Friday, April 18, 2014

On vocabulary, and the SATs

In my capacity as know-it-all, I spoke with a reporter yesterday about the new SATs. The ones that are going to focus on students' ability to define higher-frequency words in context. So that old rite of passage, improving one's vocabulary by memorizing "SAT words," will inevitably be abandoned, as test will instead focus on more nuanced interpretations of the words that students will know already.

Evidently, ACT with its "college and career ready" orientation is nipping at SAT's marketshare, and this is part of the attempt to win some of that back. But I don't think making the SAT more vocational in orientation is the answer -- were there students who could define those vocabulary words derided as obscure who weren't able to do the simpler application tasks? The criticisms leveled have to do with students not reflecting college- and career- readiness seem to answer that.



I have these "100 Words" poster some kind vendor gave me in an exhibit hall somewhere on display. To tell the truth, they are covering a gaping hole in the drywall in our "shop-based" library, but they are wildly popular in that at least daily I catch students testing themselves on them. I'm sorry, but I like esoteric words. And if you've seen Bad Words, with its adorable budding lexicographers, you are probably as sad as I am about this shift from knowledge to application.


Monday, April 14, 2014

Finding balance

I spent the weekend at the Alabama Gulf Coast, our gorgeous "redneck Riviera." It was the first time I'd been there since the horrendous BP oil spill, and it has changed beyond recognition from the sleepy vacation destination it was in my childhood.

As I came back to work today, I thought a lot about the people pointed towards the beach with their (inevitable) iPhones in front of them, or squinting at their iPads, barely legible in the shade of their umbrellas while their children splashed in the hotel pool. So many people were altogether oblivious of their surroundings, and I was sad for them.

Over the past few months, I have deliberately pared back my use of digital tools in non-working hours. Over spring break, I did not even bother to get international data roaming, not contractual OR pay-as-you-go. The end result is that I'm happier and sleeping better. Sometimes, I do feel a pang over the weekend. Should I check my email? I've found that pretty much everything can wait until Monday morning, and that compulsion I feel to check in, for that affirmation of social media, is slowly being extinguished.

I love computers, I love networks, they are amazing and empowering, but they are not the end-all, be-all for the human condition. They might even occlude the human condition. I'm starting to feel like a broken record. Can't we check the devices sometimes? Might it make life a bit more civilized?

Mobile Lovers & Spy Booth: New Murals from Banksy street art murals

I personally haven't brought electronics to the beach since 1989, when some Estonian sand killed my then-top-of-the-line Sony Walkman. Looking back, I think that I should have been listening to my fellow exchange student friends, not Salt-n-Pepa.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Huntsville, for tourists

If you're an Alabama librarian, I hope I'll see you in two short weeks at our state association conference. It's in my hometown, and the conference hotel and meeting spaces are a mere stone's throw from my house, so I figured I'd type up the local 411 (shout out to Mary J. Blige!) on the 35801.



Eating:
  • 1892 is a place we go regularly, maybe because lots of its food is vegetarian. It sort of reminds me of a tony cafeteria at a private college. A little bland, but definitely edible.
  • Sam & Greg's. The pizza is nothing special, but the gelato! And they make awesome steamers and coffee.
  • For the local coffeeshop afficiandos, there is also the Old Towne Coffee Shoppe. The fact they have no website it pretty indicative of the type of insider place it is...
  • Pane e Vino. Decent Italian, in the art museum (the white building with the green roof, closest to the foreground of that pic). If you can score a seat outside, you can watch the ducks and everyone will be jealous.
  • Emma's Tearoom. Great lunch and tea spot -- make your reservations ASAP. Definitely for the more feminine among us. 
  • Like Emma's, Clementine's is a lunch spot -- a half dozen types of chicken salad, and a range of sandwiches.
  • Cynshea's sells what I consider "catering food" to the masses. The quiche is incredible, and the desserts are massive.
  • The Sandwich Farm is in a cool space, and it's across from the big dog park, which is fun to watch.
  • A lot of people are into Below the Radar, a brew pub in the lobby of "the old Times building." Entre nous, it's loud, and I think it smells dirty.

Shopping:

Other stuff:
  • Huntsville is ridiculously safe. Seriously, I get the police reports sent to my inbox by our neighborhood association, and there is nothing to worry about with regard to parking or walking downtown at night, even by yourself.
  • There's free wifi in Big Spring Park.
  • HMCPL is right across the street from the Embassy Suites. It's a pretty vibrant place, so do be sure to check it out.
  • You know what I love around here? Maple Hill Cemetery. You can visit the graves of the unnamed Confederate dead at the north side, some of the statuary is great.
All of these places are downtown, save Bridge Street and the Space and Rocket Center, or in Five Points, which is sort of a cool neighborhood, one of three historic areas (Twickenham -- being Oldest, Old Town -- Older, Five Points -- Old) with lovingly restored homes which converge around there. It's a great walk.

I met a guy in library school who had spent a year in town, and he said "they might as well roll up the streets after dark." Locals might deride it as Huntspatch or Huntsvegas, but Huntsville is a pretty great place to live. I hope these suggestions are useful for those visiting, since I know it can seem a little sleepy, but that's just an illusion.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Life!

I started spring break with comfort reads (Agatha Christie's A Murder is Announced and The Body in the Library), but was tripping back through Caitlin Moran's Moranthology when I re-read her interview with Keith Richards on the occasion of the publication of his memoir. I had Life languishing on my Kindle since 2011, so settled in, and was I ever rewarded!



I can't say enough about how fascinating this portrait of the Stones' guitarist happened to be. The Keith-and-Mick stuff, well, it's what you expect. But Keith is so bright! Of course, the passages about libraries particularly warmed my heart. As an arts student, he "would raid the public library for books about America." Now, he says he leads "a gentleman's life. Listen to Mozart, read many, many books. I'm a voracious reader. I'll read anything. And if I don't like it, I'll toss it."

Then I saw there was an audio version...read, in part, by Johnny Depp. So I may just have to reimmerse myself in Keith's strange, compelling world.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

What's happening at the core...



I was invited by School Library Journal to talk about action on the ground in one of their great free webcasts today. My slides:



Our state is in a weird place with CCSS, and I don't think we're the only ones. We have CCSS so integrated into our standards, pulling them out would be almost impossible. You can love or hate the standards -- I don't know that they vary wildly from what we have had in the past. But I don't think we've begun to really grapple with testing mandated by CCSS adoption. Our system has received all sort of awards for technology integration, but when it comes to CCSS-aligned testing, we have to revert to pencil and paper. Our network and hardware just aren't up to it. What does that forewarn about the allocation of scant education money in this time of scarcity?