Thursday, November 29, 2007

One long day

The point to this post is twofold: to chronicle an extraordinary day, and to remember.

Chilly StartI started out the day freezing, as usual, because the heat in our school is wacko (like mostly not on). Temps outside are in the 30's and 40's. The Music Room was 56 F this morning.

Heat SourceThe staff room temp was again about 50, the only heat later coming from a space heater I have put in there. There has been no heat in our staff lounge for over 8 days.

All I want for Christmas...While I was ticked off at being so cold, I took a shot of one of the windows in my classroom. The duct tape is failing again, and I'm out. It's all I want for Christmas...

Thank goodness for the kids!!! We muddled through another mysterious Everyday Math lesson, and then got on to the business of writing... close to finishing up a short "How To" piece, complete with rough draft on paper, a paper storyboard, and a blogged version. The kids have done well. This is all in preparation for their "How to make a six sided snowflake" PowerPoint presentations they will start next week. and hopefully followed with our first video versions of the same. I have big hopes here, but I am worried about it being just too much for the kids so early in the school year. However, they continue to surprise me...
Computer repairNew Motherboards
In the afternoon in my classroom, I had the motherboards replaced on 4 of my Dell Gx 280's by school district staff. Turns out two of the machines may well have had memory, and not motherboard, problems. Oh well, knowledge is helpful. Thanks Barry and Sylvester!

My day ended at the Second Annual Arbor Heights Elementary Holiday Bazaar. It was great fun, shopping all the vendors, watching and listening to our great choir... I bought a couple of great holiday candles (from a current parent), and a pair of earrings (from a former parent). A hug from one of my super kids on the way out sealed the day as one to remember.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Edublogs Awards - the dark horse

I wasn't going to get into the Edublogs Awards thing, I really wasn't. But there is a dark horse nominee in the Best New Blog category who deserves everyone's attention.

The Random Thoughts of Louis Schmier.

Louis is a professor of history at Valdosta State University in Georgia. He's old enough to be collecting Social Security. He's just survived two near death experiences. Read his blog.

He started blogging this past summer. Yet he has over 600 blog posts, going back to 1993. Read his blog.

Below is part of what Andy Carvin had to say about Louis on his PBS blog:

Louis has always been a blogger as far as I’m concerned. It’s all too easy to say that blogging was invented around 10 years ago when the first blogging tools were developed. But the spirit of blogging - journaling one’s life experiences and sharing them as part of a broader community conversation - predates those tools by many years. Louis’ Random Thoughts is perhaps the best example of an educator using the Internet for self-reflection, professional inspiration and debate of anyone I can think of from that period of time. And now he’s embracing blogging as a way to bring his writings to a new generation of teachers and students.

Welcome to the blogosphere, Louis. You’re already making it a better place. -andy

I wrote a little tribute as well. But you should really read his blog.

If you are still undecided, read some of Louis' words from his classic 1994 post, To Be A Teacher:

If you want to be a teacher, you first have to learn how to play hopscotch, jump rope, ride-and-seek, learn other children games, learn how to watch a snail crawl, blow bubbles, read “Yertle the Turtle”, and watch “Bullwinkle”. If you want to be a teacher, you have to sing “she loves me, she loves me nots” as you blow at a dandelion or pull the individual petals of a daisy. It you want to be a teacher, you have to stop and watch a rainbow, listen to a distant train, wiggle your toes in the mud and let it ooze through them, stomp in rain puddles, look up and watch an airplane, 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 watch intently the artistry of a spider weaving its web. If you want to be a teacher, you have to fly a kite or throw a frisbee, skip stones in a lake or brook, make sand castles, and love people. If you want to be a teacher, you have to listen intently to the rustle of the leaves, to the murmur of the brook, to the pitter-patter of the rain, and to 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, hold a worm, and see what is yet to be. If you want to be a teacher, you have to think silly thoughts, have a water gun fight, have a pillow fight, swirl a tootsie pop in your mouth, burn sparklers at night, and see in a tree more than a mass of atoms or so many board feet of lumber or something that’s in the way. If you want to be a teacher, you have to skip as you walk, laugh at yourself, smile at others, hang loose, always have an eraser handy, concoct an original recipe. If you want to be a teacher you have to be inspired and inspire. If you want to be a teacher, you have to fix a bird’s broken wing, pinch the neck of a deflating balloon and play a tune, do zany things, play with a yo-yo, and lose yourself in the quiet scenery to find yourself. If you want to be a teacher, you have to feed the pigeons or squirrels, sing in the shower or tub, smell the flowers, play with finger paints, and do a belly flop in a pool. If you want to be a teacher, you have to bring joy into everything, watch in awe a sunset or sunrise, ride on a swing, slide down a slide, bump on a seesaw, and respect even a cockroach as a miracle of life. If you want to be a teacher, you have to ride a bicycle or roller skate or ice skate, and live today. If you want to be a teacher, make all those marvelous feelings and images an intimate part of you and bring them into the classroom with you and share them. If you want to be a teacher, as Carl Jung advised, you have to put aside your formal theories and intellectual constructs and axioms and statistics and charts when you reach out to touch that miracle called the individual human being.

