Tuesday, August 28, 2007

MySpace - another look

No, not MySpace in the classroom, of course.

I've had a MySpace page for a little over a year, I guess. I just wanted to see what it was like, to see the dangers, to try and understand the fear. So I have one. I've done basically nothing with it. I have a puny 3 friends. Well, they're not puny, it's just such a short list.

A couple of weeks ago my wife went on MySpace.

Here's her MySpace page.

Now you have to understand that my shock came in large part because of the reaction I had received over a year ago when I casually let it pass that I had set up a MySpace page. The earth shook. "You did what?!!" I had crossed a line of sanity. Several lines, it seemed.

That tune changed when a big-time publicist recently said my wife absolutely HAD to have, among other things, a MySpace page, like right now for an upcoming NYC recital. Things got different, fast. I am Mr. Tech Support in our household, so my work was ripping and uploading mp3 files, CD cover images, setting up an html coded profile, linking to a YouTube video, helping with passwords, etc. Once that was done, I sat back and watched, amazed.

My wife is now, just a couple of weeks later, part of a well-organized community on MySpace - mostly classical performing artists. (bonus points if you can find another edtech apostle amongst her friends) I had no idea this world was there. She has added current and former voice students (she teaches at PLU). Even more amazing. It is a very different world from blogging, but it has similarities. There is a "Twitter" sort of IM capacity, there are networks of "friends" constantly changing in size and shape. There are "bulletins". I'm only scratching the surface, because I know so little...

It is an amazing community. I find myself going from friend to friend - being intrigued over and over by the folk in her ever expanding friends list. It's surprising where you can end up in a couple of clicks. You can be on Renee Fleming's or Neil Young's site in a couple of heartbeats. Lots of junk for sure, but the networking opportunities are amazing.

So where are the teachers? Do we not need to network? Is subscribing to an rss feed for an edtech blog, one after another, manually, enough of a network? Or is there more?

MySpace is exploding. The edtech blogosphere is not even close to moving this quickly.

What is the lesson here, and can we learn anything from MySpace? Should we be there?

I am. Wanna be my friend?

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posted by Mark Ahlness @ 9:12 PM   5 Comments

Monday, August 27, 2007

In the public eye

Many thoughts have almost bubbled up into a post here this past week, but there has been a lot of competition for my time, mainly setting up my classroom for the new school year. I've put in well over a week so far on my own time. Tomorrow I HAVE to report, and it will be a day I'm finally paid for. Classroom teachers reading this are nodding their heads, uh-huh.

In the meantime...

There was recently an amazing story reported by Doug Noon about an elementary school in Alaska that turned down state bonuses for staff members because their kids had made great academic gains. The story was reported here.

There were some interesting comments left on Doug's post, including one from Melissa, in Oregon, which cited an article where the sentiment, especially in the comments, was clearly of the mind that teachers have got it made.


Which brings me to something that has been bugging me no end - that those of us in the classroom are truly helpless in the public eye. I'm talking about people commenting anonymously on blogs and other online publications having free reign to take potshots. Consider this post and following comments. The public has a field day saying whatever... The one employee who engaged in the conversation and was not anonymous is no longer employed by the school district. Would I have liked to say something there? Of course - but at what price?

My school recently had a particularly nasty incident with our school's Wikipedia entry. Somebody altered the entry with several libelous, judgemental, unsubstantiated statements. After I fixed the damage (immediately), how did we deal with it? On our own, in-house. Would it have been nice - maybe even appropriate - to be backed up by our employer? Of course.

What is my point in this ramble, exactly? I guess it's that teachers at schools are really out there on our own in this medium. You gotta watch what you say. And you are at the mercy of a potential multitude of folks who are ready to say anything, with nothing to lose, anonymously.

To all the teachers like Mary, at that school that went through the very difficult discussion about the ethics of accepting money because of the achievement of their students, I say thank you. Thanks for the uncomfortable time you are spending in the public eye. You came up with a decision that had to be incredibly divisive - and now you are exposed to all kinds of criticism, from colleagues and the public. I hope you are able to move and have a great year with your kids.

