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.

Blogging from my iPod Touch

This blog is being written entirely from my iPod Touch. Previously I had toyed with blogging from the iPod, but had limited success. I could log in and create a title and look around, even type excerpts, but could not write to the body of the post.

I e-mailed Sue Waters at Edublogs support about the issue, she has been super-fantastic in helping me with the site. She was away, but I received a response from Ronnie B. at Edublogs. He Advised me that others have used the free WordPress app with success. I decided to try it and here I am…posting successfully from a mobile device.

To post, open the app by tapping it, then type in you blog URL, no need for the http. Type in username and password, then you are inside and ready to blog. All of my categories were pre-loaded,so I added tags and started writing.

You can type from the standard position, with the “home button” at the bottom of the iPod, or spin the iPod on it’s
side and have the expanded keyboard much like a cell phone keyboard. If you forget something in your post just scroll through and tap the screen where you want the cursor to be. It is so very easy to use.

As I experiment more with the app I will update or add more posts. I do believe my students will be able to do this much easier than I am currently. They can text without looking at the phones…as the phones are in their purses or pockets in our classrooms. This will be a cakewalk for them!

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.

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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!

Posterous: I think I got it

Last week at the KTI Summit, I was shown how to use Posterous.com to create a social media blog feed.  It is easy to use and allows you to post in multiple ways.

I think I figured out how to use the web-clipping tool to work straight from my FireFox browser.  I am still having trouble using the Posterous add on that I downloaded for the main FF toolbar.  I could not get it to load into the toolbar.

I decided on plan B.  I went to this link in Posterous, and just did a click and drag of the icon to my toolbar.  You can see the image below.

Click and drag the icon to your toolbar.

Click and drag the icon to your toolbar.

Once you place it in your toolbar, all you need to do is find something you would like to write about.  Once you find something, highlight it and click on the button in your toolbar.  The highlighted image will be clipped and imported into your Posterous blog.  You have the option of adding your own comments, which is highly recommended. See the image below to see the tab in my toolbar.

Posterous Bookmarklet in toolbar

As I mentioned in a previous post, you can set up your account to automatically push your post out to other social networking sites you have.

Setting up your account this way, with the toolbar tab, allows you post in seconds.  NICE!

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.

Google Images: A Clarification…

I have been a strong advocate of using Creative Commons for all projects, students, teachers, mine, regardless of whether or not the projects would be posted on the Internet. My philosophy is fairly simple, we as educators need to be consistent.  As a teacher, we give students a zero for copying answers off of someone else, be it homework or a test. We consider it cheating and wrong to do. Well, copying images off of the Internet that aren’t ours to use is pretty much the same thing, unless you have their permission to use the images.

You can’t fail someone for cheating, then turn around and teach them to copy any image off the Internet regardless of usage rights. Well…okay…you can…but you will look foolish to the kids who are fairly intelligent.

Now to my point…I was against students just “Googling” for images, mainly because they would not check for usage rights, they would just copy and paste, or download and insert. They never checked for copyright. I tried to push to sites where usage was usually permitted, such as Flickr and our CFF wiki where I posted many open source links.  I have to admit that it was a losing battle.

At the two days of Google Training at IU 7 in Westmoreland County, I learned the solution to my situation. You can go to Google’s Main page, then click on images. You will see a list of links across the top of the page, choose “Images.” You will be directed to a search page specifically for images. Next to the box to search, choose “Advanced Search Options.” (See Image Below)

Google Image Search

Google Image Search

In advanced search options you can choose which type of usage rights you are searching for. There are five options for usage rights, I have one highlighted below with a yellow arrow. You can also choose for a content secure search based upon your students’ ages. This option is highlighted by a blue arrow.

Check out the arrows.

Check out the arrows.

If you take the extra five seconds to work in advanced search you can easily use Google Image searches to get information for class presentations and projects.  This not only models appropriate behavior for your students, but it keeps you from compromising yourself down the road if you ever decide to post your presentation publicly, or get called into a parent conference for failing a student for cheating.

Keystone Commons

Keystone Commons is an interesting concept. Keystone Commons was created by PAIUnet to link the Intermediate Units in Pennsylvania along with other educational institutions. You can find more information about PAIUnet by visiting their website. The Keystone Commons is for educators AND students to use. In my humble opinion, it is Facebook, Twitter, and Ning all rolled up into one site for education. I understand some people are unfamiliar with those names, or may have heard of them, but that is it. That’s okay, I think that is why the site was created.

The purpose of the site is to create a monitored online space for communication and show students the responsible way to behave online. Kids use the sites mentioned above, often times in inappropriate ways. By blocking these sites in schools we tend to contribute to the problem by ignoring it. However the problem does not go away, nor does the inappropriate behavior. This site gives us the opportunity to teach how to use these tools in a positive fashion. In today’s world students need these skills, their future employers and many institutions of higher learning demand them.

Just a quick overview of the site, I will write in more detail as we experiment with it more in class. You can create a profile page, and add files and bookmarks to your profile much like Facebook. You can post messages in 140 characters or less just like Twitter. There is a place for groups to collaborate in groups just like other sites such as Ning. The groups may have open or closed membership requirements, it is up to the group organizers.

