Tuesday, June 5, 2018

The Arkansas-Beijing Connection

One evening in January 2018, I began receiving several teacher librarian followers on Twitter from Beijing, China. After interacting with a few of them on Twitter, I discovered that Joyce Valenza was presenting at a conference there and had mentioned our library program at Lakeside High School. I was am so grateful she did this because it led to something special for our learners. It didn't take long to start conversing with Kristen Billings, a teacher librarian in Beijing. We started discussing the possibilities of an international collaboration.

I returned to school the next day and talked to Mr. Keith Todd, one of our 9th-grade Civics and Geography teachers at Lakeside, about some type of international connection for his students. He had witnessed our recent 8th-grade maker collaboration with social studies classes, and he had the desire to have his students create some type of product to share with our new friends in Beijing. I introduced Kristen and Keith to Flipgrid, and the discussions continued. Both of these fine educators decided to allow Keith's students to teach North American geography to Kristen's students via videos they would create. They used the library spaces to create, and they also used some of our technology (cameras, iPads, tripods, etc). The reflections below tell the story from each of their perspectives.

Kristen's Reflection

ArkansasBeijing Project

I was so excited when Stony suggested I team up with a high school teacher on his team to plan and coordinate a geography exchange project with my Year 6 (Grade 5) students. I had never done anything like this before so I was very excited but also very nervous. We dived right in and Stony teamed me up with Keith Todd and his Grade 9 geography students.

We used Flipgrid initially to meet each other and begin the planning. Keith, luckily, had a clear vision of what he wanted his kids to do so that really helped me to think about how my students could not only learn from Keith’s students, but also participate and reciprocate the teaching and learning. We decided the kids would choose a topic related to their geographic location and do some research, create a video or a tool of some sort to share what they’d learn and then we’d use EasyBlog to post the content that could then be easily shared with my students in Beijing. Then my students did the same.

The projects were great! Some of the topics covered by the Arkansas students were North American slang, Soul Food, small town vs. big city, the history of blues, jazz and rap, American football. My kids posted back videos about the Great Wall, Chinese slang, food from different regions of China, different cultural aspects of Korean or Chinese culture, how to make dumplings. The kids posted introduction videos to meet each other on EasyBlog and were able to view and comment on each others’ posts.

It was a wonderful collaboration and my students really enjoyed it. The positives were:
·      Global connections were definitely made
·      Student agency was clear and strong as the children were allowed to choose their own topics. This is something that doesn’t happen very much in a British school so I think my kids really appreciated having choice in what they researched and how they presented their topics.
·      It was really fun. I observed my students completely engaged and always enthusiastic to get to work. A lot of collaboration and cooperation had to happen in groups for them to accomplish the final task.
·      We made use of current technology and app smashing. We were able to combine many programs and apps to make this happen, some very new to me and my students. Really great learning happened on this level: Flipgrid, EasyBlog, Google docs, YouTube…all sorts of tools were used in both the planning and the sharing as well as in the creating of the content. Well done us! For me this was a tiny step in using tech more in the library context and learning how to apply these apps and programs to move my planning and teaching into a more Future Ready direction.
·      My students were very prepared to use the technology and very skilled at getting down to business when creating content.

What would I change or do differently next time?

The timing was difficult to manage. If this type of project was built into the calendar for both sides there would be more time to plan and execute the project with minimal impact on curriculum coverage. We needed much more time for our students to research and complete their tasks than we had anticipated and there was very little time for reflection or just general communication back and forth between the Arkansas groups and the Beijing groups to really build relationships, which I feel could have been a really valuable aspect and reason for doing the project to begin with. Next time I will have a look at my year-long plan in order to make sure I give the project enough time to be fully realized.

