Tips for Managing Tech Tools in the Classroom

One of the things I love about being a technology facilitator is that I get to see all sorts of fantastic management strategies in the many classrooms I visit. Every teacher seems to have a unique way of handling the variety of tools we have at our disposal here at ISB. Thankfully, as part of our CoETaIL course, Jeff and Dennis asked all of the participating teachers to add to a shared VoiceThread about technology management strategies in the classroom.

Check out all of the great tips they shared here:

Do you have any special tips to share about managing tech in the classroom? Please feel free to add them to our VoiceThread!

Getting to Know GarageBand

Musical Composition and Podcasting in the Elementary Classroom

Back in November, our absolutely amazing Elementary music teacher, Vince Bullen, and I led an EARCOS Weekend Workshop on GarageBand. Our goal was to spend two full days exploring GarageBand in a hands-on, project-based environment, tailored to the needs of both music and elementary classroom teachers. Even with this very specific focus, we had 10 international school teachers from around Asia join us in Bangkok for the weekend.

GarageBand Workshop

Thankfully, Vince is a complete expert in all things musical, so he started the workshop off with a thorough overview of pretty much everything GarageBand has to offer: from creating your own music, to editing pre-created tracks, to making “magic GarageBand” songs. Within about 1 minute of his introduction I had learned a number of useful tricks:

After getting the musical basics, the workshop switched gears to learn about easy ways to integrate music, video, photos and voice recordings to make enhanced podcasts.  I started off this session by sharing the absolutely fantastic podcasts our fifth graders here at ISB made at the end of last school year as part of the Reader’s and Writer’s Workshop book club unit (here’s our unit planner), and then went over the basics of recording your voice and adding jingles, images or movies to a podcast. It always amazes me just how easy it is to create a podcast with GarageBand!

Once our participants had the basics, we split into two groups to delve deeper into the ways that teachers can use GarageBand in the classroom. Under Vince’s extremely capable guidance, the music teachers worked together to create their own songs using MIDI instruments and all of the pre-created tracks in Garage Band.

Separately, the classroom teachers worked with me to collaborate on their very first podcast – a multimedia book recommendation they can share with their students in class, which can also be used as a model for student-created podcasts:

One of the things the classroom teachers were most interested in was the process that I use to guide students through a technology-rich project like a podcast, specifically using the MYP Technology Design Cycle. Although it was created for middle years students, I find the design cycle to be an authentic, practical, useful way to tackle technology projects. It’s actually the process you naturally go through when working with technology, but if you don’t break down the steps, you can tend to skip through and end up at the computer before you’re ready.

MYP Technology Design Cycle

So we ended up spending quite a bit of time working through the stages of the design cycle, as I would with a class of students. Here’s how I would break down a podcasting project according to the design cycle:

Investigate:

  • Explore with the software – some time to play with Garage Band to get to know the basics – what are the strengths and weaknesses of this tool, what can it do, with the goal to generally feel comfortable with the tool towards the beginning of the project.
  • Brainstorm a topic for your podcast (even if there is a specific topic, each group/individual will most likely have some individual choice involved. At this stage, it’s important for them to come up with a number of ideas (thought through to a basic level) so they can choose the best one. Have students justify their choice to you.
  • Organize resources: take the time to figure out what is needed to complete the project (pictures, books, cameras, special clothing, etc). Make sure they have a list and it’s clear who is going to bring in each item.
  • If any research needs to be done, this would be the best time. Begin with a focused research question and organize all relevant information in one central place.

Plan:

  • Write your script (you might want to use a checklist like this with your students)
  • Use a storyboard to organize your pictures and audio. (this one is more for digital video, so you may want to change the directions on the boxes).

Create:

  • This stage should be no longer than the Investigate stage (as long as they have done a good job with the Investigate and the Plan). This should be simply transferring all of the work they’ve already done on paper to their finished podcast.
  • Export the finished product into AAC format if you have pictures (without pictures, you can choose .mp3)
  • Publish the podcast on iTunes or a podcasting service like GcastPodBean, or Podomatic. (Usually the teacher will compile all student podcasts into one account so that the RSS feed includes all student work. As a teacher, you can also embed a widget on your class blog or website so parents and students can listen anytime).
  • Create an iTunes channel for your podcast following these steps.

Evaluate:

  • Listen to their podcast, looking for strengths and weaknesses – what did we do well? what do we need to improve?
  • Listen to other group podcasts, looking for similarities and differences, what did we do well? what do we need to improve?

Finally, on the second workshop day, participants had a chance to develop their own GarageBand projects for use in the classroom. Teachers worked on everything from designing a podcasting project from scratch, following the technology design cycle and Understanding by Design curriculum planning process, to creating their own musical compositions, to exploring new ways to integrate technology into classroom practice.

In my opinion, podcasts are a fantastic way to share student learning, allow time for reflection and metacognition and to connect your classroom to other learners around the world. This quick, but engaging, weekend workshop was a great way to get participants excited about this new mode of learning and to put the process of implementing authentic technology projects into practice in a safe environment.

