Friday, June 29, 2018

Thing 12: Final Reflection

I am so excited to have been able to participate in Cool Tools this year. I originally planned to do 10 topics, but  part of my own learning curve as a new mom is recognizing that I just don't have the same time and mental space as I did pre-baby! I really wanted to do 10 things, and I did spend several hours reading, learning, and thinking after my little guy went to bed. I just didn't have the energy to synthesize my thoughts into writing! I spent most of my time on Things 29-32, thinking about my annual report. Unfortunately, this is not a requirement for me, so it gets moved to the bottom of the list, and occasionally off the list. That's ok - I still benefited from the learning, and will continue to benefit as I mosey through the remaining resources over the summer. Maybe I'll even write a post or two. I did learn that I missed writing blog posts, and I hope to get back into sharing my learning in this format more often again. It helps me really think things through and make connections.

Participating in this PD opportunity was particularly helpful to me because I had been feeling like I had "gotten off the train," so to speak. I felt that too many tools I'd loved were available only for paid subscribers, and I began to get discouraged that any new tool I learned would become inaccessible. I am happy to report that I no longer feel that way.  I am feeling reinvigorated and inspired. I especially enjoyed Adobe Spark and look forward to incorporating it into instruction next year.

One thing I have been wrestling with is Google Apps for Education. I love Google tools for education and make use of them frequently. However, I worry about getting overly comfortable and using Google tools for EVERYTHING. (PS - I recognize the irony of this being posted on Blogger). I worry that students won't be able to transfer skills to other applications and software seamlessly because they've only known one kind of tool. While I love the convenience of Google tools, I do think they do not have all the capabilities that other, non-web-based tools have, and students will miss out. I am going to be working over the next school year to expose students to a wider variety of tools.

This summer, I am going to spend some time with Thing 19: Coding. I think I can do a better job of incorporating coding into my library program, and I am looking for new tools and ideas. It's also fun, so I can work, but not TOO hard. :)

Thank you, Polly, for this amazing opportunity, and thank you Capital Region BOCES for giving us to June 30. I didn't meet my goal for number of Things completed, but I definitely met my goal for learning! I appreciate that this ended AFTER school was done for the year.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Thing 26: Note-taking Tools

I chose to investigate this Thing because I have pretty strong opinions about online note-taking for students. Over the past several years, I have read many articles about the differences between both digital and non-digital reading. With regard to reading, research shows that your brain responds differently to the two kinds of input, so it makes sense that output, writing, would also be different.  The first article I read, Laptops are Great. But Not During a Lecture or a Meeting supported my initial response: that electronic note-taking is inferior to handwriting notes. Students need to be forced to process information, and typing notes allows for robotic "scoop and spit" recording. I have long suspected that taking notes "the old-fashioned way" would be more beneficial to students, but I approached this Thing with an open mind.

When I think of note-taking, I think about my students recording information for a research project of some sort. Currently, most students take notes on large index cards with pre-printed spaces for the research question, sub-topic, and source information. In theory, these note cards are an excellent idea, but in practice, I find them to be quite frustrating because one size does not fit all. There are pre-printed spaces that I often tell students to leave blank, and that can get confusing for elementary-age students. Upon reflection, I began to question why I preferred the notecards, and if it were just that: MY preference.  I have been doing some soul-searching. Maybe today's students will need to be able to take notes digitally. Beyond that, though, I realize that I was thinking about note-taking in a very narrow manner. I didn't consider bookmarking/curation sites as "note-taking" tools. I can absolutely see how they can be considered as such now, but it surprised me.

I have been using Google Keep on my phone since I switched to an android phone several years ago. One of the features I really like is the reminder feature. I have several friends' birthdays set as reminders, and I get a reminder a few days ahead of time every year. So much better than relying on Facebook! I have also used it to create grocery lists, which has been very handy. I like some of the new features I've seen, including labels. I do wonder why they didn't just call them tags, but oh well! With this Thing, though, I spent some time exploring the desktop version - more specifically the Chrome extension. I am very impressed! At the end of this schoolt year, I agreed to test a touchscreen Dell as a replacement for my Mac. I was worried about the learning curve, but as it turns out, I love it! This is relevant to this discussion because Keep has the ability to save a drawn note! I can just open a note and draw or write with my finger on the touchscreen! So cool! I have made a to do list in Google Keep - which I will not share because it is embarrassing to be thinking about all that needs to be done to prepare for a new school year the first week of vacation. I love that I can indent lists and use check boxes to keep track of what I have done. There is something very satisfying in crossing something off a list, which cannot be matched by simply deleting it.

As I worked through these tools and articles, I could not help but return to my initial premise that digital note-taking is inferior to handwritten notes. I wonder if we are at one of those points when the teachers are forcing students to hold on to an old method because it is what we know.  I wonder if it is my job to teach students how to successfully take notes digitally. Are there different strategies that can be employed to make digital reading and note-taking more effective? 

