Author: The Unquiet Librarian

I'm a librarian who loves learning, critical literacy, stories, learning, dogs, poetry, fabulous shoes, and good lip gloss; I'm also a 2011 Library Journal Mover and Shaker.

Bridge to Presearch and Growing Student Understandings: Connect, Extend, Challenge

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One of our ongoing goals this academic year as instructional designers has been framing the importance of process in research projects and emphasizing the frontloading of presearch experiences as a critical point of helping students select and narrow a topic of authentic interest.  As we tried to collaborate with our 11th Language Arts teachers earlier this semester, Jennifer and I wanted to experiment with the learning structure Connect, Extend, Challenge to see if we could nudge student thinking about the overarching research theme of The American Dream. We decided to do a modified written conversation read and discussion starter that incorporated Connect, Extend, and Challenge.  We were able to schedule Linda Katz’s two classes for the activity and felt they would be a great group to pilot our first efforts since they had spent some class time discussing and brainstorming as a group what they felt The American Dream meant and individuals or events that might represent some aspect of it.  Below is their initial conceptualization:

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After seeing their list, Jen and I wondered if we could use the activity to introduce some contemporary issues related to The American Dream through the critical lenses of socioeconomics, class, race, and gender to push their thinking beyond contemporary individuals and to broaden their event/issue menu from the initial list they developed.  In our minds, we thought the activity would help them focus on a timely issue and hopefully be inspired to inquire about it.  It took me about a day to find articles I felt were a right fit, and I organized them into eight folders (one for each table).  Each folder contained two sets of articles:

  • A common set of readings that usually was an overview of a working definition and explanation of The American Dream.  These were designed to be quick reads that each group member would read (I envisioned four students per table, so I had four copies of the common read in the folder); they all came from our Gale and EBSCO databases.
  • A set of four different articles so that each group member would have a different article to read.

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Our game plan was for the students to have 10-12 minutes to read the articles; they would then discuss/share out their readings and reactions to those readings. We then wanted them to collaboratively respond to the prompts for Connect, Think, and Extend so that they could draw on the prior knowledge they had started building in the classroom but hopefully grow or expand through the group readings.  Each group would then share their responses on a large sticky note before rotating to another table and set of readings for a second round.  On the day of the activity, Jen reviewed the protocols and helped facilitate the activity; we tried to reinforce the conversation protocols by taping the guidelines on each table.

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The outcomes were a bit mixed.  Quite a few students discovered new information and some different directions for researching The American Dream and contextualizing it from a modern perspective.  Some even expressed surprise, especially around statistics and data, about what they read in the articles.  We were impressed some students developed their own coding system while annotating the articles to tie directly into the thinking/learning structure of connect, extend, and challenge.

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While Jen and I were happy to have put these topics and issues on the students’ radar, many still chose to go with their original focus on how an individual embodied an aspect of The American Dream; others, in the spirit of the research assignment, picked 1-2 concepts from the list and then researched multiple events and/or persons that they thought represented their chosen aspects of The American Dream.  We realized that some students would have benefited from the activity taking place over two days so that they could have had more time to:

1.  Read (the articles were of varying length and complexity, and we noticed some students needed more time to engage with the text).

2.  Share as a small group and then craft their collaborative responses to really go deeper with the connecting, extending, and challenging aspects of the activity.

3.  Share out as a large group and then help students think through the connections of what they had read to their initial class-generated list as well as new possibilities for inquiry.  Dr. Katz agreed that the extra time and the chance for a large group discussion would have been more optimal.

