About Me

After 23 years as a high school social studies teacher, I have taken a leap into library media.
This blog chronicles my experiences making this transition and my learning in that process.

Monday, September 26, 2016

What does literacy mean in the digital age?

Fighting the digital media revolution -- either personally or in our schools -- is a quixotic endeavor. Students must learn to read for bias, shift between written and visually communicated information, and maintain focus within a myriad of opportunities to depart from the primary text via hyperlinks to supplemental information. In fact, they, and we, are already doing these tasks and educators must embrace the teaching of the skills necessary to read well in a digital environment rather than refuse to allow the digital world into their classrooms. Students must learn to discern the connections between the array of topics and information presented in multimedia forms to make meaning of an information collection. Reading in a web-based rather than printed text environment therefore requires students to develop information literacy skills specific to that medium beyond traditional printed text literacy strategies.

Teacher’s anecdotally cite their concern that students’ comprehension skills are eroding as is their persistence with lengthy and complex texts as justification for reading print only. To me, it does not make sense to resist the infiltration of the web into the classroom. We all must embrace the teaching of web literacy so students develop into sophisticated consumers of digital and print media. In some ways, digital media further empowers the reader to control the reading process and experience. Web reading is (or can be):

  • non-linear in its thinking requirements,
  • non-hierarchical in its organizational strategies,
  • non-sequential in its presentation,
  • multimedia which requires significant visual literacy skills,
  • interactive so that the reader controls the pace and flow of the reading, not the writer, and readers can even offer comment on the substance of the writing.


We should be developing new pedagogy around literacy instruction to embrace these changes and maximize student potential instead of becoming distraught about the possible adaptive changes to our brains as the means of reading evolves.

Graphicacy is a vital skill as more and more information is conveyed via sketch, diagram, chart, etc. Savvy readers need to evaluate non-text features like graphs and images. This isn't new in the world-wide-web -- there are charts and graphs and images in books -- but the variation of the media and the volume of it (since we're no longer constrained by pages and printing costs) is different and thus worthy of a new strategy. Students need to develop the ability to unpack and make meaning of the multimedia components in a digital text and synthesize the meaning they derive from each component.

These are sophisticated skills. They are high on bloom’s taxonomy. To dismiss the reading strategies necessary to understand the presentation of ideas in digital texts is to misunderstand or ignore the value of these texts - and their permanence. It is imperative that administrators and educators embrace these new media and invest in the professional development necessary to nurture students literacy development in the digital age.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Get Your Game On!

Last year I was very invested in exploring whether and how game-based learning can enhance student engagement and mastery. I approached this study from multiple angles:

  1. I collected and arranged times for students to play games outside of class that would compliment and enhance their content studies.
  2. I bought a subscription to ClassCraft to use with my ninth graders as a classroom management tool.
  3. I created games (and used ones that I could find) that were applicable to class content, useful in illustrating curricular principles, differentiated to student interest and ability, and executable in a single class period.
My new home in the library (media center) has me reviewing these experiences to determine how I might bring useful adaptions of game-based learning to my new colleagues and how I can create spaces for game-based learning in the library.

First, a bit more reflection on the three prongs to my exploration last year. In preparation for bringing games into the classroom I did some reading on game-based learning and how it differs from gamification. I read reviews by educators and gamers of different games that I thought might compliment my curricula and accumulated many new board games and lots of links to online games. To begin, invited fifteen or so students to stay after school on a PD early dismissal stay and play the games. I bought them pizza and watched while they self-organized and played. At the end of each game I asked them to fill out this form and give me feedback. The most enthusiastic feedback about one of the games was: "This game is different than any game I have ever played before. I think this way of learning about living life back then because you get so competitive, that you feel the stress of creating a life for yourself. I would love to play these games every week to learn! It is such a creative idea! It gives so much depth to learning with games overall because you learn how to reflect on a mistake, use your resources to your advantage, what the other players in the game can do for you or hurt you...etc. It is also really interesting to play a game that is so complex and difficult, I didn't know they made games like this!"

