Meeting of the minds

The seniors in the DIY/Maker class spent the past week working on randomly selected DS106 assignments.  The students will present their assignments and some reflection on the process Monday and Tuesday.  Based on what I’ve seen this past week, I’m looking forward to hearing what they have to say and what they’ve created.

I printed out 16 assignments on cards and had the students select an assignment in the spirit of the white elephant gift exchanges.  The students in my class are extremely nice.  No one wanted to take another person’s assignment.  There were two students who absolutely hated their first choice, and since I have no spine, I let them select another assignment.  One student selected Logos for the Zombie Apocalypse.  Another student picked How to _______.  Both asked me if it was ok if the hand drew the pieces for the assignments, and since I have no spine, I said yes.  That’s been rolling around in my head for a couple of days, and I’m interested in knowing why they didn’t want to use Photoshop or Gimp.

Since it’s pretty important to model what one asks of their students, and since I got all nostalgic by visiting the DS106 assignment bank again, I decided that I should something too.  So I did.

One of the students drew the Dancing Jim All Over the World assignment, but traded it in for something else when she discovered PhotoShop to be a little intimidating*.

Every now and again there’s a tweet, an article, a thread on a message board, a internet something that makes one stop and say, “…. the hell?”

That’s how I reacted to this tweet from Jim Groom.


It just seemed natural to dance Jim right into the UVA boardroom for this assignment.

Bava in the boardroom

Bava in the boardroom

Like most DS106 assignments, this one didn’t match my vision.  But that’s ok, because it’s still pretty rad.  Also like most DS106 assignments, this one took a lot longer than I had planned.  And that’s ok too.  A few Gimp and PhotoShop tutorials from the Interwebz assumed more knowledge than I had.  They were also several years old.  I some how ended up figuring things out myself with the help of a short, two-year old forum post (from something that I now cannot find) and the little PhotoShop knowledge that I acquired last summer.

Done.  For now.


* She did end up using PhotoShop for her other assignment.


I am Morgan Freeman (or librarians can get you things)

Last summer I did the “One Archetype, 5 Movies, 5 Seconds” DS106 assignment (with some liberties… my video lasts 18 seconds).

The more I think about it, the more I should’ve added this clip from Shawshank Redemption.

Maybe it’s brain damage from the 18 months of sleep deprivation I suffered because my son was a poor sleeper for… well… 18 months.  Maybe it’s a result of parenting a full-speed-ahead three-year-old boy.  Maybe I’m just small-minded.  Whatever the case may be, that scene from Shawshank Redemption runs through my head pretty often while I do my work.

I’m a librarian (in case you’re new here).  More specifically, I’m a librarian in an independent school.  I find that on a daily basis I experience some kind of work-related existential crisis.

Sometimes the existential crisis is triggered by a conversation that goes something like this:

Student: “I have to write my Honors English paper.  I have two paragraphs written.  I don’t know what I’m going to write for my third paragraph.  I need another source.”

Me:  “When is your paper due?”

Student:  “Today.”

Me:  “Yikes.  What are your sources?”

Student:  “The book and some education web site.”

Me:  [thinking to myself, ‘WTF?’] “Have you looked at any of the subscription databases?”

Student:  “Like JSTOR?  No.”

Picard face palm
Picard face palm

My frustration doesn’t lie with this student who has waited until the last minute to write this paper (turns out that it was the rough draft that was due today).  My frustration lies in the existence of the research paper.  In this case it seems so….  pointless.  The student isn’t invested in the topic.  The student knows how to game the research paper assignment.  An article from The Huffington Post is accepted as a legitimate source.  Why go through the hassle of searching a subscription database when you can just throw a couple of words in a Google search and come up with 1000-word McArticle?

I don’t know how I feel about it.  One one hand, using HuffPo or The Guardian probably best represents how the average person satiates his/her curiosity in something they’re only mildly interested in once he/she leaves school.  Maybe it’s authentic–representative of how we operate when we’re not being graded.

On the other hand, I’m appalled.

I think my main source of friction lies in the traditional research paper.  It seems so meaningless.  I say this as someone who liked writing research papers in both high school and college.  Admittedly all of my selected topics were pedestrian: “The Role of Women in ____” or “How the City is Portrayed in ____.”

My god I could crank those papers out.

It wasn’t the exploration of the literature that I loved.  It was the hunt for information.  Following the breadcrumbs.

I guess that’s why I do what I do now.