How do you use podcasting in your classroom?

Student Blogging Guidelines

Cross-posted on the Tech Learning Advisors Blog

Only one month into the new school year and almost every middle school student has their own blog hosted at ISB (plus all of our grade 5s, and quite a few high school students)!

Thanks to our fantastic middle school Humanities and Modern Language teachers, who spent their class time helping students create their own blog, we are off and running in record time! In fact, the process was so easy that almost all of our students had their blogs set up before we formalized our student blogging guidelines. So last week, I met with the Humanities department (and other interested teachers) to determine a set of basic guidelines for our students.

To get us started, we took a look at the blogging guidelines our elementary students developed last school year during their first experiences blogging. Interestingly, the guidelines our grade 4 students created last year were just as applicable to middle (and high) school as they were for elementary. We ended up using almost all of the guidelines from last year, with just a few minor re-phrasing issues and consolidation.

Given that the elementary students created these guidelines after a series of thoughtful lessons and meaningful class discussions, we see these them as prompts for deeper dialogue across classes, not simply a list of rules to follow. In order to help students make the best decisions, we’ve also followed each guideline with a question (also developed by our elementary students last year) they can ask themselves before they hit publish.

Here’s what we came up with:

Student Blogging Guidelines

As a student blogger at ISB, you are expected to follow these blogging guidelines below. Use the questions in italics to help you decide what is appropriate to post on your blog.

1. Only post things that you would want everyone (in school, at home, in other countries) to know.
Ask yourself: Is this something I want everyone to see?

2. Do not share personal information.
Ask yourself: Could someone find me (in real life) based on this information?

3. Think before you post.
Ask yourself: What could be the consequences of this post?

4. Know who you’re communicating with.
Ask yourself: Who is going to look at this, and how are they going to interpret my words?

5. Consider your audience and that you’re representing ISB.
Ask yourself: Do I have a good reason/purpose to do this?

6. Know how to give constructive feedback.
Ask yourself: What will I cause by writing this post?

7. Treat other people the way you want to be treated.
Ask yourself: Would I want someone to say this to me?

8. Use appropriate language and proper grammar and spelling.
Ask yourself: Would I want this post to be graded for proper grammar and spelling?

9. Only post information that you can verify is true (no gossiping).
Ask yourself: Is this inappropriate, immature or bullying?

10. Anytime you use media from another source, be sure to properly cite the creator of the original work.
Ask yourself: Who is the original creator of this work?

Commenting Guidelines

As a blogger, you will be commenting on other people’s work regularly. Good comments:

  • are constructive, but not hurtful;
  • consider the author and the purpose of the post;
  • are always related to the content of the post;
  • include personal connections to what the author wrote;
  • answer a question, or add meaningful information to the content topic;
  • follow the writing process. Comments are a published piece of writing.

Final Thoughts

I’m so impressed with the depth of thought shown by our elementary students! Being able to start this conversation with our middle school teachers using resources developed by 3rd, 4th and 5th grade students, clearly demonstrates that even our younger students really do understand both the power and the responsibilities of communicating to a global audience.

It’s also great to see that our ISB21 team vision of developing enduring understandings that are not grade-level specific, but rather provide a through-line for all divisions, has helped us focus on the bigger understandings and mindsets that students really will need to carry with them from year to year.

When discussing blogging safety and responsibility with the 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders last year, we did it in such a way that what they came up with were skills and essential questions that would help digital students no matter what grade level they’re in.

Once again, I’m reassured that elementary school is the place to begin this kind of dialogue so that we can provide a solid foundation for 21st century learning that students can continue to build upon year after year.

These guidelines have now been adopted by our elementary and high schools as well, so that we have a common expectation for all students at ISB, no matter what the age or grade level.

It will certainly be interesting to see what develops at all grade levels now that all of our students have their own blog hosted at ISB. We’re hoping that these blogs become their digital portfolio for their entire time with us. Being able to track their growth and learning over the years will be such a powerful tool for the students, teachers and parents.

Does your school have common guidelines for student blogging? What do they include? Are we missing anything here?

Something Different

This past week we have been very fortunate to have two fantastic library experts, Doug Johnson and Ann Krembs, here at ISB to help guide us through our Main Library Review. While they were here specifically to share recommendations for our upcoming renovation of our Main Library (for middle and high school students), they also generously stopped down in the ES Learning Hub to give us some advice on how to improve our space.

It’s amazing what a fresh pair of eyes can see.

Within moments, Doug and Ann, had several easy, but very effective, suggestions for us. Interestingly, one of those suggestions was exactly what Silvia said about our Tech Zone when she was here in Bangkok a few weeks ago, but it didn’t really hit me until this week:

You have to give them something different. The Learning Hub (library) has to offer a physical environment that is different than other spaces teachers and students regularly use.

