Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Sharing My Toys

One of my many hats (and growing academic interests)is teaching a class on film studies. Last year was my first year, I'm teaching it again (vastly revamped!)spring semester this year, and next year it morphs into a year long class.

I run it as a combination film analysis, film production class, either of which could be a full class in itself, and trying to cram both into one semester leaves both aspects somewhat haphazzard. But we do what we can, and I'm excited next year will give us scope to do some great things.

In the meantime, I spent all day yesterday working on the class website and updating the hotlists of resources for the students. (So far it's all boys this year. And last year, in a class of 15, I only had 3 girls. What is it about film and women? I noticed on a Samsung video contest yesterday, they have a special promotion just for girls, so obviously it's an issue in the field. Not many women directors out there!)

Anyway, I have a list of resources for film analysis (they'll be blogging on a genre of their own interest), and one of video resources (for shooting their own videos). The latter would be useful for anyone interested in digital storytelling.

I'm especially pleased with the class website. I used Google Sites, because I think it gives a more "finished" appearance than PBWiki, much as I love that tool. It also works seamlessly with other Google apps, which we'll be using. I started a Google group for discussions, use Google Calendar for assignments, and could even create a page of vidoes for them to watch at home.

Even though our school uses First Class, I may have the kids set up an iGooogle page as an information management site for themselves. I've given enough Google App tech workshops to the faculty by now that many of them are starting to use the apps, so it would be a good tool to teach students some information management (I'll also have them use Reader to subscribe to each other's blogs, of course!)

Our theatre director uses Google Sites/Calendar to share all her researsal production information. It's pretty cool, and a great "best practice" for showing other teachers.

I've blogged about this before, but the problem with using tools such as First Class (or even Moodle) is it doesn't teach students how to manage themselves using tools they'll have available once they leave the school environment.

Anyway, if you have the time/inclination, I'd love any feedback/suggestions you might have.

BTW, the photo is from the Life series on Google: Hitchcock next to Dali's painting "Movies." Dali, as you may know, worked with Hitchcock on the dream sequence in Spellbound.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Media Recover To The Rescue!

The animals bought me a wonderful new camera for Xmas a few months ago (they're always very generous!), so of course I used it during Christmas. My dad recently moved to the East Coast, and this was the first time we'd spent Christmas together in quite a while. I don't have very many photos of him, for some reason, so I was making free with the camera, taking shots of him, shots of him and my fiancee, shots of his wife's Dad, a wonderful old geezer also getting up in years. I got some great photos of all of them, and was quite pleased and excited.

First thing the following day, I hooked the camera up to the computer to import all the photos. I'm still working out kinks and some of the photos were blurry, so I elected NOT to import those, and just keep the others. And, as usual, I told iPhoto to delete the images on the camera after import. Do you sense where this is going?

In my usual boneheaded way, I managed to import the photos I didn't want, and delete the photos I DID want. Panic! Catastrophe!

I dug around online trying to find suggestions for recovering deleted photos. Nothing, so I started checking data recovery software. LOTS of that, so I ran out, bought a card reader, and started downloading software.

First I tried Recover My Photos. No luck. I couldn't even figure out how to use Stellar Info's software! Moved on to File Juicer, which at least recognized there were files on the card, but three hours later, couldn't retrieve them. Tried Picture Rescue and Card Rescue with similar results.

Then FINALLY came to Media Recover which, for a mere $30, found EVERY picture I'd ever deleted from the camera, including the precious Christmas photos! Easy to use, too, with options for a deep recover (the first one I used, and it tool all night) or quick recover, which I used after I bunged up the "save" mode and had to retrieve the pictures all over again (long story!). Quick mode found all the photos in mere minutes.

So here is a ringing endorsement for Media Recover, which can also find video and other digital media files.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Creative or Catastrophe?

The Mayor of Nashville announced the merging of public and school libraries in Nashville a few weeks ago. Obviously this is a Big Story in the library world.
According to the mayor’s letter, the intention is to begin the merger with high school libraries, a move that Bengel says is intended to “strengthen the schools."

I suspect the library community at large sees this as the opening salvo in a plan to abolish school librarians altogether. Fortunately, for Nashville this is the school board's decision, not the Mayor's; nevertheless, that it's even being discussed shows, once again, how little the public understands the nature of school librarianship.

I was even talking to my Dad over the weekend about helping students with documentaries. He looked at me kind of puzzled and asked, "But aren't you the librarian? Are you doing this for fun after school?" AARRGHH!

Here are the questions that leap to mind regarding the Mayor's decision:

1) Is this merely a co-ordination of resources? Will the general public have access to the school collection? Public collections contain considerably more 'questionable" material than a school collection might. Are they now open to more frequent challenges, since they're part of the school library system? And will the general public mingle with students in the school library? How does that affect safety issues?

2) A supposed "benefit" is longer library hours during the day and in summer. Does this mean the school library will be open? Who will supervise? And aren't there increased costs in keeping the buildings open and staffed longer, defeating the original purpose? If it just means students have access to the public library, don't they already?

3) Assuming this is all a way of ultimately removing the school librarians, who will instruct? With all due respect to our public sisters and brothers, they are not trained (or certified) teachers. Of course, anyone who can conceive of this as a reasonable act, doesn't see school librarians as necessary to the instructional process, anyway.

4)How will libraries collaborate with teachers if they're not even in the same building? It's hard enough when you are!

Those are just the questions that leap to mind. I'm sure I'll think of others. This is definitely an issue to watch closely.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Nearest Book Meme

"What about the consequences?"

I should ask that question more often...

Interesting book--and one of a stack of three that were by my bed. (I'm lying in bed, blogging--which may be more than you wanted to know!) The pile also included Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, which I'm re-reading. But to put that would have sounded like I was trying to impress people. Also the Missing Manual for Mac OSX Leopard. But when I looked at the sentence for that one, even I thought "ugh."

* Get the book nearest to you. Right now.
* Go to page 56.
* Find the 5th sentence.
* Write this sentence - either here or on your blog.
* Copy these instructions as commentary of your sentence.
* Don't look for your favorite book or your coolest but really the nearest.

From Doug Johnson's blog...

Research, the Internet, Barabasi and...Robert Frost

According to a recent Boston Globe article research at the University of Chicago claims the internet is having a narrowing effect on...well...research.

In brief, databases, search engines, etc. all algorithmically favor recent articles over older, established (or obscure) texts, leading to a smaller range of sources and a "tightening of consensus."

There are those, of course, who disagree, and I look forward to watching the debate. Though,if nothing else, Laszlo-Barabasi describes the phenomenon in his excellent book, Linked.
While, theoretically, the internet makes everything available, in actuality it creates 'hubs' that attract the majority of links, based on popularity, leaving other sites stranded in oblivion, buried in the 11+ billion pages that make up the web.

If he doesn't mind me paraphrasing him, Doug Johnson wrote that he's not sure what the findings mean--it could be the idea of "sufficiency" has worked its way up the academic ladder.

I also wonder if that "breadth" that supposedly existed earlier wasn't a function of lack of access to a broad selection of current resources forcing scholars resort to the tried and true of what was already available. Along the same line, before the days of search engines, one really had to dig to find information. I remember spending HOURS poring through the Reader's Guide just to find a few articles that our library MIGHT have. Looking at everything else along the way might have led to some serendipitous finds. Online searching with its wealth of results make that serendipity less likely.

One of the comments mentioned a new search engine that tries to build in the "Eureka!" factor. I wasn't that impressed. It seems to limit results to only 10 or so. On my first search "French revlution" the results were exactly the same as Google's. (they display results side-by-side)

The next search for Basset Hound yielded different results and did, I must say, lead me to some
cool cartoons
Google didn't bring up. Other results were rather bizarre, though.

In the meantime, the kids will continue to do what I suspect kids have always done--find a few resources and think they're finished, while I nag and badger them to dig deeper.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Pathfinders 2.0

I'm reworking the pathfinder for the 8th grade research project on the 1920's. I still do a lot of the searching for them re: websites, since I don't have all that much teaching time with them. (I'm working on it....)

