As I mentioned in my last post what I love about this COETAIL program is it allows me to see education across the grade levels.

Earlier this week I was in Jim Fitzgerald’s Higher Level Year 1 IB English Class (11th Graders), where students were working on a Semester Long Unit on Ekphrasis.

Students are using their blogs as a way to document their learning (creating e-portfolios). We have a few teachers in the high school using blogs with students and I had an opportunity yesterday to chat with them in Mr. Fitz’s class about their blogs.

You have to love an English teacher who takes every opportunity to teach. He explains the naming of his netvibes page this way.

The name of my page is Quarks. I take the name from the elementary particle that is a fundamental constituent of matter; it is also an allusion to James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. The name “quark” was taken by Murray Gell-Mann (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murray_Gell-Mann )from the book “Finnegan’s Wake” by James Joyce. The line “Three quarks for Muster Mark…” appears in the fanciful book. Gell-Mann received the 1969 Nobel Prize for his work in classifying elementary particles.

Overall the students enjoyed having a space that belonged to them. A space on the web that they could customize and arrange how they wanted. Some students have put mp3 players on their blogs with their favorite song of the day, others have links to their favorite sites (One student had links to his favorite rugby teams). Another student loves watching movies and writes movie reviews on his blog in his free time.

“I like it, it gives me a place to jot down what I’m thinking.”

I thought that was a good quote and what we want these blogs/e-portfolios to become, a place for students to feel free to express themselves as people. A place for them to think out loud, and share that thinking with others.

All of this is great…but the real reason why I want to celebrate Jim is because he listens to his students.

Jim was looking for a way to communicate with all the Juniors he had in his 3 different classes. He didn’t have a system to communicate to all of them instantly when things changed, like the due date of an assignment.

So, Jim asked the kids….what system would work and without hesitation the students said Facebook.

So with the student’s help Jim set up a Facebook group and then made a couple students in every class an administrator of the group to help invite all the other students to the group.

Now when Jim needs to communicate to all his students he simply posts it to the group or messages all of them.

Why Facebook?

“Because it’s where we’re at.” was the answer I got when I asked the students. They love it and Jim loves it.

Never Ending Road Jim now had administrators who basically run the group for him. In the middle of a class he can call on one of them to post something to the group, an update, a link, etc.

When you empower kids, great things happen.

Of course the more we talked the more I wanted to know so I asked the kids “Do you think every class should have a Facebook Group?”

Heads nodded around the room.

Facebook is their e-mail system, it’s the system they use and where they spend there time. If we want to communicate with them we need to find ways to harness the power of the tools they use. Forcing them to use OUR e-mail, or OUR systems to communicate can work, but it’s not natural and it’s another place to check for information….and we all know how much we love that.

So now I’m thinking I have to find a way to integrate Facebook with our Moodle installation there’s got to be a way to take advantage of these tools, to connect them together and use them to power and socialize the learning environment.

We hear so many negative things about Facebook in schools and yet here we find a teacher who has learned to embrace it. The old saying “If you can’t beat them, join them!” still holds true. We can’t keep kids from using Facebook, for better or worse it’s where they’re at. What we need to do is find ways to use it to enhance our classrooms, find ways to show students how to use these social tools to create positive connections.

Netvibes.com has been my aggregator of choice for years now. So much so that thinking of changing to another platform at this point makes my head spin. I’ve tried Pageflakes.com for a time and even Google Reader/ iGoogle. To each their own and I’m obviously a netvibes guy. Last summer I wrote a post comparing different aggregators as I was thinking there might be something better.

Today thought I wanted to take Netvibes one step farther. While in Shanghai the 5th grade teachers there set every student up with an account and was able to push content to them by sharing whole tabs of RSS feeds and widgets.

Our 5th grade teachers here in Bangkok are now in the process of setting every student up with a blog for reflective learning. The teachers and students needed an easy way to find and read each others blogs. Netvibes was the perfect solution. It allows you to share specific pages of your RSS feed to the public. Giving you a public URL that can be accessed by anyone. Even better, each tab is it’s own URL so you can link to that specific tab in the site. Here’s how I did it (click on a picture to enlarge):

Netvibes Class Page by you.

1. Create an account at Netvibes.com

2. Create a new tab for your class and name it something that is easy to remember. I used the last name of the 5th grade teachers.

Netvibes Create Tab by you.

3. Next it’s time to load in the RSS feeds into the tab. There are two ways to do this.

  • You can copy and paste the RSS URL from each blog into the Add a feed section under Add content
Netvibes add a feed by you.

  • Or you can install the FireFox extension that allows you to add feeds right from the FireFox toolbar.
2009-08-19_1625 by you.

4. Once you have your feeds on the page the way you like (you can simply drag and drop each widget), the next step is to make your page public so that you can link to it from your blog or anywhere else you put the hyperlink. The nice thing is you can name your public page what ever you like. I named the 5th grade page isbg5: http://www.netvibes.com/isbg5

Netvibes Public Pages by you.

5. That’s pretty much it. There are also other fun widgets you can put on your page. You’ll notice that I’ve embedded another web page that the students and teachers use to share links. Now that we have the Netvibes page created and made public we can link it to the class blogs.

I’ll use Chrissy Hellyer’s class blog as an example (and if you’re not following her you should be!). Using the WordPress plugin Page Link To I created a new page on Chrissy’s blog and linked it to her class tab on Netvibes located at: http://www.netvibes.com/isbg5#Hellyer (We have a two WordPress MU installs at our school. One for teacher sites and one for student blogs)

Link to WP blog by you.

