Blogging in the Classroom with Feedly

Good morning!

The first week of the new school year is in the books, and I have to say that every year has gotten better and more comfortable for me asa teacher.  With this comfort comes great responsibility (hello, I sound like Uncle Ben there).

The responsibility is that you do not become stale as an educator.  Once your curriculum is in place, you feel secure in your classroom management skills, it’s time to start adding in some “out of the box” strategies and lessons.  For me, that is going back to something I did two years ago in a Creative Writing course and during my first attempt at a Project Genius Hour: classroom blogging.

I had my students create their own WordPress accounts and design a personalized blog.

In Creative Writing, they used it for their weekly postings about a given writing prompt or subject that we had been talking about in class; for Genius Hour, they posted their progress in researching their topics and other specific prompts that had to do with the process of being given 20% of the school week to focus on a subject matter that meant something more to them than just another grade.  If you want to know more about Project Genius Hour or 20% Time Projects, please see the following link:

My Own Genius Hour and follow @JoyKirr on Twitter.

I have decided to go back to classroom blogging for several reasons:

  • It gives students a voice and an outlet to be expressive
  • It’s important to address the ever-growing technological aspects of classroom writing
  • It gives students ownership over their writing
  • #GoGreen and save a few thousand sheets of paper
  • It creates an online archive/portfolio of their writing
  • Simplicity in checking their work

Let me address the simplicity point.  Some may say that if I have students email me an attachment or link to a GoogleDoc, won’t it be easier for me to have all the essays/poems/narratives/etc all in one place because I can save them to a folder on a flash drive or my desktop?  True.  You can do that.  However, there is an even simpler way to do this and that is through the use of a fantastic (and free) website: Feedly.

I started using this website that allows users to collect all the websites for blogs they read all in one dashboard.  You are able to sort the different blogs into categories and the most currently published blogs are added and highlighted for your benefit.  It saves so much time as opposed to visiting each one or receiving an email that notifies you of a new post.

 

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A listing of the categories that you customize. The number to the right of each title tells you how many new, unread posts are left to read.

 

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Here you can see all the specific blogs that I read that are organized into categories.

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This view allows all the newest blogs, regardless of category, to appear at the top of the page. It even tells you how long ago it was posted.

So how does Feedly help in classroom blogging:

  1. Once each student has created and shared their blog’s website address with you, you then create categories based on class period.  When a new blog entry has been published, it will be indicated for you in both the side bar and on the “All” view.
  2. It comes with a time and date stamp.  You will know exactly when a student has published his or her required blog and if it’s done on time.
  3. It’s all organized for you!  You don’t have to hunt and scavenger through the internet to 125 different URLs; they’re all listed in one amazing dashboard.
  4. In addition to all the blog entries being in one place, so  are all the students’ entries.  Because it’s done on WordPress and Feedly, you don’t have to spend wasted time searching through old emails or worry that the document got deleted.
  5. I often would forget to bring my flash drives home, so there would go a whole night/weekend of grading.  With Feedly, it’s all online and I can access it everywhere.

Question of the Day:  If you use blogging in your classroom, what other helpful tips do you have for supporting your students or making life easier for the teacher who must grade and manage them?

 

 

Nickel and Dimed: A Simulation Unit

The mind of a teacher: it’s always going one million miles a minute and we have to be twenty-five steps ahead at all times.

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(Image Source)

So here it is, two days before I leave for Istanbul, and my mind immediately takes me to the 24th, the mere 7 hours after my returning flight lands.  My English III class will be reading our first nonfiction novel, Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich.

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(order on Amazon.com)

(via Amazon)

Millions of Americans work full time, year round, for poverty-level wages. In 1998, Barbara Ehrenreich decided to join them. She was inspired in part by the rhetoric surrounding welfare reform, which promised that a job — any job — can be the ticket to a better life. But how does anyone survive, let alone prosper, on $6 an hour? To find out, Ehrenreich left her home, took the cheapest lodgings she could find, and accepted whatever jobs she was offered. Moving from Florida to Maine to Minnesota, she worked as a waitress, a hotel maid, a cleaning woman, a nursing-home aide, and a Wal-Mart sales clerk. She lived in trailer parks and crumbling residential motels. Very quickly, she discovered that no job is truly “unskilled,” that even the lowliest occupations require exhausting mental and muscular effort. She also learned that one job is not enough; you need at least two if you int to live indoors.

Nickel and Dimed reveals low-rent America in all its tenacity, anxiety, and surprising generosity — a land of Big Boxes, fast food, and a thousand desperate stratagems for survival. Read it for the smoldering clarity of Ehrenreich’s perspective and for a rare view of how “prosperity” looks from the bottom. You will never see anything — from a motel bathroom to a restaurant meal — in quite the same way again.

