Zero Hour in the Edublogger World

Teacher as Writer

Whew.  I barely got this logged in time.  Too much fun making snowmen as of late.  Or work?  yeah, that too.  Allow me to get straight with it…

Last year I nominated Michael Doyle for the “Best Teacher Blog” in the 2008 Edublog Awards in this post.  Dr. Doyle writes a blog quite simply entitled “Science Teacher.”  If you dare think, “oh, a science blog… what’s the next one” then you and going to miss out in a big way.  This blog doesn’t need a snazzy title.  It doesn’t need a dozen crafty widgets or badges.  Here the words speak for themselves.

Desperate Horseshoe

If you’re a science teacher at any level, then this is your blog.  If you love honest and crafty writing with a fat dose of wit, then this is your blog.  Far more importantly, if you have even a shred of a connection to our natural world left within your spirit, (or perhaps even more importantly if you don’t) …then mark it.

Doyle blogs about the daily experience of teaching in the classroom, from the newspaper as a conscientious citizen interested in education in America, and from the Atlantic shore as a curious observer of life.  These threads are present from post to post as you read down the page from day to day.  However, what is particularly inspiring is the fact that they are typically interwoven within most individual posts as well.  If this award was more about writing from the heart and soul and less about edtech popularity then Science Teacher would be a shoe-in.  I hereby nominate this blog once again in the category of “best teacher blog” in the 2009 Edublog Awards.

Networks or blogs?

I am a huge proponent of the power of Ning networks done well.  Like most things, if you don’t know what you’re doing, the slick and simple technology at Ning certainly won’t save you.  However, if you are really good at facilitating strong community, then this platform has a million advantages.  I have led my school, our district and my classrooms through the use of this platform for rich sharing and reflection.  A quick glance to the right sidebar will net links to the networks I manage in some way or another.

legs

Speaking of facilitating community, Connie Weber has it going on at Fireside Learning.  She is one of the few network creators who does things that make me say:  “hey… I need to try that.”  This network is also not an edtech toolfest.  Hear me loud and clear:  I am a huge proponent of the potential of web technology in education.  However, I am rarely an outspoken fan when said technology is not mostly invisible.  Anyone can tap keys on a blog.  A monkey can start a social network on the Ning platform.  Yet where gifted educators apply their skill, sweat, and spirit… good things happen.  Fireside Learning is a solid recommendation for “Best Use of a Social Networking Service.

However, there is a bit of overlap where the rubber meets the road on blogs/networks.  Bear with me on this one.  It’s like this:  Melissa Corey’s Benton Media Center network is truly one of the best technical uses of social media in a school library that I have seen.  I am far more than happy to say that this is the website of our school library media center.  This site is truly a blog, but obviously also a crafty aggregation of multiple tools on the Ning platform that help to bring information to the students at Benton.  In fact, if I need a second pair of eyes on any design I create, she’s the gal I consult.  My nomination for “Best Library Blog” goes to Benton Media Center.  Yes, you wish your library were like this.  And yes… I fully understand that this site doesn’t use traditional blogging software, but it really is primarily just that…  a library blog.  It is certainly the dominant feature on the site.

Admins?

School administrators blog?  Seriously?  Wait…  did you say central office administrators?  What impact could they possibly have on a school system?  OK, sure, there are a small band of school administrators who write publicly in blogs.  For example, Chris Lehmann is the school administrator of a model school that rides the progressive edge.  I have followed Chris’s blog for a while.  His blog is an excellent blueprint for an administrator blog.  There really isn’t an award for “Best Administrator Blog.”  This is a pretty substantial shame.  We have a nomination for “best tweet” but not for a school administrator?  OK, I love Twitter, but I’m not remotely capable of laying out a nomination in that category.  Wait, I know-  let’s pretend!  Let’s assume for the time being that there really is a category for school administrators who blog.

