Thursday, December 22, 2005

Little Bits of Blogging

Our student blog is underway! Pairs of students are taking turns writing a summary of our day and posting it on our class blogmeister blog.

We began last Thursday. We went into the computer lab and first we visited the Super Students Blog. It is an excellent 5th grade blog written by Ms. Sanborn's class at Willowdale Elementary. I wanted them to have good blogging role models. I don't know that in one visit my students absorbed those writers' effective strategies, but they were envious that Ms. Sanborn's class was working on a robotics unit.

Next I introduced Blogmeister. The class voted on which Blogmeister template they wanted for our blog. They chose the rainbow colored pattern with a peace sign logo. Next they helped me write the first entry. It was a bit tortuous writing it as a group, but they did help me revise it as we read back through it.

I explained to the class that we were writing for two different audiences. One audience was their classmates. If someone was absent, they could visit the blog to see what they had missed. The other audience was their parents. As I explained it to them...
None of you would ever do this, but SOME children go home and when asked by their parents what they did at school that day, they reply, "Nothing."
They clearly related to THAT experience.

Next we went back to the room and formed blogging teams. To my surprise, a number of students chose to be on a team of one, which means they will write alone on their day. To my delight, most of the children wanted to be the first to write to our blog.

Reading the first pairs' draft, I could clearly see that our first area of writing instruction needed to focus on fleshing out writing topics. Even Strunk and White would have to admit this writing was too lean. I had another student work with them to add more details.

The next day, students were approaching me on their own to ask permission to be the blog writer of the day. I hope that level of enthusiam continues.

Before our next session, I created a brainstorming template in Kidspiration, and another one in Appleworks. The children prefer the Kidspiration template, but I'm thinking it may be the most effective for the bloggers to receive a paper template that they carry with them the day they are in charge of writing the blog. They can add to it throughout the day. I'm envisioning a special blogger clipboard they could carry from class to class so that all their teachers would know they had permission to be taking notes.

It was a crazy time of year to tackle something new. We have class through Friday and the children are already giddy with Christmas excitement. However, it is proving a worthy distraction. And it was a gift to me to be blogging with children again.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

My ID...

When I first created this blog, I wasn't sure if I could include personal information that would identify my school because I wasn't sure how the student blogs would interact with it. To protect their personal information, I didn't share mine. I was also a bit leery of giving away personal information in the blogosphere; I hadn't any real feel for the potential consequences, so I erred on the side of caution.

Eventually it became clear that the student blogs would not be linked to this blog, so I turned on my profile, because bloggers I respected kept writing about how important it was to not be anonymous.

Then about a month ago I started another Blogger blog. It is an online newsletter for the parents of our students. It represents our entire grade level, not just me, so I didn't want my profile on the page-- that made it look like it was just mine. Unfortunately, the Blogger settings seemed to be an all-or-nothing type of thing in regards to profiles.

Finally, I poked around enough inside the blog template to remark the profile out of the parent blog. I tried this before and ran into trouble. However, it seems to be working for the moment, so I'm glad to no longer be anonymous on this blog. Thank you to Doug Johnson over at at The Blue Skunk Blog for nudging me into it.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Back to Blogging with Kids--Almost!

After all my deliberating about how to get student blogs approved, I may have come in through the back door.

The families of the students I teach are wanting more communication from school and are frustrated that some of their children are not yet using their plan books to write down all their assignments. To remedy these problems, I created assignment calendars in iCal and published them using my .Mac account. Then I created a team blog here in Blogger and made sidebar links to the calendars.

I introduced the blog and the calendars at our parent-teacher conferences last week. At that time, I mentioned to the families of my communications class, that we will start student blogs this fall. I explained the safeguards available in Blogmeister and our own blogging privacy policy. Families seemed interested and none seemed stressed at this point. However, I was not able to meet with all the families of the students in my communications class since we conference with our homerooms.

Thus far I've posted team news on the blog, but hopefully I'll be able to start having students first help me write and then take over writing a summary of our day. It feels good to be blogging on the job again.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Another Blog that Keeps Stretching Me

Today John Pederson challenges us to share a blogger we are reading who is challenging our thinking and worthy of a little more attention from the blogosphere.

One of my entries in this category is blog of proximal development. I don't hear it mentioned often, but it usually gives me good food for thought. The current post, Nit-Picking Criticism, focuses on the factors affecting students' reviews of each others' writing. It struck a real chord with me. He draws on the writings of Donald Graves to inform his practice and then extends it based on his own experience.

Give it a look.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The Joys of Percolating

At long last, I am once again full of ideas.
Not well-organized ideas, but ideas.

I have been home sick for the past day and a half. Not deathly ill, just too feverish to manage fifth grade students. It's been the first time I've had in months to just putter on my computer. I tended to all sorts of online loose ends. As I tidied, I had time to follow a few thoughts. One thing lead to another and BANG! Suddenly I was full of possibilities.

I began to see how to get my writing program in gear. I have a few good resources I'll use to keep me from creating everything from scratch. Some of those resources have good worksheets, but I'm the only one who sees worksheets. What if the responses were in some sort of forum where students could respond to each other's ideas, refine them, challenge them?

Hey wait! Doesn't Moodle have forums? Let's get Moodle going. But my students need email addresses to be part of Moodle and most of them don't have email addresses. But wait! I think I get thousands of free addresses with my web space. Can I create 50 accounts and use those to register my students in my Moodle? (brief pause) It works! And the students have no way of accessing those addresses so the addresses do not present a security problem in any way.

And couldn't these writing projects develop into Blogs? David Warlick has kindly sent me the info to register my class in BlogMeister. Can we start projects in Moodle and then move the polished ones to blogs for world consumption?

What about all the poetry we wrote earlier? Could we make a poetry wiki? It could have a section for each type of poetry, with accompanying pages of examples. Should each poem be its own page or should all the poems of one type be on the same page? Can we paste from Appleworks into a wiki or will hidden bits of code wreak havoc?

If only we had more access to the computers. If only we could quickly fix all the hinges on the eMates we received. Then we could use them...

And what about the email discussion group I manage? We've been having so much trouble making sure everyone has all of the addresses correct. During our current session, no one but me has received all of the responses because each person sending has a different person's email address wrong. We tried making the group a multi-user blog but this group isn't in a place for news readers and RSS feeds so it fell flat. We need something like a discussion forum or Yahoo groups, but something private and that is email-based, not web-based, something like a mailing list. A mailing list! I wonder if there is open source software to run a mailing list. Oh look! My web space has PHPlist that can be installed with Fantastico! And here's a PHPlist support forum so I can ask my newbie questions and rely on the kindness (and patience) of strangers to help me find my way. Now, how to migrate from email to mailing list without stressing my users... [Update: The kind forum users explained that PHPlist is only for sending mail, not receiving so it won't work. Fortunately, my web space host has Mailman mailing list software already configured.]

And so, I have quadrupled my to-do list but I feel energized by the possibilities and by my own new learning, instead of drained and overwhelmed as I've felt up until now. Now to carve out enough time to get these items rolling.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Wiki News Update

I still haven't figured out how I will integrate wikis into my current curriculum. However, the tools I can use keep getting better.

I heard from David Weekly yesterday. He's the founder of the elegant PBWiki. He says that as of last night, "we have bumped up pbwiki users' upload space to 10MB for free users and 1000MB for Premium users. We have no limit on the size or number of wiki pages." That is great news. They also added new features, including easy tables, the ability to preview changes before making them, and the ability to see who made changes to the wiki.

That last feature is a key one for me. Over the years, I've seen too many collaborative student tech projects vandalized or even destroyed by one anonymous user. If the students understand from the start that we can see who has made changes, those students will most likely seek other outlets for their destructive tendencies. Or, they may just get hold of someone else's password and log in as them. Hopefully their low level of tech skills will work to our advantage in this area.

I also heard from Adam over at Wikispaces. He told me...
We're free, we don't have any restrictions on the size of your spaces, the number of images you can upload, or the number of spaces you can have. We use creative commons licensing by default for public spaces, although you can change that if you like. We strive to be really easy to use for non-technical people. And we have a particular interest in wikis in education. We have a lot of teachers and students doing cool things on the site already.
I was thinking of using the wiki module in Moodle. The fine folks at Moodle are in transition from their current wiki module to DFWiki which looks to be powerful and well integrated with the other Moodle modules. However, I'm not yet using Moodle with my students; I am still going through the set up process with that, so I think I'll use one of these two stand alone wiki options and let David and Adam deal with the tech side of things for me.

From Angst to Action

I am full of angst.
I am working full-out, but not even remotely teaching the way I want to be teaching.

Re-entry into US public school teaching has been jarring and disheartening.
Be it real or imagined, I feel a crushing pressure to teach to the test, teach what is familiar to the parents of my students, teach the Prescribed Curriculum, leave No Child Behind.

