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My Final Project April 8, 2009

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For my final project for EC&I 831 I chose to do a classroom blog.

One of the primary reasons that I chose to create a blog was to recapture “lost” time. As a teacher for many years I have spend untold hours helping students to catch up on missed work. This may entail simple questions such as “What did we do yesterday?”, “Can I have that handout you passed out the other day?”, or “I lost that review sheet, may I have another?” Though not purposefully meaning to disrupt classes, it does limit time for instruction or helping other students with current projects. With a blog that has this information on it I thought I could retrieve some of that [lost] time and use it in a more effective manner.

Another reason that I chose to do a classroom blog was to create a sense of ownership in students as to take charge of their own education. Students seem to rely on myself, and I presume other teachers, to fill in gaps in their work and always seem to create excuses to why they did not do something, or that they forgot when something was due. By creating a blog I hoped that this would allow students to rely on themselves for checking the website and finding due dates, missing assignments, information, etc. This also helps those students that miss classes due to various reasons (illness and travel being but two examples). With the ability to check from anywhere where there is access to the Internet there is no excuse to not be caught up. As a side note this blog also forces me to be more concise and organized when it comes to posting and my work.

Lastly was the creation of the blog to get parent(s)/guardian(s) involved in their child’s education. I have been teaching for roughly nine years and many times at Parent Teacher Interviews I have had parents lament upon their lack of knowledge of what happens in the classroom on a daily basis. Even with a proactive teacher that may call a parent (often with negative comments than positive) then communication between school and parent is limited. I had hoped that with a blog and parents with access to the Internet that they could become more proactive in their child’s life by knowing what was happening daily within the classroom and that they could talk with their child about their education. Perhaps with parents assisting with students’ education a greater sense of communication between the two could be built and hopefully relate to more success within the educational system. Parents could now be informed about school life and not feel disconnected from it.

One of the major barriers of this project actually guided much of the final look and development of the blog. The largest barrier for the classroom blog is the rural/urban split that Meadow Lake suffers from. With roughly about 1/4 of the student population in rural areas, with dial-up Internet service, I was aware from the beginning (actually ECMP 355 and a previous project) to not incorporate too many things that may tax those users. I first and foremost wanted to make sure that everyone had as close to equal access as everyone else.

This led to many ideas being nixed due to bandwidth issues. This also focused my thoughts and energies in such a way to keep the blog as simple as possible, yet have the resources needed to have students/parents to find it useful. This led to many trail and errors runs with various tools to see what worked best.

The blog initially began as just a site listing the daily activities of the goings on within the classroom. Information listed was simply what note we may have done, key terms/ideas, when homework was due, and upcoming test dates.

To me this led to a rather boring page, though useful in its barest sense. As the weeks progressed I started to listen to students and explore some other needs that arose. For example, some students misplaced worksheets over the weekend and failed to have their work done for Monday. I therefore began to explore options to embed documents within the blog. Blogger {which I chose as the simplest must user friendly blog site to create said blog) can embed many things, but not documents. This led me on an Internet search and I discovered Scribd. This third party site allows a user to store documents, PowerPoints, graphs, etc. online and embed them into other websites. After playing with the settings I was able to embed documents (such as assignments, review sheets, PowerPoints, Jeopardy games) as to not be to obtrusive and taxing to bandwidth issues. An example of such a post is here. Students responded well to this and I have since been able to cut down on the amount of extra paper wasted as I would traditionally run off extra for lost paperwork. Also students began to take more responsibility for their work and coming prepared to the classroom.

The next two major additions to the blog were an agenda calendar (at the top of the page) and hyperlinks. The calendar (to the top right of the page) was an addition to to allow students/parents to focus on upcoming deadlines for tests/exams/school events in a quick manner. These were previously embedding within the blog entries but I realized that people would have to scroll through the various dates to find this information. With a quick reference option I thought this would be an added bonus.

The final addition were hyperlinks. I realized that in posting homework and assignments that students may not have access to their textbooks. I have in a last few weeks placed links to approved sites, from myself, to assist those students in doing their work. See an example of the Law 30 links here.

Students have responded favorably to the blog but many still were not checking it out. Parents have been more so using the blog to communicate with their students. So to gently “push” them into using the site I have added Google Forms (to embed Journal Entries and Polls) and have posted review questions to upcoming tests/exams on the blog as well (using Hot Potatoes). In the last two weeks there has been an increase in traffic to the site according to the stats and I hope that this trend continues.

