Saturday, May 31, 2008

Comment Challenge Tasks

The 31 Day Comment Challenge has some interesting tasks. Some of the tasks I have completed are things I tend to do in my regular practice. Other tasks have stretched my thinking.

Ask a Question in a Blog Comment (Day Four)

This is something I tend to do as I read blogs and post comments. Blog comments fall into three categories for me: I respond with my feelings on a post, I write to congratulate someone on something they are doing, I am uncertain about what was written about and I leave a question.
The use of Cocomment and co.mment both help me see when people respond. This had not always been my practice. It was, looking back, more of a hit and run process.

At the start of reading and commenting on edublogs, I didn’t realize that people would respond in their blog. I thought they would visit my blog and leave responses. I thought that was why most blogs requested your website when you comment. I didn't know that it was so people could click on your name and visit your blog. I’m sure I received answers in my early days of commenting on blogs that I missed.

The biggest challenge of those two comment tracking programs is that unless I’m logged onto my laptop that I bring back and forth from school or the desktop at home, I miss the capabilities of those programs. The other night, I was working at school backing up photos from the last six years. I left the laptop at home since I had returned in the evening. I went to read a post by Chris and left a comment. I didn’t want to load either commenting program on the school’s desktop machine. Now I have to go back and see if he had any response to my comment.

Note: While writing this post, I realized that I can go back and click the Track co.mments link in my bookmarks toolbar. The ability to track comments after they are made is a plus for the co.mments tool. CoComments seems to require being activated as a part of the comment process.

Engage Another Commenter in Discussion (Day 6)
This was a natural extension of one of my comments this week. Christy wrote a post addressing learning opportunities for teachers during the summer. Kelly left a comment:
My question, how do we get all those teachers and administrators who don’t even know where the church is, to enter and at least listen to the choir? What will we need to do to draw them in? Where will we get the needed time and exposure to put forth our ideas? I would really like to see things move along but how do we reach those who really need to hear the message?
I responded to his questions with my own thoughts. I must admit I see addressing entries as “@blog commenter” as a Twitter carryover. I tend to address everyone in comments in a manner that is more like a salutation in a letter. Here is how I responded to Christy and Kelly:

I really like the list you put together. I’ll be working with the teachers in my building in a couple of weeks and I’m going to add it to the resources I’ll be pointing to.

The summer is a great time to recharge our batteries and visit new ideas. I have read, or am in the process of reading, the first three books on your list.

We all need to make the difference one person at a time. I’ve spoken with three different groups of people at our local alternate route to teacher certification program back in February. I plan on sending those who gave me their email address a follow up note as a reminder of what’s available. I also plan on asking them what they may have tried since February.

In my building, I’m will be showing the projects that our students created and collaborated on. People have to make the choice to grow. They also need exposure to new ideas to make that choice.

It takes time to learn and grow our personal lesson plans that we use with our students. It may take showing people opportunities over and over again until they are willing to try something new themselves. I know you’ve been at this a lot longer than Christy and I, so the process might seem painfully slow. The message is getting out there one teacher at a time.


Three Things I’ve Learned (Day 7)
I will wrap up this post with some lessons learned.
I know that I do much better on the challenges that are not a big stretch.

So far, I’ve been completing the tasks that are easy, no-brainers. I guess that’s human nature. Summer break is coming and there will be plenty of time to find posts I disagree with, posts in a different niche, and posts in a different language.

Reading and commenting on posts is very natural to me. It doesn’t carry over into the rest of the Internet yet. Two examples are commenting on Flickr images and leaving comments on what I see as articles appearing on major websites. I’m hoping by the end of the challenge that I will be more likely to respond to others about their photos. In reference to commenting on major websites, I’m thinking about a recent Edutopia poll. I found it odd that they thought someones entry of “dangerously irrelevant” was a comment on a person’s feeling about reading a blog instead of the blog Dangerously Irrelevant. I was surprised to see two blogs: Cool Cat Teacher and Two Cents Worth along side the blogging platform, Edublogs. My first instinct was to drop a comment about it over on Twitter. Darren left a Twitter message that he responded in the comment area of the Edutopia page. When I went to see what he wrote, I found that several people commented below the article AND the article changed based on the feedback. I never think to look further than articles and polls.

I enjoy leaving comments on blog posts and really like when the blog author takes a moment to respond back to my comment.

