Friday, May 30, 2008

of Dewey, Dust-Bunnies and Findability

Point 1:
Things they never tell you in library school: wear your paint clothes when you weed!

I've spent the morning going through the 100-350 section, and gardening leaves me cleaner than this does! Pants, shirts and hands are covered in grime, and the kids who were sitting behind me emitted a loud , harmonic "eewww" when I pulled out a handful of books trailing a 3 inch pile of dust, spiderwebs and who knows what else. I guess that 1967 set of "Great Philosophers of the Western World" didn't get read much....

Point 2:
Things they tell you in library school that you should ignore: Never weed your first year.

I thought I had a general understanding of Dewey because I'd memorized the 100 categories for my practicum, and I could find anything I looked up in the card catologue. Hadn't I done plenty of my own research in grad school? No problem! I started the year eager to begin those research papers, filled with visions of me bestowing stacks of useful books and articles upon students glowing with gratitude.

Then they started asking for help. "Where do I look for stuff on Henry Ford's effect on America?" "How do I find information about the Weathermen, and what influenced them, and how they changed society?" Or my favorite: "I need seven primary sources about Zulu warriors."

Suddenly, all those precise Sears subjects headings and Dewey categories fell to pieces as students research crossed curricular areas: Is the Harlem Renaissance in 800's or 900's or (as proved to be the case) both? I would find materials on the Civil Rights movements in the 973 AND in the 340's, and I couldn't tell what determined where it went.

Worse the 973 section was a mess, because it was mostly classified as 973, with nothing past the decimal, so American Revolution jumbled together with the Civil War and the Cold War, forcing one to look through all 20 shelves to find a specific text.

I knew my library was a mess. I also knew it needed a serious weeding. I didn't know that the two bits of information would start me thinking about findability.

I remember my practictum teacher saying nothing helps you know your own collection like shelving. I'd respectfully disagree. When shelving, I'm only looking at numbers, not the actual book title and contents.

Weeding, however, has been an eye-opener. It forces me not only to evaluate every book in the library, but also to see it in relationship to the books around it. I have a better understanding of the collection and the gems within it, a far better understanding of how the books are organized, and a solid grasp of how it fits our needs and where it falls apart.

Dewey may be systematic (we won't go into its inherent biases), but it doesn't organize books in the same way users like to find them. Especially kids brought up in Borders and Barnes & Noble! I have a history section dealing with the 60's (973.92), but the material dealing with the Vietnam war is thirty shelves away in 959.7, and Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement leaps clear across the library to 303.4.

And that's just Dewey. Never mind the mess created from the several different librarians' different views of how to organize. There's a separate biography section, but just as many are mixed in with the general collection. The 900's mix fiction with criticism and drama and poetry and essays--and while American Literature seems to be grouped by time period, British Literature is alphabetical. AARRGH!

So I'm spending my summer re-organizing, a hefty chunk of Dewey, but a bow to Borders and Amazon, and thinking more in terms of broader general categories than specific subjects.

The biographies will all be in the Biography section, and I'll pull the poetry, drama and essays and short story collections to each have their own section. The seniors do a big literary research paper; hopefully, this should make it easier for them to find the literary criticism.

My biggest headache this year was the history requirement for a minimum 7 primary sources in the student research papers. Weeding turned up myriad collections I didn't know we had, buried in an obscure Dewey category. I'm pulling all of them to affix large, fluorescent green stickers on the spine, which will scream at students: "I'm a primary source!"

Then, books that are subject specific (e.g. WW II diaries) will return to the general collection in the appropriate section. Books that are collections covering a wide area or range of topics, will go in a special Primary Source section, easy for the students to find.

It would be interested to hear what some of you have done: what are your problems with findability? How have you solved them?

BTW: As to the photo? It's from an artist in San Francisco who re-arranged the 20,000 volumes in the Adobe Book Shop by color. Talk about no findability! I found it on the Made By Many blog.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Budding Naturalists Help the Pros

This is such a great tool for science classes! Species Explorer allows users to record observations of their local (or backyard!) environment and collects the information in an online database. This site reinforces the importance of all habitats, whether the Amazon or just the empty lot across the street.

The website points out the growing significance of "citizen science" in the scientific community.
The capability of the average person, the non-scientist, to contribute valuable information, even new discoveries, has become a growing trend across all the sciences...illustrated in such examples as amateur astronomers finding new planets orbiting distant stars, or amateur birdwatchers sighting a species of bird through to be extinct.
How empowering would this be for students?? To contribute their own observations as part of a global database? Wow!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

WorldWide Telescope--The Sky's the Limit!

Microsoft is taking on Google Sky and doing them one better with their new release of WorldWide Telescope. A "visualization software environment," the program turns your computer into a virtual telescope, with access to imagery from both ground and space-based telescopes.

You can choose a guided tour created by astronomers or educators, or explore on your own--or both. The program does have a hefty one hour download time, according to the website.

Unfortunately, the program is only for PC's at this point, but I hope Microsoft will eventually offer a Mac version. In the meantime, Mac owners who run Virtual PC (or Intel/Leopard users with BootCamp) can also use it.

How amazing will this be for science classes?!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Set to Screen: Apple Video Resources

If you haven't seen it yet, check out Apple Education's Set To Screen, a series of podcasts exploring the art of moviemaking with Baz Luhrmann (director of Moulin Rouge, among others). Aside from the podcasts, the site includes corresponding lesson plans, links to resources, and student work from the related contests.

