Saturday, June 30, 2007

It's not over

It's not over, the teaching. Because of web 2.0 and kids blogging, one week into summer vacation I am still:

  • approving writing my students are contributing to the world's body of shared knowledge
  • editing writing my students are contributing to the world's body of shared knowledge

School finally ended on June 22nd for the kids, and I finished up on the 29th - and we were all ready for both those dates. Am I wishing the school year was over? Isn't it over?

It's not over. And I am happy, like a proud papa, that some of my third graders are still blogging, even though I am no longer their teacher:

  • A Little Bit ago - Jonathan (the classroom champion of using the blog as a journal)
  • Lopez Island - Lindsay (blogged from the beautiful Washington State San Juan Islands, perfect writing, as usual)
  • Triple Sleep Over - Logan (unquestionably the most prolific writer in class)
  • On My Mind Today - Casey (best pioneer for using different writing forms on her blog, posting here incorporating feedback I gave her a couple of weeks ago)

Want to encourage these young writers who hold our tomorrows in their hands? Send a comment to one of their posts. You cannot imagine the impact. Ultimately, you will feel it. Thanks - Mark

NECC great posts

So much great info came out of the recent NECC 2007 conference and EduBloggerCon, that it was overwhelming, just to read, never mind to try and do anything with right now. I kept a little list of posts I wanted to return to later and spend some time with. Maybe there will be something here somebody missed. With many thanks to the wonderful bloggers and wiki builders, here's my delicious category tagged necc2007greatposts, stuff that caught my eye and imagination, in reverse chronological order:

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Room Twelve Cheer!

I just (finally!) posted this on

Here are the students of demonstrating their unique "Room Twelve Cheer", reserved for special occasions, special accomplishments, and celebrating good times.

Click HERE to see us on the Seattle School District L3RN site, or click on the podcast icon below to see the short video:
In this case, here's the link to the cheer as a file on our wiki (which we never got to this year - wait 'til next year!). It's 3 MB, and50 seconds of silliness. Great way to end a wonderful year with a very special group!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Dissonance and choice

Last Thursday I cited a very exciting web 2.0 initiative (is that the right word?) by my school district. It was written up in a Seattle paper, and noted prominently by Wesley Fryer:
"At last, a VERY encouraging headline about digital social networking in schools! According to Thursday’s article “Seattle Public Schools builds social-learning site for its tech-savvy teens” the district has rolled out its own website for encouraging safe and appropriate read/write sharing by students in the school district. ..."

Then on Sunday I read this from the other main Seattle paper:

In the name of student achievement, more teachers must follow stricter rules about what — and sometimes how — they teach. In some places, they stay almost literally on the same page.

....For too long, Riley says, teachers have been independent agents who decide much of what and how they teach. As a result, instruction is uneven.....

Published four days apart, these are two incredibly divergent approaches to education from within the same system. "Two roads diverged in a yellow wood," said Robert Frost.

As long as I can, I will of course choose the one less traveled by... It is less travelled because it is not mandated - and many do not even know it's there yet. It of course encourages creativity, thinking outside the box. I am happy to have any kind of a choice at all these days.

Good grief, students learn stuff because of outstanding teachers, not outstanding curricula. This is such an essential no-brainer building block for a strong educational system - big town, small town - it does not matter.

Want to crank out outstanding students? Encourage innovative, passionate, and competent teachers - not the mandating of one more "perfect curriculum".

When that message becomes the guiding principle of school administrators - in every department - we have a fighting chance to achieve excellence in education.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Four corner salute

Corner 4Corner 2Views of the four corners of Room 12, after a day of getting it ready for summer - everything put away, plants gone, computers all unhooked and freestanding on tables. Yecch.

Corner 1Corner 3It's funny, I'm always talking about boundaries and classrooms without walls, and the bottom line at the end of the year is this...

Saturday, June 23, 2007

NECC 2007

In the off chance that somebody might stop by here and not be tuned in to NECC 2007, here are excerpts from a couple of messages I just posted to a local discussion list in Seattle:

I really recommend following the conference via rss feed, as the
bloggers, podcasters, wikimakers and more will be bringing tons of
it right to everyone. There is an aggregator for all posts tagged
with necc2007, neccprep, and necc07 at Hitchhikr. Subscribe here,
and you won't miss a beat:

Once you start looking, the resources are just overwhelming, and it
is happening right now, so here are a few links to dynamic, virtual
ways to attend NECC 2007 in Atlanta: - wiki with many bigtime edtech
bloggers contributing... - I hesitate to single out any
one blog, but if you subscribe to Vicki Davis' Cool Cat Teacher
blog, you will not miss much... - another Hitchhikr
aggregator to subscribe to, great info and insights, happening right

There's a flickr photo group in there somewhere, too... enough for
now, got to get back to my Bloglines - Mark

Mark Ahlness

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

Art 1.0

Artwork Giveaway
Originally uploaded by mahlness
Another non-tech post, sheesh - about teaching - and the arts. I covered the corner of my classroom for a couple of hours today with my own artwork... pieces I produced while leading two third grade classes in art lessons this year.

