Sunday, November 16, 2014

On reading and balance in four 8-book baskets -- and the ones that got away

The 2014-2015 Red Dot Book Award shortlists, the 8 books in four age categories we choose for our students to read, consider, and compare -- in order to determine a favorite -- for a school and for the island nation of Singapore -- have been announced.  I want to celebrate them, but also point out the books that almost made it -- and still could in a future year -- and certainly deserve a wider reading in the meantime.

You can read the background to our awards and criteria in a blog post I did a year ago -- see Looking Back: the evolution of the Red Dot Book Awards and the Readers Cup in Singapore.

Basically, we look at:   
  • publication date (past four years, e.g., 2011-2014);
  • ease of access (where a paperback version via one of the free-shipping online vendors (e.g., Book Depository or is the ideal -- and an ebook available is a bonus);
  • genre (one nonfiction? one graphic format? one poetry or verse novel? as well as a mix of fiction genres);
  • gender (mix of female/male protagonists or appeal);
  • country of origin or flavor (wanting a mix, but recognizing some countries just produce a whole lot more than others, and preferring at least one book with a Singapore or Asian connection);
  • literary vs. popular appeal (considering whether a book is already played out in terms of popularity or likely to be popular -- as well as books that teachers will love for their literary, teachable aspects);
  • appropriateness for the age categories of our award.  
  • content, where we favor books with multiple possible connections -- text-to-text, text-to-self, and text-to-world.
Balance trumps everything -- which means every year there are perfectly good books that don't get in the basket, because they unbalance it in some way.  With just 8 slots, we don't really want two wordless books or two poetry books or two biographical books, etc.  So I thought it would be good to lay out what is in this year's baskets AND highlight some books we seriously wanted, which lost out in some way, due to the devil of the balance.  NB: most of the un-chosen titles are theoretically still in the running for next year's lists....

Here are this year's shortlists:

2014-2015 Early Years

A Boy and a Jaguar
Empty Fridge
Going Places
How to Hide a Lion
Just Imagine
Norman, Speak!
Vanilla Ice Cream

ISLN (Int'l School Library Network) Singapore's favorite books »

Our international spread is pretty good:  2 USA, 1 Australia, 1 Iceland, 2 UK, 1 Canada, and 1 France.

We have one memoir (by Alan Rabinowitz, the large cat expert who suffered severe stuttering as a child, but found solace in speaking to animals -- listen to him tell the same story to grown-ups on this "The Moth" podcast).  One story of someone "different" finding a friend.  One non-fiction book of questions to consider, and a Peter Reynolds (of "The Dot" fame) story that considers creativity.  A beautiful French book which is a modern version of "stone soup".  A boy and his dog story that features learning Chinese.  A tale that connects creatures and humans from India all the way to Australia.  And a good-old-fashioned story of a young child befriending a lost lion, as well as a book by an Icelandic author where one unusual person finds a perfect match in another unusual person.

Click here for the longlist Early Years books we didn't choose...  including another French book (Bear's Song), a lovely simple Korean bedtime tale (Blanket Travel); the perhaps too-well-known-already Day the Crayons Quit; the latest-greatest from Peter Brown (My Teacher is a Monster); the rhyming fun of The Brothers Quibble which wasn't readily available; and the most recent wordless genius of David Wiesner (Mr. Wuffles!).

2014-2015 Younger Readers

Battle Bunny
A Boy Named Harry: The Childhood of Lee Kuan Yew
Captain Coconut and the Case of the Missing Bananas
Emma and the Blue Genie
Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse
My Happy Life
The Secrets of Flamant Castle: The Complete Adventures of Sword Girl and Friends
The Year of Billy Miller

ISLN (Int'l School Library Network) Singapore's favorite books »

Our international spread is good:  2 USA, 1 Australia, 1 UK, 1 India, 1 Sweden, 1 Singapore, and 1 Germany.

We have one picture book biography of Lee Kuan Yew (appropriate as the 50th anniversary of Singapore is coming up next year).  A meta-fiction frolic from Jon Scieszka.  A similarly silly offering from the ever-beautiful Tara Books in India featuring an Inspector-Clouseau-type character.  A magical chapter book for young readers from the best-selling author of "Inkheart".  A beautiful-produced purple chapter book of historical fiction inspired (read article here) by Ada Lovelace (daughter of Lord Byron and the first female programmer).  An Australian knights-and-swords fantasy featuring Tommy, a kitchen girl (where there is a SGD 15 book -- "The Secret of Flamant Castle" available containing not just the first title -- "The Secret of the Swords" -- but a further five adventures -- so a bargain of a book in terms of reading on...).  And two realistic fiction chapter books, one about a boy in 2nd grade -- "The Year of Billy Miller" -- by the American Kevin Henkes, and the other about a girl just starting school -- "My Happy Life" -- by the Swedish Rose Lagercrantz.

Click here for the longlist Younger books we didn't choose... including a picture book biography of Malala, the Nobel Peace Prize winner (because we have her original memoir in our Mature category); the knowing sarcastic humor of Timmy Failure; two realistic fiction verse novels we really liked:  "Words with Wings" by Nikki Grimes, and "Little Dog Lost" by Marion Dane Bauer; a realistic fiction story of an Australian girl who goes to Pakistan with her parents to help flood victims (Kelsey and the Quest of the Porcelain Doll); a cute graphic novel about people who don't fit in (Odd Duck); a realistic novel about an Omani boy about to move to the States (The Turtle of Oman); a Singapore mystery/adventure novel in the vein of last year's Red Dot choice, Sherlock Sam (Danger Dan Confronts the Merlion Mastermind); a wordless book for older readers -- Aaron Beck's Journey; a light-hearted quest out of the UK: The Magnificent Moonhare; scary stories from James Preller (Home Sweet Horror); the trials and tribulations of a 7-year-old (Penguin Problems); and comedic kung fu chickens on a mission by Jennifer Gray.

2014-2015 Older Readers

Black Flame
El Deafo
The Fourteenth Goldfish
Light Horse Boy
Rain Reign
The Screaming Staircase

ISLN (Int'l School Library Network) Singapore's favorite books »

Our international spread is not bad:  3 USA books, 1 China (Mongolia) book, 2 UK books, and 2 Australian books. 

