Student Blogs in the Junior School

My final project was to get Student Blogs throughout the Junior School. I was inspired by earlier success with this in Grade 1 and excited to move forward.

What I didn’t anticipate was that firstly, our iPads would be out of commission due to a major glitch when we shifted to the Volume Purchase Program for apps. And secondly, that I would become pregnant, which in Germany, means you may have to leave work for three week periods if or when children present with illnesses or diseases.

My extended absences meant that a lot of this work had to occur via email conversations, phone calls, and video tutorials posted to class blogs. It was definitely a challenge to maintain the interest and enthusiasm as well as the momentum of skill development, when I was not able to push into classes and support students and teachers.

This project has given me lots to think about when it comes to implementing large-scale change. Most  importantly it reminded me that I need to spend the time on the conversations regarding WHY change is needed and WHY we are choosing to implement something like student blogs. It isn’t enough for it to be a good thing to do, we have to share an understanding of the bigger picture.

I think if I were to do this project again, I would focus on a more specific topic. This seemed very generic and in working with all the JS teachers, it sometimes felt like I was doing multiple projects depending on where each teacher was at in their own blogging journey.

For some teachers, this project was transformational. For others, less so as they were already set on what their student blogs would look like. It can be difficult to implement a school-wide project without a school-wide agreement on what the process will be.  For me, it was still something I really believe in and I hope springboards some new learning opportunities when the iPads come back into use. I also learned a lot about my skills as a coach and got some insight into how I can best work with different teachers in our school.

With that said, here is my video explaining the project:

Here is my UBD planner for implementing Student Blogs:

I Got Engaged!

In online communities! 🙂

I am noticing that “community engagement” looks quite different for everyone. Some people are brand new to social media and are just setting themselves up with Twitter and venturing out their first tweets. Others are regulars in Google Hangouts. Others have their own blogging platform previously established and are augmenting this with their Coetail blog.

For me, I fall somewhere in the middle. I started my first blog on February 27, 2011. As my first post explained, it was a forum for me to store my thoughts and findings and digitally keep a record of what was happening in our lives. It was part education/family/crafts/food/funnies/current events.

Just over a year later on March 20, 2012, I started my ‘education’ blog as I wanted to switch my focus from ‘all things’ to ‘all things education’. And a new blog was born. This blog has been a great way to connect with other educators and to highlight the amazing work other people are doing. And another way to spark conversation – such as the recent request I got to participate in a “Dogs with Jobs” podcast about dogs in schools after I wrote about my experience in having my dog in my 5th grade classroom for 6 weeks back in 2012.

Screen Shot 2015-11-17 at 11.33.54

I learned a lot about linking my posts to Facebook and Twitter and started to think about the network I wanted to cultivate on Twitter. I went back through my followers and removed those who tweeted about their coffee orders and added those who I was reading about, emulating, admiring. The innovators, creators, authors, artists, and ideas people that inspired me. And then I followed the people they followed.

I am not scared of social media or of putting myself out there on this forum. I have had long ‘conversations’ with people I haven’t met in person, like NIST Tech Coach Tosca Killoran about TEDx and PYP Exhibition. Tosca worked at my old school (Bonn International School) and then my other old school (NIST) so we have mutual friends and I feel lucky to “know” her and know that I could ask her anything.  Our first interaction on Twitter led to another conversation via #pypchat and a collaborative conversation with another former colleague, Lara Jensen.

"Meeting" Tosca on Twitter
“Meeting” Tosca on Twitter

 

Collaborating with Tosca and Lara
Collaborating with Tosca and Lara

 

I have had conversations with authors whom I adore, who’s books have moved me and I tell my kids about them to help them realize that they can reach out too. Lynda Mullalay Hunt and Austin Kleon are two who are so generous in the way they share themselves online with their readers.

Fan Girl!
Fan Girl!

 

I am not afraid to call out people I admire on my blog. To respond to ideas and to question them – isn’t that what we want from our kids too? My respect for people only increases when they take the time to respond to my wonderings – as was the case when Tony Wagner, an amazing innovator, was the Keynote at a Standardized Testing Conference…what???

What are you talking about, Tony Wagner?
What are you talking about, Tony Wagner?

 

I have had friends join COETAIL cohorts and have enjoyed seeing their posts pop up and have these spark conversations about where we both are or find ourselves in our respective careers. Some of these conversations wane between the personal and professional as we seek out advice on what to do next based on where we are now, but all still revolve around the sharing of ideas and innovations. They have also stretched to include people I haven’t met in person but know I am going to connect with someday – and until then, we’ll always have Twitter.

