My conceptual physics class blog is a huge help, both with lesson planning and keeping the students connected. I consider my class blog a huge success. The following are concrete tips I’ve learned in the last year as a classroom blogger.
Visual Interest is Key
No one wants to read page after page of text, especially high school students. Every blog post should include a photo or a video. The best blog posts I’ve written (based on the number of my students who read it without my prompting) include embedded video from YouTube.
I usually find YouTubes by searching for key words from the topic at hand. Recently, “roller coaster” yielded me great videos taken first person from the first seat on a coaster. These films helped me discuss Conservation of Energy with the students.
While I generally find my videos on YouTube, I’ve had better luck searching Google Videos to find them. Both Google Videos and YouTube are indexed there.
Of course, a ready-made video may not be viable in all circumstances. That’s when I look for a picture of whatever personality is up for discussion. Isaac Newton is a perennial favorite in my physics class. I always look for an interesting picture rather than the cliche portrait. For example, I chose the Newton portrait because he looked like a regular guy. Most portraits I’ve seen of Sir Isaac have him in a powdered wig, looking regal.
Separate the Classes
No, this isn’t a comment on castes. It’s about making life easy for your readers. As a teacher of two, three, or five different classes, it’s tempting to lump everything into a single blog. Don’t.
Make separate blogs, or separate categories, for each class. That way, your American History students aren’t stuck wading through information about the World History project to find their class notes.
If you use Blogger, as I do, create a labeling convention for each class. Something like “AmLit”, “BritLit”, and “WorldLit” will do. Then, write separate posts for each class, applying the appropriate label. The Google Tutor then explains how to show labels on your sidebar.
I expect my students to read the blog at least once a week. Well-organized information makes their visits shorter and more productive. Over time, I’ve evolved the following class blog entry format:
- Title the entry with a descriptive word or two and the relevant dates. In Blogger, the titles show up under Previous Entries. There’s no room for longer descriptions, so don’t use more than two words. Also, my students often recall information based on when it was presented in class — hence the “Week of…” titles. A complete title for my blog could read “Machines (Week of Jan. 29 – Feb. 2)”.
- Lead off with an overview of the week. Keep this short and engaging. Too long and you’ll lose kids by the end. Connecting the lead to your class helps your students see themselves in your class — “remember when Johnny balanced the basketball on his finger while spinning it?”
- Visual interest in the form of a picture or video should go just after your lead.
- Notes or sample problems should also be included. Sometimes, this info is ready before class meets, so I’ll include it. Other times, I add it during the week as an update (and marked as such). All of my students know the notes are always available online, which reduces notetaking stress.
- Homework assignments go in the last section. I like to section homework away from the other stuff so that students can pull this info off the blog quickly. Use bold or colored text so it stands out.
Make it a Converstaion
I sometimes to engage my students directly on the blog, using the comments section. I’ve made it a homework assignment to post a comment to a specific question.
Structuring questions for commenting can be a challenge. A question with only one right answer doesn’t work well in this format because the first correct commenter effectively shuts down converstaion.
Be forewarned that the technical side of commenting isn’t always straightforward, so demonstrate the process during class.
My class blog is my lesson plan for a week at a time. Every week, I plan for the blog, then the blog provides a plan for me.
When I merged lesson planning and blogging I discovered that the blog entries got better and my lesson plans got more thorough. I think it’s because the information my students read is exactly what I’m working from. No information is lost because I said it just once in class.
Go For It!
Choose your blogging site and get publishing! I use and highly recommend Blogger for first time bloggers because it’s easy and free. Other teachers like Classblogmeister. This site uses the free, hosted WordPress.com.
Share with your students, with their parents, and with the world — blog.