Garrison Elementary Students Create Digital Blog Portfolio

Through blogging, fourth- and fifth-graders in Oceanside, Calif., practice writing, type fluently and learn how information spreads online.

by Tanya Roscorla / May 13, 2011 0
Fourth- and fifth-graders at Garrison Elementary School in California blog every night. | Photo by Jon Schwartz

In Oceanside, Calif., fourth- and fifth-graders at Garrison Elementary School blog every night. Through blogging, they're learning to write better, type fluently and understand how information spreads online.

On her blog, fourth-grader Pamela Cano writes fiction stories about Cupcake Island, where inhabitants are made out of cupcakes.  

"They meet a person who's in the real world, and they want to see the real world and what it's like," Pamela said.

The person takes them to the real world, and the cupcake people like it. But over time, they miss the island and return. 

In the fall, teacher Jon Schwartz started the Kids Like Blogs project so that students could show off their work to friends and family. Now students write their stories on the computer, scan in artwork that they create and publish the stories on their blogs.

Student shares writing and artistic talent

Fourth-grader Nevaeh Clements writes about the adventures of the monkey Bobby Jack and shares her artwork

She said she likes blogging because "I can write on the computer so people can see it."

The Logistics

Parent involvement: A number of the parents don't speak English, so Schwartz communicates with them in Spanish. At the beginning of the year, Schwartz met with parents and shared the benefits and potential risks of blogging. Because he can't talk about technology quickly in Spanish, his Mexican wife translated what he said. The parents wrote a note if they wanted their child to participate in the project. As a result, most of the kids are blogging, and Schwartz has helped at least five Spanish-speaking parents start using the Internet. And many of the English-language learners are improving their English skills quickly.

Blogging: Students share seven computers in his class. At home, they like blogging so much that they often blog on vacation and during the weekends when they're not required to. Because of privacy concerns, Schwartz doesn't allow students to put any personally identifiable information on their blogs and doesn't give out links to them. He also approves all posts and comments beforehand to make sure they're appropriate. At the end of the year, he'll give parents the option of overseeing their student's blog or archive it.

Even though Nevaeh likes writing, she needs something a bit more to keep her interest, said her mom, Alexis Clements. Blogging has given her opportunities to edit her artwork in Photoshop and learn computer skills at a different level than most 9-year-olds.

After Schwartz told parents about the blogging project, Clements and her husband Jason gave Nevaeh permission to blog.

"It was probably the best decision we made in her education thus far," Clements said, "and it's really kept her interested throughout the entire year in writing."

Through blogging, Nevaeh realizes the importance of editing and has improved her artistic skills. At home, her mom's been helping Nevaeh understand how she can add different dimensions to her writing by seeing things from both an artistic and a writing perspective.

Students learn skills across subjects

Aside from writing and typing skills, students learn about statistics, public relations, geography, graphic design and copyright, Schwartz said. In the stats section of their blog, students track how many people visit their site from different countries. And those charts and graphs are more interesting than a standard math problem.

"It's meaningful to them rather than it being some type of abstract concept that doesn't interest them," Schwartz said.

He also teaches them how a story can spread online. One of his friends found a bizarre fish and posted about it. To give his students an example, Schwartz wrote a story about it on his blog.

Then he wrote another blog post about it, this time with keywords that would optimize it for search engines. That attracted more pageviews. He talked about the post on a few sites, sent it to a local newspaper and called the TV station.

Both the newspaper and the station linked back to his blog post. And the pageviews went way up.

"I'm trying to give these kids an awareness of how the media works, how the Web works and how they might be able to use this in a future career."