Like Fish to Water

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This summer I’m teaching three weeks of summer school at my new school with my buddy Paul.  During my portion of the class we’re focusing on blogging (and as I quickly found out reviewing how to properly log on to the computer too).  Due to some server issues and getting the laptops set up for summer school, today was the first day we were able to officially blog.  The short delay actually worked out great, giving the students and I a few days to practice online discussions using Moodle.

I am teaching 15 sections of technology elective over the course of a three day rotation.  My students are 6th, 7th, and 8th graders ranging from first year English learners to English-only students completing academic make up. It just so happened that two of my more advanced classes were rotating through tech elective today and I decided to use them as my blogging guinea pigs.  I am familiar with WordPress and Blogger, but we are trying out the blogs and wikis software built in to Mac OSX Server this summer, so there was small learning curve for me.

I am not completely sure why, but the fact you can create blogs with the server software isn’t abundantly clear on the Apple website, but you can.  Its pretty easy and straight forward (Note – I say this NOT being the person who had to set up accounts and fiddle with the server – James and Jon thank you again!).  Adding and customizing content seems to be pretty simple too.  The only quirk I haven’t been able to solve is adding pictures using an image URL rather than uploading a file without having to manually enter HTML.  Strangely, this very common feature of many web 2.0 products doesn’t appear to be available, but I am still searching.  Maybe its hidden?  If you have any experience in this area definitely let me know. (*Note – I can now do this thanks to Jon and James – see comment below).

My plan for summer school is to test out blogging and RSS aggregator software (we’re giving Vienna whirl) so that any willing teachers and students can start blogging next year.  Personally, I’d love to see every student maintaining an individual blog that they use in every class!  After all, we are an Apple 1:1 school, but I’m the newbie so I will try not to be so opinionated.  :-) I know I’ve become a better writer (or at least a more comfortable writer) as a result of blogging.  Its also a great critical thinking activity.

While I’m testing out software I’m also trying out some blogging instructional strategies.  I’d really like to see student blogging move beyond simply being a digital collection of responses to teacher generated writing prompts.  However, I think that may be where it has to start – especially for middle school students.  I am still plotting out the transition from prompts to independent writing.  It may just have to be something I figure out along the way.  Last night I spent a ton of time on Clay Burell’s blog, Beyond School, digging through all of his thoughts.  If you’re interested in student blogging he definitely has tons of innovative ideas and resources.  Make sure you peruse his blog along with his collection of Del.icio.us blogging links (there are 91 of them – so many things, so little time).  One of the best things I found was his description of what makes a good blogger at the bottom of his school’s blogging policy. I couldn’t agree more.

So, how did the first day go?  Well, I think three quick student comments sum it up the best.

  • Five minutes after checking out “good” and “bad” blogs one student asked, “Would it be okay for me to leave a comment and let them know that I like what they wrote?”  We hadn’t even discussed comments yet, so I was pretty excited at her eagerness to share ideas.
  • Our student blogs are available only within the school network.  At the end of the period another student walked up to me and asked, “How do I set up a blog I can use at home? This was pretty cool.”
  • Finally, a third student asked on his way out the door, “Do you think my summer school teacher will mind if I blog when I am done with my assignment?  I want to write more before Monday (when I will see him next).”

Hmm…I’m thinking they took to it…well like fish to water.  I’d say that’s a success.

Joe

Photo: Fish Bowl by Rick Simmons on Flickr

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