We have to stop pretending. #makeschoolbetter

I was tagged by Amanda Dykes in the #makeschooldifferent feed on Twitter. Amanda, tagged by someone else, lists five things that we are doing wrong in the education system as a whole. In the spirit of carrying the wave, here are my five:

make school different

When it comes to education, we have to stop pretending:

-that school libraries don’t matter.

Across the nation, libraries are understaffed and underfunded. Print resources and digital resources are absolutely vital to providing students and teachers with what they need to teach and learn well, as are learning commons-style space utilization. As the one place in the school reaching every student, every teacher, every parent, school libraries should not just be adequately funded...they should be a priority.

-that good teaching equates following all the rules.

Generally speaking, this industry rewards those who stay in the safe boxes, please all the people, and follow all the pacing guides to the letter. Making a shift to recognizing and valuing true innovation (not using iPads for Accelerated Reader tests and calling that innovative) would empower teachers, bring life to classrooms, and make school a whole lot more fun.

-that poverty isn’t the single greatest barrier to success, any way you measure that.

All over the US, teachers are held personally responsible (through high stakes testing) for student achievement, without any consideration of the fact that many of those students bring with them into the classroom a culture of poverty. They are hungry, they have seen and experienced violence, they are in foster care, they are sick, they are neglected...yet teachers are faulted and sometimes punished when those kids don’t score in the upper quartiles of the latest and greatest standardized assessment. When those kids can’t think or build or interact well with others, simply because their minds are trapped in another world.

-that education isn’t very big business.

When a company packages and sells textbooks and test practice materials/software, and then they also package and sell the test (for we are talking MEGABUCKS), that is an issue. When companies court districts and promise the moon if you’ll pick their equipment, their textbook, their instructional materials, the kids are cheated. When we are distracted by all the shiny new techie toys without truly evaluating them with the eye of an educator, the kids are ripped off. Go to any educational conference and check out the vendor hall to see just how big a business that the world of education is.

-that the current model of standardized assessment and “continuous improvement” is actually working.

In reality, it’s counter-productive, trapping administrators and teachers and students into “plans” they don’t value or find exciting...checking boxes that don’t matter to, well, anyone...except for the next level of box-checkers. Thanks to the testing movement, fueled by No Child Left Behind, only reading and math are taught in most elementary schools. Social studies and science are an afterthought, until kids reach middle school and their teachers shake their heads in bewilderment that kids today just don’t know how to think.

How can we teach them how to think, when we aren’t doing very much of that ourselves?

We have to stop pretending.

Vine: Trash or Treasure?

Vine app Vine labs

Vine (owned by Twitter) is a hugely popular app in the teen and college-kid world. Users produce looping, six-second videos that range from strangely goofy to pensively artistic. 

I check out Vine periodically just to maintain an understanding of the service, and have found it...well, mostly annoying, to be honest. Even the funniest zingers are not remotely entertaining once they've auto-replayed a time or two, and many times users are solely striving to be recognized as funny or clever by their peers. 

And we all know that teenagers, God bless their little half-baked selves, they tend to have a very strange sense of humor. 

The thing about Vine, though, is that I do see hugely redemptive qualities within this app. Because of the ease in time-lapsing videos, kids could use Vine to record various parts of science experiments and their findings...a much more authentic use of the traditional science report that would command the type of communicative precision required in a global society. Kids could also Vine their reflections on a book they've read, or even use Vine to design or frame up a short story they're writing in an ELA class. They could use Vine to create tutorials for completing math problems (great for teachers implementing the flipped instruction strategy) or for demonstrating how to properly shade a 3-D picture in art class. My favorite aspect of this app is the raw creativity kids can show off when crafting a well-executed Vine. 

Vine app information

Because Vine's Terms of Service are pretty open, nudity and sexual content (just as with Instagram or any other microblogging platform) is accessible to anyone who knows where to find it. From what I gather, Vine has taken strides to prevent the inclusion of pornography in any collections (removal/banning of certain hashtags) but anyone considering classroom use for this has to go into it with the understanding that though it's entirely possible to avoid explicit material, it's also still there for anyone who goes looking for it. I wouldn't recommend it for elementary or middle schoolers at this point (not until a tighter community or circle of security can be drawn around student users), but can see it being really useful for some high school groups. Teacher savvy is key to effective integration of this app! 

More resources on Vine:
Vine: What Parents Need to Know 

Vine Terms of Service 

Common Sense Media App Review

Are your teens YikYakking?

