Tuesday, May 27, 2008

A large neighborhood walkabout


An OLPC Neighborhood
Originally uploaded by mahlness
I was eating lunch today at my desk, as I often do when I'm way far behind in my classroom. Regular laptop at the right, XO on the left. When I clicked on the XO neighborhood, I did not see anything like this picture, when the xochat.org jabber server was going full steam last December.

Today I saw our 4 XO's, as usual - but there was this chat icon showing as well. Unusual, lately. So I clicked on it, and soon I was in a chat conversation with a guy fron Zagreb, Croatia. Nice guy, has a couple of kids, etc.

It's amazing to me that this can happen at all. And it happens so easily. This fellow had connected to the jabber server near Seattle. All four of our classroom XO's connect there.

I'm especially grateful to have these XO's right now in a district where any kind of chat, Skype, IM and so on is forbidden. This is definitely under the radar. So it's nice to get out once in a while. (grin)

This is one of those times at the end of the school year when I wish I had more time with my kids. There is so much more to teach and share, and I can't possibly get it all in. Here is a smattering of things I want to get to in the next three weeks (ha):
- connecting my class with kids/adults elsewhere via these XO's in chat, video, or Classroom Presenter.
- getting a collection of books for kids ready to roll on our XO's, so silent reading choices will include using our 4 XO's as e-book readers (I'm close on this!)
- doing at least ONE VoiceThread with my class!

(while writing this in the evening at home, the xo on my left showed a chat invitation, and I joined of course - this time a couple of people, one from Seattle)

lost my train of thought here, but never mind...

I find this sort of connection extremely exciting. We all know the world is so huge, and we are all just grains of sand on one of many beaches. I think this every time I fly across the US and look down at the vast expanse ("there a million stories in the Naked City") out the window - which goes on for hour after hour...

So when you get a chance to reach out and make contact with one of those grains of sand, it is extraordinary. If you're from different beaches, well how cool! We are meeting with a few variables in common of course, but still... the randomness is stunning, the opportunity is unprecedented, and the potential for GOOD is so enormous.

To Davor and Julien: it was nice to meet you today. Let's connect again soon.

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posted by Mark Ahlness @ 8:04 PM   3 Comments

Monday, May 26, 2008

End of an era

I just posted the following on the blog of The Earth Day Groceries Project. This was not an easy decision:


Wow! An amazing 197 schools sent in pictures of their efforts on the Earth Day Groceries Project in 2008. And 35 0f them were from Romania - go figure... If anybody knows what happened in Romania to cause this big spike, please let me know.

Anyway, all pictures sent in have been placed on new web pages. We'll probably top 200 school submissions by the end of May, a record by a long shot.

Unfortunately, The Earth Day Groceries Project will not be able to host pictures for schools from now on. We will certainly add links to other web pages and collections with pictures, but...

The issue is time. It takes an average of 10 minutes to convert and archive an email with picture attachments into a web page for a school. For 200 web pages, that's a lot of minutes - and way too many hours to add to my teaching life, even if I got paid for it :) Many thanks to all the teachers and group leaders who have sent in their pictures over the years - they are incredible! They will always remain on the website as testimony to the comittment of millions of schoolchildren to saving our Earth.

I'll close this chapter in the project by sharng the very first picture from another school ever sent in to the web site. From 1996, Royston Elementary in Royston, BC, Canada - thanks, Kelsey!

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posted by Mark Ahlness @ 9:26 PM   0 Comments

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Another list is gone, almost

Change is hard, and some (of us, myself included) find it hard to deal with. This one is more of a loss, but it struck me as a big deal.

I just got an email from Ernie Anderson, the moderator of Ednet, one of the longest running educational technology lists out there. He's been in the hospital, apologized for the list silence lately - and asked if anybody wanted to take over the list - now at "slightly less than 200 subscribers".

This made me real sad, for a couple of reasons:
  • Ednet has been there since 1992. There is a lot of important history and good work that has come out of that list, a couple of particular interest to me - I posted the first invitation to join in The Earth Day Groceries Project on Ednet. It has carried Louis Schmier's Random Thoughts since he began writing them in 1993. And many fine moments and conversations over the years. I will never forget Prescott Smith, moderator in the mid-nineties, sending a note to the list where he mentioned me and Bonnie Bracey in the same sentence, in a complimentary way. I printed that one out, and you better believe I still have it.
  • It triggered in me the thought of how far we have to go in schools to get out of the world of lists. Yes, I'm sad to see Ednet on its last legs, but even sadder when it reminds me of just how far the education community has to go to move beyond this web 1.0 list technology. It's just not where we should be, right now. I cringe when I think about a comment (I think) I left for Will Richardson, taking him to task for not being more involved in the educational list community. Yeesh. He responded very nicely and apologetically. Will, I'm, sorry. The list is dead - or will be, soon.
  • It reminded me of my own struggles moderating a list for educators in Seattle for many years, tictech. It was very successful for many years, but this past January I closed it down, fed up with getting slammed off list by folks for things I said on the list - and also feeling it was time to MOVE ON, for goodness sake. I started a Tictech 2.0 Ning site, a group on Diigo... we'll see where it goes. It was an extremely hard decision to terminate that list. Although I owned/moderated it for 7 or 8 years, it was not founded by me. In my opinion it leaves a void in Seattle that has not been filled.

