Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Up and down

Seems to be a pattern here, good news, bad news. Today I finally figured how we could listen to podcasts at our school. Not the best, most elegant fix, but it looks like upgrading student computers to Windows Media Player 9.0 will do the trick - at least we can hear them. I did 7 machines today, need to upgrade 10 more tomorrow - hopefully in time for the kids to take a listen, see how this works, etc. I don't think it's just my classroom - and probably not just my school that is having this problem. We are likely just the only ones trying out podcasting...

Another setback in the student department, as one more student directory was deleted on our server. This is just unbelievable to me for a couple of reasons:
1) I do not know who did it - and whether it was intentional or accidental - it WAS somebody in our class, I'm pretty sure
2) There is still no back up in place, no way to retrieve the data
3) There is still a MAJOR problem with student permissions - that a student could even do this is just plain unbelievable to me

But tomorrow is another day. I had a backup I burned to a CD from a couple of weeks ago, so I could put at least a few docs back in the folder - but there are about a dozen documents written by this student that are lost forever. This kind of thing is so destructive of trust - on so many levels. This hurts and angers me as much as it does the kids.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Good news, bad news

Well, the Inspiration intro went well. The kids got that it was about content. They also got that there is a lot more for them to have fun with in the program. Several mapped a couple of chapter outlines. Everybody figured out (really quickly!) how to navigate to save their work to their folders on the server - through several directory levels.

Bad news was that none of the 17 computers in my classroom could hear the podcast made by Billy (me!). I showed them what it would look like - a few had listened to some other kids' podcasts from home, so they were VERY excited to hear we were going to be doing this. Well, I hope we are. I've put out a plea to tictech, asking for help. It's a software issue, having to do with win2k in our building, I'm pretty sure - it's driving me nuts.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Plans for the week

Am hoping, no, make that planning, to start up a couple new things this week in class.

First will be teaching the kids how to use Inspiration to map/plan ideas for their upcoming "book" in writer's workshop. I spent $300 last summer for the licenses, but haven't gotten around to using it yet. I know the kids will get it pretty quickly - and I'll soon be learning from them, because my knowledge of the program is pretty shallow - but my biggest concern is how they will be swept away by all the glitzy possibilities, wasting precious class time on look, not content. Very much like PowerPoint. I'll just have to be up front with them about my concerns. And then closely monitor, let them use the glitz in stages, after they've accomplished a certain amount on content creation, etc.

Next comes podcasting. Just gotta try it. The major reason I've not moved on this before is that I've had problems getting mp3's to play on our school computers. Think I'll try a sample one from home today, put it on Billy's blog - which all my kids know is really me - and see if I can hear me from school. Now I've got to come up with some content.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Small step

Yesterday another teacher at school asked about setting up a blog like I have at roomtwelve.com on classblogmeister. After I picked myself up off the floor from the shock, I told her a little about it. Today she successfully logged in to her new blog. She will do it.

I have been so low key and careful about pushing student blogging on my colleagues. I occasionally send everyone an email about something exciting, like Wesley Freyer's blog about us But I know, because I am one, how the job of us teachers is becoming overburdened almost daily by "just one more thing". I know how discouraging and overwhelming it is becoming. Mostly, I keep my mouth shut about blogging, because I don't want it to be lumped in with all the other unsavory one more things.

But if anybody actually ASKS me about blogging, well, they just better have some time to listen :) Not my usual laid back self, it does not take much to get me going, if blogging comes up. I can go on for way too long. My colleagues are really very understanding :)

Anyway, it has been a good week in my classroom, with my kids publishing lots of articles, sending and receiving comments, writing, reading, learning. That teacher today was a small step, but it meant a lot to me.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Amazing student bloggers

My third graders continue to amaze me over at roomtwelve.com So we're making "expert" lists, writing short pieces about how to do stuff - both on paper and in Word. Today I tell them when they are done with today's entry, if they have time, they can put some of their writing on their blogs. Six kids published an article, like it was nothing. Three others posted, but have errors to correct before their writing is ready for the world to see. In a matter of minutes.

At this point they are independent in copy/paste, having multiple applications open and switching between them, how to copy/paste their own blog url in appropriate fields for commenting on other writing. It's no sweat for them to log in, change the look of their blogs, edit pending articles, etc, etc, etc. Kids beg to stay in at recess to work on their blogs and read others. Many times I have to either say no or cut them off early so I can get a few minutes of quiet time for myself. This is just plain unbelievable.

Today a couple of kids got a comment from Carrie Turner, a k-12 librarian in Nebraska. This was quite cool for everybody, as I share this sort of thing with all on our projector/laptop when it happens - and we all "feel the comment love", as another blogmeister user has put it (thanks, Gordon). Then one kid tracked down her web site from the other student's comment, because he just had to reply to her about the comment she had made about the Seahawks (actually, it was the Broncos) - then he posted it on her blog. On his own. Not bad writing, either.

They get it. It is coming so easily to them. They amaze me every day.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Snow buntings!

buntings 3 We saw seven snow buntings today at Lummi Dike, Washington - north of Bellingham near the Canadian border, 1-21-06. These cuties were pretty friendly, coming within a few yards a couple of times. A lifer bird for us! Later we saw dozens of ancient murrelets - another lifer for us - from a ferry on the run from Whidbey Island to Port Townsend. Amazing day - and the sun even came out!

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Nice comments

Received some very nice comments from Wesley Fryer on several student blogs at roomtwelve.com today. Really thoughtful, meaningful comments. Followed the link back to his blog and was delighted to read the following:

Edifying student bloggers

Mark Ahlness’ Mighty Writers are 3rd grade students at Arbor Heights Elementary School in Seattle, Washington.

