Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Supplement Your Streaming Video With Free Online Documentaries

Not every library can afford Discovery Streaming, Safari-Montage, or a large collection of DVD's to support the school's curriculum; YouTube and TeacherTube offer some alternatives, and it's amazing what you can find there, but it takes time to search through all the funny cat videos. If only someone would do the sifting for us.

Fortunately, there are a few good sites that do just that..find online, free documentaries--often from such venerable institutions as A&E and the History Channel, and then collect them into one easily searchable site.  A few of my favorites below. (I'm going to break my end-of-the-post link experiment for this, as it makes more sense to put the link with each entry).

Documentary Wire: This site offers a wide variety of topics, ranging from history to science to psychology and literature, many from Nova, the History Channel, etc.  The database is searchable by topic or key word.  The site presents each video on a blog-like page,  with a brief text introduction, followed by the embedded video.

Free Documentaries Online:  Also offers a wide, though more eclectic, collection.  It has the added bonus of allowing you to download the videos, avoiding the broadband issues with streaming, which will make your network guys happy.

Top Documentary Films:  Excellent, excellent collection of over 1200 documentaries, including docs from the Media Education Foundation, among others. Aside from category and keyword search, the site also includes a useful browseable list of films.

Snag Films:  While they offer some good documentaries, I don't find this site's design as easy to search. There's a clickable  tag cloud, an A-Z list of films (but with 1,350 documentaries, who wants to go through that?) or you can search by topic/channel. Neither of which I found all that useful.  I also think the viewing interface isn't all that intuitive.  Still, a good collection worth looking at.   Like the above, this site offers a good collection. Click on a given documentary, and you'll land on a page with the documentary's trailer and a description.  If you want to view the documentary,  you can choose the size you want to "download" to your computer. These are not streaming, so clicking on large--which you would want to use to show to an entire class--can take forever to load. Plan ahead! This site includes such mainstream documentaries as Super Size Me,  Bowling for Columbine, and Eyes on the Prize.

UPDATE:  One of my old students from Turkey pointed out this site: Documentary Heaven

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

"Dirty Dozen" iPhone App

This isn't really school related, but it's important and useful, so I decided to share it here. This would also be good to share with students in a health or nutrition class.

In an ideal world, we could all afford to buy everything organic, grass fed, free-ranging, etc. Most of us have to pick and choose what to buy organic, however, which the folks at the Environmental Working Group make easier by publishing a "Dirty Dozen" list each of the most contaminated foods. Those are the ones I try to buy organic. But who can remember?

There is now an iPhone App you can use when you're in the produce department, trying to remember if you should buy organic peaches or not (you should).

According to the EWG, you can reduce your pesticide exposure by up to 80% if you buy organic versions of the Dirty Dozen.


Environmental Working Group
Dirty Dozen iPhone App
No iPhone? Download a pdf form of the guide.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Organizing students (and your!) online life

This is one of those Duh! moments.  I have given workshops at school on using iGoogle to create personal learning spaces.  While trying to organize my Model UN students as they researched, it never occurred to me to show them how to use iGoogle to create an up-to-the-minute organizational space for their research and resolution writing.  It should have been a no-brainer.  And something else to fall into the "next year" category.

If you have a Model U.N. group at your school, here's a screen shot of the iGoogle tab I created as an example.

Of course, students could create similar tabs for each of their classes, not just MUN. Click on the image to view if full-sized.

Would a Teacher from 1910 Be Comfortable in Your Library/Classroom?

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Semi-Disconnected Life: An Experiment

I just got back from a week in Maine, vacationing with family on an island there.  We had a great time, but it was remote enough that we had no cell phone service, let alone access to wi-fi. The local library had wi-fi available when it was open, but I never managed to make it there.   So there I was, a nominal tech-guru, the type who checks her email at least twenty times a day, unwired and disconnected for a week.

I must say, it was a bit liberating.  I read three whole books. Long ones. More importantly, one rainy day, I actually sat and read for five hours straight.  The same book.  I'd all but forgotten what it was like to have that sort of concentrated experience with a piece of fiction, though I used to do it all the time.  The majority of my reading these days is non-fiction, and largely online.  If I read a book a month I'm doing well.

So get to the point, you say?  

Before I left, I'd been thinking quite a bit about Nicholas Carr, and his studies into the internet's effect on our brain.  (Links below, for reasons I'll explain later).