On the new, 2.0 version, I've included the Power Point presentation on research strategies, so they can review if they need to. I've also added the Primary Sources custom search engine I created. This, along with the databases, should still give them plenty of search practice. In high school, I start working on more independence.

I'm working on a 2 day lesson on using primary sources, complete with a VERY cool PP (if I say so myself!) and a packet. I'll post both when they're finished.

Here's a tip: I added the slides/search engine using the Google Gadgets plug-in. At first it really screwed up the layout, and they wouldn't show. But if you create a table with only 1 cell, then add the plug-in to the table, it solves the problem.

I might add here that I tried creating this in Google Sites. I really like creating blocks of information, instead of one long stream. And of course it works seamlessly with the other google elements (the pp and search engine.)

EXCEPT--I would have to invite every single student to Google Docs to have them able to view the Power Point, since there's no general HTML tool for adding widgets. Come on, Google....

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Mr. Picasso Head

Too funny! Things you find when you go through your reader. This is from Doug Johnson. Mr. Picasso Head (Is that a great name or what?)is a fun little tool that lets you create Picasso-like heads and save them. Here's mine. I added the title in SnagIt.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Google: Vini, Vidi, Vici!

Google earth just added a new 3D layer: Ancient Rome. Fly over the city or tour famous buildings. This should really help kids visualize it all!

Now,getting this to work is not at all intuitive (the video makes it look SOOO easy. I spent 20 minutes trying, and finally dug around Google Earth Help until I found some directions. Here you go!

1. In the Layers section, open the "Gallery" folder, then double click on "Ancient Rome."

2. This should zoom you in, and you'll see several yellow building icons. Double click on one. This pops up a description of the building. In the lower left hand of the box, there are several links. Click on "Ancient Terrain" Wait several minutes and this will download the terrain layer into "temporary places.)

3. Once the ball stops spinning, click on a building again. In the pop up window, click on "Ancient Roman Landmarks." This will download (again with much waiting) 250 buildings.

4. If you have a REALLY fast connection and a fairly recent computer, repeat again for the "Ancient Roman Buildings--5000+)

Save the files to "My Places," but unclick them when you don't want them or they'll really slow things down.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Do-It-Yourself Clickers, With Google Forms

If you go to any Ed Tech conference, the clicker vendors are everywhere. They're a good way to check student comprehension, if the content supports multiple choice type questions.

They are, of course, expensive gadgets.

It occurred to me the other day (while brainstorming at a tech conference) that you could use Google Forms to create a quiz students would take as the class works through a review lesson (for example). When they respond to the questions, Google tabulates the results in a spreadsheet that you would have open on your computer, where you could see the percentage of right/wrong answers, and adjust the review accordingly. A bit primitive, as you have no idea who answered correctly, but you could gauge the class's progress as a whole.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Enjoy the Connecticut Autumn

Playing with Animoto. They have an "educator edition" now, that lets teachers have full-length versions for free.

Here's one I made with some photos I took while walking the dogs a few weeks ago.

Wouldn't this be a great tool for book reviews? Several of our classes are working on book reports right now. I'm going to talk to the teachers about using Animoto instead, have the students find related images, create voice and soundtrack in Garage Band, then link them to the library website for student book reviews.


I blogged about Wordle during a conference last night. It's an interesting gadget, but at the time I didn't think it had much educational use, thought I tossed off a few possibilities.

Well, I'm hooked. I played with it this morning and created a cloud using several poems by my favorite poet, Emily Dickinson. Here's the result:

Wow, what a tool for evaluating themes/ideas in writing. And the results are almost as visually poetic as the original. Wordle allows you to edit for color, arrangement, number of words to display and font. I shared it with our creative writing teacher, who now want to use it with his classes.

Then Leslie shared this tool. It makes word clouds of all the presidential speeches (use the slider across the top). Very insightful, and more immediately accessible to discuss ideology than reading all the speeches. Not that that's a bad thing, but this could provide an instant analysis across the decades to show shifts in foreign and domestic policy.

Thursday, November 20, 2008


Here's a new Web 2.0 tool. Wordle takes text you input and creates a word image based on frequency (similar to a cloud). Here's one I created based on a few of my blog posts.

Cool, but I was wondering how in the world you could use this in class. A few possibilities: Word poems. Analyzing text (others or your own) for key words/themes. For example, input a politician's speech and see what turns up--it could add an interesting element to a presentation.

YouTube (and Google) Sells Out...

Google made a proud announcement last week...
YouTube Sponsored Videos is our new advertising program that enables all video creators -- from the everyday user to a Fortune 500 advertiser -- to reach people who are interested in their content, products, or services, with relevant videos. Anyone can use Sponsored Videos to make sure their videos find a larger audience, whether you're a start-up band trying to break out with a new single, a film studio seeking to promote an exciting movie trailer, or even a first-time uploader trying to quickly build a following on the site.

Sounds innocuous, almost democratic, until you realize that now anyone can pay to have their video leap to the top of a search. As TechCrunch points out, run a simple search on sports, and take a look at your top result:

Not that I've watched it. But I doubt it has much to do with sports. It's only been a week since YouTube started this, and you know it's only a matter of time until these start popping up on every search.

For those of us who have finally prevailed upon the powers that be to unblock YouTube, this is a big setback. It is long past time for YouTube/Google to offer an "education" version of YouTube. Yes, there's Teacher Tube, but it lacks the sheer variety of information available on YouTube.

In the meantime, here's a nice collection of video resources from the Free4Teachers blog.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Hmmmm....Google Life Anachronisms

Our Tech Director pointed out a in the Google/Life project. Well, the photos aren't questionable, but the metadata is.

Check here and here.

These are both from 1901??? I doubt Quincy Jones would be flattered at the implication! : )

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Google Life

Google announced a partnership with Life Magazine today to make almost 10 million of the magazine's (often iconic) photographs available to the public. You can find them here. According to The Guardian, only about 20% of the collection is currently available, organized by decade, and fully 97% of them have never been seen before.

Obviously, these will be great to use in history classes, but they'd also serve as writing prompts for English (or to coincide with novel readings), or for art/photography classes.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

I Thought This Issue Was Settled?

Silly me. I didn't realize we were still arguing over authority control (Think: Sears) vs. folksonomies and social tagging. Yet this morning I've been mulling over the comments at two different conferences, held within days of each other.

Last week I attended CASL, the Connecticut Librarians State conference. I've already mentioned Kathy Schrock was there, giving an interesting presentation. An off-hand remark she make caught my attention, but I didn't think too much of it until after hearing part of the discussion I love-blogged yesterday. Her comment? (roughly paraphrased) I hate Wikipedia to the depth of my bones. Followed shortly by a humorous remark, "We're all librarians here, and I assume we'd like to see the web organized according to Sears."

Everyone (in our world!) knows that Kathy has long been on the forefront of all things library and technology related. So these comments surprised me, to say the least. More on that later.

Here's part two of this discussion: In the most fascinating part of the Just In Case or Just In Time discussion yesterday (and OF COURSE the section right after my battery died!) Chris and Joyce gave an impassioned call to deconstruct (dare I say destroy?) the OPAC, break databases and MARC records out of their respective boxes and allow users to mix and mash and tag and recreate information in personally meaningful ways.

This is the world David Weinberger discusses in his marvelous Everything Is Miscellaneous (If you haven't read that, it's really part of your library duties!) and is where education and the library profession MUST head if we are to remain relevant to the 21st Century learner.

Hence my surprise at Kathy's comments. I respect her as much as anyone, but that authority-controlled attitude, whether Wikipedia vs. Britannica or Sears vs. social tagging overlooks the obvious: We need both. And we only have to look at Amazon for a perfect example of where we need to head.