3D Team Leadership Arrow Concept

For the central office administrator up-and-coming blog to follow, I recommend:  In The Lead.  This blog is written by Dr. Jaime Dial, the Asst. Director of Secondary Education in the Saint Joseph School District.  Jaime has only been writing this blog since summer, and I think you’ll see that her strength is slow blogging.  She allows ideas and experiences to simmer away inside before spilling out some very readable synthesis.  Not many people do that well.  I think you’ll agree with me…  this is a blog to keep track of.  I would love to see In The Lead score an official nomination in the 2009 Edublog Awards.  Perhaps next year we’ll score that category, huh?

In fact, if I could point to two, I’d also nominate my close instructional partner in crime at Benton High School.  Jeanette Westfall is Co-Principal at Benton High School in Saint Joseph.  She is the boss in charge of instructional improvement.  As the instructional coach at Benton, I work closely with Jeanette in the “pedagogy” sphere of the TPACK framework.  Jeanette is the author of Ancora Imparo.  She is an excellent example of a day-to-day practitioner in a public school who writes about it in digits for all to see.  In the end, keep your eye on these two.  Surely next year we’ll have a category that honors the rarest of educator-bloggers:  the school administrator.


Artwork

*Desperate Horseshoe by Bemep on Flickr
*legs by Thomas Hawk on Flickr
*3D Team Leadership Arrow Concept by lumaxart on Flickr

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A Good Meme Causes Reflection

The meme

I hate internet memes.  I have to be honest in saying that I never respond to them.  The place they feel especially strange is on my blog.  This is one of the few places where my learning is allowed to run about unfettered.  Perhaps the meme concept feels like high school did back in my day when I was given really specific things to perform for a particular assignment.  We all know that growth occurs from many of those situations where we have been forced to think within the guidelines of a particular set of “rules.”  However, I have always seen the inside of my Edublogs dashboard as a place where I run the show, dictate the pace, put forward the agenda, and set the course for my own growth.

With all that said, I felt since Tania Sheko tagged me in this one…  it was one I couldn’t refuse.  Tania writes Brave New World from her home in Australia.  Tania is a faithful contributor here at nashworld, and someone whose work and opinions I respect deeply.  So really, that makes it pretty easy to see why this was my first official play-along with a blogging meme.  I can’t quite think of a better reason to step to the plate for such a thing, for this is a meme of reflection.

Eye project Day 10 - Observe

This meme is the “4R’s” meme for bloggers.  I am to troll through all of my old posts and pick one that fits each of the following R’s:

RANTS

RESOURCES

REFLECTIONS

REVELATIONS

I am to point to a post that fits each of the categories and tell why it was important, why it had lasting value or impact, and how I might update it for today.

Reflection

Actually, I spent some time back in April around the time of my first “blogversary” pulling an excerpt from each post throughout my first year behind the wheel of this blog.  I stuck the outline on a separate page entitled: Year One Archive.  So actually…  I had a pretty slick little tool for surveying all of my posts for this reply.  Still, this little exercise did require some pretty deep reflection to pick just one for each of the R’s.  So for that-  thanks Tania.

Rants- this could fit any number of posts here.  However, I chose a post from last November for this one.  Increasing Our Level of “Vitamin A was a post about the need for administration at all levels to step up and improve their support and modeling of current educational technology within the profession.  I challenged administrators to book a trip to Washington D.C. for NECC 2009 and the unveiling of the refreshed NETS-A standards for leaders in this area.

This one was posted at 10:00pm on November 13th.  At noon on November 14th our district’s Chief Operations Officer, Rick Hartigan, was sitting at the table in my principal’s office to let us know that, “he has heard the call” and that the district “was supporting this ideal and behind us 100%.”  I had received timely feedback here before then, but I think you can see how impactful that little post was.  What was the follow through, you ask?  Mr. Hartigan booked a trip to NECC and attended like a pro.  In fact, I remember one particular afternoon when he accompanied me to the “blogger’s cafe” to chat with some of the member of my burgeoning PLN.

The blogger’s cafe at an event like this is the most locale on the premises.  I quickly introduced him to Wesley Fryer, Dean Shareski, and Terry Kaminski.  The five of us stood and chatted about some of the more crucial aspects of an educational technology “upgrade” in schools today.  Rick stepped up and asked as many questions as were sitting on the forefront of his brain, and those three graciously took the time to share their input.  That one set of events did potentially more than anything else I have done on nashworld to date.

