Shushing My Lizard Brain

Reflections on My Google Teacher Academy (GTA) 

Application & Acceptance Process

Apply for the GTA? Yeah, right!

I don't have the time. I am leaving for vacation on June 8 and I would need to complete a lengthy application (with all these word limits), make a 1 minute video that demonstrates my "Googliness", and submit everything to Google by June 10 (and in my case before June 8). Nope, I have to get a family of four packed and ready to leave the country. I have way too much to do. 

I would be competing with other educators from all over the world. Many of these people are edtech integration specialists and directors, instructional technologists, professional development coordinators, CIOs, seasoned teachers, seriously high achievers, etc., I am a teacher-librarian at a PreK-8 charter school. What can I offer to the Google Certified Teaching community? The chances of acceptance are very, very, low. 

Rejection sucks! To put time into something, make your case, build up your hopes, and then be told "thanks but no thanks"--that's just too depressing to think about. Nope, I am just going to wait for another opportunity. 

Shushing My Lizard Brain

Seth Godin wrote about "quieting our lizard brain". You know, that part of your brain that tells you hold off, wait, be fearful, it's not the right time, everything is cool, change is scary and don't take an unnecessary risks

I needed to shush my lizard brain!

When would I get another opportunity? Here it is in Chicago, practically next door. I don't want to miss the opportunity to share and network with other forward thinking educators and improve my Google Applications for Education (GAFE) skills and, thus my value to my learning community.   

Yes, I am a teacher-librarian and I am also a forward thinking educator. Five years ago I leaned way in to bring GAFE to our school. I continue to lean-in evangelizing and modeling the meaningful and purposeful use of technology to enhance and augment teaching and learning. I am our school's Google Czar, responsible for leading an internal team of GAFE Individual Qualified (IQ) teachers that conduct training for staff and parents. I want GCT status, it is tantamount to Google's Good Housekeeping seal of approval and it will lend credibility to my efforts and our school's continued commitment to GAFE as a productivity and collaboration platform. 

I come from a hightech background and in that world it's all about getting the product out the door, shipping. If we waited for the perfect set of features and functionality and no bugs, we would never ship. I can't let perfect get in the way of better. I need to try, I need to ship now!


I shipped my GTA application and video on June 8 and promptly left for a family vacation. I would periodically check my email, waiting, wondering, they said I would be notified on or before July 19. Got home on July 18, kept checking, nothing. I suspected applicants had already been selected and I may not event get a rejection letter.

On July 19 I literally avoided my computer. Finally, I sat down to look over a Google Doc I had been putting together when I noticed that my GMail tab was indicating a new email had arrived. I clicked over and in the subject line:

Google Teacher Academy - Chicago 2013 Invitation

What the what? Are you serious? I opened the email and there it was, 
You have been selected to participate in the Google Teacher Academy - Chicago. 

Take that lizard brain! I  was one of 50 applicants accepted to GTA Chicago out of about 550 applicants. I felt like a kid that got the must have Christmas gift for that year, e.g., Cabbage Patch Kid, American Girl doll, Xbox 360, Tickle Me Elmo, Beanie Babies, etc. You get the idea, right? I was very excited! I immediately texted my hubby because he was the one that encouraged me to tune out my lizard brain and go for it. All along he said I would get accepted. He's a glass half full kind of guy. 

With acceptance came a flood of Twitter and G+ followers. Suddenly I was virtually embraced by other Google Certified Teachers and Trainers, and PLN gurus. I went from 63 G+ followers to 160 and on Twitter I picked up an additional 40 followers. It was like the Bizarro Jerry episode of Seinfeld where George manages to get into this club of beautiful women and supermodels. Wait, does that mean I am George Costanza? I always saw myself more as Liz Lemmon. The tsunami of connections, information, and encouragement I have tapped into since GTA acceptance is a wave I will ride all the way to Chicago and beyond.  