Among the many apps out there that our kids are using is one called YikYak, which is an anonymous (and highly controversial) messaging app. Imagine...Twitter, only messages are streamed geographically, and with no usernames. Let that sink in. NO. USERNAMES. No form of identity. Participants can say...anything, really, with no consequence. 

I monitor it just to stay on top of these things, and some of the stuff I've read would curl your toes. In some places around the nation, school districts are seeing students and teachers being slandered, drug deals being arranged, and far worse.

The worst I have seen personally is just...crudeness. Remember that movie What Women Want? YikYak is basically like that...you are reading the minds of other people who are in close proximity. 

And that, my friends, is a scary place to be. 

It is important to note that YikYak, with all its flaws, does attempt to work with school districts to protect students and teachers. IT departments can contact YikYak and establish what is called a "geofence."  

yik yak

Thinking about how we serve

Still here, friends. Thanks for those of you still having in there with me. :) Don't let my lack of posts give the wrong impression that I don't have any posts swimming around in this here brain o' mine. What a fantastic year this has been, and I have some posts coming soon to fill you in. For now, there are a few special reads I wanted to share.  

 *Unsplash.com under CC0. 

*Unsplash.com under CC0. 

Doug Johnson posted recently about the $3400 piece of chalk. His point really hits home. Far too often I see and hear of well-meaning educators who are taking the same old concepts (worksheets, chalkboard lecture, etc.) and simply putting a techy twist on them. Lecture notes transferred to a powerpoint or Google Slides presentation are still...lecture notes. This does not change the nature of instruction. This does not make the experience deeper or any more meaningful for the students. It simply creates a $3400 piece of chalk. As librarians and teachers and instructional technology experts, we should push for better. More. Deeper. Higher. In ourselves and our colleagues.   

Great bulletin board idea for teens and social media: Teens and social media. Twitchy yet? There is so much shark-infested water out there for our teens in the social media world. I feel some days that we're all just standing on the slope in the pool between shallow and deep, and if we take just One. More. Step. We are going to be in over our heads. And with our kids? They don't even know they're in danger...that's the scariest part. This post gives some great suggestions for guiding teens to respecting dangers and putting the brakes on their own behaviors. Which, if I know one thing about teenagers, will be waaaay more effective than us trying to regulate for them. 

The Copyright Comic Book: I'm a librarian. Copyright is my thang, friends. And this is a supercool resource that even our teens will love. 

Tech Tip #4

Blogging Challenge for School Librarians, Day 16 

Share a tech tip for your fellow librarians or teachers. How do you use this resource? How does it simplify your life?

For my last Tech Tip, I wanted to share about a new software that I have just begun to learn about and use in my school library. Nearpod is an app-based software that educators can use to promote student engagement and collective valuable formative/summative assessment data from each lesson. 

Though there are free trials available, you don't have access to all Nearpod's bells and whistles unless you pay for a subscription to the service. In it, teachers can upload and integrate all kinds of content...pictures, PPT slides, surveys, quick polls, quizzes, videos, open-ended questioning, etc.  in order to involve students in the instruction. 

 iPhone screenshot of what students would see when launching the Nearpod device

iPhone screenshot of what students would see when launching the Nearpod device

Once they create the presentation (or upload something already created to their Nearpod library), teachers will get an ID number for that lesson. Students open the Nearpod app, type in the ID number, and suddenly the teacher can control their device. He or she can send out quiz questions, have students respond to a math problem or label parts of an animal cell and submit that back to the teacher. I am talking mind-blowingly cool stuff here. There is a teacher-directed option which is to be used when the teacher wants to control the student's pace as well as a homework-type option that teachers can send out for students to complete at their own pace...excellent for flipped instruction! 

The best part is that even though we aren't set for school-wide BYOD quite yet, Nearpod can be used on our library's set of 30 Nooks. 

We're flat broke, so I wrote a grant for 5 teachers accounts for my school. I recently demonstrated it during a PD session on another topic (VAL-Ed assessment for instructional leaders), and had-with one exception- really positive feedback from teachers on how much they liked being able to use the software. Implementing that first with teachers gave me some solid feedback on how to best use it with kids. My next goal, of course, beyond using this in my own lessons with students, is to see it used in classrooms throughout the building. 

So if you have money to burn (hysterical, I know) or if you're looking for an idea for a tech-based grant, give Nearpod a look! Contact me here if you'd like to hear more about using this with your students and teachers. 

*Not a sponsored post, by the way. I'm not into that sort of thing.