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Last week I posted a questionnaire about the use of blogging in the classroom. These questionnaires provide me with an opportunity to reflect on my classroom practices and how I use my classroom blog.

Questionnaire:
1. What grade(s) and subjects do you use your blog with?
Grade 6 & 7: Language Arts, Social Studies & Science
Grade 2 & 3: Language Arts

2. What online tools do you use to support your classroom blog? (Blogger, TypePad, Photobucket, Flickr, etc.)
Classblogmeister, RockYou, VoiceThread, JumpCut, TeacherTube, YouTube, Wikispaces

3. Why did you decide to use a blog as an educational tool? What did you hope it would do for your students and/or for you?
I attended a Middle Years Mini Conference in my school division where classblogmeister was profiled. I hoped that using a blog would encourage my students to become excited about writing and sharing their world.

4. How long have you been using a blog as an educational tool?
I began using a class blog in February 2007.

5. How do you use your classroom blog? (posting student work, information for parents, online writing tool, collaborative projects, etc.)
The students take turns posting a daily writing assignment, on Friday’s we write with a school in a different city then post on our blogs and we use it to post assignments from other subject areas.
I write information about what’s happening in our classroom for students & parents. As well, the students use the blog as a way to stay in touch with myself and each other over weekend and holidays.

6. If you use your blog for student writing, has their writing improved? Please explain?
I noticed a marked improvement in the students when they write on their blogs. The students become aware of their audience and begin to care about the feedback they receive from their comments. Student peers from other schools comment on the content of the blog postings, the effectiveness of the writing and also comment on mechanics. Our Friday writing is a shared writing project with another school in another city. The teacher from that school provides feedback to my students and I comment to his students. The students enjoy hearing from another teacher and appreciate his comments. I also explain to my students that because they have an audience they have a responsibility to write well for their readers

7. Please list 3 positives about using blogs in your teaching.
*Most students are highly motivated to write on their blogs each day.
*Students become aware of an audience and begin to write clearer with more detail.
*Parents are able to read what their children are writing about in class. The parents have a better idea what is happening in our classroom.

8. Please list 3 negatives about using blogs in your teaching.
* This is a tough one. I haven’t had any negatives yet.
*It was harder when I began because I didn’t have access to as many computers however, my school division purchased 10 new Mac laptops per school which made it easier to work online.
* At the beginning I wanted to edit the life out of each student’s writing because we were posting to the blog. I’ve let that go and allow their peers to comment on the writing. If the students don’t put as much effort into their assignment another student will comment on it.
* I needed to make time to approve and check all posts, comments and widgets for the blogs. Now it’s become part of my school day.

9. Please list 3 things you’ve changed in your teaching as a result of using a blog.
*I now think about and plan my teaching on a global scale. I consider our audience in other countries and plan some writing assignments that better explain where we live and our life here.
*I encourage parents to visit the blog frequently to keep them aware of what is happening in our class. I write information about class events and happenings. I don’t need to write notes home.
*I’ve added more Web 2.0 tools to my teaching. My goal is to create a paper reduced classroom by having the students use blogs and wikis for assignments, projects and writing.
10. Please list 3 things that youʼve kept the same.
* Daily writing assignments.
* Using the writing process: brainstorming, planning, writing a draft, editing & revising then the final draft on the blog. My grade sixes were very weak writers when they began the year and weren’t familiar with the writing process. They are beginning to become stronger writers.
*Having written assignments in other subject areas besides Language Arts.

11. If you use your blog with students, in what way(s) do you ensure their safety? (model proper behavior, pen names, no real names of people or places, etc.)
* I begin the year with a CyberSafety unit to discuss internet safety.
* I explain how classblogmeister works and that I, as the moderator, have final approval on everything that is posted.
* I have the students choose blog aliases. I also ask the students to refer to their classmates by their aliases in their writing.

Those are my answers. What would your responses look like? Different or the same? Aspen has offered to send my a copy of her paper when she’s finished. I look forward to reading what other educators are saying about using blogs in their classrooms.

