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

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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.

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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:

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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