Category Archives: Rants

This is the place I go to complain.

Testing Blues

I’ve probably ranted about this before. We test every single quarter. Last quarter students were taking the MCA high stakes tests. They were mostly done on paper but next year they’ll be on computers. The other 3 quarters students take MAP tests. Unlike the MCAs, which are summative, the MAP tests are formative and provide good, quick feedback so teachers can see when a student is having trouble before it gets to be a crisis.

Don’t get me wrong I’m not saying there shouldn’t be any tests. In fact, I use the MAP scores as one way of determining seating arrangements. But do we really have to have a test every single quarter? Since the tests are administered in the library computer lab, I lose almost an entire quarter of instructional time each year. My colleague and close friend schedules the tests but usually I don’t know early enough to plan my way around it. I make do the best I can. I go to the classrooms with a cart of books. I try to deliver a lesson in the classroom and then check out books from the cart. It’s a tiring hauling everything around and I’m not able to teach all the things I need to teach, especially when I don’t have access to computers.

I really want 4th and 5th grade students to evaluate websites. The 3rd graders were having such a hard time logging in that I developed a lesson plan so they can practice that and get some practice on Word in the process. The kindergartners need to learn how to log in and be able to do a simple catalog search by the end of the quarter. I don’t remember now what the 1st and 2nd graders were going to do but it was going to be on computer. I feel like I have to cram all my teaching this quarter into the month of July

Certainly I’ve had students on the computers during the other 3 quarters but I haven’t had an entire quarter to concentrate on it because at some point my classes lose that computer access to testing. What would a classroom teacher do if they were told that they could not teach in their classroom or use the resources there for 2 or 3 weeks every quarter?

The Fear Factor

I have to admit that I was really nervous about doing the VoiceThread project with my students. I don’t record video or audio for personal use and although I know how to use a camera, I don’t even take that many photographs. I’m a librarian at heart, not a sound engineer or photographer. So this project felt a little like diving into the deep end of the pool for the first time.

My work laptop has a built in mic. I didn’t know that until I did this project but now I know that I can use that computer for other kinds of recording apps such as podcasting or screencasting. Because of this project, my tech support person discovered that the computers that my students use do not have built in mics. She very helpfully found some small, inexpensive mics that we could purchase. Our computers are beautifully arranged but very close together in the library.

Library computer lab
Library computer lab

Would many students all talking at once be a problem? I decided to buy eight of the Olympus ME-52 Noise Cancellation Microphones. I left one computer in-between hoping that noise would not be a problem in the recordings.

These mics are tiny. They look enormous in the picture but they’re actually very small. I decided that I had to put them away after every use so that none would be stolen. However, they worked beautifully. The very first time we used them the noise in the library was really over the top. There were two classes using the space at the same time and I was sure that the recording quality would be compromised. We learned that students had to hold the mics very close to there mouth (H1N1 concerns) but the mic did not pick up the sounds around the speaker. The downside was that students who moved the mic away from their mouth, even just a few inches, faded out. It was easy to instruct students to hold the mic close and still while recording. Now I know that I can have a mic at every computer and will be buying enough so that 25 students could be recording all at the same time. If I had known this at the start, the folktale VoiceThread project would have been very much easier.

Here’s the real point of this post. It’s VERY difficult for classroom teachers to do activities like this. How much simpler would it have been to have the students retell their folktales to a classmate, or even in front of the whole class? Sure it would have taken time but it took two weeks to record students anyway and even then not everyone recorded. Students would still have had good practice at analyzing, retelling, and public speaking. Using VoiceThread added a huge complex step to the assignment that challenged me to my limit. I’m relatively comfortable with technology and I found it difficult. How can we expect teachers who are afraid of technology to attempt this sort of thing? Don’t get me wrong. I don’t regret doing this project, but there needs to be a lot more support for teachers who are trying to do something new.

Now that I’m done with the project and looking back on it I would really have appreciated some help. Every school, or at least every district, needs a technology coach. This person should know about the different online possibilities. They should know what sort of hardware is needed and how to work it. They should know how to set up accounts on various sites so that using those sites would be as easy as possible for the teacher. I’m not saying they should do the job of setting up the accounts but they can help the teacher see what needs to be done and how to do it. They can help teachers decide what sort of technology works well with the project. What’s the objective of the lesson and how can we best showcase student work? Will students be using cameras, mics, video equipment? How do we teach them how to do that? A coach could help teachers understand how much time is required to teach the process and even help them write lesson plans to accomodate the technology that will be applied.

I come back to this issue time and again because “we want what’s best for our students.” It’s a huge mistake to expect teachers to just know how to do all this stuff. Teachers who are afraid will not go there and the students suffer for it. Cash strapped districts may not want to go this route but something has to be done if we expect our students to be ready for the real world.

