Have Your Science Questions Answered!

We all have misconceptions about how the physical and natural world works.

And there can be science questions that students don’t feel comfortable asking in class or would like to ask outside of class.  Such as “Do tree’s breathe?”, “ What is the difference between strength and hardness?”, “Where do puddles go to?”, “Why doesn’t a twig conduct electricity?”

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Wouldn’t it be great if there was a Science site where younger students could get help with their questions?

The good news is there is a site, The Science Master, and it’s been set up on Edublogs to provide a safe learning environment for students.

About the Science Master

The Science Master has been designed for children/pupils to ask questions that they might feel that they cannot ask in a class environment. To some of us asking questions in a public forum can be quite a daunting experience.

IScientist s it safe? It’s an Edublogs site. The children/pupils are not asked for an email address, or their real name. They are just asked for a name and some idea of their age. They find their answer by following the website as answers will be linked to the information supplied. The site will obviously only offer answers to real questions (all questions are checked before publication).

However these questions to the Science Master will not, in most cases, get a direct answer. The Science Master and his friends will try to give the questioner(s) a pathway that will help them investigate the question at their own level of understanding and arrive at possible solutions. They are the scientists.

Using the Science Master

Students ask their questions here, check all Answers here and have an option to Ask another question or leave a comment on responses to questions.

Simple ask a question form

They can comment on their own investigations and other readers can add their comments (including the Science Master). This is the blogging environment.

Here’s the answer to a question asked by a student!

Example of an Answer

Final Thoughts from the Science Master

“I have been using Edublogs in a variety of ways for the last 10 years so when I was invited to develop the Aston Tower, Science Master site Edublogs became my first choice as a tool to build what then, and still is, a fairly unique site.

The kids loved it, criticized it, and helped develop it, as well as apparently enjoying it!

I hope you do the same!”

Edublogs Weekly Review: Introducing Teacher Challenges – Free Professional Development!

teacher challengeWe couldn’t be more excited to announce the start of a new series of free professional development for educators – something we are calling ‘Teacher Challenges’.

The online trainings will be open and public to anyone that would like to participate. While we will provide a suggested time line and set of activities, you can participate however you like, and once the courses are complete, they will remain live for future reference.

One of our main goals is to model how blogs can be used as effective and collaborative learning tools.

The first topic will be “30 days to kickstart your blogging” and will cover topics such as writing effective blogs posts, embedding media, and building readership.

Future topics will include building a Personal Learning Network (PLN), online student safety, and using the best of the free resources on the web.

Visit the Teacher Challenge homepage and subscribe to the blog there to stay up-to-date as we gear up to start the first challenge on January 10th!

This week in the Edublog world

Want to share a post, ask others to visit a blog for comments, or show off cool student work?

Use the hashtag #ebshare to let us know so we can re-tweet it for you!

Posts you might have missed

Featured Edublog of the Week

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The Edublog Awards Site

Find hundreds of excellent resources for social media in education

Find more great blogs like this one in our International Edublogs Directory.

Summing it up

We hope that you will join us in the upcoming professional development series.

As 2010 comes to a close, we wish you the best to you and yours.

Happy holidays!

We should talk – what are you doing to ensure student safety online?

winamp_coneIt is one of the most important conversations we can have. When student privacy and safety is at stake, we all have an obligation to do our part.

Keeping in mind that laws and policies vary depending on where you are and what age you work with, there are some common sense tips we should all follow.

The discussion below was inspired by comments left by educators on this Edublogger post over the past few weeks.

This post was co-written by Ronnie Burt and Sue Waters.

Is it fact, fiction, hype or fear?

Let us start by discussing the concerns of students working online and why we need to care before looking at some common sense tips.

As middle school teacher Jabiz Rasidana says:

“What, exactly is it, that everyone is so afraid of?”

Too often media creates hysteria about Internet predators leading school districts to respond to parent and teacher concerns by blocking any kind of social networking while failing to highlight the positive aspects achieved when students collaborate online as part of a global community.

Gail Desler highlights:

While we recognize that online predators pose a threat, about 1% of child abuse and sexual abuse cases, and we certainly do not dismiss the need to teach our students about safety issues, such as “grooming,” we also want all students to learn to use the Internet effectively and ethically.

Our middle school counselors, for instance, report that over 60% of their case load involves handling and defusing cyberbullying and “sexting” issues – mainly from smart phones. Pretty much 100% of the time, the parents are clueless as to how their children are using the Internet.

Digital citizenship should be built into media literacy —media literacy as a must-have skill for the 21st century.

Internet safety is best taught at school and not at home (sorry, parents).

And like Kathleen McGready says:

The biggest thing is … you can’t just do one off lessons on cyber safety. Cyber safety is not a separate subject.

Through being heavily involved in blogging, my grade two class has opportunities almost every day to discuss cyber safety issues and appropriate online behaviours in an authentic setting.

When we’re writing blog posts and comments together, a wide range of issues come up incidentally. The discussions are so rich and purposeful and my students now have an excellent understanding of the do’s and don’ts of internet safety.

