Saturday, November 26, 2011

Readers Advisory 2.0 - Collaborative Genre Prezis

One of the things I get asked to do each year is to talk to students about literary genres.  Not only do many Language Arts teachers at my school have students complete genre related independent reading projects, but often genre is a great way to either hook a new reader or start a readers advisory conversation.  Over the years, I've tackled this in different ways - doing book talks, creating bibliographies, showing book trailers, etc.  This year, however, I've decided to take this readers advisory standard to the next level by creating collaborative projects where students contribute to our collective knowledge of each genre.

As I have the opportunity to speak with students (both formally and informally) about genre, I invite them to contribute to the growing collection of Prezis that are being generated related to different types of books.  Students can add book trailers, reviews, artwork, fan fiction or you name it.  And now that Prezi affords users the opportunity to collaborate on projects, the sky is really the limit.  (I'm thinking of this as sort of a free version of what the Pottermore site promises to be - only without all the hassle of trying to make a bajillion (more) dollars).

Obviously, my role includes tempting students to contribute and moderating what they do share, but I've also started including links to our curated genre collages in my marc records.  Lately, I've been adding a 599 tag (which is a searchable local note) to related records and adding the link to titles in the specific genre.  For example, the other day I added 2 new copies of Divergent by Veronica Roth, and when I did, I made sure to add the link to our Sci Fi prezi in the 599 tag.  I already advise students to click on the subject headings when they find a book they like in our OPAC, so this seemed like a natural extension.  A few kids have already stumbled across them without my prompting.  It's fun to watch them discover it - like a hidden treasure.

Anyway, here are a few of the genres that we've been working on.  I'm excited about the potential in these projects and about the ability to make my reader advisory program a bit more substantive.  Further, even though Prezi is a favorite tech tool of teachers at my school, I've never thought of it as a curation tool... that is, until now! As always, what's mine is yours.  Feel free to use, remix, share and make these better.  Just keep in mind that they're a work in progress!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

I Worry About Students Like Me

For a long time now, I've been waiting for a revolution in education.  I'm talking full fledged anarchy, followed by a rebuilding from the ground up.  I'm still waiting.

Today's so called ed reformers toss around words like creativity and innovation, but I worry that this year's "new math" still favors the compliant pleasers  in our classrooms: those students who come to school every day, ask few questions and who figure out, early on, that school is almost always a product over process game.  This, while at the same time, offering few, if any, paths to success for students who don't come to school, who challenge the status-quo, who behave badly and/or who simply don't fit into the rows we create for them.

I worry about these students because I was one of them.  My own school story is one of poverty, substance abuse, domestic violence, homelessness and academic failure.  I know now that, because they were a part of mine, these things were also a part of my teachers' stories.  However, as challenging as school was for me and, conversely, as I was for it, I worry that today's climate of high stakes testing is even more toxic for kids like me.

I often give the credit for the  fact that I even graduated from high school to my 10th grade English teacher - a woman who simply refused to let me fail.  Although I can't remember a single task she assigned me, or even what skill deficits she was determined to fix, I do know that hers was the first classroom where I felt I deserved a place at the learning table. She didn't make me feel like the smartest kid in class, but she made it okay not to be that kid.  To me, this is the saddest part of my story - or at least the part that causes me the most worry- because it makes me wonder about all the other kids whose paths never cross with that teacher. 

Don't get me wrong, there are lots of great teachers out there. I've had to the privilege to work with a host of educators who both inspire and challenge me.  For these teachers, teaching is more than just a passion, it's a calling - in every sense of the word.  And I know that many in this group see teaching, as I do, as the repayment of the debt they owe the person who saved them. But for every great teacher there are countless more students like me.

And I worry about them.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Don't Let Apathy Be Your Kryptonite!

I have to tell you, I'm a little disappointed.  Just about 2 weeks ago, Joyce Valenza asked the world to show their support for school libraries but signing a petition.  That's all.  She didn't ask for blood, a first born child or even a cup of sugar.  And yet, here we are, 2 weeks later and we don't have nearly enough signatures.

