Monday, September 28, 2015

The Irony of Banned Books Week

While this is Banned Books Week, to me there's a much larger issue that is keeping engaging books out of students' hands. All too often I've seen students denied books they are interested in, even stripped out of their hands. Why? They weren't the right "level". This particularly bothers me when we hope to have students experience the pure enjoyment of reading for pleasure. We talk "voice and choice" but then restrict what they want to read for entertainment. While this is not happening at all schools, it appears that it is becoming more and more prevalent.

There are numerous programs with leveled text that can be used for instruction, and I see some value in that. For a student to reach frustration level because they cannot understand what they are reading is counterproductive.  But, I do not agree that a student will not learn or be challenged from reading a book that is "too low".  While lexiles take in such things as vocabulary and text complexity, there's no true way to measure the depth of emotion and meaning a book can bring to a student. I cringe when I hear of demands to "level a library".

I will never forget an avid reader, deeply empathetic toward others, very mature for a fifth grader, who came to our library and asked for suggestions. I booktalked Ruta Sepetys'  moving book Between Shades of Gray to her, only to have a teacher (no longer at our school) deny her the book.  Why? Not because it deals with a very serious subject, Stalin's genocide. No, it was "too low". Yes, we have students who like to carry around Harry Potter or other large books who will probably not finish them, but they should get to choose at least one book with no restrictions. Maze Runner, with a lexile level of 770,  Hunger Games at 810, and Wonder at 790 would be off limits for many of our students, but Diary of a Wimpy Kid, several of them at 1000+, are more acceptable. While Jeff Kinney's books have turned many into readers, books at lower levels can still provoke thoughtful dialogue and encourage students to read more.

As adults, do we always read "at our level"? Does my book club consult lexile levels? Do I ever push myself to read something that is a bit more complex if I like the topic? Girl on a Train comes in at 760, All the Light We Cannot See at 880.

We also must realize that for years, publishers were under pressure to publish many "Hi-Lo" books, meaning high interest, low vocabulary. Then, in particular, the Common Core Standards came around with the accompanying push for higher lexiles, especially in nonfiction. I have done numerous searches for books at higher lexiles, with many of them being dry as dust or not appropriate developmentally for middle school students. Yes, the publishers are now touting all kinds of correlations to CCSS and more books appear to have some higher levels, but they still do not appeal to many students.

The motto of Banned Books Week is "Celebrating the Freedom to Read". I'm all for letting students read what they are truly interested in. As with any skill, we improve with practice. Why not make that practice enjoyable, rather than a burden?

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Connections Have Multiplied!

Today I was honored to have my review of What Connected Educators Do Differently published on the MiddleWeb website. I was surprised to notice that several things have changed since I wrote the review, (almost) all for the good!

I'm a pink blur near the back.
Photo courtesy of @PrincipalStager
1. I traveled to #edcampLdr in Chicago on July 13. I was able to meet both Jeffrey Zoul and Jimmy Casas, two of the three authors. They could not have been more gracious and welcoming; the entire day was very empowering and inspiring. As a plus, I got them to autograph my book. It figures: the one author whose signature I'm missing, Todd Whitaker, is the one who lives in my state.

2. I got out of twitter "jail". I mentioned in the review that I was limited to following 2000 other twitter accounts. Apparently my following grew enough that I was able to break through that barrier. However, I still recommend using twitter lists, which is one of the things I did when following more was refused.  For example, if colleagues or friends started following me, I added them to a twitter list that I could check periodically and interact with them. I didn't anyone to think I was rude by not following them back.

3. I finished (completely finished) my participation in our wonderful state department of eLearning summer book club on Connected Educators. I found myself looking forward to Mondays to see what that week's questions would be. This was one case where I finished the entire book ahead of time.

4. With nine weeks of school complete, I still feel pretty connected, although I'm spending a great deal more time with my Voxer groups. My first experience with Voxer was through the #BFC530 group last November. Now I belong to more groups, and have even started two on my own. My daily commute is filled mainly with listening to the voxes, and today I even found myself slowing down at a yellow light so I'd have more time to listen. My liveliest Voxer group is edumatch (which now has far more than the 33 members mentioned on the website)

One thing that hasn't changed: my description as a sporadic blogger. Yikes! My last post before this was July 1.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Top Ten Things I Learned While #notatISTE

Being from Letterman's hometown, it feels only appropriate that I put my ISTE2015 reflections in the form of a top ten list.

