Best BITs: Are you underwhelmed in online spaces?

In reading Participatory Culture in a Networked Era, I’m reflecting on how not much has really changed since the invention of forums in the 70s … not that I was lurking there, but really it goes like this: post discussion thread, reply to discussion thread, repeat. …Right?

Why am I underwhelmed in my online spaces

Henry Jenkins says:”… It is abundantly clear that not all forms of participation are equally meaningful or empowering.”  Can you recall a time when you felt underwhelmed by a participatory experience?  What were the circumstances and what went wrong?

Looking forward to your comments.

Best BITs: My brag book of student voice

Each year I apply and receive a Speak Up grant which allows a mighty group of student editors to create a magazine of student creative work…usually art and creative writing. We’ve just finished our final editing of the year and I think it looks marvelous:

ODSS Paper & Ink is featured in the Canadian Library Association’s Standards for School Library Practice visionary document called Leading Learning.

Our humble project is described as leading the way for others as an example of the “LLC [Library Learning Commons] is an active participatory learning centre modelling and celebrating collaborative knowledge building, play, innovation and creativity.”

Now I’m not the one who came up with the idea…that happened 8 years ago. But when I joined the team of staff supervisors, I suggested we save money and take it online. I would love for it to be fluid and dynamic, which it is somewhat…..but it’s not the holodeck on Star Trek, you know? I try not to interfere too much with the decisions that students make but it hasn’t yet taken on a life of it’s own. It still exists because I hound students to edit and submit and submit and edit. Meanwhile Mizuko Ito works for the MacArthur Foundation of Chicago who attract young voices like this one:

In our Book Club: “Participatory Culture in a Networked Era” Mimi Ito takes the idea of student voice to a whole new level and she argues that we need to allow students to design these online places themselves, from the ground up. We need to allow them to fail as a natural consequence for creative risk-taking…and I really get that. But is the world of education as we see it ready for that? I don’t think that it is. I’m not sure my students would want that. To some degree I think they like that I badger them and push them to step outside of their comfort zones, and that I always give them recognition when they achieve something. It’s the carrot and stick approach again…so is it really student voice? Well is it?

Looking forward to your comments.



The Daughter of Smoke & Bone Trilogy by Laini Taylor

Dreams of Gods & Monsters (Daughter of Smoke & Bone, #3)Dreams of Gods & Monsters by Laini Taylor

The entire Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy is just delicious. For anyone new to fantasy it gently eases the reader into the world that author Laini Taylor builds by starting us with our protagonist, Karou who is an art student in Prague with a mysterious past and an unusual upbringing. She has untapped magical powers and only realizes her potential when she is threatened. Once everything about Karou’s ultra-cool life is under attack, she has to make some very difficult decisions about what is important to her. In the truest nature of a modern fantasy, she chooses a forbidden lover, above all else. The differences between good and evil are constantly blurred which I found very satisfying as it adds layers upon layers to the character development and the age-old feud unfolding. As with any trilogy, the action gets much darker before we see light at the end of the tunnel so teachers need to be aware of mild sexuality and violence throughout. I thoroughly enjoyed the strong female characters in this book that value their identities and families as much as the action of fighting for their lives. I just loved this book and the students who are picking it up based on my recommendation are whispering about it everywhere!


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A Spy in the House (The Agency #1) by Y.S. Lee

A Spy in the House (The Agency, #1)A Spy in the House by Y.S. Lee

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Mary Quinn finds herself in a bit of a Nikita situation….as she reforms her life, she is given a proposal to give up her traditional woman’s destiny and become part of The Agency. The really interesting part happens though when Mary is forced to acknowledge her past and there are some surprises there for the reader. This book just tripped along and I really enjoyed it. I look forward to reading the next one in the series. I would recommend this book for anyone in grade 7 and up…Mary does have to fend off unwanted male attention and there is some violence.

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The Art of Getting Stared at by Laura Langston

The Art of Getting Stared AtThe Art of Getting Stared At by Laura Langston

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this book as it is nomineed for an Ontario Library Association White Pine Award. I have been criticized for praising books too highly but honestly, the White Pine selection committee does such great work. I loved this book and I was surprised when it brought me to tears a number of times. The way the Langston interweaves Sloane’s discovery of her onsetting alopecia with the calls from her mother’s volunteerism in the Sudan and Sloane’s own volunteerism at the local child hospice unit speaks to the complete spectrum of mental health stresses that humans deal with. Sloane authentically struggles not only with the onset of her immune disorder but how to weigh her grief for her hair with the grief she feels for the patients that she visits. As a teacher-librarian, I would recommend this book for anyone grade 7 and up.

