Thursday, December 22, 2011

Grand Unification Theory of Librarianship...It's the Reading and Thinking!

With time off to think, its only natural that I turn my attention to reading, reflecting and writing. When I left for the Winter break, I had in mind to learn more about some of the latest trends in librarianship, particularly the notions of Enchantment, Transliteracy and Information Literacy.  Specifically, my first goal was to read the E-book, School Libraries: What's Now, What's Next, What's Yet to Come,  put together by Kristin Fontichiaro and Buffy Hamilton, two of the great stars of the School Library world. I was honored to be one of the contributors to this project.  Of course, just as soon as I finished reading that one, Kristin Fontichiaro goes and releases another E-book by her graduate students called Information Literacy in the Wild. Reading that book is another goal for the remainder of this break.

What have I gained from this reading? In terms of content knowledge I now have a firmer grip on the distinctions between Transliteracy and Information literacy. More importantly, I learned about some more amazing colleagues from all over the World that I now follow on Twitter. Finding kindred spirits and role models is what keeps me going in this business, and that alone made the reading worth while.

However, reading through this book in one sitting, its easy to feel overwhelmed with all the talk of new professional standards, roles for librarians, goals for library facilities, as well as deeper concepts that require understanding before applying them to practice. For me, the big takeaways are not anything new, but reaffirmations of the core of my philosophy of librarianship, which can be summed up in two words; Reading and Thinking. Yes, it really is that simple, but its complicated.

Taking just the concept of Transliteracy, which describes a state where an individual is competent at various literacies that enable not just the acquisition of knowledge from reading, but the ability to process information  from all forms of media and participate in the global conversations via the same types of media. Obviously, a very complex and high level outcomes are necessary to produce transliterate students, and it is overwhelming to think about the prospect of all of the individual teaching objectives and lessons that would be necessary. However, when one thinks about it, the underlying skills are really the same as reading.

Expert readers are really capable of being transliterate, assuming they learn various skills such as social media, video production and various other computer applications. None of these latter skills are difficult compared to becoming an expert reader.  An expert reader has more than a strong vocabulary, but a habit of continually asking key questions while reading and highly honed skills of efficiently assimilating the most vital information and perspectives from text. It's practically impossible to become an expert reader without simultaneously becoming an expressive and competent writer and a learner that is at least somewhat comfortable in an ambiguous and complicated world of abstraction. Strong readers don't just passively absorb ideas, but they respond.

So, to make a long-story short, we as librarians should pay attention and teach skills related to transliteracy whenever we have the opportunity. However, out core mission of just plain old literacy is still number one. Kids that regularly read through books of hundreds of pages are prepared to be transliterate, while those that can't or don't read regularly will never be transliterate.  Having a quality mix of books in print and E-book form is more important than ever, and the battle for student minds will be won by librarians that are transliterate themselves, who can connect with students and lead them towards the world of text and abstraction. This leads me to the last point, which is about thinking, specifically the types of thinking that don't happen with a book in hand.

If libraries are to be relevant in the age of the e-book, we have to serve a purpose that is beyond promoting reading.  Librarians need to lead young people towards a life of the mind.  For me, this means games. I allow and encourage video games and I make sure to praise and reward students that go beyond the level of just playing games. Video games can be a gateway to knowledge acquired through books or avenues for learning skills related to transliteracy.

Even more so, I am a big proponent of off-line games such as Chess and Bridge that promote problem solving, critical thinking and social skills on a very high level. These games figure into my library program. I recognize that not all librarians are inclined to start chess clubs and bridge clubs, but I think these two games have proven track records at boosting student skills and self-esteem.  I encourage individual librarians to identify and promote all activities that lead to these outcomes.  If librarians are creative, they will be sure to inspire creativity in others. Just as if we model transliteracy in our practice, we're likely to inspire it in others.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Getting Social: My presentation to 9th grade students

I'm grateful for a job that gives me the opportunity to talk to young adults about social media and it's importance to their futures. Most of the talk in schools that I have seen primarily focus on the 'fear factor' and telling students what they shouldn't do. I wanted to talk solely about the positive possibilities of social media with the intention of opening up students' minds about the tremendous benefits of using social media effectively.

