Monday, September 26, 2011

Cohort D

Cohort D: Michelle Fromme, Elisabeth Abarbanel, Buffy Hamilton, Diane Cordell, Heather Braum

For the past few days, I’ve been privileged to participate in the first Reimagine:ED conference, an exploration of the intersection of design process and library planning.

As many good learning experiences do, this exercise threw us a few curves, challenged participants in unexpected ways, and led to some exciting new perspectives.

The organizers of the event set up three “cohorts,” or large clusters, A, B, and C, divided further into small collaborative groups. Each cohort was assigned an overriding question, with the ultimate goal of creating and presenting a final product related to a new vision for school libraries. Guided by mentors, inspired by design professionals, visionaries, even jazz musicians, we worked to master some of the fundamentals of innovative design, always relating it back to the library experience.

On Saturday evening, I met with some friends for camaraderie and conversation. Excited by what we had discussed in our formal activities, we started to brainstorm “the library as...” generating quite a long and eclectic list. Although we had been assigned to different cohorts, one idea really caught our imaginations. In this situation, we were students, not teachers, and 21st century ones at that. We decided to follow our passion and form our own group - not because we didn’t value our experience with fellow attendees, but because we had something we really wanted to flesh out and share with others. Thus was born Cohort D.

The powers that be (thanks, Laura!) allowed us to add our presentation to the culminating program, encouraging rather than criticizing Cohort D’s deviation from the “rules.” And so we were able to share our vision, the library as...A Field of Dreams. Rather than dwell on tangibles, we tried to capture the universal qualities in that particular movie that would foster an emotional, sustainable connection between a library and its users, no matter the physical form into which that library might evolve.

We hoped to:
  • suggest possibilities
  • show the value of questioning and inquiry
  • emphasis permeability: the field could be entered from multiple access points, seamlessly
  • describe a non-judgmental, nurturing environment, a place of safety and growth: a community
  • celebrate choices: individual/team member; participant/spectator; mentor/student; with users being able to choose the role that is appropriate at any given time
  • encourage passion in learning
  • demonstrate how library could be a multi-sensory experience
  • highlight the importance of storytelling and the diversity of the many stories that wait to be shared and acknowledged
  • propose that the “sweet spot” of connection to the library is emotional attachment

Our goal was not to create a template, but to suggest key components that would be transferable to any library, easily customizable for a broad spectrum of communities of learners.

We were taught a process, then allowed to express our vision. I hope that you allow your students the same freedom.

Long live Cohort D!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Considering New Perspectives

On Thursday, I'll board an Amtrak train in Fort Edward, NY, with a final destination of Atlanta, GA, where I'll participate in Reimagine: ED.

Our purpose will be "exploring the future of learning in K-12 education by identifying ideas, places, and professional roles that would benefit from new perspectives...[to] bring together diverse voices and use the design process to develop shared understandings and action steps for change."

With this goal in mind, I've been considering some recent personal experiences which have contributed to my life as a learner.

Open Studios Tour: Enchanting Art
This self-guided tour offered an opportunity to interact with artists in their working spaces, permitting a glimpse of some of the underlying structure that is necessary to a productive creative life. Photos.

Raptors in the Park
Community members dropped by to learn about native birds of prey. The audience was diverse and multi-generational, and information was delivered in an entertaining manner - a perfect blend of facts and fun. Photos.

Yaddo Mansion Tour

The public was allowed a rare glimpse of this private retreat, which has hosted artists from around the world since its founding, nearly 120 years ago. The guest rooms are spare but functional, each with a well-lighted desk (and dictionary); studio space offers a "blank canvas" for artists to utilize as they choose. Yaddo provides two meals a day, during which artists-in-residence can choose to interact with fellow guests or eat in a quiet area, where they can continue their thinking, undisturbed. Extensive grounds and beautiful gardens present other opportunities for reflection and conversation. If I could select the perfect venue for creativity and collaboration, Yaddo would be my choice. Photos.

Locating sites for en plein air painting is just a first step for my husband: both he and I track down sources that gives his artwork context and adds other levels of meaning. We became "citizen journalists" of a sort, when a local landmark burned down. Tim's painting, and my photos, were the most recent record of the building. And the facts he had gathered, from a railroad expert in his network, key facts about the purpose of the structure, gave some news reporters important background information. Photos.

My love for photography has resulted in some very interesting connections. When I recently posted photos of my mother's family on the Troy, NY Memories group in FaceBook, I was immediately contacted by relatives (of whose existence I was unaware) who provided genealogical information about the family dating back to 17th century France. With their help, I identified our mutual great-great-grandparents in a scanned image. This not only inspired me to learn more about a previously-unknown group of ancestors, it also triggered a rich storytelling and resource sharing burst that still continues. What better way to learn history than through exploring your roots? (I've blogged about my Italian heritage: In My Grandfather's Voice and Inquiry, Search, Results, Applications. Now I need to learn more about the Irish branch of the family tree). Photos.

But to get back to my original point: I've found that, for my learning experiences, I like a variety of spaces (intimate and expansive, interior and out-of-doors); opportunities for interaction but with an option for quiet self-reflection; informal exchanges of information; multiple modes of input and output; access to tools (typewriters, notebooks, laptops, etc.). I'm comfortable online but equally value face-to-face communication. I need motion as well as rest. I want to learn about topics that are of personal interest.

I look forward to participating in Reimagine:ED and will certainly share my experiences in future postings. If we truly desire a better educational system, we need to consider, collaborate, create, communicate.

"Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself." -John Dewey

"The eternal conflict of good and the best with bad and the worst is on." -Melvil Dewey

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Reprise: Our World Changed Forever

It was ten years ago today that coordinated terrorist attacks on the United States profoundly changed our lives.

Even though a decade has passed, writing about this event brings a lump to my throat and tears to my eyes. Four years ago, I blogged about a discussion I had with my students about September 11, 2001; another posting, from 2009, includes more of my memories of the day. I will let that stand as my record of a pivotal moment in history.

A few weeks after 9/01/01, our high school students gave a concert as a tribute to those who responded and those who died. While I'm not normally a country music fan, one of the songs they performed then still affects me whenever I hear it.

I AM proud to be an American. However you choose to remember this day, let that be your slogan and your comfort.

God bless the U. S. A.