Friday, February 29, 2008

Rock the Classroom!

We're here at the IEG conference in Hollywood, and I've just had the pleasure of attending a great session.

Rock the Classroom focuses on learning more about literacy through music. Bradley Kesden, Daniel Raimi and Destani Wolf showed off some of their teaching methods, and had the participants not just singing along but also writing our own song.

This is an excellent way of integrating the arts into every classroom, making learning more engaging, and stimulating thinking.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Google has a wiki!!!!

Kevin Jarrett has shared the most exciting piece of news about Google having a wiki: For those schools like C.I.S. 339 that have embraced the rest of the Google Apps already, this development offers incredible new potential.
Watch the video.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Chris Chiang's 'Teacher Innovations' is a 'Must Visit'

I have only just stumbled across Chris Chiang's 'Teacher Innovations' site, but it is a 'must visit' for any teacher wanting to incorporate web 2.0 applications in her/his classroom.

Open Letter on Under-writing and Over-publishing

This is the 4th 'Open Letter' in a series about making better use of our blogs.

Dear Students,

You might not have wondered yet about how it is that so many teachers in your school are able to read so many student blogs. Most of us use Google Reader, which pulls all of the student blog posts together in one place for us. We subscribe to each student blog URL, and then Google Reader keeps us updated on all of your new posts.

This is a great thing for teachers, and other people who like to keep track of new additions on many different websites, but the drawback is that we can get overloaded with things to read. Once this happens, we stop reading your posts properly, or maybe unsubscribe so that we're not reading them at all.

It usually takes quite a while to build up your readership for your blog. You have been given a headstart as your teachers, and maybe some of your classmates, are reading your work. In order for you to keep these readers and add more, you need to look after your 'audience'.

Obviously you can do this by ensuring high quality posts. You should also be mindful of not posting if you don't really have much to say. If you're just jotting down some ideas, then you're best to save the post rather than publish it, and return to it later to improve it. If you continue to publish many brief, boring posts, people will stop reading your blog because you're basically clogging up their Google Reader feeds. On the other hand, if you publish very good posts, more people will subscribe to your blog. Google even offers you the chance to make money from your blog if it's very, very popular.

There are some good ways to track who has been reading your blog, and this becomes quite addictive. In your sidebar, you can add a feed meter (which keeps a count of the number of visitors you have had), a clustrmap (which displays each visitor as a dot on the globe), or Feedjit (which shows the latest visitors, and from where they viewed your blog). If you want very detailed statistics, you can add Google Analytics.

Take it easy,
Pat Wagner

Open Letter on Plagiarism in Blogging

This is the third post in a series of 'Open Letters' about blogging.

Dear Students,

Now is the time to address the issue of plagiarism in our blogs. Plagiarism is the literary term for 'cheating', as it means that we have taken someone else's ideas or work and passed this off as our own.

Plagiarism is not always deliberate cheating or stealing. Sometimes it is due to our own ignorance of the expectations of referencing, or it might be due to forgetfulness or haste. Whatever the case might be, plagiarism is still unacceptable, and it often carries serious consequences.

If we take ideas from another website without acknowledging the author and the site, we can be sued, or forced to remove the content. In High School and College, plagiarism can lead to failure in assessment, or even expulsion.

Plagiarism can be avoided though. It is not a bad thing to use other people's ideas. In fact, it's usually a very good thing to do because it proves that we have read from other sources. We just need to make sure that we provide a hyperlink to the original source, and place quotation marks (" ") around anything that is taken 'word for word'. We should also give mention to the author of the article, when this is known.

Happy hyperlinking,
Pat Wagner

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Open Letter on Internet Safety in Blogging

This is the second post in a series of 'open letters'.

Dear Students,

I mentioned in my first open letter that having your own blog was a little like MySpace, so it's important that we refresh your memory about some security measures that you should take.

The temptation for you as a writer is to reveal things about yourself, but we all need to remember that the internet is a public space. Would you write your name and personal details on an advertising board at a bus stop? Would you leave photographs of yourself lying around the school? Look at the number of celebrities who are now regretting giving other people access to their private lives as a result of poor personal security.

The reality is that as soon as we leave details about, or photographs of, ourselves or our friends and family in our blog, we are allowing any reader to use this information or these images in whatever ways they want. It is very easy to make a copy of an image in a blog and then edit it inappropriately.

It might seem hypocritical that I leave my full name on my blog - since I advise you not to - but I only do this as it's part of my work. If my blog was purely part of my own learning and enjoyment, then it would be fine for me to create a different username. There is no need for your reader to know your last name.

To stop anyone from bullying you by leaving inappropriate comments on your blog, you should take some precautions. Go to 'Settings', then 'Comments'. Scroll down to 'Enable comment moderation' and click 'yes', and then write in your school email address, and click 'Save'. This will mean that all comments will be emailed to you first for you to decide whether or not they should be published. You need to develop the habit of checking your emails daily, and be sure to publish all comments from teachers.

