Friday, September 29, 2006

Living With War

When you are a public school teacher, you think twice about posting political stuff. But when something comes into your house that strikes a chord so true, you really have no choice.

Friday night, the end of the first month of the school year. Neil Young comes to call: Living With War, released in May of 2006. Thanks to Darwin and Rebecca, our friends and neighbors, to waking us up.

Please listen and pass it on. It is free. It is important.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Almost there

Tomorrow my third graders will post their first articles on their new blogs. Today was pre-launch:
  • learning how to get to their blog
  • learning how to log in
  • learning their password and where it goes...
  • learning how to choose and set a template
  • learning how to name their blogs

We did it, in the classroom, in about half an hour. Pure chaos. There were sweet moments, though. Every single kid logged in, completing at least 4 of the the above items.

Tomorrow they will post their "about me" pieces they have saved in their folders. They currently range in complexity from about six words to three well written paragraphs.

We have talked so much about safety - probably too much. They do understand. They come with a healthy fear about public discosure of personal information. I'll help them refine and sculpt that shell of protection all year long.

The most attention they have paid as a group, to words on a page read by their teacher - was when I led them through the Blogger's Contract. It was a very solemn time, good questions - and then there were a couple of intentionally ridiculous questions that we all laughed at.

They signed the contract.

I gave them their passwords.

They were off...

Look out world, here they come, the 8 and 9 year olds from

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Fed up

I've really had it up to here with the whitelisting in my district, so I just posted this to tictech:

> Yes, they have generally unblocked the sites I asked without much problem. I'm still investigating the rule that flags WordPress sites

Anybody who thinks it's OK to continue with teachers having to laboriously request unblocks on specific sites in a domain, anybody who is OK with the unethical practice of whitelisting entire domains in this school district - I have a little task for you.

Request 13,780 individual unblocks on That is how many EDUCATIONAL wikis are currently blocked in the Seattle School District. Four wikis are currently unblocked. It took me two months to get that. It was not pretty. When you finish with those 13,780 unblock requests, let me know, and I'll give you a few more whitelisted domains. - Mark

Monday, September 25, 2006

Stories from the classroom

I read a post from Doug Noon this morning in the midst of my frantic Monday morning routine. When you read something that rings so true to what you go through, to what you experience regularly, it makes you feel ok about the mountains you have to climb with your kids to get to the good places... Doug wrote in Monday Morning:

It’s been rough getting the kids ready to work on it at the beginning of the year. This is the first year that I’ve had something ready for them at the beginning (well…almost ready), but I’ve found that I also needed to get them ready for it. They need to learn a lot about working with a word processor. To keep things simple, I have them use TextEdit, which has all of its font and style settings hidden and out of the way. I want them to use it for its spell checking feature, which the website doesn’t do. I’ll show them some basic HTML formatting later. Right now, many of them are challenged with the problem of moving

the words around on the

screen, to get rid of the big spaces, and spellling. Oh, and file management is a huge problem. They lose their work. Or they label everything with their first names, or there’s no name. They forget to log out of the file server, and put their work in each others’ folders. They need a LOT of help.

I often worry and wonder about sharing the trivial day to day stuff that I go through trying hard to incorporate web 2.0 technologies in my third grade classroom. But then I realize there are not really that many doing what we are doing. All the more reason to share it, I guess.

My kids will hopefully post to their blogs by the end of the week. Right now (Monday night) they don't even know they have a blog. Miles to go, mountains to climb...

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Planting time

Normally harvest time around here (and I have been very busy with my hops and grapes), I find myself also in the position of planting seeds. Covering them up, giving them a little water, saying encouraging things to them (doesn't everybody talk to their seeds?). This of course has to do with the start of the school year cycle. A few I just planted:
  • keyboard practice with my new third graders.
  • getting another teacher in my building to (maybe) start up a classblogmeister blog.
  • talking with a newspaper reporter about blogging with my kids
  • starting up wikis for my school and my classroom
  • offering web 2.0 workshops for teachers in my district (I'm planting that one this week
    oops, a couple I forgot (really have to mark those rows!):
  • starting a Wikipedia entry for my school
  • starting an email list for the school PTSA

I have great hopes for these seeds. Some will need more tending than others. Some might even be duds. But there is potential for an incredible, sparkling garden filled with beautiful blossoms during the dark days of winter this year.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Did You Know?

