A Blog on Blogging

By Justin Kerr
English & Literature Teacher, English Department Chair
“Blogs are whatever we make them. Defining ‘Blog’ is a fool’s errand.”
 - Michael Conniff

As the musical winds down, and the eighth graders gear up for their high-school futures, one final challenge remains in English class: entering the Blogosphere. Near the end of March for the past three years, HDS English students cast aside their grammar books and expository writing, embarking instead on a two-month journey exploring their interests, concerns, loves and fears, while reporting weekly in their own student blogs.

“I’m excited to explore a topic that I haven’t really learned about,” said Makenzie Vovan, whose blog explores plant-based products around the world. “I’m also excited to read other blogs and see what their interests are and their writing style.”

The Blog Project began in 2018, replacing the longstanding news magazine project that had been a part of the curriculum for years. Replacing such an honored tradition wasn’t easy, but change rarely is. While it lacks the tactile gratification of the magazine project, blogs allow students to streamline their writing and ideas into concise and comprehensive posts. Additionally, students have the freedom to choose their own topics and develop their ideas as they see fit.

“We get to write more casually than an essay,” said Allison Cohen, whose blog is about water polo. “We get to choose what we want to write about, and there aren’t really any limitations.”

This student-driven project spans the course of two months. Students are expected to pick their own topics, develop a cohesive narrative over several entries, and creatively design their sites with graphics, visuals, and other eye-catching technologies. All projects are done on the website Edublogs. 

While students have tremendous freedom in terms of their writing and design, they are still expected to operate under the driving question, “How can I make the world I live in a better place?” This question, while open-ended, is designed to help the students think about their immediate sphere of influence in Orange County and the world in general. 

Eden Newcott, an eighth-grader who is writing her blog on the Ukrainian conflict, feels it is necessary to get information to students who might not understand what is going on in the world around them. 

“I think it’s important that people are aware of what’s going on,” Newcott argued. “I want to know what is happening. I hope to convey information to the readers because I feel like kids in my generation are more distant and privileged, and as a result, they don’t understand the impact events in Ukraine could have on our world.”

For years, students have selected a myriad of topics, some motivated by personal interest, while others were motivated by a more worldly perspective.

Some past blogs have covered the following topics:

*The health of our oceans
*Global warming and climate change
*The history and nuance of humor
*The importance of mindfulness in athletics
*Animal testing
*Equity in college sports
*Equity in Hollywood and the music industry
*Mountain biking
*Anti-Asian discrimination
*The benefits of journaling

These are just a few of the thoughtful and informative blogs that have been developed in the past few years. This year’s students are off to a terrific start. They have all chosen their topics, submitted their first entries, and are working on designing their sites.

Shay Nussbaum, whose blog focuses on the barriers created by forced diversity and tokenism in Hollywood, feels the fact-finding is challenging, but she is inspired by the potential to get her words out there.

“It was a little difficult to find different perspectives on some movies I am trying to evaluate,” Nussbaum recalled. “People often change what they say about movies once their opinions are deemed unpopular. I hope to learn more about how different people find representation in the entertainment industries, and I also hope to teach other people why it’s important that these issues are addressed.”

This semester’s group of future bloggers have some compelling topics which include:

*Cooking and baking for an improved life
*Water polo
*Unsolved mysteries
*Evolution and sustainability in the fashion world
*A history of Chinese culture and fashion
*Diversity in media
*Video game reviews
*The Ukraine conflict
*Diversity and tokenism in Hollywood
*The History of surfing
*Depleting fish populations and ocean health

These are just a few of the ideas the students have submitted this year. One of the most appealing aspects of the unit is that it is student-driven. Students decided on their overall topics and the subject matter for each individual blog. The catch is that students must pick a topic that will be sustainable for at least 8-10 entries. Still, most students are excited about the challenge.

“I’m excited that I can write about a topic that I can also learn from,” noted Julia Getter, whose blog is on wellness and health.

Throughout the writing and design process, students will be asked to review each other’s work before publication. Additionally, once published on the blog site, bloggers are required to comment on the work of their colleagues in the “comments” section of each entry. This constant feedback creates accountability for the writers and an academic “buy-in” from their peers.

Overall, the ability to create, design and manage their own blog sites helps students better understand the kind of academic investments that will be expected from them in high school and beyond. The project is a great opportunity for students to take a deep dive into their points of interest while holding themselves accountable for the end results and outcomes.

“I think that picking your own topic makes it a lot easier to show passion,” said Dash D’Ambrosia, whose blog is on the history and evolution of surfing. “I think I’ll have to hold myself to high standards because of my level of surfing and how much I love the sport. 

“In the end, I get to jot my own ideas into something I’m about, and I am excited about the challenge of putting it all together, designing it, and completing it. It’s a labor of love.”

About the Author

Mr. Kerr graduated from Pitzer College with a bachelor's degree in English. While there, he was a sports writer for the student newspaper, The Other Side, and went on to become editor of that publication his senior year. Mr. Kerr also played soccer for Pomona-Pitzer for three years. After college, he interned at the Telluride Times Journal in Telluride, Colorado before attending graduate school at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism. After receiving a master's degree in science and journalism, Justin worked for the Kansas City Business Journal, the Oregonian, and the Portland Tribune as well as having a short-lived radio show. During this time, he was head of boys’ soccer at Oregon Episcopal School, where he was also a frequent substitute teacher. In 2011, Justin joined the Middle School at OES, teaching seventh and eighth-grade English as well as contemporary issues and participating in the school’s residential program. Mr. Kerr’s soccer teams won state titles in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012, and 2013.

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