Monday, December 14, 2009

XO Laptop Experience in Seattle Classroom

A recent guest post about the XO laptop on OLPC News:

How in the world did I end up with six XO laptops in my third grade classroom? I only bought one, back in the original 2007 G1G1. I remember that day well.

Showing off at Seattle XO

I was pumped to order one on the first day they were made available, so I was up early. Unbelievably, our cable Internet service was out! Determined, I plugged in a laptop, snagged a neighbor's Internet connection (all in the spirit of international collaboration of course), and ordered one. Thankfully, I was spared from the delivery nightmare suffered by many others - mine arrived just before Christmas, 2007.

I soon found I wanted to connect in person with other XO users, and so attended a couple of meetings of the Seattle XO User group. It was a wonderful group of people, but I felt WAY over my head technically. The group may be reforming soon, as I was happy to read in Re-Starting Pacific Northwest OLPC User Groups.

Anyway, word eventually got out that I was a teacher, and I soon had a couple XO's (Lincoln and Earthday) donated to my classroom. The kids of course couldn't believe their good luck, and expected more any day...

In February of 2008 I was presenting at NCCE in Seattle and brought along my XO's, as folks were pretty interested in them. I ended up at a bar one evening during the conference with my three XO's, meeting up with edtech blogger Wes Fryer and his wife, and principal Glenn Malone and his wife.

XO's connecting at NCCE

Glenn had bought an XO as a Christmas present for his wife Tami (ahem, grin), and they decided then and there to loan Tami to my classroom for the rest of the school year. So for half of that school year, we had 4 XO's in class.

Over the summer somebody left a comment on my blog, saying they loved hearing how my kids were using them, and would I like one more? Jude arrived in the mail from Colorado shortly thereafter.

Just before Thanksgiving, 2008, our fifth XO was donated to us by someone who worked in the administration of a local university - a friend of a neighbor who knew about my XO adventures in the classroom. I named it Arbor Heights, in honor of my school, which was at that time threatened with closure. So we had 5 XO's for the 08-09 school year. Our school stayed open, by the way.

As the 09-10 school year started up, I was contacted by a local person who had been following my blog and had read about my kids using the XO's. Dorothy was donated in person, which was a first. Until that moment, I had never actually met, or had the chance to shake a hand and say thank you in person to any of the donors.

These donors were G2 purchasers, in a sense, giving both of their XO laptops to kids. All of the donations had a couple of things in common. They were not being used, and their owners wanted them to go to somebody, kids preferably, who would use them. To those generous folks, I say thanks once again. And yes, they are being used by kids!

So is there a lesson to be learned here? Well, I've learned that sometimes it pays to share your learning and adventuring with others, and sometimes it pays to take a chance. I loved the concept of OLPC when I first heard about it, and I thought having one in my classroom might be a good learning experience. Seemed just about right for 8 and 9 year olds.

I look forward to sharing that part of the story.

Mark Ahlness writes about his experiences at Room Twelve

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Turkey Courage

Today our President pardoned a turkey on Thanksgiving. Courage was not alone. A bunch of third graders in Seattle spent some time working out solutions to help several other turkeys avoid being served for Thanksgiving dinner. Here's how some of their blog posts started out...
  • One day in Boston, Massachusetts a turkey was running around the back of the Ritz Hotel. His name was Bob....
  • One day in the forest there was a baby turkey. Her name was Sunset. She was the most sweet turkey in the world. But her parents were afraid to go out of the forest cause Sunset was born around Thanksgiving....
  • Hank Hill is a turkey. That’s me, I’m Hank. I live in a cottage with Goldilocks...
  • The turkey’s name was Natalie. She was the happiest turkey alive....
  • It all started at Joe’s Farm with Farmer Joe and his last turkey....
Sound like fun? Indeed it was. I posted this on our classroom blog, where you can read them all if you click and scroll down. It'll be worth a couple of minutes, trust me...
turkey escape Students in room 12 have been using their imaginations and their writing skills to serve up a little Thanksgiving fun here. Their stories are in response to "Pretend you are a turkey. How will you escape being served for Thanksgiving dinner?"

Click on Turkey Escape, 2009, and scroll down to read over 20 great stories!

Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving, everyone! - Mr. A.

Meanwhile, here's the story of Courage, one very lucky turkey (interesting and hopeful that my students' escape stories relied on ingenuity and scrappiness, and not just blind luck):

What makes me doubly happy here is that my third graders' stories have legs - legs that will carry them far beyond two weeks on the family refrigerator. Their blogs are there for everyone, pretty much forever....

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Thank goodness, one more time

Seems like the tougher things get, the more frequently the obstacles come flying at me - the more often I find myself saying, "thank goodness for the kids." Been saying it a lot lately.

My birthday was last week, and there was no school, as usual, in honor of it (November 11th) - ha. My third graders came up with a wonderful card and a bag of sweets that took my breath away. We were all pretty happy. Thanks, everyone!

Later that day one of my students presented me with a handcrafted birdfeeder, made out of recycled materials and a lot of ingenuity. Of course I put it out when I got home. Thanks, Eilis! By the way, the birds liked it, too.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

New Internet Task Force

There has been a flurry of activity lately on a couple of edtech email lists, wwwedu (Andy Carvin's long running list), and ednet2 (which I recently began moderating) that is making me nuts. Words are gushing forth once again about internet filtering and internet safety. More books are written, studies done, and committees are formed. There are government agencies and task forces popping up every day.

They are all based on fear.

Every single email post and response fans the flames of that fear. Most all of the people talking have good intentions, but I am so tired of nobody seeming to get that they are making things worse.

