Sunday, September 27, 2015

It's not too late to promote Banned Books Week!

Banned Books Week begins September 27, 2015, and while many school librarians are ready to promote censorship awareness, some of us are still scrambling to get ready. This happens every year, and it seems ludicrous that we all individually work so hard to develop our own thing while we could be pooling our efforts into a collective project with far and lasting reach.

Enter the Challenged Books Slide Show. Admittedly, it doesn't sound inspirational, but it is a conversation starter. Let me explain what it is, and why I am working on it today.

This project began when a fellow Connecticut librarian posted a question to our listserv community via email in the first week of September.

After many years in a middle school, I'm in a high school for Banned Books Week for the first time. I'd love to hear some ways you've celebrated this week in your high school. I'm going to meeting with the English Department on Tuesday to talk about doing something during Banned Books Week with their classes and it would be great if I could impress them by coming in with a list of excellent ideas!​

David Bilmes

I excitedly replied.

OOH! You just inspired me to think of something new. Since we are just getting started with our makerspace, I might set up a collage table with color printouts of the 100 most challenged book covers, glue, scissors, and butcher block paper. Maybe they'll come up with something creative we can display in the school.
Just a thought...

And the month flew by....

I've had my crafts table project idea on my to do list for three weeks, but it is not in place for tomorrow morning. I did start collecting the book cover images though. The American Library Association (ALA)'s Office of Intellectual Freedom is the best "list collector" for Banned Books Week. My favorite is the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books from 2000-2009. There is a 20th century list, but most our students were born after 2000, so I  am not sure that is as relevant for them as the post-2000 list. I found that GoodReads was the best resource to find images of consistent size and quantity images, so I created a list there.

I started a spreadsheet, which would allow us to sort and manipulate information, but I didn't think that was classroom friendly.

This post, by the way, offers a glimpse into my time management issues. You see? I was just going to print pictures, but already, I created a list in GoodReads, and an unfinished spreadsheet. Printed pictures? Nope. Still don't have those.

In populating the spreadsheet, it occurred to me that it would be a good idea to include the
  • year of publication
  • page count
  • interest level
  • reading level
  • Lexile number
  • content concerns
  • description
I was really liking the spreadsheet idea, but that did not solve my picture problem. I still needed printable pictures for my makerspace idea. Printing the GoodReads List did not work - even in PDF. For some reason, titles overlapped, plus they were too small. So I decided to create a slide show, and print that. Then it occurred to me that a slideshow might be a nice instructional tool to pass along to others like David who sent the original listserv post, so I added place holders for all the columns on the spreadsheet next to each book cover image - year of publication: page count,   interest level, reading level, Lexile number, content concerns, and description.

Well, five days later, I am still trying to populate the slideshow, and today is the first day of Banned Books Week. It occurred to me on my way to the School Library Journal Leadership Institute here in Seattle that this was a perfect project to crowdsource, and this was the perfect venue to enlist collaborators. So...

That was a very long-winded request for help. If 20 school librarians tackle 5 slides, we can collectively knock off the project pretty quickly. We could have this thing ready for use in schools everywhere when students arrive on campus in the morning. Are you in?  

The resources are on the last slide (I posted them below). Use the table of contents on slide #3 to navigate.

"Book Reviews." Common Sense Media. 2015. Accessed September 25, 2015.
In a Banned Websites Awareness Day (BWAD) webinar for AASL last week, a participant cautioned me against recommending Common Sense Media curriculum for digital citizenship lessons. She explained  their book reviews were "conservative". I don't see them as conservative as much as informational. They do feature content concerns, but I think this is to help teachers and parents avoid making uninformed choices. It helps them preview resources responsibly, and preview is essential. I used this resource for the "content concerns."

"Quick Book Search." Lexile. 2015. Accessed September 25, 2015.
Self-explanatory - use search field in top right-hand corner to find Lexile number.

"Titlewave: Library, Classroom, & Digital Solutions." Follett Learning. 2015. Accessed September 25, 2015.
I happened to use this resource, but any content aggregator would work. I located the year of publication, reading and interest levels. 

