Tuesday, March 30, 2010

So much for data-driven decisions...

With all the hoopla in educational circles these days about data-driven teaching, the current decimation of library positions flabbergasts me. Study after study drives home the need for trained school librarians and their impact on improved test scores, yet district by district, and state by state, schools are slashing library positions, replacing professionals with untrained aids or eliminating positions altogether.

TO visualize the devastation, Shonda Brisco created a Google map of districs where librarians are either fired or on notice: blue push pins represent eliminated positions, red push-pins are warnings. Brisco encourages everyone to participate, but as Joyce Valenza notes, we need to document not only the eliminated positions, but also--dare I say--the inevitable drop in scores and skills.

View A Nation Without School Librarians in a larger map

Here in Connecticut, out of 27 districts reporting, eleven projected cuts of certified librarians--that's on top cuts in previous years. They also project a cut in part-time and aide hours equivalent to six full time positions. This at a time when the very nature of information and information literacy is changing.

Particularly disturbing, many of the project cuts stem from poor districts, widening the education gap for at-risk students even further.

Librarians, while great at promoting reading, are not great at promoting themselves. We need to reverse this trend now. Spread the word; write articles for your local paper, lobby your members of congress. Most librarians know by now of the outrageous omission of libraries from Obama's educational drive, despite past speeches promoting their importance. We need to educate the public and the parents, sparking more grass-roots protests like the one in Spokane, Washington.

Let the rebellion begin!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

It's Back!!

Time was, there was no better Mac app for font manipulation and design than TypeStyler. At least, not for any art-challenged, Illustrator-phobic, types like me. See the Bib 2.0 header up there? I did that in TypeStyler. We also used it for headline and graphic designs when I taught yearbook.

TypeStyler made it easy to create professional-looking designs for newsletters, webpages, you name it. Then came OSX. While many apps jumped quickly on the bandwagon, Strider Software (makers of TS)posted a reasonable statement on their website saying they were working on an OSX-compatible version, and they wanted it to be great, so please be patient, and in the meantime TS would run in Classic mode (for those of you who even remember what that is!) Well, that was in 2002.

Over the years, I would check back occasionally, but there was never an upgrade. OSX upgrades continued to include Classic for a while, but then Apple decided it was time for diehards to bite the bullet and stop using OS9, and they no longer supported it. AARGH! I LOVED my TypeStyler! So, while my iMac upgraded through all the cats--Tiger, Jaguar, etc. I kept my iBook with the original OSX so I could continue to use TypeStyler.

Two years ago, however, I finally decided to give up and let TS die a natural death. I looked around for similar programs, like Art Text, but none were as easy to use or as flexible/powerful, and I (and my graphic arts abilities) languished.

But then, last night, as I flipped nonchalantly through the current MacWorld, there, buried on page 84, was a small paragraph about TypeStylerX!! Hallelujah! Angels wept for joy! Bells chimed! I didn't even read the blurb--just hopped online and immediately downloaded the software!

Now, it's not quite ready for a full launch yet--i.e. there's no manual, and it's not a completely intuitive switch from TS3, but close enough, and they're working on a manual which will be ready....soon. But the company offers a generous 60 day free trial, and all I can say is it's well worth the price for anyone who lacks the time for more advanced programs, but needs to make good-looking banners and headlines for publication (read: librarians!).

I haven't had time to explore it fully yet, but I played around last night and created that little graphic I posted (btw, the white background is a blogger thing. The background is actually transparent when I import it into, say, Power Point or a document.)

The reviews rave about its increased functionality, including 3D graphics that can rotate, which will be interesting to play with. It does have only one layer of undo, which seems odd in this day and age. If you inadvertently move an object after an operation, as I did a couple of times, all you can undo is the move, not the operation. If you haven't saved frequently (so that you can just restart, although that's annoying) you've lost your work if you don't like the change you just made. Hopefully, future updates (in 2018?) will correct this.

It's not often I recommend tools you have to pay for, but this is one you'll love. Check it out.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

In the News... an aargh! and a hooray! and a ?????

The revisionist conservative agenda had a win in Texas. No surprise, I suppose. If you must use textbooks, (and with all that's available on the internet, from primary sources to open source textbooks, one can make a good argument they're obsolete), better buy them now.

On the other hand, I blogged a year or so ago about portrayals of Muslims in YA literature, mentioning an Islamic-based school in NYC that was facing serious racist-based backlash. The principal of that school was forced to resign. The NYT reported today that a federal commission found Debbie Almontaser was discriminated against, which goes a long way to supporting her re-instatement. Unfortunately, the NYC Dept. of Education apparently plans to continue the court battle.

Finally, it appears that Diane Ravitch, a key player in pushing NCLB, now says it's a disaster. No. Really? It does take courage to admit you were wrong, and take a public stance. I would be more sympathetic if there weren't a decade of damage to undo.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Take Flight with Aviary

With the March 9th launch of the Marketplace, Google Apps soars into a new world of productivity. Similar to Apple's Apps Store, Google Apps Marketplace provides a wealth of free or for-profit cloud-based add-ons for Google Apps.

The biggest buzz in the educational sector is the addition of Aviary, a free suite of editing tools that allows users to capture screenshots, edit images and create audio podcasts, all in the cloud.

Those familiar with Garage Band will find Myna, the audio/mixing software fairly drag-and-drop intuitive. I played around with it this morning and, while I was having problems with delayed response times--it seemed to be working very slowly--I realized later the problem was my computer and it cleared up with a restart.

Myna comes with a set of loops, or you can import your own. You can also make voice recordings within the program. I did find editing the tracks a bit problematic. For example, the demo video (below) shows that you can custom fade the tracks, but I can't figure out how. Nor is there any documentation or tutorials for Myna yet, though they say they're working on it.

(UPDATE: Duh! Click on "auto" tab (red arrow) opens up a volume-editing track (green arrow).

Coolest of all, the file saves to your Google docs account, which means students can share and collaborate--a big plus over Audacity or Garage Band.

I'll blog more about the photo editing tools later. I haven't had a chance to look at them yet. But if your school uses Google Apps for Education, definitely talk to your site admin about adding Aviary!