Reflections on the #Wandoo5: A Visit to Evanced

photo 4 (2)This has been a whirlwind summer.  Across 9 days from June 22-July1, I visited Evanced in Indianapolis, became a Google Certified Teacher at the Google Teacher Academy in Atlanta, and experienced the awesomeness of ISTE in Atlanta.  My brain was so exhausted that it has been hard to pull out the strands of what I actually learned.  However, I’m going to slowly start letting the learning soak in and write about each of those experiences here beginning with the #Wandoo5

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During the past school year, a small group of 5th graders began beta testing a tool called Wandoo Planet.  Wandoo Planet is an interest genome project like Pandora or Netflix where students share their interests in a game-like environment.  In return, Wandoo Planet offers book, movie, and game recommendations to them based on those interests.  We loved this tool so much that we used it to kickoff our summer reading at the end of the year.  Lindsey Hill at Evanced Skyped with every class in 2nd-5th grade and families, UGA students, and Barrow student ambassadors assisted me in getting every student signed up for an account.

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Other schools were also exploring Wandoo Planet and hosting the Banishing Boredom Tour at their schools.  Thanks to some informal conversation between Sherry Gick and Rob Cullin, President of Evanced, and making our work public, 5 library leaders were chosen to visit Evanced Solutions, a DEMCO company, in Indianapolis for a Think Tank.  The details of the Think Tank were really not specific, but when you have an opportunity to get together with Matthew Winner from Maryland, Sherry Gick from Indiana, Shannon Miller from Iowa, and Shawna Ford from Texas, you don’t say no and you expect nothing less than awesome!

Before we even arrived, a name had been created, the Wandoo 5 (#Wandoo5).  It felt like a giant signal had been activated in the sky and we were climbing aboard our planes to assemble at headquarters for a secret mission.

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We all arrived in the afternoon on June 22 and had a chance to hangout, have informal conversations, and enjoy downtown Indianapolis.  Lindsey Hill (@thelindseyhill), Reading Engagement Innovator at Evanced, made us feel right at home from the moment our planes landed and she didn’t stop even when our planes were returning us home.  You can tell that the people at Evanced truly care about libraries, librarians, and especially readers.

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On Monday June 23, the Think Tank began.  I was amazed by how we started because we didn’t start with the products that Evanced offers.  The very first question asked of us was to describe the landscape of school libraries and librarianship and to think about what some of our biggest challenges are.  Where would we start?  Our attention immediately turned to our students and access to information.  This particular strand of the conversation went from access to quality devices to access to Internet outside of school.  Our attention turned to the teachers within our buildings and the wide range of experiences and comfort levels with using and taking risks with technology.  Finally our attention turned to our colleagues around the world and how we support one another.

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Some Takeaways from Think Tank Part 1:

  • As we take risks as teacher librarians, it is more important than ever to show our work in a public way.  It isn’t about always showing the polished product at the end.  It’s about showing the process that it took to get there, even if it wasn’t successful.  We never know who we are mentoring along the way by showing our work.
  • It is more important than ever to build your own Professional Learning Network (PLN).  We all come from a range of support systems.  Some of us are fortunate enough to work in districts that are supportive of our work and have administrators that respect and value what happens in the libraries.  Others don’t have that support system.  Regardless of where we are, there is a vast network of librarians ready to support us.  From following #tlchat on Twitter to watching the TL Virtual Cafe webinars to tuning in to TL News Night to building your own network of librarian colleagues on Twitter or Google Plus Communities, it is more possible than ever to build your own support system that pushes your thinking and enriches your work rather than feeling like you are living on a deserted island in your school.
  • Evanced listens!  To sit there and share the landscape of libraries and the challenges we face was overwhelming, but it was nice to know that there is a company that has the word “solutions” in their title on our side.  They may not be able to solve all of the challenges we face, but we at least had a voice and impact into future solutions that they may explore in the landscape of libraries and librarianship.

The next part of our day was looking at the landscape of Evanced.  Matt Sheley, Vice President of Evanced, shared the journey that the company took in arriving at Wandoo Planet and Wandoo Reader as solutions to a challenge.  The company looked at reading data that showed a population of students who weren’t reading beyond elementary grades.  They wanted to develop a tool that connected learners with materials that resonated with their interests in the hopes that it would grow them into lifelong learners and readers.  It was truly amazing to see the process from notes in a journal to the tool that we are using today.

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During lunch, we got to view Wandoo Reader, which is primarily focused on public libraries for now, but we had the opportunity to brainstorm what this tool might look like within a school.

 

 

To me, one of the most interesting conversations centered on collaboration between school and public libraries.  While we acknowledged the importance of data confidentiality, we also considered how powerful it would be if school and public libraries could share data.  Since students mostly read based on their interests during the summer, being able to see that data as a school librarians would help us improve our collections to match reader interests as well as advise our library members on next reads.

