Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008: 12 months, 12 posts

There are many ways to sew up one's feelings about the passing of another year, and I suppose this has been done by others as well, but here's what I've decided to do... choose 12 posts from this blog, one from each month of 2008. My goal starting out is that they all be technology related. We'll see how that ends up.
This is a long list, and I wouldn't expect enybody to stay and read through all of these - so, if you're looking for just a couple, I recommend Instincts and XO in the classroom - the whole story
Click on the name of the month to see all posts from that month, click on the linked blog post title to go right to my pick for the month.
  • January, 2008: OLPC in the Classroom It is really, really amazing for me to realize that at this point I just had one XO laptop - and had no idea what to do with it.
  • February, 2008: A Tale of Two XO's If this post ends up being all about XO laptops, so be it, but I'm hard pressed to find another post in February that captured the sheer magic of that special time.
  • March, 2008: Third Time's the Charm I presented at NCCE in Seattle, on blogging, took some presentation risks, but my classroom came through spendidly. This February I'm headed to Portland for NCCE again, to offer "XO Classroom" - which was really where my head and heart were at in Seattle, 2008...
  • April, 2008 Swamped, but Saved Slim pickings this month because of Earth Day, but the kids saved the day - once again.
  • May, 2008: Instincts Simply one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had in the classroom - with XO laptops, UW students, groundbreaking software premiere...
  • June, 2008: How do you say Thank You Student blogging, thank you note for a loaner XO, and kids using a wysiwyg interface
  • July, 2008: Ednet is now Ednet2 A different piece of my Internet persona - email lists, moderating, owning. "Rescued" Ednet.
  • August, 2008: XO in the classroom - the whole story Every post I'd written so far (25 by then) about the XO experience - listed, linked, and summarized.
  • September, 2008: Blogging, Personal Politics, and the Classroom Teacher Wrapped up in presidential election politics, I wondered how far I could go in my classroom.
  • October, 2008: XO Upgrades and Updates Took a risk, financially, and decided to go for some teachable moments, trying to power 2 of our XO's via solar panels.
  • November, 2008: S.O.S. Unbelievably, Arbor Heights Elementary School was put on the closure list in our district. Jury still out, but the outlook is not as bleak now as then...
  • December, 2008: Arbor Heights - give back from the net Continuing the struggle to validate our school's existence, I asked for help. Still looking for and compiling supportive comments from over 14 years on the Internet, we would welcome more, here.

Monday, December 29, 2008

XO Laptop grows on

Thanks to Janice for pointing out this moving TED piece from Nicholas Negroponte. In Columbia, December, 2008:

We are so lucky in the US. Curiously, there are a few of us teachers who want to use these laptops with our kids right here in the good old USA, because we see the potential, too. Here's a post where I documented and linked all the writing I did about using the XO in my third grade classroom over the past year.

If you are a G1G1 donor and want to donate the XO you got to a US classroom - that will use it and appreciate it every day - drop me a line. - Mark

technorati tags:

Friday, December 26, 2008

"I am changing my (school's name) to Chrysler"

Bailouts. The auto industry, banks, investment corporations. How about schools?

Seattle schools are in financial trouble. The district right away announced which schools were going to close. Aside from the fact that this would recover much less than 10% of the projected deficit, the anguish and uproar has torn communities apart.

The following op/ed piece was just published in the Seattle Times by a colleague, a middle school teacher. If you know the Tom Paxton song, now would be the time to start running it through your head. In part, Jesse Hagopian wrote:

With the public experiencing bailout fatigue, corporate America is attempting to repackage its image as some kind of militant student leader taking on the powers that be. In a virtual Chevy-Corvette-turns-Stokely-Carmichael, General Motors declared, "Mobilize Now!" on its Web site, "Tell your U.S. Senators and Representatives that support for the U.S. auto industry is in America 's best economic interest."

I am going down to Washington, D.C., to ask for a handout. My industry is falling on hard times and needs at least $25 billion to cover basic operating costs — but I assure you the emergency aid isn't just for me and my associates. The truth is, my industry is too big to fail, and if it were to go under it would have disastrous effects for the economy and millions of Americans lives.

No, I am not an executive from one of the Big Three automakers (General Motors, Chrysler, Ford) — I teach social studies to 13-year-olds and the public schools are my "industry."

And if "letting GM go is a terrible idea" — as General Motors Corp. CEO Rick Wagoner recently warned Congress in his plea for a bailout of his failing company — then letting our schools fail in the wake of free-falling state budgets would be catastrophic.

.....The argument for letting kids cut to the front of the funding line — ahead of bankers and auto-industry executives — is clear: Kids are more valuable than Cadillacs.

While spinning rims and glossy chrome on an Escalade embody the image of wealth, America's pupils are far more valuable. Allowing our schools to be defunded state-by-state would have a catastrophic effect on our economy and our society.

According to Alliance for Excellent Education, a Washington, D.C.-based policy and advocacy organization, if the nation's students who dropped out of the class of 2008 had graduated, the U.S. economy would have benefited from an additional $319 billion in income over the course of their lives.

.....This appeal to mobilize masses has the shrill tone of a teacher yelling at a disinterested class, given that the Big Three just cut back health-care benefits for some 2 million employees.

If we can keep the funding for the music program, students across America should be taught the old Tom Paxton song that goes:

"I'm changing my name to Chrysler / I am leaving for that great receiving line / When they hand a million grand out / I'll be standing with my hand out / Yes sir, I'll get mine!"

Thank you, Jesse. If you don't have that old Paxton song in your head yet, here's a version by Arlo Guthrie:

And of course Arlo and Tom have been busy updating the song lately....

