Sunday, July 31, 2011

Would You Hire me?

My husband and I disagree.

One of my goals this summer was to update my resume/CV - I'm not looking for another job or anything, but it seems like more and more of the grants I look at require an updated copy, and I'm woefully behind at adding stuff to mine.  So, as summer quickly draws to a close, (and I realize just how many of the things on my summer to-do list AREN'T going to get crossed off), I decided it was time to tackle this project.

The problem is, resumes are boring. 

Seriously, I could barely stay awake, never mind remain energized as I dusted the cobwebs off mine.  What a snoozefest.  The more I tried to bullet point the highlights of my professional life, the more I thought this would be a lot more fun as an infographic - which leads me to my husband, who is the director of career services for a nearby college: in essence a guy who spends much of his life critiquing resumes and helping people put their best foot forward when looking for a job.

Me:  "I'm thinking of making my CV into an infographic."
Hubs:  "It's a fad, don't do it."
Me:  "But... I think people in the library field might be open to it."
Hubs:  "It's a fad, don't do it."
Me:  "But..."

You get the picture.

In the end, though, I just couldn't shake the feeling that if we could use infographics to teach people about our services or convince others that we are relevant, surely this tool could be use to sell, well... ourselves too! And I'm not the only one who thinks so.  In tackling this project, I found lots of other infographic resumes out there - but nearly all of them were for a) graphic artists or b) web designers. (If you know of other librarian resumes that are done this way, please share!)

So, anyway, here it is.  My stubborn attempt to visually convey my professional journey thus far.  Keep in mind, this is really just a first draft - in the words of Lisa Yee, no proofreaders were harmed in the creation of this document. Also, for obvious reasons, I think, I deleted some personal information and left my reference place holders blank for this version.  However, I'm at a point where I'm just looking for feedback - what would you think if a resume like this came across your desk?  Would you see it as innovative and creative?  Or would you round file it for being silly or for seeming like a less than serious attempt?


View more documents from Jennifer LaGarde

PS: It's okay to be honest. You won't hurt my feelings. And if you do, I bounce back quickly. :)

Friday, July 29, 2011

Collaboration: Nourishment for the Professional Soul

Like a lot of teachers/librarians who benefit from having "summer's off," I always head back to school earlier than I should.  We don't officially start back until mid-August, but I've spent the last couple of days there trying to shift my brain back into school mode.  Time at school without other teachers and students can be productive because while I still run around like a madwoman on those days, I get to be the sole director of that madness. Truly, as someone who sometimes thinks "rolling with the punches" should be listed at the top of her job description, the idea of working uninterrupted can be absolutely intoxicating.  However, it doesn't take long before the work I do during those days of solitude reveals itself to be tedious and, ultimately, unsatisfying.  Saying it's too quiet may seem like a throw away remark, but really it's hitting the nail on the head, because the noise we make in the library is evidence of the collaborative relationships that make our work so meaningful.

In her AMAZING Ted-style talk at ISTE this year, (I'm still in mourning that I wasn't there), Buffy Hamilton talked about creating enchantment for our patrons through the relationships we build with them.  She rightfully pointed out that one of the problems libraries face in our efforts to rebrand ourselves is the fact that we are so often associated with things (be it books, databases or eReaders) instead of people and relationships.  (I believe we contribute to this problem in a number of ways, but that's a post of a different color).

In my experience, "collaboration" is a term that librarians most often toss around to describe the work we do with classroom teachers.  However, I think we sometimes leave out the other important collaborations we share with students and with each other.  Perhaps we're all so worried about defending our jobs that we tend to focus on the collaborations that can most easily be tied to student achievement.  Or maybe it's because those "other" collaborations are so fulfilling, so nourishing to our professional souls that they seem too luxurious or frivolous to be really valuable. Hmmmm.  Something to chew on, certainly.

Anyway, a few of these other collaborations have recently resulted in some products that I wanted to share.

First, although  I've posted this before, I neglected to point out that one of the presentations I did for the Teaching Fellows Conference was actually the product of a collaboration between me and a former student.  Several of the photographs I used in this presentation are hers - used not only with permission but with discussion before and after about how and why they could be, and ultimately were, impactful. While I'm glad that this provided her with the chance to extend the reach of her work, I am absolutely in love with the notion of today's students helping to shape the practice of tomorrow's teachers.


