Friday, June 30, 2006

Blogging through the school year, part 3

This is the third, and final, installment in a series that began with:
- Blogging through the school year, part 1
- Blogging through the school year, part 2
Below are my recollections of important high and low points while blogging with my third graders this past school year, from April through June, 2006. The red links point to my posts on roomtwelve.com, the classroom blog, and green links point to entries on this, my personal blog:
  • April, 2006 - The kids were starting to get lots of comments, so I suggested a way of Handling Comments that grown up bloggers use - they continue with this practice. I post another assignment for something to write about while kids are on vacation, Getting ready for Earth Day, no response from the kids - oh, maybe one. I was over my head as usual with the Earth Day Groceries Project, and was getting way too deep into blog conversations that left me frustrated, eventually bubbling over in my lash out Speaking with authority and credibility. But the kids were continuing to grow, able to do some remarkable reflective writing on The WASL.

  • May, 2006 - an invitation to write on their blogs about anything - I just gave them "blog time", with some ideas, of course - brought Mother's Day and More!, diverse, interesting stuff. Something I had wanted to do for a long time was Blogging from Tully's, and three kids pulled it off, reading from their blogs, on my laptop, in 21st Century Coffeehouse . The month came to an end with worries over classblogmeister failing, and a discussion of next year, without a blog, in Rugged days.

  • June, 2006 - The conversation about the possible end of their blogs brought a very teachable moment in Blogging about blogging, and I was so moved that I posted The Class of 2015, with quotes from several. This was, without doubt, their most inspired and passionate writing of the school year. I posted Just another day to document the changing nature of the classroom. Finally getting picture permission, I posted a group shot, at Here we are... The kids were in a Blogging Frenzy! (also posted on my blog at Blogging Frenzy - crossposting is something I did several times during the year, when the lines between personal and classroom blogs overlapped, or became blurred). Then, in an attempt to try and do EVERYthing before the school year ended, I posted a couple of short videos of the class, The Room 12 Cheer! and Room 12 Cheer - almost! Those were the last two entries on the classroom blog during the school year. I tried to wrap it up personally at Last Day's Eve.

    The school year ends, but the blogging continues, with the first student post, at Summer Writers!

There. I'll follow with some personal reflections on what this has all meant as soon as I can.

Bookmark and Share
posted by Mark Ahlness @ 7:57 AM   0 Comments

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Blogging through the school year, part 2

Yesterday I posted Blogging through the school year, part 1, August through December 2005. Below are my memories of important high and low points while blogging with my third graders this past school year, from January through March, 2006. The red links below point to my posts on roomtwelve.com, the classroom blog, and green links point to entries on this, my personal blog:
  • January, 2006 - we start off the year posting our Personal narratives, basically a copy/paste from Word docs. An attempt to wed our writing program with the blog. Not so great, as only about half the class did theirs in Word. For those who did post their writing, it looked great, because they had more than one or two paragraphs - but this was after a couple of months(!) working on the piece. Lucky writers? just happened because of a Friday the 13th, a teachable moment that a few kids really got into. Nice comments was just a hint of a big boost we were about to get... Teacher writes about Amazing student bloggers

    (I'm realizing at this point I simply must leave out huge chunks, just to get through this. Also, readers must understand that, compared to the time we spent on more traditional stuff - math, art, gym, music, cursive writing, social studies, etc - blogging activities took up a very small part of the school day, and we maybe only gave time to the blog one or twice a week.)

  • February, 2006 - it's not quite as painful as it first was to think about, but there was a big buzz in Seattle and on our student blogs, with Super Bowl Excitement. It actually spurred on our first attempt at podcasting, Seahawks Cheers - podcasts! Teacher posts A good week Then we lost, of course, and there was an outpouring of feelings on student blogs (More on the game ). It was a good time to go back and revisit the Blogger's Contract. One of the moments that most amazed me with my class was Third grade tech problem solvers. One of the moments that most amazed my kids was Room 12 - in Texas! And this one event just supercharged the rest of our school year. Teacher posts The Winter Olympics! on the classroom blog, hoping for students to blog from home, while on vacation - one or two takers, a flop...

  • March, 2006 - I held a Family Internet Night and left the PowerPoint and podcasts on the school blog at Podcasting - finally! I had an incredible experience with The New Story - The Skypecast Another remarkable moment in the classroom came with Comments, articles - and podcasts! ("how come the girls get more comments than the boys?"). A downer came with Blocking Flickr - can't get past it, as I was counting on incorporating those images on our classroom blogs (had promised it, actually).

