Wednesday, June 29, 2011

iSchool Initiative: The Future is Now

Wes Fryer gave a heads up on this interesting video from Travis Allen and the iSchool Initiative.  This "kid" definitely has the vision of what schools can become if they would smarten up and stop blocking personal technology.  I'm definitely going to have my students watch this in Fall, then we'll brainstorm ways to make this a reality in our classroom.

Of course, the library enters into this with Gale's AccessMyLibrary  (NOTE TO GALE:  PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE  MAKE THAT AVAILABLE FOR YOUR INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL CLIENTS!) and Google Apps.  Follett also needs to get on board with this and create an iPhone app for Destiny.  They already have one for Titlewave.  But that doesn't do the students any good!

UPDATE:  Just found an "add your school" link on Gale's database app.  Here's hoping it works for international schools.  I'll let you know! 

Monday, June 27, 2011

Breaking News....

Common Sense Media just (as in,  the email landed in my inbox 3 minutes ago) added 12 lessons on Digital Citizenship to their core of digital literacy classes.
From the email:

Visit Common Sense Media today to get video-rich lessons for high school students on:
  • Dealing with digital harassment and online drama
  • Protecting their reputation in a digital world
  • Exploring their identity
  • Sourcing content responsibly
  • And more!
With more coming this fall.  Obviously, I haven't had time to look at them yet, but I will do that in the next day or two and report back.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Reader's Theatre: Antigone on Facebook

This Tumblr page from Read caught my eye, as I've been scrounging to come up for ideas for next year's Literacy Week.  I missed the event, but Read ran a sort of reader's theatre a few months ago, re-enacting Much Ado About Nothing through Facebook posts.  Brilliant!

Since I teach an English class next year (and we're reading Antigone), I think (hope!) it will be wildly motivating for them to sponsor a similar event for the school community during Literacy Week. I want students to do as much of the organizing and groundwork as possible, so they buy in to the whole idea, and we'll promote it to the wider school community--secondary students, faculty, parents.

The Premise:
 After reading/discussing Antigone, as a class, with performance in mind, students will rewrite the story in a contemporary setting and adopt a character. Students will work together to create a series of Facebook posts through their characters that develop the Antigone plot and themes.  This storyline will take place over three days, with a day before and after for pre/post theatre introductions and discussions.

If you haven't read it, Antigone deals with themes extremely relevant to today's world:  individual rights vs. the state;  duty to our beliefs vs. duty to the state; what does it mean to be a good citizen?  a good ruler?   And a lot more.  This should create plenty of ideas for discussion during the course of the week.

1. One group of web-savvy students will create an event website, explaining the concept, giving brief biographies of the characters, etc.

2.  Each student will create a Facebook page for their character, complete with likes, photos and other appropriate character development.

3.  As stated above, the class will create a series of posts for each character that develop the plot and themes of  Antigone. They will need to establish an order and strict schedule for when each one will be posted.  This is the framework.  However, once the pre-planned posts are up, other characters are free to comment on those posts, within the context of the play and their character.

4.  Student will also create publicity for the event: A trailer to host on the school website, posters around the school, morning announcements, etc.  

Here's Where it Gets Fun
With each character bio, the  event website will provide a link to invite the school community to "Like" the characters on FB.  They will then be able to follow the ongoing discussion.  More importantly, they will be able to comment themselves and participate in the "theatre."  Characters, in turn, can respond to the audience comments and each other.

Potential Problems:
I can see where it might be difficult to follow the discussion on a Facebook wall.  If I can figure out Tumblr, I'm going to try to create a Tumblr page that will organize the posts more sequentially.  I'm still trying to work that out.

I'm excited about this; I think the kids will love it, and see ways of using technology to do more than share photos from their latest party.  I hope the school community-at-large will participate too.  While I'm sure we'll encounter obstacles, that's part of the learning experience. I want students to take front and center on all the planning, with me there for consultation.

I'd love to hear your feedback/thoughts!

And, of course, as I start working on this, I will post all student handouts, etc.

Sensemaking: The Next Level of Search

I'll be in the air, en route from UlaanBaatar to JFK (hooray!), but details below for a June 21 webinar that sounds intriguing.  Register here.  If you can't attend, the archive will be posted here in a few days.

Title: Sensemaking: The next level of search skills

Sensemaking is what you do when you collect, organize and restructure information to come to some deeper understanding. In essence, it's the process we follow when we research complex historical topics... or when we're buying a refrigerator. I'll talk about ways that people do sensemaking, some best practices and how you can improve your sensemaking behavior.

Speaker: Daniel M. Russell, Ph.D.     Dan is a research scientist in Google's search quality product group. He has done extensive work over the past 15 years in understanding how people make sense of their complex data spaces. His web site ( has a good selection of readings on sensemaking topics.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The iPads are Coming! (Part II)

Before ordering our two new iPads last week, I put some thought into what sort of "iPad kit" would be most beneficial for student productivity.  It's exciting how quickly iPads are becoming serious alternatives to computers for creating content, despite my reservations when they initially debuted.  If textbook companies adopt the Push Pop Press's ebook platform, iPads could become an amazing, reasonably affordable educational tool.