I suggest the formation of a new government task force:
The Internet Potential and Promise Task Force

Put a few billion behind something like that, and let's see if we don't end up with a better result.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Dream Come True

roomtwelve 09-10This will sound so corny, but I just don't care. What happened today at school was a dream come true.

This is my fifth year blogging with a third grade class at When I started, in the fall of 2005, there were not a whole lot of elementary classroom blogs out there. But once we got rolling that year, I began to think about the future of the writing my students were doing. What would happen to all those articles, the comments, the conversations? My students struggled with this as well. At the end of that first year, I wrote in Rugged days :
The kids really want to blog. Yesterday we talked about next year, when they won't be with me, when they won't have their beloved blogs, and so on. There were tears as I explained how I would phase them out. Lots of good questions. They were grasping at straws, trying to wrap their heads around how the blogs could still exist, live on, somehow remain. This phenomenal response is unlike anything I have seen in 25 years of teaching.
As of today, nine students are missing from a very long Room Twelve Alumni List, and that is the dream come true. I managed to transfer every word from their third grade blogs to their new fifth grade teacher's classroom blog. Every single blog post, comment, and conversation from their third grade writing experience is back with them, so their new teacher can to continue to facilitate and guide their growth as effective 21st century writers.

Tomorrow they finally rejoin that journey. I have dreamed about this happening for over four years, and I could not be happier.

The transfer of bodies of work like that, held in databases, referenced and hyperlinked all over the Internet, is no small feat. I held my breath as I sat next to their new, young, fifth grade teacher, each of us logged in to our classroom blogs. I went through the process of making students "orphans", making them available to their new teacher, and then watching him "adopt" them into his new classroom blog. Several came with over 50 pieces of writing. Not exactly like walking down a school hallway to offer a thick manila folder of writing samples to a cringing new teacher who may or may not ever look inside - never mind share with another person....

This transfer was unbelievably exciting - for both of us.

One person is responsible for this, David Warlick. My hat is off to him for having the vision, for putting in the countless hours developing and debugging an incredible tool, and for caring about our kids' education. Thank you David, for Classblogmeister.

Monday, September 14, 2009

So Ready

Last Friday, on the third day of school, I introduced my students to our classroom blog. I barely had time to show them the login process, go over the Bloggers Contract, and give out passwords. We ran out of time.

Over the weekend, one student published an article, and another started one and saved it to finish later. I had not showed them how to do this - they just figured it out - from home.

My students are are third graders, 8 and 9 years old.

I've been doing this long enough to realize that every year my next group of third graders comes into my classroom a little more facile in dealing with technology, but this was really, really surprising.

Tonight, a third student submitted a blog post. They are so ready.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Still ticking

It's been nearly 2 months since I last wrote here. I spoke up some on Facebook, and a little on Twitter - as I continue to figure out the best way to converse about teaching and technology - and still have a life.

Some tech stuff just keeps on coming:
Lots more happening of course. School starts two days after Labor Day. I'm still here, leaning forward.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Hard year in the classroom

Hard year in the classroom
Originally uploaded by mahlness
Two of my five XO laptops, that had a particularly rough year. The one on the left (Jude) lost the "F" key - somehow it just tore off eventually, and I replaced it with a piece of paper and some tape. Works fine. The XO on the right (Arbor Heights) had a student actually fall on top of it in a wild moment in the classroom. Still works fine, I have the broken off piece, and need to find the right kind of glue (hobby shop trip, for sure).

Friday, June 26, 2009

Mr. A's Art Show, 2009

Mr. A's Art Show, 2009
Originally uploaded by mahlness
Some of my artwork from 08-09 on display, moments before they were all given away to my third graders - who were reminded of the artists we studied this year (that did not become famous during their lifetimes, and whose paintings are now worth millions!)

Monday, June 22, 2009

PLN's, Recess, and Twitter

Today on a work day after the last student day, I sent an email to my colleagues, encouraging them to try Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, rss, some ed/tech blogs, etc. over the summer... Later on, we had a staff meeting, and I brought my laptop. We got into a discussion about a major program change for next year, and I sent out a request for feedback on Twitter... After school I sent the following email to our staff:

As a follow up to my earlier email about tech things to try this summer, and as some additional feedback to our discussion on whether we should have recess before lunch next year…

While we were discussing the recess/lunch thing at our staff meeting today, I posted a note to Twitter, saying we were talking about the issue for next year, and asked if anybody had any thoughts. Within 5 minutes, I had the following 3 responses (on top):

… from teachers in CT, WI, and NE. I thanked them later via Twitter, and told them the result of our vote. I also had a response from an AH parent on my Facebook page, which automatically displays my Twitter posts.

You will certainly hear more about Personal Learning Networks (PLN’s) in the future. This is a small example of one in action. - Mark

I've never really put my relatively small Twitter network to work, asking for assistance in a realtime situation. I have certainly responded when others have asked for greetings, etc. during their presentations. It was really gratifying and reassuring to get responses. I was even better able to articulate a point at the meeting as the result of a Twitter response I received.

I know I'll be even more conscientious about responding to others as a result. This is indeed how networks grow, ideas spread, and better decisions are made.

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Sunday, June 07, 2009


Last week I asked my third graders ( how many blog articles they thought they had posted as a group this year. Some knew how many they had written as individuals. I knew a few had posted over 50. Nobody guessed over 350. When I suggested it might be over 500, there were a couple of gasps and several shaking heads. Couldn't be.

So they counted on their own blogs, wrote totals on the board (without names of course), and we added them up. 674. As of May 29th. With 3 weeks to go in school. An average of 32 posts per student, roughly working out to one blog post per student, every week of the school year.

