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Friday, May 22, 2015

This Konversation is now closed.

Due to the elimination of the last remaining certified librarian position at the elementary level, this blog is now closed.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Revisiting the Impact of School Libraries

Today, in this time of the year where it's easy to feel tired and unmotivated, especially as we're all stretched so thin, I revisited some of the resources that document measurable impacts of school libraries and librarians on students. Reading these studies and position statements renews my long held belief that a democratic society is highly dependent on the intellectual, emotional, and physical access to information and stories. Having a purpose fuels my motivation, especially a purpose as important as the fate of the free world. At least that's how I like to think of it. For your motivational reading pleasure:

Strong School Libraries Build Strong Students
AASL's Postition Statement On the Role Of Librarians in Reading
Scholastic's Publication "Libraries Work!"

Monday, February 2, 2015

Collaboration and Gaming: an update

So stuck at home on a snowy Sunday, I decided to start leveling a new World of Warcraft character (Sabreiyna, Human, Rogue, Suramar). After following many player behavior related articles on sites such as Polygon, I was interested, and frustrated, to have my own first experience with obnoxious players. In this case, quite a few Alliance players, myself included, were questing in Westfall, a lower level human area. Two Horde players kept attacking the quest giver mob and killing him before any Alliance players could accept or turn in quests. If you're unfamiliar with WoW, one of the main parts of the game is pursuing quest chains. You accept a quest geared to your level, and it leads to a number of other quests that allow you to gain items and experience that increase your levels, giving you access to more areas, items, mounts, etc. Many players quest with their guild or a friend or two, and some quest alone. 

So as these Horde players killed the quest giver, the number of us waiting to be able to turn in quests started piling up. Those who were flagged as PvP (Player vs. Player, which means they can battle other players) waited on the Horde players' corpses to attack them as soon as they respawned. This tactic, called corpse camping, is usually looked on as mild bullying, but in this case was in response to an unwarranted attack on the fun of the game. 

As players grumbled in the chat box, a player organized a others with magical abilities to rain meteors continuously, while others corpse camped to take out the Horde as soon as they respawned. Everyone stuck around until all those of us waiting to turn in quests were through. (A few of us also got zapped with a dancing spell, so I got to do the macarena while I watched, since I'm not flagged for PvP.) The chat discussion afterward turned to speculation that the two Horde players were actually bots, since they respawned at exactly the same time and used the same spells. Bots are a thorn in Blizzards side, because they're almost impossible to catch and trace, and even if they are, often pop up with different names elsewhere.

So what does this have to do with school libraries, information literacy, or 21st century learning?

A real time problem with pressing importance to those it affects creates in those stakeholders a desire to solve that problem that supersedes social boundaries or roles and mobilizes innate knowledge and skills.

As educators, our priority should be to provide students with basic academic and social skills, nurture individual specific talents and interests, and foster an environment that allows for natural collaboration to take place. I'm not suggesting you allow one student from another class to sabotage the work of another class, but that real world problems that catch the passion of your class are allowed to be pursued, and that instructional standards are then applied to the work, instead of the standards creating work that the students don't understand or care about. Should every aspect of class life revolve around solving problems? Only if you have the time to still make sure you're addressing standards and are able to document student growth. I just suggest that you balance the two styles so that students are not only prepared, but also learn to be intrinsically motivated by solving real problems.

Thursday, October 30, 2014


Recently, as I was teaching a review lesson on how to use the different search features of the library catalog to a group of fourth grade students, I used the term “vanilla” to differentiate the older less flexible interface with the two newer versions that have more options for students to customize their search experience. As I related the term to Minecraft to help students understand what I meant, a female student looked at me with wide eyes and said, “Mrs. Barton, are YOU a GAMER?? I am. Do you play Minecraft?” After reflecting on this short interaction with a student (and explaining that I prefer RPGs, although I recognize the draw of sandbox games), a few questions came to my mind. Are perceived stereotypes of gamers and coders affecting the likelihood for female students to pursue education and careers in computer science, specifically game creation? What can educators do at the K12 level to prepare female students for possible careers in the computer science field? Should gaming and coding in the K12 classroom be considered essential learning?

