To comply with COPPA, there are few options beyond the DIY approach. If your district has a webserver, then you might be able to host software on the server. Other than that I would suggest an inexpensive hosted shared web server account (~$5-10/mo).
I view Ning as somewhat of a discussion forum on steroids. I'd start with a free open source discussion forum like phpBB or SMF. I believe they have plugins that will give you some of the added functionality found in Ning. In most shared server environments, either or both can be installed with a few keystrokes and mouse clicks.
Alternatively you might consider elgg or mahara which are social networking platforms that include discussion forums.
If you decide to pursue this and would like further assistance, let me know.
This is what we absolutely need, something to replace ning for under-13s. So essential! My aim is to have this all set up by August.
Steve, I think you're right in your view of ning as a discussion forum on steroids. So, it's time to build up the components in some new format. Yes, assistance needed! Will make all kinds of trades for services: cookies (the real kind, not digital), tutoring/mentoring of children, gardening advice, Farm Camp tuition, you name it!
The links you've provided are great. I work in the Catholic system with centrally controlled servers, so I imagine there will be a lot of red tape but you never know if enough momentum is created around web 2.0 then maybe they will catch up to the 21st century ( or can they? As an institution, will they -ed office- always be behind due to user testing, policy and determining 'fads' that will fizzle out?)
What all are you wanting when you say "Ning like"? You might want to check out edmodo. I'm using it with 6th and 7th graders, no email is required, and support is unbelievable! They just rolled out edmodo 2.0 and it has a lot of features. Just reread your post, edmodo might be a little much for primary, but I'd still check it out!
I will look at the other tech you suggested but my biggest challenge with the [pbwiki] wiki I had in fifth was the extremely slow typing speed of my students. They were frustrated with the time it took to get their thoughts down. (I offered a WordPress blog the year before, so have tried both.)
I have other challenges like few computers at home and few CPUs in my classroom but these are hurdles easier to surmount.
I bypassed my state server group. (We are all ONE district in Hawaii.)
These discussions of privacy and Terms of Service recognition are GREAT.
Thanks! I will see what FOSS offer is like. I think of FOSS as a science program!
The Wiki format helps with other goals: family communications about classroom events, homework posting, mixed media, so I would probably keep a classroom site of some kind going...(I like wiki format best so far.) I will spend some time evaluating the other wiki platforms. I also am going to try Moodle with a personal install on my own server space. When I see the FOSS interface perhaps I can learn ways to do that within my own control.
I agree about the typing skills Jonathan. For some of my students it can be real hurdle to creativity. Must find some online 'touch typing' sites or look into voice recognition for them - but that's avoiding the issue!
The BBC, I believe, has a good typing site (www.bbc.co.uk/schools/typing/). They call it Dance Mat Typing and in our lab the teacher has the students enter that name string in Google to make the jump easier for the third graders.
For a couple of years I have used blogs and wikis in my fifth grade room. This year turned out differently (below) but I want to pilot using a tablet and inking to get younger students' ideas into discussions. The discussion/wiki platform tools have to recognize - perhaps - OneNote's web-displayable format (.mht? right?) so my gut guess is that there will be limits to platform choice. I also have to create a clean and simple path from OneNote or Word to the post.
I know that in my community and school the kids will not be able to use typing training tools (free or paid) to catch up because few will carve out the time from their preferred use of screen time. Parents here work so many jobs they are often not at home at night to supervise computer use. Additionally, when I poll my students only 1/3 have *some* access to a computer.
I am teaching various small groups with various challenges all over campus this year and I have a Toshiba M400 tablet that I didn't get around to selling after moving on to a ThinkPad X61t. Perhaps I can set up something to monitor a fifth grade's use, but would miss out on watching every minute of use. I will think up some system to learn if this will work.
Next year I am told I'll be teaching K. I sure hope the Spring position turmoil that affects (infects) our campus will provide an upper elementary slot! I can't bank on it so might have to put all these ideas on hold for a year or more.