Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Blast from the past

I guess 2013 isn't that far in the past, but so much has happened for me both personally and professionally that I forgot all about this blog's existence until yesterday. I'm not ready to maintain multiple blogs right now, but I didn't want anyone to think I'd given up on blogging completely!

I'm now posting semi-regularly on educational technology at:  http://satectechintegration.blogspot.com/

Thursday, April 25, 2013

I may just be addicted to NetGalley

Although most people think that librarians sit around and read all day, in my case at least, nothing could be further from the truth. At least not until today.

I have always been a pretty fast reader and when I lived in NYC, there was nothing I liked better than a long subway ride with a seat and a book. But then we moved to Virginia and instead of spending hours on public transportation, I was spending hours in my car. So, unable to read and drive, I embraced audiobooks. Until this point, I'd always sort of seen audiobooks as a lazy way out, but I did a complete turnabout after realizing how much I enjoyed the storytelling when I was able to sit back and listen. It's not possible to skim through an audiobook and the awkwardness that can be easy to gloss over when reading, reverberates when read aloud.

I spent years listening to audiobooks and then I had children. Not that I don't love them completely, but now that they're old enough to follow along, the books I'm listening to raise too many questions and interruptions to be worth it.
"Mommy, why did he say that?" 
"What does that mean?" 
"That was a mean word Mommy." 
"Mommy, why he shooted her?"
"Did he say "killed"?" 
~Ok, that makes it sound like I listen to really terrible books, but that's the thing about audio, you cant skip the grown-up parts.

For some time now, the only books I've managed to read were the ones I'd been sent to review. But, the problem with reviewing is that there's this obligation attached to the reading and control of the selection is taken away, making it very much a process for others rather than yourself. I've put reviewing professionally on hold for a bit and decided to get back to reading for myself and for my students.

All of this leads me to my current situation. I've seen several posts and tweets mentioning NetGalley, but had never investigated what it was. But last week I clicked a link and my obsession began. If you're a librarian or otherwise professionally associated with books, you can sign up and request digital advanced readers copies of books. That's it- and it's totally free!!! So, you might think that these are all low-end titles, books that wouldn't be reviewed or noticed otherwise, but you'd be wrong. These are titles from AMAZING authors and publishers and they are delivered right to your digital device!

My first book did not disappoint. It was The Truth About You and Me by Amanda Grace (Flux: 2013). It is a page-turner (or screen swiper as it so happens) about a sixteen year old girl in an accelerated program finishing high school at the local community college. She develops a relationship with her professor who believes she is older (a misunderstanding she struggles with, but does not correct). While the premise sounds forbidden and dangerous, the story is so much more than that; so much more than a love story. It's about growing up and expectations that are placed on us by our families, society and ourselves. It's not a happily ever after story, it can't be; there are consequences to our actions that we can't anticipate, because at the heart of it, people don't always want to know the truth if it conflicts with their perfect ending. I devoured it in one sitting and have already requested additional titles.

This blog did not begin as a place for book reviews, but if NetGalley continues to surpass my expectations, it may be.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Internet for all?

Bill Gates recently named "education as the issue that could most determine America's future" which is, of course, a valid observation.  However, for children and adults to take advantage of their education, or to seek out further educational opportunities, broadband internet access is a vital piece of the solution. I would argue that it may be more important to increase connectivity than to re-reform education.

According to a paper issued by The College Board "
Fast and reliable access to technology increasingly drives our economy and is key to individual opportunity in today's world. Special efforts must be made to equalize technology's availability and expand opportunity for all." When most businesses rely on online services to advertise and accept job applications, when teachers are being encouraged to "flip" their classrooms and offer online components to their classes, when everything from grocery shopping to reporting sick leave is taking place online, can we really treat it as optional? In the Fall Mountain Regional School District (NH) where they are going 1:1 with computing devices for their students, Lynne Phillips, the district’s technology director, said: “Everyone should have access to high-speed Internet. It’s a necessity, a utility.”

This week the FCC is holding a Summit on Broadband Adoption and Usage.  This summit will look at the "digital divide that keeps large numbers of low-income households, racial and ethnic minorities, seniors, people with disabilities, and residents of rural areas and tribal lands from fully utilizing the Internet." Believe me when I say that it is not merely a financial issue. I live less than 100 miles from Washington DC and broadband is not available in my area. Neither, for that matter, is cable TV. My internet and TV options are wireless cellular service or satellite. We've chosen the wireless cellular service, but in addition to being expensive, it only works in certain parts of our house and it is unable to handle video without major buffering (and eating up our pricey data plan).

