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1. Taking Things Apart* (*No reassembly required.)

We enjoy making things in the Children’s Room.  Catapults for rubber band balls and elaborate paper airplanes. Colorful chemical reactions. Louise Nevelson-inspired shadow boxes. Hand-sewn pillows stuffed with lavender.  Even sushi and super delicious doughnuts topped with cinnamon sugar.  But as delightful as we’ve found stirring, stitching, and sculpting–and designing projectiles of all shapes and sizes–we’ve recently discovered how much fun we can have unmaking.

For a recent pTaking Things Apart 1rogram we called “Taking Things Apart* (*No reassembly required.),” we collected old computer system units that we begged from a university IT department, where offices constantly update and swap out their CPUs.  With a few screwdrivers and pliers from around the library and a few others brought in from home, we set up the computers on card tables and gathered fourth to sixth graders in small groups around each unit.  And then we asked them to find out what’s inside.

This wasn’t an electronic scavenger hunt–we provided no specific objectives or procedure to follow.  We talked about safety, though, and reiterated our goal to disassemble the computers, not to break them.  (There’s a reason we didn’t give them hammers, after all.)  Because the power sources can occasionally hold a dangerous charge even after unplugging the computers, we showed the kids how those components are labeled and instructed them not to touch the batteries.  As they got further into the guts of the machines, we came around and removed the power sources ourselves.  And we’re proud to report zero electrocutions.

Once they pried open the computer casings, the kids required no additional prompting to explore the electronics.  They delicately unscrewed hard drives, unhooked data cables, and plucked segments froTaking Things Apart 2m the motherboard.  Many of the larger pieces have their own serial numbers, and when students wondered about the purpose of a part, we offered them a (functioning) computer to enter the number and read about the component’s use.  And they cooperated!  Passing around the tiniest screwdrivers and holding sections steady for each other, they rooted around in the guts and held out their micro-trophies for everyone else to admire.  “Can I keep this part?” one asked, over and over.   “What about this?  I want to take this piece home with me.”  (No one took anything.  Everything went to hazardous waste at the dump the following week.)

Near the end of the program, one girl who had spent half an hour dismantling a DVD drive plopped into her seat.  As I scooted over to check in with her, she set her tools down and yelled: “This is so much fun!”  So, we had no projects to take home.  And we spent the hour deconstructing and not creating.  But we definitely made a good time.

Robbin Ellis Friedman is a Children’s Librarian at the Chappaqua Library in Chappaqua, NY, and a member of the ALSC School Age Programs and Services Committee. Feel free to write her at robbin@chappaqualibrary.org.

The post Taking Things Apart* (*No reassembly required.) appeared first on ALSC Blog.

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2. YALSA Tweets of the Week - March 27, 2015

A short list of tweets from the past week of interest to teens and the library staff that work with them.

Do you have a favorite Tweet from the past week? If so add it in the comments for this post. Or, if you read a Twitter post between March 27 and April 2 that you think is a must for the next Tweets of the Week send a direct or @ message to lbraun2000 on Twitter.

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3. The “Activity Gap”: More thoughts on libraries and after-school programs

Back in October 2014, I wrote about a report entitled: “America After 3 PM.” The Afterschool Alliance was writing about how students spend their time after school. In it, I raised the point of libraries as hubs for after-school activities, a free spot for teens to come if they don’t have the resources or access to other after-school programs. At the end of January, Alia Wong from Atlantic wrote an article called “The Activity Gap,” which discusses the access issues students from various socio-economic classes face with participating in after-school and extracurricular programs.

Wong begins the article by comparing two different students, Ethan and Nicole, whose family backgrounds contribute to two different lifestyles and life paths. While their names have been changed, these two students do exist and were case studies in a study published in Voices of Urban Education. This national study was conducted by Brown University’s Annenberg Institute of School Reform.

Their results are nothing we didn’t already know. The article states the researchers were “alarmed” at the results, but we’ve been seeing and hearing about this growing income achievement gap for a while. I come back to the same question I raised in my October 2014 blog post: how can libraries help?

I can offer an example of a space happening in my community at the Urbana Free Library. Our library is able to offer a Teen Open Lab a couple days a week. The auditorium in the library is opened up and staff and teens set up essentially a mini-Fab Lab/makerspace/hangout area. It’s a spot where teens can come after school, hang out, or create anything from stickers on a Silhouette cutting machine, to using a 3D printer, video and audio production, or simply playing Minecraft or video games. The library has been able to provide another space for teens to go who might not have other after-school options.

Is this a great space? I think so. I visited there a few weeks back (my assistantship has a graduate student helping out at the Teen Open Lab so I went for a visit). The atmosphere was exciting. The teens seemed to be happy. They’ve reached a point in the Teen Open Lab where things are going well and they can keep thinking about where does this space go next. But, we can’t forget the process and time it took to get from point A (the teens had little space) to the idea of the lab, to the creation (and funding), and now the maintaining and sustaining. Perhaps what the Urbana Library Teen Open Lab teaches us is that we need to start having those conversations. If we look out at our community and see that our teens need a free space, we can start having those conversations about what a space for them might look like. I think it’s fine to say, “Look we have this income achievement gap and need to do something about it” but we need to do more than just say it. And maybe libraries aren’t the spot, maybe this conversation is meant for a broader audience, pulling in our education system and college admission process (which places value in extra-curricular activities and involvement outside of the classroom). What I’ve been thinking about in my community engagement class this semester is that libraries are the hub to have those frank conversations. We can open up a space to bring a community together to talk. We’ve been doing it since we first began as public institutions.

The Atlantic article does not offer many solutions and I am not sure I have many to offer either. I still think this is an important conversation to have, but we need to continue to think about the broader context and how we can help or at least provide resources to help. For additional resources on this topic, make sure to check out YALSA’s Professional Tool page on their website. Additionally, you can look at, Cool Teen Programs for Under $100, resources on YALSA’s Wiki page about Maker and DIY Programs, Making in the Library Toolkit, or A Librarian’s Guide to Makerspaces.

Do you have any ideas about how we can bridge this activity gap? I would love to hear your thoughts (or great articles to read and resources to use) in the comments below!

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4. App of the Week: Lark

lark_icon

Title: Lark

Cost: Free

Platform: iOS

Many youth services specialists will be familiar with Lark's parent site, Storybird, which enables dazzling yet simple drag-and-drop digital storytelling. Like Fridegpoems by Color Monkey, Lark, Storybird's Poetry app, is a digital incarnation of a refrigerator magnet poetry set, inspiring creativity within a finite vocabulary set as you move and reorder the words it generates over an image.

IMG_3243

A lightning bolt icon launches a new project. You can browse art in a gallery, search by keyword or choose a random different background or word bank by swiping left. Many of the images, alternatingly fantastical and almost unbearably poignant, look as if they were cribbed from vintage picture books. You can also use a color picker to change the colors of the words on screen for optimal artistic impact. The overall effect is quite attractive and quickly achieved.

IMG_3271

You can post your creations to the shared database, save it to your picture roll, and Lark has the usual social sharing components built in, too.  If you're not feeling inspired, you can browse poems, follow those you find compelling, and "heart" or comment on poems you like. You can also block and unblock users, though the controlled vocabulary makes it pretty problem-free for school use, but registration through verified email is required.

Lark is designed for iOS 7 and is compatible with iPhone 4s and later. It isn't available for Android devices or optimized for iPad. Featuring it on public devices would make for an easy drop-in program for National Poetry Month, or working with a group to generate a poem with time constraints could prove a fun contest.

Have a suggestion for an app we should highlight? Let us know. And don't miss the hundreds of other great apps in our Archive.

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5. Instagram of the Week - March 23

A brief look at 'grams of interest to engage teens and librarians navigating this social media platform.