Secondly, while I didn't work on this video, I got to see a sneak preview of it at the P21 institute last month.  On the face of it, it's a delightful piece about encouraging kids to collaborate, communicate, think critically and create.  However, what makes it even more special to me is the knowledge that the product itself is the result of a collaboration between some unlikely co-conspirators in the #edreform revolution.  Educators, politicians, business and non profit leaders all teamed up with the folks at FableVision to make this happen. Again, I am smitten by the knowledge that this product couldn't have been created without the very ideals it promotes.  Plus, its one size does NOT fit all message is just lovely.  Also, just as an FYI, there's a downloadable poster that accompanies this video here.


Finally, I was absolutely knocked for a loop last week when so many people asked if they could share the flyer I made about what teachers/administrators should expect from their school librarians.  But my humbled shock morphed into pure inspiration when Donna Baumbach transformed the flyer into this amazing collaborative document using the tool ThingLink.   I am amazed.  Not only are people sharing some amazing resources/work/examples, but now I simply can't wait to put ThingLink to work in my library.



I end this post with the same feeling I have each year when a new school year approaches:  abuzz with ideas.  Ideas that I wouldn't have had, had I not indulged in the frivolity of collaboration. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Librarians Are Ready, Are You?

Having not been able to shake the "I had no idea librarians could do this!?" reaction I received at last week's Teaching Fellows Conference, I decided to create a flyer that I could share with program administrators at both the K-12 and collegiate levels - something flashy and fun that might, if nothing else, plant the seed that school librarians are more than just book hoarding shushers.

Making these flyers is always fun.  However, the entire time I was putting this one together, I was keenly aware of the fact that I was once a classroom teacher who thought school librarians were irrelevant - until someone proved me wrong. During my ten years in the classroom, I worked with 4 different school librarians at 3 different schools - add those numbers together and it might double the number of times I took my own students to the library during my entire tenure as a classroom teacher. To this day, I have no idea if the librarians at my schools wanted to collaborate with me. While I knew they were all smart, funny and charming people,  I couldn't tell you if they were master teachers, technology innovators or even reading pied pipers.  They may very well have been all of those things too, but if they were, I didn't know it.

Looking back on it now, I can see several possible reasons why I didn't get the message that, as a profession, school librarians were not only capable of working with me, but they also very much wanted to.

  1. Teacher Isolation:  As a classroom teacher, I was deeply entrenched in my own world.  I spent so much time worrying about what was happening inside my classroom, I sometimes forgot there was a world spinning outside of it.
  2. Teacher Education #Fail:  If my own teacher education program emphasized instructional partnerships of any kind, I forgot to sign up for that class.  Collaborating with other professionals was not a skill that I was taught in teacher school.
  3. Librarian #Fail: This message was not being sent by the school librarians I worked with.  Or if it was, not very effectively.

Whatever the reason, however, the bottom line is I had no idea I could and should be working with school librarians - and a result, regardless of how great I was, my students missed out.


Again, it all boils down to this: I was once a classroom teacher who thought school librarians were irrelevant - until someone proved me wrong.  No flyer, regardless of how fabulous it is, will change the minds of those who see us as outdated and ineffective. For me, it wasn't until a dear friend of mine decided to leave the classroom and wander into the library that I started to think about school librarianship differently.  What's more, it wasn't until he started to share with me the things he was doing with teachers/students that I began to see myself in that role.

As much as this graphic is a love letter to new teachers and principals (and anyone one else who might see it), it's also a reminder to those of us who live in libraryland already:  Just about all of us will encounter someone this year who believes, for whatever reason, that school librarians are irrelevent.  Are you and your practice ready to prove them wrong?

I hope so.


View more documents from Jennifer LaGarde


As the attribution information suggests, I took inspiration from Carl Harvey's work in Library Media Connection.  (Without question, there are aspects of what we do that I missed.  However, with limited space and a desire to not overwhelm my target audience with info, I tried to capture the aspects of librarianship that the future teachers I worked with last week seemed the most shocked by.) What's more, I don't think it's possible to be a librarian who creates comic style flyers and not, even subliminally, be inspired by Gwyneth Jones - so, big juicy thank yous to both those folks.

