Keyword research with Google Wonder Wheel

The Google Wonder Wheel is a research tool that helps students narrow down their search results. It can lead to better, more efficient access to websites that will provide them with background information on their specific topic. It is an excellent scaffold to promote and support thinking skills and the quest for deep knowledge. The video on Youtube is by Karen Bonnano of schoollibrarymanagement.com. Thanks Karen!

ClustrMaps!

On Friday, I added a “ClustrMap” to the blog, ie. the little rectangular graphic of the world map. This “free” widget (on the right, below my avatar pic), automatically tracks visitors to the blog site and gives a cumulative tally. Little red dots appear to represent “hits”, and will grow larger every ten visitors. (It’s free in that, if you want a wider range of services, you can upgrade with $$$. But the free version, despite tossing in a few advertisements deemed relevant to my readers, seems to be informative enough – and a fun diversion.)

By clicking on the map, you are taken to a larger version. To see the breakdown of “Country totals”, click on that hyperlink. So far, the figures show mostly Australian hits, but there have been visitors from seventeen other countries! 102 unique visitors over the weekend.

Of course, me being red/green colourblind, red dots on green landforms aren’t terribly helpful (for me), but if I really concentrate I can eventually notice a difference.

It will be interesting as the little red dots continue growing across Europe, the Pacific islands and the USA mainland, as Internet surfers the world over encounter the blog page through Google searches, etc. I know from my other blog, over at Blogger, upon which I have a “Sitemeter”, that these days many visitors seem to find my sites via a Google Images search, and this has been a changing trend in the past year. Either Google Images is more efficient than it used to be, or simply more people are using it to surf the ‘Net. Of course, that’s not to say they find what they’re looking for once they arrive. One of the mysteries of the Internet!

ClustrMaps is a great reminder that the Web 2.0 world is always watching!

Identifying strategies, initiatives and support

I’ve just placed a new response over on the School Libraries 21C site.

This is the section I’ve put off answering because, really, I find it quite daunting. We, as educational practitioners in school libraries, can spout off about how we should be listened to until we are blue in the face, but helping to provide the necessary statistics as evidence for change – in an organised way, that can be trusted and accurately interpreted – is so difficult.

When governments do attempt to initiate national testing of students, to gather that hard evidence of the value being added to learning, we look at their motives with great suspicion – and rightly so, when we all know how statistics can become such a powerful weapon for cost-cutting and false advertising. After all, teacher-librarians spend a lot of time teaching students how to analyse data and texts to detect their authority, validity and reliability.

Ross mentioned that “one of the critical challenges in terms of continuous improvement and personal capacity building is keeping up to date with the vast body of research”.

Having just attended the two-day NSW DET Connected Learning 2009 conference (and presenting in a session last Wednesday), I’m internalising a lot more than just “research and carefully looking at how this can be interpreted and translated into daily professional practice”. This year’s conference was subtitled “Transforming Learning and Teaching” (even the order of “learning” and “teaching” in the title was examined!) and it made me think back to this blog site on more than several occasions.

Some of the points raised by the keynote speakers were so important, thought-provoking and challenging. The presentations by Mark Treadwell and Peter Blassina, particularly, were quite mind-blowing. If you haven’t seen the TED talk on “The Sixth Sense” by Pattie Maes (MIT Media Lab), as discussed by Peter Blassina at the conference, it’s a must-see:
http://www.ted.com/talks/pattie_maes_demos_the_sixth_sense.html

After that video, we were all feeling more than a little inadequate, and yet incredibly excited by the possibilities. As I mentioned in one of my earlier posts, here I was thinking my iPhone was pretty clever, and a harbinger of how students of the future would still be needing the help of teacher-librarians to plough through our information world. If “The Sixth Sense” becomes a commercial reality, the learning curve starts anew before the current one is even finished. Are any of us ready for the next paradigm shift?