I think pre-service teachers in certification courses should be required to visit classroom blogs like Mighty Writers and leave positive, supportive comments and feedback for the students. This assignment can potentially both edify the young student writers, and educate the pre-service teachers about the powerful and effective ways web 2.0 technologies can be utilized in the “real” classroom. I did this last fall with my students in Microcomputer Applications. They read and commented on posts by Bob Sprankle’s Room 208 3rd and 4th graders in Wells, Maine.
Mark also maintains a professional blog titled, “
Mark’s edtechblog,” social bookmarks, and a personal homepage.

Go Mark and go Mighty Writers!!!

I am hoping wherever our family moves this summer, we’ll be able to find innovative teachers like Mark and Bob who are integrating technology creatively with students to help them become better communicators in the 21st century! We need to be championing the work of classroom teachers like Mark and Bob not only in the blogosphere, but also “out there” in the face to face world. I will be sharing both Mark and Bob’s classroom blogs with campus technology integration specialists next month at our state TCEA conference. If you know of other good examples of teachers and students using blogs in the classroom to improve student writing/communication skills, please comment here and share the links.

It's more than a little scary to be mentioned with Bob Sprankle, somebody I'm in absolute awe of - the stuff he's been doing with his classes is just phenomenal! Anyway, very nice comments, for one and all.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Another try at a school blog

After setting up a school blog through blogger.com, I started looking around for another option because our district blocks all web sites hosted there (there HAVE to be others, right?). Found that edublogs.org had the best offering. Free, and very easy to add additional authors (like the principal, other teachers). Set it up at http://arborheights.edublogs.org My hope is that it can be an information portal to our school. If enough important players believe, well, we'll see...

Saturday, January 14, 2006

News reporters and other stuff...

The school news reporters have been submitting their information on the blog I set up on Alan November's site. They have got the hang of entering their info as "comments", including first names and room numbers. I had hoped they'd blog from their classrooms - or even home, but no dice. So they all come down to my room and do it at once during recess and my prep period. I keep hoping they'll break away and send in stuff on their own. I think it'll happen before the year's out.....

Then I produced the usual paper copy for distribution at school, using Publisher - created a pdf, and uploaded it to the school web site. After catching up on a few missing back issues, I added this byline - which I'm going to include on all future paper copies as well:

"The oldest continuously published elementary school student newspaper on the Internet!"

Of course I had to look through a few old editions - back to '95 and 94. What a kick to be able to go on a Memory Lane trip so easily. Meanwhile, a few hours later....!

Today Dave and I helped unload a donation of 27 PIII's for our school's computer lab. Considering we're running PII's (laptops hooked up to monitors), it will be a great upgrade. They have win2k on them, but this will still require many hours of work, to swap them out with what's there.

Today I set up a school blog - just for the heck of it arborheights.blogspot.com Figured I might as well have it ready for the day when folks are ready to come on board.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

November/Richardson podcast

A wonderful podcast interview with Alan November and Will Richardson:

http://www.blc05.com/audio/alan_will.mp3 (7 MB, 17 min)

The topics are blogging, teaching, rss, change, and much more. A great introduction, and very encouraging to those who are doing it right now. Thanks to David Warlick for the heads up. - Mark

Sunday, January 08, 2006

The Shining Place

The Shining Place
The Shining Place,
originally uploaded by mahlness.
A definite bright spot over the past couple of weeks:

Cover of Janeanne's CD, which came out on Christmas Eve, 2005: http://theshiningplace.com

Struggling just to stay even

The new year has started off with a bang - of one tech hurdle after another. At a time when I'd really like to be discovering and trying out new things in my classroom and professionally, I find myself barely hanging in there. Here are a few of the hurdles:

  • the school district started blocking the school ptsa blog (which I set up), as they now have a global block of anything at blogspot.com - took some time to get this ironed out, and I still have to ask if they can allow the rss feed - which is not showing up on the school web site.
  • one of my kids deleted the writing directories of two kids in my classroom (four months worth of saved docs) from our school server - and there is no backup, no way to retrieve the files - this just amazes me! So I find myself burning a cd every week of my kids' work - because there is still no answer to protecting files from students deleting them, and no recovery or backup plan in place - aaargh!
  • my kids continue to do well with their blogs, but the website hosting the blog has undergone some significant changes - actually, it happened just as I was doing a lesson about their blogs on the classroom projector - boy, was that lesson shot to heck! The new site has some definite pluses, and a couple of minuses that I'm trying to html my way around - but this all comes at a time when blogging teachers are backpedaling over the paranoia around student bloggers, lawsuits, etc. I did find time to post a note on a list expressing my frustration: hang on to the baby I will need to devote some more class time teaching my kids how to use the new web site.
  • the computers at my school are being shut down again at night - this is a very long story, going back over a year, involving dozens of hours of work on my own time to get my school exempt from this district policy. No word on this happening - it just started this week. I'm trying to track down what is happening, but this will take more time for sure.
  • we still do not have a U-Wired tech support person at our school, which means classroom computers are in disarray, underused (many are not even plugged in), and I am keeping the lab running, but just barely. No surprise that this year is the lowest for computer use by teachers that I have seen in the last five years at my school. I'm sure the mandated writing curriculum with no tech component is also playing a large part in this, also.

There are good things happening, of course, but I've gotten myself into a pretty good funk here, so I'll write about the good stuff later. I just wanted to document some of the things happening... Thank goodness for the kids!