Starting a Class Blog in 5 Minutes

Starting a Class Blog

Why is starting a class blog important?

Starting a class blog is one of the most effective ways to engage students in and beyond your lessons. I’ve been using them for years and my students absolutely love them. Recently, my Year 10 class asked me to create one just for them. They’d heard from some older students how much they enjoyed learning in this way and why blogging beats using “traditional” methods hands down. I would agree for the most part with their assessment. However, when blogs are used effectively, they do not replace “traditional” methods. They simply present traditional methods in a modern way.

For example, in my both my Law and Religious Studies lessons, at all Key Stages, the most important part of my planning is “Questioning“. My students love to go deep into a topic during debates, looking at concepts from a broad range of perspectives. They love it even more when I drill down into what they mean by the words they’ve used, or what assumptions are built into their reasoning and beliefs. This is as traditional as teaching gets, just take a look at the dialogues in Plato’s works.

Blogging simply allows that dialogue to take place in an environment more familiar to today’s students, the digital natives. And we all know that when students are in comfortable surroundings, their fight or flight system switches off and they become more naturally inclined to engage with the lesson. The depth I’ve seen in some of the comments sections of my class blogs has been phenomenal.

When blogging is done well, it takes the topic away from the teacher and gives ownership and independence of learning over to the students. The teacher can still moderate the debate, but they become a moderator rather than the centre of the discussion. Not only that, but your entire debate is recorded. This means that your students can revisit it when planning an essay or revising for a test. How many of your verbal debates in class were recorded accurately and in detail in the past year?

Why aren’t more teachers starting a class blog?

Trying something new is always a challenge. Below I’ve listed some of my colleagues’ responses when I’ve asked them about blogging. Some of these may sound familiar…

  • The teacher is not familiar with blogging, so they worry about doing a bad job, or that it will take up a disproportionate amount of time for very little gain. (Below I’ll show you my foolproof 5-minute process to set up your blog. It takes me longer to create a decent worksheet!)
  • The teacher feels they are “not good with computers”. (Sorry you aren’t allowed to use this one, it’s not 1998 anymore.)
  • The teacher feels that their methods are perfectly fine, so they don’t need to change anything.
  • The teacher sees blogging as a fad, that will soon go the way of Brain Gym and Learning Styles.
  • The teacher is worried about how students may abuse the blog, bully other students on there, or somehow get the teacher into trouble.

Whilst all of these problems are valid to some degree, they all boil down to one thing. Fear. Fear that we as teachers aren’t good enough, or that we will try something that doesn’t pay off. Personally, I don’t think that as teachers we can afford to think in these terms, even if we try to rebrand the Fear as “just being practical” or muttering to like-minded colleagues “I’ve seen this before”. Apart from anything, we are supposed to inspire our students and give them the sense that it doesn’t matter if you fail. You just learn from it and do things differently next time, without judging yourself or worrying about being judged.

Not only that but as I mentioned in a previous post on Flipped Learning, students should be encouraged to engage with materials before the lesson in which they are studied. This allows the teacher to focus more on higher-order tasks regarding analysis, evaluation and problem-solving, rather than basic content delivery and comprehension. Blogging allows this to happen but also introduces the depth of analysis via peer-led discussions of the content.

Top tips for creating your ‘beginner blogger’s mindset’

  1. Don’t judge yourself before starting a class blog.
  2. If it ‘fails’ first time around, don’t judge yourself then either.
  3. Stop thinking that others are judging you. They aren’t. In fact, they’re probably jealous of your guts to try it in the first place.
  4. Now try it again, but tweak it a little.
  5. Repeat until you succeed. (It really won’t take you long – you’re probably overestimating how hard it really is!!)
  6. Tell others what made it work and what the benefits of blogging vs other methods are.

How do I set up my first class blog?

Blogger

Firstly, you will need to decide on a blogging platform. There are many out there and for the most part, there is little between them in terms of how you would use them in the classroom. However, I’m going to show you step-by-step how to use WordPress.com to set up your blog. I use WordPress for all of my classroom blogs and even this blog you’re reading right now! It’s very easy to set up and to customise as you see fit.

All you need to do now is to follow each step and you will have your very own blog to use within five minutes!

  1. Go to www.wordpress.com and click on “Get Started” in the top-right corner of the screen.
  2. Select an initial layout for your blog from the basic templates. (You can change this later.) For ease of use, I would pick the “A list of my latest posts” option as it offers the simplest layouts.
  3. Choose a theme. A theme is a detailed template which you can customise or leave as it is. Any theme will do for now, as again, you can change this later if you like.
  4. Choose your domain (the web address of your blog). Type into the box a word or phrase you would like to appear in your blog’s web address and a list of FREE and PAID options will appear. Choose the FREE option. WARNING: You cannot change your domain once you have registered, so try out a few names to see which ones work for you.
  5.  Pick a Plan. Again just select the FREE option, unless you are familiar with blogging and web design and want more features. Personally, I think this is completely unnecessary for classroom blogging, but once you catch the blogging bug you might consider this in the future. With the exception of this website, I’ve always used the FREE options and been completely satisfied with what they have to offer for my students.
  6. Create your account. Type in your email address and select a username and password in order to log in to your blog in future.
  7. You will be sent a confirmation email to the email address you registered with in the previous step. Go into your email and click “Confirm”. You will be redirected to a login page where you need to enter your username and password that you picked in the previous step.
  8. You will now be directed to your “Dashboard” where you can create your own content or link to content that exists elsewhere on the web.