Ross also mentions how “often teacher librarians claim that much research is so remote and disconnected from their professional practice. This is an important challenge. In order for research and practice to be more intricately connected, how can this be done? What would you like to see?”

Colleen Foley and I were pleased we had plenty of school principals at our session! But there was so much information to convey in a 50 minute session of a two-day conference – at which all attendees were giving up two days of their vacation. Thus “strategies / initiatives / support at the practitioner level” depend upon practitioners giving up their own leisure time to keep pace. Which is hardly ideal. How else can we ensure that principals are empowered to act in the most effective ways? And will every teacher-librarian be comfortable and capable of providing the local research data being asked of them, and then interpreting it, and internalising the research from further afield, and making it relevant to their day-to-day educational encounters?

At my school, I’m probably very fortunate that we are part of the Priority Schools Program (PSP). In order to keep getting our funding, compiling statistics of our evidence-based practice is embedded. As teacher-librarian, I made sure I was part of the PSP committee, but I can see that setting up something similar – regular, planned pre-testing, post-testing and evaluating – is not easy in non PSP schools.

The time (and funding) needed to analyse results, particularly, and prepare reports that convince all stakeholders that certain changed practices are achieving, or not achieving, outcomes is substantial.

Essential “Strategies / initiatives / support”: Hasn’t it always been about this, and don’t we always complain there’s never enough planning, reflection, money, time and training?

What does a school library of the future look like?

This is such a daunting question.

A few things come to mind:

The future is now. Or at least by the end of next year.

Building the Education Revolution (BER)
is here, whether we asked for it or not. For schools such as mine, which has “made do” with an old, portable library module (the school was supposedly promised it would be there for only three years, until a permanent brick building was erected, but it’s been at least 16 years now, I’m told). The “Primary Schools for the 21st Century” program is bringing us a new library (hurray!), but it won’t be quite what we’d always envisaged. (We’d assumed we’d, one day, have a new administration building, with a library on top. Now, new building regulations say that any new multi-storey public building must have an elevator, to ensure equity, and that takes such a concept out of our price range.) So, it’ll be single storey, on the site of the old portable, with an annexed room – to make up for the fact that we won’t be getting that new administration building we’ve only ever dreamed about, and desperately needed.

But that’s only the structural stuff. What has my brain whizzing at the moment is how much input and choice schools and staff will have on the internal layout of these new libraries. What does a 21st century school library need, and will it be expected to keep us happy in five years time, ten years time, or even as we approach the 22nd century?

My school’s current administration building is over 90 years old. When it was built, did people imagine it would still be being used as a school building nearly 100 years later? (If only they’d known then that we needed more than one power point in each classroom; what a saving we’d have made!) Because we live and work in the building every day, we usually only think of it in terms of its inadequacies. But to others, it’s a building of uniqueness. Attempts to revamp it would, no doubt, attract the attention of heritage-conscious locals.

Similarly, the portable library reminds me of its inadequacies – every time the floor bounces on the way to answer the telephone, and every time we complain about our lack of storage space, or when two or more classes are in the library at once. I can assume the new building will have a sturdy floor and adequate storerooms, but what internal layout and devices do we need to ensure our new library will be able to cope with the changing nature of how students need to access information?

I glance at my handy-dandy iPhone and am bewildered by the many functions it has, most of which I’ve never had time to explore in the eight months or so that I’ve owned it. My iPhone lets me locate myself on Google Maps (I’ve found some rather tricky addresses with ease, which is great when you’re a pedestrian and unlikely to have a Gregory’s directory on hand). I am never without a digital camera. I can check my emails and update my Facebook page whenever I’m bored. By clicking any URL in an email, I am taken immediately to the website being recommended. I can play all the iTunes music that’s ever been downloaded to my laptop at home, because my iPhone downloads all changes for me every time I plug it in for a recharge. I’ve bought things on eBay while on vacation using my iPhone, and paid for them with PayPal. I can instantly check four preset timezones to ensure my four library “newsroom” clocks are always accurate. A downloaded clever application keeps track of my extensive DVD collection, and automatically links me to IMDb on the ‘Net whenever I require cast and crew information about movies in my collection.

