Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Halloween bloggers

Halloween 2006
Originally uploaded by mahlness.
I just posted the following to tictech:

Hi all,
My third graders scrambled at the last minute to blog some stories for Halloween (we call it Book Character Day at our school), and I think they did a pretty fair job. So if you're looking for some interesting evening reading at home on Halloween, head on over to http://roomtwelve.com and check out the entries on the left side of the page dated 10/30 and 10/31. Remember, they're just 8 and 9. Feel free to leave comments for them!
Thanks - Mark

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Riding a bubble and watching my back

So much has happened in the past two weeks I've not had time to stay even with regular work stuff, never mind write something here. There is a small break this afternoon. It's a beautiful fall afternoon in Seattle, but I need to write about this.

The bubble started forming when the Seattle Times ran an article about students blogging. Very nice, I had a couple of quotes. But then the story was mentioned on the blogs of David Warlick, Will Richardson, Wesley Fryer, and Andy Carvin. I was pleased, of course, a little embarrassed at all the attention. Now, it was a very nice article, but it really brought home to me how desperate the web 2.0 education community is for ANY kind of positive mention in the mainstream media. There has been more talk about Oprah as the key. Only kidding a little - maybe not at all.

So the bubble was launched. The day before I had offered a workshop on wikis for my colleagues at school, recorded it for a later podcast. A few days later I hosted a workshop for anybody in my district, on setting up a Classblogmeister blog. Also recorded for future podcast. Meanwhile I was getting excited about the upcoming K12Online Conference, and a little nervous about my presentation in it. I tried hosting a local Skypecast, and had some limited success.

Gaining altitude.... In the past week I've participated in three Elluminate sessions connected with the conference. These were incredibly exciting experiences, talking in real time with people from all over the world. What an incredible collection of brilliant and passionate people!

Dizzying heights now... My little conference presentation, and I DO mean little, especially when you look at what other presenters are cranking out, is released on Thursday. I'm starting to notice how thin the sides of this bubble really are, way up here... (does a bubble really have sides?)

This, for a third grade teacher, is a great ride. But it is scary. Sometimes I know I get carried away with my own success and start talking publicly with more boldness than I should, given my position. There are times I get so excited. I can't believe others are not "catching" whatever it is I've got. Then I get upset. Often I end up feeling impatient, resentful of the impediments to implementation. My presentation on Nov. 2 grew out of that frustration.

I feel danger out there. For whatever reasons, my colleagues and mentors in web 2.0 are not anywhere near here. I am grateful for each and every one of them, I truly am. But I feel very vulnerable.

When you request more open access to web 2.0 and the result is LOSS of access you used to have, and nobody says anything, you wonder. When you are talking loudly and excitedly (out of character to be sure, but I can't help it) about the greatest things you have ever seen - and everyone around you gets very quiet - you watch your back.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

A bird in the hand

Cedar Waxwing by John K. Cassady
Originally uploaded by jcassady.
I climbed up the stairs, lifted up the blanket at the top, then the box underneath that, then there was a towel. Just where was the dead bird?

My wife had sent me a couple of angst ridden emails during the day at school about how one of our cats had snagged a bird, a juvenile cedar waxwing. There was blood all over the place, she had covered the bird up on the stairway to the basement. She was in the middle of teaching voice lessons....

I was not looking forward to going home. "Get the shovel ready", a colleague had advised me. For a possible mercy killing - and burial.

But it was alive. I saw movement, then felt it struggling under all this stuff. Five hours after the incident. I carefully picked it up, trying to figure out where its body was in all the blankets, not let it get away - and mostly, fearing I'd break a fragile wing or foot. Carried it outside. Put it on a post, about 7 feet off the ground, in a sheltered area.

The bird stood up on the post, turned around, and flew off. A straight, strong flight.

I think the bird will be ok. No blood - it was probably berry juice. We wondered later if the bird had actually had too much overripe fruit...? Probably flew into a window and stumbled into the house through an open door.

I had held the bird in my hands, about a foot from my face for a few seconds. We looked each other in the eye. The bird was panting. My heart was racing. When it flew away, I felt happier than I had in a long time.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Skypecast for Seattle educators

I've set up a Skypecast on Monday, October 23rd, from 7 to 8 PM (Seattle time) to discuss "the status and potential of web 2.0 in the Seattle School District". Skype (www.skype.com) is a free Internet "phone" program anyone can use to communicate with anyone else on the Internet. I'll post more info shortly, but here's the location:


Anyone is invited to participate in the conversation. Please spread the word - Mark

Monday, October 16, 2006

K12 Online Conference - underway!

It's underway, in grand fashion. I was lucky enough to experience two events right in my classroom today, thanks to a flash drive and the luck of timing...

  • David Warlick's simply amazing "Pre Conference Keynote". This is a broadband download (85 MB, one hour audio/video), but definitely worth the wait: http://k12online.wm.edu/k12online2006_optz.mp4 Wow!
  • The Monday Night Fireside Chat with David Warlick on Elluminate. It's over now, but I managed to get in for most of it. Fifty or so were there, David on live video, chatroom, whiteboard, sharing the mike - goodness, what an exciting place to play. And I would say the ideas expressed there definitely matched the newness and thrill of the environment.