Most of us agreed that:

  1. Teaching students what can and what shouldn’t be shared online can’t be boiled down to a few lessons.
  2. It is best if the topic is brought up often and in context when working with any web technology.

What do we need to consider?

The reality is that we’ve got to face the questions and concerns raised when students are online head on.

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Our world is increasingly connected, and our students need to know how to interact online safely and with some level of privacy. The trouble is that educators, administrators, online web tools, politicians, and parents just aren’t sure what that looks like yet. And for some reason, a consensus decision isn’t likely anytime soon. Either way, we must educate students about the expectations we have of them when they are online and about the digital footprint they leave behind.

We need to educate our students on how to work in a safe online environment.

As Kathleen McGeady commented,

“I don’t think it matters that much what your actual policies are on photos/avatars/no images etc as long as you’re having conversations and doing something!”

Here’s some things to consider and our advice when working online with your students.

Tip #1:  Set clear guidelines

Set GuidelinesIt’s crucial to have clear guidelines so that all parents and students are aware of what is and isn’t appropriate.

The best approach is to get students involved with creating the guidelines.

For example. Pernille Ripp has an excellent activity using the analogy  The Internet is like a Mall.  She tells them that going on the internet is like going to the mall without your parents’ supervision and asks them to share how do they stay safe at the mall?  This takes the students from a topic they already understand and know to applying those same principles online.

Check out these examples:

  1. Pernille Ripp’ s Internet Safety Plan and Blogging Introduction
  2. Kathleen McGeady’s Introduction to Bloggigng HandoutGuide to Getting the Most out of 2KM’s Class blog and Our Blog Guidelines
  3. Edublogs Guide to Using Blogs With Students

Here’s how to set up your blogging rules and guidelines.

Tip #2:  Use of student names

What names to use?This is usually one of the first items to think about before using any online services with students.

Can they use their full name, first name only, last initial, or maybe a made-up username? In general, obtaining parent permission for minors is important when using anything other than a made-up or “code” name.

Most educators use the student’s first name only combined with a combination of letters and/or numbers that might represent their year level, room number, school or class blog such as amberh4 or adrianhan10 for student usernames and blog URLs.

Tip #3:  Use of  photos

Use of ImagesUse of student photos, and especially linking names with specific photos, are also questions that come up when blogging, sharing videos, or using other web services online. Even though 99.9% of visitors to your class blog will be well meaning parents, students, community members, or interested visitors from around the world, the unfortunate reality is that those with bad intentions can also visit public sites. There are also cases where the personal background of a student might mean they need more privacy and anonymity than others.

Decisions on whether to use student photographs or not is often more about protecting educators from having problems with parents or administrators who have concerns about cyber-predators.

A safe compromise is to only use photo taken from behind students.

On the other hand, one of the most engaging and powerful aspects of blogging comes from the sense of pride and ownership that only happens when you put yourself out there for the world to see. For this reason, many teachers do use student images.

As middle school teacher Jabiz Rasidana points out on Intrepid Teacher,

“the most rewarding experiences I have had online, the most authentic and personal relationships have been because I shared more than I should have.”

And the same is true for students. We put our thoughts and ideas out there, and everyone learns from it – especially the blogger.

Kathleen McGready says:

Unlike many classes, I identify students by first name and photo. Of course I gain parent permission for this and 100% of my parents have been supportive. Last year, I did not publish photos of students and I think there were more cons than pros. The parents and the classes we work with around the world are able to connect more with our blog and student work by seeing who the authors are.

Taking it a step further, any student comments or posts may need to be kept private behind a password. This is understandable – imagine if you were the one student in a class that for one reason or another shouldn’t have your photo online especially when it comes to your avatar.  All of your classmates have a photo avatar while you are left with a funny image or drawing. You probably wouldn’t be too happy about this.

An alternative solution is to get your students to create  their own avatar using these online reources without using a photo!

The key is to have the conversations with your administrators and parents about the use of photos online — so you can address the needs of your community.

Tip #4: Public vs Private

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Many times, cautious administrators or teachers will opt to keep all blogs private.

However, being locked behind a password greatly limits the global learning aspect that encourages outsiders to visit and comment on student blogs.  Further still, it can really stifle the energy and motivation created when students know they are writing so that their family and friends (and even strangers) can see.

  • If students share a video they created in a class presentation they will probably get excited.
  • If students publish the same video on the web for all to see, they feel accomplished and professional!

From experience we’ve found that when educators allow their students to publish their content in a public space they spend more time educating their students and reinforcing appropriate online behavior than those that use private sites locked behind a password.

And don’t forget, on public blogs you can set up systems like Leigh Newton uses where all comments and posts spark an email to him, the administrator.

Here’s how you moderate all comments and posts on student blogs — if you need/want to take this approach.

Tip # 5: Student work and confidentiality

PrivateHowever, there are occasions when you really do need to consider confidentially.

