Archive for the Category ◊ Blogging ◊

Which Blog Plugins?
Saturday, November 01st, 2014 | Author:

There is an old post where I listed the plugins that we use on our school blog to keep it ticking over and after a few emails with different people recently, and considering it has been three years since that post, I thought I should update it.

At school, our blog site is www.ridersblogs.co.uk and we use WordPress Multisite and this post goes into a bit more detail, but it means that I can install small pieces of code, known as plugins, that will help my site to run in a different way. Some of these are vital, some are cosmetic, some are free and others are paid-for.

If you have any questions about blogging, or if you think I have missed something obvious, please let me know. I am always trying new plugins to see how they work and how they can improve our blogging experience.

Akismet – This should, in theory, catch all of the spam and prevent it from reaching your comment page. Some does occasionally get through but it does a good job of stopping most of it.

Custom Meta – Very simple but on the normal WordPress page there is a small menu giving 5 options such as log in and the RSS feeds. With this plugin, I can choose which of those 5 to show and for most of the time, it’s just log-in so that teachers and children can easily get to the sign-in page.

Diamond Multisite Widget – A huge discovery. So much so that I blogged about this plugin when I found it. When you have 20+ blogs as we do, it can be hard to curate a menu of the links to them all. What if someone accidentally find a a Year 6 blog, you’d like a link on there to other blogs in your school, right? This plugin does that. It puts links to all of your blogs on the side of each blog ensuring that there is always a list of the blogs that are active across the whole school. Before this plugin, I had to manually edit a list of links on each blog. Urgh.

User Role Editor – Another favourite. With WordPress you can different levels of user e.g. administrator but there are times when you only want children (or staff) to be able to do limited things such as write and edit their own blog posts. This plugin lets you create a role for the children and assign different capabilities to that role.

Unfiltered MU – Occasionally when a user wants to embed a video from a site such as Animoto or some sound from Soundcloud, WordPress was removing the HTML embed code. This plugin helps to prevent the code being removed.

Feedjit – This is a simple display of the last 10 or so people to visit your blog. This is great when showing it to a class as more often than not, at least one will be a non-UK based visitor leading to a discussion about where in the world that city or country might be.

WPMU Dev Dashboard (Paid for) – I have subscribed to the WPMU Dev package as it provides me with a range of plugins and themes that I have setup on different blogs within the school. I have also made a few blogs for other schools too so having extra, high-quality themes is very useful.

Easy Blogging (Paid for) – This is an amazing plugin. It is part of the WPMU DEV package but you can also buy it separately. What does it do? To put it simply, it can be set so that users of a certain level e.g. children, only see certain options when they sign in. So I have this set to allow children to only see “New Post” and “My Posts” and that’s it. They won’t get to see the comments or any of the other options that are potentially available to them. When combined with the User Role Editor, this becomes a very useful plugin. There is also the option to turn this on when logged in as a teacher meaning that the less-confident teachers can log-in, click “Enable” and be presented with a cut-down screen with just the things they need. Awesome.

 

Introducing Class Blogs
Monday, October 06th, 2014 | Author:

I received this tweet today.

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I’ve been having a few chats over Twitter with Mr Radburn over recent weeks and I am pleased that he is finally at the point where he is talking to staff about blogs.. But he asks a sensible question, how do you share blogs with staff? How can you enthuse them and not just get them to think that it is yet another job on their never-ending to-do list? What are the benefits?

1) Share learning with parents and the wider community – First off, sharing learning with parents is a great way to start. When I first started blogging, I used to have a daily ten minute chat with my class where we summed up our learning and then blogged it. Sometimes it was me writing, sometimes the children, but it was always their ideas. What were they proud of? What did they want to share with the world?

2) Share a blog post with someone inspiring – We are trying our best to give our children a purpose for writing. This might include writing for a different audience, writing to a specific person or writing so that we can share it with the world. We have tried different approaches but one that happens now and again is that a piece of work gets blogged and a teacher might send a tweet to the author that inspired the work. For example,  just this week Marissa Meyer commented on a display that is all based around her book “Cinder”. Year 5 have been looking at the text, they created a display and with a few tweets, the author wrote back. For children that might find writing difficult, knowing that there is a real audience can have a huge impact!

