After the release of my new book, Teaching Coding through Game Creation, I was thrilled to be invited to write an article on the topic for VOYA Magazine. The article, "Game Coding for the Win!" appears in this month's (June, 2019) issue and presents both an argument for coding clubs in libraries and a step by step guide that youth librarians can use to teach their first game coding class.
One of the beautiful things about America is that we provide free and compulsory schooling, which, theoretically, is supposed to produce an educated voting base. Whether that actually happens or not is a topic for a different day, but one thing that certainly does happen is that as adults we all have strong opinions about what school should be based on our own experiences. Over the last few years two subjects continuously pop-up for debate, cursive and coding.
Extras or Essentials?
Cursive and computer science are not mutually exclusive subjects. A school system could certainly teach both, and contrary to the misleading mantra that “schools don’t teach cursive anymore”, many do. I compare them, however, because both could be seen as “extras”, but also represent skill sets valuable and unique to their respective times. At one point in our not too distant past, handwriting in general and cursive in particular were key to communicating effectively and participating in society. Likewise, computer science skills are now essential tools to engage fully in our modern world. It’s true that the Common Core State Standards omit mention of cursive writing and includes keyboarding as essential, but this is simply replacing one finite, small motor task with another. Like cursive, the Common Core largely ignores Computer Science apart from urging educators to integrate technology.
To provide the how of computer science education, the non-profit International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) created the most widely recognized and adopted standards to guide technology education in schools. One of their major points of emphasis is Digital Citizenship, a point shared by the American Association of School Librarians Standards for the 21st Century Learner. The information and technology educators of the ISTE and AASL recognize the need for students to be able to fully engage with a diverse digital world. This includes ethical issues such as avoiding plagiarism, understanding digital content licensing and respecting intellectual freedom, as well as communication and collaboration behaviors such as seeking out and respecting diverse viewpoints and participating in personal learning networks and community discussions.
Proponents of teaching cursive in schools argue the fair point that students should be able to decipher historical documents, primary sources like the Declaration of Independence or their grandparents’ war time correspondence. These examples rely on an ability to read cursive, but what they’re really emphasizing is information literacy, the ability to conduct research, analyze, synthesize and evaluate sources. Consider the even broader ramifications for those without these digital citizenship skills. According to a 2014 study commissioned by the American Press Institute and the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, “7 in 10 adults under age 30 say they learned news through social media in the last week.” When combined with the Indiana University discovery that that “people who seek out news and information from social media are at higher risk of becoming trapped in a “collective social bubble” compared to using search engines,” it becomes clear that the constant regurgitating of disreputable information among insular online groups is not the way to move our democracy forward into productive discussion. Rich computer and information science education in the area of digital citizenship helps information seekers both recognize trustworthy sources and engage with others fruitfully in online environments.
A Little Bit Goes a Long Way
For some students, their future digital engagement may be limited to using prebuilt forums and tools, yet possessing some basic coding skill opens up future possibilities for digital citizens, just as reading cursive opens up access to the past. Knowing a little code allows technology users to break free of many constraints, but more importantly, those with some coding experience have a better understanding of some of the critical intellectual freedom issues facing our society today. Is Apple right that creating a backdoor for the FBI would be disastrous for security? What is the hacker group Anonymous really doing when they say that they’re going to take on Isis or the KKK? What does Open Source really mean, and who owns my contributions? Those who can code are also in the position to create their own content, from video games to apps to robots and innovations. Sure, not everyone will become a professional computer engineer, but everyone benefits from some knowledge. Not everyone needs to be an accountant, but we all have to pay taxes.
