Saturday, May 29, 2010

Synergy and Serendipity

"Synergy and serendipity often play a big part in medical and scientific advances." -Julie Bishop

Throughout the year, education professionals have a seemingly endless number of national (and international) conferences from which to choose. Attendance at the majority of these gatherings involves a significant amount of money for transportation, meals, accommodations, and registration fees - often covered out-of-pocket by attendees.

As I work on organizing my own trip to Washington, DC for the ALA convention, I've been considering what I expect to gain from this experience, and what I've learned from other conferences.

Sessions and Workshops

Aside from keynote speakers, I tend to skip most of these offerings, unless they're being given by a member of my PLN. It's difficult for me to focus on content with the distractions offered by crowded rooms and the steady buzz of surreptitious conversations. Better that I access archived presentations from the quiet of my home.

Why attend at all, then?

Uncommons Areas

For me the highlight of a conference experience is the Networking Uncommons or Bloggers' Cafe. Here I can meet up with online friends, make new connections, get ideas, informally mentor newcomers. Usually there are some impromptu slideshows shared by volunteers. Conversations are extended, new concepts are explored, partnerships in learning are forged. The energy and excitement are palpable.

Uncommon Conferences

EduCon, held each January in Philadelphia, most closely matches my conference ideal. In this much smaller gathering, the line between presenters and audience is blurred, and discussions that begin in a classroom continue in the library, during meals, and, eventually, online. The entire conference is an Uncommon of sorts, and valued as such.

ISTE has a popular Bloggers' Cafe, and my headquarters at ALA DC will be the Unconference.

But there are other options that are even less traditional in structure.

BarCamps, user-generated participatory events, have been around since 2005. Recently, a variation of the BarCamp, Edcamp, was held in Philadelphia, with similar loosely-structured themed gatherings planned in other cities. The K-12 Online Conference is free, open to everyone, and archived. Participants can access its resources any time and from any place.

Will National Conferences Survive?

With school and library funding slashed in so many areas, it would seem there should be a parallel reduction in the size and cost of the traditional convention model...yet that does not appear to be happening.

It has always amazed me that these events are able to pick and choose their workshop presenters, that people actually compete to pay money for the privilege of sharing their professional expertise. Without this "free labor," the conference business would grind to a halt, but no one seems to question the practice.

Which brings us to the heart of the matter: NONE of these conferences, from the hippest BarCamp to the tradition-bound ALA National convention, would attract attendees without the synergy of collaborating participants and the serendipity of the creative process they fuel.

It's the hope of being a part of something meaningful that draws us to these assemblies. Without the connections, the conversations, the collaborations, a convention is just a very expensive party.

"Not only must we be good, but we must also be good for something." -Henry David Thoreau

"London -Synergy Project- Light Splash 2" by Still Thinking

Monday, May 24, 2010

Library Tech Geek Tribe

Tribe: A unit of sociopolitical organization consisting of a number of families, clans, or other groups who share a common ancestry and culture and among whom leadership is typically neither formalized nor permanent... A group of people sharing an occupation, interest or habit.

Due to copyright issues (about which librarians are VERY serious), we were unable to continue offering Library Tech Geek Squad buttons for sale.

The good news, is that our talented designer, Gwyneth Jones, has created an even better design: we are now the Library Tech Geek Tribe!

Items currently available on Zazzle include Tribe buttons and stickers, with other products in the works.

As before, any profits from the Geek Tribe line will be used to help support the Teacher Librarian Ning.

Please visit my Zazzle page for ordering information.

A week before ALA and ISTE we'll be publishing a copyright free conference badge for new Tribe members to print out and proudly display!

"The group" by Grzegorz Łobiński

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

An Instant Out of Time

“Photography takes an instant out of time, altering life by holding it still.” -Dorothea Lange

A friend, Ernie Cox, left me this comment on Twitter today:

erniec: I think photography might be the hobby for me. Where do I begin @dmcordell?

After sending a few responses, I realized that 140 words wasn't nearly enough. So here are my suggestions, for those who want to "take an instant out of time."

And, since I'm such a visual person, I've made it into a SlideShare presentation. I hope this helps, Ernie!

Related posts:
Picture That: Using Images in the Classroom

Visit my Flickr photostream here

At the Zoo

The comment echoes throughout my email, Twitter and Plurk: the end of the school year is a zoo!

Why is this so?

Do upper level instructors worry that looming state exams and untaught curriculum seem on a collision course?

In elementary grades, are teachers filling in time watching videos while fidgeting kids long to be outside playing?

Are undone projects causing anxiety and pandemonium in the school library?

The fact that positions are being cut and school budgets are up for vote certainly doesn't help the climate for learning.

Every year at this time, stress and upheaval seem to be the keywords in education.

Angela Davis noted that, "Jails and prisons are designed to break human beings, to convert the population into specimens in a zoo - obedient to our keepers, but dangerous to each other."

I hope we have different expectations for our schools.