On Saturday, March 21, over 130 locations throughout all 21 counties of New Jersey participated in the inaugural New Jersey Makers Day. From public libraries and museums to businesses and schools or youth organizations, each site celebrated maker culture by hosting events that promote making, tinkering, and STEM-based learning. Presentations, demonstrations, and hands-on activities introduced attendees to local makerspaces and provided an opportunity to interact with new technologies such as 3D printers, littleBits and Makey Makey kits, and computer programming. A wide variety of workshops were offered in which participants could try their hand at making things such as light bulbs, balancing toys, jewelry, duct tape bags, robots, and sculptures as well as learn the basics of sewing, gardening, origami, woodworking, car maintenance, and more! For more information on Makers Day and to see a list of activities provided by participating sites, visit the Makers Day website: http://njmakersday.org/

Similarly, just a week prior to Makers Day, Teen Tech Week took place from March 8-14 with the theme "Libraries are for Making." Aimed at helping teens develop digital literacy skills and demonstrating the value libraries can provide for non-print resources and access to technology, this week also provides an opportunity to showcase all the library has to offer in a collaborative and hands-on environment. Many fun programs were held this year and shared on Instagram including a technology petting zoo where teens can interact with different products, using 3D pens, making solar powered cars, and a retro gaming night with older gaming consoles.

Did your library participate in NJ Makers Day or Teen Tech Week? Which types of programs and technology did you offer? How did you get teens involved? Did they volunteer and help ensure programs ran smoothly or share their interests with the community by conduction demonstrations? Did you collaborate with other local organizations or businesses? Share with us in the comments section below!

Have you come across a related Instagram post this week, or has your library posted something similar? Have a topic you'd like to see in the next installment of Instagram of the Week? Share it in the comments section of this post.

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6. Just Dance @ Your Library

Teens have an amazing variety of programs at their fingertips ranging from college prep, crafts, gaming, pop trivia, anime, and much more.  What if there was a way to combine many of these elements into one activity that is not only fun, but will have amazing health benefits as well? I bet you are thinking the same thing I am: dancing. Before I go any further, some of you may think I am crazy because there is no way teens would voluntarily dance in public, especially amongst their peers. Well, I am very excited to tell you that there is actually a way to get them to dance and have fun, but it requires us to lead by example. In other words, we got to shake our money makers so teens can see just how fun it really is.

Before I go any further, I would like to discuss some rather disturbing facts. According to the American Heart Association:

“About one in three American kids and teens is overweight or obese. The prevalence of obesity in children more than tripled from 1971 to 2011. With good reason, childhood obesity is now the No. 1 health concern among parents in the United States, topping drug abuse and smoking.”

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention also states:

“The percentage of children aged 6–11 years in the United States who were obese increased from 7% in 1980 to nearly 18% in 2012. Similarly, the percentage of adolescents aged 12–19 years who were obese increased from 5% to nearly 21% over the same period.”

Clearly, obesity is on the rise and it is something that we should address in our programs and services. For example, are we sponsoring programs, or partnering with organizations, to prevent drug and alcohol abuse? If we are, are we addressing obesity as well? If not, it’s time that we do because teens are living in a world where body shaming and weight-related bullying is rampant. Furthermore, teens literally live in a digital age where video games are much more popular than physical exercise.  If we care encouraging teens to exercise their minds with books, why can’t we encourage them to exercise their bodies as well?

This is where we talk about dancing. Dancing is an amazing way to lose weight, feel great, and have fun. How can libraries provide teens with access to physical activity that will appeal to teens? It’s called Just Dance.

Just Dance 2015 Wii UJust Dance 2014 XBOX 360Just Dance 4 PS3Just Dance 3 WiiJust Dance 2 Wii

 Just Dance a is video game (available for the Wii, Wii U, Playstation and XBOX) where teens can dance to their favorite songs and sweat the pounds away. Yes, we can actually use gaming as a way to get teens to move.  In regards to the game, itself, it is fairly intuitive where it requires users to take a minute to explore menu options. I will say that the Just Dance games vary in content where some offer warm-up segments, cool down segments, goal-setting, account settings, and the “Sweat” mode.   As an avid Just Dance user, the “Sweat” mode is AWESOME! Although it does not offer a multi-player option, one teen can lead a timed workout (20-40 minutes) and everyone will sweat. Otherwise, I highly recommend the dance crew and battle mode where teens can have a dance off or dance together.  There is a suggested calories counter, but, be honest with the teens, and explain it’s not accurate whatsoever; all that matters is they are meeting their daily exercise quotas.  The more teens dance, the more stars/points they get to open new modes and songs, which include workouts that include mash-ups and new battle modes. Some of the newer versions offer exclusive modes such as Party Master and an option to complete with other Just Dance players from the entire world called “World Party” providing you have an internet connection.  As I mentioned earlier, teens don’t need to be expert dancers because it’s all about moving, sweating, and having fun.

Now that we know there is a way to get teens to move, the next big question is: what if teens don’t engage in this program because they don’t want to be the only ones dancing?  My answer is: we have to be the ones to show them that’s it okay dance even if we can’t. I know that some of us aren’t the most coordinated, or just plain out of shape, but, if we want teens to have fun, we have to show them how. In fact, I have challenged a group of teens to beat me in a dance off and, so far, only one teen has. After hosting several Just Dance parties, I have seen so many teens come out of their shells because they recognize this program as a way to cut loose without having to be embarrassed by their lack of rhythm or being picked on. In fact, I have seen several teens show off their mad skills and it was so much fun! Bottom line:  Just Dance is all about having a good time  and getting into shape.

If you have a gaming system at home, or at your library, go to Gamestop and buy a used copy and give it a shot. In fact, host a Just Dance party with your colleagues and have a great time because once you try it, you will have a hard time stopping. Take it from me: I lost ten pounds from dancing in my living room a couple times a week so imagine hosting a Just Dance party every week?  Not only will you have happy and healthy teens, you will shed a pound or two as well! It’s a total win-win situation!

Sources:

1 http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/HealthierKids/ChildhoodObesity/Overweight-in-Children_UCM_304054_Article.jsp

2 http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/obesity/facts.htm

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7. Young Children, New Media & Libraries Infographic

Young Children, New Media & Libraries Survey

Young Children, New Media & Libraries Survey (image courtesy of ALSC)

Between August 1 and August 18, 2014, 415 children’s librarians responded to a survey of 9 questions concerning the use of new media with young children in libraries. The survey was created as a collaborative effort between Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), LittleeLit.com, and the iSchool at the University of Washington. Preliminary finding are available through an infographic created by ALSC’s Public Awareness Committee.

You can download a copy of this infographic from the ALSC Professional Tools site.

The post Young Children, New Media & Libraries Infographic appeared first on ALSC Blog.

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8. 2015 Teen Tech Week Grant Winner - Lockport Public Library

When the Teen Tech Week grant was written, it was hoped that we could get teens interested in more library programs. Teens will show up to use the computers to chat with friends and watch internet videos, but mention digital literacy or STEM/STEAM and they’ll look at you like you’re an alien. Don’t get me wrong; our schools are hardworking, Title I schools that strive to teach students what they can. But a rural area of Lafourche Parish is not really at the top of the list for the fast paced information technology industry.

Like any library in the country, we know we have to get them young or we lose them until they’re adults. And without many options they’re not going to stay in this area. The public library still has that stereotypical “the library is where the losers hang out” view to contend with among the teens. Our programming has to be unusual to get them in. We all know video games are always a popular draw. I’ve used free programs like Scratch and Kodu with them before. But the funds and resources to host a large scale video game design program were simply beyond our scope before now.

It’s been a week since we started our Teen Tech Week Game Design Camp and it’s going better than we could’ve hoped for. Nine teens started making their RPG video game the first meeting, and more have promised to join over the weekend to catch up. We have a mix of teams, partners, and independent game designers working away. Most have chosen to show up daily to work on their game instead of spending time on Facebook and YouTube. Quite a few of the college bound highschoolers have asked about degree programs in computer animation and the gaming industry. They had no idea the library was capable of offering so much for them to enjoy. Some of them had never visited the library before. They regret that now.

By the end of the month, we hope to have ten games for patrons to beta test that were designed by our teens. The minimum assignment is to create four maps for players to explore, playable characters, and an enemy encounter. If any of them will have a fully created game by the end is questionable, but somehow I don’t think I have to worry about them not reaching the minimum.

