Sunday, October 31, 2010

Collaboration is Great but a Committee of One Gets Things Done

I know I am swimming upstream with my title statement. Today we are supposed to be all about collaboration. We are besieged with exhortations...

Make connections!

That is why I pricked up my ears when the keynote speaker at Internet Librarian West last Monday started talking about the power of one person. The opening keynoter was Patricia Martin, CEO of Litlamp Communications. An example she used was a man named Sam DeLaGarza (!/samdelag). He was given the daunting task of revitalizing and repurposing the Ford Fiesta. Since he was not expected to succeed, they gave him a meager budget. He used most of the money on social networking. As he was communicating with members of the groups he thought would be his targets, young adults just starting out in the world, he made a stunning discovery: a significant number of this demographic did not want a car at all but rather were looking ways to get along without one. Armed with this information he knew he had to convince these leery consumers to buy the economical Fiesta. His success exceeded expectations and the popularity of the Fiesta was one thing that helped Ford fare better than other car companies through the economic downturn. Quite a lot for one person to do!

OK he did not do all this alone. But HE was the agent of change. HE got the ball rolling. Somebody has to be that person in many situations. The reason this resonates with me is because I think in some schools there may not be a lot of enthusiasm for new ideas. I know there are all those great schools, librarians, and other educators who are doing great things with technology and the Internet. But I cannot quit worrying about those schools we do NOT hear about because there is precious little to hear. During my session at the Internet@School conference, I asked this question: "How many of you are at schools that are really zooming along with technology?" I expected to see a lot of hands...after all this was a conference for nerds and geeks. Not one hand went up. So I said, "Well how about if you are at a school where SOME neat things are happening?" That elicited a few half-raised hands, and frankly I do think these folks were being modest because I know they are doing great things. Even so, wow! Some in the room were presenters yet they thought things at their schools were not exactly zooming.

This reinforced my suspicion that while there may be lots of computers out there in labs and classrooms, they may be underused and not used with much creativity. I frequently hear this from my MLS students, some of whom enter our program with minimal computer skills and not much exposure to Web 2.0 applications or even more basic computer uses with kids.

Discouraging? You bet! Still, the story of Mr. DeLaGarza gives me hope. There CAN be change, even when there is just one person with vision. That is a message I want to get out to those who struggle against the odds with efforts to bring 21st Century Skills to their libraries and schools!

Plow ahead with those ideas!
Speak out against those ridiculous filters!
Refute the fear mongering and press for common sense access and use of the Internet!
Get your kids fired up!
Get parents on board by showing things going on at other skills that their kids are missing!

Pretty soon you will not be alone any more. In fact, by raising the subject you may learn you were not really all alone in the first place. As the popular saying goes, be the change you are waiting for.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Lions and Tigers and Meerkats Oh My!

This week I had an appointment at Houston Medical Center. I took along one of my favorite running buddies, our inimitable department secretary Rebecca Lewis. We departed early and treated ourselves to a trip to the Houston Zoo! Visiting the zoo is a favorite pastime of mine and if I lived closer I would have a membership. It is a place to forget troubles, deadlines, and frustrations and enjoy the moment. I have always been proud of the Houston Zoo and if you have not been lately, great things are going on. I was last there several months ago, but still saw some new improvements this time. Rebecca had not been in years, and was wowed by the growth and beauty. Another point of pride is that the zoo is right next to the medical center. I know it provides respite and diversion for patients of all ages.

One thing I was especially happy to see was the number of school groups there. With current budget cuts, I know that field trips are as endangered as some of the zoo's denizens. I should hasten to add that I LOVE virtual field trips. I have presented about their value at conferences and have some great links to share at my wiki:

This guy is standing watch, scanning the sky so his buddies can relax for a while. According to the zoo docent, if the guard scrambles down from his perch as if running for safety, all other meerkats disappear in a flash.

Zoos would be top of my list for places where kids need to be loaded onto buses and taken in groups. The kids I saw were not only enjoying the animals, but benefiting from guidance from their teachers and sharing their reactions with classmates. 

As Rebecca and I moved along, we kept pace with one particular group of young teens. I could not help but notice their enthusiasm and how closely they were looking at everything--not just the animals but also the surroundings in general. Next I tried to single out their teacher. She was not standing at the head of a line and barking out orders, but she was very much in control. Although she was young and some of the boys were a head taller, she was easy to pick out. She was the one moving kids along, pointing out details, and answering their questions. The next thing I noticed was that every kid had a camera. And some of them had high end Nikon and Pentax digital cams. Aha, I thought...this must be a photography class! (I am good at recognizing the obvious). 