There are, of course, thousands of Internet lists that are doing amazing and useful things. A couple I'm on that I love:

  • Our PTSA list at my school. It's extremely useful and provides an additional dimension to our school community.
  • Tweeters, an (unmoderated) list for birders in the Pac NW. At over 2,000 subscribers, I think, this list amazes me. There are online tiffs, of course, but to have such civility on a wide open list with so many members - well, I think it's a tribute to all its members, and to a strong list owner.

Then there are education lists that I just go ho-hum over, these days - because I get my information about technology in education other ways. I don't have time to read through every post like I used to, but I stay subscribed .... Edtech - a biggie, dealing with many technical questions, and Andy Carvin's wwwedu, - the one that is closest to home for my leanings and politics - but I rarely post there any more. I've done a few guest moderator stints for Andy over the years. In its heyday, it was one jumpin' list.

But people are moving on. I think.

  • How many people in their 20's and 30's check out a social networking site with their morning coffee before they check their email? How many educators (of any age) do that?
  • How many educators check a news aggregator like Bloglines or Netvibes, etc - before they check their email? Does the percentage who do reflect that of the general public?

As I said, I'm sad to hear about Ednet. It may live on with a new moderator, but its number of subscribers has dwindled. I am incredibly grateful for the things I learned on Ednet, for the encouragement I got, and for the people who stretched my thinking. A list message from Bonnie Bracey came in while I was writing this...

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posted by Mark Ahlness @ 3:19 PM   0 Comments

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Year of the XO, part 2: Memorial Day


Memorial Day relaxing 2
Originally uploaded by mahlness
Made it to this benchmark in the school year, one more time - yippee skippee! While other teachers have hung it up for the year, I'm looking at 3+ weeks to go. I'm not complaining, though. The end of a school year is always very sweet and intense - kind of like the dessert so incredible you can only handle it once a year...

I am writing this from my backyard, on XO laptop #2 (Earthday). I just took the picture of me sitting here with it- and uploaded it to Flickr. There simply is no better laptop for the outdoors than this little guy... no worries about spilling on it, dropping it, overheating, etc - and it's so easy to tote around. Plus, it's great in sunlight (not always an issue in Seattle - but today is awfully nice).

When I first heard about the xo laptop, nearly two years ago, I was very skeptical. But I bought one in November anyway, because I thought it might be a good thing in my classroom. So here I sit, running an experimental "build" (703, it's on all 4 of them), because I needed to upgrade to run a program we were going to demo in my classsroom for some university students. Nothing could have been further from my mind back in November... and now I'm planning/plotting sharing that activity with others, via jabber server - I know it will work :)

I'll write more here about the XO experience in my classroom, but for now I'll just enjoy the rest of the afternoon with Earthday - hanging out, batching it, while my wife is with her family, dodging tornadoes in Kansas.

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posted by Mark Ahlness @ 4:20 PM   2 Comments

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Instincts

I have not had an hour like this - ever.

Yesterday in my third grade classroom I was at a teacher computer. I invited the whole class, in seven student computer groups, to join me in an activity, a series of questions about our recent field trip to Seattle's Pike Place Market.

The medium was a series of "slides", as you might see in PowerPoint. The questions were written on the slides, which were a series of pictures we took at the Market. The kids were to draw directly on their computer screens or enter text to answer the questions. Then they were to "submit" them to me.

XO Classroom Presenter demo 2I saw their sumbissions immediately. I could share any group's answers instantly on all the computers, with a couple of clicks. I moved them all to a different slide when it was time, and they worked on a new task - then they sent in answers, changed their answers even, resubmitted, etc, etc. Amazing and mind boggling, truly.

I circulated, laptop cradled in my arm, chatting with groups at their computers, clicking on this or that to focus the learning, asking for more, congratulating, and so on. Finally, I turned them loose, unlocking their computers, so they could navigate from slide to slide, to finish the rest of the slides - and to go back and change their submissions on previous ones.

We were all on XO laptops. Eight of them.

Sometimes when you follow your instincts, you get lucky.

XO Classroom Presenter demo 1What these four University of Washington students developed is amazing. They worked on it for four months, I think. They had vision, saw a need, and came up with a possible solution. I think what they developed is remarkable. The program was stable and robust, working almost perfectly in a classroom of third graders who certainly did give it a good run...

In the midst of the excitement and chaos I took a few pictures - and I kicked myself for not taking any video.

XO Classroom Presenter demo 3Instincts - it's important to trust and follow them. I bought an XO laptop because it felt right, and I thought it would be great with the kids I teach. I ended up with FOUR in my classroom. I replied to a group of university students in a forum setting because they were working on a program for the XO, were looking for a classroom, and were in our neighborhood. It felt right - and look where we ended up.