Leaving the library before closing is another question.

 

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Kristen Angelette is a branch assistant at the Lockport Public Library in the Lafourche Parish System. She works with teen programming, grant research, and graphic design.

 

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9. 2015 Teen Tech Week Grant Winner - Tricia George

YOUmedia Hartford is a digital learning and maker space for teens ages 13-19.  The space is a research-informed, informal learning environment utilizing principles of connected learning, the HOMAGO learning theory and positive youth development.  Students come to Hang Out, Mess Around and Geek Out in content areas that include video and photo production, music production, game design, computer programming, design and making.  Through partnerships with local artists and professionals, businesses, schools and other informal learning spaces, students discover new opportunities and build knowledge and skills in areas of interest.  For instance, this coming summer students will work with award-winning producer Quadeer Shakur to produce, distribute and market a Best of Hartford Hip Hop album.  Others will work with a local botanist to build a hydroponic window garden from recycled materials.  Still more will enter 3D modeling, design and film contests under the guidance of our mentors.  Hundreds others will seek help with homework and personal projects, meet new friends and attend social events.

For Teen Tech Week the YOUmedia Hartford staff wanted to get out of the library and into classrooms, and so we did!  Through partnerships with several local schools we were able to take e-textiles and stop motion animation workshops on the road.  The projects showcased the variety of activities available at YOUmedia and to expose students to the processes behind some very fun and practical technologies.  These workshops also acted as carrots to attract new youth to the space, so that they might find themselves immersed in a resource-rich environment, staffed with knowledgeable mentors and full-to-the-brim with other young people exploring similar pursuits.  All of the materials used for the workshops are available freely to any youth in the space.

BoyAtDoor

We also wanted to strengthen our ties to schools and connect with teachers who might champion the YOUmedia cause - to help young people explore, discover and pursue a metier of their choosing.  Youth respond positively to trusted adults who recommend they pay us a visit.  Through this work, we're strengthening our network of schools and teachers, thereby increasing the number of youth who utilize YOUmedia resources to reach personal, academic and career goals.  This network, and the reach they afford us, increases and improves our impact.

We are so grateful to YALSA and Best Buy for making Teen Tech Week an amazing success.  We look forward to welcoming new youth into the space and to nurturing our relationships with teachers and administrators.

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Tricia George is the YOUmedia Manager at Hartford Public Library.

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10. Cultivating Creativity: Technology that encourages learning about art

Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up. - Pablo Picasso

Two of my favorite types of programs to offer at the library are science and art programs. Many times I find the boundaries between the two blurring, discovering connections between the two areas. That’s probably why I loved adding the “A” for art to STEM to form STEAM (a movement started by the Rhode Island School of Design: http://www.risd.edu/about/STEM_to_STEAM/).

Pointillist style paintings of eyes

A 6th grade class used art to explore how the eye mixes colors that are adjacent to one another.

Children experience deeper learning about science through creative, artistic activities and correspondingly, discover more about art through the lens of science (think about light and the Impressionists, Georges Seurat’s scientific approach to pointillism, Vermeer’s use of the camera obscura.) So I’m adding a little art into your Pi day today!

Children are, as Picasso noted, natural artists. For preschoolers, scribbling is a first step toward writing and drawing.

hands pasting paper onto a mural

Preschooler and parent work together to glue shapes onto a mural.

Cutting with scissors, pasting and gluing, molding shapes with playdough, and scribbling all help to develop those fine motor skills that will be needed in school. Learning to appreciate art can be a bit more challenging, but something that can be encouraged. I didn’t take an art history class until college, but with online opportunities offered through Khan Academy and the Google Art Project, among others,  kids can explore art quite closely these days even if they live far from a large city with a major art museum. These sites also can develop vocabulary for talking about art. Experience with story is helpful in appreciating art, and it works both ways — children can learn about stories through art, and their knowledge of story and history can help them to understand and appreciate art.

Below are a few technological resources to support your exploration, to encourage you to help create a culture of art at your library. Hopefully these will be considered as starting points and as extensions for other activities, for there is no substitute for messy, hands-on creative activities or for an actual museum visit where you see a painting and think: “Wow! I didn’t know it was so big!”, experience a sculpture in all three dimensions, or wonder at the movement of a mobile.

Background Knowledge & Virtual Museum Visits:

Khan Academy

Web, free

From the main page, under “Subjects”, choose “Arts and Humanities” and the second heading is Art History. You might begin with the basics or try “Why Look at Art?

There are lots of great videos and resources included here. Preview videos before showing them and consider the ages and sensitivities of your audience (no fig leaves!)

Google Art Project

Web, free

Zoom in on some objects and be amazed at how close you can get — close enough to see brushstrokes. So close that if you were in a museum, the guard would likely be coming over to talk to you!

Playing with art:

NGAKids, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

iPad, free

Explore different paintings in the collection with different interactive experiences.With some activities children will gain familiarity with the work of art: for example, adding boats, figures and changing the light of a seascape before setting it in motion. In other activities they will create their own work in that artist’s style, as when they blend rectangles of color like Mark Rothko. Their works will be saved in an online art gallery and can be shared with parental permission.

MoMA  Art Lab, Museum of Modern Art, New York

iPad, free

Explore different artworks with engaging activities — for example, try to make mobile a la Calder, though it can be tricky to balance it just right.  Or “Draw with Scissors” and create a collage in the manner of Matisse. You can also choose a blank canvas to begin and create a completely original work with the tools provided.  Children can create art they can save and share, and get a smattering of art history along the way.

Lazoo: Squiggles

iPad, free

For the preschool age, this app is a fun early literacy tool to encourage pre-writing and fine motor skills. It is easy for young children to use themselves, open-ended and responsive to a child’s touch. After children make squiggles to the cartoon drawing they press “go” and the picture becomes animated. The more squiggles the artist makes, the more exciting the result.

For more apps that encourage creativity, see the recent Common Sense media guide:

“Modern Kids Guide to Creativity (to Crafting, Coding, Composing and More)”

which features many apps and games to encourage creativity. The guide offers detailed content reviews, recommended ages, information about in app purchases and ability to share with social networks. Some are low cost or free, while a few DS games are $30.

Additional Resources:

“The Art Room” by Heather Accero, ALSC Blog, Sept. 17, 2013. http://www.alsc.ala.org/blog/2013/09/the-art-room/

“Library as Art Gallery” Karen Choy, ALSC Blog. May 29, 2014. http://www.alsc.ala.org/blog/2014/05/library-as-art-gallery/

Library as Incubator Project. http://www.libraryasincubatorproject.org/

Making Art with Children blog from the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. http://www.carlemuseum.org/blogs/making-art

“Meet Art” by Heather Bentley-Flannery. Jan. 27, 2015.  http://www.alsc.ala.org/blog/2015/01/meet-art/ – describes a great Matisse program

“Meet Art: Creative Hands-On Art Programs” by Heather Bentley-Flannery, ALSC Blog, Oct. 30, 2013. http://www.alsc.ala.org/blog/2013/10/meet-art-creative-hands-on-art-programs/

Robin L. Gibson is a Youth Services Librarian at the Westerville Public Library in Westerville Ohio and member of the Children and Technology Committee.

 

The post Cultivating Creativity: Technology that encourages learning about art appeared first on ALSC Blog.

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11. 10 Ways to Use Instagram in the Classroom

Think there’s no need for sepia-toned filters and hashtags in your classroom? Don’t write off the world of #selfies just yet.

Instagram is one of the most popular social media channels among generation Z, or those born after 1995 and don’t know a world without the Internet. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that this is a generation of visual learners and communicators, where sharing your life-from the food you’re about to eat to your thoughts about anything and everything-is a part of your everyday routine. So, why allow Instagram in your classroom?

For starters, preparing students to be college and career ready involves helping them build their digital literacy skills on a professional level, and Instagram is a technological tool that offers educators innovative ways to motivate and engage students, opening up a new platform for collaboration, research, and discussion. Secondly, we all know the importance of interest and ownership for getting students excited about learning, and since your students probably already love Instagram you’ve already won half the battle.

