sending them out with cameras in the rain (not like I could've uploaded the pictures anyway). At best, we would have been telling stories.

In this case, the teacher actually just volunteered to take them back to class (I didn't put up too much of a fight :-)) By the time my next class came an hour later, it had cleared up even though the power was still out, so I sent them out with the cameras to document the storm. (I uploaded them all to my computer when I got home.) Out of the 200+ pictures they took, there were even a few good ones. (See below.)

It was one of the very few times in my life where I've literally been stumped as to what to do next. It was a very unnerving feeling. This has since inspired me to come up with 1) some good stories to tell in case this happens again, and 2) some verbal activities kids could do in this situation. Anyone else have any other suggestions?

Sunday, October 3, 2010

New ideas

Have you ever had an idea that hits you all at once? So far, (at least in education) my best ideas come to me this way. These are definitely the ideas that I'm the most passionate about. This includes the online class I taught about using interactive whiteboards, which I loved, and the idea I had for my first proposal to present at a conference (still waiting to hear about this one).

One of these ideas hit me the other week. As a new trainer for the interactive white boards, I realized that teachers needed something beyond just a how-to class for the IWB software. What I would have loved when I had already completed the training but was stuck on where to go from there, was a class to sit and work on digital "flipcharts" for the board with someone to help me when I got stuck.

So, I immediately emailed my instructional technology director about such a course who promptly...did not get back to me. However, 4 days later, when he did get back to me (since he'd been out of town), he said it was a great idea, and would I be interested in heading up this idea. I was thrilled to be given such a chance, and even more happy that this type of idea had already been floated by other trainers during the summer, so there was already support for it.

This plan is really starting to move along, as we have a planning meeting this week with trainers regarding what such a forum will look like. It will definitely be come and go, and have trainers available to answer questions as needed. We are planning whether it will have any teaching component for the whole group (like higher-order thinking, integrating the software into actual curriculum, etc.) or if it will just be an "Activboard Study Hall" as we are currently calling it. (Do you remember how awesome study hall was in high school? Best thing ever, in terms of homework.) As soon as those things are planned, we'll begin implementing these classes, so yay for good ideas coming to fruition!