View from my place in bangkok

Still trying to remember where my summer went, I find myself back in Bangkok and preparing for the year ahead. This could be a big tech year for my school. Things are in place to start really using technology in some innovative ways. Not that we haven’t in the past, but the systematic changes we’ve made this year will definitly add some ability to use technology in much more authentic ways. 

We continue to roll out our 1:1 program this year with all 6-8th graders getting a MacBook Pro to start the school year off. Next year will be 9-12 and what excites me is we have 5th and 4th grade teachers already asking ‘how about us?’. 

We’ve continued with our stratagy of building our online communication and blended learning enviornment around three key tools. Google Apps, WordPress Blogs, and Moodle.

Google Apps:

We’ve just finshed rolling out Google Apps to all teachers on our main domain so all students and teachers are now officially on the Google Apps platform making the ability to use calendars, docs, and sites that much easier and much more powerful. What is also great is the resources around Google Apps for Education, Google has done a good job of getting videos, handouts, etc out there for others to use…and at the same time keep innovating with their apps.

Speaking of which another Gmail Lab extension hit sometime last week I think. It’s called Preview Pane and basically gives you the 3-column view like Outlook. Another great feature to help those who are use to this view make the transition. If you’re a long time gmail user this might not be a big hit…but for teachers transitioning from a desktop client it could be a stepping stone. 


Preview Pane 440x67

 WordPress Blogs:

I’m excited each year now as we continue to grow how we’re using blogs at our school (download the free PDF to the right for more info). This will be our 4th year using blogs. What I love most is that the blogs and blogging has never been a focus of the tech team or the school yet this year every 3-12th grader will have their own blog. My school does have a definition of learning though:

Learning is the primary focus of our school and we recognize learning as a life-long adventure. We value meaningful learning where students construct enduring understanding by developing and applying knowledge, skills, and attitudes. Increased understanding is evidenced by students who:

– Explain its relevance
– Describe how it connects to or conflicts with prior learning
– Communicate it effectively to others
– Generalize and apply it effectively to new situations
– Reflect critically on their own and other’s learning
– Ask questions to extend learning
– Create meaningful solutions

There are at least four bullet points that I can specifcally tie to blogging and even show evidence of over the past three years. What I love is some of our students are starting to connect posts together of their prior learning (point 2). When you have four years of thinking, artifacts, pictures, assignments all in one place it makes it easy to reflect on your learning and tie that to prior knowledge you have. That….is powerful learning!


As we continue to roll out our 1:1 program Moodle has become the foundation for our blended leanring enviornment. It’s great to see the administrative team on board with where we’re going as this year all high school and middle school teachers have a manditory 2 hour Moodle training to start the school year. A chance to really look at the design aspect of courses and give the teachers some time to create their content for this year. I’m excited to see if we can take Moodle and Blended Learning to the next level…..maybe even flip some classrooms. 🙂


Any school looking for an online blended learning enviornment I have to say this is a pretty powerful one. These three tools together give us a lot of flexability with our online learning space. I’d be interested in hearing what other schools have set up for their blended learning space. 

After 3 years I still feel that the blogging platform is one of the best web-based portfolios tools available to schools…and now kids are thinking so as well. We’ve only really been using the blogs in our high school the last two years with this year more classes using them for student reflection and meaningful research. One of our seniors recently wrote this as part of his reflection in his senior seminar class:

This year in Mrs. Corning’s Senior Seminar class, blogging was a very important part of the criterion.  Since I already knew how to navigate through my own blog, I was able to successfully update my reflections and to astutely deal with any electronic errors that occurred while I was on my blog.  The video posting posed a new challenge, though, but I greatly enjoyed filming it and sharing my own video with my peers.  Whenever I scan through  my blog, I feel a great sense of accomplishment as I review my past assignments.  In a way, my blog acts as a time machine as I am able to instantly view my work from the past two years. It is satisfying to examine my growth as a person and as a writer whenever I compare two different works from varying time periods in the latter of my high school career.  I believe that schools all around the world will soon adopt the use of blogs due to their convenience and practicality, especially when educating students on a global level.  Through blogs, I can exhibit my writing to people all over the world, and I am also able to learn from other student’s blogs.

