Not So Distant Future

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Not So Distant Future

Where is student voice at SXSWEdu?

March 12, 2014 · No Comments · Web 2.0

studentssxswDuring SXSWEdu, I heard a fascinating panel with Adora Svitak and Nikhil Goyal, along with Charles Tsai and David Cutler .  They were both articulate and passionate, and many participants crowded around to talk to them after their panel(not that they didn’t deserve that attention and interest).   It struck me how often we treat students who present at conferences as celebrities, or like a novelty.

And yet students are the very individuals that we are at SXSW Edu (or any ed conference) to discuss, presumably.   As teachers, we often resent it when administrators or the legislature makes decisions about what is best for teachers or education without including our voices.   But are we, at conferences like SXSWEdu, including student voices?   Not as novelties but as a central part of the wheel of attendees?


Nikhil Goyal

When we only have a few students doing presentations, I’ve noticed they become like celebrities with audience members crowding around them, following their tweets, etc.  We do need to hear their voices and support students who are making change efforts.  But is the celebrity level of attention that fair to those students as young people?  Are we so eager for a new voice that we fetish-ize them?

If we as adults are excited about their work, are we giving it so much attention that we squelch what they are doing or hold them in some kind of “statis”?    How do we be mindful of them as people who are growing, and as students, just like students who might be in our own classrooms?  Are we practicing an ethic of care?


Jack Andraka

That being said, it seems like one path to addressing the issue(aside from being more mindful of our own reactions as educators) is to increase the student presence at conference like SXSWEdu.

What can we do?

Zak Malumed, (founder of Student Voice) and I debated a few strategies for increasing student voice at SXSWEdu on Twitter.  As a community of educators, there are things we can do to make student presence the norm, not the exception. (and this is true of other conferences as well, like ISTE).

–1.  Reach out to the board of directors of SXSWEdu.  Zak tweeted, “How about getting students on the advisory board?”  Excellent idea, but I think we need multiple students, including a few from the Austin area.   Having just one student who is of “celebrity status” may lead to the same elevation of status.  So while even one voice would be better than none, I think it is important to be sure that a diversity of voices are present on the SXSWEdu advisory board and in sessions.

–2.  As educators, propose panel sessions for SXSWEdu  that include both students and teachers.   We had a panel from our district three years ago that included a student as just a natural part of the panel to share feedback on our iPad implementation and having the mix of student/edtech/teacher feedback made it a richer panel.

–3.  Encourage students we know to submit presentation proposals for SXSWEdu.

–4.  Host a brainstorming Twitter chat session or some Google Hangouts exploring what we as attendees would like to learn from our students and what would our students like to share or contribute or learn?  Maybe a #stuvoice chat or #edchat could explore these questions to help refine the sorts of sessions that would be beneficial.

–5.  Because SXSWEdu specifically brings in a blend of entrepreneurs and policy makers and educators, considering how the student voice fits into that mix might be an issue the advisory board could study/contemplate.

–6.  Consider adding a student “startup” camp/session for students to attend, or a LaunchEdu type of session specifically for students.  Contemplate having more students invited into the Playground area, possibly.

–7.  Consider how students can participate in vendor lounges or sessions as well, because their input on products can be very authentic.  The Google lounge had students participating in a few sessions sharing how they were using Google Apps.  While it has to be carefully constructed to honor the independent relationship of the students, it is another possible way students could be involved in subtle ways.

Just like SXSW film fosters student voice with their film contest, and SXSW music embraces voices from startups to corporate names, SXSWEdu has a significant chance to involve the most important voice in the education conversation — that of our students.





Designing a space? First figure out your intentions.

February 11, 2014 · 1 Comment · Web 2.0

imagination sxswMany of us are reconsidering our library/learning spaces and how they can better fit the needs of our students and schools.   But before we start buying furniture or retrofitting our rooms, we need to establish our intentions for the space.   A well-designed space works because all the pieces of it serve intentional purposes — purposes that are matched to those who use the space.  It means, in a classroom or library, meeting the many “intentions” that make it flexible throughout the given day or year.