For this talk, I used CPS systems to anonymously poll members of each class. The slides with the tan background and black text are the questions for the 'clickers.'

The interactive nature of the talk gave me some interesting insights into the students thinking. Here are a couple of things I learned:
  1. Students have a fairly low regard for expert opinions. They had a strong preference for getting information from Google or people they know, but seemed completely disinclined to seek out an expert in a field. I will certainly follow up on this when presenting on sources and credibility of information!
  2. In one class only 1 of 20 students reported writing for their own blog, while in the others the percentage of bloggers was right at 50%. The class with only one blogger was also the least engaged and receptive to my message. To me this suggests that teaching social media in itself would be ineffective without addressing the students' writing abilities and confidence in their communication skills. 
I hope others can benefit from my experience and would love to here from other educators that are presenting or wish to present a positive message regarding social media to teenagers.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Why schools should embrace video games instead of banning them

Recently I answered a colleague who asked on a question on the Texas Library Association Listserv regarding our library policies about video gaming. When she reported back on her findings it turned out that I was the only one that encouraged or supported gaming. Some respondents talked about allowing "only educational or approved games," and others said they tried allowing gaming until it "got out of hand."  Most just banned games on library computers.

I'm actually sympathetic to these viewpoints. At times the gamers make a little more noise than I am comfortable with, and the computers in the library are limited, so it seems wrong to have game players taking over computers of those that want to do "real work." Furthermore, I myself wasted far too many hours of my youth (not to mention my hard earned money one quarter at a time) on video games. As a mature adult, that no longer "wastes time" on video games, I sometimes I wished I would have learned a 2nd language instead of practicing my alien-slaying skills. Did all of those hours of joystick jostling pay off in any way? The truth is, I'm not sure.

One thing that is different more than 2 decades later after my Atari saturated childhood is that video games are much more sophisticated and much more a part of the culture. They involve much more problem solving instead of mere hand-eye coordination. Video Games allow for creativity and open-ended exploration of virtual environments. Virtual reality, 3-D graphics, simulations...These are all entire industries now. Don't we want some of our students to prepare themselves for jobs in these fields?    Games also teach valuable leadership and collaboration skills.  We are in favor of those, right?

So, reservations aside, I'm going to argue that a permissive policy on video games is far better than a restrictive one.  Here's how it all worked out for me this year.

During the very first weeks of school, many students had not yet discovered the library. Those that did were overwhelmingly interested in a game called Minecraft. In the opening scenes of the game, it's a violent struggle for survival. Monsters, shooting... you get the picture. My instincts told me that I didn't want this stuff in the library, lest the administration see it and reprimand me for allowing such stuff to go on at school. However, I overrode my instincts. Instead of telling the boys to quit that game in favor of something more wholesome, I decided to ask the students to tell me about the game and why they enjoyed it. They all talked about the creativity that the game allowed.  I spent quite a lot of time watching the game and listening to them. As the year went on, the boys got into more and more advanced levels of the game and I could actually see what they were talking about.

Then, just recently I was glancing at my Twitter feed and the word "Minecraft" jumped out at me. It was a story from @edtweeps about a school in Oklahoma that uses the game for simulations in an Agriculture class. Wow! I did some more digging on Twitter and found @MinecraftTeachr who teaches in a virtual school and uses MineCraft as his learning space. He has over 4,000 followers.  It turns out there are Education modules for Minecraft.

I started asking the Mine Craft boys at school about their feelings about using Mine Craft for their school projects. They were all convinced that this would be a great thing for them. Today I spoke with one of the parents of these students, and she sung the praises of Mine Craft, and it's potential in educational value. I'm now looking for ways to collaborate with the Geography teachers to encourage Mine Craft as a tool for Project Based Learning.

Ok, so let's review. If I would have banned unapproved video games, I wouldn't even know about Mine Craft. Secondly, it's engaging to the kids and it encourages them to work together. Thirdly, the parents (at least a small sample) expect their kids to learn the 21st Century way. How, under these conditions can one ban games such as Minecraft?

