Sunday, 20 November 2011

Learning about blogs through blogs.

If you're thinking of starting a blog for yourself or with your students, there are lots of good resources available. In this post, I'm going to draw upon some of the resources from other blogs in an attempt to structure a "blogging 101" guide for UWCSEA teachers.

What is a blog?
A blog is short for weblog. They are typically a chronologically-organized series of literature (or images or video) called "posts" created by an author (blogger) or group of authors about a particular topic.

Michael Hyatt describes the anatomy of an effective blog post this way (I've condensed it):
  1. Lead Paragraph.
  2. Relevant Image.
  3. Personal Experience.
  4. Main Body.
  5. Discussion Question.

    I also follow a few overall rules when writing my posts:
    • Make the posts short.
    • Use short paragraphs.
    • Keep short sentences.
    • Use simple words.
    • Provide internal links.
Why should you blog?
Steve Wheeler, Associate Professor of learning technology in the Faculty of Health, Education and Society at Plymouth University explains in his seven reasons why teachers should blog post. I've taken excerpts here.
From personal experience blogging is one of the most beneficial professional development activities I have ever engaged with. I learn more from blogging than I do from almost any other activity I participate in. Here are 7 good reasons why teachers should blog:

1) Blogging causes you to reflect.

2) Blogging can crystalise your thinking. In the act of writing, said Daniel Chandler, we are written. Sometimes we don't really know what we are thinking until we actually write it down in a physical format.

3) Blogging can open up new audiences

4) Blogging can create personal momentum.

5) Blogging can give you valuable feedback.

6) Blogging can be creative.

7) Blogging can raise your game
if you're think "yeah, but..." Jabiz Raisdana addresses the most common concerns of teachers starting out blogging (or trying to think of excuses not to) in his post deal with the fire. (I've edited)
I just wanted to share some misconceptions about blogging that I have overcome, in hopes that my sharing will help others.
You are publishing so everything has to be perfect. Write from your heart. Do what we ask kids to do. Reflect honestly, authentically. Be vulnerable and your admin and parent community will respect and appreciate your openness to show your learning.
Nobody cares what I have to say. If this is true for you, then it is true for your students. And if this is the case then lets all go home. We tell students that they matter. That they have a voice and that they should learn to share and express this voice. We tell them that when they talk to others, they will learn and grow from collaboration. We tell them that writing is an art, that you craft and improve over a life time. We tell them not to fear failure. We tell them to dig deep and find their passion. We tell them that they are special and that we want to hear what they think and feel….now just tell yourself those things when you don’t know what to write.
It has to all be about tech or education. Find things in your day that you find meaningful. I like to write about epiphanies I have in class. I like to write about ideas that worked and those that failed. I like to use my writing to connect with others, but really I use my writing to help me make sense of my teaching, my life, myself.
You have to blog everyday and all the time. Write when you feel you have no choice.  Make it fun. Not a chore.
People who blog do nothing but spend time online. I have a full life with two kids, a wife, a voracious appetite for books and TV and many other hobbies. But I make time to write. I have a routine: Music and the couch- Me and the my words. Make one up.  Stick to it.
 Why should students blog?
This is a nice list (edits - mine) from Mrs. Ripp - why students should blog - my top ten.
I have written about it before, I will write about it again I am sure, so here is why students should blog:

  1. They have an actual audience to write for.  The writing is no longer just for me but the whole world.
  2. You can track their writing progress. 
  3. It opens a dialogue.  Students have a direct line to their teacher and to anyone else they are connected with.  Blogging helps us write back to each other, but great blogging is like a conversation with questions and critique. 
  4. It establishes their internet identity in safe manner.  By being on the internet and establishing a presence they are actively practicing staying safe rather than just talking about it.
  5. They teach each other.  Numerous times my students have corrected misconceptions or created new awareness of concepts being taught within our room.  They become teachers rather than just students in our classroom and blogging allows them to continue that outside our classroom walls.
  6. They are global citizens and global collaborators.  We speak of creating global citizens but then forget to actually connect kids with kids.  My students know where places in the world are because they speak to kids from those places. 
  7. Transparency.  Too often teachers shut their doors to the world rather than sharing the amazing things we concoct along with or students.  Blogging opens up that door and shows the whole world what is happening. 
  8. They become aware of themselves as writers.  Students start to create their own essence as a writer first playing around with fonts but then creating tag lines for their blogs and deciding how they want to present themselves to the world as writers. 
  9. I can easily check in on their learning.  When my students blog about a concept I can quickly see whether they are understanding the essential concepts or need another learning opportunity.  
  10. You give them a voice.  Students need a way to express themselves to take ownership of their learning, so through our blog students tell the world their thoughts on education, their learning and their needs.  I am a better teacher because of their blogging.
How do you set up a blog in Mahara?