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posted by Mark Ahlness @ 7:09 PM   3 Comments

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Changing needs and expectations

I don't read it every Sunday, but today I sat down for a few minutes with the Parade magazine that came in our paper. What Kids Really Need is an amazing article telling parents about the technology needs of their kids today. Now I agree with pretty much everything they had to say, but what blew me away was that this was coming from a magazine with a readership of 71 million, that has been around since 1941. Parade is an institution in the U.S. A very mainstream, relatively conservative, lightweight, breezy Sunday read for many Americans. A couple of sections really struck me:

From "Choosing the right computer" -

The average student needs to browse the Web, write reports and communicate via e-mail. Less than $700 will buy a computer that can do all that, monitor and printer included. You’ll want to add software to protect against viruses and spyware ($30 and up, annually), a surge-protecting power strip ($10 or more) and perhaps speakers ($20 and up).

As your budget increases, so do your options for processing ease and storage capacity. After you’v e covered the computer essentials, extra RAM
(about $100 per GB) will make the computer work faster and more reliably. A larger hard drive (250 GB will cost about $50 extra) also is a worthwhile investment.

If you already have a computer or two at home, consider wireless networking. A simple router and software runs about $100, but the ability to share a single printer and Internet connection could ultimately save you money. So, too, could a home server, which will back up the files on all of your computers, so they’ll be safe if one should crash.

Then there was advice on buying a cell phone for the kids - with a nod to the fact that they are banned in many school districts. But this part had me nodding and shaking my head at the same time: "Computer must-haves" -

A computer can cost $600 or $6,000. Here are some features you don’t want to be without:
• At least 1 GB RAM. The more “random access memory” you have, the more programs your little mulit-taskers can run at once.
• At least a 120 GB hard drive. This “permanent memory” stores programs (like Word or Excel), games, photos and music.
• An external hard drive. Most operating systems let you automatically back up your files. If the computer crashes, the prom photos and the senior thesis will be safe.
• Security software. It’s essential to protect against viruses, phishing and other nasty cybertricks.

Made me wonder just how many TEACHERS have this type of equipment, either at home or on their desks at school. Hmmm.... At home I'm squeaking by, just keeping up with those specs, but in my classroom, the slowest computer is my district issued "teacher workstation", which doesn't even come close. If we teachers are expected to lead, well, this is just so obviously out of whack....

This also made me wonder (again) if the day is finally coming closer when those technology in schools naysayers will finally give up asking, "yes, but does it increase academic achievement?" Will they finally now begin to realize that it just doesn't matter - we live with technology, so we teach with it, too - duh. Just like the pencil, the light bulb, the TV, and on, and on...

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posted by Mark Ahlness @ 12:07 PM   2 Comments

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Finally!


New computers
Originally uploaded by mahlness
It's happening, at last. Most of the equipment I bought with grant funds just arrived a couple of days ago: 10 CPU's, 10 LCD 19" monitors, 5 laptops. Hours and days of work ahead ahead of me - heck, they're not even plugged in yet, never mind configured, added to the network, etc, etc - but it's pretty exciting nonetheless. Here are 8 of the 12 desktops - the other 4 will be across the room. One laptop on the projection cart, one for me on my desk, and three... somewhere else...

Things will look a little different when the desks are back :)

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posted by Mark Ahlness @ 5:46 PM   4 Comments

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Night Baseball in Seattle

Sexon the hero 2Last night I witnessed part of a comeback that made everybody (at least the 37,000 Seattle Mainers fans at Safeco Field) feel good, extra good. Richie Sexon, mired in a really horrible hitting slump, hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth. I lost a latte, betting he'd go down swinging as he had in his two previous at bats. Here he's mobbed at home plate. Yes, that's the Mariners' Moose waving the flag.

First pitchGoing backwards in the evening, the ceremonial first pitch was thrown by the Burger King guy, I think. Weird.

But my favorite moment of the evening was reviewing some of the pictures I had in my camera, and discovering that I had captured a modern day version of a famous painting, Night Baseball, by Marjorie Phillips. Joe DiMaggio is at the plate, Yankees vs. the Washington Senators, 1951:

Baseball at Night
my picture is a little more glitzy, but the moment frozen in time is the same..

I use Night Baseball every year in art, as a prompt that sets everybody off on a chalk pastel picture of a game involving a ball. It's great fun, and it was great to step away from a lot of much more serious things for a few hours last night.

My whole collection of shots from the evening is on Flickr, here. Thinking of you, Jeff Utecht, now back in Shanghai, you woulda loved this game.

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posted by Mark Ahlness @ 8:47 AM   2 Comments

Friday, August 10, 2007

Fear

I have been stewing.

Ever have something just awful happen, and you can't say something? Ever have your dreams dashed and you can't say anything? Ever have people you don't know contact you because you might be able to shed some light? Ever weigh every single word in a phone call? Ever use personal email, and home phone numbers exclusively? Ever been so angry you could just spit, and you can't even get up a wet mouth? Ever really want to trust somebody, but you can't let yourself?

