Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Thing 40: Final Reflection

I can't believe I'm at the end of yet another track of AWESOME Cool Tools!  It amazes me that every year, there are more motivating assignments to keep me exploring and learning.  I've actually put off submitting this final assignment, because I know that there will undoubtedly be more assignments I'll want to try in the coming months, but then I realized, there's always next year :-)

What Did I Learn?

Well, lots!  I think the thing I enjoyed most was making connections between the assignments in this workshop to other learning experiences I've had.  Doing these assignments reinforced and often expanded my understanding of a particular topic.  For example, I really enjoyed the Evidence Based Practice assignments, because that's a skill set I'm always looking to hone and improve, and your assignment resources tied in nicely with what I already know & use, while at the same time, giving me even more tools to explore.

What's Next?

I would like to participate in some of the "Unconferenes" and "Camps" that I discovered through the Online Learning assignment.  For now, though, I think I've accomplished enough PD to merit me perhaps a month off!  Between my post-grad SUNY Buffalo course last Fall, the Tell It On Tuesday monthly webinars I participate in, and this - I think I deserve some down time for further reflection before embarking on my next PD adventure.

What I do hope to do for the next few months, though, is to visit some of my peers' blogs to see what they've been working on.  I love that you've compiled the spreadsheet for us by participants' grade levels and by locations.  So convenient!

Final Reflections:

I absolutely LOVE learning this way.  I appreciate that there are so many thoughtful and engaging assignments that I have the freedom to pick from - and that I can tailor my experiences to suit my specific needs.  I think I glean at least one (usually more, though!) invaluable nugget from every topic I explore.  I know my participation in this workshop enhances my teaching and, in turn, improves the lives of my students in very real and meaningful ways.  I look forward to Track 5 next year.  Thanks, Polly!  And thanks to Jen Cannell at Questar for making this program available to us!!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Thing 39: OER – Open Educational Resources

This was such a useful and fun assignment!  I just spent the most delightful hour exploring the resources, and I'm pleased to say, I found some really good "stuff"!

I decided to start by checking out the "Understanding OER" introduction, and then I went right for the search tools.  I explored the first four, OER Commons, CK12, OpenEd, and Curriki.  I decided I would look for resources to enhance an upcoming 2nd grade unit I'll be starting next month on fables.  In the unit, I introduce the history and key characteristics of fables, then we share 3 examples focusing on characters and morals.  Next, we practice listening for morals, which can be tricky.  I have found that to a 7 year old, when asked to identify a moral in a simple story, they frequently just retell a summary of the plot.  Once we've gotten the hang of morals, we explore common human characteristics associated with certain animals, such as a lion being a ruler, a fox being sly, a turtle having perseverance, etc.  And then we put it all together by writing our own book of fables.  Teams of 2 use writing planning sheets to determine what moral they want to teach and which characters to include that would make sense.  They also plan out the basic plot through problem and resolution.

OER Commons came up with just four results when I searched "fables" in lower elementary, two of which were excerpts from EngageNY, a third being a lesson plan, and the last being a video clip from PBS's "Between the Lions".  Not a bad start, but I thought I could do better.

Next I tried CK12, but was disappointed that nothing came up for fables in elementary.  The six results were all for grades 7 and up.

By far, OpenEd gave me my best results.  I had 66 results, and although not all of them were relevant to my needs, a lot of them were!  There was a nice mix of video clips, mini lessons, and assessments.  I was really impressed!  I will be incorporating some of this content into my unit for sure.

Finally, I checked out Curriki, but this was my least favorite.  When I tried to search "fables" with the K-2 filter, the majority of the 48 results were geared towards pre-school.  I'm not sure why.  I double and triple checked my filter, and it was definitely selected.  Furthermore, of those 48 results, most of them did not provide topic specific resources, but instead focused on general Common Core Standards.  That said, there was one gem that I had not found in any of the previous three OER sites: a link to Library of Congress' "Aesop for Children" interactive book which "contains over 140 classic fables, accompanied by beautiful illustrations and interactive animations".  That could be very useful indeed!

So in summary, this was a great assignment that really gave me some new tools for my arsenal!  I'm excited to see how I can incorporate some of these OER resources into my teaching next month. 

Monday, February 6, 2017

Thing 38: Online Learning & DIY PD

I am a huge fan of online learning and DIY PD!  I absolutely love everything about it - that you can customize your learning topics and goals, that it is can be so flexible, that there is an endless variety of resources and formats.  This is really the ideal form that the internet can take; connecting a world of avid learners who can share and grow together in ways that were not possible even 25 years ago.

