Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Of Petitions, Mandates, and the Battle of the Blog Comments

Wow.  Michael Moore was right.  You really don't want to mess with librarians.

Have you been following the kerfuffle Buffy Hamilton's and Doug Johnson's blogs this week?  It started with a now-defunct petition that stated the following:
“Any school receiving Federal funds should be required to have a credentialed School Librarian on staff full time with a library that contains a minimum of 18 books per student. Failure to have a school library open to all students and/or failure to have a credentialed School Librarian to run that library should be punishable by a immediate withdrawal of all Federal monies.
Study after study has shown that well-stocked, well-funded, well-organized school libraries staffed by a “highly qualified” School Librarian, or other similarly qualified credentialed individual, improve student reading scores, test scores, and literacy rates. All children have the right to read and to have access to materials that will help them grow as learners and as people. No Library = No Freedom to Learn.”
Buffy and Doug both posted articulate, well thought-out, dissenting responses.  Then the fun began.  If you haven't, I really recommend you go to their sites and read not only their posts, but the comments, where you will receive quite an education in the current state of civil discourse in public spheres, among other things.

I, of course, am about to add my own two cents' worth.  But let me start with a bit of transparency.  Not only do I no longer work in public schools, I no longer even work in the country.  In that sense,   I don't have a dog in this fight--except that the struggles going on in the US and UK are leading indicators for what could become international trends, and media specialists everywhere better be paying attention.

I won't even comment much on the downright uncivil nature of some of the comments others' wrote.  People's jobs and livelihood are at stake and passions run high, which is no excuse (we're not only supposed to be professionals, we're on the frontlines for teaching appropriate online behavior), but does call for at least a bit of understanding.

Like Buffy, I didn't sign the petition, and for very similar reasons.  She and Doug both articulated the arguments against the petition well; there is no need for me to repeat those.  I plan to address some of the comments, which I think often miss the point.

In a rather snarky post on Doug's blog, Linda Roche commented,
So, the Unquiet Librarian and some readers won't push library services for all students, and reasons offered up are specious; a misspelled word, no guarantee of good service with credentialed professionals, or laws won't be obeyed anyway. Boo hoo. Lip service is easier to dish up than effort.
When we discuss school library services we assume that others in our professions understand we mean books, both digital and print, Web2, Information Literacy training, technology access and integrating these services with school curriculum that Teacher Librarians offer.
First, the petition was not aimed at "others in our profession."  It is aimed at the political class, who have very little understanding of libraries or library services.  The problem with the petition, for me, was the very retro view that second paragraph gave of libraries; that is already the image in the minds of the general public (and our legislators), and they have pretty resoundingly rejected the necessity of funding that.  Why-oh-why then, would you perpetuate that stereotype in a plea for your  21st Century relevance?

Another commenter claimed "well, there wasn't much room on the petition."  How much more important is it, then, to ensure that what space you DO have addresses essential information and not some abstract "18 books per student" claim, especially when the purpose of the petition "is an attempt to force Mr. Obama to take a closer look at the disastrous consequences RTTT and NCLB policies have rained upon school libraries nationwide."  Yet nowhere does the petition delineate those effects, or how libraries address them.

Moreover,  it's not enough to cite the plethora of studies showing librarians' relevance to today's information world, and accuse anyone who dares criticize you of  being "unaware of the research."  (Really?  That's your argument?  You think Buffy and Doug--leaders in the field--don't know the studies?)  Having a library degree is no guarantee one not just knows their stuff, but embeds best-practice into their daily routines.  I'm a relatively recent graduate (five years ago) from a top-ranked library school, and I had to do an independent study in order to learn about blogs and podcasts and Web 2.0.  I assume curriculum has improved since then, but my point is much of what I know (or value) about my role as librarian, I learned after I graduated  (and, I might add, from reading Buffy and Doug).

I am not as evolved in my thinking as they,  and my own practice falls pretty short sometimes.  But I am trying to re-imagine and re-shape my role within the school, and even starting to question the need for a designated library space, or at least, a specific space to which I, the LMS,  am attached.  I'll post on that idea one of these days, but if we really want to EMBED the library throughout the school,  if  we want to make it participatory, with all that entails, then the LMS needs to be mobile, with regular swings through a "learning commons," or collaborative work space as part of a regular route.  Leave an aid there for crowd control and book check-outs.  In fact, when they ask, I've stopped telling people I'm a librarian, and just say I'm a teacher.  When they ask what I teach, I tell them media  and research literacy.

Look, I'll say it:  Traditional librarianship is a dying profession.  It may even be dead.

As painful as that may be--it's destroying an iconic image, after all-- maybe it's time to burn down the forest to allow for new growth and re-visioning, to echo Doug.  With all due respect to good, well-intentioned people, there are far too many librarians out there who think books, in their various formats,  are the be-all and end-all of libraries, who believe they're techy if they offer a variety of databases, use Power Point (or Prezi)  for their lessons, and show kids how to search the citations in Wikipedia for background references. And they are NOT just the old-timers.  In fact, I'm in my 50's, and am far more up-to-date than, for example,  a candidate in her early 30's who interviewed for my position when I left CT.  When I explained the job, which was very tech heavy, she made it clear she was NOT interested in that, and, should she be offered the position, really wanted to work on building the fiction collection.  What really saddened me, the high-school principal (an ex-English teacher) wanted to hire her.

And that's the problem.  We don't need to convince legislators.  We need to convince our administrators and faculty and, more importantly, our parents and communities.  If THEY were behind us, we'd have the funding, believe me.   Unfortunately, and I can be guilty of this myself, too often we confuse providing resources and tools with actual learning, so we throw tools at students without taking the time to teach the habits of mind that make effective learners and researchers.  Until we can demonstrate clearly how we actively facilitate learning beyond resources, all of these petitions and letters-to-the-editor are pretty much preaching to the choir.   Heck, when even the teaching profession as a whole is under fire (and under-funded), how can we expect libraries, perceived as a degree removed from learning, not to be?

OK, now it's time for two personal notes.

Perception is reality, and grammar matters when you're trying to convince others you are an educated, intelligent professional.  So typing  "failure to have a credentialed School Librarian to run that library should be punishable by a immediate withdrawal of all Federal monies" is not an option, and calling attention to it is not nit-picking, especially in a document purportedly for the President of the United States.

