Learning project ends, learning continues

My learning project has come to an end, but the learning will continue. This semester I stepped out of my comfort zone taking EC & I 831 with the motivation that I would learn more about the digital world and social media, while connecting education to it in a positive way. I believe that I have been successful. This project has come to an end, but my mind is still spinning with ways that I might integrate various technology and digital pedagogical approaches into future courses. I’m excited about that.

Image from: Quotes Gram

For about three months I have engaged in digital education for myself and with my students. Although very tech savvy when it comes to using social media for peer interactions, my students have had little exposure to digital/ networked learning and using social media tools as a way to engage with and learn from others. This project allowed me to engage with them about digital identities, digital citizenship, and how networked learning and open educational resources are changing the face of education.

My EC&  I project posts trace the steps that we went through, piloting this process for the first time. I exposed my students not only to the challenges we face in a digital world, but how to navigate forward using it as a learning interface. As I’ve said before, it is not just about the ephemeral and day-to-day social conversations (well that’s part of it) between friends and peers, but it is also about making schools and the learning that happens in our classrooms more engaging and applicable to our lives.

My students learned the basics of WordPress and how to blog. They also learned about PLE’s, organizational tools such as Symbaloo, and how to build a learning network where they can support one another. This was a challenging project for many as it is a different way to learn and often technical difficulties (dead laptop batteries, low bandwidth, filters) hampered our efforts. However, as we worked through those issues we gained momentum. Some students still have a long ways to go in their digital citizenship and writing, but this is an evolutionary process that takes time and comes with more exposure and understanding of the digital world.

As we wrapped up our final posts, I had all students from both classes record audio or video responses to some scripted questions. Although the questions were scripted, they were only given a few minutes to think about the questions to allow their answers to be as spontaneous and genuine as possible. Here is a sample audio recording of one group’s take on our learning project. The questions and recordings were done by a substitute teacher to encourage them to be frank in their responses to me:

Listening to the audio and video recordings, there were several different suggestions that I will consider for the future in adjusting digital learning with my students. Some students were polar opposite in their suggestions of what they liked, did not like or what they would change. However, there were some common themes and a few key suggestions that I found very helpful:

  • students liked ability to share with others to ask questions or find answers from others
  • learning new technology can be challenging- although you’re using a computer, sometimes it is helpful to close your screen and just watch the teacher so you do not get distracted (speaking to the choir here, right!)
  • some found WordPress easy to use, while others wondered if there was an easier program- something for me to consider for future student blogs
  • many felt it helped them improve their writing
  • many did not like having the topics so open ended- they wanted direction on a topic or choice of topics to write about
  • many saw potential in blogging in other areas including science labs, ELA writing, math problem-solving, and in sports or travel
  • digital citizenship and education is important
  • liked establishing a PLE and PLN

The responses helped me to gain insight into the challenges of the project from a student perspective, but also allowed the students to think through what they had learned or accomplished in such a short time. Their reflections have given me much to think about as I close this project and think about ways to engage in digital learning with future classes. I know that the PAA 8 Learning Project blog will serve me well as a starting point to introduce future students to. I have many resources and ideas through out the class posts that I will be able to modify or expand upon. I look forward to the next learning project, but also to using what I have learned to make digital learning just a natural component of my classroom and everyday learning as a professional and individual. Learning projects end, but learning networks continue.


Summary of Learning

It took me a while to sort out what I wanted to do for my summary of learning and  I soon discovered that it was not an easy task to condense everything into a short video. However, I did it! Digital learning is about continuous learning so even as I started to collect my thoughts about what I wanted to share, I found myself reading articles and watching videos on what tools would best meet my needs. I learned about the presentation concept of Pecha-Kucha, how I might use it with PowerPoint, and then found a useful video explaining all the nuts and bolts of editing my narration, converting files, and uploading the video to my YouTube channel. I knew some of these processes already, but a quick refresher was helpful. In this video, it also taught me about Audacity, which I’m excited to use in the future as a simple audio editing too.

EC & I 831 pushed me out of my comfort zone both technically and pedagogically as an educator. I hope this summary video captures some of my experiences and where I hope to go in the future. Thank you everyone for such a great learning environment to interact in.