I already do a ton of online learning and PD, but really enjoyed exploring some of the articles and resources in this assignment.  From Building a Personal Learning Network – 10 resources to add to your professional development toolbox, I was intrigued by "Unconferences and Camps", which is one of the few resources I have not yet explored.  I investigated this topic even further in Edcamps: Remixing Professional Development.  In this article, the author, Andrew Marcinek, hosted edcamps for colleagues, and they sound amazing!  This is something I will definitely keep my eye out for in the future.  I love the concept of turning "meetings into conversation" and leaving the agenda open for organic learning opportunities.  Some of the best PD I have ever participated in has been more of a conversation; although it must be said, some of the worse PD I have participated in lacked any kind of prescriptive teaching and lead to confusion and frustration during the break-out work sessions.  So it's a fine line between guided exploration and all-out free range learning!

This year I have enjoyed participating in a new online learning venue: "Tell It On Tuesdays", organized by my area BOCES SLS.  So far I have attended two of these online webinars and am scheduled for a third on February 14th (I just wish it weren't on Valentine's Day!).  These were supposed to be opportunities for member librarians to share areas of their own expertise with each other, but so far the first two I participated in were facilitated by professional organizations - and CDLC.  The next one will be the first facilitated by a colleague, so I'm excited to see how that goes.  The first two had only myself and 1 or 2 other participants, which I think is really sad.  I wish more people would make time to support this great opportunity, because otherwise, I fear it will not be continued next year.  I do earn PD credit for participating, and I really enjoy the informal feel of these local events.

I have also taken two online post-grad classes through SUNY Buffalo.  They were both a lot of work and required significant time and participation.  One actually assigned hundreds of pages of professional reading each week!  Both required daily participation in discussion boards, and both had written assignments, too.  I would say these courses required MORE effort than a traditional grad class, but the trade-off was being able to log in from home when time allowed as opposed to having a designated meeting time and place.  I will endure a lot of extra work for that flexibility!

I'm also a big fan of YouTube learning and just general online searching for professional information.  Thanks to the internet, it has never been easier to chart your own course and to become the professional you aspire to be! 

And the biggest thank you of all goes to you, Polly, for putting together these Cool Tools workshops!  I do some of my best learning in this forum, and there is always something new to explore.  Here's to many, many more tracks of Cool Tools!!

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Thing 37: Annual Reports

I was indeed lucky enough to attend Jennifer LaGarde’s workshops last Fall (2015) when a consortium of our regional BOCES groups hosted her for our annual meeting in Saratoga.  And furthermore, I was even more lucky to sit right next to you, Polly, for the entire day :-)

I learned so much from Jennifer that day - but my two biggest take-aways were a) Things are way better in NY for libraries than they are in many other states and b) Reporting really matters.... a lot.

I came home from that day with a lot of big ideas and some great resources to investigate.  Jennifer had us break into teams to take a closer look at a variety of Library reports: the good, the bad, and the ugly.  At that point, I was giving my administrators just one annual report each year, and it was a pretty concise overview of basic statistics and a few highlights.  In comparison to what we looked at in the workshop, I would lump it in with the "unimpressive" bunch at best. 

I'm pleased to report that I decided to up my game after that revelation.  Once I realized what other school librarians were doing to showcase their work and their value, I knew I could do better, too.  So last year, I still stuck with one annual report, but I added some photos, lots of eye catching color, and an overview of not only what the kids were doing in the Library, but also a snapshot of what I was doing for professional development.  Here's that report.

It was a hit!  My admins loved it, and I asked them to share it with the BOE, too.

But then I took the post-grad class with Hilda Wiesburg this Fall (2016) about Leadership for Librarians, and it became evident that I needed to do even more.  And that's the thing: no matter how good we are and how much we up our game - we always need to strive to be bigger, better, and go beyond.  So this year I knew I needed to increase my visibility even more, and I know communication is key - so I decided to create quarterly reports instead of one annual report.  Here are my Q1 2016 and Q2 2017 reports.  They follow the same general format I went with for my annual report last year, including a tiny section for basic stats, grade level highlights, collaborations, and professional updates. 

So I'm feeling pretty good about the direction I'm moving in regard to reports, BUT.... I know I could do it so much better if I used some of the fancy web tools available.  Right now I'm making my reports in GoogleDocs just because we're a Google school and it makes it really easy to share and archive.  That said, I already completed the presentation tools assignment (Thing 5) for my second time, but I still haven't found a free tool easy enough for me to use that would just create a nice report or newsletter.  I've tried the templates in GoogleDocs, but they seem to lock you into one basic lay-out, which I don't want.  I tried Bunkr, but had a hard time importing photos.  I've used Prezi, but that makes everyone motion sick!  What I really need to do is go back to my notes from Jennifer's presentation and explore some of the tools used to create some of the more awesome reports she collected.  I think this is going to lead to a couple DIY posts because I know I want to check out S'more and LibGuides for starters.  Polly - if you could direct me to maybe 2 or 3 more free tools that are fairly easy to use and that would help me to create more professional looking documents, I'd really appreciate it.

