April 21, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Top Themes and Hot Tickets at ALA and ISTE 2016

On the floor at ALA (left) and  ISTE conferences.

On the floor at ALA (left) and ISTE conferences.

What do librarians care about most right now? Maker spaces, leveraging ESSA, and STEM learning top their lists, judging from the programs at the American Library Association (ALA) and ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) conferences this month, and the opinions shared by those attending. As always, children’s and youth librarians seek intel on the latest tech tools and fresh insight on how to best serve patrons, from early learners to disconnected youth. Read on for more 2016 conference highlights.

Maker spaces—what they look like, how to afford them, and how to integrate them into the classroom—will be a hot topic at both gatherings. At the ALA Annual Conference in Orlando, FL, expected to attract over 25,000 participants from June 23 to 28, attendees will have the opportunity to learn about the wide variety of ways that school and public libraries are creating maker spaces, and what happens in them.

In the presentation “This Is What a Maker Space Looks Like: A Visual Perspective,” Heather Moorefield-Lang, assistant professor at the School of Library and Information Science at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, will present the results of her qualitative research project. Over three years, she took photos and interviewed librarians, students, and educators about different models. She will also focus on the challenges, successes, and practical issues facing librarians when they offer these services, and provide tips to take back to schools and communities.

“If you are just getting started, there will be lots of ideas to get you going even further,” says Moorefield-Lang, whose research focuses on emerging technologies. “If you don’t know what a maker space is, well, this is a great session to find out.”

Meanwhile, in Denver, more than 16,000 educators will gather from June 26 to 29 for the ISTE 2016 Conference. A variety of presentations and hands-on learning opportunities related to maker spaces will be offered, including “The Under $500 Makerspace: Tools and Toys to Get You Started,” a session led by Kristina Holzweiss, school librarian at Bay Shore Middle School in Long Island, NY, and SLJ’s 2015 School Librarian of the Year.

Presenter Heather Lister will lead a poster session on maker spaces and share low- and no-tech ideas that educators can implement without a lot of funding. “Many people note budget as an obstacle, and you can do a lot with things you find around the house—or in the trash,” says Lister, a teacher librarian at Hershey (PA) Middle School. “It’s amazing how many things you can do with a two-liter bottle and duct tape.”

Illustration by Chris Gash

Illustrations by Chris Gash

ALA highlights

Helping school librarians understand how they will be affected by the recently enacted Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) will be a top priority at ALA. Two concurrent sessions on Friday morning, June 24, will focus on “unpacking” the new federal education law for school librarians as well as public librarians working with children and youth, says Leslie Preddy, president of the American Association of School Librarians (AASL). “We’re all preparing, especially since it’s very clear that it’s not going to be a top-down approach,” Preddy says.

Two historically popular sessions at ALA give children and youth librarians a glimpse into the top tools and websites for providing quality instruction and engaging students. At AASL’s “Best Apps for Teaching and Learning” and “Best Websites for Teaching and Learning” sessions, speakers present attendees with resources that have already been tested, and discuss how they can be used in educational settings.

“Instead of going out there and spending the time it takes to critically evaluate the tools, you already have someone that has gone through the process,” Preddy says. This keeps librarians and teachers up to date on “the best of the best.”

The growth of STEM programs in libraries also remains a strong conference theme for those who serve youth. The session “52 Weeks of STEM @ Your Library” promises to give participants hands-on experience in choosing STEM-related activities for students and adults.

From tweens to disconnected youth

A variety of sessions will be held for librarians who are working to expand their services for specific populations. For example, in “Words, Words, Words: Increasing Young Children’s Exposure to Language Through the Words at Play Vocabulary Initiative,” participants will learn about an effort to close the word gap among young children in low-income communities through “fun, cross-curricular, hands-on community-based programs.” The Words at Play Vocabulary Initiative (http://ow.ly/hMhD3005qj7) is a project of the Free Library of Philadelphia, The Franklin Institute, the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Philadelphia Zoo.

Participants can learn ways to respond to the interests of tweens during “InbeTWEEN: Services and Programs for Tweens in Public Libraries.” The session will home in on what this age group prefers in library collections, technology, and programming, and address how this group is different from children and teens.

Librarians interested in reaching “disconnected youth” can learn about a federal funding opportunity called Performance Partnership Pilots at a 3 p.m. session on Saturday, June 25.

The grants are described as a “unique opportunity to test innovative, cost-effective, and outcome-focused strategies for improving results for disconnected youth.” The Institute of Museum and Library Services is one of several federal agencies participating in the pilots. Representatives from libraries that have participated will describe their experiences and provide guidance on how to apply for future rounds of funding.

Leadership PD; Pura Belpré at 20

In the exhibitors’ hall, library district supervisors will address the themes of leadership, community, and transformational changes throughout the day on Saturday and Sunday. From 9:30 to 3:30 on both days, 23 members of the Lilead Fellows Program, an IMLS-supported initiative designed to provide PD and creative leadership insights to school district library supervisors, will be at the Junior Library Guild booth (#1345) speaking on these topics. In back-to-back, two-hour sessions, fellows will give 15-minute individual talks and small group presentations, with time for Q&A. Check out the full schedule.

