Staying Current

It seems like there is a new educational trend, pedagogy, or product almost every day! It can be hard to stay current, but with social media and technology, it’s sure a lot easier. I explored the AASL Best Websites for Teaching and Learning (2017) and found several sites that I think will be helpful to follow as I move forward through my education and into my future career as a school librarian. Check them out below.

  • Listenwise: This site features a collection of content-related podcasts for English, Science, Social Studies, and current events. Sample topics on the home screen include coral reefs, beach erosion, and Nelson Mandela’s contributions. Students can listen to engaging podcasts (with transcripts) and teachers can access lesson plan resources and assessments. I think this site would be really helpful to develop students’ listening comprehension skills, especially ESOL and SPED students, as well as audio learners and struggling readers. In the library, I might use a podcast to introduce a topic related to a content area or a current event. I might also play one to engage reluctant readers who don’t care for non-fiction print books. These podcasts might also be good to use in conjunction with a STEM lesson or makerspace.
  • Cite This For Me: This easy-to-use reference tool allows you to create a citation, bibliography, or works cited list. Where has this been all my life??! I know that we still have to teach students how to cite and reference sources, but this site will also be a great time-saver and resource. This would be nice to use in the classroom and library during the many research projects that students conduct during the school year, especially as students get older and the amount of references they use increases.
  • Wizer.me: With Wizer, you can create online worksheets with a variety of question types. You can add images, videos, and audio files, assign it to students through Google Classroom, and even have it graded automatically. I know that online worksheets have a bad rap, but in light of the TEI (technology-enhanced) components on our state tests, I think this site would be a super useful resource. Teachers can easily create engaging and interactive review materials or assessments that allow students to use those TEI skills. In the library, I might use this site to review reference skills, genres, or literacy skills, or perhaps to give students a survey about the library.

A few more website I have my eye on include Buncee, Google Keep, and Flipgrid. I’m adding them all to my bookmarks list for sure!

I’ve also started checking out several librarians’ blogs. I love being able to sneak a peek into their libraries and hear their insights about what’s working and not working with their students. One blog that I just started following is Expect the Miraculous from elementary school librarian Andy Plemmons. If you take a moment to scroll through his site, you’ll see why I’m following him! He shares TONS of great ideas and resources (with pictures – key!) for teaching and learning in the elementary school library. He is a huge fan of Flipgrid, and is also a Google Certified Educator. Many of his blog posts show how he is using technology to connect with his students and to connect them to the real world. I love that this site doesn’t have a salesy feel to it, either – just an educator who wants to share what he is doing with the rest of us. I’ve followed his library on Twitter as well, and can’t wait to learn from him!

Summer Institute Reflection

The summer institute was an amazing experience. What a great opportunity to network with my peers and meet and learn from my professors!

One major point that stood out for me was that as the school librarian, we must transform learning, and that there’s really no wrong way to do that. This job is not just getting kids to love books, teaching them how to cite a source, or helping them make a digital presentation. It’s about teaching them to be in charge of their learning, and making it authentic and purposeful by using any resources we can get our hands on. This isn’t something I haven’t heard before, but I heard it repeated in a lot of different ways and gained so many great ideas for how to do it. I think it’s really opened my eyes to what I can do and be as the librarian.

Another important takeaway was about making the library, the resources, and the learning about THEM, not you. That includes the physical space, the makerspace, the collection, and how you’re teaching kids to access, utilize, and create information. Again, we’ve heard this before, but it’s a good opportunity to reflect about things I need to let go of (i.e., needing to make the makerspace clean and organized). It’s also important to make sure that we aren’t letting policies and procedures get in the way of student learning. As Dr. Dickinson said, “Try not to create the walls that exist.”

One more message that really hit home was from a session about being a “future forward” librarian, and it’s simply the reminder that “when you fail, fail forward.” Like all of us, I can be too self-critical, and I think it’s important to remember that there is always something to be learned from every failure. I want the library to be a place where students and I can learn together, with and from each other, not a place where I am supposed to be the all-powerful expert. I want to be a risk-taker, I want to explore, and I need to fail so that I can learn.

One thing I’d like to learn more about is mobile learning. I understand the appeal to students, and the reasons to include it in the classroom and library, but I’m wondering about the logistics of using mobile devices, particularly at the elementary level, when it comes to security and privacy concerns, especially given that many districts have restrictive policies. I’m also curious about how to use mobile devices beyond using apps that students might also access on iPads or tablets.