Onward and forward to more comment challenge tasks.

Image Citation:
Christine Martell of VisualsSpeak.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Simplifying Incoming Information

In my new mode of trying to simplify how I work with my very prolific network, I have come to use a new-to-me service. It's called Pipes: Twitter link monitor. I have seen references to "pipes" on and off for a while now, but never looked into it. It was pointed out to me in a comment to my last post by Sue Waters.

Getting Started

The set up is simple. Type your Twitter id into the input box, click the Run Pipe button, and get your results. I was surprised that I was able to run the utility with my Twitter ID since I have it set up as a protected account.

The important extra step is to click on the drop down list on the right side of the results window next to the orange RSS icon that says "More options". It is here that you will be able to choose "Get as RSS".

Copy the URL from the top of the screen into your reader and you will now receive a stream of links from those you are following in Twitter in your reader.

Isn't This More Information Overload?
While it may seem like I'm just adding more on my plate, it really is streamlining the process of the learning I accomplish over on Twitter. I have found a couple of items that would have passed me by otherwise.

Here's an Example
Last night, I was getting ready to prepare my last Kindergarten lesson of the year. I wanted to discuss the importance of going places safely online which is a Cybersmart lesson for the K-1 crowd. Usually I walk the students through two of the suggested websites, but I wanted something different.

I tweet popped up from @mscofino: Elementary/Primary teachers check this out: Interactive e-books for free! Thanks to @jmedved for the tip!

The URL sounded interesting. I was curious and clicked on over. It's a wonderful site full of books that can be clicked on and read online. The children enjoyed the website. I think it gave a better example website than the others I used to go to. I would have missed a great site without the RSS feed.

So What?
I've said on several occasions that I can't be on Twitter all the time, or worried about missing things that come down the river of information. This still holds true, but now I will be more likely to come across websites that may give me an improved lesson plan.

From my last post about my oversubscribed reader, I learned that there are plenty of people out there who want to stay informed and are trying to simplify life. This is worth the five minutes it takes to set up. You might want to give it a try. After all, you can always unsubscribe the item from your reader if it doesn't work for you.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Confessions of an Oversubscribed Reader

Sometimes too much of a good thing is a bad thing. This is where I stood this month with Google Reader. When I first started using a reader, it was a thing of beauty. I no longer had to remember to go check a blog's URL to see if there was anything new. I would sign on with my one-stop-shopping reader account and enjoy some good articles.

Then Came Twitter
At first, I had a great idea. When I would follow someone on Twitter, I would add their blog to my reader. My logic was: if I'm communicating with them on Twitter, shouldn't I be reading their deeper thoughts on their blog? This was all well and good when I had ten people following me on Twitter.

Too Much To Read
I've slowly built up to a little over 300 following/ followers. This is great because my network contains really interesting folks doing fantastic things with their students. My policy of putting all the blogs into my reader gave me a full time job that felt overwhelming, though. Between joining the 31 Day Comment Challenge and having too many posts to read, I found myself giving up. Instead of being able to pick and choose what I found interesting, I was ignoring the reader.

Fear of an Echo Chamber
If that wasn't enough, I started worrying that the only blogs I read belonged to those on Twitter. I went on a binge of looking for educators outside my network to read. I can't tell you how many subscriptions were in my reader, but it had to be near 400. Yikes!

Now Comes the Great Rebuild
I've left 25 blogs in my reader. I'm looking forward to a renewed interest in both my reading and commenting. The whole experience leaves me very curious. I wonder how many people really feel like they have a great mix of items in their reader that they can keep up with. What makes a satisfactory balance?

Image Citation:
Lim, Kevin. "Dead Sea newspaper." inju's photostream. 2006 March 13. 2008 May 24.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Images Go: Kerpoof

Heading into the final weeks of class, I'm going to introduce my first grade to a website called Kerpoof. They really enjoy KidPix, but it has been having some compatibility problems with a new version of Quicktime. I can't figure out how to back out the newer version of Quicktime so I can reload an older version.

When looking for an interesting project to allow for some storytelling, I came across a post over at the
Welcome to NCS-Tech Blog.

The Setup

We've been working at Panwapa, so I am keeping the same username and password scheme from that website over on Kerpoof. I like the website's parent information letter. They are very clear in their intention to allow children to work at the website and keep their private identity information safe.

