Thursday, August 12, 2021

Fascinating Folks on Next Vista for Learning

 Rushton Hurley, my pal from Next Vista for Learning, is starting a new webinar series called Fascinating Folks: Educators Engaging Entreprenuers. In Rushton's words, "The idea is to find interesting people creating tools for the education world, and talk to them in a far more intelligent and productive setting than you might find when someone is trying to sell you something, which isn’t the focus of this series."

The first episode is this Friday at 4:30pm ET/ 1:30pm PT. You can register to attend right here. The first guest in the series is Brett Kopf whose name some of you might recognize as one of the co-founders of Remind. He has a new venture called Omella that is focused on making it easier for organizations like schools and non-profits to collect payments.

I talked with Rushton earlier this week and he shared with me the names of some of the other guests that will be appearing in the Fascinating Folks series. I think you'll be fascinated by hearing from them.

Ideas for Blogging With K-12 Students This Year

This blog post is an excerpt from the updated 2021-22 version of The Practical Ed Tech Handbook which will available this weekend. Subscribe to my Practical Ed Tech Newsletter to have a PDF copy sent directly to you on August 15th
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Whether your students are just learning how to type or they’re aspiring journalists, there are lots of ways to use blogging as a classroom activity. Edublogs offers a nice directory of active classroom blogs. Take a look through that directory at theedublogger.com/check-out-these-class-blogs/ to find some good examples of how teachers are using blogs in all grade levels from Kindergarten through twelfth grade.

Before jumping into the activities that you could possibly do with your students, let’s review some ground rules that you should establish with your students for publishing online. These ground rules can apply to any activity that involves online publishing, not just blog publishing.
  • Everything you publish on the classroom blog will be held to the same standard as things you do and say in the classroom.
  • Try to use your best spelling and grammar. (Side note, I try to refrain from correcting things like spelling and grammar on a public forum).
  • Keep comments polite and productive.
  • Refrain from publishing sensitive personal information.
  • Check with classmates before writing about them or posting pictures of them.
Check with your school’s IT department as they may already have a set of guidelines for publishing blog posts and or use of students’ images on public-facing forums like blogs or videos. If that is the case, review the guidelines to make sure you are in compliance with them and talk to your IT administration if you think there needs to be an exception or alteration made. It is also important to clearly communicate to students’ parents why your students will be blogging. In that communication to parents explain how you’ll be using students’ work as well as how you will protect students’ privacy.

Blogging Activities for K-2
One of the best ways to use blogging with students of this age is to have students write a sentence or two about a picture. You could start the process by uploading a picture then having students write one comment about what they see or what they think about the picture. One of my favorite examples of this activity came from Jennifer Lefebvre who had her P1 (grade 1) students write about their class mascot which was a stuffed animal. Her students wrote about what the mascot did and what they did with the mascot.

In the fall of 2018 I worked with a second grade class that invited parents to participate in a modified blogging activity. The blog was established through Seesaw. Parents used the video recording function in Seesaw to record themselves reading books. Those recordings were then posted on the classroom blog for students to watch.

Blogging Activities for 3-5
I don’t think you’ll find a better example of using blogging with students of this age group than Linda Yollis’ Classroom Blog. The blog has the tagline, “Third graders learning and sharing together.” On the blog you’ll find lots of examples of students blogging including “Family Blogging Month.” During Family Blogging Month Mrs. Yollis invites parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, and uncles to comment on the blog. The blog post announcing Family Blogging Month even includes a video from students about how to write quality blog comments.

It is at this age that many students are introduced to reading news and current events. A site like DOGO News is a good place to find age-appropriate articles for students to read. You can post links to these stories on your classroom blog then have students respond to the stories with comments of their own. Depending upon your students, you may need to include some discussion prompts with the articles that you post for your students to read.

Blogging Activities for 6-8
This is a great time to start letting students have a larger role in communicating information about their schools. Creating a student council blog is one way that you can give students that increased communication responsibility. Let them post daily or weekly announcements in text or video form. Have them write about the decisions that were made in the student council and how the decisions were made.

