Using RSS Feeds in your Classroom
Information is all around us. Yet as teachers, we often struggle to stay current with the latest information and to deliver content to our students that is current and engaging. RSS feeds can be a huge asset in this respect. In this post, I would like to give some rationale and uses for integrating RSS feeds to your class.
RSS feeds to keep your class up to date on current events.
There are lots of great sources for news in the world. Very recently fake news has been big news. Developing digital literacy and critical thinking skills in our students is more important than ever before. Providing our students with exemplars is a great way to teach anything. How about giving them examples of good sources of news? Setting up a news feed with a variety of sources not only allows students to keep up to date on current events but also lets them see how different media outlets and sources show bias in their reporting. Giving our kids a chance to compare and contrast different writing and different points of view arms them with the skills and competencies to make informed judgements about what is going on in the world. They have to think critically about what they read and compare it to what they know and what others have said about the topic.
Current events can also be related to subject specific content. Science teachers can feed information relating to current topics or units. Second language teachers can expose students to content in the subject language and Physical Health educators can bring the latest information on health and wellness to their students. All of this is done with a little effort on the front end with little or no maintenance work required.
You can also subscribe and unsubscribe to a feed easily. Why not add a feed for your current unit of study? Starting a unit on Space, add NASA’s Image of the Day feed. Having your kids do presentations in the class, why not subscribe to the Ted Ed feed? Poetry unit? How about Poetry 180, a feed that offers a poem for high school student every school day of the year? Add this feed when you start your poetry unit and then unsubscribe (if you want) when the unit is over.
RSS feeds can add a dynamic element to your class blog or website.
I recently added an RSS Feed Block on the sidebar of my Moodle page. The blog adds a feed of weekly writing prompts that students can use to get them started if they are having a hard time thinking of something to write about. I also added an RSS Feed to my blog that feeds tech news from Wired.com. This way I don’t have to do anything to add current content to my Moodle page or to my blog. Both of these sites stay current and up to date without any additional effort on my part.
RSS feeds can be used for your own professional/personal learning.
Providing current information for your students is great, but what about me? As a teacher, it is important that I stay up to date and current on the latest and greatest in education and with subject specific information. I use the Digg reader to automatically feed my favourite educational and tech blogs right to my reader. The advantage of this is that all my important information can be found in one place. One stop shopping so to speak. My feeds are not limited to just my own professional learning. I have feeds from my favourite news sources, blogs related to my hobbies, the classroom blog from my son’s classroom (not to mention his personal blog that he writes as part of his classwork), and even for my cycling club. Once again, this allows me to go to my Digg reader for everything. I don’t have to access one piece of information from one website (or app) and go to another to get my news. I don’t need to clog up my email inbox by subscribing to email updates. Email subscriptions seem like a good idea until you realise how quickly your inbox gets filled up making it hard to find the emails that actually have to be read and responded to. I hate to have unread mail. It makes me feel like I am going to miss something, that something important will be hidden in the mass of unread mail. Having my feeds set up this way allows me to access the information when and where I want.
What about a professional learning network for students? Students spend vast quantities of time on social networks. I think we should encourage our high school students to start to develop professional social networks. They should follow the leaders in the fields for which they are interested in. Adding the blogs or sites of your favourite writers or leading experts is a good way for teachers to stay current and up to date so why not our students. This is also a good way to get our students to think about how to best manage the flow of information that they have at their disposal every day. This is a critical literacy skill for our kids as they move forward as lifelong learners.
An RSS feed has many practical applications for your classroom and in your professional learning. It allows you to harness the power of so much great information and present it to you in a more manageable format in one single web page or app. A tool this powerful is something that should certainly be utilised in many ways for teachers.