Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Reflecting on the Blogging Class

Dear Teachers,

Well, I taught the blogging class today (I had previously written about that here). I think it mostly went well. In the interest of the reflection that most participants noted was a worthy reason to blog, here are my thoughts about the class.

I taught two classes back to back, and I learned from the first class a few things that I should have done instead. Virtually EVERY SINGLE TIME I teach something for the first time, the class does not go anything like what I had imagined. And one of my biggest shortcomings when planning a class of any kind is assuming too much prior knowledge. With some helpful feedback from one of the participants in the first class, I was able to quickly shift things a little bit for the second class.

In the first class, I did not give enough direction, having imagined that the participants would be able to walk themselves through the [somewhat confusing] Blogger/Google Plus maze on their own. I gave a lot more direct instruction in the second class, and that seemed to go a lot better.

A few of our administrators left the classes still puzzled about using Blogger. But on the positive side, several principals got their blogs up and have already published their first posts! In sports terms I would call it definitely not a home run, but maybe at least a double.

On a side note, the third class I taught today was Power Searching in Google. In case you're interested, that list of cool Google operators is here.

Off to prepare for our next Professional Learning sessions - so much to plan for in the next two weeks! I'll be back in touch soon.



Friday, July 17, 2015

Blogging About Blogging, Part 3

Dear Teachers,

By now you may have read my first post with some encouragement on starting a blog, and my second post with some specific how-tos on using Blogger.  In this post, I'll walk you through getting your Twitter feed to appear on your blog.You'll be using three different browser tabs for this project: this one (so you have the directions), your blogger dashboard, and your Twitter account, so go ahead and get those other two tabs ready now.

Locate your blogger tab and (if you're not already logged in), log back in to blogger.com with your Google credentials. Click the # posts link to get to your blogger dashboard.

Along the left side of the dashboard, you'll see a list of options. Click Layout.

In the Layout area, you can add, move, and remove certain components of your blog. For example, I could choose to move my Twitter feed above my bio area, or I could add a list of other people's blogs. To add your Twitter feed, you will need to get some information from your Twitter account. So now it's time to...

Click that third browser tab, (www.twitter.com), and log in to your Twitter account. Click your picture (it will be an egg if you haven't added your picture yet) at the top right of the screen, then click Settings. Toward the bottom of the left column, click Widgets. Click Create new.

You will see a screen that looks like this. Click Create widget.

At the bottom of the screen, you'll see some possibly unfamiliar stuff in a box. Click anywhere in that box and press Ctrl+A to select all (everything in the box will become highlighted in blue), then Ctrl+C to copy that code.

Now return to the Blogger tab and navigate to the Layout page, if you're not already there. Click Add a Gadget in the area where you want your Twitter feed to appear.

Click HTML Java Script (you might have to scroll just a little to see that option).

Remember a few steps back where you pressed Ctrl+C to copy the code from the Twitter widget? That text is still on your clipboard. Click inside the Content area and press Ctrl+V to paste that code into the box. The title that you add will appear at the top of the Twitter feed on your blogger page. Click Save.

On your layout, you will see your newly-added Twitter gadget. You can move the gadget to a new location by clicking and dragging the shaded area on the left side of the gadget.

At the top right of your screen, click Preview to see what your blog will look like to your readers, and then Save Arrangement when you're ready to commit.

Voila! Now your blog readers can easily see what you're tweeting about!

I'll write again soon. Get to work on that blog! I can't wait to read what you have to say!



Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Blogging About Blogging, Part 1

Dear Teachers,

I've been asked to teach a class about blogging to our district principals, so it seems fitting to write a blog about my thoughts about blogging. A bloggy-blog. A meta-blog, perhaps. It's sometimes a little intimidating to address a room packed full of principals. Without exception, my district's leaders are an incredible bunch of committed, warm, friendly individuals, but they are... well, bosses. You know, authority figures. So whenever I have the job of speaking to them, I tend to obsess prepare really well.

How do you encourage people to start blogging? It's my experience that very few people start out believing that they have anything worthwhile to say; many first blogs I've read are on the apologetic side, noting that the author doesn't know how to start or what in the world they would write about, let alone who would care to read what they have to say. Most people seem to fear being just one more tiny drop in the ocean of opinion that the Internet has become. But knowing that most people find blogging a bit daunting actually helped me to get started. That knowledge normalized my own hesitation, and encouraged me to just try it. So I'll probably tell the principals that the number one thing to remember when getting started is that most people find it difficult to get started.

I thought long and hard about my "gimmick" for  blogging. Some techie people, like Amy Mayer or Alice Keeler, blog regularly with helpful tech tips. Some principals blog about leadership styles or changing their campus cultures. Some teachers blog about discipline tips or lesson ideas. For me, the writing that comes easiest to me is to think in terms of writing a letter to a friend  - hence the "Dear Teachers" blog title here. So my second piece of advice is to come up with the angle that makes the most sense to you.