They were pretty surprised, and so was I. As I was getting my thoughts organized for this post, I wondered about my previous classrooms. This year seemed like a really prolific group. So I found a post from June of 2007, where I had totaled the student posts from the 06-07 school year: 711. I had also totaled my first blogging group, in 05-06: 340.

Now I'm pretty sure, with 2 weeks to go in the school year, this group of bloggers will surpass the group from 06-07. But why was I so certain in my wrong assumption before we counted them up, that this year's group had written so much more?

So I've been looking back. Many variables have remained relatively constant - student age, number of computers, number of kids, blogging platform.

What has changed is the amount of time I can devote to writing. With mandated curriculum and assessment demands spiking sharply in the last couple of years, no wonder I feel like they've written more. They have had much less time to write. They're just squeezing it in. Students now blog during earned free time. Many post their morning Journal entries regularly. It is amazing they are able to write online as much as they do.

Another thing has changed. I do not have hard data to share, but I'm pretty sure students are writing shorter articles on their blogs. Call it the face of today's literacy being influenced by the sound byte writing of Twitter, MySpace, and Facebook - I don't know. Philip Greenspun has an interesting perspective in How the Web and the Weblog have changed Writing.

Along with a mandated math curriculum, there is a huge push these days for a Writer's Workshop approach. It's a real nice way to teach writing, but not in the 21st century. It does not prepare our students to write in the world they go home to every night - or the world they will live in when they leave our classrooms.

New Literacy?So what's important to me, as a teacher of third graders, in my approach to literacy - specifically writing? As their teacher, I am most certainly influenced by new media, and I tend to reflect my values in the classroom. What do I care about? Is it the 19th and 20th century model of The Writing Process? (uh, no...)
  • Fluency. Kids have to be able to sit down and write, easily. They must be able to respond to a variety of assignments without it being like pulling teeth. They have to like to write.
  • Conventions. Kids have to be good enough at spelling and grammatical conventions so they can express themselves easily.
  • Expression. Kids must at least be exposed to some basic writing skills - enriched vocabulary, leads, summaries, paragraphing, etc.
  • Forms and Audience. Kids need to know their audience, and what type of writing is appropriate for which audience.
  • Conversation. Especially in today's world, kids need to understand the value of written conversation, have some basic understanding of what makes a good conversation, and what does not.
These ideas guide my teaching of writing. I do not have a curriculum guide from a publisher, sorry. My guide is this: learning from 28 years of teaching experiences, and a few years of looking forward to imagine my students' futures.

My kids will do well as writers, I know it. Shooting for 750 blog posts this year. Will update.....

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Wednesday, June 03, 2009


Originally uploaded by mahlness
June 3, 2009. In my third grade classroom at the end of the school day. Hard to think and move, never mind teach and learn.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Best of My Blog

No, not the best of this blog. This was not a meme or a blogging retrospective. This was about the best of my third grade students' blogs, a book.

Best of My BlogMy students just compiled their best blog articles from the year to be their books for our school's annual Young Authors' Conference. They looked through the articles they have published this year on their blogs (some had over 50). They selected the best, copied and pasted into Word, reformatted the text, and added illustrations. They used watercolor pencils to make pictures to go with their writings. I photographed those pictures, edited them (cropped, resized, etc), and put them in their networked folders.

The kids really had a wonderful time taking their writing to another dimension. In their blogs on classblogmeister, they have very little latitude in terms of appearance and formatting. And no pictures - at least not easily included, for 8 and 9 year olds.

So for the past couple of weeks, my students have pulled information from the Internet (their own work!), and have experimented with how that information, their writing, should look - in a for real book that you can hold in your hands.

A few of the things they learned about in the process: cropping and resizing images, pixels, image color/contrast, image placement, font appearance, consistency and variation in appearance, and much more.

It was nice to be able to guide them through seeing their writing in another dimension. Dean Shareski has said for a long time that Design Matters.

Now Dean was talking about more sophisticated presentations - video, PowerPoint, and such. But I think that these days even in the simplest, shortest, most basic pieces of writing, design does indeed matter.

Maybe next year my kids will be publishing their books online.

Naturally, they blogged about the process :)

Friday, May 15, 2009

News Reporter Backsliding

Maybe that's an unfair title, I don't know. I'll try to tell this in as small a nutshell as possible. My school, Arbor Heights Elementary in Seattle, has a tradition of a student newspaper - online. It started 18 years ago, the same year I came to the school. It is billed as "The oldest continuously published elementary school student newspaper on the Internet". We got it online in the '94-95 school year. I'm the editor.

News Reporter BlogFor the past four years, I've had reporters enter their reports on a blog, as comments. I then turned all that writing into a monthly print edition for everybody at school, and a pdf of the same, on the Internet. We even have done podcasts and have had them on iTunes. Lately, there is just no time for that.

In the last couple of years it has been tough getting kids to remember to come to my classroom (on Wednesdays) to work on their reports. Now, they could of course do their writing from anywhere, and at anytime. I hammered on that for three years, but it never took. Not enough buy-in, readiness, or whatever.

Then a month ago I got word that November Learning Communities was going to discontinue their blog hosting for educators.

At the end of my rope and out of ideas, a couple of weeks ago I put the problem of getting kids to remember to come to meetings, to everybody at a staff meeting. The unanimous suggestion was to return to paper/pencil reporting, which I had done for 10 years, before starting up the blog.

It would be impossibly long and boring for me to recount here all the things I've tried to increase student commitment and involvement. Part of the problem is that it's simply the nature of the beast, when you have changing student reporters.

News Reporters, 2009?So this month I got a lot of reports, a lot more than had come in on the blog in some time. This is good.

I also got 3-4 more hours of work a month as an editor/interpreter/transcriber of student news "reports". Not so good.

