Connecting through blogging

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.

I know who they are!

G’day Michael,

Thank you so much for adding a photo of us on your global classroom blog. Those two characters you met at #ACEC2012 are Mr Davo Devil and Mr Frizzletail. We are two travelling animals who first met last year at the Cincinatti Zoo. We had a teacher, Miss W, with us and we decided to go touring with her.

Mr Davo Devil (that’s me) began my own blog back in September 2011 when I started my journeys around Canada and USA. I had such a great time finding out about those two countries and seeing so much of the natural and cultural heritage that I decided to hang around a bit longer after Miss W went home to Australia.

I didn’t tell her that I was staying and she had to send out a big alert to find me. Luckily I had stayed in Mrs Yollis’s room in California so I was found very quickly. Since then I have been on my own visiting classes who wanted me to look into their classrooms.

In June 2012 I met up with Miss W again at ISTE2012 and headed back to Australia ready for a break. During 2013 I hope to be travelling around Russia and Europe, visiting classes and learning about life in those countries.

Mr Frizzletail (that’s me) also has my own blog but I decided to travel down under with Miss W when she came home from ISTE2012. I have spent time in New Zealand as well as visiting most states of Australia. Presently I am here in Perth, Western Australia and that’s where I met Michael for the first time.  Davo looked very impressive with all his necklaces, ear piercing and jewellery around his feet. Next week I am heading off to Kakadu in the Northern Territory. I am not sure about my travel arrangements for 2013 but I would love to go to some Asian countries.

Miss W (that’s me) will be putting together some calendars and booking arrangements using Google Docs ready for teachers to register to have either Davo or Mr Frizzletail visit their classrooms next year. So if you are in Asia, Russia or Europe and would like to invite either of the mischievous guys into your classroom and homes, keep checking the #globalclassroom where I will mention when the docs are ready.

Once again , many thanks Michael for adding us to your blog,

Davo, Frizzletail and Miss W.