collaboration

Scaffolding Student Presearch and Topic Ideas with Reading Frenzies

Photo by Sean O'Connor

Photo by Sean O’Connor

Like many of you, we’re always looking for ways to support students in their presearch processes.  Finding starting points for topic selection is often difficult for students, especially if they have little or no experience in choosing a topic.  In late March, we collaborated with Language Arts teacher Sean O’Connor and his freshmen classes to incorporate a blend of brainstorming/writing around topic ideas and a learning structure, Reading Frenzy, he learned earlier this year from Nancy Steineke at a workshop in New Orleans.   Like us, Sean is a big fan of the work that both Nancy and Harvey Daniels do with inquiry, literacy, and ways to facilitate conversations for learning.  Below is a video interview with Sean about the processes I have outlined below:

Sean kicked off their inquiry with having students write around motifs they had studied throughout their novel unit of To Kill a Mockingbird.  Students used our large blue post-it notes to brainstorm historical and current topics related to a motif of interest; they then moved about and posed questions and feedback to their peers using smaller post-it notes.

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This activity was the springboard to the reading frenzy, a learning structure that is flexible and gives students opportunities to skim, scan, and discuss multiple texts in a set time period.    After we looked at the ideas students generated from the brainstorming/write-around activity, I pulled a wide range of articles related to their topics of interest from the web as well as our databases (Academic Search Complete, MAS Ultra Student Edition, various Gale databases) trying to include a variety of reading levels, publications/information sources, and perspectives on the issues and events.

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Students passed around the articles and read them; they also discussed what they were reading with a neighboring buddy as something of interest got their attention.  As students began thinking about more specific topic ideas as they read the article, they requested additional articles, and I was able for the most part to either produce those on the demand to go or to provide them the following day in class for follow-up.  Other students who read an article that resonated with them requested I print additional copies, and I was more than happy to do this.  After the first class, I decided to make article categories to make it easier for the students to go directly to piles of articles of interest to them.

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We love these structures because they support students who already have a topic idea as well as those who might be a little less certain about a topic interest.  It can also introduce new topics or more nuanced aspects of a topic to students.  This investment of time ensured students enhanced their understandings of the novel’s motifs and connections of that motif to contemporary as well as historical events.   This process also reinforced our efforts this year to really focus on helping teachers and students find ways to narrow or “crop” topic so that they can hopefully engage in deeper and more thoughtful inquiry.  We feel this entry point is a particularly effective way to scaffold students who may have little research experience OR more experience at “reporting” vs. researching (see the blog of my colleagues at Letting Go for more on this idea).  These activities prepared students to move forward strategically into presearch and to find articles on their own.  They have now narrowed and refined their topic and are composing their research design plans to Sean.  We are looking forward to seeing where they go from here with their research after our spring break as well as using the reading frenzy strategy with other classes!

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.

Holistic and Individualized Formative Assessment of Research and Inquiry Processes

For the last two weeks, our students have been immersed in investigating information and constructing new understandings as they have been composing their research design proposals, revising sections of their proposals, and doing additional research after focusing and narrowing their topics and research questions.  As they have gone back and forth in refining their topics and questions and doing the subsequent additional research, we’ve seen our students move back and forth between confusion/doubt/uncertainty/discomfort and clarity.  Most students are not used to doing this sort of deep dive with a topic, making their own choices about the topic and research questions, articulating how they demonstrating growth in their learning, or selecting their learning products; consequently, the messiness of choice and ownership of their projects has been a new experience (and uncomfortable to varying extents) for them.  Sarah Rust and I have also experienced a spectrum of emotions in this inquiry process as well;  we know our students will grow from these experiences yet we too feel some of that same uncertainty and frustration as our students when they wobble or stall in spite of our efforts to scaffold and support with individualized feedback, resources, and reflective questioning.   Like our colleagues Heather, Meg, Marci, and Cathy, we provide  them strategies and feedback that will propel them forward and give them the tools to self-help, but as we have told them, we cannot make the decisions for them or give them the answers.   We stay calm and reiterate that we are focused on how and what they are learning, not grades—of course, this discourse is a departure from the narrative they have heard their entire school lives in our test-driven culture.

