Friday, December 29, 2006

Good news to end the year

Two pieces of good news from Andy Carvin this morning:
  1. DOPA Dies on the Vine
  2. Updates on Seymour Papert

Believing that DOPA might die and hoping that Mr. Papert might continue to recover - these are good ways to end 2006.

Thinking positive thoughts, this morning I removed the "Revise DOPA" widget on the sidebar of this blog. Thanks to Brian Grenier for developing and sharing it with everyone!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Family Internet Night

On December 5, 2006, I hosted a Family Internet Night in my third grade classroom at Arbor Heights Elementary in Seattle. Families were encouraged to come and learn about the classroom blog at – and to talk about online safety for the kids.

Lights and SnowflakesTurnout was great, I thought. Eight families came, a total of 25-30 people filled the room. We turned out the classroom lights, turned on the holiday lights that encircle the room, fired up the laptop and projector on the PowerPoint presentation, and we were off, for about an hour.

I recorded the audio on a little mp3 player/recorder strapped to my arm. The audio is 41 minutes long. It is NOT a professional presentation by any means, but it IS a genuine conversation with a third grade teacher, his kids, and their parents – all struggling together to learn and understand what this all means…

The podcast (4.8 MB) runs 41 minutes.

The PowerPoint presentation (1.5 MB) guided the conversation.

Listening suggestion: Follow along with the PowerPoint presentation while listening to the audio. On the other hand, the audio stands on its own pretty well, I think.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Five things

It's taken me too long to respond to Doug Noon's tagging me to write about five things that people might not know about me. Honestly, what has held me up the most was figuring out what five people I should, tag, or send this on to. Now that I've figured that out (see below), here is my list:
  1. I ride my bicycle to school every day. Rain, shine, snow, sleet, whatever. It's only a mile and a half, but there are some BIG hills.
  2. I am a voting member of the Recording Academy (the Grammy's). For several years I sang with the Seattle Symphony Chorale, participated in a few recordings, sang on a couple of film scores, and even performed as "whistler 2" on my wife's recent recording.
  3. I am one quarter Icelandic. Twenty-three thirty-seconds Norwegian. One thirty-second German. I hope that all adds up to one.
  4. I'm an alumnus of two Husky Universities: University of Connecticut, BA in psychology and University of Washington, MEd.
  5. I can touch my nose with my tongue.

There. Not quite as elegant a list as some others I've read, but it will have to do for now. This was a fun excercise. I now pass this on to the students in my third grade classroom. This is breaking the rules of just naming five, and I really hope to hear from more than five of them on this. It is not a required writing assignment, but I know many of them will find this interesting and challenging.

My kids each have their own blogs. Look for "Five Things" blog entries along the left side of in the next couple of weeks. I'll be cross-posting this entry there shortly. Who knows how many other student bloggers will get tagged with this?

AnaLisa, Bailey, Casey, Chelsea, Christopher, Delaney, Elyjah, Ethan, Jaylynn, Jonathan, Keean, Kyra, Lakota, Lindsay, Logan, Maribeth, Nathan, Nicole, Riley1, Riley2, Ryan

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Merry Christmas, 2006

Merry Christmas 2006
Originally uploaded by mahlness.
It is Christmas Eve. Nothing puts me more in the mood for the holiday than the annual "trimming" of the school home page (, something I've been doing for many years. Traditions are so important, and the ones we have a hand in creating are ever special.

And when you get a chance to create anew, it is really exciting. Last night I had a video skype with the rest of my family, at my sister's home in Ithaca, NY. Three thousand miles away, and yet we spoke and saw each other, for over half an hour - my mom, dad, sister, brother-in-law, and his daughter. But THE moment for me, without doubt, was being able to sign and converse with my deaf/blind brother (who still has enough sight to read signing). We have a date to reconnect Christmas morning.

This afternoon I mailed out 21 Christmas cards to my third graders. Normally I would have handed them out in class on the day before our school vacation, but school was cancelled that day because of a massive power outage in the region. So, we had an aborted, incomplete ending to school...

Next week, I'll crank up the volume on the classroom blog, and see how my kids feel about The Big Question. Thank you, Logan, for writing about it. (The official classroom vote was 16 - 3)

I hope Santa is good to everyone. Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Sunset on a season

Solstice Eve Sunset 6
Originally uploaded by mahlness.
We just returned from three days in a cabin on a bluff on the Washington Coast, looking out over the Pacific Ocean, at Iron Springs, holed up with no phone, no TV, no Internet. Lots of good hiking, birdwatching, and fireplace-watching.

As the sun set on the day before the winter solstice, it felt good to think about the days getting longer. And yet, some of life's shortest moments can be the sweetest - like this sunset.

Merry Christmas, everyone. - Mark

Sunday, December 17, 2006


Been humbled by the lack of electricity here in Seattle for the past three days. Living in a world where you cannot get warmer than 50 degrees F, where you cook outdoors in 30 degrees or less, where you feel lucky to have running water, where you can't even think straight because all your energy goes into staying warm.... and there are city folk all around us who are still freezing in their little homes, for a fourth day. So far behind, so grateful for the things that do work, and the heat that has mercifully returned. Much more to say here in the next few days, I hope - if our cable Internet connection is restored.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Men's Exchange a Success

getting ready...
Originally uploaded by mahlness.
Well, we had an excellent time after school today for our annual cookie exchange. Six guys exchanging cookies, swapping recipes, thinking about how we really should be enjoying cigars, telling tall tales and baking horror stories....