More specifically, I'm interested in the effects of hyperlinks on reading habits, the fragmentation of our attention span.  In my early blogging (and English-teaching) days, I bought the argument that they allowed for a deeper, more nuanced,  kind of writing, allowing writers to mention ideas and link to them without having to diverge from the main point. Theoretically, this created a more embedded reading experience, too, with an entire world of thought within one posting.

 Studies suggest the reality hasn't worked out as we thought, that the mere decision on whether or not to click a link interrupts and fragments the reading/thought process, let alone actually clicking on the link. (You'll find a sampling of my readings below.)  As Carr notes,
 The link is, in a way, a technologically advanced form of a footnote. It's also, distraction-wise, a more violent form of a footnote. Where a footnote gives your brain a gentle nudge, the link gives it a yank. What's good about a link - its propulsive force - is also what's bad about it.
I was just reading a Joyce Valenza article this morning, and only made it through one paragraph before I had clicked on a link and was away on something else entirely.  I don't think I ever made it back to the original article, though there was more I wanted to read.

More importantly, how do links affect students' research behavior? Anecdotally, just in watching my coterie of researchers the past three years as they work their way through databases--they seldom take the time to read through an entire article; they tend to bookmark, then click away, collecting as many documents as possible, without taking much time to decide whether it's relevant and pertinent.

Now, resource gathering is a valid part of the research process, but I wonder if students would take more time in their initial assessment of database/web articles, if the links to other resources came AT THE END?

In my own little version of Carr's delinkification experiment, for the next two weeks, I'm going to post all hyperlinks at the end of each post.  I hope you'll take the time to note your reactions in the comments section.  Does it affect your reading of the post?  How might if affect students if we ask database companies to start hyperlinking at the end of their articles/entries?

And, here, dear reader, are my links:

Nicholas Carr:  His blog; his book, The Shallows.

My various online readings:

  Carr's dehyperlinking post

WSJ:  Carr on the internet; responses from Shirky and Pinker.

NY Times review of The Shallows.

Shmoop Makes You a Better Lover...

...of your subject area...or so they say!

My friend, Sheila, hooked me up with another good resource...Shmoop.  (Where do they come up with these names?!)  A collection of study guides and teacher resources, mostly on literature and history, Schmoop provides student-friendly backgrounds on a variety of topics. I especially love their opening segment for each guide: "Why should I care?" which directly relates the issue to areas students consider relevant.   

The guides are written by persons knowledgeable  in the area (often Ph.D. candidates from Harvard, Stanford, etc.), and resources are copiously cited.  In the music area, I took a look at the "You Can Call Me Al," guide, and found a whole new way of looking at the song (can you say, mid-life crisis, anyone?)

They are even starting to add teachers' editions to many of the guides.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Edit those PDF Files!

via Richard Byrne:

Have you ever downloaded a PDF file to use as a handout,  but you wanted to make some tweaks?  Before, unless you could fork out $450 for Adobe's Acrobat Pro, you were stuck with having to retype everything.  Now there's PDF to Word, which can, well, turn PDF files into editable Word documents. And it's free.

I tested it with a graphics and format heavy document I put together on film editing, and I must say, I was impressed.

Here's a screen shot of the original file

And here's the converted file:

Not bad at all.

And, of course, I don't need to remind you to still give credit where credit is due, if you do edit someone else's file!

New in Google Docs

Google announced some new features in Google Docs yesterday.  The biggie by far is real-time editing that allows you to see changes as they happen: no more saving to see changes. Your English teachers will love this.  There is also online chat with co-editors.  You can see more here.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Four Minute Annual Report

With complete, unabashed plagiarizing of the idea from Buffy Hamilton, here is my 4 minute Annual Report. Buffy's is better, no doubt.  If you haven't seen it, it's worth your time to watch.   Mine is what I could put together having done a lousy job of taking photographs of library activities this year.  So it goes. Next year, I'll know better...and plan.

New! Onlne Video Editing with YouTube

Do you have videos posted on YouTube that you'd like to trim or mashup?  Well, now you can! On Wednesday, YouTube added simple cloud editing capabilities to its site with its Video Editor.  And I do mean basic.  All you can do is trim the ends, combine clips or add a soundtrack from their collection of songs, but sometimes that's all you need.

This (slightly annoying!) video shows you how!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Things That Make You Go Hmmmm....

