Over the past few years, blogs have become a much needed place for people to vent (Art Teachers Hate Glitter), share (The Teaching Palette), and gather information from others. For educators, blogging can be used as a reflective writing tool that documents educational thought processes in the classroom. This can give great insight into the success you might have had with a particular lesson or student. It can also serve as a tool to work through moments that were less than stellar.
In the e-book "Reflective Writing: A Way to Lifelong Teacher Learning," this concept is explored. It explains that "effective teaching depends upon thinking, reflecting, and evaluating;" when we write about our experiences in the classroom, all three of those criteria are being met (Burton, pg. 7). If we blog about them, we also open ourselves to the opportunity to hear feedback from others.
One educator recently recognized in this year's Edublog Awards for Best Teacher Blog is New Jersey Art Teacher Suzanne Tiedemann. Her blog focuses on the happenings in her Elementary Art classroom and helps organize and direct readers to posts about specific projects in the classroom as well as various resources to highlight student work or encourage new production. Suzanne was kind enough to answer the following questions about her blog to be highlighted in this post:
Interview Q&A with Suzanne Tiedemann
Q. What were some of the reasons you decided to start your blog (when did you start it, what did your district/school/community think)?
A. A few years ago, I created and managed a website using iWeb. It had mostly everything that my Brunswick Acres Art Website has, but it was missing a blog. The reason for this was because my district policies at the time stated that teachers could only post student content to district hosted websites. Over the course of a few years, I had numerous discussions with tech leaders and administrators expressing my desire to update our policies so that we could open the doors to allow teachers and students to utilize 21st century tools to connect, collaborate, and create on a global scale. During this time period, I shared the many success stories that other teachers were experiencing due to their ability to upload student content to public websites such as YouTube, Vimeo, teacher created websites, and more. I watched students of PS22 School in Staten Island New York collaborate and record music with celebrities and then sing with their choir at the Grammy’s because of the recognition they received on YouTube. I saw artists of Dryden Elementary being recognized on a global scale winning awards for their art movies that their incredible art teacher, Tricia Fuglestad had uploaded to Vimeo. I noticed that teachers were receiving funding for special projects they had written grant proposals for on sites such as DonorsChoose.org, where photos of students were required as a part of the process. It was so inspiring to watch so many wonderful things happen for other teachers and students, which is why I continued with my efforts to promote change in my district.
I am fortunate to work with very talented and supportive tech leaders and administrators. My supervisor reached out to me just before the end of the school year last year to inform me that she and her team were going to be meeting with a lawyer to update our web and media policies. My input was valued throughout the process and the new policies were in place just before the start of the school year. I began creating the Brunswick Acres Art Website, featuring a blog, as soon as I learned that the policies were in fact going to change. http://bit.ly/pcTW5D
My administrators, colleagues, students, and families have shared that they enjoy my blog. They like seeing videos of students working in the art room, reading about the learning that is taking place, and being kept in the loop with the exciting things that have been happening for our art program. Each week I share a link to my blog with my principal and he adds it to our online Friday Folder that is sent home to parents via email.
Q. How has blogging changed the way you work in your classroom?
A. Often I have my blog up on the Smartboard when students enter. I try to use our website as a home base or starting point so that they will learn to do the same on their own. When we view my student’s artwork in their Artsonia online galleries, or when we view Vimeo videos featuring students, we open these pages through my blog. The idea is for them to learn to access the B.A. Art Website from home as well as in the art room so that they can independently access our news, videos, online galleries, and more.
I like to kick off my class by sharing content from our blog when possible. It is important for my students to know how much I value their work, as well as what others might say about what we are doing. Some students have even started to add their own comments to our blog too. We have a ClustrMap widget in the sidebar of our blog and many ooohs and ahhhhs can be heard in the art room when we click on the map to view the locations of the visitors who have been viewing our blog. As of today, we have had visitors from 49 states and 45 countries. http://bit.ly/t4Qgdl I believe that many students are more driven and excited to do their best work when they know that the world is watching. Sharing is a very important part of being an artist.
