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.