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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Five Common Mistakes Made When Starting a Classroom Blog

This afternoon Sue Waters and I revived a presentation on blogging that we gave together six years ago at ISTE (formerly NECC). One aspect of our presentation was to share some of the mistakes that we frequently see people make when starting classroom blogs. I made all of these mistakes myself when I started blogging with students nine years ago.

1. Making it optional:
If you make it optional for students and parents to visit the classroom blog, they'll generally opt not to view it.

2. Inconsistency:
It is better to post once a week on the same day than it is to post three posts in one week and two the next and four the following week.

3. Lack of purpose:
I often hear people say, "I don't know what we should blog about." Without a defined purpose for a blog it is hard to come with ideas for individual blog posts. If you identify a purpose, "weekly reflections on learning" is a good purpose, you will find it easier to come up with topics for individual blog posts.

4.  Running before walking or biting off more than we can chew:
Set realistic goals for your first semester of blogging. Big goals are great, but balance them with smaller goals like "posting once per week for a month" to give you and your students a sense of accomplishment.

5. Creating too many blogs too soon:
Sue sees this one more than I do because she is an administrator for Edublogs who responds to users help requests. The problem here is that teachers set-up many blogs either for themselves or their students without being able or ready to manage all of them.

I'll be covering these topics and many more in my upcoming webinar series Blogs & Social Media for Teachers and School Leaders.

An Important Lesson Learned About TodaysMeet

This morning I gave a keynote presentation at the Future Schools Expo. As I often do, I created a TodaysMeet room for people to share thoughts in response to some of the prompts that I give during my keynote. At some point during my keynote the link to the TodaysMeet room was shared on Twitter. That Tweet gave more visibility to the TodaysMeet room which led to spammers posting very inappropriate comments in the room.

Mistakes and Lessons
This morning I did not required registration in order to use my TodaysMeet room. I left it open because I wanted to make it as easy as possible for audience members to join. And I trusted that everyone in the audience would use the TodaysMeet room appropriately. I didn't plan on spammers because that had never been a problem over the last three years of using TodaysMeet during my keynotes.

In the future I will either require registration to join the conversation or just use Twitter and a hashtag for my backchannel. The downside to both of those options is that they create barriers to participation.

In a classroom setting I will always enable moderation on TodaysMeet and require registration.

What if Minecraft Goes the Way of Second Life?

This morning I saw Michael Beilharz give an excellent presentation at the Future School Expo. His presentation was all about using Minecraft in education including in a professional development environment. As I was watching one of Michael's demonstration videos I thought to myself, "what if Minecraft goes the way of Second Life?"

Many of us recall when Second Life was all the rage and teachers were developing all kinds of ways to bring it into their schools. I even presented a couple of times in ISTE's Second Life island. Today. Second Life seems to be barely staying alive. I haven't seen it even mentioned on a conference schedule in a few years. That's not to say that all those past sessions about Second Life were bad. In fact, I saw some that were very good. But technology changes and what engages students changes. As long as the activities that were conducted in Second Life engaged students, motivated them, and helped them learn then the activities were useful.

If Minecraft goes the way of Second Life, that will be okay. That's not a knock on Minecraft. Rather it's a statement about the changing nature of popular technology. As with Second Life, as long as the activities conducted in Minecraft today are engaging and helping students learn, keep at it until they cease to be effective. When they cease to be effective, change and embrace the next technology that students are crazy for.

And just to be clear, this post is not at all a criticism or Michael (his presentation was one of the best I've seen about Minecraft) or anyone else that has presented on Minecraft or Second Life over the years. 

Text to Speech in Google Earth

This is a guest post from Brenda Doucette (@doucetteb) of EdTechTeacher - an advertiser on this site.

Recently, some of our 6th graders came into the computer lab to do research using Google Earth. The teachers on the 6th grade team had spent many hours digitizing curriculum and making Google Earth Tours (.kmz files) for their students as it is a wonderful way for students to experience the world around them.

Today's lesson was a tour of Europe's Physical Features - complete with embedded videos, text and images. One particular group seemed to be having some trouble reading the text as they made each stop on the tour, and they were not progressing with the rest of the class. As I tried to help them with the reading material, I thought about the built-in Apple Text to Speech in Yosemite and wondered if it would work on Google Earth.
  Apple Dictation & Speech

We were thrilled to find out that it does! We taught the student how to turn on this accessibility feature, and we were further surprised to learn that we could change the speaker’s voice and speaking rate. Everyone in the lab has headphones on, so none of the students were singled out. This was a game changer for that particular group of  students as they could now access the same material in Google Earth as their peers. I just love it when Apple products work so well with Google products!

If you are interested in learning more about differentiating instruction, using Google Earth with students, or a number of other topics, EdTechTeacher will be offering hands-on Summer Workshops in 5 cities during June and July.