Monday, March 25, 2013

RIP Google Reader

First Google killed iGoogle.  Now it's putting Google Reader six feet under.  If I didn't know better, I'd start to take this personally.  After all, these are two of my favorite Google products.  Turns out, though,  when it comes to Google Reader there's lots of alternatives out there and switching my RSS feeds to the one I liked best was super easy.  

Which one did I pick?  Feedly.  Why?  Switching was a snap, it's highly rated, has a slick interface, a chrome extension and an app I like.  Truly, it was a no brainer.

What's more, there was no fuss, no drama, no gnashing of teeth.

An actual screenshot! 
In fact, Google's done me a great big favor, because making the switch inspired me to do some much needed RSS spring cleaning.  I almost shudder to admit this, but on the day I swapped my Google Reader for a Feedly one, I was subscribed to over 400 blogs.  Seriously, that's a problem.  A big one.  I'm not sure in what world I would have time to read over 400 blogs, but it's clearly not the one I currently inhabit.

On the other hand, making cuts is hard!  Every blog in my reader was hand picked because, at the time anyway, I didn't want to miss a word of what was being posted there.  Perhaps I'm just a girl who's been chosen dead last for the team one too many times, but I'm a big wimp when it comes to picking the talent and cutting the rest.  Which probably explains how my RSS feed got so out of hand to begin with.  So, I needed a system.  A set of criteria I could use to make the process is a little more objective.  That said, here's what I eventually settled on.
  1. Stay Current:  First thing I did was check to see when each site had last been updated.  It took a little time, but scrolling through the feed, it was easy to see which blogs were on permanent hiatus.  I'm not talking about cutting any blog that hasn't been updated in the last two weeks, or even a month, but if the last post was in 2012 and that post was only the 4th one that year, it's safe to say that ship has sailed its last voyage.
  2. Stay Relevant:   Teachers, like all species, have to evolve in order to survive.  So, it's only natural that the spaces where we write and share will also grow and change.   This is a good thing.  But if the focus of a blog no longer interests or inspires, it's time to part ways.  
  3. Stay Connected:  So many of the blogs I read are written by folks I've either actually met or have interacted with via my PLN.  In some cases, that connection alone is more important to me than the rules above. There are just some blogs I'm always going to subscribe to because the authors are my peeps.  Enough said.
  4. Stay Inspired:  Blogs that make me laugh, make me think, make me want to be better:  these are the blogs that I want need to read.  This is subjective, of course, but incredibly important.   The more pleasurable this reading is, the more of it I'll do.  And the more I do, the better I become at my work.  And the better I am, the more joyful my practice.  Etc.  
  5. Stay Organized:  Spring cleaning is a great time to sort your reader into folders.  I subscribe to teacher blogs, library blogs, administrator blogs, author blogs, etc.  Sorting them into different categories can make reading all those sources of info a little less daunting.  
In the end, I was able to whittle my gargantuan RSS feed down to fewer than 200 blogs.  This feels like a real victory to me, and not just because the number is smaller, (although that does help), but because I know I'll be able to get so much more out of my feed now that it's more manageable   And that's really empowering.  

So empowering, in fact, that I'm thinking of starting a blog study like the one that was suggested in a recent post by George Couros.  Instead of a book club, it'd be a blog club.  A once per month (virtual) meeting where folks chat about the cream of their RSS crop.  It would be librarian focused, but blogs of all stripes would be up for discussion.  I'm thinking a Google hangout, but I'm still working out the details, so stay tuned!

In the meantime, instead of mourning for Google Reader, let's all clean house.  Virtually, of course.  I so don't do windows.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Science Fiction Renaissance: A Post for Thomas

Last week I had a great discussion with my friend Thomas (and by discussion, I mean a series of thoughtful texts) about Science Fiction.

First a bit about Thomas.  Thomas is a teacher - even though he currently doesn't have a classroom.  Once upon a time, Thomas and I taught a few doors down from each other in Winston-Salem, NC.  The yin to my yang, Thomas taught History and I taught English - each lesson punctuated by hours and hours of conversation, collaboration and coffee: all of which taught me so much about my content, my students and myself.

Fast forward ten years and while we now live over 1,000 miles apart, Thomas is still teaching me stuff. He is one of the many reasons I started this blog.  I don't think he knows that.   But, once, a long time ago, he told me that I had a gift with words and that I should trust in my own voice.  I'm still learning to do that, but his nudging has certainly helped.

Anyway, Thomas is a great teacher and an even better friend.  So, the other night when he texted to ask what I thought of the Twilight series, I knew I was in for a doozy of a conversation.

So... what do I think of Twilight books?  Hmmm.  That's complicated.  I don't think they're very well written.  I don't like that at least one of the central themes is that a girl isn't complete without a boy (even a vampire boy!) and (perhaps most damning)  I didn't a like, or feel I could cheer for, a single one of the characters.   HOWEVER, I love the way they attracted kids to books. In my library, the space on the shelf where the Twilight books belonged, was ALWAYS empty. (And we had 20+ copies of each book!) AND the holds for each volume were always in the double digits.  I saw kids who had NEVER READ A BOOK read those 600pg + novels over and over and over again.  Bottom line?  I don't need to love them.   But I do need to harness my students' passon for them and leverage that adoration into a love for other books and eventually for reading itself.  And that's what I tried to do.  Plus, who am I to judge?  When I was in middle school, my favorite books were by VC Andrews and Stephen King.  This glass house owner isn't casting any stones.