Helpful Software

  • I do not need to know the name of the scanner software every time I do a scan.
  • I’m scanning a picture, not a document.  Why do I need to tell the scanner this fact every single time?
  • Save to file should be the automatic choice, not one I have to make every time.
  • The location for the saved file needs to be flexible.  I don’t want to save it to that folder that the software made up.  Browsing for a file every time takes a lot of time.
  • When I scan a picture I want to save the entire picture.  Having the option to crop it and save part of it is nice but not necessary.  For every picture I had to determine what part of the picture I wanted to select.  There was no apparent rhyme or reason to this.  Sometimes there were even 3 or 4 selection boxes and I had to delete them until I only had one.  Out of a total of about 75 pictures there were 6 where the selection box actually covered the entire picture so that I didn’t have to resize it.
  • Only 2 more pictures to go and the scanner crashes requiring a forced shutdown by unplugging it.

I just spent the entire day scanning student pictures.  It wouldn’t have taken so long if the scanner software hadn’t been so helpful.  To be truly helpful, software must be able to learn.  There are several places in the above list where the process could have been made faster and more efficient if the software had been able to remember what I told it to do the time before.  The really sad part is that I am only half done.  I guess I know what I’ll be doing next Saturday.

Standards for the 21st-Century Learner

Harambee Elementary School is/was a multiage school.  Unfortunately, curriculum is not written for the multiage perspective making it extremely difficult for teachers and so next year we will be looping.  I have always devised my own curriculum, based on standards such as the MEMO scope and sequence and/or ISTE standards for students.  Now that we will be looping I need to rethink my scope and sequence and decided to take a closer look at the new AASL standards.  They have a PDF file, Standards for the 21st-Century Learner that can be printed out for personal or educational use.  So I printed it out because it’s hard to read online.  I was going to supply a link to the PDF file until I read the following restriction:

Permission must be requested for publishing or posting a portion of the text or the original document in a print or online publication or on a Web site as well as linking to the PDF. 1

In the past I’ve made a spreadsheet with the standards and benchmarks in columns.  On the other side of the sheet are columns for each teacher at each grade level.  Every quarter I write a summary of what students learned in the library based on the standards and I note which classes worked on which standards.  Unfortunately, because of the copyright restrictions, I will not be able to use the AASL standards to do this. Once again I quote from the copyright restrictions page:

Permission must be requested to use the learning standards document in works or presentations that are derivatives, adaptations, or any work of which the learning standards are the core content. 2

The AASL standards are useless to me if all I can do is look at them.  If AASL actually expects us to use these standards we have be able to take the document apart to put into a form like I suggested.  I guess I’ll go take a look at the MEMO standards again and retool my spreadsheet from there.

When Your Best Is Not Good Enough

How do you do the job of two people?  Since it can’t be done, what do you sacrifice?

On Thursday I had a half of a 2nd and 3rd grade class adding their book reviews to the Harambee Library Wiki.  The other half was checking out and reading.  I have the circulation software loaded onto a computer that the students can access so some of them can check themselves out.  However, if students have overdue books they will not be able to check out at that station and must come to the circulation desk to check out.  I was pulled in two directions, trying to help students working on the computers and trying to help those who were checking out.  I can’t help feeling that I did a poor job assisting all the students.

The media center clerk is not in the library all day.  She leaves to supervise lunch and recess, then works in the office at the end of the day.  It leaves me running around the library (literally), trying to do her job and mine.  Studies show that one of the biggest advantages for student success on high stakes tests is student access to the collection.  In a middle or high school this could mean opening before school starts and staying open longer at the end of the day.  In an elementary setting it means that students can come to the library at any time during the day to get books to read.  That ideal is not possible with only one person running the library, unless that person ONLY checks out books and does not try to teach.  This has given rise to libraries that are manned by clerks while there is no media specialist, or one who services more than one school.  I’m lucky that I don’t live that nightmare.  However, next year the media clerk will be working more in the office and even less in the library and I’m exhausted just imagining what that will be like.

What should I sacrifice?  I could change the protocol so that students could check out, even if they have overdue books.  How would this help students become responsible citizens?  I could ask the teachers to be more involved in the library, but if they need to work with individual students at that time they won’t be able to help their class.  I could give up on the teaching side of my job and just check out books…well, no, I couldn’t do that.  I guess I’ll just keep banging my head against that brick wall of lowered expectations and hope that my head is hard enough to take it.

School Libraries and Student Achievement

We know there’s a connection.  Many state studies have made that connection.  Just doing a basic Google search: impact of school library media centers on academic achievement, provides links to well-researched articles about numerous studies making a powerful connection.  According to an ERIC Digest article 1  summarizing work by Keith Curry Lance and others, over the last 50 years there have been about 75 studies.  How many studies do we need?

