When I first began my own blog nearly four years ago I also had set up a class site too. We had a year of great fun and connections. The experience made me realise how easy it is for classrooms to have a global dimension through the power of this technology. No doubt many of you with class blogs experienced this realisation too.
I have had a fantastic week returning to classroom blogging and starting our new class blog >> Priestsic5. Before Christmas I wrote a post asking for teachers to share their experiences with class blogs. To explain what platform they were using and to share some reasons behind it’s use. As you can see from the link I have decided to use Blogger as our platform.
The two main reasons are ease of use and sustainability, and I think that the former directly effects the latter. I want the blog to be a well established feature of the classroom and for it to be sustained into the future. Blogger is extremely easy to setup especially if you have some blogging experience of your own – but even if you have not.
One big plus is the associated services and tools that can be utilised alongside your Blogger (Google) account. The most important is perhaps image hosting in the form of Picasa Web Albums. Used alongside the desktop Picasa 3 application it is a good solution. Amongst other things I can blog directly from Picasa, synchronise local image folders to the web automatically and upload photo videos directly to YouTube.
Just to unpick the image folder synchronisation a little further – on our blog I have created an Art Gallery slideshow in the sidebar. I want this to be a collection of all that the class create and so I will be regularly updating the set of images. Currently all I have to do to add another image to this slideshow is add it to a local folder on my class computer – that’s it. I think this is a really useful feature as we are often managing lots of images from a whole class set of work. Using the Art Gallery example here’s how to do it:
- Upload you images to your computer, Picasa should automatically pick these up and display them for upload.
- Create an Art Gallery folder for the images (usually done during upload process)
- In Picasa next to the folder, on the right hand side of the screen, click the Sync to Web button.
- Sign in to your Google account.
- Your images will be uploaded to a web album.
- Click on the newly created online album – click on “Link to this Album” in the right sidebar.
- Select “Embed Slideshow” and copy the code.
- Save and refresh your blog to check it is working OK – you can manually change the size in the code.
- Now every time you add an image to the original local folder (on your computer) it will automatically update to the web and consequently update your slideshow too.
In the remainder of the post I will be explaining a few additions and changes I have made to our class blog that I consider to be important.
Next Blog Link
One of the features of a blog with Blogger is the top navigation bar that appears. This has a “Next Blog” link button which takes you to a random blog. Naturally this is not ideal for a class blog as you have no control over what you are linking to.
The first thing I did was find out how to remove it. It is a pretty simple case of adding a small piece of CSS code to the Template code. I found this site’s explanation exactly what I needed. Here is a short screencast from the same website illustrating the process:
How Many Visitors?
By simply tracking the number of visitors you are able to illustrate to your class that we have an audience. There are people out their in the world reading what we post. These numbers are important in helping you establish rules for writing posts and comments. Children have a better appreciation that their work is going to be viewed by more than just “us”. A visible visitor counter like StatCounter provides some useful analytics for your blog that you could use in maths further down the line
Dots on a Map
In my experience one of the greatest ways to hook your class into the use of the class blog is to display a map of your visitors. In the past and in the last week I have found this to be a great focal point for the class when they are looking at the blog. I have used ClustrMaps for years on my own blog and with classblogs.
It is simply a case of creating an account and then embedding a short piece of code in a blog sidebar. After 12 hours or so the map will begin to be populated with visitor dots. It is these simple marks on a map that become points of intrigue for the children in your class. After 24 hours of our own blog we had about 400 hits – I displayed the full screen map and just listened to the children pointing at the different countries and chatting about where their visitors were from. There was a buzz of excitement.
There is something so powerful and yet so simple and wonderful in allowing your class to realise that those little dots are people who have just visited your blog and read about work you do in your classroom. They begin to realise the connections we can make and begin to develop an awareness of things beyond their own community.
I know it is only a little map, but it really is a powerful aspect of class blogs and I would strongly recommend you display something too. Can you think of any other way that your class would willingly look at a world map every day and ask questions about where places are? Have your class blog displayed when the children come in first thing and leave room for their geographical curiosity to shine through. What you do with that natural curiosity afterwards is up to you!