Thursday, December 25, 2008


Hi third graders at! I'm leaving you a note here because I can't post any articles at our classroom blog right now. That's the bad news - the good news is that YOU can still send in articles! Once you log in, things will look a little different, but I'm sure you can find your way around. Here are a few things you can write about:
  • Write on your blog anything you want to share with others: Christmas, being snowed in, sledding, what you got from Santa, and so on.... at least 2 paragraphs on "Vacation Thoughts" gets you extra credit in writing!
  • Lincoln wrote this on his blog. Leave a comment there if you can answer his question (by the way, Julian correctly guessed the last mystery bird that I posted):

    Merry Christmas bird quiz!

    Well, it's snowing in Seattle again, and I'm a little tired of it all. I mean, where's all the grass, anyway? Here's a picture Mr. A. just took. If you know what kind of bird this is, leave your guess as a comment to this blog post. Thanks! - Lincoln (Mr. A's cat)

  • Look for a new assignment at, or here, if I can't write articles on the classroom blog.... It will appear on the last day of 2008.
I hope you are all enjoying your vacation. I am so sorry I was not with you for those two weeks before vacation started. Your substitute (guest) teachers all said you did a very nice job - which was a very nice Christmas present for me - thanks!

Merry Christmas! - Mr. A.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve, 2008

(a year later, glad I took the time to reconstruct the events, I can now post this - 12/19/09)

Mom and her kidsIt's calm now, but the last three weeks have been pretty wild. My mom broke her hip Thanksgiving morning. She hung on valiantly, but she passed away a week ago. Two weeks ago I dropped everything and flew back to Ithaca, NY to be with her - and my brother, sister, and dad. We had some very intense and meaningful moments. I felt lucky to be there with her.

On the road againThere were many, many hospital visits, mostly to the ICU. Three days into my visit we moved my dad into a nursing home with an Alzheimer's unit - and we moved his assisted living furnishings into storage. It will be a much better home for him now, with specialized nursing care looking after his needs.

Candlewood InnThe past two weeks were difficult, to say the least. I drove my brother back to Connecticut hours after Mom's funeral, to stay ahead of a honking big snowstorm. I only stayed at his place one night to avoid the same storm, arriving at an airport motel in a blizzard.

SW Elmgrove, 4 AMThe next day was a 19 hour travel day from hell. Managing to stay one step ahead of cancellation, waiting on the runway because the next airport was suddenly shut down, missing the connecting flight and barely getting on a later one, standby. Then not making it to Seattle because of the snow, landing in Spokane, waiting, waiting... landing in Seattle at 2 AM. The final leg got me to my home in the wildest taxi ride I've ever had, driving through a foot of snow on unplowed roads. I carried my luggage the last half mile, in my running shoes. At 4 AM I called my wife from the from our front yard, "Honey, I'm home, how about opening the door?"

Up at the cornerThat was two days ago. Seattle is in the grips of the lengthiest snow event seen here in decades. We live midway up a very steep sidestreet hill (never plowed). Our car has not been out of the driveway for 11 days. We walk 3 miles to the grocery store. My back is killing me from repeated shoveling.

Sun break 1/05 aSome things did not happen this year. My wife and I did not get away to Iron Springs, on the Washington coast. We do not have a Christmas tree. The Men's Cookie Exchange did not happen. In Seattle, school was canceled for the last three days before vacation started. I missed being with my class of third graders very much. The two weeks before Christmas is such a very, very loaded time - like extra dark chocolate - almost too intense, but unforgettable. We'll do our best to recreate and rebuild in January.

Mom's toffee barsBut it's Christmas Eve. Finally. My wife is baking cookies to include in our annual beer and cookies bags passed out to our neighbors on Christmas Eve. One of the cookies will be Mom's toffee bars (see my recipe on the Food Network). I take care of the ales, brewed some time ago.

Kristin pours the AquavitMore snow is forecast tonight. The wind is whipping up a 35 degree rain/snow mix right now, and we hope the power stays on as it changes back to snow.

We will all move on from the past two weeks, but it is important to remember. Here's to my mom on Christmas Eve. Here's to my family.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


My mom passed away December 14, 2008 in Ithaca, NY. I was fortunate to spend her last week with her. Although most of the time she was in a semi-coma, my sister, brother, and I were lucky to share 36 hours with her, where she was definitely "with us". Love you, Mom. - Mark

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Snowy journey

Originally uploaded by mahlness
The scene at the right is a typical one for some parts of New England. I took it yesterday while out for a walk from my airport strip motel near Hartford, CT, trying to get back to Seattle. Every year I watch news stories of airport travelers stranded at airports during the Christmas holiday travel season - and I always say, boy, I'll never do that in a million years. Well here I am, a part of the craziness. Heading off to the airport, all flights on time, so far...

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Arbor Heights - give back from the Net

If Arbor Heights Elementary School's activities on the Internet have made a difference to you over the past 15 years, please consider sending a short note our way. We are compiling thoughts from educators around the world to present to our school board as they think about whether they should keep our school open or close it forever. A few highlights from our Internet history:
  • it was the 9th elementary school in the world with a website
  • the website appeared in Bill Gates' bestseller "The Road Ahead".
  • it founded and still coordinates The Earth Day Groceries Project, the largest educational activity on the Internet:
  • the website hosts the only complete archive of "The Random Thoughts of Louis Schmier",
  • the website hosts The Jr. Seahawk Newsletter, "The oldest continuously published elementary school student newspaper on the Internet",
  • the website continues to lead in innovation, as it officially converted to a wiki in the summer of 2008 -
If you'd be willing to briefly share how Arbor Heights has made a difference for you, please send an email to me at, leave a comment right here, or leave a comment at Please include your full name, location, and affiliation.

All schools are special, that is a given. I believe Arbor Heights Elementary School stands out in a very unique way. My hope is that it will be preserved in part because of that.