And so that is what I'm doing with worksheets and textbooks. And my students buy into it [or not] in varying degrees. And we are all playing school, except that this is their real lives, real childhoods.

At some level, they sense that what we are doing isn't relevant to their lives. If their families place a high priority on school, they get some satisfaction from playing school well. Some days I am able to make what we are doing fun, engaging. That doesn't hide that this is an old, disjointed, largely irrelevant curriculum.

But at night, I read edublogs. Today Clarence Fisher over at Remote Access discusses three vital pieces that need to be in place to restructure our classrooms so that they meet the future needs of our students. As usual, he clearly and succinctly draws the essentials into focus.

Articles like Clarence's depress me because my practice is so far from what those bloggers are doing in their classrooms. They also give me the kick I need to get moving. Tonight I sent and e-mail to David Warlick requesting a pass code for Blog Meister so that I can begin to blog with my students.

Even the elation of that small step is tempered by exhaustion. Where will I find the time and energy to get this up and running? How will I inform families, build support AND use the blogs to empower my students through their writing?

I used to sling around the unattributed quote,
Anything worth doing, is worth doing poorly [rather than not at all].
I wonder if I can take my own advice.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Web 2.0 Clearly Explained

A few days ago I was stumbling around in my head, trying to get a handle Web 2.0. Then a friend sent me to the O'Reilly website to read Tim O'Reilly's article What is Web 2.0. Even if you are already familiar with the term, this easy to read article clearly lays out the paradigm shift inherent in moving from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0. Enjoy!

Friday, October 28, 2005

One More Person Who Thought Different

Quite a few years back, Apple Computer ran its "Think Different" campaign. I was fortunate enough to get posters of the campaign and they are still hanging in the classroom I taught in back them-- the current user refuses to give them back because they are such great posters.

The posters featured large, black and white photos of people who had thought differently from their contemporaries, such as Cesar Chavez, Picasso, Jim Henson, Einstein, and Amelia Earhart. In the corner of the poster was the Apple logo and the words "Think Different." Many times those posters served as segues to conversations about these people who changed the world through their unconventional thoughts and actions.

I am pleased to say that after all this time, Apple has returned to this format to include one more very important person. Even if you hate all things Mac, take the time to check it out on their home page. [Update: Apple moved it from their home page to here.]

Thursday, October 27, 2005

A Flickr of Wikis

I'm supposed to be contacting parents who haven't yet signed up for conferences.
I'm supposed to be looking over the pile of collected assignments.
I'm supposed to be repairing my dodgy gradebook.
But I'm not.

I was all ready to go to bed, too tired to dig into any of those projects. But first, I checked my Bloglines and read about that Alex Halavais' students are creating their own communications theory textbook. They are using a wiki as their collaborative space for this venture.

That got me thinking about the power of a learning community that is actively constructing knowledge. Which in turn lead me to my science lesson today. We are using the FOSS Landforms science kit. My students were crowded around stream tables for the second day. Yesterday they "discovered" erosion. Today, we added food coloring to the water source so they could more clearly see the water's movement through the earth materials. They observed lakes, rivers, waterfalls, flood plains, beaches and deltas being formed. They were entranced.

The concepts being taught here are more important than the terminology being introduced, but I'd love for them to acquire both. That lead me to visit Flickr. I found great photos of meander and plateau. It would be powerful for my class to make a wiki of landforms. But how to credit the sources? I explored the Creative Commons explanations page of the Flickr site, but I don't understand it. Is it possible to just search the Creative Commons photos? I didn't figure out a way to do that, but none of the photos I found had any of the Creative Commons marks besides them.

Next I went to Google Images and was immersed in visuals. How rich for my students to search for images of plateau. Scrolling through the search results is guaranteed to expand almost anyone's scheme of plateau. Just doing this will be helpful. How much more powerful if my students could use the most evocative of those images on a wiki page that explains that landform. But can I do it? If our wiki is just internal or only accessed by a password, can we use the images if we credit the photographer or the web page if the photographer isn't identified?

After that I looked at wiki's. I know Clarence Fisher is using PBWiki with his students. Free PBWiki's have a size limit of 1 MB. If we add photos, even photos scaled for the web, we will quickly exceed that limit. I have my own web space through BlueHost. I checked my control panel and found that I can easily install either TWiki or PhpWiki using Fantastico on my site. Poking around for reviews on the web, it looks like TWiki is going to be the easiest to use and the more aesthetically pleasing of the two. I'd love to hear from anyone who has experience with both-- should I go with PBWiki or try to run TWiki or Phpwiki on my own? I'd greatly value hearing from teachers with experience in this area.

And so, that's how it gets to be two hours later than when I started going to bed. I'm still awake. None of my work is done, and I really don't want to wake up early to do it. All I want to do is further explore these ideas.

Monday, October 24, 2005


We have new toys. A colleague noticed that his building was dumping their eMate computers. WE contacted the district Tech Department and they said we could have them. They arrived last Monday. As luck would have it, 1/2 of my communications class was at a reading coach inservice for most of the period on Tuesday, so the rest of us dug in.

Overall, I am very impressed with this tool. They are rugged. They charge quickly and run for hours on a charge. They come with a wonderful tutorial and with a practice program to get the users quickly up to speed. They have a built in word processor, drawing program and spreadsheet. The children are very excited to use them. I hope I can leverage that into some good writing.

Another wonderful aspect is that one of my students is already making himself the eMate Expert. This will be an opportunity for him to shine, as other students come to rely on him for assistance. I was wishing for just such an opportunity for him.

Of course, I receive this windfall and I immediately want more, including...
  • one eMate per student instead of just ten eMates total
  • an IR printer
  • an IR dongle-- we can download using a serial cable, but my students would absolutely love beaming their writing through the air to another computer.
That brings me to what I foresee as problems.
  1. The eMates can beam files to other eMates. I can see this being a very distracting activity as kids send messages back and forth. I need to figure out how to use this natural urge into a positive learning experience rather than something I try to control. (Any ideas, anyone?)
  2. I need to figure out how to assign the eMates to pairs of kids. I want to be able to be teaching mini-lessons to small groups while other groups are working on the eMates. The eMates are so easy to use, that this should work. However, I need to figure out which groups I have them in. Their spelling groups? Their as of yet uncreated reading groups? Behavior groups? I'll keep thinking about it.
  3. I need to figure out how to keep the eMates charged with only three over-used electrical outlets in the entire classroom. And of course, while they are charging, I'd prefer they not get walked on or otherwise broken.
  4. And speaking of broken, I just found out about a known defect in these nifty devices. The hinge spring bends and pokes a hole in the display cable, leading to all sorts of problems such as dead lines on the screen or the stylus no longer working. A number of kind people on the NewtonTalk discussion list sent me directions on how to head this problem off. It looks really complicated and time consuming. I feel intimidated now!
If these work, they could help us get to blogging. The old, broken down lab that is almost always available during my communications class, doesn't have enough computers. Having children work on their blog pieces from the classroom on eMates might ease the crunch. Or it might become too confusing. We'll have to see.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Flocking to Flock

I've been having trouble getting my brain around Web 2.0. Today, two things happened to clarify it for me. First, this morning I was listening to an podcast. Their guests were Stephen Downes and Will Richardson. As they discussed Web 2.0 I started to get the vision. It made me think about Steve Job's idea a few years ago of your Mac being "your digital hub". He was envisioning our Macs connected to the our cameras, our MP3 players, and such. To support that, came the iLife apps such as iPhoto, iMovie and iTunes.

Instead of being a hub for hardware, Web 2.0 is your digital hub for online life, such as your blogs, your feeds, your bookmarks and tags, your to-do lists, your photos. It will be the hub for not just your personal read/write web, but also your social one.

So then after listening to the podcast, what should I find in my e-mail box but notice that Flock is distributing a beta of it's Web 2.0 browser? They make no stability claims at this point, but take a moment to peruse this list of 13 things you can do with Flock. Amazing! I'm creating this post directly from it without even going to Blogger. It inspired me to finally get a account. With Flock's help, I can see myself seamlessly integrating many aspects of my digital life.

Flock probably isn't stable enough yet to be a student browser, but it will be. I can hardly wait to see where Web 2.0 takes us.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

An iTunes Wish

Apple made a number of interesting announcements this week and now I'm longing for a new iMac. However, Apple didn't announce the iTunes feature I really wanted to see; I want iTunes to filter incoming podcasts into playlists and upload them that way to my iPod.

The problem I'm having is that some of the podcasts I regularly listen to are actually snippets of things from the Australian Broadcasting Corp, or the BBC or NPR. These segments are typically only 3-8 minutes long. When I'm listening to these shows on my iPod, I don't want to keep stopping every few minutes to select a new show, so I've been organizing them into playlists, such as News and Tech and Education. However, that makes for lots of management on my part and requires me to actually remember what I've listened to and what I haven't.

