Thursday, December 29, 2016

Thing 35: Evidence Based Practice – Getting Started

I was lucky enough to have just completed an on-line post-graduate class facilitated by Hilda Weisberg this Fall (2016).  She is an amazing educator and inspired human being who is such an asset to our profession.  It was a privilege to discuss librarianship and best practices with her and my classmates.

The course was Leadership for Librarians, which is something not very many of us is comfortable with - me included!   It is far easier to stay in the background and to do our important work quietly and effectively without bringing too much attention to ourselves or our programs, but Hilda made it clear that we need to be leaders in our schools and communities to showcase what we do; to prove our value to our stakeholders.  One thing is clear: a strong leader definitely uses Evidence Based Practices as part of their long-term and short-term goal setting.

In this class, we wrote our Vision and Mission statements and then created 3-year action plans designed to accomplish our visions.  During this course, I had an epiphany where I realized that I was an outstanding manager, but only a mediocre leader.  I have all the tools I need to become a better leader, but I have to put the pieces all together to realize my potential.

Evidence Based Practice is a big part of how we gain confidence and "tell our story".  All of the authors featured in the "Resources to Explore" portion of this assignment - Hilda Weisberg, Jennifer LaGarde, Joyce Valenza, Ross Todd - all indicated in their posts, presentations, and articles a common thread: we know what we do is important, and we know we're having an impact, but how do we SHOW that with solid evidence?

 Ross & Hay did a fantastic job giving concrete examples of what evidence-based claims look like in their AASL 2015 presentation.  They are specific, but not necessarily based solely on figures, because let's face it - sometimes it's near impossible to put a figure on something intangible like "understanding".  If we formally pre- and post-tested every skill we taught, we'd lose at least 1/3 of our instructional time.  This is not to undervalue assessments, because they are indeed immensely important in both informing our instruction as well as providing data on student achievement - but sometimes the assessment is simply the product of the learning, not a formal test on if you know the vocabulary or if you can replicate the usage of the skill out of context. 

Joyce Valenza lists ways we can capture evidence of our students' learning, and I was thrilled to see NoodleTools and Google Classroom listed among the resources.  I already lavished praise on NoodleTools in my previous post, but seriously - this is the BEST tool EVER!  My administrators and families are always so impressed with what students can accomplish with it, and I love that everything is recorded and time stamped and that students can collaborate and we can all share comments, etc.  If you're not using NoodleTools, you should check it out.  Perhaps you're happy with just Google Classroom, but I still think NoodleTools adds an important layer that does not exist on the Google platform.  Also, Joyce's exit questions are excellent and offer a great jumping point for our own information gathering.  And like Hilda, Joyce also sees the strong connection between leadership and EBP.

In sum, my quarterly reports have become better thanks to participating in Jennifer LaGarde's workshop sponsored by my local BOCES groups last year (I enjoyed sitting next to you that day, Polly!!), and my vision has been solidified thanks to Hilda Weisberg's guidance in my grad class - and now I'm just putting my plan into action, one measurable step at a time.  EBP is an important part of this process and one that guides and shapes everything I do professionally.  

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Thing 34: Digital Tattoo & Digital Citizenship

Here is a topic I have put a lot of thought into especially this year.  I had explored Common Sense Media's Digital Literacy & Citizenship curriculum in the past, but never successfully incorporated any of those pre-made lessons into my own isolated Library Skills curriculum.  I can't say why - it just never seemed to fit, and because I only have access to each individual class about 30 times in a school year, I really work hard to create a curriculum that is custom aligned in a scope and sequence fashion to our unique mission and vision.  This is not to say that I didn't feel digital citizenship is important or relevant, because you bet it is!  I just didn't really know where to insert it in a way that would enhance the other skills and units that I wanted to cover.

Then I discovered Citizenship in the Digital Age thanks to Questar III's Jane Bentley's ROAR (Revisiting Our Area's Resources) article posted in September or October 2016.  Being written by the same folks who tackled the indispensable IFC (Now Empire State Information Fluency Continuum), for some reason, this was a document and curriculum I could sink my teeth into!

Like Common Sense Media, CDA offers a K-12 scope & sequence vertically aligned curriculum, but I just liked the more familiar format of the CDA document, and I felt it was somehow easier to modify and customize to my specific needs.

