Revisiting Treasure Mountain 2014

I need to start off this blog post by once again speaking to the imbalance I experience in blogging itself.  Try as I might, I sometimes take years to process an experience or a reading and I find it really challenging to write regularly.  Today is no exception and I’d like to revisit an experience I had in May 2014 called Treasure Mountain Canada.  Treasure Mountain is a research retreat of school libraries and I’ve attended 2 of them…one in Connecticut in November 2013, and one in Victoria, BC where I presented my M.Ed. capping paper on Transliteracy.

Today we are trying to recreate the experience for the participants at the annual Ontario Library Association conference in Toronto.  To give you some background, there is no better place to start than with Anita Brooks-Kirkland’s blog of the Treasure Mountain experience last May.  The audience at Treasure Mountain is small but extremely diverse … there are major stakeholders in school libraries present.

In the week leading up to today, the revisiting of Treasure Mountain, I have really enjoyed going over my own thought process from January 2014 to May 2014, and I’m glad I was so visible in my thinking about it.  One of my favourite elements to revisit was a Google Hangout experiment where, as part of the capping paper requirements, I needed to present my ideas to a public audience.  I knew Treasure Mountain was coming up in May but wanted to make the experience as authentic as possible.  So….in true transliteracy fashion, I arranged via social media to make a Google Hangout to present my 20 slides and ask my authentic audience of educators some seriously deep questions about implementing transliteracy.  I considered editing this down to something manageable, but at the risk of appearing self-indulgent, here is the whole messy experience.  For at least 3 of the participants, it was their first Google hangout.

Joining me in this video are Kimberley Flood, Kevin Greenshields, Robin Feick, Kathy Inglis, Tim King, Peter McAsh, Daniel Beylerian and Heather Leatham.

As most of you are well aware from your own experiences, I learn a lot each time I present new material, and this time was no different.  Looking back at that experience, I realize now that sometimes I need a big push to try these things.  Reflecting on that idea alone, isn’t that what I ask the staff and students at my school to do every day?  One of my drama students a few years ago said, as she was fearfully preparing to take the stage, “I just need to put my big girl pants on and do it.”  Everytime I feel fearful of risk-taking, or worn out by being a change agent, I say to myself, “Just put your big girl pants on and do it.”  There are times during this presentation where I’m just giddy with happiness of the sharing and comraderie I experienced as I struggled through it.  Treasure Mountain itself, is just like that….a bunch of experienced and knowledgeable people coming together to share and loving the sharing.  I always feel energized and motivated by experiences like this.  This is the reason I’m addicted to supporting my own professional development.

It’s Complicated: the social lives of networked teens by danah boyd

It's Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked TeensIt’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens by Danah Boyd

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Throughout danah boyd’s “It’s Complicated: the social lives of networked teens”, I’m very satisfied with the level of sophistication of boyd’s research and unbiased point of view in her writing.  Her tone is academic, professional and at the same time, approachable.  The three areas that most concerned me during my reading are boyd’s research on the digital divide, online teen behaviour of sexual exploration and her plea for the redefinition of crimes associated with online bullying.

I’ve been increasingly uncomfortable with Marc Prensky’s phrase “digital natives” (2005/06) and I am reassured by boyd’s acknowledgement of her own awareness and skepticism of this blanket term.  boyd (2014) talks of social networking as a type of literacy and warns that “It is dangerous to assume that youth are automatically informed.  It is also naive to assume that so-called digital immigrants have nothing to offer.” (p. 177).  boyd also goes on to say that since teens are in many cases left to fend for themselves in networked environments, that their exposure to becoming fully literate depends on many factors.  She references Henry Jenkins and his thoughts on the subject:

Yet, talk of “digital natives” may also mask the different degrees access to and comfort with emerging technologies experienced by different youth. Talk of digital natives may make it harder for us to pay attention to the digital divide in terms of who has access to different technical platforms and the participation gap in terms of who has access to certain skills and competencies or for that matter, certain cultural experiences and social identities” (2007).

This paragraph amplifies my own worries that this simple term has excused the education system’s lack of action in lessening the digital divide.  I’m certain that we still promote the use of technology in the classroom as a tool of engagement, rather than seeing becoming proficient with technology as a fundamental requirement for graduation.

