Thing 01/2017: Blogging

I’m going to go back to square one with the first thing because I just finished an epic journey over the course of 2017 that I wanted to share as it relates to blogging.

For some reason, I like signing up for things and rarely do I forget that I did, like #edublogs club until I got the first email about a week into January 2017. I had signed up for a year-long blogging challenge through one of the most well-known education blogging entities, Edublogs. The introduction is here and the point was that they would provide a weekly prompt for educators to respond to on their personal blogs, both to get the creative juices flowing for new or seasoned bloggers and connect educators. The best thing to come out of this was a personal connection to a library in Texas. She high school librarian there has school initials that match the high school library that I work for and we share the same first name.

As with blogging, it’s a slog and unless you’re dedicated and enjoy what you do it becomes a burden that many drop. And many that began the journey, did drop off. They stopped sharing their blog prompts each week and it was down to just a few of us. Ultimately, Edublogs put a halt but shared the rest of the year’s worth of topics for those that were dedicated to finishing. Yep, I’m one of them because I liked what the prompts got me thinking about, though I still had my own content that I was sharing alongside of it too. The full fifty prompts are posted here. I’ve got my last three scheduled within the next three weeks as I’ve already written them.

For me, it was still engaging, interesting, and reflective of my work. Plus, I’m a stickler for seeing things through. You can check out my forward-facing blog called ReadersBeAdvised here (and a variation @ReadersBAdvised is my Twitter handle). I keep this blog for my exploration of technology and library-specific work for Cool Tools because the audience is different though I will translate some topics to the other as necessary.

It’s worth exploring activities like weekly, monthly, or year-long challenges to get creative and draw inspiration. I regularly participate in Book Riot’s #riotgram challenges that focus on bookstagramming on Instagram. So, I guess you can say I really do like a good challenge. Isn’t life about that? Individual and group challenges? This one is definitely solidly an individual challenge with a crowd sourcing or crowd sharing if you’d like. Consider that when you encourage more of your fellow educators to blog and our students.


Thing 12/2017: Final Reflection

Another Cool Tools has come to a close and our reflection is no small piece to completing the puzzle each year because it allows me to reflect back on what I accomplished through the tools I did explore, what I chose not to explore, and what I look forward to returning to.

And returning is key and why Cool Tools is an invaluable curated resource for all resources for librarians and educators. It’s forward-thinking but also allows the most novice of learners to the ability to start at zero, if necessary. For me, I went backward for several of the things this year and dived deeper into Twitter with some tries and fails. I realize I’m not a big fan of Twitter chats, mostly because I’m in bed before many of them happen to ensure the most amount of participants can participate, but also for ones where the questions are not available ahead of time, that I’m focused on responding rather than enjoying the sharing that is taking place. I also went back to blogging too (the very essence of the Cool Tools experience) because I’m doing more with my own blogging and blogging for others including joining the #edublogsclub community. Which if you haven’t already joined the challenge, do it! Each week you get a prompt to respond to and they’re fun, informative, and also collaborative as you have a whole community reading yours and you reading theirs.

Then oppositely, I looked ahead. I “scanned the horizon”, learned about global connectivity, news literacy (selfishly I was also doing a presentation and wanted to gather as many resources and articles as possible!), and media skills which came in handy literally days after I practiced it with this course.

To be able to visit over and over again and know that the resources are updated and run the gamut of articles to videos provides extensive reach for each topic. It’s always worth the time and effort to put into creating something or reflecting on other things. As always…

Thank you, Polly!

make action GIFs like this at MakeaGif

Thing 21/2017: Taking the Lead

This topic is worth coming back to though I don’t believe I’ve necessarily done the Cool Tools “thing”, instead, I’ve attended webinars and completed classes on the topic in order to continually improve and reflect on my practice. Though it’s specific to developing an action plan for the library, tweaking our vision, and being #futureready and how to share it with others.

I enjoyed reading through several of the articles that solidified that we’re on the right track, but also provided nuggets for improvement. Specifically in Sarah Kelly Johns’ thirty-minute webinar, there was an image of Jill Hurst-Wahl’s that talking about incorporating technology and that the outcomes are NOT that they use a Prezi, but rather use the tool of a Prezi to be able to do something like: 1) raise awareness, 2) start conversations, 3) find answers, 4) take action, 5) drive change, 6) change minds, or 7) join parnters. Beside the basic message that reiterates that technology is a tool, not the outcome, it resonated with work that our library is starting to engage in with the public libraries in our area around teen voice, as in how to cultivate it, how to provide them with one on topics that are important to them, and more. So to address what SKJ leaves listeners with in the webinar was two things we’re proud of in our library, two things that have an impact on student learning, and two things that are important to your program and I want to highlight the importance of student voice.