"Young Behind Bars" by christophe dune

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Way of the Dodo

"The phrase dead as a dodo means undoubtedly and unquestionably dead, whilst the phrase to go the way of the dodo means to become extinct or obsolete, to fall out of common usage or practice, or to become a thing of the past." -Wikipedia

The May 20, 2010 issue of New York Teacher (official newsletter of New York State United Teachers Union) contained the following survey results:

In New York, regulations state that
"Grades seven and eight are required to have the equivalent of one period a week of instruction in 'library and information skills.' Part 100.4 (c). Research shows that these lessons are most effective when integrated with classroom objectives and achieved through cooperative planning by the Library Media Specialist and the academic classroom teacher."

While the services of a SLMS are mandated for high school libraries, there is no such directive pertaining to elementary libraries.

A recent article in the Albany Times-Union begins with a startling statement, "Children may someday file school librarian with the dodo bird or Caspian tiger under extinction," then proceeds to explain why this is so.

The NY Teacher poll demonstrates the support of education professionals for elementary librarians.

Unfortunately, some members of the public might be more inclined to agree with the comment Devils Advocate left on the newspaper's webpage:

"While I fully appreciate the concern with losing a position in a school, I do believe that there are worse case scenarios. I do not mean to undercut the role of the librarian. However, public libraries and librarians are available to us free of charge. If we were to lose an art or music teacher we would have to self-fund our childrens lessons in these areas... I think we should prepare ourselves to be as objective as possible in these tight budget times and choose to take up the causes that are most relevant to our childrens overall educations."

...or wonder, like another reader,
"Why do elementary schools need separate librarians? Can’t each child’s teacher recommend books for the child to read?"

Hopefully, there are others like "Pat," who says,

"Let’s hope the children of Bethlehem will not be considered dodo birds when they are required to navigate the fast paced world of information. Wake up, Bethlehem BOE...library media teachers today are teaching children to find, analyze, evaluate, and synthesize information to make decisions or solve problems and share their conclusions with others. Elementary children are not just sitting on the rug listening to stories. More likely they are using or creating podcasts, webpages, databases, and digital images as well as reading books and periodicals. The library media teacher is uniquely qualified to locate and purchase the best materials and encourage and support each student’s individual path to literacy. Shame on you Bethlehem!"

It would seem that those who encounter skilled teacher/librarians, effectively working with students and colleagues in a creative, collaborative program, understand and support school libraries.

Is the problem that there are too few SLMS cast in that model or that their efforts are too little known? What needs to happen to prevent school librarians from disappearing, like "the dodo bird or Caspian tiger"?

Once a species is extinct, it does not reappear.

"Dodo" by Ballista

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Happy Mother's Day, Mom!

Mom & Me 1948

Some things never change, especially a mother's love.

Ellen, Mom, and Me 2007

Tradition, Transition, Transformation

We are living in a time of great change. This is particularly evident in the fields of education and librarianship.

The models which have served us for so long are under intense scrutiny. It is becoming evident that there must be either a remodeling or a total reconstruction of what is ineffective, irrelevant, antiquated.

The question is no longer "whether" but "how" to facilitate the necessary transition.

Our vision remains constant: to serve our community and to prepare our students for life beyond formal schooling.

But as the community we serve, and the world into which our young people emerge, expands, so must the resources we share with them.

In the mid-nineteenth century, "transliteracy" meant substituting the letters of one language for the letters of another. The term now refers to "the ability to read and write using multiple media, including traditional print media, electronic devices, and online tools." A transliterate person is literate across multiple media.

Just as we once taught reading and stocked libraries with paper texts, we now need to teach a multitude of literacies and stock libraries with resources across diverse formats. This evolution certainly does not preclude traditional skills and materials: it enriches and extends them. Transliteracy is transformative, tapping into Information Age expertise, using the tools of modern society to better educate its citizens.

A world in transition should not discard tradition but transform it.

To learn more about transliteracy, I recommend following the Libraries and Transliteracy blog and viewing some of Buffy Hamilton's excellent SlideShare presentations.

"Through the looking glass" by albano alfredo

Thursday, May 6, 2010

After All These Years

Still reading...

Still creating...

Still chatting...

Still partying...

Still exploring...

After all these years.
May 6, 1947 - into the future

Monday, May 3, 2010


Originally posted on May 18, 2008

"Down the lane marched the lilac hedge, vague as sea mist, making poetry in the moonlight." -Clementine Paddleford

Our lilacs have finally bloomed: exasperated with the changeable spring, they've defiantly burst into lavender and white glory. The smell is intoxicating, reminiscent of childhood and sunshine and ragged-stemmed bouquets gathered by the armful for grateful mothers and teachers.

Lilacs require neither weeding nor fertilizing. They fling their fragrance to the skies for any who care to stop and enjoy it. Their heart-shaped leaves glow brightly now; in dusty summer, the green hedges provide perches for visiting birds and playhouses for young explorers.

Sean Hannity
shares these bits of lilac lore:
"Here in Maine the Lilac Trees are planted near old foundations or older homes, living for well over a hundred years.

An old traditional gift to a new marriage was a Lilac tree. Given for the lovely fragrance and wonderful light purple flowers that come every spring, it was the sign of health, well-being, and fortune when planted near the homes.