So, for now, my lizard brain is silent. Next week at this time I will be heading home from two intense days of GTA training and I will have my GCT seal of approval and I be a contributing member of GCT community. Most importantly, I shipped! 


Nook-Nook They’re Here!

Part 1: Prepping for Launch

Students are returning their Nook contracts faster than we can enter them into our circulation software. Nooks are registered (29) and we are putting the final touches on our content lists. Each Nook belongs to a genre set. Genre sets include realistic fiction, historical fiction, adventure, scifi/fantasy, and mystery. We are still on for program launch, checking out our first Nooks to elementary and middle school students, March 12.

Barnes & Noble Nook SimpleTouch(tm) ereaders
The logistics of putting an ereader program in place will depend on the type of devices you will manage. We have chosen Barnes and Noble (B&N) Nook SimpleTouch ereaders because B&N is edu friendly. Working with the local B&N community relations representative (Boulder, CO), Jeff Oliver, has been incredibly easy. Oliver has been proactive and responsive, always making time for my questions, and putting me in touch with other librarians that have Nook programs. Oliver’s facilitation of the networking process has been invaluable. Through Oliver I met Cheyne Keith, Platt Middle School teacher-librarian. Keith has a robust and evolving Nook program (more on Keith's Piggyback Nook program in a later post).

Tools Not Toys

Keith and I spoke at length about the inevitability of students wanting to check out a Nook simply because they want the latest gadget. They may not even care about the content on the device, they just want one of those “things”. Our job as information curators and literacy guides is to push back and ask students “Great, what do you want to read?”. We learned our lesson with Playaways. Students simply wanted one of those MP3 devices,  they could careless about was actually on the Playaway. If Suzy had one then Johnny wanted one. We need to remind students that Nooks are tools, not toys. We will ask students to selects a Nook based on the content on the Nook. This will ensure that students have a positive and successful experience with their Nook.

Content, Content, Content! 

Students should be able to browse Nook content just like they browse the OPAC, library shelves, and displays. To ensure Flagstaff students aren’t checking out a Nook to just check out a the latest tech toy, we are creating both hard copy and electronic Nook Set Playlists. Playlists are created as a Google Doc so we can create both hard copy and electronic output. Each Nook set Playlist includes a book cover and concise overview of selected titles students will find on that Nook set (example Historical Fiction Nook Playlist). Binders will be available at the circulation desk for students to flip through and browse. Since these are Google Docs we can also publish Playlists as web pages to the LMC web site and LMCWiki that students can access via any browser. As we update a Google Doc, add new content to a Nook set, the changes will automatically appear on the Playlists web pages as well.  

You Don't Have to Start from Scratch

I want to say thanks to all those librarians, my info gurus, that are embracing the digital shift that is happening NOW to our collections. Numerous librarians are managing ereader programs and they are sharing everything from student contracts to MARC records for devices and ebook content. I follow Buffy Hamilton (@buffyjhamilton), Cheyne Keith, Kathleen Parker (‏@marianslibrary), Collette M. Adams, and my peers on the eBook Educators Group (Ning). Read their blogs, follow them on Twitter, visit their schools, and read their Ning posts. You don't have to start from scratch, they are all very graciously sharing.


Embedded Librarianship with Google Apps

“Collaboration doesn’t look the same for all teachers.”

--Rebbecca (Becky) Nelsen, Principal Warder Elementary, Jefferson County Schools, Colorado.

I think about Becky’s advice when considering my approach to teacher/librarian collaborations. This one piece of advice made me realize that as a 21st Century teacher-librarian, I can’t just hope that contextually relevant opportunities will come along and that I will get a chance to share my research expertise and demonstrate how to use databases. I have to be proactive and find ways to inject and embed my expertise into the teachers routines in a way that both compliments the teachers’ learning objectives and also establishes my brand as an information professional. Google Apps Edu has provided me with a way to achieve this goal.