Users must create an account from a school computer, initial access can only be successful in this fashion. Once an account is created, users can access the Keystone Commons from any computer that has Internet access. The nice thing is that all members in the state can monitor the behavior of students on the site. If a student is acting inappropriately, you hit a button that says “Report This” and the activity is sent to the site administrators. I do not know what happens once you hit the button, because I have not had to do so yet.

I started a group for New Brighton Staff on the site, you can check it out by searching for NBASD Educators. If you would like to join and check things out please do so. If you have any questions, feel free to e-mail me and I will do my best to answer them.

Edmodo: set up an online classroom easily.

I have known about Edmodo since sometime during the 2008/2009 school year. I set up an account and even set up my classes. I just never enrolled my students. I was using BlackBoard, which the district had invested in BlackBoard licenses, and I had wanted for my students for years. Why try something new when I finally got what I had originally wanted? The redundancy factor between the two also played a roll in not using Edmodo. I was a classroom teacher AND CFF Coach, so I did not have the time to experiment with many tools that did the same thing.

This year, BlackBoard is gone, I still have my Edmodo account, I set up new classes, but…I still have not enrolled my students. Why is this? I hope to use our school Moodle site once everything is up, running, and open outside of school. My plan is to build a complete online course in support of my traditional classroom, much like I had in BlackBoard. I am currently using my class wiki in that capacity.

So, if I do not use Edmodo, why am I promoting it? Two of our staff members are using it with their students. Bryan Pasquale, who teaches social studies, and Kerri Heymann, one of our high school math teachers. They love the ability to quickly set up classes, and HAVE THE STUDENTS ENROLL THEMSELVES. All you supply is Internet access and a code for the students to type in. The students do the rest. This is great if you are not planning to build an entire online course in Moodle!

What does Edmodo do? Why should I use it in my class? Well, for the limited time we have used it this year, we have created threaded discussion boards for the students, posted formative surveys/polls for students to respond to, posted assignments online for students to access, collected assignments electronically from the students, and set up an easy, secure, and monitored channel for communication between staff and students.

Now, what we will do beyond the first day we used it in class…

Seriously, it is that easy to use. The Edmodo page looks and acts like a Facebook homepage. The kids picked up on that right away. Most of them use Facebook, all of them have seen Facebook, now is our chance to show them how to use a similar tool appropriately. We can see everything that is posted, the students may post to the entire class, or directly to the teacher. Staff and student files may be posted in the same fashion. You can also use the built in calendar feature to keep students aware of the class schedule, and there is a handy links feature so students can jump from Edmodo to important class Internet sites.

Here is a screenshot of what the Edmodo home screen looks like,

Edmodo - Home

The Edmodo Class Homepage view

So, there is a quick overview of what you can do with Edmodo…and I almost forgot…Edmodo is FREE!

If you would like anymore info on Edmodo, fell free to e-mail me or fill out a request on the CFF wiki for Tech Tips.

Three Programs You Need Now

Here is my first Tech Tip Blog Post. It deals with the basic practicalities of making your job easier. There are three programs you need right now, and they are all free. The reason that you need them is that they will allow you to work with others and will make life so much easier once you become comfortable with them.

The first one mentioned, Google Apps, is supplied by the District. It allows you to store documents, PowerPoints, and Excel files online. You can not only access them from anywhere there is an Internet connection, but you can also collaborate with others easily, no cutting and pasting, no e-mailing attachments, and all that other rigamarole. New Brighton’s start page to log in is http://partnerpage.google.com/nbasdcff.wikispaces.com. If you need your log in information, please e-mail me. We are setting up student accounts so they can have the same sort of access to their work. By creating accounts for the district we will be able to administer student accounts for such tasks as fixing lost or fogotten passwords. You can also set up a personal account at http://google.com.

The second is Diigo, a social bookmarking site. It allows you to store your favorites, or bookmarks online, so you can access them on any computer once you log in to the site. You can also share bookmarks with other individuals and groups. This allows you to have access to the research of others, once again without much effort. There is a group for New Brighton Teachers, and there are numerous other groups for educators. You can also create groups for your classes to give students access to approved bookmarks for your class in a secure setting, see me for details. The general site to create an account is http://www.diigo.com. Once you have created your own account, you can go to sign up for an educator’s account at http://www.diigo.com/education.

The third program dovetails nicely with existing programs in the district. Many teachers use Kidspiration and Inspiration software to create graphic organizers for use in the classroom. There is a free web-based, (online), program called Webspiration that allows you to do the same thing. Webspiration allows you to upload existing files to the Internet, download files to your desktop, and share your files with others, just by typing in their e-mail address. The people you share with must also have a free account to acces your files. You can edit the files together, or just pass them around by sharing. Webspiration also contains free clip art and media to drop into your graphic organizers to make them more interesting for the students. The program has many other features that I will not get into yet. This tool is available at http://www.mywebspiration.com.

The main themes that bind these three programs together, beside the fact that they are all free, is that they allow you to access information from anywhere in the world, and that they allow you to easily collaborate with others. Let’s face the fact that there is not enough time in the day to accomplish everything we would like to do. By working together, we make tasks easier and can accomplish more in the limited time we have. if you would like help setting up any of these accounts feel free to contact me at school.