Sunday, April 30, 2006

Effective teaching - what's that?

Doug Noon just posted a wonderful article, Effective Teaching, in which he writes about what makes a teacher a great teacher. Very much worth a few minutes to read. Unfortunately, what I see happening is the question of what makes a great or effective teacher is totally left out of the equation when schools decide how to improve.

The first thing districts look at will be test scores, comparing this district with that one. Then will come different approaches to instruction (whole language vs, literacy based, etc). Then will be evaluations of PROGRAMS or CURRICULA that promise to meet the needs identified by the schools to improve TEST SCORES.

Then folks come up with a little equation for how to get the job done. It is based on the idea that all you need is the perfect curriculum, taught in exactly this or that particular way - and you'll have incredible schools!!

Is there anywhere in this equation a piece about the fact that the secret to effective schools is - effective and expert teachers? Once school districts start their planning around the ideas Doug is talking about, education in the 21st century may have a chance. A little more cultivation of the motivated, expert, and committed teacher will grow a lot healthier schools.

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posted by Mark Ahlness @ 4:27 PM   4 Comments

Friday, April 28, 2006

The WASL

I teach third grade in Seattle, Washington. The high stakes test in our neck of the woods is called the WASL (wah' sel). I'll leave the description of it up to my kids. They wrote a little bit about it each day - and then posted their thoughts for the week today, after we finished.

I am just amazed at their ability in this medium. Remember, these are 8 and 9 year olds, reflecting on an extremely difficult test - over time - and then putting it together in one posting. What comes across so strongly to me is their sense of voice. They write with purpose, questionning, sense of humor, and much more. I am so proud of them. They will do well in this world.

Fifteen of my 22 kids published today at our classroom blog, roomtwelve.com Here are a few entries that just blew me away:

Could they have written this stuff and in this way before before we got into blogging? Probably.

Would I have assigned it? No way.

Is this type of writing important, and will they benefit from it? Duh.

Technology is changing not only the WAY we teach but WHAT we teach.

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posted by Mark Ahlness @ 5:34 PM   3 Comments

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

New direction

After last night's rant, the machine is still in motion. There is no turning back, it's definitely time to change direction. I will write more on this later. I just changed the rss feeds on the right side of this blog. Welcome to the up-to-the-minute thoughts from Doug Noon and Bud Hunt! More to follow soon.

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posted by Mark Ahlness @ 8:24 PM   3 Comments

Monday, April 24, 2006

Speaking with authority and credibility

I will not make many friends with this post. If I distance myself from those I admire and respect because I think they're off base and out of touch on this, well, that's the way it must be. It's just one of those things I must say, I believe it that strongly.

I have truly had it with the pontificating from various corners and from various levels about what the problem is with technology in the classroom.

If anyone wants to speak with authority and credibility on technology use in the classroom - and wants to be listened to by teachers, they must be involved in the classroom - now. It is changing so fast, life in the classroom of the 21st century. And technology within the classroom is changing faster than anything else in that classroom. If someone has not taught in a classroom within the last year, they have no idea what is going on there with technology right now. I'm talking everybody from college professors to computer lab teachers to keynote speakers at tech conferences. I cannot listen to them any longer. They do not know what is going on. They do not have anything to offer me.

So what should people do if they want to speak with authority and credibility about technology use - but they are not willing to be a classroom teacher? Well, my first response would be to tell them that they just can't. But if they REALLY want to get it, I would tell them they need to get themselves into a classroom, once a week, at the very least. Talk with a classroom teacher, F2F, once a week, at the very least. This will give them maybe a chance of understanding a little. Walk a mile in my Rockports...

Now, folks can continue to spew forth their technology-in-the-classroom ideas based on what they think are good ideas generally, or what they remember from who knows how many years ago when they were in the classroom. Being a computer lab teacher does not count, nor does being an "integration specialist". Many will be listened to by administrators (like George, maybe) - or not. This means less than nothing to me at this point. (I refer you to Charlotte's Web for Wilbur's delightful interpretation of what "less than nothing" means)

I will listen to and learn from classroom teachers. They live where the rubber meets the road. Time for new rss feeds, links, and all the rest.

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posted by Mark Ahlness @ 5:58 PM   10 Comments

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Earth Day every day

No "good reading" for the week, been too busy with the Earth Day Groceries Project, approving/editing reports for the databases, and adding picture pages from the emails that are slamming me right now...

