Student Blogs: So easy even a Social Studies Teacher can do it!

Okay, I paraphrased a popular tag line from a commercial as my title…bad cliche.  I just wanted to emphasize the fact that setting up blogs for my classes was not difficult, it just took some time.  If I was a better typist, I could have finished the set up process in half the time if not less.  Here is the process:

First, I have upgraded to an Edublogs Pro Account, this upgrade enabled me to add students to my account.  I clicked on the “Add New Users” tab on the left side of the screen.  I was able to type in batches of 15 students, creating usernames, and passwords.  I ran into trouble because my students do not have Gaggle email accounts set up as of yet through school.  At this point I made the first of several emails to Sue Waters…Sue is on Edublogs Support Team and Sue rocks!!!  She has helped me out several times with issues and is a great resource.

She had recommended that I create a generic class email account, in Gmail, which I did.  The next step is to insert a “+” then a unique ID between the main email name and the “@gmail” in the address.

It looks similar to this, “my class+student id@gmail.com”  I created users in batches of 15 and gave each a generic password.  A verification email was sent to the new email account I created in Gmail.  I typed my way through my preliminary class lists in a couple of hours.  I set up each student as a “contributor.”  This setting allows students to create posts, however they cannot make a post public without my approval.  I like this added safety feature, you never know when a student may have a bad day, or get their account hacked, or forget to log out which could lead to bad things happening.  I will need to approve every post before they go out over the Internet.  I need to grade the posts anyway, so it is not really an issue.

I then copied all of the usernames and passwords onto a Google Doc for reference later.  I have found it best to keep all student usernames close by for reference, you never know when you will need them.  In hindsight, I should have given every student the same generic password.  That would have saved me from copying their log-in information from my email account.  My colleague Bryan Pasquale was going to do that with his students…but he did not upgrade to the Pro account.  I believe he is going to use the work around of having his students create accounts, but not blogs so he can add them to his blog as contributors…but that is a different post on a different blog….

I hope to roll out the first blog assignment next week across all six of my classes, it will be on student expectations for the year.  We will see what they come up with.

Blog Booster: another free iPod app

Okay, Take Three!  This is the third try using this app on my iPod Touch and I am actually writing on my Macbook.  I froze the iPod twice, once when the app tried to sync my blog posts to the iPod, and the second time because I hit the buttons incorrectly when trying to take a screenshot.  I was pushed out of the app and upon returning the sync process froze the iPod once again.  I also lost most of the post, well everything except the title and tags.

I am trying this app since I could not find a way to log out of my blog on the free WordPress app.  Personally it is not an issue, but with six classes sharing iPods, it becomes an issue.  I need them to be able to log in and out, or at least have separate log ins.  Blog Booster seems to allow that.  I will have to try it out in my classroom to know for certain.

The app allows for adjusting text with bold, underline and some other features.  Where I get my iPod hung up is when the app tries to synchronize my blog to the iPod.  I can jump out of the app and do other things, however when I reenter the app, it goes back to the frozen sync screen.  I will e-mail the app creator, 6taps and see if they can enlighten me on this topic.  Hopefully they can help and I can push this out to my students.


BlogBooster-The most productive way for mobile blogging. BlogBooster is a multi-service blog editor for iPhone, Android, WebOs and your desktop

First Day of School: Less than two weeks away

Ah…the first day of school is less than TWO WEEKS away…and I could use another two months of summer…I have been creating a mental “To Do” list for the first two weeks of classes.  During this time period I initiate my students into the wonderful world of technology in education.   I have them sign up for most of the tools and programs we will be using in class, run them through basic tasks on the iPod Touches, and explain what is expected of them. As of now, I will not be pulled from my classes to be the district’s Technology Integrator, we have not received any funding from Pennsylvania as of yet, so I will be in my classroom full time.  That may change if funding goes through, or some other opportunity, or random happening occurs.

