Reflecting on the Edublogs Teacher Challenge

This week many beginner bloggers, including myself, finished up our 30 day challenge to set up a blog, connect with others and to keep it going.

I wanted to use this final challenge as an opportunity to reflect on all that I have learnt over the last 30 days and look forward to my next challenge.

This challenge was everything that I needed. In my first post as part of the challenge I commented on how I set up this blog over a year ago and it just sat here never being used. I know now why that was.

I needed someone to show me how best to set up the blog and get it working for me in a way that could potentially gain me contacts and readership.

I needed a teacher. Oh, the irony of it all.

This challenge has made me aware that I didn’t realise how limitless the Internet is in being able to provide support and how I did in fact have a network of educators and help right there in front of me but I didn’t know where to look or how to harness what I found in order to get what I needed.

For years, I have been struggling as a teacher, feeling quite alone and often needing help but too afraid to ask for it for fear of being looked at as incompetent. I now feel a sense of encouragement and I feel a sense of relief that I think I have finally found a voice within myself as well as a growing network of educators to support me.  I also feel quite silly because I never thought to look out in the universe in the way we have as part of this challenge. Especially considering I’m a Generation-Y-er. Isn’t that a given for us? Go to the computer first for answers?

I’m also reminded how my students must feel sometimes. I really did feel like I was walking in their shoes for the first time in many years.

Much of what I have learnt I am glad I can now share with my colleagues at school and also with my students. Some of these things that I have found invaluable include: how to effectively set up a blog, how to write good, engaging posts, reading posts through Google Reader, the importance of comments and commenting, the difference between pages and posts, digital identity, different types of web browsers (like Firefox not just IE8!) creating an RSS feed and using Feedburner, image use and creative commons as well as embedding other media, categories and tags and building readership through Twitter.

Most important of all has been and will continue to be the sharing of ideas, thoughts, opinions, successes and failures and the learning that we have gained from it. Also, that those opinions are valued and appreciated by the blog author and their community.

One of the reasons I like being a teacher is because I think teachers as people are very giving, positive, supportive people. I’ve met many teachers who, even if they absolutely hate their job, they will still offer you some advice, resources, an ear to listen to your woes etc.

For me now, the challenge is to continue posting. At least twice a week. That’s the plan anyway. My fear when I originally started the blog was that I didn’t have confidence to express my opinion. I didn’t feel like I deserved to have a voice because what did I know? I was only a beginning teacher. Now, I feel just a little more confident. Confident in the knowledge that it is OK for beginning teachers to have a voice. The blog has a focus, a purpose. My opinions, thoughts and ideas may not be something that everyone agrees with but I’m glad people respect this space and want to help me gain a better understanding of the things I don’t know.

Thanks to Sue Waters and her team at Edublogs for sharing their knowledge with me, us. To those new and experienced bloggers from the Challenge who have visited my blog over the past month, thank you and please, come again 😉

What has your Teacher Challenge experience been like? If you didn’t participate, what do you think of being offered free online professional development for teachers? Leave a comment below.

Image Credits:

15-06-10 Lets Go I Want To Go All The Way To The Horizon ~ Explored Front Page :), by Bethan, Attribution – NonCommercial-No Derivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

In Bed with Media

It’s late on Friday night. I’m in bed. I have just survived the first day back at school for teachers and I’m exhausted from:

a) having to wake up before the sun does,

b) dealing with the abhorration that is starting my working week on a Friday and

c) listening intently to an avalanche of information about the expectations for the new school year.

I’m also thinking:

a) did the holidays even happen? and

b) when am I going to find time to complete  the Edublogs Kick Start Activity 6 – Embedding Media whilst attempting to apartment-hunt, do my laundry and grocery shop for the week?

I’m staring at my laptop across the dim room thinking, “Maybe I could just bring it into bed with me and I can be cosy and comfortable and do my activity that way…”

I’m sure many of you are feeling similarly conflicted about how to manage your working schedule with that of families and other commitments. For me, it is something I’m quite eagerly in search of. Ways in which we can manage our lives and keep our minds calm. At the above thought I promptly said to myself, “Are you mad? Why do I even have my laptop in the room?” One thing I certainly would never do is bring my laptop into bed with me. However, the temptation is there. Some of you, unlike me, may have happily taken your laptop to bed with you. You may even think I’m barking mad because I’m not doing it more often. Enjoying a wild romp in bed with media and technology.

Lying there, staring into the blackness, trying to calm my mind after the days chaos, this laptop temptation did also make me consider how our students may also feel. Particularly at the beginning of a new school year (think Year 7’s) or around exam time . Many of our students are under similar pressures. Often these expectations can be trying to maintain good academic grades as well as play a team sport, learn a musical instrument, maybe maintain a part-time job, have some sort of social life (OK, a rather large social life) oh and then, maybe eat and at the very least sleep for at least 8 hours a day.

Both us as teachers and our students are making choices on what to prioritise in our lives and technology is certainly making the maintenance of our social lives a little easier, but it can become unhealthy. Students seem to be saturated by the availability and ease of technology and the need to use it and consume it at all hours of the day which in turn is affecting their physical social contact and contact of any other kind that requires them to leave their computer screens.