Real Life Decisions

One of the lessons at CyberSmart for the K-1 group is called
Find the Ad. Using this website will allow us to discuss a real life situation. Kerpoof is an ad-free space, but there are commercial intentions involved. As the students sign in, there are coins that are given to the user account. Some of the items will be available to all students, others are only available to users whose parents have signed up for a membership. This may not arise as an issue for a while since it takes a couple hundred points to "buy" things at the Kerpoof store. It will be good to discuss the value of $4.39 for a month's membership, $24.79 for a six-month membership, and $44.79 for a year long membership.

The Equation So Far

I am looking forward to presenting this lesson during the week. We will easily have time to sign in, create the avatar, and begin creating a story. We will finish it before the end of the school year. I am curious to see how the students feel about the character sets randomly changing. They are used to a standard set of stickers and stampers always being available in Kid Pix. I have requested a group id for my students. When I receive the id, I will come back and describe more of our journey through this website.

Image Citation:
"Copyright 2008 Kerpoof, LLC; Used With Permission."

Monday, May 12, 2008

Panwapa - Treasure Hunt

We continued our work at the Panwapa website in the first grade. We had taken a break from directly working with the site for a few weeks. The students enjoy the website and have asked to use it after they finished other tasks in computer class. They definitely have an attraction to it. I sent the user names and passwords home. Several students have told me that they have used it at home, as well.

I wanted to show the students how to use the Treasure Hunt option this week. This time, I had them work in pairs. It allowed me to have half the number of computers active on the Internet at the same time which sped up potential bottlenecks.

Before doing this in class, it's a good idea to run a couple of treasure hunts yourself. I found that it was easiest to show the students how to do the first hunt, one item, by clicking on the single category around the magnifying glass.

When the second hunt moves on to two categories, it's time to use the magnifying glass. It is useful to go over all these examples with the children before setting them off
on their own.

Using the magnifying glass opens up a map color key feature on the various little islands. For example, categories in this example were: electric guitar and tennis lovers.

You can see by the dark brown shading that this category has many children who like electric guitars and tennis. When you click on the tennis island, it only shows those houses of children who also happen to like the electric guitar. The shading becomes even more important when you have three categories to match on the last treasure hunt.

When you find three matches, you are rewarded with a Panwapa card. The first graders worked happily in pairs for the entire 35 minute time period and want to do it again next week.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Power Law Distribution ... What?

I'm at the half-way point of Clay Shirky's book, Here Comes Everybody. Several people have mentioned it over the last couple of months and I'm glad I picked it up. It's helped me understand what I've been observing over the last few months.

Big Idea Number One: Many-to-Many
As the number of people I connect with online grows, the dynamic changes. Mr. Shirky explains that each addition to my network grows cross connections faster than I realized. It's just like those "how many handshake" puzzler questions {and answer if you want it}. It's a many-to-many proposition. As much as I wanted to follow the blogs of everyone I follow in Twitter, I can't. It's become impossible. That's where my Google Reader friends shared items come in. Let me know if you want to share with me. I only have seven reciprocating within Google Reader right now.

Big Idea Number Two: Fame Happens
I happened upon Twitter back in July, but it took until mid October before I started communicating with others with the @ directed responses. In the book, he mentions that once you have an "audience" of 1,000 or more there is an imbalance in the number of messages that come in to you that you can respond to.

I have a little over 300 followers/ following. There are a core group of people that I talk to on a regular basis and collaborate with. I don't feel the need to limit the number of people I will accept into my protected account, but the dynamics have changed. I don't feel like I "know" everyone any more. I'm also amazed at some of the people I've conversed with as a relatively unknown person in the big Internet world. That said, some of my most recent connections have resulted in two terrific projects for my classes in math and computers.

Big Idea Number Three: Predictable Imbalances
Depending upon which venue I visit (blogs, nings, Twitter) there are names that come up more often than others in each arena. This represents something called the Power Law Distribution. In short, the top contributor to a medium/project/whatever will outproduce the second from top contributor in a major way. There can be no real such things a average, median, or mode.

I shouldn't feel like I don't contribute a lot, because I can't compare myself to others. There will always be people who blog more, comment more, and so on. I pretty much knew that already, but it stands out for me.

