Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Rugged days

The past two days have been rugged at school. Everything looks fine from the outside, but there are two big time issues I'm wrassling with.

My third graders' blogs are not working properly. I'm spending hours looking over them, figuring stuff out - when I don't really even have minutes. 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. And right now the blogs are not working. Three weeks to go in the school year, and there is this just incredible knot of emotion. Aargh.

The other is the literacy (specifically writing) program at my school. It is a very long story, which I will maybe share here later. Anyway, plans are being made for next year. And I am a lone voice suggesting anything other than the mandated all school paper/pencil, Mead writing notebook approach to writing that we had this year. My feelings are so strong on this, it is very difficult to even begin a conversation about it with my colleagues. My blood pressure shoots up, and there is this chasm of misunderstanding so wide that it seems impossible to even begin to address - never mind explain sensibly. And a rant will go nowhere here. So I'm trying to figure out what to do about it. I will probably write. Unfortunately, I have so much to say, there is so little time or energy to do a good job of expressing myself, and nobody will have the time to actually read and digest what I have to say, with all the end of the year craziness. One thing I do know. I cannot go through another year as I have this past year - way too many sleepless nights spent with this puppy. Better stop for now. I can feel the blood pressure rising.

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posted by Mark Ahlness @ 6:04 PM   6 Comments

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

New Literacy?

New Literacy?
New Literacy?,
originally uploaded by mahlness.
Now the inclusion of the American flag is coincidence, so don't jump to any conclusions that this is a political statement. This was on a classroom door just down the hall from my classroom. I love my school and all my colleagues (this is a very good teacher), but this cutesy depiction of "how we write" could have been produced 70 or 80 years ago. We really do have a long way to go. Sometimes I forget how far.

Just to be clear about this: The writing process has changed. It is NOT encapsulated in a pencil any more. Web 2.0 technologies (and earlier) have indeed changed not only the container, but also the process.

I'm not sure what the most forward thinking graphic might be right now. I'll work on it. Any ideas?

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posted by Mark Ahlness @ 5:38 PM   2 Comments

Monday, May 29, 2006

MySpace and DOPA - great interview

Thanks to a nice comment from Jeff Cooper yesterday, I checked out the latest on MySpace from Danah Boyd - this time with Henry Jenkins from MIT:

Discussion: MySpace and Deleting Online Predators Act (DOPA)

This interview will be a real eye-opener for many, I hope, into what the controversy over MySpace is really all about. In my simple words, it's about kids, kids wanting to socialize, parents worrying about them, parents trying to control them. Nothing new here. Nothing except the arena. That's what is so terrifying to parents, fed incessantly by our mass media machine.

I hope this interview gets even wider airplay than Danah's earlier, but also very good: Friendster lost steam. Is MySpace just a fad?

She did end up doing a great job on the O'Reilly Factor, but if the message is going to get out there and really influence public opion (and therefore create a change), she's gotta land on Oprah. Here's hoping.

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posted by Mark Ahlness @ 7:49 AM   1 Comments

Saturday, May 27, 2006

The Rant

This past week the wwwedu discussion list has been hopping with some fightin' words. Moderator Andy Carvin just posted a great summary of the discussion, with quotes from a few contributors, including me, on the new learning.now blog he is writing for pbs.

Contributing to a list is hard work for me, compared to brogwriting. I feel like I have to choose words so carefully.... So, rather than add to the wwwedu discussion, I just added the following comment (also easier to write) to Andy's post:

Yes Andy, that was one good rant and discussion. I hope readers remember that the feelings behind Jeff’s rant continue there still - and are shared by many, myself included. Just speaking the problem does not solve it, make it go away, or lessen the feeling that produced it.

And yet I wonder what those just tuning in on this discussion think about all this? Are those ranters really a bunch of loose cannons, spurred on by some wild hair of a crazy idea? I think it would be pretty easy to think that, if you’ve not been involved in the discussion. Don’t schools have computers? Aren’t they connected to the Internet? What’s the problem then, for goodness sake? Just settle down and keep the kids safe.

So I do worry about that. I think those of us waving our arms around so wildly at times at this or that windmill need to remember the most powerful change agent in the US - public opinion. I hope we are not shooting our cause in the foot, adding, in our passion, to the fear that may “overtake the Internet’s potential…”

Thanks for the thoughtful and kind remarks Andy. I look forward to hearing your thoughts. - Mark

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posted by Mark Ahlness @ 4:49 PM   2 Comments

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

21st Century Coffeehouse

I'm sitting on the floor in a packed coffeehouse in Seattle. No, it's not Starbucks - it's Tully's. Our school has had "readers' night out" here five times this year - kids bring their latest writings and read for an audience - PA system and all - the whoosh of the latte machine adds to the ambiance.

