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How to build a scientific community to rival facebook

September 4, 2010
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It’s been my dream for a long time that my kids will really learn to enjoy science in my class and think like scientists. Often, I’ve tried to teach this in small ways. I have a growing collection of scientific images (micrographs of record grooves, insect parts, all kinds of cool shots of the LHC (this collection has grown rapidly thanks to the awesome Fresh Photons). I leave these images up as the wallpaper on my smartboard, and usually once or twice a week, a kid asks a question about what the thing is.

Something else I’ve tried doing is creating a class blog, where I post stories from science times and other happenings in physics. While all this has been fun, it’s not really getting kids to discover their own questions. So this year, I’m trying to create a multiuser blog.

Enter WordPress 3.0 and buddypress. It’s awesome. You create a blog, you add all your students, and then you can create a blog for each of your students. They can post to the common class blog, or their own blog. Since it’s wordpress, it looks beautiful, is incredibly easy to use (you don’t even need to tell the kids how to log in, it’s so dead simple). Just add their names, they get an email with instructions, and blam—they’re blogging maniacs.

Setting up WP 3.0 couldn’t be easier. Once you’ve set youself up with a webhost like site5, upload the WP install files, and follow the directions, and you’re all set. Then do the same thing with buddypress. There’s tons of support out there to help with any questions you might have.

So how is the experiment going? Since I set up the blog only days before class began, I wasn’t sure how it’d go. Two weeks in and things are starting to take off. I’v posted a few “what is this?” and the comments have started to light up with with guesses, which grew into thoughtful observations, qeustions and even one student who looked up the artist and found an interview. The coolest thing is just like facebook, you get an activity stream that tells you what the latest activity is among most of the users.

More stuff:

Now the best part of this is that since I’m using SBG, none of these posts are graded—their curosity is taking hold and they aren’t doing this to earn “blogging points” or “extra credit.” Now if I can just get em to all change the damn default theme on their blogs.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. September 4, 2010 2:06 pm

    This is great! Congrats on getting buy in from the kids. I’m going to try something like this with Edmodo this year.

    • September 4, 2010 2:46 pm

      I haven’t played with edmodo, but I did waste most of my summer trying to build a custom site with drupal, with was a great opportunity to learn PHP, but frustrating exercise in making a useful site. Lesson 1: if it works and does 90% of what you want, take it. Worry about the 10% when everything is really going. I am hoping to somehow give kids access to my filemaker DB which holds their SBG grades through the site.

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