The extra time I don't care about, really.

But the implications of this backward move break my heart.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The letter sent for sure

The letter sent for sure
Originally uploaded by mahlness
Three days ago I received this very same letter via regular mail. Today my wife signed for this for me (thanks Honey, I guess). I have been legally served. Here's the original.

The slam to my feeling of self worth is enormous. Multiply that by the 3,300 teachers in Seattle. Multiply that by the number of students in classes taught by those teachers, and there is a very big black cloud over Seattle Schools right now.

Here's an editorial by the Seattle Times today. Read the comments to feel an extra warm, supportive shout out to teachers from the public. Not.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

For Our Moms

This is the first Mother's Day without our moms for Janeanne and me. It has been a tough five months. We miss them both so much.

In my third grade classroom this week everyone wrote something about, or to, their moms. Many printed their thoughts out and put them on hand made "Promise Bouquet" Mother's Day cards. Some also wanted to share their writing on their blogs. Here are a few sweet words from 8 and 9 year olds about their moms:

Mom and JerryA final moment just for my mom. She loved people so much. Couldn't stop laughing, hugging, helping, kissing. She was a remarkable woman who brought joy to many, many people. I love this picture of her with tenor Jerry Hadley. I saw her like this thousands of times with all kinds of people. I'm happy and proud that she gave Jerry this moment of laughter and joy.

Anyway, thanks to all the moms out there. We love you - always!

Stimulus Disconnect

Stimulus what?This was left in my mailbox at school yesterday. My "stimulus bucks"? Please. I've been at my school for 18 years, and the amount of money and services coming into it for students right now is laughable, compared to just a few years ago. Just where are these stimulus bucks, who is getting them, and what are they for? Does anybody really understand what is happening in US schools right now?

The Letter Not SentToday I received a special gift: a nonrenewal of my teaching contract in the mail. Here it is. A 28 year teaching veteran, I am one of 3,300 teachers in Seattle getting this. I am being offered a new contract for less money. I have 10 days to appeal this. Believe it or not, my state has a collective bargaining agreement. My union negotiates our contracts with the school district. Or so I thought.

It is the weekend, of course, so it's a great time have this happen... less media coverage and all that. The bare bones of the breaking story were here and here. Much has happened in the past few hours. My union told me the letter was coming. The district denied that it was mailed. It arrived today. I will try to add updates here. Here's the latest.

What a very sad drama in Seattle for teachers and their students. The disconnect is bizarre. It becomes so difficult to teach with enthusiasm, energy, and passion.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009


Looking for inspiration? Check out #20 in the Boston Globe's fantastic Big Picture entry, The 2009 Kentucky Derby

Mine That Bird in last place, 18 horses ahead of him (most of them bigger), going around the first turn. A 50 to 1 shot, he won by nearly seven lengths in a breathtaking race.

Sometimes you just have to believe, against all odds and circumstances, in what you can do.

Photo credit:
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Aging gracefully

The Earth Day Groceries Project turned sweet sixteen this year. In human terms that's just entering adulthood, but in Internet years, well, we're talking ancient. Pleistocene, at least.

The years have brought changes to the website of course. It's now a 501c3 nonprofit (donations welcomed). There have been posters, patches, and free bags....

This year I fiddled with .asp pages and didn't break anything in the databases that hold thousands of records of participating schools. Couldn't afford to hire that part out this time. Still firing on all cylinders, fingers crossed...

But the biggest change came out of self preservation, when I stopped hosting pictures from schools on the web site. This was a huge deal for hundreds of schools - to get pictures of their kids/bags on the Internet, so it made me very sad. But, in eliminating picture hosting, I've been spared dozens of hours of work in the past few days.

So what to do... I should have done this months earlier, but I started up a Facebook Group and a Flickr Group, hoping people might put pictures there. Considering the lateness of getting the word out, I think response has been not too bad. Below is a slideshow from the Flickr Group, which contains 105 pictures, at this writing:

I believe these are moves in the right direction, e.g., keeping in step with the times and using the the tools and networking sites widely used by the general public. What does not feel good is that the vast majority of schools cannot access them (Flickr and Facebook), at least in the US. I don't know what to do about that. Maybe if enough teachers railed against their tech department filter watchdogs for a good cause, something might happen. But I doubt it. That part is discouraging.

But what keeps this activity going year after year, and brings me hope, is the excitement and enthusiasm that children bring to their communities with this activity - and the stories they share on the project website.

If you're worrying about the direction our world is going, or thinking there just is not enough goodness and caring in people anymore, take a few minutes and Read Reports on the project website. Click on any state, Canadian province, or any of the 35 countries listed there. Here are some examples:

Heather Stewart
Jack Fields Elementary
Humble, TX USA

We decorated 342 bags!
About our project: The students at Jack Fields Elementary were so excited to begin this project! It is a great way for our students to make an impact in their community. This project allows their voices to be heard...the fact that they are able to make a difference is SO powerful!!!!

Michele Pietrzak
St. James Sewickley
Sewickley, PA USA
We decorated 400 bags!
About our project: This was A HUGE success for our FIRST year of participation. The students loved decorating the bags. Our school is in a small community (a suburb of Pittsburgh, PA). The local grocer was generous enough to buy the paper bags for us to use since they don't regularly stock them. Earth Day is celebrated school wide among our students and staff. We had school t- shirts made for the occasion, had a big assembly, and did individual class service & clean-up projects within the community. WE CAN'T WAIT TO DO THIS AGAIN NEXT YEAR!

