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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.

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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.

Successes

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.

Shortfalls

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.

Tech Thursday? Tech Week!! March 22, 2009

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This week has been a busy week in technology. Beginning with a PLC on Wednesday the floodgates opened and technology ran rampant for the remainder of the week. All good! Let me explain.

Within our social science PLC group at Carpenter we have been struggling with finding common ground between us all to try and come up as a group an issue to tackle. Trevor can confirm this with a similar problem last year. As we sat around chatting about everything else but a PLC topic, someone mentioned technology (as we were in a room with a SmartBoard). That innocent little comment turned into the best PLC day ever for the five of us, and the quickest PLC day ever (even staying after the bell). Our Native Studies teacher showed us his Wiki he created for his Native Studies courses. I then showed my classroom update blog. The other members of the PLC group were hooked and the rest of the afternoon was spent signing people up to Google, creating Blogs, exploring Google Docs, Wikis, etc. We have the creation of two new blogs and promises of coming back to expand upon these ideas next week, like uploading documents (via Scribd).

Thursday Jim showed me some new social websites that I have begun exploring. Jim showed me a website that ranks the most popular social sites. This site has introduced me to some new tools that may help me find links to new materials, interests, and resources. StumbleUpon is a site that you let know what your interests are and have it show you more websites and web pages that you’ll like. Docstoc (dot-doc-stock) compiles a wealth of legal, educational, technical and business documents for you to download for free. You can upload your own files in a number of formats. Mango brings total immersion language learning to the Internet, exposing students to conversations with native speakers. These are but three social sites upon this website. It is really amazing to flip through and covers topics that any person can connect to. Web 2.0 is alive and well on SEomoz’s Web 2.0 Awards. Check this site out…if you don’t you will regret it!

Lastly was Friday where I spent an entire Law 30 class sharing Google Docs to my students for their law newspaper project. As they work in teams they often find it hard to share writing when one forgets a thumbdrive, email being blocked by filters, etc. The students were enthralled with the ease of Google Docs and sharing as collaborators. I have a feeling that this year will be much easier in sharing legal ideas. The students played around for an entire period on Google Docs! Who would have thought a word processing site would entertain teens for an entire period.

The best part of this week, is a reawakening of my tech interests and ability to share. For once I felt like I was teaching people about technology and its uses, not the other way around.

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

Connectivism revisited… February 12, 2009

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Over the past week I have begun to see, much more than ever before, the value of connectivism. I have found blogs from colleagues to be enlightening and a powerful resource to share support and ideas with one another. My initial experience with Twitter was lackluster at the best. Initially I saw little value in a 140 letter message to be of any good. How can this connect people to anything worthwhile? Did I really care so-and-so was going into a grocery store? How about what’s his name he was going to the city?

As first impressions went I was struggling with how this would affect me in a practical manner to take within my classroom. However that has greatly changed in the last two weeks. Google Reader has been at the heart of this change and two particular people in general: Stephen King and Sarah Hill. These two people through their blogs have inspired me to push me in directions I have never even thought of. Through reading about their attempts at trying new things or interpreting things in a different manner I have felt the urge to explore some of what they have been trying.

Today is a prime example of such an connective sharing process. Waking up I read Stephen’s blog entry on Google Docs and Forms, which was inspired for him by Sarah’s blog (a cyclical process to quote Steve Kemp). In reading both blogs I was inspired to take a stab at exploring Google Docs. This exploration led me to create a Form for my Law class to try Journaling online. Entering their name, a small poll, plus their journal reflection, sends that info to a spreadsheet document for my perusal. This allows me to connect to students via my blog (where the Form is embedded), technology, and enables me to collect info in a much different way. This info I can turn into graphs that can be used to further class discussion. I am truly excited by this. Oh yeah, I save some paper too! A five minute read in the morning has lead to a change that I hope to turn out positively for myself as I explore more options to connect to my students. The cycle continues as I had to share this newfound knowledge with two of my colleagues (Jim and John) who I am sure will use this knowledge in their own classes and blogs.

Twitter as well has born some fruit. I am still a little overwhelmed with the amount of traffic that occurs on it. Perhaps Tweetdeck might assist me in sifting through the chatter, but I have as of yet found the time to explore that option. However as I have been sifting through the info I have found some useful links to blogs, news, and articles. Perhaps the use of Twitter is to find info that you may want to look for but simply do not have the time to do so. I have already used some of the articles and info within the classroom. With more time I am sure Twitter will become clearer to me.

Connectivism is becoming an integral part of my daily experience. I look forward to waking up each morning reading about and sharing with my colleagues ideas, thoughts and the learning experiences that each of us are having. This sharing strengthens us all, turning us into a virtual professional learning community. Thanks Stephen and Sarah 🙂

A problem solved… January 25, 2009

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In my Law 30 class one of the main problems that has always dogged my major assignment (the Law Newspaper Project) within the class is the group work.  Specifically it has been in the writing component where two or more students are working together to get the assignment done.  Often times group members have a hard time transferring word documents to one another due to various reasons, blocked email accounts, lack of jump drives or something else similar, and in my copying and pasting from my account long and tedious.  As Alec showed us Google Docs I thought that maybe this might be the solution.  The idea of having students have the ability to work closer together and have the ability to share their thoughts and work together I hope reflects in a better product (please please please) and a better form of group management.  I can hardly wait for the next term and trying this suggestion of Google Docs to see if this might be a way that technology solves this problem.  I guess we will just have to wait and see.