Teacher/Classroom Instagram Accounts

Create a private classroom Instagram account that you control and instagramcan use to connect with your students, their parents and guardians, and other grade team members. Invite them to follow your account and catch a glimpse of your everyday classroom moments and adventures.

  1. Student of the Week: Each week, feature a different student on the class Instagram account, posting photos-with their permission- of their favorite classroom projects and other examples of their hard work and achievement. This is a fun opportunity to highlight your students’ individual strengths, positively reinforcing their behavior and progress.
  2. Daily/Weekly Classroom Update: Similar to student of the week, you can instagram your students’ classroom projects and activities on a daily or weekly basis. From photos of new classroom reads to capturing field trip memories, this is an excellent way to build a sense of community while allowing parents to see what lessons, topics, and exciting activities are happening in your classroom. This is also a great way to easily and quickly share your classroom ideas with other grade team teachers.
  3. Student takeover: If you’re not able to encourage students to create their own individual Instagram accounts, invite each student to “take over” the classroom account for a day or week by sharing photos from his or her everyday life. This is a great opportunity for students to learn more about their peers by instagramming their interests, hobbies, routines, and even cultural traditions.
  4. Photo Inspiration: Finding inspiration to write can be one of the most difficult parts of the writing process. Spark your students’ imaginations and help them discover new ideas through instagramming writing prompts by playing with different angles, perspectives, and filters to capture random moments and objects that you encounter throughout your day-to-day.
  5. Caption That! For a variation of the writing prompt, post an interesting photo and ask your students to write a descriptive caption in the comments. Differentiate how challenging this task is by asking students to write their caption using specific sentence types, different parts of speech, clauses, prepositional phrases, and their current vocabulary words.
  6. Daily challenges: If your students are able to follow the classroom Instagram account on a regular basis, you can use it to post daily challenges in the form of visual word problems, review questions, and bonus questions. Instagram photos of important learned concepts and pose questions to your students in the caption, asking them to write their answers in the comments. For example, this fifth-grade teacher used Instagram to review who Henry Ford was and other important events in history.

Student Instagram Accounts

Asking your students to follow the classroom Instagram account with their personal accounts is one, highly unlikely, and two, probably not the best idea. What you can do is ask your students to create additional Instagram accounts that would only be used for school or classroom purposes. You know how LinkedIn is your professional Facebook? A similar idea applies here.

  1. A Day in the Life: Challenge students to assume the role of a classroom longfictional literary character and share images that he or she believes the specific character would post, highlighting the character’s interests, personality traits, and development throughout the story. The 15-second video option is a great way to really let students get into character through recorded role-playing and even performance reenactments. These activities can also be applied to important figures in history, such as the creator of Honda, Soichiro Honda, or jazz musician, Melba Liston.
  2. What the Kids are Reading: Students can snap photos of their favorite reads and write a brief 1-5 sentence review in the caption. To take it a step further, ask them to record 15-second long persuasive book trailers to hook their peers. Boost further discussion among your students by asking them to comment on other book reviews and book trailer videos to share their opinions. Tip: Encourage your students to use a unique #hashtag (ex.: #SMSGrade4Reads) for each book review posted, and by the end of the year you will have a visual library of all of the books your class has read.
  3. Math Hunt: “Why do we have to learn this?” “I won’t need this in my everyday life.” Sound familiar? Help your students see the real-world math applications all around them by sending them on a hunt to document or illustrate their knowledge of different math concepts:
  • Geometry: lines (parallel, perpendicular, and intersecting), angles (right, acute, obtuse, etc.) symmetry, and three-dimensional shapes (prisms, cubes, cylinders, etc.)
  • Everyday fractions and arrays
  • Concepts of money
  • Examples of volume vs. mass, area vs. perimeter
  1. STEM Research: Students can watch, observe, and record science experiment data and results over time by documenting any step-by-step process with photo and video narration of learned science concepts. Outside of the lab, students can use their Instagram accounts for observing science in nature or sharing their own scientific findings. What makes this special is how quickly and easily students can share and revisit their visual references and recorded data.
  • Physical & chemical changes
  • Weather patterns and phases of the moon
  • Animal adaptations
  • Habitats in nature

Note: Instagram, as well as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, and Snapchat, has a minimum age limit of 13 to open an account, but according to Instagram’s parents’ guide, there are many younger users on Instagram with their parents’ permission since you don’t have to specify your age. Always check with your school’s administrator and obtain parental permission before sharing photos of students or their work.

Know of any other interesting ways to use Instagram or other social media sites in the classroom? Already using Instagram in the classroom? Let us know in the comments!

veronicabioVeronica has a degree from Mount Saint Mary College and joined LEE & LOW in the fall of 2014. She has a background in education and holds a New York State childhood education (1-6) and students with disabilities (1-6) certification. When she’s not wandering around New York City, you can find her hiking with her dog Milo in her hometown in the Hudson Valley, NY.

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12. 2015 Teen Tech Week Grant Winner - Lana Nix

This is my 2nd year of being a media specialist so this is my first go around with Teen Tech Week.  We have come up with about 17 activities at Chestatee High School for our students to try their hand with at learning.  Some activities are limited for just a few students to be working with at a time like the Spheros, Exofabulatronixx Robot, slow motion animation, Makey Makey, K’nex, Chaos Tower and littleBits.  These items will help our students to learn about coding, building, circuitry, and video making.  This allows our students a new opportunity to learn something or to further their knowledge of a passion they already enjoy.  We received the grant from YALSA and Best Buy and we were able to purchase Spheros and an Exofabulatronixx Robot.  Both of these items will help our students learn the skill of coding.  The Sphero is merely a remote controlled ball in which they can program its movements.  We hope to incorporate the Sphero and coding into a math course next year.  Teen Tech Week will give the students the first glimpse of what they can accomplish with such a simple tool.  The Exofabulatronixx Robot is one in which our students can put together and take apart and put together in a different form again.  Its pieces connect by means of magnets.  When the students have finished creating their robot, they are then able to create a program which will tell their robot what path to take.

We also have activities that anyone can complete even from home should they not have enough time at school.  Choices include: create an avatar, create READ posters, create with thinglink.com, join Twitter and follow our media center and school Twitter accounts, create infographics at piktochart.com, create music with ujam.com, create book trailers, spend an hour with code.com, or create QR codes with books in the media center.

There are many activities that every student should be able to find one within their interests.  Those that master a task early will be asked to share their leadership in showing new students how to complete activities or can move on to another activity.

In trying to make sure that all students have the opportunity to enjoy Teen Tech Week, on the last day, we have asked our self-contained special needs classes to come to the media center at the beginning of the day.  We will pair them up with a student from our Education Pathway course to work on at least one activity together.  The students from the Education Pathway course are those students who are considering becoming an educator themselves.  Students helping students . . . now that is going to be GREAT!

When students have finished their activities, they have been asked to share what they created.  We have scrolling announcements at Chestatee High School and pictures of the students working will be shared through these announcements as well as sharing the finished project.  READ posters will be voted upon and the top five will be printed in large format to post throughout the school.  Avatars will be posted to see if the students can guess which student it looks like the most.  Book Trailers will be added to the media center website.  Videos of the students playing and learning with the Spheros, Exofabulatronixx robot, slow motion animation, and Makey Makey will be shown on the media center website as well as the school SupeTube website.  The K’nex and Chaos Tower will remain on display in the media center for students to watch physics in motion.  There will be a place for everyone to view our students’ creativity in one way or another.

Teen Tech Week will introduce new web tools to our students.  By introducing these tools, our students will be able to see ways to incorporate them into the classroom with projects they have been asked to create in their different courses.  These will be new avenues for them to share their innovative minds and it will allow them different outlets to express their own creative thoughts.  Students see cool tools to play with, but for an educator we get to witness the behind the scenes work of what they are actually learning and comprehending.  The true hidden agenda behind the cool toys!