Working from the British system was challenging for me-inquiry-based learning is not a part of the British approach, which is very content-driven and teacher-driven. Students rarely have agency in their learning and therefore lack the inquiry skills necessary to ask really great questions and their research skills are lacking in that they do not have the ability to ask good questions and seek answers without Googling and copying and pasting. This could be perceived as a failure on the librarian’s part, however, the culture of the school is not such that it allows me to collaborate and work with teachers in planning and executing lessons that teach or emphasize these skills so it has been very challenging for me to move forward with this. Next year, a new school beckons and I will have more opportunity to embed these skills in context of current learning, not just taught as isolated skills with no connection to what the kids are learning.

Next time, I would like to have more interaction with the teachers in the execution of the plan. Working with teachers, making the project tie in more with something the students are working on, would have added extra depth. Due to the current ethos of the school, library lessons are viewed as 'extra' not 'added value'. This, combined with my limited access to the students in weekly half hour lessons made the project longer than it needed to be and didn't allow for me to have time to plan with my groups and then reflect. Because the project was kind of 'last minute' in the sense that it was not built into the calendar and we just got the idea and ran with it, and the fact that halfway through, I had to pack up and move my library and the Year 6 students begin their transition to the higher school at this time of the year, I didn't have the time to really follow through with the students and get their reflections and reactions to the project. Real planning and collaboration with classroom teachers to use the library lesson time more flexibly would have allowed for deeper learning and reflecting to occur. 

Keith's Reflection

Arkansas-Beijing Project Reflection

I loved this project and how creative it allowed our students to be. The chance to interact with other students halfway around the world was amazing. The project provided very valuable experiences, e.g. life skills via group work, managing personalities, deadlines,  technological difficulties, time management, etc. I would definitely assign a project like this again. Afterall, life is a group project and in virtually every profession or career, the skills that group work can teach will be a key element of success. For as wonderful as it was, however, if I have the opportunity to do this again, I have lots of things about it that I would like to change to try to make it even better.

The number one change I would make is to allow for more coordinated pre-planning time; preferably over a summer when other demands on our time would not be so pressing. Kristen and I put this project together on the fly, but in the future, it would be ideal for us to be able to have the summer to talk/write back and forth to initially plan how we would like the project to work and a set timeline. We ran the project with the Arkansas group going first and then the Beijing group going, but there was not really a reason to do it that way. Rather, it would have been easier for the Arkansas participants to maintain engagement with the Beijing participants if the projects were happening simultaneously rather than needing to take the time to in and out of class to remind students to remain engaged with what the other groups were accomplishing. Doing so also would have allowed the participants to establish relationships with one another. I would love to have the opportunity next time to do some pure cultural exchange, maybe even with a live Skype in time differences could be overcome, and then allow the different participants' groups to guide one another in topic selection rather than each side just picking their topics.

Ultimately, this project took eight instructional days to complete, and being able to pare that down will really be critical to preserving everything else I need to be able to cover in my curriculum as a few sacrifices had to be made to make room for this material. Possibly putting the students into groups, and then requiring them to pick and research their projects via coordinating with the other participants on their own time could save at least a couple of days.

Mr. Todd's student groups collaborated using Google Tools
Some of our issues were technological. On the Arkansas side, some of the video files after post-production were very large. A way to compress the video's size with a computer application (like handbrake) would be a good solution. I have also considered uploading the videos to YouTube and setting this up as unlisted videos so that only those with the link to the video would be able to see them, however, with some school's network filters, the other participants being able to see it could be very hit and miss.

We also had some share issues with students who make Google Slides and embedded their video files (not YouTube links, but actual video files) that they had saved in their Google Drives into their Google Slides. We eventually discovered that the share settings of the video must be changed in Google Drive so that anyone with the link can view it and changing the share settings just in Google Slides was insufficient.

I deployed this project across all of my classes which included pre-AP students and on-level students. I would definitely do so again, but on-level students by and large needed scaffolding and support than the work log along provided. A daily checklist would probably be the way to go, and better yet, one that we create as a class while exploring the directions packet. Several of the pre-AP groups struggled with ensuring that their groups were actually working and producing what they needed to be in order to make their final product a success.