If I can’t find, the article “Prevention of Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injury in Athletes: a Review” in the school’s subscription databases, where can I get it?  How kind is the open web for a request like that?*

Being a librarian is a lot like being a private investigator.  Or it’s like being “Ellis Boyd ‘Red’ Redding” from The Shawshank Redemption.

We’ve been known to locate things from time to time.  And I’m not just talking about books or academic articles.  Librarians are the mother effing Power of Pull.  Here’s a broad assumption: if a person decides to go to library school, odds are that person had trouble committing to just one subject area.

OK.  The point….  I think….

Librarians are about matchmaking.

Flickr photo by Brandon Christopher Warren (cc license)
Flickr photo by Brandon Christopher Warren (cc license)

Librarians are about putting the person with the right piece of information–the right thing–at just the right time.  Sometimes that information/thing is a book.  Sometimes it’s an article.  Sometimes it’s just showing a student with a little bit of downtime how the Makerbot or a Makey Makey works and watching them play for a little bit.

It’s always about inspiration.  Or at least it should be.  There is nothing more uninspired than a student jumping through hoops to complete the tired, meaningless research paper.  I think it’s time to offer more options.

I’m having a hard time making a point.

Here’s what I’m trying to say:

While I believe in the traditional roles of the librarian–embedding information literacy and information seeking within the curriculum (just to name a few)–I think students are better served when teachers and librarians collaborate to tap into the resources that engage the student.

As Erin White so eloquently tweets, the librarian is uniquely positioned to match people with information, technology, and other people.  The librarian can bridge disciplines.

If a student is writing about science in Cat’s Cradle, maybe it would be more interesting to let that student contact local scientists and technologists and find out their opinions on science for science’s sake or science with purpose and then compile those interviews into an edited documentary or audio essay.

At the end of the day, this is what I want for the students I work with and my son who will one day be going to school somewhere: (1) an environment that encourages the exploration of passions/rabbit holes/questions (2) an environment that allows for choice (3) an environment that provides time, a place for solitude, and a place for collaboration (4) an environment that that understands and values the significance of stocked knowledge, information flows, and networks and one’s ability to navigate and pull from those very different pools at just the right time.


*Turns out, not very.  Though I did eventually find the article.  Because I am awesome.

The first rule of knit club…

A couple of teachers started a knitting club for students, facult, and staff.  A reminder email went out earlier in the week.  Tuesday night I ventured into the attic to pull out some yarn that I’ve stored away for the past three years.  I dusted off some knitting needles and cast on.

It was, as they say, like riding a bike.  God love you muscle memory.

I joined the knitters during the 45-minute clubs and committees period.  Kids passed by.  Some of them exclaimed, “I used to knit!”  Some of them said, “Oh!  I want to learn how to do that.”  A couple of kids sat down and called up their knitting stories.  A grandmother was often involved.  One of the history teachers–a self-proclaimed dabbler in the fibrous arts–pulled up a seat, showed off a picture of a quilt he made during a minimester in college.

Making: bringing people together since the beginning of time.

As stories were told, I knitted for the first time since 2009.  It all came out perfect.  No stitches were dropped.  A row that was pearled rather than knitted was fixed in a couple of minutes without help from anyone or a tutorial on Youtube.

swatch of simple stockinette stitch

That feels good.

I won’t deny feeling lost or adrift as of late.  Unmoored is a word my more educated colleague used.  Somewhere along the line I decided that it would be cool to learn about Arduino and Raspberry Pi.  Yes, I’d like to know how to solder a circuit board.  In fact, I’d like to know about resistors and capacitors and 555 timers.  Mastering WordPress sounded like a good plan too.  And because I know very little to nothing about any of the aforementioned things, it all seems very doable.  That it until one sits down with an electronics manual and quickly finds that the spare hour dedicated to doing this stuff has passed, and there’s no free time anywhere in the near future to pick it up again.

I’m doing this “learning new stuff” thing wrong.

I’m hesitant to say it, but maybe the question is why do I want to learn this new stuff anyway?  Is it just curiosity?  If so, can it wait until my son is in college (or at least old enough so we can figure it out together… assuming Arduinos are where Jobot’s interests lie).  Do I think it’s worthwhile to know this stuff so that I can share it with kids at school?  Yes, definitely, but do I need to be the ‘expert?*’

There was a time when curiosity was enough.  Though curiosity without free time creates nothing but dilettantes and wishes.

* Yes.  Yes I do.