Students entering school this fall will retire in the year 2070.  Now, that assumes retiring at age 65 (and that's a huge assumption these days), but what other assumptions do we make about what students need to know? How do we prepare them for a future we find it hard even to imagine?
This TED video is both hilariously funny and  highly thought provoking as we engage in a national dialogue about education reform.

Another reason to migrate the blog...

OK, so I'm not quite on vacation yet....  : )

If you have posted recently and don't see your comment, my apologies!  I'm having "disappearing comment" issues with Blogger. I've lost two that I know of, and have no idea what's happening.  I just click on them to look at them, and they're gone.  grrrrrr.....

The new site is about halfway done--this is incentive to finish it up quickly!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


Back soon!

REACH: Free Book Download

Jeff Utecht is quite generously giving a free download of his new book, Reach: Building Communities and Networks for Professional Development.  Find the details here.

EdWeb Webinar: Emerging Technologies and Advocacy

I just signed up for a year-long workshop on EdWeb, taught by Michelle Luhtala, Connecticut's 2010 Outstanding Librarian of the Year (and winner of the National School Library Program of the Year).
So whatever she has to say, I'll listen!

Entitled Using Emerging Technologies To Advance School Library Programs, the free workshop looks at a multitude of online tools and shows how they can be used to your library program's advantage.

As I reconsider my library program and online presence for the new school, I'm definitely looking forward to this for some ideas.

It starts on an as-yet-undetermined date in July.  You can sign up here.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Gay Teens Also Need to See Their Stories

You really need to read this excellent blog post by a teen describing his experience trying to find LGBT YA fiction at his school library.  It is a strong reminder to us all that a) we all need to see ourselves reflected in our reading, at least some of the time and b) as librarians, we have an obligation to serve ALL of our patrons.

I am very lucky to be working in a progressive school that encourages me to keep a broad collection; not everyone can do that.  But whoever this librarian is handled the situation badly; she should have told him that while she didn't have anything in the collection, they could certainly get online and order something in through interlibrary loan.

UPDATE:  Here's the link to Brent's great book blog.  We need more  such passionate readers and open thinkers.

On a "similar but different" note:  I happened to receive this link on the same day. Be warned--it's very disturbing. I've been debating all morning whether to even post it, and I won't embed the video, because I don't want it on my blog. But I do think it's important to understand what brave young men and women like Brent are up against, and why we, as school librarians, have an obligation to create as open and nurturing an environment as we can. As I said above, even if social pressures within the school keep us from developing the collection we'd like, there are ways to help students access resources on an individual basis.

As to the young gentleman in the video; I would defend this family's right to free speech, however much I deplore the content. But it's a very thin line between this sort of thing and hate crimes.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

iPads in the Classroom

I'm sure you've all been anxiously awaiting my promised iPad review (she said, tongue in cheek). This will not be so much a review--there are thousands of those out therenas any quick Google search will show--as my ideas for possible classroom applications.

My initial gut response after reading about the iPad was pretty negative. Of course, I hadn't actually seen one at that point, let alone used it--but when did that ever stop me from having an opinion?! It's time to eat crow.

I love my iPad (though not as much as I love my MacBook Pro); moreover, with certain caveats, I do think it could be a useful classroom tool.

First let's address the elephant in the room:  The iPad is only a media consumption device.

That's true in a sense, but I think it ignores that there are legitimate times when that's what we ask students to do.  Research projects spring to mind here. Not only do iPads excel here,  imminent software upgrades and additional apps allow students to become the truly active readers we want them to be.

The Apple eReader is a dream--I even enjoy reading on it, and I'm a luddite when it comes to ebooks. Its biggest drawback was the inability to annotate, but Apple is adding sticky-note capability with the new software update this month.

You can also use it, and online material, with the iPad version of Evernote, my go-to source for organizing digital reading. Students can copy and paste content for notes, organize them,  then share them with others.  Add Instapaper, and teacher or students can easily share (or save for later reading) online articles or websites.  You can either link to the original, or click on the text option, which removes distracting hyperlinks and graphics.  (If you're interested, here's the RSS feed to my Instapaper page.)

This month's issue of Wired magazine, the first publication truly designed to take advantage of the iPad, rocked my world. If textbooks could start creating content like this, they may have a future.

