My Class Blogs: Part 1

2/08/2009 04:35:00 pm

On Monday two new blogs started up, the AP Calculus AB: Without Bound blog is still going strong.

This is what I did the weekend before the blogs went live:


I decided on a course tag. This has become fairly routine now. I've got it down to a system. I know my students will be blogging and will have at least one assignment on flickr, at least one project on a wiki, and one major open ended project where they may use any of a variety of tools freely available on the net. The course tag allows us to identify our work as ours and aggregate it through RSS and Google Alerts. I try to chose tags that are unlikely to be chosen by anyone else, anywhere, and are meaningful to me and my students.

My Pre-Cal 40S (Winter 2009) class tag is: pc40sw09

My Applied Math 40S (Winter 2009) class tag is: am40sw09

The AP Calculus AB 2008 class tag is: apcalc2008 (that's not so unique actually, need to work on this for next year)


I use Blogger for all my class blogs. I sometimes use their pre-set templates and sometimes search the net for a different, but compatible, Blogger template. Generaly, the Applied Math class is my template laboratory. I have one blog each semester where I use a non-standard Blogger template to play with different design ideas and stay fresh and up-to-date with editing templates. I've learned lots of html and css this way.


Once the template is chosen I head over to flickr and do a creative commons search for an eye catching picture of an open window. I started doing this last year. The picture brands the blogs from each school year with a visual cue that allows me to reuse templates from year to year while maintaining a certain distinctiveness for each year's set of classes.

Why an "open window?" Because all my class blogs share this descriptive text:

A window through the walls of our classroom. This is an interactive learning ecology for students and parents in my Pre-Cal Math 40S class. This ongoing dialogue is as rich as YOU make it. Visit often and post your comments freely.


my email address
At the top of the sidebar I publish my email address. Students will need this from day one and periodically throughout the semester. Sometimes, years after they've been in my class they come back to their class blogs to get my email address to get in touch with me. The email address is typed this way: dkuropatwa {at} gmail {dot} com to cut down on spam bots harvesting it. I get spam anyways, but gmail is really quite good at filtering most of it out.

translation tool
Right underneath my email address I install a Google Translation Gadget. It's been estimated that collectively the students at my school speak 55 different languages and share 10 different religions. It is my hope that this increases accessibility for their parents. Also, about 33% of our students are non-native speakers of English. And it's wicked cool.

Visitor Map
The next down the sidebar is a ClusterMap. This allows us to see where we've had visitors from as the semester progresses. Students are often fascinated to see how we get hits only from Winnipeg in the first few days of class and then start to collect hits from around the world. While some of these hits are random visitors (hit and run) many aren't. I use my professional blog, and sometimes twitter, to point other people to some of the excellent work my students are doing. (Yesterday's scribe post in the Pre-Cal 40S class was fantastic! It quickly generated quite a few comments amongst the students in the class, some of whom want to learn html skills from the scribe.)

Never underestimate the importance of "audience" in motivating kids to do good work; not for marks, but for social credit. Leveraging "social credit" to motivate kids to learn is an underutilized force in school, but that's a topic for another day.

AnswerTips widget
Next down the sidebar I install the Answer Tips widget. It makes every word written on the blog clickable. Try it. I've got it installed on this blog too. Any time anyone double clicks a word a popup window tells you the meaning, pronunciation (often with an audio sample), and links to further sources. When I demoed this functionality in my first class of the semester the students gasped. One said, "This totally owns the physics blog!"

I like using the AnswerTips widget to emphasize the importance of spelling ("If you don't spell it right the widget won't work.") and sometimes publish vocabulary words on the blog that students learn about through clicking.

equation editor
Next, for my math blogs, is the SITMO Equation Editor. An elegant solution to adding mathematical expressions to blog posts, or any website really. It's very easy and intuitive to use and the kids learn something about LaTeX (<-- double click that word) incidentally as they use it. I like incidental learning.

Lastly, I enable Labels, Blogger's version of categories in WordPress. I keep them sorted alphabetically. Labels are really important in the way we organize information on the blog.


Students will essentially do two sorts of writing on the blog:

(1) Scribe Posts: a daily summary of what was learned in class each day. Authoured by students for students. Each scribe selects the scribe for the following day. Over the course of a semester, in a class of about 25, each student will authour at least three but no more than four of these. Fewer students/class increases the number of scribe posts/student. These posts are labeled: Scribe Post.

(2) Reflections: Before each unit test each student must publish to the blog a brief post outlining their personal muddiest point in the class so far. I ask them to do this up to 3 days before the unit test so I can address these issues in class. This is worth one mark on the unit test. Some students publish their reflections the morning of the test. That's OK to get the one mark, unfortunately they miss out on clearing up the other confusions they may have to get many more marks. It's their choice. These posts are labeled: Reflection (in the past we've labeled them BOB).

Students are free to publish anything else they like to the blog as long as it's connected to our class. If they do I ask them to label it: On My Mind. (This is new this semester.)

Every time a student publishes anything on the blog they must include exactly three labels:

(1) The type of post: Scribe Post, Reflection, or On My Mind.

(2) The title of the unit of study it relates to. e.g. Circular Functions, Matrices, etc.

(3) Their name; first name only.

If they don't label their posts properly they cannot receive any marks for it. It's the same as putting your name on work before handing it in. I can't give someone any marks if I don't know whose work it is, even if they handed it in. Scribe posts are worth 5% of their class mark as a completion grade. When the class excels at scribing, which is more often than not, I raise that to 10% to recognize the good work they've done.