At the end of the day I let my third graders choose an "original Ahlness" to take home with their artwork projects for the year... reminding them that Claude Monet, Henri Rousseau, and Andre Durain art works (we studied them, you see) went for pennies at first, and some now go for millions... well, you just never know, do you?

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Dance Chance

I just posted this to my school's PTSA list. Not about technology, but it is indeed about teaching, opportunity, and excellence (and the two girls are in my classroom).

Arbor Heights Dance Chance TrioJust to let you know that three third graders from Arbor Heights got to participate the entire 2006-07 school year in Pacific Northwest Ballet's Dance Chance. Today I caught up with them after their performance in "Pacific Northwest Ballet 26th Annual School Performance" at McCaw Hall in Seattle. Hundreds of kids, in one group after another… I was amazed at how many kids get to take ballet lessons. Not cheap, for sure. Enter the Dance Chance program, an amazing effort by PNB to reach out to those who have the talent and drive, who might not otherwise get a Chance to Dance.

Dance Chance FamiliesWhen the curtain came up on “Dance Chance”, this third grade teacher must confess to a lump in his throat and misty eyes. The Arbor Heights trio did not miss a step, were spot on at every moment, and moved with grace – and wonderful smiles. I remember two of the families asking me, at the beginning of the year when they were invited to participate, if I thought their kids could afford to miss so much school. I replied something like I did not see how they could afford to pass up such an incredible opportunity. A year’s worth of ballet lessons at a world renowned school, transportation, gear, and more. It is a wonderful opportunity. Not only were these three chosen from 1650 third graders this year, they were part of an elite group that made it through the cut halfway through the school year. They have all worked very, very hard. This is a pretty big deal. They will find out this summer if they get to become a part of an even more exclusive group, to continue as fourth graders in Dance Chance. I am crossing my fingers for them…

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Family Internet Night 2

Family Internet Night 2I finally got around to our second Family Internet Night this year, with just a week and a half to go in the school year. I offered it on two consecutive nights, hoping to get as many parents in as possible. It amazes me how busy families are with their kids these days... especially at the end of the school year. A total of 18 people came, representing 8 families. Here are links to the materials:

  • The PowerPoint presentation (2 MB) that I used. Nothing real fancy, but it guided the conversation.
  • A podcast of the evening (4 MB mp3). I just let the recorder run for 30 minutes... Definitely not a polished presentation, this was from the 13th, the second night. Just a conversation.... The battery died right at the point where we had some good Q&A for about 10 minutes. Oh well.

It was a good evening.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Kids too?

Tom Hoffman recently posted What are the Big Problems in Ed-Tech? - a succinct distillation of three big issues. This is my favorite:
Out of control web filtering. Again, what's the doctrine? There seem to be no professional guidelines. We've got a situation akin to letting the clerks in the purchasing department decide whether or not the books ordered by teachers and librarians are acceptable.

Yesterday afternoon I submitted a request to have a site unblocked from school. The author had quoted a couple of my kids on her blog and had left comments on their blogs to give them a heads up. I indicated this in my unblock request. This morning, 16 hours later, I got a response saying that my "teacher" computer should already have access to that site, and did I want my "students to access it?"

I answered yes, please.

Twenty-four hours after the request went in, after I sent a reminder that it was still not open, the site was unblocked for my kids. Of course the school day was over...

Good grief.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

The 1.0 ball and chain

Everybody, no matter what their job, has some extra difficulty, some additional weight to carry, cross to bear, etc. I mention this one here because it pertains to teachers adopting (or not) web 2.0 technologies.