Some of the games were too easy, some of the games were too complicated and that is important to know and gave me insight into differentiating. I found this comment very interesting: "But for use as an educational tool, I cannot honestly advise much. From what I played, the only facet relating to government was the interaction between players in trading resources. Diplomacy is a fairly important part in the gameplay, especially when others have accrued resources you need. But there are no tariffs, no taxes, and no lengthy customs processes that need to be navigated to trade goods." Clearly, there is much to be learned from the right game -- this student needs a more sophisticated challenge. I replicated this session throughout the year making use of periods during the day for independent study and students continued to review new games as I found them.

ClassCraft gamified my ninth grade classes. I adopted it as one of many strategies for engaging and focusing a particularly rambunctious groups of students. I found it somewhat useful in that regard. Rather than assigning points certain formative experiences, I used ClassCraft competitions. I still accumulated the information I needed and students engaged in showing me what they new and could do without feeling "hyper-assessed". Again, my goal was much more about game-based learning, but this tool was helpful for behavior modification.

After a semester of working in these two modes, I felt ready to meaningfully introduce games as part of the learning experience. My classes were 1:1 Chromebook so I could incorporate online games for this. The Redistricting Game is a great one for illustrating the principles of gerrymandering and the complicating factors in creating legislative districts. There are multiple levels to the game so students can work at their pace. No matter how far a student manages to progress, there is meaningful choices they have to make and on which they can reflect to compare the game experience to historical or current events. Building on the ClassCraft experience and knowing that I had many students who were heavily involved in fantasy sports leagues, I created a Fantasy Election that we ran for the entire semester (beginning with the Iowa Caucus through the June primaries) to learn about the process by which the major parties select their candidates. Hands down, this game is one of the best things I have done as an American Government teacher. Students were tracking poll data, researching donors to and endorsers of different candidates, watching debates, and generally engaged in current events at levels that they self-reported were unprecedented and meeting outside of class to strategize. Some students reported that they would not be paying attention to this part of the election process if it weren't for the game and now they can't stop! Parents contacted me to say that the game and strategizing for draft days was the focus of dinner table conversation and that they had previously not appreciated how intellectual and savvy their child could be.

Students also made games. Some students made games to show how the legislative process works, others to illustrate the stages of the French Revolution and still others as an artifact component to a longer research process. For each of these projects I outlined specific criteria, and we had a game-playing day where the students gave feedback on the content accuracy, creativity, and playability of each of the games.

What I am wondering now: how can I get teachers to play the best of these games so they can see how the games call for students to have background content as well as require that they collaborate, strategize, and think critically? Once they play, then they can determine the best uses for the games in their classes and I can help facilitate the play. In addition, I would like to set up game stations in the Library Media Center where we can run content-related games for students to play during their free time. I think it would be really cool, in addition to a MineCraft station, if we have a station for Sid Meier's Civilization. I would love to hear from anyone with experience doing this, particularly at a high school!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

A Different Side to Co-Teaching

My route to becoming a library media specialist was via the social studies classroom before landing in my fourth district in this brand new role. In my previous three schools I was afforded many co-teaching opportunities: with English teachers, science teachers, special education teachers, art teachers. And this occurred in an array of courses: American Studies, Environmental Studies, Art History... The common denominator? We were all classroom teachers implementing the same curriculum. As such, we co-planned integrated units, and we co-taught the classes.

For the last two days, my librarian-partner and I worked on a lesson about distinguishing journalistic news from editorial writing to be delivered to a Civics class of grade 12 students. We started by meeting with the Civics teacher to discuss her needs. We started with lesson context:

  • What was the content leading up to this exercise? (Answer: Constitution & Bill of Rights)
  • What new understandings and skills did the students need to develop during this exercise? (Answer: distinguish fact from opinion and know when each is credible)
  • What would they be doing after this exercise? (Answer: developing a voters' guide for the upcoming election)
Next question: how much time can be devoted to this experience? It is no secret that time -- or the lack of it -- is one of the big obstacles educators face. In this instance, three educators, with two related but distinct curricula are collaborating to make time for both learning expectations while keeping in mind what students need, know, and care about! (Answer: one class period)

Final point of discussion: what content should we use to illustrate different types of journalistic writing? Given the students' recent focus on the Bill of Rights, Colin Kaepernick's ongoing protest and the ripple effects from it to other athletes was an obvious choice. Free speech issues are always an interesting hook!