Almost every wedding had this gift given or even planted by a family member in the wife's choice of locations. Most are planted near outhouses and near kitchen windows or near entrances for scent and view of the flowers.

The White Lilac was often planted for a remembrance tree. Loss of a loved one is often marked by one of the White Lilacs. They are often found growing near older grave yards or planted in a corner of the farms."

Lilacs appear as nature gathers itself for the blooming frenzy of summer. They are a gentle, fragrant promise of the warmth and color that is to come.

"You are the great flood of our souls
Bursting above the leaf-shapes of our hearts,
You are the smell of all Summers,
The love of wives and children,
The recollection of the gardens of little children..."
-Amy Lowell, Lilacs

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Don't Be Meek, Flaunt Your Geek!

*Temporary glitch - design licensing is being changed, badges will be available soon!

When Joyce Valenza formed a Geek Squad to help run the Unconference at AASL Charlotte, members thought it would be fun to create badges to advertise the group.

I've worn my badge to various events and people always ask where they can get one.

The design was created by Gwyneth Jones; I took her concept and created a final product at the Zazzle website.

Now Geek Squad badges are available for public sale. Gwyneth and I have conferred with Joyce, and we've all agreed to use any profits from the badges to help support the Teacher Librarian Ning.

Get your Geek on and support an excellent online community of library professionals! Ordering information is available on Zazzle

Upcycling, Bricolage and Librarianship

Today I learned a new term, "upcycling."Upcycling is taking waste and making it into something that has equal or greater use or value. Upcycling maintains or improves the quality of the original materials.

In considering this concept, I was reminded of another interesting word.

Bricolage means to "make creative and resourceful use of whatever materials are to hand (regardless of their original purpose)." This art form was mentioned by Sylvia Martinez in her Tinkering workshop at EduCon, where she imagined a place and a time for people - both teachers and students - to experiment, re-imagine, and invent as part of the educational process.

On Friday, I was privileged to hear Ross Todd speak about "The Essential Pieces" for school librarianship. Dr. Todd emphasized that librarians must rethink, redefine, and recast both their role in, and their vision for, school libraries.

He challenged us to discard our dearly-held notion that the library is the hub or heart of a district and to seek ways to enable students to actively engage with learning wherever, whenever, and however that occurs.

Another key point that Dr. Todd made was that librarians need to TEACH, to initiate as well as collaborate, to be able to show evidence of the type of quality teaching that has been proven to have a key effect on student learning.

The library, he warned us, can't just be about "stuff."

To use my new vocabulary, the library has to provide the tools and space to upcycle information, to improve the quality of the original material. It has to facilitate the process of bricolage: creation and invention, through tinkering, without penalty for failure.

Library as an intellectual play center...library as experimental information zone...librarians as learning enablers...

Ross Todd challenged his audience to "Turn on the Light." If we don't heed his call to action, it is our students who will be condemned to stumbling blindly into the future. And we (the teacher/librarians) will be, with some justification, cast out into the darkness.

"Process without knowledge outcome is useless." -Ross J. Todd

“Where lights converge” by sanjibm

365 Project: April

April played games with us, veering from unseasonable warmth to frost-warning level cold then back to glorious sunshine.Flowers are beginning to bloom, and spring is a go once more. Since April was National Poetry Month, I thought I'd intersperse images and verse. Add in the scent of lilacs and the sound of birdsong, and you'll capture the essence of April's quirky charm.

"The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day.
When the sun is out and the wind is still,
You're one month on in the middle of May.
But if you so much as dare to speak,
a cloud come over the sunlit arch,
And wind comes off a frozen peak,
And you're two months back in the middle of March."
- Robert Frost, Two Tramps in Mud Time
Glimpses of Green

"Let the rain kiss you.

Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops.

Let the rain sing you a lullaby.

The rain makes still pools on the sidewalk.
The rain makes running pools in the gutter.
The rain plays a little sleep-song on our roof at night--

And I love the rain."

-Langston Hughes, April Rain Song
April Showers

"This spring as it comes bursts up in bonfires green,

Wild puffing of emerald trees, and flame-filled bushes,

Thorn-blossom lifting in wreaths of smoke between

Where the wood fumes up and the watery, flickering rushes.

I am amazed at this spring, this conflagration

Of green fires lit on the soil of the earth, this blaze

Of growing, and sparks that puff in wild gyration,

Faces of people streaming across my gaze."

- D. H. Lawrence, The Enkindled Spring
Furry Coat and Gauzy Wing

“Blown bubble-film of blue, the sky wraps round
Weeds of warm light whose every root and rod
Splutters with soapy green, and all the world
Sweats with the bead of summer in its bud.”-Laurie Lee, April Rise

"Is it so small a thing

To have enjoyed the sun,

To have lived light in the spring,

To have loved, to have thought, to have done?"
Matthew Arnold, Empedocles on Etna

You can see a slideshow of the 30 April photos here or view all of my 2010 photos to date here.

The three groups to which I contribute are 2010/365, EdTech 365/2010, and Project 365.