I think my favorite part of this project was also the slipperiest part: trying to instill a desire in my students to produce a great project and to perform to the best of their ability, and not just try to "get it done." As always, some groups jumped in and needed very little direction. But, ALL groups really had to stretch themselves beyond the base academic skills that they were accustomed to using. Many of them also had what seemed to be their first opportunity to practice character skills. One of the best things was that many of the higher academic and character-based skills that students found themselves engaging in (or struggling with) are immediately transferable to other classes and to future jobs. Those skills included reading and following complex directions, reading all parts of a prompt, self-reliance, and collective responsibility. The project really revealed that those skills were areas of needed growth in several of my students and inspired me to really underscore those skills throughout the rest of my curriculum this year. I will definitely begin implementing many of the strategies we came up with week one next year, such as problem-solving techniques, receiving/checking school e-mails, receiving Google Classroom alerts for Android and Apple, Google Assistant/Siri uses for academics, e.g. reminders, Google Calendar, note-taking skills, annotation skills, the idea that "respect makes it easy," opportunity cost discussion/activities, learning styles, how learning happens, etc.

Ultimately, this project was a learning experience for everyone involved, Kristen and I most definitely included. But, those challenges are exactly what all of us need to keep stretching and keep growing. From a holistic perspective, this was easily my favorite thing that we did all year.

Check out one of the student-created video examples below:

Next Steps

This was a wonderful experience for us in the library. The activity corresponded with several Future Ready Librarian standards (Builds Instructional Partnerships, Empowers Students as Creators, Collaborative Leadership, and Curates Digital Resources and Tools). We got to help build international friendships from the library. We also had several opportunities to assist students when they encountered problems with technology as apps were used together. I believe we have a great foundation to do more international connecting next year. I can't wait to see what is coming.

Other links that may interest you:
Social Studies Maker Project Part 1

Social Studies Maker Project Part 2

Your Story is Worth Telling

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Saturday, April 21, 2018

Our Skype With A Teen Author

Over the past few years, some of the most exciting activities we have held in the library have been Skype connections. From Mystery Skype to virtual tours of national parks, our teachers and learners never seem to get tired of connecting to distant places. One of the most recent connections was with a young author in another state!

How We Connected

I remember running across teen author, Ashley Royer (@RTFbook), on an Internet search last year as we were looking for potential connections for our students. After reading about her, I discovered she had accumulated lots of fans on Wattpad and later became a published author. Her book, Remember to Forget, has been in publication since 2016. I decided to connect with Ashley via Twitter during the spring of 2017 to get more information about her book. She actually signed the copies we purchased. Since the end of the school year was quickly approaching, we were never able to connect her with our students.

This school year, we discovered several students that are interested in writing. I shared Remember to Forget with some of these students and told them I had communicated with the author last year. They indicated they would like to speak with Ashley, so I reached out on Twitter to see if she might Skype with us during lunch. It turned out Ashley was on spring break from college, and she agreed to connect during lunch. The students were so excited that they were going to get to visit with a teen author! 

Student Questions

I used a collaborative document to have the students submit questions for our connection. Below are the questions we all created together.

  1. How old were you when you developed a passion for writing?
  2. How do you get an idea for a book?
  3. How did you develop your writing style?
  4. What was your experience with Wattpad?
  5. What are the biggest challenges for young authors to get published?
  6. What advice would you give young authors?
  7. How old were you when you began to write Remember to Forget?
  8. What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
  9. How many hours a day do you write?
  10. Do you have any people that help you with editing or coming up with ideas within your stories?
  11. If you could meet any Author in the world, who would it be?
  12. What author did you idolize/look up to as a child?
  13. Where do you get your inspiration for writing books?
  14. What was the hardest scene to write for you?
  15. How long on average does it take you to write your books?
  16. Do you believe in writer’s blocks?

