Blogging Options for Teachers

I offered a challenge to the Web 2.0 Resources course I’m teaching for teachers in my school district – start a blog and reflect on your journey.

Ar least one of them must have been interested, because just a heartbeat after I issued my challenge “homework,” they asked, “Which website would you suggest?”

Touché. I had not considered that question. 🙂

So, without further ado, here’s my take on leading blogging platforms for teachers who want to share their craft – both successes and failures.

Note: While i enjoy it as a blogging platform, i did not include Tumblr in this list for teachers because we block it on the filters in my district (and i assume thats true for others).

BLOGGER
Blogger is (for now) my platform of choice.
Pros:

  • Integrated with Google, so it plays well with images you may have saved in other Google services, and can track your user stats easily with Google analytic tools.
  • TONS of options for customizing your layout or design, whether you know HTML and CSS or not.
  • mobile user focused layouts available. (You dont want your blog to be a pain for someone to navigate on their phone or smaller tablet
  • One-step sharing to Google+ helps get your post in front of an audience
  • Add widgets to your site with javascript. My Twitter feed is right over there on the right (if you’re reading this on Blogger)

Cons:

  • It’s a little difficult to find other teachers to follow within Blogger, which would also mean its a little difficult of other teachers to find YOU.
  • How many people “follow” my blog? (Subscribe to it such that when I update they receive an email, or it is fed to them through an RSS feed) I have no idea. This is hard to track in Blogger.
  • The only thing you can do on the iOS app is publish basic text and plug in photos. Not even any embedded HTML, so I really must ALWAYS write from my desktop or macbook.

WORDPRESS
While Blogger is my main squeeze, I cheat on it with WordPress because my wife uses it and sometimes I get blog tool envy.
Pros:

  • Reblogging. Did you find another blog post that is inspiring you to add commentary on or write your own on the subject? Reblogging puts that post along with your own text onto your blog. I think it builds community as other teachers share ideas, and it can drive a little more traffic to your own blog.
  • Following other blogs and finding your subscribers. WordPress has a reader built within it, which makes it easier to find other teachers, read other teachers, and find out who else is subscribing to you. This is what I most wish Blogger had.
  • Built-in user stats are more easy to use AND more extensive than Blogger. All or most of the data on the stats page of WordPress is available for Blogger bloggers if you also use Google Analytics, but who wants ONE MORE TOOL to check? I mean, you just added blogging to your list, right? 🙂
  • AMAZING iOS app

Cons:

  • Short on HTML and CSS customization. If you use the free version, you’re pretty stuck in the official WordPress templates
  • No custom widgets on the free version. (although there are some official WordPress widgets you can add)

EDUBLOGS
Edublogs has been around since 2005, so they certainly have the most experience with teacher and student blogs, and (in my opinion) have a lot of polish on the product. The platform is built on the bones WordPress publishes for companies, so operationally, it quite similar.
Pros:

  • COMMUNITY. Edublogs has a tab on their home page that takes you to a page organizing the community of edubloggers according to interest. Whereas I can do a search on WordPress.com and find many relevant teacher blogs to my interest, the Edublogs community page lists TOP blogs in that category. I see value in that because I don’t want to sift through potential junk.

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  • Professional development. New to blogging? Take the “Edublogs Teacher Challenge.” It’s like a self-directed online course in blogging.
  • Mobile-friendly. I set up everything on my iPad.

Cons:

  • COST. Unless you pay $7.95 a month to get a pro account, you might as well have a WordPress.com or Blogger account. The power of Edublogs is in organizing all of your students’ blogs in one place and having control over who sees your posts and their posts, but you have none of that power with a free account.

KIDBLOG
The favorite thing about Kidblogs is how they market themselves. Essentially its, “Do everything you would on Edublogs, but for free.” There’s a chart on this page spelling all of that out.
Pros:

  • WordPress platform. Just like Edublogs, its built on WordPress’ product for hosting your own blogs, so the platform is easy to use and manage.
  • TONS of privacy settings. If you’re writing only for your class and your students’ parents, you can completely lockdown privacy by making your blog visible only to individuals who login from that class. The younger your students are, the more important this is, obviously.
  • Have your students blog and reflect with you. (For free this time, as opposed to Edublogs). Set up accounts and blogs for your students and manage their posts, comments, and privacy setttings.
  • There’s an iOS app, but it’s slow to be updated.