So... here's the deal.

If you think that any school receiving Federal funds should be required to have a credentialed School Librarian on staff full time with a library that contains a minimum of 18 books per student, and I certainly hope you do, you should sign this petition.

Bottom line?  We need 23,500 signatures to get this petition to the President's desk  - keeping in mind that this is the same kind of petition that helped fuel recent changes to student loan laws.  This is important.  What's more, it's entirely doable, but only if we get off our duffs and a) sign the petition and b) ask our friends, family and colleagues to do the same.  

When Joyce issued her call to arms, there were a little over 1,000 signatures.  Two weeks later, we should have well over 23,000, but instead, as I write this, we're barely touching 8,500.  

As I said, I'm a little disappointed.

I started this blog because I believe that my students deserve the highest quality library services.  I believe they deserve access to a fully funded library and a highly qualified librarian to learn from and with.  Two years ago, when the educational world started to turn upside down and I saw libraries/librarians as first on the chopping block, I knew I couldn't wait around for someone else to save libraries for my students.  I knew that I would have to step out of my comfort zone, start speaking up on behalf of my students and be my own superhero.  Thus, library girl was born.  

So... I've signed the petition.  I've asked my friends and family to do the same.  I've posted it on twitter, facebook and even a listserv or two.  But I can't do it alone.  

So, grab your cape, hop in the book mobile and do your part to help save libraries.  Deep down we're all super heroes.  Don't let apathy be your kryptonite! 

Sign. Post. Tweet. Repeat. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Edublog Awards: A PLN Win-Win!

I love the Edublog Awards.  Every year, around this time, the blogosphere and twitterverse get to honor their own by giving a shout out to their favorite bloggers, tweeters and virtual leaders.  Then, when the winners are announced in mid December, we all get to add a bunch of fabulous names to our twitter and RSS feeds.  See how that works?  No matter who takes home the shiny edublogger badge for their virtual mantelpiece, we're all winners!

So here's what you gotta do:
  1. Write a post with your nominations for the different categories on your own blog (or a website – anywhere public)
  2. Send a link to your nomination post via this form.
That's all there is to it.  Easy peasy! 

So, in keeping with the of the awards, which is to promote and demonstrate the educational value of social media, here are my nominations:  

Best individual blog:  Doug Johnson  - I feel like I learn so much from Doug.  He is a prolific blogger and, what's more, his posts are always meaty, well written, and brimming with a "students first" philosophy.  I <3 him.
Best individual tweeter:  TIE! Steven Anderson AND MaryAnne Reilly - I favorite more tweets by these two individuals than anyone else.  Steven always shares tons of great resources and MaryAnne frequently gives me reason to pause and consider an idea or issue from a different angle.  They are both fab.
Best new blog:  TIE! The Candid Librarian AND The E-Literate Librarian - I learn so much from these girls and while they've each been blogging for a little over a year, I feel like this is the year when they both found their voices and established themselves as rock stars.  I love learning from them!
Best ed tech / resource sharing blog:  Blogging from the Web 2.0 Classroom  AND The Daring Librarian - I can't think of two more generous bloggers.  They share, share and share.  And then, when they are done, they share some more.
Most influential blog post:  Settle In, It's a Long One AND 2000 Hours - both posts rocked my socks.
Best twitter hashtag: #edchat
Best librarian / library blog:  This is so hard.  I read so many great librarian blogs.  I could list so many here, but I'm gonna call it a tie between:  Never Ending Search and The Daring Librarian. This year, their blogs have had a huge impact on both my practice and my life as a blogger.
Best School Administrator blog:  The Principal of Change - George is my latest brain crush.  He's got so many great resources and ideas to share.  I'll come work for you any time, George! :)
Best open PD / unconference / webinar series:  TL Virtual Cafe! Um, duh!