Chris Harris loved the idea of keeping the spreadsheet. He thought that provided a rich pool of instructional opportunities involving the analysis of quantitative data, so I embedded it in slide number 2. 

When I pitched the idea, Elissa Malespina and Jane Lofton jumped on board. Thank you!

If anyone develops a lesson plan out of this instructional tool, please include a link on the lesson plan slide. Use the table of contents on slide #3 to navigate.

Monday, September 14, 2015

September 30, 2015 is Banned Websites Awareness Day #BWAD

Upcoming related events: webinar featuring Doug Johnson and Joyce Valenza Wed. 9/16 5PM, Eastern
AASL webinar 9/23/2015 7PM, Eastern

From AASL’s Banned Websites Awareness Day Committee

It’s happened to all of us-- we’re at school trying to access the perfect website for a learning activity at school and.... it’s blocked.  Now what?

While banning books is commonly recognized by librarians as detrimental to the student educational experience, restricted website access isn’t on everyone’s radar.  That’s where Banned Websites Awareness Day comes in. The American Association of School Librarians (AASL) designated the Wednesday of the American Library Association’s (ALA) Banned Books Week as Banned Websites Awareness Day (BWAD, pronounced bee-wad). Its purpose is to raise awareness of how overly restrictive Internet filtering can impede student learning by blocking access to legitimate educational websites and participatory learning tools (including social media).

Overly restrictive Internet filtering is often the result of earnest efforts to comply with the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) or similar legislation, but the legislation itself is frequently misunderstood or misinterpreted. In a nutshell, CIPA requires that schools and libraries receiving E-Rate funding “block or filter Internet access to pictures that are: (a) obscene; (b) child pornography; or (c) harmful to minors (for computers that are accessed by minors).” CIPA does not enumerate a specific list of sites, and thus the decision-making authority is given to local agencies (school districts, libraries, etc.).  In 2014, ALA Washington’s Office for Information and Technology Policy (OITP) developed a helpful white paper to examine CIPA’s decade-long impact, Fencing Out Knowledge that delineated four recommendations to ALA:
  • Increase awareness of the spectrum of filtering choices.
  • Develop a toolkit for school leaders.
  • Establish a digital repository of Internet filtering studies.
  • Conduct research to explore the educational uses of social media platforms and assess the impact of filtering in schools.

In 2012, Lightspeed Systems, a school web filtering and mobile management company, published Web Filtering and Schools: Balancing IT and Educator Needs, a guide that explains in layman’s terms what CIPA does and does not require, filtering pros and cons, and best practices.  The guide’s 10 Facts About CIPA and Web Filtering points out that commonly blocked sites such as YouTube are not restricted by CIPA.

Filtering on school networks is an issue of crucial importance.  According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), CIPA itself charges schools with educating students about respectful and safe online interaction on social networking sites.  Opportunities for authentic digital literacy instruction arise when students access social networking sites in educational settings.  Permissive website access at school allows students who don’t have home Internet access to find essential resources for their personal and educational development, narrowing the digital divide that these students already may be experiencing.  Most importantly, the more openly that students can access the internet at school, the more prepared students will be when they are using the Internet independently outside of the school network.

There is plenty that you can do to bring awareness to the importance of Internet filtering, and BWAD is the perfect time to take action--small or large.

  • Contribute data:
    • Visit on your school network and click “Test Sites” to contribute data to the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University’s real-time, international record of Internet blockages.  While you’re there, take a moment to check out that live data for yourself-- it’s fascinating!  Here’s a quick link to the At-A-Glance page for the United States to get you started.
    • With your administrator’s permission, design and distribute a survey at your school about which Internet sites teachers and students feel would add to their educational opportunities.  Share the results with your school community as you and your administrator(s) deem appropriate.

