Finally! I have the beginnings of a Reader’s Blog.

Blogging was so successful last school year that I was certain to get a head start on it in August. Well, August came and went, and no blog for my students. Edublogs worked wonderfully last year. I could oversee the students’ posts without micromanaging and balance online safety with a sense of independence for the children.

This year, I needed to become a “supporter” to have those same capabilities. What’s a cash-strapped, budget-crunching teacher to do? Jump the proverbial ship, of course.

I tried a number of blogging platforms, but none had exactly what I needed as a teacher. Until I came across Kidblog.org, a FREE and easy site for classblogs.

It’s simple enough for first time student bloggers, offers nice privacy settings for teachers, and eliminates extras such as themes and widgets. For this last reason, seasoned bloggers may not like it, but it really helps to keep the focus on the content for our younger bloggers.

Best of all, our DOE servers are not blocking it as a “social- networking site,” like many other fantastic resources I would love to use in the classroom. Nothing kills the students’ enthusiasm faster than “technical difficulties!”

Sent from my iPhone

I love lots of apps that I get from the App Store. Everything you could possibly want…”there’s an app for that.” (With maybe the exception of Flash. Are you listening Apple?) But Ustream Live Broadcaster definitely hits it out of the park. As a teacher, the thing I am most concerned about after my students is parent communication. We have lots of opportunities for parents to come and hear about what their children are learning, but it’s a completely different experience to see it. As such, we post lots of pictures on our grade level website; everything from field trips to day to day life in the classroom. We even have a few video clips, raw, to be sure, but fun for families to watch once the event has been recorded and archived. Ustream Live Broadcaster, however, has made it possible for families to watch while it happens.
We first experimented with Ustream during our Curriculum Night. The turnout, typically, at 5th grade is fairly low, but that doesn’t mean that people are not interested. Cooking dinner or taking care of the children at home takes precedence, as well it should. Ustreaming Curriculum Night meant that our families did not have to choose or go out of their way to do both. We were also very lucky to have a parent (Thank you again @ParkRat!) who was willing to help us get equipment set up and video tape while we were sharing. 
With the app for iPhone, I’ve been able to live stream both our Market Day event and a Winter Assembly at school. Did I mention live? Families can see what their children are doing and learning, and they don’t have to wait for us, the teachers, to get home, go through the footage, and upload it to our website. It’s the next best thing to being there in person. And setting it up? Easy as pie. I just go to the Ustream website, schedule a show, get the embed code, and copy paste to our website. Then I start up the app on my iPhone, and shoot. If you can copy and paste and hit the record button, you can use Ustream. It has been one of the simplest, easiest, most economical (it’s a free app!) ways to communicate with parents and the larger school community. 
My Ustream Live Broadcaster plans for 2010? You can be sure our families will be seeing lots of our field trips and other in-school events…live.

download.gif

A little late for the holiday season, but ImageChef is an interesting take on word clouds. There are other capabilities, but this was nice and quick. It took all of 30 seconds. Check it out!

wordchef

Much of our professional development over the past two years has been in the instruction of reading. We were even lucky enough to have 10 teachers go to New York to attend the Teacher’s College Reading Summer Institute headed by Lucy Calkins, language arts extraordinaire. If one thing that was deemed crucial, it was that we get a “just right book” in the hands of every child. Scholastic must be thinking along the same lines, because they just made a widget available that allows you to search their Book Wizard for reading levels. Embedable on your blog or website, this tool makes it simple for parents and students to use in their search for appropriate reading material.
http://www.scholastic.com/tbwwidget/

Here is a much delayed part 2. Thanks to my other student, cala5b, for patiently waiting…

In fifth grade, we’ve been enjoying our blogs! A blog is where you get to write absolutely anything you want! For example, write about an awesome trip you had, a favorite birthday present, some kind of delicious ice cream you just finished eating, anything you want!!! How do I see it? Well I see it as a virtual conversation with your best friends. Just get on your blog’s comment page, and while you’re reading your friend’s comments, you’ll feel like they are right in front of you! Blog a lot, and just being by the computer will make you feel like your friends are with you!
There are also really cool things you can do, such as make smiley faces, and even color your letters! Blogging is just the awesomest thing ever.

Summer is here and it’s time to (in the words of my students) “dust off my blog” and get back to posting. I am, however, going to start slowly. I asked a couple of my students to be guest bloggers and share their opinions about the blogs we did this past year. Here is the first, who goes by her login name, clsh5a. Enjoy!

I had so much fun blogging during my time as a 5th grader!! I loved it so much, that I made my own blog on a website all by myself!!
Blogging is fun because you get to write about anything you want. The posts on your blog could be about a cool school activity, or maybe just a small little picnic you had that day. Whenever I had a bad day, I would write about it on my blog and I would feel better.
Blogs can also be for commenting on your friend’s blogs. I would always check up on my friend’s blog and comment on any new posts they wrote. It’s fun to comment because sometimes, you could check up on the comment you wrote earlier to see if your friend responded to it. Then, it could be like a little chat as you type another comment to respond to your friend’s and your friend could respond back to that comment, too.

Overall, I had a lot of fun blogging and I’m glad mching introduced blogging to me!

For those of you who have seen my Twitter account, you’ve probably glimpsed the occasional tweet about my “borrowed” SmartBoard. We were lucky enough to use it in our classrooms for about a month, and despite the steep learning curve and lack of formal training, use it we did! At first it was an “endless whiteboard,” a space to store a few lessons, a picture or two, and our thoughts and ponderings. Eventually, though, we really began to use it to make the teaching and learning by both teacher and students more dynamic, interactive, and, dare I say, fun.

