Saturday, July 9, 2011

It's Time to Get Seriously Angry

I've had it.   I could not believe it when I read this article this morning.  Unlike my Facebook page, I really try to keep my political views out of this blog, but what is going on in this country?

So now Illinois is dropping writing from its standardized tests,  apparently following Missouri's example. As we're seeing more and more, what isn't tested, isn't taught. claims (and I wish they had some statistics to back this)
In many districts, raising test scores has become the single most important indicator of school improvement. As a result... schools narrow and change the curriculum to match the test. Teachers teach only what is covered on the test. Methods of teaching conform to the multiple-choice format of the tests. Teaching more and more resembles testing.
To say the least, the past year could rank as one of the most depressing times on record to be a teacher and a librarian. While commenting on a library student's blog a few days ago after she linked to one of my posts, I actually caught myself thinking:  "Is she nuts?  Why is she going into librarianship at this point in time?"

We are bombarded on every side as being lazy, ineffectual and money-grubbing, then legislators make decisions crippling out best efforts to improve.

Who in their right mind would think writing,  which lies at the heart of good thinking,  is not important enough to measure?  Even in Horticultural studies, of all things, professors report
Quiz scores increased significantly for the students who completed the reflective writing assignments (average of 16.2 out of 18) compared with students who did not complete the assignments as part of the course (average 10.2 out of 18).

Maybe it's the English teacher in me speaking, but what is more important to who we are as a culture than the ability to write well?  What has shaped our national mindset more than the Declaration of Independence,  Paine's Common Sense, and Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin?

We need to be furious.  More importantly, we need to stop blogging and tweeting and facebooking to hit the streets and make our voices heard.  Blogging and all the rest (including this post!) only preaches to the choir.  I doubt there are many of you out there who seriouly disagree with what I'm saying.

The thing is, what are you doing?  This is the time for action.  It is easy to be frustrated and in despair; it is hard to know exactly what to do.  As educators, we are used to just shutting our doors and getting on with the task at hand.  However, those same doors are now not just shutting us out, they are being slammed in our collective faces as legislators with little or no educational experience tell us how to run things.

So what can you do??  Begin with joining the Save our Schools movement.  If you can't attend the national event, find a local one. Spread the word.  Sign up your friends, your family.  Bombard your state and national legislators with letters, emails and phone calls.

Quite bluntly, it is time to put up or shut up.  If we aren't willing to take the time to turn our words into action, then we probably deserve whatever happens.

Simple Booklets: Good Potential, Not Quite There

I spent the morning playing around with Simple Booklets,  a new (as far as I can tell) 2.0 app.  I love the potential of this app for education.  It allows users to create a variety of multimedia pamphlets, posters and booklets.  Similar to Glogster, but it allows pages.  I think I'll use it for a  quick Destiny tutorial, rather than the video I planned to create.

Here is an example from the playing around I did this morning, just to show some of the features.  Using the now standard drag-and-drop interface,  I was able to embed a website (the blog), as well as a Google form survey (on page 2).  You can also add music, video and widgets, embed code and link with social media.  Cool idea, right? 

There are additional features you can buy with the "Pro" version, which is only $10/year.  Certainly a bargain!

The app is not without problems, however.

1)  I chose a yellow notebook paper background for my booklet.  As you can see, however, it's not showing.

2)  While the app offers both business and education templates,  I couldn't actually edit any of them. It may have been user error, but if so, it was user error that a relatively tech-savvy user couldn't figure out.  Not good.  Moreover, the templates themselves lack in creativity, I must say.  I would discourage students from using them.

3) While the app offers some nifty-looking badges and stickers, the text is not editable.

4)  Either the color of the arrows is stuck at an un-appealing gray, or, again, I could not figure out how to edit the color.

5.  The shadow tool syncs with the bounding box, not the object.  For example, when I added an arrow and wanted to create a shadow effect, the shadow was of the box around the arrow, not the arrow itself.

The only huge issue here is the template problem.  I will certainly use this myself,  and will offer it to students as an option for specific assignments next year.  One hopes future software updates will address some of the issues.

UPDATE: Hmmm. Apparently embedding is also an issue. It shows the first page, but you can't click through to second page. That is a BIG problem. So, really, this app is NOT ready for prime-time.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Content Curation and the Research Story

I am late in jumping on the "curation" bandwagon.  I didn't get it, and thought it was just a trendy, jargon word for what librarians have always done.  Then I ran across a definition (which, unfortunately, I neither bookmarked, nor saved to,  Instapaper,  or Evernote, so cannot find now) that fomented one of those Eureka! moments for me.  Roughly paraphrased:

Collectors do just that: collect.  Curators, however, collect content as the initial stage in telling a story about the material collected (as in the best museums). In other words, curators put what they collect into context.

Wow! That resonated for me because, of course, that is what teachers ask students to do every time they assign a (well-designed!) research project.    And one of our most difficult jobs as information specialists is helping students not just make sense of their findings, but of fitting them into the larger context of the story they're trying to tell.  They may find a great YouTube video on the conflict in the Congo, but what does it add to their presentation on colonialism's aftermath? What nuance does it add to their thesis?  How does it relate to their other sources? Does it detract in any way and, if so, how do they account for it within the context of their overall point or "story"?

These are big, big questions.

Then I ran across this article this morning, describing journalism's own struggle with creating a coherent story from the plethora of info-babble and Twitter feeds.  If journalists--often our students' source--find this difficult, how much harder must it be for a 15-year-old? 

More importantly, how can we guide them in their story-telling without influencing their interpretations, or adding to what is already an over-whelming burden for many of them?

Students as Curators  

First, I think we need to explain their research to them in exactly these terms, including the museum analogy (or any other analogy you think will be relevant for them).    Students need to understand they are not just bookmarking ad nauseum, but trying to create a larger story.

Second, as students work with their sources, we should encourage (require?) them to jot down their ideas on  the source's relevance to their larger research "story."  Nothing as formal and time-consuming as an annotated bibliography, though I think those are a great way of a) forcing students to think more deeply about their source and b) ensuring they've actually read it, and aren't just including it to pad out their Works Cited  (Surely not!). 

While I would love to ask students to do these regularly, they are a lot of work, and I think there would be quite a bit of understandable push-back.  I'm a firm believer in choosing my battles!  It makes more sense to me to just ask them  to write quick ideas on their note-cards (real or digital).

Since many students don't have a clear idea of their thesis during the initial research stages, this would be an ongoing task, and their process in that (not the actual notes themselves) should be part of my assessment of their research.  Moreover, as they share their research notes with me, I would of course  nudge and guide their progress.  It's far more important to work with them during the process, than evaluate them after-the-fact!