  • Educate students:  Teach a lesson in your classroom or library about filtering.  Here are a few lesson plans to get you started.
    • Teaching About Freedom of Speech on the Internet, hosted by the American Bar Association and developed by a professor and student at Georgetown University.
      • Deals specifically with Internet filters in schools, school libraries and public libraries. For high school.
    • What Filters Hide: A Lesson, hosted by JEA’s Scholastic Press Rights, written by Lori Keekley and posted by JBowen.
      • Students research commonly filtered sites and interview the “gatekeeper” at their school. Linked to the Common Core Standards for high school.
    • The following sites have amazing, free digital literacy resources-- nothing quite yet on filtering specifically, but we wouldn’t be surprised if filtering lessons turn up soon!

  • Raise Awareness: Observe BWAD on September 30, 2015 and Electronic Frontier Foundation’s 404 Day on April 4, 2016 in your school and/or library with special activities, announcements, displays, promotional materials, and more.  It’s a perfect opportunity for a student committee to take the reins!

  • Update Selection Policies:  Collaborate with teachers, administrators, and other stakeholders to add Internet resources to your school library’s selection/reconsideration policy.  Gain their support with a positive and informed approach!

As champions of digital literacy, librarians are ideally situated to open this important discussion.  Let’s work together with our school communities towards broad and responsible access to educational online resources while at school.

The Federal Trade Commission provides a consumer guide to CIPA on their website. For a brief guide to CIPA’s requirements by the FCC, please click here and for ALA’s legal history of CIPA, please click here.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Video instruction

I look forward to talking about using video for instruction on Wednesday, February 25, at 5PM, Eastern Time. It’s something that has become such an integral part of my practice that I don’t often pause to think about how it impacts teaching and learning at New Canaan High School.

One of the things I love about doing these webinars is that it makes me pause and reflect on our program, and how to improve it. You will often hear me say in a webinar, “I’m not too proud of this…” or, “I wish I could figure out how to…” It’s in those moments that you all pitch in, and as a community we develop solutions to the challenges we face.  I love that.

So I’ve outlined the webinar to answer the whos, whats, whens, wheres, whys, and hows of video instruction. I realized a while back that I needed help with the how part. I know how we use video at New Canaan High School, but there are so many other creative uses! So I reached out to someone with great ideas. Emerging tech regulars may remember that I interviewed Emily Valenza in May 2014 for There's an App for That! 50 apps in 60 minutes webinar, and Emily shared her use of Koma for a video project with her elementary students at Kingsley Montessori School in Boston, MA, where she heads up the arts department and teaches K-6 students. I interviewed Emily again for this webinar, and I will include what she shared in Wednesday’s webinar. I am confident that you will love her creative ideas. Here is that interview: Webinar #47 - 50 apps in 60 minutes - Emily Valenza from michelle luhtala on Vimeo.

In the meantime, I thought I would share a few great instructional video projects. They follow in no particular order:
Printz Honor winning author, Vlog Brothers co-creator, and Nerdfighter extraordinaire John Green, launched the Crash Course site three years ago. My colleagues on the New Canaan High School faculty  - several who had (sadly) never heard of John Green – absolutely LOVE these videos!

New Canaan High School students created this amazingly powerful anti-cyber bullying video. Wow!

Emily attended the Online Education Symposium for Independent Schools in Los Angeles this January, where she saw Stephanie Castle, an AP Biology teacher at United Nations International School (UNIS) in New York City, present her use of video as an assessment tool. This inspired Emily to adapt the project for her learners, and here is the result.

hundertwasser demo - full from Kingsley Montessori on Vimeo.

A few weeks ago, I was lunching with the New Canaan High School social studies department (my lunch peeps), and I was delighted to hear them discussing their use of Amy Burvall’s Lady Gaga/French Revolution video. I spent some time with Amy a few years back at Alan November’s Building Learning Communities Conference in Boston, and I reached out right away to relay the conversation. Here is the video in question.

Finally, I am sharing a video I use with my juniors. This is a great sub-plan lesson for any second semester social studies teacher whose students are working on the research paper. It is accompanied by this in-class activity.

I hope to “see you” on Wednesday!

Friday, February 6, 2015

Questioning Authority Control

This post is cross-posted on the Follett Learning blog.