Publishing your first post

Now that you’ve set up your blog, play around with the different features in the dashboard to familiarise yourself with them. Don’t worry about clicking on the wrong thing, you can’t break your blog! As with any new technology, the more you play around with it, the quicker you will learn about it. The Dashboard is designed to be as user-friendly as possible. However, if you are having any issues understanding how things work then there are a tonne of tutorials on WordPress, aimed at beginners. I’ve found that YouTube is also a brilliant resource for blogging tutorials too, with the added benefit of you being able to see what you are supposed to type or click on.

Keep your first post simple.

I tend to make my first post about “House Rules” for students using the blog. It really helps if from the outset students know exactly what they are and aren’t allowed to do on the blog. Set out your high expectations and (hopefully) the students will meet them.

To create a new blog post, go to the Dashboard and click the “Add” button next to where is says “Blog Posts” (I told you it was user-friendly!). Type in your title, then add your text beneath. You can add images if you like, or you could even add a link to another website. Once you are finished, it’s time to “Publish” by clicking on the “Publish button on the left-hand side.

Congratulations, you are now a blogger!

Final thoughts…

I would love to hear about your classroom blogging experiences and would be happy to answer any questions you have about starting a class blog. Just leave a comment on this post or send me a tweet (@guruteaching) and I’ll get right back to you.

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There’s no “I” in iPad

iPad

Stop, Collaborate and Listen

Students love using technology in the classroom. Not just because an iPad makes a change from pens and paper and not because it’s “less work” than other traditional methods. They enjoy using an iPad, or other technology because it’s what they do outside of the classroom – they are “digital natives”. Student use iPads, apps, video streaming, social media, etc, 24/7. They know within seconds that a sports star has signed a new contract, that a spoiler for a film has gone public, or that a celebrity has just been photographed doing something exciting.

Students receive the information, evaluate whether they like it or not, share it with others and comment on vital pieces of that information at length. Media outlets and tech companies are streets ahead of many schools in the way they deliver content. If we want to increase engagement and demonstrate relevance to our students, then we must find a vehicle for content delivery that is just as immersive as the student experience beyond the classroom.

To some teachers, this thought can be daunting. Particularly for those who aren’t too tech-savvy. But if you are already reading this blog (and hopefully signed up to the email subscription!) then I’m probably preaching to the choir. There are devices and apps for everything you can imagine, with more and more being released every week.

Online Collaboration

Here is a practical guide to using iPad apps, to enhance your existing teaching methods.

1. Content Delivery

YouTube: Film an explanation or demonstration. Students can use this to learn key information at the beginning of a topic, revise for a test, evaluate their own work or the work of others. May require more than one take – but fantastic as a permanent revision resource for students to use at home!

Explain Everything: Copy text and images into the templates in the Explain Everything iPad app and let it create an animated presentation to show to students. Easy!

2. Presenting

iMovie: Students can research information about a whole topic and create a movie trailer based on their research. My students created a disaster movie trailer, based on research they had done on the causes and effects of global warming and humanity’s response to it. They loved watching each other’s and can still remember a great deal.

WordPress: I’ve already posted about my (not so secret) love of blogging, but I’ll keep doing it until we’ve all had a go! Seriously, why not? (Top tip: post a link to an article, then tell students that their homework is to submit a short response – but they can’t repeat anything another student has already mentioned. They will all try to complete their homework as soon as possible, rather than leaving it to the last-minute!)

3. Collaboration

Dropbox: Students can work remotely from each other and drop files into the same shared space. It syncs in real-time too, so they can see how each other is editing their project. Brilliant if students are all contributing via mobile devices with limited access to a hard-drive.

Twitter: Write a tweet (a comment no longer than 140 characters), include a # (hashtag for those of you still living in 2006) and tell your students to follow (search for) that # and tweet their reply, making sure to include the # within their reply. Excellent for sharing online content and debating it beyond the classroom.

Apps

What do these technologies have in common?

The clue is in the Vanilla Ice quote at the top of the post – collaborate. Students collaborate on social media, when it comes to sharing links to a funny video, to comment on a photo, to react to a shocking news headline. They engage each other in a debate – sometimes to further their own agenda, sometimes to follow someone else’s. Collaboration is the most fun and engaging part of many lessons – are our traditional teaching methods set up to provide opportunities for this? The apps above definitely are. They enable collaboration to happen with ease – they are a central feature. So…

Your iPad mission (should you choose to accept it):

Ok folks, it’s that time again – have a look at what you can try out THIS WEEK (be honest – if you say you’ll do it next week then you probably won’t ever do it). Borrow an iPad or even a set of them so students can make a movie trailer, create a walk-through of an experiment and upload it to YouTube, set up a Twitter account and start a conversation.

