Tuesday, June 28, 2011

5 Conversations [About Libraries] I Don't Want To Have Anymore

The other day I ran across this post about educational conversations that have run their course. That is to say, ed-chat (not to be confused with #edchat) topics of discussion that have been discussed to death. We've all heard of educational "sacred cows," well... these are their "dead horse" companions. Naturally, this got me thinking about a similar list of library related conversations that I am tired of having. Don't get me wrong, I've spent plenty of time talking about these things myself and will probably be roped into talking about them again. What's more, I am not at all sitting in judgment of those for whom these issues remain compelling and important. Listen, if you're actively involved in dialogue about libraries, education and how librarians serve the needs of students, to you I tip my hat and say a hearty "bravo!" It's just, I guess I'm ready to see these conversations evolve. For me, at least, it’s time to either move these conversations to the next level, or send them out to pasture. Ok. Here goes:

  1. I don't want to talk about copyright anymore. Rather, I want to talk about creative commons, "thanktribution" and the importance of sharing expertise and resources to make, not only better products, but ultimately a better society too. Without question, it's still important to help kids understand that lots of people make their livings and feed their families from the work they create and, as such, have the right to ask for compensation/attribution. However, I find conversations with kids about the process of creating and choosing to share and/or license their own work to be far more meaningful. Rather than just telling kids it's wrong to steal, I'd like to see this conversation move towards helping students add their own works to the collective while also empowering them to license those works in the most appropriate way.
  2. I don't want to talk about "21st Century Skills" anymore. Seriously. It seems like I can't be involved with any educational conversation these days without being hit with the importance of 21st Century Skills. That's fine, but I'm ready to talk more specifically about what these skills really are. I want to see school librarians initiating and engaged in conversation that both identify specific skill sets and acknowledge that while the information landscape, and indeed the world, has certainly changed since the last century, many of the skills we should feel most compelled to develop in our students, (content curation, global awareness/citizenship, the ethical use/creation of information, etc.), are not exclusive to the 21st century. “21st Century Skills” is a convenient turn of phrase and, at one time, an impactful one. But that time has passed. Let’s move beyond the label and on to identifying, prioritizing and teaching the skills that will best prepare our students for life in this century and beyond. (Yes, they are going to live a very long time).
  3. I don't want to talk about the "digital divide" anymore. Okay, that's not really true. The digital divide is an issue that is important and that needs to remain a part of our collective conversation. HOWEVER, I want this conversation to move beyond issues of simple access. There is no question in my mind that access is important. Having spent much of my career working with students for whom school is the only connected, digital space they inhabit, I understand how access and equity go hand in hand. Still, if there's one thing my time at the reference desk of the public library has taught me, it's that ONLY providing people with access to computers/the internet is not enough. Our efforts to put computers in the homes of families who don't have them, to start "one to one" initiatives at schools with high populations of students with limited/no access beyond the school day, or the ever ambitious (and noble) goal of extending broadband access to areas where there is none, will only be effective if we couple them with instruction. It may seem as though our students are born with digital devices in their hands, but that doesn't mean they know how to use them. I want to see school librarians leading the charge to shape future conversations about the "digital divide" to include an emphasis on both access and education.
  4. I don’t want to talk about eBooks replacing print books anymore. I don’t believe this is going to happen. And it’s not because I’m a romantic who believes nostalgia will win the day. Rather, it’s because I understand that once the dust settles and the “new gadget” effect has worn off, schools will ultimately spend their limited monies on the resources that most impact student learning. To that end, I don’t just want to see school librarians acting as the voice of reason in these conversations, I want to see them emerge as curriculum and technology experts who understand that there’s room on the library shelves, and in student backpacks, for both traditional print and e-ink titles because both options address different instructional goals. In the end, I want to see this conversation become part of a larger, more important, dialogue revolving around how to best meet student needs – and this, my friends, is the conversation we should all be clamoring to be a part of.
  5. I don’t want to talk about protecting students from the evils of social media anymore. If any conversation on this list needs to evolve, it’s this one. Conversations or initiatives that seek to make a student’s digital footprint invisible are outmoded and, frankly, dangerous. Our students live in a digital, connected world. As fast as we think of ways to block social media, they figure out ways to circumvent the filter. This conversation must evolve to the point where our goal is to help students develop a safe and responsible online presence. As school librarians, I want to us to ask more questions like “what happens when a teacher is not there to keep a child from visiting a “bad” site?” Or “what happens when students are asked to submit personal information for an online profile, but they’ve never been taught how?” Or even better, “how can we expect students to make good choices when we’re not there, when they’re given NO choices when we are?” Filters are necessary. But conversations about helping students create a safe online presence, (one that allows them to take advantage of all the GOOD social media has to offer), are important too.
Since starting this post, I've placed and deleted this image multiple times. I keep changing my mind because I’m not sure the connection between this work of art (by graffiti artist Borf) and my thinking is clear. In the end, I worry about the conversations we are having in education. Not because I feel they are the wrong ones to be had or because I’m afraid the wrong people are having them.  In fact, if I'm honest, then in general I'm heartened by the amount of discussion that's being generated by and about educators/education these days.  School librarians have long been part of the quiet and polite crowd in the corner, heads down, doing our work, but not making a big fuss about it, so... believe me when I'm say I'm thrilled to see so many of my tribe kicking up the dust and (dare I say it?) showing off. If anything, I'm just nudging the conversation forward a little, because I, for one, am ready to see certain conversations evolve to a point of greater relevancy - lest they (and we) become obsolete.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Take That! Using Wikis To Pop Filter Bubbles!