If there is one thing I have learned as a librarian in the 21st century, it is to question The-Way-It’s-Always-Been-Done. Not reactively fight it, but just reexamine it with the mind set that change can open doors to new ideas and transformative learning.

And yet, standardization is at the core of librarianship: Dewey, Library of Congress, MLA, APA, etc. Much of what we do is guided by standards, and standards are intrinsically linked to The-Way-It’s-Always-Been-Done. There isn’t much wiggle room. This is our 21st-century professional paradox.

I remember first learning about authority control in library school. It seemed so logical back then. You establish a set language for a subject, and then cross-reference it in a few places, and voila! That seems like a very long time ago.

I moved from the classroom to the library in 2001. Back then, our library did not subscribe to databases; we did not have a library website. We had fewer than a dozen computers scattered about our facility. Even in that era, authority control, as a teachable concept, was over. The best a school librarian could do was teach students that in an advanced search, choosing the delimiter "subject" might generate fewer, and more relevant results so long as students typed the right word into the search field. That's very different from explaining that effective research on the French Revolution requires a search for France - History - Revolution, 1789-1815.

If authority control was a problematic concept to teach in 2001, it is even more so now. As a school librarian, I am an unorthodox cataloger. Established subject headings by the Library of Congress and Sears drive my thinking far less than the words students type into search fields. Every New Canaan High School research exercise has its own subject(s) in our Online Public Access Catalog (OPAC), Destiny Quest. A search for any of the following phrases will produce a list of 50-250 library resources.
  • R U What U Eat?
  • Napoleon's Trial
  • Dictator Dating Game
  • Who Killed the King?
  • Global Pitch
Our students know this. If they plug a project name into our OPAC, Destiny Quest, their results will include an array of formats--free websites, database links, copyright-protected ebooks and articles, digital files, and of course, call numbers for print books. They can’t do that in Google! Destiny Quest makes it simple for students to easily locate all resources available to them, whether in print, digital, or online.

So it isn’t that standards are a problem as much as standards need supplementation. For example, if I import the MARC record for The Age of Napoleon by Susan Conner, my import will include
  • Greenwood Guides to Historic Events 1500-1900
  • Napoleon I, Emperor of the French, 1769-18821
  • France History 1799-1815
  • Biography & Autobiography / Historical
  • History /Europe / France
  • History /Europe / General
But a careful review of our Napoleon’s Trial assignment will reveal that our students might also look for the following keywords or phrases, most of which are pretty unconventional subjects by any standard (no pun intended). So we added them.
  • Amiens (Peace of)
  • Aristocracy
  • Aristocrats
  • Catholic Church
  • Civil Code
  • Concordat
  • French Revolution 
  • Jacobins
  • Louis XVI, King of France, 1754-1793
  • Louis XVIII
  • Napoleonic code
  • Napoleon's trial
  • Peasants
  • Restoration
  • Third Estate
  • Waterloo, Battle of, 1815
One could easily challenge this practice, pointing out that a student researching the Catholic Church might not want French Revolution resources in their search results. They may not, but we do because it helps build curricular connections. A New Canaan High School student researching Catholicism should be reminded about the de-Christianization of France during the 1789 revolution.

This becomes increasingly important as students turn to digital sources for research. There was a time when librarians would “pull a cart” of books for a project. Pulling a cart of electronic books is doable; there are resource lists, shelf-browsing tools, etc., but these are not quite as user-friendly as a cart full of print books, at least not to the current high school population. I expect that will change as the iPad generation moves up. The best way to “pull a cart” in the digital world is through enhanced cataloging with a curriculum-driven list of customized subjects.

It could be argued this denies students the learning experience of locating resources independently. How will students learn to locate resources using their college and public library catalogs? My answer is, “Baby steps, baby!” At least they aren’t searching the catalog for “Is Napoleon guilty of crimes against humanity Italian widow “ and anyone who teaches research to millennials can recognize this as progress.