How do you organize your reading?
We suggest organizing your blog reading by using an RSS reader like Google Reader
By using Reader, you'll "subscribe" the the blog and every time it is updated, the unread items appear in your Reader. Once you read the, they go away.  This is a simple way to keep track of the potentially prolific writing generated by all of your students. Your students will want to set-up Reader as well so that they can follow each others writing, any classes you're collaborating with, or blogs that the class recommends. 
 Reader allows you to make Bundles, which are groups of blogs that you follow that you can share with others.  By doing setting these up you make it easy to share a whole group of blogs at one time.
Here are some bundles that I've created for teachers.

What about comments?
Commenting encourages conversation and allows a level of engagement between writer and reader that doesn't exist in other types of writing.
Jabiz Raisdana has compiled a list of comment prompts for students and combined it with a good list of guidelines for student commenting from Clint Hamada that I'm including here.
  1. Be respectful, kind and honest. This is no place to be offensive in any way, shape or form! It is okay to disagree with somebody -  it’s even encouraged! – but do so in a respectful manner. Make sure that whatever you write as a comment you would be willing to say to somebody in a face-to-face conversation and you would be willing to repeat in the classroom.
  2. Read before participating. If you are new to the site, take some time to read previous posts to get an idea of what is acceptable. If you are new to the thread, be sure to read the post or topic and the comments that have been written before you.
  3. Make sure your comment adds value to the discussion. Avoid comments that only agree or disagree with a previous post. Be sure you include supporting details in your comment. Also, make sure you comment stays on the current topic.
  4. Communicate clearly. Before submitting your comment check it for typos and grammar mistakes. Do not use slang, abbreviations or TXTSPK unless it is a site where everybody (including your teacher!) will understand it and it is relevant to the topic.
  5. Never use ALL CAPS. It is the same as shouting at somebody and is considered aggressive. It is also a good way to get your message deleted from lots of sites.
  6. Use smileys, emoticons and formatting when appropriate. These help explain the tone of your message. It is very easy to be misunderstood if you do not use them, especially if you are joking!
  7. Don’t be afraid to admit mistakes. If you make a mistake that somebody later corrects, be sure to write a comment saying so. If you change your point of view because of the discussion be sure to acknowledge that.
  8. Problems with other users. If you have a problem with another user, contact the moderator or the administrator privately.
  9. Don’t feed the trolls.
  10. Remember the Golden Rule. It is very easy to misinterpret what you read in the comments because you cannot hear that person’s tone of voice and you cannot see their body language. (If you’re not sure of what was meant, just ask the person to clarify!) This is why it is very important to communicate clearly! Keep in mind the Golden Rule: It’s not just what you say, but how you say it!
Further resources: my "blogging" links in diigo.

Monday, 14 November 2011

2011 Global Education Conference

We'd like to promote a wonderful professional development opportunity available online, focused on Global Education, for FREE.  It's time for the 2011 Global Education Conference! The conference kicks off Tuesday at 12:00AM with a keynote from Alan November and continues all week with online sessions every hour around the clock. 

This schedule link is in local GMT +8 time. 

To participate, visit the conference Ning and sign-up. Then, you'll log in to the session and the Eluminate utility to participate in the sessions you'd like to see. 

Saturday, 12 November 2011

The ups and downs of social networks - new research.