A couple of days ago I showed Did You Know? by Karl Fisch at the end of a staff meeting in my elementary school. I had waited to show it at the end of a meeting, because it is a natural closer. I gave it a very brief intro and let it roll. I had been offered different times to show it at other meetings, but I went with Karl's suggestion to show and go. No discussion, just go on with your work, your day. Meeting over - no discussion.

In retrospect, I think this is a very powerful thing to do, if you have a striking point you would like folks to ruminate on, and if you can choreograph it just so. Discussion diffuses uncertainty and anxiety. Even if you don't find the answers, just defining a problem often makes it go away and makes it easier to forget about. If you want to leave people feeling uncertain, anxious, and wondering, do not allow discussion. I think this was Karl's intent. The musical score certainly followed that plan. Our music teacher immediately commented on the unresolved chord at the end, had to rush home to resolve it... I know this is no big revelation to professional speakers - but it is not the way we usually run staff meetings at schools.

During the show it was quiet, there were a few chuckles, soft wows, and so on, as you would expect. All responses I got in the last couple of days were positive, and full of thanks. It made my colleagues think - and question, which was what Karl intended, I'm sure. The question most clearly formed and spoken later was something along the lines of, "OK, so what do we DO?" We are concrete, elementary school teachers, after all :)

And in those afterward conversations I found myself more than once ready to leap on the soapbox much too quickly and eagerly, talking about things like "learning how to learn" "collegial collaboration", and "fearless, confident problem solvers" - at least with my third graders. Way too much for most to digest in a single encounter. Oh well, I figure at least they can see my passion - and assume this is something important enough to get the old geezer all worked up :)

Thank you Karl. Your presentation was very well received in my elementary school. I think my colleagues left the meeting with more on their minds than the every day rat race of teaching. It is good to move out and way from our narrow focus, regularly and often, to see the big picture of the world we are preparing our kids for. Your view of that big picture was a new one for many of us, and I thank you for passing it along.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Another day, before it really starts

Not every day for me has technology so interwoven throughout like today. I love to integrate technology into how/what I teach, and also into my daily life, but today was a bit much.
  • It starts with Miguel Guhlin posting a provocative piece based on a comment I made on his blog yesterday about the preoccupation and fretting (in my opinion) over getting parents to sign a paper saying it's OK for their kids to blog. Then he goes and uses big words like prevarication - forcing me to go to, for goodness sake.
  • Then I get word that my district has finally unblocked my school's wiki - - yahoo!! I bite my tongue one more time and send thanks to my IT staff. A few minutes later I ask them to unblock two more wikis I plan to use as collaborative writing spaces with my class this year. I hear back in a few minutes that they are unblocked. Hooray, they've got it figured out! I have a feeling Adam Frey helped out, and I am extremely grateful.
  • During silent reading right after lunch, I get an email from my wife, in Bratislava - she's using a computer in the little computer room in the hotel there. All is well, she gets an extra rehearsal before recording, in the"largest recording studio/hall in the world, left from the era of communism..." - hope she takes a picture or two. All is well. She will email now - no more 6 minute, $20 phone calls -I hope. I will send her an email to wake up to when I finish this post. Anyway, this is a huge boost to my day. My kids are wondering why I have this incredible energy in the afternoon :)
  • At the end of the staff meeting today I finally get a chance to show Karl Fisch's "Did You Know?" After a meeting filled with hand-wringing over school test scores and what to set as goals for this year (with little talk about HOW to do this), it was nice, I hope, for folks to step away from it all, to look at the big picture. Reaction was good, I think. The music teacher loved it and went on about the unresolved chord in the music at the end - said she had to rush home and resolve it (I love it!). A couple of other teachers said in the hall after that they felt like crying while watching - like what can we DO? I will write to Karl, and will write more about it here.
  • Then I get a reminder email from a photo researcher from Macmillan McGraw-Hill. She hasn't heard back from me about getting pictures of me and kids working on The Earth Day Groceries Project - which they would like to include in their new third grade Social Studies textbook. This of course would be very cool - but tracking down the right pics at the right resolution for text publication, to say nothing of tracking down parents of past students with a permission form I probably have to come up with on my own - aargh and yeah! Maybe this weekend.
  • And then an email from a colleague working on funding for The Earth Day Groceries Project, wondering if I have compiled media news mentions of the project in 2006 yet - something to present to the folks who may fund the project one more time next spring. Critical stuff, and I have done next to nothing. This weekend.
  • Then I decide I just have to blog about all this. I have a mound of papers to wade through and plans to make for tomorrow...

