Thursday, August 31, 2006

Caring too much

It is a dangerous thing when you allow yourself to get so involved, so invested in something you believe so very passionately in.

Nothing wrong with caring - but when others are in control of whether you get to share it, when promises are made, when hours are spent, when money and time comes out of your own pocket because you BELIEVE (and all the while you think that you have an incredible chance to make a difference, to influence thinking, to inspire people) in what you are doing, that you finally have a golden opportunity to really nail it... well, maybe you can see this coming...

I did not do my 12 minute tech presentation today. No time, sorry. The handouts went into a shockingly large pile of my presentations that have met the same fate. I was crushed.

Thank goodness the kids are coming next week, I've had enough of all the rest that goes with being a teacher.

I will get over this. My wife will kill me if I don't dump it quickly - it is Labor Day weekend, for goodness sake. By the time the kids walk through the door in 6 days, I will be ready to care again - and my caring will make a difference this time.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Back to school tech intro

Here’s what I hope to cover in 12 minutes of a staff meeting at Arbor Heights on Thursday:

1) hold up Tom Friedman’s “The World is Flat”, suggest it is required reading for any teacher

2) pass out copies (for people to read on their own, later) of two articles from the Autumn 2006 edition of “Interactive Educator”:
- Building Online Learning Communities, by Diane Curtis
- To Blog or Not to Blog? You Decide, by Wesley Fryer

3) show Did you know, by Karl Fisch. I have mentioned this before here, but Karl has since updated the presentation and added sources

Monday, August 28, 2006

Salmon tank

Salmon tank 2006-4
Originally uploaded by mahlness.
Just one of the many special activities we take part in every year at Arbor Heights Elementary School - the raising and releasing of salmon into our local Fauntleroy Creek. I'll get this up on our Wikipedia entry asap.

The original artwork displayed below the tank is a gift from Wes Felty.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Worse than DOPA - the Whitelist

Yes, this is worse than DOPA being enacted into law, because it is already here, strangling the Internet pipe into our classrooms down to an infinitesimally thin strand of exclusive, hand picked sites. This major shift in approach to Internet filtering in our schools is effectively shutting down access to web 2.0 in our classrooms.


From Wikipedia:
A whitelist is a list of accepted items or persons in a set. This list is inclusionary, confirming that the item being analyzed is acceptable. It is the opposite of a blacklist which confirms that items are not acceptable.

For the last ten years or so of providing web access in schools in the US, school districts have relied on a blacklist, a list of identified inappropriate sites to which computers within a district were denied access. Districts commonly contracted with software vendors who constantly updated that list with inappropriate sites. Staff members in that district were asked to report inappropriate sites that they or their kids happened upon so that they could be added to the database.

An example of how a whitelist changes everything:
Say a district whitelists (very common practice). All blogs that end in are then blocked from within the district, effectively blocking the .06% of inappropriate blogs from blogger (I made up this stat - just bear with me). This effectively shuts off access to 99.94% of the appropriate blogs on blogger. If anyone wants access to a blog on blogger they must request an "unblock", along with rationale for the unblock. One unblocked site still leaves 99.94% (the appropriate ones) blocked.

The onus is now on the teacher. There is no wide open door anymore. If you want to see what's out there, you have to go looking on your own time, from home, jump through hoops, and cross your fingers. Teachable moments? Forget it.

There are hundreds of companies out there with blacklists that school districts could plug into their filtering software. Why is blacklisting not used anymore? It costs more. It's more work. It's not perfect. Why are districts whitelisting? It's cheap. It's relatively easy. It's safe. No kids will ever see anything inappropriate.

Heck, kids won't see anything. This approach is so obviously unethical and plain out wrong, that I cannot believe nobody is saying anything about it. Maybe nobody realizes it is happening. I've been using the web as a part of my daily classroom instruction - with third graders - for the past twelve years, and I can say this is by far the most repressive and restrictive access to knowledge that I have ever seen. I guess what sticks in my craw the most is that those in charge of school Internet filters are giving teachers absolutely zero credit - or responsibility - for being able to watch, teach, and look out for the safety of their children on the Internet.

Worrying about DOPA at this point is ignoring the elephant in the living room.

Thursday, August 17, 2006


I'm still a week and a half away from going back to school (with a week of meetings and planning time). But ideas to get staff inspired on web 2.0 are already being shared:
  • Doug Noon, at an elementary school in Alaska, writes in The Community Writing Project about having an opportunity to get his staff on board, and maybe participating in something similar to his Tell the Raven student blog from last year. Interesting how the use of the term "blog" is shied away from - see the comments for an extension of a good conversation.
  • Karl Fisch, from a high school in Colorado, shares in Did You Know? a powerful PowerPoint presentation he put together for his staff. He looked at making a difference with his staff in a totally different way. It's a serious, sit up and listen to this, big picture approach.

