About ruth

Author, teacher, librarian and tree-climber, though not all at the same time.

Convolutions of Connections

 

The connections that technology can weave are simply mind-boggling. On a personal scale, I can find old friends whom I have not contacted in years. On a global scale, I can discover new friends that bring fresh perspectives on the world. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, email, online discussion groups (like SCBWI), online communities (like DeviantArt), all bring a network of individuals with common interests within reach.

This is all a bit daunting and challenging to a true introvert. I must admit that I was a bit put off by all this connectivity at first, but I can see the value in it. As certain political situations worldwide can demonstrate, it is neither wise nor healthy to live in a bubble of isolation. Connections with a variety of contacts keep us honest, humble and human. (Democrats and Republicans… are you listening? China, with your “Great Firewall,” are you listening?)

So, connections are good, but they can also be convoluted and confusing. While it may be prudent to sort your connections carefully into personal, hobby, business and political categories, the lines invariably cross. We find valuable connections where we least expect them to be. I found the illustrator for my children’s book on Deviant Art. I have discovered famous authors who have connected with me on LinkedIn. By way of my Kidsermons website, have been contacted by a pastor in Norway who translated my content and included it in a children’s sermon book, called Annerledeskongen, which has been distributed to many of the churches in Norway.

And although my blog is rarely read by anyone who does not know me, every once in a while, I realize that even this is a connection that can turn up in places where I would least expect it. I recently came across a link to my “View from the Trees” blog by a person in Sweden (who is a friend of my illustrator, Therese Larsson. I have included the blurb below for those of you who can speak Swedish:

Hi Ruth,
Stefan Zackrisson commented on a status that you’re tagged in.
Stefan wrote: “Eftersom mina google-skills är a+ ,http://ruth.ingulsrud.net/blog/2012/10/13/distractions-or-enhancements-the-interactive-question/ , Verkar helt klart intressant Therese Larsson :)”

In relating all of this to teaching… we are undoubtedly instructing our students on the importance of making good connections; not just in academic instruction (text-to-self, etc.) but in personal relationships. We are teaching them to be interested and connected to the world around them, and if we build into our curriculum, the chance to make authentic and valuable connections, we equip them for dealing with the complex interconnected world that they are growing into.

Just as we tend to straighten up and project our best image when we realize that we are being observed, students also straighten up and put their best effort forward when they realize that they have an authentic audience.

When I told the 4th grade students in our school that they would be publishing a digital book that could be downloaded by any student in the world, the intensity of focus was palpable. Most students have not even complained about the many drafts and corrections that they have had to make to their writing as they prepare to truly publish their work to the world. They know that their product, a book on the”History of Books and Libraries” will be used as part of the curriculum to teach the 3rd graders as our school, but they also realize that anyone around the world will be able to read this book as well. Connections are important.

We will be using iBooks Author to construct our book and the students are each writing a page on various topics related to the the history of books and libraries. Students are tackling subjects like, “Hieroglyphics,” “the Great Library of Alexandria,” “Pictograms,” “the Printing Press,” and even “Cave Paintings” as they attempt to show the progress of literacy and books throughout the history of man. It is a big undertaking, but I have been amazed at what the students have come up with. Some are even making connections beyond the classroom, emailing librarians at the Harvard Library system and at the oldest free public library in the United States, the Peterborough Library.

Through their research, the students are even creating connections to the past and beginning to understand history better. They are discussing ideas about what the world would be like if certain writing systems or inventions had never come to light. They are realizing the value of innovation, progress and record-keeping as they attempt to see the progression of a very big concept over time. Thinking and education should be about making connections; activating dendrites and synapses in the brain. It appears that through the challenge of research and creation, these students are certainly learning to think!

Hosting an Author

Last month, in September of 2012, I had the amazing honor of getting to host an internationally famous author, Sharon Draper, during her first-ever visit to Japan.

The catalyst for this opportunity came from the Sakura Medal Awards, which are organized by the librarians of international schools in Japan. It is one of the few literary awards in the world that is selected by young readers themselves. Students take great pride in the fact that they have the final say over who receives the Sakura medal in any given year.

I offered to send the 2011-2012 Sakura Medals to the winning picture book and chapter book authors, so that is how I ended up making contact with Sharon. Her book, Out of My Mind, was voted by the students as the best chapter book of the year. (Many seem to share the international students’ opinion, since this book has been on the New York Times Bestseller List for many weeks and has been translated into Russian and Chinese.) I sent her the congratulatory letter with its accompanying certificate, student artwork and burnished medallion, and she was very appreciative.