Today I had the honor of learning and sharing with educators from Southeastern North Carolina at the New Hanover County Summer Technology Institute. Today's session was on using Wikis as a tool for content curation - a skill I believe both teachers and students need to develop as we become more and more saturated with information. This was a wonderful experience for me for several reasons:

First, this was the first time I was able to trot out an updated version a presentation I've been giving for some time now on wikis.  Lately, I've been thinking about wikis as a tool for content curation - an opportunity for students and teachers to think about how the internet works, about how information is filtered before it comes to us, about who edits it and why.  In the past, I've taught wiki workshops which focused on the benefits of collaboration and the idea that multiple brains are better than one. This presentation, on the other hand, emphasizes how using wikis for "collective curation" can help students/teachers burst what Eli Pariser refers to as "filter bubbles" while also collecting the very best of what the internet has to offer.  It's my own small attempt at transforming research into a metacognitive process in which researchers (of all ages) consider not only what they are learning about the research topic, but also about how their research skills are influenced by external factors.  (Big thanks, by the way, to Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano whose post on Students Becoming Curators of Information pointed me towards some powerful images which I used - with attribution - in this presentation.  Thank you!)

Second, this was a non-library crowd - while everyone in the room was an educator, I believe I was the only librarian.  I find that this kind of experience is good for me because it forces me to look at my message through new eyes, to see how it plays outside the echo chamber of library land.  That said, everyone was so receptive and open and willing to go along for the ride.

Finally, this was an incredibly good looking group of people.  Obviously. :)

Tomorrow I get to do a two part session with a colleague on eBooks.  Again, this is an updated version of a presentation I've given a few times before.  It should be good fun because it will be the first time that I get to do the presentation where the focus isn't simply on eReaders but on meeting student needs (instructional, developmental and emotional) through eBooks (both the eReader kind and the subscription kind).

Lately, I've been feeling a little sorry for myself because I won't be attending ALA or ISTE this summer - but today's crowd helped me feel good about the learning and sharing I get to do right here at home.  Thank you!

PS:  My #2000hour spreadsheet is filling up. 

Friday, June 17, 2011

2000 Hours

This summer I am starting 2000 hours project.  2000 hours is the brainchild of a teacher named Chuck who is fed up with the popular misconception that teaching is really a part-time job because, after all, we get to leave at 2pm and get the "summer off." To dispel this myth, he decided to log the number of hours he spends working during both during the school day and during his time off.  I love this idea.   I'm not sure I will continue it for an entire school year, the way Chuck is, but I am definitely ready to commit for summer. For one, I too am becoming grumpy with pundits and politicians who have never set foot in a classroom/school library, but who feel they have the right to comment on what an easy job we have. But also, I'm just interested in finding out how many hours I really do put in during the summer months.  (An aside, my husband is always complaining that I'm really a 12 month employee who settles for 10 month pay, so this summer we're going to see if he's right!) Anyway, I'm so geeked out over this project that I created a couple of items to help chronicle my (and maybe your???) journey.

First, I created this badge for my blog.  If you're gonna log your hours too and want to plaster a badge on your blog, feel free to use it, change it, share it, etc.  (The image is my own - one I took for my 365/Image a Day Project. The text I added using Picnik.)

