Hour of Code

NPR aired a really interesting story from All Tech Considered this morning while I was driving to school, and it reminded me that I had a post about Hour of Code that I had been putting off writing about because I feel like I failed so miserably at the whole thing. You can find the NPR story here.

The NPR story is about the lack of computer science classes in our public schools and the seeming lack of connection between the drive for STEM and the overlooking of computer science. Here’s a really interesting infographic pushing for the inclusion of computer science. Until fairly recently, I would not have been the type of educator to say that our students are missing something when it comes to computer education. But when I went to grad school, I realized how woefully little I knew about computers and what I can do with them, and I’m pretty much a tech native, with a lot of the basic know-how I need, and all of the ability to find help I might need. As I thought about my own ignorance, I realized how shockingly little my students really did know. I mean, I had a student tell me once they didn’t know what the back button on the browser window was. I have students now who don’t understand what Chrome vs Firefox vs Explorer means.

No, these examples are not computer science. (That misconception is addressed in the article, too. A principal is dreadfully wrong about what computer science actually is.) But imagine how much less I would have to be concerned about things like that if we start addressing understanding the “behind the scenes” of computers at younger ages.

Anyway, all of this reminded me about Hour of Code and my lame attempt to get something started with it at my school. I really can’t think of a nice way to say that I failed. Nothing happened and no teachers wanted to partake. I got started late and didn’t have enough to give them to make it seem awesome.

I am sure they thought things to themselves like “I can’t possibly fit this in,” “I don’t see how this is aligned to CCSS,” and “That’s not my area.” I can’t blame them. I didn’t do what I should have done.

But at a school/system where computer science isn’t even offered (I don’t think it is anyway… I know it’s not required), how do I begin to get entry-level support for something? What could I have done differently than to just announce that it’s a thing I’d like to do and does anyone want to work with me?

I think I probably could have gone ahead and made lesson plans for an Hour of Code activity in a classroom and gone to a specific teacher to show them and ask if they want to be involved or give it a go. I probably could also have had a brief presentation ready to give at a staff meeting or in department meetings ahead of time. I will admit that I waited until the last minute to get started on trying to make Hour of Code happen in my school.

One thing I’m definitely not sure how I could have done differently is dealing with teachers thinking they can’t fit things like this in. My school serves mostly low-performing, low-level students in a Title I setting. And our test scores reflect that. I can’t blame teachers for thinking that if only 8% of their students passed the Common Core Math 1 exam last semester, then they’ve really got to focus on basics. Coding doesn’t really fall under basics. There’s no proof that a couple of lessons on coding will help them figure out how to find the slope.

Doing a school wide coding activity is something I would want to do as my Media Center becomes a Learning Commons. I need ideas for how to embed that into our school culture.

Dinosaurs

I’ve been running into educators in my building who seem scared of trying new technology recently. We’ve got a set of iPads that are just starting to be used, my school district is pushing for the use of Google Drive (finally!), and I have confirmation that our tech department will no longer be buying desktops. As my school gets renovated over the next year and a half, we will be transforming our space into what I can only hope will be a school of the future.

But I have a few educators who are not afraid to react to technology like these with wide eyes and the word “no,” as well as others who become extremely frustrated at the drop of a dime.

I truly believe these educators can move forward, but how do I help them be willing to try so that they can?

My mantra about technology is BE FEARLESS!¬†and I try to remind them of that every time we work on something by both saying it out loud and being it myself. If there’s something I don’t know, I will show them how I try to figure things out so that I learn it.

I had one awesome moment recently where one teacher figured out how to comment on a Google document all on her own just by messing around. She was one of the “no” teachers to begin with.

But for the most part, I feel like I’m not getting anywhere. We do have a new tech facilitator in our building for eight hours a week, so maybe that will translate into helping. But I feel like our default is to just offer professional development on things, and I’m not sure that taking up more of teachers’ time is a solution. Actually, in some cases, I’m sure that just adds to their frustration.

I don’t want these good educators to be unable to evolve and adapt! What else can I be doing or trying?