End of part 2. I'll try and wrap up the school year in the next installment.

Bookmark and Share
posted by Mark Ahlness @ 6:52 AM   2 Comments

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Blogging through the school year, part 1

I just read The Next Movement from Darren Kuropatwa, a great review of the evolution of his use of web 2.0 technologies with his classes this year. So I felt motivated to remember, reminisce, and ultimately, plan for next year - I can't believe I just said that. Anyway, here's a month by month chronology of highlights/lowlights of blogging with my third graders. The red links below point to posts on roomtwelve.com, the classroom blog, and green links point to entries on this, my personal blog:
  • August, 2005 - I set up my account with classblogmeister, enter students names, passwords, post several test blogs from Billy. Lots of personal experimentation and practice for me, on classroom and personal blogs.

  • September, 2005 - school starts, aargh. The kids are so little :) We start some basic keyboarding (Type to Learn), they begin using Word, begin understanding the saving/opening of documents on the school server, locating their own directories, etc. Not easy stuff, amazing that we got through this.

  • October, 2005 - continuation of Sept. stuff, getting more fluid, more reliable...

  • November, 2005 - They kids find out about their blog (Getting started), learn passwords, all that stuff. We also go over the Blogger's Contract, a lot of important ground to cover, the kids are itching to get started. Very exciting! On the first weekend, kids are sending comments, sort of... (Comments). I assign their first blog writing piece, Thankful writing, and then Turkey stories. Teacher is swept away and overwhelmed.

  • December, 2005 - another assigned piece, Besides presents, lots of making of snowflakes, get together our first PowerPoint presentations, Snowflake Presentations Online!, I end the calendar year by assigning One More Gift. This was during our winter break, and led to a very big event in January, 2006.


End of Part 1.

As my kids often said when they just plain ran out of time, to be continued...

Bookmark and Share
posted by Mark Ahlness @ 8:19 AM   2 Comments

Monday, June 26, 2006

It's not over

mixed table
mixed table,
originally uploaded by mahlness.
The last day of school was five days ago. What do teachers do to kick off their summer vacation? Many, like me, spend a few more days in the classroom, cleaning up, packing up, organizing, etc. And when you have 17 computers that you are responsible for, well... I've got another 2 days at least.

This picture of the end of a table is pretty reflective of the world in which I teach right now - keyboards, analog clock, patch cables with laptop projector, memory chips, glue sticks, papers, paper bag...

More pics from the classroom cleanup operation today at Flickr

Bookmark and Share
posted by Mark Ahlness @ 3:08 PM   0 Comments

Friday, June 23, 2006

Losing the Passion? - a response

(So what do you do when you spend more time posting a comment to somebody's blog than you usually spend writing on your own blog? Well, copy your comment, and put it on your blog as a new post, of course)

Brian Crosby, a sixth grade teacher in Nevada, posted Have Too Many Lost The Passion? - talking about how one of the casualties of "programmed teaching" and testing - is the passion teachers have for their work. Another byproduct is that technology innovation, even real basic web 1.0 stuff, gets swept under the rug and forgotten. I couldn't agree more, and I encourage the reading of his complete post. Here's a bit...


This lack of passion means teachers are having fewer discussions about teaching and learning - and the programs so many of us have to follow leave zero time and resources to promote the kind of teaching we would like to be doing so sharing the new teaching tools becomes irrelevant to all but the few.


This struck a chord with me, so I left this lengthy response:




Brian, nice post. I do agree with you about what is sucking the passion out of the profession. I’m glad you see some cracks in the wall, because I don’t. The demon I’ve been struggling with this year was a schoolwide writing curriculum (built on the “writer’s workshop” idea) that had no technology component - pencil and paper, Mead notebooks, right out of the 19th and 20th centuries. I did it, but I also got my kids blogging - and that experience was just incredible.

Give teachers maybe just a little chance to change on their own, do their own thing, research and try out new things - and then let’s see if the passion is gone.

Yesterday, I brought my colleagues up to our computer lab - I promised them 20 minutes. Last day of work. End of a long day of meetings. I just wanted to show them what the lab would look like next year, since we just upgraded it. Imagine the energy. Imagine the enthusiasm… the drooped shoulders, the exhausted faces.

I talked for about 15 minutes about the lab, upgrades happening this summer, and so on. Then I thought I’d throw in just a bit about blogging. Why not? Nothing to lose, I had talked about it before, shown them my class blog during the year, etc.