Gheban Liliana
scool Gen. I.D. Sirbu
Petrila, Romania
We decorated 150 bags!
About our project: This is the third year we participate in the Earth Day Groceries Project. The kids really enjoyed this activity. They picked one slogan that they wanted to design their bag around or on their pizza boxes (we decorated 200 pizza boxes in the project national-Pizza mesanger). The kids were very eager to show off their artwork and creativity with the rest of the community, so they got right to work! We invited the the local press Gazeta Vaii Jiului . They were glad to take part to our activity and to become soldiers of our Planet. Our great successes were to make students feel the necessity of living on a clean planet! Inst.Gheban Liliana ,Prof.Barbu Elena , Prof. Ambrus Georgiana and prof. Chinta Cipriana School Generala I.D.Sirbu-Petrila ROMANIA
submitted on 4/25/2009

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Happy Earth Day

(posted to Tweeters, on Earth Day)

Most folks around here know Marv Breece as a fabulous birder, a great teacher, and an all around good guy. He's also a wonderful photographer and a very generous soul.

For the fifth year in a row, Marv has allowed his pictures to be made into specially resized desktop wallpaper for The Earth Day Groceries Project - the largest educational activity on the Internet.

My third grade classroom is currently encircled with some of the most amazing computer desktop screens you can imagine. There is something special about Marv's pictures. People walk into my third grade classroom and gasp.

Check them out - they're available in both full and wide screen:

Thanks Marv, and Happy Earth Day everyone!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

A Testing Tale

I started this yesterday, and it got way too long for a blog post - and I wasn't even a third of the way through all I wanted to say. So I will say less, include a few pictures, and leave it at that.

Which number line is right?Getting ready for the WASL (Washington Assessment of Student Learning) started two weeks before we took the test. I was especially concerned about how well prepared my kids would be in math, using a "spiraling" curriculum. Then there was this number line fiasco.

The Test:
TestingWell, in my third grade classroom, nobody cried, and nobody threw up. But I wish you could have seen the terror on the faces I looked out on as we finally got ready to start. It continues to disturb me greatly, the impact of this ridiculous testing on our young people. If this is not abuse.....

I was not allowed to look at the tests or their answers. I was not allowed to tell my kids if they were doing well. If I saw somebody accidentally turn two pages and skip a page, I was not allowed to tell them. Gotta tell ya, it was like going to Pluto to take a test.

The Art:
WASL DoodlesIf the kids finished early (95+% of them did every day), I told them they could draw, period. With a pencil only, and only on 8.5x11 newsprint. I didn't want them hurrying through the test so they could get out their special markers or whatever, and have a really great time if they got done fast.

Towards the end of the week, I started putting up their "doodles" on a poster in the hallway outside our classroom. Some very interesting artwork was produced.

The Writing:
In the third grade WASL, kids take reading for 2 days and math for 2 days. In another attempt to salvage something from the experience, I asked them to write about the WASL. I gave them a little time to write each day after the test, and then I asked them to post all their thoughts from the 4 days of testing to their blogs on Friday.

Their writings about the WASL are all compiled on one page here. It's a pretty long page, and a few of the kids are experimenting with html formatting in a wysiwyg editor on classblogmesiter, but you'll get the idea.

The Snacks:
And hey, I'm not the only teacher who pulls out snacks at testing time! Check Doug Noon's great piece on testing in his classroom. I think my kids had it all over some others, in terms of snack quality, but you'll have to read what they said.

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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

My Bentwood Box, Chief Seattle

I'm incredibly honored to have this bentwood box in my classroom. It was made for me by Wes Felty, after he saw my original painting. Incredible gift.

I finally added a video Wes did a few years ago to YouTube and to Chief Seattle's Speech of 1854: Chief Seattle's reply to a Government offer to purchase the remaining Salish lands:

Thanks, Wes!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Shifting gears, finding encouraging signs

Today I found out that it may be up to six months before Sugar on a Stick becomes really usable on my XO laptops. I had been getting a little discouraged, and I didn't know if it was really going to happen. So I was relieved to know that it may work, eventually.

XO Classroom Presenter demo 1So I took a deep breath and started thinking about where I might go with Sugar on a Stick right now. I recalled an exciting time from a year ago where my classroom was the field test for a new piece of software for the XO called Classroom Presenter for the XO. It had been developed by students from the University of Washington.

I had written about that incredible experience, and I thought now might be a good time to see if their program would run on a PC running Sugar on a Stick.

Classroom Presenter - SoaS1I used an XO to be the "teacher", and Sugar on a Stick on my Thinkpad as a student. After being sure they were both on the same jabber server, both had the program loaded, and both had the slide deck loaded, we connected. The program worked flawlessly. From my little XO, I was able to direct the student computer to any slide. I also received immediately any response to questions or drawings on the slide deck from the student computer. I could unlock the student computer so it could go to any of the slides, and I could lock the computer, so it could see what I, as the teacher, wanted it to see again.

XO Classroom Presenter demo 2A couple of specs: the XO is running version 8.2, and Sugar on a Stick is the "beta" version. I used the server at In theory, I could have an entire bank of classroom computers, or a lab, or computers scattered around the globe - to be engaged in an activity. The Sugar community is encouraging school servers, or hubs, which would be a much better idea with many computers involved. The XO has a built in Mesh network, which we used during the demo in my classroom, but it's not on Sugar on a Stick. We had 8 XO's engaged at once back then. (laptop images here are from the slide deck designed for our demo, converted from a simple PowerPoint presentation I sent to the Classroom Presenter developers)

Classroom Presenter - SoaS2One thing I was not able to try out was sharing a student "answer" to all of the others involved in the activity, but I bet it would have worked, as everything else did.