This hit me like a bolt of lightening. Of course! Why would they use our space, when they can continue to use their own, more private space, that has been customized to their specific classroom needs? Especially considering how well-resourced we are as a school, with laptop carts for every 2 classrooms and extensive classroom libraries.

In our efforts to make a 21st century learning environment, we had mistakenly recreated a standard, formal classroom space at the very front of the Learning Hub, assuming that teachers would want to use it as an expanded classroom:

Project Zone

Of course, that space was also back-to-back with our “computer lab” space, making it very difficult to have classes in both spaces at the same time.

Now, with the advice of Doug and Ann, we’ve redesigned the space to make it more of a “movie theater” look for story time, as well as open up the shelving to spread the tables throughout the library to allow more privacy in seating:

Story Zone

From the Back

We’re hoping we’ve captured the “something different” idea with this arrangement. Who has a movie theater in their classroom with comfy chairs and surround sound speakers?

And just for fun we added some chess boards:

Chess

And rearranged our fiction reading nook:

Reading Nook

Our next step is to tackle the “computer lab” area (called the Tech Zone) and transform it into a multimedia editing suite, with a green-screen and podcasting stations:

Technology Zone

What are you doing to offer something different in your learning space? What other changes would you recommend we make in this space?

TechTrain 2010: Get on Board!

Over the last two years I’ve been fortunate to attend quite a few conferences (thanks to my wonderfully supportive admin at ISB). One of the things I’ve noticed at these conferences is that the attendees seem to be almost the same group of people over and over again, which I love, because it gives me a chance to connect with my virtual colleagues in person on a fairly regular basis. It feels like we are really building a community of learners among the various international schools in the Asia region, and I know the group is continuing to grow year by year.

However, as I realized last year, that group of techies is actually few and far between. We’re well connected online, but are often only a very small number in our own individual schools. And of course, it’s usually our job to help our colleagues learn with technology. So we come together, get new ideas, and then head back to our individual schools to spread the exciting news. It’s up to us to move our colleagues forward, to meet them where they’re at and help them take the next step.

What this usually means is that tech conferences tend to cater to those that are already knowledgeable about technology in education. Again, great for us, but not so great for our colleagues in our individual schools that may want to learn but don’t know where to start.

So, my lovely colleague, Tara and I, were brainstorming a few weeks ago about what we could do to help our teachers here at ISB (and elsewhere in the region) that might not be ready to attend a very tech-savvy conference.

We know that many schools in this region are making technology a priority. We know that there are plenty of teachers who want to learn, but might be intimidated by a big technology conference. We know that there are lots of teachers who would be willing to try something new if it were presented at their level. We know a tech-focused conference wouldn’t really be able to meet their needs as well as the needs of the educational technologists they work with.

And, thus, the idea of TechTrain 2010 was born! TechTrain 2010 is an EARCOS weekend workshop hosted at the Interantional School Bangkok, Thailand on January 30 – 31, 2010. The goal is to bring together beginning technology users to help build their understanding of digital tools and how they can be used to enhance the learning experience in the classroom. We are hoping a workshop at the beginning level will appeal to those teachers that want to get started using technology in their classroom, but don’t really know where to start. We want to make sure that the weekend is focused on actually producing something that can be used in the classroom on Monday, and that most of the sessions are hands on, allowing teachers to actually use these digital tools with support.

We’re just in the beginning planning stages, but we’re pretty excited. We really want to make the workshop a comfortable, safe and open environment where everyone can learn together and we can all walk away with something concrete and tangible to give participants a specific next step to take in the classroom.

Tara and I passionately believe that everyone can be successful using technology in the classroom. This is a place for those that consider themselves to be beginners with technology can start!

I know that pretty much everyone reading this blog is already tech savvy, but I’m hoping that you can pass on this post, and the workshop wiki, to anyone you think might be interested in attending. We have a short Google form for interested participants to complete so we can get an idea of what people would be interested in learning about in an effort to tailor the sessions to our participants needs. We know that the workshop is many months away, but we also know that sometimes PD expenditures need to be planned well in advance, so we wanted to get the word out early!

Of course, we’re open to any ideas and suggestions too! What do you think a beginner technology conference should include? Any thoughts or advice on how to organize and run a weekend workshop like this?

Original Image by Dan Kamminga, Creative Commons License

Writer’s Workshop Goes Digital

Here at ISB we use the Reader’s and Writer’s Workshop model of literacy instruction. We have been fortunate to have the wonderful Maggie Moon consult with us on a regular basis over the last two year.

Working with Maggie MoonOne of the best things about working with Maggie is that she is open-minded about what literacy can mean and how to ensure we meet the needs of our students in today’s world. Last year we started on a path to define digital literacy and to see how we can fit (at least some) aspects of digital literacy into the Workshop model (which does not reference anything beyond the traditional view of reading and writing).

