Tuesday, November 28, 2006


Eating in a snowstorm
Originally uploaded by

Been feeling so out of step with the educational institution lately.

Kind of like a hummingbird in a snowstorm, like these brave souls who live right outside our doors and windows in this unusual deep freeze in Seattle. A hummingbird who knows the weather is wrong, not what it is supposed to be. A hummingbird who has no choice. Too late to head to California or Costa Rica... wouldn't last more than a few hours in a frantic flight south without a swig of nourishment...

In Seattle, these Anna's hummingbirds brave snowstorms and nighttime temperatures in the teens, because this IS where they live. The incredibly sweet and fragrant "new dawn" viburnum blooming through snow on bare branches provide the "organic" piece- others will follow soon. People get up before first light to thaw the frozen feeders for the birds who have spent the night in a state of torpor, their heart rates slowed to a crawl, so they can meet the day and go for it again...

In Seattle and elsewhere, web 2.0 teachers do this, every day of the school year. Thanks to those who feed us.

from Karl Fisch - 2020 Vision

Here's the Google Video version of the latest from Karl Fisch.

Here's his blog post - http://thefischbowl.blogspot.com/2006/11/2020-vision.html

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Lan Party Podcast

On November 20th I hosted a classroom LAN party about the K12 Online Conference. I recorded some of my thoughts at the beginning. There was a small turnout, and this recording is simply me talking about the conference - and a few other things. In listening to it, it seems to capture pretty well my feelings about the conference.

(17 min, 2 MB)

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Friday, November 24, 2006


Once upon a time there was a turkey named Galaxy who lived on an organic turkey farm in Northern California. She had a good life. The owners of the farm were vegetarians, and they raised turkeys only for their eggs. Turkey eggs, you say? Actually, they are delicious and a little bigger than chicken eggs. People often use them in Mexican food.

One November a few years ago, it was noticed that Galaxy was no longer laying eggs all that often. She tried to hide her shortcoming in many ways. Her owners, being people of conscience and non-violence, decided to look the other way as they appreciated her many fine qualities. But, times being tough (and they WERE turkey farmers after all), they had a talk with Galaxy the night before Thanksgiving. With heaviness of heart, Farmer Sunshine asked, “Galaxy, if there was a painless way for you to become dinner to save our farm, would you consider going to Axelrod’s?”

“Oh my gosh, please not the Axelrod’s - they are carnivorous, right wing, bible thumpers – please, I would do almost anything else…”

“Galaxy, I know it isn’t a perfect solution, but you’ve lived a happy life, and quite frankly, we’re desperate!”

A turkey of deep conviction, Galaxy sighed deeply, gave Farmer Sunshine a full wing embrace, wiped a tear from her organic eye, and trotted off down the path to the Axelrod Gun Shop.

Several of her companion turkeys saw what was happening, and in a desperate act of solidarity, they ran after her holding signs that read “If you kill her, you have to kill all of us!”

This gesture jolted Farmer Sunshine back to a memorable day from his college days at Berkeley, back in 1968, and he spoke to the group. “Desperate times call for desperate measures,” he reasoned.

Suddenly the ground began to shake violently, and every single turkey stopped, looked at each other, and screamed in unison, “EARTHQUAKE!” As the dazed and shaken turkeys looked on, Farmer Sunshine slipped off the barn platform, and was struck on the head by a collapsing beam.

“Head for the hills, and meet me at the Golden Gate Bridge!” screamed Galaxy to all the terrified turkeys. But then she stopped in her tracks and wheeled around to face the panicked flock, her wings flung wide and embracing. She had only one thought in her mind. “Sister turkeys, we have to make a tough choice today.”

An aftershock knocked everybody over. They dusted off their wings, hugged each other in relief, and one of the younger hens threw out an idea.

“Hey, let’s do a sit in on Thanksgiving – block all the highways leading to Grandma’s house!”

“No, Valerie,” one of the old hens muttered, “That has been so done, and Farmer Sunshine will wake up and find us, because he will recognize the rhetoric with which we’ve been imprinted!”

Through the silenced flock there passed a slight jolt, then a quiet sucking sound. Grace had found a package of discarded lifesafers, and passed them around to her querying companions. They all took a deep breath, but then they noticed the tide on the beach next to the farm receding at an alarming rate…

“Tsunami!!!!” Galaxy cried.

