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!
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 review children's, middle grade, and young adult books on Instagram.
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