Finally, as always, everything here is licensed under creative commons so please feel free to take, share and make better to your little heart's content.

UPDATE:  

Thank you so much Donna Baumbach who transformed this flyer into a collaborative document using ThingLink!  I am unbelievably humbled and inspired!  PLEASE scoot on over to her newly created wiki and contribute to this fabulous collaborative effort!  #ihavethebestjobever

Saturday, July 23, 2011

New Paths in Library Advocacy: Reflections on the NC Teaching Fellows Jr. Conference

Today I had the amazing opportunity to work with some of my state's most valuable resources: new teachers.  The students in the classes I taught today were (roughly) one year away from completing their teacher education program as part of the NC Teaching Fellows Program.  (An aside, our legislature voted to zero out funding for Teaching Fellows this year - a travesty you can learn more about here). 

I've been nervous and excited about these presentations for weeks now.  Nervous because it always feels a little strange to play to an audience outside of libraryland and excited because I often wish my own teacher education program had offered the opportunity learn from and about school library media specialists and how they could help me (as a classroom teacher) and my students. To this day, although (in general) I feel like my own teacher education program perpared me fairly well for what I would experience in the classroom, I don't think I'm alone in the lamenting the lack of emphasis on the instructional team I would NEED to be a part of in order to truly provide my students with everything they would need. Indeed, I can't remember anyone talking to me about the school librarian and what he/she could do for me (my kids).

And so, to be honest, I couldn't wait to get in the room with these eager, fresh faced, soon to be teachers - if for no other reason that I felt I had a golden opportunity to fill a gap for them that was not, until much, much later, filled for me.   Advocacy is a topic that seems to be on the tip of every school librarian's tongue these days.  To that end, while I think many of us are becoming quite savvy when it comes to sharing what we do with those who have the power to impact our budgets and positions, I fear we may be missing the boat when it comes to embedding ourselves in education of the next generation of teachers/admininistrators.


In the end, however, I can't help but think that I got just as much (if not more) out of the experience than they did.  While I feel the sessions went well and I received great feedback afterwards, between the two of us, I feel like the big winner. Not only were the students funny and smart, they asked great questions, were willing to try new things and were filled with that new teacher spark - the perfect mixture of idealism, optimism and the unstoppable drive to make a difference. Ah... if only I could bottle that spark.  I'd keep most of it in a special, glass case labeled "In Case of Emergency." The rest I'd load into a one of the supersoaker squirt guns and take aim at those people we ALL work with who really need a good soaking. But I digress.  Even without the bottle (and squirtgun), I couldn't help but feel nostalgic being around them. Nostaligic and inspired.  As much as I hope I was able to help shape the image that these "youngsters" (I nearly cried when the second section informed me they were not alive when I was in middle school) will have of school librarians when they land in their first classrooms, the shape of my world was changed too by their contagious energy and endless enthusiasm - just a little of which rubbed off on me.

The following are my presentations from today's sessions.  As always, everything posted here is free for you to use, share and make better.

 
View more presentations from Jennifer LaGarde

 


PS: Thanks so much to everyone who contributed to these presentations!  Your input proved invaluable!  Here's some proof: 

Future teacher:  "Will this symbaloo be available after this session?"
Me:  "Yes. It will be available forever."
FT:  "Really???"
Me:  "Yes."
FT:  "Really???"
Me:  "Yes."
FT:  "Thank you! Thank you! Oh Thank you!"

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

New Tools for New Teachers

As I prepare for some sessions later this week during which I will get to work with new teachers on the fine arts of collaboration and personal learning, I've been busy making stuff. 