At this point, we (the librarians) began building the lesson. My partner had a framework with which we began. In Google slides she had a presentation that supported a discussion of the origin of Editorials and OP-ED in print newspapers. From there we identified the types of opinion writing the students would examine so they could learn to distinguish them: Editorial, OP-ED, and blog. Those three forms would be compared with a journalistic news article. Now to find the model writing samples.

We searched the library's databases, we went directly to some go-to news sites, we did savvy Google searches. There was no shortage of news articles, blogs, and OP-ED columns about the 49ers' QB. And we had many invigorating conversations along the way about free speech, about Kaepernick, about student reading levels and interest ranges, and so on. The first source we found was an essay by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar published by the WashingtonPost.com. Rhetorically we both really liked this writing sample, ultimate we agreed that it didn't neatly fit as a model of one of the writing styles were were trying to illustrate. Which sent us back to the digital drawing board (our Google Slides). Digital journalism is changing the news landscape and Washington Post has accommodated these outliers in a section called "PostEverything". That became our starting point.
Ultimately, we settled on a news story from CBSNews, a blog from Slate, and an OP_ED from the New York TimesTracking down an editorial proved more challenging and gave rise to interesting musings about publications not taking on the free speech issue. In my head I had one of those moments where I wished we had video recorded ourselves going through this process. What we are doing, asking each other, and discussing is EXACTLY what we wanted the students to learn to be able to do. Finally, my partner found an editorial from the LATimes that worked well and our resource curation was complete.

You are probably, at this point, thinking exactly what was nagging at the backs of our minds: how in the world did they think twenty or so 12th graders were going to unpack all of this material in 47 minutes? We decided to select representative passages from each text that showed the typical characteristics of each style of writing. Remember, we weren't trying to teach the First Amendment, we were just using the coverage of Kaepernick's protest as the vehicle to distinguish news from editorializing. We used the first and last paragraph from each source as well as one from the body of each text. For the first few, we highlighted passages to focus the students on different rhetorical and stylistic devices. For the last one, we decided to have the students identify trigger passages that gave them clues to the nature of the text. Finally, the students would discuss each collection of excerpts to determine which form of journalism it represented. The presentation ended with a set of word clouds made from each of the model texts. To close, students would make made observations about the clouds that gave them key points to remember about the writing styles.

At this point we re-convened with our Civics teacher colleague to review the plan, hear her feedback, and make any necessary modifications before we delivered this lesson in three of her classes.

My partner loaded everything into Nearpod with an embedded Google Form so we could take advantage of our new BYOD program and collect information from the students about their questions and perceptions as we worked through the material. All of this was still a lot to navigate in one class period. And, we modified the lesson a bit after each delivery once it went into practice. Since we had begun the year offering to our colleagues a professional learning session on the SAMR model, we had a quick side conversation about SAMR and whether or not this exercise meets the criteria to be considered "Modification." Or, after all of this planning, had we only managed "Augmentation"?

What did happen was a fairly well-honed lesson delivery that was the result of an intense, balanced collaboration between colleagues and constant reflection and revision based on student engagement and mastery. It was an interesting process to prepare a lesson for students I was still getting to know in someone else's class. To be a guest teacher, a co-teacher, and a digital literacy expert all at the same time! I am really enjoying this new role!

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Book Displays are Working!

This week I watched a student take a book from one of the displays I had set up, take it to the circulation desk, and check it out! Awesome.

