Thursday, May 31, 2012

Level Up Book Club: Gamification For An Epic Win

Back in March I wrote about how the the TL Virtual CafĂ© hosted a webinar on WiiLearning: Engaging Students through Gaming Technology in which Matthew Winner and Meghan Hearn rocked my librarian socks.  

Since then, a lot has happened.

First, Matthew and I discovered that we were separated at birth.  Full on Wonder Twins we are.  No joke.

Secondly, thanks to my BFF Ryan Redd and some amazing support from my principal, I've been gamifying my library like a fool - implementing tons of lessons for both the Wii and xBox while also trying to harness some of the qualities of games that are so motivating to gamers so that I can apply them to my instruction.  I have so much more to write about this, but for now, let me just say it's been AMAZING.  I have so much left to learn, still.  But the impact this has already had on my students is mind blowing.  

And finally, a week or so ago, the twitterverse handed Matthew and I an idea for the Level Up Book Club - a summer (and fall!) reading challenge for folks who (like us) are interested in exploring gamification as an instructional tool.  

Y'all, this is going to be so much fun!

We're gonna read books, participate in challenges, share epic wins and explore how gaming can help make our instruction more meaningful for our kids.

You don't have to be a gamer to join our club.  In fact, I consider myself something of a gamer in training.  All you need is an open mind and a willingness to share. 

So... here's your mission (should you choose to accept it).
  1. Head on over to the Level Up Book Club Blog.
  2. Click the link to join (there will be tons of opportunities for you to contribute!)
  3. While you're there, nab the Level Up Book Club Badge for your blog! 
  4. Then grab yourself a copy of our first read:  Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal
  5. Get ready to unlock your inner (or outer)  Gamer!
We're looking at this as an opportunity for all of us to explore some new ideas, have a frank and open discussion about gamfication and teaching, share our successes, learn from our failures and apply what we learn to our instruction once school starts back.

Plus, (and I may have mentioned this before), it's gonna be super fun.

And as Matthew says, leveling up is a strong possibility.

Game on, folks!  Game on!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Rock Star Advocacy

Last week I had the opportunity to lunch, laugh and learn with some rock star librarians in Union County, North Carolina.  After a tough year for librarians - a year in which we've all had to get used to a new reality in which our programs have been under funded, under staffed and, in some cases, under extreme threat, the librarians of Union County were upbeat, generous and open to new ideas.  I was thrilled to be able to update my "Rock Star Advocacy" presentation to share with my new friends to the west and found myself energized by their enthusiastic response.

Over the last year, I've learned a lot about advocacy, not the least of which came from a lunch conversation I had last month with Vermont librarian Dan Greene. During our quick, but yummy, lunch between sessions Dan said something I will never forget: "when they come for your job, it's already too late."

Wow.  Just wow.

That's not to say, of course, that if cuts start heading your way, you should just lie down and take them.  I'm definitely not the kind of girl who goes down without a fight.  However, I've come to believe that proactive advocacy is the most effective and powerful way that we can protect and grow the services we provide for kids. If we can, through stellar practice and compulsive sharing, prove to our communities and those who make decisions about funding and staffing that our kids need/deserve quality library programs, we'll never get to point where reactive advocacy is necessary.  The fact of the matter is, in both tough and terrific times, people protect what they value. And if we're not seen as valuable, only WE can change it.  We need to be GREAT and we need to be GREAT at sharing.  The end.

Anyway, my heartfelt thanks goes out to my friend, and NCSLMA President Elect, April Dawkins for making me feel so welcome in her neck of the woods.  I also had a great time visiting both April's and our mutual friend Deb Christensen's library.  Both ladies have beautiful, lively, thriving spaces that gave me a major case of library envy!  The highlight of the tour, though, may have been when I stumbled upon this little display in which my "Librarians Are Ready" poster was displayed next to Gwyneth Jones' and Joyce Valenza's poster "What Do TLs Teach."  Seeing my work nestled against theirs was incredibly humbling and made me feel like a TRUE rock star!

Also, if I may be so bold as to acknowledge such a thing, my blog hit a bit of a milestone last week when it reached over 100,000 hits.  Although I'm thoroughly convinced that at least 50,000 of those are just me, it's a huge thrill and an honor to think that this space has been visited even half the number of times my stat counter claims. Although it feels a little strange to focus on it, I also know that it's important to acknowledge milestones, so... thanks to all of you for helping me reach this one.  My PLN rocks.

And, finally, speaking of PLNs, if you haven't yet taken the time to contribute to my PLN starter kit, please PLEASE do so now. I'm planning to keep the form open through June 15th to give folks a chance to get through the end of the school year before I start compiling the data.  Don't let your voice be left out!  Go here and share your suggestions with the world!  The fruits of your labor will be revealed in mid June!  Stay tuned!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

PLN Starter Kit: An Exercise in Crowd Sourced Learning

By writing this post, I am keeping a promise to several (dare I say many?) people who have asked me to compile a list of "must read" blogs and "must follow" tweeters.  Or... maybe I should say this post is the first step in keeping that promise.  Of course, I realize that there's lost of "top ten (twenty, fifty, etc)" blog lists out there and several major publications have taken the time to compile lists of super sonic mega tweeters.  And, yes, I could easily just point folks towards those OR towards the annual edublog winners.  However, the truth is, as keen as I am on creating my own "must read/follow" list, I'm just as (if not more) anxious to take a sneak peek inside your Google Reader or figure out whose tweets you favorite most.