A colleague (and new COETAILER) and a friend I haven't yet met!
A colleague (and new COETAILER) and a friend I haven’t yet met!

 

I love a good #pypchat when I remember it is on and when I am awake at midnight on a Friday (rarely!) a good #satchatoc (less frequent!). I have also made it to a #coetailchat although all of these require me to remember the time they are on! They are definitely well worth attending if you get the chance – and I would definitely recommend playing around with TweetDeck prior to the chat if you hope to keep up!

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#pypchat

 

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#satchatoc

 

#coetailchat
#coetailchat

 

This year I became an Apple Distinguished Educator and a Book Creator Ambassador.  Both of these have opened up further opportunities for collaboration and the sharing of ideas.

#ADE2015
#ADE2015

 

Presenting my ADE Showcase at the ADE Institute in Amsterdam this summer.
Presenting my ADE Showcase at the ADE Institute in Amsterdam this summer.

 

Book Creator on Basecamp
Book Creator on Basecamp
Book Creator on Basecamp
Book Creator on Basecamp

 

Toward the end of the school year, I started a group at my school for teachers interested in discussing Childhood in the Digital Age – an online course from Future Learn.  Not only did this help me connect and engage with educators within my physical learning space, it also helped me connect with other educators virtually.

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So where to from here? All of this takes time and when I have to choose between playing with my sweet 2 year old or Twitter, or going to bed early because I am pregnancy-exhausted or a #pypchat, my daughter and sleep are going to win out!

I still like being connected. And the good thing about being connected online is that you can close the lid, turn of the power, shut it all down. Just because it is there, doesn’t mean you have to be too. I take my hat off to those people who can balance the virtual/real world and maintain a massive presence in both. My involvement is more cyclical and comes and goes like the tides. As my daughter gets older, I am more conscious of not spending time in front of the computer when I could be with her. So I make every effort to dedicate the 4-8pm time slot a “real world” engagement.

Next steps? Through my blog, I was contacted by a teacher from NYC looking to learn more about tech integration and so I will be meeting with her at my school in early December.

Virtual connections coming to real life!
Virtual connections coming to real life!

 

I would love to get into Google Hangouts and more Twitter chats but I also have to keep that balance in mind. This course has been great and sparked connections that I hope will continue after it is all said and done. Already after one post yesterday that highlighted my concern about establishing authentic global connections for students, I will be joining forces with fellow Cohort member, Tom, to cohost an #edchat on collaboration.  Join us for that in the new year!

An upcoming #edchat
An upcoming #edchat

 

For now, I am going to continue to nurture my own blog, linking to Twitter and popping in there as often as I can for sparks of innovation and inspiration. One thing I would say to those who are newer to social media, is to look at some of the date stamps on the images I have posted – none of this happened overnight or even over the course of this COETAIL adventure. It takes a while and I was a lurker long before I was anything else. I stuck around, I began to feed into the community (instead of only taking from it) and I believed in thanking people for sharing their work, showing their art, and contributing to our collective learning.

Project Five Storyboard

Photo by Sonya terBorg
Photo by Sonya terBorg

 

They say when it rains, it pours, and I am wasting no time with this project and synthesising my ideas on where this is all heading and what I am going to need to gather together to make it work.

First stop, I stole a page (literally) from my 2 year old daughter’s drawing and painting book (great paper!) and sketched out a rough plan. I then went back over adding in what I needed footage of, ideas to link back to previous COETAIL posts, and reminders for things I have created that I want to share with you and add to my planner (and possibly the video too).

I am pretty happy with where it is at and I am starting to think that I can pull this all together in time.

Here’s a better look at “the plan” as it stands so far…

Photo by Sonya terBorg
Photo by Sonya terBorg

 

And So It Begins…

Course Five Project. To recap, here is what I had decided on before we left for the summer:

Course Five Project: Student Blogging

Describe the project: What will your students do?

Students in Grades 1-4 would each have an Edublog to which they can publish and organize their learning. The blog will serve as a reflective tool, a space to share digital creations, a way of organizing their learning throughout the year through categories and tags, a digital portfolio of their work that will follow them through the school.

How does this project reflect your learning from COETAIL?

One of the biggest complaints I hear from teachers (since we are not a 1:1 environment) is what do students do with the digital work they have created? Because I believe in students as content creators, I want to take away this barrier so it is no longer applicable.  Many (most?) iOS apps allow for work to be exported to the camera roll and from there uploaded to a blog. My belief is that students have to see that learning exists outside their classroom. By opening up their blog to their community (parents, grandparents, other subscribers approved by parents – we are bound by pretty strong privacy laws in Germany) they can get feedback on their learning from others.  They can also choose the way they best express their learning rather than having to comply with the way chosen by the teacher. More than ever I believe in harnessing the power of technology in ways that move students forward, engage them as thinkers, and promote a life-long love of learning and growing. If nothing else, I want the teachers I work with to see that technology integration doesn’t mean super-gluing a device to a child on their first day of school but helping them make appropriate choices with their productive usage of technology.