But if I had to choose…
I’ll admit it; I’m a little skeptical that everyone needs to learn cursive. Most of us don’t even sign our names in anything remotely resembling the cursive we were taught in school, and more and more important documents, such as taxes, can be digitally signed. I appreciate the beauty of good penmanship, and I experience a certain nostalgia reading family history in my grandmother’s lovely hand. I also think calligraphy is aesthetically pleasing, and I’m impressed by the illuminated manuscripts of the middle ages, but the invention and use of the printing press was a more widely impactful technology that led to greater societal knowledge. So, while I don’t think there necessarily needs to be a competition between cursive and keyboard, if I were forced, as many school districts with limited budgets and time are, I would choose keyboarding every time. Why? Because keyboarding is a gateway to information and technology literacy, computer science, coding, digital citizenship, all of it. Still, the keyboard is only the currently predominate input mode to interact with computers. Voice commands, touch screens and other alternative methods may someday soon surpass keyboarding. So, rather than attaching ourselves to a particular tool, let’s think about our desired outcomes.
The point of keyboarding is to be able to interact with the computer and through it, the world. When we talk about coding in colloquial terms, we’re talking about playing around with computer programming, creating self-driven knowledge and building real-world solutions. This past week I led the second session of a video game creation class for 7-10 yrlds. In the first class, students were learning how the programming environment worked. We talked through basic components of making a game, how to program objects to move using common commands and screen coordinates, order of operations, etc… It was wonderful to see the their glowing faces as they created something that could be recognized as a game, but when they returned for the second class I was pumped to watch them independently dive in and attempt customizations, see them collaborate to figure out solutions, and best of all, vocalize to me and to each other why something worked or didn’t. These are students who, if they continue on this path, will enter their chosen professions fearlessly. They’ll be able to use the logic and lifelong learning skills they strengthened in computer science class to create websites for their small businesses, design and program clean energy solutions for their homes, and create 3 dimensional learning environments in which their children will learn. Who knows, they may even create lessons on cursive.
So, does the next evolution of librarian-ing include science?
It’s about how to think.
(Originally Posted Tuesday, April 15th, 2014)
Last week I attended a poetry reading by former Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky at Playhouse Square. He appeared as part of the Writer’s Center Stage series that is a fundraiser for the Cuyahoga County Public Library Foundation. Anyway, while his poems were, not surprisingly, impressive, as was his remarkable intellect and cultural knowledge, the moment that stood out to me most was during the Q&A portion of the evening. A young MFA student approached and asked for advice about allowing sentimentality in poems, which is, apparently, out of vogue. (Not that any angst ridden teens would know)
Nodding sagely at the confines placed around talent, Robert Pinsky uttered this gem:
He went on of course and further answered the young man’s question in context of poetry, but for me this was it, the whole point of the evening.
Earlier in the day I had answered questions about my management style. These types of questions always lead me to wonder how accurately any of us describe our own leadership styles. Do we describe who we are as leaders, or who we want to be? I want to be the type of leader who provides the vision and coaching needed to achieve organizational goals and help team members grow professionally. But, I know I have a tendency to want things done the “correct way.” I have to focus to make sure I remain a coach who facilitates another’s learning and growth, rather than slipping into a pacesetter and authoritarian.
While we were on vacation my friend Reagan found me the best cozy (or koozie for my friends and family in the South). It read:
I’m not in charge. I just know what you should be doing.
The thing is, everything I believe in about the best way people learn, and what I know to be the best way I learn, is for the learner to be at the center, actively participating…doing the learning. I have to make sure not to take that away from staff either. If I prescribe every step or override too much, I’m not only taking away my colleagues’ chances to learn from potential failures, I’m removing the opportunity to discover new strategies and solutions from others. Just like in the classroom, I need to be the guide on the side instead of the sage on the stage.
A little over a year ago a group of us from my division went to a workshop at Case Western Reserve called Leadership as a Conversation. At one point the facilitator asked us to think of the person who has been the greatest leader in our lives. Then he said, I can guarantee you that this person made you feel smarter and more capable. Yep.
I’ve been fortunate in my career to have a number of great supervisors who focused less on their bossiness and more on empowering their team members and growing their strengths, even if that meant growing them up and out of their own departments. Coaching managers use crucial conversations to lead, whether those conversations are with colleagues that they supervise, colleagues who supervise them, or stakeholders outside their reporting structure. These leaders nurture talent by listening and asking right questions. For instance, instead of responding to a colleague’s proposal with, “I don’t see how that can work with our budget,” the question, “How do you see that working with our budget?” gives room for creative problem solving and prioritizing by the employee.