They ran as fast as they could. Galaxy led the group up the hillside, but then realized, to her horror, that the Axelrod’s farm was behind the gate at the top of the ridge. However, looking back, Galaxy wondered if the huge wave looming on the western horizon would actually top that ridge anyway. Suddenly, she remembered that none of the turkeys living at Farmer Sunshine’s ranch had had their wings clipped. They could fly, but how far – and what friendly spot could they find to land, on the day before Thanksgiving? The forest on the opposite ridge looked wild and free and inviting, if a little scary.

Suddenly, all eyes looked up and saw a huge object slowly descending into the field right in front of them. At first they were too dazed to actually see it well, but as the propeller slowed, it was easily identified as a helicopter owned by animal rights activist, Vega Green. She stepped out, and with a sweeping motion of her gentle arm, beckoned the terrified turkeys to the helicopter, to the ride of their lives. Assured that none of them would become Thanksgiving dinner, they broke into a rousing chorus of “for she’s a jolly good fellow” as the helicopter lifted off the hilltop.

Galaxy looked down on the chaos below. As the helicopter flew over Farmer Sunshine’s farm, she saw him stirring and pulling himself to his feet. It appeared his wife was dead. Galaxy brushed a tear from her eye, but resolved to keep her sadness to herself. The others needed her strength now.

As Farmer Sunshine and the farm became a distant vision, Valerie and the other young hens laid their daily eggs, and began thinking of what they could do to change the world with them. Galaxy silently took the controls of the helicopter, swung it around, and headed back toward Farmer Sunshine…

“Yo, Galaxy!” Valerie screamed. “What are you doing?”

“Just picking up the pieces.”

“Well, pick them up on your own, you crazy old hen!” shouted Valerie, as she shoved Galaxy out the open helicopter door.

Galaxy felt her heart jump into her throat, spread her wings, and like an eagle flew for high ground in the Sierras. The snow had just started to fall in the higher elevations. "Tonight I shall roost in a tall pine, and dine on pine cones,” she thought. She peered through the trees ahead, and her eyes caught sight of a distant marker, “Donner Pass”.

Now Galaxy was an old turkey hen, and she had actually studied the history of the west in school. “Yikes – but as long as I’ve not flown through a time warp on my way down here, I’ll probably be OK.” Nonetheless, she felt strong and just kept going, veering directly south toward Mexico. It was warmer there, and for some reason, turkey had never really caught on, except for the eggs….The End

My wife and I wrote this story tonight.

I have enjoyed the writings of my third graders for many years, as they wrote about how a turkey might escape being served for Thanksgiving Dinner. So on the day after Thanksgiving, my wife and I tried our hand at the assignment. We passed the laptop back and forth, literally, one sentence at a time. No rules, except that you could only write one sentence and could not change anything already written. Either of us could write "The End" at any time.

Go ahead and try to figure out who wrote what. I did not write the first sentence.

Besides being great fun and lots of laughs, the process we used is one that suggests to me collaboration of the kind I want to use with my kids this year. We'll use a wiki for this - as soon as I can figure out a format that will work - and a way that will make it as immediate, fun, and rewarding as the experience we had tonight.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Thanksgiving online from Arbor Heights kids

Getting into the holiday season online is a lot of fun with the kids, even if it takes a little more time. I just posted the following message to a couple of lists. This is my first recycling of a blog idea from last year that worked well:

Hi everyone,
An update on some recent holiday online contributions from kids at Arbor Heights:

1) My third graders just posted “turkey escape” stories on their blogs at
http://roomtwelve.com This is the second year my students have blogged these fantasy stories… it is amazing to see where young desperate minds will go :)! Feel free to leave comments for the writers!

2) The Jr. Seahawk Newsletter for November, just distributed at school today, the 22nd, is also available online – as is the podcast version, where you can hear the reporters reading their reports. It works well to listen and read along…. two places to get to the newsletter:

I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving! - Mark

Monday, November 20, 2006

An adjustment

Classroom LAN Party
Originally uploaded by mahlness.
Well, the classroom LAN party happened, sort of. Three brave souls showed up, besides me, and we took a look at some of the K12 Online Conference. I think we all enjoyed ourselves. But definitely a small turnout, considering the invitation list...

Yesterday I had listened to Terry Freedman's excellent (and sobering, for me) podcast from the conference, Selling Web 2.0 to Senior Management, so I was kind of prepared for a low turnout. I think change at this level, from the bottom feeder, grassroots level, will ultimately fizzle - as energy and enthusiasm wane from lack of support and positive feedback.

Time to try another approach, adjust the strategy...

