Monday, January 14, 2013

Picture This: Photo Editing Tools For Teaching, Learning and Rabble Rousing

Original Image by Library Girl
Since so much of my job these days is wrapped up in professional development, one of my goals for 2013 was to create a space where I could organize and share the images that I create for presentations.  I make a lot of these, but more often than I care to admit, I find myself reinventing the wheel with each new preso - and that's just not a good use of my (limited) time.  Plus, as much I love finding awesome Creative Commons licensed works to use, there's something gratifying about using your own.

As I shared a few weeks ago, I took the first step towards this goal by creating my first ever Flickr space. (See the link to "my photos" above).  On one hand, it seems strange that it's taken me so long to get on the Flickr bandwagon - after all, I've used Flickr for years, but only as an image source, not as a space to share my own photos.

This is partly because, I've never considered myself much of a photographer.  Photography is an art I greatly admire, but I've never been very good at it.  Then, two years ago, I decided to tackle a 365 project - that is, I decided I'd take and post a photo every day for a year.  Again, I didn't consider myself much of a photographer, but I'd seen members of my PLN post their daily photos and, frankly, I just wanted to be a part of it.  Plus,  I thought it might be a fun way to capture memories -  a way to keep a daily journal, of sorts, but without tying myself down to more writing.   In short, I did it on a whim.

Now, starting my 3rd year of taking and posting a photo a day, it's become a part of my routine that I treasure.

Still, as 2012 drew to a close, and the prospect of committing myself to another year of daily amateur photography loomed ahead, I toyed with stopping.  After all, there are days that I just don't want to take a picture.  Sometimes I'm too tired, sometimes too busy, and sometimes a day comes along that I just really, really don't want to remember.  Plus, if I do get behind (which happens a lot) I feel guilty publishing 15 photos on a single day - it seems a little like cheating.  So, I thought about calling it quits.  But then I got some much needed feedback from friends and strangers looking to start their own 365day photo challenge, and I knew that I couldn't give it up and that, deep down, I didn't really want to.

The bottom line is, I'm really busy.  I travel a lot.  And when I am home, I run around like a maniac most of the time.  And, if I'm really, really honest, then I have to admit that way more than 8 hours of my day are devoted to work, so... forcing myself to stop, take a walk, look at the world and find something interesting to point my camera at is a GOOD thing.  It provides me with a little balance - which I REALLY need. And I bet I am not the only one.

Anyway, this year, I've added the additional challenge of taking images that I think might make good presentation slides and then compiling them in my  "Picture This:  Library Girl Images to Use and Share" photo set.  The one above is my latest addition.  I've also included the same image, but without the quote, so you can add your own words of inspiration.  One note:  all the images in this set are licensed under Creative Commons, so if you want to use them, go crazy!  (Just remember, the license is for non-commercial use and requires attribution, so no cheating!)

Having said that, I've always thought that photography and photo editing were activities that were great for kids: taking photos is fun and editing them taps into their creativity!  But, now, more than ever, there's a case to be made that doing so also addresses specific learning objectives.  For example, check out this 8th grade Common Core State Standard.

Note:  This is a READING standard not a technology standard.  Now, say what you want about the Common Core, but this standard sets a high bar.  Instead of just asking kids to present information, it asks them to communicate through their presentations - and to select the best mediums with which to do that.  The difference may be subtle, but it's a big one.  What's more, it requires a skill that many adults have yet to master. (Just think about all those "death by powerpoint" presentations you've had to sit through!)  Plus, this standards affords us new ways to assess whether or not kids possess a conceptual understanding of abstract topics.  For example, it's one thing for kids to be able to recite a definition of a literary device, like mood, from memory, or to pick out that definition from a set of four choices, but it's quite another for them to edit a creative work in order to communicate different examples of mood - and then explain how the mood affects the consumer of the work.  In addition, what better place than the library, with its wealth of resources, (both digital and print), for this type of instruction to take place?  Indeed, this is a great way for us to support our English/Language Arts teachers by providing kids with opportunities to sharpen these skills through the creation of multimedia projects.  Additionally, after school clubs that use photo editing are a way to sneak learning objectives in to experiences that, for kids, seem to have more "real life" applications.