So this year I created a new component to my 5th grade curriculum that features lessons based on the 5th grade CDA Digital Citizenship Guide.  That guide itself is SO helpful and actually pulls in components of the IFC - it's just the best thing EVER!  And each set of grade level lessons include specific learning outcomes and a list of Common Core and IFC standards addressed - it's just a thing of pure beauty!

Now all that said, I do love this document whole-heartedly, but would I use it as is?  No way.  Some of the activities were not the greatest and the links and videos sometimes lacked pizzazz, but that's okay.  I like to customize my lessons, so all I really needed was the clear outline and a chance to read through their examples, and then I was ready to run with it on my own!

I am smack in the middle of implementing my brand new Digital Citizenship "unit" as I type.  I combined it with my lessons on web site evaluation (based on IFC benchmarks) and will follow it up with setting up student accounts in NoodleTools, an online research organizer.  I'm focusing on the two major components of digital citizenship as identified by the CDA: responsibility and safety, and it seriously could not be working better!!  NoodleTools is tied with the IFC as the best thing ever because it reinforces everything students need to know about effectively using resources (print and electronic) responsibly, and setting up the accounts reinforces the notion of digital safety because we spend a whole class learning how to create strong IDs and PWs to keep our accounts secure.  I am loving this because my 5th graders are super engaged, the learning is absolutely relevant, and I feel like I'm giving them skills and tools that will truly have an impact on the rest of their lives.  This is what teaching is all about; this is why I love my job!

I could continue to extol the many great qualities of both the IFC and CDA, and, of course, NoodleTools (by the way, NoodleTools' note card format is identical to IFC benchmark assessment 4:5!!), but let me briefly address "Digital Tattoos" or digital footprints.  The thinking points in this activity asked us to consider student privacy and "over-sharing".  In a nutshell, yes, I do believe employers and colleges have a right to research potential candidates - even their social media presence.  And I do feel that they should be able to include what they find in their over all evaluation of candidates.  I understand that people post things for different "audiences" using different "voices" and language, but if it can be easily found online, then no, it is not private. What people choose to post online is definitely a reflection of their judgement and character.  Absolutely.   And this is why teaching digital citizenship is so very, very important.  People need to realize the consequences for their words and actions, and they need to be mindful of the persona they create online. 


Sunday, December 18, 2016

Thing 33: Presentation Tools

So I probably first did this assignment years ago when I was a newbie to Cool Tools, but I obviously did not master this important area of knowledge the first time around..... and truth be told, I still feel a bit at a loss the second time around, too :-(

I started by reading a couple of the articles to get me thinking about the topic and to see what experts are saying today.  Shelly Terrell's, "Let's Present!", immediately caught my eye, because after doing a Cool Tools assignment on "Infographics", I started to ask my 6th graders to create infographics or posters as part of a research project we do on the Ancient Egyptians.  So this article did give me some new sites to try out, although I'm leery of any tool that requires additional account log-ins for students.  It seems the more steps involved, the more complicated the assignment becomes, and before I know it, we've lost our initial enthusiasm and are just bogged down in remembering where to go and what password to use!

Then I read Naomi Chibana's, "PowerPoint Alternatives", and really liked her clear presentation of each tool, especially in regard to pricing.

But where I decided to spend the most time was with Bunkr, of course, given its new fame as an "AASL Best Web Site of 2016" - so how could I go wrong?  Oh, let me count the ways....

First, I read Heather Moorefield-Lang's article, "Ideas for Using AASL's Best Web Sites: Bunkr", and I watched the embedded video, which said over and over again just how easy this was going to be.  So wasn't I surprised when the first night I logged in to it from my Google account, I pretty much gave up after about 15 fruitless minutes!  But I am one who is seldom daunted, so after a good night's sleep, I got right back to work and was delighted that everything seemed to be going great.... at first anyway!