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Thing 9: Search Tools Ninja

It's funny how often we take for granted that Google is how we search the Internet. When I was first teaching, I often planned lessons comparing search engines. I encouraged students to compare results and explore new tools. But I haven't done that in several years, and even in my personal searching, Google is my default. Why do I do that? I absolutely know better. I think I've gotten lazy, so I've chosen this Thing to shake up my own habits, and hopefully change my instruction. Here goes...

DuckDuckGo: I was not super impressed by the results of this search, especially when I saw that there were ad results. I was confused because I thought there would not be any ads. However, when I read more closely, I learned that they still use ads as a source of revenue, but they don't track your data. So, ok - that's good. I respect that. In reading more about DuckDuckGo, I went down a bit of a rabbit hole  - reminding myself why it is important to remember that tracking personal data is, in fact, a violation of privacy. (For the record, I recognize the irony of writing this on the Blogger platform.) I do think I, along with many others, have gotten a bit lazy about personal data privacy when it comes to online behaviors. It's just so easy. I may even learn about something I like that I didn't know existed! And then I came across these two pages, and it reminded me of a few things - the most important being a reminder of why I am leery of our school district going to all Chromebooks.

MillionShort: Oh. My. Gosh. Now THIS is fun! I really enjoyed checking this site out and comparing results. The concept is simple: this search engine eliminates the first however many results. I really have discovered some new information this way! Again - I am reminded that I am guilty of being a bit lazy. I know better than to just assume the first few pages of search results will have what I want, but I often do not look beyond that. This is a site I will definitely be sharing with students.
*12 hours later - I have actually shown this site to students. Their minds were blown. They can't even comprehend the number 1,000,000 - so this blew their minds!

Carrot Search and Yippy: Meh. I am not impressed by either the search results or appearance on the screen. I get what they are doing, but it's boring, and definitely not kid-friendly.

Google Custom Search: This is something I want to spend some time on. Every opportunity I have to offer students high quality sites is one I will try to take advantage of. While creating a custom search engine, I saw that if your organization is a non-profit, you can remove ads from your search results, and if you are a GAFE school, ads can also be removed. That is very cool because this is something I can take advantage of - sadly, I don't think I am currently set up for this. I do have an email out to my tech guy to investigate. UPDATE: We are not set up - it has to be turned on by "an administrator." Who knows how long this will take!  Hopefully I will be able to experiment with this over the summer.

Global Trend Tracker: I think this is  really neat tool, and even the Google Trends information that is linked on the blog post is neat. I might hesitate to share this with elementary students live (which is, of course, the only way to view it) because I'm afraid the content may not be appropriate at all times. It was so neat, though, to watch the Global Trend Tracker during the PBS Great American Read kickoff show because book titles started showing up. I do get worried, however, when the top trend is for "The Outsider" and not "The OutsiderS."  Another fun fact: I was watching the Global Trend Tracker and kept seeing an odd term show up "Search Between a Bench." So, I googled it (have I learned nothing?) and learned that it was something to do with Fortnite. When did I get so old?

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Thing 35: Supporting English Language Learners

I've been working on this Thing for a while. I had come across some of these articles and strategies in my work on my administrative license, but I still didn't feel like it was enough. Most of the articles address large populations of ENL students, and many assume the first language is Spanish. This is not my experience in my small school. When I first started in this school seven years ago, there were very few minority students - period - and even fewer ENL students. Our ENL teacher was very part-time. We now have a full time ENL teacher for just our building of 310 students. Our ENL students, though, are so varied it feels impossible to meet their needs in the library. I have families from India, Pakistan, Armenia, Turkey, China, Korea, and Venezuela. I also have a family of three from the Democratic Republic of Congo, who have the additional challenge of not being able to read or write in French, which is the language of their prior education. As a side note, a major complication in providing instruction to these students is their exposure to trauma. This adds another layer of consideration when planning for these students.
One of my major concerns has been communicating library expectations to families. I have approached this in several ways. I worked with the ENL teacher to translate my introductory library letter, as well as letters about missing books as it came up. One piece of advice I read in an article was to send home a picture of the cover of a missing book, which has been extremely helpful - and successful as several books have been returned since using this strategy.
Something I struggle with is that I wish I had the ability to provide materials in students' native languages.  One of the basic tenets of ENL instruction is that students are taught in English. This often leads people to assume they should just check out books in English, too. However, it is important that students have a strong foundation in their first language in order to build their skills in English. It seems to me that having reading materials in their first language would be beneficial. However, given the size of my school and relatively wide-range of first languages, my budget doesn't allow for that. I am hoping that with our recent migration to Follett Destiny, with a more powerful capacity for ILL that I will be better able to meet these needs. I understand that there are ebook options, but the truth is that they just aren't the same. They are often of lower quality, and research shows that reading ebooks is simply not the same as reading print. However, I will certainly share resources from the International Children's Digital Library!
I found several ideas to pursue in this post: 10 Ways to Support ELLs in the School Library. I'm proud to say I read Duck for Turkey Day this year around Thanksgiving to my first graders. They loved it, and we had a good discussion about it. I am planning on including more visuals in my storytimes for younger students, and, as mentioned above, I have made minor changes in how I communicate with families. Moving forward, I am planning to promote audiobooks more to students in general, but ELL students in particular. I will plan a meeting with the ENL teacher to show her how to access digital audiobooks through OverDrive in particular.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Thing 16: Bitmoji Fun!

