learning

Frameworks for play / inquiry / research

"We have a responsibility to introduce children to things they don't yet know they will love." -- Edith Ackermann

Dr. Edith Ackermann came onto my radar this summer.   (See my previous blog post on "Constructing Modern Knowledge 2014" for the context.)

Such a charming, thoughtful expert on play and learning.  And such credentials! -- she worked with Jean Piaget and Seymour Papert, and has been associated with MIT for years (as well as other universities).

She loves Reggio Emilia schools, Steiner/Waldorf schools, Katie Salen and Quest schools, and Freinet schools.  A true educational radical (or realist) -- depending on where you stand.

Read this recent interview with her on creativity, talent, and intuition -- in a journal aimed at architects.

I wish I could find her CMK14 slides online.  I took basic shots into my Penultimate notes, but they aren't good enough to reproduce, e.g.,
The part of her talk that interested me the most was her description of the iterative cycle of self-learning, which she outlined as:
  • Connect -- Wow! I can't believe...  -- the inspiration - the imaginarium
  • Construct -- hands-on -- the atelier -- immersion and innovation
  • Contemplate -- heads-in -- mindfulness -- the sanctuary or secret garden
  • Cast -- play-back -- re-visit -- stage -- dramatize -- experiment
  • Con-vivire -- the sharing -- the piazza -- the agora -- expressivity
She stressed these are just guidelines for what happens along the way in different ways -- that the stages should never be used prescriptively. 

Our school is just settling on some common terminology around a research model -- one that will be differentiated for Infant (K1 to Grade 1), Junior (Grade 2 to Grade 5), Middle School (Grade 6 to Grade 8) and High School (Grade 9 to Grade 12).

A midway meeting ground has been agreed, e.g., here is a standard arising out of the articulation of the middle school curriculum:
The blog "What Ed Said" (Edna Sackson) recently had a post on her frustration with expected slavish commitment to an inquiry cycle model.  I agree.  You might as well insist everyone follow the same sequence for falling in love or grieving over death.  It's useful to appreciate typical stages, but impossible to expect everyone to adhere to them.  NB:  Kath Murdoch, referenced by Edna, is a frequent professional visitor to our school, and her phases of inquiry were key inputs to our process -- see here:

Edith was talking about Play -- and undoubtedly about Inquiry.  But our school is talking about Research.  Are they all the same thing?  Just at different age levels?  We'd like to think so.

Research, for middle/high school students, is just a game with adult rules (e.g., alluding to the ideas of others in a constructive and respectful way) -- and our job is to alert them to those rules and to convince them it's a game worth learning (after all, research is a form of adult fun, yes?).  As Edith put it, students must learn to add value in the process of borrowing.   They must become adept at massaging ideas until they are their own, rather than just functioning as an information broker, passing on ideas.  To ride others' ideas until they can feel in solo mode, not fusion mode.

I particularly like Edith's "Cast" phase, with its implicit theatrical connotation.  Something between our "Reflect" and "Communicate."  It's the part that implies the iterative nature of the process.  That you, within your own mind or in the presence of others, re-think what you have, try it out, and ask if it's sufficient, if it's enough.

(I'm also partial to Design Thinking as a basic research model; see my previous blog post: Carol Kuhlthau Meets Tim Brown. )

Other things Edith commented upon....
  • re MOOCs and online learning: 
    • the double standard:  it's the new entrepreneurial elite, who are educated onsite with constructivist methods, who are promoting education online where "others" struggle alone;
  • re today's learners:
    •  growing older younger, and staying younger older;
    • the tension between temp and "forever" work
    • the tension between professional mobility and lack of security;
  • re the role of the eye and the senses:
    • away from Piaget (the rationalist) to Papert (feeling the materials);
    • the real practitioners (e.g., architects) are always tricking people to get a different perspective;
    • to crawl out of the old ways of thinking;
    • tricks to get us off our own beaten path;
    • using objects creates resistance; 
"Learning is all about moving in and out of focus, shifting perspective, and coming to 'see anew.'" -- Edith Ackermann

Summer camp for teachers (way beyond the old Crafts Cabin)

Gary Stager and Sylvia Martinez have been holding a very special 4-day summer institute in New Hampshire for the past 7 years.

"Constructing Modern Knowledge" (#CMK14) provides teachers with a learning space and enough time to the fail -- and succeed -- at doing what we are always exhorting our students to do:  learn something!  make something!

I got involved by virtue of having put Stager and Martinez's book -- "Invent to Learn: making, tinkering, and engineering in the classroom" -- on display in my library to coincide with the Learning 2.0 conference last October (see my previous blog post on it).  Brian Smith (from Hong Kong International School) immediately began to talk to me about the book -- and the related conference.  Considering I spend my summers in Maine (a stone's throw away), it wasn't hard to decide to sign up.  At 21st Century Learning in HK in December, I also had the opportunity to meet Gary, who exudes enthusiasm for messy learning and hard fun.

4 days, 180 participants.  You can see the Vimeo videos here and the Flickr group photos here.  All in a Radisson Hotel in ManchVegas.  (Yes, I guess that's what they call Manchester, NH -- as it's the region's hotspot.)

Who were we?  The informal hands-up survey at the beginning indicated mainly teachers from private schools, from all over the US, plus a few internationals.  I quickly found Tina Photakis, from Australia, to hang out with.  The crowd was seeded with plenty of highlighted helpers, like Brian Smith (and his daughter), young Super-awesome Sylvia Todd (and her father), Peggy Sheehy (one of the few librarians), Dan and Molly Watt, Cynthia Solomon, etc.

How did we decide what we were going to build in our 4 days?  By shouting out suggestions that got put on giant post-it notes on the wall, followed by a massive gallery walk and sign-up.  Then we gathered by our top favorite post-it -- and groups were formed.  It worked admirably, better than most unconference events I've experienced.  I loved the range of ideas:  a light-sensitive chicken coop, a robot dog, an interactive recycling bin,  an interactive tree, an interactive garden, interactive clothing, etc.

One proposed project was "wearable speakers" -- and having attended two conferences this summer, I wish there were a smart-phone app for that right now.   How can it be that we don't have a way to make ourselves heard in big groups, e.g., questions from the floor, where no one can hear the question.

I wanted to work on a noise meter of sorts, as I'd had a Design and Technology IB student create a (unfortunately non-working) prototype for my library, using an Arduino.  So I knew I wanted to play with sound input creating some sort of visual output.  (Imagine: students in a supposedly silent study room with windows, where I am outside and can't tell how much noise they are actually making; when decibels go above a certain level,  colored lights began to flash -- indicating to both them and me that the room is no longer silent.) 

In the end, I went with a group interested in "sound sculpture", which eventually split into three or four smaller groups.  Gordon, Wendy, and I decided to see how we could get sound through an Arduino to display different colors, based on volume and frequency.  Gordon and Wendy wired the 3D matrix of lights, while I fooled around with programming an Arduino Esplora (a device which can take a variety of input).  We didn't get a fully-functioning integrated model, due to time and other limitations, but we sure learned a lot.  For me it was such a throw-back to my programming days.  Oh, the frustrations of imperfect code!

A major highlight of the conference was a field trip to the fabled MIT Media Lab, thanks to Gary and Sylvia's connections.   A talk by Mitch Resnick, founder of the Lifelong Kindergarten group.  (Here's a recent video of him doing a talk that is similar to the one we heard - on Projects, Peers, Passion, and Play.)  A chat with 87-year-old Marvin Minsky, one of the three pioneers immortalized in the lobby of the impressive building, the other two being Seymour Papert (represented at CMK14 by his daughter, Artemis, and granddaughter), and Muriel Cooper, who died 20 years ago.

Marvin regaled us with memories of his time at Bell Labs with Claude Shannon.  Re his artificial arm.  Though he lamented that no one wants to work -- nowadays -- on something so pedestrian as a former invention.  So no improvements are forthcoming.  He talked about being enthralled by nanotechnology.  The wave of the future.   He talked of computer games, and his belief that 4 year olds might play games, but 5 year olds should be moving on to making games.   His advice when getting stuck in life?  Ask the experts.  Which for him were Claude Shannon and Robert Oppenheimer.

We took advantage of the chance to wander down through the building.  So many windows into projects and the learning going on.  It was a wonderful evening in Cambridge/Boston.

Click here to see all my photos of the conference -- including plenty taken inside the Media Lab.


Back in Manchester, there was plenty of time for work, for reflection, and for inspiration from speakers interspersed in the schedule.

Edith Ackermann, an MIT stalwart and "play" expert, gave a fascinating presentation.  She talked of so many things -- she deserves a separate blog post.

Pete Nelson is famous for building treehouses.  I didn't know about him before, but now I appreciate he has his own reality TV show, Treehouse Masters and a treehouse center where you can go and stay.

He told the story of how his childhood passion for treehouses eventually led to a very public and remunerative vocation.  (Creating a coffee table book on treehouses of the world was an important first step!)  I'm sure most of us sitting there were thinking of old trees we wanted to create houses in.  He made it sound all so feasible.
 
Overall take-away thoughts:
  • Re the sharing of resources:  the organizers had an incredible array of materials available to us, but the trick was, whatever we took, we needed for the four days.  There wasn't much that you just needed short-term access to.  So the sharing was limited.  I wondered how libraries with a makerspace would cope with this.  Would someone be able to check out or reserve, say, an Arduino Esplora, for three days?  What is realistic for what time period of exclusive use?  It makes me think that individual hardware, such as Raspberry Pi's and Arduinos, is better suited to a teacher-class situation, where a learner can work with one set of materials over time.
  • How best to handle differentiation?  In this situation, some of us at a table had NO experience, and some had CONSIDERABLE.   I was conscious of trying to balance the time I spent floundering on my own and the time I spent getting help from others.  One thing for sure: we were in charge of our own learning.  It was fascinating to wander around, seeing the vast range of projects and skills on display.
CMK library:  There was a room at the conference where Gary and Sylvia laid out all their personal collection of books related to making and creating.  I took photos of most of them -- and have searched Amazon, making a "list" of them.  See the booklist here:  The Maker Movement and Constructing Modern Knowledge.

Also see this Reggio Emilia bookshop for more.

p.s.  Just discovered Gary and Sylvia maintain their own recommended booklist on Amazon -- see here.

p.p.s.  Here's another related booklist -- one from the International Design Technology teachers' conference, held at our school in May.  These were all the books I had on display during the conference.

ALA Las Vegas: Take-aways from being with 25k+ librarians for a couple of days

The American Library Association's annual conference is a heaving mass of librarians (of all varieties) in one place for four days - Friday-Monday, June 26-30.  Almost any US city is a convenient stopover for me, heading to Maine, at the end of the school year.

This year ALA was in Las Vegas, a venue that lived up to its stereotype, in the eyes of a first-time visitor. Next year's location - San Francisco - will be more my style perhaps.