Here at ISB we’re in our 3rd year of using blogs as web-based portfolios. You can learn about our approach and setup in the free PDF I created and that can be downloaded from the sidebar of this blog.

Student It excites me to see that the students are starting to understand what the blogs purpose is. Having a space to be able to call your own, create your own content, and from time to time do an assignment gives the kids the autonomy, purpose and ability to master they need to be motivated (all three of which are mentioned above). 

It’s not perfect…we’re still, as a school, defining the blogs use. What school work should go on the blog if any, how to grade it…if it should be graded, and a lot of other logistical stuff.

But in the meantime, kids are blogging, creating content about what they’re learning, what they’re interested in, and doing it because we provided  them a place to do that in. I have no doubt that we’ll figure out how to use these better as a school for learning. But sometimes you just got to throw the tool out there, start using it, and figure out the rest as you go. 

Maybe this is why I like technology and the time period we’re in right now. Everything is always in beta. 

I’m a few hours away from calling a taxi and starting the 17 hour trip to Portland, Oregon (via Seattle of course) for the ITSC11 Conference e. I’ll be doing three sessions. Blended Classrooms, Blogs as E-Portfolios, and 10 Digital Tools for Digital Educators.

It’s this last session that I always have the hardest time with. What 10 digitals tools should educators know about? There are so many and depending on the attendees, you never know what people really want. That’s why this session usually ends up being a great discussion starting with “What do you want to know about?” and off we go.

As I’ve been thinking about the session I keep coming back to how important RSS is to the web. What seems like a such a simple piece of the larger web, this little bit of technology pushes and pulls information around the web behind the sense so gracefully that you probably use it in one form or another everyday without realizing it. Yet, if you can understand it, it becomes a very powerful way to push and pull information around the web where you want it to go. 

Apple, iTunes and Podcasters have made a living off of RSS. Ever wonder why most podcasts are on a blog? Because blogs come with RSS technology built in and iTunes Podcasts run off of RSS feeds. When you “Subscribe” to a podcast in iTunes you’re just subscribing to that podcasts RSS feed. iTunes simply delivers the content to your computer. 

RSS is a push and pull technology. It allows you to push and pull content around the web with ease. Many people don’t use RSS Readers anymore with them being replaced by Twitter streams, yet the use of RSS goes beyond just pulling content to you.

Here are some ways that I’m using RSS at my school and in my professional life to make things easier and to tie things together. 


COETAIL is a 5 graduate class certificate program that Kim and I run here in Asia (more on the explosion of this program soon). For each cohort we run we set up a blog such as this one I set up for the cohort in Taipei. Part of the problem I was having was when I found content to share with the participants I needed a way to push that information to this blog without going there, logging in and writing a blog post. Using the FeedWordPress Plugin that takes the content in an RSS feed and turns it into a post I now have a way to pull information I share on the web to the site.

Next was finding an RSS feed that was simple and quick and didn’t take much time to use. I decided to use Tumblr as a way to quickly gather web clipping I wanted to save all in one spot. Next I came up with a tagging system. Most blogging systems and even social bookmarking sites have an RSS feed for every tag. Tumblr does and it also has a fantastic Chrome Browser (one of the 10 tools) extension that works great. Now I have a quick way to get information to the different cohorts. Once I find something I want to share I click the Tumblr extension which automatically grabs the URL and the title of the webpage I’m on. I quickly add a description, click on the advance button and add my tags. If I want the information to go to the Taipei site I use the tag coetail@tas. If I want the information to got to the ISB site I use coetail@isb. If I want it to go to all the coetail blogs I simply use the tag coetail. 

Within seconds I can push this content out to the web on Tumblr and then pull it back into different blogs based on tags. 

