on annotating our works cited…

Happy spring, all! For me, spring means:

  • Two week break!!! – I mean, I love my kids and my job. Blah, blah, blah… Let’s get real, though, not having to work for two weeks is pretty sweet, right?!?!? I was in New York City for an awesome Nor’easter that dumped 8 inches of snow in Brooklyn. Yes, I have now seen snow fall out of the sky two times. Yay! Quite a thrilling thing if you reside in the tropics and the humidity has been hitting 94%.
  • Spring Conference – The AISL Spring Conference in Atlanta starts in a week! #SoExcited #Yay!
  • Student Projects – Spring means that those of us working in project-based learning oriented schools start to drown in projects.

We are in the midst of many, many projects so I’ve been thinking a lot about works cited lists and annotations. What do I think?

Errrr…

Well..

Uh…

One thing I think is that I don’t really care if the citations are in perfect MLA 8 format. Hah!!! There, I said it… Yes, I do not care if citations are wrong exactly, precisely right.

[Insert gif of angry mob of librarians with torches and pitchforks here]

I teach my kids to take the preformatted citations from databases and put them into NoodleTools. I realize that sometimes the citations are wrong. In a perfect world, all of the citations would be perfect, but in the imperfect real world that I live in, if my kids know that they need to cite the source for the content they’ve used and they’ve provided enough information so that the source can be easily accessed, that’s enough for me for where they are as high school students. When they write for publication in a peer reviewed journal I’m confident that they’ll know to take the time to get their citations right, or that at the very least, they’ll know how to find a librarian or editor who can help them build publication-worthy citations.

In my mind, it comes down to “Why do we cite?” Very honestly, I am not a fan of the approach that many teachers take which, basically, equates failure to cite three sentences from an obscure essay on the use of horses in WWI to stealing a BMW from the neighbor’s garage and taking it for a spin out to the North Shore like they’re on an episode of Hawaii 5-0. “Failure to cite is STEALING!!!”

Now, please don’t get me wrong, plagiarism is REALLY BAD, but in most cases I see the actual harm as being more cognitive and moral/ethical, than criminal. If you’re taking someone else’s work and presenting it as your own, you’re short circuiting your own learning. As a school librarian, that’s the harm I want kids to grasp first and foremost.

If citation isn’t about “preventing theft,” then, why do we want kids to cite? After all, while I may not care much about the specifics of MLA 8 formatting, I’m still a proponent of “citation.” As I see it, for the kind of work that my students are doing, citation mainly serves as a framework for the initial work of source evaluation.

 

  • Who is this author and why should his/her ideas matter?
  • What clues about bias and orientation can I glean from the title?
  • Do the container, publishing platform, or publisher provide clues about the orientation for the information?
  • If the content is date sensitive is it past its expiration date?

You can’t evaluate any of that if you can’t or don’t locate it so that seems like a good place to start.

All of that information is important, but it’s really just a first pass. Our main interest is the point after a source has been chosen from that long list of hits and getting the researcher to more deeply engage with the sources. Unfortunately, we’ve all probably seen student papers where 90% of the content comes from a single source and there are four or five other sources in the works cited list from which the student has cited something rather trivial from the first page of all of his/her other sources. I’m sure this isn’t true of the rest of you, but to be perfectly honest, that characterizes most of the papers I wrote in my high school years. #SadButTrue #IWasNotAnAcademicStar

Two years ago we began encouraging teachers to require annotated bibliographies as a way to “encourage” engagement with sources–the whole source, not just the first page. I wasn’t really sure that the idea would be an easy sell so we came up with an annotation format that was intended to be as easy as possible.

We got a surprising degree of buy-in from our teaching faculty so at this point a majority of our teachers are now requiring annotated works cited lists.

Interestingly, our Social Studies department has decided that they would like students to use a more substantial OPVL (Origin Purpose Value Limitation) format that is often used in International Baccalaureate courses. We are currently in the midst of our first effort to use it at scale across all four years of high school social studies classes. Honestly, it is really good, but it isn’t easy by any means!

This is all very much work in progress and I’m pretty much making this up as we go along so it isn’t exemplary by any stretch of the imagination. We’re giving this a go and we’ll see what happens… If you’re doing work with annotated works cited lists, I’d love to hear about what you are doing and how you are approaching the work!

Looking forward to seeing many of you in Atlanta, but if you can’t be there this time around I’ll look for you virtually via the comments below or via the listserv.

Happy spring!

on alert…

No, not Hawaii Emergency Management Agency practice alerts! Google alerts…

One of the things I have been doing this month is working with 10th graders in one of our Mid-Pacific eXploratory (MPX) Humanities classes. Students have been building research outlines for debates on U.S. History oriented topics.

  • The US should allow undocumented immigrants currently in the U.S. a pathway to citizenship.
  • The US should consider implementing a single-payer health care system for all.
  • The #Metoo movement has done more good than harm.
  • Sit-lie bans should be repealed.
  • The U.S. should have stricter gun control laws.

We recommended our standard debate and current events database for 10th graders:

  • Opposing ViewPoints from Gale
  • Issues and Controversies from Infobase
  • Issues from ABC-CLIO
  • MasterFile Complete for current events
  • Statista for statistical evidence

Given the the currency of most of the topics in Congress at the moment, it seemed like a nice opportunity to introduce students to Google Alerts.

If you haven’t used Google Alerts before you basically sign in to your Google Account then go to https://www.google.com/alerts

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Enter your initial search query.

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Once you have an initial search query, you will see an Alert preview at the bottom of the page. Check this preview to be sure that you are getting helpful results.

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If your preview results look good, you can go into your Alert options to set the Alert parameters.

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A nice option for students doing research on global topics is to set the region for a non-North American region.

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Alerts are delivered to your email inbox like this. The links take you out to the original article.

As is my wont, when I was thinking about introducing Alerts to my kids for the first time, I sent a query out to the list and received these very helpful tips.

From Tasha Bergson-Michelson:

I do teach some students to set up alerts. Make sure they look at/think abut all the options. Depending on the length of the project, I like to have them go back in about 2 weeks after setting them up and tweak their search. Honestly, they can feel aggravated by what they get, and should be empowered to change it, rather than ignore it.  Wonder if you could have them print and annotate the search results from the first several results they receive to decide how to tweak.

Or, run the search they are putting in the alert and annotate those results?

Something to make it a more thoughtful process, set up for success.

From Shelagh Straughan:

My main thing is that I encourage kids to be very deliberate with their alert query (eg. use a search string that has already had success) so that they’re not inundated with irrelevant stuff!

From Alicia Kalan:

I teach Google Alerts for a similar research / debate project with juniors and just have to remind them to set the alerts once a day instead of “as-it-happens” to keep their inbox more manageable and to set the sources to “news” instead of automatic. But I think the big thing, while it seems simple, is just reminding / showing them how to turn the alerts off after the project is done. 