Most amazing is the “Mobile Me” program which enables my trusty iPhone and dependable Apple laptop to talk with each other – and exchange the latest changes to my calendar and address book – whenever they come into proximity with each other! No wires required. And, as I said, I suspect my iPhone does thousands of things I haven’t yet discovered.

I assume that, within a few years, everybody will have something similar (and smaller, and more powerful). Including our students, who’ll be quite blaze about having one. Such an ICT marvel shall be as important as wearing a wristwatch was until recently. When so much access to so much information can come with just one little device, I find it overwhelming to even try to imagination what we may have at our fingertips in five years time, let alone ten or twenty years.

As we know, our students are not usually daunted by touching a button to see what something can do. It’s the adults who sit there, sometimes frozen in fear, attempting to be brave enough to tackle the new technologies. There are still some teachers out there who’ve never sent an email.

We, and our students, are going to have access to an enormous amount of information, and soon no one may see a school library building as their first port of call. Hopefully, though, the concept of the school library (some of it virtual) as the hub of a school’s information needs, and the place (again, some of it virtual) where users can be guided to navigate information overload successfully, will remain paramount.

It seems to me that our school library webpages, online pathfinders, blogs, wikis, moodles, etc – and whatever else is yet to come in the virtual world – are going to be just as important, or more important, as the new BER library buildings.

The physical BER library buildings are what the public will see, and probably how they will judge if the money was well-spent. The important stuff may be (virtually) impossible to see from the outside, or even from the inside, because much of it may be virtual.

The discussion continues at School Libraries 21C.

What they’re saying about…

… ummm, me. 😉

This week, I did a quick Google search on what other schools around the world are doing regarding Kindergarten students using wikis. (Answer: still not much?) It’s now been a full twelve months since the unit of work, documented at penrithpslibrary.pbwiki.com, was done at this school, and I’ve just launched a similar project for a group of (possibly) gifted and talented Early Stage 1 students, hoping to repeat and improve upon the 2007 successes.

What surprised and delighted me was that numerous sites recently have earmarked/bookmarked our wiki pages, as an exemplar from which others can draw inspiration:

For example, on the University of North Texas School of Library Science wiki pages, Janienne Brown says, about our site, “This example of a Wiki from Australia shows exactly what a Wiki can accomplish and in this case [Stage 3 book review page] one of the students had their review printed in the newspaper and another student won a voucher for their participation, this is above and beyond the immediate benefits of the Wiki. Also shown are the stages the Wiki went through to illustrate that this is a process [Kindergarten fables] and the process is part of the journey. The setup of this Wiki is from their home page and names the book and author of the book and ‘A book review by first name, last initial, and grade’. This Wiki shows beautifully what we hope to accomplish, students reading, writing, getting other students excited about reading and writing too.”

Cool!

And, in an excellent and enthusiastic PowerPoint presentation (“Web 2.0 – Join the journey”) , for a Summer Institute for School Librarians by Lori Franklin, our Core Values Fables pages were recommended in her section called “Why in the world wiki?”

Even cooler!

I’m making sure I take lots of notes (ie. “evidence-based practice”) again as I run the program this term. I’m already realising that some things I did last year, as a bit of a fluke, were very effective. We still don’t have an interactive whiteboard in the school, so last year, when I had the wiki page set up on a bank of three computers, the students were able to see, quite dramatically, that changes to one wiki page on one computer, were instantaneously altered on the other two computer screens, after a simple page refresh. I only had one screen on for the first lesson this year and I suddenly realised a missed opportunity.

The twelve students, from three different classes, are highly motivated and are excited about working together on some “special”. I was impressed that they seem to be more Internet savvy than the 2007 group. It will be an interesting term!

