Connected to Libraries

Here at the Wisconsin Educational Media and Technology Association’s Spring Conference. Blogging while my dear library media specialist (and their kin) slumber away.  Ready for them to give me all kinds of hassle about it in a few hours. 

So I should say some things about them. (Mostly so they’ll feel really bad about giving me a hard time.)

Getting together at conferences is really special for educators. It’s often questioned by folks from both outside and inside the field as frivolous wastes of time, where teachers go, come back with all kinds of fresh ideas and then burn themselves and their co-workers out talking about them and attempting to awkwardly implement them in an attempt to “stay relevant.”

I’ve been that gal.

She quickly left the building, thankfully early in my career.

My adventure into the world of library media science in shifted the tide.

Our former librarian Kris Kreuzer brought a UWSSLEC WISE Scholarship Program flyer to a lunch meeting, with someone else in mind for it. That person didn’t eat lunch that day. Kris mentioned that she might be retiring in a few years, so the district would need another LMS, and it might be interesting to see what it was all about. “Plus,” she added, “you get a free laptop.”

I had recently been in conversation with someone who was saying that I “better get my Master’s or you’ll never move on the pay schedule and your retirement is going to be way lower than it should be.” (I’ve always loved that reason folks often cite in our field for pursuing more education. Loans bother me. I prefer to go to school when I have questions and interests calling me into missing great swaths of time with loved ones.)

I was pulled in a little closer when I read on the flyer about developing rural educators in Wisconsin to be 21st century leaders in their schools and communities. 

I loved my little rural middle school. It was challenging interesting work on a daily basis with students and families who taught me so much about living and growing up in a country setting.

I was already and advocate for the transformative use of technology in learning. I was provided with some very important training when I working in the Chicago Public Schools with the amazing teacher-admin-professor, Heather Smith Yutzy, with whom I had studied middle school teaching methods at DePaul University. Heather had approached me and my colleague Michael to attend a series of sessions about using the Internet to impact instruction. I think it ended up being about building webquests. It was 1999.

I had been introduced to methods to use technology not as a replacement tool for learning, but as an invitation to learn more and interact differently with the world. I was hooked.

Heather and others who supported my decisions to integrate technology into my middle school classrooms helped pave the way for my decision to apply for the scholarship.

So back to this group of connected educators with whom I’m attending this week’s conference:

We were an awkward group four years ago, brought together by a team of professors of library media science who had studied the gaps and needs in our state and worked tirelessly to apply for grant funding to slow the loss of transformative library spaces in Wisconsin. Dr. Eileen Schroeder and Dr. Anne Zarinnia, together with their consortium colleague leaders, were welcoming us to the field in the basement lab classroom one sunny weekend on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.

They were sharing a map of Wisconsin with marks for each UWSSLEC WISE scholar around the state. We had already done some awkward getting-to-know-you interview activities. They began handing out technology, including an iPad for each of us that they had purchased with extra grant money. “Use it. Bring it into your classrooms. See what you can do with it.” We were having our Oprah moment in that dingy little lab, pinching ourselves that we had really been chosen for this scholarship out of hundreds of applicants.

And then they introduced us to Buffy.

“She’s from Georgia, and she has these little dogs. What do you call them? Dahx-hundz?” Dr. Zarinnia explained, her Welsh accent wrapping itself around the memory. “Our Skype connection may be troubled by all that barking. Just so you are aware. And that accent…”

Before we knew it, we were in conversation with one of the leading minds in what would soon become our passion and true calling in education: finding the power to create an “unquiet” and user-focused library media space in our schools. Of embracing multiple literacies. Of bringing democracy into the library space and turning the tide against old, warn models of librarianship.

Ms. Hamilton was phenomenal at engaging us by painting a picture of her work in Georgia to develop the library as a place of dialog over what was meaningful and important to its users. I remember her showing us photos of kids gaming in the morning with Pokemon or Yu-Gi-Oh cards, podcasting about their favorite books, blogging and Tweeting. Her fierce love of traditional literacy and books was an important piece of the puzzle but, she cautioned us, just one piece of what we need to value in our library spaces.

I remember asking Ms. Hamilton if this kind of transformative, student-centered space could coexist within the growing confines of the standardization movement; if testing was keeping up with the transformative style of twenty-first century librarianship that she was developing. What restrictions would these tests impose on her kind of work? 

Because I should say at this point that I was hooked on this direction for my career in education. 

A lifelong lover of libraries, but the very opposite of quiet, I felt I was meant to help carve out a space for my students like the one at Creekview High School in Georgia. I could not wait to get started.

Buffy was considerate of the question as she is with just about any question hurled her way, and the woman is a force of nature at fielding questions from anyone on the planet about the things she cares about: literacies, voices, transformative directions in learning.