On Sunday, June 26, the 20th anniversary of the Pura Belpré Award, named for the first Puerto Rican librarian at the New York Public Library, will be celebrated, along with this year’s winning authors and illustrators. The award recognizes books for young people that “best portray and affirm and celebrate the Latino cultural experience,” says Andrew Medlar, president of the Association of Library Service to Children. This year’s event, running from 1 to 3:30 p.m., will include an auction of original artwork by illustrators who have won the award and a keynote speech by Carmen Agra Deedy, a Cuban American children’s author and 2008 award winner. The session will also feature book signings, entertainment, and presentations. Wendy Stephens, School Library Media program chair at Jacksonville State University in Jacksonville, AL, says the event “invariably makes me cry at least once.”

Stephens is also looking forward to the awards program on Monday, June 27, when outstanding librarians and library programs receive recognition. At that session, Preddy will present the annual Crystal Apple, which honors an organization or individual who has made significant contributions to school libraries and students. This year’s Apple will be presented to author James Patterson, who has awarded grants to school libraries for repairs, books, and other improvements. While he is not scheduled to attend, Patterson has prepared a video message.

The AASL President’s Program will feature headlining speaker Avi, a children’s author and the winner of several awards, including the 2003 Newbery Medal for Crispin: The Cross of Lead (Hyperion, 2002), two Newbery Honors, two Horn Book awards, and a Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction.

ISTE highlights
Michio Kaku, Ruha Benjamin, and Michelle Cordy

Michio Kaku, Ruha Benjamin, and Michelle Cordy

Keynote speakers at this year’s ISTE conference will focus on STEM, the connections to neuroscience, and preparing students for a future that no one can imagine. Michio Kaku, a futurist, theoretical physicist, and the author of The Future of the Mind: The Scientific Quest to Understand, Enhance, and Empower the Mind (Doubleday, 2014), will speak on Sunday, June 26 at 5:45 p.m.

Ruha Benjamin, an assistant professor in the Department of African American Studies at Princeton University, will discuss her work on ways to use technology and science to improve equity at a 9 a.m. session on Tuesday, June 28. Finally, Michelle Cordy, a third grade teacher in London, Ontario, will talk about 1:1 implementation and the applied research she conducts in partnership with colleagues in higher education and industry.

Sherry Gick, a library and instructional technology specialist for the Rossville (IN) Consolidated Schools and president of the ISTE Librarians Network, notes that the ISTE meeting is a rich experience because of the wide variety of educators who attend—from librarians and teachers to superintendents and technology specialists.


“You are able to connect with so many different people from different parts of education,” she says. “This really allows you to learn.”

A big draw every year are the ISTE Playgrounds—interactive sessions in which participants can learn about and try a variety of technology resources and tools. Because of their popularity, the Playgrounds do get crowded.

Running in three-and-a-half-hour blocks each morning and afternoon, the Playgrounds will include demonstrations related to maker spaces, digital publishing tools, and robotics. “We give them a lot of space so they can run their robots up and down the hallway,” says Jennifer Ragan-Fore, ISTE’s senior director of conference and member programs.

The Playground hosted by the Librarians Network will take place Monday, June 27, beginning at 8 a.m. “It’s controlled chaos,” Gick laughs, but adds that “people get the opportunity to get hands-on information and move from place to place.”

Building off the popularity of two particular presenters in one of last year’s Playgrounds, a session on Wednesday morning, June 29, will focus on the topic of augmented reality and feature Brad Waid and Drew Minock of the blog “Two Guys and Some IPads.” In their session, “Augmented Reality: Engaging a Minecraft Generation,” Waid and Minock will talk about how augmented reality tools can be used to create engaging and interactive learning experiences.

Beyond digital citizenship

Gick says that she expects sessions on robotics and gamification will also be popular at this year’s meeting. In a session on Saturday, June 25, entitled “Gamification Boot Camp: 21st Century Instructional Design,” for example, Michael Matera, a history teacher at the University School of Milwaukee, and Philip Vinogradov, the director of technology with the Upper Dublin School District in Pennsylvania, will present on an instructional model in which students play to earn badges and points that give them more autonomy over their own learning.

On Sunday morning, Peggy Reimers, director of professional development at the Texas Computer Education Association, will lead a workshop in which participants will build and program a LEGO Mindstorms EV3 robot. She’ll also provide suggestions on how to implement robotics activities in the classroom.

Throughout the sessions aimed at librarians, there will also be an overall emphasis on using technology in the classroom and how to avoid teaching skills in isolation, Gick says.

“It’s not just digital citizenship, but ‘what does this look like in science class?’” and similar questions, she says. “It’s not a fly-by type of teaching, but an integral part of the school community.”

Standards update

ISTE is also close to finishing a “refresh” of its Standards for Students, which will be presented in general sessions as well as in a specific session on Monday, June 27 at 8:30 a.m. Resources on the standards will also be available at the conference bookstore. For the first time, the update of the standards included feedback from students.

“It’s really about preparing our students for the world that they will be entering in the future,” Ragan-Fore says. “It’s about preparing them to make good choices.”

Linda Jacobson is an education writer and editor based in the Los Angeles area.

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Linda Jacobson About Linda Jacobson

SLJ contributor Linda Jacobson is an education writer and editor based in the Los Angeles area.