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 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. 

**Further Update – June 2017: BlogGo for Blogger has been shelved, so we now use Blogo (similar but not the same – and it’s free! It works for us!

**LATEST (2018) – Blogo no longer works for us, so we blog through Safari on the iPads and this works well enough.


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.