Finally and more importantly, rather than being chastised, derided and branded as library traitors in a if-you're-not-with-us-you're-aiding-the-terrorists kind of way, fellow librarians should cheer them on, celebrating the diversity of voices within our field, engaging with and challenging the ideas always with the goal of furthering and improving our understanding of our role.  Shutting down the conversation by  overt attacks on character, just because one disagrees with the opinions being stated, is NOT what librarians are about.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Blatant Self-Promotion

Here's my article on teaching internationally, in this month's SLJ.  Of course, if you're a regular reader of the blog, you read it here first!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

FlipSnack: Publish Student Work!

OK, now this is just cool.  My English 10 students just finished creating their own graphic short stories (after reading American Born Chinese).  Some of them are really great.  I want to share them with the wider school community, but wanted to do more than just upload a file to Scribd.  Then I stumbled across FlipSnack.

It's actually an entire suite of tools, but the one I think most beneficial to teachers is FlipSnack.  Just upload a PDF file, and it turns it into a linkable, embeddable book with pages that flip.  With sound effects!

A sample below.  Not the best comic that came in, but the one I had already in PDF form, so I didn't have to go scan anything!   The tool gives you a few different book styles from which to choose, with a 100MB limit on the free flipbooks.

You can embed them for free with a watermark, but it will cost you $50 each to remove that, or $14 a month if you get a premium account.

Personally, I think they are really missing out here.  VoiceThread went viral precisely because schools came on board with the free educator plan.  Everybody was using it!  They turned a profit on that by creating a package plan for school-wide accounts.  FlipSnack is such a useful tool for schools, they are really missing out by charging so much.

I plan to choose the best five or six stories, and embed them on the library site, for a mention in our weekly school newsletter.  (I'll post a link here, too!)

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Getting Their Heads Around "Story"

I'm working with our 11th grade DP students on their extended essays, and we're about to start talking about resource gathering or curation.  I really want to get them thinking about research differently:  not just collecting a bunch of sources, but how it all fits together into a larger story of their own telling.

I've been wondering how I was going to get that concept across to them meaningfully--it took me a while to grasp the ideas behind curation, so how can I expect it of them?--and then I ran across this article.

Basically, it talks about Rachel Maddow and Jon Stewart as curators who use their findings to fit the story for their show that day:  just think of Stewart's devastating ability at using video clips to utterly demolish politicians' talking points (which tell one story) and create a counter-narrative.

Bingo!  What a relevant, topical, and pop-cultural way of showing them how good curation works!  It beats me blathering abstractions at them for an hour!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Presentation Zen Handout

ZEN Handout

The Future of School Libraries

School Libraries: What's Now, What's Next, What's Yet to Come,  a free, crowd-sourced e-book edited by Buffy Hamilton.  Available in multiple formats here.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Adding the Zen to PreSENtation

Is that lame?  I'm giving several workshops on Presentation Zen next week for our two PGD days.  I spent 10 hours yesterday putting the slides together (geesh!); tomorrow I'll create the handout, and post that when it's finished.  Slides are below.

I called it Presentation Zen, but I would bet money Garr has that copyrighted, so I'm trying to think of a different title I could use.  Not that he cares what some obscure LMS in Outer Mongolia is doing with his brand, I'm sure!  Should I change the "S" in presentation to a Z?  Am I being completely obsessive?

Enjoy the slides. Sorry I can't make it downloadable. Some of the photos are personal permission, rather than CC, so I can't let it float around.  But feel free to use the text or ideas!

Presentation Zen

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Free Screencasting III

By far my most popular--or at least, most searched--post is the one I wrote on free screencasting tools.

While I use Camtasia for my serious screencasts, I still mourn the loss of ScreenToaster, which was a quick and easy tool, and great for students.

It's not new, but Screenr has changed enough that it's time for a re-visit.

Screenr is dead-easy to use.  Just click record, adjust the frame to cover the appropriate area of your screen, then click the red button when you're ready to begin. It also has a Pause feature, which is nice.

You can share the video with YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, or download it as an mp4, which means you can then edit it in iMovie or MovieMaker to add titles, screen credits, etc.  Another nice plus.

It does not have the ability to add call outs, which is a shame, or even to make your cursor a bit more noticeable.

Nevertheless, this is a good, simple tool, that would be easy to use with students.  Well worth a try!

I'm In SLJ Next Month!

Just a head's up: I have an article in next month's School Library Journal. In fact, you read it here first! It's a re-write of the posts I did about finding an international teaching position. Needless to say, I'm thrilled to death!

The Research Planner, 2011 Style

I re-designed the Research Planner I use with the kids.  I'm torn on this--the older students tend to ignore it, to be honest.  Which is understandable, I suppose.  I mean, I know I don't sit down and plan out all of those when I am seriously searching.  Do any of you?  So how realistic are we really being in asking them to do this?

On the other hand, I already know all of this, and am able to "do it on the fly," as it were.  Maybe the whole point is to force encourage students to do it enough, that thinking about all of this becomes embedded in their practice.  I'm more insistent/persistent with the middle-schoolers about actually writing down book titles, etc.  With the older students it's more of a reminder:  "Hey, you need to think about this!"  

UPDATE:  It just occurred to me (in one of those "Duh!" kind of moments!), that I uploaded the PDF, which isn't editable, making it hard to change the databases section to reflect your own! If you want to edit the file, use PDF to Word to convert it. Or, if you're a Pages user, just leave your email address in the comments section, and I'll email you the document.

Research Planner

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Content Curation and the Multi-Genre, Connected Search

 Hmm...I'm sure if I'd tried a bit harder, I could have loaded more buzz words into that title!

I've been thinking a lot about searching the past few weeks.  First, my DP students (grade 11) are just leaving the Pre-Search phase of their extended essays, and we're starting to talk about finding/managing sources.  I'm also putting together a presentation on Information Dashboards that I hope will be selected for the EARCOS conference this spring.

If you read Joyce or Buffy at all, or just about any other library blogger/site, you know that "Curation" is the buzz word du jour.  I pooh-poohed it for quite a while, thinking it was just a trendy name for what librarians (and researching students) have always done: collect sources and gather information.  Then I had my own little Eureka! moment: Collectors do just that: collect.  Curators, however, collect content as the initial stage in telling a story about the material collected (as in the best museums). In other words, curators put what they collect into context.