There was one example we ran across recently where a teacher of special needs students had a class blog. By allowing students to comment on the blog, the students were identified as part of the special education program.  This lead to the important discussion about if this violates confidentiality for those students. In this case, the school administrators erred on the side of caution – and the wishes of the students and parents involved. The conclusion was to change the class blog to private so that only registered and approved visitors could visit it. The parents and students in the class were all given accounts to use.

Teacher feedback, specifically anything that can be interpreted as grades, is another area that educators that are blogging with students should be aware of. It is natural to leave comments on blogs for students, but there are other times when more detailed feedback may be best left for private.

Final Thoughts

As Common Sense Media puts it in one of their 10 beliefs,

“We believe in teaching our kids to be savvy, respectful and responsible media interpreters, creators, and communicators.  We can’t cover their eyes but we can teach them to see.”

agentHere’s some helpful resources

So what next?

Like the continuous discussions we should be having with our students, the dialog should continue among educators, parents, and policy makers to ensure we are maximizing learning freedoms while encouraging safe and smart web habits.

Please leave your thoughts or questions below for our blogging community to continue to learn from each other!

An interview with an award winning blogger and educator

europeana_launchOne of the most exciting things about being part of the Edublogs team is that we get to see all of the excellent uses of class and student blogs around the globe.

We recently learned that one of our users, Donal O’ Mahony from Portmarnock Community School in Ireland, had been nominated for a European eLearning Award at the EMINENT Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark.

In fact, at the conference it was announced that Donal and his history class received the Europe’s Digital Heritage award for their student blogging which can be found here.

You can see all of the 50 shortlisted projects here.

Donal was kind enough to answer a few questions we sent his way in hopes of sharing a bit more about his class blogging experience with others.

Where and what do you teach?

I teach at Portmarnock Community School, Dublin, Ireland (here). I teach mainly history and some religious education. The school is co-educational and has about 825 students.

How long have you been blogging?
I have been blogging about two years, firstly for myself with eLearningIsland (here) and the with my students (here). We moved from a class blog to each student (30 of them) creating their own individual blog (here).

What do you want to accomplish with using blogs with your students?

  • Engagement with history in a way that that is relevant to their world
  • Digital literacy – an understanding of how to work their way around a Web 2 environment
  • Representation of work that is beyond copy and pen
  • Visibility on the WWW encouraging responsibility

What are the benefits you have seen so far?
Interest, wanting to be in the ICT mediated-class, pride in work, ability to be able to articulate about matters digital, an eye for design (they loved playing about with themes, some of them using the custom feature).

What challenges have you faced with blogging in your classroom?

  • Time, I believe is the greatest challenge. EduBlogs helps here in having WordPress configured for the use of the teacher giving time back to him/her to focus on teaching/learning
  • The computer room in schools can be a “variable” environment – Its the simple things that cause problems! Flash may not be updated on all machines, Broadband is down occasionally (we do generally not have paid technical support for ICT in schools in Ireland) – the student however can also work on their blog at home which many did
  • Different levels of digital literacy from the student who is making his her first online steps to the student who is more advanced in their abilities – just like teaching the normal class really!

Is there anything else you would like to add?

My own blog deals with some of the issues around ICT in education. I recommend following it!

We recommend following it too.

Also check out the slides from the presentation below.

One thing in particular to look for in his process is that he started with a simple class blog and then gradually moved into students having their own individual blogs. This approach helps students understand what blogging is all about, sets the tone and blogging rules, and introduces the blogging process.

Thanks Donal for sharing with us and congratulations to you and your students for the honor!

Bye bye Kubrick, hello Cutline

With not-so-heavy-heart Edublogs finally bids farewell to the ubiquitous Kubrick as our default theme today and welcomes in a mod of the brilliant 3 column Cutline based on the original by the brilliant Chris Pearson.

New default Edublogs theme

We originally figured we’d wait to see what new default WP came up with but sometimes, heck, you’ve just got to take these things into your own hands!

The new default theme has a nice customizable header, first level pages listings (if you make pages ‘sub-pages’ by giving them page parents they won’t appear), two widgetized sidebars (with one dedicated to telling you want to do with it) and a first post full of useful information and a quick video introducing you to the site.

An unfortunate by-product is that everyone with a default theme now has the new theme… however, never fear as you can just reselect Kubrick if you like as it’s now available as a regular old theme.

You can see an example of how a brand new blog will now look here.

Onwards and upwards as they say!

Themetastic!

If you care to wander past your ‘Presentation’ tab you’ll find four rather marvellous new themes, even if we do say so ourselves.

Terra Firma is an exquisite balance of boxes and beauty, Citrus Island will take you to the heights of web2.0 minimalist orange fashion, Reaching Darkness is one of the most well-put-together darker themes that we’ve seen in a while and – my personal favourite – would have to be ASCII2 (pictured) if only because it’s so wonderfully darn retro.

In fact we almost installed Commodore 64 styled themes and more – but decided not to as that might be a touch too geeky… however, we could be wrong, and there could also be plenty of other themes which edubloggers would like to see, so why don’t you let us know.

What WordPress themes would you like to have on Edublogs?

Provide some details for your blog
No stress, you can always change this later on.
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