As we rethink what we want our classroom instruction to look like or what we want our libraries to do, unearthing our needs and intentions is critical.  What if we were designing for curiosity and “wonder” as Christian Long and David Jakes pondered at Educon 2.6 in Philly, for example?  What does that intention look like?

At TCEA recently, I shared some resources that can help us unravel those intentions and needs more clearly.   Many are gathered from the excellent work of Cannon Design, Third Teacher, Fielding International, and Edutopia.

Using critical friends to come in and observe our space in action, using sticky notes to identify obstacles in our rooms/libraries, including students in visual brainstorming, or interviewing students are all strategies that help us expand our thoughts on what our learning space can accomplish.  What are other ways to listen to our students?  Michelle Cooper, a librarian in Henderson ISD gave her students blank paper and had them sketch what they thought their library space could be;  our middle school teacher Tana Fiske listened to student concerns and set them on the real world task of redesigning their classroom.

As we approach reinventing our spaces, Melanie Kahl, from Edutopia’s REMAKE project, asks us, “How can we channel the optimism of a designer, the resourcefulness of a hacker, and the playfulness of a maker? I love the word optimism here–we have to suspend constraints and believe in the possible in order to allow our creativity to blossom.  We have to be able to be playful in our approach to reinventing our spaces.

At the end of the TCEA session, we added to a Google Doc list of resources that have inspired me by crowdsourcing a few more.   Feel free to add resources that have inspired YOU to the Google Doc as well!  And be sure to check out the Edutopia REMAKE classroom redesign video for an inspiring example of how intentions lead to a beautiful (and inexpensive) classroom redesign.

How do we dig deep into what our intentions (and our students’ needs) are?  Hopefully these strategies and sources of inspiration (below) will help you begin that journey.


Intention and Learning Space …

More PowerPoint presentations from C Foote


Celebrating 10 years of Edublog awards!

December 1, 2013 · No Comments · Web 2.0

The Edublog Awards are here and it represents a decade of celebrating educational blogs.   Why are the awards important?  Because in the days when we used to have to fight to have blogs even allowed in our schools, Edublogs was there, encouraging us to write.   And now students and teachers and librarians are blogging and celebrating sharing their work and ideas, and Edublogs has helped nurture that community.  So thanks, Edublogs!

Awards_350px_02-1dcdiipI only have time to make a few nominations but I want to recognize the work of some of my colleagues:

  • Best individual blog –Buffy Hamilton– The Unquiet Librarian–Buffy’s work delves deeply into issues concerning librarians and teachers, and she has been a leader in sharing best practices with others in a deep and reflective way.
  • Best class blog–Lisa Carnazzo’s class website – At Tech Forum, I heard Lisa’s first grader’s share how they are using Twitter and technology in their classroom–quite an inspiration.
  • Best ed tech / resource sharing blog — TechChef4U — not just because I work with Lisa Johnson, but because her site shares tools and techniques galore
  • Best library / librarian blog — Joyce Valenza– NeverEndingSearch – Joyce shares what’s new and how to incorporate it into instruction faster than anyone;  her work is of such value to the library profession
  • Best individual tweeter — Kathy Ishizuka —  constantly shares resources for librarians, edtech links, and more.
  • Best twitter hashtag — #tlchat
  • Best free web tool — Thinglink
  • Best open PD / unconference / webinar series  – TL Virtual Cafe library webinar — has encouraged so many librarians to join the online community.
  • Best educational use of a social network  –  Edchats in general have become a great way to converse, meet other colleagues–my favorites–#edchat #txed #tlchat #txlchat
  • Best mobile app – Subtext – allows you to embed conversations into a text
  • Lifetime achievement–Joyce Valenza– NeverEndingSearch  — Joyce provides constant leadership, creativity, and support for other librarians, and has been a real leader in edtech for the field, and deserves many kudos!  She’s blogged, create wikis galore, led the creation of the TLVirtual Cafe, holds unconferences and constantly asks why and how.  She is very deserving of the recognition.