ISB Blogs:

Using this same idea, students have to write a reflection about their GCW Trips (Global Citizen’s Week) that we went on last week. The trip leaders don’t have all the student blog addresses and we want the students to own the reflection, we want it to become part of their learning/eporfolio here at ISB. Using the FeedWordPress Plugin on our WordPress MultiSite install I created a tag for each trip. Students write their reflection on their blog and tag the blog post with the specific tag for their trip. I then set up a blog for each trip, grabbed the RSS feed for that specific trip tag and pulled all the blog posts into one blog that teachers can easily read and grade.

Here’s the idea:

URL to sitewide tag: http://blogs.isb.ac.th/blog/tag/gcwmekok/

The Feed for the tag: http://blogs.isb.ac.th/blog/tag/gcwmekok/feed

Where all these posts end up: http://blogs.isb.ac.th/gcw-mekok-village/

One great feature of the FeedWordPress Plugin is you can have the link to the post send you back to the original source. So if you want to leave a comment on a student blog post click on the title and it will take you to that student’s blog where you can leave the comment. Again keeping the student in control of their content.

This setup could be used in a number of ways. You could create a class blog that basically acts like an RSS reader. Students blog about your class, tag their blogs for your class with a specific term and you and the rest of the world get all the information in one spot, yet the students retains ownership of the content.

How about this….every tag in Diigo has an RSS feed: http://www.diigo.com/rss/user/Jutecht/qrcodes

You could connect your Diigo account to your Twitter account so that every time you share a link on Twitter it pushes that link to Diigo where it’s bookmarked (directions here). Once there you can push the RSS feed of the specific tag you use where ever you want it. In a Moodle, on a Blog, a Google Site…..anything that reads an RSS feed could then display this information. Think about this for a second…..one click to Twitter and you push content to Diigo which pushes it out to a blog. One click….three sites get the information and you share with others across networks. 

I’m sure you can think of countless other ways to use this in the classroom….it really is a technology worth learning and is a basis for many things on the web today.

(Part 1 of a series of blog posts to be made into a free PDF. Your feedback, ideas and thoughts are critical!)

The Purpose

The purpose of this PDF is to help schools looking at adopting Web Based Portfolios (WBP) as a form of assessment with students over a period of time. By adopting a web-based platform as a container in which to house portfolio content, schools give students a web-based vehicle with endless possibilities to create, collaborate and communicate their learning to the world.

All-In-One Assessment Vehicle

Web Based Portfolios have been gaining ground in recent years as the skills needed to create digital content have become less complex. Remember the days when a digital portfolio meant courses in Dreamweaver or some other programing language? Those days are behind us as the tools of the web have taken over and simplified things to a point where a true Web Based Portfolio is possible.

In the past, schools, teachers and even students had to decide what their portfolio was going to reflect. Was it going to be a portfolio that showed assessment for learning or assessment of learning? The decision had to be made because in a paper-based world you just did not have enough space to physically hold all of the content to show both. In fact, in a paper-based world many teachers and schools started out envisioning their portfolios as a way to reflect on assessment for learning. In many cases, due to physical requirements in holding the amount of paper it took to show the learning process, many teachers and students ended up creating portfolios that showed assessment of learning. When a choice has to be made because of limited space to keep a rough draft or a final copy students will keep the final copy, and so will teachers.

WBPs if nothing else, solve this age old portfolio issue. With the cost of servers and web storage continuing to drop, creating endless storage space for students to show the learning process and allowing teachers to assess for learning is cheap and getting less expensive every day.

When students have endless space, a WBP not only shows assessment for learning, but also assessment of learning. We now have a vehicle that has the space to allow students and teachers to have the best of both worlds all in one place and the ability to track learning over great lengths of time.

Learning Over Time

The biggest issue a WBP solves is an issue that, up until now, we could not even talk about because we did not have a vehicle that allowed us to even have the discussion.