Cons:

  • It’s called KIDblogs. My high schoolers are always super sensitive to being “grown,” so I don’t know how jazzed they would be with sharing their super thoughtful reflection from their Kidblogs account.
  • Just like WordPress, a little short on the customization of the layout and design. That’s a con for me as a teacher that likes that, but it might actually be a positive for kids who are going to spend all of their time on the layout instead of writing.

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SUMMARY
Whichever tool you choose is up to your needs. Giving each of these an honest assessment, I would feel comfortable using any of them, with a slight reservation with the kidblogs name. I’m a grown man, for crying out loud. 🙂

If you’re going to write WITH your students, I would strongly suggest Kidblogs, but I would at least peek over at the Edublogs community and professional development pages. I know I will.

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5 Reasons Why Common Core Will PROMOTE Creativity

There are a lot of reasons to #stopcommoncore, 5 of which I shared here about its effect on creativity, but let me give you 5 ways CCSS could be good for our right-brained students, and actually promote creativity in our schools.

1. Modeling with mathematics. 

Modeling “real-world” situations with arithmetic, formulas, and statistical displays and inferences is one of the the Standards for Mathematical Practice, which while not much different than the current Missouri process standards (the “placemat”), go a necessary step further for no other reason than acknowledging that technology beyond scientific calculators exist.

Modeling can often leads to multiple solutions and different approaches to the solution of a problem, and require much more holistic thought to a task than simply “Solve the quadratic function by factoring.”

Another aspect of CCSS math standards in particular that encourages creative thinking is the new prevalence of statistical literacy in nearly every level. Something I love (and some hate) about the study of statistics is that there are seldom black and white answers in inference. Interpretations of results given a particular situation makes statistical study inherently more of a right-brained activity.

2. Evaluating Authors’ Differing Points of View

Is role-play not an element of creativity? When we evaluate viewpoints, replacing the author’s attitude for our own, we experience fresh perspectives and we can express individuality in new ways. How do we innovate without empathizing with what is different from our own?

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.6 Evaluate authors’ differing points of view on the same historical event or issue by assessing the authors’ claims, reasoning, and evidence.

3. Using and consuming diverse formats and media.

If you’re assessing in your classroom in student centered methodologies, I trust that you’re doing more than giving students homogenous paper tests and you’re pushing them to use more than 5 paragraph essays to provide evidence of and for learning.

I don’t think drawing upon multiple info sources is too much of a problem for teachers, gathering info for lesson plans, but how often do we actually model that and expect it of students?

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.6 Use technology, including the Internet, to produce, publish, and update individual or shared writing products in response to ongoing feedback, including new arguments or information.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RST.11-12.7 Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., quantitative data, video, multimedia) in order to address a question or solve a problem.
4. Using Design and Digital Media Strategically
Using color for emphasis = good
Using color because its cute = bad
It’s a creative work to thoughtfully include media and design in a presentation or project. It’s lipstick to have an item on your rubric that says something like, “Student used color.”
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.5 Make strategic use of digital media (e.g., textual, graphical, audio, visual, and interactive elements) in presentations to enhance understanding of findings, reasoning, and evidence and to add interest.
5. Writing Narratives for Real or Imagined Events
From my social studies background, this might be my favorite creativity-promoting standard of them all. I had my Algebra 2 students do this for linear inequalities last fall and a lot of students really got into it. (Kids made up or recounted a scenario in which they could have used a linear inequality to make a decision and gave details of how the inequality was set up and how they used it in the story)
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.3 Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.
As far as history class, you’re challenging your students to know just tell you what happened at the Battle of Hastings – they should be trying to make you experience it. Like World War Z.
Conclusion
English class, is, admittedly probably less “fun,” now, but how many kids were getting overly expressive about Huck Finn and The Scarlet Letter, anyway? The good news is, “creativity” in every other discipline is promoted and has been emphasized. Creativity hasn’t left our schools, its been given a purpose and legitimized.