She chose a book from the display called: "Coming Soon to a Theater Near You". That display is a popular one. The book she selected is not the only one to be taken from that display this week. So, not only have I been working to supplement that display, I have been working on other ways to put books of interest in the paths of students.

A personal favorite is a display of fiction and non-fiction books the authors of which delivered really interesting TED Talks. I created a Google slide show with cover images and a QR code linked to the TED Talk page, printed it, and hung it on a screen the borders the entrance to the library.

Then, for Open House night, I added some panels to this screen so I could expand the display. When parents came to visit us, I invited them to recommend a favorite book. If they were interested, I took their picture and created another slide show with parent pictures and the covers of their favorite books. As soon as the first two parent book recs were hanging, it gained traction and more parents offered suggestions. I plan to continue to build the display next week by interviewing our parent volunteers and adding their favorite reads to the display.

I hope to curate a list of reading recommendations from each of the departments and feature a different department each month. I plan to start with the science teachers and introduced the idea to them at their department meeting last week. This week, I will visit them in their classes and collect their suggestions. That also gives me a chance to invite them to bring their classes to the library for book talks. Our English teachers promote independent reading by doing this -- I would love to see other departments do that as well. How great to have not just independent, but also interdisciplinary reads!

One of the other cool features of this book display, is that the opposite side behind the book recs faces into the MakerSpace and is a vibrant display of student art created on the paper with which we cover the tables. And to think, these were metal screens slated for disposal at a town facility, that my co-librarian, Michelle, saw and grabbed for our library. How apt that we are making for our MakerSpace!

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Library Literacy Badges

A few things to know about our library:

  • We have TechXperts, students who provide tech support for staff and students.
  • We are working on a program for "Maker Majors" in our makerspace.
  • We also have changed to NoodleTools this year.
Many of our conversations during the day are dominated by these three initiatives. How to grow the programs and how to wean 1300 students and 130 teachers off EasyBib and teach them to use (and appreciate?) a new system. As we, Michelle and I, continue to curate tutorial resources and load them to the help section of our library website, Michelle suggested badges. And that got me thinking... There are so many domains of information literacy: we can set up a hierarchy of badges for each domain and align them with our curriculum. Off the top of my head I came up with:
  • Google Power Users
  • Citation Czars
  • Database Doyens
  • Reading Prodigies
  • Maker Majors
  • TechXperts
Each one can have strands for inquiry, communication, collaboration, innovation, critical thinking, creativity, literature appreciation, computational thinking, and digital citizenship. Needless to say, these elements of information literacy are key components in our schools 21st Century Learning Expectations:
  • Analytical and Creative Problem Solving
  • Reflective learning
  • Effective Communication
  • Healthy Life Choices
  • Responsible, Productive Work and Collaboration
  • Respect
  • Community Contribution
Certainly as we continue to co-teach with teachers in the various disciplines the foundational skills for each badge category are being established. As students move through four years of high school they will have the experiences and practice necessary to demonstrate mastery in all of these areas before they graduate. That, after all, is the point of our curriculum and our outreach into as many classes as possible. But the badging system would be a new way to honor the growth, the grit, and the necessity of developing information literacy skills.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Educators Eating Eggs

I wanted to call this post: Teachers Who Drive Jeeps Getting Coffee but went with the alliteration over the homage :)

This morning I met a former colleague, still friend, for breakfast. We had a fun conversation catching up on our summer ventures and how our families were doing now that the new school year is underway. Then we got down to business: how is it going at my new school?

I was honest with my friend, @monsmith359 . I told him that my first reaction was: I'm too old for this. I mean, honestly, starting all over, learning the names of 1300 students and 130 faculty members plus all of the staff, just for starters? On top of that, when school started I still wasn't really sure I am supposed to do. What is our protocol for buying resources? How do I catalog them? What do we do with weeded books? Let's be honest: I didn't even know how to check out a book to someone. And I knew there was more to my new role than these things I listed, I just didn't know where to start.