With these abilities, and with students' preference for digital media, it's easy to envision schools issuing iPads instead of textbooks.  Indeed, a school in Florida has already given its students Kindles to replace textbooks. Most makers of eBook reader also make an app for the iPad. It's annoying to use different readers, but at least it gives you wide access.

Right now it can be time consuming using all these apps, as the iPad only allows one app to be open at a time.  That will change with the new upgrade, however, and it should be easy to switch back and forth between the apps without having to shut them down.

So much for consuming.  What about producing?

Options here are limited, but not non-existant.  I've used the Pages app, which is Apple's version of MS Word.  (Personally, I like it even better; it does all the basics, and makes it easier to be creative and visually appealing.)  Pages worked well, though it would be painful to try to create or edit a 10 page research paper on it.  It would be fine for shorter assignments, however.

I haven't used Keynote yet (Apple's Power Point), but our Ed Tech director did, and it has a HUGE flaw:  not only won't it work with video, you don't realize the video won't play until you're actually running through the presentation, even if the file is stored on the iPad.    What were you thinking, Apple?

As far as editing images, there are apps for that (I use Photogene), and the video editing capabilities  for the new iPhone suggest that will be available for the iPad eventually as well, however basic. Animoto makes an iPhone app, which is usable on the iPad.  With a $29 camera connection kit, students can upload stills or video to add to presentations.

I've also posted already about one possible use in the library (or classroom)  as a learning center.

While the iPad obviously lacks the full power of a laptop computer, it is definitely more than a book reader.   I find it especially impressive considering this is the first iteration of the device--future developments should add improved functionality.

Depending on your point of view, its current inability to print is either a drawback or visionary. iWork apps allow you to upload documents to, or you can sync the iPad with your computer and print from there. Of course, it could also be an incentive to go completely paperless.

Overall grade?  With the software improvements next week, I give the iPad a solid B.

End of Year Reflections

I just watched Buffy Hamilton's  Animoto Annual Report, and it's fantastic.  I definitely plan to steal the year.  I have been absolutely horrible about taking photos throughout the year, something I plan to work on.

In fact, I really need to do a better job with the whole advocacy thing in general. While I write an annual report, I haven't done much else to keep my principal/s informed about what I'm doing.  Partly because we're a small school, so it's fairly obvious, though that's an assumption I make.  Frankly, my teachers love me,  and  I  rely on that more than I should for word of mouth.

If you can't tell from my slough of weekend posts, I'm working through my sadly backlogged Google Reader, which prompted my whole thinking about my abysmally bad job of advocacy when I ran across Doug Johnson's recent post, Nobody Can Save Your Butt But You.   In this day and age, no one can afford to be complacent.  Some resources I've been reading as I prepare to write my annual report, and continue my thinking about revamping my library program for next year.

Here's a link to Part II of Hartzell's article on advocacy in SLJ (the link to part one is bad, and it doesn't come up on a search.)

I'm also finding these articles helpful (you'll need access to the Gale databases).

A show of strength: written reports should convey how much your program has to offer. 

Breaking New Ground ,   Sharing Your ExpertiseMaking Every Librarian a Leader.
In general, my personal assessment for my own performance this year?  I kind of fell apart. I had some great ideas that either never got off the ground or fizzled under a busy schedule:  tech workshops for parents, weekly faculty workshops, a monthly library newsletter, library displays to promote reading.

While the basic program hummed along, with the usual research units and technology projects, I didn't do much new this year.  When I'm being generous with myself, I view it as a year to consolidate and refine after two years of start-up.  There's definitely some validity to that.  With no library program in place when I arrived, I worked hard for two years not only to develop and build a program, but to develop a library culture within the school.  To give myself credit, that has been very successful.

My more self-critical side, however,  thinks I got lazy.  I was busy, sure, but didn't always make the best use of time. Nor do I think one should let a year go by without trying something new;  I owe it to the students and the faculty to always be striving for better ways of running the library.

So it goes.  All one can do is recognize the problem and take steps to improve.  It's an ongoing process.

Free articles on Transliteracy

From Donna Bills via Buffy Hamilton, a collection of excellent readings on digital literacy from the MacArthur Foundation, for your Kindle or Kindle app.

Titles include, among others:

Young People, Ethics, and the New Digital Media
Confronting the Challenge of Participatory Culture
The Future of Learning Institutions in a Digital Age

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Power of Time: Worth 10 Minutes of Yours

This excellent video managed, in a mere 10 minutes, to comment on three main themes I've been pondering lately:

1)  How are we failing boys?  Look here for more on that.  (And I'm trying valiantly to ignore my inner feminist on this one.)