Plus, there's just so many neat photo editing tools out there that even the most novice photographer can create a product to be proud of.  Shoot! If *I* can do it, anybody can!

So... I thought I'd end this post by listing some of my favorite photo editing and sharing tools.  These are the apps I use most -  and, yes, I'm focusing on mobile apps because all of the photos I share are taken with my iPhone 4.  I don't have a fancy camera, and although I've thought about buying one, I probably wouldn't know how to use it!  However, if you're looking for web tools for photo editing, I suggest you check out my pal Gwyneth Jones' posts about Pic Monkey - the web based photo editing service that stole her heart after Picnik went bye bye.  Gwyneth says Pic Monkey is GREAT and when Gwyeth talks, I listen! :)

And now onto the apps...

Without question, Snapseed is my most used photo editing app.  Every photo I post (or even keep) is run through this app.  It's so easy to use, so powerful and the results are always different and always lovely.  As I've gotten better at taking and editing photos, I've wanted tools that give me a little more control - as opposed to just preset filters, and Snapseed fits the bill.  While you can definitely select preset filters with Snapseed, and you don't need the kind of skill required for, say, photoshop, Snapseed does let you adjust and tinker to your little heart's content.  The one downside is that you can get sucked in trying to make your photo "just right" - a problem I encounter almost daily, but that seems like a small price to pay for such a great little tool.  On the birght side, there's an app for iPhone, iPad and Android devices - there's even a version available for Mac.  I have all thee Apple products because I use it THAT much.  It's my favorite and my go-to.  Enough said.

FX Photo Studio

FX Photo Studio is the first photo editing app that I ever fell in love with.  In fact,  I'd say a good 50% of the photos I took that first year were edited with this app, which is only available for iPhone.  What I liked about it then, (and still do),  is that it's super easy to use.  There's well over 100 preset filters which look really cool on their own, but that you can also adjust easily.  You can star filters to create a favorites list and there's many options for sharing photos.  The downside, for me, was that the saved images are reduced in size and quality - not a huge amount - but as I started sharing my photos more during professional presentations, the more I needed an app that did not cut down the pixels.  I still use this app from time to time and definitely recommend it  for students and, really, to anyone who is just getting started.  It's super easy and the results are fab.

Color Splash
I learned about Color Splash thanks to Ken Shelton - who presented at last year's NCTIES conference.  He's a legit photographer who uses super high quality images to communicate with the audience during presentations.   Needless to say, I really responded to his image driven preso style and have tried to emulate it ever since.  That said, Color Splash is a neat little app that allows you to highlight a specific section of your photo in color while leaving the rest in black and white.  As Ken said in his presentation, it's a really effective way to communicate a specific message with your audience depending on what part of the photo you choose to emphasize.  I can imagine kids using this app to emphasize various parts of an image based on what specific characters in a book might do.  If the image contains lots and lots of stuff, what they choose to make color, says a lot about what they know/believe to be true about the character.  This activity could also work in a social studies classroom where two opposing figures in history "color splash" a specific photo from the time in which they lived.  What a great way for kids to walk in another person's shoes!  Another app that I like, and that does something similar, is called Ripped from Reality.

Word Foto
I've written about WordFoto before and still love its unique filter which allows you to combine words and images for effective communication.   Like my PLN BFF Tamara Cox, I used WordFoto to create shelf signage for my library before leaving and the results were wonderful.  (I also shameless stole some of Tamara's shelf creations, because she licensed them under Creative Commons so I could AND  they were just too awesome not to!)  I also think Word Foto would be a great way for kids to demonstrate an understanding of propaganda.  For example, just imagine if instead of "word" the image to the right was filled with "vanity" or "comply."  A totally different meaning and discussion could be had.  And what a great way for kids to gain a conceptual understanding of the power of words.

