In just five years, Hayfield Secondary School teacher Ken Halla has turned his blog on teaching history from an advice-style column for friends and fellow teachers to a must-read with a national following.
“Three years ago, I was happy we were getting 20,000 hits a month. Now it’s [about] 50,000,” said Halla, who currently teaches ninth-grade world history, Advanced Placement U.S. Government and AP Comparative Government.
“It literally has become the second most hit U.S. History blog in the U.S. and the most hit government and world history ones [each with its own blog address],” Halla said. “Essentially, it is just me teaching others how to do what I do on a daily basis in the classroom.”
With 4,100 posts in the last five years, Halla said the draw of his blogs is a focus on what he calls “flipping the classroom.”
“It’s me trying to teach teachers how to use technology and how they can expand what they offer,” he said.
West Potomac High School teacher George Coe runs the newest edition to the Halla-blog family, the “World Religions” blog.
“Education is all about sharing information,” Coe said. “Social media has really revolutionized the way we teach and the way we can access material.”
He explained that teachers are turning more and more to social media to find resources and discuss possible lessons. For example, on Twitter, he said, teachers hold weekly chats on world history Tuesday evenings from 8 to 9 p.m.
Coe teaches AP World History, Honors World History for ninth-graders and an elective World Religions class, which mostly enrolls juniors and seniors.
“We cover the major living religions,” Coe said. “We start with the primal religions [oral religions from North America, Australia and Africa] and then we switch to eastern religions: Buddhism, Hinduism...”
Coe became a Halla disciple after taking a Fairfax County Public Schools-provided three-month course on technology in the classroom for teachers two years ago. Halla taught the class and continues to teach similar classes this year.
“He’s probably one of the most knowledgeable technology gurus in the county,” Coe said. He began blogging under Halla’s format in January. So far, his “World Religion” blog has received 4,000 hits.
“Compared with the kind of hits Ken’s getting that’s small,” he said, adding that he is excited about his blog’s performance so far.
Outside of Fairfax County, Halla says he receives emails regularly from teachers seeking advice on integrating technology or how to plan lessons with technology.
His blog is also being linked to from out-of-state public school systems, like Lincoln Public Schools in Nebraska, as a resource for teachers.
“There are a lot of places that have started to do this,” Halla explained. “I get a couple of emails a week asking, ‘Will you put this on there or that?’ .. For me, it’s not only allowed me to help other people but it’s helped me to be a better teacher.”
Madison High School history and government teacher Frank Franz said Halla deserves credit for tapping in to a teaching trend.
“He was out front compiling resources for teachers... And this isn’t part of his work time; he’s doing this on his own time,” said Franz, who contributes entries to two of the blogs. Franz teaches AP U.S. Government and World History I for ninth-graders. In his classroom, students use cell phones to answer online quiz questions, with their responses projected in real-time on an overhead screen. Technology, Franz said, is just another tool to excite students about learning.
On his contributions to the blog, Franz said, “If I see it and other teachers can use it, it goes on the blog...
“What [Halla] has done is extended the learning community. There’s no self promotion here.”
Halla said he has, at the most, made about $80 on his blog through advertisement sales. Teachers said word of mouth is driving the expanded interest in Halla’s blogs.
One of Halla’s greatest hits, literally, is a blog entry on the real meaning of “The Wizard of Oz.” The blog describes how the book and movie are political interpretations or commentary on the economy and industry of the 1900s. The entry includes links to resources teachers can use in their classrooms.
“When I first posted it, it just exploded,” Halla said. “It went on for months. .. And you ask what grows hits? That’s one of them, just thousands and thousands of hits.”
Halla said his hope for the blog is some kind of corporate sponsorship that would allow him to pilot online teaching courses on using technology, which would give access to out-of-state teachers wishing to take the courses Halla uses to instruct educators locally.
“Someone needs to push [technology use],” Halla said. “A few years ago, if I would have said every kid will have a phone, you would have laughed. I think two or three years from now, everyone will bring in laptops... Some people look at me like I’m blue when I present this stuff... If I’m doing it in my 23rd year [of teaching], you can do it too.”