I continue to be amazed at the potential I see for connective, constructive collaboration out there. Monday I start talking with my kids and their parents about having a flash drive dedicated for their own Sugar on a Stick.

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Thursday, April 09, 2009

What's wrong with this picture?

Good thing I have been told to take down this number line - that I was forced to put up - in my classroom.

The reason had nothing to do with the obvious error, which had gone undetected in my room for a year and a half.

High stakes testing to the rescue of a mandated curriculum. Good grief.

Monday, April 06, 2009

It makes you think

I took a picture of this after school in my third grade classroom because what was happening just blew me away.

This is obviously the Connect Four game. I was blue, and as you can see, I was about to lose...

Connect Two
There are several things noteworthy in this picture loaded with technology stuff:
  • Dell GX 270, with 1 GB RAM
  • Acer 19" monitor
  • Ethernet switch
  • wireless access point
Yet the thing that made this all possible is barely visible. It's a 1 GB USB flash drive, plugged in to the cpu right under the "1", on the right. That little stick was the entire operating system, apps, and docs for what I was doing with my keyboard and mouse on my honking big Dell.

The other computer I was playing against happened to be in my classroom, but it could just as well have been in Kathmandu. That other computer was an XO laptop (also running on a flash drive). Both computers were running Sugar, and they were connected to the same Jabber server on the Internet.

The XO was moving much more slowly, but I still lost. The record of that game is on the flash drives that were plugged in to those two computers. Those flash drives can be plugged in to other computers. Those flash drives can hold the apps and docs that their owners want on them. They call it Sugar on a Stick. There are some wrinkles to be ironed out, but....

this kind of leveling of the playing field really makes you think.

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Thursday, April 02, 2009

Peeking under the hood

The past few days I've been in the midst of a technical challenge, and I have been at a loss about how to solve it. I have to admit, I do enjoy working out computer challenges. Emerging from a morass of missteps and frustrations, today I had a moment where I solved the technical problems, it all made sense, and I had a chance to glimpse into the future.

XO Solar 2I have 5 XO laptops in my third grade classroom. Two of them are solar powered. I read the latest from the OLPC News and I follow Forum discussions closely. Now, we all know the XO started a revolution in mini laptops, and powering them via solar panels is also pretty cool. But these developments pale in comparison to what I am looking at right now.

Lately there has been a flurry about Sugar on a Stick - Sugar being the OS for the XO laptop. Long story short, I figured out how to load an entire operating system, along with application data from individual uses of programs, to micro media - flash drives and SD cards.

How many XO's?There are five computers in this picture, complete with operating systems, applications, history, documents, etc. The contents of an entire computer can be loaded on a bootable flash drive or SD card. Put it in your pocket, and boot it in another computer - and you have your computer again. It can run on a Windows computer or a Mac. To me, this is incredible.

What does this mean in my third grade classroom? First off, it means a time of exploration and problem solving. And fun. We all know "Lincoln" has a red X and O, but what if we put in a flash drive we call Jude2? That computer now is running a different OS, has different applications, and has different documents stored on it. It also appears unique to other computers sharing the same Jabber server on the Internet.

The implications are mind boggling, if you really go with it. For a couple of years I've had a classroom collection of flash drives kids could check out to carry data back and forth to school. But I've never had a whole computer on a stick. I can now carry 5 XO laptops on my keyring. But why stop there?

In theory (and it would not be hard), each student could have his/her own computer, which they could load whenever they used an XO (could also be loaded on other computers - but that will be another step...). Students could carry their own favorite applications, and their documents would be there as well. All on a 2GB flash drive. Really.

This is not the future, it's here now.

I feel like I'm only peeking under the hood of what's coming...

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Saturday, March 28, 2009

Back off

I've had just about enough teacher bashing the last few days.

First, from Congress, to Arne Duncan, to media, it's open season on teacher unions. Clay Burrell has pointed out the free swings everyone seems to be taking at teacher unions - as the supposed cause of problems in the US education system.

Then there are those who just blame teachers directly. This one really bothers me because it lays the blame for failure to use new technologies in classrooms at the feet of teachers.

This incredible article in Education Week reports on a study - and leads with this - that teachers are the reason new technologies are not being used in our schools:
Teachers, for the most part, are not taking advantage of the tools that middle and high school students have widely adopted for home and school purposes,....
Wrong. We teachers are, by and large, not allowed to use new technologies in our classrooms. Good grief, people, look at school district policies. They are set by administrators and school board members, not by teachers.

Guess what, they're not set by teacher unions, either.

So I say back off, and get to work fixing what's wrong. Do not start by trying to fire teachers. We are not the problem. That's like trying to pin the world financial crisis on bank tellers.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Staying even

Lately it's been difficult getting around to posting here. Part of it is the increasing load at school, and part of it is that Twitter and other social networking forums, like Facebook, also allow me to publish my thoughts. Shorter posts, for sure, but it's so much easier and quicker to say something or make a point.

Not only have my ways of expressing myself changed, but my thoughts are read by different audiences. Here are some real modest personal stats:
  • A little over 300 follow this blog via rss (as far as I can tell, as there is more than one feed)
  • 270 people follow me on Twitter (went up by 7 while I wrote this)
  • I have 135 friends on Facebook
It would be impossible to tell how much overlap there is between those three groups. My best educated guess is that 30 to 40 people are on all three of those lists. Easily 90% of them are educators, I am pretty sure. Would like to see a Venn diagram right about now...

What's the point of all this? Well, I've been reading lots lately about social networking, much having to do with Facebook.
And Twitter seems to be making headlines of its own:
What does all this mean to this third grade teacher trying to teach and prepare his kids for the rest of their lives?

