Serendipity is a wonderful thing.
Late last spring, I saw a post in one of the ISTE PLN's about an intriguing project that incorporated critical thinking, real-world problem solving skills, and 3D printing. Coincidentally, our engineering room had just gotten a Makerbot 3D printer, and Rachel (my art teacher) and I were on the lookout for a collaborative project for 3rd grade.
I explored the program some more and shared my thoughts with Ginny and Rachel, who both felt it was a great idea. Over the summer, Rachel and I met to plan the unit, figure out the logistics, and get a crash course in how to use Tinkercad, the free, web-based 3D printing creation tool that allows you to create files for the Makerbot that can then be printed. School started, and we chatted again about how we wanted to start, when Ginny hit upon the idea of having the kids get a "taste" of Tinkercad before we started the project, with the thought that we would give them a more in-depth introduction once they were ready to transform their clay prototypes into 3D printed designs.
We settled on having the 3rd graders create keychains - Tinkercad used to have a great tutorial on how to do this that disappeared between July and September, but since I'd done it before, I simply re-created each step and made a flipchart to show kids how to do it.
It was a success.
With a full 40 minute period, nearly every student was able to start, create and finish their 3D printed keychain design, which was then exported to the Makerbot software and printed out after the fact. The kids felt like they had accomplished something and were excited to hear we would be doing this project, and they couldn't believe that at the end of one class period, they had created everything they needed for a keychain (neither could we - we had budgeted two class periods for this).
It was also a good test run for the teachers to see how the kids responded to the software, what pitfalls we need to be on the lookout for, and which kids can serve as "helpers" when we get to the more complex stuff since they picked up these instructions so quickly.
Part of the risk in trying something new is that you might realize it isn't going quite the way you planned, accepting that, and figuring out a way forward.
Two years ago, I began the process of "hacking" my NF collection by adding real-language descriptors to the Dewey Decimal System, and categorizing books by these new categories instead of in strict DD order. In some cases, this tracked pretty closely with Dewey (Animals), but in others, it pulled together wholly unrelated books (People/Places). However, last year, as I began to teach the new system to kids, I realized that I had made some sections overly complicated or unclear for a kid to understand. "Boredom Busters" was pretty straightforward, but "ELA" (English Language Arts) caused a great deal of confusion.
And so, here I am, redoing certain sections. We are simplifying, down to just the category name and at most one sub-category (so Animals - Dolphins instead of the current situation of Animals - Sea Mammals - Dolphins), and some sections are disappearing completely (ELA is going to become Poetry, Myths/Legends, Folk/Fairytales, and a few other small categories). It'll take time, but I remain confident that it will pay off and make it easier for kids to navigate the library independently.
We had a funny back to school schedule this year, with kids coming for the first two days of school followed by a four day weekend for Labor Day. I wanted to do an activity with the classes I saw on Wednesday and Thursday - something quick and easy, but also relevant to library-related topics and a way to get them thinking about themselves as readers.
Just before school started, I saw posts floating around Facebook from Cari Young about emoji book talks. I used her form as inspiration for my own, and an idea was born. After doing a welcome-back read aloud (My Teacher is a Monster by Peter Brown), I introduced the kids to emojis. Many of them didn't know that the smiley faces were called emojis, but as soon as I showed them my slide, they knew what I was talking about. We ran through all the different emotions, and then I showed them my sample emoji book review:
(Translation: the story was funny, it made me think, and it was scary. I liked the book.)
The kids loved the idea and spent 20 minutes happily occupied with their reviews. My 2nd graders did get a little confused by the "the story was" line, but once I re-explained it to them, they were good to go. The best part? I now have a bulletin board that's all ready to go for Back to School night that also serves as a place for kids to get book recommendations. Win-win!
Over the summer, I took a course on app smashing for professional development. As I quickly realized, I'd been doing app smashing without realizing it, but the class pushed me to try new things. One app that I'd always wanted to try is Aurasma, so I used this as my excuse to jump in. Today, my augmented reality orientation went live, and it was a hit.
To get started, I filmed little videos in Tellagami to introduce things I wanted the kids to pay attention to - not just the different sections of the library, but also our Awesome Box, the library catalog, and the"What is Ms. Bery Reading?" board. For the MCBA shelf, I used Animoto to make a book trailer for the titles I'd purchased.