I encourage folks to tune into the Conference Hitchhikr page, and feed for your rss reader.

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Saturday, October 14, 2006

wiki work

Here is a little in-house in-service I did on Friday, October 13th, 2006, at my school, Arbor Heights Elementary, in Seattle Washington. It was meant as an introduction to the world of wikis for my colleagues, so it started off on a very basic level, but by the end of half an hour or so, we had a few editors working on our fledgling school wiki - and, I hope, thinking way beyond that, to where the potential of this medium can take us - as learners and teachers. I recorded and edited my remarks in a podcast (27 min, 1.6mb). We worked from a local web page I hastily put together to guide the learning (sometimes referred to as the "Staff Links" page in the podcast). It appears below:

Wiki Work
In-Service, Oct. 13, 2006


  1. Know what a wiki is
  2. Know the difference between a wiki and Wikipedia
  3. Understand basic navigation on a wiki
  4. Familiarity with the school wiki, arborheights.wikispaces.com
  5. Create a wiki identity
  6. Hands on experience editing and creating pages on:
    * the staff wiki: arborheightsstaff.wikispaces.com
    * the school wiki, arborheights.wikispaces.com
  7. Begin to understand the educational potential in school,
    with kids and adults
http://www.wikispaces.com/pbwiki.comWestwood Wikispace
roomtwelve.wikispaces.comroomtwelve.pbwiki.comWild about Wikis
(great article by
David Jakes)
Mark's del.icio.us wiki category
(scroll down)
Arbor Heights entry on Wikipedia

Friday, October 13, 2006

Sticks, stones, and lupines

Had a rocky experience a few days ago on a large educational list. Made a comment suggesting the list ought to be moderated (after a racist comment was made and many emails followed in a flurry), offered to help... This was met with over a dozen list responses, all in opposition to this. People were very upset. Somebody suggested I might be a troll. We're not talking a Grimm fairy tale here, folks.

So I did not write back. I thought about things. I reminded myself that I have done good work, that I have made a difference. That Don Leu thought enough of my work to mention me first in his groundbreaking The Miss Rumphius Effect: Envisionments for Literacy and Learning That Transform the Internet ...that the very list I was writing to was spawned from Don's article.


And when I reminded myself of the history: vindication. It was a big part of web 1.0, that project. There were interviews, many websites on the topic, and I even wrote a chapter in a book published by the IRA.

Of course the book at the heart of all this is Miss Rumphius, by Barbara Cooney. I love this book. It is the highlight of my reading curriculum, every year - and I always manage to wait until we're close to Earth Day before pulling it out. Basic premise: young girl promises her grandfather three things:

  • to visit faraway places
  • to live by the sea
  • to make the world a more beautiful place

Miss Rumphius does the first two, no sweat. But it is not until she is an old woman that she discovers and shares the beauty of lupines - flowers that multiply, and spread, and on, and on...

I'll be spreading seeds again this year, not throwing sticks and stones.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Amazing start

My third graders have been blogging at roomtwelve.com now for eight days. They are taking to the medium so easily. Kids are blogging from home. They are sending comments. They are responding to comments. They are completing classroom writing assignments, and they are writing about things they care about, like Whats hard in class, The First Day Of Third Grade , or The Playdate. Family members are sending in comments. Their music teacher is in a car accident, and they want to write about it. I'm emailing parents about url's to family blogs in their comments. Holy cow. I feel like the engineer at the wheel of a speeding train who's not so sure about the brakes...

It is hard not to draw comparisons to the wonderful group from last year, the first blogging third graders at roomtwelve.com. Last year they started on November 1st. This year they started on September 29th. This year's group is moving forward, much more quickly, much more easily.

Naturally I'm better at teaching all the skills involved. I have all the experience from pitfalls and successes to build upon - but this year's group has come in with more skills. Not because they are a sharper group, but simply because the world is changing so fast, and what kids know, what they care about, is so different - and is changing so fast.

The learning curve has also changed. With many, if not most, of the new skills I'm showing my kids, many of them writing techniques, I'm seeing a huge increase in single trial learning. Show 'em once, and they have it. For a teacher out of a special ed. background, this is just mind boggling. For a teacher who wishes all his kids would remember that 8 plus 5 equals 13 once they've been told.... well, it's head-scratching time.

It's not as though this is the most capable group of third graders I've had in 16 years of teaching third grade. It is simply because they want to learn this way, because it means something to their world. This IS the way they learn.

Monday, October 02, 2006

What matters

I've been talking recently with a newspaper reporter who is working on a story about blogging in schools. This in itself is very exciting, but what happened this afternoon reminded me of what matters, really.

The reporter asked me today about the possibility of getting feedback from the parents of my third grade bloggers - from last year. So I went through some old emails and sent a note to 11 past parents at the end of the day. Hopped on my bike and headed home. When I got home I had heard from three of the parents - willing to talk about roomtwelve.com (last year).

What matters is the family connection. What matters is the continuity. What matters is that parents see the potential of blogging - and are willing to go to bat for it.