When we talk about assessing learning over time, or tracking learning over time, historically schools have done a good job of tracking assessment for learning year by year. Students come into 3rd grade, keep a portfolio of their work, and at the end of that year take their work home with them. The next year they come back as 4th graders and repeat the process all over again.

Education never had a system that allowed educators to look at learning year after year other than maybe a few teacher picked samples to go into a student cumulative folder. Of course these cumulative folders are better at giving us a snapshot and focus on assessment of learning not for learning in the long run.

With a WBP that belongs to the student, controlled by the student, created by the student, education now has a vehicle that can extend beyond space and time of a school year. Once a student creates a WBP and owns that space, the assessment for learning over a long period of time becomes natural. Students have one spot, with unlimited space to create, gather, and reflect on their own learning.

Think of the possibilities as a 7th grade teacher if you had students who were in your school system for four years and were able to look back at how they progressed as a reader. Students would have the ability to reflect on their growth as a mathematician from 3rd grade to 7th grade. The power of reflecting on one’s own learning across grade levels not just within them is something that until WBP, was a difficult if not an impossible task. I can imagine a day when a senior in high school has a body of knowledge all in one place that is his or her learning journey. Think of the wealth of information that would be contained within that portfolio. Think of the wealth of knowledge for the school to be able to track learners over time looking at a particular student as a learner.

This would never be possible in a paper-based world. The amount of information, knowledge, and understanding that would be in that one portfolio would not be able to be stored in a paper-based world…now think of all the students in your school or district. The paper-based world can not compete.

WBPs not only solve some of our biggest frustrations as educators but they create new opportunities that we haven’t even thought of tapping into yet.

Student Ownership and Conferences

A critical shift in moving to a WBP system is the notion that students own the portfolio. This, I believe, is a huge shift in the way we view portfolios. For many educators this will be a scary step. When students own their own learning, when they are able to reflect on their own learning, have some choice on what their portfolio looks like, acts like, and when they are able to update it anytime and anywhere, the control of the content shifts from the teacher to the student.

Otherwise known as student-centered learning, students become the true drivers of the content that is put within their WBP. The WBP reflects who they are as a learner. With the guidance of the teacher, students make choices on what learning artifacts deserve more attention than others and find ways to make those artifacts stand out (assessment of learning). In this way you have assessment of learning embedded within, surrounded by assessment for learning, which creates a learning assessment ecosystem that is rich with data, content, and reflections.

Many portfolio initiatives in schools stem from Student-Led Conferences. The Student-Led Conference, or conference format in which the student and student learning is the center of the conference, have gained momentum in the last decade and usually include a portfolio of learning.

As an elementary teacher I know the drill: Conferences are fast approaching and you realize you haven’t had the students working on their p
ortfolios for the upcoming conferences. You drop everything, and for two weeks focus strictly on creating portfolios. 3 reading examples with reflections, 2 writing pieces with reflections, 2 math papers, a spelling test, a piece of art, and the list goes on.

Portfolios are created for conferences, not necessarily to truly reflect student learning. WBPs allow content to easily be collected throughout the school year. Students might take a picture of their work, or something that represents their work, and put it in their portfolio. They might reflect on ten assignments, create and embed two videos, record themselves reading twice and write a reflection about it and upload all of it to their WBP.

Come conference time, the student creates a new category or tag called “conference 2010”. They then categorize or tag the content they want to show at the conference and are able to choose from a wealth of information-anything they want to show. They might in fact, show a sample of writing from 5th grade and one from 7th grade, demonstrating to their parents how they have grown as a writer over time. Or they may choose an audio recording of themselves reading as a 3rd grader not pronoucing their Rs correctly and then in 7th grade reading with emotion and having a great laugh about how far they have come and what they have worked on as a reader over time.

When we separate the WBP from the conference, it becomes a true vehicle of assessment for learning. With a WBP, educators can think about learning over time, in ways never before possible. We can find ways for students to deeply reflect on their own learning and allow students to truly own their learning. WBPs not only solve many of the issues that paper-based portfolios had, they create whole new assessment and reflection opportunities educators have only dreamed of.

