In former days, estates with greenhouses always had a potting room, a place to coax plants from seedlings to strength, until they were ready for the garden. Potting sheds are filled with pots of all sizes and shapes, right at hand, on shelves, ready to be grabbed. In the potting shed, when seedlings are just starting, gardeners carefully tend their
treasures.

From the first flurry of spring and on through the summer, a potting shed is the ideal locus for the muddy fingered work of transplanting young sprouts to bigger pots and dividing perennials. Unlike the shed you store your garden equipment in, the potting shed is a place where one can garden happily even on the rainiest of days. As days warm and
containers need to be planted the shed becomes what it is – an essential part of the garden.

One of my earliest memories of kindergarten was dipping my hands into the rich loam, filling tiny planters and planting nasturtiums, which were later transferred into the garden beds. The seeds seemed to grow as soon as they were hidden amidst the brown earth and like Jack’s bean sent out lovely green shoots which transformed and produced beautiful orange flowers.

Today, in the world of the internet there are whimsical potting sheds where you can work and grow fabulous things. Teachers are using blogs to plant curriculum seeds and it is possible, by visiting their sites, to watch ideas germinate, grow and develop.

In December of 2007, for example, Grade Two students at Hawkesdale P – 12 College discovered just what grew when they planted seeds in their Christmas Blog. They took the time to share memories of Christmas, posted photographs, told the story of Christmas through their eyes and scanned and published their Christmas art work. This was, quite simply, a beginning.

From these humble beginnings an e-mazing journey began. You only need to explore Anne Mirtchin’s blogs at Word Press and Global Teacher, beginning with murcha.globalteacher.org.au to appreciate what grew from this seed bed, to see the shift that took place once the school nurtured those first seeds, to see the diverse freeware and Web 2.0 tools that were employed to publish and celebrate student work.

Beginners often ask what it is they really need to know before they begin

This article offers seven magical ‘seeds’, provides some starting points for educators who have set up a blog, follow the lead of schools like Hawkesdale and learn more about the potential of working with young students in a blogging environment. Participants are encouraged to learn through play, by having fun with Web 2.0 freeware.

Seed 1. Why Bother? Who Cares?

If there is no reason to bother, if no one really cares, if blogs are only containing personal material that would be better locked up in a small diary, then there is little point engaging.

Blogs offer much more. The first seed contains the kernel of possibility. Blogs are a bit like the garden shed itself. They enable us to store all the things we need to work in a technological garden. Many teachers are now using blogs as digital port folios. They are using them as directories which contain assignments and links to resources. They have discovered that blogs enable them to publish and provide a real audience for their students. Others are directly engaging their students in thinking activities.

Check out what Edublogs have to say about using blogs to teach. Put the seed between your thumb and forefinger and have a think about what you can do with a blog. Trace the fingers on your hand and write down ten different ways that a blog can be used to engage students and offer rich curriculum activities.

Now you are ready to begin. Create a blog at Global Teacher and at Global Student depending upon your specific need and how you plan to use blogs. Global Student is the best place to house classroom and student blogs while Global Teacher is the ideal setting for a digital portfolio or a PLT discussion.

Seed 2. Learn Through Play and by Replication

Once you have your default blog login and discover the dashboard of the blog. This is the nerve centre and is where you will manage every aspect of it. Don’t be afraid. There are plenty of online tutorials which will help you. Edublogs videos are a great place to start. SLAV have run a Learning Through Play program and it is all still online.

Test run and learn how to post, insert an image, add a link, change your template and alter your password.

Make it a practice to visit blogs that are being run by experienced bloggers. Watch what they are doing. Write to them and begin to follow their lead.

Seed 3. Optimize the Comment Tool

Schools like Hawkesdale P-12, Doncaster Secondary College, Murrumbeena Primary School and North Fitzroy Primary School have each discovered the potential of the comment tool as a means to communicate with one another, parents and fellow Gen Y people. They have discovered that they can share activities and engage the whole community. At Horsham West Primary School staff spent time teaching students how to write a constructive comment to place on other student’s blogs. The comment box will take hundreds of characters so teachers can use it as a place where students can post a response to work and it can also be used as a place to complete some homework.