The individualized and fluid nature of working with 50+ students who are all doing different topics is also a newer experience for us and definitely for the students.   Over the last two weeks, any given day has been a potpourri of joy, exasperation, delight, and doubt as students have drafted their research design proposals for their multigenre projects.  This kind of work is where the collaborative partnership Sarah and I have is critical because you have an instructional partner to be responsive to these kinds of learning experiences and individual student needs.  Because we both bring different strengths to the table and can process what we are observing with student work together, we are much better positioned to truly help our students than if we were doing this in a solitary or prescriptive, rigid way.

After receiving the drafts of their proposals for their projects, Sarah and I have employed a variety of strategies to personalize the feedback for each student at their points of need.  Here are some of the action steps we’ve tried:

Individualizing and Capturing Feedback Through Mail Merge and Databases

I created a database in Word of all of our students in 2nd and 3rd periods.  Data fields I created included:

  • First name
  • Last name
  • Class Period
  • Comments About the Narrowed/Focused Topic
  • Multigenre Products Students Selected
  • Publishing Platform of Virtual or Paper (Word/PDF)
  • General Notes (comments about student self-selected learning targets, what they know about their topic at this point, what they want to learn, research questions, their working bibliographies, and search terms/strategies.
  • Next Steps–specific tasks and suggestions to help the students move forward.  These action steps could also include requests for students to schedule 1:1 help or to participate in some of the small-group help sessions we set up in response to the patterns of thinking and gaps we saw in the proposals.

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I went through each proposal and typed in my feedback for each student in the appropriate fields in the database document.   I then used the Mail Merge wizard in Word to create a “form letter” that imported this feedback and printed out the feedback documents for each student on colored paper or in color.  Once I printed completed feedback forms, I stapled them to the research design proposal draft and returned to the student as soon as possible for them so that they could move forward or make revisions.  I also provided a copy to Sarah so that she could begin developing a list of needs to address and to prioritize which students needed her help and areas of expertise.  The master database provides us an archived record of the formative assessment to use as we look at student growth; it is also easily accessible to reprint should a student lose his/her copy of the feedback form.

It did take quite a bit of time to methodically go through each proposal and to generate the personalized feedback.  However, I so appreciate the opportunity to engage in this sort of assessment because it helps me get to know the students as learners.  This work also improves my instruction because I can easily see patterns of understanding and confusion and helps me to be a more reflective and effective practitioner as well as instructional designer.

Conferencing/Coaching/Triage 1:1 and Small Group

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Using this information as our starting point, Sarah and I have  been meeting with students the last few days (late last week and all of this week)to discuss the feedback we’ve provided them ; we use the feedback forms as a strategic entry point for face to face conference/coaching conversation with students.   We have been organizing our 1:1 meetings and small group sessions through a variety of mediums each day:

  • Students can sign up for specific individual help each day—we have used large post-it paper and our Verb dry erase boards as our parking lots for students to indicate they need assistance or have questions.
  • Students can sign up for small group help or indicate they want to join a future small group work session through our Verb dry erase boards.  For example, after reviewing all the research design proposals, I realized I needed to do some small group instruction on additional search techniques with Boolean operators and additional instruction on mining Academic Search Complete.
  • For those who might be shy or reluctant to place themselves in one of these help request parking lots, we’ve also been sure to work through our class rosters and are checking in with each student so that we are sure to meet with EVERY student and “check up” on their progress, successes, questions, and worries.

Yesterday, Sarah called students up by the class roster whereas I started with my list of student requested help.  Today we approached the scheduling of the 1:1 conferences by working through the class rosters and having students first check in with Sarah about some of their recent process work; students then moved to my table for to discuss the feedback they received from us on their research design proposals.   We each set up a help area with our mobile tables and our green Hon rolling chairs so that we had comfortable spaces to talk to students and where they could spread out their work and/or where we could show them specific resources or skills on our laptops if they needed some concrete visualization or examples.  Some conferences are brief while others are more extended, but typically, each meeting can last 3-10 minutes—it all depends on student need and how the conversation evolves in the conference.  We also keep notepads, large lined sticky notes, and/or Google Docs available at the conference table to jot down notes from each meeting while students bring along their folders of their process work, drafts of their design proposals, and the individualized design proposal feedback form.