Not sure, except to say that if I do not at least try to stay even with the kids I'm teaching, in terms of understanding the technologies so entrenched in their lives, I don't have a prayer of providing a meaningful or relevant educational experience for them.

And as their teacher, I should be doing a lot more than just staying even with them.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Reasons to be in a place

There are reasons we move to a new place, and then there are the reasons we stay. They are often not the same. I moved to Seattle in 1973, right out of college. This is a big part of why I stay:

I'm sure this hits me so hard now because of family, so very far away. I just sent a birthday gift to my brother in Connecticut, and flowers for my mother-in-law's funeral in Kansas.

And then this beautiful little video comes along. Take a minute (literally) and watch and listen. It's nice in full screen mode...

The power of a place. It makes you wonder and think about all sorts of things.

Credits: Video by Christopher Boffoli, with thanks to the West Seattle Blog for pointing it out.

Friday, March 13, 2009

For you, Barb

Barb, we miss you like you can't believe. Like the kids say, please come back.

For everyone else; Barb Bailey is the music teacher at our school, and she is fighting valiantly to regain her health. She has taught across the hall from me for many, many years.

Whenever I open my classroom door, I miss the beautiful sound of children singing.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Missing Our Moms

Today my wife's mother passed away. Sarah Jean Currier was a beautiful woman, and she will be missed by many.

I sit here in Seattle, shaking my head, while I think about losing my own mom three months ago.

Janeanne is now there with her family in Kansas. I know the grief she is going through. It is painfully fresh in memory.

All I can think at this point is to be thankful for having had such wonderful moms. We were both pretty lucky, I think.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Information flow

I thought about titling this Information Overload, but the issue is not simply one of amount - but of access. Whenever I log on to a computer, which is several times a day, on up to three different computers, I start these apps:
  • email - I use Outlook, have it configured to access 4 accounts
  • rss - I use Bloglines, monitor 159 feeds
  • Twitter - following 183
  • Facebook - 115 friends
Four different applications, with Twitter and Facebook at very modest levels of involvement. I get different things from all these of course. I should mention I am on several email lists (Edtech, wwwedu, classblogmeister, ednet, tictech, ahptsa). Then there are the work emails: "All Staff" and "Teachers" lists for my school.

So this is a lot of information, sure. But I have managed it fairly well, until recently. These days, I don't know where to start. The usual sequence was: email, rss, twitter.

Now there is Facebook, and it's #2, right after email. And I am spending a LOT more time there.

I'm sure this happens to people all the time - an infatuation or fascination with the latest application. So now it is Facebook with me, but it feels different from past experiences with other applications. Here are some past "flashes in the pan" of my attention:
There are some obvious reasons for the ascension of Facebook in my Hit Parade.

When I built my network of first 100 or so Friends, it was made up of educators, musicians (related to my wife's career), and local folks.

The RivalsThen somebody brought up my high school rock band from the 60's. One connection led to many others, and all of a sudden I'm making contact with a group of people who are about to have a 40 year reunion. Many of them are new to Facebook. Then there's the rock and roll band scene - on the other side of the country. The lure of that is hard to explain, but it's undeniably strong. I went to school in Manchester, Connecticut - some 2,500 miles away from Seattle, where I have been since '73.

Why is Facebook working for me where other apps fell short? Well, it's a very good aggregator of my work. My Twitter posts appear there automatically. Same for my uploads to Flickr - and posts to this blog. Then there is the the ability to follow the activity of all friends right on Facebook or through Bloglines. Tonight I just had my first chat on Facebook - somebody dinged me. I wasn't even sure how that would work. It was pretty easy, actually. I fully expect to have video chat, skypelike, in the near future (is it already there?).

The other reason it works so well it that it's the current hot social networking application. Can't remember what Clay Shirky had to say about it last year, maybe I need to go back and take a look... Myspace, Diigo, and Nings are great, but their time as a useful tool has come and gone - at least for me.

I will not be surprised if Facebook fades soon and something else comes along to take its place. But for now, it is #2 on my Hit Parade of apps I open whenever I start up one of my computers.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

"99 pictures of friends on the wall, 99 pictures of friends..."

99 FriendsFacebook friends. I'm finally on the cusp of triple digits. This comes as I'm reading Dean Shareski's Control is a Worthless Pursuit, where he rightly questions even trying to control our kids on the Internet - in reponse to this story about a school district in Wisconsin doing its best to stay even with a societal shift. I hope they give it up. Not only is it worthless, but it is a wasteful use of resources that should be directed not to control, but to teaching, leading, and guiding.

So here I sit at 99 Facebook friends. BTW, none of them is a student of mine. I am a third grade teacher. But I do get emails from my students, yes I do. Time to wake up.

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A Poem

A brief affair with a bottle of Elmgrove Stout
by Chris
She was pretty,
well proportioned,
sensuous one could say;
good body sharp aftertaste.
Well worth the time
spent in dalliance.

When an Irishman writes a poem in response to a stout you made and shared, well, it's a good feeling. From a dear friend of many years in Lincoln Park. Thanks Chris.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

NCCE and a couple of days in Seattle

The last few days I've been on mid-winter break, that meaningless week of vacation recently added to our school year. Thursday and Friday I tuned in for a virtual expience of NCCE, happening in Portland. Thanks to a few twitterers and Jeff Utecht, I think I got a good picture of the event, often as it happened.

Hammering ManThursday took me into downtown Seattle, in search of brewing supplies (Market Cellar Winery), and Indian cooking essentials (The Souk). Taking the bus is a piece of cake, a straight shot from our home in West Seattle, and I get a chance to get in touch with downtown, which I do not do often enough. With shopping successful, I headed back home for some good stuff from NCCE. Unfortunately, my feeling of the day, for what I was able to tune in to, was pretty well summed up in NCCE Day 1.

