Sunday, June 18, 2006

Flock Extensions

Interesting to me that so many of my favorite edubloggers switched to the Flock web browser at the same time that I did.  I'm glad to see such an innovative brower being so well received. 

I made Flock default browser a week or two ago, but still found myself returning to Firefox to refer to the Forecast Fox extension. (I live in Minnesota and we have lots of weather here, and it can change hourly some days.)  Imagine my delight to find an extensions menu in Flock.  It lead me to a link for more extensions, and there I found all sorts of useful extensions, including a Flocked version of Forecast Fox.

So if you were considering using Flock but didn't want to give up your Firefox extensions, you may not have to do so. There is even an extension that converts Firefox extensions for use with Flock.

Blogged with Flock

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Have You Ever Fallen in Love with a Place?

I did. I fell in love with Malaysia when I had the good fortune to live there. Most of my time was spent in Kuala Lumpur, but there are other places around the country that I also hold dear.

When I knew I would be leaving, I went into a sort of mourning. To ease my sadness, I conceived of the idea of making my own photo alphabet book of Malaysia. I began a list of personal icons of Malaysia. While waiting in lines or riding in taxis, I'd take it out and work on it, pondering important questions such as, "Should M be Mont'Kiara, Merdeka Square, mosque or macaque?"

Unfortunately, I ran out of time to actually create my book. Now that I was back in the USA, I figured it would never come together. Then one day the team at Wetpaint invited me to be one of their Early Adopters to try out their new wiki platform. (I first mentioned Wetpaint here.) I readily accepted, but had no idea of what type of wiki to create. Then I realized it was the perfect opportunity to finally make my alphabet book. Now, not only will I create my keepsake of my time in KL, but others will have a place to do the same for cities or countries that they hold dear.

Wetpaint will soon have it's public launching. I've been scrambling to add content so that there is something to show in time for the launch. I invite you to come play around at my wiki. I've titled it wikiPlaces: The Essence of Your Favorite Places. I'd be delighted if you added a few photos of places that you hold dear. No expectation that you illustrate all 26 letters, just try your hand at it and let us experience a bit of a place through your eyes. I'd appreciate it.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Learnerblogs Are Good Things

Our summer blog is underway! As I mentioned before, we are using Thus far, I am liking the multi-user Wordpress blogs that James Farmer makes available for students for free. I had never used that platform before, but I am finding it easy to use and powerful.

Even this early on, I am impressed with how well it fits educational purposes. For example, although students need an email address to register, I was able to create all the student accounts using my own email address; many sites won't let you do that. I appreciate being able to choose whether or not people need to give an email address to be allowed to leave comments -- many children don't have email accounts and this would have prevented them from leaving comments. I love that I can choose to moderate comments before they are posted. And of course, I am able to set up my students as contributors which means their posts go through me before they are visible on the internet. One wish is a way to leave editorial comments for the blogger prior to approving the article for posting. Thus far, I've just typed a note in itallics at the top of the draft, but the student may not realize I've left them a comment; they may just think I haven't gotten around to approving it yet.

I like that the posts from all our users appear together on the main page, but that by clicking on the students' names in the category list on the side of the blog, you pull up a page of just that student's posts. This combination gives the students the feel of having their own blog, while still giving them the increased visibility that comes with a multi-user blog.

That brings up my biggest worry; since we are no longer in Blogmeister where other students are likely to find us, and since Learnerblogs doesn't have an index that makes it easy for others to find us, I worry that no one will visit our blog.

If you are interested, please visit our new blog and leave a few comments. The writing will be rougher than our previous blogs because I'm no longer editing with them, but the enthusiasm is high. If you still have students, please feel free to have them visit our blog as well. Please let us know where you are writing from if you leave a comment.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

How Much Support?

