Sunday, December 30, 2012

2012 is in the Books. Bring on 2013!

This is the time of year when better bloggers than I are reflecting on another year gone by.  Selfishly, I love these "year in review" posts - I feel like they provides me with one last chance to catch up on all the really great stuff I've missed.  For example, just today, I learned about Inkle Writer - a free tool for creating "choose your own adventure books" - thanks to a "best of..." post from Larry Ferlazzo.  I cannot wait to give this new (to me!) tool a test drive very soon!

Anyway, I wish I had it in me to put together a great "best of 2012" post like real bloggers do. But the truth is, I'm just not organized enough to pull it off.  Plus, as a lifelong teacher, December does not feel like the end of the year to me.  Both my personal and professional calendars run from August through July and probably always will.  And finally, (and perhaps more significantly), my crystal ball seems to always be pointed towards the future. I find it difficult to focus on the last 12 months when the next 12 are, literally, just around the corner!  This year, that internal pull towards whatever's next feels especially strong.  Call me an optimist, but I'm excited about the future of librarianship in the changing educational landscape.  I'm no common core advocate, but I see an opportunity for librarians with this shifting curriculum.  Plus, I'm excited about leveraging new technologies as tools for creating richer, more meaningful educational experiences for kids.  I have no idea what the coming year will look like for me personally, but for librarians, I see opportunity for change, growth and innovation.  In whatever role I can play, I look forward to being a part of it.

That's not to say, of course, that 2012 wasn't a year to remember - because it surely was.  For me it's been a year of both personal and professional growth.  I've learned so much this year and, thanks to my PLN, I've had the chance to share that journey in some extraordinary ways.  I've traveled to too many states to mention, gave my first keynote address (with several more following), saw my work published and started an online bookclub with my professional wonder twin -who I will actually get to meet in 2013!  Seriously, this has been a BIG year.  (You'll have to forgive me if that seems like "shameless plugging" but there's just so much personal joy wrapped up in these experiences  that I can't help but mention them).

That said, as one year flips into the next, it's only natural to set a few professional goals for the days ahead.  I'm not much of a resolution maker, but I have been thinking about some of the things I'd like to accomplish next year.

Mostly, I want to start doing a better job of collecting and curating the resources I discover and create.  I haven't figured out the particulars of how this will look yet, but I know I need to do a better job of keeping track of my presentations, publications and both created/discovered resources.  To my credit, I'm pretty good at finding, making and sharing stuff - but I'm almost entirely rubbish at collecting, organizing and maintaining those same things - which is kind of ironic for a librarian.  So... this year, I'm going to work on using this space (and others) in smarter ways.

To start this process, I've created a new page (*points up*) where I will start sharing photographs that I take and edit for professional use.  Even though I would never call myself a photographer (I'm at whatever step comes before amateur) taking and editing photos is a personal passion of mine.  I love it.  It's a stress reliever AND it helps me see things in the world that I might otherwise overlook.  Over the last couple of years I've participated in a 365challenge - meaning that I've taken and posted a photo every day for 365 days. (This year for 366 days!) And over time those photos have found their way into my professional presentations.  Now, instead of trolling the internet for CC licensed images to use in my work, I first search my own images - and to my surprise, I often find exactly what I'm looking for!
Original CC Image by Library Girl! 
That said, part of what I'd like to do this year is start sharing those images in a more intentional way.  Currently, I post my photos on Instagram and (less consistently) on Facebook/Twitter.  Starting tomorrow, however, I'm going to start sharing those images that I think might be useful for professional use on my new Flickr page. (Believe it or not, I've never had a Flickr page before.  Perhaps I'm getting on this bandwagon late - but as far as sharing CC licensed images, I don't know of a better resource).  Anyway, all the images there are licensed with an Attribution, NonCommercial, Share Alike CC license - meaning you can use anything there as long as you don't make money from it and you give me a nod in the process.  I think that's fair.  Plus, teaching kids to license their work through Creative Commons is another passion of mine, so I figured it was high time I became more intentional about doing the same with my own creations.  (An aside, I find teaching kids to license their own work creates a culture of sharing that is far more effective than trying to scare them with copyright laws.  When licensing their work is part of the creative process, they are far more mindful/respectful of that process when it comes to using the work of others.  But I digress).  Again, this is just a start, so I've only got a few images posted so far, but I hope my collection will grow as the days tick by.