We have a graphic memoir (think: Smile) about a deaf girl who has to cope with hearing aids.  An adventurous trio of ghost-busters in London in the future (by the beloved Jonathan Stroud) (you have read the Bartimaeus sequence, haven't you?).  A realistic fiction dog story set in Mongolia (get the hankies ready).  Another realistic fiction story involving a dog, but this one told by a girl with Asperger's Syndrome, set in the US during a natural disaster, also with tear-provoking moments.  A mystery/disaster narrative post-cyclone in Australia.  A fairy-tale-like adventure across the rooftops of London to find a long-lost mother.  A suspend-reality experience where a grandfather shows up in middle-school thanks to science fiction.  And a historical fiction story -- almost a graphic novel because of the amount of visual material -- of a young man and his horse who sign up for World War One -- and end up in the horrors of the Middle East.

Click here for the longlist Older books we didn't choose... NB:  In this category there are a lot....  We had a hard time selecting just eight.  So please -- go out and read all the ones listed here that we didn't choose.  They are worth it...  including the Star-Wars-meet-Cinderella dystopia set in Beijing, first in a sequence; Other Brother by Simon French; the Unwanteds (which won in the Morning Calm Medal in Korea); the adventure of escaping from a library; the beautifully written and sensitive offering by Sonya Hartnett re WWII evacuees; "A Time to Dance" - a verse novel about an Indian girl who realizes she can dance even though she isn't whole (and several people have suggested "The Running Dream" as a perfect complement to it); a dystopia about British refugees struggling in France by Gillian Cross; a brilliant British gothic/horror fantasy set in the 19th century by Jonathan Auxier; a realistic novel set back in the 1980s in India where boys struggle to become tiffin carriers; a moving middle-school novel about a gifted and talented girl creating a family out of a group of misfits; Rick Yancey's latest adventure; Gordon Korman's latest offering -- re an ungifted boy who ends up with the smarties and helps them develop in a different way; a noble dystopia presented by Malorie Blackman; "She's Not Invisible" by Marcus Sedgwick -- such a strong contender -- with parallels to the beautiful Picture Me Gone; Jaclyn Moriarty's "A Corner of White" -- a parallel world fantasy; "Hero on a Bicycle" by the classic Shirley Hughes; "Liar and Spy" by Rebecca Stead -- too well known already by our students perhaps; Jared Diamond re-offering his "The Third Chimpanzee" in a young adult version;  Eoin Colfer launching a new series: The Reluctant Assasin; the Indian mythology equivalent of Rick Riordan's Greek/Roman ones - the Ash Mistry series; a time travel book set during natural disasters of fire and water in Australia -- "The Four Seasons of Lucy McKenzie"; and a book about Aussie soldiers and horses in WWI -- to complement Morpurgo's "War Horse" and Wolfer's "Light Horse Boy" -- "Loyal Creatures" by Morris Gleitzman.

2014-2015 Mature Readers

Earth Dragon Fire Hare
I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban
A Monster Calls
Sita's Ramayana
The Sky So Heavy
Thrice Told Tales: Three Mice Full of Writing Advice
We Were Liars

ISLN (Int'l School Library Network) Singapore's favorite books »

Our international spread isn't bad: 3 USA, 1 Australian, 1 New Zealand, 1 India, 1 UK, 1 Pakistan.

We have the memoir of the youthful Nobel Peace Prize winner.  An unreliable narrator uncovering a mystery.  A historical novel set in Malaya during WWII and the region's post-war conflicts.  A novel within a novel -- giving us parallel worlds in more ways than one (and highlighting NaNoWriMo and the writing process).  A graphic rendition of the Ramayana from Sita's point of view.  An emotional (and visual) novel that examines cancer from the viewpoint of a teen whose mother is dying.  A post-apocalyptic survival novel set in Australia.  And an amusing and informative exploration of literary devices, all based on the nursery rhyme about three blind mice.

Click here for the longlist Mature books we didn't choose... including Meg Rosoff's Picture Me Gone - which everyone should read;  Sara Zarr's "The Lucy Variations" about the power of family and expectations, framed in the world of classical pianists; a graphic version of war set in Uganda's LRA; an Indian novel about a girl's world coming apart upon learning she is adopted; the Carnegie-awarding winning "Maggot Moon"; dragon slayers in Canada -- not to be missed; desperate, lonely lives in Iceland; historical fiction from Australia (which proved hard to source, hence it had to be eliminated -- but worth finding); "BZRK" by the author of the popular "Gone" series; if you don't know Brandon Sanderson, then start with his "Steelhearts" re a future ruled by super-humans; "I Kill the Mockingbird", a novel re 8th graders obsessed with making people obsessed with "To Kill a Mockingbird"; a novel about the endangered bonobos in the Congo; the multiple-award-winning "Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe"; and the sins of the brother achingly explored by Susin Nielsen, author of "Word Nerd".

We'll be shifting our shortlist selection announcement time to June 1, rather than November 1 -- as we always underestimate how long it takes, which means libraries are delayed in getting books on the shelves.  So with any luck we will make this a spring task, rather than an autumn one.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

"Themed" book recommendations... make them visible... and connected...

A couple of days ago, someone on the US-based YALSA-BK listserv (yes, listservs are still active in many arenas -- even though other social media tools have arisen) suggested we crowd-source (amongst ourselves) lists of titles for MS/HS "themed" book talks.

I'd been wanting to promote such lists to my students, but struggled to find a way to make the production process scaleable.  How to keep track of the books I booktalked as a themed grouping and continually promote the list.

A few years back The ReadAdventurer blog published some "walls of books" -- see "140+ Books for the Boys of YA", "120 YA books from the UK", "110+ Australian YA books", and "A Metric Ton of Short YA Books" -- which I loved.  Then there were the online readers advisory tools like the NPR Book Concierge, which also shared booklists using book covers in a very visual way.  I wanted to find some vehicle to do the same thing -- generate lists based on themes -- but be visible in the library all the time.

Then I found +Rebecca Dunham (blog - Lunashee's Lunacy) and her YA themed posters (freely given away under Creative Commons).   Her posters inspired us to create our own, by providing some initial themes and a basic style to copy.  As we didn't have all the books on her posters, we simply modified the selection of titles to match our collection.

Luckily I have a teacher, Mairin Raisdana, who works part-time in our library as our design and production queen; I just come up with the themes and titles I want to potentially booktalk.