Radio interview with Larry Jacobs on EduTalk Radio

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

School Culture and the Library

Andrew NCHS Class of 2014
In preparation for tomorrow's webinar, Pitching the Library: How to Explain What School Librarians Do, I wanted to share a project one of our New Canaan High School seniors created for his documentary filmmaking class last year. His assignment was to make a video that addressed school culture. He emailed me the day before he came down to capture most of the footage. Here is an excerpt of his email:

I am currently taking a Documentary Film class and our assignment is to create a film on a school "climate" Our group decided to choose the library media center as a focus for the film because when most if not all students think of the library, ... the library as enjoyable as it is. 

We were hoping to interview you about the library media center and factors about it. 
Hope to hear back from you,


On the day of the interview, I was presented with 3 questions right before the filming. I wish I could remember exactly what they were, but I am certain I answered them in the video.
About three weeks later, he sent me a link to this:

My response follows:

OMG!!! I LOVE this! I am so honored that you chose this topic. I was a little scared when you first told me about it, but I am truly, truly, touched that you found our culture worthy of a documentary. I will be sharing this via Twitter and my blog, but I would love to include an interview with you about what inspired you to make this movie. We could do it on Skype if that is easier, but I would love to do it face-to-face if you are going to be around. What is your schedule for the next few days? Can you stop by? Again, thank you so much. I shared the link with [principal] Dr. Luizzi. I can't think of a better way to explain what the library means to our students. Thank you!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

We do want more, and when it becomes more, we shall still want more

I borrowed that quote from Samuel Gompers, the first president of the American Federation of Labor. And while he was referring to the rights of workers, I am repurposing the quote by applying it to mobile technology.

Before I type another word, let me clarify that I boast not one, but two Apple stickers on my car. In my short life as a Mac user (8 years), I have informally become known as one of the in-house Apple experts where I work. I love, love, love the MacBook Pro I use. I have a Thunderbolt display, for Pete’s sake! Seriously, I am an Apple devotee. Now that I’ve cleared that up, I will proceed.

Back around 2004 or so, New Canaan High School Class of 2003 alumnus, Matt Djavaherian predicted that the mobile phone and iPod would soon be merged into one device. Clearly, he called that.

But yesterday, I did the unthinkable. I removed all music and music apps from my phone, and turned an old iPhone 4S into an iPod. Why? Apple doesn't make a phone with the battery life or storage capacity for me to play music on it anymore. I don't have enough space for downloaded content, and I don't have enough battery power to stream as often as I want to. The storage concern will be resolved in the fall with the release of iCloud Drive, but battery life is an ongoing concern.

My fully-charged-in-the-morning-iPhone 5S will dwindle down to about 20% battery life by 4PM on a normal workday. This is a complete nuisance, because 4 PM is when I most want to play music on the go.

Before you start rolling your eyes and blame me for misusing my equipment. I want to underscore a few things.
  • I am a high school librarian. I am responsible for teaching people to be more productive learners with the tools they have access to – and my learners have phones. Smartphones. Therefore, I have apps. Lots of apps on my phone. A couple of times a year I clear out the apps I don’t use, but typically, I keep about 350 apps on my phone which takes up nearly 40% of my storage.
  • I am a documenter. I take a lot of pictures. As a visual learner, many of my pictures are reminders, notes, and funny observations. Most of my pictures never get shared, but it’s how I record things. Plus it saves me the aggravation of  typing. I delete videos as soon as I upload them to a computer, but I hang on to about 8 months worth of photos, which consumes just over 40% of my storage.
  • Push notifications are great, but I keep most of them turned off – they take up too much battery power. I kind of miss them though.
  • My vision sucks but I can see pretty much anything on a phone (thank you gestural interface!) – as long as my screen is bright. Really bright. I know, I know… it consumes gobs of battery power but I can’t exactly use my phone if I can’t see the screen!
  • I use Bluetooth constantly – in the car, for speakers, my headset, connecting to other devices, etc. Turning it on and off as needed encumbers productivity.  
  • I close all my apps several times per day – I probably do that more frequently than I yawn or sneeze.
  • I have auto-lock set for one minute. My phone does not stay idle and active for long.
  • I connect to WiFi wherever I can. Sadly, it’s my daughter’s number that was grandfathered into AT&T’s unlimited data plan – not mine (and I can’t change that no matter how much I grovel) – so I frequently consume more data than my plan allows – particularly while at conferences because hotel data is often expensive AND slow – a horrendous combination! As a result, I am pretty conscientious about using WiFi when I can.
  • I never, ever leave my phone in the car.
    • I need it at pretty much any destination I reach (except the gym – now that I have this new iPhone-as-iPod thingy, and I STILL won’t leave it in the car because…
    • I would FREAK OUT if it were stolen
           so I don’t overheat or freeze my phone.
  • I keep my software up-to-date – both the operating system and my apps