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Last night was my first foray in Second Life. My EC&I 831 class from the University of Regina toured Second Life last night with the help of tour guide Kirk Kezema from the University of Saskatchewan. The first challenge was to create an account and an identity in Second Life. I am Global Chesnokov. Now, if you don’t know how this works you are allowed to choose your first name then there are choices for your last name. I chose Global because at the time I had the tv on the Global television network and their logo/name was on the screen. Next I had to choose what I looked like. Unfortunately I made the same choice as two other people in my class so we had triplets wandering cyberland last night. I could only tell it was me when I read my name above my head. If I was going to do this again I would personalize my identity. I now had to install the Second Life program to my computer. Well, my school MacBook wasn’t letting me do much and the browsers weren’t recognizing the Second Life url for my tour. I tried on my PC at home. I installed the program then the flashing blox came up telling me that my video cards were too old to support the program. Finally, I used my husband’s brand new HP laptop with a 17″ screen. He said I could use it for the class and then he was uninstalling Second Life. He couldn’t imagine what sort of educational value playing a game could be.

Okay, so now I’m in Second Life and I’m teleporting to our meetng place which is the EECM Meeting Hall. We meet in a virtual lecture hall and are asked to sit down. Sounds easy right? Guess again. We looked like a group of kindergarten students trying to form a circle. It was truly sad. Finally our leader was able to organize the virtual world neophytes and explain what would happen on our tour. We visited the University of Saskatchewan’s virtual world,The Discovery Channel’s Learning Centre and had an opportunity to speak to one of their staff members, and finally the Space & Flight Museum. We didn’t visit the University of Ohio’s virtual world but I found a introductory video on YouTube. We lost people on the tour, we had to learn to walk straight and follow our guide and others kept sitting down at unexpected moments.

I can see how there could be opportunities to use a virtual world in a middle years classroom. I think it would be interesting to visit The Discovery Channel’s Learning Centre to participate in some of their programming. During a Science unit I would like to take my students to the Space & Flight Museum. My husband asked how I would keep track of my students and I answered that it would be like any other field trip when I would do head counts. It does open up some interesting possibilities for classroom use.

So who out there is a Second Life resident? Why and how do you use the your virtual world? How does anyone think a virtual world could be utilized in a classroom? I’m interested because I see the possibilities but I’m sure there are others like my husband who can’t imagine any educational value.

My last post discussed the questions that a freelance journalist asked my about the use of networking sites in my classroom. The following are my responses to her questions. How do my answers compare to yours. Please add a comment about the comparison or reaction to my responses.

Social Networking in the Classroom

1. I use classblogmeister and wikispaces in my classroom.
2. I use classblogmeister because as the teacher I’m able to moderate blog posts, comments and all content posted on the site. I use wikispaces and as creator of the wiki I am able to control content. Both sites are easy to use and navigate for teachers and students.
3. We use classblogmeister to publish writing, contact other classrooms, share thoughts and ideas with our blog partners. Wikispaces has been used for global collaborative projects, collaborative story writing, curriculum content, weekly math problems and literature circles.
4. Any type of collaborative activity works well using blogs or wikis.
5. Our technology integration support teacher and technology consultant support and encourage the use of online applications for the classroom.
6. By using classblogmeister and wikispaces the content is controlled thus inappropriate postings are eliminated.
7. The benefits include an authentic audience for student writing and work that will provide feedback. Use of wikispaces for collaboration allow for students to work together with others around the globe. Students develop a pride in their work when they know that their work will be viewed by others.
8. I use Twitter frequently to stay in touch with other teachers in my network who integrate technology in their teaching. I use weblogs as a host for my professional blog and use bloglines to subscribe to blogs about the use of technology in the classroom.
9. Wikispaces, YouTube, Facebook, and Yahoo Groups. I find wikispaces easy to use and navigate. Wikispaces are easy for students to use and learn. I use YouTube and TeacherTube for video content that’s relevant to teaching topics.
10. I use pseudonyms for my students on both classblogmeister and wikispaces. I teach my students about digital citizenship and their digital footprint on the net. Most web based applications have teacher subscriptions that don’t have advertising or pop-ups. I’m teaching my students about Creative Commons materials and how to use them in their on-line/off-line assignments.

I hope this helps out,

Kimberly Brown