Friday, February 29, 2008

Note to Room Twelve

I posted this on my classroom blog at the start of my second day out of my classroom, to attend NCCE 2008. The kids could not see the picture because Flickr is blocked in our district - and hence, could not see our FOURTH XO laptop. OMG, wait 'til Monday.... (thanks, Glenn and Tami!). This was the first time in several years I'd missed a day of school. My anxiety was obviously higher than my kids'.

Getting ready for NCCE day 2Hi Room Twelve, this is Mr. Ahlness. I talked with Mrs. Luke last night, and she said things went really well in class on Thursday, and that many of you were very helpful to her and each other. Wow! That sure made me feel good - nice job.

And your writing - oh my goodness! I checked my email at 1:30 in the middle of my presentation (to about 50 teachers), and there were 28 messages!! I approved a couple, some we looked at quickly and decided to wait on, but most we did not even get to - sorry! You wrote so much!! You should be proud of yourselves.

I'm about to hop on the bus to go back downtown, but I thought I'd leave a little picture for you. You won't be able to see it at school on Friday, but maybe you can check from home over the weekend. See you Monday! - Mr. A.


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posted by Mark Ahlness @ 7:02 AM   3 Comments

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Follow NCCE in Seattle

I just set up a Hitchhikr page for the Northwest Council for Computer Education (NCCE), February 26-28, 2008 in Seattle. Head there for latest blog posts and flickr images tagged with ncce2008.

Grab the rss feed while you're there, so they'll all come to you.

So if you're going, or if you comment on any activities happening at NCCE, please use this Technorati Tag:

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posted by Mark Ahlness @ 4:27 PM   0 Comments

Friday, February 22, 2008

Twitter, finally

I've read lots of posts like this one. I bet many have. I'm not rolling my eyes anymore. Here goes.

I finally broke down yesterday and jumped in to Twitter. I had held off for a variety of reasons, most related to not having enough time to do everything as it was. There was also this fear of getting involved in one more really addictive computer activity. And I really could not see what the value might possibly be.

I had set up an account months ago, and followed one person, David Warlick. I figured he was safe :) There the account sat, until yesterday. It was Mid-winter break. My wife was off doing extra work stuff. I had no excuse.

It was amazing getting started. Choosing people to "Follow", getting emails saying so and so is "Following" you, etc. Finally figuring out something worthy to say. Figuring out how to indicate an individual when you're replying to somebody in the chaos of a free for all conversation with hundreds, thousands of speakers. I'm currently following around 100, and being followed by about 50. Sounds kind of creepy at first.

If there was "Twitter for Dummies" on hand, it probably would have been helpful. Too late, I'm figuring it out on my own, like everybody else.

There are the conference folks talking: Shareski, Richardson, Levine, etc. There is the earth rhythm, as eastern N. America folks turn out the lights (except for Vicki Davis), folk out west keep going, and those in Asia start to wake up... The exchanges are funny, informative, meaningless, helpful, questioning - what a wide range.

So is it any good? Well, yes. It is amazing in a way that is hard to describe. I've seen some incredible work I flat out would have missed. Stuff I will use. Great ideas have been flying in front of my eyes constantly. And I've just been on for one day.

So there you go, my "I'm on Twitter" post. I kinda feel like one of the last edtech people in the world to jump in, and I'm sorry I held off so long. But it's good to be in there.

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posted by Mark Ahlness @ 3:45 PM   6 Comments

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

An XO Tale

OK, so I finally took the plunge and put together a little VoiceThread preso. The tipping point in this was discovering that it is unblocked at school! Nothing fancy here, I just used the pictures the kids had taken and are stored on our local server. Did it using my laptop's mike, as I can't get voice recording to work on our cpu's.

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posted by Mark Ahlness @ 1:06 PM   1 Comments

Sunday, February 17, 2008

XO Joy

I know it seems like I've gone off the deep end with all this talk here, and in other places, about the XO laptop. Well, sometimes things happen, and you have to decide if you're on the train or off. I'm on, and my classroom is a marvelous mix of exploration and chaos right now. It's exhausting sometimes. Mostly, it's just so much fun.