Now that we’ve tried the activity, we know that we might want to build in a longer or extended activity time window to help students immerse themselves in the texts, the conversations, and thinking without feeling rushed.  Jen and I  also realized that because the final details of the research assignment didn’t come together in the original time frame any of us (media staff as well as 11th Language Arts) anticipated, we were not cognizant that the teachers were focusing more on students looking at different issues or individuals through one or more of those class generated aspects of The American Dream.  While the activity did not result in our (Jen and I) goal of generating enough excitement to shift the research focus to a specific present day issue and a deep dive into how that issue related to the viability of The American Dream, hopefully from a critical literacy inquiry stance, we still feel this learning structure has great potential and hope to use it as part of presearch with another project.  What types of presearch learning activities or structures have you tried to nudge students’ thinking about topics related to a particular theme or to grow how they conceptualize a particular topic?

Circuits, Curiosity, and Inquiry: Physics and Team NHS Learning Studio

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Last Friday was an especially exciting day for all of us here in the NHS Learning Studio as we partnered with Physics teacher Joe Pepitone to create learning opportunities for inquiry and student exploration of circuits.    Below, Joe explains the seeds of this collaboration, reflections on the lab activities, and the impact of a team effort to create “centers” and “extension” circuit activities to extend and challenge the principles behind the primary circuit lab.  I encourage you to take the time to listen to Joe’s in-depth reflections on processes and insights from our experiences.

Overview of Our Day of Fun and Learning with Circuits

Joe began by explaining the paper circuit lab that was the starting point for students and the learning activity to demonstrate learning targets.

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Students then self-formed groups to do the first lab where the goal was to create a paper circuit that would result in the LED bulb lighting up.

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Once they had demonstrated they had created a working paper circuit with a working light bulb, students could then move through our two extension and enrichment centers facilitated by LSTC Logan Malm (a former science teacher) and Jennifer Lund (my fellow librarian).  Logan worked with students using the MakeyMakey kits while Jennifer helped students work with the squishy circuits (we had purchased our materials for these last year as part of our maker activities for Teen Tech Week 2014).  These “centers” were designed to provide students additional hands-on opportunities to further their exploration of circuits; these were both a big hit with students, and many were interested in doing more labs using these materials and visiting the media center to utilize them for fun.  We loved hearing them think aloud and problem solve together; many of them did not want to leave when the bell rang!

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We were even joined by several of our assistant principals and fellow science teachers—I think it was very powerful for our students to see adults learning side by side with them.

We are deeply appreciative to Joe as well as Logan for this kind of collaborative experience that ultimately benefited our students and elevated learning to a new level; as Joe reflected in the video earlier, having other partners to help facilitate an activity like this enables him as a teacher to meet students at points of need and for instruction to be differentiated.  These partnerships, fluidity in expertise and novice, co-learning, and energy are the very kinds of learning experiences Jen and I have envisioned for our library learning studio.  To see it blossom and to be part of the vision become reality is joyful and exciting.  We cannot wait to see what new partnerships might be inspired with other faculty and community members by this collaborative work!

See more of our photos and videos here.

Musical Book Tasting+Padlet: A Recipe for Participation

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Last week, Jennifer Lund and I tried a new variation on our musical book tasting activity we piloted in January.  Our LSTCs, Hope Black and Logan Malm, wrote a grant for a set of Chromebooks for teachers and students to use with a focus on cloud based applications and resources.  After consultation with ESOL teacher Dr. Melinda Byrne, we decided to have students post to a class Padlet wall for their book tasting activity using the Chromebooks rather than the traditional paper ticket we had used with other classes.   Because these classes were a little smaller than what we usually see and because these classes had used Padlet in the classroom, we felt this would be a meaningful opportunity to use the Chromebooks with students; we were also curious to see how public responses to books during the book tasting might impact student interest and engagement.

When students arrived, we helped them log into the Chromebooks and the student wireless network.  We then helped them navigate to the LibGuide for our book tasting and the Padlets we had created for each class section.   Finally, we reviewed the procedures for the book responses on the Padlet and incorporated the See Think Wonder structure since these classes utilized it frequently as part of Dr. Byrne’s classroom instruction.   Our initial example response was in paragraph format, but after our first class, we realized that numbering responses made more since to align with the response directions we provided students and we adjusted our examples for the subsequent classes accordingly.