Insta Weather /Insta Place
The next two are really just for fun, but as I wrote about at length last week, a little fun goes a long way in the affective learning department - but I digress.  Anyway, my Wonder Twin Matthew Winner recently wrote about Insta Weather on his blog.  He's going to use it as part of his own 365 project this year - which I think is a really neat idea and, frankly, reminds me a little of Thomas Jefferson who began each day by recording the weather and other geographical information about his location. This would certainly be a cool activity to do in a science class - just the day with a photo, edited with Instaweather, posted to class website or blog.  I use this app, especially, when there's a weather anomaly that I want to document (like today, it was 80'F in January!) or when I travel.  It's a fun way to capture some stats about what you're photographing.   Additionally, there's a companion app to this called Insta Place which basically just labels each photo with its location in various and unique ways.  The results are fun and I think kids would love this - especially when taking a field trip.

Snap Dot
And then there's Snap Dot, which essentially lets you turn any photo into an experiment in pointillism.  It's very easy to use, and the results can be stunning. Again, it's really just for fun, but I'm such a fan of how the images turn out, I've shared one of my own to the left.  Cool, huh?


Finally, this post wouldn't be complete without mentioning the Flickr app - which is really outstanding. I am truly amazed by all its functionality.  My only grumble is that users are not yet able to select different licenses for photos uploaded with the app. Instead, Flickr app users have to access their photostream from a computer later and change the licenses to whatever they want. (The default is all rights reserved, which may work for some, but not for me!)  Apart from that small complaint, UPDATE:  Since first posting this, I've learned that if you change the default license in the web version of Flickr, that preference will be transferred to the app.  Brilliant!  Thanks bunches to Gwyneth Jones for showing me the light. (Note: within about 30 minutes of posting this, I had the new info.  THAT's the power of Twitter, y'all.)  An aside:  those of you who follow me on Instagram may wonder why I haven't mentioned it here.  Well, partly that's because I probably would not use Instagram with kids and, really, the Flickr app does everything Instagram does, but better.  For now, however, I am continuing to use Instagram, simply because I enjoy the community there. Flickr provides a better service, though, and they are not going to sell your photos to Facebook.  (At least not yet).

Okay - here's one bonus app, for those who are interested in taking on a 365 project.  Appropriately enough, it's call Photo-365 and while it's not fancy, it does help you collect your images in one spot and offers a variety of ways for you to share them.  That said, the thing I really like about it is the "month view" option that it provides.  Rather than just a standard photo stream, this app collects your photos in a calendar and let's you look at them as a monthly collection  (I've included my month so far as an example).  For those who are using the 365 project as a daily, visual, diary - this app is for you!

Neat huh?

Finally, to those who are thinking about tackling the 365 photo journey, I say go for it.  My only words of advice are a) give yourself permission to play catch-up when you get behind (because, trust me, you will)  b) have fun! There are no rules except the ones you make up - so don't make any up, and c) consider licensing your photos using Creative Commons.  If you're not a professional photographer and don't earn your living through your art, then why not share?  Who knows how many people you will inspire?   (AND if you are planning on helping kids create and edit their photos, by all means, talk to them about licensing their works.  Teach them about Creative Commons and make yours a community of sharing where licensing and attribution are just part of the process - not something you *might* get in trouble for *if* you get caught).

Oh... and if you decide to play along, let me know! Tag me on Twitter so I can follow your journey. I'd love to know what the world looks like through your lens.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Got Fun? Libraries As Affective (and Effective!) Learning Environments

Have you ever had one of those experiences when something you KNOW to be true, (something you  hold sacred, in your heart of hearts; something your gut and and all of your experience tells you is correct), is suddenly proven RIGHT by science, research and/or forces far more reliable and empirical than teacher's intuition???

I know.  That sounds pretty rare to me too. BUT this very thing happened to me a few months ago.  And then AGAIN a few days ago. (If it happens again, I'm gonna start buying lottery tickets, because this kind of luck can't be ignored!)

Original Image by Library Girl
The first incident of cosmic affirmation occurred when I had the privilege of meeting and talking with Dr. David Rose - the co founder of CAST, UDL expert, neuropsychologist and all around education guru. In the interest of full disclosure, let me first admit that prior to walking into the room where about 20 of us would get to have a candid discussion with him about how the brain works and how learning environments can (and should!) be changed to maximize learning, I had no idea who David Rose was.  I mean, I knew what UDL was and I'd heard of CAST, but while I was happy to attend the meeting, I was no fan girl.