It seems like this feature shouldn't be too difficult to add. My NetNewsWire Lite is able to manage my podcast subscriptions, and those subscriptions can be organized into folders. I'll have to play with the preferences to see if that program is smart enough to upload them in folders to iTunes. If it isn't, I'm hoping Apple will add that feature soon. Do any of you know of a program that already does this? Any developers out there looking for a new project?

Monday, October 10, 2005

Domain Trickery

Finally sat down to get my Moodle working. It was at this point I realized that the hosting service I was signing up with didn't include a domain. I never dreamed I needed to purchase a domain on top of the hosting fees.

I guess my ignorance is based on prior experience. My .Mac account includes a domain. My educational ISP includes a domain. In my experience, the domain has always been provided. I didn't expect it to be the domain of my choosing; I assumed it would be like my .Mac one. That domain is clearly part of .Mac based on its address. Unfortunately, neither of these sites appear to have what I need for hosting Moodle, and my ISP, Comcast, doesn't provide space.

And so, before I even have my site up and running I have learned to check that the hosting fee includes a domain. I have also learned to check that the host has Fantastico so that Moodle and other good things can be installed with a single click. Finally, I have learned to check to see what type of control panel is provided to help me manage the site. Some hosts have no central control panel. Others have well-organized one.

I'll let you know where I end up.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

iPod Bliss

I'm one of those lucky folks who was able to get a free iPod by purchasing an Apple laptop. I already had a wonderful old Archos Jukebox, so I didn't expect an iPod to be a big deal in my life.
I was wrong.

It isn't difficult to drag MP3 files onto and off of the Jukebox, but that process is much more cumbersome than just plugging in my iPod and letting iTunes sync up all the new podcasts and remove all the ones I've heard. My morning jog is now a delight as I decide if I'll listen to the latest Open Source show with Christopher Lydon, or maybe there is a new Educational Technologists Coast to Coast podcast waiting to challenge me, or maybe Bud Hunt has recorded another gem that will help me move closer to the constructivist curriculum that I long to have in my classroom.

The list of podcasts that I'm exploring goes on and on, and I'm loving every minute of it. Even cleaning the kitchen is less of a chore when I can pull the shows I want to listen to rather than being at the mercy of what the radio stations decide to broadcast at that time. This is especially true now that my local public radio station seems to play the same shows over and over throughout the day.

Listening while I jog and while working around the house would have been enough of an addiction, but then at Target I discovered that Timex produces a $20 radio that comes with an auxiliary cable that plugs into an mp3 player's headphone jack, allowing the MP3 files to be played through the radio's speakers. I realize that iPod accessories abound in stores, but many of the accessories cost more than the iPod. In contrast, this radio is so reasonably priced that I bought one for work. Now I can listen to my iPod there even though the district's web filters prevent me from downloading any podcasts onto my computer. The radio doesn't have the sound quality of the more expensive systems, but it's working just fine for listening to podcasts.

The only real problem with all of this comes from listening to Radio Willow Web. Hearing the high quality podcasts those elementary children put out makes me itch to be podcasting with my students. However, I should probably get them blogging first. And I should get my Moodle up and running, and...

Proof that Spam is Demonic?

I just started getting a pile of pseudo-comments/bot-generated advertisement messages to this blog. I've deleted them, but had to chuckle when I noticed that the very day those comments appeared, my counter of new visitors hit 666. Just a coincidence?

Thankfully, Blogger has added protection in the form of word verification. Hopefully that will greatly reduce this problem. Word verification is very easy to activate. In the settings pane of the Blogger Dashboard, go to the Comments section. Scroll down to the option that reads
Show word verification for comments?
Toggle the feature on, and there you have it. I thought I'd need to go to a fancier blogging tool to get this feature. It seems Blogger added it just in time for me, and no doubt countless others being plagued by bots.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Good News Abounds!

At long last, I have plenty of good news...
  • My missing savings from Malaysia is safely transferred to my US bank account.
  • I have a home (and only about 20 more boxes to unpack).
  • My new job is going well. I can tell this group of students will be intrigued and hopefully empowered by blogging.
  • I now have a year's worth of web space waiting for me to find the time to install Moodle on it. (A big thanks to Bud Hunt for his inspiring blog and podcasts, his patience with my barrage of questions, and his encouragement.)
  • My new laptop arrived today. I feel like I have wings.
Just about everything is new in this job. I'm amazed at the changes in public education and in my district over the four years I was overseas. New national tests, new state tests, new curriculum in almost every subject area. I'm still sorting through it all, so I can't dive into my online projects yet. However, just knowing that they are out there. I hope to have more to report soon.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Is Moodle the Answer?

Tomorrow I officially start my new teaching job. I'm back in the district I taught in before heading to Kuala Lumpur to work as a computer specialist in an international school. My new job is as a grade five classroom teacher. I enjoy fifth graders and look forward to having my own homeroom again. However, I am dearly missing the technology opportunities from my overseas job, which is why instead of reading curriculum manuals, I'm thinking about how to use technology to give my students more voice and choice in the curriculum. (Or more likely, it is BECAUSE I've been reading manuals that I'm looking for other options.)

Towards that end, I listened to another great podcast from Bud the Teacher. As usual, he challenged me to think further outside the box. This time he discussed Moodle. I've been staring at the Moodle web site and thinking it would meet my needs. It is an object-oriented environment with great components, such discussion groups, places to share documents, Hot Potato quizzes and other Good Things. Now I need to figure out where to host it and how to install it.

To host it, I have a .Mac account, web space at my ISP (TIES), or possibly our school web server. I don't know if the data transfer limit on the .Mac account would be a problem, or if the ISP space or school space are true options. TIES hasn't replied to the questions I emailed to them, and I don't know enough about what is involved to ask intelligent questions of someone in the district tech department. Ideally, this would be something the building tech aide and I can do on our own, because the overworked district tech department doesn't have the time to help me with this.

Once I find a place to host it, I can't tell if this is something I can realistically do myself. From the Moodle website it looks like I need to install SQL, but I have so little knowledge I can't tell if I need an SQL server (is there such a best?) or if SQL installs onto a server with a different OS, such as Linux. And since I have no knowledge of SQL, I don't know if I can realistically install and manage the software. I'd love to learn SQL-- it is on my to-do list for next summer. Until then, I need to focus on new job and on unpacking more of the mountains of boxes in the garage and the basement etc..

I did spend time playing around in Nicenet again. It is still and option. I could make each student their own course within my Nicenet account. That would allow for private conferences between the students and myself. We could also have a class space where they could talk with each other. I haven't gotten my brain around that latter option, but I know it has potential. However, I suspect my new principal would rather I get back to reading manuals rather than indulging in this lovely mental field trip, so I must get back to work.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Looking for Private Messaging System

I've been at district inservices and am feeling lucky that our Staff development people are so skilled. However, skilled or not, I'm a bit overwhelmed as I walk into so many curriculums that are new to me. Part of the overwhelmed feeling comes from seeing so little space for children's voice and choice within these mandated, packaged programs. Every moment of the day is involved in preselected activities. No chance to choose their own books or discuss what interested them; there's only time for what the publishers say they should be discussing to ensure they develop the six comprehension strategies and 500 skills assigned to grade five).

In any case, student blogs are feeling all the more essential to me, and all the more out of reach. I'm a strong proponent of Anything worth doing, is worth doing poorly (rather than not at all). So this waiting until I have it all figured out, all presented to district admin, and all approved, is frustrating. I'd so much rather be working on that than figuring out how to use the 18 different manuals and worksheet books that go with the new language arts series.

I'm wishing for an in-between solution. I want a secure way to correspond with my students, hear their thoughts and ideas. I don't want to be slogging around notebooks and hand writing responses. I don't want them to need to make it perfectly edited because there is an outside audience. I do want a real reason for them to be writing, forming their ideas, expressing their thoughts. I think that at least initially, getting to know the new teacher would be motivation enough.

Email would be a good solution if students had accounts, but in our district, they do not.

One option might be Moodle. They have a large web site with lots of information, but none of it makes clear if it would work well for this and if I truly could get it to work on my .Mac space or my TIES web space (TIES is my ISP). I contacted the TIES helpfulness with the info from Moodle, but TIES has not yet replied, and I'm not sure they will. In any case, this fall is NOT a good time for me to dive into my first SQL experiences.

I could use Nicenet, but they could reach each other's posts, which might get in the way of students speaking their minds. I seem to remember we could send private notes within Nicenet. I'll check that out.

In the mean time, I'd love to hear of other ways to fill this gap. Please share them with me.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Which Software?