Here are a couple of my favorite quotes from the ERIC Digest:

  • Many early studies of this topic demonstrate the value of the mere presence of a professionally trained and credentialed library media specialist.
  • In all four states, the level of development of the LM program was a predictor of student performance. In all four states, data on staffing levels correlated with test scores. In Pennsylvania, Colorado, and Oregon, additional data on collections and expenditures were predictive of reading scores. Where LM programs are better staffed, better stocked, and better funded, academic achievement tends to be higher.

I’m not going to attempt an in-depth examination of these articles or studies.  There are already excellent resources that do that.  I just got to thinking, given the preponderance of evidence, why are there schools with insufficient library resources and staffing?

I’m going off on a tangent now.  Bear with me.  Hopefully I can tie the ends together.

Lately I’ve been reading articles and blogs about the value of project based learning.  While I certainly agree, I’ve also seen problems.  Equity is an issue with this style of learning/teaching.  If you have a teacher who’s good at it students can really fly.  What about the teachers who are not so good at it?  What about students who have a learning style that’s incompatible?  A classroom can be in a state of apparent chaos and still have a huge amount of learning present.  Another classroom is simply in turmoil.  What’s an administrator to do?  Turning to a standard textbook-based curriculum, taught by all teachers in the school, seems to be an obvious answer.  Does this meet the needs of all the students?

Looking back at the original topic, I can see some parallels.  There is no specific media center curriculum available.  Almost everything that happens by way of instruction in the library is essentially project based.  Teaching students how to do research when they have nothing to research is a waste of everyone’s time. There are many aids for teacher librarians such as books to read, games to play, etc. (sounds like another post) but connecting information literacy skills with work already happening in the classroom is much more powerful.  In fact, the studies show that the amount of collaboration between classroom teachers and media specialists is a factor in student achievement.

For administrators the view can be unsettling.  How do they measure student achievement?  What is the librarian doing that makes a difference?  How much support staff is needed to free up the media specialist for collaboration?  How much time should be given to collaboration and what should the collaboration look like?  What should the per student budget be for books and other resources to ensure improved student achievement?  There aren’t any formulas and there isn’t a curriculum.  What should they do?

Here’s another parallel.  The availability of technology is also a factor. “Technology is an essential part of a successful L[ibrary] M[edia] program.”  Why is it a factor?  What needs to happen in the culture of a school for the benefits of technology to be maximized?  Where’s the technology curriculum?

Now that I put all these things together, it’s no wonder that schools are struggling with 21st century learning.  We are asking educators…teachers, media specialists, and administrators…to become comfortable in an unstructured world.  We’re asking them to look at students as individuals and to find the teaching style and resources that works best with each individual.  We know it can be done.  It’s not as unstructured as it looks.  There are connections and we have to find those connections.  How do we do that?  Could the media center be the base for the unstructured structure needed to help our students be successful?

Dark Libraries

The custodian has been trying to save money by turning off lights.  The first time he turned off the lights in the library I was at lunch and flipped out when I came back.  Most of the time now about half my library (the part with the tables and 12 computers) is in the dark.  I’ve been told that if we need lights on we should turn them on, but I’ve also seen the lights turned off or turned down when people were working there.  The intent is certainly admirable and I’m very happy that we’re saving money.

However, it depresses me to see the library in the dark.  I can’t help thinking that it’s a metaphor for libraries in our schools.  How many schools these days have dark libraries because there’s no staff to run them?  How many are dark for large parts of the day as a result of understaffing?  This darkness I speak of could be physical, but the metaphor runs deeper. There’s an academic darkness that can settle on a library run by clerical staff if weeding is nonexistent and ordering haphazard.  The darkness could be the result of chaos in situations where no staff was hired so students and teachers take items at will and nothing new is ordered.  Darkness like a lingering illness can hang over a library when a librarian or support staff are required to spread themselves thin at more than one building, or to spend large chunks of time at tasks unrelated to the running of the library.

I’m tired of hearing that we “want what’s best for kids”.  How can a dark library be good for kids?  In an age when information is exploding, how can we imagine that the librarian, an information broker, is expendable?  Will classroom teachers, who must prepare students for those all important tests, teach students how to navigate the internet safely, or evaluate websites for unbiased content?  Will they have time to show students how to use a library catalog or do effective searches?

When something is extremely well done it looks easy.  Apparently librarians have been doing their job so well, and it looks so easy, that the decision makers think that anyone can do it.  I can teach my students how to find the books they want and how to check them out but how can I provide reader advisory assistance when there’s no clerical staff at the circulation desk?  How can I find the time to teach students, collaborate with teachers, or provide staff development when I also have to order, catalog, check in, check out, shelve, weed, mend, etc.?  These are basic library operations that take a lot of time.  Librarians are not superhuman beings.  No matter how hard we try, we can’t do it all by ourselves.

