EBHS Edublogs – first student accounts and posts!

On September 9, we celebrated a fairly successful first on our Digital Portfolio journey at EBHS.  Ms. Paxman and I helped my Social 10-1 class create the first student portfolios at EBHS. As I use the blogging platform often throughout my Social 10-1 course, I didn’t think I could wait until the Information Processing 10 classes get to Digital Portfolio creation at the end of September.

In the past I have used Kidblog, which was fairly easy to set up for students, but of course it makes sense to migrate to the new EBHS Edublogs site. Of course, this year there were SO MANY NEW COMPONENTS…

  • students had to log into the school computers with a username that they have never used before, and had to create a new password
  • they had to create a blog on a new platform (Edublogs) which they have never used before; they had to replace the gibberish password with one that they would remember
  • then students had to go to Microsoft 365 and use the email program that they have never used before to verify with Edublogs that they were not a spam-bot

Not only did all of this happen successfully for all of the students in my class, they also successfully added themselves to Mrs. Kannekens Classroom, so that we can use the digital portfolio platform in Social 10.

Another img_1890first. Today, September 13, most of those 28 students created their first blog post in Edublogs, all of them “nested” under a class for Mrs.Kannekens.  This feels almost identical to what my students have been dong for several semesters using the Kidblog platform, however we are now using this new platform, which will hopefully, eventually become second nature for all EBHS staff and students to use.

At this stage, so much is new:

  • Categories? Tags? ( and not the Period 3 kind)  – How? And Why bother?
  • “Oops, I forgot to hit “Publish” or “Save”
  • How do I get to the draft that I saved?

….second nature, all in good time!

The next first that I am anticipating will be having the students interact with what their classmates have written  (ie. Respond in respectful comments to their classmates).   Coming soon….

Staff launch of school-wide digital portfolios: a cautious success

This is a big year of change for EBHS, at least in my corner of it.

As a literacy-inspired initiative, along with a perceived need to increase the digital capability of students and staff alike, our school is launching a school-wide digital portfolio project. Our literacy team’s first step was to have all staff create their own digital space using Edublogs.

Instead of posting the rest of the story here, I thought I’d post the inaugural recap in our new Edublogs Campus site:

Staff Launch of Digital Portfolios —- a Cautious Success!

EBHS Wordlist Goes School Wide

What started out as a pilot project based on a first-ever book study has morphed into a key element of our high school’s 2016 literacy plan.

Today our newly formed “Literacy Team” at EBHS met for a first informal meeting to put some wheels on projects that had already been set in motion for the fall; one of these projects is the school-wide implementation of our EBHS Word List.

We’ve added some basic math and science words (horizontal, vertical, factor, hypothesis, hypothesize), and we’ve added lists of transitional phrases.  Hopefully these additions will help this simple tool to have a broader appeal across subject areas and academic levels.


Sample student word list from pilot project

Our vision is that this tool will become a valuable go-to for students in all subjects, any time there is writing to do. As we learned from our pilot project, the success of this tool largely depends on how well each teacher integrates it into their classroom processes.  To this end, part of our fall implementation will involve an “infomercial” for students and staff to explain the what, when, how, where and why of this tool. Hopefully, if every school citizen has the same starting point of understanding of this tool, it will help to make its use common place.

Here’s to implementing strategies for improved literacy!


High School Literacy – Lightbulb?

Our school division, PRSD 8, has adopted a real focus on promoting and improving literacy since the beginning of this current school year. I’ve ended up, perhaps by default, as the Literacy Council rep for our high school.

From the very first meeting that I attended, I realized that having literacy as a FOCUS at the high school level would be somewhat of a challenge. So much of the discussion, the existing vocabulary, the current literacy focus was centered around younger learners. The division mandate however was increased literacy focus from K-12. Most high school teachers will agree that literacy is important, but will also state that they don’t have time to teach anything related to literacy in their core classes with jam-packed curricula. So as a high school teacher representative for the Literacy Council, this mandate feels like such an uphill climb.