Friday, November 17, 2006

Final reminder: Classroom LAN Party: November 20th

just posted this to tictech. I wonder how many will show up...?
Final reminder, honest:
Monday, November 20th, at 3 PM, I'll be hosting a "Classroom LAN Party" in my classroom at Arbor Heights Elementary in Seattle. The topic with be the recently concluded but still existing (and growing) K12 Online Conference.

Friday afternoon I finished the installation of Quicktime and the latest Media Player on all 15 classroom computers. Then I completed the uploading of, linking to, and describing of - over one gigabyte of information (!) on our local server. This is not just any old information. These are the multimedia presentations from educators the world over - prepared for the K12 Online Conference. The conference is still online, but my aim here is to provide a place where people can easily sample, discuss, and view in entirety presentations requiring broadband connections. A test at 4:30 today had 12 computers simultaneously humming along nicely with different podcasts and video presentations.

Anyone is welcome to attend. Bring a set of earbuds or headphones (I have extras) - there will be time for individual exploration. Also feel free to bring along your IPod, flash drive, or other storage device to take with you as much as you'd like. And oh yeah - it IS a party - so feel free to bring snacks :) There will be signs to "Room 12" once you're inside the front door. We'll start with an intro right at 3 PM, and go as long as people want to stay... - Mark

Mark Ahlness


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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Potential and reality

Posted to tictech this evening:

--- In tictech@yahoogroups.com, "Baeder, Justin" wrote:> This story describes a number of teachers using blogs, wikis,> podcasting, and similar new technologies in the classroom: http://news.yahoo.com/s/usatoday/20061115/

> Mark A. is in good company.

Justin, thanks. In the summer of 2005 I remember telling a friend how I was going to start blogging with my third graders in the fall -and how there were thousands of teachers all over the place doing this - and how I was coming so late to the dance. How wrong I was. We are still so few.

A couple of things happened today in the classroom that opened my eyes once again - to potential and reality:

At 2:00 I tuned in to a "Webinar" on a computer in my classroom, hosted by Discovery Education and Steve Dembo. The presenter was David Warlick. He was speaking to a Group at MassCUE in Sturbridge, Massachusetts.... talking about Friedman's The World is Flat - and many other things. On my classroom computer, I had David's presentation computer. In a corner of my screen I had an IM chat going on with over a hundred virtual attendees. In another window I had a live wiki where we were all encouraged to sign in and take notes while David spoke - and we could all share these notes and thoughts later, of course....


And the audio - get this - was on my classroom phone. I set it on speakerphone, so I could move around and get work done, glance at the computer screen (controlled by David), and listen, live, to a big time presentation from a world class educator.

Simply amazing. And free. The message was revolutionary.

But what blew me away for real was a conversation with my third graders this morning. One of my kids shared with the class, via her morning journal, projected for the class to read - that she was excited to be getting a my space started with her dad this weekend. I asked her if she was talking about the "computer" MySpace. She said of course. There was a low buzz in the classroom. I asked if anybody else in the room had MySpace accounts. Four hands went up, timidly - and a little proudly...

These are 8 and 9 year olds. Anybody who thinks social networking is years away from elementary school kids is dead wrong. My second annual "Family Internet Night", scheduled none too soon, happens in the last week in November. - Mark

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Monday, November 13, 2006

Guerillas in their midst

I was intrigued by the writing of Miguel Guhlin today. He cited another writer who inspired him. Interesting reading. Guerilla fighters in education....

But I would suggest the web 2.0 educational guerilla fighters are already there, unwilling to settle for baby steps when the rest of the world is moving ahead by leaps and bounds. We are there.

We cannot not surround and change the educational technology establishment by external force. And we do not have the time or patience to quietly play by the rules of that establishment, hoping somebody will eventually notice the cool things possible in web 2.0. We are working behind the scenes, using every tool, every lever and advantage, but... we have also infiltrated the ranks of the everyday teacher, the student body, the parent organizations, the school boards, the mainstream media. We will change minds, not twist arms. We will not go away nor shut up. We are guerillas in their midst.