Friday, May 9, 2008

He's Back!

I went to see Ironman last weekend. Now, I know this has absolutely nothing to do with libraries, technology or information literacy, but it was such a pleasure to see Robert Downey, Jr. back on screen and apparently in good form, that I had to blog about it. He's an amazingly talented actor--one of my favorites--and I was always saddened by his struggles with drugs and the effect it had on his career.

Apparently, he's finally overcome that hurdle, if the New York Times has it right. Or if Ironman is anything to go by. Sure, it's yet another in a string of super-hero flicks, but Downey adds the same sort of depth and psychological intensity to Ironman that Michael Keaton gave to Batman, making it eminently worth watching.

For whatever it's worth, I couldn't be happier for him. Mostly because it means I get to reap the rewards of seeing him in future films.

Music Videos 2: Lyric Analysis and Planner

Part One

Because a large focus of my film class explored how words are translated into images, I wanted my students to think seriously about the meaning and imagery within their chosen lyrics. The lyric analysis sheet asks them to focus solely on the lyrics' words and intent, without worrying about the video at this point. You'll really need to emphasize that they shouldn't be thinking about the video yet, as they immediately want to start planning how to shoot it.

I realized the importance of this step as I wandered from group to group; several students completely missed the meaning behind some of their lyrics, and even ended up changing songs.

Once they've worked through the lyric analysis, they move on to the planner. This is where they start thinking visually. The planner moves them from the overall mood they want to create to more specific plans for creating that mood. It also asks them to create a story to tell--this can be directly related to their lyrics, or an idea taken from the lyrics.

In the planner, they'll develop the characters and setting, and brainstorm the types of images they plan to incorporate. They also need to describe the effect they think their images, characters, etc will have on the audience. The students struggled the most with this and, to be honest, I wasn't very happy with what they came up with. They're so anxious to get to the shooting, they wanted to rush through this, without putting much thought into the effect.

This should make it more interesting, however, when we do the feedback on their rough cut. As they hear responses from their audience and begin to recognize what does and doesn't work, I hope they'll realize it's worth while to spend more time planning.

Next post: the storyboard a great site for filming/editing tutorials.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

"Feeling Not Sound": Creating the Music Video

A few posts ago I mentioned I was doing music videos with my film class. The kids are really into this project, needless to say! I've never seen them quite so eager to do their storyboards. I'm a bit clueless on this myself, as I don't know all that much about music videos, and the few books I've seen are for the professional, not the high school teacher! Online lesson plans have been more basic than I wanted, too.

You can download my handouts here, and I'll describe my tentative phases below.

Because I wanted this to be very much about translating words into visual images in order to create an overall mood or tone, I wanted students thinking more critically about music videos than they tend to, normally. I handed out the assignment sheet, discussed the requirements, then fired up the LCD projector for a little whole-class viewing.

We started by comparing Marilyn Monroe in "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" with Madonna's "Material Girl" and discussing the use of imagery, costuming, etc. (i.e. mise en scene) to create the idea of wealth and luxury. With the Madonna video, we also looked at the contrasting story lines or story within a story--the chanteuse singing a song about material desires, while in real life choosing a "regular guy" as her boyfriend over the high-powered director. Both videos also use great camera work (close-ups, tight framing) to focus the viewer on specific elements.

We then switched to Uncle Kracker's "Follow Me," which has an interesting story line, makes good use of a recurring motif (the truck travels through the different story lines) and has nice little fantasy segments with an easy-t0-recreate special effect.

Finally, we ended with 3 Doors Down and "Loser." The kids were bothered by its rather depressing message, but did a great job of analyzing the use of camera angles and mise-en-scene to create the feeling of loneliness and isolation. The video also is good for discussing the use of establishing shots.

I might add that, in my continuing effort to try to be more copyright-responsible, I bought the music videos on iTunes (except for the Marilyn Monroe clip).

This seems like a good place to close for now. I'll post tomorrow about the next step: having students analyze their lyrics.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Come the Revolution, Brother....

It's about time. I just read an article in Teacher Magazine describing the fallout for a Washington State science teacher who refused to administer state's NCLB test. Hallelujah, I say. Our country was founded on the right of citizens to rebel against injustice and bad government, and NCLB epitomizes both.

As Jamie MacKenzie repeatedly shows on his excellent site, No Child Left, the law suffers from myriad problems.

It focuses on too narrow a curriculum, lacks adequate funding and diverts some of what funding is available to home-schooling and corporate for-profit schools--long a part of the right-wing agenda, it allows for few if any social implications such as poverty, disabilities or other indicators of our malfunctioning social system, which has only worsened under the Bush regime.

To put it bluntly, No Child Left Behind is, at best, an ill thought out and poorly implemented attempt at pandering. (Never mind my friend, Martin's, conspiracy theory that it's a perfectly-wrought plan to destroy public education, blazing the way for privatization!)

Worse, it goes against everything we know about good teaching, as teachers and administrators fall back on rote-learning and familiar pedagogy, in fear of draconian measures should students perform poorly on the tests.

I'm all for meaningful assessment and national standards, but this is not the way to go about it. As educators, we should be taking a more forceful stand against what we know to be bad policy. Sometimes, it takes a little civil disobedience to catch not only the government's attention, but the public's. So I applaud Carl Chew, and ardently hope he uses his moment of fame to educate the public to the REAL issues the government chooses to ignore.