This blog details the learning journey to complete the Edublogs Teacher Challenge 2011. It is a conversation about being a beginner blogger so it may prove to be a little too self-deprecating at times for some readers!

This blog is about blogging - setting up a brand new blog, making decisions about design and appearance, and learning how to use the Blogger interface as well as the slightly different Edublogs interface. So it will also discuss the decisions made for the design and operation of my professional blog which is Applied Chaos Theory (hosted at Edublogs).

I hope that by journalling about my learning journey in the world of teacher blogging it may provide some small encouragement to other teacher bloggers as they begin their own learning journey in this new collaborative/connected world!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

New connections

As I have mentioned before, visiting other teacher blogs and classroom blogs is a great way to learn about all the possibilities for making your own blog interesting. There is so much to learn about design as well as the practice that is required in order to improve the quality of your post writing.

The other extraordinary thing is that one never knows how leaving a few comments on other people's blogs may lead to other opportunities to connect with students and help them in their learning - becoming another teacher in the lives of children who live thousands of kilometres away.

Having joined the Educator's PLN ning, I noticed the request from a teacher in the USA who asked for volunteers to visit her class blog. It was just a click away - easy!

So I started leaving little encouraging comments on the posts of her students and telling them that I was visiting from Sydney, Australia. Apparently they were quite chuffed that they were getting an international visitor to their blogs and so their teacher decided to use this learning opportunity to tell them a little bit about Australia! Just as quick as that they decided to write some posts to tell me how much they had learned about my country! How fabulous is that? So much fun to read the posts of Year 3 students and what they wanted to tell me about the things they had learned - all happening across the Pacific Ocean and across all those timezones!

Lots of their questions were about the ideas within same and difference between Australia and the USA. This led me to the idea to set up a blog about just that... for a giggle you might like to visit:

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Activity #4 Connecting with Others

The notion of blogging as a means of connecting with others is quite a leap in thinking. It's like starting a conversation on your own and ending up with a room full of people all adding their thoughts and perspectives; with the added bonus that those other people involved in the conversation can be anywhere in the world (as long as they have an internet connection) and at anytime of the day. If I think too long about all that it makes my head hurt. Being in Sydney today means I can connect with people who are still in yesterday! Have we stepped into the Twilight Zone?

Once you have established that connection though, the decision is how you will maintain it. For many bloggers they may have one off visitors who simply leave a message and never return. Others may find they have a meeting of minds with people far away and so they want to follow up this connection and read the blog regularly. This is where RSS and aggregators (like Google Reader or Facebook) really come in handy. Really Simple Syndication is an amazing way to channel new posts on blogs that you enjoy and want to read regularly. There are many choices of how to do that but for the beginner, Google Reader is definitely quick and easy to set up and use. Visiting the conversations pages of the Teacher Challenge has given me lots of information about other ways to RSS and how to set up a single visit webpage that you can use as your homepage so that the blog posts come to you rather than you having to visit them individually.

There is much to learn about RSS feeds and what method works best for your needs and situation. The Teacher Challenge Activity for this has certainly had some interesting feedback as beginner bloggers who have never used aggregators before, find the new, time efficient streaming a significant improvement for their enjoyment of reading the blogs they wish to follow.

Activity #3 Posts vs Pages

For beginner bloggers, the whole problem of the distinction between posts and pages may not be important if the template you choose has enough space and appropriate design for your needs. However it certainly isn't long before you want to expand your blog and the issue of when to use a post or a page will surface.

Many blogs have a single front page where posts are streamed in reverse date order and one other About page. However, for my professional blog I wanted to do a series of pieces of writing around explaining the choice of name of my blog: Applied Chaos Theory. So I had to figure out how to add a series of individual pages that people could comment on if they chose. I wanted individual pages because I didn't want people to have to scroll up and down a long way in order to follow the series.

The template I am using in Edublogs didnot seem to want to make it easy for me to add pages that included comment fields. My solution was to do some Navigation hocus pocus! I put a new gadget on the right sidebar that gave the pages as individual hyperlinked pages. I also put a hyperlink at the bottom of each piece of writing (on individual pages) which gave the reader the option of moving to the next section (or Lesson - which would be explained if you went for a visit to the blog). What this all means is that I have 3 page options at the top of the template: Home, About, "Why Chaos Theory?" - so it looks like just 3 pages. However, nested behind the third option is a series of other pages which don't have tab navigation but can be arrived at using the sidebar navigation.

I'm sure I could have explained all that a bit better - Mathematics teachers... ha! What does amuse me at times is that many bloggers don't appear to check the navigation of their own blog. I know that sometimes it is difficult to sort out these issues on your own, but leaving your blog in a difficult navigation hole is really not how you attract readers. I am amazed at the number of times that comment fields have been missing (so I couldn't leave a message) or the only way to navigate around a blog is to use the back function in the browser. If we don't make navigation user-friendly then we can't expect to attract a group of regular visitors with whom we can establish connections and build our network of advisors and friends.

