Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Making Educational Blogging Work for You

This week I am away on an offline vacation. Rather than let the blog be dormant or rerunning old posts I decided to give some other people a chance to share their experiences and ideas with you. I hope you enjoy the posts.

I was introduced to educational blogging in 2008. A twenty minute tutorial by a Department of Education staff member was enough to ignite my interest and, four years on, blogging is something that really works in my classroom.

Initially, I saw blogging as a bit of fun. I thought it would be a good way to communicate with parents and archive classroom information. I didn’t realise that there are countless
benefits that blogging can bring when it is working effectively in a classroom.  

When I look back at how I first approached blogging, there are few similarities to how my blogging program operates today.

I used to think blogging was an add-on. I didn’t realise that it can be seamlessly integrated into the classroom literacy program. I used to feel guilty about taking time away from my reading and writing curriculum. It was a light bulb moment for me when I realised that blogging is literacy; and an authentic and important style of literacy too. Now a day without blogging as part of my literacy block would be hard to imagine.

I used to think it was about the posts. Back in 2008, I had students writing posts from day one. There was no education or standard. Few comments were written and those we did receive were often limited to “I like your blog!!!” or “Our class is cool!!!”. The students’ writing just wasn’t developing. Working with teachers such as Linda Yollis made me realise the comments are the place to start. This is where everyone can get involved, collaborate, learn and practise their skills.

From the beginning of each school year, I now put the emphasis on writing quality comments. This requires explicit teaching, modelling, practice and feedback. I write the posts until the students develop the skills they need to write an effective post. From there the students can earn their own blog. It is a sequential process which has led to incredible gains in the students’ literacy skills, confidence and 21st century proficiencies.

I used to think participation would just....happen. Unlike traditional websites, the dynamic nature of blogs means people can be having conversations, interacting and learning from each other every day. My blog used to be a fairly dead space. It received a handful of daily visits and maybe one comment per post at best.

Over time I realised that participation cannot be left to chance. If you want parents to get involved you need to educate and encourage them. Parent handouts, videos, e-newsletters, Family Blogging Afternoons, posts for parents and Family Blogging Month competitions have all led to greater family involvement in our blog. Most teachers are well aware of the link between parent participation in schooling and improved student outcomes. Blogs provide a bridge between home and school, however, many families need to be shown the way … just like the students.

I used to think our class blog was just for our class. Little did I realise that an important aspect of blogging is getting involved in the online community. When I first began, I didn’t know any other blogging classes. Now we connect with blogging classes from all corners of the globe on a daily basis.

Blogging partnerships have allowed my students to learn about geography, cultures, time zones, seasons, language, internet safety and more in an authentic way. Global collaboration has led my students to learn alongside their peers and achieve amazing outcomes such as raising $20,000 for a Ugandan school. Our classroom program is much richer because of our blogging buddies.

This is the fifth year that my class has been involved in blogging. I am constantly learning and tweaking ideas. Implementing a blogging program has certainly been a rewarding journey for both my students and myself.

Through integrating blogging into the curriculum, setting high standards, educating families, and being active in the blogging community, my students now reap the rewards that blogging offers. Yours can too! Not sure where to start? I have written a five step guide to getting started with blogging and many other posts on all aspects of educational blogging. Happy blogging!

Kathleen Morris is a grade four teacher in Victoria, Australia. This year, she team teaches 52 students with Kelly Jordan. Kathleen enjoys integrating blogging, global collaboration and a range of technologies into her classroom program. She began teaching in 2004 and has taught grades one to four in that time. 

Blog: Integrating Technology in the Primary Classroom http://primarytech.global2.vic.edu.au/
Class Blog: 4KM and 4KJ @ Leopold Primary School http://4kmand4kj.global2.vic.edu.au/
eNewsletter: Tech Tools for Teachers http://www.teachgennow.com.au/
Twitter: @kathleen_morris https://twitter.com/kathleen_morris
Diigo: http://www.diigo.com/user/Kathleenmcgeady

Welcome to Online Textbooks

This week I am away on an offline vacation. Rather than let the blog be dormant or rerunning old posts I decided to give some other people a chance to share their experiences and ideas with you. I hope you enjoy the posts. 

“I can’t find my textbook!” “I don’t remember getting a textbook.”  Does this sound familiar to you?  That is what I kept hearing at the end of every year.  Then I would have to go through a big hassle of collecting money from student to repurchase the outdated textbooks that I had.  I  hated having to worry about students losing textbooks or that I was always replacing textbooks that I didn’t even want that included too much information or not enough information.  Enter FlexBooks.  FlexBooks are online textbooks from a company called CK12.  I instantly liked them for many reasons, but the two big ones were that I could customize the book and that it could be posted on my website and downloaded by the students.  This video does a great job of explaining how they work.  While not every subject has a FlexBook they have a large list of books that include math and science books for middle and high school along with some other areas such as SAT Prep, History and Engineering.