So vote. Best new edublog 2007

Then go spend some time with the man who knows what it is to be a teacher. Read his blog, it will change how you feel about teaching, and probably much more.

Monday, November 26, 2007

SSR 2.0 - Into the News

Yet another chapter exploring the 21st century boundaries of SSR (sustained silent reading) in an elementary classroom, started last year with Is this SSR, 2.0?

This year, I decided to introduce the possibility of reading on a computer at silent reading time much earlier in the school year than last year with my third grade reading group. I started by encouraging the reading of student blogs.

This was pretty exciting to everybody at first, even though they had barely been exposed to what blogs actually were. Eventually, interest kind of leveled off, with some kids going back to books when they couldn't find anything written by kids that interested them.

arborheights2Then a couple of weeks ago somebody asked if they could read news, from CBBC. Of course, I said. I had set up an rss feed to it on our school's web site, so it was real easy for the kids to get there.

There were pictures, both a blessing and a curse online. And of course there were links to plenty of other stuff, like online quizzes, flash animations of this and that - and games! "But I got here from the news site" was a popular explanation for straying off course from "silent reading".

So I was forced to lay out some expectations real clearly, based on what I felt was reading that would stretch and yet reward their reading chops. For instance, reading captions on a series of pictures was not OK. Were they reading? They all claimed to be, but I watched as kids went back and forth from one picture to another... So eventually I said no, they at least had to be looking at a screen with more space devoted to words than pictures. This was uncomfortable for me at times, as I'd much rather have the kids decide, reason and discuss it out - but my third graders are 8 and 9 year olds. Sometimes it's more important to be clear than permissive.

It has been a challenge, but in the last couple of days we have reached a good place. Kids are reading news articles - for understanding. The pictures hook them in, but they do read. I've added a little debriefing/sharing time right after silent reading for the kids to tell us all a little about what they were reading. Most can't wait to tell something incredible they just learned. Topping the list are often stories like the cat with two heads... but there are also mentions of a football stadium collapse in Brazil, with a discussion of the fact that "football" in Brazil, and most of the world outside of the US, means soccer. Some popular articles today:

I imagine their tastes and interests will change. I bet they will discover and be attracted to new sources of information (that will be good places for them to stretch their reading comprehension and decoding skills). They will also quite likely be drawn to sites that will be the equivalent of comic book "reading" - which I will quite likely say no to.

In the meantime, they are becoming better readers, because they are motivated. And their world is shrinking, their global understanding is expanding, and they are making deliberate choices about what type of reading really appeals to them.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Spin the Turkey
Originally uploaded by mahlness
Sometimes in the classroom it's important to just say, "Let's play". No educational objective, no lesson plan, no excuse. Let's just play.

For the last dozen years or so, my third grade classes have decended into delirious chaos for a few minutes on each of the two or three days before Thanksgiving, as we play "Spin the Turkey".

Over a dozen computers all going at once, with speakers cranked up, and the words flying through the air and spilling out into the hallways, "Cranberries!", "Pie!", "Giblets!".... and the ever dreaded "Yams!" People hear us WAY down the hall. Everybody knows what's going on in Room 12....

Kids screaming, teacher frantically updating the ever rising top three scores on the chalkboard, excitement building around a player who is still spinning, with a score over 80.... OMG!!!

Today, with two top scores of well over 100, during a 10 minute period on the first day - it was a good start. One more try tomorrow. Someday somebody's gonna break 200...

Fun for all ages, a real game of skill :)

Download it here:
Spin the Turkey

It's so important that we teachers don't forget how to play with our kids.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Not all peaches and cream

Not all peaches and cream
Originally uploaded by mahlness
A big grant gets you lots of nice equipment, but also a few headaches, especially when tech support is mostly you.

Two of the temporary (tan) cpu's in place in my classroom, pending replacement of motherboards on my GX 270's. Four of ten need this done...

Saturday, November 17, 2007


There was a stir on the classblogmeister list when David Warlick recently explained that, because of server load issues, classblogmeister blogs written prior to May 31, 2007 would not be available. Well I was shocked, I pleaded the case for all the reasons you might imagine, and I was incredibly discouraged.

Words came back to haunt me. Someone blogged a while ago, "Blogmeister is great, but when David gets tired of it, it will be gone". When I read that, I said no way, he'd never drop it. I stuck with it when things got a little rocky...