To think that this program could run in a remote village anywhere in the world, even one without electricity - well, that really excites me. I think a few of my kids got that as well.

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posted by Mark Ahlness @ 7:36 PM   2 Comments

Friday, May 16, 2008

Year of the XO, part 1

I imagine I will write more along these lines as the school year ends, hence the post title. I simply must, because of the impact these little green and white laptops have had in my classroom, and my life. When the school year started last September, nothing was further from my mind.

XO's in Roomtwelve 1I'll start from the (almost) end. After school today I met for the third time with University of Washington students who have developed an innovative piece of software for the XO. This was the dry run - it went pretty well, I think. In a few days we'll try it out with my third graders. They'll be working like crazy in the meantime to iron out bugs.

Several things strike me right now.

    XO's in Roomtwelve 2
  • It's great to have the chance to work with university students in my classroom. Oh, I've had student teachers before, but this is different. These guys are in the computer science program, and they're about to graduate.
  • It surprises me how little I hear about direct collaboration between public elementary schools and universities - in any field. But in computer science especially - good grief, if those departments started looking at preparing their graduates for successful careers that included a little more recognition of societal need...
  • XO's in Roomtwelve 3
  • This comes at a time when OLPC is fraught with political posturing and battles over development and future vision. Heck, I'm so excited about the potential of these things in my classroom, I can hardly stand it... I want to scream at the doubters, critics, and power grabbers, "Hey, hold on. LOOK at this!"
  • But last, I am encouraged - by the vision, innovation, and determination of the young men I've just met. I'm hoping there are a lot more out there like these guys. They are our future of course...

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posted by Mark Ahlness @ 7:13 PM   2 Comments

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Project Athena

In the mid-nineties I wrote and collaborated with some very talented people who thought the Internet might be a good thing to use in education...

Today I got an email from a teacher who mentioned a colleague had been using some of my instructional materials for years - but they thought the site they came from was down, and did I know where those materials were now? They are/were called "Task Cards". What a flashback.

Those task cards are on Project Athena, funded by a NASA grant. Man, those were heady times. The fact that the site endures, and is used, over a dozen years later, astounds me. It speaks to the quality and vision of the project creators - and to the capability that we have to keep ANYthing of value - forever.

The image here is one I developed in response to what I (and a couple of others) thought was a less than adequate design for the home page. Aaack, politics are here forever. The page lives on in my school's website here.

I haven't used the site (or the materials I developed for it) in my third grade classroom for 6 or 7 years.

Serious personal and educational whiplash.

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posted by Mark Ahlness @ 11:11 PM   2 Comments

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Silent Running

I loved the 1972 sci-fi movie on space exploration with Bruce Dern. This is where many classroom teachers are right now - under the radar, behind the sonar... running silently in classrooms, working hard to wrap up another school year - and still keep exploring.

This blog has been very silent lately. Here's what's running in one classroom:

  • My third graders blog regularly, and they do so very easily - to post a blog article is just a couple more (easy) steps they take independently when they finish writing.
  • Counting our 4 XO laptops, we have 21 computers in my classroom of 25 third graders. None of them is a donated junker.
  • We just finished coordinating the largest educational activity coordinated on the Internet, for the 15th year.
  • In a few days, we will have 8 XO laptops in our classroom, to demo a project developed by some U. of Washington students - an exciting new XO program.

Some of this may be news to readers here, but it is definitely news to my school and district colleagues.

I encourage school district leaders, tech administrators, tech integration spcialists - anyone who cares about technology in our schools - to visit as many classrooms as possible as the school year winds down. Check out what's happening first hand. What's under the surface may well surprise you.

For me right now, it's good to run silent, run deep. It is quiet, the water is very cold - but it is oh so exciting.

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posted by Mark Ahlness @ 10:06 PM   0 Comments

Monday, May 05, 2008

Coming up for air

It's not that I've given up on this blog - far from it. I am pitifully backlogged with ideas and partially written drafts. But Earth Day was a couple of weeks ago...


The Earth Day Groceries Project now has a record 174 pages on Pictures for 2008 - and there are 5 more that came in today. Last weekend I caught up. At an average of 10 minutes to transform each of them from an email with picture attachments to a school web page - well, it was a big task.

This is certainly the last year I will continue picture inclusion the way I have for the last 14 years. From now on, it'll have to be "links only" - where pictures will have to be on a school server or Flickr or something.... This is not an easy decision, as I know it means so much for so many schools to have their pictures "on" the site.... I just cannot do it anymore - because of the time it takes.


In the meantime, what or who lit a fire under Romania this year?!! Nearly 30 reports from schools who participated - and nearly that many picture submissions from those schools. Man, I wish I spoke the language...


Anyway, it feels very good to pull even and come up for air - temporarily. I look forward to getting back into the web 2.0 mix again, real soon.

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posted by Mark Ahlness @ 8:33 PM   2 Comments