When teacher Ken Halla began his U.S. history blog five years ago, he would have been happy to see it get a few thousand page views each month. He had no reason to expect the blog would cultivate the national following it would soon have. In it’s first month, it racked up 380 page views. Now, more than five years and 4,100 posts later, Halla’s blogs have grown to receive over 50,000 a month. His US History Blog is the second most visited teaching history blog in the country, and his government and world history teaching blogs are the top visited blogs in their respective fields.
“I started them because I wanted people to get information from others without having to move out of their seats, like being able to get information from a teacher in, say, California if they wanted,” says Halla, who teaches at Hayfield Secondary School in Alexandria, Virginia.
Blogging is just one of many tools that Hall uses to engage his colleagues and his students. Over the past five years, Halla—a 22-year teaching veteran —has transitioned his classroom into a technology-friendly environment where students utilize videos, digital textbooks and even twitter to augment their academic learning. Employing a “flipped classroom” approach, Halla has been able to stimulate his students’ participation by keeping with the changing times.
“The best thing a teacher told me when I was learning to teach was that you need to teach the kids how they learn, not how you learn,” says Halla “I’ve always been that type of person who likes to adapt and change as time goes on. Otherwise I wouldn’t still be teaching this many years down the road.”
But Halla’s motivation isn’t to just modernize teaching. As the chair of the Social Studies Department in the Fairfax County Public Schools, Halla is especially concerned with the ability for schools and teachers to collaborate.
“I like teachers working together,” says Halla. “I’ve been the department chair for 8 years and I’ve always promoted that. But we haven’t always had good collaboration between schools.”
It was in the spirit of establishing further teacher-to-teacher collaboration that Halla set up the three blogs devoted to teaching history and US government classes in April 2008: “World History Teaching Blog,” “US Government Teachers Blog,” and “US History Teachers Blog.”
Halla’s blogs serve as a ready platform for him to share lesson plans, classroom tips, videos, and technology-oriented methods for the classroom. Since the blogs originated around the time that Halla began to incorporate more technology into his own classrooms, the posts oftenfocus on ways that teachers can utilize technology as a learning tool. Halla receives frequent requests from out-of-state educators to focus on ways that can plan their own lessons using devices, and he does his best to meet their needs. The blogs were so successful that Halla worked with another teacher in his district to establish a “World Religions Blog” with the same focus.
“As I became more interested in technology I started, if you will, teaching my audience how to use technology in the classroom,” he says. “When I learned something new I put it up there and redo it as I went through.”
The blogs have also given helped Halla transform his own approaches to teaching. When one student wanted to know more about the White Revolution in Iran, Halla created a blog post so his students could learn more about the topic outside of the classroom. It’s this ability to provide students with one-on-one attention that attracts Halla to technology.
“A lot of my technology use is more individualization,” Halla says. “I can run around the classroom a lot more to help the kids than I could four or five years ago. Whether I’m flipping or not – it doesn’t matter.”
Halla’s focus on more technology in schools has already paid dividends for his district. Eight years ago, Halla had asked for a pilot program to use digital textbooks in his social studies classroom. Now, Fairfax County Public Schools are transitioning many of their social studies classes to online textbooks—a move that has brought almost 77,000 digital textbooks into seventh through twelfth grade social studies courses.
It’s this desire for modernization that pushed Halla to start his blogs in the first place, and it’s Halla’s hope that more educators will incorporate technology into their classrooms.
“If people are going to change their way of teaching and adapt to the ways kids are learning today, that’s awesome.”