Fortunately, I recently had a moment that could be a light bulb connection. At Teacher’s Convention, I attended some sessions with George Couros, an innovative Alberta educator who I’ve followed on Twitter for several years. In one session, George showed us Edublog as a student blog platform where students had multiple years of their work showcased – school work across all subject areas, not just the typical “writing” subjects.  Showcased work could include traditional written pieces but also photos and videos demonstrating their learning through out high school.

This digital portfolio could travel with them beyond high school as their own learning library. Currently, every grade 11 student at our school completes a portfolio in a 3-ring binder as part of their CALM (Career And Life Management) class.  This is a 1-credit project that has been occurring for at least 15 years at our school. While most students complete it and get the project credit, it is not an engaging literacy activity. In fact, other than a high school souvenir, most students rarely use it as a “portfolio” that anyone sees.  Changing this to a digital portfolio could make this a valuable real-world document. (Watch this video as George Couros explains how he uses a blog platform as both a personal learning tool and a career showcase tool).

What if we used this digital platform as the springboard for literacy -which includes digital literacy – in the challenging environment of an increased focus on high school literacy. Each of our grade 10 students takes a mandatory Information Processing course where they could be introduced to the blogging platform and become familiar with the operational side.  Each student spends 40 minutes a school day in TAG (Teacher Advisory Group) where they would have time to update, edit and curate their blog space. Various teachers who already use blogging in class could continue to have students blog, but in what is now a multi-use space.  Click here for a rough idea of the concept.

Check out this sample student portfolio/blog space via George Couros and Parkland School Division.

An new experiment at EBHS: a book club

Ever since I read Kylene Beers’ book When Kids Can’t Read What Teachers Can Do, I’ve had the idea in the back of my mind that it would be intriguing for teachers of my staff to read this book together and talk about itFeatured image… like a book study idea. One problem: we don’t do that kind of thing at my school.

But we should!

Everywhere I turn, it seems I’m reading about the power of learning together with colleagues. So earlier this month I threw the idea of a “book club” out to my colleagues. Not sure what it will look like, but we are reading the first three chapters for January 8th!  Some of the teachers that have expressed interest have not read the book before; and thankfully, some who are familiar with the book also see value in revisiting it together in community.  This seems like the right place to reflect on trying something new in high school!

Thanks to Linda M. for helping to recruit enough copies of the book.

Check out the post I was compelled to write when I first encountered this book:

“So Two Colleagues go to a PD Session…”

Tech in the classroom takes perseverance

Over the past week I’ve been reminded of two lessons about using technology in the classroom:

  1. When using an unfamiliar tech tool/app/method in the classroom for the first time (or the first time in a long time), expect some level of chaos…even if you have planned your lesson diligently.
  2. If you use a tech tool/app/method in the classroom on a regular basis, (or even a 2nd time in close proximity) the chaos diminishes and powerful learning can take place.

Last week I had my students use a quizzing app called Socrative while we did a quiz based on video clips on the use of camera movement in films. We had used this app earlier in the semester–some students had even downloaded it on their phones–but you would have never known it from the login confusion that reigned. One of the things I like about Socrative is that the login for students is so simple: they don’t need a separate user name or password; they all simply type the same “room number” every time we use the app.  But, as I was reminded, even simple uses of technology, complete with written and verbal instructions, are somewhat chaotic the first time.  After what seemed like endless trouble shooting and problem solving, we got through all seven quiz questions. (Thank heavens for the invaluable second set of eyes and answers from a talented EA!)

Icon for Socrative Student   app

Icon for Socrative Student app

At the end of this seemingly chaotic experience, I used a feature of Socrative that I wasn’t as familiar with–the “Exit Ticket” –to ask the kids a final question: “Would you rather do this quiz on paper or a digital platform like we used today?”  Despite the crazy episode we had all just endured, the overwhelming majority described why they preferred the digital platform; only 3 out of 20 students would choose to do the quiz on paper.