Over the last few years I’ve been to dozens of library conferences and heard headliners such as Sir Ken Robinson, John Seely Brown, Artie Isaac, and Mimi Ito all talk about the need to celebrate and nurture creativity, problem-solving, critical thinking, and communication, the skills that will help us innovate and thrive as a species, let alone as workers. The library profession has bought into this whole hog. We all nod and smile and create our innovative-just-like-everyone-else makerspaces for our teens to build those 21st Century skills in Connected Learning environments, and that’s great. But, somewhere along the way we failed to recognize the flaw in our approach.
How are we to grow creativity in others if we remain rigid ourselves?
Most library systems are operating with the same basic staffing structure (although, most likely with fewer staff) as they were 10 years ago, heck, 20 years ago, or more! If my grandmother came into a contemporary library today, she might not even recognize it as a library, but I bet she would completely comprehend the job descriptions for the library staff.
If we truly want to innovate and remain (or become) a relevant resource in our customers lives, we need to be as ruthlessly creative about everything we take for granted in libraries, particularly with the roles of staff. We need to take a page out of the start-up book and hire for attitude and aptitude, rather than a satisfactorily completed checklist of experiences and easily acquired knowledge. It doesn’t really matter if a new hire knows this particular piece of software today because it’s going to change tomorrow and every day for the rest of our lives. By the same token, libraries everywhere are guilty of hiring for management “experience” rather than aptitude. You may have completely demoralized your former team and driven off some of the best talent, but if you officially signed off on time cards, congratulations, you’re hired. A former supervisor once asked me to be a reference for her because she felt it was as much, if not more, important for a future employer to hear from one of her subordinates as it was to hear from her superior. I couldn’t agree more.
Unfortunately, good leaders may receive little praise. If we truly engage our team members and facilitate their best efforts they may come to see us as just staying out of the way, and that’s okay. “First, do no harm,” is a minimum standard to which organization members at all levels should aspire. But, if we wish to aim higher, we need to encourage creativity by fostering an atmosphere of experimentation; that means loosening hierarchies, moving from just having an open door to inviting folks in. We need to commend those who notice areas in which we could improve and suggest ways to do so, and we need to particularly praise those who follow good ideas through to completion, even if we didn’t quite believe it would work out. Not only do staff members need room for failure, they also need room for success. We have to be strong and confident enough as leaders to embrace challenges to our assumptions and encourage our colleagues at all levels to think critically and creatively. After all, we can’t do anything great unless we do.
I’m exhausted. After working all day Friday, on my day off I woke up early to drive downtown, get a parking ticket while I figured out where I was supposed to park, haul about a 100 pounds of tech equipment from one end of Cleveland State to the other, spend 2 hours setting up and taping down cords, run around the classroom for 4 hours teaching, then haul it back away.
Why do I do these things to myself?
Well, for starters, because someone asked.
About 3 weeks ago an organizer of the 2nd Annual Boys to Men Summit called up. Her son had enjoyed participating in robotics at the library, and she wanted to get these young men involved. These young men, ages 10-17, were voluntarily giving up their Saturday to come and enrich themselves. On the day of the event, however, it quickly became apparent that some of these young men were not so voluntarily participating. Or at least, that’s what their slouched, disinterested body language implied.
I found myself having a grumpy old adult moment, wanting to wag my finger and admonish the students for not being grateful for my hard work and sacrifice, let alone that of all the hard working adults who had volunteered to organize this event. My inner voice screamed, “Do you know what I had to go through to bring all this stuff here!?”
But the thing is, they didn’t. And why should they really care? No one asked them if they wanted to come to the whole event, or even which sessions they wanted to attend. I expect that many of them were shamed into coming rather than celebrated for making a good choice. Focusing on forcing gratitude from individuals who are rarely recipients of gratitude is a folly that should seem evident, but, unfortunately, is a scene that is repeated over and over again between adults and teens.