But ALA is always an enriching experience, no matter where it's held.

The problem is to figure out what and who you want to see in the small time and huge space of the event (the exhibition hall alone is worth four days).

You can search offerings and construct your own schedule online ahead of time -- and there is a mobile app -- but the lack of fast/reliable/free internet access (especially Sunday) made that fairly irrelevant.  And for those of us with overseas phone accounts, the smart-phone solution for internet data access wasn't very economical.  So making off-line lists and lugging around the fat, physical ALA Guide was a sad, but comforting, necessity.

Here is my public debrief of the conference, filtered through my international, K-12 (primarily middle/high) librarian focus :

Pre-Conference: SCHOOL VISITS

There was a half-day pre-conference event on Friday, visiting three independent (i.e., private) school libraries -- Alexander Dawson School, Faith Lutheran Middle and High School, and Las Vegas Day School.  A few photos of each are here on Flickr with notes below.

Alexander Dawson:
-- the librarian pointed out how, in designing the school, no electrical cables or wiring is hidden, so kids are very aware of where electricity is being used, e.g., for air conditioning, for internet access, etc.;
-- the library had an "Aurasma" wall -- where we could pick up iPads, scan images, and watch videos the kids had made for one unit of inquiry (e.g., Irish castles);
-- two authors a year do two-week residencies, including 2 days in each classroom, e.g., Brian Falkner (from NZ) and Paul Owen Lewis -- during which time each student creates a book;

Faith Lutheran:
--  had quite a few full-size physical displays, e.g., military uniforms and a skeleton;
--  had an author/illustrator wall, where each visiting celebrity's name is added each year;

LV Day School:
-- they offer a "Classic Reader" program -- where students read more "quality" literature, and then discuss with an adult, four books above and beyond their other reading;
-- they run an "Adopt a Shelf" program for parents -- where parents are responsible for re-shelving and keeping one shelf looking tip-top -- they say it's quite competitive!
Overall, questions focused on staffing (all were minimally staffed, surprisingly) and what they were doing for ebook provision (e.g., all had Overdrive, despite the fact the local library offers it -- though not sure if that affected their choice of titles -- would they try to avoid overlap?).

NETWORKING

This is no small part of ALA.   Many of us international school librarians managed to find each other (and we are determined to make it more organized next year).

The four of us from Singapore (Kim Klein from Stamford American International School, Kate Brundage from Singapore American School, and Susanne Clower and I from United World College of Southeast Asia - East campus) arrived as a nucleus -- and soon found Leanne Mercado from Nishimachi International School (Tokyo), as well as Candace Aiani and Barb Middleton from Taipei American School.  Later we connected with Leslie Henry from Jakarta International School and Victoria Robins from ASF Guadalajara Mexico.  There were others on the list of international attendees, but poor connectivity (and our overseas phones) made it hard to communicate.  I kick myself that I didn't put out a general call on the social media channels (like the ECIS iSkoodle listserv) beforehand.

During the pre-conference session of school visits, while getting on or off the bus, I overheard one woman say the word"Sakura" -- and I quickly determined to talk to her at the next stop, knowing she must have been referring to the Japanese international school librarian book award program, which is how I met Leanne Mercado.  Only when I later I put a face on the name "Barb Middleton" did I realize that she was on the same Friday school library tour, but because her registration tagged identified her as being from Minnesota, I didn't realize she was one of us - from Taipei American School.

Those of us that managed to meet up did our best to "divide and conquer" in terms of session attendance.

TO DO:
  • Finish de-briefing with those who attended this year, especially my Singapore colleagues when we all get back in August;
  • Next year: advertise on social media for all going to ALA to connect ahead of time;
  • Next year: maybe have a group of us do a panel presentation on International School Librarians - as an employment opportunity - pluses and minuses, etc.

EBOOKS

A big complaint about Overdrive for schools has been the annual fee -- as much as US$4k/yr in the past.  But at their ALA booth, an Overdrive representative confirmed they have recently lowered the cost for school libraries.  Now it is US$1k/yr for up to 999 students and US$2k/yr for up to 1,999 students.  This cost is content purchase per annum -- it's not an annual usage fee -- which is great.

For those of us in international schools, a ongoing issue with all ebook vendors has been digital rights management (DRM) -- where popular titles are often not available to us, being situated outside the countries that are the biggest publishers (USA, UK, Australia, etc.).  I asked the Overdrive rep where I could preview the titles actually available to us in Singapore -- and she suggested I contact the sales force and get access to a demo overseas account.

StarWalk KidsMedia is a new ebook vendor -- headed by the famous (and charming) non-fiction author for kids, Seymour Simon (and his wife).  500 titles available so far, for grades K-8, half fiction, half non-fiction.  Leveled according to Fountas and Pinnell.  Only US$895 a year (at least for big schools like ours -- I forget if it's cheaper for smaller schools.)  Unlimited, simultaneous access.  Device neutral -- in fact, they assured me that if users downloaded a title (as you have to do to read on a mobile device), the title will stay accessible on the device for as long as the subscription (e.g., a year).  And they will provide MARC records.  It sounds a lot like BookFlix -- but going as high as Grade 8 in interest and complexity.  They were happy to offer us a 1-month free trial -- which I intend to do.

Kindle, Kindle, Kindle....?  Candace Aiani (High School) and Barb Middleton (Primary School) have embarked wholeheartedly on a Kindle-loaning program at Taipei American School - and have a wealth of experience.  Back in February she put a call out to the SILCAsia listserv, starting a discussion on the management of Kindles in schools - which some of you may have seen.

They organize their Kindles into "pods" of 5 devices each -- as each Kindle account can be synced to five devices.  Each Kindle (in a pod) will have up to 30 titles or so on it. Click here to see what a search for "Kindle" and "pod" turns up in Candace's High School catalog.  Click here to see what one Kindle might have on it, e.g., Pod "I".  (Now that Kindle Unlimited has been launched, I wonder how many of their titles are available to overseas subscribers.)

Taipei American School has gone for Overdrive in a big way -- see their Overdrive homepage -- even though the Overdrive books can't be downloaded to overseas Kindles, they said.  They also aren't thrilled about the fact there is often a 6-month delay getting the latest titles into Overdrive.  Note: Barb affirms that FollettShelf is far easier for primary school students to use than Overdrive.

TO DO:
  • Contact sales@overdrive.com and ask for access to a demo overseas account -- now that the Overdrive annual fee is reasonable for school libraries -- for secondary school.
  • Start 1-month free trial in September of StarWalk KidsMedia -- for primary school.

GAMING / COMPUTING FOR KIDS

Jane McGonigal was the opening keynote for ALA -- and didn't disappoint.  She reminded us of all the positive emotions gaming releases:  CREATIVITY / CONTENTMENT / AWE + WONDER / EXCITEMENT / CURIOSITY / PRIDE / SURPRISE / LOVE / RELIEF / JOY.

-- not to mention the development of RESILIENCE.

I was glad to be reminded of her experience developing a game for the New York Public Library and the quote by Brian Sutton-Smith:  "The opposite of play isn't work.  It's depression."

Later, in the exhibits hall, I ran into Scott Nicholson, professor at the iSchool in Syracuse and expert on gaming -- (I attended one of his workshops last year at ALA) -- and was thrilled to hear he is due to come to Singapore in November to work with the National Library Board (NLB).  Scott did several sessions at ALA this year -- and is particularly keen on the cognitive benefit of creating games, not just playing them.   Read some of his past papers here.

In the course of our conversation, he also alerted me to the Math Fairs for students being held annually in Toronto -- which I could definitely see our campus implementing.

There was also a Poster session on Computational Thinking for Tweens and Teens -- see http://ala14.ala.org/node/14901 where you can download the four PDFs.  It's where I came across Cubelets.... 

TO DO:
  • Connect with Scott Nicholson before November -- and with the NLB -- and see if I can organize an ISLN or school event as well when he is there.
  • Talk to Tilson Crew, our primary school math coach, to learn more about the math games that she has created and made available in our primary library for borrowing.
  • Talk to all our math teachers about the possibility of getting a math fair going at our school.

READING

ALA is one big reading-love-fest.  Everyone there is full of book-talk, whether ebook or pbook.  And walking down the aisles of the exhibition hall, I just kept snapping photos of book covers, if not picking up free ARCs.  I refuse to fetishize signed editions, making it easy to avoid the urge to join any queues in front of author booths in the exhibition hall -- though I thoroughly enjoyed the chance to chat with authors when given the casual chance, e.g., attending a reception with the author/illustrator Kevin Hawkes who happens to live in Gorham, Maine, one town over from my hometown.

Donalyn Miller, aka The Book Whisperer and Grade 5 teacher extraordinaire, gave a talk on "Fostering Positive Reading Identities".  I was sitting between two international primary school teacher-librarians (Leanne Mercado from Tokyo and Barb Middleton from Taiwan) and we just kept nodding and laughing as Donalyn enlightened us with her research and entertained us with her personal experiences as a reader and reading teacher.


Like her, my identity as a reader was clinched in 3rd grade thanks to "SRA" -- that popular color-coded series of comprehension exercises in a box (which introduced me to speed reading as a competitive sport) -- and a memorable teacher, Miss Poole, who not only read "Charlotte's Web" to us, but also the delightful (though 1950s antiquated) "Mrs. Piggle Wiggle" series of magic solutions.

Donalyn talked about the power of reading communities and reiterated the influence of book "commercials" arising out of the natural community (e.g., peer-to-peer recommendations) -- and the role modeling of being a reader and read-alouds -- and all the things we know and have been doing, but need to remember are terribly inter-connected and important.

She challenges her students to read 40 or more books a year -- without any other reward system.  (Reading is its own reward, as she says.)

She talked about the intersection of reading interest (motivation), reading level (ability), and background knowledge (fertile ground for understanding) in terms of book choice.  Which makes me think of my beloved Design Thinking intersection of desirability (are you interested in the topic?), feasibility (does it match the assignment?) and viability (do we have the resources to support you) -- relating to research questions.




 

 

 

Though when it comes to reading levels, she reminded us that lexiles are only scaffolds (e.g., Fahrenheit 451 and The Diary of a Wimpy Kid have the same lexile band (true??)) -- and that text complexity is about what is NOT found on the page.

She recommends having a small pile of "Special Class Books" -- ready to hand to any child who says they have no book to read.

I like her idea of "Epicenter Readers" -- that category of people who influence other people's reading, whether in the classroom or in life.  Her own include John Schumacher (@mrschureads) and Teri Lesesne (@professornana).  I happened to meet two long-standing online "Epicenter Readers" of my own at a Random House reception:  Lynn Rutan and Cindy Dobrez (aka the Bookends bloggers) -- and gushed over them like a proper groupie.

Donalyn also reiterated the wisdom that less-than-highbrow series helps develop readers.  They are not to be sneered at.  Neither is the habit of re-reading.  As she reminded us, close reading is re-reading with a purpose. 