In the meantime, let me use this unofficial "year in review" post to thank my PLN for continuing to follow my adventures, share their wisdom, challenge my beliefs and cheer me on.  2012 would have been far less interesting and meaningful without all of you.   No matter what the next 12 months bring, I look forward to the journey ahead.  Here's to our continued (shared) love affair with learning!

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Polls Are Open! It's Time To Get Your Edublog Vote On!

The nominations are in and the voting is open for the 2012 Edublog Awards. I am super honored to have had this blog nominated again in the Best Library/Librarian category.  When you take a look at the competition, it's especially meaningful, because those folks are AWESOME!  But I'm also blown away by the fact that Level Up Book Club - my scrappy, fun game based learning love child with Matthew Winner - was nominated in not one, not two, but THREE categories:  Best New Blog, Best Group Blog and Best Social Media.  Talk about an epic win.

But the good stuff just keeps coming! Now it's time to vote.

You can cast your virtual ballot by heading over to the voting page. You get to vote once per day (from a single IP address) and unlike real elections, there'll be no long lines or voter intimidation!

So let your voice be heard!  And then tell all your friends to vote too!

Voting ends at 11:59pm EST on Sunday, Dec. 9!

I've written before about how much I dig this process.  And I do.  I really do.  No matter who gets the most votes, we all win because the end result is a treasure trove of new Tweeters and Bloggers to follow and learn from.

So... if you're reading this post, I hope you'll vote.  And yes, shamelessly, I hope you'll vote for me and for Level Up.  But no matter who you vote for, be sure to check out all the finalists in all the categories - there's some real gems in there.

Good luck everyone.  And happy voting!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Library Girl's Picks: The Best Digital Tools for Formative Assessment

On Monday, I had the opportunity to participate in another fab edition of the TL Virtual Cafe webinar series.  This month's PD offering was an "Edutech Smackdown" featuring the Queen of All Things Library:  Joyce Valenza.  I love these smackdown sessions because they are the ultimate crowdsourced PD.  Everybody grabs a slide (or two or ten) and when their time comes, takes the mic to share something they love.  They are fun, fast paced and the cream always seems to rise to the top.  Delish!

That said, for my few minutes with the mic, I decided to focus my attention on formative assessment.  As much I love tech toys, (and I do.  I really, really do), I grow weary of gadgets for the sake of gadgets.  If there's one thing I know for sure, it's that technology is not going to improve student learning, boost achievement or save education -  only good instruction will do those things.  That's not to say that effective technology use can't enhance that instruction   Of course, it can.  But technology is but one vehicle by which we can deliver our content and pedagogy.  What's more, even the best tech tool is only as good as the instruction it supports. 

Which brings me back to formative assessment.

When incorporated into a lesson, formative assessment provides the teacher librarian with a snapshot of the teaching and learning while it is still happening.   This is valuable for so many reasons.  First, the activity itself can provide the students with extra practice.  Secondly, when done effectively, formative assessment offers a quick and more reliable check for understanding than the old "raise your hand if you have a question" technique.  Third, and probably most importantly, formative assessment provides the teacher librarian with instant data that can be used to adjust instruction "on the fly" in order to better meet student needs.  And, finally, formative assessment can help guide future lessons.  All all good stuff.

Obviously, this is not rocket science.  Great teachers have been using formative assessment since the first prehistoric student blamed a hungry T-Rex for his missing homework. That said, today's teachers and students have a plethora of digital teaching and learning tools at their fingertips that makes incorporating formative assessment in the learning process both really easy and super fun!

So... here are some of my picks - along with a few others that were suggested by members of my PLN.  Big thanks to Steven Anderson, Nancy Mangum, Neill Kimrey and Angela Monk for sharing your expertise with me.  You guys rock! 