The first is the "Bibliotherapy 2.0" wiki that i solicited help for a few posts ago.  Though I ended up deciding to make the wiki more of a web/conversation curation tool than an actual bibliography, I will be adding the titles so many of you suggested to the discussion portion of the wiki.  THANK YOU!  In the meantime, I'm ready to share the product as it currently looks.  I welcome feedback and will happily grant requests to join if you'd like to be a part of contributing to this resource for new (and not so new) teachers. 

http://bibliotherapy20.wikispaces.com/      
The second is a webmix of tools to help new teachers create and contribute to a Personal Learning Network.  This was a lot of fun for me to put together, but I'm sure I'm missing one or two or twenty resources. 

http://www.symbaloo.com/mix/toolsforplnbuilding

Some points of conflict for me are these:  a) I had originally planned to group the content of the webmix a bit more systematically, but I'm still chewing on that.  b) I'm also on the fence about including must read blogs - once I start that, where do I stop?

For now, I'm just anxious to roll up my sleeves and start making mischief with the group of new teachers I'll be working with this week.  Until then, please feel free to make suggestions for improvement or addition.  Your feedback will not only help me but also the fledgling teachers I'll be corrupting working with soon.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Takeaways from the P21 Institute and 21st Century Skills Best Practices Forum

Last week I had the opportunity to attend the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (p21) Institute in Stowe, Vermont.  To be honest, I’m still unpacking a lot of what I learned during this event, but here are a few takeaways that I am ready to share:

Vermont Loves QR Codes:
Everywhere I went, I saw QR Codes!  They were in the hotel, on receipts I received and in window shop displays. The most helpful ones for me were contained on a “cell phone walking tour” of beautiful little Stowe, Vermont.  Small placards, like the one pictured, are located all over Stowe.   As an accidental tourist who was on the hunt for postcards, but had no idea where to look, I *loved* being able to scan a qr code and learn about this gorgeous New England town as I explored – all the while thinking about how I could create my own “walking tour” of the library.  What fun!

World’s Collide.  And It Might Just Be Okay:
For those who are unfamiliar with it, the Partnership For 21st Century Skills is, truly, a diverse group of education reformers.  The group is made up of business leaders, heads of non-profits, politicians and, of course, educators – but, to be honest, the more time I spent talking to the people at p21, the more difficult it was for me to figure out which was which.  In the end, despite their diverse backgrounds, everyone there had one incredibly important thing in common: a shared desire to make education better for today’s students.  I bring this up because so much of the talk in education reform these days appears to pit educators against non-educators (and vice versa).   It seems like there’s some pervasive themes in the stories that cover the collision of these two worlds: a) big business is trying to take over and privatize education b) people who are not teachers know nothing about teaching/learning and c) card carrying educators should be both afraid and suspect of anyone who is not a teacher but who wants to contribute to the conversation. Now, I don’t claim to be an expert on any of this.  Furthermore, I can totally understand (and even relate to) the fear.  However, in the end, I find myself reminded of that episode of Seinfeld in which George Costanza’s two worlds ("relationship George" and "independent George") threaten to collide – the result, in his mind, being absolutely catastrophic. What I fear is that, like George, many educators are so afraid of what will happen if the education world collides with the business/political one, that they’re missing out on opportunities for conversation and collaboration.  To be honest, I don't know if this is a zero-sum game, but it seems to me that an "us vs. them" mentality only results in one loser: students.

Connecting The Dots:
While I have some issues and (several) questions regarding p21’s framework for 21st century learning, I do think its focus on non-cognitive skills is right on the money.   Today’s assessment driven/bubble the right answer model of education leaves little room for inquiry, discovery, innovation and failure.  That said, one thing that p21 gets right, in my book, is an emphasis on creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration, or the “four Cs,” which they stress as being essential in preparing students for life beyond the classroom.  What’s more, p21 not only recognizes, but also actively promotes the library media center as an important player in developing these critical skills within the school.  How refreshing!  As part of this effort, p21 has put together a tool kit which aligns their framework for 21st century learning with the new Common Core Standards.  In other words, what the tool kit seeks to do is provide teachers with a resource that shows them how to teach the standards through inquiry based learning that emphasizes the “four Cs.” While I haven’t had a chance to really unpack the whole thing, I can already see lots of connections between what I do and what they have outlined.  If nothing else, I see potential to use the tool kit as a way to help teachers connect the dots between the Common Core Standards and the learning that takes place in the library.  (The tool kit should be available for download soon – I will link to it as soon as it is).