The next step was exporting my videos and then adding them to Aurasma - the app did not play nice for this, so I wound up doing everything via my laptop, which was a bit frustrating but not the end of the world. I selected a trigger image (something that will make the video start playing) and uploaded the videos to each "aura."
This morning, I printed out signs with the trigger images on them, put them around the library, and got ready to start. Kids worked in pairs with our brand new iPads, and I gave them a checklist to make sure they'd visited every "station." It worked beautifully. Kids cooperated and had fun, hopefully they'll remember things more easily, and I got the slightly surreal experience of hearing my recorded voice in ten different spots around the library all at once!
Working in a school is like any other area of life - you have to find your people. I'm fortunate enough to work with an amazing group of people, but one of my favorite, and most richly rewarding collaborations has been with my art teacher, Rachel. We collaborated on the zoo project I wrote about earlier, and this Thursday night, we presented on our graphic novel project at the 3rd annual Better Together conference, cosponsored by MSLA and MassCUE.
You can find a link to all our materials here, and this is a picture of our snazzy poster, which is now hanging out in the front seat of my car, because it seems a shame to throw it away.
The project takes roughly 4 weeks in library and 4 weeks in art, and we teach our respective lessons back-to-back so that it doesn't consume either of our curricula. I begin by talking to the kids about how a graphic novel is different than a comic strip - both are popular genres in my library, so I try and make connections the kids will relate to. Above all, I want them to understand that a graphic novel is a novel, it just happens to have pictures in it as well.
The next week, we move on to talking about plot structure and language choice, then students begin to brainstorm what their main character looks and acts like using a character guide. Finally, students do a brief storyboard to get their creative juices going before they transition to art. I send along all the materials they've worked on in library to art, and from there the students learn about how to put a graphic novel together.
Rachel's part of the project involves teaching the kids how to think about the layout of a graphic novel - why would you want to choose different layouts and panel shapes/sizes, perspective (when might you want to zoom in on your drawing, and when might you want a panoramic view), and how to communicate visually using facial expressions, speech bubbles, captions, and more.
We had a lot of people surprised that we put no restrictions on the students other than "no violence and school appropriate," but I love this aspect, because kids are starved for chances to be genuinely creative. Kids who are usually writing-resistant come to life, and their works really reflect who they are: we've had sci-fi stories, time travel, historical fiction, realistic, fantasy, and more. The whole process gives kids ownership over their ideas and their work, and it really engages them. This is also a tech-free project, which may come as a surprise, but sometimes it's good to disconnect, and a pencil and paper afford the kids far more freedom than pre-set layouts, characters, and backgrounds. If I'm using technology, I want it to be used for a purpose, and since we haven't felt a compelling need to integrate it into this project, we haven't used it. That's OK, too!
One of the best things about librarians is that we are always willing to share, beg, borrow and steal lessons and projects. Two years ago, I heard about an awesome mystery animal project from an amazing librarian (and friend), Laura Beals D'Elia, and then I saw it replicated when I went to shadow the ever-wonderful Judi Paradis this fall, which made me immediately want to do it this spring. I did it a little differently than both of them because I was working on my own (instead of in collaboration with a classroom teacher), and had minimal support, but I'm still pretty pleased with the results.
Our first graders study animal classification and then take a trip to the Stone Zoo, so this seemed like a perfect opportunity. The basic premise of the project is that students get clues about a mystery animal and have to use what they know about animal classification to create an argument for why they believed the animal belonged to a particular group.
The first step was writing the clues - I used the clues Judi graciously shared with me as inspiration, but wrote my own. I wanted to make sure each clue worked for multiple types of animals, which was tricky!
The next step was recruiting some very eager 5th graders to film a video for me introducing the project and sharing the clues. In retrospect, I shouldn't have had the videos reveal all the clues (rookie mistake!) because it altered the inquiry and discussion process, but the project was still a huge success.
We began by discussing what students already knew about animal classification using Popplet, one of my favorite mind-mapping tools. The following week, we watched the entire video and then began breaking down the clues. Using the ActivBoard, I read out each clue to students and then we spent time discussing what type of animal each clue might belong to, and I color-coded their responses for a visual reminder.