But I digress.  Here's what I bought and why.

Kensington Bluetooth Keyboard:  For serious writing, you still need a real keyboard. I thought about buying Apple's  dock/keyboard because it's full-sized ,  but a) I'm not sure the dock itself will stand up to student abuse, and b) I would still need to buy a case for iPad.  This bluetooth keyboard is both a case and a keyboard, doesn't have little breakable parts, and the keyboard itself is rubberized and spill-proof. I'm a little worried about the complaints that the iPad isn't fully secure in the case, but there were just as many that said it was fine, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed on this.

iPad Camera Connection Kit:  Obviously we'll use it for importing images from a camera; however, it's basically a USB port, so users can connect any USB device, such as headsets for recording audio, etc.

AmazonBasics Netbook Bag:  Even though the keyboard provides a case for the iPad, we still need a bag to hold everything.  This affordable neoprene (read: padded and weather-resistant) bag also has a pocket to store the cables and camera connection, allowing students to check-out everything in one "kit."

Organizing Research: Tools for Participatory Learning

I may or may not have said that I'm teaching a 10th grade English class next year, in addition to running the library.  Aside from the fact that I do miss teaching English (though not the paper load!), I'm especially excited as I now have a built-in group on which to use all these tech tools I've been blogging about the past 5 years, without having to beg a teacher to "loan" me their class.

More importantly, it's the 10th graders.  We are an IB school, and 9th/10th graders spend a large part of those two years researching a personal project.  Obviously, I help with that, but it's been difficult to get their main advisor to give me the amount of time I think we need to spend on getting them organized and thinking about research in the right way.    And now I have them!

I'm fairly certain I can justify spending time helping them with their PP research as part of the English 10 curriculum--literacy is literacy, right?

We introduced the project to them (as 9th graders) about 6 weeks ago, but I only had two days with them, which we spent trying to set up their information dashboard on NetVibes.  Along with lots of tech glitches.  Of course.

Rather like Buffy Hamilton's Media 21 class, I  want to teach them to embed meaningful technology, create a PLN,  and to engage in participatory learning.

I've spent a lot of time thinking about the tools.  Especially for us technophiles, it's all-too-easy to overwhelm students with the number of apps we ask them to use.  I also believe firmly in using real-life applications.  For example, while I have the 6-8's using NoodleTools in order to instill the idea of citations and notecards, I want to move the older students away from that to tools they can actually use on their own once they leave high school.

One of the students' biggest problems when researching is organizing their resources. They bookmark everything (which causes problems when they try to bookmark a database article), never tag, and it's a mess to try to find a specific article.  That's one reason I've never been a huge fan of using    Enter the information dashboard.  Students use Netvibes or iGoogle (my favorite) to gather and organize their information. On both apps, thanks to tabs, they can create different pages on the same site.  I suggest the following:

HOME:   This is their landing page, and it should be both fun and functional for them.  I ask them to include links to the library website database page, our Google Apps account (with iGoogle, they can embed their actual document) a to-do list, InstaPaper, EverNote and   They should also include note-taking and to-do list widgets.  After that, they can add whatever (appropriately!) takes their fancy to make the page their own.

I also ask them to find at least two experts who are blogging on their topic/issue, and include feeds for them, encouraging them to post comments/questions on the blog.

TABS: While I don't tell them what tabs to create--since each student has a different project, hence unique needs--we do talk about various ways to organize their information. As an example, imagine a project where a student wants to create a documentary about homelessness in Mongolia.  Students must not only research the topic, but also how to create the documentary.

They could organize their information by subject, with a tab each for homelessness, Mongolia, and effective documentary techniques.

Or they could organize by material type, with tabs for database articles, news feeds, videos, etc.  Most of our databases allow students to create RSS feeds of their searches, and they include those, too.

Or they could use some combination of the two.  The point is, students think seriously about what makes the most sense to their topic and their own learning style.

InstaPaper and EverNote

I wrestled quite a while with whether or not to have students use these.  After all, can't they just include links to articles or website on their dashboard?   The hard reality, however, is that students find so many text resources, it becomes somewhat cumbersome to keep adding them to their dashboard. Moreover, they don't always have time to read something right away, to see whether it's "dashboard worthy." Thus, we use the dashboard for feeds, large websites, videos, etc.  But InstaPaper and EverNote for articles and one page websites.

InstaPaper is a great place to store online text for later perusal.  Better yet, it does a great job of stripping all the extraneous (distracting!) material.  They can then share the articles they like with their EverNote account, which does a horrible job of saving webpages (it keeps a lot of the junk), but is much better than InstaPaper for organizing, tagging, etc.


Ready to Tumbl

I've decided it's time to get my head around Tumblr.

With recent articles in Technorati and Forbes claiming that "Tumblr is growing at an outstanding rate, now bringing in more than 250 million views per day spread across almost 19 million blogs," and this viral Tumblr  from a few days ago piquing my interest, I knew it was time to start digging.

As far as I can tell, Tumblr is a mash-up of Facebook, blogs and Twitter. I've created a Bib20 account there, but I'm nowhere near ready to start blogging on it yet.