So, this sounds good you say, but how can I really use it in my classroom?  I picked out a textbook that I wanted to use and then went through it to delete the things that don’t apply to my curriculum.  I also added in some information that wasn’t there that I wanted to make sure my students had in their book.  You can also include links to worksheets (CK12 has a workbook that goes along with most of their textbooks).  Once it’s created you can save it as a PDF and post it on a webpage or e-mail it to students.  Even better, students can put the PDF on their computers, phones, Kindles, IPads, Nooks or other eReader.  If you don’t want to customize your book you can find select FlexBooks already in Kindle or Nook/IPad/Android format.

Am I convincing you yet?  Maybe you want to make sure you have a teacher’s edition to refer to or a book or worksheets or labs.  Well, you got it!  Again, not every book has it, but all you have to is request a copy of the teacher’s edition and if it’s available they will send it to you.  The workbooks that are available are also customizable so can you make them fit your classroom.  I usually post them on my website and the students can have access to them all the time (no more “I lost it.”)

Looking for more?  CK12 has a more interactive way of presenting information that allows you pull short concepts along with chapters into an online interactive “book”  Many of the concepts include video clips and interactive quizzes.  It’s still a beta right now, but don’t let that stop you.

If you are an Algebra 1 teacher, FlexMath is another resource for you that provide more interactives for you and your students.  It’s more of an activities website than a textbook.
Lastly, CK12 has created I Need A Pencil.  It is great for those who are teaching an SAT prep class.  It has interactive lessons and practice test for students to work on.

About the Guest Blogger
Cristina Conciatori is a Biology and Chemistry teacher in New York. Cristina loves technology and is always looking for new ways to use technology to help her students. Connect with Cristina on Google+ and check out her blog: Tech Savy Science in the Clasroom.

Retooling Research

This week I am away on an offline vacation. Rather than let the blog be dormant or rerunning old posts I decided to give some other people a chance to share their experiences and ideas with you. I hope you enjoy the posts.

Do you or your students cringe at the thought of research? Why not try some of these tools to help you update and revitalize the research process for both you and your students?

A journey well begun is half done.” Anonymous

Infohoio was created to assist Ohio educators and students with the research process. The Ask, Act, Achieve page offers many links which will assist  students as they plan and organize their research.

Assignment Calculator was created by the University of Minnesota. Students enter their project’s due date and are given a dated, detailed plan of action for each step of the research process. Teachers might also want to use the Assignment Calculator to set checkpoints along the research path.

Locating and Accessing Information
A well-constructed search yields the best results.  Can your students choose the appropriate keywords and phrases to ensure success? Do they believe everything they read on the Internet, or do they know how to evaluate sources?

Google Search Education offers a set of lesson plans designed to meet students at their level of need (beginner, intermediate, and advanced).  You’ll find lesson plans aligned with Common Core State Standards on picking the right search terms, understanding search results, narrowing a search to get the best results, searching for evidence for research tasks, and evaluating the credibility of sources.

Evaluation Wizard The 21st Century Information Fluency website offers a free evaluation wizard.  Students insert a website’s url and then are taken through the steps to determine the site’s accuracy and reliability.

Gathering Information: Taking Notes
My students have more trouble with the notetaking portion of research than any other step in the process.  Without good notes, students can’t hope to compose an excellent paper.

Zotero: this invaluable tool assists students in doing online research. Students will love the iTunes-like format where they capture each site’s bibliographic information, take notes, and add tags, simplifying their online research.

Notetaking templates Do students need assistance to determine what information to collect as they take notes?

Pulling It All Together:  Synthesis
The hardest work is behind you!  if you took excellent notes, then this step of your research project will practically organize itself.  (Teachers, see this Libguide from John Wood Community College in Quincy, Illinois, for suggestions on notetaking formats and organization.)

Essay Map this interactive tool from readwritethink.org walks students through the steps of preparing their final paper.

Free Online Plagiarism Detector Once students have a rough draft, they can copy and paste it into the space provided on this site.  Students will be given feedback (on online sources only) to help them identify areas in their paper that must be edited to avoid plagiarism.

Bio: Fran taught English at both the junior high and high school levels for 29 years before becoming the lead librarian at Boiling Springs High School in Boiling Springs, South Carolina.  She is passionate about reading and using technology to enhance instruction.

Fran taught English at both the junior high and high school levels for 29 years before becoming the lead librarian at Boiling Springs High School in Boiling Springs, South Carolina.  She is passionate about reading and using technology to enhance instruction.

Connect with me:  fran.bullington@gmail.com
Informania blog: http://informania.wordpress.com
Twitter:  https://twitter.com/FranBullington