It’s Friday, you ain’t got no job…

I do have a job.  I have plenty to do too, but I’m starting to get that “all work and no play” feeling.

It’s been a while since I’ve done any Daily Creates though I have been peeking at them on a regular basis.  TDC282 popped up a few days ago, and I immediately added “find footage of Mitt Romney on phone” to my to-do list.  I also did a mental scan of the city.  I have no idea where one could find a pay phone.  Do they still exist?  What are the demographics of Maroon 5 fans?  Would said fans even know what that “Payphone” song is about?  Does Maroon 5 fans?

I finally got around to making and shipping the idea Friday night.  I “filmed” parts of it with my iPod Touch, and didn’t think to shoot horizontally.  Tsk tsk.

I borrowed the Mitt Romney footage from here.

So that was fun.  I’d like to see Mitt Romney as a DS106 open participant.  What would he do with Big Bird and binders?


Crazy random happenstance (or, “I was motivated by guilt”)

When the cat is away, the mouse will either clean the house, watch a movie, or read Photoshop tutorials and do DS106 assignments.  The husband is at the Chesapeake Central Library 2012 Monsterfest.

photo from the Chesapeake Central Library

I am bored to tears.

Last week at school I encountered a project that required the use of Photoshop.  I really have no excuse for not being completely comfortable with Photoshop and Gimp.  But since I hate to read instructions, I find myself fumbling through both programs when I’m called to use them.  Enough of that.  It’s time to get serious.  I settled in with Photoshop Essentials, and decided to rework the album cover assignment from Camp Magic Macguffin.

I’ve been thinking about Galeophobia’s album cover over the past week or so.  I used Befunky to create the photo effects.  I’ve been feeling totally guilty about that after reading a blog post by Alan Levine.

No one dishes out the guilt quite like Alan Levine (evidence below):

I read through a few of the basic tutorials about layers.  Photoshop layers make a lot more sense once you know how they work and what can be done with them.  Here’s the album cover for “More Than the Intelligence Quotient” by the band Robert Finch:

album cover for More than the intelligence quotient by the band Robert Finch

photo courtesy of Ingrid Eulenfan (Flickr)

I added a subtle diffused glow to the photo.  It was enough.  I think Ingrid Eulenfan‘s photo combined with the quote from Eugene S. Wilson.

It was crazy, random happenstance that the image and text fit together so well.

Stuff to work on: design (that font is awful and not placed well) and storytelling.

The shape of stories

I spent a little time this Friday evening thinking about Vonnegut’s theories on the shapes of stories.

I pulled Cormac McCarthy’s The Road off the shelf and plotted out the graph using some quotes from the book.  The Road was my first introduction to Cormac McCarthy.  I’ve read it through twice and picked it up often to read random passages every now and again.  Now that I’m a parent, I can’t read the book without feeling like someone has punched me in the gut over and over and over again, so I tend to stay away from it.

Since I feel like I know the book pretty well, I figured I’d map out the story’s shape.  Seeing as how it’s all post-apocalyptic and stuff, you can probably predict what the graph will look like.  Here’s a picture to help:

Figuring the shape of The Road

It’s really not a happy story.

I used a few short passages from the book to illustrate the lows and the lowers.  Here are the four passages I selected (from L to R):

“Nights dark beyond darkness and the days more gray each than what had gone before.”

I’d say that suggests ill fortune, no?

“He looked down at the boy and when he looked back toward the road the first of them were already coming into view.”

Things get worse.  Novels, movies, comics, etc. suggest that the last thing you want to encounter in a post-apocalyptic world is other people.

“He got out a bowl of biscuits covered with a handtowel and a plate of butter…”

Food is found.  Things are looking up.

“They went on.  Treading the dead world like rats on a wheel.  The nights dead still and deader black.  So cold.”

Walking with no particular destination sounds pretty awful.  Enduring dark, cold nights knowing there’s a child to protect sounds awful still.

If you’re unfamiliar with The Road it’s about a boy and his father.  The two are on the road, heading south along the east coast in hopes of finding a place that hasn’t been decimated by an unnamed disaster.  Despite the bleakness, there is beautiful tenderness between the father and son.  The father, I think, has the same wants as any parent.  He wants the best for his kid.  He wants his kid to be safe.  This quote has stuck with me since I read the book back in 2006: “He knew only that the child was his warrant.  He said: If he is not the word of God God never spoke.”

Imagine the pressure if there are cannibals in the picture.