This was just SO different than any other start of school. When I taught Social Studies I ALWAYS knew what I was doing on the first day -- for the whole first week -- of school. I mean, really, I knew what each course I taught was all about, how it would evolve, what the end goals were. I didn't always do the same thing, but I knew how to plan for those classes, how to prioritize tasks, and how to get it all done. But now, I don't have a small classroom with 30 desks to arrange for a particular lesson. I don't have five discrete groups of students flowing through my room according to a bell schedule I have memorized and a rotation of periods I remember and particular and familiar curricula to implement. In my old role, those were the things I was forced to commit to memory quickly. Honestly, I don't yet know how the schedule rotates at my new school. Tomorrow is a Day F and you can see a snapshot of what I will be doing. Yellow indicates co-teaching in different classrooms or meetings in the library. Green indicates working in the MakerSpace. But without that snapshot, I still can't remember any of that.

The first week I was so exhausted that one night when my phone that was charging on the nightstand beeped at midnight, I reached for my alarm clock, turned it off, got in the shower, dressed for work including make up and product in my hair. I then went downstairs and emptied the dishwasher, fed the dogs, and started the coffee. Then, I turned to look at the clock on the stove which read 12:19. My reaction? OMG, we lost power?! Then I looked at my watch: 12:20. Oh No. It's the middle of the night. I tried not to cry as I walked back upstairs, got back in bed, and tried to go back to sleep.

It was such a relief when my department chair colleague said I was hired because I had a track record as an excellent teacher. Everything else I could learn.

Phew.

So last week I learned how to orient students (and myself) to Noodle Tools. I learned how to facilitate a book talk and build displays to promote books and increase circulation. I started to learn how to navigate Destiny as a library administrator. I learned who does book ordering and cataloging (not me) and who checks out books (also not me) and who re-shelves them all (you guessed it, not me). I am starting to learn the various platforms that combine to make our 24-7 digital presence and how to work within them. I am browsing through the stacks to learn the print collection and clicking through the databases to learn those, too. And I am learning the names, a little bit at a time.

Here are the skills I used that I already had: I facilitated a three-hour long professional learning session on SAMR. I monitored colleagues for technical overload and adjusted the conversation when we were co-planning a lesson and a unit. I answered student questions and admitted when I didn't know the answer. Then introduced those students to someone who did know and learned alongside them. I helped colleagues re-think their units by backwards designing from enduring understandings and essential questions. And I co-taught some classes helping to lay the foundation for student inquiry projects.

So back to my friend, Ed's, question: How's it going?

It's great. Really great. Every day I am learning something new -- sometimes out of necessity and sometimes just because the opportunity emerges. I feel valued and challenged and respected. I am having fun. What more can I ask of my new work-home?

Friday, September 9, 2016

BYOD and Personalizing Learning, Part 1

A goal for my school is to continue to increase personalized learning.

Similar to my previous school, in my new district a gap persists between the perception by teachers that learning is highly personalized and the much lower numbers of students who report that this is their experience. Personalized learning is undoubtedly eduspeak and it is quite possible that students and teachers do not share a common definition of the term which would explain the disparity. However, we must check our inclination to explain the disparity in this way or, worse, to dismiss the student perspective if for no other reason than it shows a lack of empathy for our students' perspectives which isn't very -- wait for it -- personalized. However, it is important to know: what do we (students, teachers, parents) mean when we say "personalized"? I am reminded of a twitter chat I facilitated that focused on regard for adolescent perspective. We had a really thoughtful discussion about how to make curriculum, resources, daily experiences, etc. reflective of and relevant to our students' points of view and life experiences. What I see now, looking back, is that we are presuming that we know what an adolescent perspective is and that we understand it.

When teachers report that almost all of their instruction and assessment is personalized, I think they mean several things have happened. They have differentiated for the range of skill development among their students by, for example, providing texts at a range of reading levels and assessments with expectation thresholds unique to students' developmental achievements. I also think they mean they have provided for student choice, for students to select their own topics of investigation and propose the means by which they will demonstrate their learning. Why then do only half of students report that their academic experiences are personalized?