Pencils and Moleskines 04

Resources- this one was tough.  In the end, I chose the one single post with the most comments to date, Trolling my PLN for Edtech Vision.  In all seriousness, this is a classic post to demonstrate the fact that sometimes the comments on a post are far more valuable than the initial content.  This was, of course, the goal of the post to begin with.  You should proceed through that comment field with a pen & paper (or your stickies app) and record as many titles and names as you can.  This is a true wealth of information and opinions from what I consider to be some really top-notch thinkers.

Reflections- This category could mean many things.  Nearly all of my posts fit this one in some way.  Yet, Inspire First, Instruct Later required perhaps some of the most personal reflection.  This post was written close on the heels of a family death and the birth of my youngest little girl.  As Clay Burrell noted in the comments, “Good luck on the newcomer, and sorry about the loss of the old-timer.  Quite a cycle you’re experiencing.” The meat of the post speaks to the affective needs of our students.  I argue here that these needs must be met before trodding down any sort of prescriptive curricular path.  The closest competition (and this one treads awfully close to “revelations”) is the poem-post I dropped after the birth of our youngest daughter, Neve.

Revelations- Since the first three speak to the educational technology and instructional coaching elements of my life as an educator, I thought it apropos to toss in one from the world of biology.  Where are the seeds in an orange? speaks to the disconnect our children have with the very food they nourish themselves with on a daily basis.  That day, a student of mine confessed during a lab that he had never seen an orange with seeds.  In the real scope of things, this scary fact is likely is as important, if not more, than any of the aforementioned.  Not only are young people detached from the food they eat as actual biological entities, we as educators may as well be increasingly detached from the world our students have grown up immersed in.

So in keeping with the spirit of virality (if I may coin that term) I am to tag a few others to continue the meme.  No, this will not keep you in God’s graces.  It will certainly not bring you great wealth from the shores of Nigeria.  It may not even make you happy upon first considering it.  However, I do respect these folks, and would certainly enjoy seeing their responses to this project.  It did make me reflect, Tania.  So thank you.  Oh….  and don’t forget to tag your post with:  #postsofthepast.

The Dance of Joy

My turn

I hereby tag Michael Doyle, “Science Teacher” who constantly inspires me; Punya Mishra, “Punya Mishra’s Web” who is about as creative a person in our field as can be; Shelly Blake-Plock, “Teach Paperless” who has recently been one of my favorite bloggers; and Steve Dembo of “Teach42” who put us “on assignment” with his 30 Days To Being a Better Blogger challenge last Autumn.

Artwork

*”Eye Project Day 10 – Observe” by Lee Jin Young on Flickr
*”Pencils and Moleskines 04” by Paul Worthington on Flickr
*”The Dance of Joy” by G a r r y on Flickr
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A Reflective Anniversary

Happy anniversary to “nashworld.”  This post is the 65th of the year, and it comes exactly one year after my first post on April 21st, 2008.  Wow.  Looking back at that post, it was quite clear I was full of questions for the coming year of study and reflection, but very shy of answers.  In fact, this blog was initially titled “virtual southside” that first month.  My first plan was for this space to be a group blog to facilitate PD for our brand-spanking-new tech cohort starting in June.

My first flickr anniversary!

Forming a purpose

Then I found Ning.  In one weekend, it was clear to me that this platform would be a far better, and more flexible, match for our school’s edtech PD mission.  It also served to bring some comfort for our staff in the world of social media.  Though we control membership to the site, it is certainly a more free-wheeling place than a simple group blog.  It was the decentralized nature of a Ning network that I loved.  I didn’t want to drive “virtual southside.”  I didn’t want anyone to drive.  I wanted to be merely another loud voice on a very enthusiastic and speedy bus.

So after a quick rename, nashworld became more of a personal place for reflection, sharing, and synthesis of thought.  I do drive this bus.  However, I had my first guest move up from the passenger section just this month.  Though I certainly do have an amazing passenger list here, this is where the metaphor breaks down, for the readers of this blog certainly help steer my thoughts and words with their comments.  To those of you who have put in your two cents here, I thank you greatly.  You have helped to develop many of the thoughts and beliefs I currently own.

