Blogging with Google

Way back in August 2013, I blogged about setting up our grade and student blogs, and about encouraging our teachers and students to blog. I still firmly believe in our reasons for blogging and I am even more happy that we are still on this journey. Our grade blogs are growing in momentum and this year particularly, we have seen an improvement in the number of posts and in the quality. We are really proud of these weekly updates, and we are encouraged by the ever-increasing numbers of parent followers.

We use WordPress.com for our grade blogs, and until August last year, used the Kidblog platform for our students. Unfortunately Kidblog did away with their free accounts and their pricing structure was not budget friendly (considering the Rand/US dollar exchange rate). As a result I had to go on a search for another blogging platform for our students. I considered WordPress, but then it dawned on me that since we are a Google school, we should look to Google for a solution – and there it was – Google Blogger! It is user friendly and simple in look and feel, so it would be perfect for our students. The only problem was that Kidblog had provided a very secure platform for children, with the students being very protected within its platform. I love a challenge, so I set out to create a similar environment with Blogger. This is the process I followed:

  1. Set up a class blog for the teacher eg. Pelicans 2016.
  2. Invite the teacher as an author and once accepted, change the teacher to an admin.
  3. Get the students to sign up for a Blogger blog with their school Google email addresses. (We used a set URL protocol so that all our student blog addresses are similar in format).
  4. Add the teacher as an author and once accepted, change to admin.
  5. Set up comments to be moderated by the teacher, always.
  6. Set the blogs to Public so that they can comment on each other’s posts and invite their parents to comment too.
  7. Get the students to submit their blog URLs via a Google form (per class).
  8. Use the form response spreadsheet to create a blog roll of the student blogs on each class blog.

Voila! Now each teacher controls a central class blog where all the student blogs are listed for ease of access by the teacher and the students. Instructions for blogging and commenting can be posted in the class blog by the teacher. It works like a charm – take a look at this example I set up as a test site last year: Pelicans.

Our guidelines for blogging are a minimum of a fortnightly blog post for Grade 4s and Grade 5s (until mid-year) and then weekly blog posts from mid Grade 5 and in Grade 6. Sometimes the teachers will provide specific topics and at other times the students are free to blog about a topic of their choice. Reflection on work is also important, so we will encourage this more this year. Our students are also expected to comment on three peer blogs after each blog post. This is to train them to comment correctly, in keeping with the commenting rules that they have been taught.

I am really excited by the Google Blogger set up for our students and I am confident that this is going to work well for us. (The only downside is the Blogger app that has been discontinued, but we are working on a Plan B). I look forward to sharing these blogs with our parents too, so that they can contribute their comments and take part in their children’s blogging experience.

*Update: We now blog with the BlogGo for Blogger app. It is a paid (but inexpensive) app that is very user-friendly and simple for our students to use. 

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Skitch and Blogger Apps Discontinued?

skitchIn December I received notification via a website that I follow that Skitch, an image annotation app we that use, would be discontinued in late January. This was rather disappointing, as it was on our app list for 2016 and our teachers and students enjoy using it for its simplicity. I duly removed it from our app list and informed our staff and students that it would be discontinued, and that they did not need to download it.

Then, on Friday one of our students told me that Skitch was not discontinued and that it was still in the app store. I was a bit sceptical but today I checked, and I am happy to report that it is still there! I also checked the article on the AppAdvice website, and it definitely states that the app would be discontinued on 22 January 2016. It seems they have had a change of heart – good news for us!

bloggerOn another note, Google’s Blogger app was also on our app list for this year, as we moved our student blogs over from Kidblog to Blogger for this year. Once the parents started looking for Blogger in the App Store, I was notified that it was not there. I followed up and sure enough, it is not available anymore (I drew up the app list at the end of November 2015). I have scoured the Google forums for information about its disappearance, but other than coming across other users asking the same question, there is no reference to Blogger having been removed, and no explanation from Google itself.