If you haven’t thought about Google Alerts, give them a try. I’m considering suggesting that we have students set up an Alert for their names and user names as part of our work in the digital citizenship arena.

How are you using Google Alerts?

If they’re new to you, how might you use them?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas!

 

on NEW things for a new year…

Happy New Year!

I didn’t have the faintest idea about what I should write about this month. Among this month’s topic possibilities that are pertinent to none of the rest of you:

  • Sleep Number Beds – I got a Sleep Number Bed. It is a ridiculous amount of money for, basically, an air bed, but OMG worth every penny…
  • Family and Brain Drain – My niece and her husband who had lived in Honolulu after finishing graduate school returned to Columbus, OH where they met and bought a beautiful 3000 square foot home in a good school district in Columbus for the price of a fixer upper one bedroom condo in Honolulu. Uncle Dave is both thrilled for them and a little heartbroken at the same time.
  • The Theory of Winter Relativity – We have not had a “bomb cyclone” here in Honolulu, but our students are walking around with parkas and scarves because, you know, it’s winter and some of our daytime highs have been as appallingly low as 74 degrees. Kids aren’t wearing knit caps this week because those only come out when it is 72 or below. We’re not without reason, people…

So anyway, while trying to come up with something to write about when I have to post “next week Wednesday,” I realized that this post actually has to go out on Wednesday, January 10th. Also known as tomorrow!!! So here we are!

Ta-da!

As the new year dawns, I find myself most excited about two things that might be pertinent to the rest of you:

Embedded Librarianship – Way back in 2016, Katie Archambault shared an awesome post about her efforts aimed at Personalizing the Library/Research Experience for her students by employing a model of embedded librarianship. It’s taken me a lot longer than hoped to follow her lead, but this semester we will be endeavoring to embed research instruction into three sections of a Junior/Senior English course on the Literature of War and four sections of Junior/Senior IB Global Politics. Teachers of both courses have scheduled their classes into the library for at least one 85 minute block period per week and on those days we will have an opportunities to do both mini-lessons and to schedule individual research appointments and provide personalized research support in 10-15 minute blocks. It is the first opportunity we have had to work with our upper level students that might venture beyond the typical “help them with databases” boilerplate lesson so I am excited to see where our students take us in this pilot!

Unto Us a Library Is Born! – After a LONG gestation. My colleague, Nicole, and I have given birth to a beautiful bouncing baby library! She is currently tiny and a little bit undersized by some measures coming in at about 750+ volumes (and a rather robust few hundred pounds), but she is being well fed and continues to grow at a good clip every month!

Mid-Pacific has a long history as a 7th-12th school, but became a PK-12 school in 2004 when a merger with Epiphany Elementary School was completed. Over time, library services were expanded in the main library for students in grades 3-12, but a model of robust classroom libraries was employed in grades K-2. A year ago, Nicole and I started library services with our Kindergarten classes on two book trucks that we rolled into classrooms. This year, we will continue with K class and will be expanding services to our 4 1st/2nd grade combo classes as well. The collection needed to accommodate the classes made continuing to move the trucks into classrooms for lessons impractical so our wonderful Elementary Principal carved out space where the collection can be housed and where we will deliver our library lessons. The sign on the door still says, “Conference Room,” but just between us… In my mind, it’s now the “K-2 Library.”

In an age where libraries everywhere seem to continually need to work to preserve their spaces for use as libraries, I feel completely blessed to work at a school where people at all levels are helping us find ways to make books, digital resources, and library instruction available to students!

Sometimes I complain about stuff, but the reality is that I work for an incredibly supportive team of administrators and with an incredibly supportive faculty! The School President along with the Elementary, Middle, and High School Principals are all “library people” so if I’m ever complaining even a little, please remind me of that wonderful truth!

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We’re a PK-12 school. We service students in 3-12 in our main library, but haven’t had a K-2 lending collection until Monday of this week!

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This is our new baby! Our K-2 library (sometimes known as the Elementary School Conference Room), is currently tiny at just over 750 volumes and a few hundred pounds, but she is being nourished well and will continue to grow! We couldn’t be more excited about the new addition to our library family!

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And just in case you ever wondered, a fully loaded book truck builds up a LOT of momentum when you’re rolling it down the hill from the main library to the elementary campus!

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A tiny librarian rolls a fully loaded book truck down a steep hill. You just don’t see that everyday. Believe me, it is very entertaining! I probably should have helped but I was trying to get a good picture because, you know, I have priorities. Hahaha!

Happy New Year, all!

May 2018 bring with it new eyes, new attitudes, new books, and lots of new library adventures to all! I’d SO love to hear about all that is new (and if it’s “new to you” it is, indeed, “new!”) in your libraries, so please hit comment and share!

on why there’s no time to present like the present…

I hope this post finds you festively preparing your winter break reading lists! I am currently forcing myself to finish My Brilliant [Zzzzz…] Friend by Elena Ferante for our Faculty Book Club meet-up in January (Sorry, I dozed just thinking about it for a moment there. Not really my cup ‘o tea as you might’ve guessed. Hahaha!). Offered here only for purposes of entertainment and not intended to be recommendations of these titles in any way, shape, or form, my winter break reading list includes:

If I did not love my job as much as I so thoroughly love mine, I would know that as of today two days of instruction and three days of exams stand between me and the start of winter break. Since I love my job so much, however, all that I know is that I have just 5 days to joyously continue adding contents notes to the catalog records for books in our Hawaiiana collection with a song in my heart before my administration forces us to shut down the library for two weeks and two days… #Alas I won’t be able to joyously work on enriching our catalog records for two whole weeks! #Sigh

Hahaha!

Anyway…

On Presenting

This month I have conference presentations on my mind. I’m just going to say it. If you are a school librarian you need to present about what you know, and what you do. For a librarian, what we know and do everyday is simply… What we know and what we do everyday in the course of doing our jobs. For most of our colleagues and administrators, however,  what we know and do everyday is a mystery. When it comes to being a school librarian, being a mystery is NOT a good thing.

I actually presented quite sparingly for most of my life as a librarian, but participating in the professional community beyond the bounds of our institution is a significant part of the DNA of the school culture here at Mid-Pacific. When I moved here it became quite evident that my colleagues, including our administrators, made time to write for publication, shared “the Mid-Pacific story” on social media, and presented at conferences.

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Good advice from Twitter!

If you’re anything like me as you are reading this, you’re thinking, “I’m a practicing school librarian. I don’t make a living giving speeches. Seriously, I’m just trying to figure out how to help my students understand that The Economist, Reason Magazine, and The National Review cover topics from different perspectives…” If that is you, then I’m here to tell you that YOU DO have important knowledge to share!

As a “non-expert,” taking the dive into presenting at a conference can feel incredibly uncomfortable and weird. Over the last few years, however, I’ve learned that the benefits gained are well worth the effort that it takes to dive in and learn swim in that particular pool of awkwardness.