A blogging activity that I did with eleventh grade students that could easily be modified for middle school students is blogging as historical characters. Students in my U.S. History class wrote a series of blog posts in which they attempted to use the voices of delegates to the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention. After writing their blog posts they then had to respond in character to classmates’ blog posts.

Blogging Activities for 9-12
By the time students reach high school they are capable of managing and maintaining their own blogs. In doing that students are creating portfolios of their thoughts and their work. You could have students create their own blogs that will serve as portfolios of their work done in your classroom or for the work they’ve done in all of their classes. What’s important in doing this is that students should be writing more than just a simple “I did X.” They should write about the process and what they learned through the process.

In 2019-20 my computer science students used Google Sites to write updates about the projects they were working on. This process forced them to stop and look at what they had done and what they still needed to do. Having them blog about their projects in progress also gave me the opportunity to see where I needed to interject into their project processes.

When I taught a current events course for eleventh and twelfth grade students I made them all editors on a group blog created with Blogger. Every week each student was responsible for posting a news article or video of interest to them along with their own commentary about their chosen article or video. All students were also responsible for commenting on their classmates’ posts.

One more example of using blogs with high school students comes from my former colleague (now retired) Pam Chodosh who used blogging as a publishing outlet for students in her high school journalism class. Obviously, anyone visiting the blog could read the students’ stories. But Pam was able to give her students’ work a bigger audience by getting a local newspaper to link to some of the stories. Those links provided students’ with a far bigger audience than any printed school newspaper could have.

Coming Soon! The 2021-22 Practical Ed Tech Handbook

Seven years ago I published the first version of The Practical Ed Tech Handbook. Every year since then I've published an updated version. The new version for the 2021-22 school year is almost done. It's free and will be sent to everyone who subscribes to my Practical Ed Tech Newsletter

The 2021-22 version of The Practical Ed Tech Handbook will include an updated section about digital citizenship, updated ideas for teaching research strategies, and an updated section on teaching programming and coding. There's also an entirely new section on ways to create online activities for your students.

You can have a PDF copy of The Practical Ed Tech Handbook emailed directly to you this weekend if you are registered for my Practical Ed Tech Newsletter. You can register right here

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Where I'd Like to Go - An Icebreaker With Google Drawings

As the new school year starts many you may find yourself looking for some new ideas to break the ice and get to know your new students while they also get to know each other. One thing that I've always asked my students is "where in the world would you go if you could go anywhere today?" Recently, I've started thinking about turning that question into the prompt for an activity in which students learn a bit about Google Drawings

The idea is to have students virtually place themselves anywhere in the world through the use of Google Drawings. To do this students first need to find a picture of themselves and remove the background from it. Photoscissors makes it quick and easy to remove the background then download a new background-free image. Once they have a picture of themselves then students open Google Drawings where they insert a picture of place that they want to visit or revisit. Finally, they then insert their profile picture over the background image in Google Drawings. Those steps might sound complicated, but they're not. In this short video I show the whole process. 



As I mention in the video above, you can modify this activity to be completed with Google Slides or Google Jamboard. And, as is also demonstrated in the video above, you can use Google Classroom to distribute a template for the assignment.

Image Search and Autodraw - My Favorite Book Creator Design Tools

Disclosure: Book Creator is currently an advertiser on FreeTech4Teachers.com. This post was written by me, Richard Byrne. 

In yesterday's post about Book Creator's back-to-school resources I mentioned the integrated image search and the autodraw feature that students can use on every page of their books. Those are probably my favorite design tools incorporated into Book Creator because they enable anyone to add helpful storytelling imagery into their books. Autodraw is particularly helpful to people like me who are not good at drawing. The integrated image search is helpful because it only returns copyright-free images. 

Both of my favorite Book Creator design features, Autdraw and Integrated Image Search, are demonstrated in my latest Book Creator tutorial video