When I reflect upon the journey of becoming a learning commons and what might be most helpful to share with you, I think of hindsight and the wisdom that comes from it. Initially I thought a learning commons was just a tech enhanced library program, but my understanding has come a long way since then.
When I think of the journey thus far, this movie comes to mind. This phrase speaks to the journey both literally and metaphorically. On a literal level, the journey through space refers to the the physical transformation the library has gone through. And still there are improvements left to be done. The journey through time refers to the changes and experimentation with scheduling, extra curricular clubs, etc to maximize the amount of time students spend in the learning commons. On a metaphorical level, this journey takes time. You have to be patient as your colleagues and students come to understand the ideology of this enhanced space. It took me time to understand the concept. And I think the learning commons will keep changing. Staff change. Students change. Technology changes. The curriculum is changing. And the space must change to suit the needs of its users.
So you've been given the grant, and off you go down the path of being a learning commons.
When I was in your position, I, and my colleagues that also were awarded the grant, couldn't wait to......
Spend the money!
I am good at spending money (as our secretary tells me). This would be easy and fun. Obviously I wanted to spend the biggest pot of money first - the tech money. So what to buy?
I asked around. At the time, as this is a number of years ago, there weren't that many elementary schools that had got the grant. So it didn't take long to take a poll as to what was going on in other schools. And I was quickly confused. There wasn't a formula. There was such vast difference of situations out there. What do I buy?!
This is how I felt.
This is it. The couch. The only couch. I don't know if things have improved since then but that was a real eye opener for me. I had been to a number of libraries and nobody had this couch. So how did they get furniture to suit their space and needs?
Point 1: At first, I thought I needed to do what others were doing. The
I visited other libraries and learning commons in person, but it was much more time efficient to visit them digitally. I then emailed librarians and found out where they it their furniture.
SPENDING TECH FUNDS
▸ Consult with staff and create a shared vision
▸ Consider the application of the devices
▸ Reflect on what devices will best support your
program goals and the goals of the school
▸ Purchase a balance of tech that best serves
creativity versus tech that is more conducive
▸ Be aware of the lifespan of the devices and
whether or not they are supported
▸ A mounted projector and electronic
whiteboard or a Smart TV is worth the
SPENDING TECH FUNDS
▸Photos, and especially video, take a lot of memory. Buy the devices with more
▸Many apps are also large files. Be careful not to overload your devices or they
will crash or run slowly.
▸Some apps appear to be free, but in the bulk purchasing plan they are not.
There are ongoing costs with iPads and acquiring new apps.
▸iPads do not run Flash videos. This is limiting.
▸Some updates wipe student work. Some students wipe student work. Some
district tech support wipe student work. All of which can happen when you are
not present. Upload and dump as frequently as possible.
▸Dropbox is great for storage. Create a school YouTube channel for viewing and
HINDSIGHT IS ALWAYS 20/20.........
▸Too many iPads, not enough computers or laptops
▸Many fun tech tools require USB plug-ins and portability, such as
the Makey Makey electronics or the digital microscopes. Laptops
are ideal for these purposes.
▸Smartboard expensive and unnecessary, also requires expensive
Smart projector. Smart software and computer operating system
updates can clash and crash.
▸Asbestos in the walls means a long wait for mounted technology to
▸Hide. Your. Cables.
▸Virtually and physically visit other spaces to gather ideas.
▸Your vision of how you want the space to be used will keep you
focused on what you need and want.
▸Weed. Declutter. Weed some more. Get rid of shelves. Create as
much open space as possible.
▸Employ creative (but legal!) accounting to get around $500 limit.
▸Having furniture custom built or refurbished is often much cheaper
than buying new. The district carpenters are amazing!
▸Every space is unique. There isn't a formula for LC furnishings.
HINDSIGHT IS ALWAYS 20/20
▸Kids are very hard on furniture. Invest in quality items. Exploding bean
bag chairs are messy.
▸Once you get couches, students will never want to sit at tables again.
▸Lightweight furniture is important, as you will be dragging it around
▸Clipboards are great substitutes for tables and negate the need for so
▸Work orders take a while to happen. And then one day, work men appear
without warning. Be prepared.
▸Some furniture is perhaps a bit too fun and creates management issues.
STRATEGIES (THAT WORKED OR
FLOPPED!)▸Cancel classroom book exchanges in favour of multiple open book exchanges
▸Use prep blocks solely for maker spaces, tech skills or other teaching. Book
exchanges are not part of prep time.
▸Set up an iPad or computer so students can sign books in and out on their own
throughout the day
▸Hold daily lunch clubs that use maker materials, technology, etc.
▸Invite teachers to teach in the Learning Commons when you are not teaching
▸Create research stations that students can use anytime through the the day that
are printer enabled.
HINDSIGHT IS ALWAYS 20/20.....
▸The LC model that many school districts follow does not include the TL
having prep classes. Apples and oranges. Don't beat yourself up if you can't
manage to do what some school in Texas is doing.
▸This is your teaching space. A secondary Learning Commons is very
different from an elementary one, and elementary spaces vary greatly in size
and shape. Do what works for you in the space you are in.
▸Consider your learners and their needs above all. If it is too noisy and
distracting to have 2 classes in the space at the same time, don't do it. Find
a compromise that allows as many users as you are comfortable with.
▸When making big changes to scheduling, do it on a three month
"experiment" basis. A year is a long time to live with situation that isn't ideal.
A WHOLE LOT OF 20/20
▸Consider your audience: your students, parents and staff. We are a
highly diverse district.
▸You may very well be creating a blog, website, wiki, etc. that nobody
(meaning parents, colleagues, students) read. Back to point #1.
▸Find the medium that your community does access. In my case, it's a
Youtube channel. Consider doing a parent and student survey about
their needs or wants in terms of digital communication. Back to point
▸Before you set out to make a website, make sure it is compatible with
various operating systems and can be viewed on a variety of devices.
▸ Regularly connect with at least one buddy (colleague new to the LC model) and one mentor
(TL with more LC experience). Both have perspectives that are so valuable
▸ Use technology to serve the educational purpose. Not the other way around. Is what you
are doing educationally valuable? Is the technology enhancing the teaching and learning or
▸ This is a journey, not a destination. Just like clothes shopping, some things look great but
they just don't fit you.
▸ Be prepared for more noise and mess. Let go. It's wonderful and exciting to share in the
enthusiasm of the new things on offer to the students.
▸ Get your staff involved in the space as much as possible, especially to help out with extra-
curricular clubs. This is not a one man show!
▸ Keep experimenting and let students guide the direction of the clubs and maker spaces.
AND LASTLY, PAY
TO WHAT GRADE 7
BOYS GET UP TO IN
Says the TL who didn't.