Fear does that to you.

This where I am.

The departure of the two people responsible for the development of L3RN last week has shocked and rocked me. The wind of promise is out of my sails. My hopes are taking on water.

So I send cryptic emails, trying to find out more - and giving up a carefully measured very little of what I know. I lose sleep and second guess myself to ridiculous levels.

Fear. It is a powerful silencer.

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posted by Mark Ahlness @ 6:19 PM   10 Comments

Monday, August 06, 2007

8 random facts

Sarah tagged me on this, so here goes...


The Rules:

  • Post these rules before you give your facts
  • List 8 random facts about yourself
  • At the end of your post, choose (tag) 8 people and list their names, linking to them
  • Leave a comment on their blog, letting them know they’ve been tagged
  1. I love grape jelly, and make it myself, from grapes I grow.

  2. I was one of the first kids in my kindergarten class to learn how to tie his shoes.

  3. I've only read the first 3 Harry Potter books (for shame!)

  4. Heights scare me.

  5. I prefer hot over cold weather.

  6. My vision used to be 20-10

  7. I have this fantasy of getting my 1967 Vespa running again...

  8. Not once have I ever been to school or taught on my November birthday.

I think the grown-ups are having too much fun with this, so...

I know the rules say you're only supposed to tag 8 people. But how can I possibly choose only 8 from my last year's class of third graders? So, here's a list of ALL of them, linked to their blogs. I'll cross post to the class blog first, then I gotta start leaving comments for them. Not all have written this summer, but let's see who responds:

Tags: AnaLisa, Bailey, Casey, Chelsea, Christopher, Delaney, Elyjah, Ethan, Jaylynn, Jonathan, Keean, Kyra, Kody, Lindsay, Logan, Maribeth, Nathan, Nicole, Riley1, Riley2, Ryan

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posted by Mark Ahlness @ 9:11 AM   1 Comments

Sunday, August 05, 2007

L3RN in the News

There has been quite a buzz lately about this. If you have not heard yet, not to worry - you will soon. L3RN is Seattle's entry into a school district providing safe, yet very cutting edge, venues for its students, parents, and teachers. The media has picked it up, from right here in blogland, to newspapers, to e-zines, to print magazines. Here's a list of references/reviews I've compiled as of August 5, 2007:

This is only a partial list for something that is still not officially released. Teachers (like me) are trying it out in the summer, planning its use in their classrooms next school year. I have lots of questions, but it is extremely exciting to see my district going forward - and indeed, leading, in the use of technology use/integration for our kids in this 21st century!

I know there are many more mentions and reviews. If you have more citations, please leave them as comments here. Thanks!



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posted by Mark Ahlness @ 5:33 PM   0 Comments

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Why I'm excited

Update, 8/4: for a well written perspective on this, read Andy Carvin's The Return of the Original Edublogger on learning.now

One might think I had just figured out how I was going to use Twitter in my classroom, or that Flickr was going to be unblocked, or that my classroom was going to have a wireless connection next year. No, I'm not excited about technology in education (well it IS related... read on).

What I'm excited about is teaching. About caring. About reaching and touching each and every student. I'm excited that so many more people can now be hearing that good message. If that sounds mushy-gushy, oh well. So what.

Louis Schmier is blogging.

Yes, you read that right. Louis Schmier, professor of history at Valdosta State University. The author of hundreds of "Random Thoughts", distributed on the Internet via email lists since 1993. The man who was blogging before the term "web" in web-log even existed (well, barely).

Louis Schmier's Random Thoughts are now blog posts - all of them.

Subscribe in your favorite rss reader. Add del.icio.us links to the posts that mean something to you, or that you want to return to later. It is such a kick to be able to link to his classic To Be A Teacher, as a blog post from 1994 - yes! Use the search feature to see how often he wrote about "blueberries", for instance. And now, in his latest Random Thoughts, you can leave comments for Louis - and everybody else. Huge thanks go to James Farmer for letting this happen, and for lighting the way in the conversion of hundreds of web pages to blog posts. This was an enormous undertaking, long overdue. I've been the html guy for way too long. Now it is all in Louis' hands, where it should be.

So, without further ado, I present to you an enormous body of incredible work, 600+ Random Thoughts (in a blog) about teaching, caring, and being a real human being:

The Random Thoughts of Louis Schmier


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posted by Mark Ahlness @ 12:42 PM   3 Comments