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Medicine Walk by Richard Wagamese

Medicine WalkMedicine Walk by Richard Wagamese

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Masterfully written. This is my first encounter with Wagamese but certainly not my last. I admire his ability to weave the novel as the background stories reveal themselves. This is a must-read in the Canadian canon. I think anyone would like this book but especially someone who feels connected to our home and native land or anyone who has had to make personal sacrifices for family members or anyone who has defined their own family outside of the traditional norm. As a secondary school teacher-librarian, I will recommend this book to the senior students in my building for the adult choices that our characters have to make.

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Delusion Road by Don Aker

Delusion RoadDelusion Road by Don Aker

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is nominated this year for an Ontario Library Association White Pine award and It is hopping off the shelves in my secondary school library. At first I found the book to feel very abrupt as the chapters interchange between the two essential plots and subplots of the novel. This contrived double-narrative improves towards the midway point as the plots begin to come together. The characters of Willa and Keegan are very believable and well-developed so that we really care about what’s happening as the plot thickens. Ayer even makes me feel sorry for Wynn at one point! This book, with its predictable structure, and it’s classic themes of good vs. Evil….vs. Evil will surely appeal to teens from grade 7 and up.

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The 5th Wave and The Infinite Sea by Rick Yancey

The 5th Wave (The 5th Wave, #1)The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked up The 5th Wave because it was yet another young adult dystopian fiction novel and I’m always looking for ‘sure things’ for the teens in my secondary school library. So I fully expected it to be predictable and smug about it. But it wasn’t! The twists and turns in the plot were unexpected and juicy! Our main character Cassie’s own biases and anxiety cloud her reliability as a narrator. From the start to the finish, I had a beautiful visual movie playing in my head so I can’t wait to see it come to the screen in 2016. I’ll be sure to pick the sequel as well.

The Infinite Sea (The 5th Wave, #2)    The Infinite Sea by Rick Yancey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Infinite Sea begins in media res as Cassie and her band of friends must pick themselves up from their last good deed in The 5th Wave. Having loved and lost Evan, Cassie’s emotions seem to be still divided between her brother and this new found will she has to see through the survival of the human race. Like the first book, The Infinite Sea keeps the reader guessing about the true ambitions of the invading alien race and there is a lot of action and many of the characters waffle between wanting to survive, and also making giant sacrifices to save each other.

Yancey never lets the reader forget that this group of hardened soldiers are actually brainwashed children who are living a nightmare. He mingles strategy with really human moments and I could not stop turning pages. I found both books to be very accessible despite the science fiction elements which require a leap of acceptance. The lexile count for both books is low enough for grade 6, and the characters are all school ages. I expect that these books will have wide appeal for most intermediate and senior students in my secondary school library.

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Rush by Eve Silver

Rush (The Game, #1)Rush by Eve Silver

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Eve Silver‘s book Rush is a sure fire winner with the strong young adult readers in my secondary school library. It begins with the life of an otherwise ordinary girl who gets pulled through dimensions into a ‘game’ but it turns out that she actually has to really kill the enemy Drau that she is up against. Miki ‘levels up’ as she becomes less afraid to hunt the Drau. There are hints at deeper issues as Miki deals with her own shock to the intensity of her situation, and as she tries to make a connection with the elusive leader Jackson, who has put up emotional walls to deal with his responsibility to the game. Because of the twists and turns in world-building and planar leaps, I don’t recommend this to weaker readers, but for those into science fiction, I do. I really enjoyed the game culture and also how Miki and her friends have to maintain all ‘normal’ appearances when they’re not fighting for their lives.

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Trillium by Jeff Lemire

TrilliumTrillium by Jeff Lemire

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Jeff Lemire ‘s graphic novel reminds me of this version of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel. As Nika and William come together through time and space and then are separated again, Lemire presents this as happening on two separate planes of existence. He uses the mythology of Mayan temples and an alien race to hint that these two people need to meet. The message is not explicit, but Lemire hints that these disparate people are meant to be together. The layout of the novel, which switches voices and combines the two planes of existence in unusual but effective ways is another convention-breaking strategy of Lemire’s to build the story. Although Trillium is rated by Vertigo as “Suggested for Mature Readers” there is no content or visualization that is beyond the capability of the adolescent readers in my secondary school library. More so what will challenge them are the style of the layout, and the topics of time, space and spirituality. Personally, I can’t wait for them to read it so we can have those great conversations.