I listened to one of the EdTech Talk podcasts today while I jogged. As you would expect with good interviewers and someone as well-spoken and wise as Will, it was an interesting interview. There were many points I wanted to think about, but promptly forgot as new ideas over-wrote them. However, near the end they were discussing support for teachers using Web 2.0 technologies. Will asked how much support teachers were receiving-- I immediately thought, forget support; how much direct hinderance were they ?

It made me realize that by and large, many teachers have done great things with very little support. As long as they were not being actively opposed, they found ways to make good things happen for kids. It is now that districts are filtering out more and more of these collaborative technologies, and tech budgets are being cut deeper and deeper, that true barriers are placed in the way of teachers, as opposed to just not supporting them.

It is ironic that just as blogging has moved past its early, giddy childhood, and moving into a place of wider acceptance, these technologies are being actively blocked and filtered.

Monday, June 05, 2006

New Life for the eMates!

I feel that most things I did this year were approximations. That is always true to some degree, but this year, my constant mantra was, "Next year, I'll know to do x instead." Our eMate experience was no exception.

I feel our pilot was a success. Students loved using them right from the start. There was a very low learning curve, and all the time we spent on keyboarding in the fall paid off as soon as we started using the eMates. Unlike so many word processing machines that find their way into schools, the eMates have a large enough screen that you can see a paragraph or more of text. This leads to much more coherent writing that when you can only read one line at a time. Add to it the spell check, the ease of editing, and the novelty of having a laptop computer in school, and it is no wonder that the children wrote up a storm on them. The changes were the most dramatic with reluctant writers. Even children who would not write when sitting at a desktop computer were able to overcome writers block with an eMate on their lap. Maybe it was because they could sit under tables or sprawl on the floor with these nifty devices.

If I had them to use next year, we'd still start the year with keyboarding, but move as quickly as we could into working on the eMates. I'd set them up for different users with a login for security. More importantly, I'd have a better organized writing curriculum so that we would be using them more-- we didn't use them a lot until we were working on DARE essays and blogs this spring. However, they were a success and I was sad to think of them languishing unused next year.

Therefore I am more thrilled than I can tell you that our eMates will live on next year. Due to budget constraints, my school is reconfiguring by adding split classes for part of the day. One of the teachers will teach all of the writing for the fourth/fifth grade team. She is interested in using the eMates. Not only that, but my highly supportive and resourceful principal has found the money to fix the hinges and replace all the battery packs. She has also located the original cart which can be used for storage and charging. To sweeten the deal further, the wonderful person we are hiring to fix the eMates will donate a few printers.

Last Friday, most of the fifth grade and part of the fourth grade was gone at Valleyfair. I used that opportunity to introduce the remaining fourth graders to the eMates. They worked through the built-in eMate Tour and Works Practice. The children loved them. One child didn't want to quit to go to lunch! They all came back to work on them again in the afternoon. I doubt they will remember it all next fall, but it will let them be more expert than the other children in the fall. And their enthusiasm will excite the other children. Nice to start the year with the children eager to start writing.

An Even Better Idea... Learnerblogs

I love how much I get done when I should be working on report cards. If only I were this driven all the time

I have changed my mind since the previous posts. I have decided to set up a class blog at I found great directions for how to do so at This will solve all sorts of problems. All the students will be posting to the same place, so at least they will be reading each other's blogs. I can still monitor the experience, and learn HOW to manage it all as a hobby before I need to use it on my new job. Finally, it does permit me to moderate, which gives a bit more control as these children continue to blog.

It may be that none of them continue to blog; I know all about good intensions coming to naught when we finally switch to summer mode. However, this seems like a good option, and I can open it up to other children on the team, since it will be moderated.

Possibly best of all, it gives me a legitimate reason to play around with a new blog when I should be working on reports.

Once Again, What should we do with our Blogs?