I'll be using Karl's presentation in my elementary school, with his permission. And I will also be having those sharing, this is how you do it, hands on kind of sessions that Doug talks about. Big picture, little picture - we have to remember put them both out there to really inspire our colleagues. Thanks to Doug and Karl for sharing.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Getting mentioned

When you are a third grade teacher in the public school system, you are a worker bee, a drone, even a flea (no, that's something else). Anyway, when you get noticed on the Internet, mentioned in big time blogs or publications, you stop and take notice.

If it's a good thing, you pour yourself another cup of coffee, maybe print out the post, read it over and over, underline the extra good stuff, send it on to folks... until you realize you have gone way beyond the acceptable limits of pride, and then you stop... and glow, but very quietly, in a corner...

If you get mentioned in a not so good way, or a way that makes you cringe, think whatever was I thinking when I let that one fly, I wish I could crank that time machine back a few days... well, you lose sleep, plain and simple. least that's if you're a classroom teacher who grew up in MN, ND, and SD in the 50's. Garrison Keillor really does tell the story of my life (he's 8 years older, though)

Here are two mentions of stuff I've written, both come my way in the past couple weeks. See if you can figure out which is the good and bad mention:

Re: Arbor Heights - a dozen years on the web! - Stephen Downes
Photo-Sharing Web Sites - in District Administration (yikes, they've changed the online version - I have to get my hands on a hard copy)

never mind.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Arbor Heights - a dozen years on the web!

(I just posted this to several lists)

Today is an important anniversary. Twelve years ago today, August 14, 1994, the Arbor Heights Elementary School web site appeared on the Internet. Below are a dozen items to remember and celebrate:

1) Our first page looked like this:

2) Ours was the 9th elementary school with a web site. It is the only one of those schools still at the same URL: - or these days, just head to

3) Take a virtual tour of the evolution of our home page at

4) The Arbor Heights Elementary School web site was featured via screenshot in Bill Gates' "The Road Ahead".

5) The site hosts the complete archive of The Random Thoughts of Louis Schmier, a collection of the writings of one of the Internet's visionary educational philosophers for more than a decade:

6) The Arbor Heights web site originated, was the host for several years for, and is still the physical coordinating center for, the largest educational activity coordinated on the Internet, The Earth Day Groceries Project:

Not resting on its laurels, the school is pushing out into the world of web2.0 with the last six:

7) a PTSA blog:

8) six rss feeds on its home page at

9) a PTSA listserv:

10) a school wiki, just starting out, at

11) podcasts of and pdf versions of the Jr. Seahawk Newsletter, "The oldest continuously published elementary school student newspaper on the Internet" at and

12) home of - a classroom of third graders helping to redefine 21st century literacy.

It's been an exciting dozen years. - Mark

Friday, August 11, 2006

Telling our story, again

Spurred on by the thoughts of Brian Crosby in Where are the “Best Practices” Examples!???! and Ewan McIntosh in Does blogging affect attainment? Yes!, I've been thinking more about my blogging experience with my third graders this past year at Brian wrote asking where the great stories are, why they are not shared, etc., and I started wondering just how often I had blogged about blogging with my class. So I'm going to go through my blog and list below the postings where I wrote about the experience. I have no idea what I will find, how many, etc. This may be interesting.
  1. Planning for next year
  2. Student bloggers, finally!
  3. Bloggers' contract
  4. Re: blogger's contract
  5. Classroom bloggers doing well!
  6. Turkey escape stories
  7. Progress and struggles
  8. What's good about blogging, part 1
  9. Email flurry
  10. Flickr, finally
  11. End of the year tech thoughts
  12. Struggling just to stay even
  13. Nice comments
  14. Amazing student bloggers
  15. Small step
  16. Plans for the week
  17. Good news, bad news
  18. A good week
  19. Comment that got to me
  20. Third grade tech problem solvers
  21. Room 12 - in Texas!
  22. Flurry of loose ends
  23. Connecting with parents
  24. Local connections
  25. Family Internet Night
  26. Blogging and report cards
  27. Slowing down
  28. Many things
  29. One more blogging teacher
  30. Blocking Flickr - can't get past it
  31. Good reading, 4/02/06
  32. The Real Tragedy of MySpace
  33. Oh, the places you'll go...
  34. The WASL
  35. A day in the life
  36. 21st Century Coffeehouse
  37. Rugged days
  38. Brighter spots
  39. The Class of 2015
  40. Just another day
  41. Comments - Thanks to the teachers
  42. Blogging Frenzy
  43. Last Day's Eve
  44. Blogging through the school year, part 1
  45. Blogging through the school year, part 2
  46. Blogging through the school year, part 3
  47. Top 10 student blog posts
  48. The Case for Classblogmeister
  49. Hard to walk away
  50. The case against classblogmeister - a response
  51. Understanding the power of the blog
There it is, a list of all the posts on this blog where I wrote at least in part about blogging with my third graders this year. It was a good exercise, and I didn't cringe at my own writing as much as I thought I would. It also confirms my feeling that I have indeed put my voice out there, have at least tried to spread the good news. It was surprising to note the number. I had thought 15, maybe 20, before I started compiling. I also looked at total numbers - I had over 150 total posts during this period. I don't know where this goes or what it means, really. More later...