A day at the White House

November 22, 2013 · 4 Comments · Web 2.0

presidential photoWhat I want to say here is one simple word….yoweeee.  But for those of you who would like to know what a day is like when you get honored as a Champion of Change by the White House, here goes.

Sitting in the airport in Atlanta on the way to Washington, I overheard the President’s speech at the Kennedy Honors.  He spoke of Kennedy’s love for the human spirit, both those “heralded” and “unheralded.”  It struck me that the Champions of Change program is all about honoring those who might be unheralded, who do the daily work they do.

Teachers–be they librarians or in the classroom, are too often unheralded.  So while the Champions of Change acknowledges the work of some of us, we really represent the hard work and dedication of so many teachers and librarians around the country (and the globe) who are trying to afford their students the opportunity to dream, explore, and create.

Any one of us can lead–any teacher– any librarian–any administrator and any student, by believing that we individually have the power to make a difference and that we have a voice.  I believe that being a connected educator gives us that voice, amplifies that voice, and is a great democratizer.

The work we do is important, each of us.  So keep at it.

Mental Snapshots

Touring the White House for the first time
Bumping into honorees Bud Hunt and Todd Nesloney in line and taking each other’s photos next to the White House
Seeing the “first dogs” in the hallway
Looking at the views from the White House, the Kennedy painting, the White House easter eggs
My nephew hanging out on the floor at the White House because he was tired from our flight delay (I brought my school-aged nephews and my sisters, and of course Gregg, as guests)
Awesome hot chocolate to wake him up at Hamilton’s
Lining up to enter the Eisenhower Executive Building

and other memories–


Taking a photo with and meeting Valerie Jarrett, Obama’s right hand woman
Meeting Gene Sperling
Hearing Bess Evans, who organized the event, say that we are having an unusually special guest, the President of the United States
(The President evidently rarely is able to attend this event, and this was the first one where the Press came.)
Hearing President Obama speak
The President inviting us on stage to meet us and take a photo
The President inviting all the students there on stage and him shaking hands with my nephew!
Him telling me he loves Austin (we Austinites know that!)
Being on the panels and listening to the other panel because it is cool how many diverse things we are doing
Taking photos by the Presidential Seal afterwards with Bud Hunt and his wife
Wandering our way out of the building, finding bathrooms, and then suddenly dumping out on the street in the real world, dazed
And then all of our batteries dying (six phones, no batteries left) just as the first tweets were arriving
Finding the Woodward Table where the bar has plugs beneath the counter and finally charging up and getting to hear from friends and see photos
Having donuts to finish the day and then a long walk on the Mall

DC night view Vision Matters

It does mean a great deal getting honored.  Sometimes being connected is so much a way of how I do my life, that I forget the years of effort that have gone into it.   And it has meant so much the support of my colleagues and I appreciate that more than I can say.  I was worried people would think, why her?  And maybe some did.  But all I can do is just be here as one representative of the work of so many people.   But it also felt so incredible to be honored for the work I have done.  There have been obstacles and email debates but also great support and inspiration from within my own district and it is really about the tribe that moves things forward.

It also meant a lot to me hearing the encouragement that  FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel gave connected educators, as well as that of Celia Munoz, Domestic Policy Council director, who sincerely encouraged us to get even more people connected.  They and Gene Sperling and the President seem to “get it” in terms of the great gift that access and tools can provide for our students and that IS a key to moving our schools forward.

Some words of thanks

I appreciate all of my colleagues (my staff holding the fort down back home, all of our teachers, and the vision of our leaders and awesome instructional tech department).

I had decided to bring my nephews and three Musketeers sisters(Thanks Nancy and Joanne)  because I thought this could be an experience of a lifetime for them.  I think it turned out to be just that.

Thanks for sharing this journey with me.  And though this sounds like I am speechifying, I did want to thank my parents for always showing me that it is never too late to learn new things.