Last year I wrote an entry, Just another day, about the insanity of being in the world of web 2.0 with third graders. After a day like today, when the kids don't even know it's out there yet, when I haven't even opened the door to the blog, when the wiki with my kids is just a vague vision, when I am just beginning to gear up for using technology in school... well, it makes me wonder what resources I'll have to muster when it REALLY gets going. No matter. It will be worth it.

Monday, September 11, 2006

September 11, 2006

Way out here in Seattle, where thinking about the distance of 3,000 miles away from NYC is a grim, coincidental reminder to me of the lives lost that day, I woke up and flipped to MSNBC. They were replaying 9/11/01 coverage to the minute, from NBC. I was shocked and appalled, and had a hard time turning away. It was 6 AM Seattle time, 9/11/01, all over again. I dragged myself to school, having a hard time shaking off the memories. I had a big day ahead of me.

Today was the fourth day of school for my third graders. They were three years old on 9/11/01. I had spent a fair bit of time thinking about how to handle the fifth anniversary in the classroom. Doug Noon posted a very helpful and powerful piece, Teaching for Change on Sept. 11. I left a comment there with several others, mostly about that day in the classroom. So I was ready, decided I would let the kids bring it up, and if they didn't, I would.

With five minutes left in the day, I brought it up. Asked if they knew what was special about today, that "special" did not always mean happy and joyous, etc. Maybe five kids had anything to say. They were clearly waiting to hear from me, I could feel their eyes and ears tuning in. So I talked about being a teacher on that day, how I had a new class, like they are now. How everyone was scared that day - kids and grown-ups. How what happened made people feel so very sad - and angry. And I said more than once that they should ask their parents about it when they went home, that they should try and sit down with family and talk about it, that they should talk with their older siblings, ask them about it. It was a moment, with these young kids who barely know me, to tell them I was a regular person, that they have a place in my world, and that they will have a place in mine. All this took five minutes.

And then I raced home on my bicycle to drive my wife to the airport. To put her on a plane bound for London, then on to Vienna, and finally to Bratislava - to make a recording for Naxos.

Everything else that happened today paled in comparison to saying goodbye to her at the airport. The flight was delayed. Our hearts beat faster for a while. She is in the air as I write this.

It is just another day, after all... but it will never be the same, ever.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

100K educational wikis?

Wikispaces has set a goal of setting up 100,000 educational wikis. The new icons on the right sidebar will take you to the site where they say:

Back in January, we decided to offer our Plus Plan to K-12 teachers for free. We didn't set out with a grand strategy, just an interest in helping teachers with our easy to use wiki technology.

Over 10,000 educational wikis later, we've heard countless stories of excited students and empowered teachers. They've told us about their collaborative essays, group study guides, online lesson plans, and classroom notice boards coming alive on Wikispaces.

Now we're taking the next step - we want to give away 100,000 free K-12 Plus wikis. That includes all the features and benefits that normally cost $50/year - for free. No fine print, no usage limits, no advertising, no catches.

We hope that you'll read on, try a wiki at your school, and help us spread the word.

- Adam, Dom, and James

We've got one set up for my school at I really hope to have the kids and staff involved, but of course we first must get around the filter. It was blocked (all of wikispaces is). Right now it is visible, but you can't edit it - kinda defeats the purpose. This is one of the failures and hollow promises in whitelisting web sites. Hopefully they'll get it straightened out soon. I haven't really made much of this yet, but I hope to have this be the "year of the wiki" with my class. We'll be blogging again, of course, at - hopefully by early October.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

i want my password back! i want more blogging

Quoted directly from a last year's student, a comment left on my "Adieu" post on

"i want my password back! i want more blogging..."

