Blog support


I have the honor of working with teachers in Seguin, Texas this week.  My law-making friend, Mr. Murphy, comes through again by having Edublogs do a website update only a could of weeks ago, thus changing all of my screenshots and helpful tips. So I have reworked the handout page and updated the information on it.

Also posted on the Creating Your Blogs page, this is the handout for my updated 2009 Edublog Training for Teachers: EdublogSetup09

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Good afternoon! I’m taking this post to welcome visitors from the Texas Computer Educators Association Conference in Austin. I am lucky to have fellow teacher Kathleen Wotring presenting with me today in a session called, “Driving it Home With Your Classroom Blog”. I was running on the “Discover Your Destination” conference theme and probably got carried away with the driving and car metaphors. Kathleen was forgiving. J

To save trees and rely more on digital sourcing, the handout used today can be found here: TCEA Handout. The guide to building your own blog can be found in the reference pages under ‘Creating Your Own Blog’ in the right hand menu of this blog.

We actually have several goals for our presentation today. First, we want to present reasons for supporting blogging in the classroom environment. Secondly, we want to continue the discussion about the different ways a classroom blog can have a positive impact on the classroom. Thirdly, we will spend the last 25 minutes of the session walking through the blog setup procedure. This will be a mountain peek experience since blog setup can take much longer than 25 minutes. We want to provide the basic experience so the extremely cautious new blogger will feel more comfortable getting started when they get home.

The last goal is that we accomplish all of this in an easy, relaxed environment. Sit back and enjoy your stay and ask questions if you have them.

Earlier this month, I posted about how to use Google Reader to keep up with your various blogs. Some people use their reader to just pull in massive amounts of news media in order to replace their newspaper and TV media. For education, this is a great tool because many classrooms and teachers do not post on a regular basis. If their site is RSS capable, then your reader will check for you without you having to go to each site on your own.

I again urge anyone unfamiliar with the concept of a Reader or Aggregator to watch Common Craft’s video on RSS Aggregators.

Anyway, I remind you that one of the main purposes for blogging is the two-way interaction available via comments. And, because of that interaction, blogging is a great tool for expanding our learning communities to other people far away from our own classroom. And, if we are beginning to put our distant friends in our aggregator to keep up with their efforts, we should help those who want us to keep up with our efforts as well. Thus, today’s main idea is “How To Create Chicklets.”

If you look to the right of this blog, you will see listed below the links some little rectangles labeled with the names of different aggregators. This little chewy rectangles are called ‘chicklets’ in many circles. Any person can click on a chicklet to automatically open their reader to add that website. Ideally, some stranger will happen across Classroom Blogging and say, “Hey, I can’t live without that website!” They will click the Newsgator chicklet because they have a Newsgator account and add this blog to their subscription list. From then on, when they open their Newsgator reader, it will grab the latest posts from my page and they can maintain their love and affection for the site! *Ah, a chicklet with a gooey center.*

Creating chicklets can be challenging, unless you have a nice online tool that will help you. A teacher I met at a summer workshop shared a site that he found to help with this. http://www.kbcafe.com/rss/chicklet.aspx does just that. Just type your blog’s website address into the top box and click ‘Create HTML’. Copy the code that appears below. (I often paste large text blocks like that into a word document so I have a copy for later…just in case.)

Now, pasting that into your blog’s sidebar is different depending on which blog you use. If you use a WordPress-based blog, you can use their widgets to add the chicklets to your page. Enter your Dashboard. Select the Presentation menu on the page. From the new tabs that appeared, select Widgets. See the earlier post on Widgets for more help. Drag a text widget from the Available Widgets box at the bottom and drop it on your Sidebar. Your side bar now has a ‘Text 1’ widget with a small icon on the right side. Widget Text Box Click that icon and a Text window will popup. Whatever you type in that box will show up on your sidebar. Typing html code, such as the code you copied from kbcafe.com, will generate web-specific data in that box. Paste your chicklet html code into your text box and then save changes. View your page to see your new chicklets in your sidebar.

You have now created an easy link to your blog so that other teachers can more easily maintain a link to you.