No. Really.  

Haven't you ever wondered about that stuff?? 

I know I have.

Especially when I first created my Google Reader account and/or joined Twitter.  I can totally remember thinking "If only I could see ___________'s Google Reader, I'd know EXACTLY who to follow!"  Of course, I've since come to understand that creating a PLN is a very personal experience that needs to be driven my shared passions and sincere intellectual curiosity.  Still... a few recommendations at the start would have been helpful. So...

Here's my master plan.

I want to crowd source a PLN Starter Kit.

This may end up being as simple as a list of must reads and must follows, but it may end up evolving into something even bigger and more dynamic.  I don't know yet.  But for now, let's start with the basics.  If you're reading this post, please take a minute or two to fill out the form (below) which essentially asks you to list some of your favorite bloggers and tweeters.  Don't think about it too long.  Go with your gut.  And then, if your gut tells you to recommend others, go back and fill out the form again. Fill it out as many times as you like.  I just ask one thing:  once you've filled it out, share it.  

Blog about it.
Tweet about it.
Talk about it over a cup of coffee.
Make some nice graffiti art (just don't get caught and be sure to send me a photo!) 

But let's spread the word and help all those newbies out there begin the journey of learning that has helped us grow so much as teachers and learners. 

Ok.  Ready???


Sunday, May 13, 2012

Cockroaches in the Library Are Good: And Other Lessons I Learned In Vermont

Last week I had the opportunity to share and learn alongside a wonderful group of educators at Dynamic Landscapes – a joint technology educators and school librarian conference in Vermont. What an amazing experience! I quickly learned that spring in Vermont is a little slice of heaven and that Vermonters are fun, smart and incredibly welcoming. Plus, with Burlington (and Champlain College where the conference was held) overlooking Lake Champlain, the view’s not bad either.
Paradise (AKA Burlington) Vermont

As is so often the case when I am invited to share something about my own journey with other educators, I left Vermont feeling as though I had learned just as much (if not more) than I was able to share myself.    

First off, I went to what was, without a doubt, the most successful presentation on Twitter that I have ever been to.  Vermont librarian, Beth Redford, put together a great presentation on why educators should join Twitter that hit its target dead center.  We're talking a complete bullseye!

Now... I am a HUGE fan of Twitter.  I often say that Twitter has changed my professional life, and it has.  Truly.  But as much as I love Twitter, I am also a HUGE failure when it comes to bringing new folks to the Twitterverse.  I talk about Twitter all of the time and no matter how much I gush over its wonders, I have NEVER been successful in making it stick for newbies.  But now, thanks to Beth, I've seen a model that works!

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What I love about Beth's presentation is that it started with a real example of how Twitter changed her practice.  She provided a visual map illustrating how changing the reading lives of Beth's students and community was but ONE STOP along the journey of a single tweet that began with a librarian that lives hundreds of miles away from Vermont.   Then, once she had her audience hooked (I mean who WOULDN'T want to be a part of something like that?) she showed them how to sign up, to add an image to their account, how to follow a few choice people and how to sort those folks into lists. She focused entirely on showing her audience how to consume information from Twitter.  She didn't worry about making them contributors - rather, she provided a taste of a one way Twitter relationship, recognizing that connecting and contributing are later steps that may or many not happen for everyone. The rest of the time, she answered questions and scurried about her huge audience (the room was jam packed full of folks!) guiding and encouraging her new Tweeters onto sweet tweet success.  

And that's the genius of her presentation: a) she kept it incredibly simple and b) she helped her audience gain immediate gratification.  By the end, we all felt like we'd accomplished something AND that Twitter was a manageable resource that we could navigate successfully. (And let me just say, given how immense the flow of information is on Twitter, that's nothing short of amazing!)  I realize this may not seem like rocket science, but I've failed at this over and over again.  Now, thanks to Beth, I can see that I've not only tried to cram way too much into these initial conversations about Twitter but that I've also taken for granted that my audience will just go forth and tweet!  Silly me.  Anyway, you can find Beth's presentation on her blog, The Connected Librarian

The other learning highlight of this trip came from a visit to the Orchard Elementary School library in South Burlington, Vermont.  Orchard Elementary is an absolutely darling school nestled between, you guessed it, fruit orchards and student tended gardens.  From the moment we drove up, I was in love!  But, the real gem of this sweet little school is its library - an amazing space that was designed and is lovingly cared for by Vermont librarian Donna MacDonald.

