Thursday, March 17, 2016

Class Blog with Google Sites


Got blogs? 

I love class blogs. When I taught fourth grade five years ago, I had students blog about reading. Students would write book reviews, share their comprehension strategies, and carry conversations about articles related to science topics we were covering in class. A few days per week, we'd scoot down to the computer lab and share our thoughts. I also had five PC's in the back of the classroom where students could rotate in and out if they were itching to tell about their latest read. My students loved it, and I loved it as well because all my students' thoughts about reading were in one place! The lines of communication were powerful. 

Third graders blogging on iPads.
Fast forward a few years and along came Kidblog.org. What an awesome platform for student blogging! The activity stream down the middle was perfect for teachers to check the latest activity. The controls it gave teachers were awesome as many similar blogging platforms were starting to charge for many of the features Kidblog gave for free. However, Kidblog is now charging for their service. I understand that they have to make money, and this blog post is in no way an attempt to take away from their product. However, I wanted to provide a free alternative for my teachers. So if you are a Google Apps for Education school district, you'll want to continue reading. 

Class blog template

I created a template using Google Sites somewhat similar to the format of Kidblog. It has the stream of posts down the center, access to all student blogs in a list, and students can easily add images, videos and text. However, it is missing the categories and tags that most blogs have. It is also missing the ability to approve posts before they are published, but a teacher can quickly check the history on the site if there were ever an issue.

There are some benefits over the Kidblog platform though. Students can insert video straight from their Google Drive instead of embedding it from YouTube. Students can also easily insert presentations and documents directly into their blog. So if they want to talk about a project they are working on in Google, they can easily add it to their post. They can also add numerous gadgets to customize their own page.

What really took me a long time to create were all the tutorials! I added tutorials built right into the template so you and your students can get started right away. So if your students want to customize their page or need to know how to post, the tutorial is there. If a teacher needs to know how to adjust permission levels or add students, the tutorial is there. I hope you find them helpful. If you find that I am missing some directions, please let me know so I can add them. 

Here's a quick overview of the template: 


If you'd like to download the template, click here.


Why not Blogger?

I've been posting about using Blogger over the last few years. It is a great communication tool for teachers. It is a great communication tool for students. The only problem with Blogger is that users must be over 13 to use it. Even with the Google Apps for Education suite, it is not considered a "core app." Therefore users must abide by the terms of service that Google requires in a personal setting. One of those items is the age restriction. So if you have students under the age of 13 and you are in a Google Apps for Education school district, try out the template! See if it will work for you and your class. 

You have a blog...now what?

I get a lot of questions about blogging. Especially when it comes to launching your blog. Launching your blog properly is essential. Blogging is not a magic tool that will fix all your students' learning issues. So here are some tips. 
  1. Set expectations. Make sure your students understand what kind of posts you desire. Model your expectations and spend time highlighting great posts from classmates. You have to set the bar high. 
  2. Set rules for commenting. One of the biggest issues with an online realm is novelty of it. Students will try to throw in silly comments; comments that I refer to as "littering the Internet." 
  3. Review! Review the expectations repeatedly. Continuously highlight great posts and great comments. 
For a more detailed description of these tips, click here