So, I do what productivity permits to conserve battery power. The thing is that my phone is the only computer I personally own. I use a school-owned laptop (the one I love, love, love), and I also have a school-issued iPad, but my phone is my workhorse. I even have a keyboard with a lightning adaptor to speed up my uni-finger typing – an issue that iOS8 will help resolve.

At the 2014 WWDC conference, Apple unveiled its upcoming software releases – Yosemite and iOS8. Until this month, my frustration over the expanding array of different sized, but essentially redundant Apple offerings grew with each major announcement – a mini? Seriously? I don’t even use my full-sized iPad. Why would I want a smaller one when I already have an iPhone? - but finally I see some game-changers on the horizon, and I couldn’t be more pleased.

While the new operating systems feature a plethora of impressive tools and functionalities that will improve user productivity, it is iCloud Drive that will resolve half of my immediate problem – one of the two issues that prompted me to start this post – storage. Apple’s current iCloud backup storage is limited and costly. In the fall, we can expect Apple to offer ample storage at competitive prices, with seamless cross-platform and device Continuity – a new, and frankly overdue Apple amenity.

Anticipated iCloud Drive rates:
  • First 5GB free
  • 20 GB $ .99 per month
  • 200 GB $3.99 per month
  • Tiers available for up to 1 TB
I expect mobile device hardware to keep up with its increasingly sophisticated software. And at this point, my iPhone 5S is not making the grade. My storage issue might be resolved within a few months, but I fear that I won’t be able to take full advantage of all the operating systems’ offerings without a more powerful battery. Yes, of course I have a portable charger but really, with a top-of-the-line device bearing the steep price tag of $399, I shouldn’t have to pay for (or carry, for that matter) any additional paraphernalia. Isn’t Apple’s shtick simplicity?  I shouldn’t have to choose between using my pedometer, getting directions, listening to an audiobook, streaming music, and using my car’s Bluetooth in order to keep my phone running for more than nine hours. I want all of that. And more. If the device offers the capacity to do all of those things, then it should allow me to do them simultaneously, and for a very long time.

I am not interested in trading in my iPhone for another manufacturer’s product. I am jazzed to see these new operating systems at work. I look forward to the discovery and learning they will unleash, and I am eager to see how they impact productivity. Six months from now, I know I will be saying, “ How did I ever manage without…”, and I can’t wait to find out what will replace the suspension point in that statement. I just worry that the iPhone I have now will not be able to do what I want, when I want, without the aggravation of worrying about how much time I have to do it.

Impatiently, I wait for an official announcement about the iPhone 6. Rumors abound about a slimmer device with a larger screen, a better camera and wireless charging, which I assume would solve the battery life issue. That would be sweet!

In the meantime, I pledged to write my July 15, 2014 (11AM, ET) webinar, There's an App for That! - The B Side: 50Productivity Apps that will Prepare You for the Mobile Edu-volution, on the go. My husband and I are taking a road trip, and I plan to create my presentationon my phone with what will probably be spotty data service. My chief concern is not whether I have the apps or the knowledge to do that, it is whether my phone itself is up to the task. Will I have enough battery and storage capacity to do a good job? I sure hope so!

One final thought… How long do you think it will take after the new phone is running its new software before we start writing new posts with new demands for better versions of what we can’t even envision today? Samuel Gompers got it right, “We do want more, and when it becomes more, we shall still want more.” And it will always be so.