Year One Archive

A couple of months ago, when I started to really reflect on what blogging has meant to me over the past year, I decided to create a different type of archive for the blog.  If you look up, you’ll notice that just to the right of the “About” page is a link to a new page entitled:  “Year One Archive.”  This page lists every post I have written over the course of the year by month-  with somewhat of an abstract-like summary.  I hope this provides yet another way to navigate the site.  It certainly isn’t a quick and efficient way, but it does provide a bit of a different approach.  The archive page also serves as an interesting chronological history of the past year.

Meer Reflections

Archaeo-blogology

In fact, after that first post in April…  I didn’t write another that month.  I didn’t even write one in May.  During that month I was working hard on both Virtual Southside as well as my first shot at social media for an actual course I teach.  June, my most prolific month, was the result of using the blog  to fulfill the requirements of a really lame online grad course on “educational technology.”  Truly the worst course I have ever experienced.  You can easily tell this by the lame posts and lame books and movies and edtech articles from five and ten years ago.  Jeeeez.  I wish I hadn’t looked back over those just now.

Things got much better when school started and I began to feel a true mission for the blog.  When November began, I followed along with Steve Dembo in his 30 Days to Being a Better Blogger adventure.  That experienced helped tremendously.  Also in November, I was actually even nominated for a 2008 Edublogs Award.  You can imagine my surprise as such a green little blogger, but that was no doubt extrinsically empowering.   I am certain to post several more reflective pieces on things I have experienced, learned and accomplished over the past year.  Stay tuned for those.  As soon as my grad program is completed in May…  I have a lot of things to explore yet.  Grad school, a new baby girl…  it’s a wonder I could pull off any of this at all.

To community

Most of all-  thank you.  Thanks for coming here.  Thanks for reading.  Thanks for commenting.  Thanks for joining in the discussion.  Thank you for helping to steer my personal learning mission over the past year.  I cannot thank each and every one of you enough.  The thinking I do about the things you say… is worth a graduate course in something each time.  In reflection over this past year, I can for certain that the biggest thing I have gained from blogging is people.  I now have current and future collaborators on from all over the country.  We have and will collaborate on projects that will no doubt extend not only my learning, but that of my friends and colleagues in Saint Joseph.  I am humbled by the professionalism, creativity, and generosity of people in this newly-generated community.  Thanks isn’t enough.

Artwork:

*My 1st Flickr Anniversary by cuellar on Flickr.
*Meer Reflections by Dave Whelan on Flickr.
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Who are you? Where did you come from? How did you get so smart?

Day two of the Dembo assignment is a fun one.  As a relatively nascent blogger, gathering data on the traffic to and from my blog has been enlightening.  That data is what this post is all about.

I started this blog in April.  On August 22nd or so, I added the code for Google Analytics to this site, the tech PD site for my school, and my marine biology site.  I have to say tracking the who, what, when and where of the visitors to my sites has been intriguing.  It is almost addictive.  I agree with Steve when he says, “…those graphs are good for the ego and can be highly motivating. For example, the days when I do post a new blog, I clearly see a bump in traffic, which is always incentive to post more often!”

Traffic Light Tree

Not only is proof that people really are connecting to your words validating, it is a fantastic teaching point.  Since all of my students are now dipping their toes into the blogosphere, at least on our network sites, I periodically try to highlight interesting stats for them on the big screen.  What would be the main point here?  Connectedness.  One of the main reasons for participating in blogging is the building of collective intelligence.  This is the key element of Web 2.0.  This is why the read/write web has and is changing the face of communication and of education in bright little pockets all over the globe.  For people generally unfamiliar with blogs-  these connections make an impact.  I spoke of this briefly in an earlier post on blogging.

Writing and sharing to a wide audience is huge.  A few colleagues and I are about to embark on an action research project to examine the effects of writing online compared to merely hitting “print” and walking your words to your teacher.  In recent discussions, we have talked in depth about the differences we see in our student work when interacting online.  We think we see increased volume, engagement, creativity and even a stronger “tuning in” to the elements of our specific content.  Therefore, we are going to attempt a study to examine these effects across several disciplines.  If nothing else, we will certainly be better able to characterize what is going on with our students as we move more of what we do onto the transparency of the web.

