Flickr Logo by ipodfan1.Of course I’m talking about a Flickr Pro Account. Flickr has to be the one website that I would say is definitly worth the $25 you’ll spend and can benefit every teacher in the school. There is no way, I don’t care how big or small your school is that for $25 you can create, maintain, and support:

  • Unlimited uploads and storage
  • Unlimited sets and collections
  • Access to your original files

That word unlimited is where it’s worth its weight in gold. We’re in our second year of using Flickr here at ISB and we’ve found it so useful that we bought three accounts one for the Elementary, Middle School, and High School. Yes, that’s right we’ve spend a whopping $75 just to keep the levels separate. Of course the elementary teachers are using it the most and training them to create a set using their name was easy….much easier than teaching them how to resize a photo for their blog or newsletter.

But of course that’s not all you get with Flickr. Once the pictures are on the web you can then push them out to any website you want using their embeddable slideshow. So for example you can have the latest pictures from PreK filing your website.

In the Elementary each grade level team has created a set called “Grade Level Slideshow” any pictures put in this set when uploaded end up in the slide shows they have embedded on their class blogs. Some teachers have done this just for their class as well.

And if unlimited space, and the ability to show photos in numerous ways on numerous web pages isn’t enough for you. How about allowing parent access to download the size and quality of picture they want to keep. Parents can access the pictures and download them to their computer for safe keeping. No longer do you the teacher have to send home a CD of pictures for the year. The parents are now in control of that throughout the school year and only keep the pictures they want.

Know Your School Rules:
Of course right away if you visit our Flickr accounts above you’ll notice we have all our pictures open to the public and we show student faces. If teachers are following the rules you shouldn’t find any names however. This of course leads to understanding and knowing your school rules for picture usage. Some schools don’t allow student faces on the web, while others do without names and of course there is all sorts of gray area in between. Understand what your school allows and then just follow those rules. It’s pretty easy and quick to learn to take pictures of the back of kids, or over their shoulders real quick. Or quickly bring a photo into some sort of photo editing program and apply a filter that distorts the faces.

Create a Friend Account:
If you do want to allow parents access to pictures of students at school, a simple work around is to create another Flickr account and make it a “friend” of the school account. This of course opens up other issues such as now they can upload pictures to that friend account, and if someone leaks the password within the school community well, it might as well be public.

In the end there are ways around these issues and for $25 you really can’t go wrong. Unlimited space to store photos….that’s just crazy!!

I told this story as my 10 minute TED talk at Learning 2.008. As September 19th was The Stick’s 3 year anniversary.


The Thinking Stick turned 3 a few days ago and it’s hard to imagine that it’s been 3 years since I installed WordPress and just started writing. As I started looking back through those first posts I started thinking about the journey that this blog has taken me on.

My first blog post was about a 5th grade classroom called the Polar Bear Class. The website no longer exists but this was my beginning into blogging. Talking about a class that was creating there own website. The website was not another subject, but was just what they did. It was apart of their classroom, it was a part of their learning.

My first comment came on post #10. Made by a good friend who at the time was teaching in Dubai. It was at that moment that I realized people where reading, even if only my friends….people were reading.

Post #14 Titled: Microwave Popcorn. One of the great first posts. Those of you that blog you know this post. The one that is going to get lots of comments. The post that will make people want to write, want to respond, want to engage in a discussion. The post talks about how technology works it’s way into our daily lives. How in 1982 I remember my father driving a combine in the Palouse all summer to save enough money to buy our first microwave and how today it is a part of every kitchen. My wife and I just moved to Bangkok, Thailand and our first major purchase…..a microwave.

The post was great, well written, well scripted. Guess how many comments……0!

Post #21 The Stick gets its first comment that is not from my friend Reece. The comment was left by Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach. Little did I know at that time that Sheryl would become part of my learning network and over the next three years I would learn more from her about building virtual communities on the web than from anyone else. You see, The Stick was the start of our connection.

Post #25 I recieve my second comment from someone other than my friend Reece. This one left by Dean Shareski. My favorite part of the comment was this:

PS. Did you know your flickr zietgiest includes pictures of nude women? I was a bit taken back when I came on your site. Just curious if you intended that or not.

