Primary Tech

The 2014 New School Year

School begins here in Victoria on Tuesday. It is the first time in ten years that I have not spent the summer busily preparing for the new school year. That has been a strange feeling.

Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

My daughter, Novalie, is 5.5 months old and I am absolutely loving motherhood. While I won’t be in the classroom this year, apart from some possible replacement teaching, I’m thankful that there are still ways to keep up with education.

There was a time, not so long ago, when maternity leave would mean you’re out of the ‘education loop’. Now, with blogs, Twitter and other online resources, the education community is at your finger tips.

While I am not producing as much in the community, I am enjoying being a consumer.

I recently wrote some tips for graduate teachers on the excellent ABC Splash site which may be of interest to educators beginning their careers next week. I enjoyed having the chance to reflect back on my own learning journey.

Long term readers would be familiar with Kelly Jordan who was my team teaching partner for a number of years. Kelly has moved to a new school in 2014 and is soon to launch her new class blog. I’m certain this will be an excellent example of how blogging can operate in the primary classroom.

If you are interested in getting started with blogging in 2014, the following posts may be useful for you:

I’d love to hear from readers. What does 2014 hold for you?

Blogging and the Literacy Curriculum

This article is cross posted on ABC Splash website. If you haven’t already checked out the site, I recommend you do so. There are many fabulous free resources and interactives for Australian teachers and students.

***

2013 is the sixth year that I have used educational blogging in my classroom. When I first began my program, I just tried to squeeze blogging into my already busy curriculum. This might have been a few minutes during transition times or while the students ate their lunches.

I soon realised this was not the best way to unleash the full benefits of blogging. The lack of momentum led to low student interest and lack of opportunities for explicit teaching and learning.

To realise the many educational benefits of blogging and ensure your program has an extended life-span, blogging needs to be prioritised and planned for. It should to be integrated into the curriculum; busy classrooms rarely have time for “add ons”.

When I first began blogging I had a computer ratio of 1:6 in my classroom. Over time, my students have gained access to more devices and this year we implemented a 1:1 netbook program.

Depending on the resources available and our current learning focus, I have used whole class, small group and rotation structures to make blogging work in my classroom.

Blogging is all about literacy

The concept of literacy education has changed as technology has evolved. It is no longer enough to teach students how to read books and write on paper. This won’t adequately prepare them for their 21st century lives.

Our students need to become transliterate and develop the ability to read, write and interact across a range of platforms, tools and media, both traditional and digital.

Blogging is an authentic way to teach both traditional reading, writing, speaking and listening, as well as multi-modal 21st century skills.

My approach involves spending 10 – 20 minutes of my daily literacy block on whole class blogging. This is a chance to read our latest posts and comments, and take a look at what our blogging buddies are learning.

Our discussions are directed depending on our current reading or writing focus. Through blogging, we have been able to introduce or reinforce a wide range of literacy conventions in an authentic, ongoing context.

Build blogging into literacy rotations

Like many primary classrooms, reading rotations are part of our literacy block. Every week, one of the activities students complete is blogging on their computers.

Their task is to read a certain post on our class blog, a student blog or one of our blogging buddies’ blogs. Students then need to respond with a quality comment, practising their literacy goal.

Create digital portfolios

This year I have been using student blogs as digital portfolios. This approach doesn’t need to be an “add on”. It can replace other more traditional methods of reflective writing, journalling or completing work in exercise books.

In her book Radical Reflections, well known children’s author, Mem Fox, states that “We’re currently wasting a lot of time by giving unreal writing tasks in our classrooms….You and I don’t engage in meaningless writing exercises in real life—we’re far too busy doing the real thing”.

If we want our students to be motivated to use their emerging writing skills, we have to make writing purposeful, challenging, and real-to-life. Blogging offers this.

Blogging for the sake of it or trying to blog on top of the regular classroom curriculum just isn’t going to work. Most teachers are affected by a crowded curriculum.

Find ways to embed blogging into what you are already doing to meet your students’ learning needs and expand their horizons. Looking at integrating blogging into your literacy curriculum is a great place to start.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net 

How do you integrate blogging into your curriculum?