While Amazon uses a subject tree and places books in traditional categories, it allows users to tag them in ways they deem appropriate. A search I just ran on Civil War (I'm reading Team of Rivals at the moment), turned up not only the usual keywords and subjects, but also "Pritzker Military Library podcast," which may be a good resource for our school's Civil War unit.

I see user recommendations alongside the professional reviews, what other books users have purchased on similar topics....I would LOVE it if my OPAC did all that, and how much more motivated would my students be to actually USE the OPAC if they could use it as a social tool as well as a research tool?

Along similar lines, Joyce called for e-publishers to break the databases out of their state collections (iConn, AccessPA) or ProQuest/Gale/InfoTract boxes. We need widgets, and lots of them, so that students can add them to their Facebook accounts, I can put individual resources directly into pathfinders and wikis, rather than mere links. These things need RSS feeds, comment boxes and tools for sharing among groups.

If their promos are accurate, the new Gale Global Issues database is heading in this direction, and I'm both dismayed that its release is apparently delayed until December, but pleased they're taking the time to work out a truly unique approach, in that individual libraries can adjust its interface and content to their needs.

Now look, I know none of this is new. I'll never be one of the great thinkers in the profession! My talents lie more in the mash-up arena: trying to figure out how the big ideas work on a day-to-day level.

As librarians and educators we need to release our stranglehold on authority, revel in the wisdom of crowds (or clouds!) and use our positions as leaders from the middle to take the best of both approaches and create information tools to empower users and improve findability.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

TechMash: Glogster and Pageflakes for Booktalks?

My virtual friend Leslie, over at Webfooted Booklady, shared a link of her fun/creepy book Glog. She has a howling wind soundtrack, but I started thinking--this could be a different way of doing permanent book-talks. You could add images of the cover, read an excerpt and promote it, either singly or in groups.

Create several on different topics, load them into a PageFlakes and link it to your library site--permanent, interactive booktalks. Better yet, have the kids do them!

In fact, our 9th graders are keeping blogs of their reading right now. I think I'll talk to the teachers about having them do one of these on their top 3 recommended books, then link them to the library site.

EduBlog Awards, 2008

Drum roll, please! The 2008 Edublog Awards are here! Instructions on how to nominate are here--you do it in the form of a blog post. You can nominate a blog in any (or many!) of the fourteen categories, but you can only nominate once per category.

So go through your reader, make your picks, and nominate! I'll post my picks in the next few days.

Panel: Just In Case or Just In Time? Live Blogging

Joyce Valenza: Library as kitchen, not a grocery store. A place not to "get" stuff, but to "do" stuff. A place to remix, taste, entertain, create share. It's also a dining room--the place to share and present. Inspire, season, taste, serve, display.

(by the way, this in on UstreamTV, too)

Terry... Library as cafeteria (I sense a food theme here...). Food chosen by teachers, but students with choice of menu items. Different tastes/needs.

Chris Harris: Library as Pampered Chef Party (I love it...and you see I was right about the developing theme). Membership driven--introducing new tools and teaching you how to use them in a real world environment, so you can go him and use them in your own kitchen.

Jay...(Publisher from Gale) Library is shifting from Hunter/Gatherer to Farmer. No longer just going out to find material. Farming, grown your own, everyone can do it, nourishes community. Emphasis moves from feast/famine to sustainable.

Jim (from ProQuest) All farms--aggro, artisinal, private.


Joyce: What do you buy? What should we buy?--We can't have it all, but we want it all. Print vs. electronic.

Audience Member: What about when you can't buy because you don't have the money?

General Discussion: Curriculum support vs. serendipity. Do we have something just to have it? When we only support curriculum do we lose the serendipitous find? The joy of browsing shelves vs. online experience.

Gale Rep: Librarians as lest defense against going back to the stone age. (went over well, as you can imagine!)

Collection Development based on participation: Whatever teachers/students are involved in library, that's what you buy. (Applause for that). Joyce's question: What's missing in collection with that approach?

Audience Comment: Ask about leftover, end of year budget as source of funding.

Comment: Our bread and butter is instruction--can't just buy what kids want. Anybody can order books--we need to help students advance.

Vendor Question: Is there a Maslow's library of hierarchy needs? (good question)

Joyce's Idea: Build a wish list on Amazon that parents can access.


Different models of purchase: consortiums, packages, timed buys (i.e. I only need this for 3 months).

New models of pricing for mass purchasing.
Gale Rep: We hear you need predictability in pricing. Based on last year's use?

My battery's dying....I'll post anything of interest later!

Doug Johnson's Call to Arms

I have a confession to make. I spent the last year acting like the copyright police. Oh my intentions were good. As a teacher, I spent years grabbing whatever I needed, copyright-be-damned. Once in library school, where copyright laws and our need to enforce them were pounded into our head, I emerged with the fiery passion of the newly converted.

But it was an uneasy fit, and I was never really comfortable telling teachers what they could and couldn't do. Moreover, as I taught my new film studies class, with students eager to create video mash-ups, I struggled between my desire to encourage their creativity and my role as policeman.

Yesterday, Doug Johnson set me free.

I've read his copyright views before, but he gave an eloquent and convincing presentation yesterday attacking one of library's "sacred cows," copyright enforcement. In his words, "Our job is to counsel, not enforce laws."

I have slowly been coming to this conclusion myself, to a belief that we must push the boundaries of fair use, not cower timidly within the safety of its borders. (I'm really mixing my metaphors here, aren't I?) As Johnson stated, we must focus not on what's forbidden, but on what's permitted, and always with the needs of our students and faculty foremost. After all, the school pays my salary, not Disney.

So I think I've finally hit a comfortable middle of the road position. I no longer practice my copyright version of eminent domain, grabbing whatever I think I need, but I'm not the copyright Gestapo, either.

Doug's simple rule of thumb? If it's transformative, if it uses the work for purposes other than those originally intended, it's fair use.

Sounds good to me.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Blogging the SLJ Summit

Greetings from Hollywood, Florida! The weather's balmy, the sea is green and the beach is about 28 floors beneath me. I'm attending the School Library Journal Leadership Summit, and will dutifully blog the event.

I'm signed up for three interesting workshops...Creating and Managing Digital Visual Content, Matchmaking NF Books and Ed Tech, and Reference in the Digital Age.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Go Animate!

While not exactly a threat to Pixar, Go Animate is a fun online tool that allows students to create their own animated cartoons. It's not the most intuitive interface and the tutorials are virtually non-existent at this point, but it's easy to pick up the basics.

Here's a quick example I made in about 20 minutes.

They're still working out some kinks--it's hilarious that I tried to type "class" and it changed the "ass" part to #$!

It does allow you to record voice rather than text for speech.

For anyone seriously into digital storytelling, the obvious drawbacks of tools such as this and ToonDoo, are the limitations they impose regarding 'camera' angle and framing. You're pretty much stuck with eye level in a square box. I hope, as they evolve and improve, they can move beyond these limitations.

New Fair Use Guidelines--Hallelujah!

The Center for Social Media has been working on this for a while, and they finally released today a "step-by-step-guide" simplifying all the ins and outs of copyright law.

The Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Media Literacy Education outlines five principles, each with limitations:
Educators can, under some circumstances:

1. Make copies of newspaper articles, TV shows, and other copyrighted works, and use them and keep them for educational use.
2. Create curriculum materials and scholarship with copyrighted materials embedded.
3. Share, sell and distribute curriculum materials with copyrighted materials embedded.
Learners can, under some circumstances:
4. Use copyrighted works in creating new material
5. Distribute their works digitally if they meet the transformativeness standard.

You can download the guide here, or find more information here.

Here's a video they created; I'll use this with staff development!

Do You Glog?

Haven't blogged much the last few weeks as I've been completely obsessed with the elections. Did anyone else cry like a baby Tuesday night? (A good thing!)

I'm attending Kathy Schrock's workshop at the CASL conference today. (Hi, Kathy, if this shows up in your reader!) I've grown a bit leery of "tech" workshops, as the last few I've been to I haven't really learned all that much. Kathy showed some nifty Web 2.0 tools that I hadn't seen before, though (and I was able to share Thinkature with her, so that was cool!)