She mentioned that she was being sent to China in September as part of State-Department sponsored author tour representing the United States. Since she would be so close to Japan already, she wondered if she could squeeze in a quick trip to Tokyo to visit some of the students who had given her such a lovely medal. We quickly arranged a schedule and several of our international schools in Tokyo had the pleasure of getting to see Sharon present in her warm and personable, lively manner.

We were thrilled to host her and she was demonstrably thrilled with her time here in Japan. My husband and daughter and I got to show Sharon a bit of Tokyo on Sunday, her one full day of sightseeing. As soon as we started off in the morning, we were greeted with a mikoshi-carrying procession which had paused immediately in front of her hotel in Kichi-joji. It was a perfect day full of serendipitous experiences and our author seemed very happy to have had a taste of Tokyo. She even learned to use chopsticks for the first time, a skill that she later made use of in China.

We continue to stay in touch. I was very interested to hear about her experiences in China. One of the most touching meetings that she remembers was with a group of mothers who all had developmentally challenged children. Many of them had read Draper’s book, “Out of My Mind” and were dealing with the difficulties of raising a child with considerable challenges. They knew that they had an empathetic ear with Sharon and they poured out their hearts as they shared common struggles and griefs and hopes for their dear children. Sharon admitted that it was hard to know what to do or say in this situation. While technology and digital connections can often help, they are not the final answer or solution to all of the problems.

Out of My Mind

In Sharon’s book, Out of My Mind, the main character, Melody, who is confined (for the most part) to a wheelchair, is set free to communicate by means of an electronic talking machine, a table attached to the front of her wheelchair that can be manipulated to produce speech and phrases.

teachinglearnerswithmultipleneeds.blogspot.com

 

 

 

 

She is finally able to show the world the brilliant mind that has been tucked away and ignored by her peers for so long. Technology opens up a whole world of connections to her and keeps her from going “out of her mind” in the isolation of her disability. Our world is now so intricately connected, one would think that no one needs to live in isolation. We blog and twitter and ichat and Facebook and email and FaceTime until we are saturated with connectivity. There is a lot of good in our tech-connectivity.

Still, we can feel like we are trapped in a fish bowl if we don’t possess the ability to connect soul-to-soul with another individual. Teaching students (and ourselves) to communicate on deep and personal levels, is a skill that should never be neglected in our rush to adopt the latest-and-greatest methods of electronic communication. If it does not enhance true communication, it’s just that much more electronic static. We should all strive to author our intentions and our ideas with as much clarity and depth as is possible with our resources. An accomplished author can touch the world with important ideas, and Sharon Draper’s visit reminded me of this important truth.

Distractions or Enhancements? The Interactive Question

What is a book? The concept of “book” is changing so fast, it’s hard to keep up with it all. There are so many options available now when designing a book, that it is almost mind-boggling. I would even go so far as to say that the options may begin to distract one from the original purpose in creating a book. This is a problem for the author as well as for the reader.

guardian.co.uk Photograph from Rex Features

An article published by the UK’s “Guardian” suggests that interactive digital books tend to distract children from the content and storyline of the book and make it harder for them to remember crucial details from the story. The headline of the article declares: “Enhanced eBooks Are Bad for Children.” The article then goes on to detail the results of a study done in the USA where parents, with their children, read a story together. Half of the group settled in with a print book and the other half with an interactive digital version of the story. The print book kids could recall more details and discuss the story much more readily than the digital book kids. The researchers concluded that while “print books were more advantageous for literacy building co-reading”, ebooks, and particularly enhanced ebooks, were better “for engaging children and prompting physical interaction”.

So an author has to consider the goal of any particular book before beginning to design it. Is the book created to promote physical interaction and initial interest or is it created to build literacy and present an engaging story? This is what I have been asking myself as I consider the digital options of my first illustrated children’s book. I began the project with an illustration that simply begged for a story. It was chosen as a “Deviation of the Day” and was simply titled…

“You!”

When I first saw the illustration on the Deviant Art website, the picture was so compelling that the story began to write itself in my head. And then it wouldn’t let me sleep until I had written it down.

So when designing the book, I knew that the detailed illustrations were a key factor of this story and they would be displayed beautifully on a retina-display iPad where the viewer could zoom in on the picture to see all of the creative, little details which the artist has tucked into every page. For example, there is a dragon hidden on almost every page of the book if you take the time to look carefully. And there are critters hiding in trees, in the grass and in wee hidey-holes, just waiting to be discovered. Because this particular artist, Therese Larsson, is very skilled at portraying light in her digital art, the back-lit iPad is an ideal platform for showing it off.