Buoyed by their tolerance, I converted the next day’s quiz to the Socrative platform as well. (On a side note, I do not applaud Socrative on the convenience of transferring existing quizzes to their program).

This is where lesson number two comes in. Day two was like being in a different world. Bellwork instructions for the day were to grab an ipad or take out your phone, login to Socrative, enter your name, and wait for the first question. Chaos didn’t come to class on day two! Classmates helped each other out if they were stuck, and shortly after the bell rang, I was using the teacher version of Socrative to push the quiz questions to the students as I showed each film clip. It was as if we had used this program every day for a month!

On day one, I was deeply reminded of why so many teachers don’t use technology in their classrooms on a regular basis.  Even those who are enticed to try something new easily become defeated by the chaos of that “first time”. Try teaching a class to sign into Google Drive or share a Google Doc with a classmate for the first time, if you doubt this chaos theory! Or try getting a group of students (or teachers) to submit responses to a ‘text’ poll for the first time. Students’ inability to follow written or verbal instructions seems to increase exponentially with a piece of technology in hand! The first time. After that, the critical mass of students who can help other students problem solve quickly shifts; the process becomes easier and easier each time.

There will always be students who are less adept at using technology, but when the majority learn the routine, the chaos ends. For example, in a different class, students have each written about a dozen different blog entries.  Most have the routine down, and the instructions ‘to blog’ are followed as seamlessly as answering a question on paper. Yet after a dozen practices, a few students get stuck at the same steps almost every time.  No chaos however, because the critical mass of students can point them in the correct direction if I am not immediately available.

Final advice:

Don’t be surprised when your well-planned technology-reliant lesson turns to chaos when introducing something new.

But don’t quit after the first time, because it will get better, and it will be worth it.

Best Read of the Summer: “An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth”

Great read: "An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth"

Great read: “An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth”

Confession: I love reading, but I have such poor will-power when it comes to putting a novel down, that I generally avoid reading novels. I tried reading a few novels this summer, and the spineless effect was still in place, so I made sure that I had other reading materials available. Fortunately, I quite enjoy a range of non-fiction; although engaging, I CAN put the non-fiction variety down to come back to later.

The best book I read this summer is a cross between the two worlds of novel and non-fiction. Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield is such an engaging writer that his auto-biography An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, http://chrishadfield.ca/ has the story-telling characteristics of a well-crafted novel. Hadfield weaves life lessons into the pages of his quest to become an astronaut, with the climax as his time on the International Space Station as mission commander.

As a Canadian Social Studies teacher, I’d love for every Canadian student to read this book. Hadfield imperceptibly fans the flames of Canadian pride and nationalism in a way that should leave every Canadian, young and old, feeling proud of what a Canadian is able to accomplish in the American dominated domain of space. As a parent, I want my children to feel the Canadian pride thing, but to also pick up on some of the valuable life lessons that Hadfield reinforces. My favourite lesson: “Be a zero”…you’ll have to read the book to decipher that one!

Maybe this semester: 1 to 1 Learning -Part 3

My first semester of attempting a 1 to 1 learning environment is past the half way mark. My students have been under the tutelage of a student teacher for the past 5 weeks. During this time, they have used technology occasionally, but not on a daily basis. Now that they are stuck with me again full time, I’m working on ameliorating some things that were not as successful as I would have liked.

I’m still not sure that I’m sold on Edmodo.  One of the things that I was hoping that it could do, but turned out to not do easily at least, is to be a platform for students to interact with their peer’s writing.  My solution: Kidblog.org.  You can check out what we’re up to at http://kidblog.org/MrsKannekensEnglish/.  Each student has their own blog, nested within the classroom blog. Viewers must be logged in to read or comment on student content (unless I change the settings for certain content).