There are lots of other categories, but those are the ones I'm tossing my two cents at.  So... now it's your turn. Take a few minutes to share the love with those people who have influenced your thinking and practice this year.  I can't wait to see who other people nominate and to add bunches and bunches of new people to my already amazing PLN.  Yay!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Where To Next?

Back in October, Tamara Cox, (The e-Literate Librarian), shared an idea for a library display modeled after the directional signs that I always associate with M.A.S.H.. (An aside:  I realize that reference will betray my age, but I was already taken down a peg or two earlier this week when I made a reference to Eddie Haskell, only to realize that the young teacher I was speaking to had no idea who that was. Ouch!)  Anyway, Tamara's sign was so fantastic, that I knew right away that I had to create one of my own.

One of the goals I've had this year is to do a better job of making my library more visually interesting.   My library was built in the early 80s and just about everything in it is original.  And although I've made some progress sprucing it up, I decided that this was the year to really put some muscle into making the aesthetic match the creative and lively work that goes on in there. Of course, if I had my druthers, I'd pull up the carpet, tear down a wall, buy all new furniture and hire some muralists. (I have an amazing mural idea based on the poem "The Greatest Nation" by Allan Wolf that I really *will* make happen some day.) But until I stumble across the big barrels of money I'd need to make all of that happen, I'm trying to make smaller, but impactful changes, when and where I can.  Of course, it's not just about aesthetic, it's about generating interest and creating an atmosphere of wonder (or as Buffy Hamilton calls it, enchantment) in the room where so much learning and collaborating takes place.  Tamara's directional sign is one such project.

While Tamara enlisted the help of her shop teacher and some students, I found assistance (and assistants!) in my sweet husband, some amazing students & teachers and one really fantastic parent. If you want to create one of your own, check out Tamara's blog for some step by step directions on how she made her cool, decoupaged, letter collaged signs.  Meanwhile, this is how I made mine.

  1. Balsa wood.
  2. Magnet tape.
  3. Paint (& brushes).
  4. Printer (& paper).
Here's what you do:
  1. I went to a local craft store and bought several planks of balsa wood - the kind that those snap together glider airplanes are made of.  I chose this because rather than finding a wooden pole to nail the sign to, I knew I'd end up using one of the 3 metal power/ethernet supply poles that are scattered throughout my library) - and this wood is incredibly light weight.  I suggest getting planks of different widths to add interest. At the same time, I also bought 5 small tubes of craft paint and a few brushes and a roll of magnet tape. (Total cost for all the supplies was under $30.00.
  2. Next I asked my husband to cut the wood into arrow like shapes for me.  He also sanded down the rough edges.
  3. Then some students painted the signs different colors. It was funny just how seriously the students took this process.  They were intent on getting everything just right.
  4. Meanwhile, because I am a fontaholic, I started searching online for fonts that thematically matched the fictional places they would be pointing to.  I have to say, this is the kind of thing I could spend HOURS doing - taking way too much time choosing between one font or the other when, really, both were just fine.  I have a sickness.  Really.
  5. However, once the fonts were finally chosen, I'd create the lettering (in just the right size and shape) in a word document, print it, and trace it onto the sign with a fine point sharpie or, depending on how it would be filled in, etch the outline of the font with an etching tool.**
  6. Once that was done, the letters could be painted in.
  7. Finally, once everything was dry, I slapped some magnet tape on the back and stuck the sign to the pole.  Voila!
**Truth be told, my fantastic parent volunteer did much of this part for me.