Some interesting findings emerged as I began to research females’ involvement in gaming or coding. As of the 2014 gaming demographics report from the Entertainment Software Association, female gamers currently make up 48% of the market. Unexpectedly, at least to me, a larger percentage of women over the age of 30 than boys under the age of 18 are gamers (Essential, 2014). Female coders, however, make up only around 18% of the professionals in the industry, an industry dominated by white males in their late 20s. Most women who begin a degree program in computer science do not finish it. 1984 seems to have been a turning point for a large decline of women pursuing computer science professions (with continued growth in other STEM professions), with one possible cause being a biased cap on classes due to a large influx of students into computer science academic programs. (Guzdial, 2014) Are there other factors that could be affecting the rise in female gamers and the drop in female coders?

Professionally, K12 education is dominated by women (76%). (Goldring, 2013) However, most students currently enrolled in high school AP STEM classes are white or Asian males. (Guzdial, 2014) Teachers who implement educational gaming in their classrooms are most likely those who game for personal enjoyment, regardless of gender. (Takeuchi, 2014) My tentative conclusion from these studies is that women who left the field in university in the 1980s are possibly some of those women who pursued another career such as teaching, but continued gaming for enjoyment, and see its value in an educational setting. They are a large part of the industry growth as users, but not as creators.

Is there more we can do to promote coding and gaming among students, not just girls, but all students? At what point will educational content games (which in my opinion are mostly more expensive versions of flash cards) be replaced with sandbox and virtual experience games? And can we, as educators, begin to implement gaming and coding in the curriculum as an essential skill? And how can we take a 4th grade girl's love of gaming and help her realize a possible career path?


Essential facts about the computer and video game industry: 2014 sales, demographic, and usage data. (2014, April 1). Retrieved October 30, 2014, from

Goldring, R., Gray, L., and Bitterman, A. (2013). Characteristics of public and private Elementary and secondary school teachers in the United States: Results from the 2011–12 schools and staffing survey (NCES 2013-314). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved October 30, 2014 from

Guzdial, M. (2014, October 30). NPR When Women Stopped Coding in 1980's: As we repeat the same mistakes. Retrieved October 30, 2014, from

Holdren, J. (2013, May 31). Federal Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education 5-year strategic plan: A Report from the Committee on STEM Education National Science and Technology Council. Retrieved October 30, 2014, from

Takeuchi, L. M., & Vaala, S. (2014). Level up learning: A national survey on teaching with digital games. New York: The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Sad Middle Grade Fiction...Really, People?

After a summer of a vacation from blogging, school has started and once again I am immersing myself in children, information, and children's literature. Battling burnout, I took a break from children's literature. I lazed (well, sort of, with two graduate classes and an IT internship) over World of Warcraft, Buffy the Vampire Slayer (and Angel), and many comic books (Sandman, Deadpool, X-Men, Avengers, and Wolverine).

Back in the pleasurable grind of supervising four elementary school libraries, training two new assistants, meeting new kindergarteners, and renewing professional and student relationships, I revisited the bin of Illinois Bluestem and Rebecca Caudill nominees for 2015 that I neglected for two months. First, my question to the two committees is, "How many sad animal books do we need to read in one year, really?" REALLY? The ONE subgenre I DETEST. So, I still have not read A Dog Called Homeless, The Five Lives of Our Cat, Zook, The One and Only Ivan (don't judge me), and Chained. I bawled over One For the Murphys. I ignored my husband and daughter to find out what happened to the three children in The Clockwork Three. Legend I read in one sitting, most of the others I enjoyed as well, but I draw the line at animal books. When will I be able to read the books on these lists without my normally dry and rational self turning into a weeping ball of incoherent mush? Seriously, committees, find a happy place next year.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Play With Purpose

The following are excerpted from my class blog for my educational gaming graduate course.

Gee's identity principle has application not only in gaming, in my experience, but also in reading. One of the foundational principles I believe narratives (whether fiction or nonfiction) play for a person is that they provide the reader with a safe opportunity to experience someone else’s life. As an elementary school librarian, one of my purposes is to introduce students to that experience, and help them find meaning in that experience so they continue to seek it out. My favorite games, in fact, have been those that allow the same type of costuming as my favorite types of books. “Being” Link is like “being” Bilbo Baggins. In deep play, where the child is totally absorbed in his or her created “world,” I think melds the principles of identity and manipulation. If as an educator I could tap into that deep play state, I believe deep learning can take place. 