The story should always be the reason for a storybook. You write a book to tell a compelling story. Too many digital books that I have seen lately, seem to have been produced to distract a child or to provide a platform for playing games; they often lack an original story. So when thinking about how to design my digital book, I decided that I did not want to include animation or distracting games. I wanted to add things that would enhance the story. The read-aloud function will be included as the story uses a higher level vocabulary than is customary for a picture book. Some words may present an pronunciation challenge for younger readers and the read-aloud function can help with this. I certainly did not want to “dumb down” the text, especially not after the discussion I had with the 5th grade students at my international school when they realized that many modern authors are doing just that as they attempt to make their books more consumable to young readers who may not want a challenge. (The 5th graders were offended and went and checked out challenging books just to spite those authors.)

“Wily” and “plundering” may not be commonly used words, but they are delicious and poetic and deserve some airing out, and so they are staying in the book. But it does help to have a function that will read the words out loud so that “wily” does not become “willy,” (heaven forbid). I work with many students who are struggling to learn English as a second or even third language, and they are helped out a lot by being able to check out from our school library audio books and books with read-aloud CDs included in the back cover. Some of our EAL students check out the audio version of a novel when they check out the print novel so that they can hear the native pronunciation of the words while they are reading the text. I see read-aloud digital books as being very useful in the international school context where students may not have native language speakers at home.

In deciding what digital enhancements to include or not include in a book, the author has to think carefully about the purpose of the book. Will the book’s purpose be amplified or diluted by the choice of digital enhancements. This type of consideration applies to using technology in the classroom as well. A tool should help achieve one’s goal instead of becoming a distraction unto itself…. (one reason why I just cannot appreciate the design of certain pencils).

made-in-china.com

 

 

Digital Dystopia or Taming a “Lion” of Code

In the physical world, you can eyeball a thing and observe its level of intricacy. Of course, microscopes reveal more intricacies than are apparent to the naked eye. In the digital world, if it looks simple, it is actually really complex. Of course, we want our digital tools to be user-friendly, clean and simple, but if we take a microscope to them and look at the coding behind the surface our utopia of effortless digital interaction become a tangled dystopia of code. Some geeks have an innate sense of direction. Others, like me, struggle with the syntax of embedded html. It has to be just right, or it simply does not work.

Here is an example from our COETAIL grading spreadsheet which we each have access to in our Google Docs:

At the top of my page it says: “Ruth’s COETAIL Grading.” Underneath are displayed columns A – E which list the Week, Blog Post Title, Date Posted, etc. In the past, I typed in my blog post title and then added the link string right into the cell making a clear but long and unwieldy entry. And then it was brought to my attention that the link string was not even clickable. If I had just dumped in the link string without adding the “Blog Post Title” then I would have been fine; the link would have worked. Adding the name of the title in the cell interrupted the function of a direct link.

So I began to try to figure out how to embed a link under the title of the blog post. I wanted just the title to show in the cell. When the instructor clicked on the title, it would automatically take her to the post. Not so easy. My resident geek found some advice on the subject here: Enter Links in a Google Spreadsheet . That was easy to do in this blog post because there is a link tool available. Not so with Google spreadsheets. You have to know the code…. and it looks like this:

=hyperlink(“http://ruth.ingulsrud.net/blog/2012/09/22/digital/”;”digital dystopia”)

There is one little hitch though, that my friendly “Enter Links in a Google Spreadsheet” page did not tell me about. You have to have “Normal” selected instead of “Plain Text.” (Those commands are found in the “More formats” pull-down menu which is hidden behind an icon that says, “123.” Why “123″ should signify more formats is beyond me. So this little hyperlink trick did not work until the normal font was enabled…. and then…. TADAAAH! It worked. Looks simple on the surface; just the title of the blog post shows up. Below the surface lurks the coding which will not cooperate unless you say the exactly right thing in the exactly right format. Coding can be belligerent and cranky and very hairy.

But that is the least of my worries. I am trying to make a simple, illustrated digital children’s book that highlights its words as the embedded narrator speaks them aloud. Looks simple and obvious when it works, but underneath the calm surface is hours of coaxing the vicious code to behave. I may need a whip and a chair.

Honing the History iBook Project

Sigh. Thinking about my final project and wondering how the heck it’s going to get done…

I need to bring myself from a valley of dull dread to pinnacle of sharp enthusiasm. Blogging my thoughts can serve as a whetstone for both attitude and ideas.

