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Friday
Mar252016

Procrastination - is there a cure?

Squirrel!
       Dug the Dog

If you're wondering why one might need this app [Stop Procrastinating] or apps like it, ask yourself the following questions: How often do you browse the web or use social media while in a meeting? How often do you use it on the toilet? Is getting on the internet the first and last thing you do everyday? Do you often lose track of conversations because you were distracted by the tiny screen in front of you? The Digital Reader, March 22, 2016

It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about? Henry David Thoreau

This blog has been pretty quiet for the last couple weeks. Busy time at work, packing and moving a household, spring-like weather - pick your excuse. That's pretty much what they are - excuses - a list of things I want to/need to/must do instead of jotting down idle ramblings.

I have to admit, however, that continuous and ubiquitous Internet access has increasingly exacerbated my natural tendency to procrastinate. The e-mail/Facebook/Twitter/feedreader/Zinio/et al checks take great bites from not just my writing time, but my book reading time as well.

One reason that I have taken "writing weeks" in the past is that they allow me to simply focus on my book writing without distraction. I am beginning to think I need to block out "writing hours" each day as well.

Any suggestions on how to eliminate the "squirrel" quality of the Internet and actually get work accomplished?

Monday
Mar142016

Numeracy, not math. Another rant.

HERE’S an apparent paradox: Most Americans have taken high school mathematics, including geometry and algebra, yet a national survey found that 82 percent of adults could not compute the cost of a carpet when told its dimensions and square-yard price. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development recently tested adults in 24 countries on basic “numeracy” skills. Typical questions involved odometer readings and produce sell-by tags. The United States ended an embarrassing 22nd, behind Estonia and Cyprus. We should be doing better. Is more mathematics the answer? Andrew Hacker (quoted by Larry Cuban) in "The Wrong Way to Teach Math"

Any long time readers of the Blue Skunk know that ranting about mathematics instructions is a common theme of this blog. For example see:

The current political debates have reinforced my despair over numeracy having any impact on the direction our country heads in its economic policy. General diatribes about the 1% (uber rich), the 47% (takers), and 50% (deadbeats) make it easy to understand why one of our candidates loves the "uneducated."

But is the general population undeducated or miseducated?

In our data-loving culture, especially schools, I often find numeracy in short supply. For me an important aspect of numeracy is understanding the context in which the numbers are placed.In a report to the school board last week, we shared the following graph about how our LMS is being used in its first year of implementation.

Personally, I (and I think the board) found the numbers impressive. This program IS being used - and its use seems to be growing. But I have little context for these numbers. How do we compare to other districts? What is being done on the visits?  What percent of possible users does this represent?

I've long encouraged librarians to add context to numbers. In an old column, Demonstrating Our Impact - Putting Numbers in Context Part 2 March 2007, I advised:

Context and Focus Numbers alone, of course, mean little. They need to be interpreted and placed in some type of meaningful context. Context can be achieved by setting and meeting goals and by looking at numbers in a historical context. Look, for example, at how each statement gets more powerful:

  • 28 teachers participated in collaborative units (Is this good or bad?)

  • 78% of teachers in the building participated in collaborative units (This tells me more.)

  • 78% of teachers, up from 62% of teachers last year, participated in collaborative teaching units. (This shows a program that is getting stronger.)

In light of NCLB’s focus on the achievement of subgroups within a school, data that relate specifically to target populations may be more powerful than that which applies to the entire school population. While numbers showing that book circulation has grown by x% this year is good to report, numbers that show book checkout by the building’s ELL (English Language Learners) has increased by x% is probably of more interest to your administration.

Numeracy, not math.

Or you'll never know who your next president might be.

 

Friday
Mar112016

BFTP: The BookShelver: a library folktale

The BookShelver: a library folktale
with apologies to Gerald McDermott's 
The Stonecutter and all of Japanese civilization

There was once a lowly bookshelver working in a small school library. Each day she patiently reshelved books and did other small tasks under the direction of the librarian. The librarian, it seemed to her, had a wonderful position - selecting new materials, directing aides to do her bidding, and having lots of interesting tasks that varied each day. Who could be more powerful than the librarian?

One night the bookshelver prayed to the Spirit of the School, asking to become a librarian. Low and behold, the next morning when she arrived at the school, she found she had become the librarian!

She loved the new job - she shared those stories she'd been shelving with students. She taught teachers how to use new computer software. She helped the principal find information he needed for a report. And she was content. Until one day the library supervisor came to visit. Ah, the supervisor with his vast budget, his ability to make policy, and his contact with the real powers of the school district - the principals, the directors and the technology director. Who could be more powerful than the library director? 

That night the bookshelver prayed to the Spirit of the School, asking to become the library director. Low and behold, the next morning when she arrived at the school, she found she had become the library director!

As library director she commanded a vast budget, made staffing decisions and created great long-range strategies. She loved watching as the building librarians trembled at her approach and how the clerical staff jumped to do her bidding. Until one day she was summoned to the superintendent's office where budget cuts were discussed. Who could be more powerful than the superintendent?

That night the bookshelver prayed to the Spirit of the School, asking to become the superintendent. Low and behold, the next morning when she arrived at the school, she found she had become the sup!

What respect she commanded by the principals and the directors! She represented the school at community functions and was interviewed on television and the radio. Everyone in the entire school bowed and quaked when she appeared, often by surprise, in a building.  But one day the president of the school board summoned the superintendent to a meeting at which test scores were being examined. The school board president's scowl said it all - he had even more power than the superintendent!

That night the bookshelver prayed to the Spirit of the School, asking to become the president of the school board. Low and behold, the next morning when she arrived at the school, she found she had become the board president!

As board president, the bookshelver did not need to concern herself with the daily tasks and details of running the school. With broad policy strokes, the president set the entire school district on new paths - closing buildings, ratifying contracts, and making personnel decisions. At one meeting, as president, the bookshelver, who had forgotten her origins, decided to fire all library support staff so that taxes could be lowered. Who possibly could be more powerful than the president of the school board?

The bookshelver was finally happy and content.

Until the next school board election when she found all the fired bookshelvers had organized a campaign to vote her off the board - and elect a school board member who supported libraries.

In this time of budget cuts, those of us in "middle management" - really at all levels of management - find out how little power we actually have to save positions, to save budgets, to save programs. As powerful as your boss may seem, my guess he answers to somebody above him. That doesn't mean we all shouldn't exert what power we have to save the programs and services that we believe serve children best.

But be careful about who you villainize in tough times.

Original post 2/22/2011