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?

Getting Started

I've spent the day learning to use Diaryland, and now I'm going to give Blogger a try. I like how kid-friendly Diaryland is, but I can see them chaffing a bit at its limitations. Let's see how Blogger compairs.

Right off, I like that it is in weblog format, meaning multiple entries per page. In Diaryland I'd have to so some html coding to make that happen. Also like the Blogger option for others to add comments. If we want students to have an audience, it is more powerful if that audience is able to respond to them. Of course, that opens up the possiblity of people outside the group responding to them. I think I read there was a way to make blogs private, only available to those invited to see them. I'll check on that. Also need to figure out how to add photos.