If the text reading level has been adjusted to be accessible to each student, but the subject of the text holds little interest for the student is the resource personalized? Should students expect that all materials be high interest? If, for example, the purpose of the lesson is to examine, let's say, humor and the teacher is highly amused by the selected text but the students are not, is the lesson personalized? Is there a point where students have to submit to certain experiences, let's say studying Shakespeare, because it has been deemed important or good for them even if they might not consider it personally interesting?

This year, as part of our professional learning around the roll out of our BYOD initiative we are considering how we can leverage students' daily tech access to increase the personalization of instruction, resources, assessment and curriculum as a whole. This is the logical and achievable blending of two initiatives but we must continue to ask ourselves: how do we know whether or not what we are doing is actually reaching students on a personal or individual level?

Does personalized mean different for every individual based on each individual's unique interests, i.e. students diagramming sentences are each given unique sentences about their lives and interests. Or does personalized mean that a personal connection has been made by the student with the content the meaning of which endures and perhaps prompts the student to modify behavior, i.e. studying the water cycle when your community is experiencing a drought. And, there is also the difference between instruction that is personalized and a teacher-student relationship that authentic and insightful.

So now the question is how can BYOD help teachers with any of the metrics of personalization? To figure this out and implement it purposefully (applying a model like SAMR) we need to figure some things out:

  • what technology do the students use most frequently?
  • assuming that they use this tech frequently because they enjoy it, what do they enjoy about it? what are they getting from it?
  • how much of your students' tech use is focused on consumption of media and how much is spent creating it?
  • how do we get student consumers to consume what we want them to and become creators?
  • how do we get the creators to create from the content our curricula require they consume?
  • once we, the educators, start to influence if not control the consumption and creation is it no longer personalized?

Hmm. I think I have reached a moment for reflection. I am going to query and observe my new students in my new school with regard to the questions I posed. Stay tuned to see what I learn and how I begin to apply the SAMR model and try to increase personalization with that information in mind.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Get 'em Reading

One week into the new year and I am starting to develop a mission I am really enjoying. This may sound odd since I am now a librarian, but I am gaining a new appreciation for the challenge of getting books into students' hands. I love to read. I have loved to read since I was little. No one had to encourage me to check books out of the library. Books dominated my Christmas list each year. Now I am spending lots of time getting into the heads of reluctant readers in order to break down that reluctance.


7:20 AM
We are very fortunate that our library has high traffic volume all day long. I arrive at 6:30 AM and there is already a student waiting for me to open the library. And within fifteen minutes the rest of the early arrivers have taken up their morning posts. By 7:10 there are at least 100 students in the library and some periods of the day that number increases to 225 or more. We've got the customers, now, let's get them reading.

A tremendous amount of weeding has been done in our library in advance of my arrival. Our collection average age is 2000! So the books are current and relevant. We host the classes of teachers like for book talks. Another teacher has embraced The Big History Read. This year we are hoping to expand such reads into other disciplines. (More on all of them in my next post.)

Not every student is in a class where choice reading is part of the curriculum so my goal is to put displays in high traffic regions that entice students to pick up a book, scan the covers, flip through the pages, and check it out! I started with boys, the seniors with a tendency to rabble-rouse, who congregate in the same place every morning. In advance of Banned Books Week they are treated to 3 dozen banned books, wrapped in torn brown paper, brandishing caution tape and danger warnings. Bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do? Gonna start to read; I found the books for you!

 Toward the front of the library are two curving ramps leading to the lower level. At the top of one I have paired DVD movie cases with the books that inspired the movies: Fight Club, The Firm, Lovely Bones, Ender's Game, Kite Runner, and more. At the top of the other ramp are just books (no DVDs) with a sign that says: coming soon to a theater near you. Here are copies of The Circle, Eleanor & Park, The 5th Wave, Inferno, and other books being released as movies this year.