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In just these first few days we’ve been meeting with students, it’s very apparent when students feel confident (and skills/processes/ideas they’re self-assured about as well) and where students feel fuzzy, unsure, and/or anxious.   We’ve also observed that most of our students are not used to this level of accountability, and some seem a bit uncomfortable with it when you are asking them questions to nudge them to dig deeper or be more specific with details; we sense many are also not used to these types of conferences that puts the responsibility and decision making on them as students.   We are framing this conference/coaching sessions from a stance of discussions to help them think through their choices, to clarify their own thinking/choices/next steps, and to move forward with their projects since we don’t want them to see the messiness and muckiness of inquiry as punitive.   These sessions have also helped us identify those who might benefit from some of our upcoming small group mini-lessons but who may not have initially signed up for assistance.  Last but not least, I believe these conferences convey to our students that each person matters and that we care about them and their topics.

Reflections

While we cannot do their work for them, we can give students every opportunity to get personal assistance in a low-key setting —we want them to know they cannot fall through the cracks or simply fly under our radars.  While I’ve done this sort of work before, this is probably the biggest chunk of time I’ve had in a collaborative partnership for this level of assessment and 1:1 student conferencing.  This approach requires us to be agile and responsive as each day is different and every student need varies.  This kind of conferencing/coaching is time consuming and messy; while the prep for the small group work is pretty straightforward, the 1:1 help is definitely open-ended.  I have been inspired and am improving my own conferencing skills with students by watching Sarah (who is a master at this process) and by my friend and fellow school librarian Heather Hersey.  Her post about the importance of conferencing helped me to think about focusing on all aspects of their inquiry work and design proposals rather than just sources or their bibliographies; it also inspired my idea for using the mail merge form and database to capture feedback and use that as a starting point for the student conferences/coaching sessions.

Sarah and I have also been discussing how intense this kind of work is and how you have to be comfortable with making adjustments as needed to timelines and your plans in order to be responsive to the students.    The processes are messy, yet this “mucking around in ideas” is the grist for the growth and critical thinking that happens as both we and our students problem solve, question, and revise our ideas and stances.  Neither of us has any idea how someone would do this kind of process-driven, organic, fluid, and reflective work alone!  We love that our combined talents help the students as well as each other; we also are appreciative of having someone else each day who can help you see things you might have missed or to think about a particular situation or challenge with fresh eyes.   We are also excited we can model collaborative learning for our students—how often do they get to be in a learning environment where there are at least 2-3 adults who can help them and provide them the kind of specific and personalized attention they are receiving?  Most importantly, this type of collaboration is a catalyst for inquiry work and for integrating more formative kinds of assessments that benefit students and impact learning.

We expect the 1:1 and small group conferences, coaching, and small group instruction to continue the next 7 days of school leading up to our Thanksgiving break.  I hope to share more images, video, written/video reflections and feedback from both of us as well as our students in an upcoming post later this month.   I’m also thinking about how to better integrate the conferencing/coaching/conversation aspect into the inquiry approach (and at an earlier point in time) with research using Cris Tovani’s conceptualization of these conversations as data and formative assessment (see her text, So What Do They Really Know?  Assessment That Informs Teaching and Learning).

Cris Tovani's Conversation Calendars

How are you approaching assessment with inquiry work?  How do you negotiate and embrace the challenges of time and fluidity with this approach to learning and research?  How do you scale this kind of learning experience when there are always challenges of time, space, and staffing?

Rolling and Writing Collaborative Poetry with Verb Whiteboards

Rolling and writing with Verb whiteboards and easels

Rolling and writing with Verb whiteboards and easels

Yesterday my fellow librarian Jennifer Lund, Language Arts teacher Darrell Cicchetti, and I did a little impromptu planning to organize a fun end of the year celebration of the year-long “Independent Reading” initiative for Darrell’s 7th period 10th CP Language Arts students.  After some housekeeping business of checking each student’s library account for any outstanding books, we gave students a tour of new furniture arrivals(choices inspired by our colleagues at North Gwinnett High and Peachtree Ridge High and funded by grants from the Norcross High School Foundation as well as the GCPS Foundation) and let them try out the new seating.   The reaction was overwhelmingly positive—students loved both the color and comfort!

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We then asked students to sit in small groups at our regular tables and to do some spontaneous collaboration to craft a poem either about their independent reading choices from the past year or the current group read The Alchemist.   Some groups created mashup poems with each student writing a line about a character, theme, issue, or image from one of the IR choice books; others created acrostic poems using a character name from The Alchemist and crafting lines that related to some aspect of that text.   We provided dry erase markers to each student and groups used our new Verb whiteboards to draft their lines of poetry.