We then jumped into the activity with the same structure as before.   We noticed two big differences with this variation of book tasting:

1.  Students seemed to take more care with their responses since they were visible to peers as opposed to private with the paper “tickets” we used.   I’m always intrigued by the private/public (both positive and negative) aspects of student responses.
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2.  Students seemed more focused on the reading during the “reading time” and not worried about trying to complete the responses.

Dr. Byrne shared these reflections on the activity with her four sections of classes:

This was such a fun day for our ESOL kids! Each student was able to “taste” a sample of several books during one class period and provide thoughts and comments about each book.

Padlet provides a great opportunity to publicly share the thoughts and ideas from EVERY student. Many times, reticent students are hesitant to speak aloud in class, but they are all comfortable responding electronically! This was a really unifying activity, and it allowed some our less vocal students to shine as brightly as those who are comfortable in the spotlight.

Incorporating the See-Think-Wonder MTV routine into the exploration process took the book tasting to a higher level.

The use of Chrome books was a fantastic way to ensure that all students were able to have a positive and engaging experience during the book tasting. Many of my students don’t have cell phones, so activities that incorporate individual cell phone responses alienate a portion of my student population. Using Chrome books allowed for full participation.

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One of the terrific elements of Padlet is the ability to export the responses in multiple formats; whether you are using the Padlet responses as a formative or summative assessment, the ability to archive student work is a tremendous asset, particularly if you are looking at student growth over time.

The only challenge we encountered was with the log-in process with the Chromebooks.  Because we are not a Google Education school at this time, we are not able to do the simple one-step process.   The alternate procedure for logging in students and connecting them to the student wireless network, while not difficult, does involve several mouseclicks than can be potentially confusing for students, especially those new to the Chromebooks.  Aside from that, the Chromebooks worked beautifully, and we’re excited to explore other ways to utilize these as mediums for learning with our teachers and students.  A heartfelt thank you to Dr. Byrne and all her students for such a terrific day—their enthusiasm is truly energizing!  We also are grateful to our colleagues Hope and Logan for helping us facilitate the activity and their support of learning in multiple formats.

Writing Around Literature Motfis + See, Think, Wonder for Deeper Understanding

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Yesterday we had the privilege of observing and listening to the students of Language Arts teacher Aba DeGraft-Hanson think together and share their ideas around different motifs of To Kill a Mockingbird.    They first began with a write-around the motifs last week; they then met in the library learning studio yesterday to discuss the ideas from the write-around and collaboratively draw conclusions by using the See, Think, Wonder structure from Making Thinking Visible.   Aba’s variation of this learning structure also asked students to include a one-word distillation of their ideas.   As students discussed and worked through the lens of See, Think, Wonder, Aba walked around and conferred with each group to answer questions or to serve as a sounding board.

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Students then presented in their groups using our Steelcase Verb dry erase easels and the written work of their write-around.

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Students also took notes as they listened to their peers and jotted down key ideas to revisit.

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After all groups completed their presentation/share out to the class, Aba led a short discussion with students about connections between the motifs.  She then provided them a graphic organizer to help them go deeper with the motif they had explore and to help students connect the motifs to themes of the novel.

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This two day activity generated rich conversation and some extraordinary thinking with the students!  I encourage to take time to listen to Aba’s narrative of how she blended written conversations with the See, Think, Wonder learning structure and her reflections on how these learning activities ignited student thinking and learning.

We are deeply appreciative of Aba and her students so generously sharing their work and using the learning studio here to practice inquiry and critical thinking.  We also hope their story of learning will inspire you to think about how you might use these learning structures with your students!

