High School BlogAt ISB we’ve struggled over the past couple of years in defining our web spaces. Although we’ve been getting better at using the “Core 3” (Moodle, Google Apps, WordPress) we still need to define spaces based on purpose and audience. 

One thing I’m focusing on this year is creating what I’m calling a Virtual Bulletin Board for our high school students. A place where they can find and post announcements in whatever format they choose. 

Here’s the site: http://inside.isb.ac.th/high

Audience: High School Students at ISB

Purpose: To get announcements out to students, information from the office, campus updates

Once we have defined the audience and purpose we can then start to create and mold how the site will work. I know there are probably better bulletin board systems out there than a blog….but I’m committed to showing teachers and students just how flexible the WordPress platform can be.

The platform of WordPress is so dynamic, so powerful and so customizable that really your imagination is the limit.

If you have clicked on the link above to the bulletin board site you’ll be thinking to yourself “it still looks like a blog to me” and you’re right…it does for now and probably will for awhile yet. 

Steps to making it a virtual bulletin board.

Step 1: Every school computer in the high school has this page as its default start page for every browser. So we are forcing eyes on the page to begin with. It becomes crucial that we spend this year gaining the trust of students and showing them this is the place for them to come for information. Next year we roll out 1:1 in the high school where we will no longer control the home page of the browser. We need to get this right or we’ll loose them.

Step 2: We have created the “quick link” section that links students to all the other applications they need in the high school.

Step 3. Work with the high school administration to push announcements and updates to students on the site.

Step 4: Train students to post things to the site

Step 4 is what I’m most excited about and I think shows the true power of WordPress and going with a blogging platform.

My idea is that we’ll have students post announcements on their own blogs (every student already has one) and then have them tag the announcement with the word ”hsannouncement”. Using the AutoBlog plugin I’ll then grad the RSS feed for that tag and pull that into the Virtual Bulletin Board site. This way students can post an announcement about a club, upcoming activity or just a thought out to the rest of the high school by simply writing a post on their own blog. They then keep ownership of the announcement. I’m hoping this will be useful for clubs, sports teams, athletics, and kids and general.

What I also like is that because our container is a blog, we’re not limited to just text. Videos, audio, images….kids can decide which medium best gets their message across. We can easily embed videos in the sidebar, in posts, in pages. Making the site even more unique and engaging. 

In the end it needs to engage them…students have to see it as a place to go to get information that is relevent to them. If we can succeed in that then I’ll have met one of my goals for the year…..wish me luck!

U.S. History has to be one of the hardest classes to teach at an international school. When at best half your students would be from America and at worse none…yet our U.S. based curriculum says we have to teach it. So how do you motivate students who for the most part have no buy-in into U.S. History? The teachers do a great job of trying to look at U.S. History with a wider lens and that’s what this reverse instruction lesson is about.

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What are the characteristics of a civil war?

What were the causes of the U.S. Civil War?

So those are the questions posed to the class yesterday. The class was broken into two groups. Each group would research one of the questions and was paired with a partner researching the other question.

Our plan followed much the same process as the one I blogged about using with the IB English class. However instead of using the blogs to post their research the students in this class will be using our school Moodle install. We set up a forum for each question. Students will post their information in a forum where their partner will be able to read and comment on it. Everyone in the class of course can read all the entries making one big study guide for the class.

On Friday we’ll be doing a similar fishbowl routine as in the English class. The group who researched the characteristics of a civil war will talk about the U.S. Civil War while those that researched it will be in a chat room listening and commenting on the discussion. We then reverse the roles the second part of class.

The teacher Casey Corning, has been doing a lot of great things with tech this year, and is probably my best user of a teacher blog in the high school. She has a blog for each of the courses she teaches, and has helped to transform our senior seminar class into using the blogs as their semester long reflection. So it wasn’t a shocker when she stepped up to want to try this approach in her classroom. She then decided to take it one step further and we’re doing a little action research around it. She teachers two periods of U.S. History. So one period is getting the “traditional” teaching model while the class I’m helping with does the student-centered reverse instruction model. At the end we’ll talk to the kids and use the assessment to see if there was any knowledge difference in what the students learned with the two approaches. It’s always great when you have teachers willing to take a risk like this.

More to come on Friday.


As I started talking about in my last post, we’re in the process of setting every high school student up with a blog to use as an e-portfolio. To help you wrap your head around why we’re using blogs as our container for this, I suggest downloading and reading the Free PDF I produced at the end of last year.