This year, with the addition of Jeff and Tara, we are continuing to push forward and have begun to develop a full Writer’s Workshop unit focused on digital literacy. Our plan is to implement this unit in September of 2009 in grade 5, with Tara, Jeff and I co-teaching in our 7 grade 5 classrooms (that’s going to be an interesting logistical nightmare, since they all teach Writer’s Workshop at the same time and there’s only 3 of us and 7 of them…)

We are only in the initial stages of the planning process, following the Understanding by Design format, and I would love to get some feedback from you!

Here’s what we’ve got so far (we’re using a Google Doc, so planning updates can be found here):

Personal Narrative with Blogging

Enduring Understandings

Students will begin to understand:

  1. Purpose and audience for communication determine the appropriate media choice.
  2. Design and layout impact the quality and effectiveness of communications.
  3. reflect on, organize, analyze, interpret, and synthesize information effectively communicate and create ideas.

Students will begin to understand:

  1. Writers attempt to have a story unfold in a show, not tell, fashion through well-chosen details that make a story come alive

Essential Questions

How do I effectively communicate?

GRASPS Task (still working on the wording here, essential the entire blog will be the task)

Build Understanding Through the 6 Facets:

Explain: Reflective blog post: After collecting entries: try various stories to see how it goes – select a story and improve it, why did you choose this story?

Interpret: personal narrative practice, once you’ve selected your story, what is this story really about?

Have Self-Knowledge: Author’s message – the way you write and present the story shows the significance of the story to the reader. Reflective writing after – why did you write this story this way, how does it reflect you? What was challenging for you? What do you understand about yourself from writing this?

Have Perspective: Reflection: who is your audience, why/how would you change this story for a different audience (how do you change the way you write based on your audience?) – during revision, write the same story for a different audience – how do you change your writing for different audiences.

Empathize: after the blog post is up, how do you respond via the comments (to something that you don’t have a connection with).

Apply: Design your blog post for your audience, choosing images, paragraph spacing, headings, etc (choosing an image that shows depth and connects to your post)

Practical:

  • Allow students the choice to either write in Writer’s Notebook first or directly on the computer
  • Have students write in MS Word before posting online (to avoid technical issues)

Mini-lessons:

  • Teacher models same sort of writing as the students are doing. Write a portion of personal narrative and then show how you would change it for a different audience. Give students the choice of who their new audience is.
  • What does good blogging look like? (synthesis, analysis – not just copy and paste)
  • Students link to other sites in his/her writing (for example, if you snorkeled on Phuket, link to a Phuket site)
  • Students reflect on why he or she is choosing this piece of writing.
  • Commenting and how to make it constructive. Set a minimum expectation of how many comments a student must write on someone else’s writing.
  • Students incorporate comments from others and make revisions to his/her own writing based on these.
  • Final reflective blog post linking back to prior drafts, comments by their audience that helped change their minds, and reflect on how the interaction with their audience helped improve their writing.
  • Choosing and inserting an image, citing sources for images

Timeline:

First 8 instructional days: brainstorming in the writer’s notebook, across those 8 days, choose 2-3 stories to post on the blog (reflect online why they chose those three) – these posts should be in draft form, then students will choose 1 to stick with and take through the writing process (reflect online why they chose the final story)

Final Thoughts

One of the reasons we’re doing this as a discrete unit is so that teachers can see how it will fit within the Writer’s Workshop model. We’re hoping to do it early in the year so that teachers and students can take advantage of this new model of writing throughout the year. Personally, I hope we’ll end up using these blogs as ePortfolios by the end of the year, but I don’t know if that will happen.

What do you think? How does this look? What are we missing? What needs to be revised?

Professor Cofino?

Over the last two months I have been privileged to teach the first graduate-level course in ISB’s new 5-course SUNY Certificate of Educational Technology and Information Literacy along with Jeff Utecht. It has been an excellent experience and I am truly flattered to have been asked by the school to lead such an important program in our professional development offerings.

Building Our Network

Amazingly, we have 50 current ISB teachers in the course and 5 newly hired ISB teachers participating virtually! Considering we have a staff of about 200 teachers, this is a very impressive number of faculty to be spending their weekends and evenings learning together about the impact that technology can have in the classroom. It’s a little intimidating to be leading such a large group (thank goodness there are two of us) but it’s so inspiring to see so many of our teachers so committed to their own professional development, willing to try new things, to have challenging conversations and to reflect on their practice. I am truly fortunate to be working at this school with these teachers.

Expert Voices

One of the most fantastic things about this course has been our guest speakers. On our first full-day face-to-face session we spent an hour with Clarence Fisher and another hour with Chris Betcher. Both speakers were just the perfect way to introduce the class to this new model of learning. Clarence’s practical examples of how his students learn with technology at the middle school was exactly what teachers had been asking for. Chris’ engaging hands-on presentation about truth and bias far exceeded anything I would have done with our teachers.