So without further adieu, here is this year’s list, or at least what I have thought of so far…it is an aggressive schedule and if I find the students need more time, I will give it to them.

If the office has my class lists ready on Tuesday when I stop by the school, I can create my class lists and organize my Google Apps for Education accounts for my students.  I can also create Discovery Education Accounts and organize my students Gaggle.net email accounts.  These are tasks I must do for them, most of the other stuff, the students will do in class…which makes my life easier!

Day One’s agenda, I will hand out my class expectations and Textmarks documents, along with introducing the iPods to the kids.  The sign out and sign in process will take almost half of each period.  I am hoping that I do not have more students than iPods, but if I do, I was promised five laptops to help out.

Day Two’s agenda will begin the sign up process for Web 2.0 tools.  I will start with Edmodo, which will be my online classroom platform.  Once they sign in or up, the students will answer a survey question on technology experience, post a note in the discussion board to introduce themselves to me and the rest of the students, see how I will be posting documents for them to access online, and follow a link that I post out to the class wiki.  They should have time to also look over some of the iPod apps once they complete the above mentioned basic tasks.

On Day Three I hope to have them log in to their Google Apps for Education accounts and see how the Documents 2 app works on the iPods.  They can type a quick note and upload it from their iPods to their Google Apps account.  If this does not take too long, I will then have them log in to their Gaggle email accounts.  Between Gaggle, Edmodo, and the Google Apps for Education accounts my students will have extended access to the classroom.

On Day Four, the students will sign up for Evernote accounts and practice using the tools we have discussed in class.  I can do this by providing the URLs to every tool used in the Edmodo classroom.  The students will have their choice of using Documents 2, Evernote, or paper and pencil for class notes.  I will encourage one of the web-based tools since they can access the information without worrying about forgetting papers in their lockers, or at home, or in their car, or a friend’s car, or…you get the idea.

Day Five’s agenda will start with a reminder about signing up for my Textmarks account and a preview of the flaschcard apps on the iPod Touches.  I will have shared out a couple of sets of flashcards in .csv file format via Google Apps for Education.  The students will be able to sync the flashcards to their iPod Touches using the flashcard apps.  They will have time to see how the apps work and possibly find one they like more than the other apps.  I am going to encourage the students to contribute flashcards to the class by creating their own accounts to the flashcard sites online.  I will offer points for the creation of the resources.  This will get the students more involved in the learning process and take some pressure off of me to be the sole creator of educational information for my classes.  I am using only free flashcard apps, so students may have to create more than one account if the “free accounts” limit the number of flashcards they can create.  I will also model how we will use the flashcards on the Polyvision Interactive Whiteboard (IWB) in my classroom.

At some point I will introduce the student blogs, probably Day Six will be the day.  I recently upgraded to an Edublogs pro account.  I am not sure exactly how I will roll out the 50 student blogs.  I may make the blogs mandatory and regularly occurring in my Freshman Honors Civics class and keep the blogs as voluntary enrichment in my other classes, or mandatory with less postings required.  I am leaning towards mandatory blogs with less required postings, it will give all of my students the experience they need in a global society.
Days Seven through Ten will be lab time for the students to work with the iPods completing tasks such as sending e-mails using the iPod Touches, uploading Documents 2 and Evernote files.  Taking screenshots with the iPod Touches and emailing them to me.  I will have the students record audio files on the iPods and send them via e-mail.  The goal is to get the students somewhat familiar with the technology before we jump into the curriculum for the year.

I do have to have students sign up for Animoto using my teacher access pass and my Civics students will need to log in to their online textbook during this time period.  I will also show them how my online Elluminate class will work and allow model the features.  I hope to start online office hours by Week Three of school.  I will use the Edmodo classroom to survey the students as to the night and time that best suites their availability.