Finally I caught the teacher between kid conversations and asked her about her class. These kids were from a new school in Spring ISD, Roberson Junior High, A Math, Science, and Fine Arts Academy. What a great place it must be! I am proud to say that a past student and present friend is librarian there. I know Charlotte Ballard is another bright light at that school. Anyway, this teacher explained that her photography students were indeed using school-owned cameras along with their own, and that Spring ISD has NOT given up on field trips. She went on to describe their curriculum with great enthusiasm and share that she had developed it all herself. 

I cannot say that I have ever seen a better behaved group of boys and girls (I have seen others who were AS GOOD, but none better.) I did not see one eye roll or bored expression. They were on a mission, or rather a couple of missions. Of course they were photographing the animals. In addition to that, they were looking for letters of the alphabet that they could find in natural surroundings. Their pictures will be shared on the school web site and I am looking forward to seeing them.  Every few steps someone would exclaim, "here's an "H' or "P'" and so on. Rebecca and I started looking for letters too--this activity is irresistible when everybody else is doing it. I mentioned the alphabet project that had been done years ago in New York City and my new friend replied "Oh yes! That's where I got the idea!" I have not been able to find the original site with the NYC letters, but here is another one that illustrates the idea: 
I know an alphabet photo collection is not a new idea, but if you have not tried it, I can attest to its success. I actually tried it myself with some kids back in the late 90's. It is not necessary to go on a trip to conduct this kind of search, in fact some teachers have done it 100% indoors around their schools.  Visiting with these kids and their teacher, along with getting to see all the wondrous creatures on a beautiful Texas fall day was truly a memorable experience. All zoo trips are memorable. Long may they prosper in our schools!

PS As an afterthought, I wonder if a virtual alphabet search using Creative Commons photos might be fun on a cold, rainy day...

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Journey To The Top

This is not by me! It is by my dear friend and teaching assistant, Debbie Henson. She is a breast cancer survivor, a wonderful mom, a real nerd who loves to learn new technology stuff,  and a general delight to know. I wanted to share her accomplishment. The rest of this post is in her words:

This past weekend while visiting our daughter in Colorado Springs I wanted to do the Incline on Pikes Peak at Manitou. Ashley told me about it in a visit back in April and I said the next time I come I will attempt it. I started talking about it as soon as I book our flight. I had doubters…given my age of 57 and hip issues but I insisted that I was going to at least try.

View from bottom

I went to the shoe store and bought hiking shoes knowing full well that I would not wear them again after the weekend trip. I bought suitable clothing to wear up the mountain since it does get cooler.

Saturday morning we got up and got ready. I was feeling a little apprehensive as I got closer but I told myself that I had to try it, I wouldn’t have this opportunity again and just go for as long as I could.

View from the bottom.

Well, I DID DO IT. As I told Ashley, physically, this was as hard as childbirth and in many ways like it. While there is a point at which you can head down the mountain on a trail at the halfway mark, for the most part, once you start it’s best to keep going because the trip down is just as bad. I was exhausted; my feet, knees and hips hurt but it was GREAT. Other than childbirth…..THE BEST AROUND EXPERIENCE EVER!

What I learned about completing the Incline-

View from the top.

* No matter how old you are you still have to have aspirations, goals and dreams.
* Seize an opportunity when you can because you might not have the chance again.
* It’s ok to look forward and skyward, just don’t get overwhelmed with what is ahead of you.
* Make sure you have someone there along the way to encourage.
* Take it slow, rest and continue on. Time doesn’t have to be a factor. As Ashley said….think tortoise-slow but sure.
* It’s a humbling experience…it brought me to my knees at the difficult parts.
* Everyone passed me by, but while they did, they were encouraging and friendly.
* Others get to the top before you but that doesn’t mean you won’t get there as well.
* You will get discouraged with what is ahead of you but that is ok. Again, have someone who will rally you on in the difficult parts.
* Not only was it a physical feat it was a spiritual and emotional one as well.
* As my cousin says-Age is an attitude and I SO believe this!
* AND………the MOST important: ONE STEP AT A TIME and never give up!

To Debbie...YOU GO GIRL!!!