Looking Back, Looking Forward

This will be my last week teaching before I begin maternity leave. I’m definitely looking forward to my new adventure as a mum but know there will be a lot I will miss about being in the classroom.

In packing up my classroom to make way for the new teacher, it has been interesting to think about what is worth storing for my future teaching career, and what is obsolete.

I have been at the same school for almost a decade. The world has certainly changed, education has changed and I have changed as a teacher.

At this stage, I don’t know whether I’ll be back teaching in a short while or a long while. What teaching resources will be important or useful in the future? I do not know. What I do know is that many items I previously valued now have no use in the classroom.

I’m not a hoarder. I find it liberating to get rid of things I no longer need and I subscribe to the notion that a cluttered environment leads to a cluttered mind.

I’m trying to be ruthless in condensing 9.5 years of resources into two or three plastic storage tubs.

One of the main things I’m disposing of is worksheets.

There was a time when I relished the challenge of making a “good” worksheet. I used to take pride in my folders, carefully organised into curriculum areas and topics.

It seems so obvious now but it took me years to realise that worksheets don’t feature heavily in an effective, modern classroom.

While there is always a place for recording of information etc. on paper, the “busy work” that I used to love to set now makes me cringe!

It is clear to me that hands-on, authentic, collaborative, open-ended tasks have a much bigger impact on students than a prescribed worksheet.

I wonder if this viewpoint will be more widespread when I return to the classroom. At the moment I still see photocopiers in high demand by many teachers.

Similarly, I have been asked countless times for “sheets” when a student is absent or going on holidays. Many parents seem to value worksheets as the key to education and see classroom education as easily replaced by paper work.

Other reflections on what is important now and in the future:

  • Ideas and resources are always available:  I can use Twitter, blogs and other online tools to brainstorm or source the ideas and resources I need in the future. I know my international professional learning network (PLN) will always be there. I don’t need to keep an artefact of an idea I had five years ago “just in case”.
  • Digital resources don’t take up space: A lot of what I’ve created for my classroom is housed on my computer or in the cloud.  My work programs used to take up a lot of shelf space. Now I work on them collaboratively with my team via Google Docs. This is just one example of saving physical space and working more effectively.
  • I don’t need to provide it all: The modern classroom is a lot less teacher-led than it was when I began teaching. I don’t need to create all the work, resources or projects. This is something students can do authentically and collaboratively.
  • Prioritising is powerful: I’ve always enjoyed creating a bright and attractive learning environment in my classroom. However, I have come to realise that spending hours on beautiful bulletin board displays isn’t a good use of my time. I’ve had to simplify things over the years to devote more time to avenues that can offer my students amazing outcomes, such as blogging and global projects. I no longer have as many “decorative items” to store and students can play a bigger role in working on their physical learning environment.

I’m excited about what lays ahead both personally and professionally. As for the future of my blog, I’m not signing off completely just yet. While I’m slowing down, I’m going to see what challenges my new life presents before determining whether I still have the inspiration and time to write about education.

But what of now? Tech no logic CC BY-NC-SA http://www.flickr.com/photos/50614315@N05/4970644551

What has become obsolete from your teaching career?

What resources do you think will be most valuable for teachers in the future?

 

Creative Commons Infographic

I’ve long been aware that many people don’t realise that you can’t use just any image off the internet for your own purposes.

Many of my students join my class with the habit of reproducing Google Images strongly ingrained. This habit is often either taught or not questioned by parents or previous teachers.

I also find that many people who use any online image think that “attributing” with a link to the source makes it acceptable. Little do they know, all creative work a person makes is copyright unless stated otherwise. Linking to the source doesn’t change this fact.

There seems to be another group of people who know it’s not right to reproduce any online image in their work, but do this as they don’t know how to source and attribute Creative Commons images.

Despite having a lot of anecdotal experience of others not knowing about Creative Commons, I was surprised to read that more than 90% of Creative Commons images are not attributed at all and more than 99% are not adequately attributed.