(The image of Che Guevara appearing here is from Wikipedia, attributed to Alberto Korda. It is used in line with with the the owner's wish that it be used to promote "the cause of social justice throughout the world". Che Guevara represents many different things to different countries and cultures. It is his passion and committment to social justice that speaks here)

Sunday, November 12, 2006

A Call for Help to the Blogosphere

A comment becomes a post. In A Call for Help to the Blogosphere, Tracy Fowler asked for help from colleagues, ammo for her presentation to her school district leaders who have blocked blogs. I left this:
I'm a third grade teacher in Seattle, Washington - blogging with my third graders again this year at http://roomtwelve.com/. The community of learners that developed last year - and that is developing now with a new class - is unlike anything I have ever seen in the classroom. I've been using computers in my classroom for over a dozen years. I am in my 26th year as a classroom teacher. I have never seen anything come along to motivate student writing like blogging does - it's not even close.

Students write from home. They stay in at recess to write - yes, even the boys! They read the writing of others from different parts of the world. They exchange ideas with students and adults from different cultures. Third graders.

Would this be possible without blogs? Maybe - but certainly not with the immediacy, frequency, and voice that this medium provides. It is the medium students choose to use today. If we teachers do not guide these young learners along the way in this medium, teaching as we go - about safety, ethics, community, academic content - well, then I believe we are doing them a disservice.

My third graders from last year wrote some incredible pieces. Some of their writing was about blogging. I encourage the reading of The Class of 2015, from my own blog, where I quote and link to their articles (their writing is all still there, of course).

I would also encourage the reading of a series of posts I wrote about blogging with my third graders:

Please remember that every single word that appeared on these student blogs (including all the comments) was approved by me, before it appeared there.

Finally, in order for this new community of learners to exist at all, teachers in school districts need to have access to these writings, to the blogs of educators who are helping to build it now.

Tracy, good luck. See you out there - Mark

Mark Ahlness


Saturday, November 11, 2006

Three good ones

I've had many thoughts (several of them frustrations) swimming around in my head lately, but I've simply not had the time to write. Along came three great posts today that expressed so well what I was thinking about - and wished I'd been able to write. Then while I was cleaning up in the back yard, the hummingbirds started arriving. I took a bunch of pictures, and some of them seemed to take on the attitude and demeanor of the authors, all teachers...

  1. JeffThomas Friedman in Shanghai, from Jeff Utecht. "But that the best skill we can teach kids is to 'Learn how to learn.' But how do we do that in an old school in an unflat school. Does a school need to be flat in order to teach and learn to learn? While I agree with Friedman on this point I don't think that goes far enough. Learning how to learn is one thing. Learning to learn, unlearn, relearn, remix, mash up, unlearn, relearn, is something completely different. And that you can not do in a non flat school......"

  2. ClarenceClassroom 2.0, from Clarence Fisher. He cites and discusses an article by Daniel Pink, now five years old, and says, "I'm getting to the point where I want to be finished with old ways. I truly believe that we are actively harming the kids in our classrooms when we are not preparing them for the society they live in. But more and more I roll around at night, get up early in the mornings and wonder what those new ways look like. Do we even know what we want? ..."

  3. Miss VickiContent Filtration: A little dirt for your health?, from Vicki Davis. My favorite part is when she dishes out some advice for those in charge of the filters, starting out with: "Solutions can emerge on this issue, but professionalism and trust must be present if improvement is to occur. To me, this discussion boils down to several things:
    * If you want students to treat teachers with respect, treat teachers with respect.
    * If you want students to treat teachers as the authority, give them some authority...."

Thanks Jeff, Clarence, and Vicki!

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Hard work and coincidental rewards

The boss
Originally uploaded by mahlness.
Usually you work hard and get rewards for that work. Sometimes you don't. And sometimes you work hard and get rewards that don't have anything to do with your hard work - just because you are THERE.

Today I spent a couple of hours in my annual ritual of taking down my hop vines and weaving them into wreaths. It was a cold, wet, afternoon in Seattle. The wreaths will look real nice when they dry out and we use them over the holidays, but it was hard, cold, wet work. And the rewards are still a long way off.

Suddenly there was an encounter between two male Anna's hummingbirds - right over my head. There was a lot of noise and big aerial displays. I was standing in the middle of it. Having just taken a picture of the wreaths, I had my camera ready, and grabbed several fun shots of these beautiful birds (they live year round in Seattle). The fun lasted a good 15 minutes.

What a treat. Sometimes you just need to work hard, and good things happen - because you are THERE.

I am hoping those who worked so incredibly hard to put on the K12 Online Conference will experience some of those sweet, coincidental rewards. Lots of people work very hard, and expect rewards for that work. Some just work hard on something because they believe in what they are doing. Today I made wreaths. For the past month, the organizers of that conference have made bouquet after bouquet - brightening the lives of many, many people.

I do hope good things come their way. I will write more about the conference soon.

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