The Session At Lunch

Our students were very excited to get to the library on the day of the connection. We invited students that had submitted questions to come to the Microsoft Surface to be on webcam as they visited with Ashley. During the session, Ashley told about herself and her love of writing. It was very inspiring to our learners. Afterward, they wanted to know when we could Skype with an author again. They began listing names of authors they wanted to contact. It was a great day!

Student Reflections

"This author meet impacted me because I am a young writer myself and getting to connect with Ashley helped me understand how to write better and have a better outlook on writer's blocks, and other things like that. It was very fun and I was glad that I had experienced this unique moment. It definitely helped me become a better writer and encouraged me to become an author." - Dekotah

"I really enjoyed getting to meet the teen author Ashley and getting to ask her some questions. It was a great experience and I hope to be able to do it again."- Sarah

Next Steps

This activity was an excellent reminder to me that Skype in the Classroom has many resources for connecting. Previously, I wrote a blog article about some of these tools. In the future, I need to look on their site for additional author connection possibilities. I encourage you to look for authors that are willing to connect via webcam. These types of experiences may help inspire your learning community. Who knows... it may inspire a future author!

Other links that may interest you:
Social Studies Maker Project Part 1

Social Studies Maker Project Part 2

Your Story is Worth Telling

I have a monthly email newsletter for the subscribers of the Library Media Tech Talk blog. If you are interested in exclusive content not appearing on the blog, be sure to subscribe by submitting your email address! Subscribe here!

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Friday, April 13, 2018

Social Studies Maker Project (part 2)

In a previous blog article, I shared about the planning stages of a maker project initiated by two of our 8th-grade social studies teachers. If you haven't read it, you might want to start here. The first day in the library was spent showing students all of the maker tools we had available in the library. These included  Legos, K'nex, our Makerbot 3D printer, Unity (a 3D game creation tool), Makey-Makey, Green Screen, Oculus Rift devices, and Minecraft.

The Instructions & Rubric

The teachers provided the following instructions and rubric to their students on Google Classroom (see below or click here for the document).

Maker Collaborative Project

Wed, Jan 10th: Student Intro Day to Maker options (Library)

Fri, Jan 12th: Brainstorming / Research day in class
Wed, Jan 24 - Fri 26: Library days to work on Maker component
Tues, Feb 6th: Presentation Day

Project Guidelines:

For this assignment, you will work in a group of 3-4 students to complete a project
that consists of multiple parts, including historical research, a “Maker” component, and a
video documentary of your research project. Project topics should relate to the themes
of U.S. History during the 1800s. There is a topic list included below, but it is not meant
to be a complete list of your only choices. You have a wide selection of options for your
project’s Maker component. You should communicate with your groupmates and decide
on a Maker that would complement the historical topic that you choose. Get creative
with this part and have some fun with it, but be sure that there is a clear connection to
your content topic. Lastly, your group will need to document your work and research by
producing a 5-minute documentary that will (1.) provide a short lesson on your topic of
choice, as well as (2.) showcase your Maker product, its connection to your topic, and
your process of creating it. This documentary will be shown as your group presentation
on Tuesday, Feb. 6th in the Library.

Makers Options:

3D Printer
Green screen / Feature length documentary (10+ minutes, separate from your presentation)
Makey Makey

Unity 3D software
Oculus Rift VR

Video Resources for Maker Project (what we showed you in the Library)

Parts to be graded:
1. Research thoroughness (kept on a Google Doc shared with group members and Instructor)
Each person needs to select a color font (all darker colors- ex: do not select pink or yellow
{light colors as they are harder to read} Identify the persons name and color using. Ex: Coach
Lawson - Blue / Mr. Lee - Black on your Google Doc
2. Maker Creativity / connection to topic
3. Video Documentary Presentation   
        editing / effectiveness
Grading: (See rubrics at bottom of document for detailed grading requirements and scores)

  —Overall Group Grade— (50% of final grade)
1. Peer evaluation of parts 2 and 3 / audience rating each Group’s final project/presentation
2. Instructor's evaluation sheet of parts 1, 2, and 3 (30%).
 —Individual’s Grade— (50% of final grade)
3. Each participant rating their fellow group member’s performance/contributions (20%)
4. Instructor’s evaluation sheet rating individual performance (30%).