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Understanding the power of the blog

Here's a little story of something I take very much for granted now, but I know simply must take the time to go through the whole thing again, to explain how it works and what it means.

It's midsummer here in the US, but for some of my last year's third graders and me, school is still in session. They are still writing. I'm no longer their teacher, but I am teaching them. I am still editing, offering them feedback and congratulations. They are also getting feedback from others all over the world. My kids from last year are still blogging. Seven of them, a third of my class, have posted articles on their own blogs.

We use Classblogmeister, a wonderful, free, safe tool for blogging. Every word that they write on their blogs is approved by me before it appears there. Every comment goes by me first as well. I am their safety net, their set of training wheels. But regardless of these safety precautions, we have also talked relentlessly about online safety and being a responsible Internet citizen. They have learned lessons that will keep them safe, give them a degree of understanding, and hopefully give them an edge towards success, that other 8 and 9 year olds do not have.

This is unprecidented, something I have not seen or experienced in 25 years of teaching. My kids still want to write - how wonderful is that?! The difference is that now they know they have a global audience, that their writing will not just be stuck up on the family refrigerator for a few days and then taken down or replaced with something else. We blogged this past school year, and I was constantly astounded at the effort that went into their writing. They were motivated to write like I have never seen before. And of course as their teacher I found I had this incredible tool to shape and hone their writing skills. The writing curriculum was rewritten. If you look at their blogs, look from the bottom up - from their first writing, in November of 2005, to August of 2006. I can make no stronger case for the power of the blog - as a teaching tool.

Also check out the summer writing of Jackson, Danielle, Ming, Isobel, Jacqueline, Camden, and Gus. I have a feeling there will be more before the summer is over...

It is so easy, in this edtech blogging echo chamber, to forget that most people still do not know what is going on here, that a few educators and a few more students have tasted from the web 2.0 cup, and cannot turn back. We have seen the power, we have seen the results in our classrooms. Once you've been around the block in a Porshe, you do not want to get back in the family beater.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Feed2JS saves the day

I have not written anything here for a week. After daily posts about DOPA and filtering, I had had just about enough. Dead end. How can you shout any louder, anyway? I was exasperated, both with the national scene, and with the dead zone locally, in terms of acceptance of web 2.0 technologies. Not just acceptance, but just understanding. Not just understanding, but willingness to even have an open mind. Anyway, I certainly had plenty to say. But it was all so negative, so downhearted, in such a deep down funk. No way I could write about anything in that mood. Leave it to solving a problem to brighten the road ahead.

The rss feeds on the sidebar here had not been responding for some time, and as a result this page would take forever to load. I'd been using this incredible service developed and offered free by Alan Levine, called Feed2JS (Feed to Java Script). It is a remarkable javascript rss generator that can transform a boring, static web 1.0 web page into a dynamic web 2.0 place to be... it is an amazing tool. Plop the code on any web page, and you have rss content dispayed however you'd like it. I am surprised it is not used more.

The server that I had referenced had not answered for about a week. So tonight I did some digging and read something on Alan's blog about "leaving Maricopa", eventually finding the original server. I'm still not sure how this all works - there were mirror sites at one point....

Anyway, there are now six rss feeds on this blog, again delivering pretty much up to the minute updates from Doug Noon, Graham Wegner, Clarence Fisher, Brian Crosby (all classroom teachers),, and the Writer's Almanac. Nothing like solving a problem to bring the funk to an end. There's a little icon over on the side bar. Thanks Alan!

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Fresh air

An incredible breath of fresh air blew in from Wesley Freyer today. Introspective and inspiring, it is the first of his seven (so far) posts for August 2, 2006. When you've had about as much as you can handle on DOPA, read If I had...

Food for thought, you can't help but read through his lists without mentally adding to them or making your own lists. It is important to dream, to keep all possibilities open. Thanks, Wesley.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

DOPA Button

(update: if you put this applet on your site before July 31, please be aware that Internet Explorer on the pc - quite a few use this :) - will not display it. Get the revised code here)

The latest cool way to make it easy for folks to email their senators about DOPA comes from Brian Grenier at Bump on the Blog. Place a piece of code on your blog or web site and you get this Flash applet:

Get the code here.

After the user clicks on the icon he/she is prompted to fill in name, city, choose a state, and "Click to send". The computer's default email program then launches this message (I filled out Mark Ahlness, Seattle, and chose Washington). It can be customized before sending. It is of course addressed to the two senators from the selected state. Thanks Brian!

- click to enlarge -