A class of real clever blogs

2nd November 2012 at 00:00
Making videos, writing stories and creating animations is child's play at one Falkirk primary. Douglas Blane reports

It's just an everyday story of two hot chicks getting ready for the catwalk. "Nicki was going to wear a black dress and a blue belt," says the voice-over on the video. "Cheryl would wear an orange dress. They looked amazing."

Class blogs are about much more than writing nowadays. They also include video, audio, animation and photographs, says Margaret Vass, whose P5s at Carronshore Primary near Falkirk are demonstrating what a little ambition and a lot of ownership can do.

"That's the secret," she says. "Pupils each have their own blog and write about topics that interest them. You give them guidance, on things like internet safety, but don't tell them what to write. I first discovered this years ago, when I was doing the research for my chartered teacher dissertation."

A class blog with her Primary 7s at the time started well, she says, but began to falter, for reasons that were not obvious at first. Then one girl wrote an imaginative story on the blog, with her classmates as characters, which inspired them to have a go too. Until then, class blog content had been decided by the teacher, says Mrs Vass. "I was dictating what they could do with it. I wanted to stay in control."

But individual pupil blogs, she discovered, are much more motivating and, with good guidance, attention to structure and some simple rules, can grow into rich and deep ePortfolios.

There is the Grandmother Rule, for instance: "Anything you put on the internet could be read by your grandmother - so only write things you could say to the nicest of grannies." Then there are the essential aspects of internet safety.

"We are not allowed to use our second names," says Stuart. "Just initials."

"You can't put up a photo of your head," says Ellie T, one of the creators of the Nicki and Cheryl story, along with classmate Rachel. "People might try and find you. So you fuzz your head out."

"You are not allowed to arrange to meet anybody over the internet," says Ellie R.

Other rules include telling parents and teachers if anything makes the youngsters uncomfortable online and no posting of personal information. All this safety learning could be avoided, of course, if Mrs Vass used Glow blogs. "But the children wouldn't get the comments then," she says. "And they really motivate them."

"We get visitors from around the world," agrees Bobby. "We even get comments from teachers in Australia." "It is a lot of fun reading them," adds David.

"If we get comments from people we don't know, Mrs Vass has to approve them," explains Daniel.

Pupil blogs are about being creative, expressing yourself and knowing that someone, maybe halfway around the world, is interested in your work.

"We can put digital movies on our blogs now," says John, who has customised the appearance of his, with attractive wood panelling. "Would you like to see one I did with my friend Sam?"

The two lads run a dramatic animation, called Mr Bean and the Scary Movie, which ends with the memorable line. "When he woke up he ran away, not looking behind him, still holding his hot dog."

Besides helping pupils to gain confidence and competence in the written word, individual blogs also provide a platform that motivates their efforts with ICT, says Mrs Vass.

"They use class cameras, a Flip video camera and a couple of Easy Speak microphones. They are all familiar now with Windows Movie Maker and Photo Story 3, as well as PhotoPeach, Animoto, Photobucket and Vimeo."

Pupils can even film themselves delivering class presentations and answering questions from colleagues, as Jamie D demonstrates with a talk on his favourite hobby, now up on his blog, complete with special effects to make his face fuzzy: "The name Lego comes from the Danish leg godt, which means play well."

Blogs provide a purpose and an audience for classwork of all kinds, says Mrs Vass. "They also help me to understand the children as individual learners. Their informal online voices influence their formal offline learning."

As if to illustrate this, Robin and Sam pull out impressively complex, detailed drawings they have been working on, as preparation for their blogging.

"One of the biggest changes I've noticed this year is how positive and well-informed parents are becoming about blogs," says Mrs Vass. "They seem to get what they're about educationally and are adding comments on the children's posts - which they love."

Back at the fashion show, Nicki and Cheryl are glammed up and ready to go. "Wish me luck, Cheryl," says Nicki. "You don't need it," Cheryl replies.

Carronshore P5s welcome comments on their class blog (carronshore.edublogs.org) or individual blogs (carronshore.edublogs.orgindividual-blogs2012-eportfolio-blogs) Follow Margaret Vass on Twitter, @mvass

MRS VASS' TOP TIPS

- Start with a class blog to become familiar with the software (I have tried Glow Blogs and PrimaryBlogger and now use Edublogs).

- Cover all the safety aspects and make the children aware of the rules.

- Explain the purpose of an ePortfolio and how to use categories and tagging.

- Start slowly and let the ePortfolios grow naturally.

- We use avatars rather than photos of children. They have all created Weemee and Voki characters.

- We embed a visitors' map in each sidebar to motivate the children by giving them a sense of their audience.

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