Thursday, August 27, 2009

URGENT: Make Your Voice Heard

From a letter by Sara Kelly Johns

We have two days to make an impact for students by giving comments on the President's Race to the Top initiative that will put $4.35 billion in Race to the Top competitive grants to support education reform and innovation in classrooms. School libraries are the entire school's classroom for 21st century learning and need to be included. Your comments are crucial and the door closes after Friday! Use these talking points developed by the AASL Advocacy Committee (based on the AASL Legislative Committee's background paper for the ALA Washington Office's efforts on RTT) to send in your comments today to
Your immediate help is needed!

Please take a few moments to read about Race to the Top (RTT) and send brief positive comments to by Friday, August 28th.

States leading the way on school reform will be eligible to compete for $4.35 billion in Race to the Top competitive grants to support education reform and innovation in classrooms. Between the 2009 budget and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), more than $10 billion in grant money will be available to states and districts that are driving reform. School libraries need to be included in these grants!

Below you will find information about RTT, talking points, and writing tips.

RTT (Race to the Top):
By funding RTT as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), President Obama and Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, are clearly signaling that they see education reform as part of the path to economic recovery. Since school libraries prepare students with the 21st Century Skills identified by business, government, and education experts as necessary for 21st Century success, RTT offers an opportunity for school libraries to support and become part of this national educational reform effort. Race to the Top funding is a “golden” opportunity to position libraries and school librarians in a central role in the academic program of schools to make measurable contributions to students’ learning and academic achievement.

The Plan for Reform:
The U.S. Department of Education is challenging states to develop "comprehensive strategies for addressing the four central areas of reform that will drive school improvement:"
· Adopting internationally benchmarked standards and assessments that prepare students for success in college and the workplace;
· Recruiting, developing, retaining, and rewarding effective teachers and principals;
· Building data systems that measure student success and inform teachers and principals how they can improve their practices; and
· Turning around our lowest-performing schools

Talking Points--Connecting to the four-point Plan for Reform:

1. Adopting internationally benchmarked standards and assessments that prepare students for success in college and the workplace;

The AASL Standards for the 21st-Century Learner align with and expand upon the essential skills identified by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills to prepare students for success in higher education, life, and the world of work.

2. Recruiting, developing, retaining, and rewarding effective teachers and principals;

As instructional and technology leaders, school librarians offer support to both students and faculty through education and resources. In addition to providing professional development opportunities, school librarians work across the curriculum and grade levels to collaborate with teachers and have the opportunity to model best practices. Like building level administrators, school librarians have an horizontal and vertical perspective on curriculum and instruction within their buildings. Library Media Specialists are the uniquely qualified and prepared teachers who teach critical specialized skills identified in the AASL Standards for the 21st-Century Learner and the Partnership for 21st Century Skills. Professional school librarians are among the first positions cut when school systems face economic hardships. Students lose valuable and unique learning opportunities and teachers lose a key educational partner and source of professional development and support.

"School librarians are important instructional partners in supporting and expanding existing curriculum. [They] work with teachers to change what is possible in the classroom and support exciting learning opportunities with books, computer resources, and more" (U.S. National Commission on Libraries and Information Science).

3. Building data systems that measure student success and inform teachers and principals how they can improve their practices;
School librarians are teachers who assess student learning and have a tradition of measuring their impact through surveys and statistics. They hold a unique position in the school that lends itself to reflective evaluation of all students at all levels and in all content areas.

4. Turning around our lowest-performing schools

State after state research studies document that a strong state-licensed school librarian who manages a networked school library provides equitable access to up-to-date resources, implements a dynamic instructional programs, and fosters a culture that nurtures reading and learning throughout the school has been the common thread found to impact student achievement.

"Across the U.S., research has shown that students in schools with good school libraries and certified school librarans learn more, get better grades and score higher on standardized test scores than their peers in schools without libraries. More than 60 studies have shown clear evidence of this connection between stdent achievement and the presence of school libraries with qualified school librarians" (U.S. National Commission on Libraries and Information Science).

When writing, focus on:

· STUDENTS & student learning, especially:
content standards
creative thinking
problem solving
critical thinking-evaluation
information ethics
responsibility and safety
authentic, real-world applications
Collaboration with other teachers and members of the learning community
Technology integration
Equitable access for all students

“The Ask” (make it clear why you are writing...what action do you want the US Dept. of Ed. to take):

As the United States Department of Education works to reform education and to prepare our students for future success, it is in our students' best interests to have access to a strong state-licensed school librarian who manages a networked school library, provides equitable access to up-to-date resources, implements dynamic instructional programs, and fosters a culture that nurtures reading and learning throughout the school. Many students have lost or are in danger of losing these valuable opportunities. RTT has the potential to fund access to these critical and essential services that the school library is uniquely situated to provide.

Writing Tips:

· Know what you are asking for.
· Start with a brief description of that request.
· Be accurate, specific, and concise.
· Use research from reputable sources.
· Be child-centered. This is about meeting the needs of children; it cannot be all about school libraries.
· When possible and appropriate include a BRIEF student-centered story to put a face on your "ask."
Keep messages positive...short & sweet!

Back to the Drawing Board....

So to speak! I gave Sketchcast a look yesterday. It allows users to use their mouse as a pen to write/draw on a virtual pad and add voice.

In theory this is a great idea; I was pretty excited to find it, as our Physics teacher had asked me about doing podcasts. All he needed was to show his "board work," and discuss it, so this would have been a fantastic tool. And our math teachers would have gone nuts over this.