*So each gradebook score will be comprised of a total of 50% overall group grade and
50% individual grade.
*Students will combine for 40% of the final grading (20% overall group + 20%
individual) and the instructor’s grades will combine for 60% of the final grading
(30% overall group + 30% individual).
*Students will receive a rubric with various component breakdown/scoring for each
group, AND a separate rubric for evaluating their own group members).

Student Responsibilities breakdown (All this should be labeled and defined within the Google
Group Leader- keep everyone on topic and organized
Time Keeper - maintains time on task in class and even when components are due and
available time left to work on things
Notes (every member should be contributing to the Google Doc- have them select colors to
type in so at a glance we can see who has completed what towards the topic / research)
Video Person (able to edit and put all segments together in a documentary style video- this
records all components- not necessarily having to video everyone but combining and editing all
video segments into one finished product).
Creative Maker- (if choosing an item that only one can work on)

Topics I would like covered are ones that we should address in our unit (Manifest Destiny) and
other upcoming units that play an important role from 1800 to 1900; also feel free to add to the list.

Units (include anything from these Units that apply in the project):
-War of 1812
-Women’s Suffrage
-Immigration / Ellis Island (etc)
-Slavery (plantation life, harvesting time (tools/ machines)
-Industrialization (new inventions, social patterns, etc within the time period)
-Manifest Destiny topics (Louisiana Purchase, Lewis & Clark, Oregon Territory, Mexican
Cession, Texas Annexation, Northwest Ordinance, Gadsden Purchase, Mexican-American War,
Seward’s Folly {Alaska}, and these trails… Trail of Tears, Oregon Trail, Mormon Trail, & Sante Fe)
-Civil War (be selective and only 1 group per class unless can justify the difference and its
-Reconstruction Era and Jim Crow
-Spanish-American War / American Imperialism

**Project topics can be very specific within these eras/themes**
**Topics not listed may be accepted by instructors if your group can justify, be able to research,
be able to create- be ready to answer questions for the instructor to justify topic**


The following rubric will be used by the instructor to grade your group’s final project (30%):

The following rubric will be used by students to grade other group’s final project (20%):

The following rubric will be used by your instructor to grade you as individuals (30%):

The following rubric will be used by your groupmates to grade your performance (20%):

What Happened

Students were given 3 weeks to complete the maker project. We provided the space and tools for classes to work in the library. If they needed any assistance (technical issues or questions), we were available to help each day. At the end of the project, the presentations were shared in the library.

Student Products

Mr. Lee's class had the following products. (Click on the link for his document with video samples).

Below are a few highlights from Coach Lawson's classes.

Teacher Librarian Reflections and Next Steps

After seeing the student products, we realize there are many opportunities for additional instruction. Next year, we can offer to share information about citing sources in their video or presentation credits. We can also have discussions about copyright and the use of music or images. This collaboration corresponded with several Future Ready Librarian components: Designs Collaborative Spaces, Builds Instructional Partnerships, Empowers Students as Creators, Curates Digital Resources and Tools, and Facilitates Professional Learning.

Next year, we can share these student products with other subject area teachers and try to generate interest in more maker collaborations. Together with these two teachers, we have opened up many additional possibilities. Have you had successful maker projects with your teachers? Share your stories in the comments below.

Other links that may interest you:
My table of contents for the blog is here!

Our First Book Tasting Event

I have a monthly email newsletter for the subscribers of the Library Media Tech Talk blog. If you are interested in exclusive content not appearing on the blog, be sure to subscribe by submitting your email address! Subscribe here!

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