Monday, June 25, 2012

Game On! Using Video Games To Ramp Up Your Instruction!

As far as presentations go, tomorrow's "Game on!" session is a biggie for me, and not because the audience will be big.  In fact, judging by last year's attendance at this event, I'm looking forward to a group of no more than 20-25 teachers.  And not because the pro scouts are showing up either.  No... in fact, tomorrow's session at my district's annual Summer Tech Institute promises to be a low key afternoon spent sharing and learning among friends.

Still, this presentation just FEELS big.

This is the first time I'll be sharing what I've learned this year about how games and gamification can impact instruction.  I've written about this before but I've yet to stand up in front of a group and say "hey! I know about this and I've got something to share!" So I'm a little nervous - mostly because it's important to me.

It's also important to my teaching partner and co presenter - who is the math department chair at my school. We're so excited about this aspect of our teaching that we've already applied to share this presentation at both my state's library and math conferences next year.  Even as I type that out it strikes me as funny.  I'm sure she never, in a million years, imagined herself presenting at the state library conference - just as I'm pretty sure the state math conference may go up in flames the minute I walk in.  It will definitely be a step outside each of our individual comfort zones, but totally worth it - especially for me.

Super BIG mega thanks to Matthew Winner for letting me use his design handywork for our opening slide.  It  pays to have a Wonder Twin.
As a librarian, struggling to survive in today's economic and educational climate, I can't help but think about the impression this presentation will make on the folks viewing it.  And while sharing it with other librarians will be wonderful, I'm really looking forward to using it to punch a hole in how at least a few math teachers view librarians and the potential for math/library collaboration.  I've always been friends with my school's math chair - but I've never collaborated with her, until now.  What's more, it's one of the most meaningful collaborations I've ever been a part of.  Now that's something I really want to share.

Speaking of which, last week I received this letter from the exec board of my state's technology conference. Essentially, of the 2,000 presentations given at last year's conference, mine received the best participant evaluations.  What's more, my other presentation (with super pal Jennifer Northrup) was #3 on the same list.  They told me this was the first time the same person had ever appeared twice in the top 5.  Now, if this seems like shameless bragging, that's only because it kind of is, but bear with me... if I'd received the same accolade from my state's library conference, I'd be super excited - but I probably wouldn't share it here.  However, the fact that not one, but TWO, librarians received the highest evals at the state's TECH conference just makes me squee! I've been attending this conference for years.  It's wonderful and it attracts some big name speakers.  However, librarians are NOT its target audience - at least not its primary target. The fact that we are being recognized for our exceptional work at this conference, again, feels big - and I can't help but hope that at least one person walked away from those sessions with a new understanding of how libraries/librarians impact student learning.  Of course, it doesn't hurt that the theme for NEXT year's tech conference is "Game On!" and is all about gamification in education. Talk about coming full circle. (Somebody queue Mufasa)

Finally, I'd probably be remiss if I didn't acknowledge and say thank you to everyone who nominated and voted for this blog in the Salem Blog Awards.  Honestly, I'm at a loss for words when it comes to this recognition.  When I look at the folks who were nominated - in particular, Doug Johnson, who is one of my heroes, it makes me want to demand a recount. However, in lieu of making a hanging chad joke here I'll just say thank you.  I'm unbelievably grateful.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A Year in The Making: My Annual Report

Last year around this time, I chose to tackle my first annual report. No end of year wrap up is required of me, which gave me the freedom to approach the task in anyway I chose. Still, it was important to me that I make it an authentic exercise. If I was going to put the energy into such a reflection, I wanted someone besides me reading it, which is a tricky proposition, especially when you think about who your target audience and is and what other documents are competing for their attention.

Last year, I made the phrase "the bottom line" a central part of my report - in homage to my principal who sometimes interrupts me with the question "what's the bottom line, Jennifer?" if I go a little long in my rant du jour. Even so, despite trying to tailor last year's effort specifically to her attention span, I was nervous bringing it to her. It felt a bit brazen of me to demand her time for what was, essentially, an academic exercise. But, it turned out to be a great experience. It sparked a meaningful conversation and she even ended up sharing it with our district's senior leadership - which felt like a big win.

So, this year, I'm tacking the annual report again. Despite feeling guilty devoting time this when I still have lots of (actually required) work to complete, I also felt bolstered by last year's success and inspired by the freedom to do it any way I want! Here were my goals:
  1. Emphasize information that's important to people OTHER than librarians.
  2. Make it fun, interesting and easy to understand.
  3. Focus on instruction/student impact.
  4. Consider my audience at every turn.
  5. Keep it positive.  This has been a tough year for me.  My clerk was cut.  I have no dedicated budget. I've felt overwhelmed and defeated numerous times.  I don't want to sugar coat those things or make it seem as though they haven't had an impact.  However, if I refer to goal #4, I know this isn't the place for that conversation. 
Which brings me to this year's report, which turned out to be an experiment in infographics.  I ended up using a tool called to create it - which was HUGE fun. is super easy to use, but is still in Beta and was sometimes a little buggy.  In the week or so it took me to put this together, they added new graphics and backgrounds, so it's definitely a product in development.  I'm not super happy with how it looks online (bit fuzzy here, though it looks great in the flesh, so to speak) and I hope decides to create a pdf download option.  Other than that, I'm psyched about it.