People often talk about giving back to the Net. I suppose this might be giving back from the Net. Thanks in advance! We'll let you know how it turns out. - Mark

Technorati tag:

Monday, December 08, 2008

Distance Teaching

It is amazing to be here on the East Coast of the US, and also be able to teach my students back in Seattle the finer points of writing. My third graders each has a classblogmeister blog, at

Being back east for a week, helping out with family issues, I still get to publish and offer feedback on my kids' writing. I only wish I could share the wildlife with them, like this tufted titmouse I saw at a feeder outside my sister's house in Ithaca today. Well, I guess I can, a little...

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Students Blog about Arbor Heights

Just posted at
The third graders in Room Twelve at Arbor Heights have been writing about the proposed closure of our school.

Their articles are grouped together for easy reading, at "Save Arbor Heights". The list of posts is sure to grow, so please bookmark the site and check back later. These young writers would welcome comments from one and all, so feel free to respond to them individually (the blog is totally moderated).

Many thanks,
Mark Ahlness,
teacher, grade 3

If you have a story or comment about the influence of Arbor Heights, or what Arbor Heights Elementary School has meant to you, please leave a comment here or there. Thanks! - Mark

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

My school is being recommended for eviction. Community members gathered tonight - to understand, to plan, and to support each other:

Our blog:

Technorati tag:

Thursday, November 27, 2008

A Thanksgiving to Remember

As I begin, on the Sunday night at the end of our Thanksgiving Break, Wednesday seems so long ago. That was the day the kids came to school having heard their school was recommended to be closed (really, evicted from our building). This is part of what I emailed to the parents of my third graders that evening:

We went back to class, and I said I would do my best to answer questions. I did my best, but it wasn't easy, and there were kids in tears as they began to think about not going to school at Arbor Heights next year. There were good questions, and a few comments. One student recalled being at Roxhill 2 years ago as they went through the same thing. Somebody asked about their blogs (bless their hearts - yes, they will be there for them).

The question that I could not answer was, "Mr. Ahlness, if Arbor Heights is such a great school, why do we have to leave and let another school have our school?"

Thanksgiving Day 2008bThanksgiving Day was not bad, weather-wise, for Seattle. We got together with a good friend, did the walk in Lincoln Park while the turkey cooked... but my mom was on the other side of the country (Ithaca, NY) in an ER with a badly broken hip. At 84, and with heart issues, it was not good. Anybody who thinks it might be easier to be far away at a time like that, well... it's not.

What's wrong with this pictureFriday brought the uncertainty of whether my mom was ready for surgery, with the realization that our toilet had to be replaced, immediately. Total Joy. We live in a one bathroom house. But - only four hours from the decision to remove/replace, to being able to flush a high end beauty - was not too bad. Unfortunately, my back will be reminding me about the day for some time...

Saturday put my Mom into surgery, finally. On the phone with my sister throughout the day. It was one of those days when the phone rings and your heart leaps into your throat - it was nip and tuck, but she made it.

Sunday was a huge day of email and blogging - all working on fighting my school closure recommendation. Many emails with ptsa board members, community folks - and blog work. I am on two more blogs than when the break started.
  • On the morning the school closures were to be announced (Tuesday), I started a blog, bought a domain name, and set up domain forwarding to the blog:
  • Later on I was invited to join another , as a temporary contributor.
So where's the stuff to be thankful for? As it turns out, it came on Thanksgiving Eve. I found myself frantically driving into downtown Seattle Wednesday afternoon for a rendezvous at Seattle University, to pick up a little green and white piece of joy, donated to my classroom.

Arbor Heights @roomtwelve.comIt is good to think about this sweet little machine again, after the rough ride weekend. It hasn't had much attention the past few days. Wait 'til the kids meet it.

XO users know you have to name your machines. I named the fifth XO in my third grade classroom...

Arbor Heights

technorati tag:

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


Save our School

When your school program is dispersed, destroyed, and eliminated - to be replaced in the very same building by a new population, it is tough, to say the least.

One must assume the new population is more worthy of the space than your original program and current students and families. It is important to note here the distinction between building, program, and population.

Think Value.

Check the links above. If this does not make sense to you, or if you wish to speak up for my school, Arbor Heights Elementary (what it brings to our city and world), please let me know, by leaving a comment here, or sending me an email.

technorati tag:

Sunday, November 23, 2008

This and That

Lincoln Park, Nov '08bAs I get my thoughts together, I'm reminded of the practice I used to use here, of highlighting blog posts I'd read - that I thought others would find interesting. I know many do that sort of thing these days.

This isn't about what others might necessarily find interesting or informative. What follow are a few events that have stayed in my forward, conscious, day to day thinking over the past few days. As you will see by the list, my life is very scattered right now, so when something sticks around for a while, I figure it's time to note it.
  • Julie Amero - state of CT finally dropped felony charges (4 years later!)
  • College football - the U. of Wash, one of my alma maters, is one of the worst in the country
  • Graham Wegner's post - on the Edublog nominations, I will go back here for more (Dan Meyer's stuff - wow)
  • Classblogmeister ning - decision to go private vs. public (= loss of rss - ouch!)
  • Lynn's battle w/leukemia - a colleague at my school - am trying to help a little, w/tech
  • OLPC G1G1 - a big buzz around the XO, as it is now available again
  • Solar Panel frustrations with my XO's - forum discussions here, here, and here
  • Report cards - in the midst of parent conferences, my third graders blogged about fear, rewards, and why...

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

XO Rising

XOXOXO bIt is back, the XO laptop, available to the general public (except Canada - aaack). Great reviews are already in, especially for the partnership with

It is the same machine offered last year, with a little spiffier set of applications, at the same price. What I see a little different is the straight out appeal to just donate. If you want to just give one, you can now.