In the Ontario curriculum, at least, there is no single mandatory place where students are given a number of digital strategies for studying success, although we know there are consistent issues in any student’s level of preparedness.  Again, in Ontario, technology is not a mandatory part of the elementary curriculum and so students come to secondary with an almost insurmountable range of disparities in their digital backgrounds based on the interest and abilities of their elementary teachers and their home environments with varying degrees of hardware support and exposure.  Along the same lines of boyd’s concerns, Jenkins (2007) goes on to say:

Talking about digital natives also tends to make these changes all about digital media rather than encouraging us to think about the full range of media platforms which shape the world around us or for that matter, the complex set of relationships between old and new media that characterize convergence culture.

This sentence has been the basis of my learning in the TLDL program at the U of A, where I now understand that the crux of my position is to raise the bar for transliteracy for both staff and students. (King, 2014)

A large part of the digital divide that I know teachers are having trouble improving is the use of networked communities to help students.  In many ways administration fears of privacy and legalities have closed the networks for their possible misuses, meanwhile eliminating all possible positive ones.  Although I have concerns for all of our students, I have a particular worry about the LGBTQ population that are getting their information from unreliable sources when they desperately need support as they renegotiate social spaces.  The anecdotes from boyd’s research reassured me that LGBTQ teens are finding each other online and developing supportive communities.  However, boyd warns that “They are grappling with battles that adults face, but they are doing so while under constant surveillance and without a firm grasp of who they are.  In short, they’re navigating one heck of a cultural labyrinth” (p. 53).  I wish that the education system could find or create places, possibly in tandem with social support structures, where teens could create networks to reliable information.  I wish there was a way we could better support this.  I’m not sure what the answer is.

One of boyd’s research topics that particularly affected me is cyberbullying and the complexities in these cases.  Within boyd’s Chapter 5 on Bullying, she references the journalistic research work of Emily Bazelon who covered the case of Phoebe Prince, a teen victim of suicide and reportedly, cyber-bullying.  After linking to Bazelon’s extensive reporting on this case, I found that the law is responding with a variety of consequences to cyber-bullying and that because of the after-school, non-geographic locale of this bullying, that school boards have very little to offer to victims and bullies.  One of her final reports on the case revealed that in the case of Phoebe Prince, none of her aggressors were met with serious consequences.  Bazelon (2011) says:

After more than a year of covering this case, it’s hard for me to square that duty with the way these cases unfolded. “If you bully someone to death, that’s murder,” explained Joseph Kennedy, a criminal law professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, when I called him earlier this week. “But if you bully someone, and then they kill themselves, and that’s not something you anticipated, that’s not a crime.”

The digital divide is not just between economic classes and about developing transliteracy skills.  Boyd has revealed that the digital divide also includes how living and working as educators in this era of social networking we are not prepared for the consequences of these networks; and we are currently unable to model how to use social networks effectively.


Bazelon, E. (2011, May 25). It’s Over: None of the six teens charged in connection with the suicide of Phoebe Prince will go to jail. Slate. Retrieved from

boyd, D. (2014). It’s Complicated: The social lives of networked teens. New Haven, MA: Yale University Press.

Jenkins, H. (2007, December 5). Reconsidering digital immigrants… [Blog post]. Retrieved from Confessions of an Aca-Fan website:

King, A. (2014, April 13). Transliteracy and the teacher-librarian [Blog post]. Retrieved from Threadbare Beauty website:

Prensky, M. (2005/2006). Listen to the natives. Educational Leadership, 63(4).

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Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World by Jane McGonigal

Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World

I don’t think of myself as a gamer.  I have been known to play lots of those Flash-based Facebook games with my Candy Crush Saga friends, and occasionally a great puzzle-based novella will come along like Gabriel Knight 2,  Syberia or Ripper that I devour, but generally I didn’t think they were a big part of my life.  After reading just part 1, Why Games Make Us Happy, of McGonigal’s book, I started feeling that I could admit that I play Plants vs. Zombies and Game of Thrones Ascent almost every day!  Now that I’ve read McGonigal’s book completely, I know that it’s cool to be a gamer and I really want to believe that a game designer will win a Nobel Prize someday.