I was so proud of three of my third graders, who came down and read from their blogs off this laptop. All the other kids had their floppy pieces of paper, their little "books", etc. My kids just came with courage - and I would say some confidence - that the experience of writing for a global audience has brought them this year. They read a Mother's Day story, a fantasy turkey escape story from Thanksgiving, and a journal kept during the week of our high stakes testing on the WASL.

This is so far from the coffeehouses I remember in the 60's. My kids tonight were part of a very new generation, the one embracing totally different ways of reading, writing, and communicating.

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posted by Mark Ahlness @ 7:13 PM   0 Comments

Monday, May 22, 2006

Ease off the teachers

So much has been written about how teachers just don't give a care about integrating technology, web 2.0 modules, into their classrooms. I'm tired of the blame being put on teachers. Put it squarely where it belongs - on the administrators and legislators who are motivated out of ignorant myspace.com fear.

How can we teachers begin to integrate curriculum using 2.0 technologies when those tools used to implement that technology are prohibited, blocked, and outlawed from access in our schools? A short list of prohibitions in most school districts in the US:
  • all blogger.com domains
  • flickr.com
  • any rss feed from blogger or flickr, even if specific users are cleared
  • del.icio.us
  • note that many sources drawing from the above also come up short and do not work properly, for instance:
    - bloglines
    - netvibes
    - suprglu
  • rate limiting or total blocking of multimedia files: mp3, realaudio, quicktime, etc, etc. Listen to a podcast over 500K? Forget it.

If you are a web 2.0 proponent, how would you do without access to all/any of the above in your work? I say ease off on teachers. Those who don't understand why we are not embracing The New Story with open arms need a little dose of reality. Spend some time in a classroom, a school, talking with a teacher, checking out the tools we have at our disposal. Then tell me it's our fault.

Time to look and place blame elsewhere.

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posted by Mark Ahlness @ 7:51 PM   2 Comments

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Netvibes, reading, teaching

I first heard about Netvibes from Jeff Utecht - via a very nice staff presentation on rss he posted. Looked very cool. But I thought, one more thing to track? - I don't think so. But I read more, encountered more mentions, most recently David Warlick. So I set mine up. And it is so cool, so sweet - at least on a high speed connection, fast computer from home. We'll see how fast it is and what gets through tomorrow at school. What really excites me is the potential for the regular classroom teacher, the non-techie, to get into web 2.0 with this. Adding feeds is an absolute no-brainer: just paste the blog address in the add feed line, and "autodiscovery" takes care of the rest. The drag/drop, graphical interface is so much more inviting than the dry Bloglines display. I really think the classroom teacher can grab onto this one, at least I hope so.

Time for only a little reading this past week, but a few that I remembered and will go back to:

That list was way too short, not at all reflective of my interest - only reflective of the lack of time I currently have to pursue reading to learn. It's a busy time in the classroom...

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posted by Mark Ahlness @ 6:02 PM   1 Comments

Monday, May 08, 2006

What really matters

We take so for granted that technology now puts us in touch effortlessly with people around the world, instantly. It's when ideas spread and behaviors change because of that technology, because of that new way of communicating, that I get excited. I just posted this to the The Earth Day Groceries Project blog:

Welcome to Sri Lanka
Every once in a while, a report comes in that makes me sit back, take a deep breath, and shake my head in disbelief. Halfway around the world from where the vast majority of Earth Day Grocery Bags are decorated and distributed, a small community in Sri Lanka joined in. It's worth a read:

Report from Sri Lanka

Happy Earth Day, every day, everywhere!

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posted by Mark Ahlness @ 10:12 PM   0 Comments

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Speaking with authority and credibility - revisited

Ever write something so awful that it's painful to even go back and look at it? Never mind read through it carefully. I wrote Speaking with authority and credibility nearly two weeks ago. I was smack dab in the middle of running the Earth Day Groceries Project, preparing my third graders for the WASL, and I had gotten way too involved in the discussion over George. I was exhausted, stressed, and frustrated. So I really let it fly.