The Opportunity
My school, Flagstaff Academy, has been a Google Apps Edu school since 2009. Staff and students have integrated Google Docs into their work flow. Assignments are routinely distributed via Google Docs (as shared docs or templates) and the staff are aware of the collaborative power of Google Docs. However, just this year I realized that collaboration in Google Docs isn’t limited to co-writing, editing, and commenting in documents. You could also embed instructions, directions, tips, and hints at the point-of-need, interactively with the student!

Making It Work!
I needed a project to flesh this out...Ah, ha! Our 5th grade team requires students to conduct a weekly “A to Z” home work assignment. Every week, students answer a specific set of questions that include a topic that begins with that letter of the alphabet.

Many of parent volunteers in the Library Media Center (LMC) are also happen to be 5th grade moms. I heard first hand about their frustration helping their students conduct their “A to Z” research: The student didn’t know where to go to find facts and they didn’t know if what they found was credible. I noticed that the students would type in entire questions to Google and just use whatever came up in the first three results. And they had no clue whatsoever about Creative Commons (CC) licenses or, for that matter, any copyright/ownership issues.

Even though I demonstrate Safe Searching Resources to students during LMC orientations and conduct parent workshops that highlight our databases and Pathfinders including how easy it is to locate targeted facts, built-in citation features, and how to use the CC Image Searching page on the LMCWiki, they were always very surprised that these resources existed.

Parents and students that came into the LMC to work on “A to Z” would benefit from my guidance and suggestions. However, this was hit or miss at best. I had to think of a way to equitably share my expertise with parents and students at the point-of-need. That’s when I decided to create LMCTips (Library Media Center) and Hints and embed them directly in the A to Z assignment.

I asked the 5th grade team lead, Mrs. Burnett, to share the “A to Z” weekly assignments with me. The assignment was a Google Doc that each 5th grade teacher publishes as a page to their website. Burnett gave me edit rights to the page so whatever I added would automatically update to the web page/assignment. I completely re-branded the A to Z assignment, adding a logo to the assignment page, specific directions on how a student could use Safe Searching Resources to locate data, and information that would help them find facts and formulate answers for that week’s letter.

Contextual Relevance & Teacher Support
In addition to adding LMCTips and hints, the 5th grade team also scheduled class visits in the LMC for letters B-D so I could introduce how LMCTips worked within the document and model Safe Searching resource features and benefits. These benefits included:

* accessing the LMCWiki (Safe Searching portal--one-stop-shopping)
* reviewing passwords for databases
* modeling the difference between searching on Google and from a database
* recognizing and developing keywords
* discussing MLA7 citation format and the importance of citing sources
* demonstrating how Google finds results (ranking vs. filtering)
* locating citations in databases and demoing citation builders

The teachers were present for every session and were adamant that students use the LMCTips, hints, and Safe Searching Resources for “A to Z”. Students were not allowed to site Google as a source. Ms. Burnett created an “A to Z” citation log that students are required to use to cite all the sources they used for that week’s letter. I embedded sample citations, a link to the Easybib MLA7 citation guide, and links to popular citation builders into the citation log. All citations must adhere to MLA7 format and if a student uses an open website from our Pathfinders they must cite the source using a citation builder to create an accurate MLA7 citation.

The LMCTips has also provided an opportunity to virtually model searching for students. If they repeat the steps outlined in the LMCTips, it’s as if I am sitting next to them showing them how to search more efficiently!

Who Says We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Badges?
To further motivate students to follow the LMCTips, I created a series of virtual badges that students can earn to demonstrate their Safe Searching (database) proficiency. I embed an image of the badge into the “A to Z” assignment page. These badges really got the students’ attention! To earn a badge, students share their citation logs with the teacher and it is up to the teacher on whether or not a student has followed the LMCTips and earned their badge. Once a student or class earns a badge, the teacher posts the badge to their web site and students can also post it to their personal web sites.

Bring on the Cynics!
I was delighted when a student told me during a class A to Z session, “I used an LMCTip but couldn’t locate anything helpful!” I ask then to show me what they did: Did they follow the tip directions? Did they read the result snippets? Did they click on the right result(s)? And so on. So many questions! 100% of the time the student didn’t follow the directions and they used Google.

