Upgrades – Part II

In my last post, I introduced my plans to revamp my assignment on a series of articles from the NYTs, The DNA Age.  I hoped to upgrade this assignment by hosting the discussion on Edmodo, rather than having a traditional classroom discussion.  Here, I detail how I set up the assignment and some interesting things that I learned while exploring with my students.

I first made the decision to use Edmodo, in part because it is easy to set up a protected online environment for students.  While I think I would eventually like to have students making blog posts publicly, I wanted something private since it was the first time my students and I tried this type of thing in the classroom.  Once I settled on Edmodo, I set up a group and had students register for the site.  Students are not required to provide an email address to sign up for Edmodo, and many of them already had accounts from other classes.

Before the students wrote their posts, we discussed the advantage of writing online as opposed to writing on paper.  The students generated ideas, suggesting things like:

  • It is easier to share work.
  • It feels more natural than traditional writing since we communicate online a lot already.
  • Writing online enables the author to link to other sites and to incorporate pictures and videos into his or her writing.

I tried to emphasize this third point, which I view as one of the greatest advantages of writing online.  It can be really interactive, prompting readers to explore topics in depth beyond what is actually written in a post. Once we discussed the assignment, students were given the rest of the class period to write their posts.  The assignment on Edmodo looked like this:

The following day, students were assigned to read and comment on other groups’ posts.  We began by discussing how to compose a good comment.  I showed students a post and comment written on Extreme Biology, which is the best biology classroom blog I have seen so far.  We then compared the comment to these guidelines first published by Mrs. Yolis and reposted by Silvia Tolisano on her amazing Langwitches Blog:

I should note that the Langwitches Blog is a fantastic resource for teachers interested in blogging with students. Her series on blogging gave me the confidence to get started and some valuable resources as I walked my students through their first blogging assignment.

In addition to discussing the guidelines pictured above, I also gave my students the following comment starters, which I again first came across on the Langwitches Blog.  They were originally published on Youth Radio Blog Netiquette.

My students did an excellent job with this assignment.  Their posts reflected my students’ strong writing abilities, their willingness to explore different points of view, and an enthusiasm for discussing ethical issues pertaining to DNA technology.  Thus, it was important to give them constructive feedback.  Yet again, the Langwitches Blog was a valuable resource, and I was able to adapt the rubrics that Silvia Tolisano published on her site to fit my own needs.

I think that the assignment was a really positive experience for my students.  As I look back on the posts and comments my students created, I wanted to detail both what I thought of Edmodo and a couple of things that surprised me.

As far as Edmodo is concerned, I’m not sure it was apt for a blogging assignment.  My colleague, Amy Bonner, highlights many of Edmodo’s strengths in a recent post.  While I appreciated how easy it is to use, it didn’t allow my students to format or categorize their posts.  Furthermore, it is really designed for short posts and conversations.  Thus, it didn’t prompt students to add a title, and several groups consequently forgot to title their post.  I will probably search for a different site when I do similar assignments in the future.

I found two things that I didn’t anticipate about the assignment:

  • While my students’ posts were fantastic, integrating links, videos, and pictures did not come naturally to many of them.  These items were often inserted at the end of their posts or clumsily inserted within the post.  They will need to work on incorporating these items more fluidly into their writing.
  • Blogging proved to be a wonderful outlet for my international students to express themselves.  I currently have two in my Biology class, and both of them were able to contribute meaningfully to the class discussion in a way I hadn’t seen them partake before.  I think this is because they had more time to compose their thoughts.

Several of my students noted that the thing they liked best about the assignment was that everyone got to participate in the class discussion, rather than simply the most vocal students.  I agree with them, and the most important thing I learned is that blogging is an incredibly valuable classroom tool that gives every student a voice.  For this reason, I will strive to make blogging a regular part of my classroom activities.

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5 Responses to “Upgrades – Part II”


  1. 1 Holly January 26, 2012 at 4:15 am

    Just found your blog from your post and comments today. This is awesome, and really thought-provoking for a scientist with an interest in teaching who just started a blog herself (albeit not yet a science blog). Thanks for prompting me to start thinking about this pro-actively, as a possibility for a future class that I haven’t even met yet!

    -Holly

    • 2 juliecthompson January 26, 2012 at 4:54 am

      Thanks for your comment, Holly! I’m glad that you enjoyed the post and that you are thinking about teaching. The challenge of keeping the curriculum current is part of what makes this such an exciting time to work in education. It is great that you are already exploring ideas about teaching. I always admired your sharp intellect when we were students in Advanced Genetics, and I think students would be so fortunate to have a talented scientist like you working with them in the classroom.

  2. 3 Lindsey Brown (@lindseybbrown) February 10, 2012 at 2:51 pm

    Fantastic. I love the whiteboard visual and also the prompts you gave them. A model of the communication skills you were talking about in your presentation Wednesday and also a reinforcement of process skills in language/English classes. This is inspiring!!

  3. 4 juliecthompson February 10, 2012 at 4:34 pm

    Thanks for the comment, Lindsey! The whiteboard visual and prompts were taken from another site, Langwitches Blog. I know you have an interest in blogging, so I highly recommend checking it out. It is an absolutely phenomenal resource!


  1. 1 Upgrades – Part I « Trackback on January 23, 2012 at 10:26 pm

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