Building Home Libraries: A Community Collaboration

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One of the goals of the Barrow Elementary Media Center is to support the reading habits and curiosities of students, teachers, and families.  During the school year, our library is a huge source of reading, but I often wonder what I can do to continue to support reading during the summer months when students are at home.  What do their home libraries look like? What can we do as a school to support the idea of building a home library?

Many schools in Clarke County are supported by an incredible program called Books for Keeps where every student in the school receives 12 books for summer reading. Our school will eventually be served by this organization, but at the moment, we are not. Since we can’t really raise enough money to buy books for every child in the school, I decided to start with 2 communities of students in our school.

This year, I am working with our community, writing grants, and raising funds to support families in building home libraries in their communities. The Junior League of Athens is purchasing 6 books for each student from the Bethel Homes community who attends our school.   These books are for the students to keep and share with their family. There will be a family day of learning about home libraries, creating a plan for a home library, and adding these 6 books to the home library.  We hope by taking this step, we are supporting a culture in each home of having a dedicated place to keep books that are purchased, borrowed, or donated.

Through First Book UGA, we have a $750 grant to replicate the Junior League’s program in the Parkview community. This will provide approximately 3 books per student through First Book.  In order to replicate the same program we are offering at Bethel, we needed to raise some additional funds.  After getting approval from our superintendent, I created a GoFundMe campaign to raise an additional $1,000. I began sharing the campaign through many avenues of social media as well as personal emails. Camilla Bracewell, a Barrow grandparent and huge library supporter, also shared the project through her own networks. In just over 24 hours, we raised the funds needed.

I’m notorious for jumping into a project before I really know exactly what it’s going to look like, but I always leap in with the faith of expecting the miraculous and knowing that things will work out. Now that the funds are in place, some logistics must be worked out.

Logistic 1:  If students are going to create home libraries, what will I actually use for the home library container?

I didn’t want to assume that every student had a home library at home or that they knew that a home library could be any place you keep books, so I wanted them to have a container to take home with their books. I started pricing containers at Walmart and Target and seeing what Dollar Tree had. Along the way, I posted Instagram pictures of my journey and invited people to chime in with suggestions.

People chimed in with ideas:

Then, my wife suggested that I contact Suki Janssen with the Athens Clarke County Recycling Division, so I did.  She invited me to come and check out the warehouse where the Teacher Reuse Store items are kept. This CHARM facility houses items that are difficult to recycle.  I met with Chris Griffin and he let me browse the building and see what I could find.

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Miraculously, I found  3 different stacks of trays in varying shapes, sizes, and conditions and was fortunate enough to take them all home with me.

Rescued from the recycling facility. Soon to become home libraries. #upcycle #recycle #reuse #library #homelibrary #community

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Logistic #2: Getting all of these trays ready to become home libraries.

I took all of the trays home and started cleaning a few of them and brainstorming exactly what to do to the trays to decorate them.

Operation home libraries step 2. Wash off the grime. #homelibrary #library #upcycle #reuse #community

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Again, I reached out to the community for ideas. Gretchen Thomas, my collaborative partner from UGA, suggested lots and lots of spray paint.

I went out and bought some cans to do a paint test.

Project home libraries step 3: the spray paint test. #library #homelibrary #craft #upcycle #reuse

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It was a time consuming process to clean and paint the trays and I quickly realized I couldn’t do it alone.

Logistic #3: Who can clean and paint all of these trays?

I brought all of the trays to school.

Home libraries before and after. #upcycle #reuse #spraypaint #homelibrary #library #project

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I called upon my wonderful volunteer coordinator Courtney Tobin as well as Gretchen Thomas to send out emails and ask for volunteers. Once again, the community didn’t disappoint. Camilla Bracewell came in along with Margaret Christ and her librarian mom came in to clean trays.

Volunteers in action prepping home libraries for painting. #project #cleaning #upcycle #reuse #homelibrary #library

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I also have volunteers scheduled to come in and start spray painting the trays outside.

Logistic #4: How will I order the right books for students?

Since we have a First Book account and grant, I can order books directly from First Book for a great price. I really wanted to go back to my student book budget model and give each student a certain amount of money to spend in the First Book marketplace.

However, I don’t think I have enough time to pull that off.  Instead, I created a short reading interest survey so that I can do interviews with each student and find out some of their interests in order to get the books they really want to read. Again, this isn’t something I can do alone since there’s 75 kids in this project, so volunteers are helping me interview students with printed copies of the survey.

Interviewing students about reading interests for home libraries. #community #reader #interview #homelibrary #library

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Logistic #5: How will I get the order done?

As we interview students, I’m searching the First Book Marketplace for books that match what students are asking for. I’m adding these to a wish list that I can pull from when it’s time to order.  I’ve blocked off times on the library calendar next week to work on the actual order.  I plan to take each student survey sheet and personally search for books to meet the needs of the student request and age.  Then, I’ll use the donated funds and grant to pay the bill.

Logistic #6: How will students take ownership of the libraries?