I suggested they all get a personal blog going this summer. Just to try it out, I said. I worked myself up to some pretty passionate stuff in about 60 seconds - ending with something like, “if we as teachers don’t embrace and use these incredible new tools, and teach our kids how to use them safely, then I think we will be failing our kids, and I think ultimately, we will be negligent. Nobody else is going to do it. It’s up to us….” etc.

Somebody asked how they could start a blog. I showed them edublogs.org - within 10 minutes, over six teachers had a blog set up. I don’t know how many were successful, everybody was trying at once, getting a username, blog title, etc - I felt like I was back in the classroom again - yikes! It was great.

Now I don’t expect that they will all continue this - but I bet a couple will. I send this story along as an example of what teachers can do when the other stuff is out of the way - the tests, the rigid curricula, the endless meetings, the expectations that they be mindless implementers of the “perfect program”, etc.

I put a little passion out there for my colleagues, and many grabbed at it, even in their exhausted state. They were taking a chance to learn something new, to grow on their own, to experiment, to play. The spark is still there, it just needs to be lit - and given a little room to breathe.

I’ll get back to you on my “rant” later. - Mark

Bookmark and Share
posted by Mark Ahlness @ 4:00 PM   2 Comments

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Last Day's Eve

Tomorrow is the last day of school for me and my third graders. Tonight I have once last chance to prep for a day that might make a difference in 22 young lives. One last chance. I'm lucky to be in a spot like this, with so much potential sitting on the porch stoop, waiting to take off.

It has been a remarkable year. This is a bright and caring group. They are pioneer bloggers, and they know it. Due to timing and the loud mouth of their teacher, they have had a lot of exposure. They have been read by many, they have received comments from students and teachers worldwide, and several have been quoted (think what this means, folks!!) all over the Internet. Eight and nine year olds, adding perspective that is right now pretty unique. And it is not just perspective, they are adding new content. See here, for example.

My hope is their experience will become commonplace, real soon, that writing and commentary like theirs will be everywhere. We will all benefit. I salute them, and I thank them.

Lest anyone think we don't know what's important and how to have fun, I send along a couple of short videos from yesterday in the classroom. They are on our classroom blog, which will continue running through the summer, at roomtwelve.com (visit the blog for background):

Bookmark and Share
posted by Mark Ahlness @ 8:59 PM   0 Comments

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Blogging Frenzy

A week to go with my third graders, and it is getting frantic. It is all about the classroom right now. There are very few who go through this annual intense emotional roller coaster - of letting go - of moving on - of grieving - of getting so close and then saying goodbye. This is the part of being a classroom teacher that makes it, as John Mellencamp would say, "Hurt so good". I am so busy, maxed to the limit in every way, trying to make everything sweet and meaningful for my kids and me in these last few days.... All I can do here is copy what I just posted to my classroom blog:
Wow! The students at roomtwelve.com are outdoing themselves these days, publishing blog posts at an amazing rate. On all sorts of topics, like summer vacation plans (assigned by me), to sports items, video game stuff, fantasy writing, and on and on.... I am so very proud to be their teacher!

A couple of new things we've taken on this past week:
- most students now have a picture on their blog (upper right corner) of something important or meaningful to them.
- some students are including links to other web sites in their blog articles. They picked up how to do this pretty quickly last week.

Our last day of school is June 21st, and we will be blogging right up until the end. Many students will continue to blog here over our summer months (more on that later). -
Mr. A.

Bookmark and Share
posted by Mark Ahlness @ 7:51 PM   1 Comments

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Comments - Thanks to the teachers

There has been so much talk on some blogs lately about comments - on educational blogs, and just in general. Three I found very interesting were from Doug Noon, Graham Wegner, and Dean Shareski.

I just posted the following on my classroom blog. Wanted to be sure the folks below were recognized here as well.


This is a special thank you to the teachers who have left comments for the kids here. Your words have REALLY helped these third graders become stronger readers and writers! Here is a list of teachers who have left comments.


Most of the names are linked to their blogs, if they have one: Nancy McKeand, Ms. J.-S, Cheryl Oakes, Lani, Jeanne Simpson, Ms Bailey, Ms. Sato, Janice Friesen, Mr. Warkentin, Miss Vail, Ms. Fullerton, Mrs. DeGiorgio, Mrs. Turner, Jody Hayes, Pam Jeter, Mr. Brune, Jennifer Bazley, Dean Shareski, Brett Moller, Julie Jaffe, Michael Cridland, Mrs. Cessna, and last but not least, the man who gave us a confidence boost, got us excited, and who asked other teachers to send comments to student bloggers - as homework - Wesley Fryer!