A couple of videos capture it all. I'll skip the Tom Brady endorsements, at least directly.... First up is the wonderful Zimi's Story, from OLPC:

Then there's Nicholas Negroponte himself, the man with the vision, speaking with Charlie Rose:

For those thinking about getting one for themselves, or for their kids, here is the email I just sent to the parents in my third grade classroom, as posted in an XO discussion forum:
Because of all the hype, I always start with a note of caution. I've heard from many who have been disappointed in what they bought (but that's why we''ve had 3 donated to our classroom!) Anyway, here's what I emailed to the parents in my third grade classroom last week, because my kids are really talking about XO's, Christmas, Amazon, etc:

As you probably know by now, we have 4 XO laptops in our classroom. Kids often ask where they can get one, and now there is more talk because they will be available in a week, at They'll probably be available to the public for a month or so, same as last year: (G1G1 - Give one, Get one) The main site for the One Laptop Per Child organization is

If you would like to see one in action, please stop by our classroom and take a look (maybe parent conference time?). The cost will be $400, I think. The XO should not at all be seen as a replacement for a regular laptop. While they can do many amazing things, they use a different operating system (Sugar, based on Linux), are pretty slow, and have limitations on things we take for granted (like printing, or tech support, for example). That said, they are still pretty incredible - they can go on the internet, can be used as an ebook reader, have SD and USB slots, etc, etc.

They were designed to be used in groups, especially in underdeveloped countries. They were priced and built the way they are so governments could purchase and distribute tens of thousands of them at a time. Are they still a great learning tool for kids anywhere? Absolutely.

I just thought I'd drop you a note on this, as I hear kids talking, and Christmas is around the corner Smiley Let me know if you have any questions. - Mark
Here's a link to all the writings I posted here last school year about our experiences with the XO.

Finally, here's a quickie Animoto show from last year:

technorati tags:

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Classroom reaction to the election

The day after the presidential election in my third grade classroom was incredible - jubilant, highly charged, reflective, and so very personal. We started the day as always, writing. I asked the kids to write down what they thought about the election results and what it was like at home last night. It was so quiet you could have heard a pin drop. I had to give them more time. They demanded it.

Later they blogged about the election. They colored red and blue states on a large electoral college map that ended up in front of the school. And they had to talk about election night:
  • They all watched the results on TV.
  • Most watched McCain's speech. Some felt bad for him.
  • Almost all stayed up to watch Obama's speech, some said more than once. Several said they recorded it.
  • Several wrote and - talked - about their parents crying - tears of joy. If they had not caught on that this election was a very big deal until then, this certainly drove it home.
Wheels for ChangeSeveral teachers talked about tears today as well. There were hugs, high fives, and lots of smiles in the hallways.

My kids have been asking me who I was going to vote for, and I've not told them - but my bike (parked in the staff room) has carried a little political message the past few days. Today I told them.

I cannot remember a happier time.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Quiet Heroes

In North Carolina on the eve of the election, Barack Obama speaks about the death of his grandmother:

Thanks to Tim Lauer, via Twitter

Saturday, October 25, 2008

XO Upgrades and Updates

Today the second solar panel arrived for my classroom XO laptops. This one came directly from China. It is so amazing to me that I can order something from a small company in China, and it will be delivered to my doorstep.

Anyway, it's here, and now the goal of powering one laptop by solar power all year long will change. We'll hopefully be Solar Panel 2able to say that half our laptops are solar powered. We shall see... I designated "Mark Ahlness" to be our second solar XO. It is the one I bought last November in the G1G1 program, and it is the one that has been used the most. It'll be interesting to see how the battery charges, holds, and so on. The other solar powered XO is "Jude" - the newest and least used XO over the past year.

All four XO's have been upgraded to OS 8.2 - which my kids are really loving. So many new activities - and the interface is really, really improved. My classroom XO's, all with names ending in "", connect to Head there if you'd like to chat, etc. with my third graders.

Technorati -

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Letting go of things

You know, our attachment to things can be so surprising. A child of the 60's, I've always done my best to distance myself from things. But we can be surprised, even those of us who believe things don't matter that much.

A couple of weeks ago I decided I should sell my 1967 Vespa 125 Sprint. We needed the money, and with the energy/oil crunch, I figured a scooter getting 80 mpg might be sellable right now...

A hunch and a lucky alignment of events have my Vespa probably going to the family of one of my third graders this year. They are opening an Italian restaurant in our part of town. They already have one Vespa....

Vespa 5So yesterday found me working hard in our garage, getting all the piled up stuff off my Vespa, inflating the tires, and then giving her a good wash. I have not ridden her in 15 years. I rolled her out into the front yard for a last photo-shoot, getting a little sentimental - and I acknowledged the importance of things. I will certainly post something here when she is hopefully parked in front of her new home. I do have a good, though wistful, feeling about it.

Ciao, mia bella!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Long Shots

It's been a flurry of long shots lately:
All last minute of course, and all with about an equal chance of happening - like real small. But there was still something good about doing this anyway.

Long ShotSome are forced into taking long shots, for their very survival. Take this juvenile American Golden-Plover, for instance. A first record in our county says this guy is a little lost here. But he's hung out in a field for several days. Will he get to his wintering ground? A long shot, certainly, but he has no choice. Northern Canada to southern South America (map) is a long ways.

So what's the charge, the rush, the goodness, in taking a long shot when you don't need to? For me,
  • I learn more about what truly matters to me when I'm willing to invest a big chunk of time I really don't have.
  • I stretch my learning, by clearly defining my beliefs and passions, and putting them into words that are understandable to others.
  • I get to experience caring deeply about something, and then have to let go of it all. And I'm still standing at the end. It's kind of a character building thing.
  • Of course if any of the long shots comes to pass, the resultant joy is pretty tough to top.
So I wish the the little plover a safe journey the rest of the way. If I could somehow transfer any of my karmic long shot chances over to increasing his odds of making it, I would. Actually, I just did.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Landslide coming?

Landslide coming?
Originally uploaded by mahlness
Today my third graders cut out this little ballot from their Weekly Reader, and they voted. They were pretty excited about doing this - after all, they have been blogging about the election (yes, even in third grade).