This after three days in a new class, without a blog, without a VOICE ...and with so much to say

This student goes on in his comment to let me have it for not letting him post about - and leave a link in his blog article - to This went back an article he submitted for publication over the summer, after school was out. I left him feedback about the appropriateness (in my opinion) of that game being linked to from his blog. All this behind the scenes, thanks to Classblogmeister. So I continued to teach - a little - to offer a little guidance.

The learning goes on. He is writing, still learning the language. He is involved in putting forth a persuasive writing piece (ohmygod, there's a standard in there somewhere!), because he was given the opportunity - in third grade. He remembered how to hyperlink his blog url to his comment. He's probably sending comments all over the place. He's on his way.

Now to figure out a way to help him have a blog with his teacher this year. He's still in my school. That will be harder than teaching my kids this year. I could be wrong - I really hope so.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Blogs blocked in Alabama!

(update, Sept 7, 2006: as it turns out, blogs are not blocked in Alabama, see the comment from Sheryl on this post)

From Miguel Guhlin, via podcast with Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach For those who think DOPA will never pass, for those who think their blogs on are safe, for anybody who believes passionately in the opportunities web 2.0 offer your kids, please listen:

Blog Banning

The noose is tightening, and it is not just in Seattle.

Monday, September 04, 2006

A very different start

Tomorrow I go in to school for the final day of set up. The next day the kids come. In Seattle, we start school with the last wave in the US.

Most of my kids will be eight years old. Blogging? Yikes, there is so much to get together before we even talk about blogging. But it is exciting to think about the possibilities....

Today Doug Noon posted Your Blog Ate My Comment which got me thinking about my own comments and how to keep track of them. He also talked about his network account, how useful it is and so on. His post is definitely worth a read.

Hours later I was using my network account, and I was planning to use Doug's strategy for keeping track of his own comments.... and thinking about how to help my eight year olds keep track of the comments they will be making on other blogs this year. Good golly, this is a heck of a lot more than making sure the pencils are sharpened and the bulletin boards look fresh.

The reason this is so important for me to get a handle on is that last year several of my kids spent as much time reading and commenting on the blogs of others as they did writing on their own blogs. Would they like to be able to track their comments? Would I like to track their comments? My goodness, yes!!!! Last year we spent a lot of time talking about commenting strategies. For all the obvious reasons, this would be an incredible tool to add to the belt of the classroom teacher, and a fantastic reflective/self-evaluative piece for my kids.

Two days before they come through the classroom door, a month before they log on to their blog for the first time, my planning starts. And everything is very different.

K12 Online 2006

This looks absolutely outstanding!
Announcing the first annual "K12 Online 2006" convention for teachers, administrators and educators around the world interested in the use of Web 2.0 tools in classrooms and professional practice. This year's conference is scheduled to be held over two weeks, Oct. 23-27 and Oct. 30- Nov. 3 with the theme "Unleashing the Potential." A call for proposals is below.

There will be four "conference strands"-- two each week. Two presentations will be published in each strand each day, Monday - Friday, so four new presentations will be available each day over the course of the two-weeks. Each presentation will be given in podcast or screencast format and released via the conference blog (URL: TBA) and archived for posterity.


Week 1
Strand A: A Week In The Classroom
These presentations will focus on the practical pedagogical uses of online social tools (Web 2.0) giving concrete examples of how teachers are using the tools in their classes. They will also show how teachers plan for using these tools in the delivery of their curricular objectives.

Strand B: Basic/Advanced Training (one of each per day)
Basic training is "how to" information on tool use in an educational setting, especially for newcomers.
Advanced training is for teachers who have already started using Web 2.0 tools in their classes and are looking for: (a) advanced technology training (eg. how to write your own blog template or hack existing ones), (b) new tools they can make use of in their classes, (c) teaching ideas on how to mash tools together to create "something new," (d) a pedagogical understanding of how technologies such as Weblogs, wikis, podcasts, social bookmarking sites, RSS feeds and others can deepen learning and increase student achievement, or (e) use of assessment tools to measure the effectiveness of Read/Write Web technologies in their personal practice and with their students.