I also want to learn more about some of the tech tools we played with and how to incorporate coding, robotics, etc., into my library lessons. Since I’ve been out of the classroom for three years now, it was really terrific to be able to put my hands on tools that I know are all the rage. I’d like to find out more about how to use them effectively with students – especially if there is no makerspace – and how to tie them in with the curriculum.

Now who’s ready to make nut rolls?

Time to Tinker with Tech Tools!

This week, I’ll have the opportunity to explore a variety of technological tools that are popular in teaching and learning. These can be used in elementary through high school and beyond, and are great ways for students to utilize creative and critical thinking skills! Below, I’ve shared a few ideas for how these tools might be used in the library or classroom, though I’m sure I’ll have lots more ideas after I get my hands on them!

Ozobots – Draw lines, patterns, and designs on paper, using different color combinations, and the Ozobot will trace the path. Students can use these in a library makerspace or during Genius Hour to learn coding basics. They could practice cardinal directions, for example, by creating simple maps.

Spheros – Use a device to control these robotic spheres, manipulating their movements, speed, distance traveled, color, and more. Spheros are a great hands-on way to learn simple programming. These would be a lot of fun to experiment with during a class study of force and motion, or for students to use to create mazes and designs that reinforce geometry concepts.

Makey Makey – Design circuits using ordinary objects that can conduct electricity, like playdough and bananas, turning them into various computer keyboard keys when they are pressed (i.e., arrows, space bar, mouse click, etc.). This tool really encourages students to think outside the box and become inventors, and would be an excellent addition to a makerspace! While there are tons of curriculum connections, especially to circuits and conductivity, I think I would just let students run wild with this one!

Little Bits – Snap together these small, magnetic electronic modules to create working circuits that feature light, sound, fans, motors, switches, and more. Students could use Little Bits in the makerspace to explore circuitry and engineering, and create projects related to literature they’ve read. One fun activity might be to research musical instruments from around the world and then have students make their own using Little Bits.

Google Expeditions – “Journey” virtually to a number of destinations in the world and outer space, complete with visuals and audio that make you feel like you are really there. There are so many possibilities for this in the school setting. Thinking about uses in the library, I’d have students explore settings featured in their favorite fiction books. I’d also love to use this in the classroom to teach science concepts like space and ecosystems, or to visit important historical landmarks and locations.

Paper Circuits – Create series or parallel circuits that light up and then draw a design on paper to lay over it. This sounds like a really good lesson in trial-and-error and learning to work through the design process, as well as reinforcing concepts of electricity. In the library, students might create maps for books they have read to show a character’s journey.

Aurasma – Access digital content in the real world via this augmented reality platform. Just open the app and point your device at an everyday object, image, or place to access digital pop-ups. There are endless possibilities for this one. Students could access contact information, directions, how-to videos… on and on!

Green Screen – Simply film yourself in front of a green screen (i.e., a large green cloth), and use various green screen apps to edit the footage, adding text, images, or videos as the background. Students could film news clips, make their own media messages, or create interesting book reports. Definitely a fun technological tool to add to a makerspace. Also love this idea for making portable green screens to use on a smaller scale.

Aviary – Upload a photo to this app, edit it with normal photo editing features, and then add text to the top and bottom to create your own meme. Students could use these in the library to make memes for characters, books, authors, or genres, or to caption an illustration or image from a book.

So many fun things to explore! I’m especially looking forward to trying out the Makey Makey kit, Google Expeditions, and Ozobots. Given ten minutes with each, here are some questions I’m hoping to answer:

  • Makey Makey: What software does it work with besides Scratch? It works with Makey Makey software and generally responds to any program/website (on Windows, Macs, and Chromebooks) that uses regular keyboard functions. How easy is it to manipulate the alligator clips and wires? Super easy! The classic version comes with 7 clips and 6 connector wires. Thinking about safety, are there items that should not be used with the circuit board? Generally everything is okay, even water, because it’s powered by a USB connection, not AC current, and the voltage is pretty low. Is there feedback when an item is used that will not conduct electricity, or do students just assume that’s what’s happened? No feedback – it just won’t work, so they have to learn by trial-and-error.  **This was a lot easier to work with than I expected, and really fun. I got to touch cups of water to play the piano and type in Word. I absolutely think that tactile learners will love this kit, and I think I want to get one for my kids (me) to play with!
  • Google Expeditions: What happens when you walk around – does the imagery change, or is it simply the same 360 degree view? It’s just the same view. How easy is it to set up the device and access the expeditions? Super easy – you just need the device (cardboards ones are really inexpensive) and the app. After you log in, you just open the expedition right up! Is it possible to create your own expedition? Yes! You simply upload your own 360 degree image and wait for Google to vet it. You can also access their collection.  **This was definitely fun to check out, though I wish there was a little more capability with being able to move around and see more things. It was also blurrier than I expected. That said, I still think it’s a fun way to experience a place, and I think kids will enjoy it.
  • Ozobots: How sturdy are these (i.e., can they be used with younger children, who may drop them)? Super sturdy – they’re okay even if they fall off a table! Are there other uses for the flash codes besides dancing, and are they only accessible through the app? You can use the app with Scratch. Can you make your own codes, or is it only programmed with certain ones? It only works with the programmed codes.  **These were super easy to use and really fun, and I like that they give you just a taste of coding/programming without lots of complicated steps or even any tech involved.

Can’t wait to get started!

7/18/18 Update: I’m back from the technology session and had an awesome time exploring all kind of tech tools! Check above to see what I learned about each of the three tools I had questions about!

Using QR Codes in the Classroom and Library

If you’re not already using QR codes in your teaching, I definitely recommend you try them right away! I’ve been using them for several years with great success with my students – they’re engaging, they incorporate technology, and students think they’re fun!

In the classroom, I’ve created several sets of task cards that require students to solve a problem or answer a question and then scan a QR code to check their answers. I’ve also used them on worksheets, asking students to scan the code to access a particular website in order to research the answer to a question. I’ve added them to maps; scanning a code allows a student to read information about or view an image of a certain location. I’ve also used them to record audio files, which I might do for an ESOL student who needs to hear how a certain word is pronounced, for instance.

In the library, I think there are unlimited uses for QR codes! A few ideas that jump out at me include using QR codes to:

  • provide information about an author, book series, or book (i.e., linking to a website, book review, book talk, or book trailer)
  • create a scavenger hunt during a library orientation
  • bring up a Google Form that students can use to make a book recommendation or request
  • record a short audio excerpt of a book
  • link to students’ work in a display or on a bulletin board
  • access directions for how to cite a particular type of resource
  • link to frequently used media, such as the library catalog or online reference databases

I quickly created the QR code below via the i-nigma website, though there are tons of free websites you can use to generate codes. Scan it to see the young adult novel I just finished reading (and couldn’t put down)!

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I’d love to hear how you use QR codes in the classroom or library!

Paper Circuitry and 3D Printing

What an exciting time to become a school librarian! There are so many hands-on learning opportunities for students now that many of us didn’t have access to years ago. This week we’ve been talking about paper circuitry and 3D printing, which are perfect activities to include in a makerspace! Both have so many curricular connections and will be engaging for students and teachers alike!

Paper Circuitry: Paper circuits are interesting to create because while they directly enforce scientific concepts (i.e., a electricity unit), they can be used to create all kinds of products for all sorts of topics and subjects! I think these would be really neat for students to use to identify important points of interest on a map, label a diagram, solve a problem on a number line, or simply create some abstract art!

3D Printing: When I first heard about 3D printing (by watching Grey’s Anatomy, I’ll admit), it sounded so futuristic. It’s amazing to me that we now have this technology in our schools! I love the idea of students coming to the library to print items they can use in their learning, such as 3D models of cells, planets, historical objects, or perhaps geometric figures like the sphere below. I like that there are so many free templates online for students to access, and would definitely encourage students to tinker with those templates to make their own creations.

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metalurgiamontemar0. (2013). 3d printed ball [Image]. Retrieved from https://pixabay.com/en/ball-3d-printing-design-597523/. CC0

I can’t wait to get to try all these things myself, and if I’m this intrigued and excited, you know students will be!

Boolean, If/Then, and Loops, Oh My! (Hour of Code)

I’ll admit that when I found out the assignment this week was to try my hand at coding, I was not thrilled. I love technology as much as the next person, but I am no IT guru and thought this was going to be a boring and difficult activity. Was I wrong!! I checked out Hour of Code and had a BLAST learning some basic coding skills. Check out my certificate below!

codecertificate copy

Since I’m at the beach on vacation, I chose to complete the Mystery Island program (designed for pre-readers and up, so I figured I would be okay, ha). I completed a series of 18 steps to design a monster and direct him to follow a treasure map to find an island, explore it, and escape it with the hidden treasure. Along the way, I had to learn coding skills like using functions, Boolean objects, loops, if/else, and arrays. One great feature about the program is that it’s self-checking, so I was able to get feedback for each step of the process. I only wish that there was an option to view and share my project in video format when I finished.