Stay tuned for a future post where I will argue that Social Media and Games must be included in Librarian's defense of Intellectual Freedoms. It's not just about banned books anymore!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Geek Culture in the Library

One of the greatest things about my job is that it forces me to try new things. My motivation is that I want to stay relevant, keep the library program relevant and help get kids ready for the careers of tomorrow. My latest round of learning is on programming Android apps. A few years ago I tried my hand at programming a Library gadget for Google, but ran into numerous obstacles trying to get the search to work with library systems. Furthermore, there were not many resources for beginner developers to get started and I abandoned the project without producing a workable gadget.

Now with the proliferation of Android, it's a different world. Google has made App programming more visual and created some wonderful tutorials to learn the basics.   When I created in the first Hello Purr App via the tutorial and got it on my phone I was so excited, I wanted to show it off to everyone in the library. Here's a short introductory video.

I'm a natural born geek, but not hardcore.  In high school I watched Star Trek, but wasn't one of those going to conventions in full regalia speaking Klingon. If I can do this, anyone that is even slightly geeky can try it out.

I've been progressing through the tutorials learning about the drawing canvas, image sprites and soon I will make Mash Mole, a fairly simple game based on the carnival favorite, Wack a Mole.

Now that I'm ahead of the students, I'm ready to help them get started. Ultimately I would like to form a little App developer group and get them working on a real world project. I even have some ideas and potential partners. This project is really a logical extension of my work I described in the wonderful collective Ebook, School Libraries, What's Next, What's next to come. Additionally, I was inspired by this story on NPR about youthful App developers. It's all about creating opportunities for the kids to develop skills that can make them successful and perhaps the next software billionaire!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

What is it like for a New Tech HS Media Specialist?

The big questions I have been trying to answer in my new position are the same as the Library/Media specialist profession as a whole. How does a library and librarian figure into the future of education? Will we have jobs in the future? How will our roles evolve?

The good news for the more traditional librarian, is that my new state of the art high school has a print library and it opened for business at the end of the first week of school. So far approximately 10% of the student body has checked out an old-fashioned book during the first week of operations. That's with absolutely no effort on my part; no marketing, no book talks, no classes, just placing the books out on display.

The bad news for the more traditional librarian is that 90% of my time has been spent on duties completely unrelated to the print library, and I have been very busy. Part of the reason I was hired for this job in the first place was my willingness to serve outside of the normal capacity of a librarian. It's doubtful that this campus would have a librarian if he/she were unwilling to also take on the responsibility of Technology Manager. My role as Technology Manager, though somewhat unrelated to library services is completely vital to a New Tech High School. In this capacity I have helped set up user accounts in our Echo learning management system and our Google Apps. Since the staff is completely new and few have had any prior experience with these systems, it has been up to me to anticipate and identify problems and help teachers get up and running during the critical first week of school.

The upside of my service as Technology Manager from a library perspective, is that I have learned the names of many students, been a visible presence in the classroom and developed collaborative partnerships with teachers and students. As someone with an inside view of how the students are using the social features of our technology systems, I have also gathered vital intelligence for future lessons and discussions on digital citizenship and and cyber-ethics. These are certainly aspects of a 21st Century Librarian's job, so in a sense the Tech Manager role is not entirely separate.

The most exciting aspects of my job are in fact related to library services. Though the print library is in place with over 1,000 volumes for 140 students, the rest of the library program and facility is still in the incubation and planning stages. Our New Tech HS is a community just 2 weeks old, and amidst all of the flurry of activity in this startup period, I have managed to make progress in the following areas:

  1. Ordered Nooks and Ipads for periodical reading and library system access. The periodical collection will be mostly print-free! These devices will be replace print magazines and also lead library services in an exciting new direction.
  2. Planned the implementation of the new Media Cast system. The Media Cast platform will completely replace the VHS/DVD collection and put all video on demand, including local and cable TV programming. The system is capable of live broadcasts and has a Kiosk feature that will control screens around the campus. These Kiosks will disseminate school information including library programming ads, book trailers and other forms of literacy promotions.
  3. Started the online learning commons an established productive online relationships with students. The chess club and anime club are now library programs with a student-driven online presence!
  4. Met with architect to plan remodel of facility, including spacious and technology rich teaching space and relaxed area based on the coffee shop model.
Yes, there is a lot on my plate, but I wouldn't have it any other way. When asked how my new job, I give the same answer; "The student population I serve is only one-tenth of my previous schools, but I'm at least 3-times as busy." In short, my role as library/media specialist within the traditional comprehensive high school was limited by campus culture and the teacher's comfort-level with technology and the Internet. At New Tech High School the campus culture propels me towards innovation and challenges me daily to learn and apply new skills. I am incredibly grateful for this opportunity at this stage of my career and I sincerely wish others in the library profession will have the same opportunity.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Seven Effective Twitter Habits for Teachers