A Foursquare Victory:
Lately I’ve been questioning my use of social geotagging services like Foursquare.  While I’ve never been afraid that someone will see that I’m at Starbucks and decide to burglarize my home while I get a latte, I have been a little concerned about what contribution these services make to the noise in my (and other people’s) lives.  Even so, I did a lot of "checking in" while I was in Vermont - which not only resulted in free ice cream at Ben and Jerry’s (you get a free tour if you show them your check-in) but these virtual map pins also afforded me the chance to meet and spend a few minutes with library superstar @bethredford who saw that I was having coffee in her hometown before hopping a plane homeward.  After a couple of quick tweets, she and I were chatting like old pals in the Vermont sunshine before I headed south.  Without foursquare this wouldn’t have happened, so I might stick with it for a little while longer.  (My apologies to those who don’t care where I am).

Finally, as Doug Johnson recently reflected after returning from ISTE this year, "the best part of [attending conferences] always has been and always will be catching up with old friends, getting to know colleagues better, and meeting new people the professional networking."  Even though this was a decidedly non-library event, I did get to meet a few really REALLY smart, funny and talented librarians who I hope to bump into again soon. Librarianship is an incredibly generous and increasingly connected profession.  I look forward to watching the seeds that were planted in Vermont blossom into lasting professional connections in the future.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Sharing the Power of Books with New Teachers (With Your Help!)

In a few short weeks I have the tremendous honor of presenting to a group of soon-to-be-teachers who are a part of the NC Teaching Fellows Program. I'm super excited because not only does this provide me with an opportunity to take my message outside the echo chamber of library land, but it also gives me a chance to broaden new teachers' understanding of how school librarians can, and should, be their instructional partners. I like the idea of school librarians being a part of the inservice training of new teachers and, (dare I hope?), new principals.   Of course, I'll post more about these presentations as they take place, but for now, think of this post as a plea for help.

One of my presentations is called Bibliotherapy 2.0 - Using eBooks (and print ones too!) to Reach and Teach Diverse Student Populations. Given the recent hoopla surrounding YA Lit and its, according to some, inherently dark message, I'm really looking forward to showing new teachers how putting the right book in a young person's hand can, literally, change their lives. (And how eReaders afford teachers/librarians the chance to create personalized libraries for students). Anyway, for this presentation, I'm compiling a bibliography of titles that could be used to help students work through problems, conflicts, etc.

This is where you come in.

While I like to think I have a pretty good working knowledge of childrens/young adult literature, (and I've certainly got lots of ideas) I've spent my whole career in middle school (plus one really short stint in high school early on), so I'm afraid my perspective is just a bit skewed.

So... will you help me compile this bibliography for new teachers?

Essentially, I'm looking for recommendations of books that you believe have the potential to help kids/young adults work through problems, issue, conflicts, etc. If you can help me, please leave your recommendations in the comments including (if you can) the title, author, issue dealt with and what age group you think it's appropriate for. An example might be: Cut by Patricia McCormick: Deals with self mutilation; I recommend it for grades 7-12. 

Thanks you so much for helping me help these new teachers (help their students)!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Changing the World: One App at a Time

For the last few weeks, this TED Talk, in which Daniel Tammet explores how perception impacts learning and understanding, has been rolling around in my head. From the moment I saw it, I knew I needed to add it to my list of “must watch” TED Talks for school librarians, but that didn’t seem like enough.



Not able to shake the feeling that there was more for me to learn, I checked out Tammet’s memoir Born on a Blue Day from the public library and devoured it in an afternoon. While much of the book is a pretty linear recounting of Tammet’s experiences living with high-functioning autism and savant syndrome, there are moments of stunning beauty in which he describes how he sees the world. For example, the section in which Tammet explains his perception of prime numbers - numerical expressions so beautiful, peculiar and constant, that he often turns to them for comfort in the face of an uncertain and frequently cruel world - is incredibly moving. I’ve read that section several times, tearing up with each new passing. Plus, as someone who has spent her entire life avoiding math,  I couldn’t help but think that if Tammet had been my math teacher in elementary school, my life may have taken on a whole different trajectory, but I digress.