Though my students and I have used our Flip Video and digital cameras in the past, our videos and photos lived on one computer in the art room. Now, our new district policies enable us to share with the world on our blog, so we are shooting videos and taking photos more often. This has been such a game changer for us. I was able to apply for and was awarded a DonorsChoose.org grant for digital iPad styluses http://bit.ly/rcczTn . The required photos of students using the styluses will be featured on my blog soon. A donor who wished to remain anonymous donated two iPad 2’s to my students and I after following our work, and I also just recently received a grant for two more iPad2’s from the South Brunswick Education Foundation after submitting a grant where I added links to student work and photos on my blog to support my goals for the proposal. Recently, my blog won a 2011 Edublog Award for “Best Teacher Blog”. Blogging has helped me to acquire new equipment for my students as well as set new goals that were not possible before.
One of the most exciting things that blogging has done for my students and me is that we are able to explore 21st century learning in ways that we have never been able to do in the past. Now that I know I can post student videos and more to my blog, students are able to be more engaged using technology in richer and more meaningful ways. My 5th graders worked in teams, pretending to be app developers this year. They designed apps that they felt the world could use, wrote about app features, and designed logos. I shared my student’s work by sending a link to their galleries to a real app developer named James Alliban who lives in London. Mr. Alliban invented a few apps that my students had used in the art room in the past such as “Composite” and “Konstruct” ( links to student work using these apps http://bit.ly/nb4wd7 and http://bit.ly/fkaeoP ), and I had been sharing our work with him over the course of a year or so. Mr. Alliban was so kind in agreeing to participate in a Skype video call with us. My students asked him questions and were able to hear all about what it takes to be an app developer. Mr. Alliban also gave my students feedback regarding the apps that they had created. It was pretty incredible to watch them interacting with Mr. Alliban (us in New Jersey and him in London) in such a significant conversation. Students took video footage of the Skype chat, which I edited and uploaded to our blog. The conversation in itself was thrilling. Being able to share the video on our blog gave families, colleagues, and others the opportunity to learn from Mr. Alliban too (link to blog articles http://bit.ly/rti4qE )
My students have also been able to connect with other students right within our own district through videos. They shot videos of themselves asking questions to student artists from Greenbrook Elementary School about their artwork. I uploaded my student’s video to my Vimeo channel and sent it to Mrs. Kipnis, the art teacher at Greenbrook School. She shared the video and then had her student’s create a reply video. Both of these videos will soon be featured on my blog, and it will be the first time that students in our classes have been able to connect and learn from each other using technology. Being able to share the content my students create compels me to want to design more opportunities like this for them.
Q. What are some tips you would give to teachers who are looking to start a blog?
A. Honoring parental consent and abiding by district legal protocol is very important. The first thing I would recommend that teachers do is review their district’s web and media policies. Before posting any student content, legal documents should include language that clearly states that teachers may upload student work, photos, videos, etc. with parent consent. If teachers discover that their policies are preventing them from creating a blog, I would encourage them to do as I did and start by talking to technology leaders and administrators about how beneficial it could be for students, teachers, the school and district to utilize these 21st century tools. Here is a link to my district’s updated policies http://bit.ly/s5Wdop
When I started my blog, I researched other blogs. So many people have incredible layouts, cool widgets, and are wonderful at creating engaging features. I learned a lot by looking at what others are doing and would definitely suggest learning from others too.
It is very important that teachers share their blog posts. I would suggest that teachers share with their administrators and school families by adding links to blog posts in school newsletters and online with people in their PLN’s (Professional Learning Network) and read their blogs as well. If teachers have not created a PLN for themselves, I would suggest doing so by joining social networks such as Twitter, Facebook, Ning sites, Google+ and more.
Q. What are some goals you have now that you have won recognition for your work?
A. Though my blog has won an award, blogging is still very new to me and I have a lot to learn. I plan on continuing to use my blog as a communicative tool to advocate for my students and the arts, reaching my community and beyond. I also would like to design new and innovative ways for my students to become more engaged with the blog. Another goal is to try to find more time to read and comment on the many incredible blogs that the people in my PLN have created. They inspire me to be better and provide me with such insight.