Here is a Google Plus photo album of our posters, so far:

An important feature of every poster is both a QR code and a shortened URL ( or which takes viewers directly to the booklist in our Follett Destiny catalog.  So people can find out whether any copies are currently available in the library or not.  A majority of our high school students do have smart phones, but I also have a number of iPads that can be used as mobile OPACS and QR code scanners.

By linking to the catalog -- to a Resource List or to a search for particular key words or subject headings -- I can booktalk the books shown on the poster, but know there is a ready list of those books plus more -- to put into students' hands.  (Nothing worse than booktalking a stack of titles and not having enough to go around....)

The poster images are also available in our Libguides -- on a High School Reading Recommendations guide -- linking back to our catalog.

Physical copies of the poster are very important.  There's just so much in our libraries that is hidden online (or in our heads).

In the library itself wall space is limited.  So instead, we've got a circular rack of A3 (11" x 17") posters in plastic -- allowing patrons to browse the posters, like they would clothing.  The photos of our poster carousel are at the end of the slideshow above.  I've thought eventually I could get dividers on the rack, the equivalent of "Size 8", "Size 10", etc. -- "Teacher Favorites", "HS Genres", "MS Genres", "Fiction", "Nonfiction", etc.

Note that the hanging posters are not laminated.  (Bad for the environment....) Instead they are put in re-usable stiff plastic sleeves.  This allows for easy updating of the display.  In the slideshow I include some pictures of what I buy here in Singapore, where they are called "card cases" or "hard cases".  I'm not sure what they would be called elsewhere ("document cases"?).  The coat/skirt hangers are from IKEA.

Our school has a big Epson printer -- that allows us to produce posters that are 1.x meters (3 feet+) in size.  So we can also put big-scale posters in hallways and on teachers' walls.  (As we encourage all teachers to give us their list of favorite books -- from which we create a poster for them.  See this previous blog post.)

Monday, September 08, 2014

Google Apps for Education Summit: 3rd year running at the Singapore American School

Just got back from the 3rd annual GAFE Summit at SAS....  Excellent as usual.  It's not that I return with some all-empowering new understanding or tool.  Instead I get a thoroughly enjoyable two day exposure to people totally interested in technology and teaching and learning. 

See the detailed session schedule -- and click on any presentation in order to see if resources are provided.

Here are links to the sessions of expert advice and useful resources that I either attended or wanted to attend (thank god presenters give us the links no matter what):
I came away with an improved appreciation for Google Drawings, especially as I now realize it's an easy way to put links behind a schematic, e.g., I can make a map of my library floorplan and put links to each collection/bookshelf behind the location of that collection -- and embed it in one of my Libguides.

Chris Betcher's demo of Snagit in the Chrome browser so wow'ed me that I have shown it to at least 5 people today (and changed their lives, I hope).   If nothing else, the TAKE SCREEN SHOT OF THE WHOLE SCROLL OF THIS PAGE function is worth the price of the conference.....

I went to a couple of sessions on Google Scripts -- and felt humbled by my ignorance.  John McGowan -- you might have felt like your demo slam was a failure, but you are a beacon of excellent effort -- and accomplishment.  Andrew Stillman mach 2 in the making.  (Jay Atwood doesn't count for comparison, as he's already in the minor god category.....)

Kimberly Hall or Jennie Mageira mentioned in passing in one of their sessions the difference between Ctrl-V (paste) and SHIFT-Ctrl-V (paste but ignore previous formatting and copy this stuff into the space using the defaults of the destination space).  You don't know what this means to me.....

This conference is about the small-- and important -- stuff.  Productivity, connectivity, and visibility.  And I was glad so many of my colleagues from UWCSEA East were there to share it with me......

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Frameworks for play / inquiry / research

"We have a responsibility to introduce children to things they don't yet know they will love." -- Edith Ackermann

Dr. Edith Ackermann came onto my radar this summer.   (See my previous blog post on "Constructing Modern Knowledge 2014" for the context.)

Such a charming, thoughtful expert on play and learning.  And such credentials! -- she worked with Jean Piaget and Seymour Papert, and has been associated with MIT for years (as well as other universities).

She loves Reggio Emilia schools, Steiner/Waldorf schools, Katie Salen and Quest schools, and Freinet schools.  A true educational radical (or realist) -- depending on where you stand.

Read this recent interview with her on creativity, talent, and intuition -- in a journal aimed at architects.

I wish I could find her CMK14 slides online.  I took basic shots into my Penultimate notes, but they aren't good enough to reproduce, e.g.,
The part of her talk that interested me the most was her description of the iterative cycle of self-learning, which she outlined as:
  • Connect -- Wow! I can't believe...  -- the inspiration - the imaginarium
  • Construct -- hands-on -- the atelier -- immersion and innovation
  • Contemplate -- heads-in -- mindfulness -- the sanctuary or secret garden
  • Cast -- play-back -- re-visit -- stage -- dramatize -- experiment
  • Con-vivire -- the sharing -- the piazza -- the agora -- expressivity
She stressed these are just guidelines for what happens along the way in different ways -- that the stages should never be used prescriptively. 

Our school is just settling on some common terminology around a research model -- one that will be differentiated for Infant (K1 to Grade 1), Junior (Grade 2 to Grade 5), Middle School (Grade 6 to Grade 8) and High School (Grade 9 to Grade 12).

A midway meeting ground has been agreed, e.g., here is a standard arising out of the articulation of the middle school curriculum:
The blog "What Ed Said" (Edna Sackson) recently had a post on her frustration with expected slavish commitment to an inquiry cycle model.  I agree.  You might as well insist everyone follow the same sequence for falling in love or grieving over death.  It's useful to appreciate typical stages, but impossible to expect everyone to adhere to them.  NB:  Kath Murdoch, referenced by Edna, is a frequent professional visitor to our school, and her phases of inquiry were key inputs to our process -- see here:

Edith was talking about Play -- and undoubtedly about Inquiry.  But our school is talking about Research.  Are they all the same thing?  Just at different age levels?  We'd like to think so.

Research, for middle/high school students, is just a game with adult rules (e.g., alluding to the ideas of others in a constructive and respectful way) -- and our job is to alert them to those rules and to convince them it's a game worth learning (after all, research is a form of adult fun, yes?).  As Edith put it, students must learn to add value in the process of borrowing.   They must become adept at massaging ideas until they are their own, rather than just functioning as an information broker, passing on ideas.  To ride others' ideas until they can feel in solo mode, not fusion mode.