Getting access to a blog in school is a responsibility that we should not take for granted, and we need to be sensible about this. Before you publish, just think of it like road safety and look both ways.

Happy posting,
Pat Wagner

Open Letter on Blog Feedback

This will be the first post in a series of 'open letters' giving you feedback on your blogging. (An 'open letter' is a published letter meant to be read by many people.)

Dear Students,

Firstly, please let me congratulate you on your blogging efforts thus far. I know that many of you have been very excited about blogging for different reasons: you get to be working on the computer; you learn a little more about using this technology; you have a personalized site, which is a little like MySpace; you have some freedom in terms of expressing your own ideas; your posts can be read by a wide audience; and you can get feedback via the 'comments'.

When this initial excitement has settled, we need to reflect on the educational purpose of blogging. Through your blog posts, you get the opportunity to discover your own VOICE as a writer. No-one else in the world writes or thinks quite like you. You get to choose the VOCABULARY that you think sounds just right for the ideas that you are trying to express, and for the mood that you are trying to convey.

Also, because you now have an audience for your writing, you will start to realize that each blog post should have a FOCUS. That focus should be obvious from the clues in your title and your opening paragraph, and it should be maintained throughout the post. It's fine for you to make the reader infer. However, readers will tire of following your blog if there doesn't seem to be any 'point' to your writing. A strong conclusion can leave a lasting impression on your reader.

To improve the ORGANIZATION of your posts, remember to use paragraphs. These breaks are like mental breaths for the reader, because they give the eye a brief chance to relax again, and the brain a chance to digest some of the information. Too many ideas in a single paragraph can clog up the reader's comprehension. Transitional words such as 'however', 'firstly', 'since', 'yet' and 'finally' help to sequence your ideas, and act as signals to the reader's brain.

ELABORATION is important, as it's frustrating for your reader if something interesting is mentioned, but then there are insufficient details. If your post is based on an article that you read, please provide a hyperlink. Similarly, feel free to use bullet points if it helps to list additional information that could help the reader. Always re-read your post before and after publishing, and edit it if you think of more details that should be included.

Even though the blog represents your personal writing space, it is still public. Therefore, there are CONVENTIONS that should be followed. One of these, as I have mentioned already, is hyperlinking to any other sites that you have used for the post, or to sites that will give the reader more information about people, places, events, or things that you have referred to in your post. You should edit for spelling, punctuation and sentence construction, as a courtesy to your reader. Otherwise the message that you are sending is that you don't really care about the quality of your own writing, and you don't respect your reader.

In summary, the aspects to consider are VOICE/VOCABULARY, FOCUS, ORGANIZATION, ELABORATION and CONVENTIONS. This is not intended to take the joy out of blogging for you. Instead, it should increase your satisfaction dramatically when you have people from the other side of the world not just reading your work, but deliberately searching for more of your writing. Now that's exciting.

Have a blogging good day,
Pat Wagner

Fun for Everyone

Check out what is now offering. It's very similar to comic life. Thanks to Kevin Jarrett for passing this on.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Blogs for Reading Reflection

The past two weeks at C.I.S. 339 (Bronx, New York) have emphasized both the power and the potential problems of classroom blogging. There has definitely been a ground swell of online writing, and increased engagement, from students in grade 8 as they have launched their blogs. Not only that, but teachers have also posted, and their writing has been entertaining and inspiring.

The problems that I alluded to are not so much problems with blogging itself, but problems highlighted by blogging, which is actually a good thing.

Using Google Reader, teachers are able to identify:
  • students who are not posting
  • inappropriate posts
  • plagiarism
  • lapses in protocols for ensuring personal internet security

However, these few problems have been completely overshadowed by the enthusiasm with which students and teachers are now embracing this medium. Blogging has given students an authentic purpose and audience.

Using our own version of the characteristics of effective writing (FOCUS, ORGANIZATION, ELABORATION, VOICE/VOCABULARY and CONVENTIONS), teachers can start to suggest areas for improvement via the comments in students' blogs.

We have developed a spreadsheet as a blog tracker to enable many teachers across the school to share in the students' posts, and the principal has started celebrating good posts in the school wiki.

I would love to see the day when a student starts a blog in grade 6 and maintains this through to the end of grade 8. Imagine the power of this kind of tracking of student growth and teacher feedback!

Google 'Forms' have so much potential for the classroom

I'm very excited about Google's release of 'Forms' - essentially a 'create your own survey' component of Google spreadsheets. It's easy to use, FREE, and it gathers the responses straight into a Google spreadsheet.

For classes with access to a computer, a teacher could now use these surveys for:

  • an anticipation guide
  • a Do Now activity
  • class research/polling activities
  • student self-evaluation of understanding (end of lesson/end of week/end of unit)
  • diagnostic, formative or even summative assessments
  • unit evaluation - students' feedback on whether or not they enjoyed a certain unit
  • parent feedback

The increased ability to gather data now enables easier differentiation. We can group students more easily, and more quickly, and continue the cycle of gathering the next round of data to drive further instruction.

Frankly, I love it!!!! See for yourself, and complete the survey.

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