And last of all, while I am doling out thanks, I really want to thank my husband, Gregg La Montagne, who tweets right alongside me, supports me, is friends with my colleagues, and supports the time I spend blogging and writing and hanging out online, and whose idea of a fun evening is a glass of wine and learning how to play Space Team or fantasy football together.  Thanks for tweeting me across the living room of (3)photo (2)blurry president group

portrait champions


Connected Educators Rock!

November 19, 2013 · 4 Comments · Web 2.0

champions jpgI’m so excited and amazed to officially announce that I have been selected as a White House Champion of Change for Connected Educator Month!  The recognition honors educators who are taking creative approaches with technology “to enhance learning for students.”

The ten of us selected were among thousands of nominees (all very deserving), which also rocks my world.  We get to be part of a panel on Thursday in D.C.  talking about our work and the work of connected educators.  And in the connected way of things, I am thrilled to actually know four of the people because of Twitter.

I feel so absolutely thrilled to get to share all the powerful work that so many of my colleagues do.   I know how hard so many of us work to share the power of connections with our faculty and with our profession in general, and I want to do my best to represent that.    And as the only librarian there, I especially want to support the many ways librarians are taking the lead in schools in getting students and teachers connected.   I’m so thrilled, too, to just celebrate all the people I’ve met and learned from all these years.  These connections we build make our work so much more thoughtful and powerful, and inform our work in our own schools.

To be specific, connecting is the way that I (and many educators) work.   I’m learning from the first tweet of the morning until the last webinar at night how to be a better educator and librarian.  I’ve built friendships, traveled to new places, found new passions and interests, engaged with our students and teachers, and deepened my own learning.   I want the same for all of our nation’s students and teachers.  They all deserve those opportunities to explore, learn, and grow beyond the borders of wherever they live.

To be honest, there are so many people I know that are doing so many interesting and good things, that I initially felt a little embarrassed to be selected.  But I decided that my mission is to go and “represent” on behalf of all the good things that I know are going out there.  I think each of us can give voice to that, and if a larger venue gives it more voice, that is a good thing.

The event is going to be livestreamed (which I am trying not to think about) on Thursday on, and will be available on White’s YouTube channel after that.

I’ll be sharing more details of the trip when I get back, but for now, I just wanted to say, I’m going to the White House!


Get wired at AASL 2013

November 8, 2013 · No Comments · Web 2.0

The conference by, for, and about school librarians is almost here–AASL 2013 in Hartford, CT is next week!

Organizer of the AASL eLearning Commons!Aside from the great authors and sessions that will be there, I’m also hosting the eLearning Commons, where you can drop by to participate in a “how to” tech session and learn a new tool or hang out with colleagues for an informal “meetup”!

The schedule can be found on the AASL Ning or wiki!  (If you are going and haven’t joined the NING, be sure to do that and post your photo!)

And while you are at it, ‘brand” your blog with the great badge that the awesome @daringlibrarian, Gwyneth Jones, created!

Also, don’t forget about the Unconference Friday night from 9-midnight for some late night, snacky kind of learning!  See you there!  Follow the hashtags at #aasl13!


Sending Sacred Cows to Pasture

October 24, 2013 · No Comments · Web 2.0

As part of the fabulous School Library Journal Summit, I presented a “speed talk” on collaboration and librarians(see presentation below).

Personally I find collaboration one of the most challenging aspects of our role as librarians–because collaboration is all about people, change, learning styles and growth.  But as librarians, inviting collaboration and working closely is integral to what we do–improving experiences for students.

As my wise colleague Will Richardson, author of Why School, reminds us–”We need to be connectors first, and content experts second.”   As librarians, our content cannot just be “the library”–our content needs to be the connections we help people make, whether it’s with information, with the world,  with their own power and knowledge, or with one another.

flickr: Rick Harrison

flickr: Rick Harrison

But sometimes, for librarians, that means giving up our sacred cows about the library and about collaboration.   What are our sacred cows about working with others?  Some phrases come to mind–”They should just want to work with us.”  ”Libraries should be a quiet place.”  ”I am the research expert.”  ”They should know what we have to offer.”    We need to reflect on what WE need to rethink in order to be better partners in collaborative relationships.