Trimpers Cobra Roll by Scott Ableman/
The Pew Research Center, as part of their ongoing Internet and American Life project, have just released a report called Teens, kindness and cruelty on social network sites. As the title implies, the latest research provides us insight into the widely varying experiences that teens have when participating in social networks ranging from very positive to horribly cruel and everywhere in between.

The main aim of the survey was, as stated by the report:
As they navigate challenging social interactions online, who is influencing their sense of what it means to be a good or bad “digital citizen”? How often do they intervene to stand up for others? How often do they join in the mean behavior?
The results where compiled from 799 12-17 year-olds living in the United States. Though I believe there would be some differences in our population of students at UWCSEA, I do expect the major trends to be similar.  95% of the respondents reported being online and 80% of that group participate in social networks, the most dominant of those, of course, is Facebook (93%).

69% of social media-using teens report that their interactions are mostly kind.  They reported that social networks make them feel closer to people they interact with and make them feel better about themselves.

Not surprisingly, there are plenty of bad experiences reported by the teens in the survey. 88% report witnessing cruel or mean behavior, though mostly they say it only happens "only once in a while." One in five teens say they themselves were bullied within the last 12 months, though this language has questionable meaning with teens who often refer to this kind of behavior as "drama."  Most commonly, the bullying happened in person and to a lesser extent in other ways including (in order greatest to least) via text message, online, or by phone.

If teens experience meanness, cruelty, or bullying online, we suggest they:
  1. Don't respond.
  2. Save evidence by taking a screen shot.
  3. Block the person and report them for abuse to the service provider.
  4. Tell a trusted adult (parent, teacher, counselor, tutor, etc.)
A bigger problem is that only about 1/3 of students who say the witness cruel or mean behavior online ever seek advice on how to respond to it.  This problem of standing by and watching rather than doing something about it is an obvious target of our attention and education efforts.  We like to use the phrase "stand up, don't stand by" when speaking to students about how they can actually get involved.

Returning to the original question about who is influencing the behavior of teens online, the respondents point first to parents followed by teachers as being influential sources of information on digital citizenship.  We are the people they look to above other sources to learn how to behave appropriately and for advice when they have negative experiences.

Here are some resources that can help guide those conversation: 
What has worked for you and your family?

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Learning with Laptops and Lanschool

Laptops in the hands of our student present an enormous array of opportunities for learning. They also present several significant challenges that we must work to overcome, especially for those of us who are relatively new to a one-to-one learning environment. There are several things that a teacher can do to maximize the potential for learning and minimize the challenges.

Always begin with the why. Why are students going to be using technology in this lesson? What is the learning?

These questions are the critical first step in defining what you use and how you use it. As you plan your instruction, consider how you're using the technology.  The SAMR model by Dr. Puentedura can help elucidate the different ways we can use technology in learning.

Spacing and Timing
The deployment of technology in time and space in a lesson can eliminate a lot of distraction and maximize the learning.

Time the technology so that it doesn't "compete" with other activities. Maybe that means starting with large group discussion and then breaking out into small group work with the laptops. The leave the laptops in the bag until they actually need them.

It's also important consider the spatial arrangement of the room. When students are working in groups, do the all need to be on their laptops or can you do three or four students to one computer. As Sugata Mitra points out, it can be really effective way to learn with a group of people around asking questions and giving encouragement to the person driving the computer.

A great post was written by Bianca Hewes on Edmodo about matching the physical arrangement to the learning goal in both online and offline learning activities. She advocates for three spaces, though I think you could easily come up with more: The Campfire - a place to learn from experts or storytellers. A place for whole-group discussions, The Watering Hole - a space for small group discourse and collaboration, The Cave - a space for individual study, reflection, quiet reading and creative flow.
Take care to arrange the physical space in your room and choose the right online environments depending on the type of interaction you're looking for.

This is a tool that you can use to accomplish a variety of tools in your class.    
Instant Polling
Share your screen
Share student screen
Blank screens
Control Web access
Control App access
Send/Receive files
Take over student computer
and more. 

There are great tutorials that show you all the features of LanSchool. 
A really important thing to keep in mind however is that there are significant issue with student privacy.  When they join your class, you potentially have access to their entire file structure and could take over control of their machine.  It pays to have a conversation with the students in advance of using LanSchool and to establish with them the "rules of engagement" for using this tool in the class.