I particularly like Edith's "Cast" phase, with its implicit theatrical connotation.  Something between our "Reflect" and "Communicate."  It's the part that implies the iterative nature of the process.  That you, within your own mind or in the presence of others, re-think what you have, try it out, and ask if it's sufficient, if it's enough.

(I'm also partial to Design Thinking as a basic research model; see my previous blog post: Carol Kuhlthau Meets Tim Brown. )

Other things Edith commented upon....
  • re MOOCs and online learning: 
    • the double standard:  it's the new entrepreneurial elite, who are educated onsite with constructivist methods, who are promoting education online where "others" struggle alone;
  • re today's learners:
    •  growing older younger, and staying younger older;
    • the tension between temp and "forever" work
    • the tension between professional mobility and lack of security;
  • re the role of the eye and the senses:
    • away from Piaget (the rationalist) to Papert (feeling the materials);
    • the real practitioners (e.g., architects) are always tricking people to get a different perspective;
    • to crawl out of the old ways of thinking;
    • tricks to get us off our own beaten path;
    • using objects creates resistance; 
"Learning is all about moving in and out of focus, shifting perspective, and coming to 'see anew.'" -- Edith Ackermann

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Summer camp for teachers (way beyond the old Crafts Cabin)

Gary Stager and Sylvia Martinez have been holding a very special 4-day summer institute in New Hampshire for the past 7 years.

"Constructing Modern Knowledge" (#CMK14) provides teachers with a learning space and enough time to the fail -- and succeed -- at doing what we are always exhorting our students to do:  learn something!  make something!

I got involved by virtue of having put Stager and Martinez's book -- "Invent to Learn: making, tinkering, and engineering in the classroom" -- on display in my library to coincide with the Learning 2.0 conference last October (see my previous blog post on it).  Brian Smith (from Hong Kong International School) immediately began to talk to me about the book -- and the related conference.  Considering I spend my summers in Maine (a stone's throw away), it wasn't hard to decide to sign up.  At 21st Century Learning in HK in December, I also had the opportunity to meet Gary, who exudes enthusiasm for messy learning and hard fun.

4 days, 180 participants.  You can see the Vimeo videos here and the Flickr group photos here.  All in a Radisson Hotel in ManchVegas.  (Yes, I guess that's what they call Manchester, NH -- as it's the region's hotspot.)

Who were we?  The informal hands-up survey at the beginning indicated mainly teachers from private schools, from all over the US, plus a few internationals.  I quickly found Tina Photakis, from Australia, to hang out with.  The crowd was seeded with plenty of highlighted helpers, like Brian Smith (and his daughter), young Super-awesome Sylvia Todd (and her father), Peggy Sheehy (one of the few librarians), Dan and Molly Watt, Cynthia Solomon, etc.

How did we decide what we were going to build in our 4 days?  By shouting out suggestions that got put on giant post-it notes on the wall, followed by a massive gallery walk and sign-up.  Then we gathered by our top favorite post-it -- and groups were formed.  It worked admirably, better than most unconference events I've experienced.  I loved the range of ideas:  a light-sensitive chicken coop, a robot dog, an interactive recycling bin,  an interactive tree, an interactive garden, interactive clothing, etc.

One proposed project was "wearable speakers" -- and having attended two conferences this summer, I wish there were a smart-phone app for that right now.   How can it be that we don't have a way to make ourselves heard in big groups, e.g., questions from the floor, where no one can hear the question.

I wanted to work on a noise meter of sorts, as I'd had a Design and Technology IB student create a (unfortunately non-working) prototype for my library, using an Arduino.  So I knew I wanted to play with sound input creating some sort of visual output.  (Imagine: students in a supposedly silent study room with windows, where I am outside and can't tell how much noise they are actually making; when decibels go above a certain level,  colored lights began to flash -- indicating to both them and me that the room is no longer silent.) 

In the end, I went with a group interested in "sound sculpture", which eventually split into three or four smaller groups.  Gordon, Wendy, and I decided to see how we could get sound through an Arduino to display different colors, based on volume and frequency.  Gordon and Wendy wired the 3D matrix of lights, while I fooled around with programming an Arduino Esplora (a device which can take a variety of input).  We didn't get a fully-functioning integrated model, due to time and other limitations, but we sure learned a lot.  For me it was such a throw-back to my programming days.  Oh, the frustrations of imperfect code!

A major highlight of the conference was a field trip to the fabled MIT Media Lab, thanks to Gary and Sylvia's connections.   A talk by Mitch Resnick, founder of the Lifelong Kindergarten group.  (Here's a recent video of him doing a talk that is similar to the one we heard - on Projects, Peers, Passion, and Play.)  A chat with 87-year-old Marvin Minsky, one of the three pioneers immortalized in the lobby of the impressive building, the other two being Seymour Papert (represented at CMK14 by his daughter, Artemis, and granddaughter), and Muriel Cooper, who died 20 years ago.

Marvin regaled us with memories of his time at Bell Labs with Claude Shannon.  Re his artificial arm.  Though he lamented that no one wants to work -- nowadays -- on something so pedestrian as a former invention.  So no improvements are forthcoming.  He talked about being enthralled by nanotechnology.  The wave of the future.   He talked of computer games, and his belief that 4 year olds might play games, but 5 year olds should be moving on to making games.   His advice when getting stuck in life?  Ask the experts.  Which for him were Claude Shannon and Robert Oppenheimer.

We took advantage of the chance to wander down through the building.  So many windows into projects and the learning going on.  It was a wonderful evening in Cambridge/Boston.

Click here to see all my photos of the conference -- including plenty taken inside the Media Lab.

Back in Manchester, there was plenty of time for work, for reflection, and for inspiration from speakers interspersed in the schedule.

Edith Ackermann, an MIT stalwart and "play" expert, gave a fascinating presentation.  She talked of so many things -- she deserves a separate blog post.

Pete Nelson is famous for building treehouses.  I didn't know about him before, but now I appreciate he has his own reality TV show, Treehouse Masters and a treehouse center where you can go and stay.

