Do you purposely plan your lessons with your students’ “interests” in mind? If not, you should start doing so immediately.
With learning tools available everywhere on the Internet, you should always be looking to add more of what our kids love best – TECHNOLOGY! One of the easiest ways to incorporate tech into your daily lesson plans and content units is to create a classroom blog.
By getting our students to consistently use online resources to type analysis, evaluations and reflections about social studies content, we are giving them valuable practice with 21st century skills and preparation for college and career.
Blogs are simple to use for teachers and students
First, you need an online forum to use as your classroom blog. Many school systems around the country are starting to provide these classroom blogs for their teachers. However, there are many online forums that are free resources for teachers and students. My favorite is Edmodo.com. I used it for years until my school upgraded and standardized blog use across all K-12 grades.
My district recently became a “Microsoft School” and also utilizes Microsoft Teams and its “conversations” forum as my daily classroom blog. Through this platform, I can set up different “conversation topics” where my students post almost daily. Majority of the posts they make are in response to an essential question that was posed to them during class that day.
Here are some examples of the types of blog posts I use often with my U.S. history classes:
This is a PowerPoint slide that appears in the front of my class at the beginning of the lesson on the stock-market crash of 1929 to jump start the Great Depression unit. We watch the PBS documentary on the event that sparked the worst economic downturn in human history. Then, students use the classroom blog to answer the essential question posed. Finally, my students start our next class with a partner “Do Now" activity, talking and sharing their analysis. I circle the room as students use their laptops or phones to read their blog responses to each other. There are hundreds of options for questions that I have used to stimulate students’ minds to think critically about history.
I also use my classroom blog to assess students’ writing and understanding of events. At the end of a two-day lesson on the Korean War, my students use the last 25 minutes of class to evaluate the war on my blog:
After they finish, we end class with a review of both sides of the argument together in a whole group closure activity.
Blogs stimulate debate and discussion
If you teach Civics/American Government or a Current Events class like I do, blogs are an absolutely perfect vehicle to allow our high school students to develop their own political philosophy. I push my students to start exploring the role they want government to play in their life and society.
So, the next method the blog is used for is getting my students to reflect on relevant issues by stating their opinion, with detailed support, on “hot” topics we study in class. I call them “Daily Civics Debates” or “Current Event Conversations.” Remember, all of these are done online during class or after class as homework or assessments. Here are a few of my favorite compelling questions from my Civics and Contemporary Issues classes:
The key is getting the kids working on an online blog and reflecting on cultural, social or political issues. Here is proof that they are important: I had one student a couple of years ago who ALWAYS complained about the blogs. She wasn’t a bad student, actually quite the opposite. She was an outstanding student … but she never stopped complaining about the blogs. Well, after she graduated, and right before I was about to start another school year, she emailed me from college:
I emailed this young lady back and wrote, “I thought you did not like the blogs?! Lol … have a great first year of college. Good luck!”
Blogs are fun, too!
Like any lesson planning, being creative and unique can bring tremendous benefits to you and your students. During the 2016 Presidential Election, my Contemporary Issues students had to blog “live” during the presidential debates.
The students loved it! Many commented that it was the first time they actually watched a presidential debate. The blog posts were quick, inquisitive and, at times, funny! The next day, I decided to give out a few awards to the best “bloggers” … I called them The Bloggy Awards. One student won the “The Best Quote of The Night Award.” Another student won the “Funniest Post” Bloggy. A final student won the “Best Analysis” Bloggy.
My class blogged “live” for the entire election season … including Election Night when Donald Trump stunned Hillary Clinton to win the presidency. It was a moment we will never forget, and it was mainly because we are able to connect and share our analysis and emotions LIVE on my classroom blog.
But, my student’s favorite type of blog assignment is when I turn the blog into Twitter or Instagram. Our district, like many of yours, does NOT allow teachers and students to follow each other on Social Media . So, I turn my blog into the student’s Social Media. Here is my first blog assignment, at the beginning of the year, as we review Westward Expansion and preview the Second Industrialization of America.
American Progress is one of those classic primary sources U.S. History teachers have used for decades. But, in an attempt to connect with what my students like, I turn picture analysis into an online blog assignment. When the students read the assignment, they go bonkers because they LOVE Twitter. Some students even ask if they can “tweet as a bison” … and I always say YES!
Here are some student blog post examples I show and model with the whole class the next day, including their scores from a 10-point blog rubric I created.
Students are engaged and connected to learning in a way they love … my blog turns into Twitter for a lesson!
Sometimes I also turn my classroom blog into another student favorite – Instagram! Here are some of the student’s favorite “Insta” blog posts:
This is very similar to “flipping the classroom.” Students research new information online at home, and then they role-play as Social Media experts for CBSNews.com on the blog. They post a real picture of the new canal and an accurate, concise, fact-based post just like it was a real Instagram account while at the same time participating in traditional research. We ALWAYS share our blog posts the next day as a collaborative effort in small groups.
This is 21st century learning at its best. And once again, the kids love it! Very rarely does ANYONE miss these assignments.
Teaching should keep us young
My late, great father Phil Fowler, a legendary teacher of 44-years, always told me he was afraid to retire because, “teaching keeps me young! I’m afraid I’m going to get ‘old’ when I’m no longer trying to connect with who my high school students really are.”
Stay young by catering your lesson plans to what our 21st century students are best at – engaging and connecting with technology. Classroom blogs are an easy way to start incorporating “tech” into your daily lesson plans.
Be creative, think out of the box, and get online with a classroom blog today.
Your students will thank you for it.
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Mr. Dennis Fowler is a high school social studies teacher at Lewis Mills High School in Burlington, CT, youth soccer and basketball coach, and motivational speaker. His professional development program is called “Connecting with Kids: Ideas to Engage Students and Build Relationships." His blog, called “Dynamic Engagement,” explores better ways and methods to create a positive classroom climate through motivating actions and activities. You can connect with Dennis Fowler here.