Education Continues Outside the Classroom on WordPress.com
Last month, we attended the Modern Language Association’s annual conference in Boston, Massachusetts, and had a great time talking to educators about how WordPress.com encourages in-class conversations to keep going and keeps students and parents up to date. Today, we’re taking a closer look at how some tech-savvy teachers are using WordPress.com to create educational experiences that seamlessly blend the traditional and virtual worlds.
My name is Mr. Hays and I teach 8th grade Language Arts. I am a National Board Certified teacher, and I have been reflecting on my role as a teacher this past summer. This year, I have decided to try a radically different approach to teaching. I want to step away from the traditional classroom for a while and see just how much we can do online.
With The Paper-Free Class Experiment, Florida middle school English teacher James Hays has built an incredibly robust site with everything from discussion questions to writing resources and test prep materials to a page for communicating with parents. Using the Morning After theme, which allows him to create custom menus and designate sticky posts to highlight important information, he’s created a site that’s packed full of useful information but still easy to navigate.
Along with providing resources, assignments, and a place to continue classroom conversations, The Paper-Free Class Experiment connects to a variety of other online education tools. Students can create their own blogs on edublogs.com (which is powered by WordPress.org), enter private chat rooms, and log into the school district’s own portal to submit assignments electronically — students and parents can even keep up with classroom news on Twitter.
Mr. Hays isn’t only knocking down traditional classroom walls, he’s preparing his students to succeed in a digital age.
Instructor Jackie Hoermann, who teaches English 250: Written, Oral, Visual, and Electronic Communication at Iowa State University, goes beyond simply using a WordPress.com site to enhance the in-class experience — she requires every student to set up their own site, and their final grade is based in part on their online portfolio.
Using the Grisaille theme, she’s created a clean, focused space for students to interact. Blog posts and tweets keep the class talking between sessions, a custom contact form allows students to submit assignments via Google Docs, and the “Blogs I Follow” widget makes it easy for classmates to find one another’s portfolio sites, along with other sites Ms. Hoermann recommends.
To help students who may have never blogged before, she’s even created a demo portfolio site to walk them through the process. Thanks to the online component, students not only hone their online writing skills, they end the semester with a portfolio they can be proud to show off.
Massachusetts fifth grade teachers Rachel Miller and Rachel Kellar are dedicated to making sure parents know what’s going on in the classroom so they can provide the best support at home. With CRS 5th Grade, they both keep parents up to date with administrative details like field trip plans and share day-to-day classroom happenings, fleshing their posts out with images and video to give parents a real feel for what their kids are experiencing.
They’ve got a perfect theme for this in Suburbia — the layout lets them highlight a number of posts on the home page, giving parents the ability to see the breadth of classroom activities with a glance, while a custom background creates a primary school feel. A “Need to know…” page reminds parents of key events, like school closings and upcoming activities.
The two Rachels aren’t the only elementary school teachers keeping parents in the loop via the web. Ms. Turcot’s Blog does the same for her second-grad class, as do the Mountain Brook Presbyterian Preschool and St. Joseph’s Indian School.
Individual educators, schools, and districts are using website and blogs to transform education in a myriad of ways — the flexibility of WordPress.com creates all kinds of opportunities:
- The West Des Moines School District uses a blog to keep their teachers up-to-date with how new technologies can enhance both teaching and administration.
- Roding Valley High School maintains a blog as a place for teachers to share pedagogies and teaching tools with one another.
- William Penn University posts tips and resources for students participating in its study abroad program, since a blog can reach anywhere a wifi signal does.
- High schooler Gordon Lee communicates with students in the middle school mathlete club he coaches on WordPress.com.
- Canada’s Heritage Christian Schools use their website for everything from sharing reading lists to recommending useful educational apps to housing their school wiki.
There are even more sites that we can’t share because their creators have set them to “private,” allowing parents, students, and teachers to keep their conversations out of the public eye — an option with any WordPress.com blog, but one that’s especially attractive for sites with student participants.
If your classroom (or your child’s) is using a website or blog, we’d love to see it — feel free to share in the comments. And stay tuned for new features just for the education space coming next month!