I attended ISTE/NECC from 2009-2013, but did not this year (partly due to the mushrooming expense)  In recent weeks, I noticed increasing mentions of #NOTATISTE and investigated what that involved.  Little did I know it would mean I would spend hours on Google+ (the first I had really fully integrated it), hours in the "notatISTE" Voxer group with over 140 others, not to mention Google Hangouts, podcasts, twitter, periscope, email, diigo, Pinterest, and other websites-- all while having a fabulous time! The #notatISTE Google+ group has over 660 members.

10. It probably is a little easier to imagine what is going on if you have attended an ISTE in person. I was grateful that I had a great guide the first time I went (Washington, D.C. in 2009). I had even been to the Philadelphia ISTE in 2011. I can't imagine trying to picture an event with 20,000 people not having experienced it.

9. In this group, you were correct if you "Assumed Good Intentions". There really were no dumb questions. The atmosphere in the Voxer group was very open, non-judgmental, and patient. Many attendees mentioned that it was interesting to feel comfortable sharing so openly with complete strangers.

8. I knew this already, but the librarian network at ISTE (ISTElib) is fabulous! I watched two of their GHO; they are very organized and share many great resources. They have online opportunities throughout the year, and this was no exception. There are some excellent tweeters who readily share as well.

7. I will now be more equipped to encourage other educators to learn "off-site". When I was a beginning science teacher, it was attendance at events like NSTA and our state science convention (HASTI) that really added to my teaching repertoire. Today's teachers may not have as many in-person opportunities, but there are many resources available to everyone.

6. One of the #notatiste leaders, Jennifer Wagner, made a very creative challenge for us to perform different tasks to earn points. This led me to crowd source suggestions for the best Philly Cheesesteak in Indianapolis, do a photo walk of my neighborhood, and experiment with different tech tools. There was even a #notatiste karaoke group at the same time EdTechKaraoke was happening in Philadelphia. Did I win anything from this? No, just the satisfaction of learning and figuring things out.

From my neighborhood photowalk
5. I was willing to explore many new technological things with the support of our community. One of our leaders, Craig Yen, spontaneously offered a Google Hangout to teach us about... Google Hangouts! This community was the first time I used Google Draw, 81 Dash, and the most time I've spent on Periscope, Google+, Pocket and other sites.

4. You can empathize with people you've only "known" for a couple of days. One of our Voxer members had the adoption of her baby boy finalized on the final day of ISTE; she told us, posted a picture, and we all rejoiced!

3.  Quickly shorten URL's. Why didn't I know this before? When you see a long url, much of the time the end of it shows the path taken to reach the site (twitter, facebook, etc) Shorten the link by deleting everything from the '?' mark on! That takes you to the original post. May seem trivial, but I post a lot, and always try to find the source.

2. There were some advantages to being at home.  
Yes, there were times I had my phone, laptop, iPad, and chromebook in use. It would have been hard to juggle in person!  There is still the FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) But, in a way, it was easier to be in more than one place at a time.

1. There is still an after-ISTE letdown.

I still encourage people to go to ISTE (Denver 2016, San Antonio 2017), but this experience was awesome!  I have made connections for years to come.

ADDENDUM: Check out this great post from Craig Yen, in which he details how he accomplished so much while #notatiste. It helps explain how he seemed to be everywhere!

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Hosting edCamp Was Like My Wedding

It seems only appropriate that I write this on the Saturday of ISTE2015 in Philadelphia, for it was on June 25, 2011 that edCampIndy was "born". On what would become one of my "Top Ten Days of PD Ever"* I heard Kristen Swanson speak at TEDxPhillyEd 2011 on Penn's campus.

On the ride back from Philadelphia, AISLE President Denise Keogh and I made plans for the initial edCampIndy. AISLE (Association of Indiana School Library Educators) wanted to host a summer conference, but hosting a traditional conference was becoming very difficult financially, and we embraced the ideas of a participant-designed meeting.  Our summer workshops were already including educators outside the library realm, so edCamp fit that as well.

