Thursday, April 30, 2009

How Smart is a SmartBoard?!

Back in February, I attended a two day training about using SmartBoards, the interactive boards that you hook up to your computer and projector that allow you to tap or touch the board in order to move and manipulate projected onto the board.

My first thoughts were glorified touchscreen. What could I do with a SmartBoard that I can't already do with my presentation equipment and software? To me, it just looked like a bunch of tap-tap-tapping on a board to move things along. I supposed that this could be a little more convenient when presenting. I wouldn't have to keep moving between laptop and board to point out items and click to different screens or slides.

But at the end of my two days of training, I was pretty awed by the software and how you could create very interactive presentations and lessons, presentations that would get students up out of their seats, presentations that would hopefully more fully engage kids in their learning.

Now I'm trying to justify the costs and whether our teachers will actually use it. Will the nine SmartBoards that we have purchased (yes, our administration is generous with the technology!) be used effectively and consistently. Will teachers see it as a glorified touchscreen, or will they create dynamic, interactive lessons for their students? Of course, I will be providing some staff development at the beginning of the next school year to get them excited about the possibilities.

Let's hope we're all smart enough to get the most out of our new technology!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Do YOU have permission to use THAT?!

I'm sitting in a presentation on Copyright and Fair Use. Most would probably think this is the most boring way to spend a Tuesday afternoon. Sometimes I might agree with you.

But with the ever changing technology and all the information on the internet, folks think that everything is theirs for the taking. NOT! Just because it's put out there on the internet -- a blog, a wiki, a company site, a database, whatever the source -- that does not mean that you can use it, carte blanche, with no indication of whose work it is. And you certainly can't take credit for it. That's just plain old stealing.

We (that's the collective librarian we) tell students that they must research their topics, take notes, and put the information into their own words. You know, creating those regurgitated research reports (cue vomiting sounds) and they absolutely CANNOT cut and paste information into the document, PowerPoint, presentation. Ummmm....yeah....right!

We tell this to our students, but then we (that's the collective teacher we) seem to have no problem taking some one's posted lesson plans, educational article, research dissertation from an internet site and including it in our own presentations. Hmmmmm, did we ask permission to do this? Did we read the copyright information about the plans, article, dissertation, document? Maybe we do have rights to use it.....maybe we don't!

Maybe you need to check out Creative Commons! The site allows you to find, share, and use others' work. The key is that it is all done within the legal confines and consistency of copyright law. Yeh! Basically they allow an author to modify copyright terms to suit his work and to grant copyright permissions for use of his work. Read more about it at their site!

The next time you think about making 100 copies of something from a website, a book, or other source stop and think about the copyright and fair use guidelines. Consult one of our gurus like Carol Simpson. We'd hate for you to have to fork over your salary and your freedom for a copyright infringement!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Writing: Publication is not the end of the process

"What we do in school doesn't have much of an impact on the world of writing that's going on around us." --Kathleen Blake Yancey

Have you read Kathleen Blake Yancey's report for the National Council of Teachers of English on Writing in the 21st Century? The report highlights the challenges of writing in the 21st Century: developing new models of writing, designing a new curriculum supporting those models, and creating models for teaching that curriculum.

I had an opportunity to listen to an interview with Yancey on the site Powerful Learning Practice . Yancey indicates that teenagers claim they don't write or like to write in school, but they don't see their writing outside of school as writing. They see it as communicating, not writing, when they are blogging and texting. Yancey asserts that in the past, writing has been dominated by assessment. Writing also doesn't enjoy the same cultural support that reading has enjoyed.

So my question is what does it mean to be a writer in the 21st Century?

I have always held the assertion that to be a good teacher of writing you must be a writer. When I was still in the language arts classroom, I would journal with my kids everyday. I wrote some of the best stuff those few years in the seventh grade classroom. But writing is different for our students now. While they don't call it writing -- texting and blogging -- they are still putting the written word out there online. Should teachers be network and social writers? And if they are, do teachers even consider that real writing?