How will you use LanSchool in your class?  How are you finding it? Please share by commenting on this post.

Show Me The Learning

The Digital Literacy Coaches have put together a site for today's Professional Learning day centred around ways we can demonstrate student and teacher learning.

Please click the link below to access the site.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Adding a Picasa Slideshow to Your Blog

To get started, make sure you have the iPhoto to Picasa Web Uploader installed.

1. Select the photos you would like to share from your iPhoto Library.

2. Click on File -> Export

3. Click on Picasa and make sure you have Better Quality selected.

4. Sign in to Picasa with your Google Apps account.


5. Click Allow access.

6. Fill in any more details (e.g. album name etc) and click Export.

7. Click on view to go to Picasa & see your album

8. Make sure your album is Public on the Web. Click on Link to this Album.

9. Click on Embed Slideshow

10. Select Large and copy the embed code in the box at the bottom.

11. Switch over to your blog and open the post you want to put the slideshow in. Create a post title, write your text, and don't forget to add some labels (Keywords).
To add the slideshow, click on the HTML button (top left).

12. Go to the end of the text, then Paste the embed code you copied earlier.

13. Click on Compose again, and you should see your slideshow embedded in your blog post. You can continue and publish from there.

iPhoto to Picasa

Picasa Web Albums Plug In

All teachers have a Picasa Web Album account with their gapps account. Go to and log in using your gapps email and password. 

To make it easier to upload photos to Picasa you can download a plug in for your iPhoto. Go to to download the plug in and follow the instructions:

1. Click on 'Download Now'
2. Accept and Install

3. Click 'Continue' 

4. Click 'Continue'
5. Click 'Continue'

6. Click 'Install' 
7. Add in your name and password

8. Click 'Close'
9. When you open iPhoto, go into your album, select photos to export, click Export (found in the file menu) and you will see the Picasa Web Uploader
For further instructions on how to add a Picasa Web Album to a blog click here  

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Blogging in the Infants

It is almost Blog time!

We are ready to take our blogs that were started previously and;
a) add in the school logo
b) add in a personalized header
(Thanks to Mandy and Sinead, in the communications department, for creating this template for us)

There are many steps to this process but most steps are quite easy.
Before you start, make sure you have downloaded the BloggerTemplate.xml file (see below this paragraph). It would also be helpful if you have a photo you would like in your header - something artistic, something that involves the school, something of your students etc

BloggerTemplate.xml file

Part A - Adding in the school logo

1. First things first, sign in to blogger:

2. Choose which of your blogs you would like to work on and at the top of the page and at this time switch back to the old blogger interface (it is circled below, it says 'switch back'):

Now you should be looking at a page that looks something like this:

3. Click on the word 'Design' that appears under your blog name:

4. Click on 'Edit HTML':

5. Click on 'Upload a template from a file' and when prompted choose the BloggerTemplate.xml file that you downloaded earlier:

I found mine in under lph/downloads:

6. After you have chosen the file simply click on 'Upload'. When prompted to keep widgets or discard them, choose to keep them:

7. Your changes will have been saved and you can now look at your blog:

Part B - Adding in a personalized header

a. Choose a photo you want in your iPhoto Library.

b. Duplicate it (by selecting D)

c. Click on edit & tick constrain

d. Choose custom and type in the dimensions 760 x 200

e. Crop your photo. It is now ready for the next stage of proceedings.

1. Click on 'Page Elements' at the top of the page and then click on 'Edit' found below the Header Image box:

2. Click on 'Choose File' and at the same time ensure that the 'Shrink to Fit' box is ticked:

3. Choose the photo from your photo library that you would like to appear at the top of your blog:

4. Click on 'Save':

5. Your changes should have now been saved and you can view your blog:

Hopefully your blog will now look something like this (with the school logo at the top and your photo under the school logo):

Remember to include a Post Title and some Labels (keywords) to help your post be found easily in the future.

Let us know if you have any questions and good luck with your first blog post!