Rather than just hand over the books and trays to students, I want them to have some investment in the project. In two weeks, we are going to hold some decorating sessions where students can come and decorate their libraries with personal touches. During that time, we’ll talk about what it means to have a home library as well as talk about sharing books between home libraries. Since these students are in the same community, there is an opportunity for students to be able to exchange books with one another if they want to.

I know that I have many more logistics to work out in this project, but it is amazing to look at where this seed of an idea has grown into a blossoming project.  I can’t wait to see where the project takes us, how it impacts students, and what we all learn about one another along the way. Having a community that pulls together around a common project makes such a difference.

 

 

 

Reflections on Google Teacher Academy #GTAATL

 

google-certified-teacherOn June 25 and 26, 2014 I had the honor of attending the Google Teacher Academy in Atlanta.  It was a long road to get to GTA.  The application process is a test in how well you can boil down your practice into the most concise wording and video that represents your innovation and reach.  The application is short with only a handful of questions that limit your response to 800 characters.  One of the most challenging parts of the application process is the video.  In one minute, you have to introduce yourself and show how you foster innovation in education as well as how you have a global impact.  I don’t even know how many hours it took me to craft a one-minute video, but I do know that the process forced me to really think about my practice.  I made multiple versions of the video and got feedback from multiple including Cat Flippen, #GTACHI.  Here’s how it turned out:

The wait to find out if I got into GTA was agonizing.  I won’t lie about that.  Even though I had IFTTT recipes setup to notify when the email came, I still stayed glued to my phone and computer because I was in a professional learning session on announcement day. Once the email came, things started happening fast.  The 35 were invited to a Google Plus community where we could begin connecting.  It didn’t take long for the collaboration to begin.  Here are just a few things that happened:

  • Jennifer Armstrong began making a Youtube playlist of our GTA videos

  • Jerry Swiatek made a Twitter list
  • I created a Google doc where we could begin crafting a shared blog post that we each could share in our own networks to introduce the 35 #GTAATL participants
  • Linda Humes and Corey Holmer started designing a t-shirt for us.  Corey’s design was ultimately chosen, but many people in the group contributed ideas.  Frank LaBanca ordered our shirts and had them all shipped to me in GA so that I could easily drive them to GTA rather than someone having to bring them on the plane

shirt

  • Renee Nolan organized a meetup for most of us on the night before GTA began to get to hangout together before GTA consumed our brains
  • Janna Gibson made a guide to Atlanta to introduce everyone to the food and sights to check out in Atlanta
  • And the list goes on

I loved this because it brought out one of the things that inspires me about collaborating.  We all have talents and expertise, and so many people stepped up to share their talents and passions with the group.

Finally meeting everyone face to face was so much fun.  We only knew one another from our profile pics, social media posts, and blog stories.  We all met at Marlow’s for dinner the night before GTA and spent time just having conversation and sharing the anticipation of what the next two days would bring.

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We arrived at the Google office and waited until the exact time to enter.  After checking in, we were immediately launched into the Google culture, which of course started with food.  We had a great breakfast before moving into our agenda.

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I won’t detail the entire agenda, but share some of the things that stood out to me along the way.

First, the planning team revamped the entire agenda, and we were the first GTA cohort to try out this new agenda.  This was exciting but also a little risky since it meant that we might not experience what we thought we were going to experience.  What I saw was that the agenda focused a lot more  on philosophy than on specific tools.  The idea behind this is that tools come and go and tools change, but if you have an innovative, risk-taking philosophy of teaching, then you adapt to new tools and environments as well as create entirely new environments for you and your students.

We watched the Moonshot Thinking video, which I had seen at a GAFE Summit.  It is always powerful no matter how many times I watch it.

I loved how this framed our entire GTA experience because it set the tone that we as innovators in education we need to be trying things that have never been tried and creating new tools and experiences for our students that stretch far beyond a “next step”.  I loved how this moonshot thinking and “solving for x” brought us into our first experience at GTA.

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This was probably my favorite “activity” that we did over the 2 days.  Prior to GTA, each of us submitted what we felt were our biggest challenges in education.  Those challenges were compiled into themes.  At our tables, we were randomly assigned one of the challenges.  Then, one of our team members had to spin a wheel filled with tech tools.  Our goal was to use this tech tool to address the specified challenge, and to make things interesting, we only had 5 minutes to make a decision.

Problems of Practice  PoP    Google Teacher Academy Resources

My group ended up with “lack of teacher training” paired with “Panoramio“.  Most of us in the group had never used Panoramio, which was perfect!  I felt like it put us in the shoes of our teachers who feel insecure when facing a new technology tool.  I was reminded of teachers who feel frozen when they face the unknown and want someone to just tell them exactly how a tool works before they will try it.  With the clock ticking, we didn’t have that luxury.  Instead, those of us that had used the tool began brainstorming how Panoramio could address teacher training.  Others, like me, frantically researched the tool to see what it was capable of.  At a glance, Panoramio is a collection of photographs uploaded by the community of users and embedded onto Google Maps by location.  You can browse the photographs by location or you can specifically search for topics of pictures.  For me, I was trying to figure out if you could tag images and search by tag.  From my own experience, I’ve seen the lightbulb go on so many times for a teacher when they see something put into practice in a classroom.  Sometimes all it takes to help a teacher feel “trained” enough to try something is just seeing what it looks like in a classroom.  I thought that if we could create a massive social media campaign for educators to upload images of their classrooms into Panormaio and tag those images by the topics that they showcased, then we could support teachers in “seeing” what that specific topic looked like in a classroom.  If we needed specific kinds of pictures uploaded to Panoramio, then we could be specific like pictures of students using social media in the classroom.  I added this thinking to my group, but I loved that others in my group had completely different ideas for how this tool could be used.  This exercise also reminded me that our focus can’t be on the tools.  Our focus should be on our students, teacher, families, and community along with the needs that they have.  There’s a whole range of tools that can support those needs.  If we push our thinking and try something radical, sometimes a tool that seemed like the most absurd idea for solving the challenge actually leads to something innovative.

