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.