This shows that even people trying to do the right thing with Creative Commons images often aren’t. I’m certain I’ve been guilty of this in the past.

With more and more people becoming producers rather than consumers of the internet, I find this general lack of knowledge concerning. For that reason, I try to teach students the correct way to source and attribute images for their blog posts and published work. This guide to Using Creative Commons Images in Blog Posts is just one resource I’ve created for teaching about Creative Commons.

I recently came across this excellent infographic on Twitter via @suewaters and @joycevalenza. I think it’s something all educators would benefit from taking a look at! It certainly refreshed my own understanding.

Click on the image to view a larger version.

Creative Commons Photos

How To Attribute Creative Commons Photos by Foter

Educators might also find this guide to Copyright, Fair Use, and Creative Commons by Ronnie Burt useful in upskilling themselves.

What other advice or resources could you suggest for teaching or learning about Creative Commons?

There’s Blogging and There’s Blogging…

Blogging is becoming increasingly common in schools, but are all blogging programs helping to improve student learning outcomes?

This is an issue I was discussing with a member of my professional learning network recently.

There seems to be two main schools of thought on educational blogging programs:

  • The unrestricted program: this may involve all students being given a blog and the aim is for them to express themselves in any way they like. This program may be largely student centred from the start.
  • The structured program: blogging is integrated into a literacy program, momentum is built and high standards are set. This program may be teacher centred before becoming increasingly student centred.

When it comes to classroom blogging, I am an advocate of a program that:

  • begins with a class blog before allowing students to work on their own blogs
  • is integrated into a literacy program on a regular basis (while incorporating other curriculum areas)
  • sets high standards for writing, design, netiquette etc.
  • is regularly maintained and is an evolving space
  • allows students to express themselves while improving their educational outcomes
  • provides feedback and explicit teaching to students
  • begins with a high level of teacher guidance, before increasingly offering students more responsibility.
Through this sort of a program I have seen students achieve the many educational benefits of blogging.

If students practise a poor standard of writing over and over, unhelpful habits are formed and the scope for improvement is limited.

I believe blogging can help students become exceptional writers when the following parameters are put into place.

When I first began blogging in 2008, my program was haphazard and I didn’t set high standards. Needless to say, my students didn’t get all that much out of our program.

One of the biggest mistakes I made was lack of momentum. Because blogging wasn’t integrated into my work program, I had to find time in a busy curriculum to work on the blog. This led to low student interest and lack of opportunities for explicit teaching.

When it came to posts and comments, I accepted almost anything and didn’t take the time to scaffold the students’ writing on the blog.

In reflection, my original blogging program was also too student centred from the beginning. I have since learnt that beginning with a more teacher centred program before giving students more responsibilities has provided my class with the most rewarding outcomes.

Through learning from and with exceptional educators, such as Linda Yollis, my blogging program has continued to evolve and improve.

Even now, I have to regularly stop and take stock of my own classroom blogging program to:

There can be a natural ebb and flow to a quality blogging program.

I encourage educators to think about these things when establishing or evolving their blogging programs.

I’ve heard many people comment that they have “done” blogging or they “do” blogging, but what is it that is really being done?

How has your blogging program evolved?

What other advice do you have about quality blogging programs?

Student Blogs: Digital Portfolios

As we have introduced a 1:1 netbook program in grade four this year, I have changed my approach to student blogs. Rather than having a system where students can earn their personal blog, all students in my class now have a blog as a digital portfolio.

As always, we began the year focussing solely on our class blog.

I believe it is important to establish a class blog before beginning student blogs for a number of reasons.

  • Students can build their blogging “skill set”. I like to teach students about quality commenting, blogging etiquette (eg. responding to comments), online safety (eg. what information should be published online) and blogging terminology (eg. page, post, widget, comment etc.) amongst other things.
  • A sense of classroom community is developed. Students, teachers and parents can learn and share together at the start of the year. A sense of identity for the class is developed and the blog becomes an online meeting place and showcase for the all the wonderful things that are happening in the classroom.
  • Parents can learn about blogging. Educating parents about blogging is very important. Parents won’t be willing or able to get involved in your class or student blogs if they don’t have the knowledge and skills required. I’ve written a guide to getting your parents involved in your class blog here.