The Teacher Challenge lesson around this issue of Posts and Pages has a really useful table explaining the distinctions and uses, so I will include a link here in case needed:  Activity 3 outline link

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Finding time

From a tweet, I found a really interesting blog post about managing social networking within the confinements of a 24 hour day! That's the problem with this stage of the development of a PLN - so much to learn, so much to read... panic sets in and I start to feel overwhelmed. There was a great long list of pieces of advice but what I came away with was two ideas:

1.  For every ONE blog post you owe FIVE blog comments! I really like this idea of giving back. You can't expect people to visit your blog and read and leave comments if you don't participate in the payback process.

2. Write on a specific day with time set aside for it. This blogger used Sunday as his day for writing, which doesn't really fit for me, but the idea of scheduling time for it so that you make a date with yourself - that really sits with me.

Am continuing to visit lots of blogs and found a new gadget today to replace the Blogger fishbowl - with another fish gadget... my Aquarium. Colourful and calming - meets my needs for the moment!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Activity #2 Effective and Engaging Blog Posts

The outline for this activity gives some really good advice about how to engage your audience and come up with effective posts for your blog. Activity 2

Wandering around other teacher blogs has cost quite a bit of time - time I probably should have been spending on my own blog. However, reading the first attempts of beginners as well as the offerings of really experienced bloggers - there is so much to learn about writing high quality posts. On Yammer this morning there was a link to a post of a primary teacher (US so probably more appropriately called elementary teacher) as he evaluated an interaction between himself and a student over use of a pencil. I really enjoyed reading his post and the picture he created with his words. There is much for a Mathematics teacher to learn about engaging your audience using authentic experiences and your evaluation of them.

Interestingly, over the past couple of weeks (since finishing up at Ramsgate Public) I have had a number of emails from kids at Ramsgate who have asked for various bits of information regarding their web travels. One in particular, a young girl starting high school in 2011, has sort my advice about her desire to complete her first novel by age 13 (she turns 12 in Feb 2011 so she has set a realistic goal!).
Why she would ask *me* is a question to set aside... but my advice has been simple. To write well you need to practice. To write a book you need planning. So I have suggested to her that she set up a blog (first step - ask parents for permission) and use it to engage with her audience and practise her writing. She has subsequently sent me some poems to read and respond to... she is one to watch! It is wonderful to be able to open her eyes to the possibilities of how a blog can give her a medium by which she can publish. This generation of students certainly has opportunities that have not been previously available.

Thinking about this brings to mind a blog I found on my web travels last year. I was looking for a student blog to show Year 5 and came across livtodance. Her teacher was being showcased on edublogs and there was a link to Olivia's blog as well. So I visited and had a wander around and was startled by the passion and clarity of her vision for her life and her blog. She was in Year 8 in 2010 and yet her writing was as polished and fluid as her passion for dance. I asked her, through a comment, for permission to show her blog to Year 5 and she was gracious in her response. Visiting her blog is always time well spent.

So writing posts can look like lots of things - I've seen short, pithy, opinionated offerings as well as long, deliberated, thoughtful musings... and everything in between. When I visit blogs it is interesting to see how long I stay. There are lots of factors involved but the quality of the writing is close to the top of the list - probably along side of how easy is it to navigate this blog.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Accessing the dashboard

Reading the comments on the Edublogs feedback pages for the Teacher Challenge ( link ) I noticed that a number of participants have mentioned issues to do with establishing their blogs and the accessing them again after navigating away. The whole notion of a dashboard as the interface to be used to monitor comments and change design and appearance, is something that beginner bloggers need time to get used to. This is where I am lucky to have had the experience with NSW DET BlogEd in 2010 which has a completely different access and interface but has taught me the steps required to access and use the dashboard.
One of the most common problems seems to be that people don't remember to login to the website before trying to open the dashboard. I think also, that some people are forgetting these access needs and designing the pages in such a way that getting back into the dashboard is more difficult for them than need be.
It is so important to have a really good explore around the dashboard and familiarise yourself with the way it is organised and what it enables you to do. Even having a look at the Stats page here on Blogger gives you some really interesting insight into your blog construction process.
Don't forget to SAVE your post though before you go navigating away from your post interface... although Blogger will probably have saved your work as a draft!

Self-promotion and blogging

Writing here, about the blogging process, is really helping me think through decisions I am making for my professional blog (over at edublogs).
Things got really serious this morning - I finalised a significant piece of writing and transfered it to the new page I had set aside for this post thread - something that I have wanted to start for ages. Re-reading that it doesn't make much sense to anyone but me!
Why I mention it at all is because I have been thinking all day about how when you bare your thinking to the world, using a blog as the tool of revelation, it is a stage of vulnerability that I hadn't realised before. It brings a couple of decisions with it.
Firstly, are you completely comfortable with having other people view and assess your writing piece? Once again I was lucky here because @2sparkley was kind enough to proofread my new piece for me before I did anything else. She made some gentle suggestions and encouraged me at a time when I needed a kind word!
So what do you do with it then? Do you leave it up there on the web and let it sit as an undiscovered treasure out on the web? Or do you participate in some sort of self-promotion using social networking sites and your PLN contacts?
What I chose to do is to make ONE tweet this morning about my brand new blog and include a direct link to the page that includes the writing I had finalised. Did it attract any traffic? Well... no... but that's fine too - just because you write it doesn't guarantee they will come! Like everything else in this new venture - much to learn about all these issues.