But when I read that old blogs would not be available, I saw it as the end of an incredible run. I wrote briefly to the list. A few others did the same. I was depressed. In my mind I composed more emails to the list or personally to David - but I never sent them.

I had always hitched my wagon to the Warlick Star. It had come through every time, getting better and brighter. I decided to wait. My gut told me to. My heart asked me to.

Today David let us all know he's adding another server, so classblogmeister will be faster and back to where it was. And all those old blogs will be there. Way back to the beginning. Incredible relief!

Some reading this will shake their heads and wonder what all these classblogmeister teachers have been smoking. Why put all the eggs in a single basket, carried by one person?

Trust is a scary thing sometimes. You have no choice when you're driving down a street and have to trust oncoming traffic to stay on the other side of the road - or when you climb aboard a plane and are in the hands of a person you only hear through a bad sound system.

Right now there is no other choice - not if you want the state of the art classroom blogging tool with the strong educational core of classblogmeister. When you get something for free like classblogmeister is, you don't really have much leverage. When you sign up to use it, there is no guarantee of service.

All you're left with is trust. Trust is something I want to have. I want to trust people. We've all been burned when somebody we trusted let us down. That's part of life.

But when you trust somebody with things you care about so very deeply about, a bond can form. When that trust is rewarded by coming through, over and over and over - a community can form that is very strong.

That is what has happened with classblogmeister. Call me crazy, but I'm real happy I've hung in there. There is still nothing else like it. Thanks, David.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Teacher desk, 2.0

Ok, I'll stop (soon, maybe) with this everything in the classroom 2.0 thing.... However, this physical change was so dramatic, the change in my daily work space so freeing....

See if you can tell which of the pictures here is 1.0 and which is 2.0:

Desk 1.0Well duh, right? My dog of a "teacher workstation" is now gone, replaced by a laptop. This was no easy thing to accomplish, and very few teachers where I teach are able to move away from these hopelessly outdated and underpowered beasts. They are, BTW, the only machines on which teachers are allowed to bypass the filter.

Desk 2.0My little laptop (which I bought through a grant I wrote) was reconfigured by a nice network analyst. It has more processing power and 4x the memory of my old teacher workstation - which I refused to use for anything but attendance. Oh yeah, it's also wireless, so my teacher desk is now mobile...

Two days ago I uploaded pictures to Flickr on it. I posted a blog article on that laptop.

From my teacher desk, for the very first time.

My kids have been web 2.0 for a long time from our classroom. It's fun to finally be a part of it with them. I wish my colleagues could do the same.

Thursday, November 15, 2007


One laptop per child. Still a few days to get one of these amazing machines... Hoping mine will be here by Christmas:

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Parent conference, 2.0

Parent conference, 2.0
Originally uploaded by mahlness
This was the scene today in my classroom as parent - teacher conferences began.

Showing student writing to a parent does not necessarily involve pulling some papers out of a manilla folder any more. Just head to the student's blog:

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Replacements, not add-ons

This is another one of those overly long comments that became a blog post (and then of course I had even more to say once it got put here). I just left the following comment on a post by Brian Crosby, Questioning Blogging For Students:

Brian and Paul,
In terms of expectations for student writing, teachers correcting, and so on... This discussion is really no different than the "How good does it have to be before we can put it up in front of the school?" discussion teachers have had with themselves, their colleagues, and their students for a long time. But now of course the stakes are higher, with the worldwide audience.

As a third grade teacher (for a long time), I've found myself getting clearer and clearer in my expectations with my kids on their writing, to the point that they are even stated publicly on our blog. See the new "Teacher Assignments" area on our classblogmeister blog at If kids submit something that doesn't measure up, they get behind the scenes specific feedback from me the next time they log in. (just for old times' sake, they see it in red - grin)

There's a helpful and very active classblogmeister group at I think anybody considering using classblogmeister will find it useful.

Lastly, the critical concern appears to be TIME, right? That's the bottom line that many don't consider when giving advice to classroom teachers. Sure, maintaining a classroom blog for your students takes time. So does teaching writing. We teachers have to be willing (and allowed) to change the way we do things - the way we teach, the way we plan, the way we evaluate, the way we archive work.... Jeff Utecht lays it out pretty clearly, I think, in a recent post:

"It’s really no secret. You have to change the way your class runs, you can not add blogs to what you do, they have to become what you do!"

People like Paul (in the comment that prompted Brian's post) are just naturally asking if the same rules apply in web 2.0 land. For me, it's not that expectations have changed. But the change in audience certainly makes me take a closer look at those expectations. This is a good thing.

The tough part is time, of course. Jeff was exactly right in that we teachers cannot ADD blogging to what we already do. There is not enough time in the school day, nor in a teacher's life to do that. So we have to REPLACE part of our practice with blogging (or wikiwork, Tubing, Twittering, whatever).

These new tools can't be used as add ons. They have to replace existing practices.