Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Using Weebly to Publish Student Work

In this third part of my "Power of Students Publishing Online" series, I'd like to introduce you to another great tool for organizing and publishing student work for the world to see. Last week we talked about KidBlog and this week I'd like to present Weebly.

Weebly is a website creation tool. It's free, easy, and allows you to create up to 40 student accounts that can start your students on the process of creating and maintaining a positive presence on the web. Here are some pros and cons to using Weebly that I've discovered so far:

Weebly Pros
  • Free!
  • Easy to set up
  • Easy to edit. Everything in Weebly is very straightforward for students. It is all drag-and-drop and exactly what you see on your screen is what you will get when you hit the publish button.
  • Unique URL addresses for students. This is a big pro for me. Weebly allows your students to have their own, personal, url address. They will look something like www.billybob.weebly.com. This gives students a web address that they can easily pass along to their friends and family- whoever has an internet connection can easily bring their site up!
  • Easily embeds files from other online tools. Many other digital tools offer the ability to embed themselves into other sites. Excellent tools such as Glogster, Timetoast,Animoto, and many others have what is called an embed code- some text that you can copy and then paste into you or your students' Weebly sites. In Weebly, simply drag a "custom HTML" box onto your site and paste the code in there. This will embed your file for you!
  • Ability to include easy blogs. Simply click on "New Page" and select "New Blog". Voila! Your students have their own blog space built right into the site. And even better- the blogs and comments are moderated easily by the teacher.
  • Students able to add content easily at home or anywhere else they have an internet connection.
Weebly Cons
  • Student content that is posted to Weebly is not moderated or filtered. In other words, if little BillyBob wants to upload inappropriate stuff at home, it will post automatically- it does not wait for approval of any kind (blog posts need approval, but everything else does not). This is not a major obstacle as long as you have strong and well-understood consequences for misbehavior online, just as you would have when they are in your classroom.
I'm a big believer in Weebly and think it can be used effectively to house student work online! Take a shot, create an account, and see for yourself how quick and easy it is to create a very nice, professional looking website with students.

And remember, just let me (edtechsteve) know how I can help!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The first and last post about myself

Welcome to the first and last post that I'll ever talk about myself.... (definitely a good thing).

Ever since my book has officially been released, I've been struggling with walking a line I've never had to walk before- the balance between promoting myself/my book (what I don't like to do at all) and wanting to make a big difference (which is something that, if a bunch of teachers read my book, I think I could make). I'm very comfortable speaking and writing about a wide array of issues surrounding education and technology, yet I am very uncomfortable when someone praises me or my work. I don't like the spotlight on me at all- I'd much rather it be on the great teachers and students I work with. This sounds crazy, but I'm even embarrassed writing this post- I just don't like talking about myself, plain and simple.

I am proud of how the book turned out and I truly believe that if every teacher had a copy, we'd have a much better shot at seeing some of the things we'd love to see in today's classrooms, with both instruction and the use of educational technology. And while I'm proud of it, it's been much more about the accomplishment of actually doing it and it's chance to help, rather than making any sort of money from the book or other opportunities that may arise as an outgrowth. In short, I don't want to be well known or well paid- I just want to help as many teachers and students as I can.

So why am I writing all this? I guess I want people to understand why I react weirdly when someone asks me to autograph a book or compliments my work. I want folks to know that I do appreciate the recognition and praise very much, even if I seem awkward when you're offering it (not that I've been showered with praise, by the way).

In the past year or so, I've toyed with the idea of becoming an independent consultant or even starting my own consultant business with some awesome folks I've met online and off. I've been lucky enough to have done some of those gigs and have some pretty great connections that I think would invite me into their buildings, districts, and businesses. I'm positive it would pay a lot more money than my little old teacher contract. I'm positive it would be challenging. I'm positive I could make an impact in the places I would visit. But after thinking about it a lot, I'm also positive that this just ain't my path. I'm not a businessman. I'm not a brown noser. I don't shmooze well. I don't like to be away from my family. I'm not a marketer, especially when it would be myself that I'm marketing. It feels good and freeing to know myself well enough to veer away from that path.

So if anyone is interested in knowing, I'm going to just keep plugging along- helping as much as I can and turning red when someone comes up to compliment me or asks me to autograph a book. Because that's me.

Let me know if I can help!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Using KidBlog to Publish Student Work Online

This blogpost is also cross-posted at www.maupinhouse.com

I'd like to introduce you to a free, easy-to-setup, kid-friendly way of starting a digital portfolio with students: KidBlog (http://kidblog.org).

For those that aren't sure what a digital portfolio is, think of it in exactly the same terms as you would a traditional portfolio- a collection of a student's work that illustrates how they have grown throughout the course of the year as well as how well they have mastered content. The only difference with a digital portfolio is that the products are published to the Internet and are therefore great ways to interact with an authentic audience of peers and others.

