About a month ago, Kim Cofino blogged that she was looking for a simple, writing based, collaborative project for her third graders. I was just thinking about the online pen pal project I'd done with a third grade class last year, so I Skyped her. In about 20 minutes, we hashed out the preliminary details for a blog pals project.
We both wanted a project that would encourage reading and writing, and we didn't want the technology to get in the way. We decided to use a free, multi-user Wordpress blog from Learnerblogs.org. This allowed each class to have one student login, and one place for the other class to visit, making it easy for the students to find their way around. Making a category for each child allows visitors to quickly view all of that child's posts, making it look like each child has their own blog.
Kim developed an excellent set of preliminary lessons that we used with both classes. This time spent up front was well spent. By the time students finally got down to writing, they were very eager to begin and well-informed. I wouldn't change a thing except to possibly add one more day where they can read blogs. We read blogs the day we researched common blog features, but they really wanted to read the posts, not skim the pages looking for commonalities.
Last week the children wrote their first posts in Microsoft Word and then pasted them into the blog. I didn't like how small the font was on the blog so I did a bit of research. First I tried other themes, but each had its own problems, so we returned to our original theme.
Next I looked for plug-ins. I didn't find very many for this multi-user platform. However, one I did find was a more full-featured text editor. It included a button that makes it easy to paste text copied from Microsoft Word. I've only had the chance to use it with a few students, but their posts came in at a more reasonable font size.
I also wanted to customize the header to a Singapore-related image. In the Creative Commons section of Flickr I found a number of panoramic Singapore skyline photos that included the durian-shaped Esplanade building, our most-distinctive building.
With those two changes in place, I only have two more wishes. I want to add clocks that show the local time of each of our blog pals (we now have blogpals in Pennsylvania and Florida in addition to our original Bangkok blogpals.) I can successfully add Widgetbox brand widgets, but none of these have the look I want. When I try to add any other widgets, I am unsuccessful. I also want to add a Clustr map. I subscribed so we have a map that we can use, but I'm not having any luck getting it onto our Learnerblog. I can get them to work on Edublogs, but not Learnerblogs. If you have added non-Widgetbox widgets to a Learnerblogs.org blog, I'd really appreciate hearing from you.
If you would like to make a group of third graders really happy, drop by and leave them a comment. And be sure to mention where you are writing from, since the Clustr map isn't working yet.