2.  How is technology changing our brains?  Check here and here.

3.  My own post the other day on industrial age teaching and textbooks.

I'll blog more about that second issue tomorrow, when I give my thoughts on the iPad and just how it might be useful in schools, despite the nay-sayers (of which I was one.)  I'm also going to post on a hyperlinking experiment I'm going to try.  Stay tuned!

Wax Loquacious with Got Brainy

Have a visual learner who needs help with SAT vocab?  With Got Brainy, students can create flash cards a la all those "inspirational" posters by uploading an appropriate image, then adding the vocab word and typing a sentence to go with it.  Or they can just browse the plethora of cards already created.

There are also video options and a word list with definitions.

 Creating these would also provide a good teachable moment for discussing ethical use of media.

Cathy Nelson, whose brilliance at teaching students technology I can only aspire to, shared this example of her students' video use of Got Brainy.

Bib 2.0 is Three Years Old Today

Yesterday I was wondering when I started this blog--I knew it was around summer sometime--dug into the archives and discovered that, indeed, I started blogging 3 years ago today.  Wow.

I started the blog as a library student at Pitt, as part of an independent study in Web 2.0.  Had I known I would keep blogging for so long, I would have come up with a better name!

It has been a remarkable tool for exploring my own thoughts on the changing landscape that is education and technology, and a marvelous opportunity to share those and ideas with the wider community.  What a marvel it is, eh--a chance to publish and build an audience, without having to hazard the rigors of the usual editorial process.  That may not always be a good thing, but it does change the very nature of the game.

Miranda-like, sometimes I can only stand in awe and murmur, "O, brave, new world..."

...and try to ignore any Huxley-like misgivings.

Here's to at least three more.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Another Reason to Kill the Textbook Industry: Part II

I blogged awhile back about why curriculum decisions made by the Texas Board of Education were another reason to kill the textbook industry.

Here's one more.  In this day of online access to a plethora of online resources, both primary and secondary, it boggles my mind that we still promote the use of generic, unimaginative, I'd-rather-chew-broken-glass-than-read-another-page-of-this textbooks. But then, we have a multi-million dollar industry to support, don't we, and well-entrenched interests with access to Congress and the president who want to ensure their market.

Enter Arne Duncan and the Race to the Top, glowingly reported on by the NY Times with the reductionist headline: Teacher's Unions' Last Stand.  Now we know!  Our educational woes are all the fault of the teachers' unions, which stand in the way of true progress in favor of job security while protecting teachers with sub-par performance.

As Duncan states, "It's all about the teachers"  (as if students play no part in their education), and he paints of vision of higher pay for qualified teachers's the crux...increased testing.
For states to win RTTT funds,  points
would be allocated based on the quality of a state’s “data systems” for tracking student performance in all grades--which is a euphemism for the kind of full bore testing regime that makes many parents and children cringe but that reformers argue is necessary for any serious attempt to track not only student progress but also teacher effectiveness.
As NCLB has amply demonstrated, when high-stakes testing determines financial outcomes, people retreat to the trenches and drill, baby, drill. And textbooks are perfect for that.

The problem with everything I've seen proposed by the government is it only reinforces current definitions of education, placing the focus on the teacher (Duncan's quote above) on the relaying of information to passive receivers.  If only it were that easy.

Never mind the practical consideration of where in the world the country will find 3.5 million Jaime Escalantes, if that's what we need to solve the problem.  Why are we again placing the emphasis on the teacher, instead of firmly on student-centered education, where it belongs? Why are we failing to acknowledge and utilize the paradigm shift created by our current technology?

If teaching doesn't move beyond  "sage on the stage" methodology, we are a doomed profession. That may have been fine in an era of limited access to information, but not in an age when I can carry the entire internet in my pocket. I even read somewhere that smartphones will eventually kill laptops...and we're still seating students in straight little rows in confined classrooms....and teaching out of textbooks.

Our jobs are not so much about content now, though that's certainly part of it. They're about teaching students to be effective learners, with whatever that means for our respective disciplines. We need to guide them towards meaningful ways of gathering, analyzing, and evaluating resources (the "self directed text construction" I blogged about a few days ago), then teach them to use technology constructively to reshape that information into personally meaningful outcomes.