We create programs and activities based on student input. When a student asked if we can get origami paper and another asked about materials for friendship bracelets, we obliged. Last year when we couldn’t put out new puzzles fast enough, we capitalized on making the library what they wanted it to be. And then we shared it with others through our newsletter and on our social media. Nothing gives us greater joy than when others re-tweet or share things that we’re doing when it comes to the students.

The next step is to also share it out as widely as possible and that’s what we’re going to do. Join us in April as my colleague and I share the programming we do at our high school library at Capital Region BOCES!

Thing 16/2017: Media Skills

After seeing Polly in person to do a social media class on gifs and graphics (which I had never made a gif before so see it here), I still generally find myself annoyed with them. Specifically on Goodreads, where I spend my time documenting my reading. Others, use their comment box to create long narratives about their reactions to the book and incorporate gifs ad nauseum rather than use their words.

But I know they’re popular and it would be a disservice not to incorporate them strategically every now and then. So, I used Make A Gif after seeing the example to be able to test them on our school library’s social media account. I started with this practice one of my sons’ artwork, trying to make it aesthetically pleasing and not necessarily “time lapse”.  Then I realized if I created an account, I can create a caption, so I created this one as a retrospective of some of our weekly nonfiction facts (see creation here) for our school library. A few things I learned while creating this second one. First, I was frustrated that there was no way to edit/crop the photos as it seemed like they were cropping some and not others and you couldn’t read them all. I didn’t want to spend too much time figuring out the “custom” crop, so I allowed it “biggest crop” and that fixed the cropping that originally happened when I uploaded the images. And the other important factor is being able to control the speed using the slider underneath the images. I actually still wish it would allow an even slower speed especially because my gif has some text, but alas, it didn’t go any slower than the speed I selected.

Once is saved, I was able to link it but you can also download it but all of the biggest social media tools are listed to the right to share it, so I was able to share it via Twitter using the social media button. I like the ease of sharing using the buttons and for our social media, which are the basics, it fits our needs.

Overall, I liked using the Make a Gif site because it was easy to upload, edit, and create and there is a personal and business option, where it seems the personal membership will accomplish your basic needs. Will I do it all the time? Probably not, but will I do it sometimes? Yes, because it’s that easy!

Thing 32/2017: Thinking globally

Well grab a box of tissues if you decide to start with Denmark’s video “All That We Share” that Polly has under the resources to learn about global connections. In a succinct video, it demonstrates that everyone underneath it all has similarities even though we put them in boxes based on appearances. For the beginning of a school year or an icebreaker, this is a short, very perfect way to break down the barriers as well. And essentially, in our hyper-connected world, there are still barriers or misunderstandings, which is why I gravitated toward two of the resources including the Global Speed Chat using an awesome tech tool, Padlet, and the Slice of Life (SOL) challenge that two teachers began.

And the second activity, which I’m sharing with our teachers, connected with me in reading the teacher’s reason for creating the SOL challenge. It was simple. A student had responded to a prompt and shared how everyone was searching for his sister’s lost necklace and in the end, it was around her neck. And the teacher thought, how every day. I make this connection after I started a book group years ago with our school for interested students. It had a specific reading list and accomplished a specific task. And it started with reading a student’s college application essay that demonstrated how broad and how small our connections are. The student had escaped bombings in her native Bosnia as a child. And my husband was in Bosnia with the Army around this same time. I thought, how small a world that they could have met each other in that moment. One girl in a war-torn country and a man serving his country. Then I reflected on our student population and at the time we were still in Afghanistan, so even students “who never left home” in the United States still were connected to war in some way and I wanted to explore that. So we read fiction, nonfiction, a graphic novel, and a short story collection that the students then responded using the latest technology at the time (Museum Box, Voki to name two).

Ultimately, I think the exploration of global connections with others using Skype classroom or Global Speed Chat or Slice of Life is first to evaluate the students you have and how best to benefit them. For small districts in rural areas, the assumption would be many will likely never travel the world, so bring the world to them. And for those that are more international in nature, give them opportunities to think and act to better their native country or their newly-adopted one. And use stories like I Will Always Write Back or Far From Home to allow students to discuss the significance of making these connections rather than just forcing the connection.

Thing 14/2017: News Literacy

The interest in this topic is not only very timely based on the news climate, especially with the injection of politics, but also because I’ll be presenting about this topic in about a month to other teachers AND because there have been a few new great resources from others that continually contribute to “making sense” of news literacy.