Twitter has occupied so much of my thinking lately and now it's time to blog about it. There are so many good guides to getting started on Twitter, that I won't do that here. Twitter is so important in today's world, that I believe all educators should be involved. Here are some simple ideas and procedures for Twitter teachers. My apologies if they are not original.

1. Follow a Twitter feed about current events via TwiterFall or some other hashtag aggregator. Good activity for getting analyzing points of view, fact vs. opinion, etc.

2. Locate hashtags for big global sporting events such as Tour De France, World Cup and the Olympics and see how many languages you can identify in the feed. Then try translating to English.

3. Identify and follow thought leaders, writers and major figures in your content area/field. If you start interacting with them, try inviting them to your class or conference. It never hurts to ask!

4. Start discussions on Twitter and give out a prize for the best Tweet.

5. If you do anything creative, such as a video or a killer lesson be sure to share it and Tweet it.

6. If you present anything for a local training, a conference, put it on Slideshare and tweet it.

7. After you've been on Twitter a while, you will naturally develop your Professional Learning Network (PLN), the folks that share your passion. Be sure to interact with them and thank them for their ideas. If you go to conferences, make sure you meet them in person. That's probably the best part of being a Tweeter.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Magazine and Newspaper Collection in a Nook

various e-book readers. From right to left iPa...Image via WikipediaI have watched as others bought Nooks, Kindles and other ebook readers for the library, remaining cautiously on the sidelines, waiting for better products and a budget for their purchase. Now I finally have a workable idea as I'm planning the new library for New Tech High School. My new plan is a small collection of Nooks dedicated primarily to Newspaper and Magazine reading. I'm just now exploring the details of this plan, but here are my thoughts on its advantages over other options.

  1. The physical magazine/newspaper collection can be eliminated, allowing for a more open library and more efficient use of space.
  2. Since magazines and newspapers are meant for shorter reading periods, the loan period for the devices can be short-term and for library use only. With an ebook collection a user would naturally want the device for a much longer time, making it unavailable to other library users.
  3. The magazine and newspaper collection could be adjusted very easily and at low cost during the course of the year. Generally, print periodical orders need to be complete in the preceding school year, and additions in the current year are generally are dependent on donations.
  4. Library users would be introduced to the e-reader formats and be allowed to easily participate in online discussions related to their interest.
The only downside of this plan that I can think of would be that some teachers accustomed to using print periodicals in their instruction would be disappointed. I would appreciate any feedback, especially on those with experience with ereaders in the library.
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Monday, July 18, 2011

Daring Librarian in Action!

I'm continuing my series of posts related to the ISTE SIGMS forum. The only bad thing about the SIGMS forum is that only 250 library professionals got to see it live. It is such a great event and I hope that my work here allows many more to enjoy and learn from the speakers. Here's Gwyneth Jones, the Daring Librarian. Underneath all of that flamboyant wackiness is a woman of substance. In this presentation she gives some great examples of the online learning commons in practice. I have been wrestling with how to implement the online learning commons on my campus, and there are some great, concrete ideas here along with an important general message.

My only regret is that You Tube guidelines do not allow me to include more than 15 minutes in a clip. The result is Doug Johnson's perfect straight man introduction is lost. Oh well. You had to be there to appreciate it.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Video of Buffy Hamilton's Presentation at ISTE

Here's the promised video of Buffy Hamilton's talk at the ISTE Conference. This presentation should be seen by everyone in the library profession.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Sharpening the Saw

Steven Covey was one of the featured speakers at the ISTE conference this year. One of Mr. Covey's 7 Habits is "Sharpening the Saw," which has to do with the spiritual renewal necessary to remain fresh and vital in one's profession. That's why I go to ISTE. I find it energizing to be among like-minded people and to listen to and learn from the shining lights of the library profession.