What goals do you hope to achieve with this project?

I would like to achieve the following goals:

  • increase creation of digital content by students
  • independence by students in accessing, authoring and organizing their online learning space.
  • embedded digital citizenship skills taught within the context of content creation and blogging

Why do you think this unit is a good possibility for your Course 5 project?

I think this project has a lot of reach. It would encompass learning across the whole school and give us a common goal in terms of how we choose to share and showcase student learning processes and products. I think it would also help students connect the different strands of their learning (single subjects) in order to see the relevance to other learning. It encompasses the ideas of responsibility, curation, creation, and ethical use.

What are some of your concerns about redesigning this unit?

My fourth graders are AWESOME but are leaving for middle school next year. My grade one students will be moving on to Grade Two, with an impressive bank of skills. My biggest concern is that not all teachers see this as being relevant and yet it is a goal of our administration to have a pretty high level of consistency across the grades (thus not appropriate for two of the four classes to blog). We are very lucky with the amount of technology and infrastructure that we have but our school focus next year is on BYOD in the MS/SS and while a large portion of the behind the scenes work is in place (all students get an Edublog upon enrolment, for example) there is still a lot of work to set up EasyBlogJR etc.

What shifts in pedagogy will this new unit require from you?

I am very comfortable with the idea of students both creating and curating content and being in charge of storing and sharing their work digitally.  As with this year, it is going to be a gentle balancing act of supporting, guiding, gently pushing in order to help teachers overcome any contrary ideas they have about blogging. I think making sure WHY we are doing this is clearly articulated to all is going to be huge in the success of the project.

What skills and/or attitudes will this new unit require from your students?

  • growth mindset
  • reflective strategies
  • tech skills: navigating apps and screens to blog independently
  • creation skills: taking great photos, filming each other, thinking of creative ways to express an idea
  • communication skills to share WHY they are blogging about this particular piece/event and how it influences them as a learner

 

So, what has happened?

A lot!

Changes in the technology.

Who knows when they will be ready?! (Photo by Sonya terBorg)
Who knows when they will be ready?! (Photo by Sonya terBorg)

 

This year, we have switched to the VPP program for the purchasing of our apps. This requires a lot of work from the techies at our school through the use of Casper and mobile device management. We purchased 120 new iPad Minis to bring our Junior School iPad count up to about 350 – essentially 1:2 ratio across the school which is awesome. And yet not. Because it is November 16 and they are still not in use.  Not one of them. The problem is with Apple (as they have acknowledged) and they are working with us to solve the issue and find work-arounds to help move things along. Which means that the only technology in use in the Junior School are the MacBooks used by our 3rd and 4th graders.

Changes in me!

We're having a baby! (Photo by Sonya terBorg)
We’re having a baby! (Photo by Sonya terBorg)

 

Two weeks into the school year, I learned that I was pregnant which is super exciting given that we had a pregnancy loss in April, so we were thrilled. In my role as Learning Technology teacher for the Junior School and JS Curriculum Coordinator, I was in a position where a lot of decisions and responsibilities were being tasked my way. In the interests of full disclosure I mentioned my pregnancy to my principal and, due to a recent change in German law (the creation of a Mother Protection Law) I was sent home until further assessment on my immunity levels were established and I could be given clearance to return to work.  I was out from the 30th of September until the 2nd of November.  I was allowed to return to work under the condition that I would have to leave if a student reported an illness or disease.  On the 10th of November, a disease was reported and I am back home until December 2nd.

This project is now going to be a combination of:

  • what has been done in the few short weeks I have been at school this semester
  • the ‘flipped learning’ tutorials I have created to guide students through the blogging process in my absence
  • virtual learning through Skype lessons with some classes
  • sending my husband in to school on my behalf (he often subs at the school) armed with a video camera to capture some footage of kids in action

I am grateful to have the opportunity to really think about a different approach to learning and in fact a lot of my job is now consisting of how best to reach students and support teachers without being physically present. I can tell already that as much as I support a flipped concept, I can definitely advocate that there is nothing like face-to-face to really build relationships and understanding that I am not sure can be transmitted through video.

It is going to be an interesting project and I am looking forward to sharing it with you.