I’ll start though with reflecting on some of the articles shared in the Cool Tools post including Valenza article from SLJ, but I didn’t find it nearly as helpful as some of the others that provided lists (my new favorite word is listicle after learning about it through my #edublogsclub challenge) providing questions and helpful approaches with students. Yet, as much as we’re needing to find ways to educate our students, these are helpful for anyone, including myself to be reminded of or provide a better way of approaching an article.

“The Six Principles Behind News Literacy” as well “False, Misleading, and Clickbait-y and/or Satirical News Sources” provided some much-needed definitions and understanding but the most basic of all of the reminders is that free expression is the foundation of our democracy. It is our job to work through and understand the information given to us because the information should keep coming (and as one article mentioned, it doubles approximately every few years) because we have the freedom to disseminate, create, share, and speak. Every rally both locally and nationally has shown students that we must speak up and speak out.

The other recommendation was about reinventing current events. I like this approach. Have students bring in current event articles (as they relate to a specific course or in any capacity to be able to infuse news literacy into the curriculum and take responsibility for its instruction) and then asking students to discuss intelligently things like who produced and what was its purpose? How can you verify the information or does it document sources within the article? These and many other questions are good approaches and absolutely bring current events to the 21st century.

Last, as I mentioned in the first paragraph, I’d like to also share two additional images that help us understand news literacy. One is from Eric Devine’s blog where he “pumps up the volume” and shares a great graphic about news sources and their bias. The other has already been shared around, but for the sake of bringing it all together, our favorite Library Girl shared “Tips for Spotting Fake News” which is another well-organized graphic around the topic.

No matter what, this is a topic that needs to stay and be revisited often. And the concluding thought is that it must be taught. It is not something that gets developed over time, the instruction must be explicit, whether it’s discussing an edited image or talking about the credibility of an author, this conversation must continue so that everyone can be effective users of information.

Thing 1/2017: Blogging “301”

It’s ironic that once a repeat Cool Tools student has created their blog and likely reuses the one that they’ve had from previous years, that we quickly look to the other things. But, there’s so much more I want and need to learn about blogging, so I’ve revisited the first thing. Both because I’m killing two birds with one stone and I want to step up my blogging game.

First, as I’ve posted in our Canvas platform, I’ve joined the #edublogsclub challenge that began this past week. Each week, the administrators of Edublogs will post a prompt that you have one week to complete. It’s about upping your blogging game while connecting with educators blogging themselves. They rank the best blogs in categories like education, libraries, and blogs by students. So a lot of learning will be taking place over the next few weeks with that one and you can follow that journey with the above-mentioned hashtag.

Second, I have been blogging professionally on one platform on numerous blogs with different audiences. I am a contributor to The Hub, YALSA’s collection development blog, the Books Blog for the Times Union, and manage both this one for professional development and my personal/professional ReadersBeAdvised blog. Not-so-ironically, they are all powered by WordPress, so I want to get smarter about using it. I spent the better part of two hours last night alone, plus countless hours over the last several weeks really digging deeper into the support pages (which also include embedded Youtube videos that last 1-3 minutes which is fantastic). I am starting to understand the different between “menu” and “pages”, realizing that not all themes are created equal since I wanted to do a custom header but still love my theme (which doesn’t have that option), so now I’m going to not switch, though I’ve been toying with the idea of paying to get a bit more content available to me and “brand” a bit better. How many Cool Tools participants pay for their site?

Likewise, visiting other blogs for the Edublogs challenge and visiting those that I follow professionally and respect, ideas are taking shape. One article I stumbled upon was about blogging itself, which brings you back to some basics and provides some food for thought from Gwyneth Jones, the Daring Librarian. I know what I like from some and don’t like from others.

But I’ve been happy with the alterations I’ve made so far on my ReadersBeAdvised blog. I’ve added the “text widget” called “Speaking of” which I like and modified some of my other widgets. I created a page that collects one of my categories from my main posts (my home is my blogroll) and puts it on that separate page. The idea here is that I want to diversify my blog– I don’t want to do book recommendations and reviews but talk about practice, library programming and activities, and other musings about the library life, but want to do it from the comfort of one blog rather than hosting several (which some bloggers do).

There’s also the intersection (which will be my next thing) with the site I created after I started giving presentations locally, both with my colleague and individually, using Weebly. Right now I’m at a crossroads of figuring out what has staying power, what should I be paying for (to get a bit more out of it, especially when sites get popular enough that they start adding premiums and costs to get the same content you did have for free originally) that add legitimacy to the message and I’m using Cool Tools as the vehicle.

As always Polly, thank you for this opportunity.