Admit/Exit Tickets are a beloved formative assessment strategy.  Indeed, I cannot even begin to count the number of post-it notes I've used over the years to gauge my students' progress, interest or prior knowledge.  Of the digital tools available for this type of formative assessment, Linoit is my favorite.  I use it all of the time.  It's easy, reliable, is available as both a web tool & an APP and your boards can be easily saved and/embedded.  It's a win-win.  I also like the APPs iBrainstorm and Perfect Caption as well as the webtools Stixy and Wallwisher - although, increasingly, there seems to always be a glitch in the Wallwisher matrix.

Graphic organizers are another great formative assessment tool.  Asking kids to organize/prioritize a set of data is an effective way of gauging their understanding of those concepts.  The standout in this category, for me, is Popplet.  With both a web based and APP version that allow kids to collaborate, adjust the map as their thoughts evolve and save their popplets for later use, I am a fan. and SimpleMind are also useful tools with similar functionality.  However, if you're looking for premade organizers like venn diagrams, four corners, etc., the APP Tools for Students is a great option which features hundreds of existing organizers that kids can edit  and share.

Taking a quick survey or poll is an AWESOME way to find out, quickly, what your students know, before moving forward in the lesson.  What makes today's digital versions of these mini assessments so effective is the ability to view/share the results in real time.  My favorite tool for this purpose is Socrative. Like the description says, Socrative, literally, turns any internet ready device into a set of clickers - teachers can give both students and teacher paced quizzes, the results are instantly graphed and shared AND there's a feature which allows students to vote on the responses that are captured.  Amazing.  Of course, if you're lacking netbooks/laptops or Smart devices in your school,  Poll Everywhere offers a similar service using text messaging and Google Forms can be a great web based alternative - although teasing the data out of a Google Form requires a bit more work.

I can still remember the first time I was able to put an individual whiteboard into each of my student's hands.  I simply could not believe how powerful having them write the answer to a question on their own board and hold that answer up for me to see could be. I thought, this is going to revolution my teaching - and in some ways it did.  One thing is for sure, it didn't take long before all those boards were stained and smudged and cracked from hard (but important!) use.  That said,  today there are a plethora of individual whiteboard APPs out there that offer the same instant glimpse into what your students know that their hard plastic counterparts did PLUS so much more.  My favorite of these offerings is Educreations - an APP that let's students draw, write, create, narrate, record and share what they know.  They can record (and play back!) the steps in solving a math problem, label the parts of a plant or identify places on a map by annotating a preloaded photo and the final products can be embedded on any webpage.  Show Me and Whiteboard Pro offer similar products, but Jot! is a really simple APP that more resembles the individual whiteboards of yore.  Jot is not fancy, but it's reliable.

My favorite tech tool right now is an APP called Reflection.   Essentially, Reflection allows you to "reflect" multiple mobile devices on a desktop computer - which can then be projected and shared via a data projector/apple TV, etc.  So... no matter what your students are working on - maybe they are playing Cyber Bully Zombies as part of a digital citizenship unit or perhaps they're creating digital timelines or writing their own ebooks.  Either way, you can see it all, in real time.  A-MAZ-ING.   The down side?  It's pricey.  Right now, I am rocking the free trial and will gladly fork out the $14.99 once that runs out, but that's a stiff price tag for schools sporting carts and carts of devices. That said, I recently learned that Doceri offers a similar service, (and is free!) but I've yet to see it in action, so I am keeping Reflection at the top of my list.

For more information on Formative Assessment in the library, I'd suggest a reading of this School Library Monthly article from 2011 by Kristin Fontichiaro.  This resource provides some stories from the trenches - that is to say examples from librarians currently using using formative assessment as an instructional strategy.  My favorite part of the article though is when Kristen says:  "To be blunt, if school librarians are to call themselves teachers, then they too must ensure that students are learning, not just "doing."'

Amen, sister.  Amen.

For me, formative assessment acts as a reality check.  Regardless of how many virtual light bulbs I *think* I see going off above my students' heads, until I truly and accurately check for understanding, I am just fooling myself.   So, whether delivered through a pack of post it notes or a cart full of tablets, formative assessment remains a crucial part of the instructional process - and one that belongs as much in the library and lab as it does in the traditional classroom.