I am hoping that the mini Eno board that I ordered in the spring has arrived.  The students can practice using the handheld board to work the Interactive Whiteboard from their desks.  My hope is that the students will be able to use the mini board so they do not have to get up and walk to the IWB all the time to participate in class.  It would not be an issue if we had block schedules instead of 40 minute classes, so I must find ways to save time in class.  I hope that by the end of the second week, we can sign the iPods out and in, in under 5 minutes much like the past school year.

The above schedule is subject to change, especially if we have any fire drills, assemblies, public announcements in the middle of class, and the inevitable schedule changes throughout the first several weeks of school.  I am thinking that the students may need more time to complete the tasks at hand and become comfortable with the technology, but they may just surprise me and run way ahead of the schedule…either way I will adjust.

Smartphone growth spurs rethinking of marketing – Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Smartphone growth spurs rethinking of marketing

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App on a phone
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Kim Leonard is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review staff writer and can be reached at 412-380-5606 or via e-mail.

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More consumers who use their mobile phones to research and buy products are turning into moving targets.

That’s why businesses including several in Western Pennsylvania are creating applications, or “apps,” for Apple iPhones and Android-based mobile smartphones that point shoppers and service users to their products and offerings.

The article specifically discusses smartphone applications that are being made for Pittsburgh-based businesses. My question is, “Why aren’t schools, specifically K-12 entities capitalizing on this usage?”

Many of our students use some sort of smartphone, why don’t we allow them to use the phones in school. In my humble opinion, students should be allowed to use their technology from home in the classroom. Schools can then use their limited resources by allowing students without their own device to use a school machine. Not only would more students then have access to technology, but many would be using tools they are familiar with and have easy access to.

Teachers would have to monitor students better in class, to ensure they were on task, but why not make school more like reality…give the students access to information and technology at their fingertips. Eventually students will be using the same technology for work, the modern workplace demands it. We as educators need to teach them how to use it responsibly, not bury our heads in paper texts and claim there is no place for these devices in our classrooms.

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This site came across my PLN on Twitter over the weekend. I forget who Tweeted the link and I apologize for not being able to give them proper recognition for the info…sorry. I think the site has many positive implications for education. In the day of shrinking budgets, who can afford to ignore free resources? The site is easy to use and you can view the ebooks on platforms other than an iPad.

I downloaded the free FireFox add-on and in minutes read a Dr. Seuss book to my daughter. It was just scanned images from the hard copy, but she enjoyed it. Imagine doing the same thing over an LCD projector onto an interactive whiteboard in your classroom? The students would go nuts, allow them to round robin read and turn the pages with the click of a mouse…even the high school students would enjoy it.

I forwarded the information to the administrators in my district, hopefully they will find the information as interesting as I did. At the minimum, I hope they look into the site, we could use any free help we can get!

KTI 2010: Some things I learned last week, Edmodo

I presented on Edmodo last week at the KTI Summit, but that is not why I am posting this.  I worked formally and informally with many people at the summit on how to incorporate Edmodo in their classrooms.  We worked in the small group sessions, open labs, and even in the dining hall discussing uses and “how to’s.”

I will be using Edmodo as my main classroom platform this year in school.  The main page looks much like a Facebook page, which makes it easy for my students to navigate.  The mobile app for iPods looks like a Twitter feed, it is streamlined and easy to use on mobile devices.

The one plus I brought up in my presentation was the ease of setting up an account and classes.  In a matter of a couple of minutes, you can create an account and classes.  You give your students the class code and they create accounts or log in with existing ones, then they just type in the code and are in your class.  Even if you only run one discussion board a year, Edmodo is the tool to use.  You do not waste time importing students and setting everything up.

Now, back to what I learned at the Summit.  We played with the “public” tab in Edmodo, this allows for any note, file, link, etc. to be pushed out to a public URL, which can then be viewed without logging in to your classroom.  This feature gives me another tool with which to keep parents updated on class events. I can push out my class calendar and any file I feel parents need access to, while keeping other information secure from strangers; all with the click of a mouse.