Lana Nix has 9 years in the education field and is currently in her 2nd year at Chestatee High School as their media specialist.  Chestatee High School is in Hall County, GA.  You can follow her on Twitter @wareaglesmc or visit the media center website at wareaglesmc.weebly.com.

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13. Tag Galaxy Weather Studies

At this time of year, weather is the perfect multidisciplinary study. Weather is on everyone’s minds, whether you’re facing winter storms or signs of spring. There are perfect literature options like mythology about weather gods or parables and poems about the wind, plenty of science topics connect with weather and each one brings in math, and weather phenomena have inspired music, too.

Here’s a lesson that makes a great introduction to any unit on weather.

Visit Tag Galaxy to begin. You’ll have a place to type in your first word: weather.

tag-galaxy1

Soon you’ll see a swirling collection of planets labeled with related words.

tag-galaxy4

Click on the “sun” to see images from FlickR brought together to create an amazing graphic.

tag-galaxy5 tag-galaxy6

You can bring in more images, and you can also explore each of the “planets” in this way, discovering more words and more images. You can click on any picture to see it more closely — here’s a beautiful image from “rain”:

tag-galaxy7

Tag Galaxy can be mesmerizing, and it rewards exploration. Show it first on your class projector and let everyone ooh and ahh for a while. Then let students explore the tool on their own computers.

Here are some ideas of what to do next:

  • Have students list the words they find that relate to weather. Let students write individual words on cards or cut outs and hang them from the ceiling or post them on a bulletin board.
  • Ask students to choose a word and then an image to use as a writing prompt. There are thousands of choices, so everyone should be able to find something inspiring.
  • Making a globe from photos in real life would be a big job, but you can make a smaller version easily. Have students print out, draw, and/or cut out pictures of weather. Use a round template to make circles from the pictures, and then a triangular template to fold in the edges. Connect the edges to form a sphere, as shown for the “Disco Ball” ornament at this paper craft page.

At this point, your class should be excited about weather and ready for some learning!

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14. 2015 Teen Tech Week Grant Winner - Lindsey Tomsu

In 2012 the Teen Advisory Board received a grant from the Nebraska Library Commission (NLC) of $1,900 to start a Teen

Media Club to give teens a chance to learn how to create digital content. Many of my teens do not have access to basic

technologies. The library’s computer lab does not have filters so you must be 17 to enter which means that our

community’s teens that do not have access to computers outside of school can’t even use the library’s resources. Many of

my teens do not have Internet at home, have outdated computers that seem to freeze all the time and not connect to the

library’s wireless, and many do not have smartphones.

 

The goal of Media Club was to use technology to enable teens to create such things as book trailers and the creation and

maintenance of a teen library website. The original NLC grant funds were used to purchase an HD Digital Recorder, a

laptop for the teens, and various props for their videos. While there still is a lot of interest in Media Club we realized that

just having a camera and a laptop was not enough. As we went about beginning to create, draft, and record various video

projects we learned that we really need certain other tech equipment to properly be able to run our club. We discovered

this after a large-scale project (La Vista’s Next Top Project Snazz Maszter—a “reality” show cross between America’s

Next Top Model and Project Runway) which we filmed during a 17-hour lock-in (filming all 17 hours!) and discovered

afterward that a lot of the film was unusable. Our library has 20-foot ceilings and the sound on most of our film was barely

audible because of echoes. We also realized free film editing software can’t do things like green screen effects. The teens

decided they wanted me to apply for a YALSA/Best Buy Teen Tech Week grant for funds to be used toward the purchase

of the additional equipment we need to get Media Club properly equipped and off the ground again.

We are using the funds as a launching point for the new and improved Media Club. One of their large-scale goals they are

planning to do for TTW is the creation of a sketch show a la Kids in the Hall. During TTW we plan to offer programs that

range from a workshop for the teens to brainstorm their sketches and work with groups, a time to rehearse, a time to learn

how to use the filming equipment, a time to do the actual filming, and a time to learn to use editing equipment, and then

time to edit the film together. The great thing is that this is not just a one-time only program where the funds will be used

and the equipment expended. As a re-launching point of Media Club, we have been given the ability to revive interest in

Media Club and actually get it off the ground this time and continue it (whether through more sketch show “episodes” in

the future or better book trailers and other digital programs) indefinitely.

 

Many of my teens have gotten their first experiences with film creation equipment at Media Club. Their teachers are now

requiring mandatory exercises that need access to smartphones, laptops, and film making equipment that the teens do

not have access to outside of the classroom. With our Media Club they not only get to learn how to build and maintain a

teen library website, but also how to use the HD camera, how to film digital content, and how to edit it into something

watchable. We also recently started a Teen Makerspace, and the teens are interested in the possibilities of incorporating

the digital content creation of 3-D printing with possible filming opportunities.

 

Media Club is using the YALSA Best Buy Teen Tech Week grant funds for the purchase of a high-quality green screen kit

(with lighting), a high-quality boom mic kit, professional video editing software, a tripod for our camera, and, if we have

any funds left over, additional props for their videos.

 

You can see some of the videos that the teens have created in the past on our YouTube Channel, TheTabblerTeens,

here: https://www.youtube.com/user/TheTabblerTeens/videos?view=0

 

I highly recommend our “Dinosaur Book Trailers” of which we have filmed six so far. Now that we have been awarded a

TTW grant we know there will be more videos for us in our future!

 

Lindsey Tomsu has been the Teen Coordinator of the La Vista Public Library since 2009. Lindsey and her dedicated Teen Advisory Board members have brought in more than $10,000 in grant funds over the years to make the La Vista teen program one of the most active in the area.  Their overall goal is world domination—in a nice way of course!

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15. More on Assistive Technologies

I’ll confess, like many of you I collect apps. I have an old tablet devoted to nothing but “kid” apps. Finding information about a variety of book apps is relatively easy now that so many of us are using them and reviewing them. One question I am asked frequently is “Can you recommend any assistive technology apps?”

There are several that have caught my eye recently so I decided to give them a try. I was impressed with the continued growth and development of these types of applications. There are many people, both young and old that could benefit greatly from using these simple programs. All the apps mentioned are intuitive, easy to use, some have a nominal fee and others are free.

Kidspiration Maps is a kid friendly mind-mapping app for the iPad. Kidspiration is similar to the Inspiration Maps, but Kidspiration includes more kid friendly templates and clipart like graphics. Kidspiration allows users to create mind mapping webs to help organize ideas and information visually. Unlike Inspiration Maps, Kidspiration allows users to insert a large variety of clipart images into their maps. Kidspiration also includes the ability to add a recorded voice note; a feature that is unfortunately missing in Inspiration Maps.

Kidspiration Maps includes a large number of pre-loaded templates for reading and writing, social studies, science, and math. These templates are geared for elementary school children and range from an “all about me” web to sorting and matching activities. If no template is applicable there is an option to start a new document. One template contains a number of words and instructions to arrange the words into alphabetical order while another asks kids to match states to their capitals. With the nice visuals these activities can be engaging and easier than using physical manipulative. One drawback is when the student is completing the activities there is no way to program the correct responses in order to give the student immediate feedback. Also, when searching for clipart students cannot search for an image by keyword, but instead must scroll through long lists of images.

Bookshare is an essential service for people with print disabilities. Bookshare.org provides accessible e-books for qualified students. Members can choose from over 200,000 downloadable titles including many textbooks. Bookshare books can be downloaded in a DAISY format for use with text-to-speech software or in a Braille format. Similar to Kurzweil, the combination of text-to-speech and highlighted text can greatly speed up and reading and increase comprehension for qualifying students. Thanks to a grant from the United States Department of Education Bookshare is free to U.S. students.

 Learning Ally is another provider of accessible books for the blind and dyslexic.Learning Ally mostly provides human narrated audio books for their members. Learning Ally is also expanding to provide “VOICEtext” books which include human narration and highlighted text. The highlighting of “VOICEtext” books is not word by word like in Bookshare and Kurzweil but rather is paragraph by paragraph. Learning Ally books can be read on iOS and Android devices using the Learning Ally Audio app.