I'm trying to fit that new way of thinking about search into the kinds of skills and tools I teach the students.  I had a "take that" moment last Friday, when I asked a couple students if I could get screen shots of their Information Dashboards, Evernote collections, etc. for my presentation.  They looked a bit shame-faced, then admitted they hadn't really used them, it had just been "easier" to load everything into a Word document.  AARGGH!

I see that result partly as the nature of our workshops--I have to teach some of these things before the students are heavily into research, so I'm not there to reinforce using the skills/tools once they actually NEED them, and they fall back into old (bad?) habits. I need to address that problem directly with the students. Maybe give them time to brainstorm as a group just how they can use these tools productively.

More importantly, while I teach the tools and strategies, I don't think I've been teaching the "search mindset" epecially well.  Doug Johnson wrote a post today asking how professionals learn to search.  The thing is, aside from a few tricks in the "advanced search" feature such as narrowing domains, etc. I don't do anything that different from the rest of our faculty--or students-- though I think of myself as a reasonably good searcher.  What IS different is how I approach a search task, and knowing where to look for information, beyond "just Googling it."

In other words, searching today is multi-genre, and that's where curation, and curation tools, come in.

Gone are the days when I instructed students to "start with the books."  I still encourage them to use them, of course, but depending on their topic (and my somewhat slim collection), that's often NOT the best place to start.

So I've decided to revamp how I approach teaching search strategies this year.

1) It's Not About The Tools:  I'll start with the appropriate search attitude. I've glossed on this with them--the usual "don't give up if it's not in the first page of results" sort of thing--but I need a more specific list of what good searching behavior looks like.  More on this in later posts, but the point is, I need to emphasize this much more than I do.  Being a tech-geek, I have too much tendency to focus on the tools, and this is a big mistake:  the tools are changing faster than we can learn to use them.

2)  Sometimes, It Is About the Tools: I used to think it was important to limit students' exposure to tools--that part of my job was determining which the best ones were for their task, and sharing only those.  Now, I'm not so sure, and this brilliant blog post cemented my thinking. Money quote:
Every place they go, people will be using a flood of differing devices. Every place they work people will be Skyping, Twittering, Chatting, Texting, working together in Google Docs, translating, searching for information and data, and building social networks. If they are not learning the best ways to do all this, your school is a failure, because your students will lack essential knowledge and social skills. (Key: If you can walk into a classroom and see a bunch of kids doing the same thing in the same way on the same device, you still have a 19th Century school.)

Thus, while we still need to winnow the list of resources down--students don't need 20 different curation tools--I need to offer the older students at least a variety of options, allowing them to choose the tools that best fit their needs and learning style.

In the past, we created dashboards with either iGoogle (my favorite) or NetVibes, then documented their research in EverNote and BibMe.   Younger students use NoodleTools, but I wanted to wean them away from those subscription-based applications to apps they would available to them in the "real world."

In the Dashboard, their main page was personal, then they created tabs for their topics. I think I will still have them create a personal tab, and page in which to embed their paper (Google Docs), database feeds, etc.  but now they will have the option to collect their other sources in Scoop.It or LiveBinder.   I thought about, but it looks like it only "plays" with Twitter and Facebook.  Or am I missing something?

3)  The Shifting Nature of Authority:  Ten years ago, would you ever have let a student cite a blog post in an academic paper?  Now, I not only encourage them to, I think I'm going to "require" it. As part of their research, I want students to follow at least one expert on their topic, through both his/her blog and Twitter feed.  I will also have them follow appropriate hashtags in Twitter for resources.  Basically, I want to instill the idea of connectedness and collaboration into their searching by asking them to create a PLN, and we will talk about that as part of their research strategy/attitude. 

This should also be a great point for discussing the shifting nature of authority in the digital world, and the increased need for triangulating information.  I also think we need to get away from the idea that bias is bad.  In the early days everything I read claimed the Web was bad because it was full of 'Opinion."  The horror! The horror!   It's more important to teach students to recognize opinion, acknowledge it as such, then determine where that opinion fits into the rest of their findings and their own learning.

5) Beyond Web Portals: I used to talk to students about starting with web portals and content-specific search engines. It's still good for them to know about those, but they're almost a Web 1.0 construct, aren't they?    In addition to searching Twitter,  and, students should also be searching the very tools they're using--Scoop.It,, LiveBinder and even Lib Guides for pre-curated content. They know to search YouTube and even Vimeo, but what about TeacherTube, iTunes U, Big Think, TED, Information Is Beautiful and similar sites that tend not to come up high in the Google results?   I think I'll create a list of site-specific links for them to include in their general search pattern.

4.  We will continue to use EverNote as the storehouse for their notes, final list of resources, etc.

I'm going to create a new set of slides and handouts for this, which I will post.

In the meantime, please add your own thoughts, ideas or suggestions in the comments. 

And here is the Scoop.It  I created on curation and tools, if you want to see what I've been reading.

Monday, September 12, 2011

How to Booklet for Destiny Log-In

I wonder if that's the most boring title I've ever come up with?

Anyway, I'm doing a workshop to get my faculty to make better use of Destiny.  I'm going to show them how to log in, and then what they can do once they're in.  For those who miss the workshop, I created the quick tutorial below using SnagIt to do the screenshots, and Simple Booklet to put it all together.

Click on the arrow in the upper right-hand corner to scroll through.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Annual Report, or Do I Really Need to Spend 16 Hours On This?

The answer, of course, is yes.  I'll confess,  in my five year library career, I've been a bit slack in the  report department.  My monthly reports tend to be quarterly, and one year I did my annual report as an Animoto video, because I figured nobody read it anyway, and maybe they'd watch a 2 minute video.

This year, I gave myself a stern talking to, and not only did a report, I wrote one 11 pages long.  That's a record for me (they tend to average 3-4 pages).  I'm sure there's more I could have included, and I imagine my next will be longer yet, as I continue to sort out what to include.

This time, I worked at making it visually rich. Theoretically, that should make it easier (and more interesting ) to read than  a bunch of dry text and statistics.  That said, I struggle with how much of "the vision thing" to include, when the report is already 11 pages.  My secondary principal groaned when I told her that.  Much as I admire Buffy's hefty 20 pager, I think my admin would strangle me if I turned in something that huge.

