Tuesday, December 9, 2008

We've Got The Power

Sometimes I think we forget that for many of our students we are a significant adult in their life. For some students we are one of the very few significant adults in their lives. As such, how we respond to our students can have a very big impact on them and their perception of themselves.

For Example:

A number of years ago I had the following experience which really brought this idea home to me. I was teaching Biology 11 and there was a girl in the class that I had known for a few years. She was a sweet girl, but very unsure of herself. I had noticed that she had seemed down for awhile and after class one day I asked her if everything was ok. She smiled and said that things were fine. The next day I got a call from her mom; her daughter had told her about the brief conversation we had. The daughter felt that none of her other teachers even noticed her, and so when I noticed and was concerned about her it really affected her in a positive way. Her mom shared some of the troubles her daughter was having and thanked me again for taking an interest. She said it meant a lot to them both. All this from a brief conversation; just letting another human being know that they matter.

Recently there was a situation with a high school student at my school which also illustrates my point. As a staff we had noticed that this student had changed quite a bit since September; in both his appearance and behaviour. He was also making some poor choices which were affecting more than just his schooling. Then a situation arose that was clearly a cry for help. My principal met with the mother and then with the boy. He did a great job of letting the boy know that: 1) the staff and students had noticed the changes in him; 2) we were all concerned about him; and 3) we all really liked the "old him" better than this new persona. There was more to it than that of course, this is just the Coles notes version. A week after that meeting, the student was back in class and he was so positive. He was working well and interacting with the other students, not shutting them out like before. He was back to his old self and more. His positive energy was contagious and the other students were feeding off it; very cool. I'm just guessing, but I think it probably felt pretty good to know that the staff and students at the school cared about him and liked him. He mattered.

The Take Home Message

Now I'm not saying that we need to go around acting as counselors for all of our students; in fact when students come to me with personal troubles I let them know that I will offer them support, and part of that support is finding a person with the right skills to help them (I'm not trained in that kind of stuff and I definitely do not want to botch things up.) And I know for a good percentage of our students they are doing just fine, thank you very much. But we do need to be aware that for some of our students, just the fact that we notice them and are concerned about them really is a big deal.

What About You?

How do you try to connect with your students? Do you think I'm overplaying this role of teachers as significant adults? I'd love to hear from you!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Are You A Control Freak Too? Or Why It Can Be Hard Shifting To Being The Guide On The Side

Today I learned a few new things, some interesting, and one disturbing.

New Thing Number One

Mosses reproduce by fragmentation (I know, some of you are gasping "you must be joking" and others are saying "well, duh!", while still others are saying "that's interesting... why?")

New Thing Number Two

Some mosses have found ways to survive in the desert. (Ditto parentheses above).


Photo by ecstaticist Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License

So What?

I have been teaching grade 11 students about mosses for about 10 years now and I didn't know about this fragmentation stuff. I mean I knew about fragmentation, but not that mosses did it. I found out today because one of my students highlighted fragmentation as a key way that mosses reproduce. He was also the one who mentioned that mosses can live in the desert.

So here's the disturbing thing: these revelations about mosses lead me to realize that for too many years I have mercilessly controlled the information that my students receive. My students would only learn about a narrowly defined (by me) version of mosses, or arthropods, or the excretory system etc. The official curriculum document says the students have to learn X,Y, and Z so I made sure I served X, Y, and Z up in easy to digest morsels. I injected humour and stories, I used a variety of instructional strategies and provided activities that uncovered prior knowledge, but for the most part I controlled the information.

Despite my strangle hold on the information, the assignments that I've always enjoyed assessing the most are the ones where students have to research a topic. That's where I get to be the learner and they get to truly explore. (One very useful piece of information that I learned from a student research project is that we get the urge to urinate when our bladder is only a third full. I find that comforting when I am on a long car trip or hiking in the woods--it's only a third full, it's only a third full...)

For the past few years though, I have been teaching at a distributed learning school where, so far, I don't own the courses. By that I mean that the courses students take are not designed by me. I am their guide, tutor, cheerleader, and assessor, but I am not their course designer (not yet anyway). Often times there is a poor fit with the text and the course a student is taking, so the student has to look to other sources to answer their questions. That's how my student found out about fragmentation and about desert mosses. It was not from his textbook, it did not come from me. He found it 'out there'. And I'm so glad he did. It reminded me that it was never my job to own the information. And now, more than ever before, it is not necessary for me to own the information.

I know, bit of a slow learner ;-)

Some Questions

Do you ever feel that you have to own the information? For me I think this came about because I needed to be sure that they learned what they were supposed to. And, how else would we make it through the curriculum? If you have relinquished control over the information, or perhaps never felt like you needed to have control in the first place, how would you counter these concerns?

As always, thanks for taking the time to read this!

Friday, November 21, 2008

On Teaching Science At A DL School

Yesterday was a good day.

I teach at a distributed learning (DL) school and though this is home learning, we do encourage most of our high school students to show up for a face-to-face class for 2 hours on Thursday mornings. It can be challenging wrangling 20 plus kids from grades 8 - 11 who are all at different places in their (different) courses. My colleague and I have used the time to check up on where kids are at, prod them to get work done, provide tutoring and do mini-lessons to the whole group (on studying for example). My colleague has also pulled out grade groups to go over grammar and to discuss their reading journals. We've found that our students are far more successful when we have this regular face to face contact with them.

How Can You Do Science Without Labs?

Today was the first time I was able to pull out a group to work on a science lab. In a DL program labs often get short shrift. It can be time consuming for the student to complete the labs, they often feel at sea--not sure if they are getting the expected results, or unsure of what they should be observing. While this also happens in a traditional classroom, at least the teacher and peers can support the student.

Seeing the Lightbulbs Go On

Lightbulb head

Photo by Cayusa Attribution-NonCommercial License

I had 4 grade nines work on an electricity lab; comparing series and parallel circuits. I really baby stepped them through the lab. We went over the proper lab format and I dictated or wrote what they needed to include at each step. I guided them through setting up the circuits and drawing the schematics. One of the students was really adept at setting up the combined series / parallel circuit and he explained to the others how to do it. He used what he had learned earlier in the lab to confirm that he had it set up correctly. We discussed their observations and what they meant. When we got to the final section of the lab write-up, the conclusion, I explained how it should be set up and said "Here's where you explain what you learned from the lab, so what have you learned?" The response was great; "A lot!" And then they went on to tell me the things they learned in a very animated way. I just don't think that these kids would have gotten a lot out of this lab had they been doing it by themselves at home.

"What did you learn"--"a lot!" I'm still smiling :-)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Living Life On-line

The other day I was talking to a colleague who was bemoaning the fact that her computer crashed on her. It was report card time and she couldn't access her marks program, lost all her bookmarks, and needed to get/find the disks for her software. It made me think about how much of what I do is stored on-line. Bookmarks, documents, presentations, spreadsheets, e-mail; all on-line. Marks are on the district server (which I can access via the 'net.) For me that leaves my photos, videos and music which are not on-line.

How much of your computing is on-line? Are you up in the clouds, on terra firma, or somewhere in between?

head in the clouds

Photo by puja Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License

Saturday, November 15, 2008

You Say It's Your Blog Birthday...

Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, NAH. It's my blog birthday too, yah!

OK, the original lyrics are definitely better ;-)

birthday cake by photolate

birthday cake by photolate CC License

Clarify Me Turns One

Yup, it was a year ago in November that I took the plunge and dove into the blogosphere. The milestones weren't as dramatic as those for a human in their first year of life, but significant none-the-less.