Good bye sub plan and binder, hello class blog

Last week I was away for a few days and had a sub in for my classes. What I learned is that by having the directions for our learning project on the class blog virtually eliminated the traditional sub plan. I familiarized the sub with

Image from: smithscienceandlit.wordpress.com

how to access our class blog and she was with a few clicks able to scan through what we are working on and provide direction to the students. One more benefit to digital learning right! No need for class lists, explaining in detail the work we’ve been doing over the past weeks, providing expectations or rubrics as it can all be included on the class blog. If you have multiple classes with different content, you can have create a menu or categories by classes to keep everything organized. Visuals such as inforgraphics and videos along with links to various content can further support subs lacking in the content area and provide support to students in your absence.

There might be some confidential notes you want to leave on paper for a sub about specific students, but for the most part, the class blog can provide everything they need including a blog post that is tailored to the sub, but for the students to also read. Students also no longer can use the excuse that they do not have the materials leaving the sub scrounging for extra copies as it is all right there and the sub can check on each student’s work to see if they’re progressing by clicking on their name. Why did I not know about how blogging can assist my teaching and sub preparation sooner?

The students can easily work from home without carrying and losing papers, while teachers can do the same. I’m considering how I can continue using a class blog to provide daily or weekly instruction for students once this project wraps up. Do any of you do this, regardless of what content and medium the students are using? I’m thinking it will be a more effective way to provide direction and great visuals, learning tools, etc. for the students to access both in school and at home even if the focus is not always networked learning. OneTab might also be a useful tool in conjunction with a class blog to organize key resources for a sub that you may not want all students to have access to from the class blog. My students are using Symbaloo to organize their favourites and really like it because it is more visual and customizable, but either could prove to be useful. I currently use Symbaloo as well and wonder which of these would be best for a sub accessing my materials. Any suggestions?

Last week our focus was on reading other blogs and commenting so our posting efforts did slow down a bit. However, I’m anticipating that reading other blogs and commenting will garner some results in improving the content of the student blogs. Students are at various stages in their blog development, but considering this is the first time these grade 8’s have been exposed to digital networked learning via blogging I am very happy with the results.  Some have even started to reply to my comments and questions, which demonstrates they are thinking about how their blog content and how to grow.

This week we will continue blogging focusing on developing the quality of writing in our posts and comments. I will also be preparing the students to reflect on the learning process (via video or audio interviews) as this project comes to an end for this course, although I intend to continue blogging and hopefully introduce some video work or vlogging in the coming month to demonstrate their learning. I’m looking forward to hearing their perspectives on digital learning and blogging.

The Value of Comments

Over the past week we have spent time reading award-winning and nominated student blogs on EduBlogs. The idea was to expose my students to other student’s blogs as the first step to becoming a better blogger by reading and getting ideas from others. While we explored other blogs, I encouraged the students to think about their own posts and to try commenting on a post or two that they enjoyed reading or found of interest to them

This coming week we will be working on perfecting our commenting skills. Commenting is a great way to help build a learning network while engaging in more critical thinking and reflection. But, first we will turn back again to the LangWitches website for great tips on how to improve the skill of commenting.

Credit: Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano, LangWitches
Credit: Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano, LangWitches

LangWitches provides simple tips for commenting along with samples of good and poor commenting reminding us that blog comments are not the same as other social media messages. LangWitches provides the following tips on model commenting:

  • Read comments (…lots of comments) to learn to distinguish between poor, mediocre and quality comments.
  • Model commenting to your students by leaving QUALITY comments on their blogs
  • Avoid comments, such as “Great job”, “Way to go”, or “I really liked what your wrote”…
  • Commenting is about continuing a conversation started in a blog post.
  • Commenting is about helping to (potentially) push the author of the post in a new direction, give a new perspective or connect them to new resources.
  • Commenting is about relating the thoughts, ideas, experiences or resources of the blog author to your own. Sharing them will paint a better picture of the issue, perspectives, or research.
  • Ask yourself if your comment CONTRIBUTED to the conversation, the learning of the author or other readers?
  • 21st century skills include critical thinking, problem solving and QUESTIONING. The comment section of a blog is a great place to practices these skills in an authentic environment.