In his video interview, Zimmerman states “Games are like buildings we inhabit….a space of possibilities where anything is possible.” Thinking of a game designer as an architect who is building a space and setting the rules by which the players interact with and in the space made the concept begin to make more sense to me. In Salen’s video, she defines game design as a way of looking at the world. If I start with those similar views of game design, I feel like then my approach to designing games will move to more specific questions. What is the ultimate goal of my world? What are the physical properties? How many people can inhabit my world at once? How do they interact with the world? With each other? How can you achieve the ultimate goal? How will players know when they've achieved it? “Game design is a process by which a game designer creates a game, to be encountered by a player, from which meaningful play emerges.” (p. 80)
[A small commentary on some people's perceptions of World of Warcraft, which is required play for my class. How cool is that!]
I started categorizing reactions I got when I told people I was playing WoW. They all have fallen into one of these categories:

1. [raised eyebrows] "Seriously?" or more directly "That's really lame."
2. [disapproving grimace] "I know people who ruined their lives over WoW addictions and an inability do deal with normal life."
3. [happy dance] "You too?! What world are you in, what class/level are you, what's your name and when do you want to meet to play together?!"

My responses are:
1. [varied emotional reaction] "Yes, seriously." and "No, it's not." (Mental note: don't bring it up with this person again.)
2. [Silence] "Ummmm." (Mental note: don't bring it up with this person again.)
3. [reciprocal happy dance] "Suramar, Hunter class 13, Theragarai, and as soon as we can log on!" (Mental noe: Yippee! I found a friend!)

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Why I Love Hosting Guest Authors

This week author Steve Cotler visited the four Kaneland elementary schools to talk to students in third, fourth and fifth grades about fiction writing. Steve is not only a wonderful newer author (of the Cheesie Mack series), but also an all around interesting person, which had me reflecting on why I love hosting authors in elementary schools.

The obvious first answer as an elementary school librarian, is that it supports teachers' writing instruction and student reading. Well, yes, that's important, but I think it's backwards. Don't bring in an author to support instruction, bring in an author to show students how what you're teaching them is preparing them for real life. The end result is the focus. Authors are real people. They don't necessarily do things the way we currently teach, but if you've brought in a good one, they're able to support themselves with that craft, so they have valuable insights to offer both students and teachers.
Secondly, authors are inspiring, and they're all different. Creative people in particular often have big personalities, and can be amazing communicators. Let them communicate with your students. A great author visit will leave you with kids who have made a personal connection with this person, and are inspired in some way to be better than they were before. Maybe it's just a glimpse of the outside world, something that's not the four walls of the classroom or their neighborhood.

Thirdly, author visits are great fun. I know that sounds trivial, but in this age of testing and an environment where every minute of a kid's day is controlled, an author visit is a breath of fresh air. A worthwhile breath.

So what are the three things I took away from Steve's visits this week?

1. Be interesting. To be interesting, you have to be a thinker and a doer. Try things. Reading Steve's bio is like reading four people's bio. Be thoughtful, but do something with your thinking. You can have an idea your whole life. Act on it. Even if it is fifty years later, great things can come of it.

2. Be honest. I loved how Steve was honest with kids. He drove them to think, and wasn't afraid to tell them they were wrong and why (which I think is a fault in education currently). He did it kindly, but directly, and pushed them to do their best thinking by asking clarifying questions. He also complimented them honestly and appropriately; not too much, not too little. He also wasn't afraid to point out his mistakes or things he didn't do so well (like his first Cheesie Mack draft).

3. Be engaging. I don't just mean charming and pleasant; if you're interesting, captivate those you communicate with to give and receive what makes you all interesting. To do that, you need to be honest, but you also need to engage. See that picture of Steve with the little girl? He didn't just talk to a large group of students, he talked to a room of individuals. Watch and listen to your audience, even if it's an audience of one, and respond to them.

 We had a great couple days with Steve Cotler. I learned a lot from him, and I can't wait to see what he does next.