On Friday it was another beauty of a day in Seattle. Hoping to tune in to a NCCE Twitter gathering, I headed in to school with a buddy who was able to open the building, all prepared to make some headway (or more realistically, serious catching up). Thanks to the West Seattle Blog, and their Twitter feed, I got news of orcas in Puget Sound - less than five minutes from our school! We jumped in the car and headed off to Lincoln Park - where we ran into Mark Sears, on his way out of the parking lot, in a hurry, and hauling his boat. He's the Man, knows and has tracked the pods in the Sound for many years. We followed, as best we could. We did get a peek at them WAY in the distance, from the Alki Lighthouse. We drove a little farther and saw Mark heading way off into a fog bank - where we again did see distant glimpses. Still very, very cool. There is some video shot from a helicopter that's amazing. I guess the numbers seen in the Sound that day had not been seen in several years.

So I missed the Twitter gathering. Caught a couple of presentations on video (thanks Jeff). At the end, I was left nodding my head in agreement as I read NCCE Day 2.

Just today I got word of something that sounds much more on the money for where my interests and passions are now: The NCCE Constructivist Celebration. It's close, inexpensive, and well, there's this guy Gary Stager speaking. Think I better go....

Orca image credit: Tammy Wooley
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Monday, February 16, 2009

Still here, mostly...

It's been one of my longest blog post droughts ever, three plus weeks since I wrote here. Life goes on, I still have a job, and here's a little update on this and that, where my head's been and where it is right now...
  • Chinese witch hazel 2I am catching up in my third grade classroom. I missed a couple of weeks of school before Christmas because of the death of my mom, and several things did not happen as usual. In a classroom where every step is based on every previous step, it's been rough finding my way back at times. We are not where I'd hoped we'd be in blogging (writing in general), multimedia (PowerPoint and video production), the use of our XO laptops - and calendar events have raced by without enough time being given to them. My kids are a really nice bunch, and I always feel better when the 9:00 bell rings. And spring is right around the corner....
  • My school was spared from being closed. But there was serious damage done to our reputation, good name, and self esteem. More fallout is headed our way, and some of us are trying to figure out how to stop the bleeding. It is gut wrenching at times.
  • I had to cancel my preso (about XO laptops in the classroom) at NCCE 2009 in Portland. I was really looking forward to this one, but money, or lack of it, was the cause. I hoped for local support and came up empty. Makes me 0 for 4 in funding for my recent conference presos (2 regional, 2 national). Oh well, time to move on...
  • Tomorrow I'll be heading in to school during our break to do some serious maintenance on my classroom compuers. This is way overdue, and I'm looking forward to getting in there and getting them all tuned up. They (10 desktops and 5 laptops) have held up remarkably well over the last year and a half - although I just had a cpu fail last week....
  • I've been buoyed recently by reading some thoughtful posts from edtech bloggers, and listening once again to Sir Ken Robinson (yes, I have the book on order).
  • A couple of weeks ago I restarted the tictech email discussion list. Now this really felt like a one step forward, two steps back move in terms of edtech innovation, but it seems to be where the local school scene is most comfortable. When I stopped the list a year ago, I started up a Ning in its place. There was an initial flurry of activity, but then really nothing. I hope to restart much some needed (I think) local edtech conversations - via email. *sigh*
  • SSR 2.0aLast, I just got a comment on a post from over 2 years ago, Is this SSR, 2.0? I'm amazed at the legs that little post has had. It bothers me that something I've been doing for so long, something my third grade kids just take for granted and do so naturally- still sounds so foreign, and even unusual to many people. Maybe it's more widespread now, but my hunch (supported by a recent post from Will Richardson) is that silent reading from computers is still seen as daring and risky... I suppose I should post an update...

Saturday, January 24, 2009

1:1 classroom, at last

This just kind of snuck up on me. I've fantasized over the years about a 1:1 computer/student ratio in my third grade classroom. Yesterday it happened.

I've had lots of computers for the kids to work on recently, but there has always been this 1/2 on - 1/2 off dance that I've done to do to give all the kids equal access. This is clearly one of the biggest obstacles facing classroom teachers when they consider how they'll use their handful (if they're lucky) of computers. I've worked hard to have more than a handful lately, but I do remember those days. On the right is our ONE, in 1994....

On Friday I took a few minutes to outline three writing options they had. The goal was publication of articles on their blogs or comments on other blogs. So I sent them to their computers:
  • 12 went to Dell multimedia desktops, nice ones
  • 4 went to Dell Latitude laptops, wireless of course
  • 5 went to XO laptops

XO recess chatThe tough part was deciding which students should get the XO's. Most of the kids would like to use them, but I chose those who I thought could write the best off the tops of their heads, without being able to rely on pulling previously written work from their folders on our server, and without the benefit of all the help of MS Word - autocorrect, spellcheck, etc, etc. They almost always write in Word first, and then copy/paste to their blogs. The XO's do have a Linux version of Firefox, so at least they have a basic spellchecker...

New Literacy?So they wrote. They revised, they brainstormed, they drafted, they rewrote, they edited, and they published. Not a single pencil or piece of paper was used in the process. And they were in a third grade classroom in a public school.

I know this happens elsewhere, but I've got to say it was a rewarding time when it came to my classroom. I believe the kids get it too.

Although several kids also wrote about other things, these were the three topical writing options I gave them:

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Oath of office

Oath of office
Originally uploaded by mahlness
Barack Obama takes the oath of office and becomes the 44th US president, as my third graders in Seattle spontaneously rise for the moment.

Some raise their hands with their new president, some hold their hands over their hearts.