What may be most remarkable about Tammet, however, is not his mastery of languages (he learned conversational Icelandic in one week) or his ability to calculate complex math equations without so much as a number two pencil. Rather, what strikes me as really extraordinary about him is his choice to live publicly and share generously the details of this deeply personal journey. In the book, Tammet discusses his need to have a bowl of porridge each morning that weighs precisely 45 grams (he weighs it every time just to make sure) and how changes to his routine make him nervous and agitated –and yet he goes on book tours and speaks to a room full of geniuses at TED. I mean, let’s face it, most of us aren’t that brave or generous, and our brains don’t freak out if our morning corn flakes are underweight. Tammet’s mission is singular: to open us up to the idea that there’s different ways of thinking and knowing things – and that those differences effect how we learn. By sharing how he learns, Tammet hopes we'll think more about how others do.  What’s more, this message is so important to him, he’s willing to experience personal discomfort in order to spread it.

At this point, I’m tempted to ask if we, as educators, consider and appreciate the various ways our learners perceive the world and how that impacts their learning or even if we're as dedicated to our mission as Tammet is to his. However, I’m afraid I know the answer.

Anyway, as fate would have it, just as I’ve been engrossed in all things Tammet, I also stumbled across a photography app called WordFoto. Essentially, this fun little app provides the user with the ability to create, (what can be really lovely), image/text mash-ups: a digital marriage of self selected words and pictures that I just love. My first experiment with the app was one I created using a found image of Tammet and prime numbers. It started off as creative therapy, a way to produce something from all the ideas that were bubbling inside me.  However, the more I found myself referring back to his book to help me make decisions about colors and shadows, etc., the more I started to think about how this process might look in the school setting. Soon, my mind was buzzing with ideas about students using WordFoto to create images for book jackets, thematic displays or as part of the research process.

Then boom! I get this tweet from super-fab elementary school librarian Beth Redford who was not only reading my mind, apparently, but who had taken the idea to the next level with a creative commons licensing component. So cool!


But really, all of this is just the tip of the, proverbial, iceberg.  For awhile now, I’ve thought I understood the benefits of mobile apps in education. Had I been asked, I would have touted their portability, their relatively inexpensive cost, the ease with which they allow schools to access up to date technology and how they help prepare students for using such devices in the real world. But I’ve been missing the boat… at least in part.

What I’m just now realizing is how mobile apps provide us the opportunity to explore and honor the different ways in which students perceive the world, by giving them chances to interact with and change it. Let me give you an example: Whenever we ask students to locate, explore, discover or create [insert concept/product here], and then give them a stack of resources that we’ve either physically collected or curated online, their responses and creations are limited by our imaginations, perceptions and biases. No matter how good our intentions, no matter how many online options we offer, even the most expertly crafted opportunities for inquiry that tether students to a single room, (even if that room is filled with computers), offer a finite number of outcomes. In the end, more than just bringing the world to our students, mobile apps allow us to bring our students to the world – prompting a messy, but important, collision of ideas and perceptions. Even if that “world” is just our own campus, the insertion of our students into it, (along with their individual ways of knowing things), not only creates an infinite number of possible outcomes, but also, (and  more importantly), sparks conversations and interactions that change that world for the next explorer.

I know I must sound like a broken record, but I believe this is an exciting time to be a school librarian. While much of the discussion surrounding our field focuses on reinvention, (and believe me, some of that is needed), I don't think our overall mission has changed that much.  School libraries have always been about connecting our students to the world. Back in the day, we did it only through books and other print materials. Then the internet helped us exponentially expand those connections with just a few clicks. Now mobile apps present us with the challenge of rethinking those connections and the relationship between our students and the world they explore through research and inquiry.  Instead of just bringing the world to our students, these digital marvels allow us the opportunity to bring our students to the world - and as a result, neither will ever be the same.