There were people outside of the classroom saying things I did not agree with. Telling me what the problems were. I believed their suggestions for and criticisms of teachers were not based on the reality that I knew. I'd been doing this, pushing the tech envelope in the classroom, for a long time. I believed I knew what I was doing and had the right to say so.

I read through my post again this morning - yikes, words like "pontificating" and "spew forth" are certain to bring about angry and defensive reactions from even the most level headed and confident folks. Interesting responses to the post in several places.

Do I still feel the same? Sure.
Would I say it differently now? Sure.
Do I need to explain or add anything? Yes, I would add this...
It's about what those who are not classroom teachers have to offer - or at least what I find useful and helpful.
  1. technical knowledge, the "how to" stuff. This is a short item, but very important. So many great ideas out there, and no lack of generosity in sharing them!
  2. encouragement. This is huge to me. I have many to thank for this, and most are not in the classroom. Teachers doing what I do are very much on our own, not just in our schools, but in our school districts. You really have nobody to bounce ideas off of, get excited about new things with, etc. When I first started blogging on my own, and then with my kids, I assumed I was one of many doing that - hundreds, probably thousands, I thought. Not so. There is ONE other teacher blogging with her students in Seattle, just down the hall from my classroom. I try and encourage her...

So, many thanks to Wesley, David, Will, Gordon, and Miguel. (oops - one is a classroom teacher!)

I've learned a fair bit about myself in this - the rant, and the fallout. First, I need to carefully regulate how far I let myself get involved in trying to "fix" the systemic stuff. Blogland is a funny place, in that it's real easy to overestimate your influence and your ability to change things. I absolutely loved Doug Noon's post this week, Commit to Being a Flea - and the resulting conversation in the comments. This feels like a comfortable suit for me to put on for a while. But I will be "Mighty Flea" - or something :) Imagine an army of us.

Second, I've been reminded how fragile personal feelings are, how words said in the heat of the moment may linger for a long time, may become twisted, taken personally, misunderstood, and used for other purposes besides the original intent. I worried about losing friendships.

Third, I've learned that I just can't stop listening to good writing - I just love it. So, on this little blog, I've featured direct rss feeds to a few classroom teachers who are wonderful bloggers, but I have also added a blogroll that includes just plain good writers and thinkers on ed/tech stuff.

Fourth, I've discovered the peace that comes with hanging with your own kind. Don't take this the wrong way. I don't know how to express it exactly, it's kind of a "herd" mentality thing, I guess. There is a good feeling that comes from being surrounded - physically at times - by those just like yourself. I've never been much of a group follower - and education certainly does not cultivate this value amongst teachers - so it is comforting, in a way, to be in the company of classroom teachers who blog on their own and with their kids. It's a small herd (fleas, mostly), but at least I've located it.

Last, I've remembered what it's like to stick your neck out for something you believe in. It has been a while.

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posted by Mark Ahlness @ 2:01 PM   1 Comments

Thursday, May 04, 2006

A day in the life

It is May, and I am so tired. I am very aware of how dangerous it is to put your mouth out there when you are not at your sharpest. But sometimes there is no choice. My post on Speaking with authority and credibility brought a lot of anger my way, not surprising. It also led to misunderstanding, once again not surprising. Some things that have got me through today:
  • my kids' postings on testing (and incredible responses from kids/teachers all over): It's over, but the writing continues!
  • Doug Noon's writing - yikes, he's the tellraven guy! I have got to find time to comment!
  • getting a few blogspot.com domains cleared through the Seattle School District filter this morning. I will keep adding to the list, now that I know it's possible.
  • recording/editing the news reporters for the April podcast of the Jr Seahawk Newsletter at school today - two hours into it, and two more to go, for a precious 5 minutes...
  • Miguel Guhlin's writing, today and every day, it seems, lately...
  • the hundreds of inspirational reports that I have read through carefully today and the past week, carefully editing before posting on The Earth Day Groceries Project
  • the hundreds of pictures I've posted on dozens of new web pages from schools around the world for the same project
  • a very nice email I got this morning from a teacher/doc student in NY, who put me together as the earth day guy who wrote a chapter in this book. Although proud of my contribution there, it is so very dated... Still, it does not take much to lift tender spirits right now.

So many things I want to write about. So little time. I have to, even more, seek out those classroom teachers doing web 2.0 stuff with their kids. They know what's happening, they will have more to offer me, and vice versa. It's 10:15 PM, got to correct papers, plan for tomorrow, and edit student blogs just sent in from home.

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posted by Mark Ahlness @ 10:06 PM   2 Comments