Collaborative Poetry Writing with Verb Whiteboards

Collaborative Poetry Writing and Sharing with Verb Whiteboards

When each group finished, they placed the whiteboard on our new Verb Easel.  Each group then had a volunteer who came up to read the poem and share with the large group.  All of us were not only pleasantly surprised with the quality of the poems students drafted in a short time, but we also relished the performance aspect students put into the reading of their poems.  One of the students, Gwenisha, quickly invented the hashtag #rollingandwriting at the beginning of our period, and it captured the spirit of our work for the period.

The experience of 7th period was an exciting glimpse of the collaborative work we hope to foster with teachers and students for 2014-2015 as our physical space redesign is in full swing to support our concept of library as learning studio to not only re-imagine our role at NHS but to also help impact pedagogy and the possibilities for learning for teachers and students together.

Related links of interest

Partnering for Possibilities: NHS Media Center, Gwinnett County Public Library, 3D Printing, and More

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The grand finale to Teen Tech Week 2014 was the first step in a partnership (more details later in this post!) between our media center and our friends from the Gwinnett County Public Library.  Training Manager Christopher Baker, Information Technology Director Michael Casey, and Grayson Assistant Branch Manager Steve Thomas joined us for three lunch/guided study periods to introduce 3D printing to our teens.   Christina Gangwisch, Public Services Librarian from our neighboring Peachtree Corners branch, was also part of the festivities and provided students information on getting a public library card as well as details about the library’s eBook collection and activities for teens.   Armed with the library 3D Makerbot Replicator 2 printer, enthusiasm, and lots of 3D artifacts created on the printer to share with students, the three facilitated small group, 1:1, and large group conversations with 59 of our NHS teens!  Steve joined my colleague Jennifer Lund and I as co-learners with the teens (we’re all newbies to 3D printing)  while Michael and Chris wowed all of us with their artful expertise and interaction with our students.   It was a day marked by joy, curiosity, wonder, and excitement as nearly every teen who attended saw the 3D printer in action for the first time.  The conversations were organic, and we appreciate how responsive Michael and Chris were to the learning needs and interests of our students.

We were especially excited that most of our core group who attended our other Teen Tech Week sessions earlier in the week not only attended the 3D session, but several of them invited friends—the result was a vibrant cross-section of students who got to see the possibilities for both the public library as well as our own.   One of the participants, Brianna, shared this reflection:

The 3D printer was really cool.  When I first saw it, it was making a small robot.  There were other things like a small owl which was really cool because it looked like an actual owl.  Watching the 3D printer make stuff was an amazing experience.  I hope to see it make stuff again in the future at the public library because I really liked watching designs people created get made.  I also hope to come up with with a design of my own to be with the 3D printer.”

Another student, Nanier, offered these reactions to the day:

The 3D printing machine was an awesome thing to see at work.  I think that if the school had one, it would be really cool because we could use it to do prototypes for a project.  So I would really like for there to be one, or for us to do or help to get one.

In addition to getting student responses to our day of collaborative learning, I also asked our GCPL colleagues to share their reflections.  Michael Casey wrote:

As this was the first time that we’ve taken the printer anywhere, I was surprised by almost everything. I liked that we attracted what appeared to be lots of different types of students. There were some real science/tech kids there but there appeared to also be some students who never really heard of 3D printing but were curious. It was fun, in talking with them, to see and hear their thought processes regarding the possibilities of 3D printing. Many immediately jumped to far larger projects — biological matter, complex part production, etc. I’m hoping that a few kids went home and went online to learn a bit more about the possibilities.  It’s always great to be able to connect the theoretical with the practical and, in this case, the tactile. We were able to talk about very complex printing uses (human organs, etc) and also hand out small items that were made with a real 3D printer — a pedestrian version of the more complex printers, true, but still an actual 3D printer that has a cousin out there who may eventually save lives.

Chris Baker also found the student’s excitement energizing for him:

I had an awesome time demoing the MakerBot and talking with everyone who stopped by to watch the MakerBot do its thing! As Michael mentioned in his message, it was great to have such a diversity of students involved and interested in the session! My favorite takeaway from the session revolves around the reception the MakerBot received from the students vs. the reception it often receives from adults; there was a total lack of cynicism regarding the MakerBot with the teens on Friday! I’m defining cynicism very softly here because the MakerBot always receives a warm reception, but often with adult audiences, it comes with a few leading questions that belie underlying feelings of cynicism and/or fear, i.e. “Aren’t people using 3D printers to make weapons?” or in a smaller way, “I wouldn’t even know where to start with this thing”. Not only did the students seem amazed by the technology, they also seemed amazed by the possibility! Thanks again for this opportunity for feedback; Friday’s session was one of the most inspiring and encouraging sessions I’ve been a part of in some time!