So in sum, I'm heading in the right direction, but my journey is far from over.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Thing 36: Evidence Based Practice – Collecting Data

I started to explore this assignment by reading through the Jan/Feb 2015 Issue of AASL Knowledge Quest and exploring Lyn Hay's 2013 slides.  Both reinforced the importance of identifying and collecting relevant data to support the value of the work that we do each and every day. 

My conversion to EBP started back in 2012 when my school district hired a new superintendent/principal that decided our school needed a whole new make-over in light of Common Core mandates and APPR regulations.  This was my wake-up call that I needed to start collecting measurable data, and that the best way for me to do this was by revisiting my learning objectives and determining how to show student growth.

It should come as no surprise that this new school leader was not popular among staff, and her changes were viewed as unrealistic, unachievable, unfair....  But I will tell you one thing for sure, I became a much better educator as a result of the hard work I put into self-assessing my program and then carefully redesigning it such that every learning outcome had measurable goals and students produced tangible products.  It really changed everything for me.

One helpful source not listed in the resources and tools for this activity are the rubrics and books by Charlotte Danielson that so many schools now use for APPR.  When my school adopted Danielson back in 2012, these became my guiding beacons on how to survive in this new educational landscape that seemed to be shifting faster than NYSED could post updates. 

When I first read Danielson, I was horrified that I was a "2" (Developing) in most measurable categories - and that the evidence of a "2" in my eyes seemed quite respectable in most cases!  The evidence for a "3" (Effective) seemed at that moment as unattainable as lassoing the moon.  And "4" (Highly Effective) - well, let's face it - I could not even visualize what that looked like in the real world.  I will never forget a speaker who came to our school during this transition, who said, "4 is not a place where you live; it is a place you may visit from time to time". 

That said, I turned to evidence as my salvation.  I read Danielson's examples for evidence and I put a lot of thought into how I, too, could produce such results.  That first year - 2012 - only 5 members of the faculty in my school achieved an overall score of "3" (Effective), and I am immensely proud to say that I was one of them.

Joyce Valenza speaks so clearly on how we can collect evidence.  In both her articles, "Evolving With Evidence" and "Capturing Evidence" she lists lots of great tools.  Unfortunately, many of these tools do not work well with elementary aged students, especially in situations where library time is fixed scheduled and lessons are taught in isolation.  What I find works best for my K-3 students is more traditional, print evidence.  For example, I do a lot of biography work with my 2nd graders, so my students create their own interview questions (creating "wonder" questions is such an essential part of the inquiry process), then interview someone during Thanksgiving Break, then they take the interviews and convert them into short biographies.  They produce both a rough draft and a final draft.  We culminate by "publishing" our own book of biographies.  Now in that unit alone, I have TONS of evidence of student learning and engagement: 1) the student generated questions, 2) the transcribed responses, 3) the rough drafts showing revisions, 4) the final drafts incorporating corrections, and 5) the book itself.  Who needs an exit ticket when you have all of that?

Likewise, my 4th graders participate in a "Library Passports" unit where we "travel" to various sections of the library and learn about NYS resources.  In this unit, they are learning how to navigate our online catalog independently, how to filter search results, how to identify and evaluate resources (print and digital), and they explore a variety of resources, both print and electronic.  For each "stop" on our journey, they have an activity sheet and they complete an independent activity before they earn a "stamp" on their passport,  By the time we're done, they've accessed tons of great resources and have impressively thick packets showing exactly what they achieved - more evidence!!

And it would hardly be a blog post if I didn't mention NoodleTools at least once :-)  My 5th and 6th graders are constantly engaged in projects recorded in NoodleTools, and I could not have a better record of research skills - from using sources responsibly to synthesizing information - it's all there - time stamped and recorded.

I will end by saying that thanks to that one highly unpopular administrator back in 2012, I really learned how to be an effective educator by adopting EBP.  Change is hard - and scary - but it is also necessary and can be a very good thing.  I'm glad I changed my ways even if it was one of the hardest years of my life professionally - and I'm still changing and evolving every day.  Each year I learn about more great tools thanks to workshops like this, and I make it a point to incorporate what I learn into my practices.  I am so much more proud of the work I do now than the work I did prior to 2012, and part of that pride is because I'm not only proving to my administrators the value of what I do - I'm proving it to myself, too.  And the best part is that the students are the real winner in this situation.  I am engaging them in relevant learning that will have an impact on their lives, and that's what this should all be about.