 

I had a genius idea today!

I have been working on the new website for my Media Center for about three weeks now. It’s taking a while simply because I find it so difficult to stare at a computer screen for more than a couple of hours at a time. And there’s a lot to think about since I am starting from scratch on this project.

I am really close to being done, with only three sections/pages saying “Coming soon!,” and one of those legitimately can’t be updated yet because I still have a couple of battles to fight.

Part of the way through the day today, I looked at my schedule for tomorrow and realized that I am scheduled to teach the first 45 minutes of three classes for one teacher and give the students in another three classes at the same times a list of web resources for a research project on biomedical careers.

As I am only one Media Specialist, I can only be in one place at one time. I freaked for a minute while I was trying to figure out a way around this problem. That’s when I realized that something like a list of web resources – scholarly, credible places for students to start their research – is something that doesn’t necessarily require that I be present with the students.

And then I realized that students really need a copy of those web resources that they can get access to if they need it again later.

And I realized that, as a Media Specialist leading my school into learning and developing 21st century skills, I needed to find a way to do all of this digitally.

And then I remembered that even the most minor of collaborative efforts with teachers, such as a list of web resources, needs to be documented, for both me and the teacher.

The light bulb went off.

What I ended up creating is a blog page on my Media Center website called “Classes.” I was already using the blog function for news and happenings. On this new page, I can post class assignments by the teacher, title of assignment, and date it was assigned. The text of the blog, in the case of tomorrow’s assignment, is a list of the links I’m offering to help them get started. In other cases, it may be something different.

Each post can be categorized by the teacher, subject, and nature of the help I’m offering. Students can access this at any time, so if a student needs to make up the assignment, they don’t need to come see me as well as their classroom teacher. Best of all since this is by far the type of collaboration I do most often, I do not have to be present in order for it to help the students. I can be present, but it frees up that time, if necessary, for work in other areas.

I think that’s really important when your Media Center is a one-woman show. You have to find ways to make things work without you being present at all times. As one person, you can only do so much. But you can find ways to extend your reach using other resources.

Using YA lit in Classrooms

I went to my first department meeting as a librarian last week. I started with the English Department because I thought it would be the least shocking for my system since that is the department I’m most used to. Mostly, I was there to discuss how we want to handle cataloging the class sets of novels that are housed in the stacks in the Media Center and how handling of those books will help with reading across content areas and build literacy in the school. I will do a post about that later.

But I stayed for most of the meeting, as I should. The conversation lingered on teachers wondering how they are meant to find time and resources to allow students to read texts of their choice, while still holding them accountable for those.

The time issue is not necessarily a concern of the MS, but reading, in general, is, and defending students’ need to read literature that truly reflects their lives and experiences definitely is.

I’m definitely no expert or anything, but finding ways to let students choose their own novels to read was a really important and effective change I made in my classes in my third year of teaching. And after going through library school and studying the reading habits and psychology of teenagers, I feel even more strongly that YA lit should be a staple in high school English classes. Here are some research based facts as to why:

  • Teens are more likely to actually DO the reading, and thus, get better at reading, because YA lit will be more interesting to them.
  • Students learn best when they are able to make connections to what they like, know, and are familiar with. YA lit reflects their own lives.
  • Teens have a lot going on. YA lit is not childish; it deals with the issues that plague teenagers and can help them deal with those issues. Basically, they’re not all about handsome vampires who sparkle in the sunlight (swoon).
  • They will actually be able to make it through this book with only a minimal number of confusing moments. Yes; challenging our readers to think about symbolism and use context clues to define words is important. But so are simple things like questioning the text, drawing conclusions, and making inferences.

Essentially, I’m arguing for more use of modern YA lit for students, or mixing YA lit into classics. We can’t keep expecting students in 2013 to relate to a title written in 1950. The world has changed and it’s time for us to adapt to it.

There are LOT of resources out there explaining more about why we should be using YA lit. I’m working on finding more about HOW we should be using YA lit. I will post any free resources I find.