Using Schoology as a Collaborative Blogging Platform

Every school year I go through the same action of scouring the web for a new, free blogging service for teachers to use with their students. It seems that everyone and their brother will offer a free blogging platform for individuals, but once you start wanting to add students to your blog you have to start shelling out the money.

We want to be able to involve all of our students in a blog that they can participate in through their ELA (English Language Arts) classes. Teachers will decide upon a theme for each month and students will contribute writing pieces for others in the school to view after teacher moderation. This gives students a chance to see what their classmates are writing and an opportunity to publish their own work.

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My solution is to create a Group in Schoology. We’re already using Schoology and we have the Enterprise edition so we could turn on blogs for our students as individuals, but that’s still not what we need. By creating a Group in Schoology, participating students can be invited to join the group and topics can be posted as Events and Discussions. Classes can be welcomed via Updates. Students can reply to the discussion topic with their final blog post (after rough drafts are reviewed and critiqued by teachers via Google Docs). Posting blogs in response to discussion topics will automatically categorize student writing by topic and teacher if necessary, keeping it very organized for readers.

Originally I wanted to have students posting their writing as Updates, but when I found out all students in the school could potentially be contributors, I changed my tune. I did not want every piece of student writing to end up in the Recent Activity section on the homepage. That area should be reserved for announcements and reminders we don’t want our students to miss.

We are getting started with blogging through Schoology this week. I’m excited to see how it goes and I’ll post an update soon!

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Square, Circle and Triangle

As you may or may not have read in my previous post, we went 1:1 here at the middle school a few weeks ago. Very exciting stuff. It’s been just over 30 days since our students got their Chromebooks and I’m celebrating in a couple of ways. First, a survey! I posted links where I knew students would find them and at the other end of the link is my Google Form Survey about the Chromebooks. I received some excellent data and I’m already planning my next few months from it. The second way I celebrated is by sending home an E-Newsletter via Smore.com. I focused on the last days to accept insurance and make a payment, results from the survey and how to tackle Chromebook challenges in the home, such as helping students remember to charge up every night.

However, the third and most important way that I am celebrating is by sending out a refresher E-mail to staff about the Wireless Device Guidelines we put in place this year. I also created a behavior T-chart since we are a PBIS district and put copies of both in everyone’s mailboxes. This way they can review the guidelines with students and post them in their classrooms. I am leaving it up to teachers to provide guidance and discipline on the matters of device readiness and student behavior. I just lend out school-day loaner Chromebooks if students show up with a pass from their teacher.

Two eighth-grade teachers decided to not only review the guidelines, but two days ago, they completed an activity on the topic as well. I was thrilled when one of them brought all of the activity handouts to me that afternoon to read through. What amazing feedback! It was very thrilling for me to get an opportunity to read what our students are thinking about the Chromebooks and the guidelines. The activity was Square, Circle and Triangle or Triangle-Square-Circle as it is outlined on the Teacher Toolkit website.

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I was so excited that I answered every one of the questions that were “going around” in the students’ minds. I kept a document open while I messaged each student in Schoology and I recorded my responses there so that if a similar question came up again I could easily copy and paste. I individualized every message though. Some of the answers I gave were as follows:

You asked why we can’t have iPads instead of Chromebooks. Great question! We wanted to be able to pay for the devices and provide them to our students instead of asking our families to pay. iPads are way more expensive, breakable, and you have to pay more for every app you install on them. At the high school you get iPads, but you have to pay for them yourself. Chromebooks are FREE for you and your family. I hope this information helps you.

Mrs. Scola

 

You asked why so many things are blocked. Great question. The reason things are blocked is because by accessing them you put you, your computer, or our bandwidth at risk. We need to be able to provide school resources to over 700 people, potentially all at one time. If everyone was streaming music, it would shut down our network. Sometimes we want to access fun apps and games but doing so is causing student Chromebooks to crash. We need to be more careful about what we access on the Chromebooks so things are blocked until they are proven useful in many cases. If there is EVER something that you need for school, you can ask for it and we will do our best to come up with a solution for you. I hope this information is helpful to you.

Mrs. Scola

 

You asked how you can be expelled because of the chromebook. You want an example.

An example would be cyberbullying and harassing someone, repeatedly accessing inappropriate content on the Chromebook by doing something to circumvent, or get around the filter. Also,  doing something illegal with it like selling narcotics or underage gambling. Those are just examples. I hope this information is helpful to you.

Mrs. Scola

 

The next morning I got an email from one of the teachers who gave me these handouts.

Kids are buzzing…

About how you messaged them yesterday and answered their questions! They were excited that you actually answered them. Thanks fo rmaking it meaningul for them so they don’t feel like they did something for no reason 🙂

That’s me! Making it meaningful since 2004…

It is my honor to be working with these kids. They deserve it.

Schoology Calendar

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The Google Calendar export and Schoology Calendar Import process could not be easier. I sweetly added over 400 events to our school calendar in under 2 minutes. That’s the kind of speedy I’m looking for.

From my Google Calendar, I went to Calendar Settings>Export Calendar. Then in Schoology, I went to the calendar page and chose Import. I navigated to my exported file and that was it. I got the details from the Schoology Help Center, my new best friend.

Yes, a two-way sync with my Google Calendar would be even sweeter and this is a much requested feature in the community forum. I can’t complain though. This was much simpler than calendars I’ve used in the past and it nicely color codes the types of calendars for you. So students can see the difference between school events and course events, personal events, and group events.

 

 

Team Pages on Schoology

It was mid-summer when I got an email from our new middle school principal. He explained that he wants grade-level teams of teachers to have a team web page so that parents can look in one place and know what the students are doing. I immediately realized that I had not even gotten the opportunity to show him Schoology, the amazing all-in-one that is going to revolutionize our school! Once we have our parents looking at Schoology, they won’t need to go to any teacher web pages to see what’s going on. They will be able to see all assignments, class updates, grades, events, groups and comments and everything else that their student is seeing and interacting with without creating double work for teachers. Even better, parents can set email notifications so that the news will come directly to them instead of having to remember to go check themselves. Genius!

So what do we do until parents can see what’s going on? We had decided to wait until the first set of parent conferences before we rollout Schoology Parent Accounts. Why? We want to make sure all of our teachers are good and comfortable with the Schoology grade book and the whole new digital classroom thing we’re going for this year. I got invited to a team leader meeting so we could talk about what the principal wanted for these team web pages and I showed everyone Schoology. Our big official intro-to-Schoology training would be taking place the very next day and everyone in the room was already invited to attend. So I just gave a small preview to set up my next suggestion:

Let’s use public Schoology group pages for each team to introduce the teachers on the team and post the weekly assignments until we get parents their own accounts. This will give parents the chance to see Schoology, even if they don’t know that’s how they’re getting a peek into daily student activities. Then, once the parents have their own accounts and are connected to their students, these team pages can transfer into teacher-student grade level team pages. Teams can post about everything going on. Reminders about field trips, testing events, award ceremonies, students of the month, homework clubs, etc.

The whole idea of the public team pages was well received so I ran home and created these team pages right away. I linked them on our website under a new link… Teams!

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I made each team leader an administrator of their group page and asked them to send group invitations to each member of their grade-level team. Then, at our very first staff meeting on August 23rd, when I introduced Schoology to the whole staff,  I asked everyone to join their groups if they had not already done so. I gave the instruction that everyone was to go to their team page and post an update that included a welcome message with their name, what they teach and what they are looking forward to this school year. Every teacher in the room learned at least one thing about Schoology in that activity and in the process of doing so they communicated and made connections with students and their parents/guardians.