As soon as I saw this Thing listed, I knew it was going to be my first one. I had seen bitmojis, but I didn't know anything about them, and I certainly didn't think about them in an educational context. In fact, before I did any reading, I downloaded the app, agonized over the creation of my bitmoji, and downloaded the Chrome extension. Then I went back to the Cool Tools post to try to figure how how to use this very fun digital toy in school. I was not disappointed.

I loved the idea of adding a bitmoji to student work as a way to provide feedback. It's not terribly precise, but it's certainly eye-catching. I like the idea of using it for both formative and summative feedback, obviously paired with more specific language. I wish I could add a bitmoji to a comment rather than inserting it directly into a document, but alas, it can't be perfect I suppose. However, it was extremely easy, and the students really liked it. Many times I'm afraid students don't read teacher feedback very carefully, but this was an easy way to let them know they were on the right track or they needed to revisit their work. I tried to find different ones, but it there weren't that many appropriate choices to draw from when students needed to re-check their work. Here were two that I used:

I also really like the idea of printing bitmojis on labels and making my own stickers. If only someone would make library-themed bitmojis! :)

The only drawback I see, and it is significant, is that when students see me using Bitmoji, they may want to create their own, and some of the language is inappropriate for any school setting, let alone an elementary school setting. I am a little nervous that a student might say something like, "But my Librarian has a bitmoji!" in order to convince his/her parents to allow them to create one, only to see some of the inappropriate language. I know they hear worse on tv and on the bus, but still.

That said, I am planning on continuing to use Bitmojis - mostly because they are so fun! I am looking forward to trying new ways to use them.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

2017-2018 Cool Tools for Schools!

I am so excited to be doing Cool Tools again! I'm recycling my blog, but I kind of like that I can look back and see what I thought way back then when I did Cool Tools the first time. :) I am very excited to try different topics out, and maybe revisit some that have changed. So far, I really like the use of Google Classroom. It's a good fit for this kind of activity in my opinion. I usually use Classroom from the teacher side, so it will be interesting to see how it feels to be on the student side. I know I'll be posting Thing 16: Bitmojis first. It really caught my eye, and I knew I had to learn how people might use Bitmojis in school. I've been playing around for a week, and I can't wait to share what I've learned!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Where Have I Been?

It is no coincidence that the last time I posted was April of 2015.  Sixteen months ago, I embarked upon an intensive journey toward a NYS School Administrator License.  Last summer, I spent 3 weeks living in a dorm and attending classes from about 8:00 am until 6:00 pm (sometimes 9:00 pm!) every day. I then had online coursework and a 500-hour internship, as well as several more weekend residencies to complete over the course of the school year.  I am currently finishing a second, 300-hour internship to meet requirements to take the School District Leader NYS exam.  One of the reasons I chose this program was because I could continue to work as a full-time K-6 librarian and Lead Librarian for my district, but it left me little time for reflection and creativity in the library.  I am very excited to be wrapping up this program so that I can re-focus on what I love: being a librarian! I am happy to say, however, that I will not be the same librarian I was before.

Going through this program and seeing the inner workings of a school district has given me a fresh perspective.  I am very lucky to be working with a principal who is forward-thinking, mindful of equity issues, and who is willing to let me take things on.  Unlike almost all of my peers in the program with me, I never had any desire to be a school principal or superintendent.  My goal in pursuing this licensure was to help me be a better librarian for my school, and a better Lead Librarian for my department and district. I did spend a lot of time, however, learning to think like an administrator; to analyze the effects of events and decisions on the wide range of stakeholders that are impacted by the day-to-day routines of a school. I used to wonder why anyone who loved teaching would become an administrator.  Now I understand that a good administrator has the ability to have a positive impact on an entire school culture.  I understand the appeal of wanting to bring positive change to a larger group.  Where some teachers feel their hands are tied, an effective and thoughtful principal has the ability to be a true change-agent.

So, for a millisecond, I thought that this was possibly a career move I should consider.  But I learned about myself in this program, too. I learned that many of the issues facing school administrators are already important to me, both as a librarian and as a human being.  I learned that a major issue facing students, for a multitude of reasons (financial, language barrier, access to technology), is access to information they can understand. A strong, well supported, library program can help with that.  I learned that an administrator must be a champion for social justice issues for students. A strong library can help with that by providing safe, welcoming spaces and information for each and every student in the school.  Family and community relationships? Yes, librarians can do that.  Differentiated instruction? Pushing teachers' instructional practices into the 21st century through inquiry and effective use of technology? Increasing engagement through student choice? Done, done, and done!  The concerns of a school administrator are the concerns of a 21st century school librarian.

I am more passionate than ever about the role of a school library in education today, and I can't wait to take on the school year.