A third piece of advice is not to put too much pressure on yourself to become a full-time blogger. I am amazed and impressed by people who blog daily, or even weekly. I am not one of those people. I try to write something at least once a week, but I fall far short of that goal, and even if I write that often, I only publish something once a month or so. I have at least twice as many "draft" blog posts as I do published ones. At one time I might have considered that a failure, but I figure even if I'm not publishing everything I write, at least I'm writing. The blog posts that come easily and seem to write themselves are the ones that I usually end up hitting the "Publish" button on.  Sometimes I come back to unfinished attempts later, but often that draft just stays on my list for months until I finally delete it. This blog is a good example: I had the idea to write up something for the class, and I have made only minor touch-ups since the first time I sat down to write.

I also try not to get too hung up on cosmetics. I just used one of the Blogger templates, with some very minor embellishments. Someday I might change it, but for me it's fine for now. I am a little envious of people who have those really cute Canva-created personalized backgrounds, though...

Here are some blogs you might take a look at as you consider starting your own. Do y'all know the acronym WAGOLL? I just read it recently: What a Good One Looks Like.  These are a few WAGOLL blogs that I always enjoy checking out:

Clara Alaniz's blog
Matt Arend's blog
Beth Carter's blog
Kelly Parrish's blog
Leah Pendleton's blog
Kristin Ransom's blog
Ryan Steele's blog

I seriously doubt I will ever make TeachThought's (or anyone else's) list of best educational blogs to follow, but that's not really the point for me. I just kinda get a kick out of writing sometimes. It helps me to reflect on a project, or to try to more closely identify my feelings about something, or to describe a process for a professional endeavor (for example, blogging!) If a few people read what I have to say, then that makes me feel good, and most people are extremely encouraging in their comments.

You can find additional suggestions for getting started on blogging here:

Being a Connected Educator: How to Start Blogging
Blogger Getting Started Guide
The Ultimate Guide to Getting Started with Blogging

My next post  contains actual how-to's, along with lots of screen shots, for getting started with Blogger. Blogging Part 3 has directions for adding your Twitter feed to your blog. I hope you'll give blogging a try!



Blogging About Blogging, Part 2

Dear Teachers,

I previously wrote a little about how to get started in blogging and gave you a few examples to read. Now that you've had a chance to look over some blogs and think about the approach you might take, here is how you actually do it. There are several blog hosting sites, but here I'll be explaining Blogger, since that utility is connected to our Google Apps for Education (GAFE) account.

Log in with your Google credentials at www.blogger.com. Note that Blogger and Blogspot are kind of the same thing. Blogger.com is where YOU go to WRITE your blog (think of it as the "back end" of your blogging), and yourselectedblogname.blogspot.com is where OTHER PEOPLE go to READ your blog.

The first time you log in, you will be asked to create either a Google+ account or a limited blogger account. I would suggest selecting the Google+ option, because that's another interesting social networking site you might want to explore at some point. Your blogger profile populates based on what you enter on Google+.

You may not have everything you need to complete your profile (i.e the profile picture you want to use, or your bio), but you can always go back to fill in those blanks later.

Whatever goes in the Introduction field in Google+ is what will show up on your blog.

Return to blogger.com and click the New Blog button.

Type your blog title and address in the fields provided. The example below shows that I chose to title my blog Dear Teachers, and I based my blog address (URL) on my Twitter handle: http://nancywtech.blogspot.com. You could theoretically have the same blog title as someone else, but each blog address must be unique; Blogger will tell you if someone else has already snagged the name you selected. Think of your blog as a notebook full of individual posts - so your blog title is going to be the title of the collection of posts. Select your desired theme here, and then click the orange Create blog button. You can change the theme later, too, so don't worry if you can't decide yet how you want it to look.

Click the edit pencil to create your first post.

You should now feel in familiar territory, as the blog editor looks very similar to many word processing programs. When you are in this draft mode, blogger will save your work automatically every few seconds, and you can also click Save at any point. The blog post is not live (visible to others) until you click the Publish button.

To continue working on your blog at a later date, you will log in once again at blogger.com. Click the # posts link.

You will come to a page that has all your posts listed in reverse chronological order. Hover your mouse over the post you want to continue working on, then click the Edit link

When your blog post is ready, click the orange Publish button and you will be returned to the page that lists your blog posts. This time, you will see the additional option to view your post. When you click View, your blog post will open live in a new window.

The URL at the top of that window is what you will share with your readers. For example, the address of the blog you're reading now is http://nancywtech.blogspot.com/2015/07/blogging-about-blogging-part-2.html. 

The next post in this series will show you how to add a Twitter feed to your blog page. I'll also show you how to follow other Blogger users.

Happy blogging! Fondly,