And that's why Arne Duncan is wrong; it's NOT about the teachers. It's about empowering and motivating students to take charge of their own learning.  I would love to think I'm as gifted a teacher as Jaime Escalante, but I don't kid myself.  I'm a good teacher, though, and there are thousands of us out there, engaging students in real world problems and issues for which there are no immediate answers; yet we encourage them to ask the right questions and ponder possible solutions, with the whole world as their resource.

You don't need a classroom for that--or at least not a physical one. And you certainly don't need textbooks.  Moreover, while that kind of learning can be tested, it's not reducible to multiple choice responses.  I believe in testing and accountability, but only if the tests measure something meaningful. Knowing whether a given word acts as a gerund or a participle in a sentence is NOT meaningful.

Promoting this kind of learning isn't easy.  My next post will focus on the iPad, the promised software upgrade, and how it could well be on its way to becoming a useful tool for students to engage meaninfully with information sources.

UPDATE:  BTW, if you're not following Bridging Differences at Education Week, add it to your reader immediately.  The blog is an ongoing conversation between Diane Ravitch (and hasn't SHE turned around her views?) and Deborah Meier.  Ravitch had a telling quotation from a recent post:

I think the Race to the Top is a massive waste of money that will produce perverse consequences. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of schools will be privatized, handed over in some cases to incompetent or unscrupulous organizations. Teachers will be pushed to focus more of their energy on unworthy tests. Many schools will discover there is less time to teach the arts or sciences or foreign languages or history.
A big question I have yet to hear answered:  The top of what?  How are we defining the top?  Is there any consensus on what we mean by that?  If not, how do we assess whether students are there? Or the best means for getting them there?  People's jobs are riding on this.  We better be clear what we mean.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Heaven....I'm in heaven....

My new MacBook Pro and iPad arrived today.  Doug Johnson tells me to consider the next week lost.  I hope it's only a week!  : )

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

I Love This

OK, so I know it has absolutely nothing to do with libraries or technology. But a) it's the end of the year and b) surely it's an educational moment? Besides, I'm always a sucker for a good animal story...remember Owen and Mzee?

Monday, June 7, 2010

BP, Google and a Timely Search Lesson

So, I often have a hard time convincing students that Google results aren't always the most reliable, due to their algorithm and the effects of popularity, etc.  They understand in theory, but don't really get how it could affect their research.

Well, here's a bit of new for you.  BP has bought up several phrases relating to the oil spill on popular search engines such as Google and Yahoo.  Search for "oil spill," and you get over 34 million hits, but the top one takes you to the BP Gulf of Mexico response site.  Very unbiased, I'm sure.

Now, fortunately it's labeled as a sponsored site, and I know (or hope!) we're all talking to our students about what that means.  Here's a great teachable moment on a highly relevant and current issue.

I know it's the end of the year, but if you are still in school for a few more days or weeks, it would be well worth the time to have your students search for information on the oil spill, and point out the BP result.  Some questions to consider:

1)  What is a sponsored result?  Why would a company such as BP want to spend the money to do this, since the site isn't actually selling anything directly?

2)  What questions should you be asking as you look at the content?  What bias might the information have?  How can you tell?  Can you find any information that takes a negative look at BP on the site?  What information might be left out?

3)  Where can you look for more objective information?  On these objectives sites, is there information that eithercontradicts what you found on the BP site, or gives a more complete look at the situation?

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Tool for Teaching Google Docs

Check out this cool new tool for quick Google Docs lessons, without actually having to have a Google account for everyone.  It allows people to experience easily the power of online collaboration.

Any document they create will only last for 24 hours, so this is merely an introductory tool.  But a good way to inspire interest.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Bringing the Disaster Home

Good, if depressing, visual showing the extent of the oil disaster in relation to your local area.

Click here.

Bib 2.0: Beta testing

I think I've decided to go with Yola for the new site.  I couldn't get WordPress to accept files the way I wanted them (only as links), soooo

Here's a draft of the new site--still a lot of kinks to work out (like forgetting to put the banner on one page, and I set up the wrong page as "home")...but would love feedback on the general layout, ideas for additions, etc.

My big concern--I don't think I can migrate by blogposts over, which Wordpress would let me do. 

Going to Learning 2.010?

I just found out my school in Mongolia is sending me to the EARCOS conference in Shanghai.  Needless to say, I was thrilled.  Anyone else going?  Let's do a meet-up!