Clarence Fisher over at Remote Access is gearing up for his new year and pushing himself to pursue new goals, one of which involves getting started with student blogging right from the start of the year. I was interest to see he is in the process of deciding whether to use Blogger, Blogmeister or; I am trying to make that very decision. I finally was able to turn on my classroom computer, a Mac cube. I discovered it is running OS 9.2. I'm hoping that alone doesn't limit my choices. I am eager to read what Clarence chooses.

As far as I can tell, no one was blogging with students at the elementary level in my district last year, so there is no precedent for me to follow. I want to do this right so that blogging can flourish and enrich the curriculum. My fear is that I won't present it well enough, or parents will be too worried or a bad comment will cause the district to possibly ban all blogging. Not sure I feel worthy of this charge.

As mentioned before, I plan to start with a class blog, but I don't know if I get to start it day one. I discovered all the classrooms have a T.V. with a VCR and a DVD player attached to the wall. The classroom computer has the driver to run a device that should let me connect the Mac to the TV, which would be great for getting the class blog started. I've added questions about that to the long list of questions I have for our school media specialist when I meet her.

I tried to contact Ms. Sanborn, a grade 5 teacher at Willowdale Elementary because she has just the type of blog I am hoping to create. Unfortunately, the email address on her site did not work. Just as at the start of this very blog, I feel in the need of mentors.

I hope that later in the year, students will have their own blogs. I am chaffing at the bit to start them, but I am too new to this curriculum and this team to dive in with that right off the bat. As mentioned above, I need to do this right.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Living with Boxes, But Thinking About Blogs

Finally sort of settled despite the mounds of unpacked boxes. We have a broadband connection and access to a computer, so naturally my thoughts are turning to blogging.

In the forefront is whether or not I will be able to blog with my students this year. I've had tantalizing invitations from teachers in Canada, Malaysia and Singapore to connect into their student blogging projects. I want to leap in and say, "Yes!" to all of them, but first I need to find out what this district's policy is on student blogs-- and I need to figure out how to ask in a way that doesn't create roadblocks.

I also need to find out much more about my team's curriculum. From what my new team mate sent to me via e-mail, my almost entire day is spent teaming, and none of the groups are the same kids. That means my math group is a different collection of kids from my language arts group, and then the science group is probably in home rooms. Possibly I can tie it in with one of the departmentalized classes I will be teaching if there is access to the computer lab during that time slot. With the NCLB testing now being computerized, I've heard that there will be less access to the labs this year.

At this point, since I hate the thought of no blogging at all, and realistically individual student blogs probably couldn't take place until much later in the year, I may try to have a daily class blog much like Ms. Sanborn's class blog at Willowdale Elementary. The purposes would include the following
  • to introduce the students (and the building?) to blogging
  • to build in a reflective component into each day
  • to provide timely information to families
  • to help us to document our year together
  • to inform absent students about what they missed
I need to start thinking about what this would entail. I'd love to hear words of advice from other bloggers who've done this type of blogging with elementary students. I dearly wish I could buy a digital camera for class use with the blog. Maybe someday my money from Malaysia will finally arrive so I can do that!

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

New Country, No Computer

Just a quick note to explain a further absence.
I'm back in the USA, but the computer a friend was going to lend me died.

More distressing, the Malaysian government and my bank in Malaysia are still trying to figure out where all my savings went, since the government says they wired it into my bank account and the bank says they never saw it. Until THAT is resolved, I won't be buying a new computer or a new anything else, for that matter.

Therefore, this blog will remain inactive for a while longer. I'm hoping for a speedy and positive resolution to all the aforementioned problems.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

More to Come...

So many ideas of what I want to blog, such as what the students had to say about blogging in their final posts, suggestions for next year, connections we are making with other teachers for blogging projects next year, etc.

However, I'm packing for my move to the other side of the planet, and have guests visiting for the next two weeks. We are taking them to Bali and Cambodia. When they leave, I have four days to pack out and leave, so this blog is probably off line until early July, unless I get stalled at an airport with free internet on my 34 hour journey.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

A Small Bloglines Victory

After half a month of periodic putzing, I have finally figured out the correct way to export someone's shared subscriptions from Bloglines and import them into my desktop RSS reader.

The quest began when I wanted to grab Will Richard's Blogline of Edublog subscriptions. I was having fun exploring them through Will's shared Blogline, but since it wasn't my Blogline, I couldn't easily tell what I had and had not read.

The first problem arose when I clicked the Export Subscriptions at the end of the list of blogs. A bunch of source code appeared in the right frame on the screen. It was impressive to look at, and with my limited HTML coding background I could read it, see the subscription in the code, but I couldn't get it into my RSS reader.

I eventually figured I needed to use my browser's Save Page command to grab the file. However, I couldn't tell which file format to use, Web Page Complete, Web Page HTML file only, or text file. It began to feel like those tedious permutations problems from high school. "If there are three possible saving formats and four possible suffixes to end them with, how many different files is it possible to save? Will any of them actually be readable by NetNewsWire Lite?"

I tried lots of combinations of save options and suffixes, but never managed to find one that didn't produce a parse error having to do with the XML flat file. Go figure.

Today I finally got it right. I discovered that you save the subscriptions as Web Page Complete. That downloads a folder containing the following three objects:
  • public_display.xml
  • a folder titled public_subs_data
  • public_subs.html
Next from inside my RSS reader, I imported the public_display.xml file. That did the trick. However, I was surprised to discover that not all of the blogs listed on Will's Blogline were in the list of imported subscriptions. A bit of list comparing lead me to understand that the RSS reader was smart enough to not re-import blogs to which I already subscribed. Very handy.

Soon I'll be switching from my school laptop to a laptop generously loaned to me by a friend until I can get back to the US and buy a computer of my own. I appreciate how easy it is to export my RSS subscriptions from NetNewsWire and import them onto a different machine. Now that I have this blog-reading habit, I don't want to go without my daily blogfix.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Do Blogs Die or Just Fade Away?

Like so many teachers before us, Tammy and I now need to decide what happens to the blogs at the end of the year. Since this is not a Blogmeister account, there is no technical reason why the blogs must come to an end. And yet, we feel some responsibility to oversee these relatively young children who are exposed to the world through their blogs.

Tammy and I have decided to send a note home to the families, we will ask them to return a form indicating whether they are now going to assume responsibility for the blog or if it should be deleted at the end of the school year.

Part of me is sad at the thought of the blogs going away, both because of what we learned from them and from the community they built. I'd also like for them to stay available so that I could have my own students look at them next year before they start blogging, IF they start blogging.

Best of all would be if the students continued writing. Then I'd have a window into their lives as they moved on to middle school. I would like to see how the blogs changed away from teacher guidance and six-trait lessons. Would they degenerate into journals or would they continue to be a place where the students crafted their writing? I suspect the former rather than the latter.

And selfishly, having the blogs continue on would give me one more connection back to Malaysia when I'm trudging through the cold, dark days of Minnesota. Blogs-- stretching around the globe, keeping people connected. Gotta like that!

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Making Chocolate Box Comments

It seems almost every day I find another reason to be delighted with our blogs. Today, my delight is in easy connections made between students who are 9000 miles apart and have only met via blogs.

Our student guests from the USA and from other classes in our school have left another spate of comments and all of us at this end are savoring them. Popping open each comment box is much like biting into a bon bon from a box of mixed chocolate; we aren't sure what's going to be in there, but chances are we'll like it. (Thank you, Forrest Gump.)

Some of what we are liking includes...
  • Kids finding common ground discussing topics such as what to do during a power outage, the experience of learning to ride a bike, or the problem of siblings who are bullies.
  • A fifth grader in the USA who played the part of Prospero last year in his class production of The Tempest connecting with the two student bloggers who are sharing the part in their class production this spring.
  • Other students with 6-trait writing experience making comments about the bloggers' word choice or lead sentences.
What strikes me about this list, is how often the word or idea of experiences is mentioned. I can't think of another place in our curriculum where student's ideas and experiences are so central to the action. That realization is both exciting and worrying.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Another Fine Resource: Responsible Blogging Lesson Plan

Ownership and commitment. Every year as a classroom teacher I struggled to find a way for students to develop the class rules and to have ownership in them. I have many colleagues who succeeded at this, but I have never gotten it right. Some years the process dragged on forever with the kids wanting to prescribe specific punishments for each type of infraction. Other years, they wanted to have 15 rules which were too many to keep track of. Other years, they went through the motions but never bought into the process or the rules.

Therefore, I was interested to find Steve's blog. He uses a class blog and now group blogs as part of his grade 9 World History course. As a late-comer to his blog, I finally took the time to read the earlier posts and came across this gem of a lesson in which the class develops their Acceptable Blog Use policy.