You see I was still trying to figure out the tools and some how didn’t have the flickr badge configured correctly. I made changes to the badge that day and learned some quick html as well.

Over the next 3 years Dean would become a valuable node in my network and at one point while he was teaching an undergrad class in Canada and I a graduate class in the States we would have our students create a wiki together. Learning from each other and learning the value of wikis in education. The Stick started that connection.

Post #28 Tim Lauer leaves a comment on a Firefox extension that allows you to highlight text on a web page. I would later meet Tim at NECC that year and he would become the first person in my Personal Learning Network that I would meet face to face.

But the big coming out party in my eyes for The Thinking Stick was on post #36. The title: NETS in a 2.0 World. I remember writing that post while in a meeting and posting it. Basically I took the NETs (the old ones at the time) and did a find and replace with the words Technology and Information.

I went to bed that night not thinking anything of it and woke up the next morning at 5am to find 6 comments and trackbacks on the post. I was completely taken by surprise. Up until this point to my knowledge I had 4 people reading my blog and all of a sudden I have 6 comments?

One comment/trackback was left by David Warlick. I couldn’t believe it! David was one of the first people I found in the blogosphere, he’s one of those “big bloggers”. He’s reading my stuff? Not only that he left a comment and gave me the hightest complement you can give to a blogger….he linked to my blog.

I remember going back into the bedroom and waking my wife up.

“Honey….it’s time to get up.”

“5 more minutes”

“No honey you have to get up now and you’ll never beleive who left a comment on my blog.”

“You’re waking me up because someone left a comment on your blog?”

“No, I’m waking you up because it’s time to get up, and not just someone…..David Warlick!”

“Who’s David Warlick?”

That was the moment when I realized what this network really was. It’s not about blogging. It’s about understanding that leanring takes place through connections. Whether we are connecting people, information, knowledge, or thoughts. That the learning lies within the connections that we make. My blog is where I started in making those connections, connections that have lead me down a path of deeper learning than I ever knew possible.

The Thinking Stick is now 3. It contains some 598 posts and over 2200 comments and trackbacks. I’m not sure how it all happened. It’s a learning blur that just seems to be there. My blog is my connection creator, my reflection engine, and where my journey of learning has been over the past 3 years. Thanks you for reading, Thank you for being a part of my network.

Other stats if you are interested. Not that they mean anything, just kind of fun to look at.

Technorati Authority: 226
Technorati Ranking: 19,182

From Google Analytics
54% of traffic comes for Search Engines

From Clustrmaps
Running total of visits to the above URL since 12 Jun 2006: 73,720
Total since archive, i.e. 17 Jun 2008 – present: 15,145 (not necessarily all displayed – see below).
Visits on previous ‘day’: 174.

Photo Credit: Zenat_el3ain

As a technology person you don’t always get to decide where you are going to start with teachers. In fact, most of the time the teachers tell you where you are going to start.

Hence my focus on parent communication. Many teachers are looking at using blogs as a way to communicate with their parent communities.

Now, before I go any further I say they “use blogs” but that doesn’t mean they are blogging. I do believe there is a difference. Teachers find the ease of which you can setup a web site and post new content using a blogging program simple and straight forward.

So blogging and using a blogging program as a website…are to different things. I do believe, however, that you can start using the blogging software as a website for communication and as you get comfortable with how it works, how to create conversations, and how students/parents can and will respond that you can move from a blog as a website to a blog as an actual blog…..does that make sense?

I saw teachers make this transition at SAS: kpower, spower, adecardy just to name three who starting out using a blogging platform and ended up blogging.

Since the beginning of the year I’ve been working with the 1st grade team here at ISB in creating a portal for their parents. Vu, the technology leader, has really embraced the digital tools with the rest of the 1st grade team. They use a Google Doc to plan their meetings, and a blog to communicate with parents.

We talk about making it easy for teachers to use these tools so when I walked into Vu’s room the first day and he told me what he wanted to do I said:

“OK, we can do that….and what if we can do it all from your desktop? You, and the team, won’t have to remember passwords, or sites….you can just put content where you want it.”