I’m not suggesting for a second that blogging or any other use of the computer is anti-social or detrimental to your health. Quite the contrary. I believe it is tremendously rewarding and enjoyable to connect to people through common interests. I wouldn’t be doing this Challenge if I didn’t think so. Similarly, it is OK to chat to your mates on Facebook or tweet an update about that cute guy on your favourite TV show. I’m not advocating for anything in particular other than balance. I’m not here to discuss cybersafety.

I guess I just wanted to make this post not only about the media I have embedded into it but to remember that as teachers I feel we also have a responsibility to ensure our students are maintaining a balanced lifestyle with plenty of sleep, healthy eating and drinking, safe social habits online and when in physical human contact with others. I can’t really believe I have to distinguish the two!

The above video just reminds me that it is important for us as teachers to model the enthusiasm we feel when we meet up with friends, read a new book, go for a walk or discover something new. For us to encourage parents to ensure mobile phones and laptops stay out of their bedroom, that they talk with their kids about their day, not feeling like technology is alienating them from their son/daughter, that it is OK to embrace it and use it but to also  just connect with them daily, face to face and to really listen, share and care.

In reviewing the tools I have used for embedding, YouTube was very simple and easy to embed. I became confused between Wallwisher and Answer Garden because I thought Answer Garden didn’t allow anyone to add a suggestion and was simply a picture of suggestions made during a class and uploaded to Flickr. Alas, I was wrong and inserted a Wallwisher thinking this was the case but I think I’ll try Answer Garden in the future. The difficulty I had was inserting a poll. I think it would’ve worked better in the side bar above the links rather than in a post but I wasn’t sure how to do this and embedding the code into the theme page confused me. Does anyone know how to do this and would like to share?

Also, in what ways do you ensure your students are maintaing balance? What strategies do you have on a whole-school level? Do you feel we do enough as classroom teachers? Is it our responsibility at all? Share your thoughts in the comments or add to my Wallwisher.

http://www.wallwisher.com/embed/balancestrategies

Image Credits:

Photo “Basking in the Glow” by pmarkham under the Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Video: “Is Technology Weakening Relationships?” by MsAshbrown, 2/9/2009.

My Relationship with Images

This is me. This is me all last week. This is me trying to do Edublogs Teacher’s Challenge Kick Start Activity 4 and Kick Start Activity 5.

As you can see from the picture above, Images and I are just not friends. We have this delicate relationship. Images likes to be moody, temperamental, difficult and just down right stubborn. Images doesn’t listen. Images doesn’t hear my needs preferring instead to do what it wants. My relationship with Images has become quite torn. We’re at crossroads. Do we continue down the path of stress, anxiety, loss of sanity or do I make a break and run?

I prefer the latter, simply because I’ve vowed this year to get confident with Web 2.0 tools and to become a much more active Blogger. My relationship with Images is just one hurdle in this new challenge.

Learning about RSS and creating my Avatar last week was tough. Task 4 has been the hardest for me so far and I really didn’t think it would be at all. It was fiddle-y and draining. I knew vaguely what RSS was but had never really used it because I really hadn’t read that many blogs until I started doing this challenge. I’m still learning all the functions of Google Reader but it seems, so far, to be a good platform in which to read everything. It keeps everything in the one place. It will certainly make it easier. Visiting one site instead of all your favourite sites is a real plus.

Choosing the blogs to put into my reader has been exhausting. I looked through all of them on the Edublogs Award site (and I literally mean every. single. one.) and was totally amazed at the quality of the blogs. I am enjoying reading them and discovering more and more blogs as the days go on. The Discussion Question asked us how we thought RSS could be used with students. At the time, I really wasn’t sure because it was all very new to me. Now though, having had some time to think about it, I think it could be a fabulous way to encourage students to read. As a Drama/English teacher, using blogs would not only allow students to connect with each other but they would be reading things that are of interest to them whilst at the same time learning about language functions.

The thing I found hardest was creating my Avatar! I’ve used pictures of favourite musicals for years which I feel is representative of my interests in some ways but when I read Sue’s tips about creating a “positive digital identity”, something that identifies you online, I stopped and really thought about it. Did my avatar really represent me? I tried Mr Picassohead and it frustrated the hell out of me. I’m no Picasso that’s for sure. Then I remembered creating a Simpson’s avatar a while back so I went back there and tried again. I wanted something that captured my black frizzy hair and I think The Simpsons avatar doesn’t do too badly. I’m not even that huge a fan of The Simpsons but I guess I just felt it captured me best. I struggled so much with the saving and cropping in MSPaint and even though I changed it to 97×97 pixels it still seems a bit grainy to me.

That’s another thing I’ve noticed with this week’s challenge about enhancing posts with images. The graininess of images. I mucked around in Picture Manager resizing my photos and mucking around with effects only to find that the picture wasn’t particularly clear and rather small. Perhaps it was just the photo I had chosen but I can’t say I liked my effort.

I’ve included my crappy looking photos to show you that this has all been a process that I am still ironing out all the kinks to.