Beijing, books and bungee-jumping

This term, I’m working with at least seven very enthusiastic groups of Stage 2 students on the New South Wales Department of Education & Training’s Beijing Olympic Games & Book Week 2008 rap.

Firstly, as with the other raps which ran this year, I’m promoting the rap blog URL in the school newsletter so that students can show off their group’s rap responses with their families each week.

In case the URL doesn’t make it home, I’m also explicitly modelling a search strategy (ie. how to use Google to find the rap pages) each time the students come for their blogging session. I show them what happens when we type in raps and book raps as search terms (almost 1.5 million hits!) and how the abundance of riches can be reduced by using inverted commas. (ie. “raps and book raps” gives only 5000 possible sites – and, in any case, the NSW DET Raps webpage appears as choice #1).

Also I demonstrate the pathway to get to the blog itself. For the last two raps, many students tried out visiting the rap blog from home, and we received great parental feedback.

Secondly, I brought in a collection of stuffed animal toy mascots (plus others that were already decorating the library). The Bruce Whatley drawing of Tammy the Tortoise (in the Children’s Book Council of Australia shortlisted book, The Shaggy Gully Times) is uncannily like a toy tortoise I had at home, especially with the addition of a battery-operated pocket fan strapped to her back.

Now each group is selecting (and often naming) one of the animal “reporters”, who’ll represent them in the upcoming newspaper article rap point. Each one has his or her own “Press card” to get them into Olympic venues. The animal characters (a flying fox, the aforementioned tortoise, a Puffin Books puffin, a Chinese New Year dragon, a large green frog, Selby the taking dog, and my trusty big, black, furry, bungee spider – it’s a long story) might prove useful for some f(p)unny photojournalism in the playground. We’ll be able to upload the pictures to the Gallery of the rap blog – and they should provide inspiration for some typically Jackie French-esque animal puns.

Synthesising about synthesis

I promised to get back to Monday’s professional development day with Jamie McKenzie. I’m finding it quite tricky to “report back” on an event, which offered so many seeds for further (and deeper) thought, without it sounding like I’m doing a cursory summary of the guest speaker’s main points – which are covered so much better in the “virtual handouts” Jamie has supplied on his official website(s). And it’s ironic that I’m now attempting to synthesise synthesis, think deeply about deep questions, authentically evaluate authentic evaluation and deconstruct the valuable elements of deconstruction!

It was certainly reassuring to be reminded that numerous aspects of the above elements have already become embedded into my teaching style over recent decades; the day certainly highlighted the need for all educators to be explicit about why we do certain things, to remind ourselves why these strategies work, and not to get too dismayed when it (often) appears that there are never enough opportunities to use them. It doesn’t matter how many of these days I go to, there are always be new ideas to try, ideas to scoff at (that I sometimes end up trying anyway, somewhere further along the track), and ideas I already use and now have additional confirmation that, yes, they really are worthwhile, and noteworthy.

My main purpose of starting up this blog was to reassure myself that it was the little, but purposeful, strategies we use in our teaching that can promote good – often excellent – results. The degree of planning and collaboration can vary, and when we are deep into a unit of work, it’s easy to forget that we are using them. So often, we launch into a unit with no pre-testing, or the end of term rushes up and blurs opportunities for authentic evaluation and formative assessment (Jamie mentioned that such assessment is “to enlighten, not frighten”), but when we do make the time to ensure it happens, the results can be very rewarding.. for the educators, their students and the school community.

Even more ironic, though, is that – among the brief notes (I didn’t have to take, because Jamie had given us all the URLs we needed) in front of me right now – I see that I have scrawled, under the “Strategies” heading, the point “4. Avoid heroics”. Now I’m writing this blog entry under a banner headline that promotes this site as “heroic adventures in teacher-librarianship”.

As I think I recall saying in my first few blog entries, on a day to day basis, we often overlook the amazing things we, as educators, do every day. Often, when I’m mentioning various parts of my day to others, it’s only then that it starts to crystalise how, or why, or when, certain elements were particularly effective/successful/innovative or worth repeating, testing, gathering evidence, or simply sharing.