In the past, I have allowed a group of students in my class to earn their own blog throughout the year. To find out exactly how I did this you can read my post from early 2012.

The system of students earning their own blog used to work well for me as I could:

  • Monitor student blogs closely and comment somewhat regularly.
  • Ensure parent support was available to help with blogging at home.
  • Ensure the students had the skills and motivation necessary to maintain a blog. As I have mostly blogged with grade two students in the past (7 and 8 years old), this was especially important.
  • Provide small group tuition and support throughout the year.
  • Ensure all students could access a computer to blog on. Until this year, I’ve generally had a computer ratio in my classroom of between 1:5 and 1:3.

Now working with older students who have 1:1 computer access, I decided the time was right this year to change my approach to student blogs.

In the past, my students have blogged about a combination of their own interests and school activities. This year the blogs are essentially a digital portfolio. Each week during class time, the students publish a piece of work on their blog, along with a reflection of their learning and future learning directions. Families and other students are encouraged to comment on the posts with feedback, questions or support.

Enthusiastic bloggers are also welcome to create posts about their own interests out of class time, although I do stress that a parent or adult needs to check the post.

To get the students started with their digital portfolios, I went through the following steps:

        1. At the start of the year, I gain parent permission. This year my permission note covered the class blog and student blogs. You can find the permission notes in this post.
        2. I sent home an information note to let parents know about our student blogs when we were getting started. Student blogs parent note – K Morris 2013
        3. I set up each blog through the dashboard of our Global2 class blog, making both myself and the student the administrator. You can find the step-by-step instructions on how to do this using Edublogs Campus sites (like Global2) here.
        4. Setting up a spreadsheet with student blog details such as URLs and usernames has helped me keep track of all the details.
        5. During our first lesson, I had the students find the activation email in their school email inbox, log in to their dashboard, change their password and record their blog URL/username in their diaries.
        6. I used Edublogs’ “My Class” option which allows you to manage student blogs in bulk. This page explains more about “My Class” and how to use it. Early on in the setting up process, I had each student join our “Class”. I could then display a widget on our class blog to show all of the links to the student blogs.
        7. I added each student blog to my Feedly RSS reader to keep track of their posts. Although it would be impracticable to comment on all posts, my Feedly subscription helps me to keep up to date with each student blog.
        8. While students are loving teaching each other the skills they’re learning, each week I have been explicitly teaching the class a range of skills such as:

- writing a post
- writing a page
- finding a good theme
- using links in posts and pages
- managing and moderating comments
- inserting media into posts and pages
- sourcing and attributing Creative Commons images
- embedding HTML
- managing widgets
- using tags and categories

While we only started the student blogs a few weeks ago, enthusiasm is high and the amount of learning that the blogs facilitate is impressive! I look forward to continuing to work with my students on this evolving classroom program.

How do you use student blogs in your classroom?

Benefits of Blogging by Linda Yollis and Class

My good friend in Los Angeles, Linda Yollis, recently created this excellent video with her second and third grade class about the benefits of blogging.

This video may give you more of an insight into what you could get out of blogging with your students, or you might like to share it with your staff.

It has been my pleasure to discover the benefits of blogging alongside Linda since we both began our class blogs in 2008.

If you’d like to learn more about the benefits of educational blogging, check out the post I wrote last month.

To learn more about educational blogging, including how to set up class and student blogs, check out the educational blogging page on my site.

Our World, Our Numbers Global Project

My class is currently involved in a wonderful global project called Our World, Our Numbers.

We launched Our World, Our Numbers alongside our blogging buddies on Monday 25th February.  

In late 2011, many of us worked on a global project called Our World, Our StoriesThis latest project is based on a similar format with a mathematical focus.

In late 2011 I reflected on the fabulous outcomes from the Our World, Our Stories project.

