Thursday, February 23, 2012

Digital Learning Day at Buckhorn High School

Long before school librarians started getting messages over the AASLFORUM listserv about Digital Learning Day, my Assistant Principal for Instruction and Curriculum spied the announcements coming through the Alliance for Excellent Education about that day and determined we would participate. We saw it as a wonderful opportunity to push the bounds of the bring-your-own-device projects we had going on in the building and give teachers some new ideas on incorporating technology.

Before the appointed day, I held professional development for our teachers on their planning blocks, using a 2010 presentation I had put together on using Cell Phones in the Classroom. BYOD has huge potential for us, as it is unlikely we will ever have enough hardware for any other real technology integration in our building.

Helping teachers craft polls, practice searching Google via SMS, and trouble-shooting projects and some of the interfaces was a lot of work for me, but it was really richly rewarding. Kids were buzzing and wondering how we had gotten permission to pull off such large-scale deployment of their own hardware. Some enthused that it was "the best day" or "the only day" at school they have ever enjoyed. Several teachers have approached me about continuing instructional collaboration.

Dr. Tommy Bice, our State Superintendent of Education (who spoke during the Alliance's day-long webinar on February 1) suggested that it would be a month of digital learning on our state. We are keeping it up, and our school culture has really shifted...

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

My love letter

It's not to any one individual. It's to us as a collective. And not just us librarians, or ed techies, but we middle Americans as a collective mind and intelligence and, most importantly, a moral compass. If it's still there, as Charles Murray disputes in his latest book.

Everywhere I've turned this month, I've seen data and snippets of analysis pulled from Coming Apart used to tar and feather simultaneously two segments of society, which Murray handily limits to white people, to avoid any racial kerfluffle. He finds the white underclass lacks the wherewithal to seize the opportunities before them, but also implicates the superior echelons, which haven't lived up to their own moral resonsibility to help those less fortunate.

I have been worrying A LOT about societal segmentation for a while -- since Bowling Alone, which showed we were drifting away from the community-based civic engagement that really benefits individuals and families, and the The Big Sort which geographically isolates those among the like-minded, but probably most tangibly and technologically manifested in the "Pod people" conversations of 2006, which pointed out the erosion of common national culture and what they could leave in its wake. And, frankly, the idea of a life spent combating the Coming Apart is what keeps me living and working in a more heterogenous place, though it is nonetheless well past the arbitrary population threshold Murray uses to sort the formation of like-minded clusters from inherentrly more diverse smaller ones.

I do think there is some credence in Murray's assertions. It is obvious that never have so many Americans been out of touch with so many others. But part of what we do as librarians should be provide people windows as well as mirrors. For some of my students, Gossip Girl is much a window as is Inside Out and Back Again is for others. I want to consciously work at fostering more caritas between our readers and help them find their own sense of place within the larger frame of a workable society. Maybe Murray puts forth some vision of how we can enfranchise those who don't automatically seek to participate in our democracy. I'm on the holds list for that one, at the public library.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Light and not-so-light reading

Last week, I was delighted to find a mention of Evening's Empire: A History of the Night in Early Modern Europe by Craig Koslofsky, a book I'd been chasing for years, on brainpickings. But it was a case where my reference skills came up short, since when I looked at the pub date, I thought it couldn't be the same author I'd heard on NPR eons ago. That was, until I read the comments from the only Amazon reviewer (at the time, another has been added), who have evidently heard the same radio broadcast and also been looking in the meantime. It's a fascinating book, and quite readable for something from a University Press.

Also over the weekend, I read Barry Lyga's I Hunt Killers. I grew up in a household with lots of Ann Rule-esque true crime and Patricia Cornwall, but it had been a while since I had read anything like this. The premise is that the son of a notorious serial killer uses his insight for good. I like my Agatha Christie, where the murders are never too gory and really can't take shows like CSI because of all those bodies. Lyga inserts an extra bloody element with a hemophiliac best friend. I have not slept well since reading all those descriptions of excised digits, frankly. But I also did some lighter reading.

From Retronaut, one of my favorite sites
I also read Paul Yee's Money Boy, something I'd gotten halfway through before Christmas. I am always looking to expand my GLBTQ recs, and I really enjoyed the Toronto setting as well as Ray's interesting immigrant Chinese community. I had stopped before, after Ray was thrown out of his house when his father realizes he's gay from snooping on his websurfing, anxious that Ray would turn to prostitution (he does, but it's rather gentle about it, and he ends up safely and happily at home). It's full of realistic details about hostels, shelters, being robbed, and finding help along the way.

Some of my favorite hours were spent with Melissa Walker's Unbreak My Heart (not yet in WorldCat). It's about a girl spending a summer on a sailing trip with her family, trying to come to grips with a falling out with her life-long best friend. This one will be terrific to suggest for the readers I know who prefer there to be only ONE love interest. And the nautical details are quite fun. And I sat down and wrote about eight pages of plot for my own theoretical YA romance after, so it was quite inspirational.

The other thing I finished wasn't YA, but I do think Sophie Kinsella has some cross-over appeal. I've been a fan since she was publishing as Madeline Wickham, having found her (and Mary Sheepshanks and Sarah Woodhouse) through Rosamunde Pilcher's Bookshelf. I've Got Your Number (coming on Valentine's Day!) is a very contemporary romance-by-phone, and plays with preconceptions about academics, which are quite incisive.