As the teacher, I must also keep these tips in mind and model when I reply to my students. It will be tempting to make comments that affirm their work in general like “great post“, but if I do that I need to make sure that my comments also go deeper by engaging with the content of their blog to add to their conversation and their learning. I feel that in the beginning my comments might be more technical and then will evolve into comments that are more engaging on their topic. I think I have to do both so they get the feedback they need on the technical stuff plus the engagement to push their thinking on their chosen post topic.

Keep things simple to start. This video from yourwonderfulteacher of elementary students  is helpful no matter what grade level you are learning how to blog and comment at.

Blog writing and comment writing are both important parts to improving the quality of our blogs and engaging with others. My goal for this week is to comment 2 times for each of my students keeping the model tips in mind. I`m excited to see how my students respond to my comments and from others as we practice this skill though-out the week.




Rubric Anyone?

Why are rubrics so important? Can we teach and assess without them? Yes, you can teach

Image from educator Jim Askew's authentic assessment blog
Image from educator Jim Askew’s authentic assessment blog

without them, but then can you provide valid, authentic learning and  authentic assessment? Rubrics allow students to see exactly what is required of them providing all of the key parts needed to achieve various learning outcomes or objectives. Rubrics are in student friendly language and provide student with feedback on areas of strength and areas that need attention or could be improved. Rubrics also allow teachers to authentically assess students, which provides justification for assessments given. Rubrics can be completed by teachers, peers or the students themselves. When students assess themselves or peers, rubrics give them clear structure and criteria so they understand exactly what they have to assess. This process opens the door for peer to peer and student to teacher discussions about what is going well and what could be improved. Learning is a process, NOT an end result and rubrics can help to facilitate reflection. Students can also use blogs and other formats further reflect on rubrics scores that have been completed by themselves and others on their work.

Assessment Chart from: Alexandra Kaduc

There are many different online rubric creators that teachers can access. Initially I thought that I would create my own blogging rubric from scratch on one of these creators, but then I decided that I was almost as new to this process as my students and that there are many expert educators out there blogging with their students that I could learn from. I started to search for samples of rubrics that educators have created. I found many from very simple to quite complex. The blogging rubric that caught my attention and seems to be re-used and borrowed from by many is from the University of Wisconsin. The rubric is downloadable as PDF. However, I found Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano’s adaptation of this rubric to meet the needs of my middle years students by simplifying the format and wording:


Rosenthal Tolisano’s blog post series Stepping it Up- Learning About Blogs FOR your Students also provides valuable information for teachers that they need to understand about blogging. The topics covered are reading blogs to learn about blogging, writing blogs by teachers, student writing, commenting, connecting, reciprocating, and consistency.

Because there are six categories in this rubric, I have picked 2-3 categories every few days this past week to highlight with my students and have them focus on. For example, their blogs are developing nicely related to multimedia and community, so I shifted their focus to quality of writing and voice. By the end of this project they will be able to demonstrate their abilities in all categories, but focusing on all six at the beginning can be overwhelming. I also penciled in inviting responses and commenting to the community category because I felt it was a missing criteria. Eventually I suspect I will create a whole new rubric as I refine my student blogging projects, but for now this is a great rubric to use.

When reading through Rosenthal Tolisano’s blogs series I also started to think about how rubrics provide the criteria or outcomes that you want to see, but having tangible examples that fit the four attainment levels of the rubric would be helpful. As teachers we often collect samples of exemplary and not so exemplary student work to share with students. This makes sense, so why not do this with student blogs? Students can easily look at one another’s blogs in class and compare them to the rubric, but as beginners at this I found Edublogs provides many great samples of student work- nominees and winners in various categories. This aligns with Rosenthal Tolisano’s first series post that talks about the importance of reading blogs as the first step to becoming a better blogger.

Students need to see it before they can do it!  This message connected over the past week with our course readings (check out Blogging is the New Resume) and what I am seeing some of my students do. We have talked about our digital footprint being the new medium for job applications and resumes, but some of my students do not recognize this yet. They understand in the sense that they keep their posts “clean”, but some are blogging like they would Snapchat or text. So my task is through modeling in my posting and sharing of sample student blogs that can be compared with the rubric we will build an understanding of how their blogs must help to build a footprint that they would want a future employer or post-secondary school to see. They must shift from the goofy, joking, short- speak of communicating with their friends to the more academic style expected when they write with a pen and paper that outsiders would want to read. That will be our focus over the next week.