As always, I'll send in our results to the Weekly Reader, to be a part of their national poll, results released days before the election.

Maybe we live in a bubble, way out here in liberal Seattle - or maybe we are a true predictor of things to come. I only know that this is the FIFTH presidential election my third grade classrooms have participated in via the Weekly Reader (yikes!) - and there has never been a landslide vote like this:

McCain - 1
Obama - 20

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Solar XO Update

Solar Update
Originally uploaded by mahlness
I've been bringing my classroom's XO laptops home one at a time to do an update to build 711 in the evenings. Now, you have to be plugged in to a power source to do this. Jude, in order to stick to our goal of being exclusively powered by a solar panel this year, had to be done at school.

Even if connected directly to our solar panel while operating, the battery still shows a discharge (very slow), so I was not at all sure this would work.

Today we were blessed with a very sunny afternoon, so I went for it. Worked just fine. A solar powered OLPC build update. Wonder if it's a first?

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Solar Hope

Solar Trio
Originally uploaded by mahlness
On a recent extra sunny day in my third grade classroom in Seattle, we managed to fully charge Jude (our designated solar XO - center), Earthday (L), and Lincoln (R) - on our one solar panel.

Today I ordered one more panel. It feels a little risky.

First off, we live in Seattle. Rain capitol of the US - well not really, but we do have an awful lot of rainy, overcast days in the winter.Then, there was the ordering this time directly from the manufacturer, in China, via PayPal....

My kids are finally getting a chance to use them regularly. We'll keep you posted.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Finding beauty and wonder

You know, sometimes we need to move outside where we spend most of our time, in order to find some sanity. At work, people only see that part of us. But we are all so much more than our jobs.

In my spare time I love to go birdwatching. It's so different from my teaching, and computers, and technology - well, mostly. I also subscribe to an email list called "Tweeters", an unmoderated group of about 2,000 birding enthusiasts from western Washington.

Today, a venerable voice from that group posted something off-topic, a no-no that we've had frequent list spats about. He sent a link to this article, which explains and includes the video below. Nothing about birds, but plenty about beauty and wonder. Enjoy:

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Blogging, Personal Politics, and the Classroom Teacher

In my 28th year as a public school teacher, I never thought this would be a problem: keeping my mouth shut about presidential politics. Now over the years I've pretty much kept my presidential preferences to myself as most teachers do, and I have not shared them with my third grade students. I won't share them directly again this year (although they always beg to know who I'm voting for).

But things will be different this time around.

I've struggled with whether to not to express my personal political views on this blog. I am a public school employee, after all, in a fairly large school district. On the other hand, this is my own personal space, and I work on it on my own time. Four years ago, I had this blog, but I wasn't using it. What a difference four years makes.

Recently I've noticed a couple of high profile classroom teacher bloggers getting out there with politics. Doug Noon, from Alaska of all places, has been putting his view out there. Just today I noticed Clarence Fisher has a couple of political links (Canadian, of course) on his blog sidebar.

But I'm not seeing a whole lot more out there on classroom teacher blogs. Which would not be a problem for me, except that I feel this huge need, this very strong desire, to say something. Political. I read so much these days. I'm a big fan of the Huffington Post, subscribing the the news feed for all posts coming out of there - can't possibly read them all, so I cherry-pick. I've got to say a couple of my favorites recently have come from entertainers: Barbra Streisand and, of all people, Jamie Lee Curtis.

I did venture into this a couple of days ago, with Power and Politics. My students will eventually figure it out, when they walk by the teacher lounge and see the Obama/Biden car magnet on my bicycle (arriving any day now, I hope). And they may know by reading this blog, which is linked from our classroom blog, our school web-wiki, and they can get to just by typing in I did all this to make getting here easier.

But I've got to make it worthwhile, getting here. I'm not going to go over the top with banners, ads and tasteless rants, but if I have even a small group in a corner of a very large room, I will not let the opportunity to make a difference pass me by. Not this time. The stakes are way too high.

So, dear readers...

I would very much like to hear what you think. What's your opinion on blogging, personal politics, and the classroom teacher? If you have examples of teachers writing about this, expressing political views on blogs, in forums, or any other arena - please share them in a comment here. I'll add links to this post as appropriate - yes, from both political sides :) Many thanks.

technorati tags:

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Power and Politics

It is a very intense time, for everyone in the US, and also for my classroom.

Solar JudeYesterday I brought in a solar panel to power one of our four XO laptops for the year. I chose Jude to be our solar XO, for a couple of reasons. First, because it is the newest XO we have, in terms of power on/off cycles, so the battery is the freshest. Second, because it came from a place where there is a lot of sunshine, Colorado. Lots more sun than Washington, for sure.

I felt so very happy, riding my bike in to school yesterday, with a solar panel tied on to my backpack. I wish somebody had a picture of that. I would have looked like a solar powered cyclist or something...

The solar panel is now set up in my classroom, and my kids get it.

In the classroomI had three of our XO's plugged in to AC power via their classy green power adapter cords. I pointed this out to my class and then walked across the classroom to our fourth XO. I noted that it had a black power cord. Then I picked that cord up, traced it back through the plants and other computer wires, until it ended up at a 15 1/2" by 20" board. I held it up and asked if anybody knew what it was. Three or four hands shot up immediately, and told me it was a solar panel.

They are 8 and 9 year olds, the ones who recognized that solar panel. They knew the power came from the sun. They knew that power would recharge the XO battery. They looked at per cent battery life left display, and they began to understand percentage. How cool will it be if we can use only solar energy to power a computer in our classroom this year?