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Breath of Bones: A Tale of the Golem by S. Niles, D. Wachter, M. Santoro

Breath of Bones: A Tale of the GolemBreath of Bones: A Tale of the Golem by Steve Niles

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Set in World War II, our main character struggles to help his grandparents make ends meet. To keep the village safe, a tiny clay man is given to the grandson and he is told to “Get to know it.” Although it’s purpose is at first confusing, grandfather explains that “…sometimes it takes monsters to stop monsters.” This story was originally released in 3 parts but the beautiful collector’s edition is spectacular to behold printed in high quality, glossy paper. There is even a couple pages at the end from Dave Wachter’s sketchbook. This story is so short that it could easily be categorized as a picture book and often the framing bleeds across the page. Like The Arrival Breath of Bones crosses historical, mythological and fantasy boundaries bringing this powerful legend to a state of modern belief. I would recommend this to anyone who is learning about the horrors of war for the first time or to anyone who can appreciate humanity’s ability to find light even in the darkest of times.


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The Troop by Nick Cutter

The TroopThe Troop by Nick Cutter

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As The Troop is nominated by the Ontario Library Association’s for the White Pine award, I picked it up in audiobook. This book is seriously scary….I have an 11 year old boy named Maximilian (weird coincidence) and the idea of him going anywhere overnight is nerve-wracking. Now I’ve taught Lord of the Flies, read Island Heart of Darkness and Robin Cook so I’d like to think that I had a pretty good idea of where Cutter was going, but there are many surprises along the way.

I enjoyed the experience of Cutter’s suspense, and there were times where I had to do deep breathing exercises to summon the courage to keep listening as the boys first are without guardians, turning on each other or hiding in the cellar. But while it was about the right age group for White Pine readers, and Cutter’s style in and out of the action and aftermath was masterful, I didn’t really enjoy it. Is it because I’m not in the right demographic? Maybe. But I also think it’s because the creation of horror is more important to Cutter than the originality of his premise.

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Every Day by David Levithan

Every Day (Every Day, #1)Every Day by David Levithan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you think that all young adult fiction is about dystopias and shallow relationships, give Every Day a try. I found it really impressive that Levithan could carry this unusual format through the entire book. At first I was quite worried that the days would become preachy as every new body protagonist A inhabits has an identity that is less about humans and more about Levithan’s need to celebrate diversity …and there were very few days that came across this way. It reminded me both of Orlando: A Biographyand also Black Like Me in its scifi but humanistic approach to becoming an “other”. I will highly recommend this book to the teens in my secondary school library.

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#BIT15Reads: The Innovators by Walter Isaacson

The Innovators: How a Group of  Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital RevolutionThe Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution by Walter Isaacson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is a must-read for anyone who wants or needs to understand the evolution of the digital revolution. At times the computer science went over my head but for the most part Walter Isaacson‘s style was very accessible. It is jam-packed with information about each collaboration and often sidesteps culture and historical continuity in order to show you how innovations were happening in multiple locations at the same time in history. I really appreciated the timeline at the beginning of the book which I referred to often. What can I say? I learned a lot.

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#BIT15Reads: Where do we go from here?

Welcome to all new members of #BIT15Reads! Hello to all of you who’ve been with us since the beginning.

We gained almost 30 new members since November 4th bringing our total membership to 92 members.  Fantastic.

I’d like to propose a few ideas for moving forward:
a) we keep the name #BIT15Reads until Dec. 31, 2015 and then change it #BIT16Reads
b) we review some of our favourite books (that involve technology and education somehow)…I’m calling this the “classics” bookshelf which I’ve said we’re “currently reading” in the Goodreads bookclub site  (I’ve already started a list based on suggestions and a few of my favourites but I know there are more out there…don’t be shy!)
c) We continue to expand our group’s platforms where we’re comfy…I’ve tried Goodreads, Flipboard, Google Hangouts and Twitter so far. Peter McAsh has offered to take the lead on Blab…a social conferencing tool that Steve Dotto highlighted at the conference. Any others?
d) Start thinking about #BIT16Reads books….these would be books with a copyright date of 2015 that you’d like to read/highlight as important reads about technology’s role in education.  Maybe we start reading these in May 2015 to get ready for #BIT16?

Your action items:

  • enjoy reading
  • nominate classics books
  • keep talking about the books you’re reading either from the BIT15Reads or Classics lists and tweet using the hashtag #BIT15Reads as you’re reading, when you review, when you connect to other texts etc.
  • start or join discussions in Goodreads
  • give me feedback
  • get involved

Want to be a moderator? Got an idea? Let me know. I’m so glad to have you aboard this experiment to create community all year long.

my reading 2015
What reading looks like to me in 2015