How can science teachers use blogs?

Blogs and schools often don’t mix. Many blogs are free ranging entities untethered to an institutional or editorial framework. In public discussions of Scienceblogs.com, the fact that every blogger is editorially independent of each other and of the hosting organization, Seed Media Group, is mentioned without fail, and is often the central topic. Non-Sblings (we scienceblogs.com bloggers call ourselves Sblings) readily accuse us of being under the influence of each other or this or that evil empire, and we just as readily deny it. And it’s true … we are beholden to no one.

As a result, we can use dirty words, sexy themes, politically charged rhetoric all we want. This means that scienceblogs.com is banned in most K-12 science education facilities. What we get for being able to say what we want is to have a large part of what I would think to be our intended audience cut off from us.

But that does not mean that teachers can not check our blogs and make use of them, and when I say “our blogs” I mean the entire science blogosphere, and not just scienceblogs.com. Well, maybe a teacher can’t get through his or her school firewall, but there are ways to get to the Internet (from home or a coffee shop, for instance).

One important and useful way to find one’s way around the blogosphere is to follow web carnivals. A carnival is a moving (from blog to blog, over time) periodic (weekly, monthly, whateverly) list of links to recent blog posts on a certain topic. The “Carnival of Evolution” carnival (click here) has a list of a dozen or so cool posts on evolution every time it comes out. Berry Go Round is a carnival (click here) on plants, roughly split 50-50% on photography of plants and writing about plants, much of which is scientific. Four Stone Hearth (click here) is a blog carnival that covers all four fields of anthropology. And so on.

The links I just gave you are to the carnival home pages, and from there you should be able to find the current and recent carnivals.

A good way to find out what carnivals are out there is to check the “Nature Blog Network blog. Just go there and find the most recent post called something like “Carny Deadlines: [then some date].” That is a list used by bloggers to remember where to submit their recent posts, but you can use it to find the carnivals. There is a more painful way to look at carnivals … a web site designed to be an interface between people and carnivals, to manage carnivals, to find out about them, etc. but the technology on that site is so bad I hesitate to send anyone to it. So I’m warning you, you can click here if you want, and it may go well for you, but if it doesn’t don’t blame me!

While you are at Nature Blog Network’s blog site, check out their main site as well. (Go to the URL and delete the last part so you have only this: http://natureblognetwork.com/ and you’ll see it.) The main page of Nature Blog Network has a “toplist” which is a list of blogs ranked using some secret formula or another, but restricted to a certain topic. These are “nature blogs” but that overlaps significantly with “science blogs” and you may find some of the pure nature blogs very useful in class. Many life science teachers like to bring living things into class (just last night my wife was rooting round in the woods looking for stuff). Well, that’s good, but you can also bring virtual living stuff into class by pointing students to some of the nature blog posts.

But, again, you may not be able to use the contents of a blog in class. A perfectly good blog post will contain a random profanity or funny anatomical reference which you students (or administrators) may not be able to handle. Nonetheless, you can use the blog post yourself to learn new stuff that you can adapt to your class.

Even more usefully, perhaps, is using the blog as a forum to clear up misconceptions. Did you ever search on Google for the answer to some question, and end up quite unsatisfied by the range of answer you happen to get? The Internet can be a wonderful, informative place, but it can also be rather frustrating at times. Well, if you read a particular science blog regularly you may feel comfortable posing a question in the comments on a vaguely related post, or even emailing the question to the blogger. It can’t hurt, and it may even help!

Finally, at least on this blog, I’m going to start producing classroom ready PDF files of some of my posts for teachers to use in the non-profit setting of the classroom. (I mention that because I once had a publisher take a bunch of my handouts and publish them, with other people’s handouts, in a book and pretend to control the copyright. When we objected they simply had their lawyers tell us to get our own lawyers. But I digress…)

Anyway, in those cases, the PDF file is useful because there are no bloggy tidbits like ads or pointers to other blog posts that may have provocative or inappropriate titles, comments that may be quite helpful but that sometimes are not ready for the classroom, etc. So a teacher can simply download the PDF, which hopefully is either one page or one page front and back, photo copy it, and hand it out in class.

This is an example of such a post.

Comments

  1. #1 Justin
    September 1, 2010

    I use your blog for information/resources more than any other source in the blogosphere!

    Thanks for all you do!

  2. #2 Traumador the Tyrannosaur
    September 2, 2010

    there is also Ask a Biologist http://www.askabiologist.org.uk/ a site manned by a whole bunch of experts on any topic of biology you can thing of, whose mandate is to answer questions about the living sciences.

    back when i had a teaching job (ah the logical response to economic depressions, cut back education and thus any future progress we might get from the next generation…) this site was amazing, and the scientists manning it were all very helpful and interesting.

  3. #3 Drivebyposter
    September 4, 2010

    Of course, teachers could use the same method the students use to access forbidden sites:proxies

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