I didn’t know Creative Commons existed so that has been really interesting to learn about. I have struggled however with trying to insert images from Creative Commons into my posts using the right click “Copy Image URL” function. Thus, Images and I not being on the best of terms with each other at the moment. I think there might be another woman – the computer operating system. I have no proof yet though*.

Looking at the sites available to create your own images has been such an eye opener because I really didn’t know so much fun stuff was available. Hopefully, as a result of my blog being an enormous success, this will be me this year:

All in all a tough challenge but I learnt a whole heap. I’m glad there are sites out there like Creative Commons that make it easier for us to access images for our blogs without breaching copyright. I think it’s an excellent resource in itself to teach students about plaigiarism and the need to acknowledge other’s work. I don’t know if I’m that keen to put my own images into blog posts just yet.

Images and I need to take some time to heal and work on moving forward.

*Sue has since confirmed for me that is was “another woman” stuffing up my ability to use Creative Commons images. I have since learnt about Firefox. Who knew that you didn’t have to use IE to browse the web? Not me, that’s for sure.

Image 1: Photo by pollyalida licensed under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Image 2: Created in Crappy Graphs @ http://crappygraphs.com

Image 3: “Karla O” avatar created @ http://www.simpsonsmovie.com/main.html?cid=us

Image 4: “My Name In Lights”. Copyright Karla O. 2011.

Image 5: Fake TIME Magazine Cover, Created @ http://www.fakemagazinecover.com

Jack Black – God of Teaching?

Even Jack Black struggled with the blackboard.

Most of  us remember School of Rock. Jack Black as the wanna be rock star who poses as a substitute teacher at an expensive private school who turns the class into a rock band. What’s interesting, is how he does it. It’s not all about the blackboard and taking copious amounts of notes. The kids are familiar with this but once they discover that they can use their talents in a way that helps to contribute to the rock band their energy and engagement changes and grows. I’m sure there are a few computers in there somewhere.

School of Rock is a great example of what can be achieved away from the whiteboard or blackboard (for those who may still be using them which I know there are some). The scary thing for us as teachers is that technology is moving at a speed faster than any of us could have imagined.

I’m 27 and even I feel behind and I’ve been growing up around computers since I was about 8 years old.

It’s scary because with all our job responsibilites and expectations, our families, having some sort of work/life balance, kids complaining about how “boring” English is or Science is preferring instead to send a text to the hot guy on the other side of the room from underneath the desk, technology can sometimes be left in the “too hard” basket when trying to integrate it into our teaching and learning programs. It is now the common divide between teachers and students and we have to face up to it.

Thankfully there are really creative and innovative teachers out there who are motivating and pushing the use of technology in the classroom and making it accessible for teachers to learn and manage on their own. Things like the Edublogs Teacher’s Challenge. This needs to happen far more regularly in all schools.
A teaching tool that I would like to share and recommend is Edmodo. It is a secure, social learning network for teacher’s and students. It is a “safe” Facebook if you like. Many teachers are confined by government or regional policy. Particularly to do with this issue of social networking, its use in schools and the safety of students on the Internet whilst doing this. Edmodo offers an opportunity for social networking to happen within a school that is closely monitored by staff.
Some of its advantages include:
  • Creating a specific class or interest group and “wall” that you can then post information to.
  • Using the “wall” to post polls, assignments, notices, alerts.
  • A calendar feature to help students keep track of when assignments are due. If they are part of more than one group they can see all their assignment due dates.
  • A grade book feature where you can keep track of students results and they can also see what they have achieved.
  • A library to keep track of links and documents that you post to your “wall.”

Some suggestions for ways the pages could be used include specific class work/discussions, faculty groups, sports teams or other extra-curricular activities, whole year groups and parent contact.

Most importantly, you are interacting with the kids in a way that is accessible and familiar to them.

So, as teachers we can either choose to let technology rule us or we can choose to rule with technology. We know our stuff. We know what to teach and how to teach it well. Challenge yourself to mix it up a bit. To do something a bit different. See what happens. You might surprise yourself. Least of all the kids themselves.

This post is part of  Kick Start Your Blogging Activity 2. We were required to post on one of several topics and I chose a review of a technology learning tool.

Kick Start Your Blogging – Extension Activity 1

I have recently re-invigorated this blog as part of the Edublogs.org Teacher Challenge.

As part of the extension activity for Week 1, we were required to write a post about why we joined the challenge, what we wanted to learn more about and what in particular, about blogging had I been struggling with.

As you can well see, I created this blog over a year ago.

It has never been used.

What was stopping me? Not technophobia but rather a lack of confidence in my own ability to express my opinions in a public forum.

Today I want to try to overcome that fear and make connections with teachers not only in Australia but world wide so that I can become more knowledgable about my subject area. Also, I have been reminded through this challenge that blogs don’t necessarily have to be about expressing opinions and that is what I needed to be reminded of in terms of how I will direct my teaching to my students. I have some less opinion-driven ideas for blogs for the kids to be involved with.

So, what I would most like to learn is how to engage more readers. This has been something I have struggled with and would like to improve.