Yesterday, for our final full day face-to-face session, we had a  presentation from the authors of one of the books we’re using: Reinventing Project Based Learning, Suzie Boss & Jane Krauss, as well as an eye-opening presentation from Julie Lindsay. Suzie and Jane were the absolute perfect example of the power of the network. Who would have thought we’d be talking to the authors of our textbook in class? And Julie’s presentation really helped our teachers understand how important globally collaborative projects are for teaching our students critical life skills.

In retrospect, I’m also really pleased to see that we have an a very nice balance of men and women sharing their expertise with the class. All too often we only see male speakers leading the way, this was a great way to model (at least gender) equality in our learning.

Always Learning

Considering that this is my first time teaching a graduate-level course, I’m not sure I knew exactly what to expect. Sure, I’ve taken quite a few in my day and even completed a similar certificate (of Educational Leadership) through the same university at ISKL while I was living in Malaysia. But being a teacher is definitely a very different experience than being a student. I’m so thankful to have had the experience and I know I have learned so much in the process.

Finding Conversations

For starters, it may sound basic, but planning this course and each individual lesson was a pretty much exactly like planning for my classes. I’m not sure I really thought about that before we started so I don’t think I really got the hang of it until our second face-to-face lesson (and after getting lots of feedback at the first session). Providing time for teachers to talk to one another, to digest what they’re reading and thinking about, to bounce ideas off each other, and to question and collaborate is so important. Breaking the class into small groups, specifically asking teachers to “turn and talk” like I do in the classroom, and rotating those groups or setting up jigsaws were by far the most popular ways to spend our face-to-face time according to our anonymous feedback surveys. Seems obvious now, but I don’t know that we initially planned to organize the class that way.

Finding Community

Given that the class is so big, we really do need to think about how to break up into smaller groups. It’s hard to discuss anything in a group of 55 and we all know teachers who know each other tend to flock together, unintentionally creating clusters of teachers who already know each other instead of getting to know new people (especially in a school as big as ours). A few teachers provided feedback in our last session yesterday with some good ideas to think about for the next course. I really like John’s idea of having groups of teachers contribute to a group blog (instead of each teacher authoring their own blog) – thus giving teachers less peer-reading to get through every week and also building in small communities of learners among this larger group. Although I feel strongly about the experience of building your own digital footprint and understanding this new medium of communication through practice, a group blog would be an easier entry into the world of blogging.

Finding Voice

It’s been so interesting to see how many of our teachers are reluctant bloggers. I totally understand that feeling. I can remember starting this blog and being panicked about other people possibly reading what I write. Fortunately for me, I didn’t actually know anyone at the time that had a blog that other people read. So I never really thought anyone would ever read mine. I knew they could, but it didn’t feel really real to me. I had plenty of time to find my voice here in this writing space without an audience, but our teachers can see the comments on this blog, Jeff’s and Chrissy’s – so they know people are reading. I wonder if this added another layer of pressure to the initial fear of publishing your thoughts to the world?

Finding Balance

Another conversation that comes up time and time again with both teachers and parents is the idea of balance. It’s something we all struggle with, but I think those of us that are already immersed in the web 2.0 world can forget how overwhelming everything was at first. We know we need to find balance, we know we need to use technology when it’s relevant, appropriate and authentic for our learning purpose. But sometimes we’re so zealous in our sales pitch of just how great things are, we forget to mention some of the drawbacks. Finding your own individual comfort level with technology is a process. There is no miracle one-size-fits-all answer, but we each need to learn what the right balance is for us. And we need to pass on that ability to our students.

Finding Communication

As we say to the parents that attend our Monthly Technology Coffee Mornings, finding balance and learning when and why and how to use technology appropriately is about conversations. Open and honest discussions between teachers and students, teachers and teachers, and parents are their children are the only way to find out exactly what will work for each individual. Sometimes adults are afraid to open the door to these kinds of conversations because they worry that their children will notice how much they don’t know, but that doesn’t matter. It’s life experience that teaches us how to find balance in our lives – not our skill level with technology.

Professor Cofino?

It has been such a pleasure to work with such a diverse group of teachers (and just to teach adults in general). The amazing life experiences we had in the room brought such an exciting dimension to our disucssions, their blog posts, and their completed work. Just listening to these various conversations and seeing the depth of thought and connections being made helped me realize that I would really love to do more of this level of teaching. It’s a different challenge than classroom teaching, with different rewards, and so far, I love it!

Blogging is Elementary!

When I arrived at ISB last year, one of the first major projects I started with two of our wonderful grade 5 teachers was student blogging (um, and did I mention that we started blogging at the same time as participating in Chris Craft’s Life ‘Round Here digital storytelling project?). I had come from a middle school position where every student in the school (grades six – eight) had their own individual student blog and was ready to continue that experience here.

What I didn’t know was that none of the teachers or students really had any experience blogging prior to my arrival (oops!). So, while they (both the teachers and the students) were absolutely fantastic at going with the flow and experimenting, I realized quite quickly that individual student blogs may not be the appropriate “first step” into the world of web 2.0 – especially at the elementary level.