5 Reasons Why Common Core Will KILL Creativity

My district began compiling PD resources and formally thinking through #CCSS implementation for our administrators, teachers, and parents this week, so I’ve got common core on the brain.

On the whole, I think our districts’ teachers still feel rather in the dark about what Common Core changes will and won’t mean for their classrooms, but I think, in part, the action in Jeff City at DESE is to blame. Missouri is not a Race to the Top state, so there has been less funding available for the guiding the transition, so it makes sense, but disappointing nonetheless.

Locally, our Superintendent Dr. McCoy has been a vocal leader in some criticisms of common core and its effect on the creative freedoms of our students in their lit/comp classes.

To say creative writing and literacy for advancement and personal improvement is a focus in our district   would be putting it lightly. Dr. McCoy wears his literary and creative heart on his sleeve (in an all school assembly, even), and I believe many of students see him as a positive African-American role model because of it. (And his transparency inspired me, too.)

Last word of background, my friend at another high school in the district has seen high results in engagement through creative writing opportunities for her students and shared them in our #METC13 presentation.

So here are 5 things you might start missing if you have a passion for creative, written expression.

1. The classics are de-emphasized.

Do you feel like all you ever read in high school lit class were novels, short stories, and poetry? No longer the case. Our students do need more exposure and readiness to informational text, but find me someone who was inspired to change the world after reading an unbiased account of the migratory patterns of monarch butterflies.

2. Journal writing – where does it fit in?

In Missouri Course-Level Objectives, “reflective writing” is listed across the board for all high school courses. I value reflective writing from my experience as a student and an adult, and I think it can be transformative in understanding who we are, what we think, and what we know, and what we value. How are students to find themselves if they’re only ever summarizing arguments and detailing main points and themes? Who will write the next century’s Walden Pond?

3. Creative writing is devalued

As referenced in the last point, non-fiction, technical writing has been given at least half of the emphasis in the ELA standards, which means fiction writing had to be de-emphasized. Two different Missouri CLEs (W2A and W2D) currently require students to write considering “different audiences”, and to employ “imagery, humor, voice, and figurative language.” When you’re a teenager and you feel like no one else hears you, how do you find freedom in a formal analysis of novel X, Y, or Z?

4. Less choice in composition style

Reading through the ELA standards for high school, what continuously sticks out to me is “analyze, analyze, analyze.” writing styles or works. It seems to me that if CCSS are successful they’ll have produced an army of literary critics, but who’ll be left to criticize?

5. Less time to enjoy and appreciate literature and art.

Those times when you reread a passage because there is such beauty in the alliteration, or you stop in a speech because your heart is racing. If an ELA teacher is “doing” common core right, where does that fit in? Thinking of it this way, if I’m always analyzing my wife, I never appreciate and grow fonder for her. How will we inspire the next generation to beauty and emotion in written word?


But don’t fret!  I’ve got 5 Reasons Why Common Core Promotes Creativity, too.

Foil Wrapper iPad Stylus for your Classroom

If you’ve had your students writing/drawing/creating on their iPads you probably quickly noticed that writing or drawing with your finger is not so great. And your students probably aren’t too keen on it.

Buy a ton of $10-15 styli online or through my supply catalog, right?
If you’ve purchased one for yourself, you also know that they aren’t the most durable of products out there. The FIRST time I let a friend use my first stylus, they rubbed the rubber nub right off the end. You could get by with buying a ton more cheaper versions like this or this from Amazon, but especially if kids have to share them, they’re not going to last for long either.
Innovation time.
I saw this article on Lifehacker over Spring Break featuring this how-to on YouTube from +Walt Mosspuppet to make a capacitive stylus out of a pen, some tape, and the foil wrapper from any candy/granola/protein/energy bar.
Here’s my attempt. My favorite part about making these styli (or having kids make their own) is that we’re using trash I see the kids throw away nearly every day.
I made 5 today in a little more than an hour, and only took that long because I was trying different methods, seeing which was cleanest for the least time. If you make them how I did in the video, just smushing and taping, you could make at least 3 in about 10 minutes. I was limited most today by materials, not skill or time.
Other DIY Stylus Tutorials

Cheap pocket sized iPhone/iPod Touch stylus