Say these things around the PSP (Priorities Schools Programs) committee and one ends up chairing a sharing session for parents. Say these things around the editor of Scan and one ends up writing an article, sharing the ideas and findings with a much wider audience than the usual local group of teaching colleagues. Say these things too often around certain people and one can end up presenting panels at seminars!

I guess the important thing here is the sharing. Educators become educators for good reasons, and it was interesting that Jamie mentioned several times that – for quite a while – the so-called “digital literacy” and “computer literacy” buzzwords of one revolutionary information delivery service derailed us (temporarily) from the things that effective educators have always done well (ie. the titles of Jamie’s sessions on the day):

* “questions of import: wondering, pondering and comprehending

* authentic learning and assessment

* smart use of ICT

* quality teaching and learning: moves, tactics and strategies that inspire, challenge and engage

* embracing complexity: making sense of a confounding world.”

Jamie suggested many more strategies on Monday for us to try out, to test, and to incorporate. By osmosis, and also by design, some more of these shall no doubt permeate into my daily teaching, and those I’m already doing shall hopefully be strengthened – sometimes simply by highlighting them, and/or making them more explicit.

Well, I starting typing this on a Wednesday, and now it’s Thursday already. There are other gems I could share but, as I said, Jamie’s website talks about them far more effectively. Finding the time to focus on all, or even some, of the above, is sometimes difficult. Not focusing on them is worse. The collaboration opportunities for teachers to work with their teacher-librarians and other support staff become more vital than ever. In Australia, we are fortunate that the profession of teacher-librarianship continues to be valued (by many stakeholders), and it’s a profession that is ever-evolving; I hope we don’t ever have to go into battle mode to save it. (Again.)

Between the end of school yesterday, and arriving home, a colleague and I attending a meeting of Penrith Reading Project: Books from Birth, sharing our ideas and experiences about whole-school reading picnics, and how the numerous schools in our group might approach the upcoming ALIA National Simultaneous Reading Day, featuring the picture book Arthur by Amanda Graham and Donna Gynell. Using several points from Jamie’s sessions earlier in the week, we have come up with some fantastic, highly practical activities – which have quality teaching and learning embedded in them.

Just wait till you see the new wiki page we have planned for all the participating schools to dabble with in the next few weeks! (You just knew I was going to mention the word “wiki” eventually, didn’t you?) Roll on 21st May!

Wicked pedia?

Judy O’Connell’s recent post about students and Wikipedia reminded me that there was a very funny post about Wikipedia a few months ago, on the nswtl listserv, whereby someone had found, incidentally, that some fool had sabotaged the entry on the Newcastle (NSW) Earthquake… to say that it was started by someone stamping their foot in anger.

Of course, before the first post to the listserv was barely in people’s “In” boxes, someone else, a registered contributor to Wikipedia, had gone into the site to edit the entry back again. And then announced their restorative action on the listserv. Which caused more consternation because several teacher-librarians had already bookmarked (but not thought to “Save to file”) a copy of the sabotaged entry to use as an example when doing explicit teaching about online research.

Slam it all you like; Wikipedia is invaluable as an orientation tool. A living, breathing, evolving encyclopedia of everything, written by people who fancy themselves as experts in areas of trivia. (Sounds like me!)

I’ve been know to use the wiki when I hit a topic I know nothing about, and it usually gives me at least a feel for the type of more authoritative information that is likely to be out there, beyond the Wikipedia entry. Or whether it’s a more obscure topic. And when I’ve found topics that have rather lean (or totally wrong) information, and I know something about them, I’ve been known to add data myself: Number 96, The Magic Circle Club, Luna Park Sydney, Star Trek, Andorians… important stuff like that. 😉 Even cataloguers keep a watch on it.

Of course school and university students will be drawn to Wikipedia – like moths to a flame! The key is how we all, as researchers, use that information to keep on investigating!