TO DO:


INFORMATION LITERACY and THRESHOLD CONCEPTS
 
There are so many information literacy sessions to attend at ALA, some school-focused, some university-level.   As a high-school teacher-librarian, I am often indifferent to that distinction, as much of the information literacy instruction is focused on students just entering tertiary education.


A big difference, however, is that school-based librarians are almost all trained teachers, while university ones aren't (necessarily). 
 
One flipped university classroom session I attended was a bit of a waste, as it mainly extolled the benefits of using curriculum design models in designing flipped courses, which any teacher-librarian would already appreciate.  And I already knew about the handy tools for flipping the classroom being recommended, e.g., Screencastr, Prezi, Google Docs, etc.

 
But another session by university librarians teaching information literacy was brilliant in every way -- content, design, and presentation -- "From Stumbling Blocks to Building Blocks: Using Threshold Concepts to Teach Information Literacy." 
See their Powerpoint slides here.

I’d read about threshold concepts, as defined by Meyer and Land (academic instruction experts) — and discussed by David Perkins (of Harvard fame and general teaching expert), before — but had never read or heard anyone talk about them with specific reference to the field of information literacy, which is what this panel of academic librarians did.  

Korey Burnetti, Amy Hofer, and Lori Townsend reviewed five characteristics of threshold concepts:
  • Transformative -- they change understanding
  • Irreversible — one you get them, you can’t not see them anymore
  • Integrative -- part of a network of interconnected understandings
  • Bounded — meaning they are usually discipline-specific
  • Troublesome — meaning often counter-intuitive
The metaphor of the threshold refers to the acquisition of these concepts -- which can be compared to crossing a border; a mental, liminal space, delimited by time and experience; an extended place where the novice transitions over time to being an expert, with some people getting stuck until they "get it" (learning bottlenecks), some roaming around inside indefinitely, perhaps never to emerge.  A lens is a popular metaphor for appreciating the power of threshold concepts in different disciplines - to see with the eyes of an expert.  (The transition from one side to the other also reminds me of the shift from slow thinking to fast thinking (System 1 and System 2) of Daniel Kahnemann et al.)

Slide from the ALA 2014 presentation

They then discussed some basic information literacy threshold concepts they had distilled as "enduring understandings," using theWiggins and McTighe model of backward design, for their teaching practice.
 
FORMAT AS PROCESS
INFORMATION AS COMMODITY
AUTHORITY IS CONSTRUCTED + CONTEXTUAL
METADATA = FINDABILITY  (aka GOOD SEARCHES  USE DATABASE STRUCTURES)
DATABASE = ORGANIZED COLLECTION
PRIMARY SOURCES DEPEND ON PERSPECTIVE


For example, in exploring FORMAT AS THE RESULT OF A PROCESS, they showed the following typical search results, which to the average student would all look like "websites":
Slide from the ALA 2014 presentation

Go read the seminal articles by Land + Meyer -- and other resources available on the wonderful webpage page of the three presenters: http://ilthresholdconcepts.com.
 

Another librarian showed how he promotes some of his library's more unusual digital collections as a means of exploring primary vs. secondary sources with students, e.g., presenting students with an archive of 1950s women’s magazines and having them imagine for what research question would particular advertisements or articles be a primary source.  Showing how questions develop, to a large degree, from the resources being used - in an iterative cycle.

The mantra they left us with:  READ -- SHARE -- ACT.

Many sessions were preceded by awards for best practice.  In the case of the Threshold Concepts one, an award was given to Library DIY (by Meredith Farkas) — a flipped classroom example of teaching procedural (as opposed to conceptual) stuff.  I'd already starred the project in my Diigo bookmarks as something to emulate -- and was thrilled to see it so publicly recognized.


There was also a poster session on a website called InfoSkills2Go - http://infoskills2go.com/ -- which allows college-bound high school students to earn badges in four categories:  academic integrity, information seeking, information organization, and information evaluation, using TRAILS as the pre-test and post-test. 

Another poster session I missed was -- "Student to Superhero: Freshmen Tell Their Research Stories" -- see http://bit.ly/studentsuperhero -- where they described how they had students create a graphical narrative using the software called Comic Life to reflect on their entry-level university information literacy course. 

TO DO:
  • Re-think my own teaching modules with these info lit threshold concepts in mind
  • Look at the InfoSkills2Go website


DISCOVERY (AND FAST CATALOGING)

There is a tension between the Google single box search — and the box (or boxes) we provide as windows into our local information resources.  Between what is out there in the largest sense of the world and what we can actually deliver (from our physical collection and our various virtual ones).


Candace (of the Taipei American School) told me she has recently implemented the EBSCO discovery layer.  I didn’t get a chance to really get into this with her (which is why I am determined to get up to Taipei to spend concentrated time absorbing her school’s information environment and how she is tackling these common problems of ours).

In terms of our library catalogs — Follett Destiny, for both Candace and me — the new Universal Search interface is an improvement (e.g., useful filtering via the sidebar).  But it's still slow and cumbersome compared to Google.  


Should we still be trying to steer students to our catalog?  What if we the library just focused on delivery of what students find elsewhere?  Leave the catalog there as our best inventory tool and perfect Subject Headings for our own discovery purposes, but not expect students to desert their best-friend Google?  (NB: I've been heavily influenced by the thoughts of Aaron Tay (an academic librarian in Singapore) -- see this Sept 2013 blog post of his and his ongoing Flipboard magazine on Web scale search and discovery systems.)

Traditionally (think: paper card catalogs) findability has depended upon controlled Subject Headings (e.g., Library of Congress (LCSH)), where each item would have no more than six highly-faceted subjects (e.g.,  Indonesia - Relations - China - History).  Nowadays, with full-text searching and unlimited tags possible, controlled vocabularies are less important -- at least to users.

The single search box -- allowing for multiple fields and combination of terms to be searched at once -- demands a re-think of subject headings.  Which is why I've been following the FAST cataloging project for years -- and chose to attend the Faceted Subject Access Interest Group sessions at ALA this year.  
 
 

FAST (Faceted Application of Subject Terminology)

As much as RDA(1) is about moving bibliographic metadata forward, FAST cataloging is the cutting edge of subject heading progress.  Which is perhaps why it was standing room only in this session where Cornell University librarians (one of whom is a Discovery Metadata Librarian by title) relayed their experience as guinea pigs converting their data from LCSH to FAST — in collaboration with OCLC Research (who were also in the room).  They're hoping to go live on July 1st.  (See their Powerpoint slides here.)

A lot of the technical stuff was beyond me -- and the scale difference between Cornell’s converting their holdings and a school library like mine are enormous.  But I still got a lot out of the session -- and think we should be moving to FAST subject headings instead of Sears/LCSH.

Facets can be in eight categories:  Personal names, Corporate names, Geographic names, Events, Titles, Time periods, Topics, and Form/Genre.

The FAST mindset was described as:
  • Use what you find
  • Subjects do not cross facets, e.g., you can't have "Italy - History"
  • Observe difference between topical and genre/form facets
  • Fewer application rules, e.g., the order of headings is not significant, no constraints on combinations of topical and geographic terms
  • Dates can be whatever you need to assign, e.g., "1992-2011" is fine if that's what the resource covers
The elephant in the room, they admitted, is that, if FAST is so great, why isn't everyone rushing to use it?  Will it replace LCSH?  Only time will tell.  Watch this space.

Links re FAST:



LIBRARY DESIGN

Library design is of on-going interest, no matter that my library is theoretically all built now.  I went to a session on “Science + Form = Function: The Impact of Neuroscience on Architecture and Design” -- a subject for which is there is an Academy -- see http://www.anfarch.org/ and especially their recommended reading list: http://www.anfarch.org/recommended-reading/.  


The session opened with a quote from Winston Churchill who said, "We shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us."

The speakers talked about the ten senses:  touch, taste, smell, hearing, and sight.... plus pressure, balance, temperature, motion, and pain.

Imagine a grid where these ten senses are the y-axis.  Then put these library space functions across the x-axis:  assembly, contemplation, data collection, presentation, reading, refuge, retreat, storage, studying, and teaching.  Consider the intersection of each -- and decide priorities and possibilities.

We need to consider the intersection of three things:  Behavior, Experience, and Brain Activity in a space like a library.

Speakers talked of Inspiration, Trust, and Empathy, as well as Symbolism, Wayfinding, and Exploration -- linking hand, brain, and symbol.  They asked us to consider what Affordances the library provides, to invite or indicate desired actions -- and the tension between Function and Representation (symbolism) in our spaces.

Frankly, I didn't get any practical inspirations from the session, but felt mentally stretched from sitting through it.

Meanwhile some other teacher-librarian went to a discussion meeting (one of those smaller things in the schedule that you could miss in the blink of an eye, unless you were observant) on The Information Commons.  Of all the things I was listening for in her brief summary in the time we had for debrief, I latched onto her reporting of someone who had “pink things hanging from the ceiling” that absorbed sound.  The ALA notes on this meeting also mention "pink noise machines" (see here). I am now searching for this mysterious product/item.  (Contact me if you can help!)  (Could the person have been talking about "pink noise" - in contrast to "white noise" -- see distinction here -- instead of something literally pink?)


Acoustics is my ongoing elephant in the room and I am on the lookout for all ameliorating accessories.  (Over the summer there are ceiling/wall panels being installed in my library — wish I had done my pre-installation research benchmarks and logged some decibel stats….)

There was a poster session I really wanted to attend, but missed -- Librarian Design Share: Inspiration for Library Creatives.  On the other hand, the beauty of the best poster sessions is that the poster itself is posted online and tells it all -- see http://ala14.ala.org/files/ala14/LibDS-ALA-Poster-FINAL.pdf -- and their website -- http://librariandesignshare.org/ -- is a treasure-trove.  The session description mentions they would be giving visitors "design strategy cards" -- I wonder if they pointed people to the "Design with Intent" toolkit, which I love.

Another poster session I missed was "Gearing Up for College" -- about university libraries reaching out to low-income middle school children who excel in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields.  Interestingly, they used a map activity to get the students to observe what was going on in the university library -- and hopefully to get interested in what they were observing.  (Reminds me of the ALA program session I attended last year -- where Andrew Asher described having students create color-timed cognitive maps of the library -- see http://www.andrewasher.net/BiblioEthnoHistorioGraphy/category/mapping/.  A fascinating way to make the virtual visible.... )

TO DO:

Makerspaces

Makerspaces is definitely still a hot topic for libraries.  I did a full-day pre-conference last year at ALA on them, and knew I was going to a four-day "Constructing Modern Knowledge" summer institute in New Hampshire, July 8-11, which would be completely about making things (watch for another blog post eventually), so I didn't bother to attend maker-related sessions at ALA.

