No, Your Classroom Blog Should Not Be Private

lockPublic or Private?

Teachers often ask me if their classroom blogs should be private of public. It’s a good question and one that always comes from a good place: if I am going to post information about my students, is it okay if its public? Absolutely (and you’re not really posting information about your students; you posting information about the learning in your class).

And I know, people are worried about posting pictures of students. That’s okay; it’s something you should be thinking about. And you definitely need to get parent permission before you do that. These days a photo permission form is usually included in the packet of forms that goes home at the beginning of school. If your school’s photo form doesn’t include something about posting pictures online, it needs to be changed.

But even if you can’t (or don’t want to) post pictures of students, you can still have a great blog. Matt Gomez, a kindergarten teacher in N. Dallas, TX recently wrote a great post about having a successful classroom blog without using students’ pictures. Even if you plan to post pictures of your students, it’s worth taking a look at his post.

Why Public?

As educators we have blogs to communicate. To communicate with parents. To communicate with the community. To communicate with other educators. To tell our story. If we make our classroom blogs private, we can’t tell our story very well. And if we’re not telling our story someone else (the media?) certainly will tell it for us. And I am sure you will do a better job telling your story than the media will.

And that story needs to be shared. A public blog can easily be shared with cousins, aunts and uncles, and grandparents.

Still a Little Uneasy About a Public Blog?

Making an unlisted blog in Blogger.

Blogger. (Settings -> Basic).

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WordPress. (Settings -> Reading)

If a public blog still seems uncomfortable, but you understand why a private blog isn’t ideal there’s good news: there is a middle ground. Make your blog unlisted. An unlisted blog is public; anyone can view it, but only if they have the direct URL. Your blog won’t show up in search engines, but if your students want to share a post with their grandparents across the country it’s easy for them to do that. You share the blog’s URL with parents, and they can easily access and share the posts.

As educators, we need to be using blogs (and other social media) to tell our story. If we don’t tell our story, someone else will. And there’s no guarantee they’ll do a good job telling it.

photo credit: Darwin Bell via photopin cc

Did You Notice the New iOS 7 Timer? It’s Amazing!

There are lots of reasons why people are excited about iOS 7. But the new timer has got to be one of the best upgrades. I know what you’re thinking, “it’s just a timer.” But it’s so much better now – for three reasons.

1. It’s visual.

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As teachers we use timers with our students all the time. The new iOS 7 timer not only counts down, it has a red bar that makes its way around a circle as time passes. One trip around the circle, the time is up. Halfway through your timer? Halfway around the circle. The longer the timer, the slower the movement of the red bar. It’s great for those visual students who need to see how much time they have left.

2. It’s easy to find.

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It’s accessible through the control center. A quick swipe and a tap and you’re there, ready to set it. No more going back to the home screen to find the clock app. And from the Control Center, it doesn’t just bring you to the clock app; it brings you straight to the timer!

3. You can see it from the lock screen.

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This is really the best. When you’re at the lock screen, your timer is right there counting down (where you want it). No longer are the days of having to unlock your iPad (or iPhone) just to check on a timer. iOS 7 has a lot of new features. Don’t overlook the new timer.

iMovie Trailers, About Kids

imovieappThe end of the elementary school year brings with it the tradition of having students write letters to the teacher they’ll have the following year. Depending on the school, kids may know who their teacher is and they may not. As a teacher I’ve always enjoyed getting them, but not having a visual of each student made it difficult for me to match letters with kids.

This past year, with a cart full of iPads, I decided to change things up a little. Using the iMovie trailer function, I would have students create trailers about themselves and I would send those movies up to fourth grade.


imovietrailersWe started by talking about trailers and what they were for. All my students had seen them on TV and in the theaters. And a few even knew they were called trailers. From there we quickly previewed the trailer themes in iMovie. We then got the iPads out and kids got to spend more time looking at each trailer theme to choose the on that best fit them. I did have to spend some time explaining that the music and the text font were all they were going to keep; the content of the trailer would be completely rewritten by them.

