Friday, October 15, 2010

Book Trailer Presentation

I'm giving a presentation tomorrow on Animoto book trailers.  I'm hoping to be chosen to present at the EARCOS conference in spring.  (Inshallah!)

Anyway, in my continuing quest to master Prezi, here is my "slideshow."

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

I Think I've Got It!

I blogged a while back about being determined to figure out Prezi.   Judge the results for yourself:

Now that I have the basics, I will work on finesse!

Monday, October 11, 2010

I'm Such an Idiot!!

In the "If you can't laugh at yourself, who can you laugh at?" department....

One of my big gripes with Prezi has been the seeming "wonkiness" of the resizing tool which you use to make text or shapes larger/smaller.    It never worked very well for me, and there was no rhyme or reason to whether a selected object would grow larger, smaller, or just sit there and vibrate!

I would sit there and drag in frustrated circles, generally achieving nothing.

Well, ahem.  Today I accidentally grabbed an object, and instead of making my usual circle (following the shape of the tool), I just dragged it straight to the left and--miracle!--it grew seamlessly larger.  Dragging to the right, it grew smaller.

The perils of rigid thinking, but just look at that tool!  Doesn't it imply "drag in a circle?"  : )

Friday, October 8, 2010

Media Specialists As Hyprocrites, OR Can We Really Tame the Web?

OK, now that I have your attention....   :  )

I'm just commenting on a random thought that crossed my mind as I clicked on my Instapaper backlog, while looking through the 1000+ entries in my reader, after just telling someone yesterday how woefully behind I am on my YA reading, having now taken on the K-5 group, which means I have some serious catching up to do on my children's lit, on top of keeping up with the news.  And I haven't read my Twitter feed in weeks!

Yet there I was yesterday, blithely assuring a group of overwhelmed 10th graders embarking on the extensive researched needed for their MYP personal projects, that I would show them the tools that would allow them to manage it all.

Who am I kidding??!

And if I'm overwhelmed, it's no wonder that the students, once we convince them there is more to the information world than Google and Wikipedia, stand stunned by the sheer volume of what's available to them.  I used to try to show it "all" to them.  Once I'd explained databases and the OPAC, we would spend a few days on "the web."  We'd talk portals and search engines and advanced tools and browser add-ons and RSS feeds.

I don't know if any of it sank in.  I thought I was preparing them for the vast online world, but I now think less is more.  I need to tame myself, not the web.  I will now teach a core set of manageable tools and skills, saving broader/deeper instruction for a one-on-one as needed basis.  To wit:

1)  Basic search skills, obviously.  Keywords, Boolean (at least the concept), quotation marks,  narrowing domains.  A few of the Google options, such as the wonder wheel.

2)  Specific portals, two or three depending on research focus.

3)  Two or three specific search engines, such as Google Books, Intute,  and Infomine.  I'm actually not all that fussed about Google Scholar, and tend to mention it in passing, then talk about why it's not very useful, unless you're at a big univesity.  Specifically, much of the content is behind a pay wall.

4)  Evernote, NoodleTools and  I'm a recent NoodleTools convert.  I never used to like it because I thought their citation tool was FAR too lengthy and cumbersome.  With wonderful tools like BibMe available, why should students go through that process, if even I wouldn't?   They now have a shortened MLA version, however.  So I'm trying it this year (mostly for the note cards options), and will survey students for their response to it.

I also used to show them iCyte  (which I will use instead of EverNote for middle-schoolers) and Diigo, in the belief that it's good to have options.  Now I think it just confuses them.  I really love Diigo, I might add, but it relies too heavily on good tagging for its organizational structure.  Students still need folders.

I'm still teaching the same content, I'm just increasingly convinced a large part of our technology job is to assess, winnow, and present the most useful options--much like developing a collection.

Mental Health Break

I'm such a sucker for interspecies animal stories!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Eaten any Fast Food Lately?