As my school already has an extensive Design and Technology department and set-up (with 3D printers, laser cutters, et al.), I'm thinking the library should focus on making to do with books -- like setting up a Writing Center (a project several of us have been trying to get off the ground for three years now) and promoting Book Art.

One poster session was about an annual RE:BOOK altered book contest -- at the Claremont College Libraries.  See the PDF here.  What a great way to re-purpose donated books -- of which I have plenty.

TO DO:
  • Connect with the art teachers and get some regular altered book art going -- perhaps with a permanent book art workspace in a corner of the library -- or up on the Art Floor.  I like the idea of an annual contest.

PDA (Patron Driven Acquisition)

When I hear "PDA," I still think of "public display of affection" -- something every high school librarian deals with every day.  But it's the latest term for users letting us know what they want (starting from that good 'ole book suggestion form) -- and it goes hand-in-hand with a good collection policy.

There were several small sessions on PDA as it relates to e-book and video purchases, e.g., see here, here, and here.

Candace was telling me how she has instituted an online ticketing system for all library requests -- whether book purchase recommendations or queries about database passwords, etc.  I forget the name of the software package she said she bought, but it is one where people can search the database, to see the status of their problem or request.  Our Facilities and IT Depts both use a basic ticketing system, but we users don't have the ability to search their records.  Must look into it for our library.  I know there are requests that fall off my radar.....

The Latest and the Greatest: ARCs and Awards

For school librarians, there are two important annual lists that get announced at ALA.
 ALA is also a place to pick up Advanced Reader Copies of books.  I try not to go crazy.

Here are a few I picked up:
  • Jared Diamond's "The Third Chimpanzee" - Young Readers edition
  • Frank Einstein and the Anti-matter Motor - by Jon Scieszka 
  • Hold Tight, Don't Let Go - by Laura Rose Wagner - a YA novel re Haiti and the earthquak
  • Vango - by Timothee de Fombelle
  • Imaginary - by A.F. Harrold, illustrated by Emily Gravett
  • There Will Be Lies - by Nick Lake
  • Young Houdini - by SImon Nicholson
  • The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency - by Jordan Stratford
  • On a Clear Day - by Walter Dean Myters
  • A Path Appears - by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl Wu


Notes:
  • Last year at ALA I did a full-day pre-conference on RDA (Resource Description + Access).  What I immediately love about RDA is its simple hierarchy, distinguishing between Work, Expression, Manifestation, Item (WEMI), not to mention its elaboration of dates — so one can distinguish between work creation date, original publication date, particular edition date, and manufacture date.  
Photos:

Making and Tinkering to Learn

If you want to have a good read about the history and future of the "making" movement in education and tinkering as "a mindset for learning," I highly recommend the book "Invent to Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom -- by Sylvia Libow Martinez and Gary Stager.

Go to their website for an overview of the chapters, with links to extended resources for each.


The best thing it did was to send me back to read/re-read Seymour Papert, the grandfather of the movement.  (I didn't realize the roots of his projects were in Maine.)

I also refreshed my acquaintance with the writings of Mitchel Resnick (head of the MIT Lifelong Kindergarten group) re the cycle of imagine, create, play, share, reflect, imagine.  And a biography of Nikola Tesla is on my "to read" list.

A few notes/quotes from the book:
Stager's hypothesis:  "A good prompt is worth a thousand words." -- where 'good' means it has (a) brevity (e.g., can fit on a post-it note), (b) ambiguity (let the learner be free to satisfy the prompt in their own voice), and (c) has immunity to assessment. (60-61)
Learners can exceed expectations with the following four variables in place:
-- a good prompt, motivating challenge, or thoughtful question
-- appropriate materials
-- sufficient time
-- a supportive culture, including a range of expertise (60)
"Great teachers know that their highest calling is to make memories." (67)
"Constructivism is a theory of learning that doesn't mandate a specified method of teaching.... Constructionism is a theory of teaching.  We believe that constructionism is the best way to implement constructivist learning." (71)
Advice: skip the pre-load, don't overteach planning, encourage continuous improvement, allow reflection. (77)
Assessment interrupts the learning process.  Even asking a kid what they're doing is disruptive. (81)
"Writing, filmmaking, and presenting information are the low-hanging fruit of creative expression in the digital age." (84)
"The role of the teacher is to create the conditions for invention rather than provide ready-made knowledge." -- Seymour Papert (157)
 Educators need to be reminded that it is possible to learn without being taught. (202)


Reading the book, I remembered my father's workshop down cellar in the house in Maine where I grew up.  We loved to make things with him.  My biggest project was a bookcase that would double as my bed's headboard.  Mainly we marveled at how he could fix things.  He was definitely a tinkerer.

A few years ago it was time to clear the workshop out.  After all, he'd been dead for some twenty years and no one was using it.  But I took some last photos.

IMG_4571 
Full Flickr set here 

The disturbing thought of the unknown, or, what is learning? teaching? education?

As part of a self-study accreditation process, our school has invited staff to consider the question of what learning is -- for three hours on a Saturday morning.  Reps from each grade/area should be in attendance -- and each person is asked to bring along a book, article, or reference.  I know what mine will be.

Engaging Minds: changing teaching in complex times -- 2nd ed, 2008 -- by Brent Davis, Dennis Sumara, and Rebecca Luce-Kapler.

Here are some bits.... taken from my notes.....

Learning is about becoming attentive to things you never noticed before -- becoming conscious -- becoming aware.

Teachers play a pivotal role in orientating attentions in ways that prompt transformations in personal perception and consciousness -- helping people to notice what they haven't noticed.

Education is not about compelling others to see the world in the ways we see it, but in terms of expanding the space of the possible.

The notion of shared labor -- social learning -- highlighting how complex knowing is distributed across a web of individuals.

The learner is the collective.  Knowledge cannot exist independent of the knower -- it is a potential to action both embodied and situated.  Bodies know, and that's what makes them part of grander knowing bodies.  Knowledge, then is about relationship.

The metaphor of the teacher as "the consciousness of the collective" -- expanding the space of the possible and "creating conditions for the emergence of the as-yet unimagined".

Prompting change or learning is a matter of disequilibrium.... with the teacher in the middle, mediating, mentoring -- giving voice and advocating... opening up spaces for collective action, not defining the action.


Teaching is not about what the teacher does, it's about what happens to the learner. 

Learning is complex, full of recursive elaboration... iterative processes and nested systems.

"A complexified conception of curriculum would suggest an image more like a phase space or a fractal tree, in which each event opens up new possibilities for action, which in turn open still other divergent possibilities.  There is no particular direction -- except, perhaps, toward the expansion of the space of the possible."

A teacher is constantly perturbed and being perturbed.

Teaching is an event that prompts a complex system to respond differently.

The lesson plan is a thought experiment.


I'm fascinated with the idea of the unknown unknowns*.  E.g., see my blog post on Roger Schank.  His definition of learning bears repeating:

"Learning to explain phenomena such that one continues to be fascinated by the failure of one's explanations creates a continuing cycle of thinking that is the crux of intelligence."

Piaget said intelligence is what is called on when an agent doesn't know what to do, i.e., discerning what really matters in a situation.

Karl Hostetler, a professor interested in both philosophy and education -- (download a PDF of his article << What is "Good" Education Research?>> (2005)),  quotes Hans-Georg Gadamer (1960/1989) :

"Knowledge always means, precisely, considering opposites.  Its superiority over preconceived opinion consists in the fact that is able to conceive of possibilities as possibilities.... [So] only a person who has questions can have knowledge. [However] there is no such thing as a method of learning to ask questions, of learning to see what is questionable.  On the contrary, the example of Socrates teaches that the important thing is the knowledge that one does not know."

This potential knowledge is what we as teachers must value -- in ourselves as much as in our students.

Errol Morris, the documentary filmmaker, did a 5-part series of articles on knowing and unknowing in the NYT earlier this year -- "The Anosognosic's Dilemma:  Something's Wrong but You'll Never Know What It Is" (Part I) -- in which he interviews David Dunning, a professor who is known for his elaboration of the Dunning-Kruger effect, which is when our incompetence masks our ability to recognize our incompetence.

Dunning:
"Unknown unknown solutions haunt the mediocre without their knowledge. The average detective does not realize the clues he or she neglects.  The mediocre doctor is not aware of the diagnostic possibilities or treatments never considered.  The run-of-the-mill lawyer fails to recognize the winning legal argument that is out there.  People fail to reach their potential as professionals, lovers, parents and people simply because they are not aware of the possible.  This is one of the reasons I often urge my student advisees to find out who the smart professors are, and to get themselves in front of those professors so they can see what smart looks like."

When I read that, I realized why I love TED Talks so much -- it gives me easy access to seeing what smart looks like.  It also gives another angle on the role of the teacher.  People like to say 21st century learning demands teachers shift from "the sage on the stage" to the "guide on the side".  I think there are times to be the "sage on the stage" -- to exhibit "unnatural acts" of thinking (a la Sam Wineburg -- more re him in a future blog post) -- though overall, I prefer the concept of the teacher as "the meddler in the middle" (Erica McWilliams, 2005).

In an interview Benjamin Barber reflects on the positive aspect of disturbing thoughts:

London: It occurs to me that you are not at all afraid of controversy — not in your statements here and not in your books certainly. You say somewhere in An Aristocracy of Everyone that "with good teaching, as with good art, someone is always offended." Is that really true?

Barber: I think so. I think that if you don't offend someone, you haven't even woken them up, let alone gotten their mental energies going. One thing that does bother me about so-called political correctness — I don't like the term PC — it's really an unfair word, it's kind of a slur in the way that it's used. But the true part of it is that there are some people who seem unwilling to be offended and provocative speech, free speech, and most importantly educational speech — speech that makes people think — has to be to some degree offensive. That's how you get people woken up, that's how you get people caring, that's how you get them reacting.

Another vision of the teacher as a constructive mediator is the grandmother -- in Sugata Mitra's sense -- in his SOLEs (Self-Organized Learning Environments).  The person who stands behind you every now and then-- who is there to support you in your own learning.

Isn't that the role of our own PLN (personal learning networks) -- for us as teacher-learners?  We just need to make sure we are allowing ourselves to be disturbed.  That is the danger for adults... that we move into spaces (mental and physical) which do not regularly perturb us.


* Yes, "unknown unknowns" brings Donald Rumsfeld to mind -- and my favorite packaging of him is in the 2003 Slate article on "The Poetry of Donald Rumsfeld":
The Unknown

As we know,
There are known knowns.
There are things we know we know.
We also know
There are known unknowns.
That is to say
We know there are some things
We do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns,
The ones we don't know
We don't know.
—Feb. 12, 2002, Department of Defense news briefing

Building Digitally Literate Communities, or, what I learned at IASL/SLAQ 2010


"Building literate communities"
and  "Supporting the digital education agenda" were two of the four strands of  the IASL / SLAQ (Int'l Assoc. of School Librarianship / School Library Assoc. of Queensland) 2010 conference held in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, Sep. 27 - Oct. 1.