I decided to make a test slide show where I simply played around with various features.  The first thing I did was import a Google Slides presentation I made this Fall: EASY!  Then I made a fun page where I embedded 4 You Tube videos of fun winter crafts to make from upcycled books: Again, EASY!!!!  Now I thought I had this thing down pat, and I was actually having fun, too!  So wasn't I disappointed when I tried to upload some photos.  I had hoped to upload one from my personal computer and one from the Web.  Neither really worked out.  I couldn't find any way to access my personal files, so I couldn't upload an image that way.  And when I tried uploading from Google Images, I got more than just the neat photo I was after.  Oh, well.  You can't win them all, right?  So I went on to try to upload a PowerPoint presentation, again from my computer - but no dice!  At least this time it allowed me to search my files, but no matter which presentation I selected, it came up with an upload error message: so, so frustrating!

At that point, I had spent well over 2 hours on this and decided enough was enough, so I created one last slide with my general thoughts on Bunkr.

Here's a link to my presentation if you want to check it out here

My conclusion was that although Bunkr definitely has promise, I don't think it's the best presentation tool for my elementary crowd.  I think I'm wiser limiting their exposure to familiar tools, like Google Slides and Docs which are already integrated into their learning environment.  Like I said regarding the digital poster tools, the less complicated the product platform is, the more likely the students will succeed when using it.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Thing 32: Emerging Tech & Scanning the Horizon

What a treat to be able to explore this topic now rather than at the end of the workshop like I had in past "tracks"!  And what better way to spend a "snow day" at home than by reading and reflecting on several of the interesting readings posted within this assignment!

So far, I've read the two IDEA WATCH articles posted by Carolyn Foote, "What Does the Next Generation School Library Look Like" by Luba Vangelova, and the 2016 NMC Horizon Report.  It was interesting to see the areas of overlap between these four "reports". 

The trend that seems most prevalent is that the idea of the old quiet research/book warehouse is long gone, replaced by more of a "learning commons" space for interactive collaboration and project-based learning with an emphasis on student-centered exploration, innovation, and creativity.  Interestingly, Vangelova described the transformation of a high school library in Charlottesville, VA where the physical collection was down-sized, the shelving reduced and made mobile, and where every nook and cranny was devoted to assorted student-centered purposes including a technology lab, a hackerspace, a makerspace, music labs, and lounge areas.  Although exciting to be sure, the idea of fully embracing that style of library is somewhat daunting to me, and probably less realistic for my elementary crowd, so it was reassuring to read Foote talk about another trend for libraries to create spaces for students to "unplug" and reflect in her article, "Far Beyond Makerspaces".  I thought it was funny how although this type of space is not new to libraries, we can make it feel new by branding it with a trendy new name like, "Unplug Zone" or "Digital Escape Space".

As for how these trends, visions, and concepts fit into my specific world - Well, I'm certainly right on board with some of it - especially the idea of creating an inviting space for student collaboration and exploration.  I see grades K-6 on a fixed schedule 6-day rotation for isolated instruction, and I rely heavily on the Empire State Fluency Continuum to guide my lesson planning.  From the earliest grades, I foster a community of engaged learners where I very much act as both instructor and mentor, and where students are encouraged to teach and learn from each other in a safe and respectful environment.  I refuse to teach anything that is not "authentic" and with actual application and purpose.  Students are sucked in by my own enthusiasm and willingness to learn from them.  I strive to validate all of their contributions and ideas, and I willingly engage in the learning and activities right along with my students.  

By 5th grade, I have covered many important topics in Digital Citizenship, especially in regard to using digital and print resources responsibly.   I have all students using NoodleTools to organize their research online and I engage the students in fun and meaningful research projects that involve collaboration between myself, teachers, and outside community experts on our chosen topic.  For example, last year in 5th grade we created a fabulous project that I titled, "The Struggle for Equality" that enhanced student understanding of government while at the same time allowed them to explore somewhat over-looked topics in American history including the Japanese Internment Camps, Jewish discrimination, the Chinese Exclusion Acts, and so much more.  In addition to the teachers and myself, we included a professor from the Albany School of Law (who is also a parent of 2 students, although neither in 5th grade at the time!) and several of his students.  It was AMAZING!  The kids couldn't believe what they were finding out, I couldn't believe how thoughtful they were in their thinking, and it was a fabulous moment where we were able to bring ALL the pieces together in one perfect project - we had teachers, the librarian, outside experts, and parents involved. 