Started a "picture of the day" blog on the site. Hope to continue with that for a couple of weeks. Here's the first:

http://www.earthdaybags.org/blog/2006/04/picture-of-day-4-23-06.html

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posted by Mark Ahlness @ 6:51 PM   0 Comments

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Big Check!

Big Check!
Big Check!,
originally uploaded by mahlness.
On Earth Day, April 22, 2006, I accepted a sponsorship donation to the Earth Day Groceries Project from Albertsons - at their Mercer Island, Washington store. A very nice Earth Day!

This was quite a deal for the fledgling nonprofit organization. I hope more grocery chains will join in. I was told there that 270 schools participated with Albertsons this year, and decorated over 49,000 Earth Day grocery bags - distributed to customers today.

What is really cool here is that store managers went out to schools to get them involved, and not the other way around - which is often a frustrating task for a teacher at a school - going begging to a store for bags, trying to "sell" the idea, etc. A very good sign for the future...

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posted by Mark Ahlness @ 3:41 PM   0 Comments

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Blogs, lists, and audience

I've been thinking about writing this for some time. The events of the last two weeks have finally brought me to this point.

It's about blocking, censorship, MySpace, administrative vs. teacher leadership in technology - just a huge ball of wax. Will Richardson's post, Battling Censorship was what pushed me to writing here. Here's part of what he said:

...There are at best, what, 50? 100? 500? 1000? educators tuned into this conversation in a sea of hundreds of thousands. How many have posted? ....

Background: Here's Miguel Guhlin, leading the charge against censorship, after having both his blog and that of Wesley Fryer's blocked in some (many?) Texas school districts because they included the word MySpace in their postings. Content filtering of a really surprising magnitude - just incredible. Miguel has spoken out vociferously, is trying to get everybody to put "MySpace" on their blogs and web pages, so that those sitting at the blocker buttons will have no choice but to ease off, because nothing is getting through to schools.

OK. So Miguel's call to arms may seem unrealistic, but here is what he is doing that may indeed make a difference. He is getting his message out to educational discussion lists. I've seen his postings on wwwedu (2,000 members), edtech (3,500 email members), and I assume the digital divide list (3,000 members - Andy Carvin has pushed it out there for sure anyway). I'm sure the thread has spread to other lists by now. Easily, 10,000 people will have read what Miguel has had to say by now. Next, they will discuss it - with exponential numbers just around the corner, if people quote his postings and responses to them . Will R. is wrong when he suggests the numbers hearing this conversation are so small. That's if you only count the choir.

I say connect to the congregation, not just the choir. Miguel is truly taking it there. I wish other bloggers would start to realize the power and potential of the list medium. Just because it's not brand new and glitzy like blogging and rss is no reason to turn backs on the most powerful aggregator there is - the Inbox.

Posting to a list is a different art form from blogging. Man, once you send it, you can't EVER take it back on a list - can't just go into your blog and just delete the post. It's there for good. I find it so much easier to blog like this than to post to a list. It really takes me a long time, relatively, to put together my thoughts for a listserv.

So thanks for doing it, Miguel - taking on the somewhat stodgy establishment of lists, presenting a fresh approach, a new way of looking at things. There are wonderful writers out there posting incredible ideas on blogs right now. I wish their audience was bigger. It could be.

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posted by Mark Ahlness @ 6:41 PM   8 Comments

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Good reading, 4/16/06

Just got back from the east coast, where I spent my spring vacation helping my folks and my brother move on to their next life chapters. So my reading has been light (also hindered by the slowness of dial-up AOL access - aargh), but I did come across some fascinating stuff, most of which I will have to come back to later to fully digest. I have been using del.icio.us to keep track of these things as I find them. This week's bunch is at readingapril2 - not all referenced below:

This is the third posting of this type I've done. When I started out, this was to be a listing of my weekend reading. Now it appears it will be a listing of my memorable reading during the week.

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posted by Mark Ahlness @ 4:33 PM   1 Comments

Friday, April 14, 2006

Texas inspiration

You had to have been asleep at the screen to have missed the Doug/George Johnson episode last week on ed blogs. Lots of passion there.