Parents as I have previously said have responded favorably. At last night’s parent teacher interviews I gave many parents the blog address much to their delight. Those that have been using it over the last two months have enjoyed the experience favorably saying that they could now ask their students “the right questions” regarding school work. I have had parents of students I have not taught say to me that they wish more teachers would do this. In fact during today’s presentation to the Board of Education my blog is being highlighted as the progressive nature of education.

Past these improvements I cannot think of anything else I could add that may improve it, without interfering with the rural/urban digital divide. As a final move to assist in eliminating large downloads I began to archive weekly.

The only other barrier felt during this time were school filters. Many times during this term I have had my blog blocked here at the school from students and myself. According to techs at the school division the filters reset themselves and revert back to original programming blocking social network sites, in which Blogs are part.

There have been many positives in the creation of this site. These include increased communication between students/parents and myself. I have exercised my ability to problem solve while keeping info short and to the point. I have found communication in the more traditional sense (phone calls/meetings) have run smoother and more friendlier. It seems that the blog is creating an educational partnership among interested parties all helping students to hopefully achieve bigger and better things.

As for where is this blog going or how can I improve upon this? In the short term I do not know what I may do to improve it. With filters and the digital divide in place I feel that I do not want to do too much too soon. With more feedback from all parties this has been a success; with more feedback it can only become better.

A term in review… April 7, 2009

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So I am at the end of my tech exploration for my Masters course. It does not seem that long ago that I began this blog and course. I thought as one of my last posts I would briefly explore my successes and shortfalls. Notice that I do not say failures as it is my strong belief that I am not done with technology and exploring those things that did not work. I firmly believe that I have not failed with any technology. I believe that I have not successfully found where and when I can best use it. With more time and thought I believe everything that I tried can successfully be used. I simply must find the appropriate time. Simply adding technology into the class is not the solution. It must be thought out to be successfully integrated where all educational partners benefit from the experience.


Perhaps my biggest success has been my Classroom Blog. Here I have had many compliments from students and parents alike for this resource. Students find it useful to make reference to it for upcoming tests/assignments and for downloading misplaced study sheets/assignments. Parents have found it useful as a communication tool to talk with their sons/daughters regarding their educational experience

Google Docs has been a pleasant surprise as a resource for my Law 30 students. With group work and sharing of assignments forgotten thumb drives, blocked email, and locked lockers have been a troublesome problem over the past few years with the Law 30 Newspaper Manual. With Google Docs this barrier seems to have been removed. Each class there seems to be more and more students adopting its use (not only for my class but others as well).

Connecting to students. Technology has brought a new world to me that today’s students seem to be at home in. As students see me interacting with technology and using vocabulary that they are familiar with a new “respect” seems to be emerging for us. Though we are not connecting in the traditional “Web 2.0” world, it seems to be happening within the classroom. Is Web 2.0 simply a virtual landscape, or can it be on the physical realm as well?

Professional Learning Communities/Networks. Though I have not yet mastered social connecting tools such as Twitter, I have found a new life in sharing ideas, resources, and technology with others both virtually and in the physical setting. I am consistently talking technology and its various uses with my VP. We seem to compliment one another in our views on such topics, pushing one another to explore other ways in using technology that separately we have not thought of. Within our PLCs the Social Science department at Carpenter has struggled to find a common goal all year. Last PLC we discovered technology and I found myself as leading a sort of technological birth within the Social Science department. The department has embraced Blogs & Wikis as a technological tool to reach students/parents on a whole new level.

Comfort level. I find myself willing to take chances now with technology. Though I was a little comfortable before [this course], I rarely ever took chances or time to look for new innovative ways of using technology within the classroom. This class has done that. Instead of passively waiting to have someone show me a new technology, I am actively seeking it out.


Twitter: I have yet to tap this resource fully as I have not had the time to explore it on any in-depth level. I have found some useful sites from it and feel that it has more to offer and in time it might.