So, over the course of last year I started to figure out an easier, more approachable, entry into participatory writing and reading online. I started with a grade 3 class, whose teacher, Betsy, was so flexible and ready to learn with me that we had so much fun getting this started with her students.

One of the major features of this smoother entry into blogging was having just one class blog that all students can contribute to. Instead of setting up each student with their own blog, they can all have their own username and password (which they love) to author individual posts on one class blog. Being able to leverage one free G-mail account to create individual accounts for each student was a huge step forward for us as well – taking away the need for student e-mail is definitely a huge stress-reliever (for both the teacher and the parents). Finally, adding a global component and pre-organized authentic audience really helped make our student writing purposeful.

After that much more successful, and far less stressful, experience with Betsy’s class, I knew it wouldn’t be long before another teacher wanted to try something similar. And, just as I expected, my amazingly collaborative colleague, Sonja, approached me at the very beginning of this year to start a reading and writing project with her grade 4 students.

We started off much the same as last year’s grade 3 class, with one important difference: we focused on the importance of quality commenting before we gave the students their usernames and passwords for the class blog. We spent several lessons exploring our blogging buddies blogs, learning how to write an appropriate and fair comment, and building our understanding of blogging as conversation.

Interestingly, as soon as this class got started with their collaborative blog, more and more teachers have been asking me to help them set up a blog with their class. Just this week, I helped another fourth grade teacher, Kristen, set up her class blog and was amazed at how quickly her students were able to pick up the basics. At this point, I’ve got the introduction to blogging organized into five lessons (slightly revamped from last year’s version):

Lesson One:

For our first lesson we spent some time examining other quality blogs, looking mostly at Anne Davis’ excellent Blogging: It’s Elementary WebQuest (just for the blog links, mostly). Each table group had a chance to look at one of the blogs listed on the process page and followed a Visible Thinking routine called: See, Think, Wonder. Each time we had a focused discussion at the table groups (starting with the question: What do you see?) we came back to the full-class and shared our observations, thoughts and wonderings. This was a great way to help students understand the basics of a blog and the concept of blogging as writing.

At the end of this first lesson we developed a list of things we know about blogs:

  • Blogging is free
  • People can leave comments on a blog post
  • People can see other people’s comments on a blog post
  • If you are the author of a blog, you can edit or delete anything on the blog as long as you have the correct username and password
  • A lot of blogs have things in common: pictures, comments, links, dates, archives, calendar, videos, opinions, recent posts, author’s name, conversations
  • A blog is like a website EXCEPT that blogs invite conversation, opinions and ideas while websites usually just tell their ideas without any feedback
  • Even though many blogs have the same features, they have different information
  • Authors put links on their blog because they think their readers will like them
  • Blogging is like a conversation with other people – some people you might know, some people you might not know
  • Bloggers want their reader’s opinions
  • Everyone in the world can see our blog
  • Blogging is reading and writing

Lesson Two:

For our second and third lessons, we watched two public service announcements from the US. We start with a PSA called the Bulletin Board to focus on online safety:

We watch the video all the way through once, then have a “turn and talk” moment to see what we understand about the video after the first viewing. Next we watch the video very slowly, stopping at every event to check for understanding. Again we have a “turn and talk” moment for students to share their revised understanding. Finally, we watch the video all the way through and share what we’ve learned. We start creating a class list of questions we can ask ourselves before we post and things to remember about staying safe online, which will be finished after watching the second video during lesson 3.

Lesson 3:

This lesson focuses on responsible behavior and discussion is prompted by the PSA called The Talent Show:

We follow the same procedure as the second lesson, watching once all the way through, then stopping to ensure understanding and finishing with a full run through. At the end of this lesson, we complete our class list of questions to ask ourselves before we post anything online. Here is what grade 4 developed:

  • How will this affect my reputation (what people think of me)?
  • What will my friends or family think about me after they read (or see) this post?
  • Could someone find me (in real life) based on this information?
  • Who is going to look at this, and how are they going to interpret my words?
  • Is this inappropriate, immature or bullying?
  • Could I hurt someone else’s feelings with this post?
  • Would I say this to the person’s face?
  • What could be the consequences of this post?
  • What will I cause by writing this post? Be culturally sensitive.
  • Would I want someone to say this to me?
  • Do I have a good reason/purpose to do this?
  • Is this something I want everyone to see?

