When children from Sandaig primary school, Glasgow, each wrote a poem for National Poetry Day last autumn, they could scarcely have imagined that their work would become the basis of a drama project at a school in the American south.
But after class teacher John Johnston published all 150 poems on the Glasgow school's blog - an easy-to-use online journal for children and staff - the feedback they received was immediate and global.
'The comments we got were just fabulous,' says Johnston, 'from America, from Britain, from Australia, all over the world. You see children growing a couple of inches in front of your eyes.'
Carol Fuller, a teacher from South Cobb high school in Austell, Georgia, soon got in touch to ask if her class could write a drama piece using Sandaig children's poems as a starting point. 'They've made puppets, acted out this play,' says Johnston, 'and they're in the process of wrapping up the puppets, the backdrops, the whole kaboodle, and sending it to our school. And we'll put it on.'
That's just one example of how Johnston and his class have used the school blog, Sandaig Otters, to create learning resources. A trip to Holland last summer, a visit to a local synagogue last month, and the Christmas nativity play all go in the blog too.
When the puppets arrive by UPS from America, says Johnston, the blog will record that. 'We'll blog it as it happens, and get pictures of children opening of the box, pictures of the children performing. We'll video-record it; it goes on and on.'
Blogs, suggests Johnston, are a cheap and easy-to-use piece of software that can transform the way children interact with the world. 'I think a weblog is another wall, or display, for children; they're increasing their audience. You're giving them a real audience, an audience which will give feedback.'
At West Blatchington junior school in Hove, East Sussex, each class has a blog. In the past month children have contributed creative writing, reactions to lessons, and suggestions on how to beat bullying.
'I've seen children inspired to write, desperate to write, just because they're going on a weblog,' says John Mills, ICT co-ordinator at the school.
'Potentially, every child in the school, in every school, in 10 years' time could have a weblog - could do the majority of their work on a weblog. It helps the communication process between parents and schools.'
Mills says local authorities should provide blogs for every school, in the same way as they provide school websites.
One area of debate is security. At West Blatchington, Mills blocks the facility for external users to provide 'comments' on each blog entry, which children could otherwise read. Instead he provides a monitored email address for outsiders to use. 'We can't make the decision to take that risk, and let a child read anything,' he says.
Johnston, on the other hand, leaves the comments function on.
'To me it's the thing that makes it,' he says. 'It's starting a conversation.
'You've got to be on top of the comments. We've got a fairly hard blacklist set up to catch inappropriate stuff - and I check it. Most blogs or comment software can be set to moderate comments before they show up on the blog.'
Like any diary, a blog demands regular attention if it's going to work. So how can teachers find the time to start blogging?
'If you've got two computers in the classroom, it's got to be done while other things are going on,' says Johnston. 'Sometimes they're doing it for themselves, sometimes they're sitting in front of a whiteboard and we all work on something together.'
Josie Fraser, an educational technologist at Leicester's Wyggeston and Queen Elizabeth I College, who runs blogging training and the annual Edublog Awards, says the exciting thing about blogs is that even teachers who aren't that web-savvy can soon catch up - because they are so 'easy to engage with'.
'You don't need many skills, but you need some support, guidance and inspiration, and you need the confidence as well, which a lot of teachers are lacking.
'The software that's most accessible and freely available is internet-based,' she adds, 'especially for schools who don't necessarily have anybody to manage programs on their servers.'
Heads, too, will appreciate the low running costs. Sandaig spends just £70 a year on web hosting for its blog; West Blatchington spends £200 a year for blogs ready-made to its security specifications. The main input is time.
'If you put the effort in,' says Johnston, 'I can't really see any drawbacks. You're basically getting children to write, and think about their writing, to talk about their writing to each other and do a lot of collaborative work with each other, to have an audience and to get feedback from real people. It's a real-world thing.'
Mills agrees. 'With any aspect of computing, I think children can put teachers to shame. More children use iPods already in the school than teachers. I think the children take to it like ducks to water.'
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West Blatchington blogs
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A teacher's guide to blogging
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