We have had a range of successes since we introduced blogging at Riders last year:

3) Take photos! – We are in the process of buying tablets for school and the first thing I will be doing is showing everyone how to blog with them. To be honest, it involves taking a photo, pressing a few buttons and you’re done, but still. Blogging with a mobile device is a powerful tool for sharing learning with an audience. My plan is to have six tablets per class, each setup with the WordPress app so that teachers and children can snap a photo, add a caption or description and publish instantly. By Christmas, we will be blogging like mad. I’ve done it in my previous school and parents loved it. Children were also able to talk about why they were proud of their work and the learning that had happened. Yes you can do it with a camera too but a tablet or mobile device just takes out a few steps along the way.

4) Make it easy – I use WordPress. I have tried other tools, but I love WordPress. I have a self-hosted blog which means that I can install apps and add-ons as I need to rather than using the “out-of-the-box” WordPress software. (Bit more info on that here). One of my favourite plugins to install is Easy Blogging. I use this in collaboration with a tool that allows me to set different levels of access. So children all have the ability to login to the blog, write a new post and then send it to me to review before it goes live. I have set the blog up so that all children are forced to use Easy Blogging, but they also have the option to deactivate it if they need more power.

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This is a normal WordPress dashboard. It has everything that I need on there including updates, announcements, comments etc but there is a bit too much for some people.

 

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So Easy Blogging can cut this right down to just the essentials. Much less cluttered and easier for the less-techy staff and younger children to manage.

5) Join in with a challenge – I have written before about the 100 Word Challenge – www.100wc.net – and although my approach has changed slightly (we use Google Docs to write it and for peer assessment) we still enjoy writing and entering this weekly challenge. We have also managed to have a few pieces of work on the weekly showcase too.

6) Get a buddy – This could be through quad blogging, it might just be by befriending someone else in school but having a blogging buddy helps. This is another class or school that will leave you comments regularly in return for your class doing the same. This can help to inspire children as they know people will actually be responding to their work.

 

Those are some of the things that I could think of that might help when introducing blogs to new staff. How have you shared blogs with other teachers? What worked? What didn’t?

 

Category: Blogging, blogposts  | 2 Comments
Tidying the Blog
Wednesday, August 07th, 2013 | Author:

This is something that has taken ages, but mainly because it’s been done in half hour slots here and there. I have gone through my blog, tidied it a bit and made a list of my blog posts. One thing that I found is that people would often ask if I had written a post about something such as blogging, Digital Leaders, Assessment or something else. The problem was that because I had written so many posts about blogging or Google Apps, it was hard to find. So I have listed the posts on the Index page.

Will it be useful? Who knows. It’s helped me a bit already.

I’ve also tidied the Projects, Presentations and About pages too as well as adding a few recent articles to the Article page as well.

Now I just need to keep it tidy in the future…

A VLE Alternative
Wednesday, April 24th, 2013 | Author:

**This isn’t all finished yet, but I’ve been asked to post my progress so far – it also gives chance for feedback!**

This post was started because many schools in Hampshire are looking for ways in which they can remove their VLE and use an alternative. So I thought I would put together a post based on the common tools within a VLE, particularly the one used in Hampshire, and then give some ideas of alternatives. Many of these alternatives will be Google Apps-based or blog-based, but there are also others too.

The main thing to remember is that choosing a variety of tools is going to take more work than buying a VLE with all of the tools built-in. However, the obvious benefit to using other tools will be cost. Many of the tools used will be free but there is the obvious cost of time in setting up some of these tools and configuring them to meet your needs. Over the coming weeks, these pages will get updated to include how-to guides and videos.

The plan is that this post will develop into something I can share with schools if they decide to drop their VLE and are looking for alternatives.

For help with blogging or Google Apps, feel free to contact me for further advice. To setup Google Apps yourself, use the guide here or just get an overview here.