Trying kidblog.org to encourage peer review

Trying kidblog.org to encourage peer review

I have long heard teachers on Twitter expound on the benefits of having students blog.  While I’ve most often considered trying it in my Social Studies course on globalization, I think that it may be the format solution for having students interact with other student writing. Introducing the platform with a half hour left before a 10 day school vacation likely wasn’t the most effective launch, but I look forward to having students experiment with the tool when we return.

Kidblog offers students a very authentic blogging experience, as the editing space looks and feels very similar to Trying something new: KidblogWordPress. It allows students to tag and categorize from teacher produced lists, to save and publish, and to add links.

If nothing else, it allows students to be CREATORS of content instead of merely CONSUMERS.  This in itself is a worthwhile lesson.

So Two Colleagues Go To A PD Session….

So two of my colleagues whom I most admire went to a PD Workshop earlier this week on “Teaching High School Kids to Read”.  When I asked them how it was, their eyes went glisten-y and they started with, “Oh, Cammie….”, I knew I had to pull up a chair…..

I will readily admit as a high school English teacher, that my thoughts on kids’ lack of reading skills in high school has typically been something like this: “Well, I can’t teach them in their last year (or 2nd last year) of school what they haven’t learned (how to read) in the previous 10. Hopefully, I’ll teach them a few strategies to get them through the reading comprehension test worth 25% of their entire Grade 12 English mark, but what more can I do?  Featured imageNow, teaching them to improve their writing….. that I can tackle.”  

…I pull up a chair, and as one of my colleagues starts to give me the skinny on the 5 strategies they learned to help improve students’ reading, my mind instantly begins to whir.  I kind of do that! I could do that! Oh, that would work in _______ poem, or _____short story.” This brief conversation ended with: “Well, we have 2 copies of an earlier book the presenter wrote. Why don’t you take one and check it out.”  Me: “Just keep it, I won’t have time to do it justice.” My colleague: “Just take it anyway. You never know.”  (When Kids Can’t Read, What Teacher Can Do, Kylene Beers, 2003).

2 days later the other colleague pops into my room at the end of the day.  Here are my notes from the session….. And off we go, re-inventing the teaching of literature.

It’s now 9:00 on a Friday night. 3 days into the semester. The PD Presentation they attended was on Monday.  Between chauffeuring my children to their various activities this evening, I have read 100 pages of this book. I haven’t done any of my marking; I haven’t done any work on my Master’s capstone project, or the course project due next week. But, I have a dozen sticky notes of planned changes to how I approach the literature in my classes, especially for the non-academic crew whose words and comments are echoed in the author’s anecdotes about teaching struggling readers. In fact, the real reason I turned the computer on 15 minutes ago was to adapt a “Probable Passage” guideline/worksheet for some of the stories I will be teaching next week.  Funny thing….earlier this week when I was previewing my typical course of action for these two pieces of literature, I knew my students didn’t love the lessons, or really connect to the stories beyond getting the gist of the plot and some heated debate about a “killing” issue that arises from the context. Turns out, I think these will be the perfect pair of stories to try this new ‘pre-reading’ strategy with.

Colleagues: Block 4, mid-week. You should pop in for a visit to see how this unfolds…

Why Illiterate Educators?

A great challenge for Alberta administrators and teachers as we move toward am era influenced by ‘Inspiring Education’.  Consider this blog:

My Island View

When it comes to an understanding of the term “literacy” most people understand it as the ability to read and write in an effort to communicate, understand and learn. That has been the accepted understanding of literacy for centuries. Of course with the advancement of technology in our world today that simple understanding of literacy has rapidly expanded. It has probably expanded so much, and so fast that most people have yet to grasp all of the new literacies that have come about in this technology-driven society in which we live. There is actually a growing list of new literacies.

The very tools that we used for centuries in support of literacy have disappeared under this wave of technology. The typewriter is no longer with us. Photographic cameras using film are becoming scarce. The print media itself no longer relies on huge printing presses. VCR’s, although state of the art…

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