Some Thoughts on Presenting in no Particular Order…

You Know Stuff that Other People will Find Amazing –  When I first started submitting conference proposals, it typically felt weirdly uncomfortable because I didn’t feel like I was an expert on anything. My reality is that I am a practicing school librarian that tries to figure out how to teach what I need to teach. What I’ve come to realize is that some of the best presentations I’ve ever attended at conferences were presented by practicing educators who were “just figuring stuff out” for themselves, but who were willing to share their work with a broader audience. Putting quotation marks around a phrase in a Google search is “everyday stuff” to us as librarians, but it is magic to someone who doesn’t know how to phrase search. Imagine where education could be if teachers and librarians could learn from the collective wisdom of others rather than figuring most of it out on our own!

Promote School Librarianship – School librarianship has a marketing problem. We do a lot of good work, but when English or biology teachers retire, rarely to never is there a question that the position should be filled with a qualified English teacher or biology teacher. Librarians do not enjoy the same privilege. We need to be better at explicitly sharing the value add that our programs bring to our respective institutions. Presenting at conferences is a good way to educate non-librarians about the value of school libraries.

Stamp a Due Date on Reflection – One of my biggest challenges as a librarian is the never-ending, open-ended nature of so much of our work. Weeding a collection is never really done. Catalog records are never completely cleaned up. There are always additional notes to add to records that will give students better keyword searching access points to books in the Hawaiiana collection. When the task has no end and I don’t have clear markers of progress, I tend to get discouraged and unmotivated. I’ve learned to use conference presentations as a way to impose deadlines for reflection on myself. Two or three times a year when I have to have something cogent to say about some aspect of my programming I am forced to think deeply about what’s working and what isn’t. In the end, the value to my own programming and emotional well-being is greater than the value given to anyone in an audience I might address.

Forced Analysis – I typically propose presentations either on something that I’m doing or that I want to do in the near future. When forced to synthesize my thoughts into a coherent 45-60 minute form for an audience, I’m forced to look closely at why what I do works or why what I tried to do didn’t work. In the throes of day-to-day survival in the library, when I make time to reflect, I’m often surprised at how much instruction I deliver out of habit rather than because it makes sound pedagogical sense. Putting a presentation together about what I’m teaching drives me to do analysis that goes below the surface.

Telling Your School’s Story is Good Business – I don’t know about you, but I like having a good medical plan, making a decent wage, and having a well funded 403b retirement plan. We don’t always think of it so, but an independent school is a business and telling your school’s story–making the good work you do known to people beyond your school community, is good for business. A school with full enrollment has a far better chance of having a well funded library than one that doesn’t have full enrollment.

Build Your PLN – Every time I present, I meet people interested in the in kind of pedagogy I want to practice or I meet people wrestling with the same kinds of issues I’m wrestling with in my work. Presenting has proven to be one of the very best ways of developing a robust PLN around!

The Presenters’ mindset… (Things I do to Take the Pressure Off!)

Remember that You’re Not Selling Yourself as an “Expert” – When you present, share your context as a practicing librarian and let people know that you don’t see yourself as an “expert.” Educational audiences will be extremely supportive.

Put the “Rule of Two Feet” in Play – The second or third slide in any presentation that I do typically puts the “rule of two feet” in play. Adopted from EdCamp-style unconference gatherings, the rule of two feet is that if what I am presenting isn’t useful or relevant or helpful to you, please feel completely free to get up on your two feet and venture forth to make the best use of your time by finding another session that will provide what you need. In return, I PROMISE to not be offended or hurt by the action. Professional development opportunities for teachers and librarians are rare. Why should any of us sit through  sessions that don’t help us move us forward as educators. A presentation that is perfect for participant A might be totally irrelevant to participant B and we should all be okay with that. When the rule of two feet is in play, I figure that people who stay are getting something useful and I can stop worrying and get on with things.

Start with Strangers – This one is probably a little counter-intuitive, but I find it far easier to present to anonymous strangers than to people that I know. In terms of feeling pressure as a presenter, the toughest audience I ever face is my own faculty. I always make an effort to present at my best, but if I bomb in front of an audience of people from other schools, I’m highly unlikely to ever see them again. If I bomb in front of my own faculty, I lose a lot of hard-earned credibility so I tend to feel the pressure a lot more even though objectively the audience is completely supportive and completely friendly.

Consider Presenting at General Education Conferences – Some of my first conference presentations took place at California Association of Independent Schools conferences where I was presenting to educators who were not librarians. Audiences at events like these are always friendly and seeking the kinds of knowledge and skills that librarians have to offer, yet they’re very unlikely to know more about any library related topic than an AISL librarian. An audience like that might be a great place to start if you have reservations. If you’re looking for a great presentation opportunity, the Hawaii Association of Independent Schools co-sponsors the wonderful Schools of the Future Conference here in Honolulu every fall. I would SO LOVE to see AISL presenters at next year’s conference!

Edited, 12/13/17, 7:45AM, HST.

Get a Little Help from Your Friends! – Almost forgot to include one of the most important things about presenting. Get a little help from your friends! Back in October, I was struggling horribly with a presentation for the Schools of the Future Conference so I turned to fellow AISL librarians Tasha Bergson-Michelson and Christina Pommer who very graciously looked at my dumpster fire of a presentation (we’re talking almost 80 slides for an hour-long preso…) and helped me get my head around that which was really pertinent and that which had to be sent to the cutting room floor. Sometimes you just need someone who will tell you, “Uh, you have a full day’s worth of stuff here and that’s all well and good, but since you have 60 minutes, YOU REALLY NEED TO EDIT…” in the kindest way possible. Ask for help! We’re librarians, we LIVE to help, right?!?!? Hahaha!

Finally…

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Always take a selfie with your audience and post it to social media because, you know, otherwise it doesn’t really count as having actually occurred. LOL!

Happy holidays, all!

on new ways of seeing librarianship…

I started my career in education as an elementary classroom teacher. During that time I had the opportunity to teach in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grades. My favorite grade was 2nd. 7-year olds have this wondrous way of showing you how much of the awesomeness of life you are missing when you view the world through the jaded lenses of old-fartness.

I distinctly remember, for example, looking out across the play field and seeing rain clouds crest over the mountains above our campus and tumble down the valley toward us. I calculated that the rain would arrive just in time to assure us of another day of indoor recess. “Well, that’s just great. Indoor recess, again…” I remember thinking. At the very moment that, that thought crossed my mind, my 2nd graders gathered at the lanai railing, looked out, and someone exclaimed, “Look how BIG the rainbow is!!!” After which we all spent the next few minutes just soaking in the beauty of our Hawaiian rainbow. I remember looking at my kids and thinking, “I can’t believe how lucky I am. I actually get paid to hang out with these people all day!!!”