11 Final

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Finding an Overseas Position: Do Your Homework!

Part onePart two; Part three

Once you find a position you're interested in, what should you do?  What any good librarian knows:


            While I’ve painted a rather rosy picture of overseas teaching, it is not without its hazards and drawbacks.  It can be hard enough dealing with culture shock that first year without having to survive a bad school environment as well.  Just as schools in the States vary, international schools can be good or bad, but carry the added baggage of dragging you away from your comfort zone into a culture where you probably don’t speak the language or understand how to work the system.  Thus, before accepting a position, you must spend time finding out as much as you can about the school and the country.

1) Think seriously about what type of environment you want.  Shaun Henriksen at I.S. Havana warns, “one person's 'amazing' place might not be another's and vice versa.  Some factors depend on whether you are married, single, have a family,  or want a community to get involved with.  If you love big cities and night life, don’t accept a position in Madagascar!” Also think about the schools.  Large schools usually offer great resources, but it’s easy to get lost in the crowd.  Small schools may have a bit less, but create a sense of family and belonging.  Know where your comfort zone lies.  Of course, you also need to be open to new possibilities. When I first started looking into overseas positions, I was thinking Athens, London, Paris.  I barely even knew Turkey existed! I ended up in Ankara, and loved (almost!) every minute of the five years I spent there.

2.  Start early!  The international hiring season kicks into high gear starting in January, then continues until June, though most jobs are filled by the end of March.  Thus, you will need to have your placement file, recommendations, etc. in order by November at the latest.  Schools start posting openings in October, and may even conduct Skype interviews in November and December.  Now is not too soon to start building your file with an agency.

3)  Once you find an opening of interest to you, peruse the school’s website to try to get a feel for its focus and values.  Check out the State Department’s website for any safety warnings related to the country (though be aware they do exaggerate warnings; there were frequent  “Do not travel” warnings during my five years in Turkey, yet I never once felt threatened or in danger, even though I often travelled alone.)

4)  Subscribe to the International Schools Review
As I said in the previous post, I am not a complete fan of the site, but it is definitely useful if you bear a few points in mind.  The site consists of two parts: a blog on topics of interest to ex-pat teachers, and a
 separate ($29) school review site where teachers anonymously write reviews and rate the schools and/or directors where they work.  As you can imagine, it has come to be a place where disgruntled employees vent, so you have to be able to read between the lines.  To further confuse matters,  school owners or administrators sign on and write glowing reviews of themselves.  Fortunately, those are pretty easy to spot:  just watch for a string of 9’s and 10’s and sometimes quirky English!  When I use the site, I’m basically looking for patterns.  One negative review out of many is not too worrisome; if a school has several negative reviews, that may be a sign of problems. Each post will list the school’s administrator at the time the teacher worked at the school; be aware of changes here.  Administrators can make a huge difference in a school, for good or bad. I also use these reviews to generate pointed questions during the interview process.

5) During or after the interview, ask your director for a list of the faculty emails, so you can email and ask questions.  If possible, try to avoid the director just giving you the name of one contact person.  You can bet that’s a person the director knows will give a good response.  If you can’t get a full faculty list, at least ask for several different addresses, allowing you some choice in whom you contact. Many school’s websites include faculty email addresses, so be sure to look there.  If the director will not give you email addresses, or keeps putting you off, drop the school.  The worst job I ever had, the director kept promising to get me some contacts, but always had a reason he couldn’t “at the moment.”  Like an idiot, I took the job.  I now call that school “The Hellhole.”  Lesson learned. 

Ask what the school will do to help you settle in.  At a minimum, the school should handle and pay for any visas or work permits. If housing is not immediately available upon your arrival, the school should put you up in a hotel for several days and assist with apartment/house hunting.  There should be a week's orientation for new faculty to familiarize you with the school, the community, help in shopping, setting up bank accounts, etc.  Finally, ISR recently reported on a new internet scam aimed at the international teaching community, so be aware that no reputable school will ask for money up front to pay for housing, work permits, etc.

            Once you’re overseas, you may never look back!  Of course there are the frustrations of culture shock and adjusting to a new job, but that is all part of the fun.  Ironically, people who return home after several years overseas often experience reverse culture shock, and have a harder time re-adjusting to “normal” life than they did to life overseas.   After ten years overseas, I did come back to the States; however, I found myself missing the international life more and more, returning after to it three years. Whether you live in Botswana,  Burma, or Bolivia, living in another country broadens your world view and increases your self-confidence in ways you’d never expect.  You learn that, as long as you have money and your passport, most problems can be resolved, and you actually learn to enjoy the rituals in haggling over prices or spending two hours working your way through the levels of the PTT just to pick up a package of stale Cheez-Its your well-meaning mother mailed four months earlier.

            More importantly, international education is a growing market, with over 900 American, British, Anglo-American and International schools worldwide and more added every year,  most of them hiring passionate, dedicated teachers eager for new experiences.   Whether you’re out of a job or just seeking something different and exciting,  looking into international schools opens a new world of possibilities.  Dive in!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Sign Me Up: Finding an Overseas Position

Part OnePart Two

So how do you go about actually finding an overseas position?  Especially your first time out, you’ll have better luck going through one of the many job fairs.  There are four main fairs:

International School Services:  This is by far the largest of the job fairs, but also has a reputation for being less selective in the schools that attend, so be sure to do your research (more on that later).   It’s also more expensive.  You’ll pay $185 to register with them, plus $290 to attend the conference.

Search-Associates:  A slightly smaller fair, Search has the reputation for being more selective in the schools that can attend and its teacher candidates. You will pay $200 to register, but this includes the cost of one fair.   Search has the benefit of working with a specific associate, who, theoretically, gets to know you and can help you in the process.  There is much debate as to how much actual promoting the associates do, however, as they are responsible for entire geographic areas.

University of Northern Iowa:  In February, their Overseas Placement Service runs what is generally considered a less “prestigious” job fair , but actually quite a few top-tier schools from around the world attend.