In Part II Reinventing Reality, McGonigal really opens up on the topic of how games can change our education system for the better.  I’m really intrigued with the idea of the game-based education being offered by Quest to Learn (p. 128). A very real challenge of my current position is to develop my staff’s comfort and skills with 21st century learning which largely focuses on digital fluency.  However, there are constantly battles between our current system and the growing desire from staff to collaborate and teach creatively.  The idea of redesigning the system from the ground up, the way that Quest to Learn has, is very appealing.  In hindsight, I know that the mindset of the administration and the staff has often been what held back change for the better design of our school and I wonder what kind of experiential learning the staff needs to help them grow in this direction.  We have a local company called Eagles Flight which worked with our department heads for one morning last January during exams, and essentially we played a quest game where we needed to get from one side of a desert to the other maximizing our resources, within a time limit and never having all the information we needed to play.  It was really fun!  Was it transformational?  No but it helped us to bond and gave us lots of fuel for good discussion for the rest of the day.


Having spent 5 years as a teacher-librarian now, one of the aspects of my job that I like best is how it gives me space to see the school as a whole system, and I can see the problem of the department silos.  At the risk of overglorifying the situation, I’m omniscient in a way that even the administration isn’t.  I’ve always enjoyed this role in my gaming experience as well, and was a big fan of many of the games McGonigal mentions in Part III, Chapter 14: Saving the Real World Together.  Besides Will Wright’s Sim City and The Sims, I was fascinated with the idea of Peter Molyneux’s game Black & White in which you need to make decisions for villagers based on moral quandaries. After reading McGonigal’s praise of the game, I dug out our old copy of Will Wright’s Spore and played through 4 levels with new appreciation for its design and trying to imagine what it would be really like to drop into the Ukraine, for example, and try to sort things out a bit. Maybe that’s the reason why I still like reality tv shows.  There’s a new one coming out this week called The Audience where 50 people make a life-changing decision for someone.  This experimentation in McGonigal’s “Saving the Real World Together” of taking a long view, practicing ecosystems thinking, and pilot experimentation (p. 297-98) are exactly the tools that I think we need our graduates to have exposure to.  One of the first computer games I remember loving is Lemonade Stand, where I simulated making a lemonade stand profitable based on fluctuating weather predictions and costs of lemon and sugar.  If I could remake school today, I’d start by making every single assignment follow McGonigal’s Saving the Real World criteria.  I might not be able to reconstruct my school into a Quest to Learn environment, but I can advocate for these 3 aspects in teaching design and that gives me hope that my influence will help save the world.  I suppose I need to see this through for the epic win.

Overall, Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World is a game-changer (excuse the pun).  I’ve started a Twitter List called Epic Winners that includes all sorts of people who are using games for positive change and deeper meaning inside schools and beyond.  It even lead me to find a library game that I’d like to try out called (what else?) Librarygame.   This isn’t the first time I’ve thought “I wish I could give a little surprise to a student who signs out the same book twice, or has signed out 10 books this year, or returns everything on time”.  Even if it was just a virtual badge to add to their student e-portfolio, I think they would appreciate it.  I know I would.


McGonigal, J. (2011). Reality is broken: Why games make us better and how they can change the world. New York, NY: Penguin Books.


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Blog Dare

MIssion: Blog rejuvenation project

Mission target:

Mission director: Alanna King under the tutelage of blogger Lisa Neale

11 Random Facts about me

born on leap year; I have 2 1/2 sisters; I lived in Japan for 3 years; my first pet was a hamster named Pepsi; I am a 6th generation Canadian; my family were some of the original settlers of Wellington County in Ontario; while my sisters were playing Barbies I played librarian; I really like to sing; I teach at the high school where I was a student; I’m addicted to PD; I had the strangest dream last night that my Mom and aunt flew me and my sisters and our families to Winnipeg to sing in High German in a concert…we don’t speak German

Questions for me from Lisa Neale:
1.   What is your preferred mode of transportation?

I prefer train ….something about that chugga chugga that puts me right to sleep as I watch the world go by.

2.   If someone asked you to give the a random piece of advice, what would you say? “A life lived in fear is a life half-lived.”

3.   What is your favourite hobby? Reading!

4.   How do you like your eggs? Poached with hollandaise sauce.

5.   What’s something you know you do differently than most people? When I’m anxious, I type on an imaginary typewriter on my lap.