So here is my thought about this unit:

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I want the students to have a parallel experience to Barbara’s.  Of course I cannot expect them to A.) get a job, or B.) immerse themselves completely into this novel, but I do want them to try and put themselves in someone else’s shoes and possibly prepare them for their future responsibilities.  With that in mind, I want to create a simulation for the students.  There are several factors that will be included:

Jobs based upon a high school diploma:

  • Wal-Mart employee
  • Publix cashier
  • Retail Clerk
  • Office Assistant
  • Day Laborer

Weekly Income vs. Physical Toll:

This is where I want to help students realize that there is a physical as well as a mental drain that comes from working.

Creating a budget 

When I first moved out on my own and had to balance rent, insurance, a car payment, groceries, a cell phone bill, etc. I didn’t know how to handle my paycheck in relation to my responsibilities.  I was very lucky to have been able to live rent-free for the first two years of my post-college life, but that didn’t prepare me for managing my money.  I was able to go out and buy a new outfit whenever I wanted.  Once I had a significant percentage of my paycheck going to adult things, I wasn’t mature enough to handle it.  I ended up opening many credit cards and it took almost eight years to pay them off.  I want my students to have some insight into the importance of this and with Ehrenreich’s help, I believe that we can double-team them into seeing money in a more responsible way than I did.

Planning for a rainy day:

One thing that I didn’t realize until it was too late, AKA I was in credit card debt up to my eyeballs, that I had never put away any money for an emergency.  I got a flat tire and I had no money to replace it, and suddenly those new pair of shoes didn’t seem so glamorous.

Blogging

I am going to be having my students return to the world of blogging.  I went there with them last semester for their Project Nerdfighter Genius Hour venture.  The blogging would have them take on the persona of the worker/budgeter created during the simulation.

Midterm Projects and Genius Hour

Monday marked the first day of Midterm Week for us at school.  I chose to have all of my midterms be project-based, and I am mostly pleased with the outcomes.

For my AP Language & Composition course, I chose to have my students complete a Nonfiction Novel Project that was shared with my College Board Summer Institute class last summer.  A novel is chosen by each student and they are required to read it, write a synopsis, define key vocabulary terms, identify and explain five to ten rhetorical devices per chapter/section, and give the novel a proper review in terms of the author’s writing style and content.

The Creative Writing class had been working on 500 word stories and essays throughout the quarter, and their midterm was to turn one of them into a five-to-seven page story.  I asked them to really work on developing their characters, as this was the focus of their previous assignments.

English III was really a lot of fun because it was the group of students whom I chose to work on Genius Hour.  Most of the projects were really well done and the students shared how much they enjoyed the process and opportunity to research something that they wanted to.  I had two class periods participate in Genius Hour, and while it was difficult for some students to get started, I would say that overall the project was a success.

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I had students prepare presentations that addressed the following questions:

  • What was your project objective when you first began the project?
  • Your project objective might have changed at some point.  If it did, how and why?
  • How did you bring your resources together to support your project objective?  What resources did you use?
  • Why did you choose your topic?  What connections do you have to it?
  • What did you learn as a participant in this process?  What did it reveal that you can use in the future?
  • Now that the project is “completed,” what follow up questions do you have?
  • If we began Genius Hour – Round Two, would you stick with this topic or would you begin a new one?

Presentations came in many different formats.

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If I were to put a description on how successful I felt my first attempt at implementing Genius Hour went, I would say that it was effective, but much room was left for improvement.

What Went Well:

  • Student Enjoyment – the majority of students said that they were glad that we did Genius Hour, and the few that were apathetic have that general attitude about school and responsibility in general.
  • Time in the Media Center – I was worried about not having adequate time, but as it turned out I was able to book the Media Center as often as I felt it was necessary.
  • Creativity – This particular class of students has a high level of creativity and zest for the dramatic, so I was not let down when I had high hopes that the Genius Hour projects would be creative and vivid.
  • The Initial Use of Blogging – I had my students maintain blogs about their Genius Hour projects, documenting the information that they uncovered, how their project formation was developing, and their thoughts about it in general as the process unfolded.
  • Using Feedly – This was the single most efficient tool that I have found to assist me during a project.  Feedly allowed me to subscribe to all of the student blogs and only log into one account to see their postings.

What Needs to be Improved Upon:

  • Increased Diligence on Blogging – If I gave students time during class to complete their weekly blogs then they were completed.  Sadly, I soon discovered that left up to their own devices, the students would not post, even after being shown the ease in which creating a blog entry was on their smartphones with the use of the WordPress application.
  • More Student Conferencing – I spent an adequate amount of time checking in with students, but I realize at the end of the journey that I left too much of my feedback on their blog entries as opposed to a face-to-face discussion.  I think that this would help the students in their understanding of the project requirements.
  • Stronger Parameters – Now that I have had the first round of Genius Hour completed, I realize that I need to increase the specifications of the project in general.  I now see that the requirements that I gave were good, but should have been increased to help support the students’ understanding and perhaps even their devotion to the project.  Examples might be a more specific rubric, example projects (which I now have), specific blog topics, a formal project proposal, a formal project update log, etc.