Flash forward many, many, many years. My youthful old-fartness has progressed into end-of-career old-fartness. An affliction that makes me compelled to tell a listserv of librarians that on the outside my librarian persona is mostly calmly asking students in my crowded library to “Please keep voices conversational,” but in my head I’m thinking, “SHUT UP!!! SHUT UP!!! SHUT UP!!!”

Well, it is in this context that I find myself hosting a practicum student from the MLIS program at the University of Hawaii. Christian Mosher, our amazing practicum student, is a video arts teacher at another independent school in Honolulu. He is completing his final semester of work in the library program’s school librarianship track and is spending ten to twelve hours a week with us in the library. Christian has partnered  with us on everything from cataloging, to planning and presenting PD sessions for our faculty, to teaching a variety of library classes for a variety of age groups. I asked if he’d share a bit from his practicum journal about his perspective on his experience as a soon-to-be librarian and he decided that he wanted to share a little about his first day in our library.

Mr. Mosher in Action

This is what librarianship looks like through his not-old-fart eyes…

Today was my first day working with Dave Wee at Mid-Pacific Institute. I engaged in many different activities over the six hours I was there, but I will focus on one specific incident for this post.

It was early on in the day and I had just completed a walking tour of the campus. Dave and I were discussing the upcoming schedule for the day on the main floor in the library when the other librarian, Nicole Goff, walked a young boy up to us. He had already received assistance at the reception desk. A small slip of paper had the Dewey call number of 952 on it. Dave and I were asked to assist the young boy with locating the exact book. I observed how Dave handled the situation and eventually I stepped in and helped too. First, the call numbers were prominently posted on the ends of the shelves, so Dave asked the boy to find the 900’s. This boy may have been 10 or 11 years old. He found the right shelf and all three of us walked down the aisle. The young boy was looking all over for 952 when Dave reminded him that we read from top to bottom and from left to right. The boy organized his searching this way and found the 952 call number. Then a discussion was started about why the boy was looking for a specific book. David asked questions like what class is this for? And who is your teacher? The boy answered and we narrowed down the topic to Japanese Festivals. An awesome tip that was given to the boy was to look at the books to the left and to the right of the book that he located. Dave brought down five or six books for the boy to look through. Again, a search strategy was explained to the boy when David mentioned that oftentimes books have a table-of-contents in the front. The boy located the table-of-contents and went on to find the chapter on festivals. David and I flipped through a few books as well. A suggestion was made by Dave that the boy should be able to read and understand the content in the books. Those five or six books were narrowed down to three and the boy was sent on his way to check them out at the circulation clerk.

This impacted me because it was the very first experience that made me feel like a real librarian. Those that know me know that I am very passionate about integrating 21st century skills into library curriculum. This incident put me into a position that I never really evvisioned myself in. My assumption is that many LIS students do hope, desire, and envision themselves assisting patrons in the stacks. That hasn’t been the case for me; until now. The way that David interacted with the young boy was something that I now see myself doing. The satisfaction that the boy had when he left with three useful books is now something that I can strive to achieve when I assist students in the future.

The best standard to fit this incident would be Standard 3: Information and Knowledge. The specific element would be 3.1: Efficient and ethical information-seeking behavior. The young boy needed had a specific information need and David and I were able to help him locate it. What was exemplary was the fact that David modeled for the young boy how to locate the book on his own and how to locate other relevant books that would have similar or better information for him. This was also a collaborative effort as the boy was first assisted by the other librarian, then handed off to us, and then sent to the circulation clerk to complete the checkout of the books.

Like it was with my 7-year olds, sometimes I get so caught up in the hustle and bustle of doing school librarianship, that I don’t stop to take a moment and savor just how incredibly lucky we are to do what we do in our libraries every single day. Thank you, Christian, for reminding me to slow down and savor the joyous moments.

And please join me in congratulating Christian for PASSING HIS ORALS last week!

Our profession is in good hands…

on messed up library lessons…

Sometimes, when I plan and execute information literacy lessons and things go well, I feel like the…

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I pat myself on the back and write about it in the AISL blog and I’m all, “Yay! School libraries rock! I rock! Look at us saving the the world from information illiteracy one child at a time! I deserve a raise!”

Then… A week later, I plan a lesson and I’m ready to save another class of souls from the pit of information illiteracy despair and…

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When this happens, it feels like, “OMG… How will I ever again manage to make it to work with pants on, clean underwear, socks that match, and with all of the buttons on my shirt placed in the appropriate corresponding button holes?!?!”

In the scope of an entire school year, I feel like I get very few opportunities to work with students on information literacy lessons so I HATE going home at the end of a day feeling like I squandered a precious block of face-to-face contact time with students on a bad lesson. I think about these failures. I think about these failures a LOT!

My first instinct when this happens is to preserve my self-image and my self-worth. “That group of kids are pills.” “That group of kids is SO immature.” “That group of kids…”

If I stick to it long enough to get over my ego, sometimes I can get honest enough with myself to get to, “I think that lesson went wobbly because…”

Last week I had three cohorts of frosh come through to do background research on Papua New Guinea. They are cohorts in our cross-disciplinary, project-based learning program. It was a rather tough experience for all involved. Students ended up frustrated, lost, and excited to get away from the library as soon as possible; Mr. Wee ended up frustrated, sweaty, grumpy, and saying counter productive things to frosh; and two different social studies teachers new to our school ended up shell shocked by a negative experience in our library. “Welcome to the Mid-Pacific Library, gentlemen!” Ugh!

What else is there to say, but… #Sad

Here at Mid-Pacific, though, we try, in various ways to understand that, “FAiL is a First Attempt in Learning” so when we FAiL we need to reflect on the experience, pick ourselves up, and set out to do it better the next time.

I’ve finally come to realize that most of my FAiLed information literacy lessons FAiL when I attempt to present TOO MUCH and to do TOO MUCH in my lessons. The perception of the scarcity of face-to-face instructional time makes me feel a little desperate so I attempt to teach students too much. In this case:

  • NoodleTools set-up
  • Database searching (in FOUR different databases)
  • Database citation in a shared NoodleTools project with 4 student collaborators
  • Notetaking
  • How to notate which notes came from each source in the collaborative note taking document.

Our classes are 85-minute block periods, but when you see the desired outcomes for the lesson bullet pointed out like this, you get the picture.

That’s just STUPID instructional design!

So what do I do?

I apologized and explained things to my newly shell shocked, new colleagues who were, of course, incredibly forgiving (teachers are really kind people).

I resolved to dial back my obsession to make EVERY SINGLE information literacy lesson about EVERY SINGLE information literacy skill that my students will need to know before they go to college.  It’s a long game. We don’t need to go for a touch down EVERY TIME we touch the ball so EVERY SINGLE LESSON doesn’t have to be about formal academic citation. There are lots of ways to build information literacy that moves students toward being skilled, thoughtful, effective users of information that don’t, ultimately, end in a formal works cited lists so I’ve got to get over my obsessive compulsive desire to see a works cited list for everything my kids ever do…

Finally, I resolved to work on repairing my relationships with my some of my frosh students that got hurt by my words and actions that were not helpful or productive to their growth as learners. They weren’t perfect in their behavior by any means, but the truth is that I set them up to fail and I have to own that.

