Wednesday, January 24, 2007

4 Generations: How to Save a Life

Make it count, change your priorities. Stop and think about what REALLY matters....

Thank you, thank you, Tim Lauer in Portland, Oregon for this. Click on the water buffalo...

How much we have.

How little it takes to change - or save - a life.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Bloggers becoming gardeners

Konrad Glogowski recently expressed regrets about not hanging on to the blogs of his 8th graders for the last three years:

...However, I was never able to experience this sense of growing community because, like most teachers, I have been programmed to divide learning into yearly or monthly episodes. The blogging community begins in September, it grows until June, and then gets deleted because September will bring another batch of students and another community.

.....Last June, ten of my former students asked to remain part of the community. They had grown so attached to their class blogging community that they asked me not to shut it down and to give them access to the new community that they knew I would be building with my new grade eights in September. I was thrilled that they wanted to remain in the community. I knew that as grade nine students, having already gone through the grade eight programme, they would greatly enhance the experience for their younger friends.

...And yet, I chose to shut down the community and restrict access to the new one. For the past three years, in fact, I have been creating communities only to dismantle them every June.

I struggled with much the same crisis. And I am only now, halfway through the following school year, approaching a way to effectively and appropriately deal with this, as a teacher of third grade bloggers. I started by letting my kids from last year blog through the summer, with permission from their parents. When the new school year started I changed the passwords on their blogs, so they couldn't add content. We of course talked about this many times as the year was ending (there were pleas and tears), but I figured, as Konrad did, that it was time to move on to another group. One difference was that I left their blogs alone, and set up a new site for this year's class. So you could visit their old blogs, but it was kind of like reading a book - there was no life there, no heartbeat of writing...

Just last week I offered to let the kids from last year back on to - as alumni - and they can blog again. With parent permission, of course. I have heard from four, and they are now part of a new class, "Alumni". I still will approve every word they write on their blogs and every word in every comment sent to them - and edit, within reason, and offer behind the scenes feedback on writing that needs to be improved. The first thing I set up for them on their new blogs was a link to their blog from last year.

This was complicated. I'm not their teacher anymore, and I had to check with their teachers from this year to be sure it was OK with them. More issues will come up, I'm sure.

I am a saver, an archiver, especially with Internet stuff. For whatever reason, I save almost everything I have had a hand in. I have archived versions of my school's home page over the last dozen years. I've archived Louis Schmier's Random Thoughts, going back to 1993. The student newsletter (now a podcast available on iTunes - there is a blog of course) is archived back to 1994. I even have an email I posted to Ednet in 1994, encouraging teachers to create web pages for their schools (ohmygosh). I'll post it when I get the nerve - it's a little embarrassing to look at these days...

But the work I feel most protective of and will work the hardest to maintain is the writing of my students - on the Internet. This is real stuff, for a worldwide audience - and sometimes that worldwide audience is involved in that writing. The best writing I have ever seen in 24 years of teaching third graders is from the blog from the 2005-06 school year. I am happy to welcome those kids back.

Konrad closes I Will Be a Gardener with this:

I feel that like an architect or an engineer, I have been too preoccupied with the act of building communities and have not paid as much attention to sustaining them and giving them the nourishment they need to grow. Clay Shirky says that "To create an environment conducive to real community, you will have to operate more like a gardener than an architect." I have been an architect for too long. Now, I will be a gardener.

It's definitely worth a read.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Student Bloggers/Reporters

Dogwood 2
Originally uploaded by mahlness.
This pretty picture has nothing to do with this post, except for the fact that as a result of the big snow last night, we had no school today... and I finally had some time to work on the web 2.0 skin of our school newsletter.

The Junior Seahawk Newsletter is a student newspaper that I have worked on for over a dozen years. Kids send in reports and jokes/riddles. I add some graphics and distribute a copy to each kid at school, 10 months a year. Then I produce a pdf version and post it online.

For the last four months of school last year I started having the reporters read their reports, and produced a companion podcast. This has grown slowly, because it's just me working on this, but some sigificant strides have been made this year. I'm asking the kids to do the writing on their own - from their classrooms, our lab, even from home. They can always stop by my classroom anytime, as we will always have computers available for them. I've been using Alan November's Web site to host the blog. The reporters simply send in their reports as comments. They've taken to this really easily.

Today I was able to to two things, both of which made me feel great. I figured out how to link to their iTunes home - which I had set up months ago. Anyone can now subscribe to their monthly podcasts, via a link from their blog. And I redesigned the home page, incorporating the Newsletter logo into the blog - not so easy, given the limited accesibility to the November Learning "themes". Anyway, I found a couple of fields that would accept html....

Now I have to sit down with Publisher and their raw reports and produce Volume 16, Issue 5 of the Jr. Seahawk Newsletter.... and listen to the news to see if school is on for tomorrow - or if we have our fifth no-school day of the year.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Am I Nuts?

I have struggled with what to do with last year's third grade bloggers for a long time - nearly a year. I extended the school year, and let them keep blogging through the summer of 2006. This year I have done in-house inservices, offered individual assistance to their teachers, have encouraged those kids to ask their new teachers about getting a blog going for them (and volunteering to help other kids in class learn how to do it all).

It's January, 2007. I do not believe those kids will get a blog going this year. This is difficult to write, because it might seem like I'm being critical of my colleagues - like, why aren't they blogging with their kids? Truth is, I understand. Our teacher plates are way too full already. One more new thing with a steep initial learning curve.... not likely to happen, especially if it's optional.

I've checked into getting their blogs automatically switched over to their new teachers. I'm getting nowhere with that. Here's what I have decided to do:

  1. ask their new teachers if it's ok for me to set up new blogs for them - on my current classroom blog (in an alumni area)
  2. if that's ok, ask their parents (I have all their emails) if they will give their permission for their blogs to be open, with me as their moderator/teacher
  3. set up an alumni section on my classroom blog for last year's students.
  4. write an initial post for each of them with a hyperlink to their last year's blog

This is more work, for sure. I am certain a dozen or so (some even now at different schools) will jump at the chance to blog again.

Am I nuts? Naw, I just see those kids, I still hear their (online) voices, and I want to give it back to them. Wish me luck.

Monday, January 01, 2007

The Kids Are Alright

As 2007 starts, there is a lot of talk about the future of web 2.0 in education: listing the best posts of the year, wringing hands over continued obstacles, nodding of heads in agreement , and many, many predictions of what will happen this year...

My 8 and 9 year old third graders are ready now, they are alright with web 2.0. Many of them take it for granted. A third of my classroom has blogged from home over Christmas Vacation:

Casey: The Lucky Soup 1/1/07
Nathan: Things I got for Christmas - 12/31/06
AnaLisa: Winter Vacation - 12/30/06
Logan: My Christmas - 12/27/06
Nicole: The Accident - 12/26/06
Riley1: Hockey is a sport - 12/24/06
Kyra: Over The Week - 12/19/06
Logan: The Play Date - 12/19/06

These kids are comfortable in the medium. My job is simply to give it to them. My resolution for 2007 is to give them more. They will not waste the opportunity.