Finally, if you recognize yourself in this report, that's no accident.  My PLN hugely influences my practice and I'm thrilled to be able to share some of how that inspiration has played out in my library this year.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Summer Reading (For Kids & Adults)

Even as I write this post there's an amazing conversation taking place on Twitter related to the Level Up Book Club - a summer reading adventure that I am lucky enough to co host with Matthew Winner.  As I've written about previously, #levelupbc grew out our desire to further explore the idea of gamification and how it might impact our instruction.  We've only been up and running for a couple of weeks now but this already feels like an epic win to me!  Not only do we have a first round of about 30 educators from around the world participating, but the conversations sparked from our reading have been mind blowing.  What's more, starting the club has given Matthew and I the chance to experiment with some of the elements of gaming we've been reading about in Jane McGonigal's Reality is Broken - our first club read.  Plus, it's just fun.  Seriously, we are having a blast and there's just something about the discussions that are growing out of this reading that makes this feel like important/meaningful work.  So often we consider "summer reading" as fluff - the opportunity to break out the latest 50 Shades of Beach Reads and let our mind take a much needed vacation. And while there's nothing wrong with that, I have to admit that I don't think I've ever been so motivated to read during the summer than I am as a result of our gamified book club.  You'd think I'd be tired of professional reading come June - but the exact opposite is true. Rather, I'm inspired and motivated.

Which leads me to what I'm doing for my kids this summer in regards to summer reading.

We all know that the vast majority of our kids either won't pick up a book this summer or will, at the very least, do a lot less reading during their break from school than they do during the traditional school year.  We also know that more and more research indicates that this break from reading can result in some educational back pedaling - especially for those kids who struggle with reading to begin with.  In short, summer reading is important.

That said, this year I am excited because my library is going to be open this summer - at least for one day per week.  First off, I'm thrilled that my district sees the library as a key player in reading instruction in my school.  Avoiding the "summer slide" is a district priority?  Great!  They see the library as the antidote?  Even better!  To me, this is a big win.  Secondly, I'm stoked about the opportunity to channel some of the things that I find so motivating about The Level Up Book Club and apply them to my summer reading program for kids.  Officially, I'm not expected to do anything other than keep the library open and circulate books, but I see this as a chance to do something a bit bigger and a bit more fun.

So... here it is:  my summer reading program.  I can't claim it's entirely gamified, but there's definitely a gaming element to what I'm trying to do.  Of course, it's still a work in progress and things are bound to change as we go along, but I also feel like it's a fairly decent place to start.  Plus, I know I'll have a core group of kids who will visit the library every day that we are open. And I'm really looking forward to seeing how they react to the summer reading program and what feedback they provide.  I will definitely make changes based on their responses.   For me, this is a chance to not only impact the summer reading habits of kids at my school, but it's also a way for them to help shape my instruction for next year - again, a BIG (dare I say epic?) win!

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I don't know about you, but every summer I schlep home a bag full of books to tackle during my "break" along with a heap of other work and a pile of good intentions.  And every summer, I haul the same load back to school - most of it untouched.  Of course, it's true that we all need a break from work over the summer and I'm certainly not suggesting that we all spend July and August working our fingers to the bone, but I can't help but wonder if the "summer slide" is exclusive to students.  If kids lose part of what they've learned the year before by completely unplugging, doesn't it stand to reason that we do too?

So... this year, I'm striving for balance.  I'm leaving the piles of work at work and letting intrinsic motivation guide my summer reading and learning.  What's more, I hope my summer reading program for kids will tap into that same energy.  

Friday, June 8, 2012

Video: It's a Small World After All - My PLN Keynote

Awhile back I posted about a recent trip to Vermont where I was honored to deliver (I guess it's safe to admit) my first keynote address.  I was super nervous before, during and after, but I had an amazing time sharing how my Personal Learning Network has shaped my practice and I left Vermont with many new friends and tons of new ideas.  I continue to be so grateful to everyone who was a part of bringing me to this wonderful conference on the banks of Lake Champlain.

Today, a video of my keynote was published and although I can't bring myself to watch it, I'm going to be brave and share it with you.  No doubt, some of you will recognize yourself in the many nods I made to just a few of the rock stars in my PLN who inspire me every day.  Whatever you think of my speaking ability, know that this presentation wouldn't exist without you!

The presentation itself can be found here.  Honestly, part of me still can't believe the whole experience really even happened.  This week (the last week of school for us) has been full of pitfalls and barriers.  Having this video published today, as a reminder of what a great year I've had, was just what I needed.