Over the course of the week the two themes merged into an essential question for me:

How to build digitally literate communities?

Our school is embarking on a "21st Century Teaching & Learning" program (aka iLearn) over the next two years, part of which will involve going 1:1 with Apple laptops in Grade 6 and above (and 2:1 below that) -- and designing new library/information spaces.

Presentations by two academics - one an education/business/think-tank professor and the other a education/futurist -- gave me some interesting concepts and phrases to play with -- re people and spaces that will support the digitally literate community we want to become.
  • Michael Hough, Professorial Fellow at the Univ. of Wollongong -- Keynote: "In Schools that Face the Future, Libraries Matter" -- & Session: "The Role of the Teacher-Librarian in Developing Leadership Capabilities in Staff"
  • Erica McWilliam, co-leader of the Creative Workforce Program at Queensland University of Technology -- Keynote: "High Standards or a High Standard of Standardness?"

>>> See a vodcast and accompanying slideshow for each keynote<<<


Both explored the e-learning shift underway and confirmed the need for 21st Century Teacher-Librarians (see Joyce Valenza's Manifesto for the definitive description of one), with Hough claiming librarians should become the C.I.O. (Chief Information Officer) of their schools.

He highly recommended the recently published book -- Developing a Networked School Community -- and cited Chapter 9 (most of which you can read via GoogleBooks) by Lyn Hay (who was one of my online professors -- I wrote a paper on Gaming in Education for her back in 2005...)

Hough particularly liked her concept of the iCentre, which she defines as 
"the central facility within the school where information, technology, learning and teaching needs are supported by qualified information and learning technology specialists.  It is a centre that provides students and teachers with a one-stop shop for all resourcing, technology, and learning needs on a daily basis."
(See also the slides from a recent keynote by Hay: "21st Century Teacher-Librarian: Rethink, Rebuild, and Re-brand".)


McWilliam provided an interesting variation on the idea, by surveying the culture of the coffee house from raucous 17th century London up until erudite 20th century Vienna.  A home away from home, a place you want to go to. She argued Hogarth's coffee house was an antecedent of the lifelong learning space -- a round table of communal resources (both liquid and intellectual) -- and that librarians would benefit from considering the various skills and dispositions of those distant coffee house landlords (arbiter, assembler, gossip provider, business manager, service manager, social broker of relationships, etc) over time. 

She suggested today's online model might be nings, an iCafe for shared passions. I think Twitter is a fitter descendant.

#slaqiasl2010 was the Twitter tag for the conference -- and others in my personal learning network were far more adept at typing up the passing thoughts (special thanks to Stacey Taylor, Marita Thomson, and Jessica Jorna for their quick minds and fingers. You allowed me to concentrate on my own more expansive note-taking.)

The whole conference was a community experience, with an overlapping of school librarians, international school librarians, IBO school librarians, and academics.

In line with the same "building communities" theme, Barb Philip, the junior school teacher-librarian at Tanglin Trust School here in Singapore, and I did a presentation on "Building Internationally Literate Communities", based on our library network's efforts to expand the reading experiences of our students.


More blog posts re learning and connections made at the conference to follow...


It's Storytelling, Stupid!


Clay doesn't stop. Luckily the blog entry he just wrote -- “You Suck at Photoshop”: Paragon of Creative Project-Based Learning -- fits in perfectly with where I want to continue from my last post (which was spurred by a previous post of his: Barbarians with Laptops).

It's about the importance of narrative in the teaching/learning process.

Okay, You Suck at Photoshop isn't "a grand narrative" (one of the three essential elements of teaching according to Michael Wesch (see my previous post)). But the format could be used to help convey one, incorporating "disciplinary knowledge" into a funny story with a good hook. And Clay showed us an example of a teacher, Lynn Hunt of UCLA -- a "sage on the stage" -- presenting a compelling introduction to the Enlightenment -- by telling us a good story. It's "chalk and talk" but effective. (See his blog post: New Tech Teaching Habits.)

The power of storytelling is often lost in the ongoing debates over:
  • teacher-centered vs. student-centered learning
  • content vs. process focus
  • traditional vs. progressive
  • "sage on the stage" vs. "guide on the side"
  • disciplinary knowledge vs. 21st century skills
Two theorists who consider storytelling at the constant heart of intelligence and teaching and learning are Roger Schank and Kieran Egan. Both have been around for a long time and are still producing work, e.g., see:
-- and both deserve wider audiences, if only as interesting voices from the margins to test your own ideas against.

Roger Schank

The best historical introduction to Roger Schank is probably via the Edge.org website. You might read his article "Information is Surprises" (1995). Especially note the comments by other people at the end -- re him, not that article. I particularly like this one:
W. Daniel Hillis: The Roger Schank I knew was a thorn in everybody's side — constructively so. The interesting thing about Roger Schank, something he shares with Minsky, is the fact that he's produced an incredible string of students. Anybody who's produced such a great string of students has to be a constructive pain in the ass. He's always taken an adversarial stance in his theories. He doesn't just say, "Here's my theory." He says, "Here's why I'm right and everybody else is an idiot." He's often right.
Okay, now that you're primed for someone quite opinionated (I like that phrase: "a constructive pain the ass"...), go watch this Jan 2009 video, filmed in Barcelona where he is helping to open a new Institute for the Learning Sciences (as part of their Business Engineering program*) -- based on a Story-Centered Curriculum. He goes through everything wrong with existing schools and describes his ideal school:




In summary: "Every curriculum should tell a story... and the story should be one that tells what the life of the future practitioner is like (and it should involve lots of practice)." As he says, teaching doesn't mean talking -- people aren't good at listening -- we listen to be entertained, not to learn. Learning happens as a result of being hooked by good stories -- and by practicing goal-based scenarios that are fun or obviously useful.

Here are my notes on Roger Schank's 1999 book, Tell Me a Story: Narrative and Intelligence, a thought-provoking read for teacher-librarians as it's about stories, learning, and information retrieval (out of the brain, not the internet) --and so relates to fiction, non-fiction, and tagging/cataloging. (Google Books makes a lot of the book available online, as well as the foreword by the literary critic Gary Saul Morson.)
Teaching is the right story at the right time.

Good stories with lots of information allow listeners to derive their own conclusions.

We do not remember a whole story, but only the gist, indexed in different ways.

Listening is hard -- stories usually just trigger stories back and forth -- how does new learning occur?

Creativity is the adaptation of old stories to new purposes -- it arises not from the void, but from the drawer. And the drawer is only full by virtue of intelligent indexing over time -- the collecting of lots of stories in the brain. Understanding is the process of index extraction -- figuring out what story to tell.

Find an anomaly -- ask a question -- get a story. Anomalies are when we don't know the answer. When we have no story to tell, we look for one -- by asking ourselves questions.

Curiosity is about recognizing anomalies and having the ability to take pleasure in exploring them, which leads us to the value of the search process itself and to prefer answers that lead to ever more questions.
Or as Schank says on page 231: "Learning to explain phenomena such that one continues to be fascinated by the failure of one's explanations creates a continuing cycle of thinking that is the crux of intelligence."

Re the failure to listen to failure, see this recent Wired article - Accept Defeat: The Neuroscience of Screwing Up. The importance of having a broad input of stories -- and a broad audience -- is highlighted:
When Dunbar reviewed the transcripts of the meeting, he found that the intellectual mix generated a distinct type of interaction in which the scientists were forced to rely on metaphors and analogies to express themselves. (That’s because, unlike the E. coli group, the second lab lacked a specialized language that everyone could understand.) These abstractions proved essential for problem-solving, as they encouraged the scientists to reconsider their assumptions. Having to explain the problem to someone else forced them to think, if only for a moment, like an intellectual on the margins, filled with self-skepticism.
[bold added]
This is similar to something a former PhD student said about what he learned from Schank (quoted by Schank in his four-chapter preview of his upcoming book:
You taught me that often our theories get so complex that it takes a specialist with years of training to understand them. When we get our theories this distant from everyday life and everyday people, it is awkward explaining what we do when in conversation with our family, friends, the press, and even upper level executives, etc. You taught me to test to see if what you are doing matters and is of interest to the everyday person seeking distraction and some entertainment, but not entirely brain dead, with some curiosity left about life and what others think.
In other words, can you make an interesting story out of it?

Kieran Egan

Kieran Egan argues that students have access to plenty of information - the problem is getting it into them and getting it to mean anything to them. Knowledge exists only in people, in living tissue in our bodies; what exists in libraries and computers are only codes or externally stored symbolic material.

This is where powerful stories and metaphors come in -- as tools to engage students' imagination and emotions in learning about the world.

Egan insists that students' imaginations can only work with what they know, so a great deal of content knowledge is required. He's an advocate of students becoming experts, e.g., by studying one topic throughout their whole school career (in addition to the usual curriculum). (See his new Learning in Depth project.)

Storytelling fits into Egan's larger framework of cognitive tools and theory of Imaginative Education. These cognitive tools are the things that enable our brains to do cultural work -- and he likens to operating systems or programs in the brain, forms of which are running at all times in varying degrees at all ages: the Somatic (the body & its senses), the Mythic (oral language), the Romantic (reading and writing), the Philosophic (the meta-narrative of systems in the world), and the Ironic (multiple perspectives in the mind at one time).

For more details on Egan's framework, see The Educated Mind: how cognitive tools shape our understanding (1997); for a more practical guide to his storytelling ideas for younger students, see his Teaching as Storytelling: an alternative approach to teaching and curriculum in the elementary school (1986).

Egan defines education as "the process in which we maximize the tool kit we individually take from the external storehouse of culture." For me, libraries (whether physical or virtual) are primary portals to that cultural storehouse. (As they say, knowledge is free at the library -- bring your own container.) And librarians are there with embodied knowledge to help people find the right story at the right time.

More on Storytelling and Metaphors
These next ones are NOT specifically re education and you probably know most of them, but they're some of my favorite examples of storytelling and metaphors.


* re business schools, there's a debate in the NYTimes re the appropriate metaphor for how universities (especially business schools) treat students - as customers? as products? For a really unusual business school - one that is living 21st century skills, check out KaosPilot.

And for an example of graduate schools looking for applicants with creative storytelling capabilities -- or at least competency in metaphors, see this NYTimes slideshow of images meant to prompt applicants' admission essays: What Do You See?

Teachers, Meaningful Connections, & Mindful Information Consumption


Clay Burell has been on a writing binge over the holiday -- and there have been long conversations in the comments of several posts, which, as Clay put it, have been the equivalent of college-level credit in terms of professional development. NB: Some of my contributions are re-formatted and expanded below.

First of all, see the original Beyond School blog posts (among others):
Clay expressed his fear that we are producing barbarians with laptops and challenged people to to provide good examples of learning that effectively enhanced content and the development of important skills -- and many did. (Check out the responses of Roberto Greco, Monika Hardy, Neil Stephenson, Hellen Harding, et al.)

