using social media to expand the classroom community
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Sometimes you read something and it is so “spot on” that you have to share it immediately. Well, I just stumbled onto this blog post about blogging by Alan Levine called “Blogging as Pointless, Incessant, Barking.”
I’ve been blogging for going on four years now. I don’t exactly recall why I got started, but I think it was due to the encouragement of some folks in my PLN. Now I can’t stop. I’m not blogging because I think I am a talented writer or because I’m building a brand or because my employer makes me. No, I’m blogging for many of the reasons Alan gives in his post, but mainly I’m blogging for me. This is an inherently selfish venture-a means for reflection on my practice and clarifying my thinking. This blog has also become a great digital portfolio for me, one that I am currently offering as a supplement to my resume for another position within my school.
I encourage you to read all of Alan’s post. It is a bit long, but worth it. I can’t say I agree with all his reasons. For example, I typically don’t blog (or tweet) personal stuff.
Finally, I have to share my favorite line from his post:
We have more than enough people writing about the top 50,000,000 ipad apps or the best tools for content curation.
Amen, brother. That is one of my biggest pet peeves from the blogosphere and the twitterverse…
We just wrapped up week two of a new school year, and I just introduced a new group of seniors to blogging. Out of my 37 AP Environmental Science students, only about 6 have ever blogged before. If you are not familiar with my work, I’ve been running class (not individual) blogs for the last three years. In previous posts, I laid out the reasons I why I think every class needs a blog and shared how the blogs are used. Here is a recap:
Why blog? Well, there are a number of reasons I might ask students to blog for the CLASS:
1. To remember or recount what happened in class that day. We call this a “scribe post.”
2. To offer a question about a confusing concept prior to the test. We call this a “reflection post.” Other students are encouraged to answer these questions.
3. To share something neat or a current event. We call these “on my mind posts.”
and other reasons to use a blog include:
4. To debate. Blogs allow a space for responses after each post, and sometimes I require students to participate in a discussion of a topic (like bottled water use).
5. To create a “positive digital footprint.” I think I have a responsibility to help these kids leave a more substantial mark on the WWW besides what they post on Facebook.
I also think this diagram by Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano is a nice summary of the power of blogs:
Click to Enlarge
Image source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/langwitches/7850532162/in/faves-30965214@N03/
As the year unfolds, you will see my new group of students share our learning experience and their thoughts. You can check out either of my class blogs at these links:
APES 5th Period Class Blog 2012-13
APES 7th Period Class Blog 2012-13
*As I have done in previous blog posts, I must give credit to Class Blog-Jedi Master Darren Kuropatwa for this model.
Well, a new school year has started. While I’ve now taught two classes (click on the iPad tag in the tag cloud to explore my lessons learned) with iPad tablets, they are still looked at as pilot programs at my school as we are not 1:1 yet. I am excited that we are getting closer and closer to some kind of 1:1 situation. This year I am integrating iPad2 tablets into an AP Environmental Science class. I will have one section with the devices, and one without. That should provide a nice comparison. I even have some students who will switch sections at the semester who will be able to provide some good perspective. I don’t think one of my goals can be to go paperless this time, but I do think I can put a serious dent in the amount of paper I give out to students. Wouldn’t it be nice to move away from the situation pictured below?
Student notebooks from one year in AP Env Sci class last year!
I can certainly strive to help kids make some gains in efficiency and have them take advantage of the creative power of the devices. The iPads should make our class blogs (see class projects links to right) much easier to build and maintain (versus waiting to blog at home). AP courses (while under revision), are still largely content driven this may a bit more of challenge than my previous projects….stay tuned.
I’ve been on the road during the last week. We take our entire junior class (130 kids) to the Florida Keys this time every year for some experiential learning about mangrove and coral reef ecosystems. If you are still doubtful as to the power of social media in education, check out the trip blog and/or the trip Twitter hashtag #pdskeys11 and/or our UStream channel.
Trip UStream Channel
We used all these social media tools to keep parents up to date on our adventures. Kids send back their version of the trip, and we send ours!
We are about 12 weeks into the school year, and about 9 weeks into an iPad pilot with my environmental science students. I’ve been trying to shift to a paperless classroom, allowing students to use iPads as “digital backpacks” for all their school needs. Here are some highlights and Apps used thus far:
1. Productivity. The kids have been using GeeWhiz! to mange our suite of Google Docs applications. This seems to be going fairly smooth, but there are a few glitches (see collaboration below also). One glitch is students cannot open attachments from mail in Google Docs, so they have to do that in Apple’s Mail application. This app makes it easy for me to distribute the syllabus, project instructions, and supplemental notes. With the exception of tests, I have pretty much gotten rid of paper in this class for this semester!