UPDATE:

Even though a link to these can also be found in the comments, I wanted to share these AMAZING shelf labels that my new hero, Eliterate Librarian, made using WordFoto.  They are an incredible addition to her new shelving adventures -sans Dewey that is.  I love these and would steal them, but since she's also licensed them under Creative Commons, there's no need. Bravo, girl!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Holy Bodacious Barcodes: Using QR Codes to Extend Learning and Promote a Love of Reading

QR Codes are one of those subjects that I’ve been meaning to write about forever. To be honest, I was something of a QR Code skeptic when they were first brought to my attention last fall. To begin with, I struggled with how to make such things work in my school – where we are decidedly lacking in handheld devices and where students are not allowed to use their own smart phones during the instructional day. More importantly, however, while I couldn’t deny the QR Code’s inherent “cool factor,” the link between these 2 dimensional barcodes and student learning was to me, fuzzy at best. Then, as is so often the case, a few cosmic dominos fell - in just the right order - to make me a QR Code believer.

First, a math teacher at my school (a dear friend, muse and teaching partner extraordinaire who REALLY needs a bigger online presence), bounded into the library one day, commandeered my computer and said, “you have to see THIS!” (“This” being Steven Anderson’s post on creating a desktop QR Code station). Immediately, the wheels upstairs started to turn and it wasn’t long before I had a machine or two, some webcams and all the extension cords I would need for a QR Code revolution. The only thing missing was a REASON to do it.

That reason came a day or so later when I learned that our library had received a $6,000 grant to purchase art (visual, performance, decorative, etc) related print materials. One of the requirements of the grant was that I provide evidence of marketing the new materials to students in an innovative way – enter QR Codes! In the end, (though I didn’t plan this way) linking my QR Code experiment to a single project turned out to be incredibly beneficial.

First, it provided me with an obvious hook with which to tempt and recruit teacher collaboration. Art + technology and the offer of snacks brought several people to the table. Then, once I explained that all they needed to do was grab a stack of books and help me find some resources to either pique student interest or extend their learning, a party was born.

Secondly, it helped focus the scope of the project. Believe me, once you start creating QR Codes, it’s hard to stop. Dreaming up book + resource mash-ups for the purpose of student enrichment is positively addictive, so having a specific goal and focus helped keep me on task.

And, finally, when we were finished adorning the art books with barcode bling, it was easy to collect some data regarding what, if any, these little square labels had on students at my school. I was able to compare circ stats of books on the same/similar topics, but that were not branded with a QR Code to those that were. Surprise, surprise: those WITH the QR Codes were showed a great deal more love than those without. (About 40% more as a matter of fact). HOWEVER, the first time I saw a group of students huddled around the computer taking a 360’ tour of the Sistine Chapel that was linked (via QR Code) to a book on Michelangelo, (which they then fought to check out), I knew we’d hit on something big.

And I wasn’t the only one who knew it.

Soon students and teachers were clamoring to contribute to the QR Code fun. By the end of the year, we literally had thousands of books that are linked to additional resources via QR Code. These links include student created works like podcasts, Glogs, video book trailers, etc., but also consist of really neat resources that I’ve either stumbled across or, more frequently, that teachers/students have brought to my attention.
In fact, I started receiving so many student/teacher book+resource mash-up suggestions that I created a special bookmark to help me keep track of them. (Students take the bookmark when they checkout the book and put it in the suggestion box when they return it).

And to me, this is where the rubber hits the road when it comes to QR Codes (or any technology for that matter). I simply LOVE the idea of kids spending time in the library, exploring new ideas and checking out new material based on the opportunity for inquiry provided by the QR Code. However, when this activity is followed by a reading experience that is informed by the student’s desire to find more, new and BETTER resources to be linked to the title their reading, well… that’s when QR Codes make the switch from just being a fun fad or cool gadget to a meaningful tool that can not only extend learning but also help cultivate a love of reading in our students. 

Nuts and Bolts:
Here’s the desktop QR Code Reader I use. Again, big smooches to Steven Anderson for leading the way.
Here’s the QR Code Generator that I use. I know there are a billion others, but this is the one I landed on and I like the different options it provides.
And finally, Here's the tutorial I created and posted throughout the library for students. Obviously, it is heavily influenced by (though greatly inferior to) those created by Gwyneth Jones.  As always, anything I have posted here is free for you to use, share and make better. And what's not to love about that?