As a middle school librarian, I love visiting elementary school libraries.  With their story-time corners and puppet theaters, there's just something wondrous and gentle about these special spaces.  But what struck me about Donna's library is how it is has been skillfully crafted into what can only be described as a laboratory for learning.  Sharing space with all the books and comfy reading nooks, Donna designed a "library classroom" for whole group instruction and a creation station (complete with a sink!) for when learning gets messy.  

These spaces, which are a prominent part of the total area, let every visitor know that the library is not JUST about reading. Rather, it is a space of learning, sharing and creating.  But what really struck me about Donna's library was how she'd created a space that made it almost impossible for her students NOT to be able to find the information they need.  

Need a book on the human body??  Just look under the skeleton.

Looking for a book on cockroaches??  Well, how about right next to the LIVE COCKROACHES?

Tortoises more your speed?  Let Max the Russian Tortoise show you the way.

How about a Tarantula?  You guessed it! 

There were similar displays for books on history, sports, you name it!  Donna has created a space in which library books, and the content they contain, are indelibly connected to the living world.  One of the things I've been thinking about a lot lately is how Dewey (and other ways that we organize books to help librarians instead of kids) put up roadblocks between our students and the information they need.  That said, no such barriers exist in the Orchard Elementary School library- and if they once did, Donna has completely destroyed them.  Not only is finding information easy in Donna's library, but its a magical journey of inquiry and discovery.

I realize, of course, that we can't all put creepy crawlies in our library to help our students see the connection between information and the natural world, but the creatures are NOT the story here.  The story is how Donna created a map for her students to access and interact with information.  Instead of spending their library time trying to decode the decimal system, her students explore real questions and create real solutions with information that is both easy and fun for them to find.  I mean, who couldn't figure out where the books about oceans and sea creatures are in Donna's library?

Plus, given the emphasis on non-fiction texts in the Common Core, this seems like both really good and really timely practice! Truly, I wanted to stay there forever.  What's more, as a middle school librarian, I cannot wait to shamelessly steal many of her ideas.

I am truly grateful for the time I was able to spend learning and sharing in Vermont.  Thanks to everyone who made my trip so memorable - but especially to Beth and Donna who sent me home with lessons that will continue to inform my practice for years to come.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Dynamic Landscapes: Developing a PLN

Super excited to be delivering this keynote this morning.  My own Personal Learning Network means so much to me, that this presentation was truly a labor of love.  Thanks, Vermont, for allowing me share part of this journey with you!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

News Flash: Kids Reading for Pleasure is Not The Problem

Warning:  This is a grumpy post.   But I can't help it.  I've been sitting on these thoughts since this article  stumbled across my twitter stream a couple of weeks ago and, frankly, I just can't sit on them any longer. In short, the article (which references a report by Renaissance Learning – the folks behind AR) implies a link between low SAT scores and high school students reading too many “low level” books. My hero and mega brain crush, Doug Johnson, recently shared the some of the same study with his colleagues and wrote about the impact of levels on student reading habits, which sparked some good discussion… but my main beef with this article is how it distracts from the REAL issues that are impacting student achievement in all areas – not just on the sacred SAT score.

First off, I guess I should say that I am a big believer in student choice when it comes to reading (and in all education, really). Even when I was a classroom teacher and felt pressured to make sure that every word my students consumed was “at or above” their determined reading level, my gut kept telling me it was wrong. Since then, and time and time again, my reader/teacher instincts have been proven right by research indicating that when students are allowed to read for pleasure, they excel at reading. As educators we know, (or at least I hope we do) that:
  • Kids who say they enjoy reading are more likely to score well on reading assessments than those students who identify themselves as nonreaders.
  • Regular reading outside of prescribed “reading for school” has also been linked with higher test scores.
  • Reading, more than any other skill, is associated with total academic success.
  • Choice is motivating - not just in reading, but in all aspects of both academic and non academic life.
Secondly, I should also mention that when it comes to reading instruction, the need for appropriate text (both academically and developmentally) is fundamental. However, there’s a huge difference between teaching someone to read and cultivating readers. Further, although it’s never clarified in either the article or the referenced study, it’s pretty clear that the vast majority of the offending "low level" books were NOT used for reading instruction.

All of that said, what really irks me about this article is that by devoting time to the notion that SAT scores have been damaged by the pleasure reading habits of students, we ignore the REAL issues that are actually impacting student achievement. We (meaning our students) would be better served by a dialogue that focused on things like:
  • Recent (and obscene) cuts to federal, state and local education budgets which have resulted in much bigger classes and far fewer resources.
  • Disparities in available technology (and other) resources between poor/affluent schools.
  • The recession and the resulting increase in students living in poverty coupled with...
  • The lack of training teachers receive in how to deal with the impact of poverty on student learning/development.
  • And, oh I don’t know, the virtual elimination of school library budgets/jobs in many districts – leaving kids with fewer options and less support in developing the very reading habits that have been proven time and time again to be essential in promoting student achievement.
Of course, slapping levels on books and forcing kids to read from their predetermined shelf is much easier than dealing with these (and other) REAL problems. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that people are interested in the reading lives of kids, but my students (and yours too, I suspect) deserve a more respectful dialogue that focuses on the issues that really matter.