XOXOXO cLast week my classroom received another donation of an XO. We had our first donation a couple of weeks earlier. I had brought in the one that I bought right after Christmas vacation. So my kids were pretty amazed. It was funny, in some ways. I told them, exasperated, that I had just figured out how they could share TWO XO's - and now we had THREE, for goodness sake. They thought this was pretty cool, and wondered if we'd be getting more...

It's not like we don't have any other computers - we're swimming in them at this point. The XO's have put us perilously close to 1:1. Just when I thought I had all computer management issues worked out, we have three more.

But these three are so different. They connect to the internet (and thus the kids' blogs), but they can't print to our printers. They can chat and instantly share applications with each other, but they can't get to all the kids' work saved on our network. One of the biggest hurdles is it's difficult to show the kids how to use them, and find enough time for them to explore on them. It's not like a different OS, or platform - it's more like using a computer that uses a totally different language - that also does totally different things.

XOXOXO bWe are having a truly great time with them. This past week they started producing PowerPoint presentations about our XO's. They were taking pictures of them, working with a partner, still learning PowerPoint (only the second time they've used it) - but having a bast. They were almost done when we got another one - so we all rolled our eyeballs in joy as they took pictures of the three, and had to change slide content. Some of the presentations turned out pretty good, and I'll put 3 or 4 of the best online, soon. Naturally, we will be doing video later on....

Waterproof XOThen there are the things you just never do. Like send kids to different parts of the school to see if they can still chat with each other. Good grief. We are still experimenting with the range of the mesh network - it is definitely bigger than from our WAP. But I knew I had really gone too far when I found myself pouring water on an XO keyboard so my kids could take a picture of the XO's waterproof qualities for their presentations. I really did this, I can't believe it. Of course the XO was fine.

This joy of exploration with children is one of the bonuses that comes with being a teacher. I don't get to do it every day, but I'm really thankful when it comes.

And yes, the kids are writing about our XO's. They have blogged their initial impressions (when we only had one), so there will definitely be more.


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posted by Mark Ahlness @ 4:27 PM   4 Comments

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Being a Part of the Process

Can't remember if I've ever posted about politics here before.... Here goes.

I attended my precinct's democratic caucus today at my local high school. I'd never been to a caucus before. I always thought a caucus was some sort of old fashioned throwback they used in places like Iowa. Probably served hotdishes at them....

Wrong in so many ways, and I am so glad I went. Turnout was huge. Excitement was everywhere. People scrambled to figure out what to do. When we divided up into our precinct groups, we got down to business.

(To get an idea of the look of it all, head to this post on the West Seattle Blog. The first two pictures are from the caucus at my own school. Also note the 32 comments in the 2 hours following the post, as caucus goers shared their results)

First, we had to elect a leader. We did. Somebody (actually a group) read through all the instructions in our packet. It was kind of like being on a jury. Except we had 45 adults crowded into a high school classroom. About 90% of our group had never been to a caucus before.

After a group counted everybody's initial declarations, it was announced Clinton 13, Obama 31.

Anybody had a chance to speak for up to 60 seconds. About a dozen did. I spoke briefly as a long time third grade teacher who thought the right candidate was the one who would change the lives the most for those kids as they grew up. (Had to be there to know who I thought that was - sorry).

Then everyone was asked if they wanted to change their candidate preference. Nobody did. One woman who had not decided was asked if she had a preference. She said Obama. Holy crud, I thought. How different this process was from stepping into a private voting booth.

We split up into two groups to select delegates. The Obama group got to choose 3, the Clinton group chose 1. Those delegates will go to a couple more gatherings - at the county and then the state levels - to represent us.

I personally knew or recognized about 1/4 of the people in the room. Pretty good, I thought, for city dwellers these days. All those summer block parties...

In the end it was a fantastic experience in participatory democracy. On the way out, I stopped with several others to watch a very spirited precinct in a lobby area of the school still going through the 60 seconds to speak about their candidates. So much passion. Everybody clapped for everybody (well, most of the time).