He told the story of how his childhood passion for treehouses eventually led to a very public and remunerative vocation.  (Creating a coffee table book on treehouses of the world was an important first step!)  I'm sure most of us sitting there were thinking of old trees we wanted to create houses in.  He made it sound all so feasible.
Overall take-away thoughts:
  • Re the sharing of resources:  the organizers had an incredible array of materials available to us, but the trick was, whatever we took, we needed for the four days.  There wasn't much that you just needed short-term access to.  So the sharing was limited.  I wondered how libraries with a makerspace would cope with this.  Would someone be able to check out or reserve, say, an Arduino Esplora, for three days?  What is realistic for what time period of exclusive use?  It makes me think that individual hardware, such as Raspberry Pi's and Arduinos, is better suited to a teacher-class situation, where a learner can work with one set of materials over time.
  • How best to handle differentiation?  In this situation, some of us at a table had NO experience, and some had CONSIDERABLE.   I was conscious of trying to balance the time I spent floundering on my own and the time I spent getting help from others.  One thing for sure: we were in charge of our own learning.  It was fascinating to wander around, seeing the vast range of projects and skills on display.
CMK library:  There was a room at the conference where Gary and Sylvia laid out all their personal collection of books related to making and creating.  I took photos of most of them -- and have searched Amazon, making a "list" of them.  See the booklist here:  The Maker Movement and Constructing Modern Knowledge.

Also see this Reggio Emilia bookshop for more.

p.s.  Just discovered Gary and Sylvia maintain their own recommended booklist on Amazon -- see here.

p.p.s.  Here's another related booklist -- one from the International Design Technology teachers' conference, held at our school in May.  These were all the books I had on display during the conference.

Monday, July 21, 2014

ALA Las Vegas: Take-aways from being with 25k+ librarians for a couple of days

The American Library Association's annual conference is a heaving mass of librarians (of all varieties) in one place for four days - Friday-Monday, June 26-30.  Almost any US city is a convenient stopover for me, heading to Maine, at the end of the school year.

This year ALA was in Las Vegas, a venue that lived up to its stereotype, in the eyes of a first-time visitor. Next year's location - San Francisco - will be more my style perhaps.

But ALA is always an enriching experience, no matter where it's held.

The problem is to figure out what and who you want to see in the small time and huge space of the event (the exhibition hall alone is worth four days).

You can search offerings and construct your own schedule online ahead of time -- and there is a mobile app -- but the lack of fast/reliable/free internet access (especially Sunday) made that fairly irrelevant.  And for those of us with overseas phone accounts, the smart-phone solution for internet data access wasn't very economical.  So making off-line lists and lugging around the fat, physical ALA Guide was a sad, but comforting, necessity.

Here is my public debrief of the conference, filtered through my international, K-12 (primarily middle/high) librarian focus :

Pre-Conference: SCHOOL VISITS

There was a half-day pre-conference event on Friday, visiting three independent (i.e., private) school libraries -- Alexander Dawson School, Faith Lutheran Middle and High School, and Las Vegas Day School.  A few photos of each are here on Flickr with notes below.

Alexander Dawson:
-- the librarian pointed out how, in designing the school, no electrical cables or wiring is hidden, so kids are very aware of where electricity is being used, e.g., for air conditioning, for internet access, etc.;
-- the library had an "Aurasma" wall -- where we could pick up iPads, scan images, and watch videos the kids had made for one unit of inquiry (e.g., Irish castles);
-- two authors a year do two-week residencies, including 2 days in each classroom, e.g., Brian Falkner (from NZ) and Paul Owen Lewis -- during which time each student creates a book;

Faith Lutheran:
--  had quite a few full-size physical displays, e.g., military uniforms and a skeleton;
--  had an author/illustrator wall, where each visiting celebrity's name is added each year;

LV Day School:
-- they offer a "Classic Reader" program -- where students read more "quality" literature, and then discuss with an adult, four books above and beyond their other reading;
-- they run an "Adopt a Shelf" program for parents -- where parents are responsible for re-shelving and keeping one shelf looking tip-top -- they say it's quite competitive!
Overall, questions focused on staffing (all were minimally staffed, surprisingly) and what they were doing for ebook provision (e.g., all had Overdrive, despite the fact the local library offers it -- though not sure if that affected their choice of titles -- would they try to avoid overlap?).


This is no small part of ALA.   Many of us international school librarians managed to find each other (and we are determined to make it more organized next year).

The four of us from Singapore (Kim Klein from Stamford American International School, Kate Brundage from Singapore American School, and Susanne Clower and I from United World College of Southeast Asia - East campus) arrived as a nucleus -- and soon found Leanne Mercado from Nishimachi International School (Tokyo), as well as Candace Aiani and Barb Middleton from Taipei American School.  Later we connected with Leslie Henry from Jakarta International School and Victoria Robins from ASF Guadalajara Mexico.  There were others on the list of international attendees, but poor connectivity (and our overseas phones) made it hard to communicate.  I kick myself that I didn't put out a general call on the social media channels (like the ECIS iSkoodle listserv) beforehand.

During the pre-conference session of school visits, while getting on or off the bus, I overheard one woman say the word"Sakura" -- and I quickly determined to talk to her at the next stop, knowing she must have been referring to the Japanese international school librarian book award program, which is how I met Leanne Mercado.  Only when I later I put a face on the name "Barb Middleton" did I realize that she was on the same Friday school library tour, but because her registration tagged identified her as being from Minnesota, I didn't realize she was one of us - from Taipei American School.

Those of us that managed to meet up did our best to "divide and conquer" in terms of session attendance.

  • Finish de-briefing with those who attended this year, especially my Singapore colleagues when we all get back in August;
  • Next year: advertise on social media for all going to ALA to connect ahead of time;
  • Next year: maybe have a group of us do a panel presentation on International School Librarians - as an employment opportunity - pluses and minuses, etc.


A big complaint about Overdrive for schools has been the annual fee -- as much as US$4k/yr in the past.  But at their ALA booth, an Overdrive representative confirmed they have recently lowered the cost for school libraries.  Now it is US$1k/yr for up to 999 students and US$2k/yr for up to 1,999 students.  This cost is content purchase per annum -- it's not an annual usage fee -- which is great.