Here is that ball and chain: school web sites, class web pages, district specific tools for creating 1.0 static web sites. Most teachers or tech leaders are currently using Dreamweaver, FrontPage, or similar to update those web sites. Those same people are the ones who should naturally be the ones jumping into web 2.0 stuff with both feet, because they have a lot of technical skills. Unfortunately, they are too overwhelmed maintaining the status quo, often as volunteer web masters, to find the time to experiment and create using new forms like blogs, wikis, podcasts, and so on. Anybody who does want to branch out must commit to maintaining web 1.0 and 2.0 sites. One does not easily replace the other. It would be nice, but it does not work that way...

My personal ball and chain:
  • Young Author's Conference, 2007The Ball: my school website. Because it's one of the oldest around and relatively well known, there are a lot of reasons for hanging on to it. It has a certain amount of celebrity, in part thanks to the unauthorized use of an image of its home page in a well-known best seller. Thirteen years at the same URL is not something I'm about to throw away overnight. Yesterday I updated one of the thousands of pages on the site with this year's Young Author's Conference. A tedious three hours - and I'm fast at this, but gosh.... choosing the right pictures, being sure kids in the pictures have permission from their parents to appear, creating thumbnails, resizing and renaming pictures, uploading it all via ftp (ouch). Now I'm pleased with it, proud of my school, happy there is another record of the event, but man.... I should have been blogging on my classroom blog and editing podcasts...

  • Earth Day Groceries, 2007The Chain: The Earth Day Groceries Project. Now I dearly love this project and have spent even more time on it over the years than the school web site, but man, what a time-eater. The text info is fed into multiple databases, so I'm not html coding individual reports anymore, but still.... biggest year ever, in terms of folks sending in pictures to document their participation. I finally caught up yesterday, creating a total for 2007 of 142 picture pages - each with multiple pictures. To top it off I created a page with lots of pictures for my school - since we started it and I'm in charge, we get whatever we want - ha. Two hours+ on a page that normally would take me 10 minutes (see above for some of the tedium). I should have been working on our classroom wiki, or getting a presentation proposal in to k12 Online...

After all this, I think the message I want to leave is that the tech leaders people would assume might be leading the web 2.0 charge are stuck. There are plenty of tech savvy teachers and tech leaders out there everywhere, but they cannot break free from the ball and chain of

  1. the obligation to follow a school district's guidelines and vision in "web design"
  2. morphing 1.0 sites into 2.0 environments, not an easy task, and there is no manual...

Many of the tech leaders and teachers with web skills (and obligations) wanting to venture out into new web media creation must be willing to work in both the 1.0 and the 2.0 worlds right now. For a while, anyway. Twice the work, in the same amount of time, and for the same pay (volunteer school webmasters roll their eyes).

It will happen, but it will be a slow process, where education will follow business, as usual. I wish for once we educators could lead... I am certain my school's web page will be replaced with our school wiki within 2 years. How do I know? I'll do it.

Now the Earth Day Groceries Project, I just don't know. I set up a project blog a coupla years ago, but that's clearly not the answer for a total transition to web 2.0. Any ideas? TIA...

Friday, June 08, 2007

Third graders on blogging

Third graders are pretty self centered, concrete thinkers, especially at the start of a school year, but by the end of the year, they are well on the way into thinking about ideas, reflecting on different points of view, etc. I love working with kids at this age.

This is the second class of third graders I have taken through a school year with individual blogs. Three days ago I described a nebulous writing assignment to them. Write about your blogs, I said. Blogs in general, blogging next year, are blogs good?, convince somebody you should be allowed to blog more, summer blogging, what age should blogging start, - I threw out several ideas, and asked them to blog their thoughts. There were several blank stares, like was I going to give them the assignment, or what? Then some ideas began to flow onto a few computers. Kids talked. We all looked at the writing of a few volunteers after 20 minutes. A head of steam began to build. They took approaches to this that were as individualized as, well, each one of them is:

Good Things about {My Blog} - AnaLisa
Why I should keep my blog - Ryan
my blog - Kody
My Blog - Chelsea
Why I Should Keep My Blog Over the Summer - Nathan
Why I should keep my blog - Christopher
Good Things About Blogs - Nicole
How my blog is doing. - Elyjah
Good Things About My Blog - Maribeth
About My Blog and Other blogs - Casey
My Blog - Lindsay
Why We Should Have Blogs Over the Summer - Jonathan
Good Things About Having A Blog - Riley1
Why I should keep my blog! - Keean
Good Things About a Blog - Logan

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Quit teasin'

Today at school Flickr was unblocked - for at least two hours that I was aware of. When I realized it, my kids were naturally on the Internet, blogging, reading blogs, etc. I checked it out - yes, totally unblocked. Started showing my kids my Flickr directory - they were VERY interested. Started thinking of the promises I made my kids in November of 2005 when I told them they would have their artwork on their blogs, via Flickr. Alas, it ended up being blocked in early 2006.