This arrives amidst a firestorm of fear and lies in the US presidential race. As I experiment with, learn about, and teach about an alternative energy source, a couple of recent posts from Tom Hoffman struck a chord:
So much written and read, hopefully. Therein is my hope for our future - that people fully understand what my third graders see so clearly.

technorati tags:

Thursday, September 11, 2008

XO Solar

XO Solar 1
Originally uploaded by mahlness
A solar panel arrived today for the XO laptops in my classroom. How many packages come to your home held together with GREEN packaging tape? Testing over the weekend at home, to school next week.

XO Solar 2

technorati tags:

Friday, September 05, 2008

Too much, too fast, too soon?

Time will tell.

Today was day three of the 2008-09 school year in my third grade classroom. Every year I see kids coming in with more computer skills, and this year is no exception.

Type to Learn 4On day one, we started using Type to Learn, a touch typing program. The kids did great, several of them making it through the first three lessons in a 20 minute session.
A time out, to explain our situation. We have 12 high end computers in class. Five wireless laptops and four xo laptops round it out, and we have not even touched them.

On day two we continued with another Type to Learn session, and I showed the class a little Internet stuff - i.e., their classroom blog.

Type to Learn 1Day three was the bite that night have been too big. After Type to Learn, day three, I talked more about blogging, introduced the Blogger's Contract and safety, gave them their individual passwords, showed them how to log in - and name their blogs.

So we made it - an entire classroom, not going to a computer lab, just using what we had in our classroom of eight year olds.

Type to Learn 2As I planned these days, I had wondered if I would be asking too much. A couple of years ago the skills required of the kids to do what they did just now would have taken several days longer. Right now, no sweat.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Beyond words and understanding

Free 1.0
Originally uploaded by mahlness
In less than 6 hours, every one of the 40 year old dictionaries I had offered for free outside my classroom door was gone. I am beyond words and understanding.

Monday, August 25, 2008


Originally uploaded by mahlness
Casualties of the need for more space and years of non-use, these dinosaur dictionaries are now an extinct sub species in my classroom. (I saved one of each for our Book Museum).

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Gearing up for 08-09

1/3 set upWith two weeks to go until the kids walk in the classroom door, I have started preparations. Having done this a few times before, these days I accept and understand that I absolutely cannot effectively do anything until the kids' computers are set up and I know they are ready to roll. I'm about halfway done. The only tech unknown, thankfully, is where to put the solar panel for our XO's. Now, that will be fun to work on...

Folders, 1.0Then there's all the other stuff. I was so disgusted with the manipulative clutter from last year's math adoption, that I finally cleared out hundreds of manila file folders from a file cabinet, looking for storage space. Those files had been there for years. Somebody gave them to me, and I had never used them. Unfortunately, the manipulatives I put in those drawers reflect a pedagogy that is so outdated, it's hard (for me) to see any progress in the process. Exchanging one outdated way of doing things with another... Oh well. Less clutter is something.

Technorati tags:

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Saturday, August 09, 2008

XO in the classroom - the whole story

I've written frequently about the XO Laptop here, and I thought it would be useful to try and organize all those writings in one place. I certainly did not start out the 2007-08 school year imagining any of this. Here is a chronoligical listing of all my writing about the XO in the last few months.

  • OLPC (Nov 15, 2007) - I had just ordered an XO in the G1G1 program - found a video demo...
  • OLPC - Merry Christmas! (Dec. 19, 2007) - my XO laptop arrives!
  • The Three Amigos (Dec. 27, 2007) - comparison of my three laptops.
  • Leaving town to find the neighborhood (Dec. 29, 2007) - first connection to, the jabber server (amazing number of XO's there), success on Opera install
  • OLPC in the classroom (Jan. 20, 2008) - I bring the XO into class, can't access the wireless network, do my first build upgrade, get connected, thoughts about how to use in the classroom...
  • Seattle XO Users (Jan. 27, 2008) - meeting with the Seattle XO users group. Intimidating and exciting, this will open many doors, real soon...
  • Our XO Laptop (Feb 2, 2008) - crosspost to my classroom blog, a formal introduction to our classroom - picture documenting first blog post from an XO.
  • A Tale of Two XO's (Feb. 9, 2008) - a second XO arrives - a donation! I take them both to Writer's Night out at local coffeehouse, and kids read to the crowd from their blogs - from XO laptops!
  • XO Joy (Feb. 17, 2008) - another XO is donated, so we now have three! Overwhelming, difficult to manage. Teacher pours water on keyboard so kids can use pic in PowerPoint presos they are doing on the XO laptop. Kids post short first impression of the XO articles on their blogs, compiled on the classroom blog.
  • An XO Tale (Feb 20, 2008) - a voicethead on the XO.
  • Note to Room Twelve (Feb. 28, 2008) - crosspost to classroom blog, during my absence from class to present at NCCE in Seattle. Picture shows our fourth XO laptop!
  • Tomorrow, tomorrow... (Mar. 13, 2008) - reality of four XO's starting to settle in. Experience first classroom chat w/somebody - in Texas, video sharing....
  • XO Users - Connect! (Mar. 26, 2008) - discover a new jabber server near Seattle!
  • Year of the XO, part 1 (May 16, 2008) - title indicates my feeling that I should be somehow organizing all that's happening with the XO in my class. But this is a big moment, the beginning of a too cool XO collaboration...
  • Instincts (May 21, 2008) - highlight of the year, describing the incredible experience with four University of Washington students, trying out a new piece of software they've developed for the XO. Amazing, unforgettable.
  • Year of the XO, part 2: Memorial Day (May 24, 2008) - reflections from my backyard on the impact of the XO on my class, as the school year nears an end...
  • A large neighborhood walkabout (May 27, 2008) - reflecting on the year, joining in jabber-enabled chats with folks far and near...
  • How do you say Thank You (June 10, 2008) - as we prepare to return one of our XO's (on loan to us), the kids say thanks, in one of their final blog writing assignments.
  • Report Cards, 2.XO (June 15, 2008) - I do report cards, aided by an XO.

