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

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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

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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:

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