My goal today was to have my mind blown.  Well, there’s one big thing off of my “todo” list!  The day started with some introductions and a brief history of the school learning commons presented by David Loertscher as a way of contextualizing the day.  The theme of this year’s retreat revolves around the learners experience in the learning commons environment.  There is much talk about what the adults want from the space, but often those that the space is most intended for are left out of the discussion (or aren’t the focus of that discussion in the same way.)  I love the way that Dr. Loertscher involves himself in the proceedings.  While he is clearly is one of the most pivotal people in the room in terms of the learning commons concept, he really doesn’t “get in the way.”  He provides context, introduces speakers when appropriate and occasionally prods at discussions but rarely does he really take the floor himself.  A great leader is often one who isn’t seen to be leading.

The retreat runs from noon Tuesday to noon Wednesday.  This gives folks within driving distance the opportunity to get to the retreat without incurring an additional night hotel and allows everyone to get over to the AASL proceedings that officially get under way Wednesday afternoon.  Between noon and 7:30pm, we were treated to at least 10 different speakers on at least as many topics.  Many of the speakers took questions, even when only given 30 minutes to speak and often that discussion was as good as the presentation itself.  Lyn Hay brought us a wonderful report on what was happening with iCentres in Australia.  iCentres are cut from the same cloth as the learning commons and she presented some inspiring stories of how school libraries are being transformative and gave some great ideas around the ideas that informed the development of the iCentre model and practices associated with it.

Leslie Preddy then spoke on makerspaces in libraries.  She gave a packed presentation on the benefits of makerspaces in schools showing their benefit in engaging learners and giving those learners control over their own learning.  A number of resources pointing to aligning makerspaces with common core standards and tools for building them were also offered.  Later in the afternoon, she made herself available for discussion through a table talk and we got to talk about boys as makers and 3D printing while I fiddled with littlebits (an über-cool circuit building product that is built with magnets as connectors).  She had some great ideas around makerspaces that I plan on following up with in the future.

One can’t mention Leslie’s presentation without mentioning Steve Hargadon.  Steve, the person who runs both Classroom 2.0 and Library 2.0 among a number of virtual conferences, questioned the wisdom of adopting makerspaces in school libraries.  If I understood his argument correctly (and please correct me if I haven’t, Steve), while he embraces the idea of makerspaces, he doesn’t feel that libraries are the place for them.  He feels that libraries are a place of deep intellectual inquiry based on the writing of great thinkers and are an agent of and catalyst to intellectual freedom and that makerspaces don’t fit that mission.  I particularly appreciated his argument given my own wrestling with this same issue.  I have argued many times that libraries need to be very conscious of our missions and adhere to them.  The question is, do makerspaces fit the school library mission and is makerspace inquiry the same kind or at the same level of depth as the intellectual inquiry that libraries represent?  I too am concerned when libraries take on services or activities that are clearly an effort to attract patrons with the shiny and new.  This is the exact same issue that others have voiced with the learning commons label when they perceive it as an attempt to garner grant money or re-brand themselves without making any significant changes.  I think that the inclusion of makerspaces in a learning commons environment is as appropriate as your reasons for doing so.  If the act addresses mission appropriate learning needs that speak to deep inquiry, then I think that it is completely appropriate.  If it is simply a way of getting more kids to walk in the door at lunch time (and these same kids will leave as soon as you shut the makerspace down) then you’re missing the point and shouldn’t be doing it.

We had a couple of solid educational technology presentations, the first of which provided some interesting insight on the reasons for incorporating technology in education (because you have to as this is current, not future, reality).  Jonathan Costa, Sr., also shared some cool resources that I was unaware of including and  The first offers the same news articles at multiple reading levels while the second is a discussion forum around interpretations of rap lyrics with extensions in interpretation of the news and poetry.  I was particularly intrigued by the BYOB concept – Bring Your Own Browser.  We don’t care what device you have as long as you have a browser to access cloud based services.  A second ed tech presentation, later in the afternoon presented a survey of learning management systems including edmodo and schoology.

I have to admit that my brain was getting pretty full and my note-taking abilities were starting to fail a bit when the last two presenters before dinner spoke.  Allison Zmuda was brilliant and energized and spoke, informally and eloquently about the need for education to refocus around personalized learning.  She is concerned that we’re all spinning our wheels trying to keep up with this fast-paced data-train that is exhausting and draining us all.  She argues that we need to lighten the content load in our courses and focus on what matters: genuine learning that students care about.   Giving more time to personal inquiry will help to develop life-long skills that are applicable to all forms of learning and will serve the students better than spoon-feeding them content from textbooks.

The final speaker of the evening was Ross Todd from Rutgers.  He is always an engaging, inspiring, thoughtful and humorous speaker.  His topic was Bats in the Library and was able to connect a myth about bats in a Portuguese library to 7 Principles of the Possible for school libraries based on his research at Rutgers looking at successful school library programs.  It was refreshing to hear him speak about the fact that the label that we put on our spaces is far less important than what we do in them.  His seven principles were based on the factors that he sees as being essential to school librarianship:

  1. The primary function of a school library is pedagogical, with access to quality information as the foundation of meaningful pedagogy
  2. The role of the school librarian is primarily that of teacher, co-teaching with classroom teachers to develop curricular standards and life skills
  3. An inquiry centred pedagogy defines the instructional role of the school librarian
  4. A focus on curriculum content and knowledge development enables the integration of inquiry capabilities in a meaningful way to solve meaningful world problems
  5. The collaborative nature of teaching is the core dynamic for integrating the school library into the culture of the school
  6. School libraries constitute and advance social justice
  7. School libraries connect community and the world through digital citizenship and learning for life capabilities.

One of my favourite (rhetorical) questions that he asked through the course of his presentation was, “does it matter to the student that they know the answers to their inquiry?”  Shouldn’t this be the question we ask of everything that we teach?

All in all, a very inspiring day.  I am reminded of a Chick Corea concert that I attended back in the 80’s where the band played such an energized and powerful opening number that I’d felt that I’d gotten my money’s worth and could go home right then and there.  The good news is that there is another half day of this kind of inspiration and ideas coming for me tomorrow.  The bad news is that I have to try and keep up while knowing that I transition into AASL mode in the afternoon!

I apologize up front for anyone that I’ve missed or misrepresented.  I’m sure that I’ve not got everything 100% accurately, but after that day and it is now getting late on the east coast, I wanted to make sure that I got it down.  I may end up committing one of my personal faux pas, and edit in the morning.

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