Most blogs have a main column down the middle that houses your chronologically organized posts. But there is usually at least one other column that has information such as links, calendars, recent posts, or hit counters. That column is often referred to as the sidebar. While you can change the sidebar on most blogs, blogs such as Blogger historically haven’t made it easy to edit this sidebar. This is the main reason that I encourage the use of the WordPress blog engine. Today’s post is all about changing the sidebar and making it work for you.

Every WordPress blog comes with a default set of items, or widgets, in it’s sidebar. Take a good look at the items in your sidebar. In a minute, we are going to make them all go away, so if you like what you see, write down the headers that you see. “Recent Posts, Categories, Links, Archives, etc.”

Enter your blog’s dashboard. (You will have to login to see the Dashboard menu.) From the Dashboard menu, click the Presentation menu and then the Widgets tab under that.
Widget Screenshot

Your sidebar will contain the Default Sidebar set. Below that, there is a large box called Available Widgets. Any of those widgets can be dragged up to your sidebar and dropped. (The first drop will remove the Default set.) Drag as many widgets as you want and rearrange them inside the sidebar by clicking and dragging them up or down the list.

Some widgets need more information. If you have a classroom Flickr account, you will need to select the icon on the right of the Flickr widget and add your account information. (Flickr is a great online free photo-sharing resource.) If you want a personal message somewhere on the sidebar, use a text widget. Click the icon on that widget and add any text. The Links widget is for adding links to other websites. These links are called your Blogroll and you can add to that using the Blogroll menu on your Dashboard.

The best way to learn about your widgets is to just drag some up to your sidebar, save changes, and then view your page. You can always remove a widget you don’t like.

If you are like me, you started blogging just to publish some work or make the writing experience a shared activity. But somehow, you found another blog, which led you to another, and so on. Pretty soon, you learned to search for blogs through Google, or Technorati, or any of a number of engines. Now you want to see what Ms Snodgrass’ class is doing this week and what the Washington post writers are blogging about and follow your favorite educational author’s blog as well. Pretty soon, it just becomes frustrating to visit all of those sites. There is hope!

This site does a really good job of explaining a great solution for the blog-troubled reader. Check out: Common Craft’s explanation of how a news aggregator, or reader, works.

Setting Up Google Reader
For simplicity’s sake, Google reader is a pretty good choice for a first Aggregator. There are a number of other choices such as Bloglines, NetNewsGator, and NetNewsWire. Why Google? Because it is web-based, it will be useable by a teacher from any computer platform and from in or out of one’s district. It is a free reader, so we don’t have to pay for it. We reviewed a number of online aggregators and this one seemed to be the easiest and most-likely to be used for more than just a summer of workshops.

Sign up for a Google account
You will need a Google account to start using Google reader. If you already have a Gmail account or sign into Google for other services they provide, then you can skip this section.
1. Go to Google.com
2. Click on ‘Create an account now’
3. Google accounts are based on a current email account. Give them an email account that you can access at this moment. Your login information will be sent to that address.
4. Once you verify the email address, you will be logged into Google.
Get started setting up your reader
You will see a number of options from your Google Reader. As you add more subscriptions, you will be able to sort and share them using the top few links.

To add a subscription to your Google Reader account, click the, um, ‘Add subscription’ link. Simple type in the address to any website that is RSS capable.

RSS? That stands for Really Simple Syndication and is the special coding needed to make a webpage subscribe-able. When you are on a page and the address bar show the RSS symbol, a orange radar-looking icon, you can copy that address and paste that into your Google Reader’s ‘Add subscription’ link.

Click the Home and then Browse button next to Add subscription. Any keyword search will start generating a list of websites that one can subscribe to. Once you find one you are interested in, click the subscribe button. You can always remove it later by clicking Manage Feeds at the bottom of the Google Reader page.
Setting Up A Reader, and a few screenshots, can be downloaded to your computer. Good luck!

Categorizing blog posts can be a very useful but often overlooked tool for the teacher. Many bloggers tend to just start their blogs with little thought for an organized category system and have categories that seem scattered. Today, we look at categories as an impactful tool for blogging.