As we worked our way through the clues, I checked in with kids periodically to see what they were thinking. Not only was this a great use of turn-and-talk, but it made the kids stop and really process what they were talking about and work to build their conclusions with supporting evidence. I continued to track what students were saying to show the evolution of their thoughts using Padlet (the most recent posts represent the end of the project, and the further you scroll, the earlier in the process we were). They weren't always correct in their rationale, but I loved hearing their thinking change. Bigger picture!
I was also delighted to find out that the kids kept talking about the project outside of the library, and that they used their time at the zoo trying to desperately figure out what the animal could be. Two kiddos even admitted to taking a map from the zoo and studying it on the bus, determined to find the answer! This is the sort of thing you live for as a teacher, and I was delighted to hear this.
To finish up, kids had to draw a picture of what they believed the mystery animal looked like and write a short explanation of why they felt that way. I gave them alist of the clues related to the animal's appearance, and also a chart breaking down the clues and which categories we'd put them in.
Last but not least, I recorded the students sharing their thoughts using Explain Everything (my go-to app this year). One of the things I noticed as we did this project was how uncomfortable the kids were - they kept demanding certainty and answers, and I would just grin and tell them I wasn't going to tell them anything. I had to repeat multiple times that the clues were supposed to match different categories on purpose, and when we got to the final stage, I told the kids they had to judge for themselves which pieces of evidence were the most important. As you will hear, some kids took a straightforward approach (x had the most checks, so it must be this) and others were willing to explore and wonder a bit more.
On the last days of school, I revealed to the kids that the animal did not, in fact, exist. The reactions were mixed: some felt triumphant in having predicted it, others were very cross that I'd told them that it was a real animal (to be fair, I told them it could only be a real animal category, so imaginary creatures like dragons could not count!), and some thought it was very cool. I am definitely going to repeat this project next year, so hopefully the kiddos won't spoil the surprise!
Sometime last year, I started to see the phrase "app smashing" around the Twitterverse, and I was intrigued. What was this? How could I do it? And then I learned I was already doing it! So, what is app smashing? App smashing involves taking different apps/web tools and combining them together to create something new.
One of the app smashing projects we did this year was a resource put together for 4th grade students studying Washington, D.C. The 4th grade social studies curriculum in Massachusetts is focused on the study of the 50 states, but one standard calls specifically for students to learn about the various monuments in D.C. When my 4th grade team asked me for help, I knew exactly what to do.
First, I started with ThingLink, a website that lets you create interactive images by tagging the image with interactive content. I found a picture of each monument we needed, then found age-appropriate websites and videos related to that monument, and linked them to the image. When students hovered over the image, they would be able to explore the associated resources. To make everything a little bit more organized, I decided to use different symbols to denote different media formats - play button for videos, i for websites/text, and green bullseyes for tours.
But how to share the images with students in an easy, accessible manner? The library website would be a logical choice normally, but the idea of embedding some 20 images did not seem like a good plan, so I came up with an alternative: Padlet! All I had to do was take the link to each ThingLink image, paste it into Padlet, and then arrange the content. It was easy, visual, and the kids really enjoyed this new way of exploring resources. Even better, because Padlet allows for collaborative activity, I was able to split the workload with one of the teachers, allowing her to add extra content and resources that she had access to but I didn't. Win-win!
I am lucky enough to have a parent foundation that is exceptionally generous in their support of professional development, and after learning that I would be a local PBS Digital Innovator for 2016-17, I decided to take the plunge and apply for a grant to attend ISTE 2016. After all, if all of my technology learning to date had come from library conferences, what might it be like to go straight to the source, as it were?
In a word, interesting. There are some definite trends out there: a continued focus on coding, especially on making it accessible to the youngest students through toys and manipulatives like Bee Bots, Dash and Dot, Bloxels, and even Google's soon-to-be-released Bloks, though robotics and drones (yes! drones!) are angling to be the next frontier. Augmented and virtual reality are also very hot, with Google Cardboard and their new Expeditions app (only for Android, but supposedly coming for iOS in time for school) causing immense excitement. There was also a good focus on makerspaces and 3D printing.