We even did a quick video on the first day the students learned about rotational symmetry. While it’s not perfect, neither the video, nor their understanding, it was a huge step forward in terms of the possibilities. With this in mind, we’d like to share this video with you.

Alas, budget constraints brought this experience to an abrupt end. We’ll go back in January to our chart papers and static whiteboard, but the heart of it, the interactivity, was not lost on me. And perhaps that was my most important reminder of all.

We’ve had a class blog now for a couple of months, but I’ve noticed something recently. I was still the “sage on the stage.” I posted, the students responded. I responded to their response. No one responded to me.

Obviously, something was not working. I could do the same thing with student journals. Yes, the blog made their writing more visible, more public, yet it wasn’t anything that they truly cared about. In order to do this, I needed to turn the blog over to them. Once I had this revelation, I needed to find models of student blogs that worked. Blogs that mirrored the students’ passions. While trolling through twitter, I found one such blog in the Digiteen Dream Team.

To make a long story short, the Dream Team found an incredible learning tool in Lively, Google’s online virtual world. They have created their avatars, performed plays, and even “built” a virtual school. Unfortunately, this tool is being shut down on December 31, 2008. Needless to say, the students are upset. And they’re not taking it lying down.

Matty Bear

Lively Avatar - Matty Bear

The Dream Team is blogging, using wikispaces, and continuing to use Lively to organize protests. The most incredible thing is, unlike the vast majority of people (adults included), they are doing this in a way that is respectful of others, including the corporation involved…Google. Their most recent post shows thoughtful, carefully crafted ideas that demonstrate their thorough grasp of the big picture:

• For-profit companies need to make money from their products.

• Google is a  for-profit company, Lively is their product, therefore Lively needs to make money.

• Solution – Let’s bring money-making ideas to Google.

The most recent post on the Digiteen’s blog is a solution; suggestions on 10 ways that Lively can make money for Google. Their suggestions run the gamut from t-shirts and avatar clothing to charging for company rooms to asking for donations. However, their “pay for eyeballs” idea is the most innovative I have heard of in a long time. Internet marketers, look out, because these students are your future competitors!

Pay for “eyeballs” – Let users “pick” their advertising “bling” of the day — what they support and like — then, the advertisers pay google for each avatar that picks their bling and pays by how many other avatars “see” the advertising “bling” — literally paying for “eyeballs” — something that cannot be done in the real world.

Is this a David and Goliath story? Probably…hopefully…But no matter what the outcome of this particular fight, these ninth graders from Georgia are mobilizing people à la Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody.

Now that’s real learning…and real power.

I promised myself this school year that I would move forward full speed ahead into the 21st century, use technology to provide students with a wider audience than their teacher and parents, and find ways to present content that was both meaningful and relevant. I have not gone back on this promise, but neither do I feel like I’ve moved as much as possible. Will Richardson might call this a “Yeah, but…” post, and it’s a reality that many teachers, with very good intentions, find themselves mired in.

Just some examples…
• iBook mobile lab: keys missing, dead batteries that no longer hold charge, newest iBook is 5 years old, oldest is 7
• 6 mac minis to be shared among 40 students in an open classroom, only 5 actually working (did I mention that they have different versions of various software and just recently had the same OS installed?)
• 1 video camera (yay! this one works! but keep in mind that the equipment is shared among the grade level — 4 classes, 80 students)
• 2 still shot cameras (again shared among the grade level)
• A school lab with 10 eMacs and 10 mini-macs which have been pulled from various classrooms who are awaiting updates

All this in a school whose mission is to “prepare children for the 21st century.”

I’m not bashing my school. Really. I’m not. (totally sans sarcasm here) There are many reasons why technology is not at the top of a school’s priorities. The pie is limited, and everyone wants their fair share. Truly, at this point in my life, there is no where else I’d rather work. Part of the reason I love this school is that teachers are encouraged to dream big, to be innovative, to teach in ways that honor each child. And yet, when it takes the students 15 minutes to log into their wikispace because supposedly its been un-blocked (interject sarcasm here), but they get stuck in a vicious loop of logins and DOE error messages, I just want to scream. Then they finally get to start a post, only to have to logout because our lab time is up. In the meantime, the other half of the students haven’t even touched the keyboard…again…

So I know all the pat answers.
“Put the computers in a learning center rotation.”
“Make a schedule.”
“Connect the computer to a projector.”
“Teach the students typing skills so they get done more quickly.”
“Assign the students roles (i.e. spell checker, typer, reader) to facilitate sharing of the responsibilites.”
“Use the computer as a teaching tool.” (read…the students never touch the computer)

At best, these “solutions” are antiquated answers, no longer relevant in a 21st century curriculum. At worst, the computer is rarely used by the students in any meaningful way. This cannot be allowed to happen in our schools. The machine that is education in the United States cannot continue to churn out students who are prepared for jobs that are either outsourced or no longer exist. Why sort and select students instead of providing opportunities for all to succeed? Why indeed?

In answer to these questions, teachers are making a difference in their own quiet way, in their own individual classrooms. Despite the many technical difficulties, the students plug away, using edublogs and wikispaces, communicating with their teachers via email, creating portfolios to demonstrate learning, and, hopefully, finding an audience to share their thinking and learning.

Maybe, for now, this has to be good enough.

“Is preparing students to enter a system that is at war with itself really preparing them for the future?”

This is just one of the thought-provoking questions asked in this viral video. To describe it further would do it injustice. Watch and judge for yourself.

Beyond “Did You Know?” A Video for Viral Times: “Did You Ever Wonder?”

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