Here are some pros and cons I've uncovered while utilizing KidBlog with students:

KidBlog Pros:
  • Free!
  • Very simple to set up a class and create student accounts
  • Safe and easy to moderate. In the Settings tab, you can choose how open you want this blog space to be- from completely private to completely public. Also in this area, you can set your class up so that every new post and comment needs to be approved before it is published to the blog. Comments are easy to preview and approve within the Control Panel.
  • Easy interface- looks and feels just like any other word processing program that your students have used in the past.
  • A unique URL. When your class is set up, it will then have a unique url that you can use to post as a link (ex, http://kidblog.org/yourclassname)
  • Responsive support/help. I had a question about the amount of storage space and was contacted within an hour by someone that worked at KidBlog.
KidBlog Cons
  • Not much storage space. The default is 100MB, which gets eaten up quickly if your students are posting a lot of pictures. There are ways around this, however- you could upload pictures/files to a separate account (Flickr or Schooltube, for example) and simply have students put links on their blogs that point to these offsite hosts. Contacting KidBlog through this link, support@kidblog.org , can help this situation slightly- the support person I emailed with immediately upgraded our storage space from 100MB to 250MB. Not a huge jump, but every little bit helps!

In my school, our entire 7th grade class has started this year on the path of using KidBlog as a digital portfolio tool. If you get a chance, check them out and leave a comment! (Scroll down to the bottom of this page).

Good luck, have fun, and let me (edtechsteve) know if I can help you set up an online space for publishing your students' work online!

Next week, we'll explore the use of Weebly as a space for publishing student work. Until next time!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Reclaiming "Student Achievement"

For a long time in education, and particularly in the past ten years, we've seen the bastardization of the word "achievement" and I think it's time that we, as educators, start to take it back.

Ask just about anyone you know, inside or outside of school, what student achievement means and I bet you'd hear something about grades, AYP Results, and/or test scores. Our students, schools, districts, states, nations, and (increasingly) teachers are all being judged by this narrow, blind definition of the word achievement- results on standardized tests. NCLB has taken the meaning of this word and twisted it to simply mean test scores.

Alternatively, ask anyone you know, inside or outside of school, what their achievements are. I bet you'd hear a completely different story. I've tried hard the last couple of weeks to think of any institution or job where the word achievement is defined by test scores. Plumbers? Businessmen? Doctors? Artists? Writers? Journalists? Fry cooks? If you were to ask anyone outside of school what the achievements in their job look like, you'd see descriptions of people doing, creating, publishing, and performing. You know....actually achieving something!

Looking at my own life, what do I list as my achievements? As a classroom teacher, my achievements were measured in the way my kids wanted to come to school, the affirmations of parents that trusted me with their kids, teaching a low ability kid how to read, bringing out student passions.... and on and on. Outside of the classroom, I married waaaaaaaaay up. That was a big achievement for me. Writing a book was a big one, especially since, when I finished my masters, I had announced that I'd never write a long paper again....whoops. We can all list our achievements in life and I bet they'd be as far away from filling in bubbles as humanly possible.

Any realistic, serious look at transforming education has to deeply analyze and reflect on what achievement is. What does it look like? What are we wanting students to achieve? How are achievements recognized? What do they look like? How can we tell if a student has achieved? I don't know the answers to these questions, per se, but I'd love for the national conversation to be centered around trying to figure them out.

The point is- to become better achievers in life, we need to be doing, creating, publishing, and performing. Why aren't we viewing our students with this same lens? Why do we continue to allow the world to view "student achievement" so narrowly? I've said before and will say again- testing does not improve achievement- ACHIEVEMENT improves achievement. In other words, let's start getting our kids to produce some authentic work for an authentic, participatory audience. The more they achieve in school, the more they'll achieve in life outside of school. It's just that simple.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

How I became a better teacher

Last night's #edchat focused on the idea of "what is a good teacher? bad teacher?" It was a really interesting conversation and caused my mind to reflect on my own classroom experiences. I will never claim to be an expert or master teacher (and will always be automatically skeptical of anyone who anoints themselves in this way), but I know for sure that I improved a lot over the years. So the question I've begun asking myself is: How did I become a better teacher? I feel like if enough experienced teachers were to reflect on and answer this question, we'd get a pretty stark handle on ways to help teachers begin to improve.