The fourth annual edcampIndy was held June 12, 2015, and as AISLE past president, I was the chair. We were able to hold it in my district at Raymond Park Middle School/Intermediate Academy. So many details ran in my head for months. For one reason or another, the things I lost the most sleep over:
1) Would we have enough sponsors? (I never worried about this until I was the chair this year.)
2) Would the wifi hold up? (Our tech department worked all of this out for us.)
3) Would enough people show up? (155 registered; about 90 attended.)
4) Would enough people volunteer when it was time to build the board?

The Fourth Annual #edCampIndy at Raymond Park Middle/Intermediate
As the people started to roll in, it really hit me: I knew most of the people coming, from several different walks of my life.  What a unique privilege to have co-workers, others in the district, librarians from across the state, friends, and others all in one place, meeting and interacting with one another. I even saw my daughter's second grade teacher for the first time in many years. As it would turn out, just like my wedding, I didn't begin to have as much time as I would have liked to talk to them. I also didn't get enough pictures (and why didn't I periscope?) I met several people face to face for the first time whom I've "known" on twitter for months, including some #BFC530 chatters. 

Fortunately, I have attended several other edCamps, including 3 in Chicago. At their most recent one on May 9, the organizers generously shared their google doc to organize just about everything in one place. All I had to do was make a copy. Our final document with links to our sessions can be found here

Of course, we had glitches, leading to recommendations we will make for next year. They include:
1) Somehow, in modifying the google doc to add session titles, some of our links to session notes disappeared.  I had qr codes plastered everywhere, but should have included the short url.
2) We should have had Tshirts to make it easy to find one of us. We had a session about google apps and extensions that ended up without a facilitator and attendees had trouble finding one of the organizers, scattered across sessions.
3) Although sessions are proposed by attendees, we had so many first time edcamp attendees that many were hesitant to come forward to propose a session. I had a few panicked moments where I was afraid our board would be half full.  Then some people stepped forward to get the ball rolling.  The same thing happened with our smackdown, which eventually turned out great! We could have "pre-arranged" a few more sessions that we knew would be of great interest since we had so many rookies.

4) Serendipitiously, I came across a video from Wes Fryer showing how to use google forms to email participation certificates using the autocrat addon.  Somehow the sharing permissions are still a bit muddled, so I need to figure that out. Although I thought everything was created in one google account, sharing permissions sometimes point to another, but overall, it was fun to use!
5) We should have included some students.

As with any special event, it took many hands stepping in, including MSD Warren teachers Becky Taylor, Krissy Carson, Jennifer Atkinson, and Roberta Kuonen. Krissy, as media specialist at Raymond Park, helped before and after with many setup details, including equipment. AISLE members Michelle Houser, Gigi Shook, and Denise Keogh jumped in several times to help during edCamp.

My overwhelming feeling when edcamp was over: gratitude that I had the opportunity to be among so many dedicated educators, many of them old friends, and all of them future connections.

*With ISTE in Philadelphia in 2011, I had the opportunity to do all of these in one day: ISTE Unplugged (for a little bit), Discovery Education at the Science Leadership Academy (a school I had wanted to see for some time), TEDxPhillyEd at Penn, and the ISTE Affiliate reception. The conference itself had not begun, and I had already learned enough to make the trip worthwhile!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

You, Too, Can Moderate a Twitter Chat*

I have been continually inspired through my participation in the Breakfast Club 5:30 AM twitter chats (heretofore referred to as #BFC530 ET and MT). They truly are "spark chats" that take just 15 minutes of your time initially, with positive effects lasting much longer. I also joined the Voxer chat group, and frequently learn from my BFC Voxer friends as I listen to posts on the way home.

You can read more about #BFC530 here, but the best way is to just follow the hashtag #BFC530 (Did you know you can search twitter even if you do not have an account? ...although I can't imagine learning without twitter now. ) Because I had gained so much, I decided it was time for me to attempt to give back, so I volunteered to moderate for a day.

I had recently read a post about an ASCD book by Suzy Pepper Rollins called Learning in the Fast Lane: 8 Ways to Put All Students on the Road to Academic Success. The first chapter really resonated with me. Take the time to open the link above; does the first paragraph describe anything you've ever seen?

Book available from

Topics on #BFC530 have been very thought-provoking, applicable to almost any educators' situation, sometimes philosophical, sometimes content-specific, sometimes serious, sometimes fun. Inspired by the book, I decided to submit the topic, "What are your best methods to assist struggling students?" and agreed to moderate both the 5:30 am ET and 5:30 MT (7:30 am for me). When I was booked into the schedule, I looked forward to it with eager anticipation for an entire week.