David Lankes (in his book Atlas of New Librarianship) reminds us that ‘no man is an island.’  No librarian can know everything–we have to be part of a collaborative network of educational professionals.  We have to see the expertise of others, he says, as a resource pool to draw from.

Gary Stager, co-author of Invent to Learn, often reminds audiences “Less Us, More Them,”  or as Mark Ray said at the SLJ Summit, “Librarian less, teach more.”  When we approach problems or challenges, are we thinking of the library first, students first, or teachers first?  Part of being collaborative is realizing we are all in this together.

Our focus has to be on building the “us” around a collaborative community.  David Lankes tells us that our community IS our collection.  Consequently it is incumbent on us to build an invitational environment in the library.

Everything from policies to hosting informal events to creating a welcome physical space for teachers to work in helps create that sense of invitation.  We can reach out to staff, we can collaborate with librarians within our district or beyond our district, and we can reach out beyond traditional library concerns–because first and foremost, we are teachers.  We may find ourselves collaborating with unlikely partners–where some of the richest collaborations happen.

Another part of  building collaborative partnerships is seeking both formal and informal leaders in the building.   And for anyone we want to collaborate with, there has to be a real payoff for them.  What is their intrinsic motivation to collaborate with us?   In his book, Drive, Dan Pink shares a research project with MIT professor Lakhani  in which he discovered that “enjoyment based intrinsic motivation, namely how creative a person feels when working on a project, is the strongest and most pervasive driver.”   Are we creating collaborative moments where teachers (and we) feel creative and effective?

Knowing what our intent IS is an important rudder.  Recently, our  librarians gathered together as a district and created a list of words to describe our mission with students and  then turned it into a wordle.  Our values shine out from this document reminding us of what is important as we develop our policies and processes.

We have to reflect on how we respond to change, Mark Ray’s Vancouver administrative team asked.  Do we complain or do we collaborate together to help the district or campus turn a challenge into a “chopportunity”? (their lovely coined term).


flickr: Hans Splinter

As David Lankes brilliantly points out, building a partnership is a social compact–and social compacts are living, breathing entities.  We have to remember that collaborative partnerships are something we are always building with our teachers and students.

Collaboration is one of the hardest things about our jobs as librarians (or technologists).  It is a source of constant reflection.   But isn’t it time we start putting our “sacred cows” out to pasture, and develop, as Antero Garcia said in his SLJ Summit keynote, a “new model of distribution and relationships”?  I think it is time to try.

Below is the SLJ Summit presentation with more food for thought:


Why we are changing our policy

August 31, 2013 · 3 Comments · Web 2.0

What do our policies say about our beliefs?

During a recent district inservice on school culture, speaker Anthony Muhammad (author of  The Will to Lead, the Skill to Teach)  shared a somewhat disheartening story about  child’s school and how the school’s policy actually worked against their desired goal of getting students to read more library books.  He asked the teacher audience, bewildered, ‘Isn’t a goal of a library to get students to read more?”

That got me thinking.  If our goal is to encourage, inspire, and promote reading, are our policies in school libraries relating to books, promoting that?  In our own district, we have a few policies that came to mind.  One is limiting the numbers of items checked out to K-1 students.  Another is the policy of not checking out more materials to students who have a book overdue.   (Now nevermind for the point of this conversation the fact that as ebooks become more prominent this may become a moot point.)

After Dr. Muhammad’s workshop, at our librarian inservice, I asked our librarians to  spend time brainstorming our core values, and then talking about policies that might not support those values.   We used a Google Doc to brainstorm, and then dumped that into Wordle to pinpoint our more important core values:



This process made manifest that we had some conflicting values–for example, the conflict centers around teaching responsibility (returning overdue books on time)  versus encouraging as much reading as we could.   This exercise of examining our beliefs led to some really interesting conversations among our library grade level teams about a variety of our policies.