Ipad Listening Centers @ Your Library!

Here's an interesting idea from Tom Barrett's slide presentation on Twelve Interesting Wasy to Use an iPhone. For library purposes, especially with younger students,  I think it would work better with an iPad.

Create a series of book reviews/trailers, have "guest readers" of stories or poems, or any other audio/video cast you'd like.  Load them on the iPad (on several iPads, if you're lucky enough!) with an eye-catching graphic icon. (I'll post a mini tutorial below on how to change the icon for those who don't know.)

Now comes the cool part:  Belkin makes a nifty little gadget called  "Rock Star," which allows users to hook up to five headphone sets to the same device--be it an iPod, iPad, or other MP3 player.

Groups of students can listen to a story, podcast or watch a video if the screen is large enough.  What a great way to have an ongoing story time, give mini-tutorials, etc.

Any ideas for other uses?

How to Change an Icon:

On a PC:   Right click on the folder (this only works with folders) and select "properties."


From the Properties menu, choose Customize. You can either just add an image onto the folder itself, or change the icon altogether.

Assuming you've made your own icon, you can browse to it onto your computer, or choose one of the pre-made options.  You can also find plenty of free icon collections online.   Choose your icon, click OK and voila!  You now have a new, far more visually interesting icon for the folder.  

ON A MAC: 1. select the new icon you want to use and go to File>Get Info (or Command-I).

This opens up a large panel, scroll down, to "preview," select the image and copy it (command-C).

2.  For the icon you want to change, repeat the File>Get Info step.  Once the panel opens, instead of copying the image, click on it and paste (command-V).  You now have a snazzy new icon for your folder).

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Ayiti: Learning About Living in Haiti

My friend, Sheila,  who always seems to find cool stuff, told me about this fun, eye-opening game that might be a good end-of-year activity for students. Sponsored by Unicef and Microsoft, Ayiti: The Cost of Life shows students how difficult it can be to live in a developing country.  Students are given a family  five they have to manage through work, school and farming. They can also choose the mode they want to play in, whether their goal is happiness, wealth, education or money.   I managed to drive my poor family into abject poverty and debt.

It's especially cool that the game was developed by a group of high-school students at Global Kids, with some help from the people at Gamelab.

And, personally, I think any way we can raise students' global awareness, their understanding of how entrenched poverty limits opportunity in so many countries (including our own),  can only be a good thing.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

I Can't Do _____ Because It's Blocked

We've alll had this experience--found a great new online tool or website, only to discover it's blocked by the filter.  If it were up to me, we wouldn't block anything for 7th grade on up, and would spend a great deal of time teaching students about appropriate use, analyzing sites for value and authority, etc.

But it's not up to me.  And it's probably not up to you, either, but that doesn't mean we can't fight the good fight to at least loosen up the controls.

Wes Fryer has created some good tools for the argument with his Unmasking the Digital Truth wiki.  From the wiki:
A basic level of content filtering is required in the United States for schools and libraries receiving federal E-Rate funding, and the purpose of this project is NOT to argue against all forms of content filtering in all situations. In some cases, however, educational leaders are obfuscating the issues relating to content filtering and access to web 2.0 websites in schools. This wiki seeks to unmask those reasons to provide facts, options and alternatives for community leaders interested in promoting broader access to web 2.0 tools in schools.

Tech Summer Camp

PBWorks is my go-to choice for wikis (well, after Google Sites).  Their tools are easy to learn,  easy to use and give you design options you won't find in, for example Wikispaces.

If you've never used a wiki and want to learn how, sign up for the PBWorks Summer Camp, from  June 21st to July 20th.
Each week there will be a specific lesson on how to use your wiki. You will receive an email every Monday with a video, a lesson,  and with links to the homework, examples and more. Campers must review the video, do your homework and meet with us on Tuesday or Wednesday for a virtual presentation.
If you want a broader 2.0 experience,  The California School Library Association offers two online introductory courses:  Classroom Learning 2.0  or School Library Learning 2.0.  Both are self-paced tutorials teaching the fundamental 2.0 tools:  blogs, wikis, Flickr, social tagging and more.

And did I mention they're all free?   Life is good!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Mental Health Break...

too funny

Old Literacy/New Literacy

There's a debate going on in educational circles that I think is profoundly important for the future of education in general and libraries in specific.  "21st Century Skills" reigns as the current buzz word of choice to the point it has become somewhat meaningless.  What do we mean by that?  NETS standards?  Critical thinking?  Technology?  All of the above?