6.   What movie must I be sure to watch? Why? Baz Luhrman’s Strictly Ballroom … see answer to #2

7.   When you have nothing pressing to do, what do you like to do? see #4

8.   What is your preferred hot beverage? Coffee in most any form

9.   How do you say it?  Twenty fourteen OR two thousand and fourteen? Both

10.  What was your first job? Day Camp Counsellor for the YMCA

11.  What lesson(s) have you learned from your relationships?  Uhhh…I’m totally stumped on this one.

Some Bloggers I want you to know about

  1. Julie Powell – food blogger….she inspired me
  2. Doug Johnson – blogs a lot about education and libraries…I love his tone and his frank honesty
  3. Sarah Le – my colleague blogs about her experiences teaching specifically in transliteracy and inquiry-based learning
  4. Lisa Unger – my colleague is really into libraries and blogging about blogging….she is questioning a whole whack of educational related topics
  5. Joyce Valenza – writes for School Library Journal, school-librarian guru
  6. Buffy Hamilton – The Unquiet Librarian, presses all of my librarian buttons at once

11 Questions for those bloggers

1.  What experience got you started blogging?

2.  What makes you get out of bed in the morning?

3.  If your house was burning down, and all your family and pets were safely away, are there any objects you would try to save?

4.  What profession would you choose if you had another life to live?

5.  Dogs or cats?

6.  Did you make any New Year’s resolutions and if so what are they?

7.  If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?

8.  What one food could you happily live on for the rest of your life?

9.  What is a recent accomplishment that you are proud of?

10.  If offered a one-way ticket to Mars, would you take it?

11.  Do you hate me for daring you to do this?

So here’s how it works:
1.  Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
2.  Tell us 11 random facts about yourself.
3.  Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
4.  List 11 bloggers.  Or more or less.  Your choice.
5.  Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer, and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated.  Don’t nominate the blogger who has nominated you.

2013 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,500 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 42 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Crowd sourcing Psycho using Twitter

[View the story “Crowd sourcing Psycho using #maODSS” on Storify]

Trying to teach about Hitchcock’s Psycho, how Twitter can be used for learning and improving the self-directedness of learning all at once in media arts using the Twitter hashtag #maODSS

Storified by Alanna King· Wed, Mar 06 2013 17:22:17

Parameters for success in inquiry

I just finished attending the Edugains Literacy Camp this week.  The focus of this week is developing discourse and curiosity in the classroom….read between the lines: we’re talking about inquiry!

We tried this new discussion strategy tonight called World Cafe, that lead to some very interesting tangential diversions about implementing inquiry-based learning. We had some stimulating discussions following videos featuring Lucy West, where we defined accountable talk, and were encouraged to develop strategies that would have  teachers modelling the ideal conditions of inquiry.  Of course, the highlight was a live video conference with Alec Couros.  Dr. Couros challenged us with two questions:

  1. How can teachers use the power of personalisation to inform how we use inquiry-based learning?
  2. How can teachers help students to develop authentic networks to support their learning?

Alec posted all of his thought-provoking links in a Google doc for us if you want to dig deeper.

After rotating groups 4 times, I hosted a lovely group of lead teachers and a principal.  Sometimes you just meet people that you could spend the rest of your career working with, you know? We quickly leaped to identifying the ideal conditions for inquiry and how to support them in our schools.  To summarize, here is a quick overview of our work today.


Choice of role, audience, format and topic (RAFT) in any combination is empowering to students and immediately amps up the chance that this school work will be meaningful.  Giving students the knowledge and choice of individualizing privacy settings of their online work is a power that must be experienced to be understood.  With any amount of choice, we agreed that starting with small amounts and gradually releasing the students to greater independence was an essential method to encouraging independence.  Metacognition, reflection and self-regulation were all skills that we saw directly benefiting from giving students more choice in inquiry.


In order for students to take responsibility for their own learning, they need to be given the autonomy to make choices about what they will work on, and how they will work on it.


Access to learning opportunities needs to happen 24/7…this doesn’t mean that teachers need to be available all day every day, but their content should be online, and office hours outside of class time are minimal expectations.


This is the most challenging aspect of implementing inquiry-based learning.  In theory, inquiry will naturally occur through phases depending on student readiness.  In reality (in Ontario) they attend class 76 minutes for 89 days of a semester.  Can we accommodate students beyond the current system of time?  If so, how do we manage reporting?  I would like to build some more flexibility of time into our current day.  Here’s an idea: an inquiry pass….students can legitimately skip class in order to be productive in the library.

What do you think?  Are there things you would add or adjust?

Engaging your digital identity

I can’t help it….it’s not even the end of July and I’m thinking about teaching again! Next year I get a media arts class to experiment with and we are going to explore the ideas of identity and anonymity through a reflective blog all semester long. I firmly believe that people have an digital identity whether they like it or not, so why not harness the power of the internet and make your identity what you want it to be.  Here’s an infographic I made on using my Facebook account.  I think the secondary students I work with are going to love this!

create infographics with