For those of us in international schools, a ongoing issue with all ebook vendors has been digital rights management (DRM) -- where popular titles are often not available to us, being situated outside the countries that are the biggest publishers (USA, UK, Australia, etc.).  I asked the Overdrive rep where I could preview the titles actually available to us in Singapore -- and she suggested I contact the sales force and get access to a demo overseas account.

StarWalk KidsMedia is a new ebook vendor -- headed by the famous (and charming) non-fiction author for kids, Seymour Simon (and his wife).  500 titles available so far, for grades K-8, half fiction, half non-fiction.  Leveled according to Fountas and Pinnell.  Only US$895 a year (at least for big schools like ours -- I forget if it's cheaper for smaller schools.)  Unlimited, simultaneous access.  Device neutral -- in fact, they assured me that if users downloaded a title (as you have to do to read on a mobile device), the title will stay accessible on the device for as long as the subscription (e.g., a year).  And they will provide MARC records.  It sounds a lot like BookFlix -- but going as high as Grade 8 in interest and complexity.  They were happy to offer us a 1-month free trial -- which I intend to do.

Kindle, Kindle, Kindle....?  Candace Aiani (High School) and Barb Middleton (Primary School) have embarked wholeheartedly on a Kindle-loaning program at Taipei American School - and have a wealth of experience.  Back in February she put a call out to the SILCAsia listserv, starting a discussion on the management of Kindles in schools - which some of you may have seen.

They organize their Kindles into "pods" of 5 devices each -- as each Kindle account can be synced to five devices.  Each Kindle (in a pod) will have up to 30 titles or so on it. Click here to see what a search for "Kindle" and "pod" turns up in Candace's High School catalog.  Click here to see what one Kindle might have on it, e.g., Pod "I".  (Now that Kindle Unlimited has been launched, I wonder how many of their titles are available to overseas subscribers.)

Taipei American School has gone for Overdrive in a big way -- see their Overdrive homepage -- even though the Overdrive books can't be downloaded to overseas Kindles, they said.  They also aren't thrilled about the fact there is often a 6-month delay getting the latest titles into Overdrive.  Note: Barb affirms that FollettShelf is far easier for primary school students to use than Overdrive.

  • Contact and ask for access to a demo overseas account -- now that the Overdrive annual fee is reasonable for school libraries -- for secondary school.
  • Start 1-month free trial in September of StarWalk KidsMedia -- for primary school.


Jane McGonigal was the opening keynote for ALA -- and didn't disappoint.  She reminded us of all the positive emotions gaming releases:  CREATIVITY / CONTENTMENT / AWE + WONDER / EXCITEMENT / CURIOSITY / PRIDE / SURPRISE / LOVE / RELIEF / JOY.

-- not to mention the development of RESILIENCE.

I was glad to be reminded of her experience developing a game for the New York Public Library and the quote by Brian Sutton-Smith:  "The opposite of play isn't work.  It's depression."

Later, in the exhibits hall, I ran into Scott Nicholson, professor at the iSchool in Syracuse and expert on gaming -- (I attended one of his workshops last year at ALA) -- and was thrilled to hear he is due to come to Singapore in November to work with the National Library Board (NLB).  Scott did several sessions at ALA this year -- and is particularly keen on the cognitive benefit of creating games, not just playing them.   Read some of his past papers here.

In the course of our conversation, he also alerted me to the Math Fairs for students being held annually in Toronto -- which I could definitely see our campus implementing.

There was also a Poster session on Computational Thinking for Tweens and Teens -- see where you can download the four PDFs.  It's where I came across Cubelets.... 

  • Connect with Scott Nicholson before November -- and with the NLB -- and see if I can organize an ISLN or school event as well when he is there.
  • Talk to Tilson Crew, our primary school math coach, to learn more about the math games that she has created and made available in our primary library for borrowing.
  • Talk to all our math teachers about the possibility of getting a math fair going at our school.


ALA is one big reading-love-fest.  Everyone there is full of book-talk, whether ebook or pbook.  And walking down the aisles of the exhibition hall, I just kept snapping photos of book covers, if not picking up free ARCs.  I refuse to fetishize signed editions, making it easy to avoid the urge to join any queues in front of author booths in the exhibition hall -- though I thoroughly enjoyed the chance to chat with authors when given the casual chance, e.g., attending a reception with the author/illustrator Kevin Hawkes who happens to live in Gorham, Maine, one town over from my hometown.

Donalyn Miller, aka The Book Whisperer and Grade 5 teacher extraordinaire, gave a talk on "Fostering Positive Reading Identities".  I was sitting between two international primary school teacher-librarians (Leanne Mercado from Tokyo and Barb Middleton from Taiwan) and we just kept nodding and laughing as Donalyn enlightened us with her research and entertained us with her personal experiences as a reader and reading teacher.

Like her, my identity as a reader was clinched in 3rd grade thanks to "SRA" -- that popular color-coded series of comprehension exercises in a box (which introduced me to speed reading as a competitive sport) -- and a memorable teacher, Miss Poole, who not only read "Charlotte's Web" to us, but also the delightful (though 1950s antiquated) "Mrs. Piggle Wiggle" series of magic solutions.

Donalyn talked about the power of reading communities and reiterated the influence of book "commercials" arising out of the natural community (e.g., peer-to-peer recommendations) -- and the role modeling of being a reader and read-alouds -- and all the things we know and have been doing, but need to remember are terribly inter-connected and important.

She challenges her students to read 40 or more books a year -- without any other reward system.  (Reading is its own reward, as she says.)

She talked about the intersection of reading interest (motivation), reading level (ability), and background knowledge (fertile ground for understanding) in terms of book choice.  Which makes me think of my beloved Design Thinking intersection of desirability (are you interested in the topic?), feasibility (does it match the assignment?) and viability (do we have the resources to support you) -- relating to research questions.




Though when it comes to reading levels, she reminded us that lexiles are only scaffolds (e.g., Fahrenheit 451 and The Diary of a Wimpy Kid have the same lexile band (true??)) -- and that text complexity is about what is NOT found on the page.

She recommends having a small pile of "Special Class Books" -- ready to hand to any child who says they have no book to read.

I like her idea of "Epicenter Readers" -- that category of people who influence other people's reading, whether in the classroom or in life.  Her own include John Schumacher (@mrschureads) and Teri Lesesne (@professornana).  I happened to meet two long-standing online "Epicenter Readers" of my own at a Random House reception:  Lynn Rutan and Cindy Dobrez (aka the Bookends bloggers) -- and gushed over them like a proper groupie.