It’s Elementary

At the elementary level, we talked about the policy of limiting K-1 students to one book at a time checkouts.  We are in a district where students’ home lives include experience with books and many of our students’ families are public library users.  So why does our school policy assume that they’ve never used library books before, have no idea how to care for them,  or that one book per week is plenty.  If we are really trying to get students enthused about reading and get as many books as possible into their hands, does this fit the bill?   Granted, as one of our elementary librarians pointed out, the k-1 students weren’t totally responsible for their own books before, but is that enough to limit them to just one title?   Perhaps this policy is a hangers-on from library tradition, from “the way it has always been done.”   It gave us a lot to think about, and perhaps some of our elementaries will alter their policies.


At the secondary level, we follow the policy of not allowing an item to be checked out when a previous one is overdue(we don’t charge fines).  Over so many years, I’ve seen disappointed students turned away, who needed a book for class or for free reading, and I’ve felt uncomfortable with it.  Defining our core values together firmed up why I felt that way.  We had a lengthy discussion about possible alternatives, and decided to broaden our policy at the high school.  Students will be able to check out a second book if they have one overdue;  we’ll have a bookmark reminder to slip into the book they do check out, and we will wait until December before final exams to do a “grand reckoning” and collect all overdues that are still outstanding.

If our purpose is to get students reading, to build a positive relationship with them, to support the curriculum, and to stimulate their curiosity, then this little modification seems more in line with those purposes.   Two years ago, we similarly rethought our two week checkout policy–thinking that three weeks to read something is really a more reasonable expectation for our very busy high school students.  We also already allowed unlimited number of items to be checked out(unless students had the dreaded “overdue.”)    Ultimately, if our students get their hands on more books from the library this year, I will feel satisfied that we are addressing our goals.

balance flickr h koppdelaney

Flickr: h.koppdelaney

I know these decisions seem like minutae, particularly to readers who aren’t librarians, but we can take any sort of school policy and wonder if it really is supportive of our core values or if it is just more convenient for the adults involved or just the way it has always been.   Being student centered means advocating for policies that support students and that make sense for students.  It does challenge us to consider our long-held notions.   How do we balance our beliefs with our policies? What is the tension between those things?

I found that identifying our core values as a group first (we included all our librarians and paraprofessionals in this conversation,by the way) and then breaking into mixed grade level teams to discuss our policies with “no judgment” allowed, (sort of a secret guilty pleasure conversation) did help us push our ideas a little more as well as develop more cross-grade level understanding.

So, what are your policies that don’t align with your core values?  Do you know what your core values are?  And are you willing to challenge or rethink one of those policies?  You might be surprised how good it feels.



Slow thinking and research–bridging the gap

July 25, 2013 · 1 Comment · Web 2.0

Are students “satisficing”?

We all, librarians and teachers alike, struggle with how to help our students make more intentional choices when doing research.  (I would argue parents also struggle with this).   In their presentation at ALA13:  ”Friction: Teaching Slow Thinking and Intentionality in Online Research,” research gurus Debbie Abilock and Tasha Bergson-Michelson tackled the challenges we face.

Abilock spoke about interjecting ‘points of friction’ into the research process in order to help students slow down and think more carefully, in order to build their own habits of mind.  Students, she commented, too often are “satisficing“–satisfying themselves with what will suffice rather than what satisfies their curiosity.  (Of course this can be traced to all sorts of things–like lack of engagement with their subject matter to lack of time, etc.)  But nonetheless, it prevents them developing powerful habits around research.

abilockWhat Abilock and Bergson-Michelson both did so powerfully during the workshop was asked the packed audience to drill down deeply into the problems that we see students having.   If students aren’t using peer reviewed journals at the college level, what does that look like?  Why aren’t they?  What are the barriers? What would we like to see students do instead?  Why? Asking ourselves those kinds of questions helps us better support students and understand our own biases and intentions.

Abilock and Bergson asked the participants to get into groups and brainstorm an area of research where we particularly wanted students to SLOW down.  Then we were to be very specific and describe the kinds of BEHAVIORS we see in students related to this area.  That became a very powerful discussion and the notes from each group are here, and well worth a careful read. Groups picked a variety of things, from refining a topic, to reading for information.