Second, I created a spreadsheet to track my hours.  I used Google Docs to create the sheet and will use it as my "time card" for this project.  This way, I can access it if I am away from my home computer but still "working."  Plus, this way all the world can keep track of my hours.  Perhaps someone will even start a pool and take bets on just how little actual "life" I have. :)   Anyway, in addition to figuring out exactly how many hours I will spend working this summer, I'm also looking forward to seeing what type of work I do during the (almost) 2 months I have away from school.

However many hours I actually log, I feel like this is a good exercise for me - both personally and publicly. I can only imagine that being honest and reflective about the amount of time I spending working when I don't really have to will be a good thing. Plus, like the creator of this project, Chuck, I'm anxious to dispel a few myths myself.

So... how did I spend the first day of "summer break?"  I updated the library webpage to include a summer reading project and a super cool culminating video for our year end Food for Fines project.   Then I sent out a year end letter to parents inviting their students to participate in said summer reading fun and emailed my principal with an update.  All told, it took me just shy of 2 hours.

Anyway, if you're planning on clocking a few hours this summer, consider this a personal invitation to join the 2000 Hour Club. In addition to whatever updates I post here, I'll also be tweeting about it using the #2000hour hashtag.  So, c'mon!  Join me! (You know you want to!)

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

It's A Bird! It's A Plane! It's Our Annual Report!

I've been getting a fair amount of (friendly) grief this week as I've been toiling away on my library's annual report.  Why?  Well... because annual reports are not required in my district.  Apparently, to some people (and you know who you are!) crunching numbers, making graphs and reflecting on school years past (when you don't actually have to) is tantamount to madness. But the truth is, I love this stuff. Digging through data, discovering correlations and proving (or disproving) that what you believe, in your heart, to be true about your work is, well... fun!

Of course, my joy and naivety related to this process may be (at least partially) attributed to the fact that I've never done one before.  Yes.  This is my first annual report.  And since there was no one around to tell me how I should do it or what to include, I got to make up the rules as I went along, which was great, because it made me REALLY think about who my audience was going to be.  In the end, I realized that the group I most wanted to target with this information was administrators - both at my school and at central office, which reminded me of one of the first budget related conversations I ever had with my current principal (who is super supportive, by the way).  I remember going into her office armed with file folders full of evidence and research, ready to blow her high heels off with data proving that whatever I wanted deserved her time, attention and (most importantly) money.  After about 2 sentences she stopped me and asked "what's the bottom line?"  She wanted, what I might now refer to as, a tweetable budget request:  Short, sweet and to the point.

So... I wrote my annual report with this personality type in mind, making certain that:
  1. All data is organized into bite sized chunks.
  2. It's visually interesting and fun.
  3. The "bottom line" is easy to recognize
  4. What few narratives there are, are short, sweet and to the point.
  5. I tried to focus on data they would actually care about.  (For example, instead of bemoaning the state of my 400s or shouting about the number of times A Diary of a Wimpy Kid was checked out, I focused on student impact, the relationship between library services and academic success and how our library meets the identified needs of students at our school). 
And finally, I took a page from the book of Gwyneth and decided to, if nothing else, lend a comic nudge/wink to my report.  I didn't use Comic Life (as Gwyneth swears by) and I'm nowhere near as talented as she is, but I did try to capture the spirit of her SPECTACULAR comic tutorials, in the hopes of making this report fun and easy to digest.

And who knows, Batman!  Somebody might actually read it! :)

As always, everything I do, this is licensed under Creative Commons, so please feel free to use, share, mash-up and/or make this better.  Also, it's worth noting that lots of other FANTASTIC annual reports can be found here.  Have fun!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

(Professional) Beach Reading

My summer office has a GREAT view!
I am very fortunate to live at the beach.  That means I spend lots of my summer complaining about the masses of people who descend on my little town for vacation each year - while, secretly, not being able to blame them.  It also means that when my school district asked me to compile a summer reading list of professional titles for teachers, they referred to the final product as a "beach reading list," which I find endearing.

I don't know about you, but the pile(s) of books I've been "saving for summer" has grown beyond what I'll ever be able to tackle.  Each year I look on, longingly, as many of the superstars on my PLN take on the "Book A Day"challenge that Donalyn Miller issues every summer.  But I know my limits.  Despite my love of the sport, I'm a fairly slow reader and will *never* play in the big leagues.  A book a week, maybe.  But a book a day?  Oi.

Even so, I love passing on the challenge to others and encourage everyone within the sound of my tweets to play along.  As Donalyn rightfully points out, this challenge is as much about connecting with a community of readers as it is about the books you get to mark as "read" on Goodreads.  So, to those who can do it, think they can do it, or at least want to do it, I say go for it!  I'll be sitting on the sidelines cheering you on!