Donalyn also reiterated the wisdom that less-than-highbrow series helps develop readers.  They are not to be sneered at.  Neither is the habit of re-reading.  As she reminded us, close reading is re-reading with a purpose. 


There are so many information literacy sessions to attend at ALA, some school-focused, some university-level.   As a high-school teacher-librarian, I am often indifferent to that distinction, as much of the information literacy instruction is focused on students just entering tertiary education.

A big difference, however, is that school-based librarians are almost all trained teachers, while university ones aren't (necessarily). 
One flipped university classroom session I attended was a bit of a waste, as it mainly extolled the benefits of using curriculum design models in designing flipped courses, which any teacher-librarian would already appreciate.  And I already knew about the handy tools for flipping the classroom being recommended, e.g., Screencastr, Prezi, Google Docs, etc.

But another session by university librarians teaching information literacy was brilliant in every way -- content, design, and presentation -- "From Stumbling Blocks to Building Blocks: Using Threshold Concepts to Teach Information Literacy." 
See their Powerpoint slides here.

I’d read about threshold concepts, as defined by Meyer and Land (academic instruction experts) — and discussed by David Perkins (of Harvard fame and general teaching expert), before — but had never read or heard anyone talk about them with specific reference to the field of information literacy, which is what this panel of academic librarians did.  

Korey Burnetti, Amy Hofer, and Lori Townsend reviewed five characteristics of threshold concepts:
  • Transformative -- they change understanding
  • Irreversible — one you get them, you can’t not see them anymore
  • Integrative -- part of a network of interconnected understandings
  • Bounded — meaning they are usually discipline-specific
  • Troublesome — meaning often counter-intuitive
The metaphor of the threshold refers to the acquisition of these concepts -- which can be compared to crossing a border; a mental, liminal space, delimited by time and experience; an extended place where the novice transitions over time to being an expert, with some people getting stuck until they "get it" (learning bottlenecks), some roaming around inside indefinitely, perhaps never to emerge.  A lens is a popular metaphor for appreciating the power of threshold concepts in different disciplines - to see with the eyes of an expert.  (The transition from one side to the other also reminds me of the shift from slow thinking to fast thinking (System 1 and System 2) of Daniel Kahnemann et al.)

Slide from the ALA 2014 presentation

They then discussed some basic information literacy threshold concepts they had distilled as "enduring understandings," using theWiggins and McTighe model of backward design, for their teaching practice.

For example, in exploring FORMAT AS THE RESULT OF A PROCESS, they showed the following typical search results, which to the average student would all look like "websites":
Slide from the ALA 2014 presentation

Go read the seminal articles by Land + Meyer -- and other resources available on the wonderful webpage page of the three presenters:

Another librarian showed how he promotes some of his library's more unusual digital collections as a means of exploring primary vs. secondary sources with students, e.g., presenting students with an archive of 1950s women’s magazines and having them imagine for what research question would particular advertisements or articles be a primary source.  Showing how questions develop, to a large degree, from the resources being used - in an iterative cycle.

The mantra they left us with:  READ -- SHARE -- ACT.

Many sessions were preceded by awards for best practice.  In the case of the Threshold Concepts one, an award was given to Library DIY (by Meredith Farkas) — a flipped classroom example of teaching procedural (as opposed to conceptual) stuff.  I'd already starred the project in my Diigo bookmarks as something to emulate -- and was thrilled to see it so publicly recognized.

There was also a poster session on a website called InfoSkills2Go - -- which allows college-bound high school students to earn badges in four categories:  academic integrity, information seeking, information organization, and information evaluation, using TRAILS as the pre-test and post-test. 

Another poster session I missed was -- "Student to Superhero: Freshmen Tell Their Research Stories" -- see -- where they described how they had students create a graphical narrative using the software called Comic Life to reflect on their entry-level university information literacy course. 

  • Re-think my own teaching modules with these info lit threshold concepts in mind
  • Look at the InfoSkills2Go website


There is a tension between the Google single box search — and the box (or boxes) we provide as windows into our local information resources.  Between what is out there in the largest sense of the world and what we can actually deliver (from our physical collection and our various virtual ones).

Candace (of the Taipei American School) told me she has recently implemented the EBSCO discovery layer.  I didn’t get a chance to really get into this with her (which is why I am determined to get up to Taipei to spend concentrated time absorbing her school’s information environment and how she is tackling these common problems of ours).

In terms of our library catalogs — Follett Destiny, for both Candace and me — the new Universal Search interface is an improvement (e.g., useful filtering via the sidebar).  But it's still slow and cumbersome compared to Google.  

Should we still be trying to steer students to our catalog?  What if we the library just focused on delivery of what students find elsewhere?  Leave the catalog there as our best inventory tool and perfect Subject Headings for our own discovery purposes, but not expect students to desert their best-friend Google?  (NB: I've been heavily influenced by the thoughts of Aaron Tay (an academic librarian in Singapore) -- see this Sept 2013 blog post of his and his ongoing Flipboard magazine on Web scale search and discovery systems.)

Traditionally (think: paper card catalogs) findability has depended upon controlled Subject Headings (e.g., Library of Congress (LCSH)), where each item would have no more than six highly-faceted subjects (e.g.,  Indonesia - Relations - China - History).  Nowadays, with full-text searching and unlimited tags possible, controlled vocabularies are less important -- at least to users.

The single search box -- allowing for multiple fields and combination of terms to be searched at once -- demands a re-think of subject headings.  Which is why I've been following the FAST cataloging project for years -- and chose to attend the Faceted Subject Access Interest Group sessions at ALA this year.  

FAST (Faceted Application of Subject Terminology)

As much as RDA(1) is about moving bibliographic metadata forward, FAST cataloging is the cutting edge of subject heading progress.  Which is perhaps why it was standing room only in this session where Cornell University librarians (one of whom is a Discovery Metadata Librarian by title) relayed their experience as guinea pigs converting their data from LCSH to FAST — in collaboration with OCLC Research (who were also in the room).  They're hoping to go live on July 1st.  (See their Powerpoint slides here.)

A lot of the technical stuff was beyond me -- and the scale difference between Cornell’s converting their holdings and a school library like mine are enormous.  But I still got a lot out of the session -- and think we should be moving to FAST subject headings instead of Sears/LCSH.