The Early Days

The first blog I started was on Blogger, and I didn't really know what my focus was going to be. At the end of December I switched over to Edublogs. I regret not keeping the original Blogger blog as a time capsule--I transfered my posts over to Edublogger, but I didn't keep the those very first tentative posts. I posted photos about the big November windstorm that hit my neighbourhood, and I pondered what I would write about at Claire's World.

I was inspired to blog by my younger sister; she'd been blogging for about a year by then, and yes it was sibling rivalry ;-) What helped me find a direction for my blog was taking a KnowWeeks course called 'Using Blogs in Education'. Cristina Costa and Ramona Dietrich were the facilitators and they did a wonderful job helping us (mostly) newbies find our way. It was there that North Van educator David Brear directed me to Sue Waters' blog. Wow, did I feel like I hit pay dirt!


When I started this blog, my focus was on how to get my students blogging. As I blogged more and read more I began to realize that blogs and blogging weren't necessarily the key; it was using technology, and web 2.0 in particular, to help students learn. Heck, before I started blogging I had no idea what web 2.0 even meant. My focus for blogging became not so much about finding out how to get students doing it and more about my own professional development. I was building my Personal Learning Network (only I didn't know it at the time.) By the spring I volunteered to do a professional development session on blogging for teachers.
The aim of the session is to introduce participants to blogs and illustrate how blogging can enhance on-going teacher professional development by facilitating communication and collaboration with teachers from around the world.

Over the summer I prepared my session by posting all of the tasks and information on a blog I set up for PD activities.

Full Circle

So, earlier this week I noticed that KnowWeeks was offering 'Using Blogs In Education' again with Cristina and Ramona. I thought I'd sign up for old time's sake ;-) The interesting thing is that I tweeted about it and as a result two of my BC Twitter friends signed up. My colleague at work too. Cool. This time around there are fewer newbies, and the focus is less on setting up a blog as it is about sharing resources.


Spiral Staircase by Martin Haesemeyer CC license


The most amazing thing about this past year has been getting to meet so many wonderful, and inspiring educators. I won't start listing them all; you can check out my blogroll to find most of them. There are some folks who I converse with on a regular basis, others who graciously respond to my comments or questions, and still others whom I admire from afar :-) You've all influenced me in countless ways. Thank you.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

May I Have A Word?

This past little while I've been exploring ways to improve communication with my students. I teach at

Photo by ohhector
Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License

a distributed learning school (DL) and have limited face-to-face contact with my students. My students are in grades 8 to 11 and I am responsible for math and science. At this point, these courses are paper based. Their other core courses, English and Social Studies, are delivered in WebCT.

A challenge has been setting up an effective way to communicate directly with all of the students. Many of the 8s and 9s do not have an e-mail that they use, so e-mail communication is mainly through a family or parent account. We do have a school website where Google Calendars for each of the grades are posted. This has worked well in terms of posting time-lines and important dates, but not much else.  Add to the mix the fact that I have very few so called digital natives in the group, and perhaps you can understand my difficulties. (Teaching 21st century literacy skills to this group will be a whole other post...)


I have only dabbled in using wikis, so this past Professional Development (PD) day I set up test wikis in Wetpaint and Wikispaces. After tinkering around for a bit, I felt that I was just duplicating what I already have on the school website, so I don't think that the wiki is necessarily the way to go to improve communication with my students.


I've used Moodle a little bit; as a participant in a few KnowWeeks courses, and I was part of an Open School BC pilot project delivering Science 10 through Moodle. My district is hosting Moodle in house (as part of the one to one tablet laptop program, I believe), but to access Moodle students have to get onto the district server using Citrix and then log onto Moodle. Citrix can be a little slow and has a nasty habit of kicking you off. I looked into a Moodle hosting service and they seem to fall into two groups--the "it's too good to be true" $5 per month options and the "wow, that's a lot of clams for a small school" $5000+ per year options.

WebCT Students' Lounge

Photo by imedagoze
Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License

An idea that my colleague suggested is setting up a "Students' Lounge" in WebCT, in which all students would be registered. Announcements and batch e-mails could be easily handled here. In addition, almost all students should already be signing into WebCT every day. I have to find out if there would be any costs to setting up this 'course' and enrolling all our students.

Where It's At

Right now, barring cost, the best option would appear to be setting up a Students' Lounge in WebCT. I'll also investigate to see if the district could be convinced to make Moodle available out of house (is that the opposite of in house?)

How Do You Do It?

If you don't see your students face to face on a regular basis, how do you ensure that communication is effective and efficient? Are there other tools out there that I should be investigating?  As always, thanks for taking the time to read this!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Intro to Hibernation

After my little hiatus from blogging, it seems apt that I have a post on hibernation ;-)


hibernation by Life As Art

The Lesson

I was starting a small unit on hibernation for my mixed grade (4 - 7) science class and came up with a modified 'concept attainment' lesson to introduce the topic. Here's how it worked.

I gave students a list of animals in alphabetical order. I then told them I was going to be placing them in 3 groups labeled A, B and C. Their job (with a partner) was to figure out why I grouped them the way I did. I told them that it might be difficult because they may not know very much about some of the animals that I listed, but that was ok.

I started introducing each of the animals, in alphabetical order, by showing them a photo of the animal and then showing them which group I placed it in. After each of the groups had one or two animals in them I asked the students to discuss with their partner why I was grouping them the way I did. I did not get them to share their ideas with the entire group at this point (even though some of them really wanted to!) I showed them a few more animals and where I grouped them. Again they were asked to share their ideas with their partner. They were also asked to share their ideas with the group next to them. I continued showing them animals, but I would ask them to predict which group I was going to put it in. As the group got a clearer and clearer idea of how the animals were grouped their predictions improved and loud cheers would go up when their predictions were proved correct. Once we made it through all of the animals I asked different students to explain why the group A animals were together, then why the group B etc. By the mid-point of this activity all of the students were completely engaged, and by the end I felt that the class as a whole had a basic understanding of 3 of the main ways that animals cope with winter (hibernation, migration, and adaptations such as thicker white coats of fur, broad feet to move through snow etc.)

The Slide Show

The slide show I used for this activity is embedded below. Please note that I included bears with the hibernator group, but many people do not consider them to be true hibernators. All of the photos I used were under Creative Commons attribution, non-commercial, no derivatives licenses. Group A are the animals that do not hibernate or migrate, but adapt to the cold weather. Group B animals migrate to warmer climates during the winter. Group C animals hibernate.


I have done concept attainment lessons before, especially as an introduction to a new concept. I've found it particularly effective in Biology 12 when introducing biomolecules; one group would have molecular structures of amino acids/polypeptides and the other group would have molecular structures of the other biomolecules we would eventually learn about; carbohydrates, nucleic acids, and lipids. It focussed the students on the key structural characteristics of amino acids. I have also used it in Biology 11 when introducing gymnosperms.

This particular lesson on hibernation was for a mixed grade (4 - 7) science class. In all cases, most of the students enjoyed figuring out the puzzle and the focus was on sharing their thinking/hypotheses with a partner and constantly reassessing. It can sometimes be challenging to structure the activity in such a way that students don't come up with the answer right off the bat. With this hibernation lesson, I suspected that many students would know that we would be working on hibernation, so that is why I used 3 groups instead of just hibernators and non-hibernators. I am happy that I did because it got the students looking, at least in a basic level, at the different ways that animals cope with winter.