The school year ends, but writing about the XO does not:

  • Another XO chapter (June 25, 2008) - another XO laptop is donated to us! Shaking head and thinking about the year just ended, I begin to plot and plan XO use next year...
  • XO chat/video share at NECC (June 28, 2008) - trying to get XO's in San Antonio at NECC hooked up to same jabber server - never happens...
  • NECC 08 Live, via XO (June 30, 2008) - live multimedia on the XO is pretty exciting.
  • xoclassroom (July 20, 2008) - start up a wiki in hopes of connecting other classrooms with XO laptops.
  • Johnny One Note news... (July 30, 2008) - local jabber server going down soon, I get beautiful XO laptop stamps from Uruguay.
  • XO Classroom Video (Aug, 7, 2008) - I put together a few pics from my Flicker olpc set and "create" a short Animoto video.

technorati tags:

Thursday, August 07, 2008

XO Classroom Video

A few images of the XO Laptop in

Neighborhood Block Watch

On August 5, 2008, our neighborhood in West Seattle got together for our annual "Night Out", or Block Watch Party:

Monday, August 04, 2008

School home, 2.0?

A few hours ago I handed off my school web site. To my school - well actually, to my school community.

For 14 years I've been the webmaster for one of the very first elementary school websites on the Internet. It is certainly the oldest elementary (and possibly the oldest secondary) school website still operating out of the same URL. August 14, 1994 was launch day.

New School Site The school site is now a wiki. It is not a web site. Let me clarify a little. The web site will live on - but it will not be added to. As I said earlier today in a post the the PTSA email list and the district allstaff list, the school site (now a wiki) is a hybrid blend:
with wiki links on the left side, live rss feeds on the right, and our school information in the center…. Scroll down and you’ll see the familiar little icons from the old school home page – they still connect to the same web pages.

So we can't call it a web site anymore. Wiki sounds so out there and scary for a school home on the Internet. Even using the words web page brings up the wrong connotation. I guess it's a school home, 2.0.

The wiki has been wide open for over two years. Anyone could edit it. The vast majority of the content has been added by 2 parents and me. We had a few minor vandalism incidents, which we took care of in short order. I had hoped for a much faster buy-in by staff and parents. It just never happened - people weren't ready.

So this summer I started reading Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky. This (plus just the end of reasonable patience) was the tipping point. Well, actually, the tipping point was some vandalism that prompted me to lock the wiki down just as summer started. I had fought really hard to keep the wiki wide open - mostly, to encourage contributions from our school stakeholders, to make it ever so easy to add/edit.... Well, that never happened. What did happen was this....
  • I locked the wiki, and I let staff and parents know
  • I individually invited all staff members to join the wiki
  • I came up with a way to include our old homepage in the wiki (imagemap was the big hurdle)
  • I changed the domain forwarding of to point to the wiki, and not the web site
My biggest immediate hope is to get enough active stakeholders so that we can open up the wiki to anyone.

This will then truly be a School home, 2.0.

Here it is, Arbor Heights Elementary School


Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Johnny One Note news...

OLPC Stamp from UruguayJust when I thought I was about ready to break out from being an OLPC Johnny One Note on this blog, I got a letter in the mail a couple of days ago. I had heard about the OLPC stamp out of Uruguay, and ordered a couple without hesitation several weeks ago.

Letter from UruguayThey arrived, delivered via registered mail, in an envelope with several beautiful canceled stamps on it - including the OLPC stamp. From Ebay. How very cool and beautiful.

But yesterday I got a body blow that took the wind out of my XO sails. The jabber server I've been using - and promoting to other educators as a good place for students to collaborate - is going to shut down:
I will be moving soon, and the server will be going down for at least a few weeks.

This will happen within the next two weeks. If anyone has a server that I can put the jabber server on, that would be great. Otherwise, we'll be down while the server takes the slow boat.

I replied on the Forum:
Oh man, I am so very sorry to hear this! Your jabber server has been absolutely rock solid, and I thank you VERY much for putting it up there and sharing it. It has made some fantastic connections!

I started a wiki a bit ago (, in part hoping to connect classrooms via jabber server (yours, primarily) - so I'll be looking for an alternate server for a while... if anybody has a suggestion, please share....
We'll see. Now back to some other notes...

Technorati tags:

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Summer Blog To Do List

In the next week (ha!) I hope to post here on these topics:
  1. My kids' summer blogging - and a bit about the past school year, at
  2. An update on SSR 2.0 - the tipping point for this long overdue post being Will Richardson's recent post about the NY Times article...
  3. Tech professional development 2.0 - in my head for over a year, this finally has jelled a little. A throw the baby out with the bathwater post.

technorati tags:

Sunday, July 20, 2008


XO Classroom Presenter demo 2In an attempt to connect classrooms using XO laptops, I've started up a wiki. Please spread the word:
  1. tag any posts, pictures, media havng to do with XO laptops being used in classrooms - with xoclassroom
  2. contribute to the wiki:

There is of course a Ning, yet embryonic, and maybe there ought to be more... suggestions appreciated!


technorati tag:

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Ednet is now Ednet2

A few weeks ago I wrote Another list is gone, almost - bemoaning the impending loss of Ednet, which I consider the grandaddy of all Internet edtech lists. Here's what happened after that post.

It really broke me up.

To the point that I volunteered to take over the list.

I'll spare you the process, but the deed is now done.

Ednet is now Ednet2

At several points along the way I wondered if I had lost my mind. Hadn't I just written about the email list being a thing of the past? In the end I had no choice, for these reasons:
  • I cut my internet teeth on Ednet. I learned so much there, and I felt so grateful for all the advice and guidance offered from the list, and individuals on it. It was a way to pay it back. The feeling of wanting to help was undeniable, and strong.
  • I knew how to do it. I've started and moderated Yahoo!Groups lists for several years. It's not that hard. Plus I figured if it got real active again, there were a few list members I could hit up to take over moderator duties :)
  • Finally, I'm a saver. I think many things increase in value and credibility with time - if you start with a quality product, of course. That's certainly the case with Ednet - quality. You don't just throw something like that away - or allow it to disappear, if you can help it.

