A Library Start-up Year in Review

As the school year came to a close, I thought it important to reflect on the progress that we have made in developing an effective library facility and in delivering excellent services to our school community thus far. Often working in isolation or only intermittently with various constituencies in a school, the work that we do in libraries can sometimes fly under the radar. The annual report that I’ve drafted (below) is an attempt to highlight some of the work that we have been doing. There are of course still many challenges ahead, some of which I’ve attempted to identify in the report, but I feel that on the whole, we have accomplished a great deal over the past ten months.

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Google Teacher Academy

Sydney, I barely saw thee.

Sydney, I barely saw thee. © Brian Farrell

The past few months have been quite busy, but most definitely busy in a very good way.

After attending the Apple Distinguished Educator Institute in Bali in March, I was fortunate enough to also be accepted to the most recent Google Teacher Academy as part of the Google Certified Teacher program. Completing these two programs so close to each other gave me a better understanding of the ethos of both companies and how they are supporting education, and I know that I have already benefited and grown professionally from these events.

The Google Teacher Academy, held at Google’s offices in Sydney, was a very intense few days, but I certainly appreciated the hands-on sessions and practical nature of the event. All of our discussions seemed to be very much rooted in growing our pedagogical practices, and there was a buzz of energy as people shared how they are using Google’s products to enhance learning in their classrooms.

What I probably appreciated most about my experiences at Google was the collaborative nature of our activities there. Googlers (Google employees) and lead learners (Google Certified Teacher alumni) worked together with us to regularly share and learn from one another. Much like what I could garner from the culture of Google itself, there was a very flat hierarchy and an openness to working together regardless of position or stature. This learning continues online within the network of connections that I have now established with fellow Google Certified Teachers.

The next Google Teacher Academy will be held in late July in Chicago, and I would fully encourage anyone who is working with Google tools in their classrooms to consider applying. While intense, the event itself and the community it connects you with represent an incredible opportunity to grow your understanding of educational technology and how it enhances learning.

Google Art Project

Image

Tokyo © Brian Farrell

About two weeks ago, I had the fortune of attending and presenting at the Tokyo Google Apps for Education Summit. The event was a bit of a whirlwind weekend, and I walked away with plenty of ideas and plenty of admiration for what a lot of other fantastic educators are already doing in their schools.

One resource that I keep talking about to people after the summit is the Google Art Project. On this site, Google has collected hundreds of extremely high resolution images of major works of art from around the world. Each work has an accompanying description, links to relevant videos, and many even allow you to zoom out into a Google Streetview mode where you’re standing in front of the work in its gallery. The level of detail in these images is incredible, and for many, is likely greater than what you would be able to perceive with your eye even when standing right in front of the painting. There are many obvious applications for how this resource could be used in art classrooms, but there’s a great deal of relevance for history and geography lessons as well, particularly when you start to examine the descriptions and notes behind each work.

As with anything, there are a couple of things that could be improved on with the site (the artists are listed by first name for some reason, and there are some major works missing), but this is a tremendous free resource that every teacher should be aware of. Many thanks to Jim Sill for introducing me to this fantastic site!

Apple Distinguished Educator Class of 2013

See you in Bali in March?

See you in Bali in March?

Well it would seem that the third time’s a charm. After applying over several years to join the Apple Distinguished Educator (ADE) program, I’ve been officially accepted into the class of 2013. I’ve documented my previous attempts to enter the program here on my blog, and continue to get numerous hits every day on that post from people seeking information about the program. Thanks to your feedback on my previous attempts, I was able to fine-tune my application this year, and better express what it means to me to use technology effectively in education.

I’ve had a chance to poke around in the ADE community site a bit already, and am really encouraged by what I’ve seen so far. The ADE network is a community of forward-thinking educators that are genuinely engaging with technology in their classroom in ways that make a real difference to student understanding. I’m proud to be joining this group, and am already looking forward to our institute together in March.

Maybe I’ll see you there?

Google Apps Tips & Tricks

With an eye towards eventually applying to be a Google Apps Certified Trainer, I’ve been working my way through the various training modules for initial individual Google Apps certification. While I’ve been using Google Apps for many years, and in many different school and individual settings, the training modules have been providing me with great tips on how to improve my use of these tools and reminding me of some of the best practices that I’ve already seen in place. I thought it would be worthwhile sharing five of my favourite Google Apps customization tips with you here:

1. Putting your vacation responder to work

If you’re like me, you can often get many people emailing you asking for the same information (e.g. passwords to get in to a site that your school subscribes to). Have your Google Apps administrator create a new account (call it something like ‘passwords@yourschool.com’), and then set up the vacation responder in this account with the information that you’d like to provide to everyone. You can customize this so that it only responds to messages from your school’s email domain, solving any concerns about releasing information to external parties. Once everyone in your school is aware of the address to use for this, they’ll be able to get instant access to passwords or whatever other general information you’d like to share without always having to email you.