Take It Please!

Please feel free to use this lesson (or pass it along to a colleague), and modify as needed. If you would like me to send you the original Google Doc file or a Power Point version, just let me know in the comments. Better yet, if you know how I can post the file here for you to download I'd really like to find out. Please keep in mind that the photos are all CC attribution, non-commercial, no derivatives. Any feedback you have about the lesson is also appreciated. If you use it would be neat to hear how it worked out for you.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Hiatus Over...

Yikes! I haven't blogged for over a month. Time to get back into the groove. Though I haven't been posting, I have been doing a lot of reading and commenting.

Favourite Blogs

All of the blogs in my reader are great, but with over 200 unread posts, there are a few that I ALWAYS stay up to date on. In alphabetical order they are Drape's Takes, dy/dan, Hurrican Maine, and Practical Theory. Combined, these people are challenging me to reconsider how I teach and how I use technology.

Lately Louise Maine (Hurricane Maine) and Dan Myer (dy/dan) have been really influential. Louise posts great stuff about what she is doing with her biology students. She is a queen of the wiki and does engaging project based learning with her students. This post of Louise's is a particular favourite of mine. Louise inspires me to share what I do and make the learning meaningful for my students. Dan Myer writes great posts and asks the questions that need asking. His dy/av video series this summer was amazing. At the beginning of September he posted his entire Geometry curriculum on-line, complete with his slides in PPT and other formats. Add to that he's a fan of The Wire and The Office--what more could you want?! A recent post of his that has caused me to get it into gear was this one where he lamented the lack of Web 2.0 technology that is transforming math instruction. It made me realize how few blogs in my feed reader are by subject specialists sharing what has worked for them in their practice.

Time To Kick It Up A Notch

The influence of the four bloggers that I mentioned above has caused me to re-evaluate what I've been posting here. A lot of what I post is about my experience with blogging and with the technology. I think this is to be expected from a new blogger. This is a way to reflect on what I've been learning. As I near my one year blog anniversary though, it is time to kick it up a notch. This weekend I probably put in 3 hours preparing a resource for a 45 minute class!?!! Add to that it was for a mixed grade class (gr 4 - 7), where I will see the grade 4s for 2 more years, which means I can't use it again for 3 years. This is not being efficient!!! However... if I share what I did so that others can use it, well, then the time investment was worth it. I will post on this lesson soon.

How 'Bout You?

If you blog, are you content with the focus of your blog? Or are you like me, re-assessing what you do. Love to hear from you!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

CCK08 Dropout

It's official. I am a CCK08 drop-out.

Say What?

CCK08 is the Massively Open Online Course on Connectivism and Connective Knowledge being taught by George Siemens and Stephen Downes. When the course was announced in the spring I eagerly signed up. However, as the start date for the course approached my doubts about being able to keep up with the course (plus everything else in my life) intensified. Can doubts intensify? If they can mine did. The first week I dipped my toes in the CCK08 waters; I signed up for the RSS feed, I set up my profile on Moodle, I introduced myself, I read the assigned readings. I told myself I would get more involved in week 2, when I had more time...

The Thing About September

As a teacher and parent of one school aged child and one preschooler living in the Northern Hemisphere I have to say that September is a crazy month! As a parent I'm trying to get the kids into their new routines and make sure that I register in time for all of the activities that they would like to participate in. As a teacher in a distributed learning school this is a very busy month; our enrollment pretty much doubles as we go from September 1st to September 30th. That means lots of meetings with families, helping to order and distribute resources etc. along with teaching classes and marking, ahem assessing. My husband is a teacher too, so needless to say things are a little crazy here in September. Something had to give so we dropped Beavers (the 1st step in Boy Scouts in Canada). Great, now I'll really get into the course...

I'm Fine With It, Really

Photo by A Boy And His Bike
Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License

I've just not been able to keep up even my week 1 level of participation. I think I have to face facts; I'm a CCK08 drop-out. But I'm ok with being a drop-out. I don't feel stressed. I didn't feel like I had to read every single blog posting or Moodle forum. I was not flustered that I couldn't participate in the Elluminate sessions or watch the UStream broadcast live. I guess that as I approach my one year anniversary of building my on-line personal learning network I've gotten used to the fact that you can't read everything. You can't watch everything. I feel like I'm standing at the river's edge; there is a constant flow of interesting information (with the occasional bits of flotsam) and if you try to catch everything you'll drown.

What's Your Story?

Did you sign up for CCK08? If so, what has been your experience?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

New Image

I've been thinking for awhile that my blog has been looking a little busy. I had left and right sidebars with a lot of widgets. What finally pushed me into action was visiting Jan Smith's blog Re-Siever. It looked so clean and sophisticated, and the content is great too!

Choosing a Theme

It can be daunting choosing a theme, but luckily Sue Waters at The Edublogger wrote two posts back in July which were really helpful; What To Consider When Choosing Your Blog Theme and The 100 Edublog Themes Separated Into Categories To Make Choosing Your Next Theme Easier. Using Sue's posts I decided what I wanted in a blog theme and started checking out the ones that seemed to fit. Well, after lots of thought and consideration I went with the theme that I really liked... the same one that Jan Smith is using (Ocean Mist by Ed Merritt). They say that imitation is a form of flattery, and Jan's most recent post is titled Steal This, Please. I have personalized the theme though--right now that's a photo of my youngest running through the spray at a water park.

Some Bumps Along The Way

I'm finding that a few things got lost in the transfer (like Clustr Maps) and I've been trying to re-jig things. I took my blogroll out of my sidebar and given it a separate page to try and reduce clutter. I'm still playing with the layout so that it works for me.

Your Thoughts?

What do you look for in a blog theme? Are you a 1, 2, or 3 column type of person, or does it depend on the blog content? Have you considered changing up the look of your blog? Do you have any suggestions to make my blog layout/set-up more reader friendly? As always, I'd love to hear from you!

Image: Bump, bump, bump by gwen

Friday, September 12, 2008

Getting My Head Around Mobile Learning

I like using technology, but when it comes to mobile learning I feel like a luddite.

Mobile Learning the Future?

Photo by AdamLogan
Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License

This morning I read a post by David Truss where he talks about the future of technology in education:

I predict that in about 5 short years almost every Middle School student will own an iPhone or its’ equivalent, and they will be connecting to our wireless network via bluetooth for absolutely free. Students will be ready, willing and able to use these tools in our classroom… will teachers be ready enough to maximize the opportunities and learning experiences these tools (coming to our classrooms for free) will provide?

Really?! I feel that I am terribly out of touch with what mobile technology middle and high school students use today. I have a cell phone, but it is basic. I have a pay-as-you-go plan which runs me about $11 a month. I don't text. I don't have a data plan. For a period of time when I was homeless this summer I looked in to getting a beefed up plan, maybe even upgrading my phone (I do covet an iPhone). Basic iPhone rate here in Canada is $60 a month.

Surely the majority of middle and high school students don't have a $60 a month plan?! I know I'm missing something though, because David is talking about students connecting to the school wireless internet for free.

I would love a hand-held "internet machine" (who coined that term? I know I just read it a few days ago...) that could pick up free wireless. Where I live there are a reasonable number of places that have free wifi (Starbucks, Safeway, schools).

What Do You Think/Set Me Straight

Do you agree with David Truss' prediction? I like the vision that he paints. Do you have the piece of the puzzle that I'm missing?