I'll share some other, but right now I'm having fun playing with Glogster--an online, interactive poster masker, that would be a fun classroom tool. Before I go too much further, I'll add one caveat that it's not fully functional with a Mac, which is a HUGE drawback, as far as I'm concerned. That's completely ridiculous in this day and age, when we're supposedly aiming for platform neutrality.

Nevertheless, the app is fun--lets you upload photos, video and audio, add text and graphics, apply a background.

Here's the completely lame Glog I made. I tried syncing with the Mac to add a video greeting. no go. I assume it works with the Windows platform. It also allows you to grab youtube video.

This might be a fun way for students to do a class presentation, and certainly more interesting than the deadly Power Point presentation. For example, I included audio of Robert Frost reading his poem, Birches. And a couple of primary source letters, along with his image. As I said, pretty lame. But you get the idea of what you can do with the tool.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Sunday, November 9, 2008

To Penzu or Not to Penzu--That Is the Question

I just spent some spent awhile looking at Penzu, an online journal-writing tool Kathy showed us. It has the questionable advantage of being completely private, unless the writer chooses to share, unlike many online tools which are public by default, with the option of being private.

Penzu is low on bells and whistles--not always a bad thing!--and is just what it says--a place to journal online, with the option to add images. No comments, no online communities. It's the virtual equivalent of paper and pencil.

So here's my question: What's the point? I'm no fan of technology for technology's sake, so while Penzu saves some trees, but if you're not worried about that, why not just use a journal, especially since there's no RSS feed, so you'd have to go to each student's site individually.

My larger concern relates back to the Will Richardson workshop I attended earlier, and our necessity to move beyond merely publishing, to engage students in an ongoing dialogue to develop and extend their ideas, making connections both literally and intellectually.

Penzu obviously hinders that process. And while there is a place for "mere" journaling, I wonder if this might not be a better tool for personal, rather than educational use?

Having said that, Kathy said teachers are thrilled by it because they don't have to worry about online privacy issues. Maybe I'm just thinking like a high school teacher, and for younger students this is a good introduction to establishing some sort of online presence?

Friday, October 24, 2008


Richardson's still talking (I mean that a lot more positively than it sounds!), and pointing out what a poor use we're making of the web's ability to connect kids to learning communities, or even in helping them to create their own communities.

With that in mind, and thinking about my earlier post on"what happens after you publish," I started thinking about my film studies class next semester.

I'm planning on having them do an independent study on a film genre of their choice. During that process, they'll keep a blog and do online reading. I think I'll also have them find a couple of related blogs they'll read regularly, and comment on. Even inviting comments on their own blog? Certainly I'll encourage (require?) they respond to each other, but it would be very powerful for them if that community expanded into the real world.

Yale film school is up the road. I wonder if some of the film students would be willing to be e-mentors?

I do think it's difficult to convince teachers to move beyond the blog-as-journal. Whether it's safety issues or whatever, there is considerable resistance even to encouraging students to read widely online and link/synthesize in their blog, let alone enourage beyond-the-firewall comments.

Read, Write, Publish....Now What?

Will Richardson is speaking this morning at a laptop conference I'm attending. One point he made that really caught my attention: We're really starting to get the whole read/write thing with the web. Kids blog and wiki and youtube profusely. But it stops with the publishing.

We need to start thinking about what happens after publishing--how do students connect with people around the things they're publishing?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Run Your Own Elections with Google Docs

As elections loom, many schools are running their own elections. Social studies classes can use Google Docs to create a survey/voting form, post it online, then analyze the results in Google spreadsheet.

1) In Google Docs click new and choose "Form." Create your survey (Google allows multiple question formats), then save. At this point you can either copy the embed code and paste it on your school website/classroom page, OR a link along the bottom creates an online page for the survey with a static URL.

3) As users answer the poll, results are saved into the Google Docs spreadsheet, ready for analysis!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Primary Sources a la Google

I'm a bit Google-obsessed lately, I have to admit. I think it's a distraction from politics and the economy!

Anyway, I've been working on creating a custom search engine for primary source material. The cool thing about this is it makes student searching more profitable, but they still have to use their search skills, unlike creating pathfinders of websites.

Try it out there on the right.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Good--still working out some kinks

I've started playing with Google Sites as a class learning environment. You can find the site here. It's pretty powerful, really, though they still have some kinks to work out. I've been a fan of pbwiki for a long time, but there are some solid reasons for making the switch.

Obviously, all the Google apps work reasonably seamlessly with each other. I created a home page with my welcoming message, my calendar for assignments, and a small gadget of the larger announcements page. Since this is for my Film Studies class next semester, I added a fun "movie quote of the day" gadget.

Another full page for announcements, and a page for uploading handouts, which can be sorted into folders. I'll add more as I think of it.

So, how easily did it all fit together?

Well, there's a definite learning curve. It's not quite as intuitive as pbwiki,(for example, it took me a while to figure out how to see my list of pages so I could delete them), and when I was trying to look at the list of "insert" items on my main page, it kept choosing random items, inserting them, then closing. Grrrr...

Nevertheless, I managed to put together the 4 pages with only one false start and only have to read the help links once or twice (when all else fails....) And I do LOVE how it all works together.

The students will be doing some photography projects, and I think I'll include a running slide show of their images with Picasa.

Now I just need to think of ways to use this in the library--aside from just pathfinders

Convert Files, Download videos--free! is a free online tool that will convert files (images, documents, video) from one format to another and email you the result. You can even send them the URL to a video, and they'll email you the downloaded video.

It will be interesting too see what copyright issues crop up with that one.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Google Educator Video

Here's the video for my Google Teacher Academy application. It's supposed to be a one minute video on the topic of Innovative teaching OR Motivation and Learning. You'll notice I combined the three. Are they really separable?

Uploading it really made the voice sound weird--not sure where that tinny sound is coming from!

BTW, if you're in the New York City area, the closing date for applications is October 10.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Google Celebrates

In honor of its 10th birthday, Google released its search engine a la 2001 (the oldest available.) This would be a fun information literacy exercise for students: search the current browser and compare with the historical browser. How do results differ? How do the websites and what's now available differ?

Thursday, October 2, 2008

See the World Through Different Lenses

I think I've blogged before about loving maps. Well, check this out. But I warn you, you'll spend all afternoon here!

Worldmapper created a series of maps, with the different countries re-sized according to different areas of interest. For example, the map below resizes the countries based on the amount each country spends on secondary education. (What's up with Canada?)

The site currently includes around 600 maps, on categories ranging from housing to religion to food to violence. What a fantastic way to make the statistics visual for students.

Create a Survey in Google Docs

It's been a while since I've been in Google Docs, and Tim Sinnott, our computer teacher showed me a new app today. Aside from the usual text document, spreadsheet, etc. You can now create simple forms.

Open Google Docs>New. Click on Form.

This will open a blank template where you can add questions in different formats: Text, multiple choice, checkboxes, or scale (e.g. rate from 1-5). You can also make specific questions required.

Save and publish, and you generate a URL to share/invite. As with other Google apps, you can add people as just viewers or as editors/collaborators. Better yet, as people take the survey/quiz, the results are shared to a spreadsheet in your Google Docs folder, from which you can analyze data, create charts, etc.

This would be a great tool for students analyzing survey results in science or math (or any other class). Teachers could use it as a class evaluation tool.

The one drawback so far is that we can't see any way to password-protect the form. It's open to anyone who can find it, which could skew results. It's also impossible to tell who is answering, so it couldn't be used as an online quiz for class.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Am I the only one who didn't know about this??

Have you seen the Google blog for librarians, Librarian Central? From the blog:
We began our outreach to the librarian community with the intention of sharing information with you about Google. This includes information about our library partnerships, products that you might find useful and details about Google Book Search. We're still committed to these goals.