Another idea we came up with was to group students into general classes, then create sub-groups by period and as needed.  This allows for discussion and interaction between students in different periods, but also gives the teacher the option to push out information to specific groups without everyone else getting it.  This functionality happens by just giving the students your classroom code so they can enroll themselves into your course, then with a couple clicks of your mouse, you can group them as you wish.

I embedded my 30box calendar, that is on the front page of my class wiki, into my Edmodo classrooms, this will allow me to update in 30boxes and show up everywhere I have it embedded.  I can also do the same with a Google calendar or any calendar that embeds in a web page.

Edmodo just enabled the use of folders on the site.  This new development will allow me to better organize all of my links and files.  Instead of having to build a master class for organizing my curriculum, I can just upload everything into folders with detailed names.  This will allow me to open and close information to students as needed, without any hassle.

Last, but surely not least, I have communicate on Twitter with one of Edmodo’s co-founders, Jeff O’Hara on numerous occasions.  He has always been helpful with advice and quick to respond to any questions I have had.  Jeff has also asked for feedback from my students and others to make Edmodo user friendly.  This rates high in my opinion and is the main reason I talk up Edmodo as often as I can.

I have used Moodle, BlackBoard, and Web CT, they work great, but for overall ease of use and free cost, Edmodo is the way to expand your classroom beyond the traditional walls and times.

KTI Summit 2010: Some things I learned last week, Posterous

I have been reflecting on my experiences last week at the Keystone Technology Integrator’s Summit at Bucknell University.  I picked up many new ideas and worked on refining some strategies and tools that I already use in my classroom.  Today’s topic will be Posterous.

I have heard of Posterous before, but never really worked with it.  Posterous is a blogging/social media site that allows you to post various forms of media online and coordinate your posts with other websites you may use, such as Facebook, Twitter, etc.  Here is the link to their FAQ page.  When I got home from the summit, I created an account and in minutes I was up and running.  The site is extremely intuitive to set up.  I created an account, linked my other accounts to Posterous, updated my profile, and found friends who are already using the site.  I have not posted yet, since I have been getting caught up on life after being away for a week at the KTI Summit.  Kristin Hokanson showed in her preso at the summit how to I am looking into the mobile app for Posterous, it may be usable on my iPod, even though it is designed for an iPhone.  The Firefox Toolbar add on is also an item I am looking forward to using in the near future.  The concept is that you can instantly grab web-based articles and information and create a post to be pushed out to other sites.  I will discuss this tool more once I use it more often.

iPod Project: Student Self-Reflection

Did you ever forget old standards because of new information? You get so busy looking forward you lose sight of what is around you…In a previous post I discussed how I was using Examview Test Generator to make short quizzes to embed on the class wiki for my students. I continued to do this with short quizzes to see how my students were understanding our class discussions. I was also printing out a single class set of a paper quiz. Students still took the quiz online via the iPod Touches, but they had a paper copy to read off of. Many prefer to read of the paper copies

The quizzes allow me to break up information into small chunks to work with for the students. The only issue I had was that we are covering a lot of new information and continuous quizzes would wear down my students. If they were not grasping the information well, the quizzes would pull students grades down markedly.

I usually ask questions and try and get discussions going, but even seniors do not like admitting publicly that they do not always understand concepts. I came up with an idea that I forgot about for awhile…I have started using a Google Form to have the students reflect back on the day’s lesson.

The concept is so simple, I cannot believe that I was not doing it sooner…I make a simple Google Form, four or five questions long and embed it on a wiki page.  The link to the page is placed in Edmodo and on the left hand navigation column of my class wiki, so the students have easy access to the form.  The questions are: Name, Period, What did you understand best, What did you understand least, and what do you feel you need/want to learn more about.  They receive participation points for taking the exercise seriously.  All questions have room for the students to explain why they answered they way they did.