Writing a book in six weeks that encompasses the history of books and libraries sounds like an impossible task, right? My final CoETaIL project will be to produce an iBooks Author version of said book and I’d better get cracking or it will never be done in time. Oh, I won’t be doing it by myself. No, that would be inconceivable. How could one person manage such a far-reaching project? I will succeed with the help of a classroom of 4th graders! Ta-da! Isn’t that a brilliant strategy?

No, they have never used iBooks Author before, but that is a skill that, once mastered, will allow them to publish their own stories to the world. Our ES tech support person, Grace Y., will be assisting with this task. (What would I do without amazing Grace?)

We are spreading the monumental task around by assigning one part of the history to one student. Their task is to create one page for our book. To scaffold their task (and to move things along) I will provide lists of books, magazine articles and websites from which they can glean essential information. They will mock up their page in the “Pages” application, remembering to find, insert and attribute appropriate visuals. Because iBooks Author accepts input directly from Pages, this will simplify the construction of the digital book.

Challenges Thus Far:

1.  4th graders only have library time for half an hour per week.

2.  Library time for 4th graders was canceled this week for Pro-D days and is canceled next week because of a field trip.

3.  Some sections of the planned book have few resources in our library.

4.  iBooks Author needs to be installed on the student laptops.

Solutions or Plans:

1.  Add time available to the project by partnering with classroom teacher to incorporate iBook project into classroom writing time.

2. (See #1 solution.) Also use all of the library time to work on iBook and have students check out books during one of their recess times, before or after school.

3.  Allow use of web resources as long as the source is valid.

4.  Done. Our tech guy, Dusty Mack, (yes, he works with our Mac computers which are used so often they never do get dusty) has already installed iBooks Author on the laptops.

More honing to be done, I am sure, but at least I am ready to start.

Student-Created iBook About Books

COETAIL Course 4 Final Project:

After checking with the 3rd grade teacher, I am cleared for revamping the 3rd grade library unit, “The History of Books and Libraries” for the 2012 – 2013 school year. I have designed tech-friendly unit that will create an end product which will be helpful as a teaching resource for not only our own school, but other schools as well.

The unit will incorporate several tools which we have explored in Course 4 of our CoETaIL cohort and will put into practice some of the things which we have learned so far in our pursuit towards a Certificate of Educational Technology and Information Literacy. The end product will be a student-produced iBooks Author textbook that will be offered for free through our website or given away through the iTunes bookstore.

ISTE NETS for Students:

In designing this unit for our 3rd graders, here are the standards that I hope to address:

ISTE NETS
Creativity and Innovation
 1 Students demonstrate creative thinking, construct knowledge, and develop innovative products and processes using technology. Students:
a.apply existing knowledge to generate new ideas, products, or processes.b.create original works as a means of personal or group expression.
Communication and Collaboration
 2 Students use digital media and environments to communicate and work collaboratively, including at a distance, to support individual learning and contribute to the learning of others. Students:
a.interact, collaborate, and publish with peers, experts, or others employing a variety of digital environments and media.b.communicate information and ideas effectively to multiple audiences using a variety of media and formats.

d.

contribute to project teams to produce original works or solve problems.

Research and Information Fluency
3 Students apply digital tools to gather, evaluate, and use information. Students:
a.plan strategies to guide inquiry.b.locate, organize, analyze, evaluate, synthesize, and ethically use information from a variety of sources and media.

c.

evaluate and select information sources and digital tools based on the appropriateness to specific tasks.

d.

process data and report results.

Digital Citizenship
5 Students understand human, cultural, and societal issues related to technology and practice legal and ethical behavior. Students:
a.advocate and practice safe, legal, and responsible use of information and technology.b.exhibit a positive attitude toward using technology that supports collaboration, learning, and productivity.
Technology Operations and Concepts
6 Students demonstrate a sound understanding of technology concepts, systems, and operations. Students:
a.understand and use technology systems.b.select and use applications effectively and productively.

The unit will begin with the use of the “Flipped Classroom” model…

Flipped Classroom:

Students will work in pairs to study in depth one section of the “History of Books and Libraries” unit. As homework, all students will be required to watch an overview video and will answer questions related to the content while they watch. Students will be able to replay the video or pause it long enough to record their answers. This will be especially helpful to the ELL students who sometimes have trouble understanding all of the content the first time through.

Possible Videos:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vg-9kOixAbQ

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fM7OZUWUC40

As I looked for resources before teaching the books unit this year, I found that there really wasn’t a lot out there geared to the elementary age level. What I really needed was an interactive textbook that a 3rd grade student could understand. The resource did not yet exist, so it would have to be created. The need for resources is part of the impetus behind this project.

