At the end of March I posted about the continued, and in some cases increased, need for supervision of students using the Internet in the classroom. Many schools have been blocking blogs, wikis, and other social sites in an attempt to eliminate the need for supervision. Rather than embrace the new technologies they have “washed their hands” of carefully watching and selecting appropriate social networking sites. Some districts have even come close to demonizing blogs, stating that they have no place in education at all. Many other districts and teachers have yet to even see a blog, let alone discover the great potential for connecting students across great distances through collaborative projects.
Casey Hales is not one of those educators. Casey has found a wonderfully simple way to use blogging as a collaborative writing tool between students in his classroom and students in a classroom in Nebraska. The writer of the blog The SpecialEducator, Casey setup a password protected blog at Blogspot.com so that his students and those in the collaborating classroom could write in a safe environment. This keeps anyone, including spammers, that want to put comments on his blog and ruin his students’ experience from posting random messages. As the same time, he provides an excellent example of how teachers that aren’t using blogs could begin to use them to engage their students with creative writing projects.
Using their safe, kid-friendly writing environment, his students have helped create additional verses to “I know an old lady who swallowed a fly”. They started with the line “I know an old beagle, that swallowed an eagle” and then built up the familiar rhyming story by taking turns leaving comments with the other class. As the song grew, what was written previously was re-written and the new verse added so students could easily see the progression from a single verse story/song to humorous 6 verse creation that would have been difficult without blogging. There’s also a terrific “mash-up” story about getting on the bus and sitting next to a blue lion that I think many upper elementary students would enjoy.
If you’re still scratching your head about blogging, and aren’t sure what it is, or why it might be useful in your classroom (or want to prove to your tech director and administration that they are useful learning tools), check out his blog, the French-Hales Connection, that he uses with his students. You’ll find some pretty entertaining and creative online collaborative writing.