Week 2
Strand A: Personal Professional Development
Tips, ideas and resources on how to orchestrate your own professional development online; the tools that support Professional Learning Environments (PLEs); how to create opportunities to bring these technologies to the larger school community; how to effectively incorporate the tools into your personal or professional practice; or how to create a supportive, reflective virtual professional community around school-based goals.

Strand B: Overcoming Obstacles
Tips, ideas and resources on how to deal with issues like: lack of access to tools/computers, filtering, parental/district concerns for online safety, and other IT concerns while trying to focus on best practice in the use of Web 2.0 tools.

For organization purposes, each strand is overseen by a conference convener who will assist and coordinate presenters in their strand. The first presentation in each strand will kick off with a keynote by a well known educator who has distinguished his/herself and is knowledgeable in the context of each topic. This year's conveners and keynote presenters are:

A Week In The Classroom
Convener: Darren Kuropatwa
Keynote: Bud Hunt

Bud Hunt teaches high school language arts and journalism at Olde Columbine High School in Longmont, Colorado. He is a teacher-consultant with and the Tech Liaison for the Colorado State University Writing Project, an affiliate of the National Writing Project, a group working to improve the teaching of writing in schools via regular and meaningful professional development. Bud is also the co-editor of the New Voices column of English Journal, a publication of the National Council of Teachers of English. A consumer of copious amounts of New Media, Bud blogs and podcasts about his practice and larger educational issues at

Basic/Advanced Training
Convener: Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach
Keynote: TBA

Personal Professional Development
Convener: Will Richardson
Keynote: Ewan McIntosh

Ewan McIntosh is an educational technologist and teacher of French and German. Based in the Edinburgh area of Scotland he frequently works around the UK and Europe, leading student and teacher workshops and conferences. He is an experienced workshop facilitator in the area of Web 2.0 technologies in education across stages and curricular areas. Ewan blogs at

Overcoming Obstacles
Convener: TBA
Keynote: Anne Davis

Anne is known for seeing the educational possibilities in the use of weblogs with students in classrooms, having implemented wonderful ideas and weblog projects with students and teachers in K-12 classrooms and at the university level. She currently works at Georgia State University in the Instructional Technology Center in the College of Education as an Information Systems Training Specialist. Her weblog, EduBlog Insights is a co-winner of the Best Teacher Blog in the second international Edublog Awards, a web based event that recognizes the many diverse and imaginative ways in which weblogs are being used within education.

We'd like to invite you to submit a proposal to present at the conference. If you have something you'd like to share with the community, both people who are new to blogs and/or experienced bloggers please email the appropriate conference convener above with your ideas. The deadline to submit a proposal (just the proposal, not the finished product) is September 30, 2006. One of us will contact you to finalize the date of your presentation. Your presentation may be delivered in any web-based medium (including but not limited to...podcasts, PowerPoint files, blogs, websites, wikis, screencasts, etc.) and must be emailed to your assigned conference convener one week before it goes live, (see above strands) so that it can be uploaded to the server.

The conference organizers are:
Darren Kuropatwa

Darren Kuropatwa is currently Department Head of Mathematics at Daniel McIntyre Collegiate Institute in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. He is known internationally for his ability to weave the use of online social tools meaningfully and concretely into his pedagogical practice and for "child safe" blogging practices. He has more than 20 years experience in both formal and informal education and 13 years experience in team building and leadership training. Darren has been facilitating workshops for educators in groups of 4 to 300 for the last 10 years. Darren's professional blog is called A Difference (

Sheryl Nusbaum-Beach

Sheryl is a technology/education consultant for the National Education Association (NEA), the Center for Teaching Quality, SRI International, the Virginia Community College System, the Virginia Department of Education, the Miami-Dade Public Schools, the Alabama Best Practices Center and adjunct instructor in the School of Education at The College of William and Mary. She has had several journal articles and book chapters published, been featured on public broadcasting television and radio shows, and is a regular presenter at local, state, and national conferences speaking on topics of homelessness, teacher leadership, virtual community building, and 21st Century learning initiatives. Sheryl blogs at 21st Century Collaborative (

Will Richardson

Will Richardson is known internationally for his work with educators and students to understand and implement instructional technologies and, more specifically, the tools of the Read/Write Web into their schools, classrooms and communities. A public school educator for 22 years, WillÂ’s own Weblog ( is a primary resource for the creation and implementation of Weblog technologies on the K-12 level and is a leading voice for school reform in the context of the fundamental changes these new technologies are bringing to all aspects of life. Will is the critically acclaimed authour of the best-selling book Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Tools for Classrooms (March 2006, Corwin Press).

