Last week was the first week of blogging for my students in my AP Economics and Honors US Government classes. I was inspired by my colleague Jeff Schagrin over at our sister school and the success he has had with blogging in his Honors Government classes so I thought I would give it a try this semester.
Since I am a big believer in the theory that the use of technology in a classroom with out a set of goals for student learning equates to the high tech version of busy work I wanted to make sure I had objectives in place for the assignments. Having those objectives in place also helps when the unwilling students ask the “why are we doing this?” question, I could answer with something more than “because it is cool and the new thing to do…” So my objectives were simple:
For my Honors US Government blog — To continue or further the discussions we are having class about a particular topic; to allow students to apply what they are learning in the classroom to the world around them; to allow students to not only form opinions on controversial topics, but to require them to back up their opinions with sources other than “just because…”
The time, structure, and curriculum set forth by the College Board constrains me a little bit the objectives for my AP Economics blog, however there are still two major goals I hope that students accomplish with their writings on the blog. First, due to time constraints we have very little time to apply what we are learning in the class to what is going on in the outside world (e.g. this week’s blog assignment is about unemployment, a concept and equation which we will do in class, but have little time to talk about its implications/causes during the class periods). Secondly, since our Economics course is full year course broken down into a semester of Microeconomics and a semester of Macroeconomics I will use the blog prompts to keep Microeconomics concepts fresh in the students’ minds so they don’t “brain flush” it all now that first semester is done.
Prior to starting the assignments, I asked if any students had ever blogged before for school or personal use…of the 115 or so students I have, only 3 or 4 had ever blogged before. (I have arange of ages from sophomores to seniors). I was both surprised an excited. Excited because I would be the first to teach them this powerful way to use technology, and surprise that no one in the years prior at the high school or middle school level had ever blogged in a class before.
I walked the students through the relatively easy sign up process using Blogger and to keep it simple, I had the students log a username that was created using a template I told them (hour.first intial of first name.first 4 letters of your last name). While some students tried to change their usernames up or push the limit “seriously Mr. J, why can’t I be ‘EconStud2011’?” most of them followed the process with little errors or problems (except for the capcha that didn’t work from time to time thanks to our filters!).
The first assignment was due on Sunday and it was to respond in the comment section about a particluar prompt. The results? Fascinating…nearly 95% of my students posted across all 5 classes, and the responses overall exceeded my expectations. What really made things interesting, especially in AP Econ is that I posted a rather difficult article to read (written by Economist Paul Krugman), and rather than giving up on a difficult read, many students talked it over with their parents and started a discussion with them about the issue. This was an unintended yet positive by-product of the assignment. In fact, I had one student talk to her father, who only speaks Japanese, about the topic and then translate some of what he said/wrote down and add it to her blog response (thanks to Google Translator!).
When I set out to have the students write/respond to the class blog, I never thought of having the conversation include the parents…it certainly is an exciting and positive consequence of this assignment, and one that strengthens my convictions of the doors that are opened when we bring technology into the classroom.
What are some of the surprise (either positive or negative) by-products of technology in your classroom?