We also make a quick list of safety and responsibility tips to help us remember to follow the blogging guidelines outlined in our permission slip. Here is what grade 4 came up with:

  • Only post things that you would want everyone (in school, at home, in other countries) to know
  • Think about the future – what will people think a few days, weeks, months from now, if they read your post;
  • Don’t share personal information like: last name, mom’s maiden name, address, telephone number, password, birthdate, username, passport information, license plate number, picture of your face, full name of yourself or your friends
  • Choose a complicated password for others, but easy for you to remember
  • Think before you post
  • Use only your first or an avatar (made up name that represents you)
  • Don’t talk to strangers. Get a parent or an older brother or sister to help you.
  • Only say nice things about other people.
  • Treat other people the way you want to be treated.
  • If you think you will regret it, don’t post it
  • If you wouldn’t say it to a person’s face, do not post it online
  • Use appropriate language and good grammar and spelling
  • Think about your readers feelings (embarrassing) when you post online
  • Be culturally sensitive
  • Only post things that you can verify are true (no gossiping)

Lesson 4:

We usually model the process of writing a good comment, and then create a comment as a piece of shared writing with the class. After this process we develop our own list of quality comment characteristics. Here is what one grade 4 class came up with:

  • Constructive, but not hurtful
  • Think about the author and their purpose for their post before leaving a comment
  • Comments are always related to the content of the post
  • Personal connections to what the author wrote
  • Answer a question, or add meaningful information to the content topic
  • Follows the writing process – it’s like a mini piece of writing.
  • Use a comment sandwich: start with a positive, add  constructive feedback, then finish with a positive.
  • Make your comment sandwich thick and tasty! Lots of meaningful, meaty thoughts that relate directly the content of the post to keep the blogger satisfied!

I love the idea of creating a comment sandwich – having the visual for the students has been extremely powerful, and focusing on commenting as part of the writing process has improved their commenting considerably (not as many “good job” posts as we had last year).

Lesson 5:

Once students are comfortable with the process of leaving meaningful comments, and have returned their parental permission slip, we introduce them to the actual process of writing blog posts. The basics of logging in, creating a new post, putting your post in the category for your name, and submitting for review. Usually we have the first post be a short introduction to the student.

I love the fact that having a category for each student makes it appear as if each student has their own blog (by listing the name categories in the sidebar) and that no posts will be published until the teacher can approve them after moderation. Such an easy and safe way to begin blogging!

That’s it! That’s how we’re starting to set up class blogs in grades 4 and 5 at ISB. So far we have 6 different classes set up:

I’m sure this is just the beginning! Most of these classes have already decided that if and when students are ready, they will be given the option to have their own individual blog.

Our next steps:

One thing that we still need to work out is how to embed the practice of blogging into the daily routine. We work with laptop carts – four per grade level, 12 laptops per cart – so teachers do not have 1:1 access and often have to schedule specific time with the carts. The organization and pre-planning necessary to naturally and easily use the tools can be cumbersome and frustrating for some teachers. Right now we’re thinking about using a rotational strategy – allowing small groups to use the laptops each day for regular reading and writing online.

Anyone have any thoughts on how to introduce blogging to elementary students? Or how to make rotational blogging and commenting practical and realistic for our teachers?

Mac Youngin by shapeshift
Playing on the Computer by fd

LAN-tastic!

Our second K12Online LAN party was a hit! In order to appeal to a different crowd, we held this one at ISB Teacher Housing right after school on a Thursday evening. Although it was definitely more convenient for most teachers, trying to get energized and focused on learning after a long day of work was a little more difficult than our previous Saturday morning party. Thankfully, we had three amazing guests visit and chat with us via Skype, which kept everyone engaged for the two-hour event.

@AllanahK via Skype

First up, we had the wonderful Allanah King from New Zealand share the story of how she got started using new tools like Skype, blogs, wikis and podcasts in her classroom. It was quite late for Allanah (I think something like 10pm) but she was as enthusiastic and passionate as always! Having Allanah there to start our party was a great way to demonstrate the power of connected learning from the outset – and to be able to use a tool, which is new for some, to kick-start our conversation was the perfect beginning!

After we chatted with Allanah, we watched Brian Crosby’s excellent presentation, “Video-Conferencing It’s Easy, Free and Powerful” about his experience using Skype in the classroom. I have to admit, no matter how many times I watch Brian and his students talk about involving Celeste in their classroom, I tear up. This presentation ended up, totally unintentionally I have to admit, setting the tone for our entire party. We spent most of our time talking about the power of Skype in the classroom. Chrissy and I shared a few examples and we brainstormed about the potential of bringing expert voices and outside guests into our daily learning environment.

Hello Old Friends! Continuing along our Skype theme, we had a very welcome visit from Nancy von Wahlde in Madrid, Spain. Amazingly, two of our current ISB teachers, Erin and Ali, had worked with Nancy (and many of her colleagues) in previous years. We had an unexpected reunion, which really brought home the potential of Skype. Nancy was right in the middle of her day in Madrid, so we got to see a few of her students in action and experience the hustle and bustle of the American School of Madrid with her.

Finally, we had a perfectly-timed call with Chris Betcher – who was using Skype on his mobile phone while spending some time with his family (Chris, you never cease to amaze me!). Chris shared some of his IWB secrets (soon to be published in his book, Teaching With Interactive Whiteboards) as well as tons of advice on how to use Moodle in the classroom (which ISB has recently implemented in the middle and high schools). As usual, Chris had a wealth of resources to share, not only about IWBs and Moodle, but also podcasting, screencasting, and digital video editing (we got the inside scoop on how he made his fantastic K12Online presentation about tagging).