The truth of the matter is that the last 2 years of my career have been very difficult for a variety of reasons. I have not felt successful in creating a vibrant and dynamic library program since I moved to Dallas. I've even considered moving more in the direction of instructional technology and leaving behind the title 'librarian.'

There were many great speakers, including Mr. Covey, but the most amazing presentation was Buffy Hamilton's on creating enchantment in the library. This is a woman that really gets what libraries are all about and her talk was full of passion and authenticity. I'm very grateful that I was among the 250 people in the room for the SIGMS forum. Ms. Hamilton's talk reminded me of why I chose this career and really got me motivated to make the library program at my new campus something special. I think everyone in the library profession should see her speak. If we all took her message to heart, we could go along way towards preserving the library profession just as it preserved my desire to say in it. Here's her slide presentation, and hopefully the video will be available soon.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Reflecting on ISTE Keynote

I've always been something of a contrarian. I can't simply go to any gathering and agree with everything that is being said. Rather, I'm always finding some fundamental difference with the conventional wisdom. At ISTE, this is also the case.

While Chris Lehman is a great and accomplished principal who does many things worth emulating, I don't completely buy into his worldview. I'm all in favor of meaningful projects where students construct their own meaning and trusting, caring student teaching relationships that allow learning to flourish. However, he is much more radical than me when it comes to the teacher role.

Lehman likes to say that students don't want to be told anything. No more sage on the stage. His students back him up. His young poet/slammers had a lot of swagger when they pronounced basically that no one can tell them anything. Quite simply I'm not in favor of the teacher abandoning the role as subject expert. Here's why.

In these difficult economic times, the people that manage to thrive are people with expert knowledge in a specific area. How does one become an expert? Generally by learning from the experts in the field, either by working with them, reading their writings or listening to lectures. I believe it is essential for every young scholar to appreciate intellectual mastery as a worthy end, and that means respecting their teacher as the expert in their subject. A student that is never humble before someone of greater knowledge really doesn't have much of a chance of acquiring subject mastery. I believe very deeply as an orthodox Jew that one must revere the scholar and that the highest form of learning is 'lishma' which loosely translates to 'for its own sake.' The love for the scholar and the love of learning much go hand in hand.

Maybe I was the weird one, but in High School I had no respect for teachers that did not know their subject. Typically these teachers would show a lot of videos instead of teaching anything themselves. On top of that they never assigned any meaningful work. From my experience, the best teachers were the most knowledgeable and gave students assignments that required thinking and creativity. As a student I needed both things to do well. In college and graduate school I had some professors that were more facilitators of learning, rather than scholars. I didn't feel like I learned as much than I would have if they were teaching me from a position of expertise. Sometimes I would actually feel cheated if the professor was not teaching in a subject matter in which they were an expert. In contrast, I remember being absolutely enthralled by a lecture at the University of Minnesota by a special man who was a scholar in death and dying issues. I could have tried to grasp death and dying in a constructivist type project, but I felt that having a sage on the stage was far better. His lecture left me with a strong desire to learn more about the subject.

I'm not an advocate of lecture-only classes. Students need to work with the material in a meaningful way. Sometimes this means reading in depth in isolation, but it could also mean working with partners or groups or listening to a teacher and asking questions. Time on task has long been the biggest factor in student learning. So, yes I believe teachers need to adjust to today's students, who are more difficult to engage in truly academic, rigorous work, but that does not mean teachers should back off completely from their role as an authority on the subject they teach. Furthermore, I believe the highest outcome for our students is for them to become real scholars, those that love to learn. That means they need role-models that are experts and scholars.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Librarians, Media Specialists and New Tech

Today I confirmed what I long suspected...I am the only Library/Media Specialist at the New Tech Network training in 2011. This is very worrisome to me. Most of all, I am concerned about what this says about the library profession.

I'm personally very invested in this profession and I've called myself a librarian for a full decade now. I've always bought into the idea of a librarian as a leader in teaching 21st Century skills. There are many of us that play this role and I'm proud of many of my colleagues, but the writing is on the wall. Not enough librarians are making the leap into the 21st Century.