Will this pernicious darkness follow our students throughout their education?  I fear that in the current economy more and more libraries will have the light sucked out of them.  I dread the day when I’m happy to be working in a half-dark, poorly supported library because the alternative is a closed, totally dark library.

Browser Dilemma

There are good things and bad things about the two browsers that I’m most familiar with.  I’ve used Internet Explorer since I first started going online and I’m comfortable with it.  Most sites are written for IE so there aren’t many issues with compatibility.  The problem I’m having is with slow page downloads and sometimes it just crashes.  Today I was trying to update a page on my website when I got the blank screen of death after about 15 minutes of work.  I didn’t really have 15 minutes to waste so it was rather frustrating.  I’m not sure what the problem is but I think it’s associated with some annoying tracking cookies.  On my home computer I started inspecting the cookies and I block the ones that I’ve learned could cause trouble.  Generally the site I’m on still works just fine but it makes browsing such a chore to have to view all those cookies.  In the end I’m probably taking more time to view them than I would to just wait for them to download.  However, I have managed to get some sites to run much quicker.

So, I’m forced to look more closely at Firefox.  There are some things I really like, such as the quick load times for most pages and when a new site opens a new tab instead of a new window.  I know I can do that on IE too but you have to hit ctrl to do it.  I also LOVE the feature that returns you to the page you were working on if the browser crashes.  That has saved me more than once when putting up a complicated post on a forum I frequent. Unfortunately, Firefox is not the answer to all my prayers.  It’s mortal slow to open up.  I actually can’t edit the pages on my website on Firefox, although they can be viewed just fine.  While I will work on a complicated post in Firefox, I copy it and post it in Internet Explorer because Firefox makes changes to the post that I do not like.  I’ve had trouble printing from Firefox where only part of what I wanted to print would actually come out and some of that was jumbled up with script on the bottom of the page.

I have some friends who are Firefox fanatics who think that everyone should have changed over to it long ago.  I guess my solution will be to become a dual user.  I’ll use Firefox when I can and Internet Explorer when I have to.  I wish it was the other way around though.

Look at that, two rants in a row.  I’ll have to think happy thoughts before my next post.  Oh, and, if you see any of those blue links on odd words just ignore them.  Don’t use them.  You’ll just encourage their obnoxious use.

ContentLinks

I am extremely annoyed at the ContentLinks that are showing up on this blog.  Please do not assume that I support any of these sites in any way shape or form.  Had I known that Edublogs did this I would not have started my blog here.  I understand that they need the ad money to support the site however, I object to the change in my content.  I did not put these links on here.  Lately I’ve been having some issues with tracking cookies slowing down my browsers and my computer.  The intrusions of these ads on my own blog further concerns me.

I understand that if we pay to support the site that the ads will not show up.  I feel like I’m being blackmailed.  Either I pay up or suffer the ads.  I will not pay so I’ll look for a different blog site.  I don’t want to lose the posts I have here.  Can I move them to one of the blogs I have on google?  Yes, I know that google has ads too, but it doesn’t change what I’ve actually posted.  The ads are on the top or side and I can ignore them if I want.  Ads in the middle of my posts is infuriating.

Getting started

I am amazed at how frustrating this has been.  Signing up was the easy part.  Sometimes I can be fairly methodical so I thought I’d just go down through the welcome post and try all the things suggested. 

I got stuck right at the beginning trying to upload pictures for the two different avatars.  Now I’ve uploaded pictures to other sites and thought I knew how it was done.  Apparently I did not.  I was unable to crop the picture I wanted to use because the crop portion didn’t surround the picture.  It showed up way at the top of the page and didn’t crop anything.  I tried it several times with different sized pictures.  I looked around for help, such as size suggestions.  I didn’t find anything so finally in frustration I uploaded small anime avatars.  Those will be my icons until I can get more information.  Even though I did manage to get two different avatars uploaded I don’t see the user one anywhere on my page.

It took me another evening trying to figure out the difference between pages and categories.  I thought I wanted a page for rants like this one.  I don’t really want my rants to show up on my main page so I thought it should be a separate page.  But it looks like a page is like one thread that you keep adding comments to.  I didn’t think that’s what I had in mind so I created a category for rants.  However, it looks like this post shows up in rants AND on my main page, which is what I did not want.

All of this seems fairly petty but if we are really going to consider this as a viable option for teachers it just seems to me that it should be easier to use.  This is the third evening that I’ve worked on this blog.  Many people do not have the time, energy or interest to spend that much time getting something like this up and running.  I keep coming back to this because I want teachers to use technology.  I want them to be comfortable so they can help their students be prepared for the future.  All these little problems put up barriers to this dream.