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