Thanks to all of you! - Mr. A.


ps - if I`ve missed somebody, please don`t be shy about letting me know. I want to include everybody!



Wish I had done as good a job sending comments to their students. Many, many thanks!

Bookmark and Share
posted by Mark Ahlness @ 3:50 PM   2 Comments

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Just another day

Today was an exhilarating and exhausting time in the classroom, blogging with my third graders. I send this chronology along because I think many do not realize the impact, both on the students and the teacher, of what is happening in some corners right now. This was my day:
  • Before I even leave for school, ten comments to student blogs come in. I approve them all quickly via email, hop on my bike, and get to school, huff, huff....
  • About half an hour before school starts, another six comments come in, one from a teacher at our school, and five from Gordon Brune's fifth graders (I make notes to tell my kids about all this)
  • The school day begins. Lots of business, the kids are hyped up very much, although we still have a couple weeks to go.... I tell them about the activity on their blogs, there is a lot of excitement, questions ("Did I get one?", etc). We talk about the obligation to respond in some way to comments (again!), review their options, and then I give half the class read/write time (30 min) on their blogs, and half the class does a math assignment. Later in the day we flip/flop.
  • During the day, my kids post twelve new blog articles. I approve ten of them, leave feedback for the rest... These blogs were not directed or assigned by me. I would say some of my kids are in a true writing frenzy, so postings were all over the place, from August's thoughtful I Hear Ya', to an anticipatory School from Jackson, to Hannah's wacky my golf ball named Larry! What teacher would not love this?
  • It's a regular day, in that we have math, reading groups, music, recess, lunch, art, journal writing, spelling, and so on...
  • During recess and my prep period, I have student news reporters from all classrooms come to my classroom to record news for the podcast version of the May Jr. Seahawk Newsletter - and record their thoughts about the school year for the PODCAST ONLY June edition - a first! (learned a lot in the process - more recording tomorrow)
  • During the day, my kids send countless comments to the blogs of their classmates, students around the world, teachers all over the place, and university folk - in response to the comments left on their own blogs. I do my best to screen/edit/help with all comments sent. (Teacher cringes at the thought of all the typos and misspellings missed!)
  • As I am writing this at home in the evening, two more comments come in. I approve them.

It amazes me how easily the teaching of my kids has become a round-the-clock proposition. This will sound horrific to some, but I look on it as a very exciting new way of thinking about education. I will still be teaching my third graders after school is out on June 22nd this year. I have told them I'll keep their blogs active (with their parents' OK) through the summer.

Everybody else seems to be in countdown mode, but I'm in this desperate "I've got so much more to show them and there isn't nearly enough time" mode.

Many, many thanks to those who have left comments for my kids!. It excites them, of course, to hear from people in different corners of our planet, but the end product that excites me the most is that they spend a good deal of time really reading and writing with purpose. With a purpose and will I have not seen in 25 years in the classroom.

Bookmark and Share
posted by Mark Ahlness @ 8:45 PM   8 Comments

Friday, June 02, 2006

The Class of 2015

Part of the class of 2015 will be my 22 third graders. Today we talked more about their blogs. We had talked about what will happen at the end of the year before. Today I gave them a chance to blog their thoughts - about their blogs.

I wish I had these to send to Will Richardson as he addressed 49 superintendants from NY state, to David Warlick when he spoke to a conference in Arizona, and many others. These voices speak volumes of the way kids are embracing web 2.0 technologies - if we only let them.

What they also convey is the tremendous power new technologies have to offer, in terms of motivating kids to write. I have never, in 25 years of teaching, seen anything come close to this. Below are excerpts of what they posted today. The links to their blogs are at the end of this post:

Why do we write on our blog. Do we have to? Why? I just want to know, isn’t it a simple question? The world may never know. I really like to write on my blog. It’s a strong way to express yourself with strong feelings. My blog is awesome in my opinion. I really like my blog, it’s one of the coolest things in my life! I love my blog and I don’t want to lose it. - Camden


I want a blog next year. I think I’m a better writer. I think kinder gardeners should blog. - Gus


Blogs are important because you write a lot of articles and how would you feel if it got taken away. How would you feel if someone Stole it away from you, would you care? Think about it, please think about it. - Isobel


You can write on your blog any time you want to. You can even blog from your house if you know what you are doing. If you are even on summer break you can write on your blog. - Jackson


One day in class I asked, “what will happen to the blog next year?” He said we could write all summer until next year our blog will be saved in a folder so that his new class can have a blog. No more writing will be on our blog. It will be all in the past. How horrible can this get! At least the new kids will have a blog. So SAD!! - Jacqueline