I’ve been providing consulting to a library board that is working toward finding positive ways to engage teens. Recently, a renovation of the library led to a creation of a teen space. Unfortunately, someone (of course, not necessarily a teen since it wasn’t witnessed) vandalized some of the furniture. Many of the staff entered into the classic gratitude folly. “See what happens? We spent all this money and the teens aren’t even grateful enough to respect the space!”
It’s a perfectly natural feeling. It’s the same feeling that I expect mothers of young children have daily, when, sleep deprived, sticky haired and still adapting to the changes that birthing a baby has brought to their bodies, they stifle the urge to scream back at their toddlers who wail about the cruelty of having to take the nap that their moms desperately want themselves.
Here’s the thing. We do hold back, usually, with little ones. Why? Because we know that they don’t know better. We know that we have to be the adults. We know that they have very little control over their lives, and that must be particularly frustrating when their toddler brains are hard wired to push them to constantly test boundaries.
With teens it’s somehow harder. Like toddlers, their brains are hard wired to test as part of the brain’s transition from childhood brain to adult brain. Like toddlers, they have limited limb coordination, sometimes smell, and often react to the lack of control over their own lives with tantrums. Maybe it’s because they’re chronologically closer to adults, or because they’re in bigger bodies, or, because being around teenagers reminds many of us of our own, often not so pleasant, teenage years and experiences, but when faced with sullen teenagers, most adults will revert to curmudgeon mode. This rarely returns a good result.
Perhaps it would help us to think of teens as hidden toddlers, like the little alien inside the mechanical body in the first Men in Black movie. The same strategies work then. If faced with unpleasant behavior from the toddler/teen, we model the pleasant behavior that we wish to receive in return, we redirect when needed, avoid engaging in argument, and, perhaps most importantly, we remain confident, knowing that our fully formed adult brains and numerous life experiences give us the strength to be the leaders needed in any situation.
The point of the Boys 2 Men Summit was not, in fact, to celebrate my sacrifices and hard work, but instead to introduce the young men to positive activities and light the spark of learning. After an internal deep breath I redirected my focus. Call me stubborn, but I was not about to let teen angst or adult narcissism get in the way of us having some fun with robots. I had, after all, put in a great deal of effort to get them there…
So I ignored the sticks and stones looks and got to work talking with, and not to, the students. Once we worked together to problem solve and successfully run the first program on their robots, we were up and running. In every class that day, within the first 10 minutes, 90% of the students were hooked. Of course, it helps to have a lesson plan design that calls for creativity and critical thinking, and, quite frankly, robots are about the coolest redirect option ever. Who doesn’t want to play with a robot?
But, even given that, in each class there was at least one student who never allowed himself to display interest, happiness or joy. Note the word display in the previous sentence. There are many reasons why a person would not advertise positive feelings, particularly when surrounded by unknown males, many of whom come from tough neighborhoods. Our job as adult leaders is to focus on the goal and encourage appropriate behaviors. Using clean language, following the class rules, and doing the class activities were the required behaviors. Smiling was not a required behavior, but it was desired. It’s unlikely I would be rewarded with a smile if I returned surliness for surliness. Like the poster my mom hung in my room as a little girl said, “We must offer our hand if we are to touch another’s heart.”
Still, like toddlers, clear and consistent boundaries are key. It’s not only okay to address problem behaviors, it’s vital. Likewise is demonstrating appropriate sharing of feelings. For instance, “I’m going to ask you to take your headphones out for our time together because when you wear them I don’t feel like we can communicate as well.” Calm, confident I statements do the trick more often than not.
All of these things are not new to me. I’ve been working with teens for 15 years! I’m an unabashed teen advocate, who truly loves this age group, yet this is not the first time, nor will it be the last time that I’ve had to remind myself of my best practices or tell myself to woman up and be the adult. Teens are a royal mess. There are so many factors trying to screw them up from hormones, brain development, negative peer influences, unrealistic expectations, future pressures, and on and on. Unfortunately, around teens, adults can become a bit of a mess too, focusing more on our own insecurities than the teens we’re meant to be strengthening. We shouldn’t expect perfection from ourselves anymore than we should expect it from teens.