Steve Thomas’s reflections very much echo the participatory practices from our colleagues in museums as he views the opportunity to be a co-learner and to take the students’ learning experiences as “grist” for next steps in designing learning experiences:

As I’m still in the early stages of learning about 3D printing myself, I was delighted to see how the students’ eyes lit up with the potential for the technology; it will be fun learning with them at this summer’s MakerCamp. Even the quietest students had good questions about how the MakerBot worked, wanting to learn more about its potential applications but also about how the underlying technology worked. The future is coming fast and I’m excited to be part of the effort to collaborate with our public schools to usher in this new service. The lessons we are learning from this initial partnership will help shape how we use the 3D printer and other new technologies with the rest of our community.

We all feel confident that this three hour investment in our students has ignited interest for many of our teens in 3D printing and design and will be a bridge to additional learning opportunities co-fostered by NHS and GCPL.  So what are our next steps from this initial day of ideation and immersion? What might those opportunities be?

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The Partnership

The partnership between NHS and GCPL was born out of an initial conversation between Michael and me when we realized very quickly that we have a shared interest in participatory learning and services.  Together we spearheaded an initial core team that includes ourselves, Chris, Steve, Events and Outreach Manager Amy Billings, my fellow NHS librarian Jen Lund, Robotics Team sponsor Joe Floyd, NHS LSTC (Local School Technology Coordinator) Victoria Dodd, and science teacher Alix Hardy. We’ve had a series of three meetings and numerous conversations since early December that have culminated in these first steps that we hope will lead to additional and organic work as we learn together and from our students.

Pilot 1: Beginning Small:

The first is a small -scale program between the public library and our Norcross HS Robotics Club. This will be a series of four visits to the club after school this spring with both staff from the public library and NHS Media Center participating/facilitating an hour or ninety-minute session of ideating, designing, doing, and learning.  The club will  use various software like Tinkercad to create objects on the 3D printer and participating club members will share their knowledge (existing and growing) with the library staff so we can together learn various software applications beyond the basic two we currently understand. This series is designed to be a learning opportunity for us as the librarians as much as the students.

Pilot 2:  Summer Maker Camp at the Public Library

Final details are still being fine tuned, but here is an overview of how we will scale the first pilot into a larger participatory experience:

  • Norcross HS Media Center will host  A “Tech Petting Zoo”  celebration and sharing day in the library with the 3D printer and Makey Makey kits to encourage students to participate in the upcoming Maker Camp. This event will be co-facilitated by NHS MC staff and GCPL staff; students who participated in the Robotics Club may also help facilitate during the day.
  • A four session Summer Maker Camp at the Peachtree Corners branch (Monday to Thursday) will take place in early June. Over these four days,  a mix of high school and library staff will introduce camp makers to the various software applications, offer training, and offer library resources (PCs, Chromebooks, etc) for the students to use, in-branch, in designing their objects. We would begin printing the objects in the final session.  Robotics Club members interesting in serving as co-mentors may also help facilitate during these four days.
  • The closing community event for participants, family, and friends, probably the following Monday or Tuesday, will be a celebration of learning and students will be recognized for their work and unique talents they’ve demonstrated.  
  • We hope to broadcast (via a live video feed) the actual printing of the objects and learning activities to share our learning with the larger community and perhaps even invite vetted experts to participate in the conversations for learning as we create and make.   Students will also help staff capture the experience through other forms of multimedia such as Instagram and Vine.

We are all excited by these seed ideas and cannot wait to see what grows from these collaborative learning opportunities.  While we see eBook creation/publishing, web design, and composing practices as future potential areas of partnership, we also are eager to see how student interests may inspire additional sustained projects.  We hope to work together as a team so that the learning spaces between the school library, classroom, and public library are seamless spheres of learning that overlap and inform each other in rich, robust, and equitable ways.  I think there is much potential for us to explore how we can frame our collaborative work through a lens of connected learning, and we all look forward to forging these pathways to many kinds of learning!