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Reflections on Blogging 101

This is cross-posted at Tech Pro-D Tools.

A week ago I facilitated a session called 'Blogging 101' for teachers in my school district. The session was aimed at teachers new to blogging. By the end of the session I wanted participants to be able to:

  1. search for blogs of interest

  2. subscribe to blogs in a feed reader

  3. submit comments to a blog

  4. set up their own blog

  5. write their first blog post

  6. be able to add media to their posts (images, videos, etc)

The session was all built around a series of blog posts on my other blog, Tech Pro-D Tools. The posts are all tagged/labeled 'blogging 101'. The focus on the posts was mainly 'how-to', with lots of screen shots and step-by-step instructions. The session ran from 8:30 to 1:30 with two 20 minute breaks.


My goodness it took a long time to put together the 11 posts which make up the bulk of the

Photo by Cesar R.
Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License

Blogging 101 series! My hope is that it will be useful to anyone who is interested in getting into blogging, especially if they are planning to use Google Reader and Blogger. In addition, if I do another intro to blogging workshop, I've got the bulk of my resources ready. For the record, I do not receive kickbacks from Google; I chose these two tools because I am familiar with them, Blogger is easy to set up, and it requires only signing up for services with one company.

I did not provide resources other than what was in my blog posts. I didn't prepare any handouts. In future I think I would prepare a one page handout with key information on it such as the blog address, how to contact me, and how to get into the Google account once it has been set up.


Photo by F3R/n@nd0 (FJTU)
Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License

I tried to break up the session so that participants were interacting with each other and getting out of their seats. Having said that, I think I needed to have more of this. The participants all seemed very into what we were doing, but 5 hours is a long time to be sitting at the computer. A couple of the participants suggested a two day session would be a good format, then they could go home and try out some of the things we talked about and come back the next day with questions. I suspect two 3 hour sessions might be a good way to do this.

Group Size
Seventeen people were signed up for the session, but only eight actually showed up. I think that 17 would have been way too much for one person (me) to handle effectively. As it was, 8 was perfect. I felt that I was able to move around the room and help people when they needed it.

Knowing Your Audience
I did create a pre-session survey and 7 of the 8 participants completed it. Their experience with web 2.0 tools was all over the map and it was helpful knowing where everyone was at. I erred on the side of making my instructions in the 'Blogging 101' posts geared toward the technologically inexperienced and I think this worked well. If you are more experienced you can ignore the step-by-step screen shots and just go with the flow. But if you are uncertain, the step-by-step is there for you. I would have liked to have an exit survey, but I just ran out of time.

Random Thoughts
I was a little surprised at how many participants wanted to keep their blogs private. I had forgotten how apprehensive I was about privacy and security when I started blogging--so this was a good reminder. The session focussed mainly on the mechanics of blogging. Given more time it would be great to discuss how to write good posts, be a good commenter, track blog stats etc.

The Wrap Up and Heartfelt Thanks

I was happy with how the workshop went, and as I've mentioned above there are some things that I

Photo by psd
Attribution License

would change. It took me a tremendous amount of time to write all the posts, so that's another reason I hope to do another workshop on this again to get more mileage out of all the work! Lastly, I would to thank Sarah Stewart and Sue Waters for their comments on a post I did soliciting ideas for this workshop. Sue has been a fantastic blogging mentor for hundreds (thousands?!) of new edubloggers and I am so grateful for all the support she has given me this year. Sarah Stewart was generous enough to share the outline and resources she used for her recent blogging workshop. We also had some good discussions via Twitter on how to run a successful workshop on blogging. You can read Sarah's reflections on the three sessions she and her colleague ran here.

If you have any suggestions on how to run a successful blogging workshop, please let me know. Any comments on the Blogging 101 series I ran would also be welcome!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Combatting Teacher Burnout

Chris Lehmann wrote an interesting piece last week where asked, amongst other things;
How can we change the system so that more teachers are rewarded for not taking the short cuts?

Chris' post was inspired by video number 8 in Dan Meyer's summer video posts--which have been excellent.

How To Keep The Ones We Love?

In response to one of the comments, Chris outlined what he does in his role as principal to improve the sustainability of the profession. You should really check out Chris' comment in its entirety*, but basically he says that he;

  • - buys extra teaching positions to reduce the student to teacher ratio

  • - treats his teachers with an ethic of care

  • - fosters collegiality and collaboration amongst his teachers

These things come at a cost--for example; reductions in non-teaching positions--so the choices are still difficult ones to make. My favourite quote from Chris' comment is this;
In the end, I believe that high school teachers shouldn't have more than 80 kids on their academic roster. Teachers should not teach 70% of their working day, because that guarantees that the diligent teacher is consigning themselves to 60 hour work weeks -- minimum. Both those solutions mean spending a lot more money, but I think that's what it takes.

30% Preparation Time--Where Do I Sign Up?

I can tell you that I would have loved to have 30% of every teaching day as prep

Photo by estherase
Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License

time. In my last school, a grade 8 - 12 school, we ran a semester system. It meant that for one semester (half the year) you taught 4 out of 4 classes. For the other semester you taught 3 out of 4 classes and one block was for prep. A week into the new semester you could walk into the staffroom and tell right away who had prep and who didn't. Those without prep, if they were even in the staffroom at all, had that tense wide eyed look you see on horses when they're spooked. Those with prep had a whole different body language--sitting relaxed on the couches, joking with their colleagues.

When I had prep in a semester, life was pretty good. I would only have about 75 students to keep track of, and I would have the chance to overhaul some units and do some fresh stuff. I could collaborate with other teachers who had prep at the same time, or I could come in and watch another teacher's lesson during my prep and learn from them. And when I got home, I could actually spend quality time with my own children. The end result was that my students had a teacher who was more relaxed, able to roll with it, better able accommodate their needs, and able to provide more challenging and engaging activities. Conversely, when I had no prep I was responsible for around 100 students and always seemed to be running fast just to stay in one place. I'd often scarf down lunch in my room while I prepared for the afternoon lessons--missing out on valuable time to connect with my colleagues.

Now maybe for Chris that 30% wouldn't be all prep time, but I'm sure that it would be time that would allow teachers to do a better job and provide a better learning environment for their students.

Weighing In

If you teach in K-12 how much prep time in the teaching day do you get? What do you think would be the ideal? How else could we make the profession sustainable?

*I haven't figured out yet how to make a link to a specific part of a webpage yet, so you'll have to go to the post and browse the comments.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Periodic Table of Videos

I just found out about this resource via Alec Couros' blog Open Thinking & Digital Pedagogy. The University of Nottingham has put together a series of YouTube videos, apparently one for each element on the periodic table, called The Periodic Table of Videos. I just checked out a few (Zinc, Potassium, & Uranium) and they're pretty engaging. I've embedded the trailer for this video series below.

Definitely worth a look if you teach any chemistry, otherwise forward it on to a colleague who does!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

On Changing Paradigms

I just finished watching Sir Ken Robinson's talk Changing Paradigms at the Royal Society for the encouragement of the Arts (via Will Richardson). Robinson is an engaging speaker and I highly recommend viewing his talk (it runs 55 mins). If you're more pressed for time, he did a TED talk 2 years ago which covers some of the same ground (and comes in at around 20 minutes).