CIS:  For those in the UK (and the rest of Europe), The Council of International Schools is another major player.  They hold two conferences in London, and thanks to those great "socialist" ideals, there's no cost to candidates, apart from flights and hotel, of course.  Non-Europeans can attend, but many of the schools at the fairs offer national curricula such as GCSE and A-levels.

All of these agencies allow you to access password-protected job openings as well as details about the position and the school’s package.  Except for UNI, they hold the job fair in large (expensive!) hotels; it is worth staying in the hotels, however, as quite a bit of networking goes on in elevators hallways. It’s also a relief to be able to disappear into your room to relax between interviews.  The hotel and airfare, depending on how far you’re flying, can easily add another $1,000 to the cost of your job hunt.

Having said that, more and more schools are conducting Skype interviews, especially for experienced teachers,  which lowers costs for everyone.


The International Educator:   A newspaper dedicated to international teaching, with a corresponding website. Many of the schools run ads here, listing their openings.

International Schools Review.  I have a like/hate relationship with this website.  For a $29 fee, members can search the site for teacher reviews of hundreds of international schools.  Personally, I feel the site as a whole takes a somewhat adversarial position towards overseas schools. In some ways, this is understandable, as international educators have no unions to fight their case if problems arise, and the job fair folks tend to favor the schools since the bulk of their money comes from them.  ISR has emerged as a strong advocate for teachers and equitable treatment.  Read their blog, and you’ll have a good sense of the issues  and what to watch out for during your job hunt.  I'll write more about this site next post.

TES:  The Times Education Supplement posts openings in the UK and internationally.

 Speaking of which:

Next Post:  Do Your Homework!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Time For a New Look!

I'm getting a bit tired of the old black look.  What do you think of the new one?  Time for a change, or go back to the old?

Hold on!  Trying to fix text in previous posts. Blogger doesn't want to let me change it back to black!

The International "Advantage"

Part two in my series about working internationally.  Part one here.

Why I Work Overseas

Now that you know the different types of international schools, just why would someone want to work in one?  For a number of reasons!  While much of running an international school’s library remains the same--promoting reading, teaching information literacy skills, running library programs, you will also find some significant (and exciting!) differences.

BROAD COMMUNITY:   Most importantly, you will offer services for a broader community than do most schools at home.  Many international school libraries, located in in places with little access to non-native language texts, may serve as the only source of reading material for students.  Marion van Engelen, LMS at Dulwich College, Shanghai comments,  “We are not just a provider of curriculum-supportive materials; instead, the library...caters to all the reading needs, whether it is the latest teen fiction, the Man Booker Prize winner, or books on parenting and study skills.”  The international librarian functions as a hybrid of a public and school library, serving parents and other international community members as well as students.

CAN YOU READ SWAHILI?  Your collection will probably not be limited to English-language texts.  Aside from books written in your host language, and the “foreign” languages taught at your school, you will need to include books written in the language of many of your students.  In Mongolia, for example, we have several shelves of Korean language novels, and I’m working to build our Japanese, German and French collections.    In addition, the international librarian must be hyper-aware of pro-Western bias both in the collection and in individual texts.

MY BUDGET IS WHAT??  You will often have a larger budget than you are used to (my budget in Mongolia is more than double that of my last school in the States), and be highly valued as the go-to source for information in your school and community. Depending on your school, however, shipping may eat a fairly large portion of that. You also won’t be hopping over to Borders to buy the hot new releases. Some schools only order books once a year, others are on a twice yearly schedule. I am fortunate to be able to order off Amazon when I need something “quickly”--as in, within the next six weeks.  My library does have four Kindles and two iPads that circulate, both of which enable to me load new releases for students in a timely manner.  Which brings up another issue:  Many items (such as iPads) may not be available in your country (or are only available at exorbitant cost), and you will have to find alternative methods to bring them in.  However, many of the companies you’re used to--Follett, Gaylord and more--do work with international schools.

DO I GET SOME HELP WITH THAT?  Finally, you are all but guaranteed at least one aide, sometimes more if you’re in a large school.  It’s an issue in international  schools that local hires are often paid far less than foreign hires, but it does mean you will probably have an aide to help with the routine tasks.  Moreover, as  Kathleen Turner, from AIS in Guangzhou, China points out, due to the relatively high turnover in international schools--many teachers remain in a given school only 2-5 years--this often means an enthusiastic, highly motivated faculty, eager to try something new.

NANNIES AND COOKS AND DRIVERS, OH MY! On a personal level, you’ll find the “ex-pat life style” can be pretty addicting.  I went overseas for two years; ten years later, I’m still out here.  You’ll work with multi-national faculty and students, vacation in places most of your friends and family only dream about, and be able to hire, at the very minimum, a cleaner to come in once or twice a week.  Many ex-pat families hire full-time cooks, nannies, drivers and gardeners.  It all depends on where you are located and the salary at your school. In addition, schools will send to you PD workshops in great locations:  I'm off to a workshop in Shanghai next month, and last year I attended conferences in Macau and Borneo--all at school expense!   

On top of all this, your salary is usually tax-free, and schools (outside Europe) provide housing,  yearly flights and the usual other benefits; many include free tuition for at least one child, with reduced rates for additional children. Many teaching couples can save an entire salary, and singles can save from $5,000 to $20,000 per year, depending on the job.   Remember, too, when look at international salaries, which may look small compared to the US, UK, or Australia.  Aside from being tax free, the cost of living in many places is low when compared to home countries.

UPDATE Here's an interview with Forrest Broman, well-known on the international circuit and currently head of TIE, which I'll talk about next post. 

If you feel that this sort of thing is just what you're looking for, how do you get started?

Next post:  How to find a position

Preparing Parents for the Digitized Classroom

As Back-to-School Night looms, this perceptive article would be a good share for your more technologically embedded teachers.  The author makes a good case for parent fears about classroom technology use (I'm somewhat abashed to admit that hadn't occurred to me.  Tech nerd that I am, I thought parents would leap on board with loud huzzahs of gratitude!)

I've completely rethought my approach as a result of the article, and will put my presentation together this weekend.  I'll post it when finished.

On another note, a few days ago I posted my presentation for the faculty library orientation, and said I would let readers know how it went.  I won't say it was a smashing success, BUT:
  • The two new admin members made a point of saying they were happy to hear I believed in an active, participatory library.
  • One of the faculty, while demurring about the "thrill" of listening to it, did say it was reassuring to hear I had a vision for the library.
  • Best of all, three faculty members who ignored the library in the past, have come to ask for help with student projects.