Of course, all that was about to change.

As a neuropsychologist, Dr. Rose knows the brain. And during our conversation he talked about the different areas of the brain and how they are activated during different types of learning.  For example, basic knowledge creation (like learning that 2+2=4) activates the front part of the brain - which is also the part that is most easily damaged and which actually retains information for the least amount of time.  Affective knowledge creation, on the other hand,  (like learning that you're not good at math) activates the core of the brain - which is the area that is the most difficult to damage.  What's more information learned at the core of our brain is not only stored for much, much longer but that information is also a) the most difficult to unlearn and b) has the greatest influence on behavior and future learning.

This is a powerful thing to think about.

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Imagine the brain as a 3lb collection of electrical impulses blinking on and off all of the time, but in specific and particular ways when we are learning stuff.  Now think about the child who has *learned* that he/she is not good at a certain task, a specific subject or at school in general.  During classes or activities that include *that* thing, impulses in the core of the brain are so active and so powerful they, literally, overpower the impulses in the front of the brain trying to collect new knowledge.  In addition, impulses in the core of the brain often result in physiological responses. For example, if the impulses are positive, pleasure sensors are activated and we, quite literally, FEEL good.  On the other hand, if the impulses are negative, our blood pressure can shoot up, we sweat, tremble, or experience other indicators of stress.  In other words, we FEEL bad.

Again, this is powerful stuff.  Especially when we think about our students - particularly those who struggle in school and the behaviors they exhibit.  Are we mislabeling a physiological reaction to stress as "bad behavior?"  Not in all cases, of course, but it's certainly something to think about.

Anyway, for YEARS, I've been saying that helping kids see themselves as readers, mathematicians and as learners in general was just as important as helping them find the "right answers," because in my heart of hearts, I knew it was right.   But on that day, for the first time, I had a neuroscientist declaring to the whole world that science was on my side.

Suddenly, I went from being the crazy librarian who *believed* teaching needed to be more customized and less standardized, who *believed* connecting with kids was just as important as covering the curriculum and who *believed* sometimes it's not the child with the learning disability, but the instruction - to being a crazy librarian who had neuroscience to back up those beliefs.

Needless to say, when I left that meeting I was thrilled!  Almost immediately, I sent a "Hey Tell" to some of my teacher buddies to tell them that I was ready to conquer the world! (Truth be told, they get these kinds of messages a lot, but on this day, I was particularly inspired!)  Although I have no idea what my rambling messages said exactly, I'm sure they were full of words like "affirmation" and "core beliefs."

Then, a couple of weeks later I had the chance to retell the story of this meeting, and the powerful message it contained, in person.  And, naturally, words failed me.  As much as I tried to channel my inner David Rose, I fumbled the ball.  And while I did my best to introduce my colleagues to my knew BFF neuroscience, I left feeling like there wouldn't be a second date.

THEN, last week, I ran across this article titled The Neuroscience of Joyful Learning - and again, I found myself wanting to shout "See??  I told you so!!!"  Not only is this piece full of affirmations like "The truth is that when we scrub joy and comfort from the classroom, we distance our students from effective information processing and long-term memory storage," but the author also provides some practical suggestions for how to create learning environments that are joyful spaces that promote affective learning.

What's more, these suggestions have libraries written all over them. What follows is the list of tips from the article along with my take on how the library is the perfect spot for affective learning.

Make it Relevant:

"...relational memories appear to enhance storage of 
the new information in long-term memory."

  • The library is the perfect place for extension activities that can make classroom instruction feel more relevant.  
  • The library is, literally, full of resources for further learning.  If a student's interest in a subject has been sparked, what better place than the library for them to find out more?
  • Librarians can create programming/groups/clubs focused on linking learning with real life.  Poetry, engineering, photography clubs, writers workshops, tech teams etc, are great ways to help kids connect with the content.
  • Librarians can create interactive curriculum based displays that challenge kids to dig deeper, interact with information and create their own works.
Give Them A Break:

"Any pleasurable activity used as a brief break can give the amygdala 
a chance to cool down and the neurotransmitters time to rebuild."

