Monday, November 9, 2015

Blogging for Engagement

Between course work, regular work, conference preparation, family / parental duties and triathlon training, I appear to have completely abandoned the idea of blogging.  This is not a good thing and I intend to change that starting now.

An interesting question arose in a discussion this week on GAFE (Google Apps for Education) ideas for the classroom.  A member of my grad school cohort suggested they would like to try blogging with their junior high school students.  However, they expressed concern for the students ability to stay on task.

I believe this is one of those moments when you need to take a leap of faith.  Students can surprise you! Especially, if they know their work is going to be published and commented on by their peers or "worse" complete strangers! I've seen it time and again where students panic after pushing Publish. Post or Send.  You've seen it too: "Oh no, I made a mistake!", "Can I get it back?", "Does it really stay on the Internet forever?"  Your students do listen to you - even if it doesn't seem that way - provided you have the conversation.

So how would I approach blogging with a class of junior high students?

  1. Have a conversation about publishing (including copyright and citation) and digital citizenship. Actually have a conversation!  That means not only telling them what you think they should hear but truly listening to your students concerns and addressing them appropriately.
  2. Set expectations.  Explain that you expect them to take their blogging seriously and that they are expected to respond to others post.  Let the golden rule be your guide and do unto others...
  3. Assign topics that are meaningful.  It's great to start off with the "What I did on Summer Vacation / Spring Break" because that's what they know and expect.  But, also give them insightful and important topics to consider.  Have them respond to a news article they read, create a tutorial on one of their hobbies and above all allow them to express themselves!
  4. Facilitate without impediment.  If your students have a tendency to get off task, analyze what is happening.  Are they really off task? Ask why? Are they looking for inspiration? Think about what you do when your mind gets blocked?  I'd guess you back off and do something else for a little while until you feel ready to come back and tackle the problem.  While we may go for a walk, students like to surf.  Blogging should be about personal engagement, self discovery and sharing.  Try not to impede the process.  If a student gets so off task or it becomes inappropriate, treat it for what it is - a classroom management issue and deal with it accordingly.
  5. Let the students own their work.  Once they have a handle on where their passion lies, you'll probably find they want to keep writing on that topic.  Let them! If they are writing about Minecraft or Taylor Swift, it may not be your "thing"; but, it is something they are particularly interested in and they are writing and meeting ISTE Standards for Students as well as a plethora of Common Core State Standards which should please you and your administration!
  6. Share their work! Create a classroom hashtag and let the world know your students have a voice. Post some of their work to your PLN each week and encourage positive feedback from your global colleagues.  This doesn't just apply to blogging but any published work on the web.  When students see "strangers" giving them praise, it boosts moral, self-esteem and encourages further engagement.  It also "keeps it real."  When it's not from someone they see everyday, it can have even more impact.
If you'd like to get started blogging with students I would highly recommend using BloggerEduBlogs or KidBlog.  They all have their special features and pros / cons that you should evaluate before choosing a platform.

As always, if this advice has been meaningful to you, please share it with your PLN on the social networks or leave a response below.

Cross-posted from the JMGubbins96 Reflection Blog

Friday, November 6, 2015

Plan B

A funny thing happened on the way to IETC 2015.  Actually, it wasn't very funny at all.

Wednesday night I went to review my presentation for Thursday morning and realized I had left my power adapter for my primary presentation laptop at the office (which is 3 hours away from Springfield). Fortunately, I had a backup laptop with the proper power adapters ready to go as well as my trusty Chromebook.

Thursday morning I loaded up my presentation on both devices so I could monitor my back channel on my Chromebook.  Halfway though the presentation, the Internet died!  This is a common occurrence at conferences and I had already taken Google slides presentation offline and wasn't at a point where I even needed to switch to screenshots (yup, I had those too).  I continued to move along with the discussion until the laptop decided to BSOD (Blue Screen of Death)! Whoops! Wasn't expecting that.  Quick switch of the laptop from the VGA connection to the projector to the projector's HDMI cable connected to the Chromebook and we are back in business. Eventually, I got to a point in my presentation where I would need Internet and contemplated turning on a hotspot (had one of those too) but it came back just in time and I was able to finish what I hope was a successful presentation.

Day 2 - has to be better than Day 1, right?!  One would think.  But no, the gremlins returned in my presentation about presentations.  First, the projector provided would not mirror my laptop display.  Tech support got it to work; but, then Google Slides wouldn't go full screen properly because of the resolution adjustment to get it working.  Great, that's the way to demonstrate good presentations.   Alright, laptop, let's just avoid a blue screen and we'll be fine.  Right? Right! Wrong.  I'm not sure how it happened because I had run through the presentation many times but a link got misdirected and my browser got hijacked! Beep! Beep! Beep! Quick close that pop-up window! Pop up comes right back.  Disconnect speaker from laptop so it doesn't drive everyone crazy.  Still beeping - shut down laptop and switch to Chromebook which is set to extend instead of mirror.  Of course, I lost my timer on my laptop when all that happened; so, now I've lost track of when the session ends.  Thankfully, I think I had enough resources  to keep interest and the attendees were extremely patient with me as I scrambled to cover as much as I could.  I'm sure the reviews won't be stellar; but, I'm pretty sure everyone left with something new to explore.  You know the saying "never let them see you sweat", don't know how successful I was with that - but I was able to finish.
Moral of this story?! Have a Plan B and in some cases a Plan C or even a Plan D! Just please don't let the Gremlins follow me home!

 I plan on reviewing IETC 2015 once I have a day or two to digest the whirlwind!

For those in my presentation session, the correct link to the site that was Hi-jacked is  My link was somehow missing a character but has been corrected. 

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

New Beginnings

As I sit here in Springfield, preparing for an early morning session at the Illinois Education and Technology Conference, I realized it has been months since my last blog post.  In fact my last post was in February following the ICE Conference.   I've been trying to figure out why that is and the only excuse I have is that over the last few years I have been shifting my focus from tools, which are easy to write a quick post about, to how to assess and analyze the use of those tools to achieve learning targets and engage students.  This is a welcome trend; but, has required a lot of introspection and self-reflection.  I have also taken on a number of new challenges both personally and professionally that have limited my available time for writing carefully considered reflective posts.  I am hoping that my edtech batteries will be recharged and my focus renewed during IETC 2015.  This conference holds a special place in my heart as it is the first conference I had the pleasure of presenting at many years ago! I'm looking forward to connecting and learning with many amazing educators in the next 48 hours and continuing this amazing journey through education and technology with all of you! 
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