Definitely well worth the time!

Need Some Adventure in Your Life? Work Internationally!

With the bleak prospects for school librarianship in the U.S. these days, several people have emailed me about working in international schools.  So I decided to do a series of posts on teaching on the international circuit:  the good, the bad and the bits that make you pause!

Come With Me To The Casbah!

     Have you always pictured yourself on safari in the Serengheti, but never had the money?  Or fancied wandering through Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, on a leisurely Saturday morning?  With all the budget cuts, pink slips, calls for education reform that blame the teachers and just general economic downturn, now may be the time to make those dreams a reality by becoming an international school librarian.
            There is an entire circuit of school libraries out there, in all sorts of combinations K-12, secondary only, primary only, and more, many of them run by qualified media specialists.  Aside from the travel opportunities, international librarianship provides quite a few perks to make it an enticing change from working in the States, the UK or Australia.

            But first, what exactly is an international school?  Basically, there are three types of schools hiring ex-pat faculty.  The DODDS schools are run through the military, teach an American curriculum and only American students.  They are beyond the scope of these posts, but if you’re interested, you can find out more here

            Next are the schools that offer a curriculum based on American, British, German or other national curriculae, but the majority of students come from the country in which you are living (the host country).  For example, I worked in a school in Turkey where we taught, basically, a British curriculum (IGCSE) in grades 9 and 10, but 90% of our students were Turkish. There are also schools that teach a national curriculum for the children of ex-pat workers, such as the oil company schools in Saudi with an American curriculum run by ARAMCO for the benefit of its American employees.
            Finally, there are the “true” international schools, with students from around the world.  My current school in Mongolia, with a student population of almost 300, consists of around 40 different nationalities.  These schools may offer either various national curricula, the International Baccalaureate, or both.

That’s a wide variety of schools from which to choose, many of them housing a school library.

While much of running an international school’s library remains the same--promoting reading, teaching information literacy skills, running library programs, you will also find some significant (and exciting!) differences.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Perfect Partners: Comic Life and Paper Camera

I can't draw to save my life.  Seriously.  Kids go into hysterics over my stick figures, and I don't even try anything more advanced than that.  So I'm very sympathetic to students in similar situations, and I've been wondering how to help them with my upcoming assignment in graphic novels.

We're starting off the year reading the wonderful  American Born Chinese,  studying the second chapter of Scott McCloud's brilliant Making Comics; the whole thing is great, but that chapter does a very good job of explaining the basics of analyzing comic images.

The obvious summative assignment to go along with these is to have students draw their own graphic "novel," specifically on a time they've experience a cultural misunderstanding or faux-pas.

An assignment like that would have had me in a panic when I was in high school.  Fortunately, it's less anxiety-inducing thanks to technology.

When deciding what tools to use with the students (those who CAN draw will be encouraged to do their own of course!),  I gave ToonDoo a miss because it's too limiting and doesn't allow students to play with angles,  point of view, and framing much.

Which pretty much left me with Comic Life.  It's a good tool, if you don't know it.  Basically, you take pictures (or sketch your own), then upload them into Comic Life.  It has filters that can "comicize" the photos, making them less realistic-looking.  It provides a variety of templates for the frames, and bubbles, caption lettering, etc.

I've never been all that fussed about it, however, because I think the photos still look like photos, unless you filter them beyond recognition.

Well, today I stumbled across Paper Camera on the iPad.  I adore it.  Here's the picture I took of my cat when I first started playing with it.
Isn't that great?  It really looks like someone sketched it!  And at 99 cents, it's not going to break the budget.

Tomorrow I'm giving the students their assignment to read McCloud over the weekend, and here's the handout I put together, to get into the spirit of the unit.

 I've loaded both apps onto the library iPads; after storyboarding, students can check them out, take their photos,  put them through Paper Camera, and create their graphic stories, all on the iPad.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

New Tools To Personalize the Classroom

I found two new and interesting tools to use both in the library and in my English classroom. The first was passed on by Buffy Hamilton, and the other I found while looking for articles to populate my page on Digital Storytelling.

Socrative takes clickers to the next step.  It's free, works via a web browser (though they have an Android app, and are working on apps for the iPhone and Blackberry), and allows teachers to receive quick feedback, give quizzes, and monitor formative assessments with a mere click.  There an introductory video below.

Socrative introduction video (new) from Socrative Inc. on Vimeo.

I like the multiple formats for responses, the display for quick survey of responses, which makes it easy to monitor and adjust.  Unfortunately, we're not a 1:1 school, and this being Mongolia, I don't know how many students have smart-phones, but I'll check with them when we have class on Thursday.

History in Pictures

Historypin takes the social nature of Google Earth and makes it super easy (without all the bandwidth-eating downloading, I might add).  In fact, it partners with Google.  Select a place--say, your hometown--and populate it with photos past and present.  There are already multiple collections availabe, providing a fascinating look at how places change over the century (the timeline feature goes from 1840 to the present).

You can also choose a picture and lay it against a streetview map,  directly comparing the past and present views (see screen capture below).   In addition, each photo has an "story" feature that lets users tell the story behind the photo.

This tool has multiple uses, from digital documentaries, to oral histories and more.  Student groups create histories of their school or community, of community-service activities or other events.

Again, see the introductory video below.

Monday, August 15, 2011

You Have to Train the Faculty, Too

I have a 20 minute orientation for the faculty today. I decided rather than just telling them ways the library can support them, I want to start "training" them in how to think about the library and our role in the pedagogical conversation of the school.

I want then to understand WHY including the library as an integral part of their year is not just beneficial; it's essential.

So I'm giving them a quick primer on transliteracy, conversation theory, and embedded librarianship. Yikes! I don't know how that will go over. I'll let you know. But here's my Keynote presentation.

As you can see, I'm also working on my Presentation Zen skills! Having the slide titles kind of goes against that, but I knew I'd be posting it here, and I think it helps with understanding the flow of the presentation and how the slides link.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

It's Time to Get Seriously Angry

I've had it.   I could not believe it when I read this article this morning.  Unlike my Facebook page, I really try to keep my political views out of this blog, but what is going on in this country?