Turns out Thomas tried to read the Twilight Saga at the urging of his kids, but found them boring.  More importantly, however, Thomas feared that Twilight had elevated the vampire/werewolf genre to become the "new Science Fiction."   Now.  It's important to note that I very rarely get to prove Thomas wrong, but I was super happy to do so in this situation.

Thing is, I LOVE Science Fiction.  In fact, it's my favorite genre.  And not because I love robots or time travel (although those things are cool!) but because Science Fiction books so often tackle big, big things.  Injustice, the dangers of group think and the fierce defense of individuality and freedom are often the messages imbedded in the best Science Fiction.  The best Sci Fi offers a treasure trove of teaching opportunities and I love using the genre to talk to kids about author purpose and metaphor.  These are meaty books.  

What's more, (as I told Thomas) I believe we're in the midsts of a Sci Fi (if not YA Lit) renaissance.  To put it bluntly, I'm not worried about Twilight becoming the "new Science Fiction" because there's lots and lots of other "new Science Fiction" and it's AWESOME.

Of course, when I told Thomas all of this, he asked me for a list of recommendations.  Books he could read and share with his kids.  And to make this request even sweeter, he asked me to post this list on my blog - a request that sent a thrill up my spine as I am, still, always a little shocked and delighted when anyone confesses to reading my blog.  Most of the time I'm absolutely convinced that I am the only one who comes here - which is totally fine.  I write for me, not for an audience.  But, still, it's nice when someone proves me wrong.

Anyway, what follows now is my list.  Note:  it's in no way comprehensive.  It's just a list of Science Fiction books that a) were published recently and b) that I love OR c) that my students adored.  Note:  Many of these titles are part of a series.  If so, I only included the first of the series in the list.  Additionally, I decided to put the list on Good Reads - that way I could continue to add to it.  I'm certain I'll think of other titles as time goes on.

Growing up, I moved around a lot.  I went to lots of schools - some of which had school libraries, some of which didn't.  From what I remember, those places were quiet rooms full of books that were mostly written for either little kids or for adults.  I don't recall a plethora of books written for teens and preteens.  Sure, there were the classics you'd think of - the Madeleine L'Engles, Judy Blumes and Elizabeth George Speares - but nothing like today.  Today, young adult literature is a thriving, incredibly rich genre - a genre filled with, in my humble opinion, some of the BEST books (of any genre) being written today.  It makes our job, as the folks who are charged with putting the right book in the right child's hand at just the right moment, much, much easier.  

Plus, it makes for great conversations with students.  And with old friends.

Monday, March 11, 2013 + WLMA = My Favorite New Thing!

Last week I learned about which is an easy to use and uber fun website that allows you to string together YouTube clips to create interactive trivia games or "Trivs."  I love using video clips as part of my instruction, (both for little kids and bigger ones), but how fun to be able to create a game out of learning from this medium!

Things I love about
  • It's super easy to use.
  • Players know immediately if they got the question right/wrong.
  • Scores are generated, in part, by the speed of the response - which leads to a little competition.
  • The interface is slick.
  • Processing is wicked fast!
Things I don't love about
  • In chrome (on my mac), I had to go full screen to get the scroll bars to show up.
  • Clips can't be more than 20 seconds long (this part really cramped my style!)
  • The questions can only be multiple choice.
  • The clipper tool is a little wonky.  You'll notice in my example that the last question takes forever to load, but don't give up - it gets there, promise! 
  • If you're using this with kids, it will have to be for fun only as there's no real way to keep track of their scores.  
Overall, though, I love it and I can see lots of applications for it's use.  Even if you didn't want to create Trivs for your kids to tackle, what a fun product for THEM to create in order to demonstrate learning!  Instead of the standard book trailer, how neat for kids to string together existing clips to help set the mood for questions about a book that they generate.  OR if you're working with a social studies teacher, what a fun way for them to develop a trivia game about a certain time in history or about a theme (I'm thinking revolution or poverty) repeated throughout history.  Same thing for science.  The possibilities are endless!

Anyway,  in exploring some of the other examples on the, I noticed that it's possible to string clips from different videos together to create your Triv, but for my example I used just one video - a  five minute wonder created by the Washington State Library Association showcasing the power of school libraries.  I love their spin on our work and the passion of the teacher librarians who participated.   That said, while a few of the questions in my Triv are about the video, because I was just experimenting, I threw in a lot of general library/teaching type questions as well.  Feel free to play along AND because I love a little smack talk, don't be afraid to share your score in the comments.  

In fact, let's make it interesting, shall we?

I'm feeling generous AND since I love competition, post your score in the comments and I'll pick one person at random and put together a sweet Library Girl prize pack for the winner.  What's in there you ask?  I don't know yet!  But I've got PLENTY of goodies up my sleeve and I'm dying to share, so... take the Triv and post your score.  You could win big!

Though, truth bet told, it's tough not to feel like a winner just watching the WLMA video.   It's a great reminder of why our work is so important.  I love it.  And I think you will too.  So... take a look.

And... let the games begin!