 Additional Resources

 

Tools of the Trade: My Essentials for Teaching, Learning, Collaborating, and Sharing

I rarely write posts about tech tools in recent years, but I thought I would briefly share some of my “go to” resources that have become an integral part of my work since coming to Norcross High in August of 2013.  These apps and devices are essential to the work I’m doing related to teaching and learning, especially for capturing student work whether it is for archival purposes, assessment, collaborative work between classes, or to merely document learning activities and experiences in our work with teachers and students.  They also help me collect qualitative data, celebrate all aspects of student learning, and interact with both students and teachers.  I’ll also share our essential non-technology oriented tools that we can’t live without here in the NHS Library Learning Studio. These tools and mediums are also helping me document the ways we and our students are using writing and composing multiple kinds of “texts” for thinking, processing, and creating in the library.  

Scanner Pro App ($2.99)

I’m excited to have such a robust app, especially that runs on my older iPhone 4s.   Originally, I bought the Scanner Pro app a little over a year ago because our library copy machine was broken and I needed a fast way to capture and print student submitted book passages for the very first write-around we did with Darrell  Cicchetti in December 2013.   This app does surprisingly high quality resolution scans of any kind of document; I love that I can capture these scans as image files or as PDF files.  You can scan and edit multiple pages into one master document in color, black and white, or both; these features are  wonderful when you are needing to capture collections of student work by class.

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You can also edit files at any time and make adjustments such as rotating the scan to a portrait or landscape orientation very easily.

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You can also import photos quickly from any of your camera rolls on your iPhone:

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I initially was uploading the files to my Evernote account, but I quickly changed to sharing my scanned work to Google Drive.  The learning curve is gentle, and my scanned files always upload to my Google Drive account quickly. Once they are in Google Drive, I can download the files to my laptop (and then upload to my blog or a LibGuide) or share the files publicly using the share feature in Google Drive or upload quickly to my school SlideShare account as needed.

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You can name your files when uploading so that you can identify your files easily as well.

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typing title and uploading to Google Drive

I have come to rely heavily on this tool as we have been collecting more student samples of work and doing more work with learning artifacts from written conversation strategies (see my blog for many previous posts on this topic). On a personal note, this app was invaluable last fall when I was handling real estate business for my father after my mother passed away—I used it frequently to capture PDFs of documents for Dad’s new home loan and loved not being tethered to a traditional scanner.  Whether I’m using it for professional or personal reasons, ScannerPro allows me to capture scans in a nimble and seamless way.

Vine

Vine is another wonderful app I’ve been using with increasing regularity during the last year.  Like many of you, I use it to capture quick snapshots of daily life in the library and of different learning activities and processes; it’s easy to share the videos to your social media streams and to embed into a blog or LibGuide page.   It is simple to use and again, it works seamlessly on my older iPhone.

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I also love connecting with other librarians on Vine and seeing their creative uses of this app!

Nikon Coolpix S6500

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This is my personal camera that I bought on clearance last summer.  It features wifi connectivity and some fun built-in photo editing tools (see below):

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While I primarily use this camera to get higher resolution photos of activities and life in the library, I have also discovered it is great for videoing interviews with teachers and students as it captures high quality recordings that I can then upload to YouTube and then edit in YouTube.

My iPhone

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My iPhone is nearly always in my hand here at work.  Whether I’m Tweeting with a class (see hashtag #rustyq or see this post), capturing student work with Vine or Scanner Pro, taking photographs, texting with a teacher to conference quickly or touch base about an activity we’re doing together, or accessing documents via Google Drive, my iPhone is an essential piece of technology I use to document what learning looks like in the library.

Essential Non-Tech Tools

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If you’ve been reading my blog over the last year, you know that butcher paper, index cards, assorted sizes of post-it notes, markers, Sharpies, and dry-erase boards have increasingly become robust mediums for thinking, composing, sharing, and learning with our students here in the NHS Library Learning Studio.  These artifacts are the springboard for the rich work Jennifer Lund and I have been doing with students and teachers.  I am continually awed and inspired by the ways that these “unplugged” modes for learning generate critical thinking and rich conversations (written and verbal) with our students.

Your Turn

What are your essential go to tools you are using as part of your professional work with patrons or students, particularly ones that might not have been part of your daily work just a few years ago?