Preparing for “Sorry”

It certainly snuck up on us… Former Prime Minister, John Howard, stubbornly resisted any attempt – for many, many years – for the nation to say “Sorry” to Australia’s Aboriginal population for the Stolen Generations. Actor John Howard (currrently appearing in television’s All Saints), did once say “Sorry” in the very funny TV mockumentary, The Games, but that one doesn’t count! However… in just a few more hours, our new Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, will say “Sorry” – and a nation (and much of the world, thanks to the immediacy of the Internet) will down tools and listen. Then the next stages of Reconciliation might be able to proceed.

Australian schools have been encouraged to organise for students to witness the event live, which will no doubt cause a bit of a scramble in some schools. We do have Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags on hand – and use them often – but my school doesn’t have a working TV antennae on the roof. Traditional broadcast options (at least, those in use since the first Moon Landing in 1969, I reckon) will be impossible for us. Taping the speech at a teacher’s home, then watching it all together the next day, just won’t cut it. (That might work for the average episode of BTN, but not this event.)

Therefore, the Principal, my library clerical and I did a tech dress rehearsal today, with: a laptop computer, recommended software, data projector, standard projector screen and the spare Internet hub (located in a sports storeroom within in the assembly hall). I’m glad we didn’t leave it until the morning of the apology; if the tech fails us, it will be a disaster perhaps equivalent to the communications breakdown that threatened Apollo 11‘s historic moonwalk in the Aussie motion picture, The Dish.

This significant day in Australia’s history will undoubtedly become one of those “Where you you when that happened?” events, and we’ve all crossed our fingers that the fickle finger of fate won’t bring down a tech disaster of epic proportions. (Although we’d been informed that schools could gain access to tomorrow’s live streaming, from Parliament House in Canberra, via the Internet, the Department’s intranet and TaLe, we couldn’t find a hyperlink which seemed to be awaiting The Big Day.)

I ended up doing a simple Google search (essentially, my total contribution to the rehearsal), to find the website for Parliament House (haven’t been there in ages!), and I was pleased to see a very obvious link, along the top of the frame, for Live Broadcasting. We bookmarked the site, and did our trial run on this afternoon’s Opening of Parliament 2008, and were able to identify exactly what needed to be done to maximise sound and picture quality. The “test pattern” gave us a moment of panic, but when the session finally started our trial run seemed to indicate that “doing our homework” would ensure success. The extended “test pattern” gave us a moment of panic but, when the session finally started, our trial run seemed to indicate that “doing our homework” would ensure success.

I hope the speech brings everyone the hope and acknowledgment that many have pinned to this long-awaited, historic gesture.

The savvy searchers

Last year, when the Stage 2 (Year 1 and 2) students were participating in the READiscover Book Rap, instead of simply bookmarking the site, I decided to model finding the site each time on Google, to see if the students would build confidence and find the site at home on their own computers.

Each lesson, a selected student typed in the phrase “Raps and Book Raps” – within the inverted commas – into the Google search engine. (I already knew this to be the exact title of the desired web page that would lead us to the correct Rap; it can now be found at the link Raps archive.)

Previous tests of this search, before the students arrived for their lesson, had confirmed that the web page did always come up as the first choice. However, I also wanted to demonstrate to the students what happens without the inverted commas being in place when searching: we received back a list of 3,100,000 possible hits! Putting the inverted commas back into place, we reduced that possible hit count to just 5,550. The students were very surprised.

The modelling worked. Students came in at lunchtimes to demonstrate to friends how they performed the search with inverted commas in place, and numerous students reported that they’d located the web page for their parents at home.

During their Rap Wrap Up message – brainstormed during a Circle Time activity – Stage 2 students asked to add to their post to the other schools:

“Our skills and insights:
* Inverted commas can help you search better on Google.”

I’m still smiling. And more convinced than ever by the power of modelled behaviour.