Valid Uses for categories differ between bloggers. In the classroom, think of categories as a way to quickly gather certain themed posts. For instance, in a general classroom blog, pulling up ‘test’ or ‘Social Studies’ categories may help thin the breadth of the blog so the easily distractable student can more quickly zero in on specific notes. If newsletters are mixed in with all the other posts, a ‘news’ category would help parents quickly get the latest news from the classroom. In a Language Arts class, a teacher could define posts by genre, distinguish some as ‘writing process’ entries, or categorize by novel name. As your blog grows and is used throughout the year, categories will help retrieve specific posts with ease.

Planning the categories can help maintain consistency as you continue to build the beast. Starting a blog with too vague categories could cause the creator to return to past blogs and recategorize later using newly concieved idea. Being too specific with categories can find the blog overwhelmed with too many tags. Finding the target somewhere between ‘Language Arts’ and ‘Using Periods’ is the job for the well-organized blogging mind. Plus, don’t totally discount the blogger who uses 5 categories for every post. It may be a shotgun method for labeling work, but may be useful down the road.

What categories do you think your grade level or subject would benefit from using in a blog setting?

One of the first things a teacher needs to plan when starting their classroom blog is ‘How will my students login to leave comments?’ Today’s post will cover some of the strategies for getting students online using WordPress.

Blogs can be created with allowances for anonymous commenting, commenting restricted by email registration, or even password protect posts and entries. Allowing anonymous comments on a blog often opens the door wide open for the random Spam comments and strangers leaving comments where your students are supposed to feel safe. When using Blogger with my classroom, that was my only option since I didn’t want to moderate every comment left by students. Blogger moderation meant that students would not get instant access to their posts and that took away from the discussion value during literature review time. We never had a problem with our anonymous comments being open to the public, but we also maintained a strict rule about signing all comments with their initials so they could respond and be held accountable by name.

No Anonymous Comments
To solve the ‘anonymous login’ problem, I switched to using WordPress.com. Both Blogger and WordPress allow you to add group users to the blog so that only those users can post automatically. Problem is that it is email account driven and we didn’t have separate email accounts for each student. With older populations, that would be possible except for the sheer number of accounts that would have to be generated to cover each student. So, I began using the moderation tool in WordPress because, once an email account is accepted, that account is automatically posted from then on. The truly wonderful thing is that the email accounts do not have to be valid! Have students sign their comment with anonymous-like initials as their name, but everyone uses an assigned fake email account. Fake email accounts mean that there is no actual email the students will use and their personal information isn’t online anywhere. In the example below, I just used student initials with a bogus @email.com domain. You could use any domain such as @mrmartin.com, @class.email, or whatever. Each student should use a different fake email, which will register in your WordPress dashboard, but not on the page viewed by others. Once you approve an email, that email address will be allowed to post without moderation. Other comment attempts will be stopped by the moderation tool and wait to be approved by the teacher.phakemail

The downside to WordPress moderation is in the initial posting. The teacher will have to approve each student. That would only happen once for each student. Another downside is that students who misspell their approved fake email will not see their comment until approved; a point for typing accuracy.

Setting Options in WordPress
To set any options, login to your WordPress account and find your dashboard. If you have more than one account, you will see it under the drop down menu.
dashboard

Go to the Options tab and select Discussion. There are two settings that can really help manage your classroom blog.
commentoptions

Email me whenever:
The email feature is nice especially when the blog is not used on a daily basis. Emailing comments that are held for moderation will alert you to either outsiders trying to comment or the student who mistyped their fake email address and isn’t recognized by your moderation filter.

Before a comment appears:
Some teachers want to approve every comment, which is what the first option shows. I firmly believe that in a collaborative classroom environment, delaying all comments will only slow the process, take away student-perceived ownership, and take away from the high level of student interest in immediate interaction. But there are times that this may be necessary. You will want the students to fill out their name and fake email. But the greatest tool is the automatic approving of previously approved comments. This is where the fake email comes in. Turning on the third option automates your moderating strategy.

When talking with teachers about starting their blogs, many are apprehensive because they either don’t spend much time online or there appears to be too many option and setup steps. Managing student comments is an important piece and if done well, it is one less thing that a teacher will have to deal with on their classroom blog.

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