The poster sessions were excellent, but I found myself disappointed with the concurrent sessions I'd pre-selected, though the ones I attended on digital storytelling and gamification in the library were excellent. I did notice that ISTE seemed to focus less on traditional presentations and more on posters/playgrounds/demo sessions, which allowed for a lot of wandering, but didn't allow me to personally spend much time reflecting and getting engaged the way I do through a traditional presentation. The times I felt the most engaged were the sessions that related most closely to my realities as a primarily elementary school librarian, which makes sense, but ISTE isn't a librarian's conference - that's the purpose of AASL (though the librarians network is a huge group within ISTE). AASL gives me ideas and lessons that I can take home and immediately implement; ISTE gave me some bigger ideas and concepts to play around with, but getting them into my curriculum is going to take some independence, time, and effort, and that can feel a little daunting.
Still, I came away with some great ideas and some new apps that I'm excited to try. Adobe Spark and Shadow EDU are two digital storytelling apps I want to dive into with kids, I'm trying to figure out how to incorporate a game into the library to teach research skills in an authentic manner, and I cannot wait to purchase some Makey Makey kits and incorporate electronics and code into a 5th grade choir project where students design their own instruments. I also learned about Printshop by Makerbot, which will allow students to draw a design on paper and then scan it into the iPad to be turned into a 3D printed object. This is really exciting, because it means that I can make 3D printing accessible to my younger students. I even have a better handle on how to run a Mystery Skype, which is definitely on the agenda for this year. I found out that Google Earth Engine can stitch together images in a timelapse format, and that Forms can now grade quizzes (with additional functionality through the Flubaroo extension), a feature that actually went live during the conference. By the time I heard about it, it was 48 hours old. That is pretty incredible.
I don't know that I'll rush back to ISTE 2017, but I am glad that I went, if only to get a sense of the whole scene. I will say that I definitely find immense value in my membership, and in the fact that ISTE makes it so easy to join different Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) and to stay up-to-date with the discussions. I've learned a tremendous amount through the PLN's I have joined, and I look forward to continuing my learning at a distance.
One of my favorite parts of attending the AASL conference is that I always come home with one or two ideas that I can quickly put into action with minimal effort or planning. When I stopped by the "Stardines" station at the IdeaLab, I knew I'd found one such winner.
Based on the book Stardines Fly High Across the Sky by Jack Prelutsky, a "Stardines" poem takes two creatures/objects and smushes them together to create a new creature. The artwork in the book is simply phenomenal as well, and I loved that this would allow me to continue to incorporate art and creativity into the library. After reading a few poems together, students began to brainstorm their poems. Next, they focused on writing (and revising, if needed), and finally, creating their artwork and recording their poems. Check out the hilarious, creative, original works they came up with!
One of the lovely traditions at my school is called the Treasury. Each year, students contribute pieces of writing to their treasury folders, and on their last days of 8th grade, their folder is presented to them. Families sit around tables in our cafeteria looking at pieces of work from kindergarten to 8th grade. I've been wishing for the last three years that there were a way to capture the digital work I do with students in a similar fashion (our art teachers use a great site called Art Sinfonia), especially because I am often recording voices, and I think it would be lovely to share that with parents as kids get older.
A few weeks ago, as I was browsing ISTE conference sessions, I came across a description for Seesaw, a "digital portfolio." Intrigued, I signed up (it's free). It is perfect.
It's rare that I get gushy and excited about an app, but this one is a keeper. I've been able to create free accounts for every kid in kindergarten, second and third grades (though I did hit a limit with my first "class" and had to create a second). Within Seesaw, I can share links, videos, and images in each child's private folder, which their parents then access at home. They can even leave comments!
Seesaw was quick to set up, intuitive, and it opens up a whole new way of communicating with parents. I'm so excited to share this app with my colleagues next year and to really encourage families to sign up. Even better, they are good about student privacy - I don't need to supply any information other than a name for kids, parents can only access their child's account, and the representative I've emailed with told me that they will periodically check in that I still want accounts open if they've been inactive for awhile.
I've only just begun experimenting with it, but it's going to be a goal of mine next year to really push this app out. I can really see this working across the curriculum, and as a great tool for our SPED teachers to demonstrate student progress over time.
My name is Ms. Bery. I am a PK-8 library media specialist in the Boston area. In addition to being a certified school librarian, I am also certified in instructional technology, and have a strong interest in exploring and integrating technology in new and exciting ways in the classroom.
I am also a 2016 PBS LearningMedia Local Digital Innovator, and a 2015 recipient of the Massachusetts School Library Association's President's Award.
Check out the Sandbox for apps and websites I've found useful in supporting student learning and creativity. I also (very occasionally) review children's and young adult literature on my book reviews page.
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