What students struggle with (a collaborative brainstorm)

  • Students not being able to articulate their topic
  • Students not understanding the assignment prompt
  • Students not understanding indexing and tagging (This becomes more important as they reach college, too).
  • “Problems of specialization”–Not understanding how to make a topic smaller or broader
  • Getting students to slow down because sometimes teachers want them to hurry up–sometimes the focus is on the product over the process.
  • Unwillingness to stop and modify thesiss
  • Lack of tenacity
  • Changing their topic instead of reframing their search if they aren’t finding relevant information (in real life, you can’t always “change your topic.”)
  • Clicking on sponsored sites and not realizing it
  • Difficulty in articulating research questions
  • Sometimes not seeing the value in multiple points of view or a variety of sources
  • Not realizing that databases can also have bias and they have to understand what the original source of document is
  • Not being able to identify an academic field’s key databases and sources
  • Lack of confidence, embarrassment in admitting what they “don’t know.”
  • Note taking issues prompt cutting and pasting
  • Loss of focus on original purpose–find “keywords” but not relevant
  • Prompts aren’t engaging to students to begin with; not student driven
  • Missing context–students don’t know enough about subject to know key players, know what they don’t know

As I examined each group’s points of concerns, I realized how universal the problems that students encounter are.  How can we partner together, educators, librarians, and parents to help students with these issues?  Participants and the speakers suggested:


flickr photo by (nc)Dave

  • Ask students to envision the perfect article BEFORE they begin to do their research. What words would it have in it?
  • Ask them to sort their questions into “Googleable” and Non-Googleable (re:
  • Ask students to explain their assignment back to you while the teacher is still in the room so you BOTH can check for understanding.
  • Ask students to annotate a search results page (not a website but their list of results).
  • Promote slow reading.  Read aloud to students and ask a student to raise their hand and comment after every sentence.  Promotes slowing down the reading.
  • Have students use a tool like ThingLink to annotate a website they are planning to use.
  • Tap into their visual/nonverbal abilities by having students sketch as part of the note-taking.
  • Work collaboratively with students to develop “rules of thumb” for research
  • Model your research strategies aloud–make your own thinking visible
  • Ask students — what will you look for tomorrow? to promote intentional thinking
  • Design research activities/prompts that are engaging to students and allow choice

Obviously all of these ideas are just the beginnings of a strategic approach to scaffolding students in their research efforts.   The real value in this exercise was drilling down into the questions:


What do these student behaviors LOOK like?  What do we hope they can look like in the future?

As Abilock commented:

 Searching can be a spot of intense creativity.

Thinking of search as an act of creation, not just a means to an end, but something that can be crafted, is all about intentionality of our purposes as educators, too.   How CAN we help our students become “intensely creative” researchers?


Postscript:  For following up on the notion of friction in search, check out a similar Abilock presentation here:


Enabling Better Collaboration – an ISTE conversation

July 7, 2013 · No Comments · Web 2.0

Part of the ISTE conference that I usually enjoy the most is the Unconference,( which after various name changes is  currently known as HackED Con), typically held on the Saturday prior to ISTE at the conference center.  If you aren’t familiar with the unconference concept, it is an all day, all voluntary conference organized by the conference attendees, who upon arriving, suggest and vote on sessions for the day.

A series of conversations were selected for the Saturday, including personalized learning, makerspaces, global collaborations, etc.

ISTE2013However, one of the wonderful things about the unblogger concept is that it’s okay to find your own conversations–and as the day wore on, I felt a need to talk with some of the other wise educators there about something many of us struggle with–how to improve our collaborations with other teachers.

We gathered a little informal group under the stairwell to brainstorm some ways to make our collaborations more meaningful.  Our conversation revolved around both leadership and marketing as tools for improving collaboration.