The students made their trailer theme choices and were ready to go, but I wasn’t. I’m all about getting technology in the hands of kids, but something about giving a bunch of cameras (iPads) to kids without any concrete plans seemed like a recipe for disaster. Enter storyboards.

Each trailer has its own unique set up, its own order of text and camera shots mixed together, so this was a little tricky. I found that teachingparadox.edublogs.org had put together a bunch of iMovie trailer storyboards in 2012 (now it seems the entire blog has been deleted). Since then, new trailer themes have been introduced so I needed to put together a few more with a similar format (links to all the storyboards are at the end of the post).

imoviehallwayWith storyboards in hand, students decided on the text they’d use and the shots that would support that. Then, and only then, with a plan written down and in-hand (and approved by me), did they start filming.

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This was the fun part for me. I got to sit back and watch them create, watch them say “this is who I am.” We did shooting both inside and outside. I did minimal troubleshooting and I think only helped one or two kids shoot – they were happy to create ad hoc groups to help each other with particular scenes.

When the trailers were done, students sent them to the Camera Roll and then up to out classroom Dropbox account. From there I was able to put them on the network server for the fourth grade teachers and share them with parents. We also gave students the opportunity to share their video with the class (they loved that part, seeing them on the projector screen with audio coming through the classroom speakers).

The project was a huge success and proved to be a great way to engage kids during that final week and half of school when the students are all but checked out.

Storyboards:

“We,” “They,” and Schools

we they picIn January I read a blog post by Bill Powers about Daniel Pink‘s “Pronoun Test” from his book Drive. Basically, the Pronoun Test is about listening to employees talk about their organization and focusing on whether they refer to the organization as “we” or “they.” Mr. Powers wrote excitedly that his school was a “we” (our) school.

Over the past few months I’ve been kicking this idea of the Pronoun Test around in my head. I’ve decided that in education, the question of whether you work in a “we” or “they” organization isn’t that clear cut; it really depends on how you define “organization.” We have grade level or department teams that function like small organizations. We have schools level “organizations.” We have districts. We have Departments of Education at the state and national level. As educators, we aren’t just part of one “organization,” we’re part of many tiered organizations.

At the grade or department level we are (or at least I certainly hope are) working with a “we” organization. And with the recent NCLB and RTTT legislation I know a lot of educators see the US Department of Education as a “they.”

Somewhere between the grade level and the USDOE, the “we” becomes a “they.” Is your school a “we” or a “they”? What about your district? Your state Department of Education?

Somewhere things go from being done with you to to you.

Where does that change happen for you?

The Five Stages of Report Cards

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Ii’s report card time again. That time of year when teachers hide away in their houses, pouring over grades and anecdotal notes in an attempt to communicate to parents the progress their children are making. In a way that can’t be misunderstood.

Over the years I’ve noticed that report card time comes in five stages:

Stage 1: Denial
Wait, what?! Report cards go home next week. No, that can’t be true. The term can’t possibly end on Friday. That means I only have one more weekend to work on them. No. No. No.

Stage 2: Anger
I hate report cards. If there was one thing I could get rid if in my job, it would be report cards. They’re the worst.

Stage 3: Bargaining
I should work on report cards. OR! I could clean the bathroom, because that would definitely be a more enjoyable experience. And if I’m not going to work on report cards, I should at least do something productive. Then it’s okay to not work on them (It’s funny how my house gets really clean right before report cards are due each term). OR, instead of working on report cards I could write a blog post about how I don’t want to work on report cards. Yea, I think I’ll do that.

Stage 4: Depression
Sigh. I probably should work on report cards soon. Or I could just sit here. I really don’t want to work on report cards. (Suddenly 2 hours have gone by.)

Stage 5: Acceptance
Ok, here we go. Friday will come, whether I want it to or not. I might as well get to work.

Three times a year I go through all five stages. I spend too much time in stages 3 and 4.

Okay, time to get back to report cards.

photo credit: kevin dooley via photopin cc

Managing iPads in the Classroom

I was fortunate enough to get to run a 1:1 iPad pilot in my self-contained third grade classroom this year. This is the first in a series of posts sharing what I have done and learned in hopes that other educators implementing 1:1 programs won’t have to reinvent the wheel. Feel free to take and/or modify any resources here.