Next I am planning a display pairing fiction and non-fiction. I know this isn't a new idea, but remember: I'm new to this! Certainly months designated with different themes lend themselves to future displays, but there has to be more... What suggestions do you have? How do you stop students in their tracks and get books into their hands?

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Step back and Re-Group

Today I am disappointed.

Well, that is an understatement.

First, my earnest congratulations to the #TOR cohort of #GoogleEI. I had hoped to be among you, but not this time.

So, now what? I have dignified the disappointment, and now it is time to re-group, re-commit, and there is always room for a little hope.

Step 1: Watch the Jordan ad (again).
It's time to fail forward.

Step 2: Revisit my proposal and remember what I like about it.
It is service-oriented enabling students and community members to connect in the interest of learning. The connections it enables emerge from organic inquiry. As a classroom teacher, I frequently sought the kind of resources and interactions it would facilitate. Lastly, it can, ultimately, create connections in the interest of learning and effecting positive community and, perhaps, global, change.

Step 3: Reconsider my proposal and find room for improvement.
Was it too big? Think big and start small. Was it unclear? Who will use this service? Why? How will the connections be made? Was my title for the initiative unintentionally misleading or objectionable?

Step 4: Get feedback.
Any #GoogleEI veterans (especially ones who had to apply multiple times before being accepted) have any advice for me? I am all ears!

Step 5: Get busy.
Enough said.

Last step: Wonder...
Maybe I have already been to Toronto many times, and I am actually meant to visit Mexico City? I will find out after October 16. Who's pulling for me?

Monday, September 5, 2016

On Summer and Google

As the middle of August approached and I began working in my new district, collaborating with new team, and planning professional learning experiences for my new faculty colleagues I was struck by what my family began calling "the summer of change." Summer of 2016 was packed with adventures both personal and professional. Needless to say, resigning from my social studies position at the school where I had been teaching for eight years was bittersweet. The library opportunity I had been offered was extraordinary: a high-powered district with a talented faculty and a nationally-recognized mentor wanted me! But, change is always hard and parting ways with other respected and valued colleagues is not easy. Bridging the gap between these two phases of my professional life was one child getting her license, another child leaving for college for the first time, and a wedding. In addition, back in May, I was accepted to attend the Google Geography Teachers Institute (#CAGTI16) in Mountain View which was held this past July. Needless to say, the experience was invigorating and inspiring because the love and respect Google has for educators is tremendous.

Before I dive into unpacking that experience, let me provide a quick history on my love affair with Google. I have already been fortunate to attend a teachers institute hosted by EdTechTeacher and Google at the Boston Google headquarters as well as participate in a design sprint hosted by Google in New York where eight teachers from North America collaborated with the Classroom team on educational tool design. Living and teaching within commuting distance from Manhattan has afforded me the opportunity to bring classes of students to the New York headquarters on two occasions so we could teach and learn in their model classroom while Googlers studied how worked and used the GAFE tools. So, suffice it say, going to Mountain View was my version of going to Mecca!

So, I returned from a honeymoon to Vancouver and Victoria, BC in time to do laundry, repack, and head back to the West Coast. I was nervous about this trip. I worried I wouldn't measure up to the other people who had been accepted to this institute. When I applied to the program I was a social studies teacher who was going to be teaching four sections of World Geography, now I was a library media specialist and had not yet met any of my colleagues. How was I going to bring to them all that Google would teach me?

The thread that connects all of  my experiences with Google is this: what matters most are your habits of mind; everything else can be learned. As long as I am willing to take risks trying new things, fail forward, and do so in thoughtful collaboration with other willing risk-takers from an array of backgrounds and disciplines, everything else will work itself out. #CAGTI16 was no different -- and neither is my new job. Participants in the institute came from points all around the world, all different kinds of schools, and walks of life. We worked in collaboration with each other and a team of Googlers and Google partners unpacking the learning potential in an array of tools from MyMaps to Earth to the Cultural Institute to 3D images in Street View and more.