So now Illinois is dropping writing from its standardized tests,  apparently following Missouri's example. As we're seeing more and more, what isn't tested, isn't taught. claims (and I wish they had some statistics to back this)
In many districts, raising test scores has become the single most important indicator of school improvement. As a result... schools narrow and change the curriculum to match the test. Teachers teach only what is covered on the test. Methods of teaching conform to the multiple-choice format of the tests. Teaching more and more resembles testing.
To say the least, the past year could rank as one of the most depressing times on record to be a teacher and a librarian. While commenting on a library student's blog a few days ago after she linked to one of my posts, I actually caught myself thinking:  "Is she nuts?  Why is she going into librarianship at this point in time?"

We are bombarded on every side as being lazy, ineffectual and money-grubbing, then legislators make decisions crippling out best efforts to improve.

Who in their right mind would think writing,  which lies at the heart of good thinking,  is not important enough to measure?  Even in Horticultural studies, of all things, professors report
Quiz scores increased significantly for the students who completed the reflective writing assignments (average of 16.2 out of 18) compared with students who did not complete the assignments as part of the course (average 10.2 out of 18).

Maybe it's the English teacher in me speaking, but what is more important to who we are as a culture than the ability to write well?  What has shaped our national mindset more than the Declaration of Independence,  Paine's Common Sense, and Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin?

We need to be furious.  More importantly, we need to stop blogging and tweeting and facebooking to hit the streets and make our voices heard.  Blogging and all the rest (including this post!) only preaches to the choir.  I doubt there are many of you out there who seriouly disagree with what I'm saying.

The thing is, what are you doing?  This is the time for action.  It is easy to be frustrated and in despair; it is hard to know exactly what to do.  As educators, we are used to just shutting our doors and getting on with the task at hand.  However, those same doors are now not just shutting us out, they are being slammed in our collective faces as legislators with little or no educational experience tell us how to run things.

So what can you do??  Begin with joining the Save our Schools movement.  If you can't attend the national event, find a local one. Spread the word.  Sign up your friends, your family.  Bombard your state and national legislators with letters, emails and phone calls.

Quite bluntly, it is time to put up or shut up.  If we aren't willing to take the time to turn our words into action, then we probably deserve whatever happens.

Simple Booklets: Good Potential, Not Quite There

I spent the morning playing around with Simple Booklets,  a new (as far as I can tell) 2.0 app.  I love the potential of this app for education.  It allows users to create a variety of multimedia pamphlets, posters and booklets.  Similar to Glogster, but it allows pages.  I think I'll use it for a  quick Destiny tutorial, rather than the video I planned to create.

Here is an example from the playing around I did this morning, just to show some of the features.  Using the now standard drag-and-drop interface,  I was able to embed a website (the blog), as well as a Google form survey (on page 2).  You can also add music, video and widgets, embed code and link with social media.  Cool idea, right? 

There are additional features you can buy with the "Pro" version, which is only $10/year.  Certainly a bargain!

The app is not without problems, however.

1)  I chose a yellow notebook paper background for my booklet.  As you can see, however, it's not showing.

2)  While the app offers both business and education templates,  I couldn't actually edit any of them. It may have been user error, but if so, it was user error that a relatively tech-savvy user couldn't figure out.  Not good.  Moreover, the templates themselves lack in creativity, I must say.  I would discourage students from using them.

3) While the app offers some nifty-looking badges and stickers, the text is not editable.

4)  Either the color of the arrows is stuck at an un-appealing gray, or, again, I could not figure out how to edit the color.

5.  The shadow tool syncs with the bounding box, not the object.  For example, when I added an arrow and wanted to create a shadow effect, the shadow was of the box around the arrow, not the arrow itself.

The only huge issue here is the template problem.  I will certainly use this myself,  and will offer it to students as an option for specific assignments next year.  One hopes future software updates will address some of the issues.

UPDATE: Hmmm. Apparently embedding is also an issue. It shows the first page, but you can't click through to second page. That is a BIG problem. So, really, this app is NOT ready for prime-time.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Content Curation and the Research Story

I am late in jumping on the "curation" bandwagon.  I didn't get it, and thought it was just a trendy, jargon word for what librarians have always done.  Then I ran across a definition (which, unfortunately, I neither bookmarked, nor saved to,  Instapaper,  or Evernote, so cannot find now) that fomented one of those Eureka! moments for me.  Roughly paraphrased:

Collectors do just that: collect.  Curators, however, collect content as the initial stage in telling a story about the material collected (as in the best museums). In other words, curators put what they collect into context.

Wow! That resonated for me because, of course, that is what teachers ask students to do every time they assign a (well-designed!) research project.    And one of our most difficult jobs as information specialists is helping students not just make sense of their findings, but of fitting them into the larger context of the story they're trying to tell.  They may find a great YouTube video on the conflict in the Congo, but what does it add to their presentation on colonialism's aftermath? What nuance does it add to their thesis?  How does it relate to their other sources? Does it detract in any way and, if so, how do they account for it within the context of their overall point or "story"?

These are big, big questions.

Then I ran across this article this morning, describing journalism's own struggle with creating a coherent story from the plethora of info-babble and Twitter feeds.  If journalists--often our students' source--find this difficult, how much harder must it be for a 15-year-old? 

More importantly, how can we guide them in their story-telling without influencing their interpretations, or adding to what is already an over-whelming burden for many of them?

Students as Curators  

First, I think we need to explain their research to them in exactly these terms, including the museum analogy (or any other analogy you think will be relevant for them).    Students need to understand they are not just bookmarking ad nauseum, but trying to create a larger story.

Second, as students work with their sources, we should encourage (require?) them to jot down their ideas on  the source's relevance to their larger research "story."  Nothing as formal and time-consuming as an annotated bibliography, though I think those are a great way of a) forcing students to think more deeply about their source and b) ensuring they've actually read it, and aren't just including it to pad out their Works Cited  (Surely not!). 

While I would love to ask students to do these regularly, they are a lot of work, and I think there would be quite a bit of understandable push-back.  I'm a firm believer in choosing my battles!  It makes more sense to me to just ask them  to write quick ideas on their note-cards (real or digital).