2. Presentation. I’ve issued several “mini-projects” where kids have to prepare short presentations to help teach topics or review content. The students have used Keynote, Explain Everything, and Pages with little to no training to prepare 3-5 slide presentations that require some research. Here is a short post showing a student projecting from his iPad2 using an interactive whiteboard (Explain Everything). With a iPad VGA adaptor any student can hook up to the projector and share their work!
3. Publishing. One year-long project for this environmental science class is raised rainbow trout for release in a local stream. Students are taking turns writing updates using the WordPress app at our class blog. The WordPress app has been pretty easy to use, but we have been disappointed to learn that we cannot upload video taken with the iPad2 directly into a blog post authored on the iPad2. Maybe future updates of the apps will allow us to do more than just upload images and text. Since we use the tank to teach a 1st grade class on campus about stages of animal development, the blog is one way for that class to stay abreast of changes between their visits. Please check out the blog and give them a few more hits on their ClustrMap.
3. Collaboration. We’ve been using collaborative spreadsheets in Google Docs (via G-Whizz!) to enter water quality data and observations during a ten-week artificial ecosystem experiment. Unfortunately, the mobile version of the Google Spreadsheet is limited in that it only allows one member (has to designed “owner”) of the team to enter data from an iPad. Occasionally, for no obvious reason, the owner of the spreadsheet gets locked out on the iPad also! This does not seem to be an issue with the desktop version.
4. Science Stuff. I have been researching science apps all fall, and have amassed quite a list. Several folks have Google Docs lists going out there and are soliciting app recommendations via Twitter. I’ve only used a few thus far. First, we used the Owl Pellet Activity app from Carolina Biological Supply Company for background info/videos on the owl pellets were were dissecting. After the dissection activity, students used the iAnnotate PDF app to write up their lab findings and analysis questions. Second, we used the Google Earth app to examine the concept of “ecological islands” (fragmented and isolated habitats) within our school grounds and surrounding area. Third, we used the LeafSnap app to attempt to identify some native tree species on campus. This app uses facial recognition software to compare pictures of leaves taken by students to a known database (see below). Neat idea, but students really need some basic training on tree identification and leaf anatomy before using the app. Just like with a Google search, students are apt to go with the first few search results!
Student using LeafSnap to ID a tree
5. Assessment. Thus far, this is a fail for me. I’ve found eClicker and Clicker School apps that could give me the ability to use the iPads as interactive response devices and perhaps for formal assessment. I tried eClicker, but realized too late all iPads needed to be on the same wifi network. Since faculty have a separate wifi network from students, I need to drop to the student mobile network and try again. More on that subject later. If I can find a solid assessment app that lets me have individual student accounts, I might yet eliminate paper from my class.
Of course, I would love to hear from other teachers (esp. science types) on useful apps…
So, last week we learned a little more about the tools on our iPads. I graded lab reports students turned in using iAnnotate PDF-they marked them up using the app, and I made corrections using the same app and emailed them back to the students. We also practiced taking pictures of notes on the board and embedding the images in a unit notebook in the Noteshelf app. Our presentations went better than I expect. Students easily built 5-slide presentations in Keynote (one chose Explain Everything) and then hooked up to our class projector to share what they learned about symbiotic relationships. I have yet to collect some written feedback, but I plan to survey the kids after this unit test. The only paper they will write on this first unit with the iPad is our unit test tomorrow. I have found a new app called eClicker, but I’ve yet to test it. There are a few apps that may allow for testing on the iPad, but I am not trying those yet. We’ve yet to really get the class blog cranked up, but that should start this week. One of the students will author a post about the progress on our rainbow trout rearing project.
Back from a little rest and relaxation, I’m trying to reflect on a 1:1 iPad (1st generation) pilot project. In a recent post, I shared HOW students were utilizing the devices during a science course/trip in Costa Rica. In an another post, I shared some lessons learned (capabilities/limitations) from using the devices with students. Now, I’m trying to reflect on student feedback. There were only six students in the course, so I do not have a lot of data.
I offered students the following prompt in an online survey during out last week in Costa Rica:
Describe what it was like learning to blog with the WordPress app on the iPads. It would be most helpful to know things that are hard to do on the machines. Also, it would be helpful to know suggestions to help me help you.
And, here’s what they (only 4 of 6 responded) had to say….
1. Hard to do fonts, videos.
2. I like it alot but the only confusing thing was how to crop and rotate pictures before putting them on the blog.
3. The WordPress app worked really well although I wish we had time to get used to it before the trip.
4. Blogging is much better than anything we could do on paper. The iPad’s screen size makes it better than one would expect, but it can still get a little cumbersome.