Podcasting/Videos/VoiceThread: Both of these technologies intrigue me and I see much potential in using them as most students seem to be comfortable with these technologies. Perhaps using them to create “Historical Minutes” reviewing aspects of Canadian history (like CBC Heritage minutes) would be a fun process combining technology and studies. Podcasting and VoiceThreads could be used to give students a voice from the traditional written journal entries that I do in class. Definitely these reach out to those students (like me) that hate to express themselves in written word.

Student Blogs. I have attempted to use these in my Work Exploration course. With some students they have worked and for some they have not. The main reason for this seems to be a digital divide between town students and rural students. With more thought about how best to implement this I believe it could be a huge turning point to connect students to the online world.

Final Thoughts

With time and effort, when all the Masters craziness ends I believe technology and its use will carry on within the classroom. Its use is assured, just in what venue to best adapt it to is the remaining question. With my PLN and my comrades within the Community Based Masters course and my friends within EC & I 831 I think we will be there to support and push one another into Web 2.0 and beyond (Web 3.0). This has been a most positive adventure that has many returns associated with it.

Class blog April 1, 2009

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Over the past few weeks I have been meeting with parents of students within my classes. I have had the pleasure of giving out my class blog to assist parents in communicating with their child(ren) as they travel through their educational experience. Many of these parents have said that the blog has been a great tool and wish that more teachers would have something similar. I have had three parents, of children I do not teach, come up to me and say what a great idea the blog is and their hopes of getting me in the future.

The one area I have felt lacking in is the students’ use of the blog. I know some people are using it to check on homework, get misplaced assignments, and checking due dates. But there are still so many who don’t. I have been looking for ways to direct their attention to the blog to see what they can do with it. Journals have helped, but I thought that there could be more.

The devious guy that I am I came up with an idea. When I took Alec’s ECMP 355 or 455 many years ago he showed us something called Hot Potatoes. The Hot Potatoes suite includes six applications, enabling you to create interactive multiple-choice, short-answer, jumbled-sentence, crossword, matching/ordering and gap-fill exercises. It is a cool thing to work with and surprisingly simple. I did a little work with in then and there, but quickly forgot about it after. Just a couple of weeks ago while I was surfing a social network I saw the name again and had an idea. It was a couple of days before a Law 30 test and I decided to post within the class blog the matching question (Question 1) from the exam (using Hot Potatoes). I snuck it in there and said nothing to the students.

The day after the exam one student mentioned it in class that she saw the question online. This caused quite the buzz in the room. I have noticed since then that hits have gone up. I hope that students will see the blog for what it is, a great resource not just a cheat sheet for tests. Did I do the right thing? I don’t know. I guess time and students’ responses will tell.

Reflection on my blog and how we communicate… March 9, 2009

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As I was updating my classroom blog it struck me that it may be to much. In an age and society where less is more is it too wordy? I still think it is a great idea to keep the lines of communication open between educator, student and parent. But can I make it more efficient?

I still am not grasping well the idea of Twitter and its uses right now. I have said in past posts it has helped me to locate some resources/stories that I have felt useful, but the form of communication is lost to me. However, between Twitter and texting (via cell phone) I am beginning to see the benefits of less is more. Perhaps keeping it simple would relate to students better. For parents I thought should I incorporate a list of assignments, tests, exams and their due dates? Is scrolling through daily updates worthwhile?

I have talked with two parents, for sure, that use my blog and they love it (whew). Just today a parent called and asked me [concerned] that the assignment posted on my blog on Friday was due today, and that her son was not there due to the cold weather. Was he going to lose marks? I assured her not. She thanked me and I quickly asked her if she routinely used my blog. She said she does and that it gives her the ability to ask her son the “right questions” to get a response from him. Before he would give her a short answer not very telling, but now she can and does ask questions that he has to answer.

After this I felt fantastic. It’s working! But how can I make it clearer? Twitter and texting has taught me a new brief language to get the point across. So exploring the blog options revealed a couple of ideas of what to do, but I thought I would try Google Docs. Lo and behold a calendar option. I tried many variations, but these did not fit within the blog well. I kept on trying and voila there it was my solution. It’s short and simple, to the point, lists upcoming events, assignments, tests, etc. I have put it near the top so that as people view the page it should be one of the first things seen. Because it is not huge, I hope dial-up users won’t find it slow to load. I guess time will tell, but I think in an age of communication that values brief shorts snippets of info, that my “update calendar” will be useful.

Update to the blog

Update to the blog