Working with the 5th grade team, we took a routine weekly fact finding assignment and cranked it up a notch by adding specific search skill tips and providing an incentive by way of virtual badges. According to Burnett, “The fifth grade team has greatly appreciated Zoe's work on improving the quality of research for our ‘A to Z’ project. She provides the students with resources that help them learn in a fun and engaging manner.” Another 5th grade teacher added, “The students have LOVED the resources that are added to the ‘A-Z’ assignments. They are able to find more meaningful and useful information by using these credible sites.”

Parents have communicated to teachers that are using LMCTips to help direct their students. And, in the process, parents are learning the value of our Safe Searching resources and encouraging their students to use those resources first before heading to Google. One parent told me, “I get it, you don’t want us to start with Google.” And, “What fantastic information. I never realized we had access to such a vast spectrum of resources!” Burnett and I are already planning on conducting “A to Z” Safe Searching workshops for parents at the beginning of next year so we can introduce parents to our virtual collection of databases and ebooks before students begin their "A to Z" research efforts.

Below are some student quotes about LMCTips:

“I love LMCTips because instead of being worried out of my head trying to figure to find info the LMCTips keep me cool & right on track!!--Laura

“They [LMCTips] help you get your ‘A-Z’ done quick & easy.”--Alak

“I like the LMCTips because instead of looking every where I can just got straight to the perfect spot.” --Brinley

“The LMCTips help a lot by telling you some keywords and hints.”--Andrew

It Works!
I am embedding tips directly into assignments and rubrics created in Google Docs (Docs, Spreadsheets, and Presentation) that are shared with students or published as web pages on teachers’ websites. I have also developed a suite of Google Docs templates for middle school students to use for their STEM Fair research process that include embedded instructions on how to create publication quality formatted documents, and how to avoid cut and paste plagiarism. 5-8 grade students are using an eNotecard template I created in Google Presentation that includes sample note cards that students can duplicate and a keyword searching slide where students can list keywords and concepts as they research. Students share their eNotecards with me and I comment or offer tips on their notes, provide more keywords, and send them direct links to database articles and additional resources.

I am not waiting for teachers to schedule flex time to collaborate. I am actively seeking out ways to embed my expertise and our collection of virtual resources into the fabric of an assignment or unit of study. Google Apps allows teacher-librarians to reach out to teachers, students, and parents in a relevant and timely way--when they need the help, when they are open to it, and will use it.

Follow the links to view a sampling of A to Z LMCTips, Safe Searching Badges, and eNotecard template:
Letter D
Letter E
Letter F
Letter I
Letter M
eNotecard Template

--Thanks @buffyjhamilton for all the encouragement and validation.


"Kindle-ing" Our Imaginations

Librarians talk a lot about books. Tell me something I don’t know!

What is new about our conversation is what will books and libraries look like 2 to 5 years from now. It is safe to say that in the very near future students will not be carrying around paperback or hard cover books. Instead, just like you can carry around your entire music collection on an iPod, smartphone, iPod Touch, or Zune, you will soon be carrying around your personal library on an ereader such as a Kindle or iPad. Librarians are gearing up for this shift by developing ereader programs. Most notable are Buffy Hamilton at Creekview High School in Canton, Georgia and Kathy Parker at Seneca Grade School in Illinois.

Hamilton and Parker are leading the charge to bring ereaders, namely Kindles, into K-12 libraries and classrooms. Parker and Hamilton are building extensive ebook collections on these devices (you can put the same title on 6 devices) with input from students. Since introducing them into their schools there have been waiting lists for student check out. When you consider that the average cost of a new, library bound book is approximately $20 and ebooks for the Kindle average around $10 it’s not difficult to see why ereaders are so attractive to librarians, school boards, and consumers.