Q. What are some must use web tools for your classroom? Why?
A. Since this interview is about my blog, I should probably start by mentioning Weebly.com as a valuable web tool. My blog is hosted by Weebly. It is free and offers a lot of great layouts and features. http://bit.ly/pcTW5D
- Artsonia.com is the world’s largest online child’s art museum. I have been participating with Artsonia for about 10 years and find it to be very rewarding. Students have a great deal of pride when their work is published. They enjoy getting comments from viewers who support their efforts. Students write artist reflective artist statements about their work during class and/or at home. Many students purchase keepsakes featuring their artwork and 15% of all purchases is donated back to my art program to purchase more art materials and equipment. http://bit.ly/18D5W5
- Twitter has been an amazing professional development tool for me. Connecting with other art teachers, artists, and others has enabled me to collaborate with inspiring people who are also looking to learn and stay current with modern technologies as well as develop new and innovative ways to inspire our students through art. http://bit.ly/v0xSL7
- Vimeo! I upload my student’s videos to our Vimeo channel and can easily embed the videos to our blog. http://bit.ly/pFlnY7 We also enjoy infusing the award winning videos created by Mrs. Tricia Fuglestad and her students at Dryden Elementary into my art lessons. See “Fugleflicks” on Vimeo here http://bit.ly/hBtlzi
- Animoto is a free video slideshow maker. Within minutes, teachers and students can create slideshows with music that look very professional. Teachers should apply for the free educators Animoto Plus account so that they can create unlimited videos that are longer than 30 seconds http://bit.ly/MVo5
- DropBox is a tool that I could not imagine living without. I use it every day at school. I take photos of student’s work using my iPhone and add them to my dropbox folder wirelessly so that I can access the files at any time from all of my computers and devices so that I can upload them to student online galleries. Students can save their work to our DropBox folders when creating on the iPad too. I also use DropBox as a sharing tool to share files with other teachers. http://db.tt/de4U1Zp
- Flickr! I created a Flickr Collection titled “Apps for Art Ed”. Students like to refer to this gallery when they are looking for art apps to add to their devices. It is also a great resource that I and other art teachers can refer to. http://bit.ly/iyTjv8
- ArtEd2.0ning has been a wonderful place to connect, learn and share content with other art educators. http://bit.ly/PdnGc
- Wikispaces is great. I particularly enjoyed using Wikispaces as a collaborative tool with two other art teachers to document our findings for a presentation we are going to be giving at the upcoming NAEA Conference this year. We do not live near each other, so our wiki provided a place for us to do plan. http://bit.ly/qcsjGn
- ClustrMap has been very exciting for us this year. Students like to track the locations of the visitors who have been viewing our blog. http://bit.ly/t4Qgdl
- Pinterest is a fabulous visual bookmarking tool! I enjoy seeing photos of content that my contacts and I have pinned and added to our boards. http://bit.ly/vff1K6
- Quiz Revolution is a fun way to create online quizzes for students. Students in 4th grade brush up for their art assessment test using an online quiz that I created for them. http://bit.ly/w4pMAB
- Here are links to my old and new pages featuring engaging art websites for students http://bit.ly/w2obmW and http://bit.ly/vtAbEC
In addition to web tools, I often refer to The Teaching Palette blog by Theresa McGee and Hillary Anrlik http://bit.ly/tyVkP and to the Dryden Art Fugleblog by Tricia Fuglestad http://bit.ly/n8jCnp . They are excellent award winning resources created by innovative and forward thinking art teachers and advocates.
Before blogging about your classroom it is important to consider your school district's policies concerning technology. What you write on the internet is forever. When reflecting on your classroom or posting about students, it is important to keep that in mind. Also, when posting images of students, you want to make sure you have parent/guardian permission to do so. Most districts have forms for parents/guardians to sign and in many cases it will also work for your blog or website as well. Here are some other considerations and sound pieces of advice about blogging from Lee Kolbert in her recent post, "Some things I know about Blogging."
We want to hear from you! If you blog about art, education, or both, please share any tips or tools you use and post your site and advice below.