Makeshift Projector StandAlthough we had a somewhat makeshift setup (check out the wobbly projector stand we put together with some of Ali’s still unpacked boxes from her move to Bangkok this year), this was another powerful experience of learning together. At the end of the session, we brainstormed ways to kick ’em up a notch to get even more people interested. Here are a few ideas that we came up with (mostly thanks to John, so I can’t take much of the credit):

  • Send an e-mail to the people who have expressed an interest to get them talking about the event in an effort to create a “buzz.”
  • Ask attendees what they want to learn about next – come in with a plan or a focus that can be advertised in advance (an excellent idea, requiring more work than I’ve put into the parties thus far). Although it was unintentional this time around, I really liked having a focus on one specific tool – sometimes it’s easier for people to wrap their heads around one idea than being bombarded with many different things.
  • Finding a way to use the tools we’ve learned about in previous evenings in the weeks leading up to the next party.

One more thing that we plan to do next time around is share the new Elgg group that we’ve created for our early adopters – this is definitely our target audience!

We’re thinking our next session will be next Saturday, December 13th, back at my apartment downtown in the late morning. So if you’re around and interested in sharing your thoughts with us, please let me know! We love having guests and hearing all different perspectives.

Anyone have any suggestions for making our next party even more LAN-tastic?

A Home-Grown Connection

Over the past few weeks of organizing and hosting K12Online LAN parties, reading about Seth Godin’s new book Tribes, and following the various blog posts from the Connectivism & Connecting Knowledge course offered by George Siemens and Stephen Downes, I have made a bit of a realization:

As much as I love working with students and teachers, and being at the center of 21st century learning at ISB, what would be most useful for our teachers is actually being connected to other teachers at school that share their interests, and can help them learn and grow in the direction they want.

It’s not that I can’t do this with and for our teachers, but if I want this growth to be sustainable it can’t be about me (or about any individual at the school). It has to be something that teachers can do themselves. They have to know who they can reach out to, who has the knowledge or information they need, and who can help them move to the next step.

So, really what I need to be doing is figuring out how to connect our teachers to each other. As odd as this may sound, considering that we all work in the same physical structure every day, many of us don’t know teachers in other divisions (I hardly know any high school teachers, even though this is my second year at ISB) and we most certainly don’t know who is interested in which aspects of teaching and learning in a digital world. Because our days are so jam-packed and busy, we actually need a way to connect asynchronously – even though we are in physical proximity most of the day.

I’ve known for many years just how powerful a network can be, but I seemed to always focus on making those connections with individuals outside my day-to-day work environment, the benefits of being able to find a like-minded colleague without having the fortune of physically sharing a teaching space. But, over the last few years, we’ve planted enough seeds around the school, spread out throughout each division, that we actually may have a network of learners right here, working together every day, and we just haven’t realized it yet.

At our last ISB21 Team meeting, we talked about this and Jeff and I came up with an idea: start a social network at school using our Elgg install. We can create a group, Jeff and I will populate it with relevant information, videos, images, etc before inviting other teachers, and then share it with our dedicated early adopters so they can add even more. Eventually we can share the group with the whole school to see where it goes. Even if we only connect a small group of teachers that wouldn’t otherwise be connected, it will be worth it!

Here are the benefits we’ve thought of:

  • It’s hosted at school, so it’s fast and we don’t have to rely on an outside connection (often tenuous at best in Bangkok) – a better choice for us than something like Ning.
  • It’s private, just for ISB staff, which may help teachers feel safer sharing and learning in a new environment.
  • We’re planning to run a survey using ProfilerPro in January (Chad’s brilliant idea) which will graphically represent areas (and individuals) where the school is strong in their use and understanding of technology. This survey would allow teachers to find other individuals in the school that have the skill set their looking for and the social network would provide a place for them to connect outside of their extremely busy school-day schedules.
  • By allowing teachers to learn from each other we’re enabling them to be self-directed and independent, while still providing a basic structure for how to get started. This could be a gateway to developing a more international personal learning network once they see the value of connecting this way.
  • By connecting our various seedlings around the school, we’re hoping more will grow. The “look what she’s doing – I want to do that too” mentality.
  • By using this tool for their own learning, teachers will be more likely to see how relevant appropriate it can be for classroom use.
  • By connecting peers to each other, we’re taking away some of the dependence on us, allowing individuals to continue to sustain their learning beyond our tenure at the school.
  • We could invite incoming teachers into the group before they arrive, allowing them to get a first-hand look at what teachers are learning about at ISB.

What do you think? Are we onto something? Is something important missing? Has anyone else tried this at their school? What were the results?

Marietta Diner by The Rocketeer
Interlocking (fins) toy #2 by Ctd 2005