From Doug Johnson: This would be great for a library display--along with copies of Fast Food Nation, The End of Food, Michael Pollan's books, etc. Or for any nutrition classes.

Research: It's All About the Questions

I've been working on updating my research curriculum, starting with the handout, which was just a lot of boring text.  Face it, if it's not visually interesting, kids won't bother reading it.

More importantly, however, I wanted to refocus the lessons to put more emphasis on questioning strategies.  After three years of walking 6th-12th graders through the process (I used a modified Big 6), I realized many of the problem students encountered were a result of poor questioning skills (which may in itself may result from a lack of critical thinking. Which came first, the chicken or the egg?).

I realize Big 6 is the go-to model for the research process; it's touted as focusing on problem solving as opposed to "report writing," which is great.  However, whether it's the language describing the tasks or just the way it gets used, I feel the "problem solving" aspect gets buried and the whole process becomes too goal oriented:  Write your thesis, find the info, there you go!

Real research geared around real questions is a lot more messy, and I wanted something that kept the basic structure, but focused more on questioning strategies throughout the process.  Jame MacKenzie's
Questioning Toolkit was a good jumping off point, and I embedded some of his ideas into the Big 6 structure.  His article on The Research Cycle also informed much of my thinking on this.

I'm finishing up handouts on notetaking, plagiarism/citations and working with primary sources, which I'll also post.

As always, I'd love to hear any feedback, thoughts, critiques, etc!

Research Packet                                                                                                                                   

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Does the Internet Destroy Fiction?

I'm a big fan of Andrew Sullivan's blog, The Daily Dish.  It's smart, eclectic, thought-provoking, and has some of the smartest readers/commenters online.  (Well, except for MINE of course....   : )

I ran across this quotation from Kevin Hartnett on the blog today, and it stopped me in my tracks:
All forms of desire have their natural enemies and I find that nothing saps my desire to read fiction like the Internet does.  This is partly physiological—too much time at the computer withers my brain—but it’s partly dispositional, too.  After the last round of primaries a couple Tuesdays ago, I spent an hour reading articles about the Tea Party. When I came up for air I was in an explicitly present-tense state of mind where anything written more than an hour ago seemed to be based on a world that had already been subsumed.  Novels, which require a willingness to attend to more enduring themes, don’t hold up very well by this perspective.
Politics as a whole has a fairly degrading effect on my fiction drive. It’s not just that it’s depressing to watch the way Congress operates—it’s that it’s depressing in such an unredeemable way.  Fiction can be depressing too, of course, but there’s something intrinsically optimistic about the process by which tragedy and frailty are turned into art.
This puts the "the internet is changing our brain" argument in a new way. While it has a political focus,  I think it's true of the internet in general, if my own reading patterns are anything to go by.  I used to read voraciously--4-5 books a month at least, and that was on top of work.  The past 10 years or so, I'm doing well to read one a month.  I read more when I'm overseas, but I'm online less, and also out of that constant news cycle one gets in the States, so I'm looking up fewer reactions and "incidents"--I only heard about the Rick Sanchez/Jon Stewart brouhaha vicariously, for example.  I must say, that is one aspect about life at home I do not miss in the least.  It's a relief not to be constantly inundated with bombast.

 If the statement is true--and it certainly feels true--it's worrisome if you believe at all in literature's ability not only to enrich and inform our lives, but to transform them.  Aside from all the current studies on how the internet is changing our brains and attention spans, this may well be it's most deleterious effect, even more insidious for students, who are online from an early age and may never have the chance to develop the fiction habit.

Obviously, I am not one to denigrate the internet and online reading.  It has its place, certainly isn't going away, and it behooves us to harness its power and teach students the "art" of online reading.

Nevertheless, if it has this effect on us old farts, people embedded in the literary tradition well into their thirties, what will it do to younger, more malleable minds? Is it changing the very nature of fiction writing itself, as this suggests?

I would be interested to hear your thoughts on this.