Wednesday, July 3, 2013
One of the blogging activities that I often suggest in my workshops is having students record and share on-the-spot observations during field trips. To do this your students should have a mobile blogging application on their iOS and Android devices. If your students don't have iOS or Android devices if they have a mobile device that has a web browser or email client they can post via email to Blogger. Here's a short run-down of mobile blogging options on the blog platforms that I usually recommend to teachers.
Blogger: Google offers mobile apps for Android and for iOS. The apps can be found here http://www.google.com/mobile/blogger/ You can also post to Blogger via email if you have enabled that feature in your Blogger settings. You can find directions for activating post via email here http://www.freetech4teachers.com/2013/02/how-to-post-to-blogger-via-email.html With post via email activated you and your students can blog through any email app that you have installed on your phone or tablet.
WordPress: If you are using either WordPress.com or a self-hosted WordPress blog you can post to it through the free iOS app https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/wordpress/id335703880?mt=8 or through the free Android app https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=org.wordpress.android&hl=en learn more about the Android app in the video below.
EduBlogs: Edublogs currently offers iPhone and iPad apps, but does not offer an Android app. You can find the iOS app here https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/edublogs/id526466328?mt=8
Kidblog: Kidblog doesn’t currently offer their own Android or iOS apps, but you can enable mobile publishing and use the WordPress iOS and Android apps to publish to your Kidblog. You can find directions for enabling mobile publishing on Kidblog here http://support.kidblog.org/entries/21682463-Publishing-via-the-iOS-WordPress-App-for-iPad-iPod-Touch-and-iPhone
When I was a student in Mrs. Simmons's second grade classroom one of the things that I looked forward to every week was the arrival of the Scholastic Weekly Reader. I loved read the stories about news from other parts of the world (I guess I was destined to become a social studies teacher). Today, students don't have to wait for the Scholastic Weekly Reader to appear in their teacher's mailbox. Here are five student-friendly news sites to use in your current events lesson plans.
Go Go News is a news website designed for elementary school students. The site features many short news stories that can be read and listened to. The stories that Go Go News covers aren't hard, breaking news stories. The stories are more of a interesting and educational nature.
Teaching Kids News is a news site developed for use in elementary school and middle school classrooms. Teaching Kids News features timely and relevant news stories written on a level that students can comprehend. Each article is accompanied by a set of discussion questions, writing prompts, reading prompts, and vocabulary words.
Youngzine is an online source of news, sports, and entertainment stories for elementary school students. Students will find stories to read and videos to watch in each of the information categories. Each news story is accompanied by a Google Map that has a placemark indicating where the story takes place.
CNN Student News is an excellent resource for middle school and high school current events lessons. The roughly ten minute episodes feature US stories, a world news stories, a "shout out" to a classroom, and a quick quiz. Transcripts for each show are available for download as are suggested viewing questions to cover with your students.
One of my favorite features on the BBC New website is the Day in the Day in Pictures. The Day in Pictures displays a small collection of photographs from around the world. The pictures capture a mix of serious news stories and lighter cultural stories. The Day in Pictures collections are part of a much larger resource from the BBC simply called In Pictures. The In Pictures resource provides hundreds of images in a variety collections and slideshows about current events throughout the world. Some of the slide shows even include narration. All of the images include captions explaining what is happening in the picture and a little background knowledge about the event being photographed.
Watching videos and commenting on them or looking at a picture and commenting on it are the most common ways that teachers have students use media in blog posts. There is definitely value in those activities as they do get students to think, write, and share. These are some other ways to think about using media in your classroom blog.
SoundCloud is a great tool for creating short audio recordings. Those recordings can be embedded into blog posts. The feature of SoundCloud that makes it worth using instead of just embedding a recording from another service is that listeners can tie their comments to an exact moment in a SoundCloud recording. This means that if something twelve seconds into the recording triggers a thought in a students’ mind she can tie that comment to that exact moment. I’ve seen SoundCloud used by world languages teachers who have students make short recordings and post them on a classroom blog. The teacher then used the comment tool to give feedback to students.
ThingLink is a free tool for creating interactive images. To create an interactive image upload an image from your computer to your ThingLink account. After uploading the image you can add pins to the image. Each pin that you add to your image can include a video clip, a link to another site, a SoundCloud recording, a block of text, or another image. You can make your images collaborative by allowing others to add pins to the image. Images can be embedded into blog posts for students to view and or add their own pins. A few of the ways that I’ve seen ThingLink used by teachers is to have students add multimedia labels to diagrams of cells, to label geographic features, and to label historical images like that of the signing of the declaration of independence.