So here is what I've come up with, when thinking back on those years:

How I became a better teacher:
  • I asked for and was receptive to help. Seems simple, right? I remember asking the other kindergarten teachers and my assistant principal (a former K teacher) for help often in my first year of teaching. Mostly it was about behavioral things that I was nowhere near ready to handle on my own yet! I can remember I had no idea how to help this little dude named Christopher. Someone along the line had told Chris that when he flushed the toilet, he would get sucked down and swallowed up forever (must've had older brothers, right?). Well he would freak out about it every day. He wouldn't go to the bathroom without me, he had to have the door wide open... this was a big issue! I couldn't leave the whole class alone every time he needed to go and at age 5, the rest of the kids don't need to be watching you in there. So I asked the other K teachers what to do. They helped me help Chris by letting him have small successes which eventually led to him being able to conquer that fear. That's just one small example. One thing that is tricky about this is that it's one thing to ASK for help, but it's entirely another to be open and receptive to that help. Without the second piece, you'll never improve. Be receptive to others' knowledge!
  • I had to make my own stuff. When I got to my first classroom, there were very very little materials. I had to scrape together books by going to yard sales, my Mom donating a bunch, and going to the library every single Sunday to borrow tons of books for the coming week. I had to create alphabet songbooks and print them out and bind them for every student. I didn't have the means to go and buy posters- I made them (and I am the opposite of artistic...trust me!). Now, how did this force me to improve? Pretty straightforward, really- I had topics/content I needed to teach, and had to come up with fun ways to do it. My kids needed to learn how to tell time by the hour and half-hour, so I was forced to come up with my own way of doing it (a giant clock and cardboard long and short hands- every half-hour the clock helper kid was responsible for stopping the class and leading us back to the big clock, where he'd stand and put his arms in the right spot- totally fun stuff). That's just how it went- every Sunday at the library I got to sit and pore through books that were interesting and hit the letter of the week or some other science/ss concept. I became better because I was forced to make my own stuff. I worry about all of these canned instructional methods these days mostly because of this fact- we improve when we're challenged to do so (just like our kids, right?)
  • I began to be able to visualize a lesson as I was planning it. This was huge and is something that helps me stay connected to the classroom now, even as I've been out of it for almost 6 years. As I was planning lessons, I started to play it out in my head- how the kids would react, how complicated the directions were, which kids would need an extra hand right away, how the transitions would work (or not work), how I could prep the materials so that the materials wouldn't distract from the actual lesson... everything. Actively practicing this visualization led to my lessons becoming much more effective. Plus I had already done the lesson in my head a few times, so when it was time to actually do it, it was like an old shoe- nice and comfy.
  • I was forced to see my kids for who they were. One thing I loved about my first school, Vass-Lakeview Elementary, is that for the first two weeks all the teachers had to man a bus route. The stated purpose of this was to help the bus drivers maintain control for the first two weeks but the underlying purpose was much more powerful- we all got to see firsthand exactly where our students lived and the environments they were coming from. I won't go into the squalor and living conditions, except to say that if you haven't seen poverty before- when you see it up close and personal and experience it in your classroom, you will never be the same if you truly care about kids. But seeing these conditions and then many more as they walked about my classroom every day didn't sadden me as much as inspire and embolden me. It made me want to do more, to teach better, to be warmer and more kind. That was probably the single biggest way I improved- being able to see my kids for who they were, what they were coming from, and what they were dealing with.
So those are the thoughts that jumped out at me, as to how I personally improved as a teacher. Hopefully they make sense to someone out there reading, and I'd love to get more folks together to reflect on this question so we can have something to hold onto and share with other teachers to inspire them to improve as well!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Power of Students Publishing Online

There is one major moment that every teacher loves to experience as often as possible- the look on a student's face when they finally "get it". The way their eyes light up is probably what drives a lot of us to keep at it over the years and inspires us to reach students in new ways.

Over the years, I've been lucky enough to have seen that look many times. But today and for the next four weeks, I'd like to introduce you to another big moment that you may have been missing out on in your classroom- the look on a student's face when they realize that work they have published online has been read and appreciated by someone in their now-worldwide audience. Whether it's another teacher, a parent, a community member, or someone from another part of the world, once a student comes to the realization that someone out there is looking at and appreciating their work the effects on their motivation are as priceless as their surprised faces!

This is the power of publishing student work online- your students begin producing authentic work for an authentic, interactive audience. It's this second part, the interactive, that pushes this type of publication ahead as a must for your classroom. Because publishing online also means allowing the public to view and, yes, comment on their work. This leads to students striving to be responsive to their audience's feedback, justify choices, and in short- produce better work.

There are many excellent digital tools available to allow students the opportunity to publish online (many are found in my book, Digital Tools for Teaching!). For the next four weeks, every Tuesday, I am going to focus on four specific tools that can help you organize and manage your students' online work: KidBlog, Weebly, Wikis, and Mahara. Every one of these tools are free, easy to use, and easy to monitor and moderate.

I'm looking forward to sharing these powerful ways to impact your students in new, exciting, engaging ways!