Once you wrap your head around the idea that these blogs are just a container that we can link into and out of then we can build our portfolio taking advantage of all the Web 2.0 world has to offer.

You’ll be able to find everything I’m talking about on my school example blog here. I would suggest opening it in a new window so you can see how we integrated all the parts together making the blog the central location of content/knowledge storage. Our “one stop shop”.

Independent Reading Tracker:
First the teachers wanted to have a way for students to track what they were reading and what genres they were finding themselves pulled towards. On top of that they wanted to be able to encourage students to read genres they might not always read, and of course they wanted it in one place that was simple to use and see.

Using our schools Google Apps account. The English Department, our high school librarian, and myself came up with a template that satisfied everyone’s need for information. I then took that template and created a Google Spreadsheet using it. I shared that template with the students at our school so that they could make a copy of it.

Once each student had their own copy we shared that copy with their English teacher and then we made the document public, copied the link, and linked it to our blogs. On the example blog you can click on the IR Tracker page at the top to be taken to the template. Student blogs work the same way. Now readers to the blog can see what each student has been reading, and the teachers can see in their Google Docs account what every student has been reading. Picture if you will these 9th graders blogs and Google Spreadsheet four years from now when they are seniors. Think about how much information they will have, colleges will have, and teachers will have about how much they are reading, what their interests might be, etc. Powerful stuff!

Finding and Reviewing Books:
There are some great Web 2.0 sites out there that teachers can use to help students find, connect, and share ideas about the books they’re reading. LibraryThing, Shelfari, and Goodreads are the three that we considered. What I was looking for in reviewing the three sites was which one was visually appealing to students (design matters) which one allowed student to connect within the site, and more importantly outside of the site.

We decided to go with Goodreads for three reasons:

  1. Simple and quick to use
  2. Allows you to “friend” other members and get updates on what they are reading
  3. Allows you to connect to Facebook and instantly blog your recommendations

Those are the main reasons we choose to go with goodreads. You’ll have to make a choice which one is best for your school/students.

Now, when you head over to the example blog you’ll see how this all comes together. A student will go to goodreads, find the book they are reading or have read and add it to their shelf. They will then rate the book and write a recommendation to others about it. As soon as they click “save” on their recommendation, it is sent to their blog as a blog post with all the information about the book attached including a picture of the cover of the book (yes…I used my own book as an example….cheap I know! 🙂 ).

Next the student heads to their blog and quickly puts the new blog post into the category English-IR Reviews (Independent Reading Reviews). Next they copy the URL to that review on their blog, log into their Google Docs account and paste it in their IR Tracking document under blog post review and then fill in the rest of the information.

Yes…that sounds like a lot, but these are high school students and this is on their independent time meaning homework, so we’re not taking class time for much of this (although we’re hoping to set some time aside each month to talk about it in class….completing the circle). Also, teacher’s time of keeping track of student’s reading will hopefully be minimized by having all of the student docs in their account. They can open a doc, look what a student has been reading, click on the link to go read the review if they choose, and move on.

So the blog becomes the central gathering place. Connecting the goodreads to the blog on one end and the Google Doc to the blog on the other. In this way the blog becomes the container that just holds the links and information together.

So far the kids seem to be down with it, and the teachers are excited as well. I’m excited because it will also force teachers to meet with me to learn to organize their Google Docs, and spend some time understanding how the whole set up runs (there’s always a method to my madness 😉 ).

It’s important to find a system that works for everyone, and I think we have a pretty good system here that is sustainable using our school programs. Goodreads is the only site out of our control and that’s a risk will take. If for some reason they go away we’re not out much. The blog posts will stay, the tracking is still there and we move on to another book site.

Many people will think I’m crazy but a key factor for me was also the ability to send reviews and information to Facebook. We know this is where kids spend their social time, and if we want reading to be ‘cool’ we need it to be out there where other kids are seeing what their friends are reading and that’s it’s ‘cool’ to share that with others…..it’s a motivator of sorts and an important one at that in my opinion.

(Scribefire, my blogging platform finally updated to work with Firefox Beta 4 so now I’m back!)

I had the most incredible experience today. First of all I’m loving working with the high school kids. They just ‘get it’. I don’t have to explain things at a very deep level and we can just fly through the technology stuff and get down to business.

And when I mean fly….I mean…..at the speed of a click.