Divergent Thinking

Robinson discusses divergent thinking, which he feels is a prerequisite for creative thinking. He refers to a longitudinal study where children were given a test on divergent thinking at ages 3 - 5 and then every 5 years for a number of years. Using the predetermined benchmark for "genius" in terms of divergent thinking, the results are startling, perhaps not in their trend, but in their magnitude. At ages 3 - 5 years 98% of the children scored at a genius level (I believe the sample size was 1500). It then rapidly dropped off (I can't locate the exact figures) until at adulthood those scoring at the genius level represent only 3% of the population.

Schools Kill the Creativity in Children

Robinson argues that schools kill the creativity in children, not on purpose, but they do it none-the-less and they do it systematically. He argues that our current school system, based on the industrial revolution no longer works. The industrial revolution needed a large number of workers with basic literacy and numeracy to work in the factories, a smaller number of more literate and numerate people were needed to manage the workers, and the top level of the hierarchy were those who would attend universities and become the doctors, lawyers, and leaders of industry. Today's societies and economies have different needs. We need creative thinkers to tackle the issues of increased urbanization, global warming, the incredible growth of the Earth's human population...

We should be encouraging creative thinking, we should be nurturing the talents that children have, we should not be aiming for conformity.

So How Do We Do That?

I think that Robinson makes some very compelling points, but I'm struggling with the practical aspects. I would love to see a school where they are free to abandon standardized testing, teach to the talents of the students, and group students based upon pedagogically sound reasons (not merely based upon birth dates). Then there is the on-going debate of what information is necessary for all our citizens to learn. If a student's talent is in visual arts, is there anything from the other subject areas that can be omitted so that they can fully pursue their talent? I do not want to come off as a naysayer--I really like Sir Robinson's ideas, I'm just having difficulty visualizing the system he proposes. Does project based learning address some of the issues he discusses? Perhaps I'll just have to read his books to get a better idea.

What Do You Think?

Do schools systematically kill creativity? Is there a way to revolutionize schools and education to promote creative thinking? How do you work toward it in your own sphere of influence?

As always, thanks for reading!

Image: Which one... ? by carf. Licensed under a Creative Commons, attribution non-commercial no derivatives license.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

In The Words Of Elvis...

"Thank you, thank you very much."

31 Day Comment Challenge Awards

external image comment_challenge_logo_2.png

On Monday, Michele Martin over at The Bamboo Project Blog announced the winners of the 31 Day Comment Challenge and I was pleasantly surprised to learn that I was a co-winner for the most comments on a wide range of blogs category. I tied with Bonnie Kaplan. Other winners were Carla Arena for the most high quality comments that thoughtfully reflect on the topic, Kevin of Dogtrax for the comments that provoke and promote the most learning, and Taylor for the student award.

Not In It For The Fame

I enthusiastically joined in the Comment Challenge back in April and was raring to go with the first task on May 1st. I knew there were prizes, but that's not what motivated me. I just wanted to become a better blogger. Well, what a month May was! About part way through I knew that I was not going to be able to keep up, and that was OK. Part of the reason that I wasn't able to keep up was the usual life things (kids, work, school...) but a big part of it was that I was finding all sort of new blogs and commenting like crazy. Through the challenge I got to meet a lot of great new people; heck I didn't know any of the other Challenge winners prior to May, but through the challenge I've 'met' and conversed with all but one of them. I also enjoyed reading posts and comments from Kate Foy, Christine Martell, Ines Pinto, and Ken Allen who were some of the others nominated for Challenge awards.

Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due

The Comment Challenge has really helped me to grow as a blogger and I want to thank the fantastic four who organised it; Sue Waters, Silvia Tolisano, Michele Martin and Kim Cofino. I know that I felt pretty busy during the challenge, but these wonderful women must have been going crazy, because they were everywhere--commenting, posting, and generally supporting participants. Thank you all so much! I also would like to thank Diane Hammond for nominating me for the award and all those who voted for me, read my posts, and especially those who took the time to comment on something I wrote.

Give It A Try!

If you didn't participate in the 31 Day Comment Challenge, you can still access the tasks and the links to participants posts at the Comment Challenge wiki. If you can get a large group of people to do it at the same time, even better. Or you might be interested in Web 2.0 Wednesdays; an idea that sprouted from the Comment Challenge, and is organised by Michele Martin.

Images: Elvis Statue in Hawaii, by Hawaii. Creative Commons Attribution, Non-Commercial, No Derivatives license. Not sure how to credit the Comment Challenge Logo, but here goes; the logo was created by Christine Martell of VisualsSpeak for the use of Comment Challenge participants.

Monday, June 23, 2008

I'm It

Way back in May I was tagged by Louise Maine for the "I believe..." meme started by Barry Bachenheimer.  I've been putting off writing this for quite a while. It's not that I didn't want to write it, it's just that I have a hard time articulating the points that I feel are important in education.  So, as I procrastinate writing up those final report cards, here goes.

I Believe...

  • - every child deserves respect

  • - every child should be valued

  • - every child has strengths that need to be recognized

  • - no one deserves to be told that they can't do something or that they'll never amount to anything

  • - education must be relevant to the learner

  • - assessment needs to be meaningful

  • - students must be given the opportunity to discuss and reflect upon what they are learning

  • - grades should not be used.  as a motivator.  as an end in themselves.

  • - the focus should be on the process, not just the product

  • - learning builds on prior knowledge; it is a teacher's role to uncover that knowledge

  • - our students are diverse so our teaching methods should be too

  • - there is more than one way to demonstrate knowledge

  • - the best education encourages wonder

  • - a good education should empower students with the skills to be able to continue learning about the things that are important to them.

These are just a few of the things that I believe with respect to education.

The Thing About Blog Memes

I'm not a memeticist, but I'm not sure that this is really what Dawkins would call a meme.  I can't help but feel that they are pretty similar to chain letters with the exceptions that

  1. they rarely demand that you tag a required amount of people in a limited amount of time or else...   and

  2. men are just as likely to participate in memes as women--unlike chain letters which seem to be the domain of women and girls

Tag--You're It!

So it is with great trepidation that I tag the following people:
Kevin /dogtrax (Kevin's Meandering Mind)

Sarah Stewart (Sarah's Musings)

My trepidation is they will see this tag as an onerous task to add to their to-do lists.  If it catches your fancy--great, do it (I'm keen to find out what you believe!)  If not, that is ok too.

The Final Word

What do you believe is truly important with respect to education?  Write a post or leave a comment below.  It is an interesting exercise, to be sure!

Image: 'Tag!  You're It!' by Lance and Erin licensed under creative commons attribution, non-comercial, no derivitives works 2.0 generic.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Blogging 101

Some Background
I started blogging in November of 2007 and I am amazed at how much I've learned and grown as a result of blogging.  My network is expanding all the time; now it's time for me to work on local connections, with the folks in my district. In August I am doing a professional development session in my district on blogging.  I've billed it as 'Blogging 101; Blogs as Professional Development Tools'.  If the session fills up I'll have 20 people in a computer lab for the day (5 hours).  Ideally I'd like to have the participants sign up for Google Reader, read and start commenting on blogs, and finally set up their own blogs in Blogger (for ease of use).  If I can I'd like to have some folks Skype in on the session to help illustrate the power of the network.  My goal is to introduce teachers to blogging as a way to enhance their professional practice. This is not a session on how to get students blogging. 

I'd Like To Pick Your Brain
If this was your session how would you run with it?  Do you have an "aha!" moment to share or a golden resource?  What is the most valuable thing you've learned in your blogging journey?  My plan is to do a follow up post with everyone's suggestions (she says optimistically :) ), hopefully to act as a resource for others who might be considering running a similar session.  