I walked home with a new acquaintance neighbor whose daughter is best friends with one of the kids in my classroom. A small world, brought even closer together by this chance to participate in a unique experience.

(I recommend In Praise of Chaotic Caucuses by Eli Sanders for a well written description of the caucus process)

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posted by Mark Ahlness @ 5:11 PM   1 Comments

A Tale of Two XO's

I haven't had so much fun just playing, since I got my Lincoln Logs set. And this time it was at school.

XO at Barnes and NobleI had bought an XO laptop, and my kids had enjoyed exploring with it. They had blogged about their initial impressions. Some had even read from their blogs on it at a Barnes and Noble "Coffeehouse Night".

A week ago my classroom received a donation of a second XO laptop. Management of "fair" access to the first one in my third grade classroom had been a challenge, to say the least. Then all of a sudden we had TWO.

(Larry, if you are reading here, you have no idea - THANK YOU!)

Anyway, there we were with two of the coolest things you can imagine for an 8 or 9 year old. Sitting on my desk, next to my grown-up laptop.

XO chat 1Yesterday I somehow figured out how the two XO's could chat, via the built in mesh network. This I had heard about, but when I saw it in action, it was amazing. When my kids saw it, well they just about came unglued. The next time we tried it, it didn't work. So we worked on it, me and the kids.

Today, we finally figured out the procedure for starting a chat, extending an invitation to chat to another XO, the acceptance of that invitation, and getting started.

Once the connection was made, all else was easy. Instant IM mode: capital letters disappeared, grammar/spelling entered a different dimension... The kids were entranced.

XO chat 3I had let our new XO sit on the desk of our "student of the week" for 2 days. She could use it whenever she had a free moment. That was bad enough, but imagine the chorus of "Not Fair" when a couple of kids got to actually "chat" with her from the other XO. We dealt with that, weathered that storm. They know their time will come. But waiting is hard.

Enjoying this success during my lunch, sitting at my desk, I wondered whether you could share other applications on the mesh network. Silly me. Besides chat, I found "write" could be shared. It was kind of like having two keyboards with input to the same document - but not side by side. They could be a long ways apart - like maybe even from one side of a village to the other... this will be amazing, I think.

But when I found I could share "Record", I knew I really had something. Take a picture on your XO, and the other XO sees it. Record a video on your XO, and the other XO sees it. And obviously vice-versa. You don't have to "send" anything to the other XO - it is just THERE, instantly. It was mind boggling.

XO chat 4As you might imagine, when I showed my kids, they went nuts. I joined them. Can't remember a time when I had so much fun in the classroom. The school day ended way too soon.

Somebody might ask, "yes, but were you teaching anything, and were your kids learning anything?" Duh.

During the day we talked about what it might be like in a village somewhere where there was no electricity - but many of the kids had XO laptops, powered by hand cranks or pull strings. We talked about what it might be like for a child sitting in a little cottage sending a message to one - or many other - kids in the village on an XO. We talked, and they thought, about what life might be like in that kind of world.

XO chat 2We are just beginning to understand the potential of this amazing machine, just beginning to understand the collaborative vision of its creators, and just beginning to understand that there is a big wide world out there, and that our life on it is blessed with good fortune.


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posted by Mark Ahlness @ 12:44 AM   6 Comments

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Our XO Laptop

Just posted to my classroom blog:

We just added one more computer to our classroom. Now, we have lots of fast computers - 12 desktops and 5 laptops. So you might think the newest addition would be REALLY fast. It's not. It's the slowest one, and the smallest.

It is the XO Laptop, from OLPC (One Laptop Per Child). What it lacks in speed and size, it make up for in its very cool design and its ability to do many things.

Blogging on our XOFor the past two weeks, the students in Room Twelve have been trying it out. Here are some of their initial impressions, after just half an hour apiece on our XO:

About Our XO

ps - to the kids in Room Twelve.... word has it that we will probably be getting another one!


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posted by Mark Ahlness @ 5:54 PM   0 Comments