Conference Tags: k12online, K12online06

If you have any questions about any part of this, email one of us:
Darren Kuropatwa
Sheryl Nusbaum-Beach
Will Richardson

Please duplicate this post and distribute it far and wide across the blogosphere. Feel free to republish it on your own blog (actually, we'd really like people to do that ;-) ) or link back to this post (published simultaneously on all our blogs).

technorati tags

Saturday, September 02, 2006

A different kind of class

Steinway 1
Originally uploaded by mahlness.
It's not often, even at my age, when you say, "Well, this will be the last _______ we'll ever buy!" Two days ago we were lucky enough to find a Steinway we could afford, sort of - in sweet condition. Today we had it tuned, and our little house sings.... until I sit down just to see if the organ solo from "Light My Fire" is still in my muscle memory (it is - the neighborhood groans - yes, I was a rock and roll keyoard guy in the late sixties).

Friday, September 01, 2006

Fighting filtering

I just posted this response on tictech, a list I moderate on my own for folks interested in technology in the Seattle Public Schools:
Justin, Amen! Thank you for saying it so well.

The Seattle School District currently blocks Technorati. Interesting that Wikipedia makes a special note in its entry on Technorati - that it is blocked in China. is blocked in the Seattle School District.

David Warlick is blocked in the Seattle School District.

Anyone who participates in and sees the potential in web 2.0 would shake their heads in disbelief hearing such things. I have mentioned it to a few people, and they thought I was joking. Why this has happened in Seattle is a mystery. If the above three examples do not mean anything, I would suggest a crash course on web 2.0 with one or more of the following. Will Richardson's book is amazing There's a downloadable pdf pamphlet put together by some of the truly genius minds in educational technology: Coming of Age: an introduction to the new world wide web - And people are probably tired of hearing this, but check the blogging of my third graders last year http://classblogmei The latest edition of Interactive Educator has two wonderful articles about web 2.0 stuff - and mentions my class and school.

Dozens of domains carrying millions of web sites, blogs, and wikis - with incredible educational potential - are blocked in Seattle Schools - whitelisted, as Justin says. Saying a site can be unblocked if you request it is not necessarily true. My school's wiki is blocked within the district, and with the current whitelist policy, it cannot be unblocked. What do I tell the parents who have put in tons of work on their school wiki over the summer?

I second Justin's suggestion that educators be actively involved in decision making on district filtering. It is about education, after all. There are a few of us educators who also happen to know a few things about technical stuff.

I can punch down a cat 5 cable with the best of them, break down and reassemble a computer, roam around in DOS, explain the difference between a switch, hub, and router - write in html, xml, javascript, and I know the difference between blacklisting and whitelisting...

... I also happen to know what a wiki is... and rss... and a blog (that it is NOT just a journal, for goodness sake)... and tagging... and a mobcast... and a Skypecast... and so on... - and I have seen what they can do in a classroom.

I would hope educators involved in decisions on district filtering be directly involved in the revolution that is sweeping through the education community worldwide, web 2.0. You know I am available if somebody asked. I bet Justin would be too. Anybody else? - Mark

Sail on!

I just posted this to the classroom blog for my third graders from last year:

Sail on! 09/1
Congratulations to the 2005-06 third graders in Room 12! You all did such an absolutely AMAZING job with your writing on your blogs! You made a difference not only for yourselves, but you also inspired many, many people all over the world!

Student writing on this blog has now come to an end (I just changed everyone's passwords). now goes to a new location, the third graders in Room 12 for the 2006-07 school year.

So goodbye, you great bunch of kids in room 12. You were an incredible group to have in the classroom. I feel very lucky to have been your teacher. Keep on blogging!

Your third grade teacher,
Mr. Ahlness