Friday, July 20, 2007

Blogging through 2006-07: Conclusion

This is the last post in the series:
Blogging through 2006-07: Intro
Blogging through 2006-07: Part 1
Blogging through 2006-07: Part 2
Blogging through 2006-07: Part 3
Blogging through 2006-07: Part 4

Written a month after the end of the school year, the series was my attempt to chronicle some of the high and low points of blogging with my third graders. My initial purpose was to provide a helpful guide to other teachers who wanted to maybe get some ideas or pointers about using blogs in an elementary school classroom. However, once I got started, I realized how useful it was going to be for me to go through the exercise, both in remembering and in planning. My focus changed then to highlighting what was most important to me. If it can still be a help to others, then great. A few ending thoughts:

  • The numbers. By no means is this high statistics, but last night I wondered just how many posts I had written on my classroom blog this year versus last year - and then of course, how many posts the students in those classrooms had written. Even with multitude of variables in play here, I've done enough research and statistics to know that there are enough important variables in common to say there is something going on here:

    2005-06 classroom blog:
    Teacher posts - 56
    Student posts - 340

    2006-07 classroom blog:
    Teacher posts - 29
    Student posts - 711

    Same number of students, same ages, same gender distribution, similar academic strengths, same number of computers in class. The 05-06 class started blogging one month later, but the 06-07 class still has a month and a half left for summer blogging. What does this mean? Well, it looks to me like the students wrote more, and the teacher wrote less. This is good :)

  • Obstacles. I said in the Intro that this was the most frustrating year I've ever had using computers in my classroom. There were two big obstacles to being able to use the computers and the Internet they way (I think) they should have been used:

    The Filter. I requested the unblocking of hundreds of sites - almost all of them wikis and blogs. I can't begin to calculate the hours spent, the frustrations felt, or the amount of wind taken out of my sails (and my kids'). Changes to the filter were made without notice, warning, or explanation. Access to educational content I wanted to use in my classroom or for professional growth was determined by noneducators. Bad enough, but when I was asked to justify - to noneducators - the educational purpose of access to certain sites, well... it was really hard to carry on at times. The lack of professional respect was incredibly discouraging.

    My computers. I have 15 student computers in my classroom - all donated - and set up, maintained, and upgraded by me. This is the third year I've had them. Starting in the fall, permissions were changed. Access to network resources was changed. Client images were changed. Without my knowledge or permission. As with the filter, these changes were made without notice, warning, or explanation. As with the filter, if I wanted something returned to the way I had had it set up for over two years, I was asked - by noneducators - to justify the educational rationale for such a change. The net effect of all this was that my students were constantly having to go to different places on our LAN to find their work. It would change from day to day - and from one machine to another! Despite being administrator on all the machines, I was unable to fix or change even the most basic critical functions - like setting up a new printer. Countless hours spent trying to fix things, talking to people, begging for changes... no dice. It was an absolute nightmare.

  • And yet... I'll do it again next year. No question. Yes, it's worth it. There is simply no more powerful tool we teachers can use to encourage and cultivate the literacy skills of our kids - than the blog. Next year I'll add wikis.

6 comments:

Kevin H said...

Thanks for sharing your year.
It is interesting and poignant to view your data, and inspirational to see how dedicated you are to keeping computers working and running, and pushing against the filter police.
It is also a sad picture that you paint in that so many of us teachers are also in the same boat -- seeing the potential for tech and yet fighting against preconceptions (Internet-bad) and working many, many personal hours to make it work for students.
You are not alone. Not that it probably helps much, but it is true.
Again, thanks for sharing.
Kevin

Mark Ahlness said...

Kevin, it was hard to include the "obstacles" and end on a positive note - which I consider very important. But thanks to the kids (how MANY times did I say that this year?), it came easily. As if to remind me of what's truly important, lest I forget, today my kids submitted two blog posts and a comment, mid-July, on the classroom blog. Thanks for your thoughts and encouragement! - Mark

Jim Gates said...

I can only imagine the mixed feelings you have regarding the experiences over the last year or so. I have pointed MANY groups of teachers to your work with your students, so on the one hand it's nice to know that you're able to get so much done in the face of the obstacles. On the other hand I KNOW that MANY MANY teachers would tire of the fight and revert back to ways of old - nobody blocks a chalkboard. But how VERY sad that is.

Your comment about your frustration over having to convince non-educators why you want something opened is an important one. Maybe we should start going directly to the curriculum directors with our reasons.

Rachel Boyd said...

Wow! What a year!
Amazing to see the statistics over the years... your kids have clearly hooked into blogging in a major way.

I totally agree that the blog is magic in encouraging and cultivating literacy skills. The fact that it was all worth it despite your obstacles will hopefully encourage those around you.

Sarah Puglisi, A first grade teacher in a poverty school said...

Ditto.

And this kind of maze presented to teachers, you just shake your head.

Next year we get a "site tech" as we got a low performers grant.
Money, but________ and it Sounds good. It is already by default the one single person that has in 15 years proven he will not speak to any tech issue, will assist in finding justifications to block access to the net, will horde to himself, could care less about any aspect. This is the person who AFTER looking at my blog, months after, casually tells the staff about social networking sites(like del.ic.ious) as if this equates with slogging a few down at the bar in a Spring Break singles fest.Sure.
So I would think to be absolutely sure no one wants to DO THAT.

I'm sorry the job was harder last year.

Last year what I did was try to learn this. This upcoming year I'll use my own MAC, isn't it exciting I got it...I think as a way to take things back and forth.
So much doesn't work right now.

Ah....there really is no reason why carts with laptops and a wireless network isn't in my place, except they don't care...

And that's so frustrating.

Jeffrey Field said...

First of all, let me say I'm really thrilled to have discovered your blog. Why? Because I've fought many of the same battles you face in these "enlightened times" since 1997. This year I'm teaching fourth grade. I know for sure I'll be setting up a central blog for our four fourth grade classes. As for particulars, I think I'll play it by ear. Time is a major factor.

Last year I set up a blog for the 4th/5th grade SPED class. (I was working as an EA then, so I had a lot of time on my hands.) I'm quite happy with it. It's at http://consilience.typepad.com/our_stories/

Sadly, while I once was on the cutting edge of tech, I am now lag far behind. Some of the problem is that I run a 10-year-old Mac at home, and so am locked out of some of the technologies I want to pursue. Still, I do what I can.

Pax,
Jeffrey Field
(Still searching for just the right words at Teachers' Lounge @ http://consilience.typepad.com/)