Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Peaks and Valleys

A couple of weeks ago I was in a waterfront hotel in Vancouver BC where I received a Lifetime Achievement Award from AAAS/Subaru Science Books & Films. It was certainly a validation, a crowning moment, (here’s the video) but awards are a funny thing. If one is truly engaged in life, it’s the struggles that are the focus. So right now I’m thinking about what happened this past weekend.

We are midway through the school year and about half of the authors participating in iNK’s pilot project, where we are collaborating with both teachers and students of Bogert Elementary School, have completed their missions. Roz Schanzer worked with two fourth grade classes. They had to learn about New Jersey’s government, a somewhat dry subject. But under Roz’s direction they produced an amazing book called The Golden Government. You can read a rave review of the project from teacher Heather Santoro
here. Dorothy Patent worked with two fifth grade teachers. Read what Chris Kostenko said about that experience here. I worked with Carla Christiana and Alicia Palmeri on the solar system and we’re about halfway through the unit. I’ve written an article about our experience that will be the lead feature in the April edition of Science Books & Films but you can see the effect on student learning in this video where the kids are exclaiming over the NASA website. What we’re doing is groundbreaking because of its scale, its intimacy, and the effective timing of the conferences so that we are truly transforming the learning of the children. That’s where the rubber meets the road in education. It’s far more effective than a school visit, which generates enormous interest and excitement, very little of which is channeled into the work kids do in the classroom every day.

I may be a little impatient, but I want people to realize that using children’s nonfiction authors and their books as a resource for education produces powerful results. So whenever possible I’ve been submitting proposals to conferences to present our work. The conferences are NOT library conferences. (Librarians have their own problems trying to get classroom teachers to use nonfiction.) I’ve been sending in proposals to conferences for teachers of technology. I figure that many schools have videoconferencing equipment sitting around, gathering dust and the techies in charge of the equipment are looking for reasons to use it. It stands to reason that they’d like to find something that their classroom teacher colleagues will appreciate. Maybe this is a kind of oblique approach to marketing but hey, I have an experimental nature. I have no illusions that my reputation as an author is meaningful to technology teachers. Basically, I’m starting over, a humbling experience. So finally, after being rejected twice by the BIG conferences ISTE (international Society for Technology in Education) and NYSCATE (New York State Association for Computers and Technology in Education) I was finally accepted, for this past weekend at a little regional NYSCATE conference in Wappingers Falls, NY (about an hour from my home.)

Wow! This was exciting news. So I lined up Bogert’s media specialist, Heidi Kabot, and Dorothy’s two teachers, and Roz and Dorothy, to hang around their computers on a Saturday afternoon, so I could beam them in via Skype to speak at my presentation. I could not present them as a panel because the high school, where the conference was held, didn’t have the capability of providing a bridge so that several end points could be presented at the same time. (So much for being "cutting edge" at a technology conference!) So I brought them each in sequentially to speak for five minutes. Our presentation time was 1 pm , which gave me the morning to meet people at the conference and drum up an audience. The title of our session was “Catching the Love of Learning: A School-wide Project with Teachers and Authors.” I was listed as the presenter but there was no bio so I’m not sure if there was any name recognition or if being an author was of any significance whatsoever to this group.

So far, all peaks, right? Here comes the valley. I had to wait to get into the room. The session before mine was “Identify Effective SMART Board Use.” The room was jammed. When I was finally able to get in to set up, (with the help of a very savvy techie named Chance) I happened to have the iNK Think Tank website up on the SMART board and the instructor of the last session said, “Oh, I LOVE that site!” as he was gathering up his stuff. The room cleared out and my attendees entered. Only three people showed up and stayed! One person I had met at lunch came in, and sat down but left before I started. Okay. This is show business. We’re in an out-of-town tryout. So I hoped our three listeners felt welcome and proceeded with the presentation which went off without a technical glitch. Everyone who presented was wonderful and articulate. The audience took copious notes. But where were all the people I had met that morning who said they would come?

We’re doing a post mortem. As I’ve said many times, “A learning experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want.” There were seven other concurrent sessions. We’re trying to figure out what was the big draw. Did it have something to do with the new emphasis on Core Curriculum Standards? Did I offend people? Did I come on too strong? Are these teachers too concerned with keeping their jobs to be thinking about the “love of learning?”

In my perennially optimistic style (which some people find annoying) I can only say that failure is far more interesting than success.


Anonymous said...

Don't lose faith, Vicki. My kids are great readers of nonfiction, and it has such potential to make material in dry textbooks come to life. I think these fascinating books coupled with hands-on activities are the only way to go. Right now we have Alexandra Siy's Bug Shots out from the library. When my older one stars kindergarten next year, I'd love to have his class do a bug unit, read Ms. Siy's book and use the scanning electron microscope at the University of Illinois (it's called BugScope). There is so much potential in what you are doing.

Gretchen Woelfle said...


Thanks for discussing the peaks AND valleys. You've got an amazing project going on. March forth (on March 7 and forward!)

Myra Zarnowski said...

I think most of us who present at conferences have had similar experiences. I know I have. So, I agree with the other commenters. Keep on moving forward. The INK members have a lot to offer schools and teachers.

Unknown said...

thanks for all the support. know that I'm pretty tough and my iimprobable career is evidence that I don't quit.

Rosalyn Schanzer said...

As that other optimistically inclined scientist Ben Franklin once said, "We are in the right road of improvement,for we are making experiments."