Labs for Google Calendar

Labs for Google Calendar

2. Labs in Calendar

You may have played with some of the experimental labs in Gmail already, but did you realize that there are also great lab add-ons available in Google Calendar? These are experimental features that you can add on to your calendar to better customize it for your needs. Click on the gear icon in the top right and select ‘labs’ to have a look at what’s available. ‘Year View’, ‘Event Flair’, ‘Next Meeting’, and ‘Event Attachments’ are some personal favourites.

 

3. Offline Apps

If you’re using Chrome as your browser, you can add apps to allow access to your Gmail, Calendar, and Google Drive even when you’re offline. You aren’t able to edit things in Google Drive when offline unfortunately, but this is still a handy feature to access your work when you aren’t able to connect (e.g. sitting on a plane).

Calendar Quick Add

4. Quick Add events in Calendar

Using the q key as a shortcut allows you to quickly add events to your calendar. Press q and then type your event in the pop up box just as you would relate the information to anyone else. For example, typing ‘Meeting Friday with bobsmith@hotmail.com from 3pm to 4pm’ will create an event in your calendar with all of this information. There are a few tricks to getting the syntax just right, but this can be a great way to create events without searching through your calendar first.

5. Adding on additional apps

That ‘more’ tab at the end of your toolbar list of Google Apps is just waiting for you to customize it. Many products that you may already be using in your school (e.g. EasyBib, BrainPOP) can be added to this list, allowing everyone to access them without needing to enter a password. Ask your Google Apps administrator to add these (in can take a little while to update) after having a look through the Google Apps Marketplace.

These are just a few ways of making the Google Apps experience even better. Even if you don’t intend to seek training as a Google Apps Certified Trainer or even the initial individual Google Apps certification, the training materials on the Google Apps for Education Training Center have a wealth of information, and are definitely worth a read.

Starting From Scratch

Open Road © Brian Farrell

I am incredibly privileged to be embarking on a tremendous new challenge this school year. As part of the foundation staff of Branksome Hall Asia in Jeju, Korea, I have been charged with developing a whole school library facility and program. The facilities that have been created at the school are world class and truly remarkable (pictures to follow once all of the furnishings are in!), and my task now is to outfit and create a library and library programming that fits the needs of our learners.

In approaching this task, I’ve begun with a needs analysis to better articulate the end goals that I should be working towards. This processes is easier said than done since our students don’t arrive on campus for another month, but I’m beginning to understand Branksome, its rich heritage, and how it will differ from other international schools. The Branksome library will serve a unique group of learners, as the majority of our students will be:
– Korean girls
– Boarding students
– Using English as an additional language
– Unfamiliar with the International Baccalaureate and its three programs (we are a PYP, MYP, and DP candidate school)
– Connected with Branksome Hall in Toronto through exchanges and regular collaboration

With these traits in mind, I am aiming to create a library and library programming that is accessible (both physically and virtually – we will need to offer in-person services for resident students outside of the traditional school day, and I feel it’s critical that I’m accessible across the school outside of the physical library space), globally-minded, welcoming, and enriching to student growth and understanding.

As the year progresses, the needs of our community will become more clear, but I’m hopeful that the resources and systems that I am developing for our initial start-up will provide a good foundation to build upon. It’s such a great opportunity to have a blank canvas to draw on, particularly when you feel fully supported by your school administration, and I have a million ideas already bouncing around in my head about wonderful things that we can offer as a library.

Having said all of this, one thing that’s critical to developing a library space and programming that’s used and valued is soliciting input and feedback from our entire community. So this post is just one of many attempts to garner input; what would you want from your school library? How can the library best support your classroom practice, and how can it inspire a love of reading? What resources are critical to building understanding and developing the skills that we want to instill in our future graduates? I’m asking all of these questions of myself, but am looking forward to also hearing as many other opinions as possible.

A Year Later

Today marked one year since the Tohoku earthquake. Over the past few weeks, most of us in Japan have been rethinking all that has happened in the days since, and all that remains to be done to try to bring a sense of normalcy back to the people of Tohoku. As much as those of us in the rest of Japan have resorted to our routines, there still remains a great deal of physical need in many communities, and the emotional turmoil will continue to take its toll for many years to come.

So this sunny and calm afternoon, we gathered in our neighbourhood seaside park to observe a moment of silence and reflect upon all that has been lost and the hope for what might become. At 2:46pm, a hush fell across the park as the gathered crowd turned to face the sea and bowed its collective head.

But after only a few fleeting seconds of silence, the Hikawa Maru, a former ocean liner that sits permanently moored beside the park as a tourist attraction, blasted its horn loudly across the harbour. Far from a moment of silence, we had a moment of loud reverence for the power of nature and its ability to change and erase lives in an instant. Although I’ve lived a couple of blocks away from the Hikawa Maru for several years, it was the first time that I had ever heard its horn put to use, and it was an appropriately blaring reminder of the violence and torment that was unleashed on so many one year ago. As the horn sustained its scream, I thought of the images and stories that I have born witness to over the past year, and thought about how quickly life can shift or disappear altogether. Above all, I thought about perspective, and the quiet resolve and incredible human spirit of the Japanese people in the face of such enormous and loud catastrophe.

As the ship’s horn finally silenced, a school choir from Sendai began singing a song called ‘Arigatou’ or thank you. Humbly, and not too loud.