If you want to explore with me, be sure to read Vicki Davis's Beginner's Guide to Tumblr.  I'm also using this post on customizing Tumblr.

To be honest, I don't even know enough about it yet to be able to say what uses it might have for education and libraries, or whether it's just the latest rising fad.  That's what I want to find out.  

If any of you have experience with Tumblr or thoughts on its value, please write a comment!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A Summer Gift for Every Parent (...or babysitter)

Audible is offering a free download of the new picture book "Go the F**k to Sleep!" as read by Samuel L. Jackson.  Classic!

Friday, June 10, 2011

YA Saves, But...

Unless you've been buried in the stacks doing inventory for the past week, you have no doubt read and possibly even joined in on, the current backlash over Meghan Cox Gurdon's WSJ article decrying the darkness in YA fiction (and the somewhat ridiculous selection of books she did recommend. "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn"?  Really?)

I even took another librarian to task on LM-Net myself, as she also criticized the genre, accusing her of going too far when she asked whether an anti-American or terrorist would be suitable protagonists. (I admit, those words, in the same sentence, are hot buttons for me.)

Words have power.  That is the essence of why most of us do what we do.  When I was eight, discovering Mary Poppins for the first time,  I remember reading about flying with her umbrella and thinking: Of course!  That's how you fly! then running to grab my father's umbrella.  My mom caught me halfway up to the roof of the house,  preparing to jump off.  More significantly, I've told the story here a couple of times of how reading Eudora Welty's The Golden Apples directly lead to me taking my first overseas position.  I bow to none in my belief in the power of words.

But here's the thing:  if words have power, that power can have both positive and negative effects, and we're putting an awful lot of faith in writers to think they never do harm.  There are not many books I wish I hadn't read, but Silence of the Lambs would be one of them. I felt physically, mentally and emotionally dirty after reading that book; those were images I just did not need floating in my head.

While I disagree with how these two expressed themselves (especially the moralistic, holier-than-thou tenor of Gurdon's article), they have a point in stating that YA fiction is disturbingly dark, violent and sexual.  I am hard-pressed to come up with comic titles when kids ask for them.  Dystopias, though?  I can rattle off entire lists.

I believe Chris Crutcher and Sherman Alexie and Laurie Halse Andersen  when they repeat countless stories of the profound effect their books have on children's lives, and would defend any of their books loudly and vociferously were they challenged in my library.

But that doesn't mean we shouldn't be having the conversation about what a steady diet of The Gossip Girls might do to a student's values, or whether we really want to be promoting Bella as a role model-- a girl who loves her boyfriend so much she wants to die.  I find both of these series appalling. They are on my shelves (the former not by my choice, I'll add), but I don't do much to promote them, and I always encourage students who read them to branch out and try other things.

What I find especially disturbing in the conversations swirling around these articles, is that apparently a whole lot of us think it's not ok to question the almighty holiness of YA fiction.  Read the comments section to Gurdon's article, and you'd think she had suggested we sacrifice children at the next full moon. People savaged her for daring to suggest that there just might be some negatives to a reading life filled with cutting, slaughter, and rape. That is appalling in any society, it is all but unforgivable in librarians.

We are the ones self-defined as defenders of free speech, the guardians of the one space where anyone can go to find a safe haven, the respecter of all points of view.  Even if someone attacks something we hold sacred, it is demanded of us that we respond thoughtfully and openly, avoiding a knee-jerk "how dare you?" type of response.  We need to honestly listen to parents when they voice concerns over what their children read, and not just hunker down, go into defense mood, and summon the troops on LM-Net for moral support.

I remember well when our 11th graders were reading Kiss of the Spiderwoman for class.  I thought that was questionable selection myself, and wasn't surprised when a parent complained, wanting a different option for her son to read.  She didn't try to ban the book, or keep the rest of the class from reading it, but the other teachers in the department mocked her endlessly for daring to question their choice, as if they were the bastion of intellectual endeavor, above reproach.  There is more than a hint of that in some of the responses to Gurdon.

I adore The Hunger GamesSpeak, Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, and many more. But that doesn't mean I don't wish there  were a wider variety of reading available to students.  As a profession we NEED to have this conversation, and we need to listen honestly and openly to the dissenting voices.

Of course, that goes for the dissenting voices, too.  Gurdon, for example, needs to recognize there is value in the very books she condemns (Well, maybe not Gossip Girls...can you tell I really, really despise those books?)  , and that Alexie makes an excellent point when he claims the values she's trying to protect are those of a privileged white class.

On the bright side, it's obvious when you read them that the comments weren't coming just from librarians, but also from students and the general public, with sometimes passionate defense of the books, and their significance.  With all the problems facing libraries (and the published word) today, there are still devoted readers. Hooray!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Twitter! Aack!

Buffy Hamilton shared this post from Scott McLeod, once again showing all the things you miss if you're not on Twitter.  It's probably time to--once again!--make a concerted effort to incorporate Twitter into my regular reading. 

"Using a Projector to Show a PowerPoint Isn't Using Technology"

Excellent post from Jennifer Wagner.