Then I thought about the rest of my school. Yikes. I spent part of my lunchtime telling as many teachers as I could that Flickr was open. Yes, great news, BUT we gotta be extra careful now. We must be active again about teaching responsible use.... For now, keep an extra close eye on your kids. This is big...

(added on June 14, 2007)
I sent the following email to all staff in my building at the end of the school day:

Hi all,
I mentioned to several of you at lunchtime on Thursday that was unblocked. Long story, but I wanted everyone, especially classroom teachers, to know to be on their toes. Meanwhile, my head was spinning with the potential I’d been talking about for two years – but denied, due to the district filter blocking flickr. Anyway, by mid-afternoon Thursday, it was blocked again. I spoke to a few tech folk downtown on the phone at lunchtime, and they did not know about flickr being unblocked. Maybe word got ‘round…. Sorry for the alarm/excitement. Aargh. - Mark

Midway through the afternoon Flickr was blocked again. Maybe it was the tech guys I asked about it on the phone. They seemed surprised. Maybe the word got around... Maybe next time I should keep my mouth shut. What a great fantasy or two I had about opening doors for my kids. Shucks.

Monday, June 04, 2007

SSR 2.0 - final update

An end of the year update - with a podcast - on a little exploration into changing the traditional, standard boundaries of silent reading (SSR, "sustained silent reading") in an elementary school classroom. I have posted a couple of times earlier here on this:

On June 1st I sat down with my third grade reading group to talk about this one more time. Here's what they had to say:

SSR 2.0, podcast #2 (6 min. mp3),
linked for now from my presentation wiki for the IRA Conference

I must say the boundaries of what they read online is also changing, morphing - in very much the same way the boundaries established by a teacher in a traditional silent reading period might change. For instance, there was this real excitement over reading about (ahem, looking at the pictures of) different Pokemon characters on Wikipedia. This wonderful discovery came from reading some of the posts from Doug Noon's fourth grade bloggers. So I watched for a couple of days, finally put my foot down, and said, no more just clicking on this or that to just see pictures of the different characters. Get off Wikipedia, for goodness sake. Kind of like a teacher might not allow somebody to "read" Where's Waldo? day after day.... Know where those boys eventually wound up? - reading and rereading the posts on Pokemon from Doug's kids.

Then there are the walkabouts that happen, like today, a student was at a classblogmeister blog that had Google Earth embedded into a blog post. Never having used the program, she figured out how to see our school from space - pretty much on her own. Reading? Sure, she had to. I have to check with her tomorrow to see where this was - very cool!

Then there is the reading of a post that leads to "non-blog" reading, like a news report linked within a blog. Several of my kids have done this thanks to the fifth grade bloggers in Gordon Brune's class.

At the end of all this, I will say there is a renewed and excited interest in reading with this group - which had not existed before I opened this door. Sure, they still read from books, but they read also from blogs, online reference, online news, and who knows what else tomorrow. Just like their teachers - and their parents.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Pigs on Parade

Almost there
Originally uploaded by mahlness
The Centenniel Celebration of the Pike Place Market began with 100 gorgeous - and zany, Pigs on Parade. In downtown Seattle, from Westlake Center to the Market. Two of my third graders, a Dad, and I volunteered to be herders for a pig.

We had no idea what to expect - but we had a sign to carry with the name of our school (thanks to a mom), and we were willing to take a gamble on participating in a civic event. A couple of weeks earlier my class had taken our annual tour of the Market - something the Market Foundation has offered to third graders in Seattle for a long time- I think this was my 14th or 15th year.

Anyway, there was a lot of walking here and there in downtown Seattle, asking event coordinators where our pig was. We finally found her (three different numbers on her, depending on what list you had), thanks to an organizer who said she knew the pig. She did.

Mrs. Pike Pigstein, sponsored by the Seattle Symphony. She'll be on display in front of Benaroya Hall for the summer, as the Market hits exactly 100 in August.

Can't remember when the last time was I marched in a parade. So of course I took lots of pictures - a set of 40 is on Flickr. I think we did pretty well, by pig herding standards. And thanks to our great sign, we're pretty sure several thousand folks now think Arbor Heights Elementary created this beautiful pig. Oh well, I told the kids at the end, no harm, maybe someday you will make one. Three weeks to go in the school year... I think I feel an art lesson coming on...