Buzz Books

(A version of this post appears at HBWReads under a different title.  Feel free to check it out here)
In April, I wrote about a project we began in Verona regarding summer reading, and described it as an attempt to make reading viral within our middle school.  The post, titled “Making Reading Viral,” detailed what was then an idea about how to create buzz around the titles we were recommending for the summer.The project began in earnest on June 27th, and we are now a month in.  Some brief stats on the site so far:Our middle school has a population of less than 700 students, and our town roughly 14,000 people.  Students and teachers write on their assigned days, with some mixing and matching going on.  It’s been a pleasure to administer the site and organize their work.

On Tuesday, August 2nd, I have the privilege of speaking at #140edu: Exploring the State of Education NOW Conference at the 92nd Street Y, NY, NY.  My topic: The Buzz Books.

A while back, I was asked by the conference founder, Jeff Pulver, to participate in this conference, and if so, what did I have in mind to talk about.  Immediately, I thought of the Buzz Books and the HBWReads blog.  Reading, to me, has been a difference-maker in my life, taking me from a place of shadows and ignorance, to one of luminosity and understanding.

Scholars have recently been examining the state of reading today among the general population of children in grades 5-12, and thestatistics coming out of their work paint an awful picture.  There are extreme ramifications upon our society if we raise a generation of non-readers.  So, we as a district, looked at what we thought of reading in general, and more specifically of summer reading.  We looked at reading phenomena like the Harry Potter books, the Twilight Series, and more recently, the Hunger Games trilogy.

We saw something there that caught our eye.

Reading is a social endeavor, and it’s done best when we can talk about books with people we have an interest in.  When we read a book that is outstanding, the first thing we want to do is to run and tell someone who matters to us all about it and recommend it to them.  We wanted to capture that somehow.

When I get on stage on Monday, I’m going to talk about that idea, but I am also going to talk about the work that has been done by all of the students and teachers at HBWReads so far this summer.  Looking back at the statistics I shared the other day, we have had wild success in terms of readers and traffic through our site.  We have had conversations around books that would not have otherwise occurred.  We are making reading viral, and helping to spread it through not only our community here in Verona, but also in other parts of the county and world.  Don’t underestimate the power of that.

The conference will be live on the web, and as soon as the information is posted as to how to tune in, I’ll pass it along here. (Here is the Ustream address if you are interested in catching the conference.  I go on roughly at 11:45am)


Following Up

In the last post, I had indicated that there was some more reflection coming regarding the #140conference in mid-June, and given the fact that my life has been scrambled as of late due to some interesting elements coming together, I figured now was as good a time as any to try to pull together some clarity.

The format of the conference was like a mini-TED in that each speaker was given such a small window to develop their point and deliver their message to the crowd in a fashion that would let us into their world and make us want more.

The first of the presenters to really pull me in on something other than starpower (see @anncurry) were AJ and Melissa Leon.  A husband and wife team, they go to change the way that NGO’s approach not only how they raise funds, but also how those that donate the funds for use in developing nations see their, for lack of a better term, “return on investment.”  They are part of AJ and Melissa Leon and equipping NGO’s and relief organizations with the tools to be transparent, but in a way that takes advantage of social media and some surprisingly available technology.

The work that AJ and Melissa spoke about took place in a village called Ola Nagele in Kenya, not unlike other villages that have seen the benefit of foreign money or foreign aid in the form of NGO’s and Western volunteers.  However, through the work that AJ and Melissa did in setting up the Ola Nagele blog and system of “on-the-ground” reporters.  They used the ubiquitous penetration of 3G signals in Kenya to equip several of the villagers with mobile phones and a tumblr account so that they can chronicle the events that occur as aid from the western world arrives and projects are completed.  Go check out their work.  They do more with a mobile phone and a broadband connection than most of us do with our $2000 laptops and blazing connections.

And we worry about allowing our students to use their phones for meaningful work?  As if…

Next up: Tim Armstrong and the birth of hyperlocal.