Facets can be in eight categories:  Personal names, Corporate names, Geographic names, Events, Titles, Time periods, Topics, and Form/Genre.

The FAST mindset was described as:
  • Use what you find
  • Subjects do not cross facets, e.g., you can't have "Italy - History"
  • Observe difference between topical and genre/form facets
  • Fewer application rules, e.g., the order of headings is not significant, no constraints on combinations of topical and geographic terms
  • Dates can be whatever you need to assign, e.g., "1992-2011" is fine if that's what the resource covers
The elephant in the room, they admitted, is that, if FAST is so great, why isn't everyone rushing to use it?  Will it replace LCSH?  Only time will tell.  Watch this space.

Links re FAST:


Library design is of on-going interest, no matter that my library is theoretically all built now.  I went to a session on “Science + Form = Function: The Impact of Neuroscience on Architecture and Design” -- a subject for which is there is an Academy -- see and especially their recommended reading list:  

The session opened with a quote from Winston Churchill who said, "We shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us."

The speakers talked about the ten senses:  touch, taste, smell, hearing, and sight.... plus pressure, balance, temperature, motion, and pain.

Imagine a grid where these ten senses are the y-axis.  Then put these library space functions across the x-axis:  assembly, contemplation, data collection, presentation, reading, refuge, retreat, storage, studying, and teaching.  Consider the intersection of each -- and decide priorities and possibilities.

We need to consider the intersection of three things:  Behavior, Experience, and Brain Activity in a space like a library.

Speakers talked of Inspiration, Trust, and Empathy, as well as Symbolism, Wayfinding, and Exploration -- linking hand, brain, and symbol.  They asked us to consider what Affordances the library provides, to invite or indicate desired actions -- and the tension between Function and Representation (symbolism) in our spaces.

Frankly, I didn't get any practical inspirations from the session, but felt mentally stretched from sitting through it.

Meanwhile some other teacher-librarian went to a discussion meeting (one of those smaller things in the schedule that you could miss in the blink of an eye, unless you were observant) on The Information Commons.  Of all the things I was listening for in her brief summary in the time we had for debrief, I latched onto her reporting of someone who had “pink things hanging from the ceiling” that absorbed sound.  The ALA notes on this meeting also mention "pink noise machines" (see here). I am now searching for this mysterious product/item.  (Contact me if you can help!)  (Could the person have been talking about "pink noise" - in contrast to "white noise" -- see distinction here -- instead of something literally pink?)

Acoustics is my ongoing elephant in the room and I am on the lookout for all ameliorating accessories.  (Over the summer there are ceiling/wall panels being installed in my library — wish I had done my pre-installation research benchmarks and logged some decibel stats….)

There was a poster session I really wanted to attend, but missed -- Librarian Design Share: Inspiration for Library Creatives.  On the other hand, the beauty of the best poster sessions is that the poster itself is posted online and tells it all -- see -- and their website -- -- is a treasure-trove.  The session description mentions they would be giving visitors "design strategy cards" -- I wonder if they pointed people to the "Design with Intent" toolkit, which I love.

Another poster session I missed was "Gearing Up for College" -- about university libraries reaching out to low-income middle school children who excel in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields.  Interestingly, they used a map activity to get the students to observe what was going on in the university library -- and hopefully to get interested in what they were observing.  (Reminds me of the ALA program session I attended last year -- where Andrew Asher described having students create color-timed cognitive maps of the library -- see  A fascinating way to make the virtual visible.... )



Makerspaces is definitely still a hot topic for libraries.  I did a full-day pre-conference last year at ALA on them, and knew I was going to a four-day "Constructing Modern Knowledge" summer institute in New Hampshire, July 8-11, which would be completely about making things (watch for another blog post eventually), so I didn't bother to attend maker-related sessions at ALA.

As my school already has an extensive Design and Technology department and set-up (with 3D printers, laser cutters, et al.), I'm thinking the library should focus on making to do with books -- like setting up a Writing Center (a project several of us have been trying to get off the ground for three years now) and promoting Book Art.

One poster session was about an annual RE:BOOK altered book contest -- at the Claremont College Libraries.  See the PDF here.  What a great way to re-purpose donated books -- of which I have plenty.

  • Connect with the art teachers and get some regular altered book art going -- perhaps with a permanent book art workspace in a corner of the library -- or up on the Art Floor.  I like the idea of an annual contest.

PDA (Patron Driven Acquisition)

When I hear "PDA," I still think of "public display of affection" -- something every high school librarian deals with every day.  But it's the latest term for users letting us know what they want (starting from that good 'ole book suggestion form) -- and it goes hand-in-hand with a good collection policy.

There were several small sessions on PDA as it relates to e-book and video purchases, e.g., see here, here, and here.

Candace was telling me how she has instituted an online ticketing system for all library requests -- whether book purchase recommendations or queries about database passwords, etc.  I forget the name of the software package she said she bought, but it is one where people can search the database, to see the status of their problem or request.  Our Facilities and IT Depts both use a basic ticketing system, but we users don't have the ability to search their records.  Must look into it for our library.  I know there are requests that fall off my radar.....

The Latest and the Greatest: ARCs and Awards

For school librarians, there are two important annual lists that get announced at ALA.
 ALA is also a place to pick up Advanced Reader Copies of books.  I try not to go crazy.

Here are a few I picked up:
  • Jared Diamond's "The Third Chimpanzee" - Young Readers edition
  • Frank Einstein and the Anti-matter Motor - by Jon Scieszka 
  • Hold Tight, Don't Let Go - by Laura Rose Wagner - a YA novel re Haiti and the earthquak
  • Vango - by Timothee de Fombelle
  • Imaginary - by A.F. Harrold, illustrated by Emily Gravett
  • There Will Be Lies - by Nick Lake
  • Young Houdini - by SImon Nicholson
  • The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency - by Jordan Stratford
  • On a Clear Day - by Walter Dean Myters
  • A Path Appears - by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl Wu

  • Last year at ALA I did a full-day pre-conference on RDA (Resource Description + Access).  What I immediately love about RDA is its simple hierarchy, distinguishing between Work, Expression, Manifestation, Item (WEMI), not to mention its elaboration of dates — so one can distinguish between work creation date, original publication date, particular edition date, and manufacture date.