Today in a 45 minute session with eighteen 9th graders we:

  • Logged into or created a new blog
  • Had a refresher on how to blog and all the blog options
  • Logged into Google Docs for the first time
  • Searched for a Google Doc, made our copy, shared it with the classroom teacher, and linked it to our blog as a page
  • Created an account at goodreads.com, talked quickly about how the site works (Facebook for books) and then connected our goodreads.com account to our blog so that when we write a review of a book on goodreads.com it automatically posts that to our blog as a blog post.
  • Discussed why we want every high school student to have a blog and talked about the “Social You” of Facebook and the “Professional You” of the blog/efolio they are creating here.

Now….even for me that’s a lot of stuff to do, and a lot of clicks to get it all done in. I did two classes of 18 students each in 45 minutes. In fact, I could not have talked or clicked any faster. Not one kid could not keep up, in fact I had two students who followed along, completed everything while still reading a book. Are you kidding me? Follow all those directions, and read a book? Yes…this generation has just grown up clicking!


The best part was in 45 minutes we got the students ready to start tracking their independent reading using all the above mentioned tools (see next post for the layout). Now that they are all set up, we can get down to business of reading, reflecting, and tracking what and how much reading we’re doing.

Friday was a half day at school. A little extended weekend for the Thanksgiving Holiday. Our High School took part in a couple different sessions. One of those sessions was by me giving a talk on “The Flat World”. I would have titled it “Your World” but the title doesn’t really matter.

I had 20 minutes with every 9-12th grader at our school I started by saying, “You are very fortunate. You get to grow up in an amazing time in history.”

I then played Karl Fisch’s Did You Know presentation with the follow slides added.

  • There are 57 Million Blogs
  • 100,000 new blogs created daily
  • 1.3 million blog articles created daily
  • That’s 54,000 articles being published every hour.
  • Who’s verifying this information?
  • Who’s telling the truth?
  • Last year more students in China took the SAT in English than did so in the United States.

The information comes from the latest report of the blogosphere from Technorati and from this update from Karl Fisch.

After the PowerPoint was over we had a discussion about what all this information means. One student shouted “Shift Happens” the rest of the students laughed and I said “Exactly!”

Another student spoke up and said “Everything we’re learning now doesn’t matter.”

To which I said, “I know all your teachers standing around here are going to hate me, but you are absolutely right.” I then talked to them about the skills they need to learn while in high school starting with learning how to learn. We then talked about their generation. I asked the students “What’s the name of your generation?” a student spoke up and said “Millennials.” I then talked about the book Millennials Rising, and how in 1997 abcnews.com ran a poll on their website where this generation got to choose what to be called. They were proud of it, laughed, and thought it was cool. I asked them how many of them had a myspace.com account. To which over half raised their hands. I asked how many of them had a cell phone and a mp3 player. Every single student raised their hand. I asked how many had their own computer. All but a handful raised their hand, but when I asked who had access to the Internet in their house? Again it was 100%.

I asked these questions for one reason and one reason only. I wanted the 20+ teachers that were standing around to see the response, to understand where these students are, and what they want/can do.

It was a great 20 minutes. The most fascinating part was the students just looked at me like “We get it Mr. U, we think this is awesome, this is our world, this is where we spend our time and where we want to be.”

The teachers (many coming up to me personally after the presentation) had the opposite look. “This is scary, where do we begin and what do we do?”

It was fascinating to see the disconnect between the teachers and the students. Students understanding the 21st Century and teachers scared of it.

I had the head of our IB department stop by my office later that day. The first thing he said was, “Wow, if that doesn’t show that we need to be teaching skills and not content nothing does.”

Maybe, just maybe I’ve sparked something…now I just need the opportunity to turn that spark into a flame. If I can get some time from the administration to talk with teachers, I can start taking this to the next level. My fear is that this will be a one time thing. That I will not have an opportunity to follow up with the staff and that all those WOWs by Monday will be forgotten and we’ll go back to learning page 56 in the textbook.

I have to tell you, I was pumped after the presentation. We talk about there being something bigger, something needing to change in education. For 20 minutes while looking directly into the eyes of every high schooler, I saw it. I’ve said it before, this past year in the blogosphere has changed me, that 20 minutes in front of the students took it to the next level. It was verification that what I’ve been trying to do, trying to change is right. I could see it in their eyes. The wanting to be in a school, a world, where they could be connected. The students get it….we don’t. That needs to change, or education as we know it, is not long for this generation. We’ll loose them, and once we do…I don’t think we’ll ever get them back. Not when you can learn more from Mr. Google than you can from Mr (teachers name).

[tags]21st Century Learning, Karl Fisch, Did You Know, High School, Connections, Millennials, myspace, google[/tags]

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