I hope he publishes a later post reflecting on how the process worked. Even more, I wish I could observe the process in action, see how he balances the need to have certain guidelines in the policy, with the need for students to feel ownership. How long does he let the conversation continue? How much of the synthesizing is done by him?

I suspect the process will go very well for a number of reasons. Rather than starting from scratch, he has presented his students with a packet of readings, including the Blog Policy and Student Blogging Handbook from Bud's wiki. Another reason for potential success is his use of the fishbowl or Socratic Seminar technique. Students keep changing roles so I suspect they remain actively engaged for a longer period of time.

I'd like to adapt his lesson plan. Or maybe it doesn't need adapting-- the readings are at a reasonable level for grade 5 students. Add this to my growing list of resources I plan to use next year when I'm blogging in a different country with different students.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Wiki's to the Rescue!

I originally started this blog to learn how to blog so I could use the skill with my students. However, as I moved deeper into figuring out the nuts and bolts of blogging with elementary children, I grew frustrated that I had so little access to the wisdom and files of other teachers who are blogging with children.

To that end, I decided to blog the experience of blogging with children in hopes that someone else who is trying to get started can learn from my successes and struggles rather than creating everything themselves from scratch. As such, it has only been partially successful. I have been able to share what we are learning, and the tools we are using, but not the documents we have created -- until now.

Bud has created a Blogging Policies and Resources Wiki that provides a repository for blog policy documents such as AUPs, student guidelines and other useful materials. However, since this is a wiki, it is more than just a storage place. It is also allowing us to tap the collective wisdom of other teachers. Anyone who drops by is able to comment and edit the documents online. I invite and encourage you to stop by and use your wisdom to help us craft useful resources.

The Challenge of Parent Comments

Tammy sent home a note telling families how to access the blogs. Now a few of the moms have visited and left comments for their children. Some comments are supportive. Some are less so.

I have worried that our children might receive inappropriate comments from a child in the class writing anonymously, or from someone outside of our community. Anne dealt with this issue elegantly in March. Her discussion with her bloggers puts action to Will's convictions about the need to teach our students how to use these technologies appropriately rather than just blocking their access to technologies that they are already using. .

Now I'm realizing that either of those culprits would be easier to deal with than inappropriate comments from a parent or sibling. We didn't give our families any comment guidelines; we need a letter that shows families constructive ways to respond to their child's blog. It's difficult for parents to act as partners when we don't bring them along with us.

I don't think we should send out a letter now with so little time left in the year. Hopefully we get through this blog project without problem, and we can create the letter for next year.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Blog Envy

Blog envy has struck!
Today I shared the blogs with one of our fifth grade classes. As they perused the blogs and left comments, their desire to have blogs of their own was palpable.

Before they visited the blogs, I explained that this was a trial program. I was only working with one class because I needed to figure out how to make it work with a small group before I could try it with an entire grade level. They seemed to accept that, until they started reading the blogs. The usually noisy room was silent as kids immersed themselves in the blogs. Then numerous kids asked me, "Why can't WE do this?"

I almost laughed out loud when the first one asked. The instant response in my head was, "Because there are only 14 days left of school and it took us that long to get all the permission forms back from the first class." Fortunately, none of those words came out of my mouth. Instead I hope I was sympathetic.

I had been debating whether or not to share the blogs with the other fifth grade classes. On one hand, I wanted them to see our type of blogs before they stumbled upon the Xanga type -- good for them to have a broader blog scheme. I also thought our bloggers would enjoy having kids here at school leave them comments.

On the other hand, I didn't want to encourage unsupervised comments, since we've had problems with inappropriate chat room behavior carrying over into school. Supervised comment sessions would have given us a place to teach appropriate use, but with the classes so busy with end of the year projects, I was afraid we'd be opening a door and then sending them through to wander around unsupervised. I hope my lesson was enough to keep them from the dark side.

Before they started reading the blogs, I discussed the types of comments we were looking to have posted. I also strongly suggested they let me help them edit it since there was no spell checker and what they wrote would be on the internet where anyone could read it.

I don't know if they put more thought into their comments since they knew there was a real audience, or if this group is skilled at making connections to texts as a result of their book clubs. Whatever the reason, their comments sounded genuine. They connected easily with the blogs and I had to all but drag them out of the lab at the end of class. The next class was waiting outside but these kids wouldn't log out. Maybe it was part of the blog envy-- leaving comments was the next best thing to having a blog of their own.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Still Climbing the Steep Learning Curve

Last night, yet another learning experience arose in which the adults learned far more than the children are probably learning from this experience. At some point, that will alarm me, but not yet.

It all began so simply. Our administrator was kind enough to drop into the blogs and leave lengthy, humorous comments. The problem arose when she signed it only as "a faculty member at ___" and listed the name of our school.

She was having a great time, and knew the children would have fun trying to figure out who had left the messages. Because we are all so new to blogging, we did not immediately spot two potential problems that Tammy and I eventually identified.
  1. She had listed the name of our school, which is something we had taught our students that they may not do for safety reasons.
  2. She had posted anonymously from within the school.
Our guests will need to use the anonymous option to leave their comments, since they do not have Blogger accounts, but we have asked them to sign their first names and the country they are writing from. We have asked our students to sign in before leaving comments because they should proudly own their words and be identified as the authors of them. We do not want them leaving unsigned comments for each other-- we've all had too much experience over the years of note passing gone bad and damaging the community rather than building it. We had no desire to replicate those problems here.

Once Tammy spoke with her, our administrator was worried about her comments. At that point we discovered that if you leave an anonymous comment, you cannot go back in and edit or delete it. Fortunately, since we have the students' passwords, we are able to go, copy the comment, publish it as new comment sans the troublesome moniker, and delete the original. Luckily, our administrator only had time to leave 5 comments, and our students won't be blogging again until tomorrow.

We've further learned that we need to go in and set all the blogs to e-mail the comments to Tammy as they are posted. She won't get them first and be able to prevent them from being posted, as she could with BlogMeister, but at least she will have a quick heads up in case any other problem comments are posted. -- We'd planned on doing that we when set them up, but somehow it didn't happen. As I said at the start, it was yet another learning experience for us.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

The Guests Have Arrived

A few guests have visited the student blogs.

Our first guest was Ms. Rosa, our school librarian. She has gone in and left a few comments. She plans to add more as time permits. Her comments have a special richness because she knows the authors and is able to make personal comments. I suspect the students will be surprised and honored to discover that other people in our school are reading their blogs.

Our second guests are bloggers themselves. Mr. Gordon Brune's fourth grade students have NewsBlogs. They dropped in and left a few comments. I was touched by how many of them asked if we were affected by the tsunami. I guess one moderately good thing to come out of the tsunami is that now when people here about this part of the world, they think tsunami rather than "breeding ground for terrorists" which was the focus of so many western news stories in the past.

I have added the NewsBlogs link to our Schoolnotes page so our students can go in and leave comments for those bloggers. I hope we don't run into technical difficulties. So many blog sites require the person leaving the comment to include an email address. Our students don't have school email addresses, and when they tried to all use mine, the blog system caught on and after a few minutes, did not allow any more comments to be posted. It must be an anti-spam system, which I can understand. However, it is getting in the way of legitimate comments.

I think a better option is those codes that appear on the page that must be typed into a special box. I wonder how those are added to a page. I can see a real need for them. Thus far we have been lucky and no spammers have infected our blogs, but it is probably just a matter of time.

For now, rather than anticipating that problem, I will anticipate the delight of our bloggers when they log in Wednesday and see comments from the outside world. A big thanks to all our legitimate guests for giving our students a real audience. We appreciate your time and your thoughts.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

A Potential Spell Checker for Comment Boxes

One of the reasons we chose to use Blogger for our blogs is its toolbar. The toolbar is very similar to the toolbar on the word processor we use in class. As a result, our students needed very little assistance to use the formatting tools to format their blogs, as their multi-colored posts so clearly demonstrate.

Another reason we chose Blogger was for its spell checker. Most of our students have spelling that is standard enough that the spell checker is able to identify the word they are trying to spell. Unfortunately, the spell checker is only available when drafting posts; it is not available when composing comments, as our students' comments so clearly show.

Today I learned about Spellbound, an open source spell checker for Firefox that allows you to spell check forms such as message board posts, blog entries and other web page text boxes. I downloaded the extension and installed it. However, when I tried to use it to check a blog comment, it gave me an error message about not being able to find it's dictionary. I was unable to resolve the problem, but I suspect the cause was that I had just downloaded the newest version of Firefox (v 1.0.4) and Spellbound has not yet been updated to be compatible. We have not yet updated Firefox at school, so I'll give Spellbound a try there.

A Few Settings Changes

Just made a few changes to the students' blog settings. One change was to allow the comments to appear in a pop up window. Sometimes our connection gets slow in the afternoon. This should make for faster browsing. Hopefully our guests' pop-up blockers won't interfere.