We also got a chance to walk around the Evanced office.  Some parts were very quiet with coders at work.  We also saw some of the displays that were taken to schools and conferences.

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Some Takeaways from Think Tank Part 2:

  • In our libraries and in our schools, we should take time to identify the major challenges that we face.  Rather than try to “fix” them all at once, we should select the one(s) we want to focus on and think beyond just the next steps or even the “research-based” strategies that we always turn to.  While these are certainly things to consider, we should also give ourselves permission to dream and create something entirely new that we build together as we go.  It should be a solution that truly matches the needs of the learners involved and pierces to the root of the challenge.
  • We should never feel done.  I could tell that Evanced is the kind of company that doesn’t put out a product and say “This is it. Take it or leave it.”  They constantly listen, fine tune, and add new features that respond to the needs of the users.  Isn’t that what we should be doing in our libraries and schools?  We are never done.

Our day ended with “Our Whys”.  We each took time to reflect on why we do the work that we do in school libraries.  It was a mixture of the #whylib conversations that took Twitter by storm in April and a series of short TED Talks.   It was very intimidating to me to go last during this sharing because I was blown away by the whys that my colleagues shared.  Our whys included keeping students at the heart of what we do, empowering student voices in the global community, creating a participatory culture that gives all students an opportunity to contribute, and listening to each student that enters our doors and allowing the library to be a home within our buildings.  If these statements had been recorded, I think I would listen to them every day on the way to work to frame my day.

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Some Takeaways from Think Tank Part 3:

  • We each need to be able to share our “why”.  It reminds us why we come to work every day.  It focuses the hundreds of decisions that we make on a daily basis.
  • Again, we need to share the work that we do within our libraries and within that sharing we need to embed our why.  It needs to shine through in the successes and the failures that we share.  When it does, it becomes one of our greatest advocacy tools.

I went to Indiana thinking that I was just going to give a company feedback to improve a tool that they had created and get to hangout with some of my closest professional learning network.  However, I realized that this was much more.  This was about thinking big, dreaming big, and (since I’m Googlified) solving for X through moonshot thinking.

The people at Evanced are listening.  They are dreaming.  They are searching for solutions to some of our biggest challenges.  This was such a rewarding experience, and I’m thankful to all of the people at Evanced for this opportunity.  I look forward to many more conversations in the future.

 

 

 

 

 

Barrow Students are Banishing Boredom with Wandoo Planet

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Back in early February, a group of 5th graders became beta testers for a new tool from Evanced Kids called Wandoo Planet.  It is a kid-powered interest genome project similar to Spotify, Pandora, or Netflix.  Through a visually-stunning, game-like interface, students train the system to understand what their interests are and Wandoo Planet offers book and movie recommendations.

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Since our beta testing began, Evanced has released the beta version to anyone who wants to register for an account.  The polished version will be released in summer or early fall.  I thought this would be the perfect launch to summer reading.  In the past, I’ve tried to get students to think about their interests and begin making lists of possible reading topics, but I felt like it was difficult to carry those initial plans into the summer.  With Wandoo Planet, kids can start thinking about their interests and continue to grow and develop their interests throughout the summer and beyond.  They can take the books and movies that are recommended to the public library or bookstores and gather their summer reading materials.

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Lindsey Hill at Evanced began brainstorming with me on Twitter and email to plan a virtual visit right before we leave for the summer.  She mailed me bookmarks, username/password cards, and buttons to give to all of the students.

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We thought through which classes would come, a schedule that made sense, how to structure the virtual components, and how to best use student time in the library.  We decided on having 2 classes for 45 minute intervals with a 10 minute cushion of time in between sessions.  This allowed us to see all 2nd-5th grade classes.

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Lindsey agreed to Skype with each group and explain Wandoo.  She used this time to explain how Wandoo works as well as how to setup an account.

She also agreed to stay online all day so that students could give her feedback about Wandoo and ask questions.  I loved watching students walk up and have genuine conversations with her.

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The goal for students during the work session portion of the 45-minute segments was to view the “squirrel parade” on Wandoo planet and begin teaching Wandoo what they like, dislike, and love.  After about 5-10 minutes, they setup an account and begin building their Wandoo tree.  The tree gives students recommendations for books.  If they mark a book to keep, it puts a bud on their virtual tree.  After they read and rate the book, the bud turns into leaves on the tree.  Students can also add interest branches to their tree by revisiting the squirrel parade or typing a topic directly onto a branch.  Students had a small amount of time to do this today.  I put a sheet on every table to remind students about all of the steps.