What I love about presenting is how themes emerge within my presentations that I was never thinking about before the conference begins. But somewhere in the process of doing 6 presentations at the EARCOS Teacher’s Conference a theme in my sessions emerged.

What is your container?

We talked in many of my sessions about having a container to house all of your web “stuff”. What that contain looks like really doesn’t matter as long as:

A. It works for you
B. It allows EVERYTHING to be embeded

When you create a “class container” think of it as not just a place to actually put stuff, but a place that allows you to pull in information from other parts of the web. It should allows you to the following:

1. Embed YouTube Videos
2. Embed RSS Feeds
3. Embed Slideshare Slides
4. Anything else that has a standard embed code.

Using the above criteria your container could be:

1. A Blog
2. A Wiki
3. A Ning
4. A Moodle Course
5. Netvibes.com
6. Pageflakes.com
7. Share your container in the comments

All of these above containers work. Find the one that fits your needs and either is unblocked at your school or your school has adopted system wide and start creating your online classroom.

At our school we’ve adopted two formats school wide. Our Elementary Teachers are using blogs and when you view them as a container you can see what I’m talking about. Here are a couple of good examples:

There are others, but I think these four when viewed as “Blogs as Containers” make the point clear.

In our Middle School and High School we’re using Moodle. I can’t show you any examples as our Moodle Courses are password protected but within Moodle you can embed all of the above and put RSS feeds in the sidebars. A Moodle course can easily become your container.

Once you view your class website as a container it allows you to think outside the walls of that container and ask yourself:

What can I pull into my space to enhance the online learning landscape for my students?

You don’t have to create it all….you just have to know/understand that you can pull things into your space to create a rich learning environment.

The Netvibes page we are using with all 5th graders is starting to become a grade level container. You can see how we’ve pulled in a couple of things, we can do more with it, and next year I think as this idea sinks in, teachers will want to use it more as a container than just an RSS Feed reader.

Then there’s the Ning that Alan November set up in about 5 minutes in a presentation at the EARCOS conference. As he was talking to the audience I created the site in literally 5 minutes, added a video, embedded the Twitter feed for the conference, embedded a custom search engine, and created a link to notes from another session. We didn’t even use any of the built in features to get started. Instead we were able to instantly create a container for the conference and pull all of the information on the web into that one spot. A one-stop shop for everyone online about this conference and for the educators of EARCOS. If you are an EARCOS teacher or you are looking to connect with teachers in the Asia region to do a project EARCOS-Ed is the place to make those connections happen.

Take a look at your classroom site…..is it a container? Does it allow you to pull in information from around the web. Can you create a container of learning?

Feel free to show us your example of a classroom container in the comments!

I had a great day today. I got to talk about web design with 5th grade students. Ms. Bulsza invited me in to talk to the class about their blogs.

AngelicOver the past couple of weeks someone (OK…maybe me) taught them how to install embedded widgets on their blogs sidebars. What I found interesting is that I taught one girl in one class how to do it….two weeks later every kid in 5th grade has the most outrageous sidebar widgets on their blogs. Things that had nothing to do with education, their learning, or 5th grade…..the purpose of the blogs.

Now there are two ways to handle this situation. 1) You can stand up as a teacher and say, “OK, that’s it, no more chirping birds, or iPods playing songs, or games that make noises on your blog.” Or you could say 2) “Let’s have a discussion about web design.”

Now I’m not sure if Ms. Bulsza was expecting my approach, but the last thing I want to do is tell kids that they can’t make their blog….their blog. However, it is an opportunity to have a conversation about website design, as this blog/website belongs to them.

So here’s the lesson I did in about an hour today.

Ridge Blog1) I want you to go to your favorite website. Once there I want you just sit and look at the page and think about what makes this site, this page your favorite. Look at it like art work. What catches your eye? Why do you come back here time and time again.