Day 1, Session 1 I chose to attend a session  with Jeff Crews (@crewsertech) on using Google Street View with students. First we considered AMAZING ways that a tool like Maps has changed people lives. Meet Saroo Brierley. After some quick instruction to calibrate our use of Maps we were off and running around the Google campus with Ricoh Theta S cameras snapping 360 images and uploading them to maps. Then began the brainstorming of how to use this technology with students. I started to think about my lessons on art analysis and unpacking images, how paintings differ from photos, on the importance of considering the role of the photographer in staging, cropping, and editing a photo -- even in the days way before Photoshop! Those considerations of purpose and control are changed dramatically by a 360 degree image. Certainly maps have a purpose in geography instruction, and I had used StreetView in the past to help students develop setting when writing historical fiction, but the 3D element adds all new aspects of image analysis and historical record to the conversations!

Day 1, Session 2 I explored issues of graphicacy, teaching students to unpack, understand, and create graphical presentations of information, with Richard Treves (@trevesy). Richard packed the basics of a semester-long college course into a 2-hour session. This was a map-making course akin to a visual arts course where we examined use of color in all layers, types of symbols, and the impact of map-maker decisions on map reader literacy. Not only did this inform how I would ask students to make a map or other data display but also how I will go about select maps and other graphical resources for students to consume.

I hesitate to call the next experience the highlight of the institute because every session, talk, and experience had such value to different parts of teaching and professional learning, but Jamie Buchanan-Dunlop's (@jamie_bd) key note address the morning of day two resonated emotionally so intensely that it continues to linger with me even now, more than a month later. Developing student empathy for a global community empowers their sense of agency to effect meaningful change and invigorates their desire to learn the skills and content necessary to be a positive change-maker.

I returned to work with Richard Treves on Google Earth and while practicing the basics of building layers to create Google Earth Tours began discussing different contexts for such projects which ultimately we determined have purpose in most disciplines for documenting the movement of goods or people, for telling stories, for contextualizing data, and so on.

Phew. There was much more packed into my time in Mountain View. These are just some highlights that I am bringing to my new students and my new colleagues. Obviously geography literacy matters in all disciplines in that it can support the learning of so much interdisciplinary content and requires critical thinking and reading skills that are relevant in so many aspects of learning and functioning in the world. My new home is the library and from there these new skills and enhanced pedagogy can reach even more teachers and students.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

My Journey from Social Studies to the Library

I came of age in the era when library meant a room, designated as silent space, which housed a collection of print texts. To me, today, library still means a collection, and media is the key word in the title Library Media Specialist. Whether the space is called a library, a media center, or a learning commons, all students and teachers can thrive intellectually in a space dedicated to collecting, displaying and distributing the widest possible array of learning resources: audio and video archives; video and podcasts; fiction and nonfiction texts; paintings, photographs, and sculptures; maps... the list of media can be endless. And the material can be tangible or digital and interactive. Thus a media program must reach out to all of the academic and co­-curricular disciplines to share the resources, time and space it can offer, to solicit what the evolving needs of the faculty, staff, and students are, and to maintain its resources and physical space in a way that is relevant to how people learn and teach.

I love to read and I love being a teacher. Those are only two of the reasons that I sought this certification. I embarked on earning this new endorsement because I also want to be able to extend the reach of my learning about the purposeful use of technology and the inquiry process. I thrive on collaboration with my colleagues and eagerly anticipate the opportunities for collaboration inherent in the position of the library media specialist. And, importantly, all of this new learning for this professional shift enhanced my work with students in my social studies classes. As the digital aspects of our lives continue to evolve, schools must sustain awareness of the pulse of technology and its educational uses to ensure that schools remain progressive and thereby vital elements of students’ educational opportunities and experiences. A school is well­ served by a media specialist who prioritizes and facilitates such awareness, who encourages teachers and faculty to live on or close to the information literacy cutting edge. I am grateful to have heeded a calling in a profession that not just allows me to reinvent myself, but demands that I do so in order to remain a vital and relevant contributor to the lives of my students and the work of my colleagues.