As for me, well… soon the lights in the library will be clicked off for the duration, but only after I've made several trips to the car with boxes and bags filled with summer projects. What I'm looking for this summer is balance.  Rather than making work OR play a priority this summer, I’m shooting for that place in between where I can do the following, if not in equal, then at least in healthy measure.
"Balance" http://libgirl365.tumblr.com/post/5284825815
  • Heal:  It’s been a tough year for all educators and I need to make time to tend to my wounds.  I’m pretty sure most of us will emerge from this school year with scars. 
  • Connect: Both virtually and in person: whether just having coffee or as part of an online book club, I need to cultivate some old and new relationships. 
  • Rest:  I will sleep 8 hours per night.  I will.  Really. No, really.  And I will nap too.  So there.
  • Share:  I’ve got a few presentations lined up for summer.  I haven’t overbooked myself, but I’ve got a few opportunities to be a part some great conversations this summer.  Can’t wait!
  • Create:  I’m not artist, but I like taking pictures and building webpages – I hope to do lots of both this summer. 
  • Disconnect:  This might be the hardest of all my summer goals, but I know I need to unplug and go “off the grid” for awhile.  I’m starting to dream in 140 characters; that can’t be good.
  • Play:  Enough said.
  • Advocate:  I will bedocumenting the hours I spend on work related projects as part of the 2000hours project.  If you are in education,you MUST do this.
  • Learn:  There’s so much to learn.  I know I'm a nerd, but this is the part of summer I look forward to most. (This and the napping). Reading, whether online, on an eReader or in the pages of an old school book, summer is a great opportunity to lose yourself in words.
Which brings me back to “beach reading.”  This list is a combination of some titles that were already on my reading list and those that my fantabulous PLN suggested.  I got the idea to crowdsource the list from my friend and mentor Buffy Hamilton who constantly seems to be blazing trails for me to tread.  If you contributed to the list, please accept my humble gratitude.  (And if I didn’t include something you suggested, it’s only because I was limited to a certain # of words by my “editor.”)

A couple of titles that did not make the list that I'm sharing with my district, but that I will for sure read personally are:  The Atlas of New Librarianship by R. David Lankes and The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth by Alexandra Robbins.  It's exciting to think about all of these as being part of how I grow and change as a librarian, an educator and as a person this summer. 

All that said, no matter how you spend your summer… whether your toes are in the sand, you're breathing the mountain air or you're simply lounging in your favorite chair, remember:  you’ve earned this break, you deserve whatever pampering you indulge in and after a year spent taking care of everyone else, it’s time to take care of yourself.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

When Life Hands You A Lemon...

Lots of state library associations sponsor kid-lit book awards – that is to say book honors that are decided by readers, as opposed to a panel of bespectacled judges.  I love these awards because they open up lots of discussion among students (and teachers) about why certain books are nominated and what criteria should be used to pick the “best” out of the list our little readers have to choose from.  Often, to get teachers involved in the promotion of these books, I create curriculum and multimedia materials for each book.  I also compile existing resources to share with students.  This year, I am really excited because a high interest, moderate reading level work of urban fiction made the list:  A Boy Called Twister by Anne Schraff (who is responsible for several of the books in the incredibly popular Bluford High Series).   This is great for some of my students who don’t see themselves as readers or who are intimidated by the 600 page Harry Potters of the world.

But here’s the rub: in comparison to most of the other “big name” titles on this year’s list, Twister is a small book and there’s just not a lot of resources out there.  No fun webpages with interactive games, no interviews with the author and no book trailers.  So… we decided to make one. 

Here’s how it went:

I started by passing our one copy of the book to a few students who I thought would enjoy it - saying that I had an idea for a movie that I wanted them to star in.  Soon, other students were clamoring to be a part of it.   I only had 2 rules for my budding movie stars:  1) I needed permission from their parents to share the finished product on the interwebs  and 2) each student had to actually read the book.  It wasn’t long before I had a small, but mighty, group of 8 students ready to for duty.

Our pre-production meetings occurred during our 20 “enrichment” period at the very beginning of the day.  After getting off the bus, students grabbed breakfast in the cafeteria and met me in the library where we talked about the book, created a list of all the details we felt were important to include in our trailer and then cobbled together a VERY rough story board. 