She said that it was a good one to consider given the high-stakes piece of the puzzle. She did say that testing was perhaps trying to go in a different direction, and that she had hopes that assessments one day would truly reflect what her learners knew and could do outside of content recall. 

I was convinced.

My new WISE buddies and I started packing up after our first day. Lots of sighs of hope and promise and many ‘thank you’s’ for the tech were exchanged with the professors. 

But we were beginning a journey together that holds fast to this day. 

Our teacher hearts were changing and have changed, but I come to a conference in the middle of our state to reconnect in person with the people I have been online with every single day since Buffy sparked our learning four years ago. These are some of the most fantastic library media-minded folks in our state. Look for their work. Visit their libraries. Find them on Twitter. Even those among the group (ahem!) who are not at the helm of transformative library media centers in Wisconsin are interested in this work and carrying the torch for the kinds of learning that Buffy shared with us.

Laura Effinger

Ellie Rumney

Polly LaMontagne

Susan Queiser

Tiffany Braunel

Mike Slowinski

Brandon Berrey

Julie Weideman

Jessica Schmitz

Lorisa Harvey

Leslie Hermann

Abbie Thill

Joe Diefenthaler

Laura Wipperman

Janet Sager

Lisa Sorlie

Arlette Leyva

Stephanie Kilger-Karker

Trisha Sabel

Introducing my PLN to the next gen

So this has been a good week.

We had a fully functioning kitchen lab working to produce a healthy version of the iconic Shamrock Shake.

We had a team of students designing a gaming arcade that will ultimately fundraise for an organization set up by Rob Johnson, the father of our student, Aaron Johnson, who lost a valiant battle with leukemia this winter.

The Sphero obstacle course plans continue to move forward, especially after a visit from our friend Nick Torgerson, who also helped lead lessons on precision and accuracy, and design thinking with Sphero. He also hosted an impromptu guidance session about college and savings, and the pride he has for MIT, and he shared just a bit about his robotics work on that amazing cheetah.

Parents and families had a chance to meet the Sphero interactive toy, and parent-teacher conferences were all the more interesting because of it!

In addition, I attended a fantastic SAMR/Google Apps training seminar led by the imcomparable Naomi Harm.

Throw in a professional development/Personal Learning Community conversation conducted entirely via text messages, lunch with two fantastic colleagues, and a chance to spend some social time with a fabulous bunch of educators, and things really rounded out nicely.

One of the coolest small-mighty moments of the week for a Twitter fanatic like myself was my conversation with our mathematics volunteer, Jacob Rice. As we worked with students on Friday, our conversation turned to the power of connected environments for learning as an educator. I explained that Twitter was fundamental to my practice.

Jacob gave me that skeptical smile that most people offer when I begin to Twitter evangelize. They usually follow up with, “I’m not really into that whole Twitter thing,” or something similar to this. And I can honestly say that I was not “into” the “whole social media thing” a few short years ago.

He went on to explain how it is used by his peers, and I acknowledged that it can be a space fraught with all kinds of awful extremes and examples of human behavior that we try to avoid in our real world environments.

But you know I didn’t leave it there. (WISE Scholar friends, I’m talking to you.)

I shared how my Twitter Personal Learning Network (PLN) has been a lifeline for me in this work. How it has rescued me from feeling that the fundamentals of my practice, conversation and connection–often with some of the most forward-thinking and wonderful minds in our world–can be lost in the day to day rhythms of schoolosis.

I told him to get into the conversation about mathematics education because he has a voice in it and there are so many great ones in the space there to engage with. Now.

Good things come in threes (or whatever) so I should also say that I shared the Twitter Sermon with Nick Torgerson and with a friend of Jacob’s, Charles Labuzzetta, to whom I was introduced to when I ran into his fantastic mother Carol at the bookstore Saturday evening. Carol was one of the first parents I met in my new district, and I have been so grateful for her welcome. Charles is working on something very interesting with DNA and computer programming at Iowa State University. We hope to connect him with my students to learn more.

All three young educators are now listening and conversing in the Twittersphere. My students will have the opportunity to learn even more from these leaders in from our community. I can’t wait to read their words.

You should definitely come join us there.

And, for the record, all three gentlemen are YOUNGER than I am. Yes. That’s right. I introduced a social media tool for education, learning, and exceptional conversation to members of the NEXT GENERATION. Feeling kind of good about that. But I promise that’s the last time I’ll mention it. 😉

Follow Nick @teknickMIT

Follow Jacob @Jacob_R_Rice

Follow Charles @clabuzze

Coming soon: A heart-swelling phone conversation with a college-bound former student who ventured with me six long years ago in our middle school classroom into Google Apps for Educators.

See you at #WEMTA14 and in the Twittersphere, friends. I’ll be back on the road to my learning labs bright and early Wednesday morning. And I’ll see parents at Evergreen on Thursday night. Better catch some sleep while I can.