Just one thing. It doesn't work.

I tried it on both my Windows machine at work and my Mac at home. I could draw fine, but could neither hear any audio on the samples, nor add audio to mine. You could even read "where's the sound" comments on various sketches. When I clicked on the "allow" button for the audio, it started whirring and never stopped. When I used their contact forum to email, that didn't work, either.

Hmmm... It seems like they were a little to eager to go public. As I said, back to the drawing board...

But give it a look. If you get it to work, let me know what you did!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

NYPL Meets VoiceThread

Last week, VoiceThread announced a joint venture with the New York Public Library, home to thousands of historical documents and photographs.

Users can access over 700,000 images, maps, posters and more as they create their VoiceThread, and it's brilliantly easy to use.

In VoiceThread, Click on "create," then upload. This opens up the "media sources" button, which allows you to choose photos from Flickr, Facebook, your previous VoiceThreads or....the NYPL.

Images are browsable by category, or you can keyword search. Click on the images you want, click "Import" and they will automatically load onto your VoiceThread. They are even already captioned, with links, for citation purposes. How cool is that?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Google and the Creative Commons

Anyone who works with students on digital image projects knows what a major battle it can be to get students to use copyright-appropriate media. "Why can't I just search Google images?" becomes a frequent whine.

Well, now they can.

Using Google Image Advanced Search allows students to set a variety of criteria when they search. Specifically, the "Usage Rights" option offers to limit results to those "labeled for reuse," generating entire banks of rights-friendly images for media projects.

The other options provide even greater control. Search by size, orientation (tall, landscape, etc)file type and color or black and white.

In fact--and I really LOVE this--click on the options link, and you can search for images with a dominant color. Here are the results for a "civil war" search with yellow selected. This is great for art teachers and projects that need some color-coordination.

You can even select the "Face" option, returning only portrait results.
Flickr creative commons is still a wonderful tool, obviously, though one that's frequently filtered in schools. Google Images now provides a viable and easy alternative.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Move Your Books--Digitally

How many times have you had a senior comment "This is the first time I've checked a book out of the library!" I hear this far more often than I'd like. While our students read, they're far more likely to just buy what they want at Borders than check a book out of the library.

Part of that is because my fiction collection leaves a lot to be desired. I'm working on it. But it's also because I don't have much display room. For some ideas on how to display books digitally, check out this post from Joyce Valenza. I found some great ideas for rotating digital displays on the library website. Can't wait to try them out.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Know Your Options!

Just when you thought you knew all there was to know about Google Search...they introduce the options button. I bet you didn't even notice. I sure didn't!

Here's a quick tutorial video, and below I'll discuss some of the implications/uses for this in library and research.

There are three options here I especially love.

1) Related Searches/Wonder Wheel. Most of us know it's an uphill battle getting students to plan their searches, generate key words, etc. When they can't find information within the first few hits, they give up. Other search engines provide related terms lists. Below you'll see a comparison of the results in a)Yahoo and b) Google. (Full disclosure: I was a beta-tester for the Yahoo related search options)

The search terms they suggest are fairly similar (though Google adds in some odd ones), and I do think students would find the "related concepts" in Yahoo helpful. Google sold me, however, with one link Yahoo doesn't offer: French Revolution Documents.

As students make increasing use of primary source material--our History Dept. requires students to use at least 7 in their research papers--they will welcome any help in what can often be a grueling search task.

Google takes the related search idea one step further by offering the Wonder Wheel, a graphical presentation of search options (ala Visu-Words) that not only leads students into ever more specific search, but also nods to learning styles preferences.

The Timeline can be used in two different ways. With the "French Revolution" search, for example, the user can drill down into specific dates. Clicking on the 1800's section produced a page on the Battle of Marengo on June 14th, 1800.

It can also reveal trends. Run a search on "autism," and you'll see an explosion from 2000 on, along with an odd spike in the 1940's. Upon further exploration, it turns out autism was identified in 1943, hence the high number of pages in that time frame.

Finally, the "Reviews" section in All Results. Students frequently--at least at our school!-have to find reviews of current topical books. If the NYT Book Review doesn't have it, they're often at a loss for where to look. A search for Friedman's Hot, Flat and Crowded turned up the NYT Book Review, Slate and, among others.

What I especially like about all of these options is their ease of use. For some reason, I can't seem to get the students to use the Avanced Search Options, though I keep plugging away. I suspect it requires too much thought/planning for them. ("Do I need all of these words, or just one of them?")

Options makes it a little easier for them to broaden their search options. However much I might decry their lack of initiative in generating their own search terms, if these tools keep them searching and digging longer, with useful results, who am I to argue?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Tech-Geek Overload!

Anyone who reads this blog regularly, has probably figured out I can be pretty full of myself sometimes. Over the past two years I've been to many tech workshops and left most of them feeling "So tell me something I DON'T know." In a few I even would suggest easier ways to do something to the presenter.

So I started thinking I actually know a lot about the educational application of technology. When I was accepted to the GTA, I was excited, but wondered what I would really learn. After all, I've been using and teaching about Google Apps for years, right?

Silly me.

Within an hour, my brain was on overload and I was seriously humbled...and inspired.

Over the next few weeks..even months...I'll blog about some pretty cool Google stuff I didn't know about, and you may not either.

I'll also post when they announce the next GTA. And I just have one word for you about that: APPLY!