This was a great experience in using computational skills:

  • Breaking a problem into its parts was already done for me, since each of the 18 steps only had one specific problem to solve. Had I been presented all of the steps to solve at once, I think it would have been much more challenging to figure out to break out all of the pieces on my own.
  • Recognizing patterns and interpreting data definitely played a role in this coding program. I had to take the information that was given to me and determine what coding functions I needed to use to solve it (and in what order). As I continued through the program, I began to recognize patterns and work more quickly.
  • Understanding general principles was the area where I think I struggled the most (but also grew the most). There wasn’t a basic overview in the beginning of the program, so I had to learn as I went, and I actually had to go back twice and redo all of my steps. That said, I know I will be faster the next time around because now I have some basic concepts under my belt.
  • Algorithmic design was what this activity was all about! I had to follow steps in a process to accomplish a desired outcome – creating a monster who would visit an island and find the treasure. In each step, I had to use the correct programming options to get the monster to do what I wanted until I completed the task!

I’m really glad I finally tried coding! I know Hour of Code has been increasingly popular in schools over the last few years, and after tinkering with it myself, I plan to use it in the library and encourage teachers to use it with students in their classrooms as well. I think this is a fun, interactive way for students to use critical and creative thinking skills, incorporate technology, and develop 21st-century problem-solving and design thinking skills. I’ll definitely be back to play more!

School Library Websites in Action

This week, I’ve been exploring school library websites. I’ve seen some really incredible sites that provide insight into the environment, mission, and activities of school libraries, as well as curate helpful resources for students, parents, and teachers. I’ve shared a few sites below with some features that I found helpful or interesting.

I was really impressed by the Presidential Park Elementary School Library website. The site is visually appealing, easy to navigate, and feels uncluttered, though it contains tons of resources. On the home page, a website of the week is highlighted; underneath, a slideshow of photos shows special events and activities that have taken place in the library. Also on the home page are a poll of favorite genres as well as fillable forms for book suggestions and general feedback for the library. These really make the website feel like an interactive, patron-centered tool rather than a place to just access hyperlinks. Other features I found helpful were:

  • Information on real vs. fake news (timely!)
  • Information about internet safety with quizzes and games
  • Seasonal tabs with information on topics like Black History Month and Women’s History Month
  • Polls for students to vote on their favorite Caldecott award winners

Another website I found interesting was from the SIS (Seoul International School) Elementary Library. Right away, my attention was piqued by photos of students and images of award-winning books (though they were from 2015). Also on the front page is an imbedded Twitter feed for the library as well as book-related video clips. Unfortunately, the website doesn’t appear to have been updated since 2015, but there were a number of things I liked, such as:

  • Library class information listed by grade level, including library skills that are taught, images of books that have been read, and links to activities
  • Links to websites that have tools to create digital presentations
  • A well-developed section for parents, including an infographic on the importance of children reading every day, questions to ask your child about books (by grade level), and recommended book lists
  • Links to favorite authors’ websites

Though I’m planning to work at the elementary level, I also took a look at the Wellesley Middle School Library website. I appreciated the variety of information included, which is all well-organized and laid out nicely. The only thing I would’ve liked to see is some photographs of the library in action or some student work, to personalize it a little. Some features I really liked about this website include:

  • An informative “About Us” section that lists library rules, the acceptable use policy, the library calendar, the mission statement, and an orientation video
  • Summer reading information that is available year-round and includes current and past years’ reading lists as well as book trailers
  • A lot of great ways to hook readers on books including book recommendations, book trailers, summaries with book covers, information on a Local Author Workshop Day, book club activities, and book series lists

Later this week, I’m going to try my hand at creating my own mock school library site. Based on the website-building tools I’ve checked out, I’ve decided to try Weebly. Having never created a website before, I need something super user-friendly, and this looks like it. There are lots of templates to choose from, so I won’t have to worry too much about the design piece, and you don’t need to know how to code! I’m not sure it will turn out as fancy as some of the sites I’ve seen, but I’m looking forward to trying it out!