Begin by testing the comment tool to see just what potential it has. All comments can be moderated, managed and edited so nothing is permanent. Everyone gets very excited to see their work go live so quickly and this helps to generate enthusiasm for working in this environment.

Seed 4. Working with Images and dealing with Copyright.

Text is easy to put in a post. Students quickly realize that it enhances their post if they include images. To overcome any copyright issues it is a good idea to use your own images. One simple way to begin is to have students complete a piece of digital artwork using Paint. Then they can turn it into a web friendly image (jpg) and post it on the blog.

Experienced teachers will tell you that students love to go home at night, take photos with their digital cameras, return to school the next day and display endless patience as they carefully resize their photographs and resize them. There are numerous programs that you can use. Many schools have downloaded Irfanview from www.irfanview.com To view examples visit murcha.globalteacher.org.au and make sure to visit student blogs.

This is a freeware program that is just wonderful for editing images and it is very easy to use. It will allow you to change the brightness and contrast, alter images completely, add titles, create panoramic shots for headers etc and most importantly, rename and resize photos and do so much more.

Online slideshows can add extra pizzazz to a blog as well. Slide com is an online slideshow presentation that allows images, transitions and music in the final output. Images still speak a thousand words and students with lower literacy skills can always say what they would like through images and some text. www.smilebox.com is another free download to explore.

Seed 5. Experiment with Voki and Wee World to make Avatars to disguise identities

It is important to teach students to protect their identities. It is important to teach children safety, common sense and the wherewithal to question issues like spam while they are in the safe environment of the classroom.

A good way to introduce the whole issue of protecting identity, and learn how to use your blog, is to use computer animated vodcasts like Voki to customize your own personal ID, add your voice or use a computer generated voice to communicate online or via a mobile phone. Students love using these and even the shyest don’t mind talking into the microphone. Learning how to insert these avatars into their blog side bar expands their knowledge of how to present their blog. Wee World is another fun, free application that can be used to disguise student’s identity.

Seed 6. Initially Use Programs You are Familiar With

Digital Story Telling

Students love MS Photostory as it is so easy to use, quick to complete and gives them lots of options for motion plus music clips that can be used. These can be saved in email format and then uploaded to an online video websites such as Teacher Tube and then either a link posted or code used to embed on their blog. Students can go further and create their own music using Acid 6.0 to avoid all copyright problems. Animoto allows the photos inserted to take on the beat of the music and seems to produce professional videos.

Optimize Power Point

Students enjoy using Power Point, quite simply because they are confident in using it. It is user friendly and they are confident that they will get good results. Slideshare is a Web2.0 tool which is also user friendly and will convert MS Power Point presentations to be embedded into blogs and wikis, for online collaboration or use.

However, if you are an educationalist, check that the site is not blocked at your institution or at the school you wish to share with.

Seed 7. Gather Resources into A Blogroll Directory

There is a wide choice of bookmarking programs such as Del-icious and Magnolia where you can store links to resources like the ones listed in this article. Once you have created a file you can add a link to the side bar of your blog. You can also make categories and store your links and build a specific resource for staff, students and parents.

So now you have your seeds! What next? Take the plunge and watch as a very wild, technological garden springs to life in your classroom.

Resources to Guide You As You Become an Experienced Blogger

The following sites have resources and examples of A grade blogs.

Global Teacher
SLAV Learning Through Play
Wild Garden AdventURE Calendar

Makeover Tips and Tricks

Making Over Your Blog

Social Networking Tools and Freeware

Social Networking

Examples of A+ Blogging

Andrew Williamson
Dianne Beever
Middle Learning Unit
Lois Smethurst
Maryna Badenhorst
Techno Books
Mrs Parrington Loves Science

Projects

Magic Garden Project

by Heather Blakey 2009

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