Share and Share Alike
Tech Pro-D Tools is a blog I set up to support professional development sessions that I am involved in.  I'll be running the 'Blogging 101' session from that blog--posting links, resources, how-tos, and tasks there.  I hope that it will be helpful not just to the session participants, but to others too. 

Again, if you have any suggestions, ideas, links etc, I'd love to hear from you, no matter if you've been blogging since before it was called that, or if you just started yesterday :-)

Image: Cyan Brain by bebop717

Thursday, June 5, 2008

My Quest to Kill Fewer People at My Presentations.

Earlier this week my colleague, Jodie Reeder, and I held a transition meeting for the students who will be entering grade 8 at our school next year. Our school is a little different as it is a distributed learning school--think correspondence/home schooling but within the public school system. We offer K-12 with an elementary (K-7) section and a high school (8-12) section. We've found that our students often have difficulty with the jump from grade 7 to grade 8, thus the transition meeting. This post isn't so much about the meeting, as the process of putting together the presentation--without any needless PowerPoint deaths...

My Well of Inspiration

Jodie and I spent a lot of time considering what we wanted to convey at the meeting; then it was my job to put together the presentation. Well, lately I've been trying to learn how to put together a really good presentation, or at the very least one that doesn't end up with me had up on charges of 'Death by PowerPoint'.

I've watched the very helpful and humorous video by Alvin Trusty How to Create a Great PowerPoint Without Breaking the Law. I've been to a number of presentations on the brain and learning where the key ideas were that images and (limited) text produce the most learning. I've also been influenced by Dean Shareski and his quest to help people improve their PowerPoint presentations and to make them bullet free :-) (just type in PowerPoint in the search box on Dean's blog and you'll find a wealth of resources on putting together a better presentation). Some other places of inspiration have been ZaidLearn's Is PowerPoint Evil? and Presentation Zen's Brain Rules for PowerPoint and Keynote Presenters.

Armed with the brilliant insights from these sources I set to work. And a lot of work it was! How to say what I wanted to with limited text?! How to find the images I needed (without breaking the law)?

Thank You Flickr and FireFox/Flock!

I've been using Flickr more and more lately for images for my blog and for presentations. I do creative commons searches with keywords for the types of images I'm looking for. It can be time consuming, but also very interesting. Not everyone tags their photos the same way that I would!

Helping in my Flickr search was a Firefox short cut that I'd read about. I forgot to bookmark the original post where I learned about this shortcut (dumb, dumb, dumb!) This blog post by Ted Carnahan, though, explains how you can use an interesting feature of Firefox bookmarks to help simplify searches you regularly perform on sites like Flickr, YouTube and a host of others. The long and the short of it is that now if I want to search Flickr using Firefox (or Flock) I can just type fcc and a space and then the term I want to search in the address window of my browser and bingo! I have my personalized search of Flickr Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs licensed photos. Yippee! Want a photo of an apple--I'll just type "fcc apple" and viola--lots of photos that have been tagged with apple. I didn't have to be in Flickr already, pretty neat.

So You Couldn't Make it to the Presentation--No Problemo!

It took me a lot of time to build the presentation, but I knew that if I did a good enough job I could use it again next year and I could post it on the school website for those folks that missed out. (One student missed it because she wasn't told--apparently me speaking to her personally by phone and confirming her e-mail address and then sending the info didn't count...) The problem is that if you follow one of the great pieces of advice on doing really good presentations--limit your text--it doesn't come across very well on the web. Out of context, the wonderfully apt images may not make sense and your meaning is lost.

Slidecasting to the Rescue!

There is a way to produce a presentation that works live and on the web. It does take a little more work, but so would producing two entirely different presentations, no? SlideShare allows you to synch audio with your slide presentation to produce a slidecast. I've posted on how to do this here. Basically, I narrated the slides using Audacity (a free cross platform sound editor), uploaded my presentation to SlideShare, uploaded my audio (mp3) to a podcast site (in my case Internet Archive), then on SlideShare I linked the project to the URL for my audio, and then used SlideShare's slidecast editor to synch the audio with the slides. OK, so that's a lot of steps, but it sounds more onerous that it was, really.

Without Further Ado...

So, after all that build up I don't really want to post the presentation. I can promise you that it will not go viral. But it is what it is and if you're interested in seeing a slidecast, why not this one? If you are interested in how to prepare high schoolers and their parents for the world of distributed learning, check it out. If you'd just like to answer the question "why does she have a photo of bran muffins in a transition presentation?" then this is the slidecast for you! If you can't view the embedded slidecast in your reader, then here's the link. You can make the slide cast full screen and you can press the arrows to jump ahead in the show, if for example you are only watching to answer the burning muffin question ;-)

Your Turn

I've never podcasted before, so yes, I need to get a better mike.  If you podcast, perhaps you could let me know what some good (and free) sites are for hosting podcasts/mp3s.  I have used Internet Archive a few times, but I'm willing to try others.

What are your favourite presentation tools and/or resources?  Do you find slidecasts a useful way to get information?  Do you or would you consider slidecasting?

Suggestions on how to improve my presentation skills are also welcomed.

Thanks for reading, and if you watched my slidecast, double thanks!

Post Script

As far as I know, no one has died as a result of watching the above presentation.  I will keep you updated if this information changes.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Enough Text Already!

Give me pictures! Give me audio! Video would be great too!

Day 26

The task for Day 26 of the 31 Day Comment Challenge is to investigate using multimedia for a richer commenting experience. I decided to follow Kevin's lead and try out Sketchcast. I had bookmarked Sketchcast a few months ago and this seemed like a good time to try it. Here are my reflections on how the 31 Day Challenge has impacted my blogging world (here's the link if your reader doesn't show the embedded Sketchcast below).

I have seen the use of multimedia in the comment section of blogs before.  Some will allow video, like this example from Dean Shareski on using Riffly.  Other folks, like Jeff Utecht, provide for webcam or audio commenting.  I've posted before on video use in blog posts and comments here; basically I find that I enjoy short, get to know the blogger videos.  Otherwise I generally prefer text as I can scan, re-read, and focus in depth on the parts of the message that interest me.  I think that talking head videos do not add a lot to the message; although you do get a better sense of what the blogger is like, which can strengthen your sense of connection with that person.

Why Sketchcast?

I haven't explored Sketchcast that much, but one of its strengths is that it allows you to illustrate your points, not just explain them verbally.

You Have The Final Word...

What do you think about using other media for comments?  Perhaps you'd like to leave your comment as a Sketchcast, or a VoiceThread, or a podcast...  I don't have any fancy media plugins for my comments, but you could do what I did on Kevin's post; I made my Sketchcast, then left a link to it in the comment section of Kevin's post.  I look forward to hearing from you in whatever you see fit!  You could cheat, like I did, and use your comment for the basis of your post for Day 26...

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Is There A Late Policy? Getting Caught Up On the 31 Day Comment Challenge.

Ok, so I'm a little behind in the 31 Day Comment Challenge. This post should really be for the Day 7 Task; Reflect On What You've Learned So Far, but I'll see if I can cover all the tasks I've completed to date.