When I begin the year, I don’t have classroom rules. It’s a practice I picked up with my Responsive Classroom training. The students come up with Hopes and Dreams for the year and over the course of the first few days we build rules that will support those hopes and dreams, and help us achieve them.

When the iPads arrived, I took a similar approach. The class talked about the fact that they were tools for learning and that they were fragile. The front is a sheet of glass. It will break. And if you drop a sheet of glass onto a hard tile floor, the glass is going to loose that battle every time. We also agreed that carrying the iPads with two hands was a good idea.

Te next few lessons were about navigating the iPad. I took the iPad Orientation Checklist that Dan Callahan at Pine Glen Elemenary (Burlington, MA) used, and modified it a little. Thanks Dan. This is my version. We explored a few core apps that I figured we’d get a lot of mileage out of. When I saw behavior/handling I didn’t feel comfortable with, I would stop the class and we’d talk about it for a couple minutes.

It was a few days into the process before we formally started talking rules.

I started with Suzy Brooks’ ipad rules (thanks Suzy). I told the class this was a set of rules from another third grade class in Massachusetts. I wanted to look at those rules, see if we wanted to keep or modify them, and see if there were any we wanted to add.

The conversation was surprising mature. The kids really seemed to understand the importance of having fair rules to keep the iPads safe. We settled on these rules.

  • Two hands on the iPad at all times.
  • Make sure the iPad is fully on a table at all times. (No corners hanging off the edge of a desk/table)
  • Do not delete anyone else’s work or apps. (We have some shared cloud-based accounts)
  • If you aren’t sure, ask someone.
  • Only visit apps or websites with permission.
  • Only one person pilots the iPad at a time.
  • Only adults plug and unplug the iPads.
  • Let an adult know when your battery gets below 25% so the iPad can be recharged.
  • No mirroring without permission. (We have a ceiling mounted Apple TV in the room)
  • No iPad passwords.
  • iPads are school tools, not toys.

A few months in the kids are doing well. They follow the rules pretty well (they are 8-years-old after all). I trust the students enough to use the iPads when I’m out and guest teacher is in. The iPad is a school tool, and it comes out every day. It’s become an essential part of what we do. (I don’t use it in every lesson – they’re one of many tools we use in the classroom, but we do use them every day).

Your Students Secretly Hate Vacations

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Roatan, 2009 (c) Ben Schersten

As educators there is a piece of us that looks forward to vacations. Sure, we love what we do, otherwise we wouldn’t be doing it, but spending the day in a room full of elementary-aged children can be both physically and mentally exhausting. A few days off to recharge our batteries is essential, so a part of us looks forward to vacations.

Unfortunately, many of our students secretly hate them. And worse than vacation is the dreaded “holiday vacation.” It’s the worst.

So, as we approach vacation and our students’ poor decision-making spikes, remember that it may not be building excitement – it may be mounting fear.

  1. The holidays bring with them new kinds of stress. As adults we do our best to insulate children from that stress, but we’re not perfect. Kids are good at reading us. They know. Many families struggle to make ends meet as they bring the holidays to their children or try to make that first big heating bill. Kids may not know why their parents are stressed, but kids certainly know that their parents are.
  2. Holidays and vacations help to draw clear lines between the haves and the have nots. Who got what gift? Who when where on vacation? Whose parents worked and who had time off? There’s nothing like a major holiday and a week off to remind the have nots that they are have nots.
  3. Holidays and vacations are very unpredictable for some students. Home with parents? The usual daycare? A different daycare? At work with parents? School is a stable place: it starts and ends at the same time every day and kids know what they are going to do and when. As adults we look forward to the unscheduled nature of vacation; our students may not. For some, that predictable routine is what gets them through the day.

So, as you watch your students approach vacation and you find yourself feeling more like a behavior manager and less like a teacher, take a moment to think about why. Are your students excited, or terrified?

And that last-day special activity where you break from routine, is that for you or for them?