Now, all of that said, I should mention that we're not finished!  The signs we have so far are for:  NeverlandCamp HalfbloodThe GladeBluford HighNarniaMiddle EarthForksPanemEmerald CityHogwarts and Ember.   The signs that are still being made are:  UnderlandTerabithiaAlagaesiaRusty RuinsThe FayzBlackbird PondLorienThe SchoolMercy FallsMossflower WoodsCamazotz,  and the Hundred Acre Wood

The thing I've loved most about this project is the conversations it's generated.  It's funny how, when you're TRYING to think of something, you're mind can go completely blank.  For example, just as I got to the point where I needed to start coming up with the fictional settings for these signs, I seemed to completely forget every book I've ever read.  Luckily, there was no shortage of ideas from my students, teachers and even well read facebook friends who were happy to toss in some ideas.  Already, kids are excited to see if they know all the books represented in the sign, with high fives going to those who've read the most.  What they don't realize, however, is that those who don't recognize all the places, are the real winners.  With so many fictional spots left to visit, they're journey's just begun!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Rock Star Advocacy: Proving Your Worth In Tough Times

Oh. My. Stars.

I am unbelievably honored and thrilled to have been able to host tonight's session on Rock Star Advocacy in TL Virtual Cafe.  It was, simply put, a joy to be able to share and learn from a group of so many amazing folks - many of whom I admire greatly.   Yet another item checked off the professional bucket list!

As promised, here are my slides from the presentation:
In addition to the "tips" I mentioned, there were a number of GREAT suggestions posted in the chat.  Even though I promised I'd post them, there turned out to be just too many to mention here, (this is a good problem to have!) but a few that stood out were:
  • Have a social media night to both education parents and help ease their concerns.  "My daughter is tweeting, should I be worried?"  Great idea!
  • Volunteer to help your principal with building level staff development.  
  • Volunteer at local events like "early voting" or "clean sweeps" - great way to take the message of library to the people.
  • Hold Tech Tuesdays or Tech Petting Zoo events to become a resource for teachers.
  • Hold  a new teacher breakfast at the beginning of the year to let new faculty know what you can do for them.
Again, so many excellent ideas were shared.  For those who missed the session, be sure to check out both the audio and the chat archives.  Lots of nuggets of goodness in there.

Also, there were some requests in the chat for links to various things.  So here they are:

And, of course, I would be completely remiss if I did slap a big, juicy, virtual kiss on both Gwyneth Jones and Tiffany Whitehead as thanks for their help this evening.  I would call them the wind beneath my wings, but they are soaring right there next to me.  Thanks, girls!

Finally, if there's one message I hope the people attending tonight got from the session, it's that advocacy isn't about libraries or librarians.  It's about kids.  When we spread the gospel of library, it has to be about student learning and the impact we have on kids.  Otherwise, we're little more than the proverbial snake oil salesmen - schlepping a product that might look good or sound good, but when push comes to shove, is essentially worthless.  So, get out there and spread the good word, folks. Your kids are worth DESERVE it.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Kids First. Everything Else Second.

This recent post from Doug Johnson about circulation policies that favor books over kids and learning has been wedged in my brain like that silly pea in the fairy tale about princesses and legumes.  I certainly felt it nudging at me the other day when a student brought me this still damp, molding and completely falling apart copy of 12th Grade Kills by Heather Brewer.  This normally talkative frequent library flyer could barely meet my eyes when he handed over the ruined book and I gasped in horror.  "What happened????" I asked.  "Well..." he said, slowly. "It was so good.  And I didn't want to stop reading.  But then my mom said I had to take a shower.  And...."

Now, I don't know about you, but I don't have money to replace this book.  And, clearly, I can't put it back on the shelf.  But, what I can afford even less is to lose this student, (for whom English is a second language and whose family, I know, doesn't have a lot of money themselves), as a reader by scolding him for loving a book so much he had to bathe with it.  And so, I marked the book lost and sent him to the shelves to find another, reminding him to take a shower BEFORE he started reading the new one.

Fast forward to this afternoon. The same student comes to see me, this time grinning from ear to ear.  When I asked him if he'd finished the new book already he said "no, but I wanted to bring you this" - a brand new copy of same book that had been lost at sea just a few days prior.  When I told him I was thrilled, but that he didn't have to replace the damaged book, he said, "yeah... I know, but I wanted other kids to have a chance to read it."

Mission accomplished.