If I had a do over, given the parameters of the project and the research at this point in the unit, I’d probably have students brainstorm their research questions as a group in a collaborative document, research in ONE database, have them take notes in their collaborative shared document, and model locating the preformatted citation in the database.

Done.

Repeat with a second database as time allowed.

We would, of course, work on incorporating NoodleTools and formal citations in subsequent projects, but we’d have exited this particular project with a lot more trust in our relationships than was the case this time out. I think the trust that got lost is, perhaps, the thing over which I’m agonizing most.

The silver lining in the black cloud here, is that I have 3.5 more years with these frosh so there’s time to make a come back. There are silver linings in black clouds when we look for them hard enough.

I messed up. Now my plan is to forgive myself, dust myself off, and to show up tomorrow prepared to do better.

This isn’t the end. It’s the beginning…

on going with the flow(chart)…

Given the events of recent weeks, above all else, I hope this post finds you and your loved ones safe and in good health.

Though many of you are just getting around to the start of your new school years, here at Mid-Pacific, we’ve been in school for a while now–we are beginning our fifth week of school.

We are a K-12 library program and much of our instruction, particularly instruction with our middle school students, gets heavily loaded into our first weeks of school. We’ve been working extensively with our 8th graders on their Science and Engineering Fair projects.

We’ve been making a concerted effort in our curriculum to give students more opportunities to practice the art of topic selection so we chose to invest a lot of instructional time on the process of selecting a topic for research.

Information Instruction Context – Process to Product…

One of the really tough things about topic selection is how to provide curricular and subject-area context when students choose the topics of study. This year, our middle school is focused on the 17 UN Sustainable Development goals so we used that as a springboard in topic selection.

Students were asked to select 1 or 2 of the UN Sustainable Development goals that spoke to their personal interests and passions, but which also applied in some way to the fields of science and engineering.  Students then went about the process of exploring topics within science and engineering that they might use to design a project that they could tie into their chosen UN Sustainable Development goal.

In what we call our “presearching” process, we had students brainstorm possible topics and questions about those topics. Students then located and read through sources using keywords from our brainstorms and repeated the process a few times over.

In the world of Mid-Pacific, when we are “presearching,” anything and any source is fair game. We don’t bother with citations or using scholarly sources. All we’re trying to do when we are “presearching” is figure out:

  • Do I want to live with this topic for a long time?
    • One topic from now until Thanksgiving is a “long time” for 8th graders…
  • Could I possibly develop a viable 8th grade science and engineering fair project based on budget, safety, scientific ethical guidelines, and whether mom and dad could live with having this project in their homes for a few months?
  • How is this field of study organized and what words do they use to describe things and ideas?
    • What are broader terms and narrower terms?
    • What vocabulary words do experts in that field use?
      • “Windmill” vs. “Wind turbine” vs. “Wind terbine”
    • Did I spell the keywords correctly in Google before I try to search in databases?

It was HARD and it took a big investment of time on the part of our science teachers and the library staff. I went home everyday during the week sweaty and exhausted, but to quote, Annette, one of my amazing science teachers, “We need to do this because the science these kids need to do has to start with ‘How do we know what questions we need to ask?'”

In library lingo, I call that “Defining your information need…”

Information Instruction Context – Getting Granular… 

Once we have an actual research topic, we finally begin the research process and this is when our instruction looks more like a traditional “library lesson.” When we research, sources matter so we begin the more traditional process of searching for content in books/eBooks, database, and in websites.

Our 8th graders are pretty good at finding and using performatted citations from databases. They’re also pretty good at citing books–we teach students to search for citation info in NoodleTools using the ISBN or title. When it comes to citing website content, however… Honestly, we kind of go off the rails a bit so shoring up our website citation work became the focus of instruction for us this time around.

We’ve been trying to build more concepts of coding into our curriculum so we decided to introduce flow charts to students as a way to make their thinking visible as they work through different processes.

We had students flow chart the steps they’d follow to properly cite a website. We are a NoodleTools site so that’s what we teach, but it would work with any other research/citation service. Here’s what it looked like…

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Because it was a first introduction to flowcharting, we built it together as a class. After doing one sample together, students used their flowcharts and worked to add a website source to their list of works consulted. While we built the flowchart we chatted about how a website might be analogous to an entire book, while a web page is like citing one article/chapter/section of the book. Matters of “group” or corporate authorship, and all of the other marvelously super exciting stuff that goes into source citation #HeSaidIronically

As they worked, I had a student or two ask about revising their flowcharts to accommodate things like “Date of last update” rather than just publication dates or copyright dates or revising flow charts to accommodate an organization as an author.

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The flow charting process took a little while, but I liked that it slowed my students down enough so that they looked at the menu options and read the dialog boxes provided within NoodleTools along with scaffolding the process for subsequent website citations–an emerging skill for most of them. At the end of our first section of classes without any prompting I saw a number of students take pictures of their flow charts, which, with my 8th graders is a decent sign that they found the flowcharting useful! Yay!

After our initial efforts, I stuck to structured whole-group instruction with my sections, but my energetic young colleague, Nicole, tried having students first flowchart familiar tasks, then had her students work through the NoodleTools website citation process. They got the concept quickly and I’d consider being more “organic” with my instruction going forward (I’m a bit of a control freak if you haven’t figured that out yet…).

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In this example, I liked that students considered the type of shoe then had the logic branch based on the requirement for each type of shoe. It is ultimately, I hope, a tool that we can employ to make students think more systematically about many kinds of decision-making, not just rote processes like citation. It has a lot of potential to serve both as a scaffold for students engaged in new processes or as a formative assessment tool to show us what students understand or are misunderstanding about concepts.

I’m thinking about how we might use similar flowcharting to assess or scaffold students’ understanding on copyright and fair use. One of the things that I like is that flowcharts for a single topic like use of copyrighted images could be relatively simple to reflect a 6th grader’s understanding of copyright and fair use, but could also be quite nuanced and complex to show how a HS junior or senior understands the exact same concept.

Something to keep in mind here is that a lot of this process was us introducing the concept and process of flowcharting by thinking aloud and demonstrating. Ultimately, it will be far more powerful for students to construct the flowcharts themselves. In essence our goal with flowcharting should be to help students to make THEIR THINKING and THEIR DECISION-MAKING visible so that a teacher/librarian/coach can help to either extend students’ thinking or address any misperceptions, misunderstandings or gaps in knowledge. The idea of librarians creating flowcharts for students to consume as end users is far less compelling to me as a school librarian.

