Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Happy Earth Day

(posted to Tweeters, on Earth Day)

Most folks around here know Marv Breece as a fabulous birder, a great teacher, and an all around good guy. He's also a wonderful photographer and a very generous soul.

For the fifth year in a row, Marv has allowed his pictures to be made into specially resized desktop wallpaper for The Earth Day Groceries Project - the largest educational activity on the Internet.

My third grade classroom is currently encircled with some of the most amazing computer desktop screens you can imagine. There is something special about Marv's pictures. People walk into my third grade classroom and gasp.

Check them out - they're available in both full and wide screen:

http://www.earthdaybags.org/gswallpaper.htm

Thanks Marv, and Happy Earth Day everyone!

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posted by Mark Ahlness @ 9:01 PM   1 Comments

Sunday, April 19, 2009

A Testing Tale

I started this yesterday, and it got way too long for a blog post - and I wasn't even a third of the way through all I wanted to say. So I will say less, include a few pictures, and leave it at that.

Preparation:
Which number line is right?Getting ready for the WASL (Washington Assessment of Student Learning) started two weeks before we took the test. I was especially concerned about how well prepared my kids would be in math, using a "spiraling" curriculum. Then there was this number line fiasco.

The Test:
TestingWell, in my third grade classroom, nobody cried, and nobody threw up. But I wish you could have seen the terror on the faces I looked out on as we finally got ready to start. It continues to disturb me greatly, the impact of this ridiculous testing on our young people. If this is not abuse.....

I was not allowed to look at the tests or their answers. I was not allowed to tell my kids if they were doing well. If I saw somebody accidentally turn two pages and skip a page, I was not allowed to tell them. Gotta tell ya, it was like going to Pluto to take a test.

The Art:
WASL DoodlesIf the kids finished early (95+% of them did every day), I told them they could draw, period. With a pencil only, and only on 8.5x11 newsprint. I didn't want them hurrying through the test so they could get out their special markers or whatever, and have a really great time if they got done fast.

Towards the end of the week, I started putting up their "doodles" on a poster in the hallway outside our classroom. Some very interesting artwork was produced.

The Writing:
In the third grade WASL, kids take reading for 2 days and math for 2 days. In another attempt to salvage something from the experience, I asked them to write about the WASL. I gave them a little time to write each day after the test, and then I asked them to post all their thoughts from the 4 days of testing to their blogs on Friday.

Their writings about the WASL are all compiled on one page here. It's a pretty long page, and a few of the kids are experimenting with html formatting in a wysiwyg editor on classblogmesiter, but you'll get the idea.

The Snacks:
And hey, I'm not the only teacher who pulls out snacks at testing time! Check Doug Noon's great piece on testing in his classroom. I think my kids had it all over some others, in terms of snack quality, but you'll have to read what they said.

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posted by Mark Ahlness @ 2:14 PM   4 Comments

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

My Bentwood Box, Chief Seattle

I'm incredibly honored to have this bentwood box in my classroom. It was made for me by Wes Felty, after he saw my original painting. Incredible gift.

I finally added a video Wes did a few years ago to YouTube and to Chief Seattle's Speech of 1854: Chief Seattle's reply to a Government offer to purchase the remaining Salish lands:


Thanks, Wes!

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posted by Mark Ahlness @ 9:01 PM   0 Comments

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Shifting gears, finding encouraging signs

Today I found out that it may be up to six months before Sugar on a Stick becomes really usable on my XO laptops. I had been getting a little discouraged, and I didn't know if it was really going to happen. So I was relieved to know that it may work, eventually.

XO Classroom Presenter demo 1So I took a deep breath and started thinking about where I might go with Sugar on a Stick right now. I recalled an exciting time from a year ago where my classroom was the field test for a new piece of software for the XO called Classroom Presenter for the XO. It had been developed by students from the University of Washington.

I had written about that incredible experience, and I thought now might be a good time to see if their program would run on a PC running Sugar on a Stick.

Classroom Presenter - SoaS1I used an XO to be the "teacher", and Sugar on a Stick on my Thinkpad as a student. After being sure they were both on the same jabber server, both had the program loaded, and both had the slide deck loaded, we connected. The program worked flawlessly. From my little XO, I was able to direct the student computer to any slide. I also received immediately any response to questions or drawings on the slide deck from the student computer. I could unlock the student computer so it could go to any of the slides, and I could lock the computer, so it could see what I, as the teacher, wanted it to see again.