In my job as a connected educator, I've been collaborating with several other Google Certified Teachers on a web-based project. We meet via G+ Hangouts which are an amazing way to collaborate virtually. But at our first meeting, like the students who "flock to McDonalds," I sat in the parking lot of a local gas station and used their wireless until it cut me off and I was required to connect to the home improvement store across the road's free wifi. If I didn't have a car, neither would have been possible. Broadband is a necessity, a utility like power and electricity that we need in order to participate fully in our modern society.

Before anyone accuses me of contributing to the crazy, fast-paced, plugged-in, couch-potato-ness of American children, let me add that we do need to remember to unplug and smell the roses. But it should be our decision to unplug, to ban cell phones from the dinner table, to get outside and play. We should have that choice; we should have digital equity.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The challenges we face


A colleague on the Google Community TLChat posted a question today about a complaint she received regarding a book in her library. The complain came via e-mail from a parent who thought that the language in a particular book was inappropriate for their 15 year old daughter to be reading. Furthermore, it was inappropriate for a school library and should be removed because it was "common sense" that books with words like "the s word" or "the f word" or the letters "WTF" are inappropriate for high school students and this book was clearly not a classic and therefore they didn't understand why it was included in the library.

After reading her post I reflected and thought wow- my first response would not have been helpful. It would have gone something like this: "Have you been in a high school lately? Do you know how 15 year olds talk to their friends? Are you the morality police for the whole community?"

My second response may not be very helpful either, but it was a bit more objective...

I begin every booktalk and library intro with a statement to my students and teachers. I remind them that we have students in our school ranging in age from 14 to about 19. We provide materials for all of these age ranges and while a book may not be right for them, that doesn't preclude it from being appropriate for another student. I let them know that in the same way they can change the channel when something inappropriate is on a cable channel, they are also welcome to close and cease reading a book that contains materials that offend their sensibilities. Teens are curious and my guess is that most wouldn't turn off the tv or change the channel, but part of learning to be a responsible adult is knowing how to guard yourself from things that may cause you harm. Parents and educators can give students the tools to protect themselves, but will not always be there holding that child's hand.  Perhaps they should have a conversation with their daughter about what is and is not appropriate in their opinion, rather than trying to have a book removed from the library over a few words.

Sometimes though, calm reasoning does not work. This is when a solid collection and materials selection policy makes all the difference. These policies can be shared with parents, teachers and members of the community when materials are brought into question. Doug Johnson is right in his blog when he warns professionals "don't defend any book." This is because defending the particular book buys into the complaint. It makes it personal. I have known librarians to borrow books in their own name and keep them in a back room so as to avoid potential controversy over a book they did not personally want to defend. This goes against the fundamentals in the Library Bill of Rights from ALA. It is about allowing access within the parameters set forth for collection development. 

If I was asked to personally defend the specific merits of a book based on a single word or phrase out of context, it would be difficult and could lead down a slippery slope.  Does cursing add to the merits of one book but not another? If the book was written in a dialect is it considered unacceptable because it isn't written in "proper English"? What if it's The Canterbury Tales? If one voice or opinion becomes the law, then we undermine the very foundation of our democracy and Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 looks less like fiction and more like a prediction.

For a compilation of collection development policies see this page created by Follett Library Resources.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Presenting...iPad Basics again...

So, I was asked to present an intro to iPads to our elementary-level librarians last week and I really didn't want to be boring. I didn't want to create a Powerpoint because It seemed like overkill for the information I needed to share- ditto for Prezi. So I downloaded Haiku Deck onto my iPad and got started. Within and hour I had (what I'm proud to say) a fabulous set of slides that shared enough, but not too much, in a visually engaging way.

With this presentation, I was able to give the group specific visuals to focus on while I was explaining the functionality of their new devices.  Since our elementary librarians have been using iPod Touches for some time now, much of the time a slide would come up and all I had to say was: "this is just the way it is on your iPod Touch." But, for other items, I was able to elaborate on them and they were able to follow along on their iPads without feeling like they were missing out on text in the presentation. For me, having the images within the presentation program was so helpful. In some cases, I added in my own screenshots, but for the others, Haiku Deck offered excellent cc choices related to the text I had inserted.

For quick to produce and visually appealing presentations, Haiku Deck is my new favorite!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Google Teacher Academy take-aways

So I've had some time to collect my thoughts since getting home from the Google Teacher Academy. I could go on for pages about the Google campus, the amazing conversations and rapid-fire information I tried to absorb during my two days in Mountain View, California. But I'll try to boil it down to the key take-aways.

