I am so very excited for our school to go One-To-One this August. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, the idea is that every student in the school will be given a laptop to use during the school day and to take home. I’m reading a book called Blended in preparation for this new initiative, and it’s really opening my mind to what a great opportunity this is for students and teachers alike.
I won’t go in-depth about the book as yet, but it’s generally stating the importance of students having somewhere to go (the school), having face-to-face time with a professional adult (the teacher), and having the chance to learn in a personalized fashion that also allows them to move at a comfortable pace. Thankfully, the whole-group factory model of teaching is now a thing of the past and we can start individualizing education.
How is this possible, you ask? Our school is using an Edmentum educational software tool called Plato Courseware. As you know, I’ve written about my limited experience with this software, but so far — I like it! Of course, I know until I’ve got students in the room I won’t fully grasp my feelings concerning it, but at this point I like the content it provides, the format it uses, and the pace at which it progresses. Best of all? You can edit it completely to make it fit your needs.
However, Edmentum won’t be the final answer in my classroom. I plan to also utilize several different web services including Turn It In and even the Khan Academy. And that’s just scratching the surface.
So, as I see it, my primary concern at the moment is where do I send my students to start, how do I keep all of this organized, and how do I help my students navigate the various websites and online tools we plan to utilize?
The answer has literally been at my fingertips for over ten years — WordPress.
I’ve spent a decade maintaining a website to promote my fiction, share book and movie reviews, and generally talk about whatever struck my fancy. I’ve utilized it both as a blog, but there were moments I treated it as a static webpage.
As I ran through all the things I want to achieve, I realized that I’d done it all through my own website. I know what you’re thinking. “But, Scott, your website isn’t called WordPress!” It’s not, but that’s because WordPress allows me to buy a domain name and call it whatever I want. If you don’t want to buy a domain name, you can still name it whatever you want, but you’ll have “.wordpress.com” at the end of it.
So, here’s the plan. I already have a totally free classroom website set up through WordPress called “Foleyd87.wordpress.com.” (Check it out if you want, but keep in mind it’s in the middle of a makeover pertaining to this article.) In the past, I treated it as a place students could go to basically download Word documents from class or to find links to any audio or visual things we covered. I used it as a static webpage, meaning it really didn’t change from day to day.
Here’s where things get fun. WordPress allows you to treat it as a daily blog, instead. That means every time you post something, it shows up at the top of the webpage and it is specific to the date you posted it.
WordPress also allows you link to anything on the web (as you’ve noticed from this writing), it lets you download basically any MS Office tool, you can embed video or audio, you can post polls — you can do a lot. Probably more than you would expect.
Also, when you post something, you can assign it a category. This writing, for example, has been designated part of my “Gladly I Learn and Teach” category. If you wanted to click on that category alone, you would only see those articles belonging to “Gladly I Learn and Teach,” but you would see every article I’ve ever written for that category. Consequently, if you posted something and used the category “Freshman English,” your freshmen could click on that category and go back indefinitely to anything you ever posted.
I also like that WordPress allows you to post a calendar that will always appear on any update you post. (You can see it on the lower left of this screen if you scroll down far enough.) For any dates on which you post, that date will be highlighted. If you click on that date, it will take you to that day and show you anything posted that day. Imagine a student is absent. They can click on the date they missed and see everything you did that day. Not only that, but if your site is interactive, they can make up the work from home on their One-To-One laptop!
So, my tentative plan is that I will send the students to our class website at the start of every class. I will have that day’s events at the top of the screen and ready to go. (Remember, WordPress does this automatically for you, and you can even manipulate the dates of when you want something to appear. In other words, you can create an entry but set it to appear a week later on a specific date.) Everything will be embedded or linked. If I want them to go to Edmentum, I’ll have the specific link ready for them to click on and set to open in a new window. After that, they can click back on my site and watch an embedded or linked video I need them to see. I can then link them to a formative assessment tool or guide them to a brain break. My students won’t be on their laptop the entire period of every period, but for the times they are on the laptop, WordPress fits my needs perfectly.
I have a very rudimentary example set up for you to view if you want to take a look at what I’m talking about. It’s not meant for students to ever see, but it’s something I’ve been playing with as I experimented. You can view it here. You can also explore this site which is also a WordPress site.
You can customize your WordPress site in an almost limitless fashion. They have free pre-made templates and “looks” ready to go for you, or you can try to build your own (which I don’t recommend unless you’re an expert). What’s really neat, though, is you can customize their pre-made “looks” to add a little personal touch.
If you work at Bloomington High School, I’d be happy to help you set up a site. Bear in mind that, like any new technology tool, playing with it is the best teacher. But I’d be glad to help you get your basic page going. If you don’t work at BHS, feel free to ask questions in the comments below.