I think in many ways I'm hitting a lot of the big trends as described in the NMC report, especially as it highlighted "Collaborative" and "Deeper Learning" approaches and "Authentic" learning.  Areas where I need to grow involve being more open to makerspaces and unstructured student exploration. Being part-time myself and having no designated support staff makes the idea of implementing such programs somewhat daunting, but not all together impossible.  Right now I teach 4 blocks with no lunch or prep, so supervision would definitely be an issue - although many descriptions of these spaces indicate how little supervision there is.  Also, K-6 does not have study halls or free periods, so it could only be an extracurricular offering for now.

So much to think about!  But I'm always scanning that horizon and I'm open to trying anything :-)

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Thing 31: Coding

Here's a topic that has been much on my mind in recent months.  "Coding" has been a buzz word in the library community for quite some time, but it's only been in the last 6 or so months that it's begun to take a more firm hold in my brain.  Especially after our September 2016 Questar III Library Liaison meeting where several librarians in attendance talked about how they integrate coding into their curriculum, that's when I decided to get serious about exploring what all the hubbub is about :-)

So before I even signed up for Cool Tools this Fall, I had begun experimenting with The Foos and Kodable, hoping I could introduce coding to at least grades 2-3 this year.   But then life happened, and before long, a multitasking librarian like myself who does not know the meaning of the word, "no", found herself blissfully knee-deep in post-graduate classes, assorted PD opportunities, heading two school committees, collaborating on every project teachers approached her with, rocking the Danielson rubric, and finding the time to cook a 35 pound turkey on Thanksgiving (yes, apparently they do come that big!), and well - coding sort of got lost in the shuffle!

And that's when I fell on my knees in gratitude for good old Cool Tools!  This assignment popped up and put coding back on my radar. 

Now having already explored The Foos and Kodable for my younger crew, I decided to see what was out there for my older students.  So this week I explored "Hour of Code Activities By Grade Level" and I discovered "Code Avengers" digital postcard activity for grade 6+.  This was definitely a big step up from the games and activities I had explored in The Foos and Kodable.

In this 10 task activity, I was lead by way of short video tutorials through the process of writing real html gobbledygook!!  You know, the kind of stuff that beings with carrots (<) and includes weird, non-natural language scripts and the like.  This is what my husband does for a living, and for a brief moment, I enjoyed a glimpse into his murky, bizarre world of geek speak (of course, look who's talking - the girl who spends every spare moment with her nose in a book!).

Anyway, because I try to incorporate everything I do in Cool Tools in my actual teaching, I decided to make a postcard from Rick Riordan's Camp Half-Blood (who's the geek now?!) to see if this is something I can incorporate into my 6th grade Inquiry project: Create Your Own Demigod.  And the verdict is..... maybe.  Making the postcard was not the problem; however after step 10, you can supposedly share your postcard via FaceBook, Twitter, or Google - but no matter how I tried sharing the darn thing, it was a no-go.  At one point I found where it should have been on my Google page, but it was blank, and the emails I sent to my multiple addresses never showed up at all (yes, I did check my "junk" folders, too!).  So, using skills learned in a previous Cool Tools assignment, I took a screen shot and saved it in my Google Drive (my, I'm resourceful, aren't I?) and here it is!

I also explored several of your tip links, including the 10+ minute podcast, "7 Tips for teachers Who Have No Interest in Coding", which didn't so much offer useful tips, as just sort of reaffirmed that I am qualified to teach coding.  Okay - it did give a few tips, but these were in the form of, "You should play the coding game BEFORE you teach it to the students".  Like that was news, right?

Anyway, my real take-away from making my html postcard is how grateful I am for word processing programs that let you make text BOLD or BIG with a simple Ctrl function or click of an icon rather than writing crazy lines of script!  I think I liked the coding games for the younger set better with their use of sequencing and logic.  That's more my speed.

So will I incorporate coding into my curriculum?  Probably.... but I think I need to explore more of the amazing resources you gave us first to get a better handle of which programs would work best for my students.  And I need some more time to think about where I would want to insert this topic.  Right now I'm so focused on the IFC and inquiry learning that much of my instructional time is devoted to projects and research skills - which is not to say that coding does not belong - I just need to reflect on where and when.  Seeing my students on a 6-day rotation means I only have about 30 classes per year with them, so every minute has to count, and the learning has to proceed in a logical manner so as to give the students a sense of purpose and progression.