I cited Michael Wesch's philosophy of teaching outlined in a video in 2008 as my guiding light.



In summary, to create students who make meaningful connections we need to
  • find a grand narrative and provide context and relevance (i.e., semantic meaning);
  • create a learning environment that values and leverages learners themselves (i.e., personal meaning); and
  • do both in a way that realizes and leverages the existing media environment
Technology isn’t an end in itself -- it’s about leverage in the service of meaningful connections. So if it doesn't enhance the learning in the classroom and it's not authentic participation in the existing media environment (read: busywork), you shouldn't feel obliged to use it.

Cliff Stoll is someone who comes down squarely against computers in the classroom. See his 1999 book, High-Tech Heretic: Why Computers Don't Belong in the Classroom and Other Reflections by a Computer Contrarian -- as well as his Feb. 2006 TED talk (which provides an excellent preview of how he would perform as a teacher in a classroom).



(And if you want an example of what it means to be a ruthless and natural inquirer, read his 1989 book The Cuckoo's Egg: tracking a spy through the maze of computer espionage .)

Here he is talking about computers in classrooms -- from an interview in 2000:

Stoll: The one thing that computers do extraordinarily well is bring information to kids. Computers give kids access to vast amounts of information.

EW: Don't computers have a place in the classroom, then, if merely as a source of information?

Stoll: Is a lack of information a problem in schools? I've never once had a teacher say to me "I don't have enough information." Teachers say they don't have enough time. The problem in classrooms is not a lack of information. It's too much information. ......

Stoll
: ... The problem is that the use of computers subtracts from the student-to-teacher contact hours. It directs attention away from the student-teacher relationship and directs it toward the student-computer relationship. It teaches students to focus on getting information rather than on exploring and creating. Which is more interactive -- a student and a teacher or a student and a computer? ...

Re the love inherent in classroom teaching and the importance of time with a teacher (technology aside), I can't help but re-recommend a commencement address by Margaret Edson, teacher and playwright. There's a link in this blog post (skip the first 3 min of her talk and get to the heart of it).


Umberto Eco in this interview also brings up the problem of too much information, but sees the teacher (in the role of master to apprentices) as instrumental in dealing with it.
Eco: ... These [Google] lists can be dangerous -- not for old people like me, who have acquired their knowledge in another way, but for young people, for whom Google is a tragedy. Schools ought to teach the high art of how to be discriminating.

SPIEGEL: Are you saying that teachers should instruct students on the difference between good and bad? If so, how should they do that?

Eco: Education should return to the way it was in the workshops of the Renaissance. There, the masters may not necessarily have been able to explain to their students why a painting was good in theoretical terms, but they did so in more practical ways. Look, this is what your finger can look like, and this is what it has to look like. Look, this is a good mixing of colors. The same approach should be used in school when dealing with the Internet. The teacher should say: "Choose any old subject, whether it be German history or the life of ants. Search 25 different Web pages and, by comparing them, try to figure out which one has good information." If 10 pages describe the same thing, it can be a sign that the information printed there is correct. But it can also be a sign that some sites merely copied the others' mistakes.
Last year Clay Shirky pointed out It's Not Information Overload, It's Filter Failure.

In that light, Umberto Eco is proposing teachers as human filters** for disciplinary knowledge and practices, teaching students to discriminate.

Frank Schirrmacher recognizes this same need to question what we're consuming in the way of information.

He talks about humans as ''informavores" in this video/transcript: Edge In Frankfurt: THE AGE OF THE INFORMAVORE— A Talk with Frank Schirrmacher.


I think it's very interesting, the concept — again, Daniel Dennett and others said it — the concept of the informavores, the human being as somebody eating information. So you can, in a way, see that the Internet and that the information overload we are faced with at this very moment has a lot to do with food chains, has a lot to do with food you take or not to take, with food which has many calories and doesn't do you any good, and with food that is very healthy and is good for you. ....
As we know, information is fed by attention, so we have not enough attention, not enough food for all this information. And, as we know — this is the old Darwinian thought, the moment when Darwin started reading Malthus — when you have a conflict between a population explosion and not enough food, then Darwinian selection starts. And Darwinian systems start to change situations. And so what interests me is that we are, because we have the Internet, now entering a phase where Darwinian structures, where Darwinian dynamics, Darwinian selection, apparently attacks ideas themselves: what to remember, what not to remember, which idea is stronger, which idea is weaker.
It's the question: what is important, what is not important, what is important to know? Is this information important? Can we still decide what is important? And it starts with this absolutely normal, everyday news.
Having introduced the metaphor of information as food, I can't help but end with a link to one of the essays David Brooks gave a 2009 Sidney (best essay) award to:

Is Food the New Sex? - Mary Eberhardt - Hoover Institution - Policy Review
Try reading it, substituting the word "information" for "food" or "sex"....
These disciplines imposed historically on access to food and sex now raise a question that has not come up before, probably because it was not even possible to imagine it until the lifetimes of the people reading this: What happens when, for the first time in history — at least in theory, and at least in the advanced nations — adult human beings are more or less free to have all the sex and food they want?
This question opens the door to a real paradox. For given how closely connected the two appetites appear to be, it would be natural to expect that people would do the same kinds of things with both appetites — that they would pursue both with equal ardor when finally allowed to do so, for example, or with equal abandon for consequence; or conversely, with similar degrees of discipline in the consumption of each.
In fact, though, evidence from the advanced West suggests that nearly the opposite seems to be true. The answer appears to be that when many people are faced with these possibilities for the very first time, they end up doing very different things — things we might signal by shorthand as mindful eating, and mindless sex. This essay is both an exploration of that curious dynamic, and a speculation about what is driving it.
[bold added]

Here we are, for the first time in history with all the information we want. It's the "Informavore's Dilemma" ***. Now we just need to develop the discipline for mindful information consumption.


** Social bookmarking is a form of discriminating filtering and Roberto Greco, with over 17,500 bookmarks on Delicious is one of my richest human filters for reading material. As a librarian, I'm impressed with both his descriptions and his tags.

*** I thought I was being clever vis-a-vis Michael Pollan's book "The Omnivore's Dilemma", but Google tells me findability.org used it first...


p.s. Wherever I've used the word "teacher", I obviously include "librarians".

Image of Umberto Eco via giveawayboy on Flickr / Image of bento box via Cowism / Image of Google log via the Telegraph UK

21st C Learning@HK: a team approach


Keri-Lee and I are now the East IDL team.

IDL? you ask.

Take your pick: idol, idyll, idle, or, the correct answer: Information & Digital Literacies.

It's a tag I am more comfortable with than "21st century" (no matter what you put after it, whether "skills" or "learning" or "tools") -- because, as Dennis Harter points out, we're already in the 21st century and will be for the rest of our lives, and the adjective "21st century" (like "Web 2.0") may have instant recognition to those in the educational blogosphere, but induces either alienation or only vague comprehension in others.

It's understandable to want to stress the new and to avoid focusing on technology alone, but I'm voting for a return to Information and Digital Literacies as the label for what we are trying to spread and embed in the classrooms, which I think David Warlick captures in these statements:
"As I say again and again, it is not the computers that are impacting us as a society or as individuals. It’s what we can do with information that is changing things." (2008)
"... embracing tools that give all their student-learners and teacher-learners ubiquitous access to networked, digital, and abundant information — and the capacity to work that information and express discoveries and outcomes compellingly to authentic audiences." (2009)
Information & Digital Literacies also nicely combines the main characteristic of our respective subject areas -- me as the Teacher-Librarian and Keri-Lee as the ICT Facilitator.

What's new this year besides recognition of us as a team?

One, Keri-Lee is no longer an ICT "teacher" on a release-time, weekly fixed schedule with classes; instead she's a facilitator on a flexi-schedule, collaborating with classroom teachers on different units of inquiry, as I have been.

Two, we're using the ISTE NETS for Students as our roadmap and are working on a document for our teachers, translating the NETS Profiles into possible experiences/scenarios for our students based on our curriculum and taking the IBO PYP Transdisciplinary Skills (Communication, Research, Thinking, Self-Management, and Social) into account. In addition, we're looking at the NETS for Teachers, Administrators, and Technology Facilitators.

Three, we have some new technology toys, which teachers can book, just like they can book us: a set of iPod Touches and a set of video cameras.

In celebration of this shift, Keri-Lee and I attended the 21st Century Learning @ Hong Kong: Extending Tomorrow's Leaders with Digital Learning, held September 17-19, 2009, at Hong Kong International School (HKIS).

With over 500 attendees, many of us from overseas, there was a good mix of teachers (a lot of IT/ICT, but also librarians and others) - and the program had plenty to offer.

(NB: I presented a workshop with Beth Gourley, from the International School of Tianjin, called Digital Gist: Harnessing digital content for learning and the library: an inquiry into texts online in audio, video, and e-book formats.)


One of the most useful sessions Keri-Lee and I attended, in terms of our goals for our own school, was Walking the Talk: 21st Century Learning in Curriculum Design and Learning by Greg Curtis, Curriculum Director at the International School of Beijing (ISB).

He started off with this video (from The Onion) re the "21st century skills" our kids are going to need.


Greg stressed that the 21st century movement (yes, they do use the term at ISB) is a learning one, not a technology one -- and therefore needs to be driven by the curriculum unit, not the IT department -- that it's about strategic planning and future visioning, not IT planning. (Read: management buy-in is critical.)

At ISB they are trying to create a "pull" culture, rather than a "push" one -- to infuse technology into learning experiences and explorations, not force it. A culture where technology is expected to be used and will be drawn in. Never technology for its own sake. Context is everything. It's all about the learning -- always about the learning.

He walked us through ISB's Learning 21 framework -- with Standards in the center, then moving out a ring to the Learning 21 Approaches, and then the outer ring of Learning 21 Skills. (I was pleased to learn they had blended the library and technology standards.)

All these are incorporated, along with Understanding by Design constructs, into their Curriculum Mapping system, which allows them to visually check the spread of assessment tasks and see how the Learn 21 Approaches and Skills are being integrated.

To implement this program, ISB has initiated an early release afternoon on Wednesdays, providing two hours a week of concentrated staff professional development time.

What a tremendous commitment to a program and a process. I look forward to following ISB's progress over the next few years.

See Greg's handout - scanned and uploaded to Google Docs

See also my rough notes on his presentation - in Google Docs

(By the way, I was pleased to see Sharon Vipond, the secondary librarian at HKIS, has posted her notes on all the keynote speeches from the conference.)

It was such a beneficial and collaborative exercise attending the conference together with Keri-Lee -- we were continually bouncing impressions and ideas off each other. We'll see how we get on with our own integrated standards, approaches, and skills initiative -- and our efforts to infuse information and digital literacy into our East campus classrooms.