Ahead Even Though I'm Behind

So far I would say that the Comment Challenge has been a huge success for me. For the Day 1 task, I said that I probably commented on blogs about five times a week. Flash forward to today and my coComment account tells me that over the last 17 days I've tracked 23 conversations--on some of these I've left multiple comments. In addition, for the first 10 days I didn't realize I had to click 'Track' each time I left a comment (I thought it would automatically track when I commented--oops). I wish I had a better idea of how much I'm commenting, but I would estimate that I now make at least 3 comments a day, which is a big improvement for me, though I know it pales in comparison to the commenting heavyweights.

Not only am I commenting more, but I am trying to connect with the people who comment on my blog, or leave trackbacks. As a result I'm being exposed to a lot of new people and ideas.

Is It Cheating If I Peak At What They Wrote?!

I've been learning a lot by reading other 'challengers' posts on the different daily tasks. It is interesting to see how others are dealing with the Day 11 task, Write a Comment Policy. Some folks, like Kevin, didn't have a policy before this task and now do. Others, like Sarah, had a policy and have decided to change it a bit. Still others, like Sue, are wondering if they really even need a policy. I haven't written a policy yet, but I think I'll take more of a 'how to' approach, rather than a detailed policy on what I'll allow and not allow on my blog. Something to the effect of "play nice" and "spam will be deleted" may suffice for the policy part.

Homework Check Time

Days 1 - 3: done and posted here.

Day 4: Ask A Question In A Blog Comment--I've been doing more of this lately. My questions haven't been very deep, more along the lines of "how do you _____?" It has helped me to engage more with bloggers and commenters and hopefully some deep questions will start to spill forth...

Day 5: Comment On A Post You Don't Agree With--I found a post by Clay Burell; I didn't disagree with his post, but I did disagree with what some commenters to that post had to say. I really was torn as to whether I should comment or not. The post and comments were discussing science, in particular Darwin's Theory of Natural Selection, and religion. I hemmed and I hawed, but I eventually decided to stay out of that particular quagmire; in a debate like this I just didn't feel that I was going to change any minds. There are some issues that people don't just don't flip flop on.

Day 6: Engage Another Commenter in Discussion--I've sort of melded this task with Day 4's and have basically asked other commenters questions relating to their comments. Again, this has helped me to connect with and learn from others.

Day 7: Reflect On What You've Learned So Far--this task asks for three lessons learned. Lesson #1, check out the blogs of the people who take the time to comment on or trackback to your blog. Lesson #2, try to engage the blogger and other commenters by asking questions. Lesson #3, remember to click 'Track' when leaving a comment :-)

Day 8: Comment On A Blog Outside Of Your Niche--ok, so here's where the wheels start to fall off the bus. The thing is I like my niche (and I don't even mind if you say it neesh or nitch). Having said this, I have written about stretching my world view. However, it has been much easier to add a range of news outlets to my iGoogle page than it has been to find a blog outside of my niche and comment on it. I do comment on a triathlon blog, and I am not involved in the sport. Is it cheating if the blog is my sister's? Ok, must work harder on this task.

Day 9: Should We Be Commenting On Blogs?--done and posted here.

    Report Card

    Claire needs to learn to apply herself. She tends to focus on those tasks which appeal to her, and minimize the importance of the tasks which put her outside of her comfort zone. Yes, she is commenting more, but at this rate it will be July before she is done.

    The Wrap Up

    For most of this post I've focussed on the commenting aspect of this challenge, however, I'm finding that my posting is improving as well.

    Prior to the challenge my post mode was 3 posts a month; this will be my fourth post this month and it is only just half over. My writing is also improving. I'm trying to convey information in an organized, thoughtful and sometimes humorous way. Knowing that there are 126 other people doing this challenge, I've tried to make my post titles enticing. No straightforward 'Day 7: Reflect on What You've Learned So Far' titles for me--I need a title that draws you in. But beware! My first post It's Day 1 Baby! got me my second only spam trackback and it was to Pregnant Celebrities (or some such thing). The celebrities part must have been all the fabulous bloggers I linked to in the post ;-) The pregnant part must have come from my title. Lesson learned--no babies in titles.

    So yes I'm behind, no I'm not stressing, and yes I am learning.

    Final Question

    If you are doing the challenge too, which task have you found the most difficult, or the one you've dreaded the most? Thanks for reading!

    Images: Crossing the finish line with my sister, Homework by Gollygeedamn, Albert Bowles report card E. St. Louis Juniour High by Liz Castro
    Blogged with the Flock Browser

    Tags: , ,

    Saturday, May 10, 2008

    Comments On? Comments Off?

    Have you ever gone to a new blog, read a really interesting post, and wanted to comment only to find that comments were not allowed? Well the task for Day 9 in the 31 Day Comment Challenge is to consider whether we should be commenting on blogs.

    external image comment_challenge_logo_2.png

    The Argument Against Comments

    The first time I came across a blog that did not allow comments I was aghast! On my blog comments were my riason d'etre. What was wrong with this guy? If only I could give him a piece of my mind...

    After cooling off a bit I noticed that the owner of this blog (Charles Nelson) had clearly articulated why he does not allow comments. The gist of his message, which you can read here, was that he, like most people, likes comments. The problem is when they simply agree with him he feels he is not really learning. And when people disagree, "they are likely to dash off their disagreement without chewing on it and thinking it through. So, I might learn a little, but not as much as I would from a thoughtful and measured response." So Mr. Nelson prefers to use trackbacks.

    I've just given a brief summary of Mr. Nelson's reasons, and I really suggest you read the whole thing. He also has a whole series of posts on this topic.

    The Argument For Comments

    For me, the comment section of a blog is a place to meet people. It is like the staffroom of a collegial school where you can hammer out ideas, enjoy some laughs, and occasionally (depending on the blog and on the staffroom ;)) agree to disagree. Sometimes commenters head off in a different direction, and that's interesting too. Relaxing in the Staff Room

    It is interesting how some posts really touch a nerve and generate a huge number of responses. This one by Will Richardson has garnered 68 blog reactions and 166 comments to date. What could someone possibly add to the conversation at comment 166? I don't know, but they must feel pretty stongly to add their 2 cents worth.

    Where Do I Stand?

    I understand Charles Nelson's points about not wanting to just have people agreeing with what you write and about wanting thoughtful responses. Even if a person were to take the time to write a thoughtful blog post, in lieu of a comment, how often do you check out the trackbacks? If the trackback is on one of my blog posts-of course I check it out. If I go to the comment section of someone else's blog it is rare that I click on the trackbacks. Now maybe that's just me and maybe I need to change this behaviour, I don't know. I also find that though a lot of times commenters agree with a post, they often bring a new perspective or can offer some information so that I am still learning from what they have to say.

    Sameer Vasta, in pondering whether to enable comments on his blog writes, "So I think this is what I’m going to do: I’m going to enable comments on posts where I feel there can be some good discussion. On posts where I just want to have a bit of a personal soapbox, I’ll shut them down. That way, I get the best of both worlds." I'm not so sure that the 'personal soapbox' posts would benefit from a lack of comments. I'm sure there are certain times when disabling comments might come in handy.

    To wrap up, I like commenting, I like reading comments. For me, comments are an integral part of a blog. They help me connect to others, and to learn from them.

    Final Questions

    When would you see the need to disable comments? Do you check out trackbacks on other people's posts? Why or why not?

    Images: 31 Day Comment Challenge Logo, Relaxing in the Staffroom.

    Friday, May 9, 2008

    Comment Pet Peeve

    So, you have a blog with Blogger/Blogspot/Google and you're looking forward to lots of great conversations on your blog. Here's one thing that many people overlook that could be hampering their ability to get the conversations going.