Scott McLeod pointed out Daniel Pink’s delineation of leaders and informal leaders.  It’s both important to own our power as either one, and also reach out to the leaders, both formal and informal, on our campuses.  That is something many of us are adept at–identifying the informal leaders–but McLeod pointed out that part of leadership is making sure the “change” people “win.”

We talked about barriers to collaboration, including the ubiquitous complaint that teachers don’t have enough time to collaborate.  But someone rightfully pointed out that people will make time for what they think is important.  So is there some way we are not meeting the needs of teachers as either technologists or librarians that will cause them to create time for the important work we do in supporting student literacy?

It became clear during the conversation that perhaps we need to do a better job of figuring out what teachers’ needs are.  We can presume as former teachers that we know their needs, and perhaps we are aware of some of them, but we need to take the conversation straight to teachers.  Whether we hold formal conversations with each department or grade level team, or with individual teachers informally, we need to talk to them about what ISN’T working, but also get their feedback on what WILL work.  Just being willing to have those conversations can spark more connections, too;  it demonstrates our openness to change and to really being a good resource for teachers.  This might be difficult–and it may require setting our egos aside while we build some consensus.   I do think our own egos get in the way of good collaborations and when we try to make it more about the students rather than our own sacred cows, that can shift the tone of the conversation and shift our own thinking about it.

In a session at ALA13 entitled “Storytelling Mojo” GetStoried CEO Michael Margolis pointed out some obstacles to people embracing change, which I find pertinent to thinking about collaboration.  (In a future blog post, I’ll elaborate on Margolis’ excellent session on story). First off, audiences may think that if we are encouraging change, we are repudiating their past way of doing things, which is a turn off.   Another issue is that they cannot find themselves in our story — does it really connect with who they are?  (That is why it is important to understand the real needs of our teachers and students).

flickr photo by giulia.forsythe; from Wendy Burston of Univ. of Fraser Valley

flickr photo by giulia.forsythe;                                                      from Wendy Burton of Univ. of Fraser Valley

We also need to look at our collaborative efforts as a story we need to tell.   Whether in larger or smaller schools, we need to not be shy about publishing our successful collaborations.  I realized that while I publicize our collaborations in a very general way (listing what units I worked with in our end-of-year report, for example), we need to do it in a more specific and story-telling way that is engaging to both our other teachers and administrators and that would invite them into collaborations themselves.

Maybe they simply don’t know what a collaboration with a librarian or technologist looks like in action.  Maybe one story can can spark ideas for another collaboration. It’s another way to create an open door atmosphere.  IT’s important to tell our own stories–I think when we pull in outside examples, while they can be powerful sources of inspiration, they may also not be a story teachers can “see themselves in.”  Stories from our own schools are more relatable as starting points.

Which brought our discussion to administrators–do our principals know our goals for students and need for teacher partnerships?  Have we had  some good conversation with them about the collaborations we are trying to create?  Principals can help create the environment where collaboration is encouraged and expected (in a good way), but are they aware this is an issue we are even struggling with?

At a less traditional school like Science Leadership Academy, a principal like Chris Lehmann is a natural part of those instructional conversations.   But that’s not true at every school, particularly larger ones, so talking with our principals about our instructional hopes (keeping it focused on why this benefits STUDENTS, not the library or technology) helps them become powerful partners with us.  Having created actual stories of our successful collaborations can be a helpful piece in this conversation.

To improve collaboration, a summary of the ideas we brainstormed:

  1. Identify the formal/informal leaders – reach out to both.
  2. Listen to teachers (and students) about what their needs are.  Ask them what WILL work, not just what doesn’t work.
  3. Understand that people will make time if they believe the collaboration is important to their work with students.
  4. Set aside our library and technology egos–it isn’t about us or “the library” or “the technology.”
  5. Tell our collaboration stories to our own community.  Be specific.
  6. Ask – “Can my teachers see themselves in this story?”
  7. Communicate your goals for students and teachers to your principal and administrator.  Ask them for help.

To that I would add:

8.  Make sure this is about the students, not about ourselves.

Thanks to all of you in the HackED conversation–good food for thought as we begin thinking about our next school year!