To that end, we're going to provide news, product features and other Google-related announcements through our Google Librarian Newsletter, which we'll send out every few months.
The archives range over an interesting array of topics, from how Google ranks its results to Google Scholar, Google Docs--basically, all things Google and how it relates to the library. Put it in your RSS feed!

First Class vs. Real World Apps

The book I blogged about a few days ago--In Command--arrived yesterday. It's fantastic, so far, and fortunately one of our new teachers in the high school is looking for a place to build a collaborative space for his students, so I can actually play around with this.

But here's the thing: our school forks out thousands of dollars a year for First Class. For obvious reasons, they want us to use it. I'm not going to go into its limitations here. What I'm wondering about these days is whether we're doing our students a disservice by using a tool they won't have access to once they leave King.

We're supposed to train students to be thoughtful users of technology and media. Yet if we do everything behind the safety of the firewall (and F.C.), what are we teaching them? Certainly not how to use Web 2.o tools--how to evaluate them for their usefulness, how to mold them to their needs.

And First Class is still very teacher-focused: teachers create the forums, add the content, etc. What I especially like about the book's ideas of using Google to create personal learning spaces is that it's very interactive. Sure, teachers add content, but so do students, and they create the space to their own design and needs, rather than a generic one-size-fits-all.

Teacher Tools

I'm starting to work on a page of links to useful teacher tools. It's a work in progress, but you can find it here.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Pogue Confirms It: Google Reigns

Read his post on searching in Google here. Interesting--but we knew that already. He obviously needs a good librarian!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Re-Thinking Libraries: Are We Obsolete?

Christos, our History Department Chair (I blog about him a lot, don't I?) taught a research class over the summer. He wandered into the library one day, griping about how he taught the students all these skills, they nodded in agreement, then proceeded to jump onto Google. I laughed, commenting "Welcome to my world!"

But it did get me thinking: I spent hours last year re-designing the school library site, creating pathfinders and newsletters and all sorts of nifty little information tools.

To what purpose? The older students are, the more they ignore the pathfinders and just start Googling. They want to be in control, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

I found two books on the LMC Source that look promising: David Loertscher's The New Learning Commons and In-Command (both are co-authored). The first is a comprehensive re-thinking of libraries as a combination of the computer center and library, with both a virtual and a physical learning environment. Sounds interesting, though I'm not really sure how that' s different from what we do now.

I'm very interested in the In Command book, which has students create their own learning environments with iGoogle. They divide their home page into three sections: Personal Space with assignments, calendars, etc; Group Space for collaborative projects/learning, and Outer Space, with controlled access to the internet at large. Intriguing idea. I'll write more once I've read the book!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

What Publishing Black Hole Did Ancient China Sink Into?

The 6th grade history teacher came to me last week and said, "I'm starting a research project on Ancient China next week. Will you help?" After assuring her I would, I ran down to the Lower School library, knowing I wouldn't have much age-appropriate material. I found about 5 books, so decided I'd just order some.

After poring over at least 12 different catalogues, I came up with a whopping 10 books. I found shelves-full on Ancient Rome, Ancient Greece, Ancient Egypt--even Mesopotamia, for Pete's sake! Books on politics, daily life, sports, art, religion, architecture... every subject you can imagine. And 10 books on Ancient China. I couldn't even find much online.

What gives?? I assume it's not the publishers, since they only provide what they have a market for. Are schools not studying Ancient China? Seems pretty bizarre, given China's historic importance and rising international significance.

I mentioned this at lunch, and the History Dept. Chair said it's actually a subject of debate in historical circles--that it shows an inherent euro-centric bias. Makes sense.

It will be interesting to see if that changes in the next several years as China continues to hold most of our debt and grows increasingly important. It would behoove us to understand the country and its citizens!

In the meantime, I'm emailing publishers asking for more material.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Searching for Truth

Here's an excerpt from an interesting email I received from John Kerry today--(well, not a personal email!)

First, we're initiating an innovative new way to reach people with the truth. We're instituting a new strategy for search engine ads, so whenever anyone searches for information about a smear in races up and down that ballot and across the country, we'll be there with a link to the truth. One of the most common ways people get political information now is through Internet searches, so we can make an enormous difference if we have the resources we need to get the truth at the top of all the searches.

It's well known that the Obama campaign lives on the cutting edge of technology, networking and the internet. This could be interesting to watch. I assume it's something like Sears paying Google, so that whenever you search for "dishwashers," they pop up at the top of the hits. So here, if you search, say Obama and terrorists, I suppose the first link would lead to the Obama site.

I'm torn on this. I've never liked skewing search results, and I know if I were searching say, Palin and First Amendment, I'd be pretty annoyed--probably even outraged--that a paid piece of pro-Palin propaganda came up first. No reason why a McCain support wouldn't feel the same about Obama ads. I suppose it will be clearly marked that it IS an ad.

But it does make you wonder at the increasing ability of politicians--whether you like them or not--to work their way into our lives in even the smallest ways. Unnerving, to say the least.

"I Love My Librarian" Award

The NY Times is sponsoring the "I Love My Librarian" award, acknowledging public, academic and school librarians across the country. They'll choose up to 10 winners, with awards of $5,000, and a travel stipend to attend the ceremonies in New York. The deadline for nominating school librarians is October 15th.

Now you just have to figure out a tactful way to point this out to all your faculty and students! If you have any great ideas, post them here!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Support Libraries: Join the National Debate

Obama and McCain will debate town-hall style on October 7th. Tom Brokaw, the moderator, will use questions from the audience and from questions submitted online.

In all of their talk about education, the candidates have talked little, if any about the important of adequate funding for libraries. The ALA encourages all librarians to post questions to, which will go live in the days leading up to the debate. The more library-related questions, the better chance a library question will be asked.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


The St. Petersburg Times and CQ joined to bring the public, with it's fantastic Truth-O-Meter (and related Flip-O-Meter), measuring the veracity of various political claims and political ads. Kids will love this. The mere ranges from True (or barely true) to the hilarious "Pants On Fire." Here's a fun music video for the site.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Those Pesky Gays....

I was very curious what books Sarah Palin was concerned about when she questioned the Wasilla librarian about banning books. At least one of the books is now out of the closet, as it were. The NYT reported Daddy's Roommate to be the cause of all the brouhaha.

I should have known.

I know the moral argument here. We can't expose young children to corruption. But whatever your moral beliefs, can we have a little compassion for the children in same-sex partnerships? Heaven forbid kids of same-gendered parents see their lives mirrored in print. Heaven forbid they feel a little less weird compared to their friends.

And heaven forbid we let the first amendment interfere with our political agenda.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

I'm not so sure it's funny...

Peters, Mike. From the Dayton Daily News: 09.11.2008

More Decision '08

Some great resources from an article by Eric Langhorst in this month's SLJ.

Budget Hero: An online game that lets students plan the 3.3 trillion dollar national budget--and see the effects 10 years later.

eLECTIONS: A 1-2 player game (similar to Life) where students conduct their own virtual campaign for the presidency. Created in partnership with CIC, CNN, C-Span and History.

Select a Candidate: A game matching unattributed candidate quotes with your own opinions on key issues. The report generated "matches your answers with the candidate who best fits your views." The results could surprise your students--and you.

27o To Win: An interactive map predicting the presidential election outcome based on current polling data and the electoral college. Students can change the results by modifying the winner in any state, and judging the impact. It's not necessarily popularity that wins elections. Who knew?!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Decision '08

Some good resources for teaching the elections and the process:

The Living Room Candidate: Online exhibit from the Musuem of the Moving Image. Presidential campaign commercials from 1952-2008, along with links to resources and lesson plans. Also includes a link to 40 different ads from the current campaign. Very cool!

PBS Vote 2008: Multimedia resources to "discover the power of social media and promote students' civic engagement." Includes both elementary and secondary lesson plans.

C-Span Classroom: Great site with downloadable video archives of political speeches and interviews. TONS of free resources. Educational version of, a site that researches/verifies/debunks the candidates' political statements.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Let Your Voice Be Heard!