But that's nothing compared to what I'm reading from Miguel Guhlin and Wesley Fryer. What are they putting in the water down there in Texas, anyway? These two are writing just some inspired stuff right now. How do they do it? Wish I had the way with the word they have. I'll just have to settle for sharing their passion. Some examples:

Censored for relevance (and here)- Fryer
Put Fear Aside - Guhlin
(edited on 4/16/06, as Miguel has just redone his blog, and articles previously listed here are no more)

They also have left provocative thoughts and supportive encouragements in comments all over the place, in many discussions, very much enriching this cool space. Miguel left this for me after a downer post I wrote about MySpace:

Blog in the face of oppression, speak truth to power even though it isn't effective. These acts may not change the environment you're in, but they will change you. And, changing you is all you CAN do. . .it is the most powerful transformation you can model for your children, as well as your students and colleagues.

Thanks, guys!

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posted by Mark Ahlness @ 9:16 PM   0 Comments

Monday, April 10, 2006

Good reading, 4/10/06

I've spent more time writing than reading this past week, it seems. Still, I found some good reads:

Sadly, that's it for the week/weekend. I'm headed back to the east coast for a few days on family stuff, but the flights (5 airports in 5 days - aaargh) will go more quickly, as my mp3 player is loaded up with podcats from Miguel Guhlin, Andy Carvin, Tim Wilson, Wesley Fryer, Bob Sprankle (and his kids), and David Warlick. And just in case any of that gets boring (ha), I have Will Richardson's new book. The hours will fly by...

Finally, I set up a myspace account a couple of weeks ago, to see what it was like, learn about the dangers, potential, etc, etc. I finally started up my blog there - and I noticed a coupla guys from the above list are also there :) I think all teachers ought to do the same. Have to understand the nature of the beast...

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posted by Mark Ahlness @ 1:40 PM   1 Comments

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Enough

I have to stop. I've been engaged in conversations about administrative control of technology, the role of teachers in it, etc. I got sucked in way too far, have been over my head more than once. Some enjoy the dialogue, the debate. I do as well, but only to a point. It is much more than a debate to me, it is what I believe and practice every day in my job. My philosophy guides every word I utter in my classroom. I am too close, care too much, believe too strongly, and want things to change too quickly - to debate anybody about it. I absolutely believe in what I am doing with technology in the classroom, that it is right, and that I am obligated to push forward. I believe that not doing so actually hurts my kids. Frustrated, discouraged, close to fits of rage and tears of anguish, I have to stop.

I've really had way enough of the assumption that teachers do not know what they are doing, do not know anything about technology, ought not to be trusted to make informed decisions, shouldn't need to be creative, should blindly follow edicts they know to be folly, etc.

I will retreat to what I have done for the past 12 years in April and May - running the largest educational activity on the Internet. I'll put in the 20 hour work days. In spite of my exhaustion, I will begin to feel good again about what I do, because I will be in touch with teachers, my peers. The teachers I will work with - from all over the world - will be thrilled for, excited about, and proud of their students. They get it. I am able to help them do that, and share in their joy. For that I am eternally grateful.

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posted by Mark Ahlness @ 2:35 PM   1 Comments

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Responding to George

So Doug Johnson over at his Blue Skunk Blog wrote an article about how he's becoming George, the network admin who is really clamping down on student uses of web stuff - for security reasons. I responded, with a few others, and Doug came right back with another post, where he asked the following:
  • Does technology management come down to a choice between reliability/security and creativity/experimentation? If it is not possible to have both, which best serves student interests?
  • Why should a teacher be given any more latitude to be "creative" with a computer than an accountant? Why should a teacher not be required to use district adopted software, much as they are required to use district adopted reading series or textbooks?
  • Should a teacher experiment rather using established best practices? (A medical doctor who "experiments" on his patients would be considered unethical - that job is for specially trained research scientists.)

Here's my response:

OK, Doug, I'll bite hard on these questions. I know you are in part only playing devil's advocate here, but the bait looks so tasty!