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Students brought their classroom computers with them, but for 2nd grade we had to use the library laptop cart and other library computers.  It was interesting to look around and see all of the ways that students were accessing Wandoo.

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While students were working, we had quite an extensive team of helpers during the day. For the most part, students were independent.  We scheduled helpers to assist students with typing, following directions, and thinking of feedback to go to the camera and give to Lindsey at Evanced.

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During our 1st two session, we had Gretchen Thomas’s maymester EDIT2000 class.  These students were extremely helpful in getting extra computers setup for 2nd grade and having individual conversations with students.  Even if they didn’t feel like they “helped”, their conversations pushed students’ thinking about reading interests.  I loved that these students used Flipgrid to reflect on their visit to Barrow.

Flipgrid. Relax and discuss.

We also had fantastic parent volunteers during the day that helped us as well.  Having these parents seeing how kids are using technology and how we encourage continued connection over the summer was so valuable to our school and library program.

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Finally, we had a great team of student ambassadors to help throughout the day.  These students included my original beta testers as well as members of my student book budget group.  Each student had already created an account in Wandoo and tried it out for themselves.  I loved seeing their leadership as they setup computers, gently nudged peers to stay focused, and problem-solved technical difficulties.

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Hosting this many students in one day in the library was exhausting, but the help of all of these UGA students, parents, and student ambassadors made all the difference in the world.

We closed each session by connecting once again with Lindsey.  She encouraged students to use Wandoo all summer long and each group had a special visit from Winston, the Wandoo Planet mascot.  We all had fun watching Winston’s dance moves and joining in.

After saying goodbye to Lindsey, I showed students how they can continue to connect with our library all summer long by using our digital resources.  I also created a Padlet for them to post to throughout the summer.  Lindsey and Winston are going to add to the Padlet too!

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I also gave students a strongly worded statement that there’s not really an excuse to not access books and digital resources during the summer.  We have an incredible public library system that is within walking distance of most of our students. I hope they will take advantage of our public library’s many resources this summer.

Thank you Evanced Kids for creating a great tool for kids to think about their reading interests and for listening to kids in order to improve your system.  I can’t wait to see what our kids experience this summer!

Beta Testing with Wandoo Planet and Evanced Kids

Wandoo (7)Today a group of 5th grade boys Skyped with Lindsey Hill of Evanced Kids.  Recently, Matthew Winner posted on his blog about a beta testing opportunity for Wandoo Planet, a kids’ interest genome project.  I signed up to be a beta tester and it wasn’t long before I got an email inviting me to join.

I tried out the product myself and had a lot of fun clicking on the fun little characters carrying signs with words of interest.  I could give a thumbs up, thumbs down, or a heart to each sign.  This helped the program start finding other topics I might like.  When I reached a point where I felt done, the program took me to a tree with branches for each of my love categories.  Within these categories were suggested books and movies I might read or watch.  If I saw a book I knew I wouldn’t like, I could delete it so that it could be replaced by other books.  I also learned that I could add additional branches to my tree.

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This week, my tech crew of 5th grade boys tried out Wandoo Planet for themselves.  I tweeted a picture of their beta test and immediately started having a conversation with Lindsey Hill at Evanced Games.  She wanted to hear their thoughts, so we set up a time to connect.

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After some quick introductions, the boys launched right into talking about what they liked and what they wished or wondered.  The boys talked about:

  • Being able to search for specific topics rather than wait on the animals to bring the topics to them
  • Trying to cut down the time it takes to build your tree
  • Wondering which age groups the product would actually be for
  • Wondering how topics are suggested to them.
  • Wanting mini games within the program.  Educational mini games that tie to the book topics that are suggested.
  • Wanting more choices to choose from
  • Wanting to start with broader topics and narrow down to specific
  • Wanting the tool to be available on the computer, iTuness, and Google Play
  • Wanting music and sounds

The boys found out that several of their ideas and suggestions are already being worked on, but aren’t yet available in the beta version.  I loved that these students experienced the idea of a “rough draft” from their writing classrooms and how those rough drafts are being revised several times.  I want to help them make that connection more when we meet again on Tuesday.  This was a great real world example that revision impacts more than just writing a paper for class.  It’s a big part of many of our careers.

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The powerful piece in this is that these students’ voices were heard.  Lindsey told them that every comment they made was going to be carried to the developers to improve Wandoo Planet for future users of the tool.  I am really excited about this tool because I think it is one more piece to help students discover their interests, connect to books/games/movies/sites that support those interests, and more.  As a librarian, I see this being a way to give students ideas for growing the collection to include things that matter to them.

This group is going to continue to use Wandoo Planet on Tuesday and then reconnect with Lindsey on Wednesday of next week along with Shannon Miller and her students in Van Meter, Iowa.  We can’t wait!

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