Doug Johnson kindly gave a shout out to my blog posting yesterday (grin--though I asked him to. But ONLY if he thought it was worth mentioning. So I'm proud he obviously did. He's what I strive to be when I grow up!) You should check out the 'posters' he has in his blog. Hilarious!

Anyway, Doug's post got me thinking. I blogged a while back about Palin's attempts to fire an Alaskan librarian for not banning some books Palin opposed. At the time I didn't comment on it, figuring I'd let the words speak for themselves. And they do! But now I wonder if I also wasn't silenced somewhat from that LM-NET brouhaha a few weeks ago. I didn't want anymore accusations on national list-servs that I had a hidden agenda.


I guess the accuser achieved her aim of silencing me. Because that, of course, is always the goal of anyone, left or right, who loudly not just attacks those they disagree with, but tries to stop others from exposure to those points of view.

Shame on her. More imporantly, shame on me for allowing myself to be silenced, however briefly.

Palin's attempts to fire the Wasilla librarian fortunately came to naught, thanks to 100 hardy souls who came to the librarian's defense. But it should cause anyone who values their freedom to speak their mind in a public form to take pause at the voting booth.

The past eight years have seen loud and public attacks on freedom of speech, from the government to Don Imus, to the British holocaust denier who was jailed in Austria.

As librarians, we have a special obligation to stand witness and speak out against any attacks on this fundamental American right, whether it come from the left, the right or the wackos. We many not like what they say, but we need to defend their right to say it.

I have a Michael Moore quotation as the signature on my email address at school. Mostly because I thought it was funny, playing against the stereotypical librarian. I need to do more to make it true....
"I really didn't realize the librarians were, you know, such a dangerous group. They are subversive. You think they're just sitting there at the desk, all quiet and everything. They're like plotting the revolution, man. I wouldn't mess with them."

Friday, September 5, 2008

Rant: Arabs, Shabanu and YA Lit.

9/11 raised American awareness of Islam in general and Arabs in specific to unprecedented heights. There's no more insidious attack against Obama than the rumor he's a secret, madrassa-trained Muslim, though why that makes a difference, I'm not sure. Do they think he's going to hijack the Koran and crash it into the Constitution?

And therein lies the problem. Even after five years of war with Arab countries, Americans in general remain shockingly ignorant of the Arab race and Islamic religion. They even conflate the two, not realizing Arabs make up only 20-23% of the Islamic religion (or that 63% of Arab-Americans are Christians). Mention the word "Arab," and many Americans picture swarming hordes rioting through the streets while burning the American flag. Or fully-covered women peeping through grilled slits in their hijab.

Worse, as with the Japanese during WW II, many Americans fail to recognize the difference between native Arabs and Arab-Americans. Since 9/11, hate crimes against Arab-Americans have sky-rocketed, increasing 500% percent between 2000 and 2006, according the the FBI, and we won't even get into governmental violation of basic civil rights.

A Newsweek article a few months ago discussed a Wal-Mart in Dearborn, Michigan (home to a large Arab-American community and home of the Center for Arab-American Studies), that began stocking items like falafel and Islamic greeting cards, just as a Wal-Mart in a Greek community might contain feta, baklava and Kalamata olives. If you read the few comments, however,or the response in this blog, you'd think they were installing Sharia law.

More significantly, the NY Times ran an article detailing the outrage over a public school for students of Arab descent. Although only 20% of the 60 students were actually Arab-American, critics pummeled the director, a well-respected community member, claiming she was a 'jihadist' and a '9/11 denier.' Even when she was forced to resign, the Stop the Madrassa Coalition continues to call for the school's closure
It was...the work of a growing and organized movement to stop Muslim citizens who are seeking an expanded role in American public life. The fight against the school, participants in the effort say, was only an early skirmish in a broader, national struggle.
BTW, at this point I'd like to point out that, in Arabic, madrassa simply means 'school'--not the radical Islamic training camps the word has come to be associated with in the West.

So what does all of this have to do with a library blog?

I just bought a book for the library entitled, What the Arabs Think of America, as part of my school's global awareness curriculum. It's an excellent book by an experienced journalist, doing a good job of showing alternative viewpoints to world events. But I was horrified by the cover, a perfect example of the stereotype above, a cover I worry will color students' perceptions before they even start reading.

If part of our job, in an increasingly multicultural country where it is predicted the white race will be a minority by 2050, is to raise students' tolerance for and understanding of other points of view (and given the examples above I believe it is), we must be aware of the stereotypes the books we choose perpetuate. Which, at last, brings me to the main point of this blog entry, and an issue I've been pondering the last year and a half.

Since I returned from the Middle East, I've grown increasingly concerned over the portrayal of Arabs in young adult literature, and , moreover, the complete lack of more than a few novels depicting normal Arab-American teenage life. As Dilara Hafiz, (co-author of The Muslim Teenager's Handbook) stated when I interviewed her for an article I've been working on for ages, "My daughter would read these books [e.g. Shabanu] and see nothing she could relate with." (If her book isn't in your library [she co-wrote it with her teen-aged daughter], it should be. It's a fun, factual look at being an American teenager who also happens to be Muslim.)

To return to my rant....

Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed Shabanu thoroughly. She's a feisty heroine, worthy of admiration. Yet she falls into the stereotypical role most Western writers depict for Arabic women: forced marriage and a life of subservience to men. The West insists on seeing the veil as a sign of oppression; for some it is. Yet many Arab women see it as just the opposite: freedom. Freedom from being viewed as a sexual object, freedom from being judged based on looks.

I talked to several of my students in Egypt who had made the decision to cover. All of them expressed deepest satisfaction with their decision and what it meant to them in their relationship to God and those around them.

This is not to deny the horrors inflicted upon many in the name of religion, but to insist that the realities are far more varied and nuanced than most in the West realize. My 11th graders read The Kite Runner eagerly, but it was almost as exotic to them as it is to American teens. These young men and women ate at Pizza Hut, listened to the latest groups hot from America, dressed in the latest fashions, many of them shockingly revealing to my middle-aged eyes. I will never forget my favorite student, Zeina, who stood up to the boys and gave as good as she got in every debate, taking second seat to none. She was unusual only in her eloquence, not her attitude. She's now attending University in Cairo, with plans to do graduate work in Europe. How oppressed!

Shabanu's life is every bit as alien to her as it would be to an Arab American teen at your local high school. Yet aside from Randa Abdel-Fattah's Does My Head Look Big in This? there is a paucity of modern YA fiction showing the average life of an Arabic/Islamic teen in America (and even that one is set in Australia!).

Never mind the importance of seeing one's self mirrored in one's reading. This is about educating our students and the public-at-large. It's about confonting stereotypes and putting a human face on "the enemy." The argument to the ignorant statement that Obama is Muslim should be not, "No, he's not," but a puzzled, "So?"

Ex-English teacher and librarian that I am, I believe literature can transform lives and change minds. By imaginatively experiencing other lives and modes of thought, students (and adults!) gain familiarity with the foreign and recognize the humanity in us all, regardless of differences.

More importantly, I hope we start seeing more fiction depicting Islamic/Arabic life in America. Multi-culturalism is not globalism, and we tend to confuse the two. I was guilty of this myself until I attended an excellent multicultural workshop last month, which I'll blog about next.

We can't keep handing students Shabanu or McCormick's excellent Sold, and think we're doing our job. As well-written as they are, they are only one perspective, and they are not about Arabic life in America.

In addition to the article I'm working on (however slowly!), I'm compiling a list (however short) of Arabic/Islamic-themed fiction that moves beyond the stereotypes. If you know of any, please post to the comments, and I'll post a 'completed' list soon.

This is a discussion I hope we can develop and continue.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Political Bedfellows: Free widget from CQ Press

As the presidential elections near, social studies classroom pay more attention to the political process. This widget from CQ Press allows students to compared congressional members' voting records directly. Try it out to the right. (Or what shows up of it!)