It’s not all about cost. The nature of reading changes when you read on an ereader--it becomes experiential. You can access dictionary and get definitions, highlight and annotate text, increase font size to improve readability, engage text to speech capabilities, display the percentage of the book you have completed, and connect to the Web and access additional information, etc. According to Parker, "The bottom line for me is the Kindles have generated a love of reading among those students who would not have otherwise picked up a book
(SLJ, 2010).”

The question isn’t WILL I have ereaders in my LMC but WHEN will I have them? My goal is to launch an ereader program during the 2011-2012 school year. I have joined the eBook Educators Group (ning) so I can monitor other colleagues' ereader selections including iPads, Nooks, & other types of ereaders. I am also watching Hamilton and Parker’s programs closely to see how best to roll out and manage our ereader program so we can duplicate their success at Flagstaff....STAY TUNED!


Tech in Action Podcast Episode 2-Using Voicethread in Elementary Spanish

Recently I had the pleasure of sitting down with Vilma Montealegre, Flagstaff Academy's elementary Spanish teacher, to discuss her use of Voicethread as a presentation platform. Vilma used Voicethread for a vocabulary lesson that required students to record a summary of a cartoon in Spanish and share that summary with peers and parents. The effort included 90+ students and not only met Vilma's learning objectives but also created unexpected positive outcomes for her students.


Inaugural Tech in Action Podcast

Really excited about my Tech in Action podcast series. Tech in Action highlights the purposeful use of technology in the classroom and the benefits of collaboration. The inaugural podcast features Kelly Burnett, 5th grade teacher at Flagstaff Academy. Burnett devised an essay writing assignment that was paperless and included Google Docs and Mixbook. Listen to Burnett describe her process and learning outcomes.

Feedback is always most appreciated. 


It's All in the Branding

I have been thinking a lot lately about how we market our services to our patrons—students, staff, and parents. In particular, I think we are doing ourselves a disservice with a lack of attention to branding “the library”, or if we are branding, it’s not in the correct forward-looking direction. Strong brands create advocates and loyal consumers.

According to Seth Godin:
A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another. If the consumer (whether it’s a business, a buyer, a voter or a donor) doesn’t pay a premium, make a selection or spread the word, then no brand value exists for that consumer.

According to the legendary Ad Man, David Ogilvy, brand is:
The intangible sum of a product's attributes: its name, packaging, and price, its history, its reputation, and the way it's advertised.
Recently while observing a middle school class conducting research, I was struck by the number of times I heard the word “forced”.

“We have to force students to use our databases.”
“Teachers force students to use a both print and online sources.”
“If we don’t force them to cite sources it just doesn’t happen.”

Do we really have to force students to locate credible and authoritative sources and give credit where credit is due? Maybe we just need to re brand the directions, resources, processes, lesson names, output, etc., so students develop a different set of expectations/attitudes regarding these services and products?

How can we take what we do, what we offer, our expertise, and re package it in a way to create a brand that resonates with our consumers, students and staff?

If students had thought bubbles over their heads, this is what I imagine I would see when I said the following words:

“Databases” — Huh? What? That sounds hard and complex. Can’t I just Google it?
“Cite sources” — No one reads these. Seriously, who cares?
“Copyright” — That doesn’t apply to me.
“Research Paper” — Boring! All I need to do is Google it to find a bunch of facts (from About.com), write them down, and change a few words here and there so it sounds like me.

Why don’t we re brand...

“Databases” —> Safe Searching Resources (thank you Buffy Hamilton)
“Citing Sources” —> Source Sampling (this one is mine)
“Social Media” —> Platform for participation (thank you Dr. Michael Wesch)
“Social Studies Project on 3rd World Countries” —>“How our students are fighting poverty in the 3rd world.” (thank you Bill Ferrier! Even individual lessons can be branded!)
Maybe we need a new lexicon to entice our consumers and create positive attitudes and build positive associations with our products and services.
What other ideas do you have for re branding what you offer as an educator and subject matter expert? Comment here or add your ideas to this shared document.