Nothing really earth-shattering there. I was impressed that students took to the app so easily and found work arounds for limitations. For example, some students knew a bit of html code for italics and bold and they taught others who wanted to use those features. As for video, I hear that inserting video is very easy in WordPress with the iPad2 (again, we had 1st generation). Another student figured out you could crop and rotate pictures by rotating the screen view, zooming in on the image, then taking a screenshot. It was helpful to have a keyboard dock when students had to write a lot of text.
Overall, there were not a lot of complaints. Students managed to complete daily travel journal blogs as well as multimedia projects with relative ease. I am amazed at this bird project one young lady produced with an iPad, her digital camera, and a little html code! The students really seemed to appreciate the portability of the devices. Here is one of my favorite images of a student working on a project while half submerged in a hotel pool:
So, are you using WordPress and iPads for student blogging? If so, what issues are you dealing with? Please share! I’m going to try to run a paperless class this coming school year using iPads…
In my last post, I wrote about how I was attempting to use iPads (1st generation) for consuming and creating course content while traveling with six kids in Costa Rica. We are now 8 days into our trip, and I think I’ve learned a thing or two about going 1:1 in a class:
1. Choosing content to upload in advance is key. When we have had “down time,” the kids could view/read “homework.” Then, we could spend our face-to-face time doing more outside.
2. The initial synch-up with the “master Mac” for the class has to be thought through carefully. I noticed, after synching all the iPads, that I was logged into multiple apps. So, if I did not log out the students would be able to purchase apps at the iTunes store or post content under my name at YouTube or access my mail in Google Docs.
3. The students don’t mind the touch screens. I brought one keyboard dock, but the kids seemed content to type away on the touch screen just fine. I was amazed at the amount of content they could generate in a short time.
4. If I gave the students enough to do, they stayed on task. I know they used the iPads to entertain themselves, check Facebook, email home, etc…but when I designated “classwork” time, they went at it. In fact, sometimes I had to tell them to quit!
5. We’ve largely managed to operate the course “paperless.” With the exception of bringing an environmental science text and a lab notebook (for data collected in the field), everything has been done/read at our blog or in Google Docs or in notepad-type apps on the iPads.
6. Trying to run a wiki on iPads was an epic fail. Thus far (June 2011), there does not seem to be any reliable app to author/edit wikis on the iPad.
I’m sure more will occur to me as this trip winds down and I find time to process and reflect at home. I also plan to survey and/or interview the kids on the whole experience. If you have time, check out the work the kids have done at out class/trip blog: http://pdsblogs.org/costarica/
This year I have become fascinated with the idea of iPads as devices that host digital texts, and more recently I have started to see their possibility as “digital backpacks” full of school tools. Currently, I have undertaken a 1:1 iPad pilot while on a trip with students to Costa Rica to study the tropical rainforests here. So, I have a whole series of posts about the planning and realities of trying to make this experiment work.
So, how are we using the technology?
First, we are using it to view content. Yesterday was a travel day. Since we had down time in the airport (flight was delayed) and on the plane (4 hour flight), I gave the kids the following assignment:
- Read Chapter 4 on Ecosystems (in Environmental Science Text)
- Watch uploaded iTunes U lecture on Tropical Rainforest (on iPad
- Watch uploaded iTunes “Ecogeeks” Podcast on Rainforests (on iPad)
Student watching multimedia rainforest presentation on iTunes U
Second, we are using it to research and create content. We have great wireless access at each of our field sites (they are set up to handle American college and university researchers). After dinner last night, we went to a classroom and the students started working on their blog assignments on the iPads. Each has the following assignment:
- Start researching your taxa group (keep track of source pages!)
- Experiment with editing your taxa page in WordPress app
Student authoring blog post on WordPress app for iPad
In addition to these group projects at our trip blog, each student takes turn writing an account of the day. You can read the first account here. I think I’m going to wait a few days before posting again, as the Life 1.0 experience is too amazing to miss. Heading out for a little birdwatching…
Next entries »
Ok, so in my last post I discussed “packing a digital backpack” (loading apps for educational use) for kids in my Tropical Ecology of Costa Rica class…I had them ready to go and had this ambitious plan to have the students post work on a class wiki and journal on the class blog. Well, I figured out the hard way that you don’t get full functionality editing wikis on iPads (see this link to an Apple Support Community discussion on the topic). So, I looked for a few apps to help. I found two (Wiki Edit and Wikid Wikis), but neither worked for me. So, back to the drawing board. I took the plans for the wiki and built extra pages and subpages onto our trip blog. Check out the Major Tax Projects page. Each kid has a major taxonomic group and will build blog posts at the respective page to catalog what we learn. I think this should work. I’ve got two years experience with my AP Environmental Science students building out robust class blogs. We’ll see. Stay tuned…