My initial thoughts: the 530 ET chat will be very nerve-wracking because there are so many people. The MT chat will be really easy, because not as many people participate. Was I ever wrong!!

The 530 ET chat generally begins a few minutes early with lots of hellos from around the world (lately including many laments about weather and snow day and delay announcements, as well as comments about the heat from our Floridian, SW US and Down Under friends) When I have tweetdeck open, it is a fast and furious conversation that reminds me of spinning fruit on a slot machine.

The surprising, wonderful thing about the MT chat was that while there were fewer participants, the conversation was much richer, deeper, and challenging.  There was actually time to think through a response and interact with the participants. I felt that my role as moderator was more important. There was more time to ask more questions to keep things moving, and more time to formulate a reply.

I've noticed that many of the valuable chats I've participated in have moderators who move things along (believe it or not, sometimes we get off topic!), and have carefully thought out questions that build upon previous ones.  However, they are also not averse to capitalizing on a good question or comment shared by a participant.  If you like leading class discussions, you'll be a natural, and if not, you can learn (growth mindset noted).  Before I give myself too much credit, it should be noted that yes, this was just a 15-minute chat. Many chats are an hour long, although I am starting to notice more 30-minute chats as well.

Please consider joining the #BFC530 chat sometime, no matter what your time zone. There are some storify posts available as well, and you will have a treasure chest of favorite and reply tweets. It's also a good idea to have a method to curate much of the information you receive, because you will learn a lot! Better yet, the feelings of inspiration and camaraderie with other educators throughout the world will often last until you recharge the next week day.

*Yes, I looked up the proper use of commas in this instance; most responses said it depends upon the emphasis desired, and I wanted to emphasize you!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

My One Word: Time

Let it be known that I didn't jump on the #OneWord bandwagon this year; I did that last year. Of course, as 2015 approached, I had to search to find what my 2014 word was (pride). At first I was leaning toward something in the "no excuses" vein for this year. I have a problem with procrastinating, so I've actually held some "no excuses" days in the past; when something came up that I needed to do, I promptly did it!  It was fun and strangely satisfying.

Image courtesy of

While there are many trite sayings and platitudes about time, what is true is that I do have the same amount as everyone else. Eric Sheninger's blog post of 12-21-14 had a graphic that really stuck with me: 

Image courtesy of

Then, as I started to work on my word, I serendipitously heard a sermon by our youth minister, Jenni Crowley Cartee, about the "fullness of time". She cited a book by Daniel Stern called The Present Moment. (When I investigated later, I discovered that the complete title is The Present Moment in Psychotherapy and Everyday Life.  Whew!  I'm glad I had Jenni's sermon to explain it.)

What struck me most about Jenni's sermon was the description of Chronos time vs. Kairos time.  How do we reconcile the precise, objective measurement of time, Chronos, with the importance of Kairos?  Kairos reminds me of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's concept of "flow " when you become completely absorbed in what you are doing.  Steve Chapman says, "The way I understand it, the difference between the two is that chronos time is informed by the passing of seconds, whereas kairos time is informed by the emergence of meaning." What's fascinating is that as you may lose track of time, you may find insight.

During my time working with a dozen outstanding educators to write Teaching 2030: What We Must Do for Our Public School Students--Now and in the Future, we frequently discussed the concept of "seat time" vs. "learning time".  I always think of 2030 colleague Renee Moore for her views on using seat time (Chronos) as a measure of accomplishment.  Is, "Congratulations! You're spent 13 years with us; you're done," the best way to measure K-12 education?  Should students be assigned work by their age?

Archived Webinar from Indiana DOE

Even as I worked on this post today, the Indiana State Board of Education was debating the definition of an "instructional day" at the same time school districts were holding eLearning days due to frigid temperatures.  

With the advent of the net and easy access, I spend a lot of time on social media. I'm not sure how often I experience Kairos, especially while jumping from platform to platform. We can connect to more information than ever before, and, if we are deliberate in our practice, much of it can prove to be useful.  My goal for 2015 is to be more mindful of my Chronos time while obtaining more meaningful results. And, what does this mean for students?  How do we guide them toward experiencing Kairos time, or flow, while adhering to the implications of the typical Chronos school time?