VoiceThread and Narrable provide platforms for uploading images and hosting discussions around them. VoiceThread offers more commenting options than Narrable, but I find Narrable easier for new users to master. Both tools allow you to embed your image-based stories into blog posts where students can comment on those images. Students will have to have an account to do this. VoiceThread allows three free projects before requiring you to upgrade to a paid plan. Narrable gives you one project before requiring you to upgrade to a paid plan.
Your classroom blog doesn’t have to be serious all the time. In fact, one of the ways that I used to make one of my blogs more appealing to students was to embed a game and or entertainment news widget into the side column of my blog’s homepage. One semester I had a group of students that enjoyed playing simple games online so I would grab a free game embed code from Novel Games and put it on my blog. A couple of years ago I put a news widget, a sports stories widget, and a TMZ feed on my blog. My goal in doing these things was to give students another reason to visit the blog besides just, “Mr. Byrne said we have to visit the blog.”
If you haven't started a blog yet, choosing the right blogging platform can make a big difference in how effective your blog use is in the long run.
Before we answer the question of which blog platform to use we need to understand some terminology commonly used when talking about blogs. Understanding the terminology will help you make an informed decision about which platform is best for your situation. I wish I had known some of this when I started blogging.
Hosted Blog: A hosted blog is one whose software is maintained by a company for its users. Services like Blogger, WordPress.com, and Tumblr are examples of services on which you can create hosted blogs. The advantage of using a hosted service is that you don’t have to worry about installing software, software updates, server maintenance, or bandwidth capacity. The disadvantage of using a hosted service is that you don’t have access to the servers hosting your blog, the service may limit some customization options (WordPress.com in particular does this), and if the service closes you will be looking for a new place to blog (see the panic that ensued when Posterous announced its shutdown).
Self-hosted Blog: A self-hosted blog is one for which you own the blogging software, you install it on a server or shared server, and you are responsible for all technical maintenance and updates. The advantage of having a self-hosted blog is that you can customize it to your heart’s content, you have access to the server(s) hosting your blog, and you can move your content from one hosting service to another if you choose. The disadvantage of a self-hosted blog is that you do have to feel somewhat comfortable installing the software on a server. Fortunately, most hosting companies have good tutorials on installing popular blogging software. Another disadvantage of self-hosting is that you are responsible for performing all updates and other maintenance tasks. This can be time consuming for new bloggers. Finally, to have a self-hosted blog you will have to buy a domain and pay a monthly or annual hosting fee for your blog. I pay roughly $200 annually to MediaTemple.com for hosting and I have eight domains on my plan. If you decided to go the self-hosted route, Media Temple is my recommendation for a hosting service. They offer excellent 24/7 customer service and I’ve never experienced any downtime since I started using them in April of 2012.
The best blog platforms for teachers.
Blogger: This is Google’s free blogging service. It takes just a minute to start a blog through Blogger. Blogger offers a nice selection of colorful themes and templates to choose from. Customizing the layout of your blog is as easy as dragging and dropping elements into place. You can add additional authors to your blogs. There are mobile apps for Blogger and you can post to your blog via email. If you have a Gmail account you already have a Blogger account. Just sign into your Gmail account and in the top menu select Blogger from the “more” drop-down menu. Google Apps for Education users can have Blogger added to their domains too. The drawback to Blogger is that the only customer support that you’ll find for it comes in the form of Blogger product discussion boards and some YouTube videos.
KidBlog: KidBlog is a free hosted blogging service designed for teachers to use with students. Teachers can create accounts for their students to use to write blog posts and to write comments on blog posts. Students do not have to have email addresses in order to use KidBlog. And a great feature for those times when students forget their passwords is teachers can reset their students’ passwords. KidBlog blogs are run using WordPress software, but it’s a limited version of WordPress so you won’t have the full customization options that you would have if you used the WordPress software on your own on your own paid hosting service.
Edublogs: Edublogs has been around for quite a while and is well known in the educational technology community for offering good customer support. The free version of Edublogs is rather limited in that you cannot include videos, use custom HTML to embed items into posts, or manage your students’ accounts. You really need to purchase the “Pro” version of Edublogs for $39.95/year in order get the features that most teachers want.
Self-hosting a blog with WordPress: WordPress is free blogging software that you can install on a server. You can get the software at WordPress.org. As mentioned in the “self-hosted” section above, you will have to purchase a domain and a hosting plan to create and maintain your blog. Once you have your blog set-up you can do whatever you like with it including creating and administering accounts for your students to use to write blog entries and comments on your blog.
Just as a point of clarification, people sometimes confuse the WordPress software available to download at WordPress.org with WordPress.com. WordPress.com is a free hosted blogging service that uses the WordPress software, but like KidBlog and Edublogs it limits your customization options because you don’t actually control the software. WordPress.com will also insert advertising on your blog unless you upgrade to a paid account for $30 annually.