 Technology Integration:

As technology should be integrated when and where it is most applicable and relevant, creating a digital book about the evolution of books themselves seems an appropriate application. The iBooks Author tool is designed to be easy to use and intuitive. In researching this option, I have experimented with creating some books of my own, but I was very impressed by one example of a student-produced book on the flora and fauna of Florida that I recently came across. I downloaded the book and will use it with my class to show what can be done with this book-authoring tool. Creatures, Plants and More! by Andrea Santilli and her 7th grade students is available for free download at the iTunes store. Their project was recently highlighted in an article for MacLife.

As you can see, this is a chance for reaching the Transformation level of the SAMR model as the task of creating an eBook allows the students to do something previously inconceivable.

I can’t wait to see what the students create and hear about all that they learn through the process of creation.

Is It PC to Police a PC?

Is it PC to police a student’s PC? And even if it’s not politically correct, is it still necessary?No one wants to be a killjoy, obviously, but some of us are tasked with the unpleasant job of making sure that students do not misuse the ubiquitous tech tools that have infiltrated our schools with their amazing socially connective abilities. In other words, we have to make sure that kids are not texting, skyping, iChatting, messaging, Facebooking and Tweeting each other when they are supposed to be doing schoolwork or homework or some other kind of work that has nothing to do with talking to your neighbor. This role as overseer and PC police is the least favorite part of my job. To misquote the beloved Kermit the Frog, “It’s not easy being mean.”

I work in the library and the library is full of computers and full of students who bring various other electronic devices into the library with them. Part of my job is to monitor computer use and make sure that students are using their time wisely.  So, if someone is playing a video game, or chatting on Facebook, or watching the latest YouTube sensation, it is my job to redirect them… or if they have been “redirected” on previous occasions, simply take away their distracting device or revoke the privilege of studying in the library. Bummer of a job, but someone has to do it.

Of course, determining whether or not a student is on or off-task is becoming more difficult. At times, a student is searching for an image on Facebook to use in a multi-media presentation for Social Studies. Some students are improving their typing speed or math skills through the use of a fast-paced video game. Students collaborate with each other on many projects throughout the year and the content of text-messages during the school day is often precisely on-topic and quick succinct communication is helping the student group complete their project on time.

Most students know the rules and follow them. The biggest deterrent from veering away from work mode seems to be library layout. Most of the computer screens can be easily seen from the circulation desk where the library staff is usually working. The one table that is out of our line of sight is off limits to students who are using laptops. And students who are using laptops at the tables are aware that librarians and other teachers are often walking around, checking on student work.

One can usually tell when a student is off-task by observing body language, and by observing the students who are sitting next to them. It is hard to avoid looking at another student’s computer when a new music video begins to play. It is easy to ignore that same computer when a Keynote presentation is slowly taking shape.

But policing the personal computers is not the ultimate solution. Students eventually have to take responsibility for their own use of time and their resultant success or failure in school. They do need to understand that their own habits will help them or hurt them in the end.

There has been some talk about the benefits of “Tech Breaks” in class, where students are allowed a few minutes during class to check Facebook and messages before they all get back to the task of learning. I explained the concept to my 9th grade daughter and asked her what she thought of it. “I don’t think it’s a good idea,” she said. “It pulls your focus away from class and is distracting. Besides, anytime that you are checking Facebook during school, you are doing so with a nervous attitude. I would rather wait till after school when I can really relax and enjoy messaging with my friends. I like letting the tension build throughout the day and then when the school day is over, you can see if you’ve got any notes or comments from friends. It’s more fun that way.”

I think that providing students with tools to manage their time and distractions and letting them design their own system is probably the most effective way to really manage in-school electronic device use. If a student wants to get a message to a peer, they will find a way to do it. Students do need to understand and experience the consequences of their choices, but they should also be offered guidance to improve their use of time. Perhaps a tech-night highlighting tools for workload and study time management would be in order.

Here are just a few examples of available tools:

Study Buddy App  http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/study-buddy/id328245389?mt=8

iProcrastinate App  http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/iprocrastinate/id413662017?mt=12

SelfControl (Free App)  http://www.macupdate.com/app/mac/31289/selfcontrol

Omniwriter (simplifies desktop; removes distractions) http://www.ommwriter.com/

Pomodori (study timer; project management)  http://reborg.github.com/pomodori/

ManicTime (tracks time spent on which sites and applications)  http://www.manictime.com/

With students effectively managing their own digital device use, I could use my time for better things, like helping with research skills and incorporating eBooks into our library check-out system.