1. Google is an amazing company.
I'm sure that there is a great deal of internal and external pressure to succeed on the employees, but the freedom to be your creative best is clearly fostered by a workplace environment where everything you could possibly want is provided to you at work.  From on-site haircuts, laundry services, bowling, dance, yoga, world-class cuisine and transportation, all of the little errands and annoyances that can distract you during your workday are made worry-free and convenient leaving the employees time to nurture themselves and the company they work for.

2. You don't know what you don't know.
Like I've said before, I consider myself a better-than-average searcher. I have often overlooked tools because I thought that they weren't of any particular use to me, when really, I just didn't know enough about them to take full advantage of what they had to offer. Maps are for more than just getting from point A to point B. Search is capable of more than just finding the answer to a concrete question. Scripts and customized searching isn't just for experts. There are many ways to use these tools and it may not be possible to know them all, but what you can know is who to ask for help and where to go to find the answers you need.

3. Youtube is for much more than goofy memes.
I guess that I knew this. I knew that it could be used for students to gain an authentic audience for their work. I knew that video was a powerful tool for sharing information and that some people learn better with audiovisual cues. What I didn't really grasp was the way that Youtube has changed our lives. Not just mine, but collectively. In just 7 years Youtube has created a language of cultural references that crosses national borders and connects people together by sharing moments of brilliance and banality without discrimination.

4. I need to think bigger.
This is going to be a challenge. I began thinking that my action plan would involve the creation of a few videos to explain how search works in a way that my students could not only understand the tool they were using, but in a way that would ignite their curiosity to learn more. That seemed worthwhile, but in the few short weeks since the Google Teacher Academy I have begun to participate in several G+ Communities and have discovered that there are so many people looking for similar resources. Maybe what I create will be able to help them, maybe some of them with partner with me on this project. If I'm thinking bigger than my school and community, what changes would I need to make in my process? What additional information or materials would be helpful to include with these videos? Are we reinventing the wheel? Does it matter?  Patrick Pichette, Google's CFO told our GTA group that when looking into new projects, Google plans to scale of reaching a minimum of a billion people. I may not be thinking quite that big yet, but maybe bigger and better is possible.

5. Process matters.
One think that I love about Dan Russell's search challenges he poses on his blog and that he asks you to explain HOW you found the solution or answer. This is the piece of the research puzzle we often ignore in education. When students turn in a research paper, it should include a reflection on their research process the same way they are asked to show their work for math problems. Do teachers learn more by reading ten reports on "current events" or would having students demonstrate the steps they took to find that information, tell teachers more about that student's preparedness for more challenging work than reading the results alone?

Other members of my Google Teacher Academy Mountain View group have done an excellent job of sharing out resources, tips and tricks from those two days. I wanted to share my personal impressions with the hopes that as I move forward in this process of spreading what I've learned, it will be shared here.

Friday, October 19, 2012

I'm going to Google!!!

I'm still sort of in shock. I was home sick yesterday with a head cold and I checked my e-mail to find one notifying me that I'd been accepted to the Google Teacher Academy in Mountain View, CA this December!!! This was my second time applying and although I was confident that my 2nd attempt was 100% better than my first, I'd seen many of the other videos and knew that the applicant pool was impressive.

In hindsight, my first application was uninspired. I didn't really get it. I had yet to really grasp how much there was that I didn't know about Google. I was a good searcher, seriously- I'm a librarian! Why wouldn't they want me? But since they only accept 50 people for each group I wasn't really surprised when I got the rejection e-mail. Soon after, I heard about the Google Apps for Education Summits. It turned out that the Southeast regional GAFE Summit was coming up and a group from my school district was going. Thanks to the generous administrators leading the trip, I was invited to go along.

This was my "A-ha!" moment. At the summit were educators who were passionate not only about about teaching but also innovators in the successful implementation of technology in their schools. More than that, there were Google Certified Teachers and Trainers who opened doors and sparked conversations that I'd never even considered. I was left not only energized, but with a new understanding of the global classroom made possibly through technology.

When we returned I applied to the Mountain View GTA. I didn't even look at my previous application. I started fresh and with a new approach. I emphasized how much more I had to learn as well as what I'd already accomplished. I tried to infuse my application video with my personality and really take the time to get it right.

In the end, even if I hadn't been accepted, I would have appreciated the process. This application, like NETS*T certification, allowed an opportunity for reflection. I truly believe that I'm a better librarian and teacher thanks to the personal exploration required.