 Co:Writer by Don Johnston is an app for iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch. Co:Writer has exceptional word predication capabilities that can help struggling spellers. Co:Writer’s most unique and noteworthy feature is the ability to use topic dictionaries to improve word prediction based on the topic a student is writing about. For example, if a student is writing about World War II he or she can turn on the World War II topic dictionary in order to get more targeted word prediction.

Prizmo is an optical character recognition (OCR) app for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch. The app gives students the ability to take a picture of a text documents and have it read back to them using text-to-speech in seconds. So if a student comes across a document that they can’t read they can use Prizmo to quickly take a picture and have it read back to them. Prizmo can also act as a portable scanner that can convert printed document into a digital PDF format.

These were are just a few of the many assistive technology apps available. If you are using or recommending and other apps that fill this niche, send me an email and let me know: asantos@princetonlibray.org

Allison Santos

ALSC Digital Task Force

Princeton Public Library, Princeton, NJ

 

 

 

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16. Does the MOOC spell the end for universities?

The seemingly unassailable rise of the MOOC – the Massive Open On-Line Course – has many universities worried. Offering access to millions of potential students, it seems like the solution to so many of the problems that beset higher education. Fees are low, or even non-existent; anyone can sign up; staff time is strictly limited as even grading is done by peers or automated multiple-choice questionnaires. In an era of ever-rising tuition fees and of concerns about the barriers that stop the less well-off from applying to good universities, the MOOC can seem like a panacea.

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17. Math Monday: Padlet

I have been thinking about how to better share our math thinking as part of our math workshop.  I have played around a bit with Padlet for lots of things. Last week, padlet helped raise our level of share a bit. Kids are used to sharing and responding to math thinking of their classmates.  We use lots of tools to do this but this week, we build a padlet as kids worked.  Finished representations went up on the padlet as kids finished. This is the problem we solved.

Jeffrey buys 5 boxes of oranges. There are 10 oranges in each box.  There are 12 rotten oranges.  How many oranges are there that are not rotten?


We have been playing with a variety of tools to share our math learning. So, some students used Google Draw. Others used Pixie. Some used Explain Everything.

I am thinking about the reflection piece of share with my math coach. I think there can be real power in Padlet as a way for kids to reflect on thinking, analyze work and learn new things to try.  The power of this Padlet was in the conversation. Because the Padlet was added to over a 15-20  minute period, kids naturally gathered around the Smartboard noticing things before we formally shared. Then as we shared, there was a power of having all of the representations on one board--in a place that we could see them all at once.

Usually, we can Airplay share one at a time or share a student's thinking from their notebook with a document camera.  Padlet allowed us to see patterns in our work. Kids noticed that with division, most kids were drawing pictures and wondered why that was.  Others noticed different number sentences across work. We could get a close up of one to analyze if we wanted to or we could look at the patterns we saw in our work as a whole.

I am going to work with my coach to build on this and to really think about how to raise the level of the share piece of Math Workshop. Lots of possibilities!



It's Math Monday! Join Mandy at Enjoy and Embrace Learning for the Math Monday link up!


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18. Five tips for women and girls pursuing STEM careers

Many attempts have been made to explain the historic and current lack of women working in STEM fields. During her two years of service as Director of Policy Planning for the US State Department, from 2009 to 2011, Anne-Marie Slaughter suggested a range of strategies for corporate and political environments to better support women at work. These spanned from social-psychological interventions to the introduction of role models and self-affirmation practices. Slaughter has written and spoken extensively on the topic of equality between men and women. Beyond abstract policy change, and continuing our celebration of women in STEM, there are practical tips and guidance for young women pursuing a career in Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics.

(1) &nsbp; Be open to discussing your research with interested people.

From in-depth discussions at conferences in your field to a quick catch up with a passing colleague, it can be endlessly beneficial to bounce your ideas off a range of people. New insights can help you to better understand your own ideas.

(2) &nsbp; Explore research problems outside of your own. 

Looking at problems from multiple viewpoints can add huge value to your original work. Explore peripheral work, look into the work of your colleagues, and read about the achievements of people whose work has influenced your own. New information has never been so discoverable and accessible as it is today. So, go forth and hunt!

startup-594090_1280
Meeting by StartupStockPhotos. Public domain via Pixabay.

(3) &nsbp; Collaborate with people from different backgrounds.

The chance of two people having read exactly the same works in their lifetime is nominal, so teaming up with others is guaranteed to bring you new ideas and perspectives you might never have found alone.

(4) &nsbp; Make sure your research is fun and fulfilling.

As with any line of work, if it stops being enjoyable, your performance can be at risk. Even highly self-motivated people have off days, so look for new ways to motivate yourself and drive your work forward. Sometimes this means taking some time to investigate a new perspective or angle from which to look at what you are doing. Sometimes this means allowing yourself time and distance from your work, so you can return with a fresh eye and a fresh mind!

(5) &nsbp; Surround yourself with friends who understand your passion for scientific research.

The life of a researcher can be lonely, particularly if you are working in a niche or emerging field. Choose your company wisely, ensuring your valuable time is spent with friends and family who support and respect your work.

Image Credit: “Board” by blickpixel. Public domain via Pixabay

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19. Teens and the Networked World: Aspen Institute Task Force Report Recap

In September 2014, YALSA blogger Jaina Lewis began a series on the Aspen Institute Task Force on Learning and the Internet 2014 report entitled Learner at the Center of a Networked World. Lewis’ post focused on 24/7 learning and how libraries and librarians can help keep the learning going outside the walls of school.

As Lewis says, the report is comprehensive, clocking in at 116 pages. This report is full of excellent resources and websites to explore. The Aspen Institute feels that our youth today need to be fully connected. In order to do that, we need to rethink our current models of education and technology infrastructure so that we create an environment of connected learning.

I particularly liked the definition of connected learning the report gave saying that “connected learning...is socially embedded, interest driven and oriented toward educational, economic or political opportunity” (34). In this definition, not only are we making sure the learner is at the center, but we are also taking into account the various things that surround our learners. In order to prepare youth for being smart, savvy, and critical citizens in our digital age, we have to remember the influences, histories, and cultural values that shape our youth.

As I read through the report, I was most drawn to the section on cultivating literacy skills. While the infrastructure is important, I believe in using technology as a tool and that people come before the tech. Not only do we want our youth to be both consumers and producers of media, but we also want to make sure they are critical thinkers and that these skills stay with them throughout their entire life. Of course, then the question becomes, how do we as libraries help to cultivate these attitudes? And do we as libraries have those critical thinking skills to make sure good consumers and producers of media and users of technology? Because while the report is about the learner, the youth, they look to us for guidance and support. We also have to feel empowered and confident about using technology to help us do “projects that matter” (connected learning that is interest driven). When we invest in using technology as a tool, we share a purpose with the youth we work with even though they are not our peers.

The report talks about youth being in a “whitewater learning” environment (27). This means that they acquire skills and learn new knowledge in the middle of practicing these skills as the technology environment changes around them. This is a type of learning we as librarians can also take. We can dive in, helping to create new knowledge to share with other librarians and expand our learning network. I believe by doing this, we give ourselves the agency we need to help the youth to our best ability.

This is a report that I will continue to mull over. My first read got me thinking about my role as a librarian in helping ensure our learners are at the center of their network. I hope in a future reading, my focus shifts and I can expand on this initial blog post. If you have a chance to skim the report, I recommend it; just seeing the various ways in which institutions across the United States in helping create exciting environments that use technology as a tool was exciting. The report gives you a lot to think about and I think this will continue to be a report we look at in 2015!

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20. Wollstonecraft: The Case of the Kickstarter Project

JORDAN STRATFORD is a producer, author, and screenwriter. Stratford launched the idea for the Wollstonecraft Detective Agency series on Kickstarter, where the response was overwhelming enthusiasm.

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21. Young Children, New Media, & Libraries @ #alamw15

This afternoon I attended a session called “Young Children, New Media, & Libraries Survey” presented by Amy Koester and J. Elizabeth Mills. Back in August of 2014, ALSC, LittleeLit.com, and the iSchool at the University of Washington conducted a survey where they asked public librarians how they use new media with youth in their libraries.