Monday starts the last week of school. My students are asking questions about their journals and their blogs. I'm not certain what to do. The blogs are easiest to think about. I see a multi-tiered approach. I think I will send home a parent letter with the following options.
  1. Do nothing, or tick the "Remove Blog" option. - I will remove the blog at the end of the year. This is the easy option. I will remove it rather than just leave it there to free up server space and to keep visitors from writing comments that are never read by the blogger.
  2. Let Blogmeister blog remain in place, with parent agreeing to oversee content. I will continue to monitor comments and delete the inappropriate ones, but I will not continue to monitor quality before an article is published. That becomes the parent's job. This option has the advantage of letting the children continue to use a platform they are familiar with, and keeps me in touch with them.
  3. Move blog to a new platform, or start a new blog on a new platform. I am thinking of offering to help the children set up a blog at either Blogger or Learner Blogs. Blogger has the advantage of being easy to use, of having spell check, and of me knowing how to use it well. It has the problem of being out there on its own so no one may find their blog, and it has that darned button at the top that randomly takes them to another blog which may or may not be appropriate. I can take that button out, but if they change templates, it will be back again. Learner Blogs are more powerful, and may link them with other student bloggers, but none of us have used Wordpress, so there will be a learning curve for teacher and student just at a time when we are not going to be seeing each other. I personally plan to start an Edublogs blog so I can learn Wordpress. I may want to use it with teachers in Singapore, so I want to get up to speed.
In terms of the journals, I am at more of a loss. They can remain in Moodle, but since I can't get Moodle to notify me when something new is posted, I'll need to keep checking it manually. That seems like a set up for failure. I checked Nicenet, but it won't notify me either. I wish they just had email accounts; they would meet our needs beautifully. I could offer to give the students Gmail accounts, but it requires that families already have an email address, and my most avid journal writers don't have that. We can get around it using my .Mac aliases, but it all seems iffy. They just may have to write me letters! One final option may be I need to check it out to see if it will work for us. The registration period may take too long.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Collaborative Diagrams

Recently, Clarence was writing about using a simple matrix from the Medici Effect to thing about educational change. He then created a wiki to allow us all to join in the discussion. I love the entire project. My only frustration was that in a wiki, the information was no longer in a matrix, making it visually more difficult to process.

I wish the information was in some form on online, collaborative concept map instead. However, I have been unable to find a tool that allows us to create them. I had been looking just a few weeks ago. I even sent a note to the Zoho team suggesting they create one, since it is clearly missing.

Today I heard about Gliffy. It is an online, collaborative app for creating diagrams such as flow charts, concept maps, and room maps. I thought it might be just the tool for projects like this. I registered for a free account and gave it a try.

I liked how easy it was to use, and the well-organized sets of icons. My disappointment was that what I really want is a tool for easily generating concept maps, a sort of Inspiration online. What I found was that I can most certainly draw concept maps, but I must create the text with a text tool, find the icon, resize it to fit, combine the text and graphics, draw connecting lines, etc.

It IS a great tool and it allows you get the diagrams onto your wikis and blogs quite easily. I suspect I will use it, but not when I am trying to brainstorm. I'll use it when I want to create diagrams to be posted online.

[P.S. I couldn't add text at all when I was using Flock as my browser, but it worked fine with Safari and Firefox.]

[Addition: Clint, the Co-Founder of Gliffy left me this comment: "...In Gliffy, you can automatically add text to an object just by starting to type while the object is selected or by double clicking the object. Hope this might solve some of you're frustration. Also, we might be adding more concept/mind mapping capabilities in the near future."]

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Library Books Due Before Auction

That title goes with the article that was posted here. Unfortunately, it wasn't meant for this blog. It was meant for my school blog. This is the second time this week that a blog post has gone to the wrong blog. The first one was because I posted from Flock and I neglected to use the drop down menu to select where to send the post.

This post I actually wrote within Blogger and looked at it and failed to notice that I was posting to the wrong blog. And here I thought I was coping pretty well with our move and the end of the school year. Maybe I'm a bit more overwhelmed than I realized.