Needless to say the Smartones are off and running!

So here’s the setup on the first grade teacher laptops.

  • ScribeFire: Still my favorite client for blogging. It’s simple, straight forward and teachers pick it up quickly. I showed Vu how to install it and connect to the blog and he helped the rest of the team get theirs set up.
  • Google Calendar Sync with iCal: This is different than just subscribing to a calendar. You can write an appointment into iCal and it syncs back to Google Calendar.
  • FFXporter iPhoto Plugin: Vu found this great plugin for iPhoto that allows you to select a picture (or group of pictures) and upload them to Flickr.
  • FlickrSLiDR: We created a FlickrSLiDr slideshow and embedded that on a page of the blog. Now when the teachers upload their photos to Flickr and put them in their set they automatically appear on the blog. From there parents can click on a picture that takes them back to Flickr where they can download it and keep it if they so choose.

So that’s the basic setup…so invision this.

You take a picture of a great project in your class, you download the picture to your Mac which automatically imports it into iPhoto. You select the picture and export to flickr. When it is down uploading the pic it automatically opens the picture on Flickr where you can name the picture and save it. Next you click on ScribeFire, write a post, drag and drop the picture from Flickr into your blog post where you want it, select your categories, and click “Publish”.

You want to add something to the calendar during a team meeting? No problem, while your iCal is open just select your Google Cal add the event and your parents know about it instantly.

We talk about what Web 2.0 can do for a teacher, how about making the web seem like it’s just on your desktop.

At Monday’s after school help session I was talking with a different teacher explaining how she can get Flickr pictures to show up on her blog. My reply was simple:

“You have to understand that the Interent is created by connections or links. Once you understand that it is connections that run the web, a whole new world opens up to you. By connecting people, places, and websites we can push and pull almost any information anywhere.”

There were a couple comments left on my last post about communicating in this new digital landscape. Blogs and wikis might not be the best solution. I agree they might not be…but then again they might be for a particular teacher or school. I do believe however that my thoughts on communicating digitally do not apply to only blogs, or wikis or Web 2.0 tools. I believe it’s just solid advice for communicating digitally period!

(If you want to hear more on that subject you’ll have to come to my Learning 2.008 session!)

These tools are here to make our lives simpler. If teachers can not find that simpleness they will not use the tools. At a technology person in the school you have to find ways to make it simple and help teachers to understand that this is not “just one more thing” but actually replaces some of the old things they were doing. This isn’t deep change, but it’s a start.

Over the last couple of years I have helped numerous teachers set up blogs, wikis, and just plain old html pages to be used to communicate with parents.

As some point teachers always ask:

“So, I can just copy and paste my newsletter right here?”

You can, but you shouldn’t

Newsletters do not transfer well to the web. Well, as in the amount of information people expect and will pay attention to in digital form.

For example: Most parent newsletters are two pages long (or front and back). Parents will read a two page newsletter that comes home in the Friday folder, but they won’t scroll for two pages worth of information on a single web page.

You’ve seen those web pages….the ones that seem to go on forever and you know that feeling you get when you see those pages thinking to yourself, “I don’t have time to read all that!”

Starting a digital communication site for parents will also mean rethinking how you post information. Many teachers are finding blogs to be a great tool for creating such a site. Easy to use, easy to update, and looks pretty. The three things every teacher looks for in a web site. 🙂

So, how do you change your communication style when you move from print communication to digital communication?

1. Shorter is better
Think about the length of your posts. I’m not saying that you need to leave stuff out. But don’t include math, reading, writing, science and social studies all in the same post or on the same page.

2. Increased Frequency
We expect digital print not only to be shorter but to be updated more frequently. So think of it this way. Don’t write about all subjects in one post, or even in one day. Do shorter posting over multiple days. For example: Reading report on Monday, Update on Math on Wednesday, Weekly reflection on Friday.

Instead of giving parents all the information in one long sitting. Give it to them in shorter more frequent bursts over time. Many teachers also find this easier then having to write the complete newsletter in one day. Take a bit of time every day will make those newsletter blues slowly disappear (I can still remember doing my newsletters during library time. Frantically trying to create and print the whole newsletter in 45 minutes).