Of course, I'm not saying we shouldn't hold students accountable for lost books.  And I absolutely believe that we must be good stewards of the funds we are given to purchase materials.  But in the end, our mission is to serve kids, to establish policies that best meet their needs and to break those same rules when they are not in the best interest of the child looking up at us.  Kids first.  Everything else is second.

Doug's post ends with the statement that he hopes kids who are forbidden to checkout books when they forget or lose them grow up to "run for school board or become a principal at this librarian's school as an adult."  And while that's not the best reason to make our policies kid focused, it's a valid point.  Every interaction we have - whether it is with a child, a parent, an administrator or the governor - is a chance to spread the gospel of library.  Like it or not, we are all advocates.  And, now more than ever, we have to make sure both the message and the messenger convey a sincere dedication to kids and learning - not to books, due dates and terminal quiet.

Which reminds me.

I am thrilled and honored to be hosting a webinar next Monday (Nov. 7th) titled "Rock Star Advocacy: Proving Your Worth In Tough Times" as part of the TL Virtual Cafe series.  It's going to be a big ol' juicy hour of tough love, with an emphasis on the love.  So... I hope you'll join me.  The fun starts at 8:00pm EST and I promise to (at least try to) make every minute count.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

QR Codes, Prezi and Angry Birds (Oh My!)

Last week, while so many of my pals were in Minnesota taking in the sights and sounds of AASL, (I'm not bitter, really), I was home, holding down the fort and ever so quietly fanning the flames of a QR Code revolution. As I mentioned in a previous post, QR Codes have taken a new and exciting turn at my school, as students use what they're learning in their Social Studies classes to transform some of our out of date print resources into up to date, interactive texts.

The latest examples connect my library's print books on South Africa to student made Prezis which contain all sorts of photos, audio and videos providing up to date geographic, social and political information, along with some really cool connections to the novel No Turning Back by Beverly Naidoo, which is set on the streets of Johannesburg on the eve of South Africa's first democratic elections AND which these students just finished reading.  Seriously, it's crazy cool.

The first time I ever saw Prezi in action might have been in 2008 during a session by David Warlick at my state's annual technology conference.  No matter what year it was, though, I remember a) thinking it was incredibly cool and b) excitedly sharing it with the teachers I work with the moment I returned.  And, while I don't use Prezi for every presentation, I love the way it helps both the presenter and the audience see the connection between concepts - something that a linear powerpoint simply can't do.  These days, Prezi is a regularly used tool at my school - particularly with the Social Studies teacher who is currently helping me take over the world, one QR Code at a time.  I love the way he describes student Prezis as "an updated KWL chart" - an opportunity for students to share what they know, explore what they'd like to know more about and make connections between the facts they've absorbed and their analysis of those ideas.  Again, it's cool.  Seriously.

Which brings me back to the QR Codes.  As students are finishing up their South African Prezis, we're affixing them to outdated books in the library.  It's a super fun process because, while I pull the books that are in need of a time machine makeover, I'm letting students decide which Prezi should be linked with which book, as well as what page in the book the QR Code should call home.  Having them locate out of date information, as well as decide which resources best fill the current gaps in these books, is an amazing thing.  And, frankly, I just can't get enough of it.

Meanwhile, just as all this crazy cool super learning is taking place, I've  been receiving a bushel full of questions about how QR Codes look at my school.  Which I am going to answer now.  But before I do...

It's important to note that I wouldn't know anything about QR Codes if it weren't for a math teacher pal of mine who came running into the library one afternoon, commandeered my computer, and breathlessly began singing the praises of Steve Anderson: a fellow Tarheel who not only blogs and tweets about all things techie ed, but who also co created the #edchat series of tweet-chats that thousands of people follow each week.  In short, he's phenomenal.  Anyway, just about everything I've done, in terms of implementation, he did first, so if what I describe doesn't make sense, check-out his work which may very well be much clearer than mine.

QR Code F.A.Q.

Q:  Don't students need a hand held device (like an iPod or iPad) to scan a QR Code?