Another change was to change the Blogger comment setting for showing profile images on comments. I turned that feature off since only I have an image on my profile and we don't need the images taking up viewing space.

We'll monitor these changes for a few days to see if they bring about the desired improvements without creating new problems.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

New Languages for Digital Natives

Yesterday I wrote about the students' first comments on each others' blogs. What I didn't mention was that many of the comments were written following the conventions commonly used in chat rooms, text messages and instant messages, full of abbreviations and slang.

My first reaction was a desire to stamp it out. One of our intended purposes of this blogging project is to help the students improve their writing. We already hear the middle school teachers bemoaning the fact that they receive research reports that read like a chat message (e.g. Did u know tigers are *really* kool?)

My second reaction was an attempt to be more broad-minded. The intended audience of their comments uses and appreciates IM English-- some of them seem more comfortable reading it than reading standard English. Therefore, wasn't it most appropriate for them to use it when writing to that particular audience?

This morning, I spoke with Tammy about it this dilemma. She'd already had the same two reactions when she read their comments, and she'd already arrived at a decision. She told her class there was to be no more chat language-- standard English was expected in their posts and their comments.

The students were outraged! These were their comments! That was how they wrote! It was their language, their right to comment in that way!

Nope. Many of these kids are already multi-lingual, speaking one language at home, English at school, this other form of English when online. It is time to further broaden their skills and insist that in these blogs, whether they are posting or commenting, they are to craft their writing using the conventions of standard English.

Recognizing when to use the different forms of English, and being able to move smoothly between the different forms is all part of becoming an effective communicator. It will be interesting to see if they accept the challenge of developing this new voice, or if it diminishes their delight in commenting on blogs.

Initial signs are positive; the bloggers returned to the computer lab this afternoon and their work on their new posts was more intense than ever. I am amazed at what they are accomplishing each session. And we have signs that numerous kids are logging in from home to continue working on their drafts. A few have even gone in to better edit their already published posts. Voluntary editing in grade five? Amazing!

Answers from Experts

Will Richardson responded to my RSS reader woes and suggested I check out Bloglines. I'd visited it before when following links at his Weblogg-ed site but hadn't spent time figuring out how it works. It is a great tool for teachers who need to track student blogs. What I like most about it is...
  1. I can share my feeds, so the entire class can use my Blogline as the access point to each other's blogs, saving me from having to set up a Schoolnotes page or some other portal.
  2. It will import OPML files.
  3. It displays the student text in the colors they wrote it.
  4. It has a clip feature that allows you to clip and store parts of the blogs you are reading.
  5. Being online, the unread posts markings should be accurate even if I sometimes access it from home and other times access it from school.
I haven't played around much with the other features, but a quick look has me thinking it can also be a blog hosting site, but I might be wrong about that.

I only see two drawback to using Bloglines to track student blogs. One was that I couldn't find a way to export the feeds as an OPML file, so if Bloglines should lose my feeds, I'd need to re-enter all my subscriptions. The other is that I didn't see a way to leave comments in students' blogs from within Bloglines or to see which blogs have had comments left on them.

I sent the info to Tammy and Jabiz so that they can give it a try in anticipation of next year's blogs.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Comments on Comments

The students began commenting on each other's blogs today, and it was a joyful experience.

They poured over them and our usually quiet blog session was suddenly punctuated with shouts of, "Hey! I'm reading your blog right now," or "This is so cool!" Their comments spilled out into the pages.

We'd set the guidelines that comments should focus on what was written or how it was written. As we explained it, they had worked hard on these posts and deserved thoughtful comments.

For the comments regarding what was written, we likened it to their book club strategy of making text-to-self, text-to-text, or text-to-world connections. A number of students followed through on this. For example, when responding to one student's post about how much she disliked wearing a school uniform, another student wrote...
I agree that it's not that maybe it's alittle boring to wear that same kind of cloth every day! But it's good, too. because in Sweden, where I come from, people got teased because they wore something ugly, etc. But of course I agree to you!

Another student responding to a post on go-carts, commented that...
I need those tips so thanks! I thought it was a real awesome blog! What are apexes? And although it rocked mabey you could tell people where you can go to go - kart. Other wise it was awesome!

Another student took literally the idea of commenting on how the blog was written. She made the accurate observation that...
...maybe you should change the yellow writing into a different color because it really hard to read.

Another type of comment that appeared quite frequently made reference to their personal connections outside of the blog. For example, the class is preparing to perform an adaptation of Shakespeare's MidSummer Night's Dream. When responding to a post about the blogger's dog, one student wrote...
... it must be very sad losing your dogs, but you are always happy. Good job being Prospero!!

A final type of comments made by the students really has me thinking. One of the quieter students went in and left friendly little comments in many of the blogs. Here is an example...
I can't help commenting your blog!!!! Happy B-day!!!! I love chocolates too!
I'm going to watch to see if she gets responses. I wonder if they will go to her blog to comment, or leave a message in their own blog, or if the messages will go unremarked upon. I'm willing them to respond to her.

Overall, the students were very equitable in their commenting. Many of them started at the top and responded to every child's blog, even if they had nothing to say about it. At first this distressed me a bit, but as I read on, I realized that what the "say nothing" posts were really saying was...
I heard you! You sent your ideas out into the world, and I heard them. You are part of our blogging community.

Wow! How could I have thought they weren't saying anything when they were really saying something as powerful, as validating as that?

[Correction: Kent's class is performing "MidSummer Night's Dream". Prospero is from "The Tempest" which is the play Tammy's class is performing.]

Monday, May 09, 2005

RSS Feed Frustrations

I'm struggling to find the best solution for reading and keeping track of student blog posts. What are other teachers using? Are they using an RSS reader? Which one?

I wrote earlier about my research and test runs of different RSS readers for Mac OS 10.3. I had settled on Ensemble, but then it quit working, always crashing as it would load the feeds. I did all sorts of make fixes, such as dumping preferences, repairing permissions, validating the feeds, deleting and reinstalling the program. Nothing fixed it.

Next I tried RSS Owl. I was very impressed with it. I liked its built in browser that let me see the actual post with its colorful template and comments link. The former lets me see how students are using color, better communicating their message to me. The later would make it easier for me to keep track of comments the students received. Unfortunately, when I updated to 10.3.9 it quit working. There is no mention at the Sourceforge website of other people having this problem, so maybe it is just my computer. I contacted the help forum and kind techies replied, but I am not adept enough at using the terminal to understand the suggestions they gave.

With the owl's demise, I imported all the feeds into my NetNewsWire Lite. It is handling them just fine, but doesn't let me see if anyone has commented, unless I double click and actually open the blog in my web browser.

I have just installed RSS Menu. It is a little RSS reader that sits up in the menu bar. One nifty feature is that if I hover over a particular post tile, a small window, similar to balloon help, pops up to show me the text of the actual post.

I'll play around with both and see which ends up being the most useful for tracking student blogs and comments.

The Students Find Their Groove-- and the teachers lose theirs

Friday was a day of intense blog activity. As is typical with any class, the longer an activity runs, the more spread out the students become in terms of project completion. We now have some students publishing their third post and some students who are not yet done with their first. They all want to conference, are all in our faces saying, "Please check mine so I can publish." Tammy and I met after school to discuss this frustration.

To resolve this bottleneck, we are going to establish the following flow chart.
  1. Write this week's blog posting.
  2. Make revisions.
  3. Run spell check and edit your posting
  4. Have someone else read it. Make needed changes.
  5. Conference with a teacher. Make needed changes.
  6. Final conference with teacher. Publish.
  7. Spend time reading and commenting on other students' blogs.
  8. Start your next posting. Teachers will not conference with you until everyone has posted this week's blog (unless the teacher has free time).
We will start our next session with a discussion about comments. They may give two types of comments. One type is to respond to what the person wrote. For example, one student wrote about go-carts. That is a topic I don't know much about, so I had real questions to ask him. Another type of feedback is about how they wrote it. The J.H.H. Bloggers are skilled at this, and some of the comments our students left for them were genuine and constructive. We'd like to build on that. I'll try to pull some of their examples to have on hand.

Hopefully, the comments will be motivating and helpful to the bloggers, and they should buy the teachers a bit of breathing space to meet with the students who most need to conference.

We're Baaaack!

What bad timing! We invite two classrooms and 50 teachers to view and comment on our blogs, and then, at least from here in S.E. Asia, Blogger and Google were unreachable all weekend. Maybe our guests from other countries weren't experiencing those problems. We can only hope...

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Next on the List

Despite our progress on this blogging project, our to-do list is still growing...

