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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.


Class blog April 1, 2009

Posted by handspiker in Uncategorized.
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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.