Critics claim it's the latest education fad. They argue it's actually just a re-packaging of old 20th Century skills long recognized by Bloom:  analyzing, synthesizing, creating. And I do believe they have a point. Many of the "new literacies" we promote are touted as methods for engaging students more deeply with content.  Don't write an essay, the thinking goes, produce a documentary!  The tools are different, but by creating a real project for a real audience, students finally engage with all those analytical modes we've been trying to get them to for so long.  Or that's the theory.

Anyone who has ever had a class produce documentaries knows they can be every bit as weak and brain dead as an essay.  That usually happens when the focus is on the tool rather than the learning...but that's another blog post!

My point here is that many of the nay-sayers miss a fundamental difference in how students are choosing to learn these days. Quite bluntly, literacy is changing.  Like it or not, the internet is transforming how we read, how we process, how we study.  I'm 52 and long entrenched in novels, and even I can see a difference in my reading habits.  It's more of an effort to read a book these days, I must admit.  And not just because I need reading glasses now.  Once I'm into it, it I'm fine, but I feel a definite cognitive shift in that first chapter or so.

Doug Johnson wrote an interesting post the other day describing post-literacy reading habits and how libraries must change to meet the needs of students who increasingly choose to work and think in modalities other than writing or reading. Most tellingly (for me), he argues:
...postliteracy is a return to more natural forms of multi-sensory communication - speaking, storytelling, dialogue, debate, and dramatization. It is just now that these modes can be captured and stored digitally as easily as writing. Information, emotion and persuasion may be even more powerfully conveyed in multi-media formats.
While there is a plethora of literature about "new literacies," I have found very little that actually defines what that means.  The University of Connecticut is one exception, and I was lucky enough to sit in on a conference call with Greg McVerry, the Neag Fellow at UConn's New Literacies research lab.

As he pointed out, the dilemma isn't a tech issue, it's a literacy issue.  Students come to any given learning experience with something of a "textbook mentality"--they expect to find their "answer" specifically stated somewhere in the text, with everything titled and subtitled for easy skimming.  I certainly see that in my own students;  if they can't find a sentence directly addressing their topic (usually in the first 10 minutes), they give up and declare "I can't find anything!"

We're in a new age, however.  Rather than texts, or even libraries, where books are edited and chosen for content, students Google the web in a sort of "self directed text construction"  (Greg's term--isn't it great?). Students themselves act as editors (ideally), and while the topic may be the same, by researching online, each student constructs a different text as they read different links.

They start bogging down, however, with the sheer amount of information available to them. Remember the old days when you had to have "two books and a magazine article" for your research paper? Students now have access to thousands of sources. Moreover, in addition to the authority problem we all try to teach them, they now have another issue:  how do I synthesize the information I've learned from multiple texts  and put my own spin on it?

That is the consistent problem I see students struggle with--they're surrounded with stacks of information, but don't know how to organize and reshape it into something meaningful for their paper.  Worse, they are often side-tracked into non-relevant issues by the plethora of links leading from any given page.

For me, 21st Century Skills are only nominally about technology.  As a profession, we must come to grips not only with teaching students to find and manage information, but also teaching them to synthesize it,  to make it their own, whether they're writing an essay or producing an Animoto presentation. While good teachers have  always pushed for that in student work, the sheer variety of information available to students now--textual, visual, auditory and mash-ups of all three--make it not just a nice perk from the academically inclined, but a necessity for ALL students.

Yet we consistently take them to the point where they start putting it all together---then just give them a due date and say "have at it."  Like the Sidney Harris cartoon, we expect the miracle to happen, and, disappointed, grade them down when it doesn't. We would be better teachers, produce more successful students,  if we were "more step two."

How we do that, I don't know, but let's start the conversation.  It's certainly something I'm going to think heavily about this year.  Any sudden insights, and I'll certainly post them!

Flagrant Self Promotion

Bib 2.0  just won First Place in the Salem Press Library Blog awards, in the School Library category.  That is so cool!  I'm very flattered, humbled (because there is a lot of excellent "competition" out there) and inspired to be better.

Thanks to Salem Press and the judges!

You can look here for a list of the winners and honorable mentions. Add them to your reader!