  • Ensemble is being quirky. It opens and starts its downloads, and then crashes. I'll try dumping the preferences and repairing permissions on this computer AGAIN.
  • Jabiz still needs to insert the sidebar of blog addresses into each blog's template. This will make it easy for our bloggers and our visitors to navigate between the blogs.
  • I need to invite our student and teacher guests to start visiting our blogs.
  • I want to research Trackback. I'm not certain how it works and if it would be of value in this exercise.
  • We need to give the students time and guidelines for comment on each other's blogs. We also need to share that information with our student guests.
We'll get there. I just hope we arrive before the end of the year.

Signs of Progress

Signs of progress are springing up everywhere...

1. We now have a Schoolnotes page set up as a front page to our blogs. We can send that address to our student participants and to the group of teachers who have volunteered to spend 15 minutes per month responding to student blogs.

2. Tammy and I are almost done with the blog rubric. We are drawing heavily on the 6-Traits indicators.

3. Ms. Su has gone in and changed the settings on each blog so that they will accept comments from anyone -- this is a necessary setting to permit our unregistered but invited guests to leave comments.

4. Most of our students are close to publishing their first post. A handful have already posted, and a couple are almost ready to publish their second post.

5. Most important of all, when I walked into Tammy's room yesterday to set up an RSS reader on her computer and import the students' site feeds, a number of her students cheered and said, "We get to go blog today!"

These definite signs are progress are bringing me some peace of mind as I try to juggle school responsibilities with planning an intercontinental, 9000 mile move. Seeing the students' excitement is giving all three of us ideas for how to use blogs with our new classes next year.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Soggy Blogger Heads for the Islands

Our student bloggers were off on a special event, and I am still dealing with plumbers who aren't dealing with my soggy bathroom, so I've been off my blog for a few days.

And now I'm heading for Tioman Island, the lovely spot where "South Pacific" was filmed, for a few days of snorkeling and being a beach bum. With that to look forward to, the fact that my bathroom, like Venice, is sinking into a canal, is much less distressing.
Bali Ha'i will whisper on the wind of the sea
Here am I your special island
Come to me...Come to me...

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

They've Blogged!

It's happened.
Three of our students have blogged!
The rest are writing away, most with great seriousness of purpose.
I am delighted with the variety of topics being addressed, the care they are taking with their writing, and their willingness to conference.

Tammy, Jabiz and I were all conferencing with students in the lab today, so I haven't personally seen all of the blogs in progress. A few of the topics are Canada, being an artist, go-carts, video games, horses, and imaginary friends.

I am finding that the pieces are so genuine that it is easy to respond to the content; natural questions arise as I read and we discuss them. Those discussions are often leading to revisions by the students, but it feels different from other writing conferences. My perception is that the students are making the changes because they truly want to communicate with their readers, are caring to be understood. They are not revising merely because it will give them a higher score or because they think it is required. If these blogs accomplish nothing more than this, I consider them a success.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Koi Pond Blogging Dilemma

Big plans for my prep time today. I wanted to finish the blogging rubric, set up newsreader on Tammy's computer, and do a bunch of work for the rest of my job (--What? This blogging project isn't my entire job?)

However, water is pushing up between the tiles of the bathroom floor here in my apartment. The pools will soon be deep enough for me to add a few koi which would certainly keep the cats entertained -- or frustrated since they themselves wouldn't want to go into the water to get them.

And so, I am home rearranging before the plumbers start hacking out the walls and floor to locate the leak. Maybe I'll get a bunch sorted and packed by the end of the day in preparation for my move back to the USA this summer. Anything sealed up in a box should be safe from the layers of plaster dust that will soon coat everything in sight. Hmmm... getting started on packing would be a huge step forward. Back to it!

Monday, April 25, 2005

Those Blogging Beginners!

This morning, Tammy taught a lesson on ideas. She worked with the idea of a funnel. For example, the topic of Canada is too broad for a post, so narrow it down to a particular focus within that broad topic. As part of the lesson, her students identified the focus of their blog. By the end of the lesson, her students were getting excited about blogging.

This afternoon, her students visited the lab. We reviewed the AUP (again), taught them how to access their blogs from home, did a bit more configuring of templates, time zones and profile, and then they started blogging.

Jabiz is still willing to help add a sidebar to all the blogs that has links to all the student blogs to make navigation easier.

Tammy says the permission forms are trickling in. We've told the kids that they may not publish until we have permission from their parents. Some parents had concerns about having their children on the web, and having them exposed to comments from the world at large. However, they've decided to give it a try, always reserving the option to pull their child from the project if they feel it isn't in the child's best interest.

I'm frustrated that they have started blogging but still don't have the rubric in hand. Hopefully I will finish it tomorrow -- more on that later.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Now I Find Online Resources

Now that I've jumped in with both feet and done lots of learning by trial and error, I'm finding the resources online that could have helped me. One community that has developed many support materials for educational blogging is ESL/EFL teachers. One great resource came from Creating and using weblogs in ESL/EFL. It takes you through the whole thought process of thinking through student blogs before you create them.

A similarly laid out resource focuses on Literature Circles and EduBlogs. Our fifth grade has a good literature circle process. Using blogs they could have lit circles with children in other schools in other parts of the world.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Managing our Blogs

I've been doing some research tonight to find an Mac OS X-friendly RSS/Atom reader to make it easy for us to keep track of the student blogs.

I already use NetNewWire Lite, for the feeds I check regularly. I didn't want our student blogs added into this already long list so I performed a search at VersionTracker to locate a list of other RSS readers. My preference was to locate one that plugged into Firefox because we are using that browser with Blogger. Firefox is cross-platform and allows us full access to Bloggers' post creations toolbar and other features.

The first Firefox integrated RSS reader I explored was Sage because it is free and well-reviewed. However, it doesn't work on a Mac. Next I tried Lektora. It worked well and will actively seek out the RSS subscription for a site, but it is a bit pushy. I need to play with the preferences to see if I can get it to not try to grab the subscription automatically. If it tries to grab a subscription it already has, you are stuck because the back button on the page and on the toolbar don't work, so you can't get back to the page you were viewing. However, it does seem to be a well-developed program with many features and good documentation.

Next I decided to look at stand alone RSS readers. One that seems to be working well is Ensemble 1.0. I like that it cleanly imported the OPML file of my feeds that I had exported from Lektora. I also like that it shows all of the subscriptions, even if they haven't been updated. It makes them bold as it refreshes the subscription and places a number after the title to show how many new posts there are. It has a sidebar to show all of your subscriptions and another pane to show all the posts on a particular page. It has a setting to syncronize it with my .Mac account, but I can't tell if it is working. I think I will use this reader.

I also checked out RSS Menu 1.2. This little program places an icon on your menu bar. Clicking on the icon drops down a menu of all your subscriptions. A number after the subscription title lets you know how many new posts have been created since you last visited. Selecting a subscription opens the blog in your preferred web browser. This program did not import my OPML file, but it does allow you to enter the username and password for your subscriptions which might be handy in managing student blogs.

On Monday, I'll install Ensemble on Tammy's machine and teach her how to use it. I'll also make it available to Jabiz.

Friday, April 22, 2005


The student blogs are ready to go. Many of the students were able to log in and change the title and template. I seem to have only made one error in setting up the passwords. Fortunately, since the accounts all have my email address, it was easily rectified using Bloggers password recovery system.

The students seem apprehensive to write for a real audience. As one told Tammy today, "I don't think this is going to be as fun as you think it is." I hope she's wrong!

I showed Tammy how to set up the blogs and she created her own. Being a digital native, she quickly found her way around the dashboard and was soon creating posts and publishing them.

This weekend I need to create the info packet so that students may successfully log on from home, update the database, and give Tammy and Jabiz a copy of the database so they will be able to access the blogs to give final editing and then give approval to publish. I also want to take a stab at creating a rubric. Tammy will need to finalize it because she is the one giving the writing grade.

I hope that on Monday Tammy is able to teach the 6-traits lesson prior to the students visiting the lab. I figure we can get started drafting that day. I love that posts can be saved as drafts. I think that feature is much better than starting in MS Word or in Text Edit and copying it in when they are done.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

More Audiences. More Suport

Good News! Ann at Shanghi International School has offered to let her grade 5 students visit our blogs. Now I have two student groups and a number of teachers all willing to read and respond to the blogs. That should be enough.

Jabiz took a look at the student blog template and is willing to help me make a few changes to each students' so that we have a sidebar of links to the blogs of each student in the class. That should make it easy for them and for our visitors to easily navigate to each blog. I may also create a page in my .Mac account or on a Schoolnotes page that lists all the blogs.

Wondering how to make it easy for Tammy, Jabiz and I to stay on tops of the posts. I may set up an RSS reader for Tammy. I think there is a Firefox extension that acts as an RSS reader. I'll check into that. I'd rather not add the student blogs to my regular RSS reader.

