One of the best things about my new job is that I get to teach my own class, grade 6 MYP Technology (my favorite class to teach, actually). As much as I love coaching and working with lots of different teachers and students, there is just something special about having your own class to work with.  And in this case, I get the best of both worlds: teaching my own classes and coaching! In addition, since this is the first year of our MYP implementation, I have a clean slate to develop the entire MYP technology curriculum.

Since there was no existing curriculum, and no formal technology classes at the elementary level, I wasn’t sure exactly where I should start with this new class. I want to make sure that we take advantage of all the amazing resources we have at our disposal (not to mention the faaast internet connection), enhance what the school is already doing and continue to expand the range of  online experiences for both student and teachers. It’s also important that I make the class approachable for the parents, teachers and students – starting too far out of the realm of understanding could bring some unwanted backlash early in the year. Plus, I want whatever we do in tech class to be useful to the students within their other classes as well. And, of course, I want it to be fun!

For the last year or so, many students and teachers were utilizing the YIS blogging portal, The Learning Hub. We also send home paper portfolios eight times a year (I think). So, I’m thinking hoping that I may be able to expand the school’s vision of a blog (as a regular reflective practice for students and teachers) and also build up to the idea of an eportfolio instead of the paper folders we send home so many times a year by beginning our MYP tech class with a blogging project. We all know how I feel about those paper portfolios, right? I’m also working on modeling a thoughtful and reflective teacher-blog with my new YIS Middle School Tech blog.

Of course, we’re going to go through the Technology Design Cycle and really expand on the process of creating a blog, so this will probably be the most in-depth look any YIS students have at blogging. I’m anticipating that the unit will take us several weeks (we have class for 90 minutes, once a week), but because I work with the entire sixth grade, our middle school will then have a really solid understanding of the power and potential of blogging. I think it will be an easy transition to the MYP-style technology class and hopefully provide an easy to follow model for other teachers in the middle school.

Part 1: Investigate

We just got started last week with the investigate stage where we are reviewing other popular and well-designed blogs to see what features are essential in a quality blog. I provided the students with a list of blogs to start with, and after they review at least 2 from my selection they can review as many of their own favorite blogs as they want (with prior-approval from me). Just for fun, we reviewed one of my favorite ramen blogs in class first. We were all salivating by the end of class and the students really understood that they can blog about anything they are passionate about, even if it’s as simple as a bowl of noodles.

In order to bring in another useful skill, we’re completing the reviews on Google Docs so I was able to introduce the students to their GApps accounts and the concept of collaborative note taking. In this case, each student is filling out their own review form (and sharing with me), but I’m sure we’ll circle back to collaborating on a single GDoc soon enough. I was really impressed with how quickly the picked up the idea of creating a duplicate copy of the Blog Research sheet (and so thankful that we used GDocs since within the first half hour two students had accidentally closed their browser window, which would have resulted in lost work had we been using Office).

Our next step is to start brainstorming a potential blogging focus by exploring our own interests. We’ll most likely be using Inspiration to create a well-organized mind-map of ideas that each student can blog about (in addition to their academic posts). I’m hoping that if we concentrate a bit on their personal interests, their blog will become more than just a school project. A few of the girls have already come up to me super excited about their own blogging ideas. I would love to see their unique voices start to shine through in their posts instead of always reading the same post from every student (which can so often happen when blogging becomes “homework”).

Once they have some ideas about what they might be able to blog about, as well as the features of a quality blog, we’ll spend some time exploring WordPress. I will admit, I often gloss over this part because I feel like it’s so intuitive, but I’m planning to spend a little more time with this group to see if that cuts down on questions later.

The final part of the Investigate stage will be reflecting on what we’ve learned so far and what needs to come next (never the students’ favorite part, but a critical piece of the MYP design cycle process).

Part 2: Plan

Once that part of the project is complete, we’ll begin the planning. I would like to use Konrad Glogowski’s How to Grow a Blog process. I’ve used it peripherally before with middle school students, but this time I would like to really spend some time with it, so students feel more ownership over their own blog.

We’ll do a little bit of design work, potentially exploring a little Photoshop, so students have a chance to design custom headers at least (since the themes are all pretty much set) and probably determine which widgets they will use based on the look of their theme and header. I usually like to have them plan out what a finished product will look like in colored pencils so they focus on the design work before they actually get to the computer. That way their time spent actually creating their finished work is really productive.

I may also have them design a simple sitemap to really understand the purpose of (and difference between) categories, tags, archives, calendars, etc. This always seems to be a difficult piece to work in when I’m coaching in the classroom, there’s just never enough time to really explore tagging and categories so students always end up with dozens of posts in uncategorized and teachers struggle to understand the potential of a blog as eportfolio without that kind of structure.

Finally, we’ll reflect before we move on to the next stage.

Part 3: Create

Only after they bring in their signed permission slips, will we actually create the blogs. This will be the shortest part of the project because they will have done the majority of the thinking, planning and designing already. I’d love to have them publish a few pieces of work from different classes using pictures, videos, VoiceThreads or other embeddable objects during this time. Most likely we’ll also talk about the power of linking and start writing posts which connect to other student’s posts in class (or around school).

Hopefully at this stage, we will also be able to connect with other blogging partners around the world. If anyone is interested in working with us, please let me know!

And, of course, we’ll do a little bit of reflecting before moving on to the final stage.

Part 4: Evaluate

This final part of the project will focus on evaluating the success of the blogs we created, as well as the process of creating them. It would be nice to be able to have some external evaluation of our blogs in addition to individual reflection, so maybe we’ll come up with a Google Form for feedback as well.

Final Thoughts

That’s the plan so far! I’m just in the process of really working out how I want to structure the plan, create and evaluate as I get to know the students.

Since I’m just in the early stages of planning this, I’d love your feedback: What am I missing?

Are you interested in being blogging partners with us? We would love to have some partners around the world!