    Default Comment Permissions

    When you first set up your Blog on the Blogger platform the default setting is to only allow people with Blogger or Google accounts to comment. So when a person clicks on the comment link, this is what they'll see:

    Comment box

    A lot of people are not going to be that interested in commenting if they have to sign up for an account. Or, if you're like me and have a Blogger account, but wish to link to your blog on another platform, it is just annoying. By having your blog comments set like this you are making it harder for some people to comment and join in the conversation.

    How to Change Your Settings

    To change your settings first you need to go to your Dashboard and click on 'Settings'.

    Blogger Dashboard

    Here's what you'll need to do next:

    1. Select the 'Settings' tab.

    2. Select 'Comments' from the menu.

    3. Under 'Who Can Comment?', select 'anyone'

    Set Comments

    After making these changes, here's what your readers will see when they decide to comment.

    All can comment

    If you are concerned about anonymous comments you could enable comment moderation and put a disclaimer on your blog that anonymous comments will not be posted :-) Easy!

    Another Plug for the Comment Challenge

    Part of what prompted me to post this was that I've been participating in the 31 Day Comment Challenge and so have been visiting a lot of blogs that are new to me. Amongst these blogs I've encountered some with the 'Google only' commenting.

    Final Thoughts

    If you come across a blog with 'Google only' commenting, maybe you can link them to this post. If you think there are some very good reasons for sticking with 'Google only' commenting I'd like to hear them. Thanks for taking the time to read this!

    Addendum #1: and if anyone can tell me how to insert images so that the text doesn't get all garbled up--I'd love to hear from you too!

    Addendum #2: Thanks to the great comments by Sue Waters and Rick Biche, I've been able to fix most of my image and text wrapping problems.  Thanks you two!  Sue has since posted Are Your Comment Settings Making it Harder for Readers to Comment?  where she has some more great suggestions, especially for  WordPress/Edublogs bloggers.

    This is cross-posted on my other blog, Tech Pro-D Tools.

    Thursday, May 1, 2008

    It's Day 1 Baby!

    So here we are with Day 1 of the 31 Day Comment Challenge and today's task is to do a commenting self-audit. We've been asked to answer the following questions:

    1. How often do you comment on other blogs during a typical week?

    2. Do you track your blog comments? How? What do you do with your tracking?

    3. Do you tend to comment at the same blogs or do you try to comment on at least one new blog per week?

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    My Typical Week
    I probably leave about 5 comments per week on average. I have about 38 blogs in my feed reader (see the blogs I read in the left sidebar), plus I subscribe to Stephen Downes' OLDaily where he gives brief summaries and commentary on blog posts that have caught his eye in the field of educational technology. Then, of course, there are all the posts I find out about from my Twitter network :-). I think the reason that I don't leave more comments in a week is three-fold:

    1. I often just don't have the time. Writing does not come easily to me, so even a four or five sentence comment is pretty time consuming. Hopefully as I blog and comment more, the writing will start to flow a little easier.

    2. Many of the blogs I subscribe to are pretty popular and by the time I read the post there are already 20 plus comments--by then I either don't have time to read all the comments (and as Gina Trapani says in her guide to blog comments, if you can't read the whole thread, then don't comment!) or I have nothing new to add.

    3. Some of the blogs I subscribe to don't necessarily invite comments. By that I mean that they are primarily a place to disseminate information. An example would be David Warlick's 2¢ Worth. He does a lot of conferences and live blogs many of the keynotes that he attends. I love reading his stuff, but he generally does not write posts that provoke comments.

    Tracking My Comments
    About a month or so ago I signed up with co.mments after reading a post about it by Sue Waters. It is easy to use, I just click on my 'Track co.mments' bookmark when I want to follow a comment thread. New comments are automatically sent to my Google Reader account via RSS. I use co.mments when I comment on a post and want to hear new comments. I also find it useful if I get to a post when it is brand spanking new and has not comments yet. I may not have anything to say yet, but I want to find out what others think about the post.

    To participate in this challenge, I signed up for coComment. Today is my first day using it and I'm intrigued by the groups feature. I'm interested to see what else coComment has in store for me.

    What do I do with my tracking? Not much. I mean I read the new comments, but that's about it. I'm curious as to what others do with their tracking. With coComment you can post your most recent comments on your blog. For the purposes of this challenge I think I'll try adding that feature. Hopefully it will help draw other people into conversations they might not have otherwise found.

    Do I Get Around?!
    I definitely do not comment on a new blog every week. This is not out of any sort of exclusiveness; I just am not a prolific commenter to begin with. There are a few blogs that I comment on regularly; here they are and the reasons I have for commenting on them.
    - Sue Waters (Mobile Technology in TAFE and The Edublogger ): Sue's TAFE blog was one of the first blogs that I came across that I found to be really useful as I was starting out in blogging. Sue writes a lot of 'how to' kind of posts and the way she writes invites comments. She is also so generous in responding to comments and to questions. She subscribes to my blog and I know that there's a 50/50 chance that she will comment on each of my new posts. She is a wonderful mentor and is always encouraging other edubloggers to welcome new bloggers on the scene. It is not surprising that she is one of the co-conspirators in the 31 Day Comment Challenge!

    - Michele Martin (The Bamboo Project Blog): I think the first post I read of Michele's was Six Reasons People Aren't Commenting On Your Blog. This was early in my blogging career (4.5 months ago, ha!) and I was worried about the lack of comments on my blog. Michele hands out great advice and poses thought provoking questions. She is also extremely generous in responding to comments, both in the comment section of her blog and in e-mails. Again, it is not surprising that she is another of the co-conspirators in the 31 Day Comment Challenge!

    - Sarah Stewart (Sarah's Musings ): I don't know how I found Sarah's blog--I suspect that I read a comment of hers on Sue Waters' blog and decided to check her out. Sarah is a mid-wife doing her PhD in New Zealand. Her PhD involves researching the use of e-mentoring (mentoring provided by email) as experienced by aged care nurses and allied health professionals. Though I am not a mid-wife, I am an avid reader of Sarah's blog. She is constantly trying out and reporting on her experiences with web 2.0 tools. I'll often read one of her posts and decide that it's high time that I tried out tool X, Y, or Z too. It was after I wrote this post that Sarah and I both took the Twitter plunge (after being kindly mocked by Sue Waters).

    - Clay Burell (Beyond School): Clay is an eloquent writer, he writes a lot of posts, he's passionate about what he writes, and his posts can be very provocative. He writes about what matters in education and sometimes I read and I am just compelled to comment. Clay is also is very active in the comment section; replying and adding to others' comments.

    Because I know what a rush it is to get comments on my blog, I always check out brand new blogs that I hear about and leave a comment. Unfortunately a lot of folks who start up a blog get discouraged and the first post I comment on ends up being the only post (gosh I hope I'm not cursed ;-) )

    So, if I look my commenting behaviour I think the following things become evident:

    • - I comment when I am thankful for a great tip.

    • - I comment when I know that I have something new to offer to the conversation.

    • - I comment when I know that my comment will be responded to--that I will be part of a conversation.

    • - I comment when my thinking is challenged.

    • - I comment when I want to encourage new bloggers.

    If you are new to blogging, get out there--read some blogs and start commenting. You do have something to add to the conversation. If people are intrigued by your comments they'll check out your blog, and maybe leave a comment of their own :)