How do we teach kids to be empowered writers? Kids love writing to someone that isn't a teacher, even a trusted adult, according to Yancey. She shared a story where students' writing was given to the local civic group, a partner for the school. When the members read the students' writing, they wanted to write them back. The act of reading became an act of writing. Should we encourage kids to publish more of their ideas and writings on the web in order to have other read and respond?

The model used to be that we filtered information and then we wrote to publish our writing. Today publication is not the end of the process: the conversation continues about the writing, or published work, thus the learning continues.

Write on!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Hanging with Laurie Halse Anderson

I first met Laurie Halse Anderson over five years ago at a local conference for the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators when I heard her speak about writing. I was attending the conference to learn as a writer and lover of words, looking for inspiration to stay motivated about my own writing and hoping to meet some incredible writers. The conference didn't disappoint!

I had an opportunity to chat with Laurie for a good while that time, talking about being part of a writing group and really putting on paper the voices that are talking to you in your head. She also provided some materials about her presenting at conferences. At the time, I was still on the board and conference planning for the NC School Library Media Association and having Laurie at a conference would be spectacular!

I met Laurie again a few years ago when she was promoting her newest book and made a visit to our favorite local independent book store, Quail Ridge Books. At the time, she was as witty and authentic and inspiring as I remembered her. She offered her advice for aspiring writers and read from the novel. It's always a great thing to hear author's read their works!

And last night, I had yet another opportunity to hang with Laurie Halse Anderson. And once again she was the incredible, inspiring and entertaining writer that I've come to expect. Over dinner with a few fellow library media coordinators, she shared her day's experience, working with students at one of our high schools. She jokes that just the smell of the school building makes her twitch and gets her excited. After dinner, we had the chance to hear her share her research and thoughts on her latest book, Wintergirls, about a young woman's struggle with an eating disorder. The audience, mostly women and about half teenagers, hung on her every word as she again inspired us to be the best writers, the best readers, the best people we can be.

Thanks for autographing yet another of your works. I can't wait to cozy up and discover your latest protagonist!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Saving NC Governor's School

Word on the street is that the budget for NC Governor's School, one of NC's premier programs for gifted students, is about to be cut in half. Even with all the talk of preserving the education budget by our governor, it's come down to this: some education programs have got to be trimmed.

As a gifted child growing up in a rural part of NC, there weren't always the same opportunities that you might find in a larger city. That's not to say that my parents didn't work to provide those opportunities -- piano lessons, summer camp, attending the symphonies and plays -- but the public schools were not on the academic cutting edge to provide for some of their best and brightest. I remind myself that this was almost 25 years ago, and perhaps the better integration of instructional technology and the proliferation of online courses and the access to NC Virtual Public School will improve the situation for those gifted children coming through the public schools today.

But unfortunately the general concensus is often this: those smart kids will "get it" (whatever it is) no matter what.

Well, guess what people?! I don't want other gifted children coming through the system to just have to "get it". I want them to be exposed to incredible educators who challenge their thinking skills, who push them just a little bit harder through the process, who ask the essential questions to get those gifted children motivated to explore, to create, to learn, to challenge themselves.

I want gifted children in North Carolina to have the opportunity to experience NC Governor's School.

For me, the six week summer experience introduced me to thought processes and mathematical theories and skills that I had never been exposed to and don't know that I would have been exposed to at my high school. I was put in a setting with other intelligent and talented teenagers who for the most part had the same wants and desires about owning their education, being challenged by others. For many attendees, attending Governor's School can be the first time that they feel like they are with their true peers, other gifted individuals who are not picked on and put upon just because their IQs are a certain number and their grade point averages are at the top and they use those big fifty-cent words!

Through the years, there have been articles, essays, and letters written both disparging and supporting the program. On the homepage of the NCGS website, the philosophy of the program is stated as a program

"... where students who are among the best and brightest gather for the love of learning and the joy of creativity
... where teachers and students form a community while searching together for answers to challenging questions
... where there are no grades or tests
... where a synergy of intellectual curiosity fuels the exploration of the latest ideas in various disciplines"

Ultimately for me, NC Governor's School met my expectations. I just want other gifted students in NC to have the same opportunity.