Some common tasks and VLE tools:

If you have any tools that could be added to these pages, please let me know so that I can add them on.

 

A Blogging Update
Saturday, February 16th, 2013 | Author:

Over two years ago, I wrote a blogging post giving some ideas for schools to get started and with the news that Posterous is closing, it makes sense to look at this and see if it is all still relevant. I must declare an interest in that I was a Blogger user, but moved to WordPress, so I do prefer the latter but maybe this is just because I am more used to it? But at the end of the day, just get blogging. Whether this is for you as a teacher sharing ideas or if it’s with your class, it doesn’t matter. Just do it.

When starting a blog, there are a few choices.

1) Blogger – This is free. This is very simple to use and takes seconds to setup. It’s easy to post to, manage and share your posts. An example from @shelibb is here. Simply sign-in with your Google login.

You can enable Blogger through Google Apps, but I wouldn’t suggest it because then your children can post without any input or control from the teachers. The first time a teacher would see the post or any comments, is when they are live to the world. Not great. Guy Shearer has written about a way around this. His article is here.

2) KidBlog – This is free. I’ve never used this but it comes highly recommended. This provides logins for your pupils too.
3) Primary Blogger – This is free. It uses the WordPress service, but has been tweaked with primary schools in mind. This means it comes with a stack of plugins and upgrades to improve it for school use. Takes a little bit longer than Blogger, but gives more customisation. I would avoid WordPress.com, although free, as it isn’t as good as Primary Blogger. One great option within WordPress (and I don’t know if it’s available in Blogger – I did try looking but couldn’t find anything) is the ability to have different levels and roles. So in my class, the teacher can write and post automatically, but when a child logs in, they can only write a draft post, which the teacher needs to check later.

 

This guide here says that Blogger is quicker, easier but with less options. It says:
So the choice is clear: If you want the fullest set of blogging features, you want WordPress, but if you’re looking for simplicity and streamlined blog creation and posting, Blogger is the way to go.

Now I know many people will want simplicity, but there are reasons for spending the extra time and going with WordPress.

Another way of blogging is to use a self-hosted WordPress. This is where you go to WordPress.org, download the WordPress software and install it online using a web hosting service. This will probably cost around £50 for 2gb of space and a domain name (via CS New Media). There are people that can do this for you though, such as John Sutton and Creative Blogs! It then gives you the option of having all of your blogs under one roof. Although financially this will only cost around £50, it is worth noting that there may be considerable time setting this up, learning how the software works and customising it for your school. There are many people that can help with this though, do get in touch for more information.

 

Our school blog www.stjohnsblogs.co.uk works using the self-hosted blog. I have the main, whole school blog, then there are 15 or so other blogs across the school that all follow the same rules and have the ability to have the same users. So, giving Issy in my class as an example, with her one login, she can login to my class blog, the School Council and the whole school blog. She simply logs in and chooses which one to post to. I can also then have one admin user which can manage every blog while every other teacher just has the login for their own blog. I get control, they get simplicity.

 

We have also recently started giving children their own blogs which they have been using to share a few ideas (www.stjohnsblogs.co.uk/children) As I said, WordPress does take a little bit longer to set up, but once it’s done, you only have to update it now and again (this takes a few clicks). So even if you have 100s of options, you don’t need to use them all do you? We have six year-olds that can blog on WordPress, so it’s not that difficult is it? In Reception, we blog with an app via our PlayBooks and there are also apps for Android and Apple too. You can also enable plug-ins to turn on the feature that lets you email your posts to your blog.

Why a paid WordPress over a free one? Embedding content e.g. Animoto, Photopeach and Youtube tends to work better in a paid blog.

As I said earlier, it doesn’t matter which tool you use, just try and start blogging with your class and share their learning with the world.