2) Ask for volunteers to come up, plug their laptops into the projector and show the website they choose. Then have then talk about why this is their favorite website, and open it up to the class as well.

Here’s where we ended up today.

Youtube: What we liked about YouTube was that the best videos were right there for you to click on. They were little thumbnail images and you could easily see the title, how many people had watched them, and you knew where to click, as we talked about that blue is the color of links on the web.

BrianaClub Penguin: We likes that it was simple, that you could easily tell that it was a site you had to join do to the “membership” button at the top. We liked that it had moving images on the home page. We really didn’t know what it was about, but the Disney over Club Penguin told us it was probably OK for kids. We also talks about colors and that most everything we design, from clothes, to websites, to art has at most three main colors. Club Penguin has Blue, White and Orange as their main colors on the site.

RuneScape: We liked that you could translate the site quickly. We liked that there were bullet points that told you what you could expect, what this site was about. We liked that there was a video right in the middle of the page that you could play and learn more about the site.

Facebook: We liked that it was simple. You either log in or you create an account…that’s it. The two colors that Facebook uses, Blue and White, are all over the site, so you always know when you are on Facebook.

Haley(Yes…all these sites are unblocked at my school…for just this reason…we can use them to learn.)

3) We then went to a news site. I choose the BBC to talk about how a news site looks. We agian talked about the site.

We liked that the BBC was “easy on the eyes” the colors were nice. We liked that the clock was on your time zone, we liked that you could easily tell when you were reading Top Stories and when you were reading Sports.

4) While on the BBC we talked about “above the fold” a term used in the newspaper era (only about 5 kids in the class had ever read a newspaper) that had made it’s way online. We talked about scrolling and how you do the best you can to get the most important content above the fold so viewers to your site don’t have to scroll to get to the content.

5) After this I gave them 5 minutes to go to their blogs and just have a look. Pretend you’ve never seen this site before, we know that people will spend on average 7 seconds on a site before decided to keep reading or leave the site. “What does your site say in 7 seconds?”

6) Ask for volunteers to bring their laptops up, plug them into the projector, and talk about their site. What do they like, what would they change after today. Then open it up to the kids and allow them to ask questions and give feedback about their blog.

Room 227 Blog7) Get involved! After looking at 4 or 5 student blogs, we put Ms. Bulsza’s blog on the screen and had the kids talk about it. They liked the layout, liked that the content was above the fold, but felt the header image didn’t represent the class, that the blog talked all about the classroom but the header image didn’t fit.

Next up….my blog. I pulled The Thinking Stick up on the screen and let the kids give me feedback. They liked the newspaper layout, they liked the image in the middle of the screen, but they didn’t like the baseball bat or the fact that the site “Thinking Stick” wasn’t really about education.

“I expected to be reading about baseball” one student said…and they were right…..my image and even the name of this blog does not represent the content found here.

Ocea8) Now that we’ve talked about blogs, and web design we gave the students 15 minutes to look and fix their blogs.

We never talked about sidebar widgets, we never talked about what you could or couldn’t have. What we did talk about was what makes a good website? We empowered the students to understand that a well designed website matters. It matters to your audience.

So that’s it….that and the fact I told the students in the next couple days I’ll be checking their blogs and giving them feedback on their blog designs. It’s not homework, it’s not required, but from the amount of students that wanted to stay in during recess to work on their blog design…I think they’ll be wanting to do some design work on their own. 🙂

There are so many great things happening at our school right now that I find I don’t have time to blog about one before I’m deep into another project with another teacher. All that I know is we’re having some fun!

picture-3Let’s start in Mr. Jessee’s room where I wanted to share a great Google Earth project that the third grade team has been working on for the past month or so. I talked about this in an earlier post so won’t go into all the back ground here. But you can visit Mr. Jessee’s class blog and download Google Earth tours. This time the students created video tours using Google Earth and take you to landforms around the world. Of course the trip starts off from school and then you’re swept away learning about landforms and some pretty cool facts. As usual, if you download and listen to the Google Earth files, we’d appreciate a comment on the blog. Let us know what you learned or if you have a landform to share, please push our thinking. 😉

In Ms. Tulli’s 3rd Grade class they’ve been deep into some science research learning how to analyze data. Ms. Tulli wanted to capture what the students were learning so grabbed a flip camera and simply asked:

What have you learned about graphs and analyzing data?