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Our day was of course surrounded by snacks.  We had official breaks, but drinks and snacks were always within reach.

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Even breaks to the bathroom kept you learning and surrounded by Google culture.

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Throughout the 2 days of GTA, there was time for “inspiring ideas”.  These were short presentations from various members of GTAATL.  We submitted ideas before GTA and were selected by the planning committee to present.  I was the very first one to share, which was a bit intimidating.  I shared various ways that I empower student voice through Google forms as well as how Google forms can help you crowdsource information.

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Other rockstars included Chris Aviles, who shared how he gamifies his classroom.  He has created an entire story line that plays out with his students which even includes getting phone calls from game characters using Google Voice.  Amy Burvall shared how she used Google Plus to give her students a space to contribute to the classroom and crowdsource information.  She also uses this tool to connect people in her professional development sessions.  By doing this, people aren’t sitting passively in her sessions, but are instead, actively contributing during her session and beyond.  Genius!  Hearing from all of these amazing educators during this session was an energy boost during an exhausting day.  I was proud to be a part of this group.

One of the things that I hoped would happen was a preview of Google Classroom.  We heard about the process it took to develop Google Classroom.  I loved seeing a picture from an elementary teacher’s classroom where she had posted about 7 or 8 steps it took to turn in an assignment to the teacher.  This was one of the inspirations for Google Classrooms.  We had a chance to try out the interface and were all excited and blown away by the usefulness and simplicity.  With 35 innovative educators in one room, it didn’t take long for a range of questions to surface.  We definitely surfaced some barriers that people may face in using Classroom, but overall the buzz was one of excitement and eagerness to get this tool in our teachers’ hands.

Our lead learners

Our lead learners

The rest of GTA involved 4 rounds of explorations of various Google tools and themes.  We grouped ourselves into these rounds by common interests in the kinds of challenges we wanted to tackle in our action plans.

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We saw a lot of tools, but didn’t have time to use them very much.  Now that I’m away from GTA, I’m starting to look at what I saw and consider how these tools fit into what I may try in the library this year.  I’m already thinking about how Google Draw can be used as we connect with other schools via Skype and Google Hangout.  I wish that we had spent more time with the various map tools from Google because I think there is a lot of potential with those as well for global collaborations.  I’ll have to take time to do this for myself.

At the end of day one, we all became Google Certified Teachers.  We had a pinning ceremony and a celebration dinner.  It was a great sense of accomplishment, but it was only the beginning of the work and opportunities ahead.

graduation

Day two was time for us to explore our own interests through an unconference as well as work on our action plans.  After GTA, it is an expectation that you create an action plan to facilitate change in education during the coming school year.  My focus is on global collaboration.  Seeing what students gain from connecting with authors, experts, libraries, and classrooms beyond our walls has convinced me that I need to develop even more opportunities for students to have these connections.  This year, I want connecting to be more than a one time thing.  I want to create content with students in other states and countries.  I want students to offer one another feedback and ask one another questions.  I want students to have an opportunity to create projects that matter to them and share those with a global audience.

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Amy Burvall inspired many conversations about hashtags and “showing your work”.

I had many important conversations during GTA about this project.  Amy Burvall and I talked a lot about hashtags and how tags are the “soul of the Internet”.  She helped me to think about how we track our work so that it continues to inform our next work.  We talked about the importance of sharing the whole process of a project and not just the final project.  This is the kind of thing that GTA does.  You may not get to know every single person at GTA, but you make connections with people that you know are going to continue to push your thinking well beyond the 2 days that you spend together.

Global TL logo

Now my attention turns to GlobalTL, a Google Plus community that was started by Joyce Valenza.  Now, I’m working along with Joyce and many other librarians to develop this community that will facilitate global connections.  I know that by connecting and collaborating with librarians, I am connecting my students and teachers with students and teachers around the world.  Librarians work with every student, teacher, and family member in the school.  I think it makes sense to think about how to create a community that connects people.  We don’t know exactly what will happen in the group, but we are going to shoot for the moon to foster global collaboration.

Google Teacher Academy has connected me with 34 other amazing educators, and I know I can call on them for any questions or roadblocks I face.  I’m also now connected to a global community of Google Certified Teachers who are actively supporting one another in their educational spaces.  I’m sure that GTA is only the beginning of a long collaborative relationship with some amazing global educators.

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Photo Credits: Danny Silva (@iteachag)