Classes involved

The students are all from primary (elementary) classes and are from three different continents and five countries.

Mr Avery’s sixth grade class from Massachusetts, USA

Mrs Monaghan’s 3/4 class, Room with a View, from England

Mrs Morris and Miss Jordan’s grade four class, 4KM and 4KJ, from Victoria, Australia

Mrs McKenzie’s 2/3 class, B4, from New Zealand

Mrs Yollis’ 2/3 class from California, USA

Mr Salsich’s third grade class from Connecticut, USA

Mrs Watson’s K/1/2/3 class from Canada


View Our World, Our Numbers in a larger map

How does the project work?

Students from all classes are connecting and collaborating by sharing their mathematical lives. This is happening through the blog and involves a variety of media.

A different class “leads” a mathematical topic every week or so, publishing posts and replying to comments. The other classes read the posts, possibly publish their own posts, and leave blog comments.

Topics

The topics so far have been:

Our future topics will involve mathematical elements of animals, area/populations and seasons/temperatures.

The learning

Through blog posts, the students teach each other about different aspects of mathematics based on aspects of their own culture.

The learning continues in the commenting section where students, teachers and parents engage in conversations to explore mathematical and cultural topics further.

Students are gaining an understanding of mathematics through the eyes of children in different countries and cultures. They are making comparisons and contrasts between their lives and other students’ lives.

Concluding the project

This project will conclude in mid-May. Stayed tuned for a culminating celebration then!

Our World, Our Numbers is a project we came up with ourselves. If you want some advice on how to start your own global project, read my post “Start Your Own Global Project”.

The Benefits of Educational Blogging

This in an update of older posts about the benefits of educational blogging.

2013 is the sixth year that I have maintained a classroom blog. When I first began I didn’t know much about blogging at all and I didn’t realise there could be educational benefits to running a blogging program.

I thought having a class blog would be a bit of fun and a good way to connect with parents.

As time has gone on I’ve come to realise that blogging brings many educational benefits. Years later I am still discovering new advantages for my students.

The diagram below summarises the most powerful benefits I’ve found from blogging (so far):

  • Social Skills and Confidence: While some people may be quick to say that blogging and online social media can inhibit social skills, I see blogging as a terrific starting point. It can help certain individuals to practise their skills and transfer them into the “offline world”. I have previously written about how students with ASD and confidence issues can improve their skills here.
  • Internet Safety: Everyone will agree that teaching students to be safe online is an important issue. You can’t just do one off lessons on cyber safety. Cyber safety is not a separate subject. Through being heavily involved in blogging, my class has opportunities almost daily to discuss cyber safety issues and appropriate online behaviours in an authentic setting. Blogging is an excellent way to learn about being a responsible member of an online community.
  • Literacy: I wrote about the improvement in my students’ literacy skills in this post. Not only were skills improved, but engagement levels increased. Reluctant writers wanted to write for a purpose and students were using blogs to purposefully communicate and converse with others. Blogging is part of my literacy curriculum so I use blogging to explicitly teach English conventions.
  • Maths: While using blogging as an avenue for teaching and learning literacy may be more obvious, blogs can also be used for maths. Just two examples are our daily use of Clustrmaps and the Our World, Our Numbers blogging project we’re currently involved in.
  • Home- School Connection: Many parents and families have told me that they love using the class blog as a “window into our classroom”. Through commenting, families can be a part of what is happening in our classroom and have real time access to their child’s education. Encouraging parent participation in your blog is something I have written about recently
  • ICT Skills: Blogging assists students to become more ICT literate which is a crucial 21st century skill. Through blogging, we’re able to incidentally discuss many ICT skills such as keyboard shortcuts, Creative Commons, researching online and troubleshooting.
  • Classroom Community: Creating a class blog requires teamwork and collaboration. Students and teachers learn and share together. A real sense of classroom community can be developed through blogging and establishing a class identity. A class blog mascot can be a fun way to represent your classroom community. 
  • Authentic Audience: In the traditional classroom, the only audience of student work was the teacher and sometimes classmates and parents. Blogs provide a much larger audience for student work and an avenue for feedback and self-improvement through commenting. I have found that students really take pride in the work that goes on the blog and want to do their best for their impending audience.
  • Global Connections: I have found this to be one of the most exciting benefits of blogging. Blogging can help flatten the classroom walls and over the years we have got to know many classes across the world who we call our “blogging buddies”. The benefits of these connections are priceless. A sense of understanding and tolerance develops and students can learn a lot about the world in which they live. I’ve listed some tips for global collaboration in an earlier post.