As always, let me know how it goes!

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Using WordPress to Teach Students

 Blogging with WordPress

Why should you use WordPress to teach students?

In order to teach effectively, you must have the following three things in place:

  1. Excellent source material for students to gather research from
  2. The right questions asked at the right time and in the right way (Read my post on Asking the Right Questions)
  3. A good space to debate the answers to those questions in depth – THE BLOG!

Too often, established teachers, or newly qualified teachers with little experience of creating online media, shy away from tasks like building a website. It looks like it will be too difficult. However, there are many tools and templates available to make this easy. I’ve found many simple walk-throughs on YouTube, and on WordPress itself. My only regret is that I didn’t start blogging earlier – it’s so much easier than it looks. In fact, the last blog I created took less than five minutes to create from scratch! Read this post for a step-by-step guide to creating your first class blog in five minutes.

What exactly is WordPress?

Well a blog is just a vehicle for delivering online content, only it is incredibly easy to self-publish and there are very few (if any) barriers to entry. I have used blogs for around six years now, on and off and students love them. For teaching, Iuse www.wordpress.com – they host the blog I use with my A Level Law students and it’s FREE!

However, if like me, you want even more functionality for your blog, then I would recommend using www.wordpress.org. WordPress can host the blog for you, but I would recommend using a hosting service like SiteGround. This host is the one I use for www.teachingandlearningguru.com. SiteGround offer absolutely fantastic 24/7 customer service (there is always someone on the end of the phone to answer any questions you have) and they were the cheapest and most reliable hosting service that I was willing to use for my first ‘paid’ website.

<a href=”http://www.siteground.com” onClick=”this.href=’https://www.siteground.com/web-hosting.htm?afbannercode=1a4de7fd3648d62d78af76eb1554a898′” ><img src=”https://ua.siteground.co.uk/img/banners/general/dynamic-price/pounds/120×600.jpg” alt=”Web Hosting” width=”120″ height=”600″ border=”0″>

I chose WordPress because someone (a fellow teacher) recommended it to me and when I had my first go, I found it very intuitive and it took no time at all to publish my first piece of content. Other popular blogging sites include Weebly, Blogger, Tumblr and Wix, amongst many others, but in my opinion, WordPress wins hands down. There’s a reason why over 27% of websites in the entire world use WordPress!

How could I use WordPress to teach?

The short answer is any way you like. You can simply use it to publish articles for students to read. It could be used to provide an online homework space for students to discuss and debate via the comments section (where you can approve or not approve comments with the click of a button). You could just do what I did initially, which was to publish the link to a press article and invite the students to leave comments below (moderated by me of course). Click here for an example. You could even encourage students to write their own articles to be posted and commented on, following their own independent learning.

Blogging with WordPress

What are the advantages and disadvantages of using WordPress?

Have you ever had a group of students look at you with misery in their eyes as you reach for a dusty stack of textbooks? Next time, tell the class that they will instead be on their very own website debating with each other! Engagement goes through the roof every time I’ve used a blog – although I do have a love of certain textbooks – you can’t beat the smell of print on paper! To build excitement about using a blog to teach, get the students to come up with the blog name themselves and have them vote for the most popular.

Blogs are easy to write, edit, or delete if needed. For the blog’s author, you, everything you need is contained in a “dashboard”. Here you can click once to add a page, create a comments section, add social media links, etc. Below is an example of the dashboard I see when creating or editing posts for my students. It’s incredibly intuitive and easy to learn the very simple functions.

Using WordPress to Teach Students

You don’t even need any programming experience or knowledge of how the internet works – thankfully for me!

Students might forget an inspirational but throwaway comment during a classroom debate. That comment could change the direction of an essay. It could be the crucial foundation of their evaluation of a scientific process. It could make the difference to the technical movements in a physical sporting activity. By using a blog, there is less chance that students will miss or forget the information they’ve explored. This is because blogs are available to students and to yourself, twenty-four hours a day. They can even download an app to their mobile or tablet, which notifies them anytime you add a post or when someone posts a comment.

Disadvantages are the same as they are for every new method of delivery. It’s new to you. You will have to take a little time to learn some new skills, but they are basic skills that you already have if you use word-processing or presentation software. The systems you use in your school to analyse exam results or track attendance will be much harder to use than blogging sites like WordPress!

My challenge to you…

Try it. Go on. Spend 20 minutes creating your first blog, for you to use with one of your classes next week. Your students will love it (and they might even think that you are cool). Students still say “cool” right? Click here to begin creating your blog now.

Leave a comment and tell me all about your adventures in blogging – don’t be shy about leaving a link to your blog below – the more we see, the more we learn!

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