Many of the people from New Tech Schools that I have spoken with recently cut their library positions after their librarians retired. Others have librarians, but they have not made themselves critical to the mission of the school. One person said that it took 3 years for the administration to figure out the librarians role in their New Tech school. That is so sad.

I am not just concerned about the profession, but our entire culture. Libraries represent so much that is critical for the continuation of Democracy. I don't think the Internet by itself is a substitute. I believe the future needs reflective people that understand complexity and the many perspectives of different people and cultures; people read widely and deeply. Nicholas Carr has called the human mind of the Internet era "The Shallows." I think he's correct. I'm concerned that there won't be enough people capable of deep and abstract thought to sustain this great country as a bastion of freedom. Ignorant people are prone to tyranny.

The New Tech model of teaching is wonderful, but I think every New Tech school needs a library (even if it is called the Media Center or the Learning Commons). The library is nothing without a passionate and skilled librarian. Without such a person, who will advocate for students to read full-length books in the course of their high school careers? Who will teach how to find and process quality information in the vast sea of propaganda and who will man the information hub of our schools? It's possible that teachers can fill this void, but it is equally possible that no one will do so.

I'm proud to be a part of the New Schools Network, and I don't blame anyone within the organization for the state of affairs in public education and school libraries. I simply urge more of my librarian colleagues to get involved and be a part of the future of education.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

New Tech Network 2nd Day

I'm now starting to settle in and get familiar with the group, the instructional model and the software of the New Tech Network. One thing I noticed today is that most of the schools at this training are from smaller cities or rural communities. My school of Dallas and another school from San Antonio are the only truly urban ones represented here. This is actually something I'm very proud of. We have a great group of people on our staff, and I really think we can make this school of South Dallas into one of the crown jewels of the New Tech Network, and encourage more urban school around this country to adopt this excellent model.

First Impressions from New Schools Training

After my first full day at NST, I now have a better understanding of why this training takes place over a full-week. Never in my career have I been through a full-scale school change. As the keynote speaker said yesterday, most school reform/staff development initiatives are doomed to fail because of their piecemeal approach. This one strives for going all the way with an all-encompassing model that drives the entire school. I'm completely on board with the instructional model,and understand what my individual role in this school will be, but it is clear now that our task as a campus is pretty enormous.

New Tech Network creates a very good impression. The trainers and IT staff that I have dealt with are very positive and sincere people that believe in their mission. As a participant, I can say I feel overwhelmed, but supported. On the downside, the ECHO system that we will be using is a Drupal based software that has some bugs and is somewhat hard to embrace fully.

Echo is very early in development and the IT staff is aware of many of the bugs, but I am mainly concerned about the difficultly of mastering the course and project creation tools. I feel that teachers need software that is intuitive and this one is difficult for someone like myself that is more on the IT side of things.

For the rest of the week, I will be analyzing ECHO and figuring out a simple approach to making good projects accessible to students so that we can help our Freshmen hit the ground running with project based learning. Look forward to more posts about PBL and the software connection.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Comprehensive High School RIP!?

When I began this blog, I wanted to showcase some of my successes with promoting the strategic use of technology. I'm a Library media specialist, my career satisfaction depends on working with teachers to improve learning outcomes.

I have spent the last 10 years serving as a Library Media Specialist in comprehensive high schools, but I am now moving on. I have worked in 3 very different schools, each one had its strengths and weaknesses, but each was fundamentally flawed in its basic operating assumptions. For each of my jobs, I tried very hard to integrate myself into the faculty of the school and develop relationships towards helping students develop 21st Century skills. While I'm proud of the work I did, I am left with the feeling that I was ultimately unsuccessful.

My next job will be at a New Tech High School in Dallas ISD. It's everything I want in a school: a small cohesive staff with low student-teacher ratio, a solid instructional model that involves students in thought-provoking projects, and an overall emphasis on vital outcomes such as creativity, teamwork, and critical thinking.

Comprehensive High Schools provide the opposite. The structure of the school inhibits real teamwork among teachers of different subjects. The institution is generally large and impersonal, and the main emphasis is on grades and credits granted by teachers as opposed to student outputs. Often the work needed to earn grades and credits in mindless, irrelevant stuff that discourages deep thinking and creativity.