Big Idea Number Four: Make Big Things Happen
As Dennis Richards is showing, we can make big things happen by combining with other like minded individuals. Just as the Wikipedia has grown and become successful, we can all grow and become successful in a large objective if many people step up to the plate and do what they can. I'm really glad that I signed on with Dennis and the other individuals.

Big Idea Number Five: What is the "Tragedy of the Commons" Anyway?
It's been mentioned at least two or three times already in the book: "situations wherein individuals have an incentive to damage the collective good".

Have I felt overwhelmed at times by messages of "new this, new that, new the other thing" on Twitter. Sure. I guess the collective good is whatever people are willing to put up with. I get on Twitter, by my guess, about fifteen minutes a day. I no longer go back pages into the timeline. I will follow a conversation back to an individual, but there are so many posted this, bookmarked that messages that I can't filter them at all.

I don't feel that it is damaging my vision of the collective good, though. I still find something relevant to me almost every time I check in.

Back to the Book
I'm looking forward to sharing the new things I learn in the second half of the book. Thanks to anyone in my network who has mentioned this book. I'm finding it a worthy read.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Comment Challenge Task

With the conference in my schedule on May first and second, battling Quicken into the Mac after years on Windows, and life I am catching up on the Comment Challenge today.

Where Have I Not Left a Comment
I have a lot of blogs in my reader. The majority have come from the people I follow in Twitter. My reasoning was, if I am following them in Twitter I should know what they have to say in general where they have more than 140 characters. As a result, I have commented on many blogs once or twice in the last year.

I opened up my reader today and came to a post, MySpace Musings by Mary Ann. I'm not sure if I've commented on her blog before, but this article spoke to me. To me, that's what commenting is all about.

The MySpace Issue
MySpace can be a very polarizing issue. People have some strong pro and con feelings about the site. I have a profile over there that I have used to simply play and learn. I must have created it four or five years ago. Since I work with grade school students, I have gone to the site from time to time to see what our students are up to.

It is, as most people know, very simple to state an age that allows one to create a MySpace account even if you are not the right age. I have found it became popular with the eighth grade one year, the seventh grade the year after, and last year a couple of sixth graders (and even a fifth grader) created profiles. I don't search too hard or too long, but they are out there.

We talk about digital citizenship and Internet safety in class throughout the year. I never point out individuals and speak generally, but the students will usually speak candidly in class. Often, once students learn that a teacher can find their page, they begin to work their HTML magic to code it as a more private place.

They still have a hard time understanding that their "friends" are, in come cases, acquaintances. Friends - of friends - of friends - of people they have not met.

Three Lessons I've Learned
So far, in the Comment Challenge, I can sum up three lessons I've learned as:
* I don't do well in challenges. It's easy to sign up, but there is just not enough time in the day to do the challenge justice.
* My commenting frequency is tied to how I feel about posts. I like the formula for trying out different types of commenting, but it might take me all day to find a post that I disagree with enough to complete the day 5 challenge.
* I think I will copy and paste the challenge items into a document, and tick them off as they occur in the next few months.

I think the Comment Challenge has been put together in an outstanding way. I'm only reading one challenge a day and I look forward to finding out the next task. I want to tie what I learn into lessons for my students next year. Perhaps that is the best reason of all for joining these types of online community projects.

The Time Challenge

I've been feeling a time challenge lately. I purposely limit the projects that I get involved in so that I can commit myself to them fully. I took some time to renew my resources this past week, but I'm feeling a little time crunch too.

Time To Renew
On Thursday and Friday, I took time to go to a great free conference at Princeton University in New Jersey. The time I have spent in my various network tools - reading blogs, participating in PLN-type Voicethreads, sharing in Twitter, and attending webcasts - really made this conference a very different experience from the last one I attended at Kean University in the fall.

I had the opportunity to meet several online contacts at dinner and met some new individuals as well. When I went to Kean, I knew I would meet Kevin Jarrett. He was very gracious in sharing his table at the conference with me. It was there that I met an interesting group of New Jersey technologists.

This past Thursday, I had a opportunity to meet several people that I have been networking with over the last year: Kevin Jarrett, Vicki Davis, Kristen Hokanson, Robin Ellis, Pat Sine, and Kathy Schrock. I follow and am followed by all six on Twitter and we've shared some resources, questions, and answers over time. It was nice to be able to sit and talk a little. We were joined by several of the other presenters and organizers of the conference. There was a lot of talk about the topics to be covered over the course of the two day program. I would not have had this chance without the time I've spent with them online.