The first post is published to the blog before I ever meet my classes. It's become pretty standard for me now. With only very few modifications it's pretty much the same each semester. I always include a link to the course outline and, of course, I publish the SMARTboard slides from each day's class to the blog so students can review anything we discussed at their leisure, now or five months from now when they are preparing for their exams.

Their first night's homework consists of three things:

(1) Email me. This is so I can copy & paste their email addresses into an invitation to join the blog. (In Blogger go to: Settings > Permissions > scroll down and invite new authours.

(2) Get a Google account. We make use of a suite of Google Tools and they need it to ...

(3) get a Blogger account.

I've made short screencasts (that need updating — I had a cold when I first made them) using Jing that illustrate how to sign up for Google and Blogger accounts. Links to them are embeded in the slides from the first class which are published on the blog.


In my next post in this series I'll talk about the first few days of class and the first few posts I make to the blog as we get organized for the semester. I'll also share how I deal with certain pitfalls like students that don't have computers, email accounts, hit technical snags, or don't register for the blog.

You Might Also Like


  1. As usual, great post Darren! I'm always impressed with the intentionality with which you design your blogging routine. Good luck with the semester, and I'll keep looking for your insights.

  2. Great post with such explicitness that even I could handle it. I think there is something to be said for the need of a good routine with classroom blogging. In my opinion, this is one big reason we see more blogs run by teachers than by the students, there is no guide out there on how to manage it all...too much darkness.

    Working with 5th graders I hesitate to use Blogger, but don't know where else I should turn. I feel that there is simply too much to Edublogs for my group of students. I feel the same way with Blogmeister. So far we have been having a go with a Ning, but I don't feel entirely comfortable with the Comment Wall and the ability to send messages back and forth.

    Suggestions? Thoughts? Does having a blogger account automatically open up the full suite of Google services, or do you have to request it?

  3. Brilliant work- and thank you for being so transparent in what you do. It's like having a master colleague in the classroom next door whose door is always open.

  4. @Roland: Good to hear from you! Thanks for the kind words and feel free to drop in on any of the class blogs. I still remember when you skyped into one of my pre-cal classes and quizzed them on the Kentucky Derby. ;-)

    @Steve: Maybe I should write a book. ;-)

    I know a lot of elementary teachers use Blogmeister. I know what you mean about it being too much, although you might frame learning to use Blogmeister as part of the digital literacy skills the kids are learning. Later, take them over to edublogs for a special project and see if and how the skills are transferable.

    Having a Blogger account doesn't open up the suite of Google tools, but having a Google account does. Although, it's a very small step from a Blogger account to a Google account.

    Another option might be (which has just be absorbed by ThinkQuest). Although this is more of a walled garden.

    I'd suggest getting in touch with Kathy Cassidy (grade 1 teacher using Blogmeister) or Mark Ahlness (grade 3 teacher using Blogger). Ask them how they manage it in their classes.

    @TaipeiCyclist: The doors always open here ... actually, that's also true of my classroom. ;-)

  5. Great post Darren,

    A couple of quick questions. I assume that you save all of your smart notebook files to powerpoint and then send to slide share prior to embedding in your blog. Any way to remove a step or two?

    Second, do you upload your maths formulas as images and then insert into your class posts? again time consuming on a net connection isn't it?

  6. Anonymous12/2/09 19:31

    Thanks for this, Darren. Been eager for this one.

  7. @Learning Solutions Asia: Actually, I export them as pdf files, upload to slideshare, then embed in each class blog. It's not really as time consuming as it sounds. It takes maybe 5-10 minutes to do this for 3 or 4 different classes each day.

    For teachers new to sharing their class work online I recommend they simply upload to SlideShare and use a unique course tag for each class. Then all they have to give the students is a direct link to the "bucket of links" created by the course tag (example: am40sw08) at SlideShare. You can even create a custom tinyurl for each class at the start of the semester and just give that to the students. That removes a step.

    @Dan: You're welcome. More coming soon.

  8. Teachers in my district are slowly but surely becoming interested in blogging with their students. Since I'm at the district level and have never blogged with students myself, I found your post to be extremely useful. Thank you for the detailed description of your process and I'm looking forward to the next installment!

  9. I really appreciate your sharing of your methods. The best part of doing a project over time is that you begin to get a real feel for what works and why. You've done this so many times that you now have a really clear way of working with your classes on the Blogger platform.

    I'm glad you put this post together. I'm bookmarking it for the future. I'm looking forward to your post on presenting the whole concept to your students.

  10. Thanks for sharing your steps for setting up the class using collaborative tools. This will be so useful for teachers who would like to try doing it themselves. For those of us not in a classroom, having someone like you who freely shares the process is so valuable, so we can share with other educators. Thanks, always, for taking the time to do this.

  11. Darren, I recently saw your presentation at the BLC conference and have since been trying to set up a class blog. However, I am having trouble inserting the code to create a delicious linkroll. Can you tell me how you set it up?

  12. @Dan It's easier now than when I started. In blogger, edit your Template and add an RSS Gadget. Paste in the feed from the tag-page on delicious and voila!

  13. I am still having a little trouble, is the URL the one that looks like ? Blogger keeps saying the "gadget has errors". Thanks for your help!

  14. @Dan The link will be