  1. the choice between reliability/security and creativity/experimentation...
    Creativity and experimentation. The other gets us safety (maybe). We become stale, dry up and wither away. Management will of course never choose this. But how about putting some classroom teachers in with the group of admins who determine security parameters? I'm not talking about teacher consultants, tech integration specialists, computer lab teachers - I'm talking classroom teachers.
  2. why should teachers be allowed to be creative, why should they not have to be required to use district adopted texts, software, etc?
    This goes way beyond the question of technology use. Administrators at many levels are contsantly in search of the perfect answer to improving education. "Apply this one to our schools, and now we'll really have something!" But the answer to excellence in teaching and learning does not lie in mandating the perfect textbook, demanding the teaching of the "ultimate social skills curriculum," or insisting on the exclusive use of a piece of software. The answer to excellence in education lies in having excellent, excited, talented, and passionate teachers in the classroom. Top down mandates stifle creativity - and drive out talented teachers in droves. If creativity in teachers is cultivated, not squashed, you will see an incredible surge in talented teachers returning to the profession - and the resulting upswing in student achievement and engagement.
  3. why should teachers be allowed to experiment rather using established best practices?
    This one I love. Because established best practices are not getting us anywhere right now. Because established best practices are dated, are dead in the water right now, are slow to develop and spread, are built on tools and methods of instruction dating back at least a century. If I teach my current third graders using established best practices, then I am not preparing them for the future, I am teaching them information and skills they may never use, and I am wasting their time. If I experiment, communicate with others around the world, collaborate on developing new approaches, and pass this on to my kids - well then, I might be making a difference for them.

    Now this last point requires two things: trust and freedom. I must have the trust of the parents in my classroom - and I must have the freedom to pursue alternatives to established best practices. I consider myself a very lucky guy to have both of those right now. I know many of my colleagues do not. It is in part for them that I take the time to write this.

So Doug, thanks for the conversation. The questions you asked are good ones, because they are so natural to ask. I hope the folks making decisions will look beyond their own circles for answers beyond the obvious. In peace - Mark

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posted by Mark Ahlness @ 11:08 AM   1 Comments

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Oh, the places you'll go...

...and the things you'll talk about. I posted this last night on my classroom blog:

Today in class we talked about blog comments. We had talked about what makes a good comment before. Everybody is pretty solid on that - and I think they are doing a great job leaving comments for others.

We also talked about "What happens when you get a comment?" Do you HAVE to comment back to the writer? What if they don't have a blog, etc. Do you leave a comment on an article on their blog that doesn't have anything to do with the article they are writing? All very good questions. Hmmm....

Which led to this.... I suggested that when people leave QUESTIONS on Room 12 kids' blogs, room 12 kids ought to respond to those questions ON THEIR OWN BLOGS. That's what grown-ups do, I said.

Well, this idea seemed a little strange to some kids in class.

Comments made during this discussion:
"But how will they know I answered their question?"
"I guess they'll have to check back on your blog"

(and everybody is thinking.... I guess I better make my blog worth coming back to!)

A very good conversation! Lots of good thoughts and ideas.So, for those who have left questions on Room 12 blogs, maybe you want to start checking back to see if the authors answered your questions. We started looking back through our blogs today, and several students have started answering. - Mr. A.

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posted by Mark Ahlness @ 6:52 AM   0 Comments

Saturday, April 01, 2006

The Real Tragedy of MySpace

The real tragedy of MySpace is not what kids are doing on it. The tragedy is that the backlash over MySpace, born of fear and lack of understanding, is destroying a golden educational opportunity.

The net effect of the paranoia surrounding MySpace is that any and all social networking opportunities are being blocked by school districts - at an increasingly alarming rate. It's so easy. Flip a switch and Flickr is blocked, another one, and all blogspot domains are blocked. At a time when teachers should be clamoring to use the new tools, school districts are reinforcing fear among teachers and the public and making it next to imposssible for teachers to use them. There is no education going on around this. Just the preaching of fear.

The tragedy is the rapidly growing polarization between schools and the real worlds of students.

The tragedy is that our kids are missing a wonderful opportunity to learn.

The tragedy is that the politics of fear once again trump enlightenment.

What to do? I don't know. Shouting back doesn't work, teachers are in a position of weakness to begin with. Speak our minds on a blog? - well sure, if preaching to the choir gets us anywhere.

This is what I will do. I will continue to blog with my third graders - for as long as we are allowed. If we are shut down in a week, a month - whatever - I will feel good that I gave them an opportunity they will always remember. That their eyes were opened to possibility, promise, trust, and responsibility for a while. They will remember that.

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posted by Mark Ahlness @ 12:32 PM   1 Comments

Good reading, 4/02/06

Here's what I came across this weekend while roaming around. Writings I want to remember, return to later, etc:

That's all I had this week/weekend. Very busy with other impending events, like The Earth Day Groceries Project - yikes! Hoping the new database for reports for 2006 is ready to go...

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posted by Mark Ahlness @ 7:52 AM   1 Comments