It’s all a work in progress so I’m figuring it out as we go along. I’d love to hear about ways you are supporting systems thinking, coding, or ways that you are scaffolding processes like these in your information instruction. Please share what you’re doing!

on the awesomeness summer…

Happy summer, all!

I hope that this post finds each of you doing whatever it is that allows you reflect on and appreciate all that is going well in your libraries and in your lives, as well as helping you to identify things you’d like to work to strive to improve in your libraries and in your lives in the coming year.

There is an old joke in education that, “The 3 best things about teaching are … June, July, and August.” Now, to be perfectly clear, I truly do love my job, my school, and my work, but come on, you have to admit that getting to have a preview of retired life for a few weeks every year is pretty sweet, right?!?!

The thing is, being lazy isn’t the only thing that I love about summer.

Of Course, There is Fresh Corn!

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Stepping Back and Reflecting – As much as I love my job, my school, and the work that I get to do, one of the best things about working in a school is that summer serves to give me a natural built-in cue that it is time to stop to reflect while giving me the TIME necessary to actually do it!

When it comes to my work, I have a tendency to behave like a squirrel. I want with all my heart to be a thoughtful, reasoned, rational being that is strategically prioritizing my tasks and bringing library awesomeness to the hallowed halls of my institution (It’s Hawaii so they’re actually open breezeways, but you get the point…). The day-to-day reality of my work life, however, is that squirrel-librarian me knows that in the fall I need to make sure students know how to login and use NoodleTools… How to access our databases… What copyright is… What plagiarism is… How to borrow books… That they need to use headphones on their devices in the library and enjoy their food outside…

Squirrels just seem to instinctively know that when the weather starts to cool down, that it’s time to stash nuts and seeds away in a lot of different places. Not being an ACTUAL squirrel, I can’t say with absolute surety that squirrels don’t, in fact, reflect deeply about the type of nuts and seeds they gather and that they don’t very strategically plan precisely where each type of nut and seed should be stored. It looks to me, however, that they just kind of manically run about gathering as much food as possible in the shortest amount of time so that they won’t starve and die when snow is on the ground.

Anyway, that’s a long way of saying that as soon as school starts in the fall, I’m so busy running around “librarian-ing” that I typically don’t stop and think about whether I’m doing things strategically and rationally. From August to November, I am just so busy that sometimes it just feels like I am trying to get from 7:15 to 4:30 without giving myself a stroke or making anyone cry.

The school-year summer, therefore, delivers the wonderful gift that is a clear demarkation of the end of a school year combined with some time to step back and put my prefrontal cortex into drive.

Travel – I got to do some pretty sweet travel this summer! I spent time in New York City from where I was able to hop the Atlantic and visit Athens, Santorini, and Budapest. Of course, the sites and the food were in and of themselves wonderful, but while I was on the road I realized that I had done school reports on Greece and the Parthenon when I was in the 5th grade and had dreamed of seeing them for myself one day. I had not remembered that back story until I was actually sitting in a restaurant on the roof of my hotel looking up at the Parthenon.

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The experience made me realize that saying that a good library gives a child the world is so much more than a cliched saying. I was that ACTUAL KID growing up on an island in the middle of the Pacific without a whole lot of extra household money, but access to libraries allowed me to dream about seeing a world that, in that particular moment, was impossibly far away. It took over 40 years, but my dream to see the Greek Isles and the Parthenon did, indeed, come true!

Make Time for Self-Care – During my travels I ate like a pig and still came back better able to wear the skinny pants in my closet than before I had left. A huge part of that is that I did an enormous amount of walking while I was on the road. It made me realize how un-healthily sedentary I have become during the work year. In my previous job, the library’s physical layout along with the fact that it was a middle school library meant that I instinctively (okay, maybe less “instinctively” and more that our program head MADE US!) walked the floor for much of the day just to be sure that nothing in the far back reaches of the building was, literally, on fire. In my current position, I spend long stretches working at my desk or working at the circ desk. My goal for the coming year is to get up and out on the floor and around the campus more.

I also bit the bullet and returned to masters swimming workouts two nights a week. It’s not been pretty, but so far I haven’t barfed or had to be rescued by a lifeguard with the shepard’s hook so I’m claiming those as wins! It’s painful and sometimes a little embarrassing, but I have resolved to not allow my anxiety and fretting about our information literacy instruction get in the way of taking care of my health.

Summer Session Librarianship Can Be Your Friend! – Our school runs a 6-week summer session. Nicole, the librarian I’m fortunate enough to partner with here in our library, and I split the session so she serves as summer librarian for 3 weeks and I do the other half. While not something I was thrilled about to start, working half days for 3 weeks during my summer is something that I have come to value greatly! We do a have some classes, but we also have time to catch up and address things that might otherwise fall through the cracks–those unpleasant, but necessary tasks like cleaning up our Libguides, for example.

This year, we are transitioning our students’ iPads to new filtering software. Being on campus in the summer has allowed me to try out teaching with the filtering system (our filters, as we are running them, IMHO, don’t seem to hamper student work and learning) and iron out some of the kinks that inevitably pop up when bringing systems like this online while I have a limited number of classes and students on campus and have the time to get things figured out before we hit the ground running in the fall.

Library Innovations: Sometimes just changing your environment helps you to understand what the information world is like beyond the K-12 world or even the immediate world of your greater community. While in New York,  I came across one of the most wonderfully intriguing library innovations I’ve seen in a long while. Public libraries in the N.Y. area have worked together to create a “Subway Library.” Subway riders can log onto the MTA wifi service in underground stations and download ebooks and excerpts from ebooks to read on their commutes. Curated content can be browsed in multiple ways including  needs like finding works appropriate for either short rides or longer commutes!

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This inspired me to commit to getting material from my collection into places where my students are rather than lurking about like a used car salesman waiting for customers to walk onto my lot. Numerous librarians have shared their pop-up library ideas in this space over the years, so it’s finally time for me to commit to making that happen here!

Best Read So Far This Summer: I have just finished and thoroughly enjoyed, Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy by Cathy O’Neil. O’Neil examines and explains numerous ways that algorithms and big data affect our everyday lives. As a self-diagnosed math-phobe, I fully expected to dislike the book, but took it up anyway. An amazing read that I’ve recommended to colleagues who teach humanities, math, science, technology, and social justice courses.

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That all for now. What have you all been up to? Please hit comment below and share something about your adventures, insights, or recommend some good reads!

Once again, happy summer, all!

on #macgyverlibrarianship part deux…

I love my job! If I were someone who didn’t love job job quite as much as I love mine, I might know that as of the time that I click “publish” on this post, there are two weeks and 36 hours between me and the start of my summer break! Since, however, I love my job so much, I don’t really keep track of these things. You know how it is. I get into that cataloging flow state. Time flies by. I dive into the Dewey manuals engrossed in the joy of number building (and, you know, that satisfaction of building just that right call number to the 9th decimal place…), then I look up and think, “Oh my goodness, summer already? I’m going to miss everybody!” before I leave campus longing for more time that we can share in the library together.