I'm also wondering the best tools for tracking this project. If it were just me doing it, I'd set up a database on my PDA to track posts, responses and comments. That has worked well for courses I've taught in the past that had an online component. However, Tammy is the one who will be giving the grades so we need to develop a system that works for her. I wish I had a forum of teachers to discuss this with who incorporate blogs into their classes. I'm certain they have figured out good management strategies.

Blog Policy

Thanks to a good start from Bud Hunt's blog AUP wiki, I finished the information letter/permission form. Hopefully it went home on Wednesday. Writing it was tricky because our school is in an ambiguous place with its own AUP. We were transitioning from an opt in to an opt out policy, but then changes in administration caused it to all slip through the cracks. To be safe and respectful, I basically recreated the school's AUP within my Blogging permission form and requested both the parent and the child to sign the form as proof that they had read, understood and agreed to uphold it.

Next I created a database to house all the account info for each student blog. I also created a settings file with notes on how they are being set up. Then I began setting up the student blogs. I was hoping to finish creating the student accounts tonight so that the students could go in tomorrow and change the template and choose a name for their blog. I figured getting to do something with their blogs would be motivating enough that any stragglers would bring in their permission forms the next day. However, Blogger is having trouble tonight and I received a message saying that engineers had been informed. I guess that means I get to go to bed instead of working late.

Blog Policy

Monday, April 18, 2005

Slowly, Painfully...

Now that I've quit whining about the lack of ready-made resources available on the web, I've finally gotten down to work on creating what I need. I met with Tammy to work through a number of questions I had. This project is starting to take shape!

We have decided that she will sign up for two blogging sessions per week in the computer lab. These are above and beyond her regularly scheduled computer times; we don't want this project to shut down the rest of our curriculum. Each week she will teach a 6-trait writing lesson. After the lesson, students create a writing project and use what they learned in the mini lesson to craft the piece. Students need to have the piece reviewed by a teacher before they may push the publish button. I'm hoping our weekly due dates are not too optimistic.

I've started setting up the student blogs, but ran into a glitch when one wouldn't finish-- the computer spent 20 minutes telling me to please wait while the blog was created. I hope that was a one-time problem.

Tonight I've been drafting the parent letter. I have the first page done. Hopefully I can polish it up tomorrow morning.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Pastes from MS Word

Does MS Word rewrap itself when posted to Blogger? It would be most convenient if it did. Of course, since blogger allows posts to be saved in draft form, we do not really need to start in MS Word. And by using the draft feature, we won’t have to worry about transferring the files between home and school if the students want to continue working on a piece.

Procrastination... The Web Let Me Down

Too much time spent online today. I just can't believe there are not more practical resources online to help me explain the project to parents, gain parent permission, and get students off to a good start.

One reason for the lack of resources online may be that the majority of educational blogging assignments seems to be in high school or higher ed. I suspect they just use their AUP and don't need to specifically inform families.

Another reason is probably that few (if any) schools have blogging established at a district level, and it is districts, not individual teachers who usually put resources online. Usually when I am searching for resources online, such as a UbD template or a rubric, it has been posted by a professional development person working at the district level. And to be fair, the large number of materials my colleagues and I develop are not available online; they are only on our school server.

And so, I've spent a precious Sunday not finding what I need and not creating what I need. Now I'm really feeling a time crunch. I'll see what I can create tonight before sleep overtakes me.

Real Audiences for My Students

One of my fears is that my students will write their hearts and souls into their blogs, but no one will read them. It seems blogs present the potential of reaching a real audience, not the certainty of it.

I realize that my students will be audiences for each other's blogs and that in itself will be motivating, as will the newness of the format. However, there is a different sort of delight from having someone you don't know read and respond to your work. I want them to experience that., so I sent off a few emails.

I heard back from colleagues in Minnesota and they can see way during the busy month of May to have their students comment on my student's blogs.

I may have also found another resource. In his blog, Jim November shares the following helpful information...

I've Got Mail: "An authentic audience has made a difference in my writing. You can make a difference with your students by helping them publish their writing. They too can share the joy of getting feedback. Help spread the joy by joining other educators who have volunteered to give feedback to K-12 students on their writing. I have about 50 educators who are willing to spend fifteen minutes a month giving feedback to students. All you have to do is when a teacher request feedback for her/his students is to go to their blog and write two or three sentences about one students writing. If your busy that week you don’t have to give feedback, wait until the next request. To volunteer to give feedback to students, send an e-mail to and put feedback in the subject line. As part of the group you can also request feedback by sending an e-mail to the same address."

Friday, April 15, 2005

The Excitement Builds... Students Visit Blogs

During our class session, Ms. Tammy's class had a chance to explore student blogs. First their charge was to visit many sites to see what they all had in common, what made it a blog? They identified many of the key features such as a calendar, text and pictures, but I think the date was so obvious, they didn't even see it.

Next they had a chance to respond to some of the J.H.H. Bloggers. They seemed to really enjoy that the blogs were written by other fifth graders, and they loved adding comments. The comments they wrote were a mix from the inane "+++++++hi dude++++++u r awsum" to well -thought out comments on the writing or even thanking the blog authors for their helpful writing tips.

I can now see that as a group we need to discuss what type of feedback they want, and then help them give that type of feedback to others when they comment on their blogs. I foresee the problem that some of them would be thrilled to get any message, regardless of its quality.

Next steps are to craft the permission forms, take a stab a the rubric, and keep picking Ms. Tammy's and Mr. Jabiz's brains for how to build in the quality while still letting the students write on topics of their choice.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

How can children stay safe using blogs?

The Australian government offered these and other tips of how to keep safe when using blogs.

Once you Have Become a Member of a Blog Site

* Hide your Account Login Details - Once you have become a member of the blog website, hide your login details so that others cannot gain access to your membership information and user profile.

* Blog Topic – Select a topic for your blog that is sensible and you think other would enjoy reading about.

* Password Protect your Blog – Make sure nobody else can enter information into your blog.

* Email - Use an email that is not identifiable. Use your online name instead of your first name and surname.

* Use of Avatars and Photos – Select a picture of an avatar that suits your personality but doesn’t disclose your identity. Refrain from using your own photo on your blog.

* Hide Profile from Public View - If possible stop others from looking at your profile by password protecting it, or setting up any options that let only those people you choose to view it.

When you are Blogging

* Personal Information - Never enter in personal details or anything that can identify you. Remember, once something is entered on the Internet it is often very hard to remove.

* Correct Information - Make sure the information you place into your blog is grammatically correct and the spelling is accurate.

* Be Nice to People - Make sure you treat other people with respect and only write about people if you have their permission. Never disclose any personal information about your friends or family.

Other Things you can do

* Hide your Blog from Search Engines – You may wish to prevent your blog from ending up in the search engines. Most blog sites describe ways to do this.

* Look at your Blog Statistics – If your blog has statistics available, watch out to see if there are any patterns emerging about your popular entries.

What about those inappropriate comments?

One of my worries about letting our students blog on the web is the inappropriate comments they might receive. One of Anne Davis' groups had just that experience, so they came up with the following guidelines. They will help me open that discussion with our student before the first inappropriate comment arrives.

The last time an inappropriate comment happened the student brought it to the attention of the Instructional Technology Specialist. Now that occurred because we had previously talked to the students about the possibility of receiving inappropriate comments. Together with the students we made a plan of action for how we would handle it. Basically we decided:

  1. We would not respond to the irresponsible commenters. We would ignore them.
  2. The student would report any inappropriate comments to the teacher.
  3. The teachers would delete inappropriate comments, if they found them first but would discuss the matter with the owner of the blog and with the group, if appropriate.
  4. We agreed that it was unfortunate that the commenter had not used common sense and we would try to set good examples on our blogs.

I had also talked with the students about their responsibilities as student webloggers. They like blogging and want to see it continue. It's giving them ownership on how all this evolves. We need their input. They like that they can be a part of showing that students care and can be very responsible.
We have to believe in our students. Have high expectations.
Thanks for sharing these, Anne. The generosity of other Edu Bloggers is helping me take baby steps...

Free Hit Counter

I suspect the students will want to see how many hits their page is getting. Not every visitor will post a comment, so this is a way to let them know they are reaching their audience.

The site below gives out free site counter code and doesn't require registration. Hopefully the ads won't be too intrusive.

100% Free Counters: No E-Mail Or Registration Needed!

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Adding Photos

Now I want to see how easy it is to add photos. I'm already liking the word processor-like toolbar at the top of the posting window. Kids will know how to use it because they know how to use MS Word and this is very similar-- icons are almost the same. I'm also liking the Edit HTML tab-- I'll give that a try and if I'm successful, there will be a photo of the Himalayan mountains with this entry.

Wow! That was almost too easy. This program is a gem. I wonder where the lions are?