About Wendy Stephens

Librarian at Cullman High School, Cullman, Alabama

App of the Week: Learnist

Learnist
Title: Learnist
Cost: Free, with some premium boards as in-app purchases
Platform: iOS and Android

Learnist offers bite-sized learning, ranging from to academic topics to pop culture, with lots of food and DIY step-by-steps to mix things up.

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There are a lot of these user-generated learning platforms around, many with big name content tie-ins. Learnist is like Instructables, but with a better user interface, or Curious, but with more free content.
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Back to School: Challenging the Freedom to Teach and Learn about Labor

What if the collection in your library was circumscribed by your state legislature? This spring, the Michigan state legislature introduced a bill specifically designed to penalize instruction surrounding an important but politically disfavored topic, that of labor organization.

The legislation reads:

Prohibited Instruction Activity. The Senate added new language stating that it is the intent of the Legislature that a public university that receives funds under section 236 shall not participate in any instructional activity that encourages or discourages union organizing of employees including, but not limited to participating with any business or union, or group of businesses or unions, in hosting, sponsoring, administering, or in any way facilitating an academy, seminar, class, course, conference, or program that provides instruction, in whole or in part, in techniques for encouraging or discouraging employees in regard to union organizing. The appropriation in section 236 for any university that participates in an activity described in this section shall be reduced by $500,000 for each occurrence. (Sec. 271A)

Specifically, the bill challenges Michigan State University’s incorporation of a Building Trade Academy as part of their existing School of Human Resources and Labor Relations. The issue seems to have come to a head surrounding coursework that has been described as promoting labor organization.

Promoting labor relations – that seems like a broad umbrella. There is real potential for this movement to stifle any academic debate related to labor history and workers’ rights. Continue reading

App of the Week: Leafsnap

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Name: Leafsnap
Platform: iOS
Cost: Free

Leafsnap has languished for years on my phone. The app represents the sort of big audacious online project that we as librarians need to know about. Merging geographic location with image recognition, it combines reports from the field to produce an interactive electronic guide.

For the end user, Leafsnap is designed to make a “best guess” about the species of a plant, based on an image of a leaf you upload or input through the camera. I hadn’t been able to use it before last week. It’s limitation? Spearheaded by the Columbia University, the University of Maryland, and the Smithsonian Institution, Leafsnap is crowd-sourced, and a caveat warns that the database best reflects the northeasten U.S. for the time being (though there is a U.K. version, too). When I heard someone speculating about the name of a specific tree while I was in Massachusetts, I was happy to put the tool to work.
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App of the Week: Wattpad

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Title: Wattpad
Platforms: iOS and Android, also web-based
Cost: Free

This spring, a student asked me if I knew about After, the One Direction fanfic “everyone was reading on Wattpad.” Then I saw Clive Thompson looking for people who were publishing on Wattpad… and I fell into the rabbit hole that is the reading/writing/commenting site.

After had already landed author Anna Todd a three-book deal, but that wasn’t the only interesting thing about Wattpad.
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Probably not surprisingly based on its fanfiction roots, YA is especially strong on Wattpad. The influences are somewhat predictable. One young writer named daven whose “story” (as all narratives as labeled) December I particularly liked, had a profile pic featuring her with Rainbow Rowell.
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App of the Week: Plain Text 2

Title: Plain Text 2
Platform: iOS
Cost: Free

plain text 2

When my school adopted iPads for AP and pre-AP students, one roadblock some students encountered involved working away from wireless networks. I showed some how to set up individual Google docs for offline access, but sometimes students wanted to begin typing an assignment and hadn’t created or adjusted a doc so they could access it at home. Plain Text 2 provides an excellent word processing platform for those instances, and it’s clean interface has made it a go-to for writing many documents.

If you’re thinking Notepad, the text isn’t THAT plain. Fonts include Helvetica, Courier, and Times New Roman, and you can adjust the font between 10 and 24 points…the only down-side is that whatever you specify is set for the document, so you can’t alternate fonts or sizes. You can also double-space, much to the delight of my students working on English papers, and there is a running word count and Flesch-Kincade Grade Level and Readability Scores (under the “info” option). An extended keyboard provides convenient access to the most commonly used symbols without toggling.

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App of the Week: FridgePoems by Color Monkey

Title: FridgePoems by Color Monkey
Platform: iOS
Cost: Free (for basic vocabulary set)

It’s National Poetry Month, and there’s no easier way to promote the creation of verse poetry than setting up a public access tablet with this fun app.

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When you launch the app, you get a “working” space with a handful of words, but you can zoom out to see more. Dragging the word boxes with your fingertips allows you to reorder things to create your verse.

Writers are not strictly limited to the words on screen. You can draw for new words or invest in themed WordPacks ($1 each for hipster tragic, redneck, hip hop, etc. or $3 for all of them). The provision of verb endings and plurals can add some variety as well.
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App of the Week: Waterlogue

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Title: Waterlogue
Cost: $2.99
Platform: iOS only

Instagram forever changed the mobile digital photography landscape, but for those who want to get a little more artistic with their camera snaps, the Waterlogue app, which offers a single version for both iPhone and iPads, offers a foolproof way to convert the photographic into the painterly.

Waterlogue provides a dozen options for rendering your photographs into lovely watercolors, from the draftsmanlike to the abstract. You can manipulate the sharpness of each image after the filter is overlaid.

Not only does the app allow you to output frame-worthy personal momentos, but it offers countless options for inventive library signage and brochures — and, as the Waterlogue FAQ states, if you own the image, you are free to do what you want with the watercolor produced, including commercial applications.
Painted in Waterlogue
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App of the Week: Whisper

whisper
Title: Whisper
Cost: Free
Platform: iOS and Android

When I read the New York Magazine article about Whisper, comparing it to one of my favorite blogs, PostSecret, the author waxed poetic about it hearkening back to the golden age of anonymity in online sharing. I had to try it.

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It’s a simple app. Compose your message, the app will suggest images based on the words you use, or you can use the camera on your device. It will give you a variety of fonts to choose from as well. The app auto-generates hashtags based on your text input, but you have the ability to remove or add more. Continue reading

New year, new look

When you turn (or swipe) your calendar’s page to 2014, be sure to pop by the YALSAblog to check out its new look.

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We hope it’s cleaner, more colorful, and offers better mobile compatibility for our readers-on-the-go:

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There’s also a changeable graphic to highlight YALSA’s of-the-minute work and initiatives, like Teen Tech Week.

And be sure to kick the tires while you’re there, and do let us know about any accessibility issues.