And hats off to the conference organizers -- it was a well-executed event and I would definitely attend it again.


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Pulling it all together online -- LibGuides? Netvibes? Pageflakes?

Research resources -- shared and organized in easily configured widgets/modules on tabbed pages -- that's what libraries using Web 2.0 tools like LibGuides, Netvibes, and Pageflakes can offer their customers. It's one of the quickest ways to create a library portal or home page.

LibGuides is not free, but it looks like it could be worth buying.

Check out the LibGuides Community page where you can browse for academic, public, and school libraries and see how they have used the product.

For example, see the library guides created by:
Buffy (alias The Unquiet Librarian) recently blogged about how much she loves LibGuides and she's someone who has been exploring the best means of providing students with research guides and pathfinders for some time now -- see her wiki: Research Pathfinders 2.0: Information Streams for Students.


Netvibes is the next best option -- and it's free. This is what I've been playing with for the past few weeks, inspired by these librarians:

The beauty of Netvibes is that anything I see on any of their pages, I can easily copy to my own by simply clicking "Share" on a particular widget. And everyone has both a private page and a public page, so you can play around with customizing widgets on your private page and then move them to the public sphere.

For example, I just copied over links to kids' magazines from Fiona, links on books and reading from Leanne, more book and reading links from Yvonne, links to audio book sites from Dianne, and dictionary websites from Kathy.

I like how Kathy has made a separate page for the PYP units of inquiry -- and I'll be doing that as well, but for now here's my initial effort:


Pageflakes is a similar tool that I have experimented with before, but then I recently read a blog posting which suggested Pageflakes might die (from lack of funding). So I immediately began exploring Netvibes and was thrilled to find so many good library examples out there to copy. But then just the other day there was an ominous blog posting about Netvibes! Well, I'm not giving up on Netvibes yet. But as a form of insurance I've also just requested a proper LibGuides demo (and formal quote). By the way, this is the official comment on costs:

The cost of an annual license depends on the size of your institution and the number of libraries involved. We try to customize the pricing for every client, to meet their specific needs (as well to fit within their budgets!). The annual license fee ranges from $899 to $2,999 ($549 for K-12 libraries). Most libraries would fall under the lower license range. Contact us with the info about your institution (FTE or # of card holders) and we'll give you an exact quote. Chances are, you'll be pleasantly surprised - LibGuides is a great deal, any way you look at it!
I haven't mentioned iGoogle personalized pages, though they're quite similar. You can also share widgets and tabs with other people, but they're designed more for personal homepages -- where someone is logged into their Google account. So if your students all have iGoogle pages, then you could publicize library-specific widgets for them to add to their homepages. And if you want to explore other options, see this list of "start page" tools via Delicious.

Speaking of library websites, there are two I've admired recently for their clean "Mac" look and layout, though only Leanne's was made on a Mac. The other was created using a free tool called Weebly.



p.s. Check out the screencasts/tutorials The Big House Library has made using Jing (a free screen capture/screencast tool) showing how to use their library catalog (Follett's Destiny). I plan to do the same (someday).


Improving the inquiry process

Photos from Flickr: istlibrary
Learning from peers is powerful -- in the classroom and in life. I often get my share early on a Saturday morning, thanks to Skype and Beth Gourley, my friend and fellow teacher-librarian. When our video cameras come into focus, the difference in our locations is obvious. Beth, up in Tianjin, China, at this time of year is wearing a thick bathrobe and huddled under a duvet, while I, down in Singapore, lounge in sleeveless nightwear, cooled by a ceiling fan.

This week's treasures from Beth included an article she wrote last year for KnowledgeQuest called "Inquiry -- The Road Less Travelled" (Vol. 37, No. 1, Sept/Oct 2008) and some related photos. Unfortunately, the article is not yet available online, but should be eventually (and you could always write Beth and ask her to send you a copy.... )

In the article she describes the International School of Tianjin (an IBO school) and how the teaching team there has worked on improving inquiry in the classrooms and library, starting with a group exploration of inquiry and information literacy models.

The result was a model adapted from three major sources: the spiral of making personal meaning and understanding from Barbara Stripling (2003), guiding questions from Jennifer Branch and Dianne Oberg (2005), and language from Kath Murdoch (2005). The secondary school version is shown above, and they have a similar one with simplified questions for the elementary school.

I especially love how teachers use the model as a framework for documenting the units of inquiry. Here is an example from one of their Kindergarten classes (click to enlarge):


When Kath Murdoch came and worked with their teachers last year, they did a reflective exercise on their implementation of inquiry. Here is a partial summary of the remarks collected (also taken from the article):

They go on to create the list (below left).

Nothing radical there -- everyone struggling to improve their inquiry will recognize the items as common goals. Still it's good to be reminded of them.

Beth is also working on a wiki called Research Story, based on their inquiry model (which I trust she won't mind me sharing). Like all wikis, it's a work in progress. But I know it's made me want to go back and re-organize my own grade-level wikis around an inquiry model.





NB: The inquiry cycle image at the top was developed at the International School of Tianjin (IST) in 2007.
Sources for the image compilation-- as taken from the IST Flickr page:
Stripling, Barbara K. 2003. “Inquiry-Based Learning.” In Curriculum Connections through the Library, ed. Barbara K. Stripling and Sandra Hughes-Hassell, 3-39. Westport, Conn: Libraries Unlimited. Murdoch, Kath. 1998. Classroom Connections: Strategies for Integrated Learning. Ar-madale, Vic: Eleanor Curtain Pub.Branch, Jennifer, and Dianne Oberg. 2005 “Focus on Inquiry.” IASL. (accessed 6 May 2007).

Looking back at (the technology behind) our conference

Our conference -- Hands on Literacy -- came off beautifully just over a month ago, with over 260 people attending, but it burned us committee members out so much that we have spent the rest of this term recovering.

In our de-brief we made many notes of things to improve on next time, the most important being: "start planning much earlier" -- like 18 months ahead of time. We really only started working on it in mid-August and it was held mid-November, so it was a miracle it all came off at all.

The use of technology to plan and present the conference was another area for improvement. Wiki and SurveyMonkey worked great for us, but not enough presenters took up the challenge to make their pages their own. Also need to go with online payment/registration, e.g., using something like EventBrite, next time. And in retrospect should have set up Google Group for the committee, rather than relying on just a Google Email account. Getting all committee members up to speed with chosen web 2.0 tools before crunch time is something else.

Several presenters have updated their wiki pages since the conference, including:
But wish more did.

The Joy of Literacy

"The single most important condition for literacy learning is the presence of mentors who are joyfully literate people."
-- according to Shirley Brice Heath, professor of linguistics and English and linguistic anthropologist.

What a wonderful phrase -- joyfully literate.

Which makes me think of books about literacy which have made me feel joy over the past year.

Fiction choice: The Uncommon Reader, by Alan Bennett -- a short, humorous fantasy in which the Queen of England stumbles upon a mobile library behind Buckingham Palace and out of politeness and duty starts to take books out -- and how it changes her life.

Of course, at first she's not impressed, but slowly she gets hooked and moves up the ladder of literature. When she later goes back to re-read that first novel, she finds it quite easy and interesting.
And it occurred to her (as next day she wrote down) that reading was, among other things, a muscle and one that she had seemingly developed.
This is the point of my favorite non-fiction literacy book of 2008.

Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain represents a snapshot — to be precise, three snapshots — of what we now know about the origins of reading (how the human brain learned how to read); the development of reading (from infancy's influence, to expert reading adults); the gifts and the challenges of reading failure in dyslexia (what happens when the brain can't read). It's a triptych of our knowledge and a frank apologia to this cultural invention that changed our lives as a species and as individual learners....

I use Proust as a metaphor for the most important aspect of reading: the ability to think beyond what we read. The great French novelist Marcel Proust wrote a little-known, essay-length book simply called On Reading in which he wrote:
The heart of the expert reading brain is to think beyond the decoded words to construct thoughts and insights never before held by that person. In so doing, we are forever changed by what we read.
-- Maryanne Wolf summarizing her own book. (See also podcast interviews with her.)
The acme of the reading brain is time to think. So simple, so powerful.

A system that has become streamlined through specialization and automaticity has more time to think. This is the miraculous gift of the reading brain.
Time to laugh, time to hear the author's voice, time to listen to the voice in your own head.

As Wolf points out, the evolution of writing provided a cognitive platform for other skills.

It is not reading directly that caused all these skills to flourish, but the secret gift of time to think that lies at the core of the reading brain's design was an unprecedented impetus for their growth.
She touches a bit on the implications of online reading and changes to come, but not enough. It's a hot topic.

In July 2008 the New York Times published the first in a series of articles looking at how the Internet and other technological and social forces are changing the way people read. See Literacy Debate: Online, R U Really Reading?

To accompany it, they also set up a Web Extra: Further Reading about Reading, with links to other interesting articles, such as Slate magazine's Lazy Eyes: How We Read Online (June 2008) and The Atlantic Monthly article in the July/August issue,Is Google Making Us Stupid?: What the internet is doing to our brains.


More recently, the Chronicle of Higher Education weighed in with Online Literacy is a Lesser Kind: Slow reading counterbalances Web skimming, which argues that "we must recognize that screen scanning is but one kind of reading, a lesser one, and that it conspires against certain intellectual habits requisite to liberal-arts learning."


21st Century Focus at Conferences... near and far...

Hands On: Literacy in the 21st Century Classroom and Library is the one-day conference our Singapore international school librarian network is putting on Saturday, 15 November 2008 at the Australian International School Singapore. It's modeled on the Teach IT conference of the IT educator network, which was offered in November 2005 and 2007. Note that anyone is welcome to attend, whether you work in Singapore or not.

We're still at the Call for Workshops stage (until Sep. 30th). Topics can cover all forms of literacy, whether visual, digital, information, critical, mathematical, historical, scientific, political, media, cultural, spatial, social, ethical, or the traditional textual. We especially welcome workshops with a "hands-on" component or practical application of theory.

Wish I could have attended the Learning 2.0 conference up in Shanghai this week, but with a new campus we were in lock-down mode for the month of September. Others, from our old campus, did get to go, e.g., Ben Morgan gave a workshop on Creating a 21st Century Learning Environment in Your School: From Strategic Vision to Reality (his slide presentation and handouts are available for download from that link page). As IT director, his take is the big picture and I appreciate we've come a long way, however, I still chafe at StudyWiz and its inability to let people roam around and see what other teachers are doing. It's structure is basically silos, or, what happens in your classroom stays in your classroom. It may suit secondary, but not primary. Though we at the East Campus are trying to find ways to be as open as possible, using the StudyWiz junior interface.

Roaming around the Learning 2.0 conference ning, "21st Century" jumps out as a major buzzword. Note these workshop sessions:
Kim gave a workshop at the Teach-IT conference last November here in Singapore and her school, ISB (International School of Bangkok), is pursuing 21st century goals with a passion. See, for example, their ongoing professional development wiki, 21st Century Literacy, complete with minutes of meetings, teams, projects, resources, etc.