  • The library is the perfect place for kids to pursue interests, interact with their peers and just hang out.  Not every second of their day needs to be structured and while classroom teachers often are unable to provide much needed "down time," the library is a space where students can be allowed to recharge their mental batteries.
  • Additionally, the library should be a sanctuary where things like reading, learning and creating are done for pleasure.  If reading is the core skill for all learning, we should show that we value it by allowing kids time to do it for *gulp* fun.  

Create Positive Associations:

"...when stress activates the brain's affective filters, information flow to the higher 
cognitive networks is limited and the learning process grinds to a halt."

  • The library should be a spot associated with "epic wins." 
  • Whether using video games to help kids collect data to be used later in math class, opening the library during lunch or after school for a student created film festival based on the greatest mysteries in science or dressing your patrons up in period costumes to reenact an historical event, the library is the perfect place to help students create a story in their minds that a) is forever linked with their understanding of a specific concept and b) triggers a joyful memory in which they were both successful and the star.
(Help Kids) Prioritize Information:

"Helping students learn how to prioritize and therefore reduce the amount 
of information they need to deal with is a valuable stress-buster."

  • The library is the perfect place to help kids gain control of their lives as students.  
  • Librarians can offer study skills workshops during/before/after school.
  • Librarians can lead "lets get organized!" mini-sessions during lunch period that help kids take control of their trapper keepers, create a to do list or update their student planner.  
  • Librarians can offer notetaking mini-courses or expose kids to apps that can help them manage their academic lives - you can even offer "certificates of completion" or virtual badges to kids who attend your sessions.
  • Librarians can add an "effective habits of teens" title to their book talk list - in additional to the latest fiction title, why not share some titles that could help kids reduce the stress of being a student?

Allow Independent Discovery Learning:

"Thanks to dopamine release and the consolidation of relational memories, 
students are more likely to remember and understand what they learn if 
they find it compelling or have a part in figuring it out for themselves."

  • The library is the perfect place for inquiry based instruction.  
  • With the wealth of resources available in the library and the creation of open, collaborative places, the library offers a unique space where kids can work together to dig into big problems, answer important questions and solve real mysteries.
  • The library is also the perfect place to couple the idea of the "maker space" with opportunities to engage kids in doing social good. Why not create spaces where kids can work to tackle social problems, create public service announcements or hold impromptu "TED style" talks about issues facing the world.  While providing kids with spaces where they can build robots, create art and construct models is valuable and will certainly engage them in affective learning, "maker spaces" can also be about making a difference.

Provide A Safe Haven:

"When teachers use strategies to reduce stress and build a positive emotional 
environment, students gain emotional resilience and learn more efficiently and 
at higher levels of cognition. Brain-imaging studies support this relationship."

  • For a lot of our kids, the library is the ultimate (if not the only) safe haven at school.
  • The library should be a place where all kids are welcome, all voices are valued and everyone can be successful.
  • The librarian should lead the school's anti-bullying efforts.
  • The librarian should highlight materials that celebrate diversity and explore different, sometimes opposing, points of view.
  • The library should be open and welcome while the atmosphere should make it okay for kids to be themselves.
Today, my friend Kate reminded me that "you cannot change people, you can only inspire them."  In education, we spend a lot of time trying to change people - especially kids - when we should really be seeking to inspire them.  

Libraries can be a part of lighting that spark.

While, we absolutely must continue to be as concerned with delivering the curriculum and promoting student learning as our classroom teacher colleagues, I believe we must also take advantage of the flexibility of our spaces, the depth and breadth of our resources and the quality of our pedagogy to provide kids with opportunities for affective learning.  

When I think back on my time in the library, I believe I spent a fair amount of time providing these opportunities for kids. But if I ever go back, I'll do more of it.  My library was a noisy and messy place, but I always had my eye keenly focused on the learning objective.  Next time around, I'll keep the learning objective up, but I'll focus some of my attention on creating experiences that activate that core part of the brain where kids learn the important stuff about themselves and the world.  I'll do it because, finally, I've got the power of research and science on my side!  But mostly I'll do it because, in my heart, I know it's right.


PS:  the title of this post was inspired by my PLN Pal Charity Harbeck and used with her permission.