I had the chance to reconnect on Friday with someone I met at Kean and re-exchanged email addresses to try to keep in touch. All in all, the more I get out to conferences the better equipped I am to provide my students with new and exciting projects.

Time To Learn Something New
One major plus to the event was the way I used the laptop this time. At Kean, it took me almost the whole first day to find out the password to the visitor wifi. At Princeton, it was an open network. I just clicked on the guest wifi and started work.

Vicki asked if I wanted to be part of a live blog panel, so I took the opportunity. Instead of having my notes stuck in Word it is part of the live blog. We took notes during the Thursday evening session, the Friday morning's first panel session, and the Friday afternoon's last
panel. Friday's late morning panel was Ustreamed (you'll have to hover over the archived videos to choose the one labeled Princeton and the video to the left which is currently untitled) with a Chatzy chat. I saw a lot of people wandering in an out of the various live blogs, chats, and Ustreams over the course of the two days. I think it would be very hard to sit an watch a live blog versus a Ustream, but at least we did the best we could.

My Contribution
As the Princeton conference went on, I started tagging the websites mentioned via Diigo and into delicious. For links from the conference, go to or just search for 08princeton in either social bookmarking tool.

The Time Challenge
This week, my seventh grade is beginning the editing work on the Middle School 1001 Flat Tales project. I volunteered to help out on two other projects: Dennis Richard's Learning Beyond Boundaries proposal and Vicki Davis' Horizon Project judging. Both are well worth your effort if you have some time. I wish I could have a class work as peer reviewers on the Horizon Project, but with the seventh grade working on the flat tales and my eighth grade having a very tenuous schedule with my class due to impending graduation, it's just impossible right now.

May is going to be busy, but a great cap to a lot of learning in my school and personally.

Image Citation:
Reynolds, Leo. "squared circles - Clocks." Leo Reynold's photostream. 2005 Nov 6. 2008 May 4.

Friday, May 2, 2008

31 Day Comment Challenge - Task 1

Here comes the 31 Day Comment Challenge. It speaks to the way I’ve been becoming more involved in the community of educational bloggers. I have 74 days until my first anniversary of having this current blog. What better way to celebrate than hone my skills?

Our First Task

I have just completed a bit of analysis on my methods of commenting, so I will share the results.

How often do you comment on other blogs during a typical week?
It looks like I leave about twelve comments per week. This is just an average. Some weeks I comment far less. It’s directly in proportion to how many family obligations I have and how much extra work I carry home from the school day.

Do you track your blog comments? How?
I have been tracking my comments via cocomment. I learned about this website when Dean Shareski blogged about it back in December. I had some issues with the program slowing down my iMac and I removed the program about a month later. Recently I read a blog post by Sue Waters and continued the discussion via Twitter. It turns out that they’ve had some upgrades. So far, Firefox and cocomment are playing well together. I've also been testing out co.mments as well. It is a site that basically does the same thing as cocomment.

With both sites, I have an RSS feed into Google Reader. It's another example of maximizing my time by having just one site to check.

What do you do with your tracking? At this point, I go back and see if anyone has responded to my comment. As I read the responses of others, I'll sometimes return to a blog to continue in the conversation. I suppose if I keep track of whose blogs I tend to comment on a fair amount, it will help me understand which blogs seem to provide me with the most useful information.

Do you tend to comment at the same blogs or do you try to comment on at least one new blog per week?
It varies. My reader has many, many different blogs. I am trying to determine which blogs are of most interest to the type of work I do and want to do. As I find an article that speaks to me, I leave a comment. Over time, there are blogs that I have commented on multiple times. There are also blogs that I’ve only commented on once.

Commenting Behaviors

As far as the Lifehacker post goes, I feel pretty confident about the comments I've been leaving behind. I tend to stay on topic, keep messages that belong in email out of the comment, keep it friendly, clear, and succinct.

I believe I may not always add something new to the conversation, but I do like to thank people for the links I find useful. Sometimes, it's nice to know you helped someone out. If a person reads my blog and finds something useful, I'm thrilled to know about it. I will keep this in mind going forward.

If you are part of The Comment Challenge remember to tag your posts "comment08" at the bottom of your posts.

Image Citation:
Palmeri, Chris. "nice comments." cpalmieri's photostream. 2007 Oct 3. 2008 May 1.