I get a nice little spreadsheet of information to work from.  I review the students responses and create a file in Easiteach to hit the areas that students feel they need help with or are interested in.  My review requires the students to participate, I prompt them to their notes from past lessons and try to add to those notes.  The students use their iPods to find answers to the new questions and we work on bridging the gaps in understanding.  So far, the process seems to be working.  Hopefully the success will continue into the future.

iPod Project: Moving into the 21st Century

I will be the first to admit, that I did not start out using my classroom set of iPods as 21st Century Learning devices. The learning curve was not steep, but getting everyone, including myself, to full speed took some time. To paraphrase the drill instructor-like driving instructor who had a one episode cameo in SpongeBob Squarepants, ” Before you can run, you must learn to walk. Before you can walk, you must learn to crawl.”  We started at a crawl, and quickly moved to a walk. I am now in the process of getting up to full speed with the iPods.  I am attempting to make my lessons more interactive and have a true conversation with the students while getting them to learn.

In the past, getting information out to them was a chore.  If I made a PowerPoint the way they are supposed to be, there was not enough information for them on the screen.  They did not listen to what I was saying, and they struggled.  If I put all the info on the slides, they wrote to there fingers bled, still didn’t listen, and thought you needed to embed a Word Doc to make a good PowerPoint.  Neither option was acceptable, I had to practice, “Do as I say, not as I do,” when I assigned PowerPoints as projects.

I have a Polyvision Interactive Whiteboard in my room now, with a working copy of RM Easiteach, which I did not have last year.  I now import my PowerPoints into RM Easiteach, either with “Glass Mode” or “Merge” .JPG files into each page of a file.  I then make a bare bones outline page in between each PowerPoint slide page.  The bare bones contain a few critical questions I want the students to know.

I then flip through the Easiteach presentation, I state the topic, and pose a few questions.  The students are encouraged to brainstorm ideas.  I still need to remind them, “each of you has a computer in front of you, (iPod Touch), use it.”  They are getting better.  They search for answers, some on the mark, some not, but that is okay, we are learning.  We put the brainstormed and “Googled” ideas up on the board and sift through the information.  The critical thinking process is modeled and worked through as a class.  We discuss the points and see which is correct and which may not be.  The reasoning as to why each is correct or not on topic is discussed.

Once we answer these questions and narrow the focus to the correct topic, questions usually pop up to further the conversation.  If this does not happen, I ask a few more questions and the process is repeated.  Students still need prompted and I still need to circulate through the room, but they are working, they are thinking, and they are active.

Once we have a good bit of information, I pull the board into “Split Screen” and we compare the facts the students found to what I had on my PowerPoint.  Sometimes, the information I have is a few years old and out of date, we correct the information and move on. At the end of the period, I “Save” the file for that class and reopen a scaled down mater file for the next period.

The following class repeats the process, but does not always find the same results.  This is another lesson unto itself and we do work through the divergent information to see if one is correct and one not, or they are both correct, just different.  Students learn from the process.  They learn how to find information, how to discriminate and choose the correct information, and they learn the curriculum.

I can copy and paste the slides into grouped information, then upload it into my Edmodo classroom.  The students can use the free Easiteach reader download to view the files from home.  I also create a podcast for each file, nothing spectacular, just an audio of the focus points of the file.  I push the podcasts out to my Podbean.com account and iTunes.  In an unabashed act of egocentricity, I subscribe to my own podcast on iTunes and push it out on the iPods.  Now my students have access to the material even if they are not in class, or if they need to review information.

I know I name dropped some specific brand names, but we are a Polyvision school. I am pretty sure I could do similar style lessons with other brands of Interactive Whiteboards.  The concept is what is important, getting the students to participate in learning and thinking, not just sitting there…passively.

Jury Duty: A Teachable Moment

Okay, I explained in the last two posts about my jury duty experience. It probably sounded a lot like complaining, because I did complain a lot. I do not like to complain without offering a way to remedy my grievances; here is my attempt.

