Starting the school year off with a blog!

3 1/2 weeks into the school year and we’ve already set up 691 student blogs at and 151 teacher blogs at This could be remembered as the “Year of the Blog” at ISB.

BTSN parents Blogging! by jutecht.The Technical Part:
Behind the scene these two sites are located on school linux servers. Both sites are running WordPressMU.

Inside ISB:
We create the teacher accounts/blogs as they ask for them. This way we know who is blogging and can support them as they get started.

Blogs @ ISB:
We uploaded all the students using the Dagon Design Import Users Plugin. Once all the students are in the system Dennis, Kim and I can then walk classrooms of students through the process in about 45 minutes (30 minutes for older grades). We sign students up on a teacher/team request base. So yes, our pre-k students have an account….are they blogging yet….nope, but if and when they are ready we’ll be ready!

The Educational Part:
There is a lot of credit to go around on how we got to this place so know the following story is not just me…but a team of educational focused people who have a common vision on why blogging is important for students.

It’s not the blogging we feel is important of course, it’s the power that publishing to a wider audience that in 2010 will surpass 2 Billion Internet connected people. Not only is there engagement power in publishing to this audience but also authentic power as students realize they are writing for someone larger than their teacher. That an assignment is not just an assignment but an idea to be shared with others.

BTSN parents Blogging! by jutecht.Over half of the 5th graders who I have helped to set blogs up with over the last two weeks have a Facebook page. No our 5th graders are not 13 but that hasn’t stopped them from creating the accounts and being in that space. If we are going to teach students to be safe in this new digital socially connected world than we need to have systems and programs in place that allow us to teach them to be safe. We can not teach Internet safety behind a filter as scary as it is….we need to put them out there. Heck they’re already out there, but now we’re choosing to put them out there on our terms, on our system, where we can teach them to be safe.

Two huge things happened over the last year to bring us to this place where we’re creating blogs on a daily basis. First and foremost was the hiring of Chrissy Hellyer as a 5th grade teacher last year. Last year Chrissy came to our school and without missing a beat showed the whole elementary what it meant and the power that lies in having your students connected. This year the whole 5th grade team is committed to giving blogging a try. Each teacher and every student has a blog (Netvibes link for all of 5th grade). With Chrissy leading the way creating a digital literacy unit the grade is off and running. If you are blogging this year with your students for the first time I STRONGLY encourage you to keep up with Chrissy’s blog and her class blog as well to see how she uses it to communicate with students, parents and in setting a good blogging example.

The second tipping point came in the Certificate of Educational Technology and Information Literacy Certificate Progarm via SUNY @ Buffalo. This program which started in January with 30+ teachers K-12 taking part, has made a shift in our schools as it has forced teachers to use a wiki, create a blog, and go deep in understanding this new information world we live in. With Kim, Dennis, Chad and myself teaching the courses teachers know that they have the support to try something new in their classrooms as their teachers in the course are also paid to help them. 🙂

BTSN parents Blogging! by jutecht.The next step of course is getting parents involved and supporting this new open education we are promoting. The 5th grade team took the lead on this last week by introducing the parents to their student’s blog during back to school night. During the night parents found their child’s blog and learned how to leave a comment. The pictures in this post are of parents learning how to comment on their child’s blog. Chrissy of course took it one step further and Skyped in some pals from Australia to help make the point that we can learn from anyone anywhere.

We don’t have all the answers on how we’re going to monitor or keep kids safe but we’re out there….and being out there is the first step to learning how to be safe when you’re out there. Kim met with some middle school teachers who came up with Blogging Guidelines for the students. I know she’s going to blog about it, so I won’t steal her thunder. (Yes we do have conversations in the office around who’s going to blog what….not a day goes by that you don’t hear “You should blog that!” Yes, you should be jealous of the team I get to work with everyday. 🙂 )

This week I start the third round of lessons with the 5th grade students. Lesson 1: Set up your blog and learn to post. Lesson 2: Add links and a visitors map, learn about widgets. Lesson 3: Talk about comments, the difference between a comment and a compliment, and adding a picture to a blog post.

That’s about it for actual blog set up for students….the rest they have already learned on their own or we’ll teach them in context through the year. Three 1 hour sessions that should change these students idea of writing and reflecting for the rest of their schooling at ISB.

I’m sure you’ll be hearing much more about these blogs from Dennis, Kim, and I this year. I suggest following all three to get a true feel of how they are being used from 5-12 grade. So here we go READY, SET, BLOG!