“Shooting” occurred at the same time.  Often students were taking sips of orange juice or downing a blueberry muffin between takes, but we managed to shoot every scene and take every picture in a 2 week period.  Early on, the crew decided they wanted their movie to be primarily in black and white and to consist of both still and video shots.  Every picture and every video segment was blocked, directed and/or shot by a student. 

Our post-production regiment (which happened mostly during lunch/recess or whenever I could find a few minutes with the kids) utilized (all but one) free resources, including Picnik for photo editing, Windows Movie Maker and Pinnacle Studios (our one paid for resource) for video production and YouTube and Wix for online hosting.  Although I did the video editing, students edited 99% of the photos and sat with me as I stitched together the video, giving me strict instructions as to the order of the footage and their vision for the finished product.  Then they chose a teacher to narrate the script - which they wrote.  Finally, we talked about where/how to host it and licensing their work under creative commons so that others could use and share it.  (Then I burned them each a DVD to take home).

To say that I *love* the finished product is an understatement.  I am so proud of these students and what they have accomplished – and not simply because many of them are struggling readers, but because what they’ve created is just plain good.  I’m proud to share it with others and look forward to future projects with my new crew of book trailer creating READERS. 

I have to be honest, this has been a tough week for me professionally.  But these kids have reminded me of why I do what I do.  Connecting kids with books, helping them discover new interests and talents, and teaching them that along with the privileges and benefits of the connected world we live in comes also the responsibility to contribute (positively) to it – these are heady and intimidating responsibilities.  But they are also joyful and incredibly rewarding.


Friday, June 3, 2011

Beyond the Pie Chart: When Learning Can't Be Measured

F4F Flyer 2011
Like many libraries around the world, mine holds a Food for Fines event each year.  In fact, I got the idea from my local public library which held one 3 years ago, but then stopped (I’m not really sure why).  For us, Food for Fines equates to a one week event in which students can pay off library fines by making non-perishable food donations. While lots of students take advantage of this opportunity to clear their accounts, the vast majority of the donations we receive, are from students who DON’T have library fines.  This is because the event is heavily promoted, integrated into the curriculum, and used as a conversation starter between kids and adults about poverty, social justice and how the purpose of knowledge is to inspire action. 

Overall, our donations were down this year.  Although I’m a little disappointed, I’m not really surprised.  In addition to the economic turmoil that we’re all facing, my school is experiencing the (often exciting and wonderful, but also sometimes messy) growing pains of redistricting.  And the fact is that our new population simply isn’t as affluent as those of years past.  Even so, there are plenty of other numbers indicating that this event was a success:

100%      This is the number of classes that participated in the event this year. 
               No matter how small, every class gave something.
84           This is the number of boxes of food that will be donated to Mother 
               Hubbard’s Cupboard in Wilmington, NC.
55           This is the number of fines that were paid.
21           This is the number of homeless students at my school who will benefit
               from donations given to our “back pack buddies” program.
9             This is the number of classes I worked with to discuss and discover
               information related to poverty in our area.
2             This is the number of school buses it will take to deliver our donation.
1             This is the number of students who were utterly shocked to learn that
               both peanut butter and tuna fish are considered protein (we have the 
               students sort the food into food groups so that we can make a nutritious 
               donation).  Ok.  I admit this number may actually be much larger.

"Busy Hands"  http://ow.ly/59RZi
But the really important outcomes can’t be measured.  I don’t know about you, but at this time of year, when I’m trying to make sense of end of year data, I sometimes find it tempting to rethink projects that can’t be defended with a pie chart or a bar graph.  However, this is wrong and dangerous thinking. The conversations that grew out of this project, the seeds of empathy and philanthropy that were planted, and the understanding that once you know a thing, you can’t unknow it, (you can choose to ignore it or choose to act on it, but you must choose) – these outcomes cannot be measured – but that makes them no less important than those that can be.

As school librarians, we are in the business of impacting student learning.  And like all teachers, that means we have to be concerned with academic success, growth and proficiency.  However, this week has reminded me that knowledge is best cultivated in an environment of dialog and participation – of conversation and discovery.  And while those environments are often discordant and produce results that are difficult to quantify, they are the ones that are most likely to help our students grow into thinkers, questioners, innovators and (big, big social) problem solvers.

As I always am at the end of Food for Fines week, today I find myself both exhausted and grateful.  Not only am I pooped by the sheer effort it takes to pull the whole thing off (not that I do it alone, by any stretch of the imagination) but I am also utterly humbled to be a part of a profession whose very mission is rooted in making the world, and the people in it, better.