Student Perspectives

I’ve created a couple of videos with my students in the past to allow them to highlight some of the advantages of having a class blog.

I made this fifteen minute video with my grade two students in 2011.

Last year I presented at ISTE in San Diego with my Los Angeles blogging buddy, Linda Yollis. Our classes have been collaborating through blogging for many years. We put this short video together with snapshots of our students talking about what they get out of blogging.

In the ten years that I’ve been teaching I haven’t come across a program that provides as many benefits to students as a well-run classroom blogging program.

Blogging is a fantastic starting point for introducing technology and collaboration into your classroom.

Additionally, there are so many wonderful online tools out there which have more value when you can embed them in a blog. Blogging can provide a really diverse learning platform and while it takes a lot of work, the benefits to students definitely outweigh the costs!

Have you witnessed any of these benefits in your classroom?

What other benefits can students and teachers get out of blogging? 

Teaching Children About Digital Footprints

As we have introduced a 1:1 netbook program in grade four at my school, we are focussing on helping the students learn how to use their new devices to their full potential.

We have been doing some work on internet safety, and this week have been looking at digital footprints.

Not one of the 54 students in my double class knew what the term meant before we delved deeper.

Wikipedia describes a digital footprint as:

“…a trail left by interactions in a digital environment; including the use of TV, mobile phone, the internet and other devices and sensors.”

Unfortunately, I’ve come across a number of resources which only focus on the negatives of digital footprints and promote a culture of fear.

The message I like to promote is that we should protect our digital footprints and try to ensure that they are positive. Encouraging students to avoid posting or doing anything online just seems counter productive.

I’ve often wondered if having no digital footprint at all is almost as bad as having a negative one. This is something Chris Betcher has written about before.

Four years ago Chris said:

“I can see a day in the not too distant future … where your ‘digital footprint’ will carry far more weight than anything you might include in a resume or CV.”

Perhaps that day has come?

***

Alarmingly, even government sites like the Victorian Better Health channel begins their article on internet safety with a scary image of the term digital footprint:

“The Internet can be a dangerous place for the unwary, particularly children. A person’s ‘digital footprint’ can be as easy to follow as their real footprints.

I’m not denying that the internet can be a dangerous place, but so can the street. The internet can also be a wonderful place and this shouldn’t be forgotten.

I think it’s important to ensure a balance by teaching about the dangers of a negative or revealing digital footprint, while also promoting the benefits of a positive digital footprint.

The Age of Candid Camera

I’m sure I’m not the only one who cringes when I see teachers creating digital footprints that could be harmful to their own reputation (eg. on Facebook). Perhaps underestimating the public nature of the internet is a widespread problem.

Another scenario that I’ve observed fairly regularly is teachers not having a digital footprint at all. These issues are worrisome to me when thinking about the need for digital footprints to be discussed in classrooms.

If this article is to be believed, 92% of children under two already have a digital footprint. I think this shows how important education around digital footprints is.

So what do students need to know about digital footprints?

  • the internet is a public space with a large audience
  • digital footprints can be searched or shared
  • once online, things can be there forever
  • you should always think before you post online
  • you should keep certain personal details private
  • individuals can take control of their digital footprints
  • digital footprints can be helpful or harmful to reputations

Resources for teaching about digital footprints:

Do you have any thoughts on teaching about digital footprints?

Please leave a comment and share your advice, resources or thoughts!

Image attributions: The Age of Candid Camera; Footprints (by-nc-sa)