Anyway…

Last year at about this time I posted about coming across the very cool things librarians were doing in the #macgyverlibrarianship movement. While I realize that my library space has a lot going for it and, indeed, many librarians would kill to trade spaces with me, I always seem to want more. Our library is well supported by our school administration, but the costs associated with running a library on an island 2500 miles away from free Demco shipping (poor HI and AK always get treated like Cinderella, the poor step-sister who has to pay unbelievable shipping fees to her step-parent) means that there isn’t a lot of room in the budget for the “nice to haves” that we all want in our libraries. As a result, my staff and I have accepted the challenge and we’ve turned making our space feel loved while stretching our budget as far as it can possibly be stretched as our personal challenge.

Here’s What We’ve Been Up To!

I’ve been taking a really interesting AASL online course called Making Your Library Epic: Creating Innovative Spaces for Student Learning with instructor Diana Rendina. This quick 3-week course is taking us through the process of evaluating our spaces and planning ways that we can support learning in our library spaces. Her Renovated Learning Blog is full of wonderful resources ranging from building maker culture in your library to grant writing and finding sources of funding. It is well worth a look. She has plans to offer the course again in the future, but does not have exact dates yet. There is a link to subscribe to her newsletter if you think you might be interested in future course offerings.

One of our activities (that I started but didn’t finish) was to create a scaled floor plan of our library space in order to be able to virtually explore layouts for shelving and furniture. As it turned out, my library had so many random angles that I, unfortunately, gave up before completing the task.

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Really, dude? What’s with all these angles? If we could just straighten out these walls, I could probably have 4 study rooms in that space rather than three!

Along the way, however, I did discover an inexpensive iPhone app called RoomScan Pro that allowed me to hold my phone to each wall of a room after which the app mapped the space. If you have even a slightly more rationally shaped library than I, it might be a great option if you are interested in experimenting with layouts in your library space virtually before moving heavy things in real life.

Upholster-Palooza! 

We’d been hoping to get funding to reupholster the chairs in our library teaching space. Unfortunately, other things around school needed to be prioritized so we weren’t able to outsource the work. We found some 10 oz “canvas duck cloth” at a local fabric store, broke out a staple gun, our sharp scissors (the ones my library assistant refuses to loan out to students or non-library staff. LOL!), and a yard stick, then set about re-covering the chairs that were making us feel sad and depressed.

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Before: #Sad #Shudder!

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After: #Happy #Yay!

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The day I was “ninja librarian.” Kids could only see me if I wanted them to see me. #FashionChoicesMatter

It is amazing what you can learn to do with eHow and Youtube. Just over $250 of fabric and about a thousand, two-hundred staples (I used a box and a half) allowed us to cover 30 chairs (including the purchase of other colors of fabric that we purchased to see how they looked on the chairs). Because we weren’t able to get enough blue to finish all of the chairs (again, it’s a freaking island…), two-thirds of them are blue and a third are EXTREMELY ORANGE!!! I actually like the mix and pop that the orange gives to our very drab institutional gray walls.

Sew What?

We had quite a bit of leftover black duck cloth from our color sample experiments and we found a sewing machine in another department on campus so our multi-talented library assistant, Anne, went to work giving new life to two office chairs that had, indeed, seen better days. IMG_8610

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Yes, this probably should have been discarded a while ago, but kids seemed to be able to see past the disgustingness and see down to its “inner beauty.” This chair and its equally ugly sibling are much loved and coveted seating. They were, however, hidden away in a FAR OUT OF THE WAY study room never seen by visitors–not unlike Cinderella herself…

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One thing to keep in mind if you use a sewing machine and work with a much younger librarian like I do, when the sewing machine starts to run she just might squeal with delight and declare, “I’ve never, ever seen a sewing machine actually working in real life!!!” On top of that, after being shown how this mysterious machine works and doing some sewing herself, she may call both her mom and her grandmother to inform them of her professional growth (looking at you @nikilibrarian) for the day.

As her supervisor, I generously offered to show her how to use a telephone with a rotary dial sometime, but she, claims to already know how to do that…

Chalking it up to experience…

For a long while now, I have hated… HATED!!! … the way that our gigantic circ desk at the front of the library looks. At some point, AISL librarian Tiffany Whitehead, who tweets as @librarian_tiff, posted a picture of her circ desk that had been adorned with chalkboard paint. I tweeted her with some questions and she kindly sent along a link to her post describing the process – Chalkboard Paint Circ Desk & Word Cloud. I ran out to my local Home Depot and purchased primer, chalkboard paint, and painting supplies, then I totally chickened out and returned everything.

The idea of an enormous expanse of black paint at the front of my library took more courage, daring, and guts than I possess so I decided to try chalkboard contact paper to give the concept a lower risk trial run. To my way of thinking, with contact paper, if it’s ugly you peel it off and throw it away. There are many types of vinyl chalkboard paper available. I decided on Versachalk Self Adhesive Contact Paper because it was the first one listed that had free shipping on Amazon Prime (Yes, sometimes I just pick stuff because it is the first link on the results list as evaluating EVERYTHING in life is really exhausting–even for librarians!!!).

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Before: #Sad

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After: #Happy! #Yay! Our resident artist, @Nikilibrarian, doing her thing…

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To break up the black we purchased some Chalk by Blik circles that I learned about from AISL librarian @AlyssaMandel. We cut them up and used them to break up the expanse of black a bit and to highlight the book return that nobody ever seems to notice. It makes me happy every time I walk into the library!

What Kind of Accent is That?

I discussed getting the library painted with our campus facilities crew. The process would involve boxing my entire collection and closing the library so a major repainting job doesn’t look like it will happen in the near future.

Me [Thinking]: “Hmmm… The gray is ugly, but it isn’t ugly enough to make me want to box this whole collection. Well maybe it would be worth it if we could get the carpet replaced at the same time. When they throw carpeting into this deal, we might be in business!!! For now, though, the gray is gonna be gray.”

It’s funny, but gray doesn’t look quite as gray as you thought after you learn that boxing your collection is part of the deal for getting rid of it. I’m considering, therefore, some ways to add friendly color to the library just by painting some accent walls. Though it requires a free registration, Benjamin Moore has a fun Design Your Own Room tool that will let you upload a picture and see what different colored paint will look like without getting actual paint all over your work aloha shirts.

We are currently duking it out over what color we should try on the wall behind our circ desk and could use your impartial input. We’d love to hear your thoughts on some colors we’re considering!

I personally like Fresh Lime, but I’m not a dictator so I’m keeping an open mind about other colors–even the inferior, uglier ones…

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Our current institutional gray

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The beautifully intense and amazing, Fresh Lime

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The contending, Paradise Valley Green

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Slightly less beautiful, but still attractive Killala Green

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Zzzzz… Shore House Green. Meh…

We want your honest, impartial opinions without, you know, undue influence so please hit reply below and tell us what you think.