A:  No!  In fact, my school has no hand held devices.  None!  We do, however, have computers and webcams.  That's all you need.  Here's what you do:

  1. Attach Webcam***
  2. Install Adobe Air
  3. Download and install QR Reader.
  4. That's it. You're done.  Really.
One thing I did end up doing, eventually, was having many of the superfluous programs taken off the computers that I use as QR Code stations.  Typically, the codes we create link to an online resource, a video, podcast or some other student made product which is housed online, I decided to free up a little memory/space by removing any programs that don't relate to that function.

Now you're ready to scan!

Q:  How do you make a QR Code?

A:  There are a bajillion QR code generators out there, but I use QRStuff.  Honestly, there are likely better, fancier choices available, but I just haven't done much searching.  QR Stuff was the first one I happened upon when I started creating them, and I've been happy, so I've stuck with it.  That said, all you have to do is type in the url to the website that you’d like your QR code to link to, follow the steps to either save your code or print it or both. Then, once it’s printed, affix it to the book (or whatever) and test it with your webcam.  Note:  be sure to use the built in URL shortener – this will result in a cleaner, easier to read, QR Code. If you choose a different code generator, just be sure to use a URL shortener before creating your codes.  Also, Gwyneth Jones created an uber cool comic tutorial outlining how she creates codes which provides an easy step by step tutorial.   And...although it's not nearly as cool as Gwyneth's, here's a link to the QR Code flyer that I created and have posted at my stations.  

Q:  Do you ever sleep?

A:  Not really. 

But that has nothing to do with this project.  In fact, this project has taken up little to no "extra time."  Instead of prioritizing the project based on the resources I felt were in the most need of updating, I created goals based on the already established learning targets for students. In short, if they're studying South Africa, then that's the area we'll focus on.  When they move onto Africa, I'll move there too.   Rather than creating new lessons to accommodate this technology, the technology exists solely to enhance student learning.  To me, this is how it should be all of the time.  Kids first - then technology.  Kids first - then books.  Kids first. Otherwise, what's the point?

*** One last note about the webcam.  In my typical MacGyver, ductape and a prayer, style, I attached my webcam to a spare circulation scanner stand.  Essentially, this was to keep kids from playing catch with the camera which, let's face it - I teach middle school - was a legitimate concern.  However, I realized almost immediately that scanning the code wasn't as easy as just placing the book under the camera.  You'll see once you set yours up that there can be a split second delay between the image on the screen and your movements below the lens.  Plus, for some reason, my kids seem to think that in order to make it scan, the code has to be touching the camera (which actually has the opposite effect).  Honestly, this was a source of great frustration for both me and my students until I created an X marks the spot label right below the camera that shows would-be scanners precisely where to place the bar code.  If you follow none of the other advice I fling your way, follow this.  Really.

And finally, even though this post may actually be the longest post known to man, I just had to share a new display that only exists because a) I shamelessly copy Tamara Cox whenever I get the chance.  (Seriously, my library is going to start looking a lot more like hers very, very soon).  And b) because Gwyneth Jones is crazy generous.  

Quick like, here's the scoop:  Series books are so popular with middle school kids that, for awhile now, I've been toying with the notion of shelving (at least some of them) separately.  Then Tamara did it and yes, if Tamara jumped off a bridge....  Fast forward to my mailbox and a package containing 4 uber cool Angry Birds, (courtesy of one incredibly daring, red headed librarian who shall remain nameless), and voila, a display is born!  

Once the shelving was done, I downloaded an appropriate font, created some signage and away they flew.  The kids love it AND while this picture doesn't show it, I've also created some themed shelf talkers that help kids figure out which books comes 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc.  (Here's an example, that you are welcome use, change, share, ignore, etc).

It's been good fun and, best of all, it's a testament to the power of community.  At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I can't help but believe that not even the very best of us is as good as we all are together.  So I continue to borrow and steal and create and share.  After all, my kids (and yours) are worth it.  

(Thanks, girls!)