What we should do is remind ourselves, in our weak moments, that we are not here to be admired, thanked or celebrated; we are here to serve a larger purpose, the successful transitioning of children into resilient adults. In the words of Dr. King, “Everybody can be great, because anybody can serve.” The trick is to focus on the service and the greatness of the cause and the greatness of the kids rather than the greatness of the adult leader. Serving teens requires a unique blend of confidence and humility mixed with an ample dose of empathy. Sometimes I won’t get the recipe just right, but I’m going to keep on cooking.
Transferred from former blog MsKallDay
Thursday, August 8, 2013
I had the pleasure of presenting today to the North Coast Council, a consortium of greater Cleveland-ish school librarians. This is a great group of dedicated professionals who are the unsung heroes who hold schools together and help prepare youth and teachers for the 21st Century.
Anyway, I was asked to present about resources to support early literacy. With the 3rd Grade Reading Guarantee looming, many educators are looking for additional supports. My presentation,
Get in Touch With Literacy: Cheap & Pre-Paid Apps toward 3rd Grade Reading,
highlighted resources available from Cuyahoga County Public Library such as downloadables, TumbleBooks and Bookflix, but also highlighted app games and interactive books.
One of the points I emphasized was the impact possible when interactive books are “considerate texts” meaning that the interactivity, the child’s interaction, drives the story and strengthens the child’s comprehension and interest. A good example would the be how Grover engages with readers of There’s A Monster at the End of this App, each desperate plea he makes for readers not to turn the page, or to remove barriers has exactly the opposite effect on readers.
Transferred from former blog MsKallDay
I was recently asked to present about the path CCPL took to be a contender for the IMLS Medal at the Take 5 Conference. Such a broad topic and long and detailed story was tricky to sum into a few brief minutes, and the scope is barely touched with the slides from the presentation, How to Be Awesome Like Us. (yes, it’s seriously called that)
One of the topics I touched on was the idea of Future Facing Facilities. In June of 2010, the Cuyahoga County Public Library Board voted to adopt the Facilities Master Plan, the “most significant building improvement program in the Library’s history”. You can read all about the details of the plan and even see preliminary drawings for upcoming projects and images from completed projects at the link above. The main goals of the Facilities Master Plan are:
- To ensure the Library’s financial stability into the future and to reduce operating costs through efficient building design.
- To create centers of excellence.
- To establish equity of service throughout the Library system.
Before I go on, I should add that the opinions expressed here on out are my own and not necessarily those of my employer.
There are many awesome, flashy things in the new buildings, such as an audio recording booth at Warrensville, a video recording studio at Garfield, gaming stations in youth areas, digital signage, etc.., etc..
These things are all fabulous. Of course, I’m a little bit biased since I had a hand in them, ahem. But, what I think is the crucial piece of the concept of forward facing design is recognizing the spirit of current human behavior, rather than accommodating any particular current behavior. So, yes, currently, customer demand for pc use is extremely high, so yes, we’ll put in a whole bunch of pcs, but that is an example of being responsive to current need. An anticipatory piece of that, however, is putting gigabit connections into new buildings so that we’re ready for the next jump in digital streaming.
Recognizing that people are always going to want places to physically congregate and that need is probably going to be much higher than their need for physical stuff to borrow from the library after the digital revolution is an example of future facing design.
So, instead of maintaining the old school library design that celebrated materials in tall, intimidating shelves that dominated the public floor. Physical collections are wrapped around and intwined into social spaces. Instead of building a space that’s perfect for books, future facing facilities designers build spaces that are perfect for people.
This is only one example of many, and I’d love to hear your thoughts about what customer needs will be important in the future how libraries can anticipate them in physical spaces.
Contact me via @MsKAllDay
transferred from former blog MsKallDay
Friday, May 17th 2013