But especially if it’s the absolutely lovely Fresh Lime… 

It’s the home stretch to the end of our school year. Finish strong, but remember to have fun and enjoy it. Life’s too short not to!

on exploring emerging information formats… [edited]

For a long time, one of my favorite sayings has been, “It takes a village to raise a child…”

I have been thinking a lot about that in our library programming of late. When push comes to shove, our reality is that,

“It takes a village to raise children to be information literate…” 

PersepolisI recently got an inquiry from an English teacher asking whether the library could recommend a documentary about the Iranian Revolution that she could show her class before their reading of Persepolis.

I dutifully sent a query to the trusty AISL Listserv asking for help and our international coterie of the world’s finest librarians responded with wonderful recommendations (as you ALWAYS do).

Amongst the other excellent recommendations came a recommendation from the one and only Debbie Abilock who replied,

Hi David,

Games (vs. documentary) don’t always have enough learning to warrant the time they take but I’ve been more interested in 1979 Revolution: Black Friday https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1979_Revolution:Black_Friday created by an Iranian team based on documentary filmmaking style.  (You’ll have to play it and determine suitability for your students.)

Best, 

Debbie

Intrigued, I forwarded Debbie’s reply to Kerri, the English teacher; Brian G., our Director of Educational Technology; and Brian D., our Chief Innovation Officer. Within the week, the Brians had Kerri set up with a school account in Steam so she could evaluate whether the game was appropriate to her needs.

If, like me you are not a gamer and have never heard of Steam, here’s a short introduction to the platform.

At this point, one of our amazing technology specialists, Tony J., who is an avid gamer got looped into the process for support and to lend his particular expertise to the effort.

Once the ever-growing team looking into “gaming as information platform/information experience” decided that it was worth trying with Kerri’s students, Kathy W., the head of the high school English Department agreed to fund the purchase of a class set of licenses for Revolution 1979: Black Friday

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Click here for a video preview via Steam

That is, INDEED, the effort of an entire village! Anywhere along the line, a single person saying, “No! Do we really want kids wasting time gaming in class?” could have shut the entire endeavor down, but I’m incredibly blessed to work with colleagues eager to explore new possibilities!

Mr. G. and Ms. S. introduce the gaming experience to the class.

Game time!

“I just need to let you know that you WILL die in the game…”

The gaming experience is imperfect if we look at it purely as an “information platform,” but thinking about the possibilities available to us beyond the book, the website, the database, and the video is truly exciting!

In concert with the gaming experience, students in Kerri’s class watched some teacher-selected documentaries, and read some teacher-selected articles. It was my hope that 1979 Revolution: Black Friday, would be a way to unlock and develop students’ empathy that they would then bring to their reading of Persepolis. It worked in some ways and fell a short in others.

Here is a sampling of some of Kerri’s students’ reflections:

“The video game was a pretty engaging activity for me. It was enjoyable despite my doubts about it. Usually a game or movie that tries extra hard to be educational will lose its entertaining factor, but that wasn’t really the case. It was a little clunky but it was nice to get into the perspective of someone in the Iranian revolution. I thought the idea was done well. Being a photographer in game, they incorporated real life photographs with historical context to show what it really was like. The game helped me understand viewpoints of the people that I could not experience from the book or the documentary. I ended up enjoying the story and found myself wanting to continue…”

~~ Anthony

“The video game was a helpful way to develop empathy for people fighting in Iran. One crucial factor that emphasized this was the possibility that you could die at any moment if you choose to do or say anything wrong. Additionally, the video game put the living conditions into perspective by having decent animations and real pictures. A down side, though, was that there were a lot of dead moments, where I felt like there was too much narrative and not enough choice for the player. Maybe the game could allow the person playing the game to type a response instead of clicking on the few options given. There could also be an opportunity to watch a video instead of just pictures….”

~~ Kristin

I’d like to start by saying that I love Telltale games. Their games are incredible experiences of which the choices feel like your own and shape the individual you become, and the outcome of the story. The game we played was obviously based off of Telltale’s style of storytelling, and that’s where my first major criticism comes in. In any sort of design or art, if your goal is to mimic the works of another, you’re only going to make a worse imitation of the original, and that really was present through the game. Every aspect of the game took a jab at the Telltale-style, from multiple-choice dialogue to quick-time events to small sub-games such as developing the photos and taking pictures, but none of them felt really enjoyable. I believe this is because there was a disconnect from the main character and the player. One of the first things that I noticed was that a lot of dialogue did not matter. The responses from other characters were pre-set. Regardless of what you said, you would get the same response, giving the illusion of choice. This made some audio strange. In an attempt to make proper response to all dialogue choices, some of the responses really didn’t make sense and just left me confused. There were also some issues in execution in terms of their attempts to have us learn about the revolution itself. Instead of incorporating facts into the game itself, they gave them as extras unlocked by taking pictures. I didn’t read the extras, I probably wouldn’t have if I played the game all the way through. The point of games is to engage the player into the story and the world, and while this was definitely a better than average attempt than most, it just wasn’t quite there.

~~ Max

Clearly, the experience wasn’t perfect, but the response from students was positive as a whole. As I see it, gaming as an educational information platform is in it’s infancy. At this point it has all the potential in the world to be something AMAZING, TRANSFORMATIVE, and to do much good in the educational world!

… Or it could become yet another great idea with great potential that grows up and achieves nothing other than being famous for being famous. Alas…

Let’s hope that doesn’t happen to this beautiful young idea as the aghast-ability [that’s for you Jennifer Falvey!] is almost too much to bear!

In many ways, this exploration has left me with more questions than answers. Some of my initial emerging questions of gaming as an information platform include:

  • How does the immersive feel of the gaming experience change users’ engagement with content?
  • Did the gaming experience drive engagement with the content in a way that couldn’t be achieved with other formats (books, articles, video…) or is this just putting lipstick on a pig?
  • How do we get users to evaluate the content without ruining the gaming experience itself?
    • If part of the power of gaming is feeling immersed in an experience, does that make us suspend critical thinking and healthy skepticism?
  • How does one evaluate gaming content as a “source?”
    • What do the game developers want me to think?
    • What do the game developers want me to feel?
    • What do the game developers want me to believe?
    • What do the game developers want me to do?

I suspect that we will begin to see more efforts and products like 1979 Revolution coming to the market going forward. There, clearly, is so much more for us to watch for and to learn.

In the end, this endeavor into gaming as an information experience has left us with a promising initial “proof of concept.” Both our digital media arts teacher and the visual arts teacher who has students exploring sequential storytelling have also expressed interest in exploring the possibilities the platform presents.

It does, indeed, take a village to raise information literate children. It is truly amazing to work daily with so many villagers who are so very willing to share in our work!