I will look for an alternative, free blogging app, but for now Plan B is to blog through the Safari browser on the iPads.

iFrame Explained

Last year I had the pleasure of visiting Dainfern College near Johannesburg. I was there to see how the school embraced and rolled out technology – both mobile devices and computers. I found that Dainfern and Elkanah share many similarities in feel, ethos and technology integration. It was a most enjoyable morning and I was made to feel very welcome by Anthony Egbers, Director of Technology at Dainfern College.

One of the interesting things I saw at Dainfern was their iFrame Project. I was so taken by the idea, that I asked whether they would mind if I could take the idea home to our school. Anthony was most accommodating – he even sent one of their frames home with me!

What is the iFrame Project? Our pupils use shared iPads in Grade 2 and Grade 3. From Grade 4 they are required to have their own iPads. Before the pupils were allowed to bring their iPads to school at the beginning of this year, they had to take care of a mock iPad for a period of four weeks. Each Grade 4 pupil was allocated a small picture frame (with glass). This is an iFrame. Inside the frame are some guidelines for looking after the iFrame, including rules for handling and storage at school and “charging” at night! The idea behind the programme is to train our Grade 4s in good iPad care, management and responsibility and to instil healthy habits.

Yesterday our iFrame programme came to an end and the Grade 4s were allowed to bring their iPads to school for the first time. What excitement there was! Please read these lovely blog posts by our principal, Mr Arthur Preston, and new Grade 4 teacher, Mr Craig Bellwood. They summed up the buzz of the day very eloquently!

Feedback from both staff and students has been that this was a very worthwhile programme, and our parents have played along very well too. We will make a few adjustments here and there – for one, we will shorten the timeframe a little. Four weeks was a tad too long for everyone. The project will be followed by Digital Passport, an interactive, fun, game based method of teaching the basics of digital citizenship. It consists of five modules: Communication, Privacy, Cyberbullying, Searching and Creative Credit. On completion of all five modules, the pupils will each receive a certificate.

On the whole this turned out to be a fun and positive way to introduce student-owned iPads to our campus! Thank you again to Anthony Egbers for his willingness to share this lovely idea.

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Games on the iPad

ipad-games

We all know that children love to play games, especially those on their iPads. Unfortunately the reality is that these games can (and do, in our experience) become a huge temptation and a sometimes a hindrance. In fact, they can also become a point of conflict in the home.

As a school we have asked our parents to provide an iPad for their children to use as a tool for learning. The parents manage the Apple ID’s and have full control of the iPads. We realise that, as a school, we have no say over what is downloaded onto the devices. While we did consider this, we cannot and do not want to dictate to our parents what they may or may not download. There are also some very educational games for the iPad and children can benefit from these too. We do not allow games to be played before of after school, and no iPads may be used at all during break times. We want our children to socialise and play with each other – these are important skills for a growing child. This is all part of our aim to encourage responsible use and management of the iPads by our students too.

So then, how does one overcome the games issue? At a Parent iPad workshop held at our school recently, we shared the following advice:

  • Limit the number of games (our recommendation is 6 – 8 games only). Games can be rotated.
  • It is also acceptable to disallow games until you feel your child is responsible enough to manage the iPad. You have been asked to purchase the device as a tool for school, not for entertainment.
  • Set limits for screen time at home (distinguish between school work and fun time). There are apps to assist with this. (Our Pact)
  • Discuss this with your children and involve them in the decision-making process.
  • Model acceptable behaviour. Is it acceptable to expect children to adhere to screen time rules when their parents are glued to their own smart phones?
  • Stick to your decisions – this applies to the use of social media too. You are the parent, your rules apply. Be consistent.

If you are experiencing strife in your home about the amount of time your child spends playing on the iPad, consider the above points again and see where you can make changes. It is far easier to set firm boundaries and relax them a little at a later stage, than to allow a “free-for-all” and then try to pull in the reins when trouble rears its head. We have in the past heard complaints such as “This iPad is the bane of my life!” from one or two parents, and then when we make further inquiries, it is actually the parent management that is at fault, not the iPad. We have also seen student iPads where there are four or more screens of games – no wonder the temptation is too much to resist and the iPad is running out of storage space!