So, on to the “assignment” at hand.  This one was easy for me, since I realized the value of this far before I actually added analytic capability to my site.  However, reading the assignment today reminded me of a few of the stats I had forgotten to check for some time.

I took several screenshots within my analytics page and posted them to my Flickr account.  I will post a few of them inline now, but the rest can be viewed here.  As a scientist by training, trust this:  this much data tends to make me a bit giddy.  Wow.  To start, a 30,000ft view of the traffic pattern to my blog:

Traffic to Nashworld

As you can see here, when you start any blog, the traffic is quite light.  It is also quite clear to see the bumps I get each time log a new post now.  The really cool thing to me is that the trend shows that there are consistently more people reading those posts as time goes on.  This is a good sign that I’m not making folks too terribly upset.  Or perhaps… I am.  Interesting thought.  It is cool to think of 198 absolute unique visitors in just the past couple of months.  That is encouraging to any blogger and is certainly an impetus to keep on posting.

Traffic to Virtual Southside

The chart above was clipped from the tech cohort blog I set up called Virtual Soutside.  This provides a look at the difference when you have twenty people contributing to a site.  Also, instead of a mere three months of visits, I have been tracking this site since June of 2008.

Other assorted facts gleaned from the analysis of this blog to date include:

  • Over 60% of the traffic here now comes from referring sites.  These are essentially, other sites that link to my blog.  Some of these are controlled by me, such as posting a link to my Twitter peeps.  Some are controlled by folks posting an outbound link to nashworld on their site.
  • My readers are from eleven different countries. (14 as of the next morning)  The vast majority are from the United States, but others are from Malaysia, Kenya and India to name a few.
  • 65% of my visitors view this site through the Firefox browser.  That happens to be my personal browser of choice about 90% of the time as well.  There are times when I fire up Safari as well.  They really do perform differently at times.  Only 19% view nashworld via Internet Explorer.  This make me strangely happy.
  • 63% of you come to my blog powered by the Mac operating system.  Wow.  That is far more than I expected, even with our heavy usage of OSX in the district.  Almost 3% of visitors now arrive here in the palm of their hand via iPhone, and one person actually found their way here from a Playstation 3.
  • The average visitor views 2.6 pages here.  This surprised me as well.  I thought that number would be far smaller.  The way I have the blog set up now, a visitor arriving via the main page can actually read ten separate posts without even clicking another link.  This is also encouraging to me.
  • Speaking well to the power of smart referrals, the average time spent on any given visit is far higher when you come from a link posted by another blogger.  The really crazy stat is that the average time spent on the site by visitors arriving from Will Richardson’s blog, Weblogg-ed, is far higher than the rest.  Those of you coming in from Weblogg-ed currently spend an average of nearly 15 minutes on the site as opposed to the four and a half minutes of all visitors.  Hey Will, your readers have taste!
  • This is but a slice of the data available from Google Analytics.  Even my Flickr set, with all of the screenshots I just referenced and a few more, is barely a fourth of what the site can reveal.
  • Also interesting is the visitor visualization on ClustrMaps.  You can see this map over in the right sidebar of this page=>  I just added this Widget to the blog abut a month ago.  I don’t think it is as accurate as GA, and it is definitely not as comprehensive, but it sure is pretty, and gives your readers a slice of your data at a glance.

So to sum things up, I am two assignments down and 28 to go.  I have a feeling that things will get rocky toward the end when our new little girlie is born, so I am buckling down for the near term.  Also:  I don’t know all of my readers, but I like them.  They tend to be super-connected Mac snobs who read some other really smart blogs.  They can also probably tell me some amazing things about these stats I haven’t yet noticed.  By all means, please do respond with what you see in this data.

If you are local and would like some help setting up Google Analytics for your blog, you know who to ask.  Right?

Artwork thanks:

Warby, William. “Traffic Light Tree.” warby’s photostream. 03 MAY 2008. Flickr.
2 Nov 2008 <http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2077/2460655511_779a1d1a5c.jpg?v=0>.

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