Pretty cool! If you get a moment to watch the video they’d love a comment on their class blog as well. 😉

And finally to round it all off is our whole 5th grade team and their amazing adventure into blogging for learning and as e-portfolios with their students. They are all continuing to build their own skills as well as finding ways to incorporate blogging into just what they do. As teachers start to wrap their heads around it and as students get better and faster at blogging, they are becoming just a part of what is done in 5th grade. I walked into Mr. Armitage’s room yesterday and before I had a chance to say hi to the class Collin approaches me and says:

“I’m getting a lot of views on my blog”

“Really? Why do you think that is?”

“Because I’ve been blogging a lot?”

“Cool! About school?”

“No, about my trip to Beijing over break!”

So…here’s a 5th grader who on his break could have taken his thoughts, his feelings, and just kept them to himself. Instead he decided to share what he learned about the Great Wall of China with the world. I encourage you to stop by Collin’s Blog and read about his adventures on the Great Wall.

2_dsc00147This is EXACTLY why we need to be connecting students to these types of learning opportunities. This is “free” writing time. This is time that this student took to write, not in class, not taking class time, but taking time from his day to learn, to write, to communicate, to share. When we at schools decide to not fight the technology but enable and teach students how to use it to promote thinking and learning we get amazing things happening like this.

Now let’s think of this as an e-portfolio and pretend that Collin is in 11th grade. He’ll have these memories, these words to look back upon. He’ll be able to say, “I wrote that? That sounds so much like a 5th grader!” which we all do when we look back. There is learning here, and we’re not even talking about when in 8th grade and he studies China in history class and the perspective and link-ability he’ll have from what he’s currently thinking, to what he experienced on this trip.

These are the things that get me excited! These are all ways that students can create information from what they know and add it to the world of knowledge that we know as the Internet. This is why I go to school everyday!

I have to share this story with you if for no other reason….I’ve shared it with anyone that would listen to me at school today. I believe this story shows the power of:

1. What can happen when we allow students to be “out there”.
2. What happens when our teachers become networked and can bring that network to their students.
3. That through connections educational possibilities are endless!

This couldn’t have come at a better time with Clint H leaving a comment on my last post about a conversation he had with his IT Director:

He has some very persuasive arguments for his ‘walled garden’ approach (including “nobody ever reads public blogs anyway so what’s the difference?”)

Really….nobody reads public blogs anymore……..please read on!

So here’s how the story of connections played out last night.

1. I do a lesson in one of our 5th grade classrooms where we have a great discussion around what it means to blog, what good blogging looks like, and the difference between leaving a comment and a compliment. We also learn how to add an image to our post and how to add a link. Following the teachers lead based on this blog post, the students homework is to write a reflective blog post about the science experiment they did and what they learned. I leave the room with this challenge:

I will read all your blog posts tonight and the best ones I’ll send out for the world to read.

Of course they no nothing of the 4700+ Twitter followers I have or the 400+ Facebook friends. Nor should they care…what is important here is that their teacher is connected into a wider community to help foster a global audience.

2. Late last night I visited the classes netvibes page and started going through the student’s blog posts leaving comments on everyone of them. I was proud to see that most everyone’s blogging had improved from before our lesson and some students had really taken the time to sit down and write out their thoughts.

img_33671One such student was Haley who wrote out the experiment that the students had done in class. A great little bit of procedural writing (writing connection). I decided that this was one of the top 5 posts in the class and sent a link to her blog post out on Twitter and to my Facebook Friends asking them to please visit the blog if for no other reason to put a mark on her map that there really are people out there who will read you if you have good writing (Hey, I’m not above a little fake audience to start a conversation with kids that will lead to deeper writing and understanding!).