Now when the students or parents, or anyone for that matter visits the class blog they are one click away from the RSS feed of every student. Next step will be to have each student do the same on their own personal blog. Using the same plugin and creating a page with a link to their class site.

What I also like about this is it helps to extend the conversation outside the classroom walls. We’ll start with the six 5th grade classes here at school being able to use this Netvibes site to read and respond to each other across classes. We can then simply add the RSS feeds of other classes and have student reading those as well. Of course as we start to connect with other classes around the world they have a one stop shop as well to all the 5th grade blogs (about 100 when we get done). Not a bad way to help other students find what they are looking for as well. 😉

Of course you don’t have to stop there. You could create a tab for current news, or find sites with RSS feeds that talk about events that you are studying. There are endless possibilities of how you use Netvibes in your class. On the general page you’ll see I even found a Flickr Creative Commons Search box for students to safely search for Creative Commons images right from their Netvibes page…..something we’re teaching them to do next week!

We’ll see where else this takes us as we continue to build our little 5th grade Netvibes site. I encourage you to get in and get messy with it…there are a ton of things you can do with it.


We all know what happens when you get administrators that understand this Web 2.0 stuff. Shift happens!

Gourmet Geeks Image Andy Torris a good friend of mine, fellow Gourmet Geek, and oh yeah Deputy Superintendent at our school has the wheels a spinning on what Web 2.0 can mean for a school community.

We had a great conversation starter today. What Andy and I really need is a day or two to talk through how this stuff will/can work….and we both believe it can.

“I know there is power in Twitter!” he says has he starts talking about the Twitter account he set up for our school.
We have some ideas on how our community can use Twitter to stay up on what is happening within the school. The school can use it to point to recent or updated information.

Think of the following as Twitter updates:

Practice for softball has been canceled today do to rain.

Don’t forget to vote in the board election this week.

Latest posting from principals can be found here.

Fund raiser this week for Habitat for Humanity remember to support our clubs!

As Andy and I continued talking today we both started talking about marketing and communication and how these tools could be very powerful for a private school such as ours in Shanghai. We also talked about Facebook and having more of a presence there.

“I’ve already created an account.” he says with a smile on his face.

Our conversation goes even deeper about how we need/can engage students at this level. We also talk about the new site I launched today for our school. A Netvibes Universe page that has all our feeds in one place. You can go to www.saschinaonline.org and you will be redirected to our Universe (check out my Universe via the new link at the top of my blog).

This type of site I think has some great power for larger school districts. Could you imagine being in a school district of 20 or 30 schools and have one site like this for the community that brings the district together?

I’ve been reading a lot about marketing lately and I think that’s part of all this. We need to market our schools to our students, our parents, our communities. How do we do that? What tools can we use?

If you’re not already following Andy I would add him to your list of reads. He’s an administrator who can see the larger picture and together we’re gonna figure out how a school can embrace these tools and use them in a multitude of ways to communicate and market our school to the community of Shanghai and expats that might be moving here.

Pat Kennedy left a comment yesterday on the RSS in Plain English post.

Which aggregator is conducive to a classroom environment Bloglines or Google Reader? Organizing feeds by disciplines is important to me. Are they advertisement free?

There are a lot of great aggregators out there finding one that is right for you and your students is like shopping for a computer. You need to check out the options and see which one ‘fits’

Bloglines: A great ad free RSS reader. Easy to use and set up and I believe the easiest place to get people started when first learning about aggregators and RSS. It was the first to really take off and is still a great basic aggregator of content. You can organize feeds into folders.

Google Reader: Coming on strong as they do the Google thing and continue to add options and features. It loads quickly and has some features that Bloglines doesn’t have. The best thing about Google Reader is you can import it to your iGoogle page to become more like Pageflakes or Netvibes. If you’re school has students create a Google account (which I’m thinking schools should do!) than this is a great option. You can organize feeds in folders.

Pageflakes: Coming on strong as one of my favorites. It differs from Bloglines and Google Reader in that it has “Widgets” which are other items you can add to your page other than just plain RSS feeds. Pageflakes has a great little Podcast player that you can add and use to listen to podcats, you can add the weather, news, a search and other widgets and really customize your start page to be the information center you want it to be. If Netvibes continues to be slow in China when I return after this summer, this will be where i move to. Quick loading and clean easy design. You organize feeds by tabbed pages.

Netvibes: My personal favorite and a quick look at what people are using to subscribe to the blogs that I run show that more people are using Netvibes now than Bloglines. Netvibes was the first to use widgets to really make a customized start page on the web that allowed you to import your own RSS feeds. They continue to add widgets that allow you to add functionality to your page. They have also done the Web 2.0 thing and opened up their API to the community allowing users to create widgets for the site. As the community made widgets become stable they are added as options. You can search for all kinds of great widgets to really make the page the way you want. Pat also wants to organize her feeds by disciplines. Netvibes has a tab feature (so does Pageflakes) that allows you to add tabs to your page so each tab can be a different discipline. You can also share a tab with others. I set up students with Netvibes pages and then share a tab that has all the RSS feeds I want them to have. I use Netvibes with students because they are a customizable generation and Netvibes lets you customize everything. With teachers I use Bloglines, Google Reader or Netvibes based on the level of the teacher and their technology skills.

This is only 4 of many great aggregators out there. What’s your favorite? What’s the features that make you stay with your reader?

[tags]rss, aggregator, bloglines, googlereader, pageflakes, netvibes[/tags]

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