Saturday, August 31, 2013

Maker Fun at the Farmers' Market

"Glens Falls Farmers' Market" by dmcordell

 A drizzly Saturday morning seemed like the perfect opportunity to visit our weekly Farmers' Market. I bought some fresh vegetables, homemade bread, and a molasses cookie to nibble on.

In addition to produce, flowers, and baked goods, today's market featured a Maker Space. Although the volunteers in charge had never heard the term before, they were happy to embrace the concept and asked me to blog about their efforts.

"Maker space" by dmcordell

 The activity, run by the Warren County 4-H Club and Tri-County Transition Town (a sustainable living group), invited visitors to create upcycled t-shirt bags. Supplies and sewing machines were available, along with free samples and printed instructions (adapted from instructables) for future projects. A fact sheet about plastic bags added to the educational value of the project.

"Facts about plastic bags" by dmcordell

Crafting similar t-shirt bags would be a great classroom activity, marrying creativity with authentic learning. Students could make the bags and tuck information about recycling and environmental issues inside.

Coincidentally, today my Twitter feed linked me to an excellent blog posting, Why the Maker Movement matters to educators, by Sylvia Martinex and Gary Stager. 

Maker spaces are not exclusively about building high tech models. Gather up some t-shirts and let your students sew up a useful product with a socially-responsible twist.

"T-shirt bag" by dmcordell

Friday, August 16, 2013

Summer Reading

"Outside the New York Public Library" by dmcordell
Our local newspaper ran an article today about a nearby public library and its summer reading program.

Evidently one young man has won prizes for the last five years because of the number of books he completed as part of a reading challenge. While the children's room aide applauds this accomplishment and sees no problem in continuing the competition, her director wants to change the procedure to give every child a chance to win by entering participants' name in a random drawing.

Each woman makes some valid points:
"Casey [the library aide] said everyone in the club is on a level playing field because all begin and end the same day and all have the opportunity to read as many books as they wish...My feeling is you work, you get it. That’s just the way it is in anything." 
An opposing viewpoint comes from Gandron, the director, "Tyler 'hogs' the contest every year and he should 'step aside.' Other kids quit because they can’t keep up."

I am a very fast reader. As a child, I could have easily bested my peers in this type of contest - but I read because I loved it, not for praise or prizes. When reading now, I sometimes have to consciously slow myself down, to savor language and grasp nuances.

Some of my school library students devoured books, showing up many times during the week to select new titles. Others were plodders, slowly working through their reading selections. There is room in the world for both approaches to literature, especially when it comes to reading for pleasure rather than solely for information.

Are reading contests beneficial to students? Would a book club be a better choice...or would that seem too "schooly"? I'd be interested in learning how other librarians approach this issue.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Podstock: The Perfect Little Conference

"Podstock Registration" by dmcordell
It's been almost a month since I attended my first Podstock, so I've had time to organize my thoughts and reflect a bit on the experience.

I already knew a lot about this conference from interacting on social networking sites, particularly Plurk and Facebook. Podstock is a (deliberately) small conference, averaging about 300 attendees. All of the keynotes and sessions are held at the Hotel at Old Town Conference Center, in Wichita Kansas. Because of the intimate setting, I felt reasonably sure that I'd have the opportunity to interact with a number of my online acquaintances face-to-face. The slideshow I had prepared for my presentation was uploaded and saved to my laptop, SlideShare, and a flash drive, ready to share with friends old and new.

Realities - The Good
Podstock, the conference, was every bit as welcoming and interactive as I had expected. The ESSDACK staff worked tirelessly to make sure that all attendees had a positive experience. Old Town Wichita, with its historic architecture and abundance of restaurants and shops, provided the perfect setting for exploring and connecting, during meals or informal activities, like our early morning PhotoWalk.

Realities - The Bad
Kansas tends to be HOT in July, so our time outdoors was limited. This wasn't unexpected, so appropriate wardrobe choice and intelligent planning resulted in a reasonably comfortable visit. My own personal disaster occurred when I nodded off in bed and spilled a sticky liquid on my laptop. This resulted in an inoperative keyboard (subsequently fixed, thanks to the Apple Genius Bar) and some pre-presentation stress. Fortunately, the ESSDACK crew provided me with a loaner computer and my flashdrive saved the day.

Realities - The Awesome (a partial list)
  • Unconference: This was my first opportunity to connect more personally with people like John Martin, a member of my Network for years - a "real" friend but not one I had met face-to-face before. Another online friend, Sherry Crofut, shared her Google Glass, giving us a literal and figurative peek into the future, or, at least one possibility for digital evolution. Social aspects aside, it was energizing to propose, vote on, and participate in discussions with fellow learners. I chose one conversation about Maker Spaces and another about Badges. Both were lively and thought-provoking. It was the perfect way to seque into the (slightly) more formal conference experience.
  • Opening Keynote: Mark Klassen, a 19-year-old cinematographer, shared the story of how he used his Personal Learning Network and other online resources to learn film-making. Many of the concepts he touched upon, connectedness, passion, life-long learning, were repeated throughout the conference.
  • Sessions I attended (all were excellent): Dean Mantz & Wesley Fryer, CSI: Creative Storytelling Investigation; Dan Whisler, Energy 101 - KidWind & the SHS Chevy Volt Project; Butch Wilson, We Are Irons: Why We Asked Google to Lie to Us; Ginger Lewman, PBL Conversations; and a last-minute replacement presentation by Wesley Fryer on Visual Notetaking.
  • Vendor Reception and Dance - refreshments, swag, music, dancing...what's not to like!
  • Podstock PhotoWalk: John Martin and I led a merry group of photographers on a mini-tour of Old Town. 
  • Closing Keynote: Kevin Honeycutt, Starting and Maintaining a Revolution. Kevin challenged us to change the world by changing ourselves, our expectations, our approach to life and learning. It's a message that applies across the education spectrum, to teachers, yes, but also to students, administrators, parents, all stakeholders in the future.
Final Thoughts
Although I got very positive feedback on my presentation, Seeing is Deceiving, I soon realized that Podstock is best suited for a different approach to sharing and learning. Ginger Lewman and Butch Wilson, in particular, modeled the type of loosely structured, participant-driven conversation which I hope to emulate in the future. Will I submit a proposal next year? Already working on it. Will I return to Podstock? Just try to stop me!

"Photowalk" by dmcordell

Additional Resources
Seeing Is Deceiving Wiki
Podstock '13 Facebook Page
Podstock Ning
Podstock Photoset