To put the survey into perspective, the definition of new media is technologies and the definition of young children is age 0 to 5.

We each received an infographic with the results and some were pretty surprising! Here are some of the highlights:

  • A total of 415 libraries participated and user populations ranged from less than 5,000 to over 1,000,000
  • Of those libraries, 71% use at least one type of new media in programming with young children
  • The most popular type of new media used are tablets, 91% of which are iPads
  • 58% of those libraries plan to increase new media availability in the future while 13% plan to maintain that level and 0.5% plan to decrease theirs
  • The most popular ways that that libraries are using new media devices is in tethered devices, in storytimes, and as check-outable materials

Amy and J. Elizabeth then went on to discuss the implications of their findings. The biggest point that they made was that as librarians, we need to be Media Mentors for our communities. Meaning, we need to be providing not only access but guidance on using these devices. Amy made the point that they weren’t trying to tell everyone that they have to start using iPads in storytime, but we need to be aware and mindful of the technology that our young patrons and their parents are using.

How does your library use technology with children?

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22. Trains of thought: Bob

Tetralogue by Timothy Williamson is a philosophy book for the commuter age. In a tradition going back to Plato, Timothy Williamson uses a fictional conversation to explore questions about truth and falsity, knowledge and belief. Four people with radically different outlooks on the world meet on a train and start talking about what they believe. Their conversation varies from cool logical reasoning to heated personal confrontation. Each starts off convinced that he or she is right, but then doubts creep in. During February, we will be posting a series of extracts that cover the viewpoints of all four characters in Tetralogue. What follows is an extract exploring Bob’s perspective.

Bob is just an ordinary guy who happens to be scared of witches. His beliefs are strongly rooted in personal experience, and this approach brings him to blows with the unyelidingly scientific Sarah.

Sarah: That’s unfair! You don’t expect all the scientific resources of the Western world to be concentrated on explaining why your garden wall collapsed, do you? I’m not being dogmatic, there’s just no reason to doubt that a scientific explanation could in prin­ciple be given.

Bob: You expect me to take that on faith? You don’t always know best, you know. I’m actually giv­ing you an explanation. (Mustn’t talk too loud.) My neighbour’s a witch. She always hated me. Bewitched my wall, cast a spell on it to collapse next time I was right beside it. It was no coinci­dence. Even if you had your precious scientific explanation with all its atoms and molecules, it would only be technical details. It would give no reason why the two things happened at just the same time. The only explanation that makes real sense of it is witchcraft.

Sarah: You haven’t explained how your neighbour’s mutter­ing some words could possibly make the wall collapse.

Bob: Who knows how witchcraft works? Whatever it does, that old hag’s malice explains why the wall collapsed just when I was right beside it. Anyway, I bet you can’t explain how deciding in my own mind to plant some bulbs made my legs actually move so I walked out into the garden.

Sarah: It’s only a matter of time before scientists can explain things like that. Neuroscience has made enormous progress over the last few years, discov­ering how the brain and nervous system work.

Bob: So you say, with your faith in modern science. I bet expert witches can already explain how spells work. They wouldn’t share their knowledge around. Too dangerous. Why should I trust modern science more than witchcraft?

Sarah: Think of all the evidence for modern science. It can explain so much. What evidence is there that witch­craft works?

Bob: My garden wall, for a start.

Sarah: No, I mean proper evidence, statistically significant results of controlled experiments and other forms of reliable data, which science provides.

Bob: You know how witches were persecuted, or rightly punished, in the past. Lots of them were tortured and burnt. It could happen again, if they made their powers too obvious, doing things that could be proved in court. Do you expect them to let them­selves be trapped like that again? Anyway, witch­craft is so unfashionable in scientific circles, how many scientists would risk their academic reputa­tions taking it seriously enough to research on it, testing whether it works?

Sarah: Modern science has put men on the moon. What has witchcraft done remotely comparable to that?

Bob: For all we know, that alleged film of men on the moon was done in a studio on earth. The money saved was spent on the military. Anyway, who says witchcraft hasn’t put women on the moon? Isn’t assuming it hasn’t what educated folk call ‘begging the question’?

Sarah: I can’t believe I’m having this conversation. Do you seriously deny that scientific journals are full of evi­dence for modern scientific theories? Isn’t all of that evidence against witchcraft?

Bob: How do we know how much of that so-called evi­dence is genuine? There have been lots of scandals recently about scientists faking their results. For all we know, the ones who get caught are only the tip of the iceberg.

Sarah: Well, if you prefer, look at all the successful tech­nology around you. You’re sitting on a train, and I notice you have a laptop and a mobile phone. Think of all the science that went into them. You’re not telling me they work by witchcraft, are you?

Bob: Lots of modern science and technology is fine in its own way. I went to hospital by ambulance, not broom, thank goodness. None of that means mod­ern science can explain everything.

Have you got something you want to say to Bob? Do you agree or disagree with him? Tetralogue author Timothy Williamson will be getting into character and answering questions from Bob’s perspective via @TetralogueBook on Friday 6th March from 2-3pm GMT. Tweet your questions to him and wait for Bob’s response!

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23. YALSABLOG TWEETS OF THE WEEK - FEBRUARY 6, 2015

A short list of tweets from the past week of interest to teens and the library staff that work with them.

Do you have a favorite Tweet from the past week? If so add it in the comments for this post. Or, if you read a Twitter post between February 6 and February 12 that you think is a must for the next Tweets of the Week send a direct or @ message to lbraun2000 on Twitter.

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24. Jonathan Nagler: writing good code

Introduction, by R. Michael Alvarez

Today’s data scientist must know how to write good code. Regardless of whether they are working with a commercial off-the-shelf statistical software package, R, python, or perl, all require the use of good coding practices. Large and complex datasets need lots of manipulation to wrangle them into shape for analytics, statistical estimation often is complex, and presentation of complicated results sometimes requires writing lots of code. To make sure that code is understandable to the author and others, good coding practices are essential.

Many who teach methodology, statistics, and data science, are increasingly teaching their students how to write good computer code. As a practical matter, if a professor requires that students turn in their code for a problem set, that code needs to be well-crafted to be legible to the instructor. But as increasing numbers of our students are writing and distributing their code and software tools to the public, professionally we need to do more to train students how to write good code. Finally, good code is critical for research replication and transparency — if you can’t understand someone’s code, it might be difficult or impossible to be able to reproduce their analysis.

When I first started teaching methods to graduate students, there was little in the methodological literature that I found useful for teaching graduate students good coding practices. But in 1995, my colleague Jonathan Nagler wrote out some great guidance on good methodological practices, in particular guidelines for good coding style. His piece is available online (“Coding Style and Good Computing Practices”), and his advice from 1995 is as relevant today as it was then. I use Jonathan’s guidelines in my graduate teaching.

Over the past few years, as Political Analysis has focused resources on research replication and transparency, it’s become clear that we need to develop better guidance for researchers and authors regarding how to write good code. One of the biggest issues that we run into when we review replication materials that are submitted to the journal is poor documentation and unclear code; and if we can’t figure out how the code works, I’m sure that our readers will have the same problem.

We’ve been thinking of developing some guidelines for documentation of replication materials, and standards for coding practices. As part of that research, I asked Jonathan if he would write an update of his 1995 essay, and for him to reflect some on how things might have evolved in terms of good computing practices since 1995. His thoughts are below, and I encourage readers to also read Jonathan’s original 1995 essay.

*     *     *     *     *

Coding style and good computing practices: it is easy to get the style right, harder to get good practice, by Jonathan Nagler, NYU

Many years ago I was prompted to write Coding Style and Good Computing Practices, an article laying out guidelines for coding style for political scientists. The article was reprinted in a symposium on replication in PS (September 1995, Vol. 28, No. 3, 488-492). According to Google Scholar, it has rarely been cited, but I’m convinced it has been read quite often because I’ve seem some idiosyncratic suggestions made in it in the code of other political scientists. Though re-reading the article I am reminded how many people have not read it, or just ignored it.