Since many students don't have a clear idea of their thesis during the initial research stages, this would be an ongoing task, and their process in that (not the actual notes themselves) should be part of my assessment of their research.  Moreover, as they share their research notes with me, I would of course  nudge and guide their progress.  It's far more important to work with them during the process, than evaluate them after-the-fact!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

iSchool Initiative: The Future is Now

Wes Fryer gave a heads up on this interesting video from Travis Allen and the iSchool Initiative.  This "kid" definitely has the vision of what schools can become if they would smarten up and stop blocking personal technology.  I'm definitely going to have my students watch this in Fall, then we'll brainstorm ways to make this a reality in our classroom.

Of course, the library enters into this with Gale's AccessMyLibrary  (NOTE TO GALE:  PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE  MAKE THAT AVAILABLE FOR YOUR INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL CLIENTS!) and Google Apps.  Follett also needs to get on board with this and create an iPhone app for Destiny.  They already have one for Titlewave.  But that doesn't do the students any good!

UPDATE:  Just found an "add your school" link on Gale's database app.  Here's hoping it works for international schools.  I'll let you know! 

Monday, June 27, 2011

Breaking News....

Common Sense Media just (as in,  the email landed in my inbox 3 minutes ago) added 12 lessons on Digital Citizenship to their core of digital literacy classes.
From the email:

Visit Common Sense Media today to get video-rich lessons for high school students on:
  • Dealing with digital harassment and online drama
  • Protecting their reputation in a digital world
  • Exploring their identity
  • Sourcing content responsibly
  • And more!
With more coming this fall.  Obviously, I haven't had time to look at them yet, but I will do that in the next day or two and report back.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Reader's Theatre: Antigone on Facebook

This Tumblr page from Read caught my eye, as I've been scrounging to come up for ideas for next year's Literacy Week.  I missed the event, but Read ran a sort of reader's theatre a few months ago, re-enacting Much Ado About Nothing through Facebook posts.  Brilliant!

Since I teach an English class next year (and we're reading Antigone), I think (hope!) it will be wildly motivating for them to sponsor a similar event for the school community during Literacy Week. I want students to do as much of the organizing and groundwork as possible, so they buy in to the whole idea, and we'll promote it to the wider school community--secondary students, faculty, parents.

The Premise:
 After reading/discussing Antigone, as a class, with performance in mind, students will rewrite the story in a contemporary setting and adopt a character. Students will work together to create a series of Facebook posts through their characters that develop the Antigone plot and themes.  This storyline will take place over three days, with a day before and after for pre/post theatre introductions and discussions.

If you haven't read it, Antigone deals with themes extremely relevant to today's world:  individual rights vs. the state;  duty to our beliefs vs. duty to the state; what does it mean to be a good citizen?  a good ruler?   And a lot more.  This should create plenty of ideas for discussion during the course of the week.

1. One group of web-savvy students will create an event website, explaining the concept, giving brief biographies of the characters, etc.

2.  Each student will create a Facebook page for their character, complete with likes, photos and other appropriate character development.

3.  As stated above, the class will create a series of posts for each character that develop the plot and themes of  Antigone. They will need to establish an order and strict schedule for when each one will be posted.  This is the framework.  However, once the pre-planned posts are up, other characters are free to comment on those posts, within the context of the play and their character.

4.  Student will also create publicity for the event: A trailer to host on the school website, posters around the school, morning announcements, etc.  

Here's Where it Gets Fun
With each character bio, the  event website will provide a link to invite the school community to "Like" the characters on FB.  They will then be able to follow the ongoing discussion.  More importantly, they will be able to comment themselves and participate in the "theatre."  Characters, in turn, can respond to the audience comments and each other.

Potential Problems:
I can see where it might be difficult to follow the discussion on a Facebook wall.  If I can figure out Tumblr, I'm going to try to create a Tumblr page that will organize the posts more sequentially.  I'm still trying to work that out.

I'm excited about this; I think the kids will love it, and see ways of using technology to do more than share photos from their latest party.  I hope the school community-at-large will participate too.  While I'm sure we'll encounter obstacles, that's part of the learning experience. I want students to take front and center on all the planning, with me there for consultation.

I'd love to hear your feedback/thoughts!

And, of course, as I start working on this, I will post all student handouts, etc.

Sensemaking: The Next Level of Search

I'll be in the air, en route from UlaanBaatar to JFK (hooray!), but details below for a June 21 webinar that sounds intriguing.  Register here.  If you can't attend, the archive will be posted here in a few days.

Title: Sensemaking: The next level of search skills

Sensemaking is what you do when you collect, organize and restructure information to come to some deeper understanding. In essence, it's the process we follow when we research complex historical topics... or when we're buying a refrigerator. I'll talk about ways that people do sensemaking, some best practices and how you can improve your sensemaking behavior.

Speaker: Daniel M. Russell, Ph.D.     Dan is a research scientist in Google's search quality product group. He has done extensive work over the past 15 years in understanding how people make sense of their complex data spaces. His web site ( has a good selection of readings on sensemaking topics.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The iPads are Coming! (Part II)

Before ordering our two new iPads last week, I put some thought into what sort of "iPad kit" would be most beneficial for student productivity.  It's exciting how quickly iPads are becoming serious alternatives to computers for creating content, despite my reservations when they initially debuted.  If textbook companies adopt the Push Pop Press's ebook platform, iPads could become an amazing, reasonably affordable educational tool.

But I digress.  Here's what I bought and why.

Kensington Bluetooth Keyboard:  For serious writing, you still need a real keyboard. I thought about buying Apple's  dock/keyboard because it's full-sized ,  but a) I'm not sure the dock itself will stand up to student abuse, and b) I would still need to buy a case for iPad.  This bluetooth keyboard is both a case and a keyboard, doesn't have little breakable parts, and the keyboard itself is rubberized and spill-proof. I'm a little worried about the complaints that the iPad isn't fully secure in the case, but there were just as many that said it was fine, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed on this.

iPad Camera Connection Kit:  Obviously we'll use it for importing images from a camera; however, it's basically a USB port, so users can connect any USB device, such as headsets for recording audio, etc.

AmazonBasics Netbook Bag:  Even though the keyboard provides a case for the iPad, we still need a bag to hold everything.  This affordable neoprene (read: padded and weather-resistant) bag also has a pocket to store the cables and camera connection, allowing students to check-out everything in one "kit."