3. Images, Images, Images
Parents like nothing more than to see their little loved ones hard at work in the classroom. Know your schools policy for putting student pictures on the web and work within it to make your posts more inviting to your parents. We (and I’m talking elementary here) love putting those clip arts into our newsletters..they make them seem….prettier. Do the same with pictures from your classroom. If your district doesn’t allow student pictures on the web, get creative and take pictures of student work, or when talking about reading, just two little hands on a book. You can still add imagines…you just need to be creative. You can always use Flickr Creative Commons search to find that perfect picture (and they are already on the web!).

4. Add a personal touch
Whether you use a blog or not, make sure to add a personal touch to your communications with parents. Talk about lessons you did, or an exciting day where you as a teacher were really excited about the way a lesson went. Celebrate the small things, not just about your kids, but about you. Be human to your parents and they will react in kind.

5. Keep Stats
This might be a strange one. But I have found that teachers that have some way to keep stats on their web sites have buy in. As a 4th grade teacher I never knew how many newsletters made it home or how many were ever read. With a stats tracker you get that feedback and you can see that people are reading what you post. Knowing there are readers will keep you motivated to continue to post information.

Also, remember we live in a time of data gathering in our schools. Keeping stats on your site makes it easy to go to your principal when they say “How have you been communicating with your parents?” you can show them how many hits you have, and if you use a great free tool like Google Analytics you can even tell them how many are within your district/school boundary.

Learning to communicate with parents in a digital world is more then coping and pasting your newsletter into a web page. It means learning a new writing skill…the same skills we need to be teaching our students. 🙂

If you have a good online parent communication portal that you want to share with others, feel free to add a link in the comments for others to see and for all of us to get ideas.

I use to look over people’s blogs that had del.icio.us post linking to all the things they bookmarked that day. I use to think that this was a waste of my time, that those links are just links.

Then I actually started reading some.

Which lead to clicking on some.

Which now has me waiting for people like Dean and Tim to post their next round.

The great part is I know I don’t have to read them everyday. I wait until I have five or six days worth of links from Dean and Tim and then I go at it clicking and opening tabs.

Basically I’m using Dean and Tim to be my search engine of great educational and technology links. I let them do the leg work and I just sit back and reap the benefits of two guys who love to bookmark sites they find…thanks guys!

Of course I do it as well using Diigo. You can find my daily links (many of them the same…but not always) on my U Tech Tips blog. In fact, you could sign up for the newsletter there and each Friday find all my great links for the week in a newsletter in your e-mail box…or grab the RSS. It’s up to you!

So that leads me to my first gem of the day from Tim.


It’s called Simple CC flickr Search (Thanks Tim for the link). Basically it searches flickr for Creative Commons photos. But the cool part comes when you click on a photo. It gives you the embed code with the appropriate Creative Commons attribution. So the above photo looks like this with a simple copy and paste.

Photo by phitar
Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License

Now that’s pretty cool! It will even left or right align it for you and you can choose a small or large picture. You never have to worry about attributions again! (On flickr photos anyway 😉 )

The Second gem comes from a good friend, Alicia Lewis, who I worked with in Saudi Arabia and is now a consultant for Rubicon Atlas. My last three school’s all used Rubicon and now they have a podcast. Might be helpful if you are implementing curriculum mapping and Rubicon Atlas in your school.

And finally from Will’s blog comes this must watch TED video about the next 5000 days. Use it all by itself as a PD session. Think about this….invite teachers to a PD session. Watch the 20 minute video then excuse them. Say nothing, hint nothing, just let them walk way thinking to themselves what all this means for them, and for their students.

Was trying to add a flickr picture to a post today and found out that flickr was down. Headed over to the flickr blog where they give these latest stats:

Miscellaneous stats to keep you entertained while we wait:

* Our networking gear moves 12,000 photos a second — at peak, that’s 2,654,208,000 bits each second (8:20 PM)
* We set an all-time upload record yesterday: 2,070,075 photos in 24 hours! (8:40 PM)
* The Flickrverse has 8.5 million registered members (9:00 PM)

Now that’s a lot of user created content!


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