Now, here is what I can teach my classes about my experience. First and foremost, every employee I encountered at the Lawrence County Courthouse was helpful and seemed like a truly nice person. The were polite and professional, and they did their best with the situation at hand. I do not have anything but compliments for them.

My issue is with the process jury selection process itself. There have to be more eligible prospective jurors in the county than what they call. Please do not say it is a “Civic Duty” when it is not required that everyone show up in a cycle. That also goes with my premise that it is truly not a random selection process. There may be a bit of randomness to the procedures, but in today’s world, it should not be that complicated to expand the list of people to draw from.  It was also not a very diverse panel of potential jurors. The male to female ratio may have been close to being even, but ethnically there was no diversity whatsoever.  Use the county computer records to expand the juror pool to ALL eligible jurors. Cycle us through with everyone having to possibly show up before you go back through the list. People may still not have to go to the courthouse, but at least they are on the list.

The next issue is the selection process.  Prospective jurors are sent a questionnaire to fill out and send back. They then go into the courtroom, if on the list of possible jurors. They are then asked the questions again, and respond by standing up if their answer to a question is yes. Then the jurors can be called up the the sidebar to explain their answers to the Judge and attorneys.  We are already required to explain in writing why we answered the way we did. It may be petty, but why do it twice, especially if the first response does not count.  It reminds me of busy work, which I despise. Do it once, when we are called into the courtroom. Make people stand up for their convictions, if they truly are convictions, they will not mind standing up in front of others.

By the end of today, I do not believe a defendant would have had a fair trial.  The jurors all seemed like nice and rational people, but they had had enough. They did their duty yesterday, were told they did not make the cut, then were told the rules changed, we were not done with our “Civic Duty.” We had one more case then we would be done. Well, that case was settled on a plea bargain, yet we were not done, we had one more case. That is not right, even if they hold all the cards.  If I were to be called for duty, then do as I pleased, I could and probably would be charged with contempt of court.  Those with the authority must not abuse that authority if they want to be respected.  They played patriotic music in the movie we watched on Day One, quoted Thomas Jefferson, stated how important jurors are to a free society, then blew it all up with changing the rules as they went along. This goes back to including more jurors in the prospective pool, the more jurors, the less recycling jurors who did were pushed off of an earlier case.

I guess my main point of information for my students is, DO NOT choose a jury trial if you ever go to court.  You have no idea what the jurors have been though, or their frame of mind due to their experience.  A trial under the supervision of a judge takes out the variable of a group that may not be in a very objective mood through no fault of their own.

Once again, the court employees were very kind and very professional, they worked with a system I feel is inadequate in the 21st Century.  Adjust the system and the jury becomes what it was meant to be, an impartial panel of peers to view the facts and pass judgment on a situation based on the rules of a society.

On a personal note, I have only reinforced the fact that due to my family, friends, and working with “At-Risk” students for a number of years, I am not a good fit for a criminal trial. The court knows this by now, and if they do not, they can read my responses.  If that is not of any help, I stand up to respond yes to the questions, again, then I explain my answers on the sidebar. If I am turned away, why in the world would I be made to go through the process again.

Judge Piccione made a very good point and made me rethink my answers during the sidebar on Day One. He asked if I could put my biases aside due to my life experiences. I answered that I was reasonably sure that I could. He reminded me that it was a yes or no answer, not a matter of degree, which is true. I honestly cannot say that I could keep my personal experience out of my judgment of a case.  There is no rubric to use like I have for my class projects.

Because of this, I am toxic to a criminal defendant.  My grandparents were in a car accident caused by someone who was driving while impaired. I have many friends and family who are in law enforcement. I am a throw away juror, no competent defense attorney would choose me unless they were gunning for a mistrial.  By keeping me around, there is one less possible juror who could be unbiased to a defendant. That seems a bit unfair to the defendant. By pulling in all of the rejected jurors to another trial, you seriously cut the chances of an unbiased jury for a defendant. That just does not seem right. That seems to be against the spirit of Thomas Jefferson and the United States Constitution.