I feel proud that I have a blog. Having a blog is more fun than I thought it would be. It feels great to have a blog - Joe


Next year I don’t think I will get to write any new articles on my blog because my teacher will have a new blog. I wish I could blog until I’m out of school. I think next year I’m going to try to get my new teacher to start a blog so I can blog next year and more people can blog. - Joey


I feel so sad that we don’t get the blog next year and I really hope that our class next year can make her or he let us have a blog. I think I’m a better writer because of my blog. I’m going to miss all my writing and comments but we just NEED to leave the blog. I just hate that so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, much. But I think that the kids in Mr. Ahlness’s class next year will do a great job and I know that they will. - Hannah


Well I think for the summer I’m not really going to write articles because my computer doesn’t work. That’s why I can’t write any more articles on my blog. The other thing is that next year I’m not going to have a blog. Can you believe that? A kid without a blog, yikes! - Jose


I think other people should have a blog because it will give me a chance to comment more people and so I can get more comments too. I like blogs because you get to share a creative idea with the world. It is cool having a blog. - Logan


I feel safe when I write on my blog. I feel important when I write on my Blog. I’m going to miss writing in Mr. A’s Class. I feel like I want to write in the summer. - Tia


I think other teachers should let their kids have a blog. Even kindergartners. I think everybody should have a blog. Everybody should express his or her writing in a good way. - Abigail


We are very safe when we write. We can put our FIRST name on our blogs but last is a no-no! Because then some evil person might look you up in the phone book and go all voodoo on you!!! - August


Blogs are good; people, kids, or other people in the world can send you a comment. And when somebody sends me a comment I just get happy and send a comment back to him or her. And when I get out of school I feel happy and sad. I feel important to my blog because I wrote things that I wanted to share with EVERYBODY. - Dylan


And finally, one blog put it all together:

My blog is very important to me and I still want to keep it going. It’s hard to let go of something when you really care about it. I think that I will keep writing and writing because I want even more experience with writing so I can teach other kids to write.


My teachers appreciate my writing and I respect that. When a teacher looks at my article and says I did a good job, it makes me feel great because I know that they really do like it.


I think that other kids should blog because it’s fun and it really helps you learn more and more. Sometimes you can look at other people’s blogs and get Ideas, but you don’t want to take their whole Idea.


When I blog I have to be careful about these things: last names, addresses, phone numbers and other personal things, but I’m not stupid to put my phone number or anything like that but you never know if anyone could accidentally write anything very, very personal. You also don’t want to write inappropriate things because you are not setting a good example for the younger ones.


I’m not sure if my teacher next year will let us have a blog, but if she or he likes someone’s blog than my class can have a blog. I really don’t want to let go of my blog and I think I have to burst a tear. - Danielle


Those are just excerpts from some of the blogs. I encourage the reading of everything they have to say.

I am extremely proud of these young pioneers. I do believe they understand where their place is in the evolution of the web. They are proud to be pushing the envelope. I think they even feel a bit of responsibility for doing it well, so others may benefit from their efforts. They are a very special group.

Below are the blogs of all the 8 and 9 year olds from roomtwelve.com, the class of 2015:

Abigail
Alice
Alina P
Anthony
August
Billy
Brian
Camden
Danielle
Dylan
Gus
Hannah
Hayden
Isobel
Jackson
Jacqueline
Joe
Joey
Jose
Logan
Mariah
Michael
Ming
Tia
Tyler
technorati tags

Bookmark and Share
posted by Mark Ahlness @ 6:51 PM   6 Comments

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Brighter spots

I should know better than write after a hard day in the classroom. I'll let my previous post stay, because it's important to me that I remember the journey. It's all about the classroom right now, and the end of the year is such an incredibly loaded time.

Yesterday I had a group of "blog testers" who volunteered to help me figure out where comments and blog articles were going. As a result, I'll have my kids start blogging again today. They just need to tell me when they've posted something, so I can go look it up for approval (or editing). I think the topic will be their blogs - how they feel about them, what they'd like others to know about them. This is something Darren Kuropatwa had his kids do a few months ago. I had read the post, but forgotten about it. Thanks for the link, Jeanne!

And we finally have a few pics of us that will be appearing on the class blog and elsewhere. The first spot is our school's Young Authors' Conference. Since I'm the webmaster for the school, my kids get featured :) Actually, they're the only ones with parent permission for pics on the web. Anyway, more to come on that, and I'll have more to say on student pics on the web another time.

Bookmark and Share
posted by Mark Ahlness @ 5:53 AM   1 Comments