1024px-Ladies_Learning_Code_event,_November_26_2011
Ladies coding event by Jon Lim. CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Here is a list of basic points reproduced from that article:

  • Labbooks: essential.
  • Command files: they should be kept.
  • Data-manipulation vs. data-analysis: these should be in distinct files.
  • Keep tasks compartmentalized (‘modularity’).
  • Know what the code is supposed to do before you start.
  • Don’t be too clever.
  • Variable names should mean something.
  • Use parentheses and white-space to make code readable.
  • Documentation: all code should include comments meaningful to others.

And I concluded with a list of rules:

  • Maintain a labbook from the beginning of a project to the end.
  • Code each variable so that it corresponds as closely as possible to a verbal description of the substantive hypothesis the variable will be used to test.
  • Errors in code should be corrected where they occur and the code re-run.
  • Separate tasks related to data-manipulation vs data-analysis into separate files.
  • Each program should perform only one task.
  • Do not try to be as clever as possible when coding. Try to write code that is as simple as possible.
  • Each section of a program should perform only one task.
  • Use a consistent style regarding lower and upper case letters.
  • Use variable names that have substantive meaning.
  • Use variable names that indicate direction where possible.
  • Use appropriate white-space in your programs, and do so in a consistent fashion to make them easy to read.
  • Include comments before each block of code describing the purpose of the code.
  • Include comments for any line of code if the meaning of the line will not be unambiguous to someone other than yourself.
  • Rewrite any code that is not clear.
  • Verify that missing data is handled correctly on any recode or creation of a new variable.
  • After creating each new variable or recoding any variable, produce frequencies or descriptive statistics of the new variable and examine them to be sure that you achieved what you intended.
  • When possible, automate things and avoid placing hard-wired values (those computed ‘by-hand’) in code.

Those are still very good rules, I would not change any of them. I would add one, and that is to put comments in any paper citing the piece of code that produced the figures or tables in the paper. In 20 years a lot of things have changed about how we do computing. It has gotten much easier to follow good computing practices. Github has made it easy to share code, maintain revision history, and publish code. And the set of people who seamlessly collaborate by sharing files over Dropbox or one of its competitors probably dwarfs the number of political scientists using Github. But to paraphrase a common computing aphorism (GIGO), sharing or publishing badly written code won’t make it easy for people to replicate or build on your work.

I was motivated to write that article because as I stated then, most political scientists aren’t trained as computer programmers. Nor were most political scientists trained to work in a laboratory. So the article covered both style of code, and computing practice to make sure that an entire research project could be reproduced by someone else. That means keeping track of where you got your data, how it was processed, etc.

Any computer code is a set of instructions that produces results when read by a machine, and we can evaluate the code based on the results it produces. But when we share code we expect it to be read by humans. Two pieces of code be functionally equivalent — they could produce identical results when read by a machine — even though one is easy to read and understand by a human; while the other is pretty much unintelligible to a human. If you expect people to use your code, you need to make the code easy to read. I try to ask every graduate student I am going to work with to read several chapters from Brian W. Kernighan and Rob Pike’s, The Practice of Programming (1999), especially the Preface, Chapters 1, 3, 5, 6, and the Epilogue.

It has turned out to be easier to write clean code than to maintain good computing practices overall that would lead to easy reproducibility of an entire research project. It is fairly easy to post a ‘replication’ dataset, and the code used to produce the figures and tables in a paper. But that doesn’t really tell someone everything they need to know to try to reproduce your work, or extend it to other data. They need to know how your data was generated. And those steps occur in the production of the replication dataset, not in the use of it.

Most research projects in political science pull in data from many sources. And many, many coding decisions are made along the way to a finished product. All of those decisions may be visible in the code; but keeping coherent lab-books is essential for sifting through all the lines of code of any large project. And ‘projects’ rarely stand-alone anymore. Work on one dataset is linked to many projects, often with over-lapping sets of co-authors.

At the beginning of a research project it’s important for everyone to agree where the code is, where the data is, and what the overall structure of the documentation is. That means decisions about whether documentation is grouped by project (which could mean by individual paper), or by dataset. And it means reaching some agreement on whether there is a master document that points to many smaller documents describing individual tasks, or whether the whole project description sits in a single document. None of this is exciting to work out, certainly not as exciting as doing the research. But it is essential. A good goal of doing all this is to make it as easy as possible to make the whole bundle of documentation and code public as soon as it is time to do so. It both saves time when it is time to release documentation, and imposes some good habits and structure along the way.

Heading image: Typing computer screen reflection by Almonroth. CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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25. Trains of thought: Zac

Tetralogue by Timothy Williamson is a philosophy book for the commuter age. In a tradition going back to Plato, Timothy Williamson uses a fictional conversation to explore questions about truth and falsity, knowledge and belief. Four people with radically different outlooks on the world meet on a train and start talking about what they believe. Their conversation varies from cool logical reasoning to heated personal confrontation. Each starts off convinced that he or she is right, but then doubts creep in. During February, we will be posting a series of extracts that cover the viewpoints of all four characters in Tetralogue. What follows is an extract exploring Zac’s perspective.

Zac wants everyone to be at peace with everyone else, whatever their differences. He tries to intervene and offer a solution to the conflicts that arise between the other characters, but often ends up getting dragged in himself.

Sarah: It’s pointless arguing with you. Nothing will shake your faith in witchcraft!

Bob: Will anything shake your faith in modern science?

Zac: Excuse me, folks, for butting in: sitting here, I couldn’t help overhearing your conversation. You both seem to be getting quite upset. Perhaps I can help. If I may say so, each of you is taking the superior attitude ‘I’m right and you’re wrong’ toward the other.

Sarah: But I am right and he is wrong.

Bob: No. I’m right and she’s wrong.

Zac: There, you see: deadlock. My guess is, it’s becom­ing obvious to both of you that neither of you can definitively prove the other wrong.

Sarah: Maybe not right here and now on this train, but just wait and see how science develops—people who try to put limits to what it can achieve usually end up with egg on their face.

Bob: Just you wait and see what it’s like to be the vic­tim of a spell. People who try to put limits to what witchcraft can do end up with much worse than egg on their face.

Zac: But isn’t each of you quite right, from your own point of view? What you—

Sarah: Sarah.

Zac: Pleased to meet you, Sarah. I’m Zac, by the way. What Sarah is saying makes perfect sense from the point of view of modern science. And what you—

Bob: Bob.

Zac: Pleased to meet you, Bob. What Bob is saying makes perfect sense from the point of view of traditional witchcraft. Modern science and traditional witch­craft are different points of view, but each of them is valid on its own terms. They are equally intelligible.

Sarah: They may be equally intelligible, but they aren’t equally true.

Zac: ‘True’: that’s a very dangerous word, Sarah. When you are enjoying the view of the lovely countryside through this window, do you insist that you are see­ing right, and people looking through the windows on the other side of the train are seeing wrong?

Sarah: Of course not, but it’s not a fair comparison.

Zac: Why not, Sarah?

Sarah: We see different things through the windows because we are looking in different directions. But modern science and traditional witchcraft ideas are looking at the same world and say incompatible things about it, for instance about what caused Bob’s wall to col­lapse. If one side is right, the other is wrong.

Zac: Sarah, it’s you who make them incompatible by insisting that someone must be right and some­one must be wrong. That sort of judgemental talk comes from the idea that we can adopt the point of view of a God, standing in judgement over every­one else. But we are all just human beings. We can’t make definitive judgements of right and wrong like that about each other.

Sarah: But aren’t you, Zac, saying that Bob and I were both wrong to assume there are right and wrong answers on modern science versus witchcraft, and that you are right to say there are no such right and wrong answers? In fact, aren’t you contradicting yourself?

Have you got something you want to say to Zac? Do you agree or disagree with him? Tetralogue author Timothy Williamson will be getting into character and answering questions from Zac’s perspective via @TetralogueBook on Friday 13th March from 2-3pm GMT. Tweet your questions to him and wait for Zac’s response!

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