Why is it not possible to reform the comprehensive high school? I have my theories. One time when I was sitting in a curriculum meeting at my previous job, I realized that I was the only one in the room that did not have mostly warm, fuzzy memories of high school. In other words, I was the only one that was actively working to provide students with a drastically different high school experience than I myself had back in the 1980's. The others where emotionally invested in doing the opposite, providing light academics while emphasizing the traditions of high school: letter jackets, athletics, dances, etc. At the very heart of the old high school tradition, is a bias towards not working the kids to hard, so they can enjoy their adolescence. Sizer's brilliant analysis in Horace's Compromise, written back when I was in high school, is still true today. That's not to say that all of the teachers I worked with were this way, but the exceptions were a small minority.

So, in a nutshell, I'm done with trying to reform the beast from within. I look forward to the day when all high schools offer are exciting, vibrant places where students and teachers feel connected to the institution and the youthful energy is channeled towards productive ends instead of creating a feeling of being a rat on wheel until graduation. Yes, I'm still an idealist, but a slightly more realistic one.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

High Tech version of Two Truths and a Lie

I love the icebreaker "Two Truths and Lie." Since I've been home for the last 3 days because of a little ice storm closing most of Dallas, I have had some think time. I've formulated a fun idea based on this game. All I need is a collaborative partner that is enthusiastic. I was thinking about doing this activity in May, sometime after the TAKS test. Here's the idea.

Students in 2 different schools will create online projects which could be about themselves as individuals, a historical personality or a topic. They could use any online tool to exhibit their work: Glogster, Fakewall, Google Sites, a Blog, just to name a few. All of the projects would be completely truthful and accurate with the exception of one detail. Obviously guidelines and standards for the students would be very critical.

When the projects are ready, the students from the other school would view some of the other projects and attempt to identify the false aspect of the project. The culminating activity would be a video conference where the students from different schools would meet to reveal the lies and meet the people behind the deception.

Particulars for this project would depend on class subject and grade level. The main objectives of the exercise would be to get students to become become more critical consumers of information and the understand effects of Web anonymity on how people portray themselves and others.

Any one that is interested, please leave a comment.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

My Letter to the Texas Legislature

In these times of budget shortfall, it is reasonable to expect cuts to State services. However, it is another thing to cut so severely that it stymies progress on matters vital to the State's future. No one disputes that a first rate public education system is critical to our economy and our people, but progress in public education depends on vital people such as school librarians.

Cutting libraries and librarians during this budget crisis would be a huge mistake for countless reasons, but mostly it is about the librarians and the role in they play in school improvement and student outcomes.

Many studies conducted in States around the USA show a clear correlation between library funding and staffing and student achievement. Behind those numbers are talented, dedicated professionals that involve themselves in all aspects of the school including: staff development, classroom instruction and innovative programs that encourage student creativity and personal growth. Without librarians, classroom teachers would lack valuable partners that help them incorporate technology and critical thinking skills into their loaded curriculum.

I urge the Texas Legislature to avoid short-sighted budget cuts that will only hamper efforts to improve schools in the long run. Librarians are creative and resourceful. They can do more with less, but not without any support from the State. Please help assure a brighter future in public education by funding school library positions and resources as much as practically possible.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Resolution for 2011

Two New Year's Resolutions postcardsImage via WikipediaI've been an outlaw since my education career started in 1995. That means I don't quite fit into the system even if I am a part of it. Often I feel a need to work at cross-purposes with the administration. I'm getting tired of it really. I would much rather work in a healthy team-oriented environment where we talk about provoking student learning, rather than dragging students over the finish line of passing the state test and getting them to comply with policies.

Barry Schwartz provides the basis for my New Year's resolution, which is to be more of a "system changer" rather than an outlaw. He points out that outlaws eventually tire of fighting and that the world can't rely on them for change. What we need are more "system changers." These are the ones that actively work to change the culture of their work. I still don't know how to do this in practice, but I think it means starting the discussion with colleagues and administrators. Let the emphasis be on learning strategies. Roll the video

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