Another widget allows you to immdiately find your US Representative by zip code.

Worrisome, whatever your politics

From yesterday's NY Times: (click here for the full article)

Shortly after becoming mayor, former city officials and Wasilla residents said, Ms. Palin approached the town librarian about the possibility of banning some books, though she never followed through and it was unclear which books or passages were in question.

Ann Kilkenny, a Democrat who said she attended every City Council meeting in Ms. Palin’s first year in office, said Ms. Palin brought up the idea of banning some books at one meeting. “They were somehow morally or socially objectionable to her,” Ms. Kilkenny said.

The librarian, Mary Ellen Emmons, pledged to “resist all efforts at censorship,” Ms. Kilkenny recalled. Ms. Palin fired Ms. Emmons shortly after taking office but changed course after residents made a strong show of support. Ms. Emmons, who left her job and Wasilla a couple of years later, declined to comment for this article.

In 1996, Ms. Palin suggested to the local paper, The Frontiersman, that the conversations about banning books were “rhetorical.”

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Live and Learn

I'm so excited about all the new books we have in, and I wanted to encourage the faculty to take some time to look them over. It's easier to plan lessons assignments if you know what resources are available, right?

I worked with our principal to have a Lunch in the Library after our faculty meeting, giving teachers 45 minutes to eat and wander.

Of course, the faculty meeting ran over by an hour, I gave my spiel, turned them loose to look and the Dept. Heads were immediately declaring "Department meetings in 10 minutes!" GRRRRRR!

So two people look at my carefully arranged tables of books. I need to take them down in the morning, as the students are coming.

So it goes....

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Historical Voices

Just a quickie--we have a break during a 4 hour meeting on scheduling (!).

Found this site this morning. VERY cool. A digital archive of historical sound recordings spanning the 20th Century. From the site:
The primary goals of each of these projects will be the development of a rich set of both online exhibits and educational curricula, utilizing audio files as a key component of these resources.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Save Wattage with Blackle?

Our History Dept. chair asked me about Blackle today. I'd never heard of it, but did some digging. Apparently, an all-white page background (such as on Google), eats up the kilowatts. An eco-blogger calculated that if Google switched to a black background, it would save the equivalent of $75,000/year in energy. That's not chump change.

So Heap Media created Blackle using Google Custom Search, which uses a black background. Of course, once you go to the actual website, it displays as it normally would. Surprisingly, I found the dark background MUCH easier on the eyes, so maybe it's not a bad idea.

Cool to realize that I created an eco-friendly blog without even knowing it!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Back-to-School Challenge

PB wiki (my favorite wiki!) is hosting a back-to-school challenge with the change to win a free upgrade to a gold wiki and other great classroom resources. There's a special bonus for signing up early!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

But Can They Do It On Ice-Skates?

Now, I usually ignore most of the stuff my mother sends me (sorry, mom!). Even I have to admit this is pretty amazing. Watch past the dancing frogs until the two prime dancers start.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Beware the Barbarians, Redux

I think I've mentioned that I'm teaching a research/video documentary class at my school's Summer Institute. I have a group of attention-challenged 8th graders who thought they were signing up for movie-making (Did you READ the catalog description???!), and were quite aghast at having to actually research. That aspect has been a huge struggle.

Until the last few days, when we've started actually putting their documentaries together--recording narration, gathering (creative commons) images, grabbing video from C-Span's student site, etc.

Yesterday, I noticed the alternative energy group was online and not editing their video. I grrr'd at them, asking why they were off-task. "We need to find out more about hydrogen fuel cells!" they chirped, as they proceeded to spend half an hour digging through databases and websites I could hardly get them to spend 10 minutes on two weeks ago!

I was re-reading one of my blog posts from last summer (looking for something else) and ran across this:
The most exciting aspect of the read/write web is that, at last, students have a tool that allows them to take their learning into their own hands (with guidance!) and engage themselves. They transform from passive observers and listeners to active participants. They learn both process AND content, if teachers are willing to step aside and let them.
I had one of those ah-ha moments. Here, if I needed reminding, was yet another example of the power of real assessment and real projects to empower and motivate students. These kids were less than thrilled they'd be doing documentaries--they wanted to film action movies!--but once they were immersed in the process, the project became its own motivation. They even worked through break yesterday, and they haven't missed a break in 3 weeks!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Library Camp of the West

Check out this free un-conference, discussing all things library.

Web 2.0 Favs

If you were part of NECC08--or even if you weren't!--check out the Media Specialist Web 2.0 list of favorite tools, and add on your own.

There's also a post for what promises to be an interesting discussion--do we need to redefine "Collaboration" for the 21st Century library? Check the list of links on the left and you'll find it.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Here We Go Again...

The media is suddenly intensely interested in the effect of the internet on reading skills. Last month, the Atlantic published Is Google Making Us Stupid? while today the NY Times ran a lengthy article entitled Online, R U Really Reading?

Anytime I read one of these articles, I picture of bunch of Medieval monks fretting over the printing press and bemoaning the inevitable loss of memory skills it will bring about.

To its credit, I found the Times article pretty balanced. Studies do show (and my personal experiences verifies) that online reading is vastly different from reading, say, Crime and Punishment. It promotes shorter attention span, jumping from text to text and idea to idea rather than deep sustained thought.

Yet many of the naysayers refuse to recognize the benefits of online reading: the immediacy, the ability to read multiple and varied opinions in a short amount of time, covering a breadth of material not possible in more traditional formats. If the reader has enough time and interest, depth need not be short-changed.

I've well documented in my early blog posts the profound experience my reading had on me last summer as I explored Web 2.0 technologies, almost solely online through blog postings and RSS feeds.

I am greatly troubled, however, by a comment towards the end of the article. Despite repeated studies showing students vast ignorance when it comes to thoughtful analysis of their online reading. Despite the 61% of students who failed to achieve competency levels on ETS new iSkills test (measuring information literacy), we still get bone-headed statements like this:

Some simply argue that reading on the Internet is not something that needs to be tested — or taught.

“Nobody has taught a single kid to text message,” said Carol Jago of the National Council of Teachers of English and a member of the testing guidelines committee. “Kids are smart. When they want to do something, schools don’t have to get involved.”

Oh, really.

Never mind the logical fallacy in comparing text messaging to reading, in what alternative universe does this woman live that students don't need to be taught critical thinking skills? Reading online may be a different kind of thought from sustained reading, but it requires thought nonetheless. In fact, one could argue it requires MORE analysis, as students must learn to distinguish between credible and non-credible sources, which is more difficult online than in printed text.

This comment (from an English teacher, no less) reaffirms an observation I've made over the past few months: my job involves training the adults every bit as much it involves training the students. Maybe more so, as teachers determine the amount of time I'm allowed in working with the classes. If they don't see a need, I don't see the students.

If you get a chance, take a look at the article and read some of the comments. It's an education in itself.

Photo Credits:

'Sustained Silent Reading'. Uploaded to Flickr Creative Commons
by vsqz on 19 Mar 06, 2.21AM PDT.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The NeverEnding Task

I've been working this week on re-vamping the library website. I'm on about my fifth layout, but think I finally found something I'm happy with. You can find the first few sample pages here.

It's a bit disheartening how long just these few pages took me--I had to go through a couple tutorials (Illustrator, Photoshop) to help with the graphics, which took about 10-12 hours. Then the constant redesigning. I've probably spent a good 60 hours on this so far!

One hopes the rest will go much more quickly, now that I have the general idea in shape.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Information Forensics: Move Over CSI!

I spent considerable time this morning exploring the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy's 21st Century Information Fluency site. It's a wonderful collection of information and tutorials developing information literacy (for example, I didn't know that Google and AltaVista used different default operators: Googles uses AND, AltaVista uses OR. THAT explains why AV always returned so many more hits. Duh!)

Here's a free course they offer on Power Searching, replete with videos and fun search games. CSI fans can find a useful "Information Forensics" course called WSI.