Category: Blogging, blogposts  | Tags: ,  | 4 Comments
Adding Links in WordPress
Saturday, November 03rd, 2012 | Author:

This term we have really been going for it with our blogs and one comment that kept coming up was that it was hard to find the “log-in” link on the site. We have our school blog (www.stjohnsblogs.co.uk) and we also have a number of class blogs too. Each teacher has a login for their class blog and the children have various logins too. We have a number of widgets and menus such as visitor maps or links to our class blogs etc, so the ‘boring’ log-in link got shunted down further and further down the page. One way would be to put it right at the top of the widgets, but that tends to be where the tags or search bit goes. These are the widgets used by visitors, rather than staff and children.

So I had a thought and decided to put the link on the navigation bar along the top where the Pages go. This could be a page called “log-in” and on that page there would be the link. But that requires two clicks. A quick Google search found a plugin called “Page Links to” and like all good plugins, it was simple. Install it and you’re away.

Create a page called “Log-in”. Don’t bother adding text, scroll to the bottom and there is an option for an external link – the log-in page is always www.whateveryourblogiscalled.co.uk/wp-admin. Add this link and Publish. That’s it. We have 15 blogs so it took ten minutes to do this on every one, but now we have a simple, easy-to-find log-in link on every blog.

For more plugins that we use in our school, visit: http://stjohnsblogs.co.uk/which-plugins/

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Education Blog Awards
Saturday, June 16th, 2012 | Author:

I’d like to say thank you for all of the votes for my blog in both the ‘Teacher’s blog of the year’ and ‘Most Influential Blog of the Year’. Voting has now closed and this blog was outside of the top ten, but thank you for your votes and support anyway.

I had many tweets from people telling me they had voted and it makes me smile to think that my silly ideas, shared links and waffle help other teachers across the country.

So thank you again.

To see the full list of shortlisted blogs, visit here: http://educationblogawards.org/shortlisted-blogs-2012/

And a MASSIVE well done and thank you to Chris Ratcliffe for his hard work in organising the awards in the first place. It’s been a truly epic task and there are a lot of teachers and pupils who are thankful for his hard work.

Are you ready for seconds?
Saturday, June 16th, 2012 | Author:

Are you prepared for a child blogging about your school? What if the Never Seconds blog had happened in your school. What would you have done? How would you have reacted? Would it have been able to happen at all?

For those of you that have been under a rock for the last month, Never seconds is a blog created by a 9year old girl in Scotland with the purpose of rating her school dinners. Each day, she takes a photo, uploads it to the blog and gives the meal a score. Oh and she also happens to be raising money for charity (£45,000+) at the same time. She’s quite a girl is our Martha. (As an aside…@digitalmaverick tweeted and asked what if she had been rating her lessons rather than her lunches? Would we all be so supportive?)

This week, her local council banned her from taking any more photos as the publicity was getting a bit much for them but after a huge amount of support from the public and Jamie Oliver, the council changed their mind and Martha is now allowed to post once more. I have to say that I think the council have made a brave decision in changing their mind and fair play to them.

But the question remains, what would you have done if this happened in your school?

Now it must be said in the majority of schools, I would imagine that Martha wouldn’t have even been allowed to have her own camera in school, let alone in the dining hall to take photographs! So credit should go to the school for allowing her to be proactive in the first place.

I’m not sure what I’d say if a child asked me if they could take photos to share publicly. I think I would give them my permission and blessing but would the teacher in me want to check and approve what they were doing first? It also got me thinking…Do my children have their own blogs outside of school? Should I know about them? Should I check them?

We have been thinking about providing children with their own blogs, but my aim is to use these to share learning but maybe, just maybe, it will promote the use of blogging and the children will want to setup their own too for non-learning things. I know that since I’ve used Twitter in lessons a few children have created their own accounts, so maybe their own blogs are inevitable. Maybe I should praise it because if they’re blogging about something, anything, that they are passionate about then that should be encouraged? It sure has made me think about what we currently do and what we will be doing from September.

In a time when I am looking at how I teach, assess and share ICT across my school, Martha’s story has thrown loads more questions my way and although she’ll never know it, she has inspired me to rethink some plans for my school.

So, thank you, Martha. Enjoy your lunch.

 

ps: Steve Wheeler also blogged about the Never Seconds blog here.