Parents, we urge you to make informed decisions. Make use of websites such as Common Sense Media to guide you in your decision-making. Read all school communication pertaining to the iPad and stay abreast of age restrictions. Take note of the amount of space games take up, especially on 16GB devices.

The iPad is a powerful device, an incredibly flexible tool for learning in the most creative of ways. Let’s work together to make this a happy experience for all.

Managing Your Child’s Screen Time

Managing our children’s screen time and getting the balance right is an issue that many parents face. Today I came across a blog post about an app that might just be what parents are looking for to assist them in managing their children’s devices and to train their children to manage their screen time effectively.

Read OurPact Helps Parents Manage Their Child’s Device Use and take a look at the app in more detail here.

OurPact (Take note it is an iPhone app for iOS, but is also available on Android).

ourpact

Family Sharing – An Option to Consider

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Struggling with managing purchases on more than one Apple device in your family? Confused by who owns what and which passwords apply where?  Then Family Sharing might just be the management tool for you!

“Family Sharing makes it easy for up to six people in your family to share each other’s iTunes and App Store purchases without sharing accounts. Pay for family purchases with the same credit card and approve kids’ spending from a parent’s device. Share photos, a family calendar and more to help keep everyone connected. And with an Apple Music family membership, up to six people can get full access to Apple Music too.” (Taken from the Apple website)

Go here for more information: http://www.apple.com/za/icloud/family-sharing/

Or here: http://www.imore.com/how-use-family-sharing-ultimate-guide

It is really worth a look!

A Full Year of 1:1 iPads

Whilst we embarked on the 1:1 iPad journey in July of 2014, we have now come to the end of our first full year with 1:1 iPads in our classes. What an interesting, sometimes frustrating yet, exciting journey it has been. Along with our pupils we have learnt so much over the past year! The year started off on a somewhat shaky note with many network and wi-fi issues, but as the year progressed and the network was upgraded and our wi-fi was improved, so our iPad experience developed and grew in leaps and bounds.

The staff continued with regular professional development and training in our FaceTime sessions on Fridays. As they were exposed to new tools, especially with the implementation of the Google Apps For Education, so their confidence grew too. In creating and developing Deeper Learning Tasks the teachers were encouraged to focus on this catch phrase – “Used Effectively, or Simply Used?”, based on a presentation by Beth Holland that I attended at the iPad Summit held in Johannesburg in February. Their tasks had to take into account a model for teaching and learning called the SAMR model (Substitution – the most basic use of technology, Augmentation, Modification, Redefinition – the most sophisticated use of technology). This model is used internationally to assist teachers in effectively infusing the use of technology in their lessons.They were also tasked with creating tasks that gave pupils a chance to make their learning visible. The teachers rose to the occasion and designed tasks of a high. The final step of the process is reflection, and the teachers spent time collaboratively reflecting on the tasks, looking at what worked and what needed improvement.

In July we returned to school and received the news that our internet had been totally upgraded. Fibre had arrived and we had a 100MB connection! No more slow internet! What a difference it has made. That, along with the implementation of Google Classroom, has had a huge effect on how the teachers view the use of technology in their classrooms. The ability to set tasks, assign them and have them submitted by the students for assessment via Google Classroom, has really been a wow moment for many of the teachers.

As a school we still stand by our statement that not all tasks are iPad tasks. Our pupils must still read real books, write or draw with pens and pencils and run around outside. However, in infusing technology into their classrooms we are striving to make their learning interesting, relevant and enhanced. Did we get it all right over the past year? Definitely not. We are constantly reflecting on our implementation and will continue to improve and tweak as we go along. However, we are on the right track and with the school’s move to a complete Apple platform, our pupils will be well prepared for what lies ahead in the High School. These are definitely exciting times!