Michael Wesch, Media Literacy, and Classroom Portals

Michael Wesch is a professor of digital ethnography who has learned both from his students and with his students. His videos -- A Vision of Students Today, The Machine is Us/ing Us, and Information R/evolution -- are well known.

Over the summer he did two major presentations, with overlapping content, summarizing his work with students and providing a good overview of the cultural history of YouTube and the role of digital media in learning. He rebuts the digital native/immigrant distinction, saying we're all natives now in this rapidly changing digital environment. He also confirms that while students have been exposed to a lot of media, it does not follow that they are media literate.

One was "An anthropological introduction to YouTube" given at the Library of Congress, June 23, 2008.

The other, "A Portal to Media Literacy" or "Michael Wesch on the Future of Education", was presented at the University of Manitoba on June 17, 2008. This is the one I recommend for teachers, as it was aimed at educators. Wesch has only been teaching for four years and the story of his own learning path is fascinating. (NB: it runs for about an hour, so get a glass of wine or a cappuccino in hand before you start.)

Wesch keeps asking, how can we create students who create meaningful connections? How do we create significance?

He offers this wonderful quote from Barbara Harrell Carson (1996, Thirty Years of Stories):
Students learn what they care about from people they care about and who, they know, care about them.
He discusses first finding a grand narrative to provide context and relevance (i.e., semantic meaning, or a big picture), then creating a learning environment that values and leverages the learners themselves (i.e., personal meaning) -- doing both in a way that realizes and leverages the existing media environment. He asks, how do we move students from being knowledgeable to being knowledge-able?

Wesch uses Netvibes to provide a platform for student participation: Mediated Cultures: Digital Ethnography at Kansas State University

On a much smaller scale, for much younger students, Keri-Lee and I are playing around with Pageflakes to create a portal for our primary school students. My plan is to make a separate Library tab on the page.

Self-Organizing Learning

It's not just a new school year, but also a new colony of a school, that makes me interested in people uncovering new patterns of learning in children, e.g., how they learn without any teachers involved.

Sugata Mitra is behind the "Hole in the Wall" project in India where kids were given access to a screen and a keypad and the internet -- and left to learn it by themselves. In his TED talk -- Can Kids Teach Themselves? -- he also addresses the role teacher attitudes play in kids' learning.

Different research -- this time on teenagers who have plenty of quality access to the internet -- reveals the same self-organizing learning at work, thanks to videogames.

I was trying to think about how to watch students learn something technical on their own but in groups (a la Sugata Mitra's experience). Then suddenly there it was, happening in front of me. Keri-Lee teaches ICT in the other end of the resource center and she was busy helping one student at a terminal. Meanwhile, another child had got hold of the interactive whiteboard pen and was experimenting with whatever had been left up on the screen. Three or four students clustered around, shouting out suggestions of what to press and what to try. Made me think we should leave it up running every break and lunchtime, just to let that group learning continue.

It also made me think about how best to introduce our new library search catalog, when it's ready to go. Might just force them to work in groups of four (even though we have enough terminals for a one-to-one session) and make it a treasure hunt with no instructions, e.g., you have 20 minutes to see how many different things you can do with the new online catalog.

The actual, not the virtual - or the love (ideally) inherent in classroom teaching

Classroom teaching is a physical, breath-based, eye-to-eye event.
It is not built on equipment or the past.
It is not concerned about the future.
It is in existence to go out of existence.
It happens and then it vanishes.
Classroom teaching is our gift.
It’s us; it’s this.
Listening to Margaret Edson talk about her love of classroom teaching, it's not hard to understand her success as a playwright ("Wit" won the 1999 Pulitzer Prize and was filmed in 2001 by Mike Nichols, a movie the critic Roger Ebert recently mentioned as one that hurt too much to watch now that he's had cancer himself).

Don't just read her speech -- watch her perform it. Her delivery is dramatic, poetic, and funny. (I've already suggested her as a speaker for a TED conference.)

Her emphasis on the importance of the face-to-face interaction between teachers and students reminds me of one of my favorite poems -- "Did I Miss Anything" by Tom Wayland -- subtitled, "Question frequently asked by students after missing a class".

Edson spoke at Commencement Day at Smith College this past May -- her alma mater, and mine, which is how I came across her speech -- in one of those usually boring email bulletins. Such graduation addresses aren't always so memorable, though two others I've bookmarked are: JK Rowling on "The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination" at Harvard this year, and the comic writer David Sedaris at Princeton back in 2006.

Rowling's comments on the benefits of failure -- real failure -- makes me think of the need to welcome and recognize risk in our lives (read The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb).

Similarly, her comments on imagination -- that "what we achieve inwardly will change outer reality" -- reinforce Edson's message that it's the journey, not the arrival, that counts in life. Edson claims she wrote her Smith college application essay on the theme, via Anne Morrow Lindbergh and Montaigne. I've always preferred Cavafy's expression of it in the poem "Ithaka".

Edson is passionate about her job as a kindergarten teacher and considers giving children the power to read as the best way she can change the world.
"Reading and writing is power--the thing that gives you the most power in your whole life. I like being part of students acquiring that power. I like handing that power over."

On obstacles, cultural and otherwise...

Another video that spiraled round the web (and got so much media attention that the guy has been offered a book contract - to write in these last months before he dies of cancer) is Prof. Randy Pausch's Last Lecture: Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams, given at Carnegie Mellon back in September. Well worth it. (The Wikipedia page on Randy has links to everything -- e.g., listen/read his lecture on Time Management -- sure to make you feel like a sluggard...)

Randy reminds us what the brick walls of life are there for.
The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don't want it badly enough. They're there to stop other people.
On the last day of school I hit a brick wall of sorts -- and what do librarians do when they're feeling low? They go to a library. Nothing like a new book, a new outlook, to perk you up. There I picked up two books, in that serendipitous way, which were particularly apt.

One was The Dip: a little book that teaches you when to quit (and when to stick) (2007) by Seth Godin, marketing guru, author and blogger (see/hear also his recent TED talk).

Godin goes on about why it's best to be number one in whatever niche you find yourself, in this world of a million micromarkets -- to focus on the "short head" rather than the "long tail". That's it's not good enough any more to be well rounded -- you need to persevere and get beyond the Dip, the slump between starting and mastery, between "the artificial screens set up to keep people like you out" [Randy's brick wall] -- because the Dip creates scarcity which creates value. Beat Mediocrity! is his mantra.

The other book -- Avoid Boring People: Lessons from a Life in Science (2007) -- by James Watson, of DNA "double helix" fame -- also talks, in the context of academic politics, about the need to be the best. He laments how for years Harvard, where he was teaching, refused to hire other biologists working at the cutting edge, leaving rival institutions like MIT to scoop up the best geneticists. The reason? Harvard was complacent about already being the best. "Academic institutions do not easily change themselves" is one (not very surprising) lesson he shares.

Back to my world now.... How can we claim to be offering a world-class education if we don't have world-class libraries and information literacy programs? They think our test results are doing just fine, that such things are luxuries. As if results are the only yardstick...

Our stats certainly don't measure up to a top school -- judging by the recently published School Libraries Count! A National Survey of School Library Media Programs 2007 (American Library Association), e.g., in terms of number of qualified teacher-librarians per student, size of the collection per student, spending per student, etc. (The Australian school/library associations are in the process of doing their own survey -- and I look forward to seeing their numbers.)

But, then, I must remember "culture codes" (again, see The Culture Code (2006) by Clotaire Rapaille) come into play. What is the code for "school library" in different cultures? and how does that affect the position of libraries in international schools?

We are a British heritage school and the UK simply does not have a strong tradition of school librarianship. According to a CILIP survey, less than 30% of secondary schools in England are run by qualified librarians, either full or part-time. How many of those qualified librarians are also qualified teachers isn't mentioned (very few, I suspect) -- as school librarians are not expected to be teachers in the UK -- unlike in the US, Australia, NZ, and Canada.

So there is only a limited code for "school librarian" in the UK and no cultural code for "teacher-librarian" (or "school library media specialist", as they're called in the US). It reminds me of Clotaire Rapaille's story of how Nestle came to him for advice when they were having trouble selling instant coffee in Japan -- and he told them there was no cultural code for coffee there, then recommended they establish one by marketing coffee-flavored desserts to children and wait for the kids to grow up.

I need to find a way for my administrators to experience the value added by a secondary school teacher-librarian and a dynamic secondary school library program... to establish a code...

Allan Luke online... and other luminaries in the field of new literacies...

If you're interested in literacies -- critical, new, or multiple -- and you don't know Allan Luke, then please watch this webcast of him speaking about "New Literacies" in Canada in May 2007, hosted by the Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat. (Thanks to Susan Sedro for pointing the link out on her blog, Adventures in Educational Blogging...)

He's a huge presence on the literacy scene -- especially in Australia. See, for example, this list of literacy links, including Allan Luke's Four Resources model, gathered by Rosemary Horton at the P.L. Duffy Resource Centre at Trinity College (Western Australia).

I'm also a fan of various colleagues of his over the years (all connected with Australia or Canada):
It's interesting that Allan Luke has connections to Singapore as well. He worked here for a few years (some time ago) and is the Foundation Dean, Centre for Research in Pedagogy and Practice, National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

In the webcast, Allan Luke mentions Vivian Vasquez -- a name I hadn't come across before in the field of critical literacy. I'm pleased to see she has plenty of podcasts on critical literacy in practice to listen to. Another lead to follow....

How delicious...

del.icio.us is one of those tools I couldn't live without.

In my main (personal/professional) account -- TheLibrarianEdge -- I have over 1800 bookmarks to date, while in the account I recently set up for school -- UWCSEA -- I'm only at a couple of hundred.

I use the school one to collect links for both students and teachers. For instance, on my Grade 3 wiki, there's a page for the current unit of study, Blue Planet, which is about water -- where I have a link to my collection of bookmarks. The distinction between links for students and links for teachers/parents is based on the tags I've assigned. When I find a relevant website, I make "water" one of the tags and if it's particularly good for the students, I make "blueplanet" a tag. That way I can show the kids the "blueplanet" links and the teachers the more complete list tagged "water".

Tag clouds shows the concentration of subjects -- and I've got two bundles of tags on my TheLibrarianEdge account: Social Software and GreenWorld.

Definitely bother to install the buttons to make saving a link just a click away.

How it gets social is via the network feature. In my del.icio.us network, you can see that I watch 19 people's bookmarks. You can also see that I have 40 "fans" -- or people who have added me to their network. Some of the relationships are mutual. And every now and then I check out my fans' bookmarks because I discover new people worth watching.

My network page is, in effect, an inbox of everything that my network has bookmarked recently. So I can watch their activity. This is a wonderful way to spend hours on the internet...