Or if you're tired of the "Google Game" searches (or the multiple Google Game links that ALSO come up in the searches!), you'll find an interesting article on creating your own search challenge.

During our PGD day next month, I'm teaching search techniques to faculty; this website will be an excellent resource and provide a font of ideas!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Combat Duty at the Westport Library

Every summer, the Westport Public Library has a HUGE book sale to raise funds. This is the first year I've gone. I foolishly had visions of leisurely browsing through books among crowds of civilized book enthusiasts.

Someone should have told me to wear combat gear.

I was there for the opening doors, planning to head for the much-advertised Greenwood Press offerings. Well. People were thronging around the rack--grabbing everything they could see without even looking at it. I was getting jostled left and right, reached to grab a book and a NUN pushed me out of the way!

Was able to pick up three HUGE boxes of books for only $250, though. And even grabbed a few of the Greenwood Press ones before they entirely disappeared!

All Together Now...

SLJ's starting a Web 2.0 bootcamp ala 23 Things, called "All Together Now". It's free, and sounds like they're giving "incentives," along the way. If you need to brush up on wikis, blogs, twitter, etc. Check it out.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Little Lord Font-leroy

My name is Jeri Hurd. And I'm a fontaholic. A true blue, dyed-in-the-serif font addict. I have more fonts on my computer than I could ever use--to the point it takes forever to scroll through them--but I just LOVE all the different styles and effects and moods one can create simply by changing fonts.

Kinda weird for someone as art challenged as I am.

I found a site today that feeds my addiction like a chocaholic in a candy story: 1001

Free, stylish fonts for Mac and Windows (check out BattleLines) and there's even a nifty little search-style box that lets you test what your text will look like with that font.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Camtasia Studia, Part Deux

I played around with Camtasia Studio some more today. In fact--for six hours! I was supposed to meet a friend to work out at the gym, and completely spaced. (Uh, huh....)

This is the intro to a longer tutorial on web searching strategies. CS links with Power Point, allowing you to record and narrate your PP slides, then add call outs and other effects in the editing stage. I'm fairly pleased with this one. And I must stay, I'm really loving this software!

I also found an excellent Missing Manual-type how to guide here.

So What's Up With Boolean??

I'm teaching a research and documentary class for Middle-Schoolers at our Summer Institute. Yesterday, I gave them a quick lesson on how search engines work, we talked about AND, OR, NOT and how they function.

I pulled out my handy-dandy search on Vikings (which always pulls up the football team). Then we talked about how to remove the football sites. I pointed out that Google doesn't accept NOT, that you need to use the '-' sign (grin--feeling very savvy for knowing that, I might add!) We typed in Vikings -football and, Voila! Had a million hits on the Minnesota Vikings. Make a liar out of me, Google.

No worries, I explained. Google has always been a bit odd, and I showed them the advanced search engine, which basically puts Boolean in a different form. "Let's try Yahoo," I said. "That will work."

A zillion hits on the Minnesota Vikings. Hmmmm. Last try, AltaVista. Same results. And they had the same advanced search engine as Google.

So what gives? Why isn't Boolean working in the search engines anymore? Anyone know? Obviously, it's easy enough to just show them the advanced engines, but it's odd that you can't just type in the terms and save yourself a mouse click!

LATER UPDATE: OK, forget all of that. I don't know what sort of bizarre alternative universe I was in yesterday, but I just played with it again, and it worked on all three engines. Weird. I wonder if I had a space in and didn't realize it?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

PB Wiki Summer Camp

PB Wiki (my favorite wiki tool) is offering a free 6-week wiki workshop, 'including how to integrate wikis in your lesson plans, what features work best to engage students and how to use the new PBwiki 2.0.' You'll connect with a wiki mentor and anyone finishing the class receives a free platinum upgrade for a year.

Feel like you're a wiki pro? Sign up to be a mentor here.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Had to Share This

Toni Buzzeo, on LM-Net posted today asking for the funniest reference requests people have had. Then she posted her story. This will be hard to beat!

Mine was from a transitional first grader whose teacher (laughing hysterically, I might add) sent the child down to ask, "Mrs. Buzzeo, I'm researching sloths and I found out that they only poop once a week. But I can't find out whether they come down out of their trees to poop. Mrs. Brady said that YOU could probably find the answer." (Actually, we ended up INFERRING that the answer was yes. )

I haven't had any weird requests. How about you? If you have a funny story, post it here and I'll forward them on to Toni!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Why We Need Media Studies

I just read this in Kiku Adatto's blog on the Huffington Post.

The intensity of photo op politics so distinctive to our times was set in motion in the 1980s when Ronald Reagan and his media team, headed by Michael Deaver, mastered the art of the modern media event. So successful was the Reagan team at setting up compelling television pictures -- from using the beaches at Normandy as a backdrop to showing Reagan sitting astride his horse at his ranch looking like a classic American cowboy -- that subsequent presidents and presidential candidates emulated the art of stage sets, backdrops, and gripping visuals to convey their messages through pictures.

This reminded me again of the need to integrate media literacy into all aspects of the curriculum.

If we don't imbue in our students not only the ability to deconstruct visual messages, but the mere recognition that media images are carefully nuanced constructs with definite agenda, we set them up for manipulation by corporate and government interests and inadvertently undermine their freedoms.

This is not fluffy, "feel good" education decried by the back-to-basics movement and which NCLB was partially imposed to rectify.

With the plethora of visual media exposure for today's public, media literacy is as fundamental to a child's education as reading and writing. Only when students can as readily analyze the various media elements as well as they can The Great Gatsby*, can we declare "Mission Accomplished!"

*(OK, I recognize that they can't always even do THAT very well, but we need to spend as much time discussing and analyzing the evening news and the latest commercial as we do Gatsby!)

Librarians: Not-So-Secret-Subversives.

The government ought to know by now: Don't Mess With Librarians!

McCain is learning this the hard way, days after his security detail ousted librarian Carol Kreck from a McCain town hall meeting and cited her for "trespassing" because she carried a Bush=McCain sign.

You can watch the video here.

Kreck's court date is set for July 23.

Now, whatever your politics (and I would feel just as outraged had this happened at an Obama event), this is blatant violation of first amendment rights to free speech, and I'm thrilled Kreck is refusing to pay her fine.

This deepening trend among politicians for staged events, planted questions, and "free speech zones" far from any camera subverts what our democracy is supposed to mean.

If you want to help Carol with her laywer's fees, you can buy a McCain=Bush t-shirt here.

As Michael Moore said:
I really didn't realize the librarians were, you know, such a dangerous group. They are subversive. You think they're just sitting there at the desk, all quiet and everything. They're like plotting the revolution, man. I wouldn't mess with them.

Fighting Terrorism? Read a Book! Build a School!

Nicholas Kristof reported in his column today that the Pentagon, skeptical of the efficacy of "bombing the terrorists back to the Stone Age," placed "large orders" for Greg Mortenson's wonderful book Three Cups of Tea and invited the author to speak.

This is the most heartening news I've heard in ages. Mortenson's book describes his travails in building what ended up being 74 schools (mostly for girls) in Central Asia. Given that the Taliban recruits mostly from the poor and illiterate, what better way to fight terrorism? Morteson also argues that educated girls are more likely to restrain their sons; five of his teachers are ex-Taliban, encouraged by their mothers to leave the extremist group.

More significantly, I'm thrilled somebody in the government (the Pentagon no less!) is listening to solutions other than macho, hawkish posturing, to look at real educational solutions, not just the superficial, pro-Western propaganda (change their hearts and minds) no one believes.

And, wow, talk about the power of books to bring change. From Martin Luther's 95 theses, to Tom Paine's Common Sense to Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, to Darwin's On the Origin of Species, the written word has demonstrated the power to foment revolution and shift paradigms.

I don't know if Three Cups of Tea can bring about that kind of change, but obviously it's having an influence. Hallelujah, I say.