3. It just so happens that Allanah K (who I had the pleasure of meeting last year) was on Twitter last night and reads my tweet about the students writing. Intrigued by Haley’s blog post Allanah takes the idea to school with her today in New Zealand and asks the students if they would like to try Haley’s experiment. By the time I get to school today Allanah and her class have finished their experiment and have blogged about it on their class blog….of course giving full credit to Haley.

Where to go from here:
Of course at this point my mind is racing. This experiment has to do with teaching variables and just think of all the variables we can now ask as we collect data.

  • What if we share our data with the class in New Zealand?
  • I wonder if longitude and latitude is a variable we need to consider (Social Studies)
  • I wonder if we’ll get the same results? (Science)
  • How can we best represent our data for someone else to read? (Math, Science)
  • Why is writing clear instructions important? (Writing)

Of course there are hundreds of possibilities now that can happen now that these two classes are connected. With a time difference of only 5 hours a Skype call even with students talking about their data and experiments to each other…or more blog posts with more explanations.

Yes this all came about because I am connected…but it’s not about me….it’s about the connections. Miss B is a friend of mine on Facebook and seeing me post the students blogs there….copied and pasted the addresses and sent them out to her Facebook friends. She too is a connected teacher, but up until this point had never thought of using her network of friends and other educators in this way.

There is great power when we put students out there and allow them to share their thinking. These students have had a blog for two weeks now and this is their first major connection as a class. As we continue to learn about blogging, as our writing improves and more importantly our thinking improves, I know we’ll see more connections like this….it’s just to powerful of a learning platform not to.

So to the IT Directors out there that say “It’s to scary.”, “We can’t do it.”, “What’s the point?” I give you this.

That making deep connections only happen when you put yourself out there….sure we can play it safe…but playing it safe has never lead to deeper understanding!

Image Credit: id-iom

3 1/2 weeks into the school year and we’ve already set up 691 student blogs at http://blogs.isb.ac.th and 151 teacher blogs at http://inside.isb.ac.th. 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!

A big thank you to Elizabeth Helfant for inviting me into St. Louis for a chance to spend a day with the staff of Mary Institute Country Day School. I was the last in a string of one day workshops that Elizabeth put together for her staff. Being the last of the summer was nice as it allowed us to talk about how tools such as Google Earth, Blogs, and Wikis can be used in the classroom. We spent the first part of our time not talking about the tools but looking at examples of how they are being used in the classroom.

We spent some time searching and exploring the Google Earth in Education section. Where teachers can download some amazing layers into Google Earth to teach with. From there we looked at some high school examples of how wikis and blogs are being used in different high school classrooms.

We spent some time discussing Welker’s Wikinomics still one of my favorite class based wikis. What’s great is that Jason Welker freely shares his rubric for grading the wiki and his rules of conduct for students. Teachers appreciate seeing exactly what the student expectations are for such a site.

From there we talked about WikiBooks.org and how teachers could use this site to not only study, but create the textbook of the future with students. I’ve yet to hear of a teacher actually doing this…but still feel it has some potential in the classroom.

Next we looked at some examples of blogs. My two favorite student blogs Theory of Knowledge and Chemical Paradigms where perfect examples of just how introspective high school students can be. Teachers were shocked at how personal and in-depth some of the posts from students were. How they took pride in their work and how having an authentic audience engaged the students in meaningful ways.

After spending the first half of the day discussing how these different tools might fit into their classes we took the second half of the day and just allow teachers to start and build their wiki or blog or play with Google Earth. The history department got together and laid out some ground work for a wiki they want to use this year. Others explored the use of Nings from previous presenters in the summer. In the end we just gave them time to work….the kind of time teachers say they never have.

It was a nice relaxing day in beautiful St. Louis and I hope the teachers that spent the day with me learned as much as I did.