Why we will blog at TLC

Greetings! This is one of my most popular posts, and since some new people are visiting my blog to learn more about Triangle Learning Community Middle School (TLC for short), I thought I’d revive it.

The post does a nice job of explaining why I blog, and why students will blog regularly at TLC Middle School.

I hope you enjoy it — the original title was “Blogging 101”

First of all, this really was my 101st blog post, from back in February of 2012.

But it’s also an opportunity to describe —  in “Blogging 101” how-to fashion –why I think students and teachers need to be blogging (and tweeting and emailing) more. We need to make our learning transparent so that we can share with others and make connections with people all over the world as we broaden our global perspective.

I wrote a post earlier this year titled Why Blog? which I think made a pretty good argument for why students and teachers should blog.

The key quote from that post actually comes from another blog — in this case, Culture of Yes, a blog written by Chris Kennedy, Superintendent of the West Vancouver School District in British Columbia, Canada.  Chris wrote:

The ultimate goal is not to have students blog, it is to have students improve their literacy skills and have the ability to be digital writers, and to do things that would not be possible without the technology.  It is about students creating content to hyperlink to the world, to embed photos and video with text.  It is about students publishing, and then to have the opportunity to receive feedback on their work, review, edit and republish. It is about students producing work not only for their teacher, but for the world. It is about students having their own space to be creative and connect in new ways.  It is, ultimately, about students having greater ownership of their learning.

It’s also about connecting people. If a student writes just for a teacher to get a grade, and not for a wider audience, that student loses the opportunity to have others see the work he/she has produced.

Today’s For Better Or For Worse cartoon makes this point quite well — as anyone who’s written for a newspaper knows, it’s fun to share your thoughts with an audience:

Elly may not be getting paid, but she is getting her ideas out there.  And a well-written newspaper column (or blog) can lead to other opportunities.

Today, Elly would not need the newspaper to get published — she could simply start blogging.

Tavi Gevinson is a 15-year old fashion blogger who has “been invited to runway shows all over the world and has written for and been profiled in magazines like The New Yorker and French Vogue.”

Why? Because Tavi started blogging as an 11-year old and has valuable things to say. She already has her own Wikipedia Page, which notes that “Her parents did not appreciate what Tavi was doing [with her blog] until she asked for their permission to appear in a New York Times magazine story.”

Tavi was featured in October 2011 in a 10-minute segment on one of my favorite NPR programs, Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me.

I learned about Tavi last weekend from the principal of the iSchool in New York City, a dynamic educator named Alisa Berger. I saw Alisa present about the iSchool at a phenomenal conference in Philadelphia called Educon (about which I will blog next week — Educon rocked my world and introduced me to two educators from The Westminster Schools in Atlanta who have become fast friends, and with whom I look forward to collaborating in the future, Jill Gough and Bo Adams).

And I learned about Educon through my blog — well, sort of.  I learned about it through the group of online educators I connect with via my blog and Twitter.

I just looked back through my Twitter stream (which serves as a nice journal of my online learning — another reason to tweet!) and found the exact date when I registered for Educon back in August 2011:

@Deacs84 is Laura Deisley, a dynamic educator with one of the coolest titles ever — she’s Director of 21st Century Learning at The Lovett School in Atlanta, GA.

Laura hosted the first Powerful Learning Practice (PLP) Conference I ever attended back in 2007 in Atlanta (thanks to Sam Morris for bringing me to that conference), and it’s through Laura that I met PLP co-founders Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and Will Richardson, who have also had a huge influence on my learning.

This may sound like name-dropping, but it’s really a recognition that the work I’ve done with the folks I’ve met through PLP and in other online spaces has changed the way I learn and connect in the world. It has led me to leave my job teaching at a prestigious high school to open an innovative middle school called Triangle Learning Community (TLC) in Durham/Chapel Hill, NC.

At TLC, all community members — students, teachers, and even parents if they choose — will blog on a regular basis.

What’s the value of publishing our reflections to the world? As I publish this 101st blog post, I think about all that I’ve learned since I started blogging seriously about a year ago.  More than 60 of my 101 blog posts are from 2011 to now, which translates to more than one post per week on average (before 2011 I blogged occasionally at best).

Blogging has become part of what I do: I learn neat things about the world and then I blog about it and share it with the world — hence the name of my blog: “What I Learned Today.”

But blogging is more powerful than just writing and reflecting in a journal. Blogging allows me to learn in public — to share my thoughts and my writing and my creativity with the world.

My blog also serves as my digital portfolio.

When I meet people like Bo Adams and Jill Gough at conferences such as Educon, I can point them to past blog posts I’ve written about such topics as:

How to use Google Earth to bring the world to life,

Why people should tweet, and

Why it’s a mistake to “integrate technology” into the existing curriculum.

My specific purpose in blogging right now is to give people who might come to my school (or people who might provide financial support to help TLC meet its commitment to socio-economic and cultural diversity) a taste of the sort of learning that will go on at TLC.

The purpose of TLC is to mentor a group of students so that they become empathetic global citizens who make the world a better place. In the process, they will learn a ton and will demonstrate what young people are capable of doing.

One of my favorite examples of a capable young person is Jessica Markowitz, a remarkable young woman from Seattle, WA, who learned — as a sixth grader — about Rwandan children who had lost their parents to genocide and war and could not afford school.

In response, Jessica started a foundation called Richard’s Rwanda, which has raised $130,000 to support girls in Rwanda to finish their primary and secondary education. She’s also raised the consciousness of her community about what happened in the Rwandan Genocide. And she’s learned a ton by serving on the board of a non-profit at age 15.

Jessica is now a senior in high school, and I look forward to talking with her this week.

I wrote Jessica last week, expressing a desire to talk with her about what she’s learned from starting Richard’s Rwanda because I want my students at TLC to do similar work.  I noted that “middle school students are capable of doing far more than educators typically give them credit for.  We’re also at a moment when middle school students can connect with people all over the world to do great things.”

Here’s Jessica’s response:

Hello Mr. Goldberg, thanks for your email.
I’m happy to speak with you after my school finals on February 1st.
Your school sounds amazing!

This post is about my 101st blog post, but I don’t blog in a vacuum, and I’m using “blog” as shorthand for all the ways we can connect with the world — through blogging, tweeting, emailing, and even using Facebook to organize (as my good friend Ken Okoth is doing as he runs for a seat in Kenya’s Parliament).

It’s all about learning in public — sharing — reflecting — and in the process, helping students to reach their learning potential.

As folks like Jessica Markowitz and Tavi Gevinson demonstrate, a young person who follows her (or his) passion is capable of changing the world.

Let’s abandon the schools of the industrial age and create constructivist educational spaces — such as TLC — that allow students to work hard, change the world, and have fun at the same time. It’s fun to learn and it’s fun to pursue your passion — those should be things students do on a regular basis.

Let’s have fun.  Let’s blog! (and tweet and email…)

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About Steve Goldberg

I teach students at Research Triangle High School (RTHS) about US History. RTHS is a public charter school in Durham, NC, whose mission is to incubate, prove and scale innovative models of teaching and learning. The blog posts here reflect my own personal views and not those of my employer.
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