XO Classroom Presenter demo 2A couple of specs: the XO is running version 8.2, and Sugar on a Stick is the "beta" version. I used the server at jabber.sugarlabs.org. In theory, I could have an entire bank of classroom computers, or a lab, or computers scattered around the globe - to be engaged in an activity. The Sugar community is encouraging school servers, or hubs, which would be a much better idea with many computers involved. The XO has a built in Mesh network, which we used during the demo in my classroom, but it's not on Sugar on a Stick. We had 8 XO's engaged at once back then. (laptop images here are from the slide deck designed for our demo, converted from a simple PowerPoint presentation I sent to the Classroom Presenter developers)

Classroom Presenter - SoaS2One thing I was not able to try out was sharing a student "answer" to all of the others involved in the activity, but I bet it would have worked, as everything else did.

I continue to be amazed at the potential I see for connective, constructive collaboration out there. Monday I start talking with my kids and their parents about having a flash drive dedicated for their own Sugar on a Stick.

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posted by Mark Ahlness @ 3:17 PM   2 Comments

Thursday, April 09, 2009

What's wrong with this picture?

Good thing I have been told to take down this number line - that I was forced to put up - in my classroom.

The reason had nothing to do with the obvious error, which had gone undetected in my room for a year and a half.

High stakes testing to the rescue of a mandated curriculum. Good grief.

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posted by Mark Ahlness @ 9:30 PM   2 Comments

Monday, April 06, 2009

It makes you think

I took a picture of this after school in my third grade classroom because what was happening just blew me away.

This is obviously the Connect Four game. I was blue, and as you can see, I was about to lose...

Connect Two
There are several things noteworthy in this picture loaded with technology stuff:
  • Dell GX 270, with 1 GB RAM
  • Acer 19" monitor
  • Ethernet switch
  • wireless access point
Yet the thing that made this all possible is barely visible. It's a 1 GB USB flash drive, plugged in to the cpu right under the "1", on the right. That little stick was the entire operating system, apps, and docs for what I was doing with my keyboard and mouse on my honking big Dell.

The other computer I was playing against happened to be in my classroom, but it could just as well have been in Kathmandu. That other computer was an XO laptop (also running on a flash drive). Both computers were running Sugar, and they were connected to the same Jabber server on the Internet.

The XO was moving much more slowly, but I still lost. The record of that game is on the flash drives that were plugged in to those two computers. Those flash drives can be plugged in to other computers. Those flash drives can hold the apps and docs that their owners want on them. They call it Sugar on a Stick. There are some wrinkles to be ironed out, but....

this kind of leveling of the playing field really makes you think.

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posted by Mark Ahlness @ 8:13 PM   0 Comments

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Peeking under the hood

The past few days I've been in the midst of a technical challenge, and I have been at a loss about how to solve it. I have to admit, I do enjoy working out computer challenges. Emerging from a morass of missteps and frustrations, today I had a moment where I solved the technical problems, it all made sense, and I had a chance to glimpse into the future.

XO Solar 2I have 5 XO laptops in my third grade classroom. Two of them are solar powered. I read the latest from the OLPC News and I follow Forum discussions closely. Now, we all know the XO started a revolution in mini laptops, and powering them via solar panels is also pretty cool. But these developments pale in comparison to what I am looking at right now.

Lately there has been a flurry about Sugar on a Stick - Sugar being the OS for the XO laptop. Long story short, I figured out how to load an entire operating system, along with application data from individual uses of programs, to micro media - flash drives and SD cards.

How many XO's?There are five computers in this picture, complete with operating systems, applications, history, documents, etc. The contents of an entire computer can be loaded on a bootable flash drive or SD card. Put it in your pocket, and boot it in another computer - and you have your computer again. It can run on a Windows computer or a Mac. To me, this is incredible.

What does this mean in my third grade classroom? First off, it means a time of exploration and problem solving. And fun. We all know "Lincoln" has a red X and O, but what if we put in a flash drive we call Jude2? That computer now is running a different OS, has different applications, and has different documents stored on it. It also appears unique to other computers sharing the same Jabber server on the Internet.

The implications are mind boggling, if you really go with it. For a couple of years I've had a classroom collection of flash drives kids could check out to carry data back and forth to school. But I've never had a whole computer on a stick. I can now carry 5 XO laptops on my keyring. But why stop there?

In theory (and it would not be hard), each student could have his/her own computer, which they could load whenever they used an XO (could also be loaded on other computers - but that will be another step...). Students could carry their own favorite applications, and their documents would be there as well. All on a 2GB flash drive. Really.

This is not the future, it's here now.

I feel like I'm only peeking under the hood of what's coming...

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posted by Mark Ahlness @ 8:20 PM   4 Comments