We did take a look at the video of our appearance on Sara Moulton's special on the Food Network from 2003. And we even put together a short podcast, where we introduced ourselves and our cookies.

More links are at and our new wiki:

Oh, and the cookies were delicious! Happy Holidays from the Bakers: Mark, Mark, Dave, Walter, Roberto, and Keith!

Friday, December 08, 2006

Men Bake Better

The holiday season is fast approaching, and men all over are scrambling for their recipe books. You can feel the excitement in the air. Guys are counting heads, multiplying by 12.... Women teachers are asking the men on their staff what it's going to be this year...

It is time for the Men's Cookie Exchange! Men baking cookies and exchanging them with other men. At schools, where we are in a minority, especially at the elementary level. We have been left out for way too long...

Men's Cookie ExchangeThis holiday tradition has been going on for some time - about ten years. A couple of years ago we were even featured on The Food Network on a Sara Moulton Holiday Special! Here are a few behind the scenes pictures of the shoot at my house and in my classroom.

There is a web site with pictures and stories from the past eight years:

On that site you will find lots of mouth watering pictures, recipes, tips, complete instructions - even a song!

So do stop by, and by all means, join in! There is now of course a wiki: It has just been started up, and we hope to hear from others joining in on the fun. Please feel free to contribute, add pictures of your own exchange, recipes, maybe a podcast of your exchange - the sky's the limit!

This is for real. Our exchange at Arbor Heights this year is scheduled for December 13th after school. We should have six bakers this year, which will be great. There are times when you just have to throw political correctness out the window, and have some good fun. Please - spread the word!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Family Internet Night

Last night I hosted the second annual Family Internet Night in my classroom. This is a real formal sounding name for families coming in and listening to me show and talk about our classroom blog - with some talk about safety. My presentation was heavy on potential and excitement, and lighter on the safety. I figure there are plenty of folks out there spreading fear - I choose to spread closeness and common sense.

Anyway, eight families showed up, about 25 people, and we went on for an hour. I talked for about half an hour, loosely following along with a PowerPoint presentation (link here soon). We then had a few minutes of Q&A (podcast to follow here soon). Finally, kids took their families over to computers and showed them the inner working of their blogs.

At that point, several kids just HAD to post new articles - or send comments to classmates. "Mr. Ahlness, I just sent in a comment! Can you look at it?" Over and over. So this was an incredible opportunity to show everybody - live - what the teacher sees when a blog is posted. And more importantly, it showed everybody - live, and on the projected screen of my laptop - how I dealt with blog postings. I opened my email program on my presentation laptop.

One blog was approved immediately. "It's there, Logan!" I hollered across the room. A couple of other kids I called up to my computer while I looked at their articles or comments in the database. This was very powerful. Remember, their parents are watching. So there I was, reading through their article, talking with the student at my side, asking them if they didn't think there might be a period somewhere in that long string of words.... Or if they knew that a particular word was spelled wrong - and then figuring it out with them. I was at the keyboard, teaching. My students were at my elbow, looking at the laptop and talking with me. And their parents and siblings saw it all on a big screen, in the middle a room full of excited conversations and aha's.

This is powerful stuff. This is NEW stuff. Oh my goodness, it is an exciting ride. I will do it again next Monday for families who could not come last night.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Louis Schmier

Not many folks have heard about Louis Schmier - at least, not as many as I think should have. He has been posting his Random Thoughts on educational lists since early 1993. His writing is amazing. An example is this excerpt from his recent Chaos Theory Of Education:

"....Be careful what you wish for. If you want to change the world of your classroom, start with yourself. Too often many proponents of learning-centeredness ignore the ramifications of this paradigm shift. They really don't deal with the need for an alteration of our own attitudes, intentions, expectations, and acceptances. They don't really address the requirement to change their thinking and feeling. Changing the paradigm isn't enough. You've got to change your thinking. You have to retouch the mental pictures you have of yourself and each student. You've got to think of yourself and each of them not in terms of the problems such a shift creates, but you have to identify yourself with the promising possibilities. Remember the warning attributed to Einstein: "The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.'..."

When I start to swing way too wildly at real and imagined obstacles, pushing forward with the latest tech thing, I return to his writing for balance. It brings me back to the student, the center, the focus, of the teacher's life. His writing can bring me back to earth, and remind me of why I do what I do... as in this excerpt from his classic To Be A Teacher:

"....If you want to be a teacher, you first have to learn how to play hopscotch, learn other children games, learn how to watch a snail crawl, read "Yertle the Turtle", and watch "Bullwinkle". If you want to be a teacher, you have to blow "she loves me, she loves me nots" with a dandilion or pull the indiviudal petals of a daisy, wiggle your toes in the mud and let it ooze through them, stomp in rain puddles, and be humbled by the majesty of a mountain. If you want to be a teacher, you have to fall in love each day. If you want to be a teacher, you have to paddle a canoe, take a hike, or just get out. If you want to be a teacher, you have to fly a kite or throw a frisbee, make sandcastles, love people, and listen intently to the rustle of the leaves or the murmur of the brook or the whisper of the breeze. If you want to be a teacher, you have to dream dreams, play games, talk to the flowers, catch fire flies, admire a weed, walk barefoot in the rain, hold a worm, and see what is yet to be...."

Christmas dogwood, 2006

I maintain the complete archive of his Random Thoughts on my school web site. If you have some time over the upcoming holidays to do some reading from an inspired voice, a teacher whose passion is in the right place, browse through the Complete Random Thoughts. There are several hundred, but every single one is a jewel, a light in a dark night.