So here I sit, loosely holding the reins on this venerable piece of Internet edtech history. I hope it continues to grow and expand in scope. That will be up to its membership. I believe it still has a lot to offer. Below is my first post to the list. Feel free to join!

Hello Ednet Subscribers,

Ednet is now at a new home. You all should have received an email saying you
were on Ednet2. There was a bunch of information in that email, which I'll
try and consolidate here:

- To send a message to the list:
- Note that replies to Ednet2 messages go to the list, not the poster.
- Unsubscribe: send a blank email to
- Home on the Web:
- There you can set your email preferences, post, get the rss feed, etc...
- Or send me an email if you want anything changed.

Please feel free to post messages to the list. Here's the Mission Statement
from the original Ednet:

EdNet@UMass is intended as a forum for the exchange of ideas among those
interested in exploring the educational possibilities of this new medium,
and beyond.

EdNet@UMass should serve to:
* link educators with similar or overlapping interests on the "Information
* introduce students, educators, and interested others to current concerns
and actual work in a number of possible fields, as well as to local and net
sources of information.
* provide informed but informal criticism of, or suggestions for, projects,
proposals, articles, trends, etc.
* to act for all as a community where their educational ideas or questions
will, at least, be taken seriously-- whether in friendly opposition or eager

I think that's a great foundation from which to go forward. - moderator Mark

Monday, June 30, 2008

NECC 08 Live, via XO

NECC 08 Live, via XO
Originally uploaded by mahlness
On the picnic table in the back yard in Seattle, watching/listening to NECC 08 from San Antonio. This was a Ustream session setup by Jeff Utecht on Sunday, June 29th. Twitter going in another browser, shared chat also running...

Any XO users in San Antonio (or elsewhere), be sure to tune in to the OLPC Birds of a Feather Session at 4:45 on June 30th.


Saturday, June 28, 2008

XO chat/video share at NECC

If anyone is interested in joining in an XO chat or video share while at NECC, I'll be keeping a chat invitation out there and open for you to join. Often. And occasionally a video/photo share.

To connect, you need to set your XO to the same jabber server: - don't you love it? Here's how:

In Terminal, type:sugar-control-panel -s jabber

hit enter

hit control/alt/erase to restart sugar

Once you get your Internet connection started up again, check the Neighborhood button - and look for a chat icon. Click on it, and you're in! Or it might be a Record button - we can share pictures/video.

All realtime, instantaneous.

See you out there! - Mark

technorati tags -

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Another XO chapter

Regular readers of this blog may shake their heads about yet another XO post. Man, I'm sorry, I guess I have gone off the deep end. I can't help it. I didn't plan what has happened. But I would not have missed a moment of this ride.

I've tried to come up with catchy post titles so I could put this story in a logical order, like "Year of the XO, Part 1". Problem was, there was no logical order to what happened in my classroom this year with the XO laptop. As soon as I thought I knew where we were going with them, things changed. So the news has been pretty scattered. I'm not going to retell it just yet. It would be much too long, and frankly, the story is still being written.

New member of the XO familyYesterday, the fourth member of my classroom XO family arrived! Like the second and third, it was a donation. I'm absolutely blown away by the generosity and good will that has prompted people to do this. I'm so grateful for the chance to give my third graders the opportunity to expand their worlds and their thinking with these little green computers.

Most people who bought an XO in the G1G1 program have one laptop. I was thrilled when I got mine. But I had no idea of its power and potential until I had more than one. They were designed to be used in groups. The next time you see somebody slamming the XO for being too slow, too user unfriendly, too underpowered - please keep this in mind. The built in collaborative potential is phenomenal, and many people just don't see that. You have to look them as a group. You need to use them in a group to really get it. I like to think of that group as a family. OLPC has called it The Neighborhood.

XO Classroom Presenter demo 2This fall, we'll start the year with 4 XO laptops. I can't wait. Last year I brought mine in to school in January, got a donation a couple of weeks later, another a month later, and a loaner in late February. So we kind of made up our "xo program" as we went along. While we were figuring out how to work them and what to do with them, more appeared. Things were hit and miss, until late May when we participated in a pilot of a new piece of software for the XO with some UW students. That was for sure the cherry on top of the sundae.

This summer I'll work on upgrades, try out new "builds" and "activities". And of course I'll come up with a way to teach my kids how to use them and show them what they can do with them. It'll be nice to have some time to work on the planning. One of the things I'm most excited about is using them as e-book readers. They are designed to be used in tablet form for this, and are super - a relatively large screen and excellent color display. I'm thinking a flash drive library of books, with several flash drives holding hundreds of books.... We'll see.

I feel extremely lucky to have a chance work on creating new and unique learning environments for my kids that will challenge them in creative ways. Once again, to those who have donated and loaned their XO's to my classroom, I send you many, many thanks.

technorati tags:

Monday, June 23, 2008

Happy 85th, Dad!

Golden Celebration miniMy dad was born 85 years ago today, in Miles City, Montana. It would have been Lemmon, SD, but Miles City had the closest hospital. Tonight I spoke with him in Ithaca, NY, where he lives in assisted living, close to my mom and sister. 

Happy Birthday, Dad! 

(picture taken and uploaded from an XO laptop, and blog posted from one)

Friday, June 20, 2008

Hummer Solstice

Solstice Hummer
Originally uploaded by mahlness
A few feet away from this frenzy of energy from a hummingbird, I'm about as far away from it as I can be, in terms of resources. It is the summer solstice. This young fellow ( a juvie Anna's) has been a persistent visitor lately.

School is out. The tank is empty. It feels good.