This month the twitter chats have been about blogging with students and how to make global connections with other class bloggers. I had been asked a couple of times to write a post about the student blogging challenge which I run. So here goes!
History of the challenge
In January 2008 I somehow began reading a blog written by Sue Waters. Deciding blogging was something I could use with students, I began my own personal blog. Within a couple of weeks, I had contacted Sue often by email and skype and she had tweeted out about this new blogger – me. So this was also my introduction to Twitter.
By March 2008, my class blog was going well – students were learning about being internet safe and how good digital citizens behaved on the net. While teaching the students, I was still learning from Sue Waters about widgets to use, tools for audio, how to add videos and what is creative commons. By the end of May, most students in the class had their own blogs and my personal blog was not being used very much at all. My time was now spent moderating posts and comments written by my students on their blogs.
But by the end of June 2008, I realised the students were only communicating with each other – one of my purposes for having a blog was to get the students thinking in a global perspective. So more discussion with Sue Waters and suddenly I saw the value of Twitter. I tweeted out if there were a few classes who would like to leave comments on my student blogs. Back came Jan Smith (Canada), Paul Bogush (USA) and Ines Pinto (Portugal). Thus began the first student blogging challenge. By the end of December 2008 we had about 500 students from 9 countries taking part.
Since that first challenge numbers have increased to over 1500 students and over 100 classes from 20+ countries. I can no longer visit each student blog a minimum of three times over the ten week period, so we also have mentors who are in charge of about 30 students. The challenge now has its own blog.
Challenge starting in March 2013
There are March 2013 registration forms for students and for classes and mentors leave a short bio on their post. We even have some students who have taken part in at least two challenges signing up to be mentors. The challenge runs from March to May and again September to December each year.
Each week, I set about ten activities – some relating to blogging such as creating avatars, adding a blogroll, tags and categories – but many relating to different subject areas in the curriculum. Hopefully students and classes write posts and include links which create a trackback for me to follow. I often visit their blogs to leave a comment. I also have some posts which are about visiting blogs I have found interesting, so students and classes also get trackbacks.
There is a page in the header which is a list of all the student blogs with their mentors and another list for class blogs grouped in grade areas. This allows both students and classes to visit similar bloggers either gradewise or in the case of students, those with similar interests. One activity each week is to visit other blogs and leave comments – this allows students to start creating their own connections. Classes are expected to visit and leave comments on the blogs on either side of their name in the participation list. This includes visiting the student blogs that might be on the sidebars of those class blogs they visit.
There are many links on the challenge sidebar which relate to help pages as we have students and classes using Edublogs, kidblog, blogger, wordpress and other blogging platforms.
In the last set of activities during September 2012, I made every second week a freedom to choose set of activities – this was a way for classes to catch up if there had been holidays or testing happening at their school, but it was also a chance for students to write about their passions.
The future of the challenge
As long as I am able I will be running the challenge, but with numbers increasing each year, it is great to see a lot of other educators prepared to help as mentors.
I also get a lot of help from Edublogs especially Sue Waters and Ronnie Burt. They create the themes for me to use and also the participation badges for students, classes and mentors. With this challenge being the 10th, a different theme is being organized and will be up and running soon.
This year we will be showing off the challenge as part of the Sunday evening sessions at ISTE2013 in San Antonio Texas. Please come and visit us as part of the global collaboration poster session.
If any of you would like to take part in the challenge as either a mentor or with a class or set of student blogs, then rush over and register as the first set of activities will be posted on Sunday March 3rd Australian time.