Thursday, June 8, 2017

We Are Better Than That

It happened. The sun finally appeared yesterday after too many days of rain. "Summeritis" hit the school like a tidal wave, and kids began to taste vacation like an ice cream cone on a hot day. They became stir-crazy. However, we have 2 more weeks of school and every educator's nightmare turned into a Tim Burton movie.

Yesterday my students caught the urge and the rules that had firmly been in place all year, suddenly disappeared like a sand castle at high tide. I found myself becoming "the teacher I didn't want to be." Although I had pulled out my entire bag of tricks, more movement less lecture, fun and engaging lesson plans, enthusiasm and the can do attitude, I found myself sternly speaking to my kids all day. By 1:30, my last class which was  6-8th grade, I was worn, exhausted, and impatient. I was not my best. Despite verbal cues and warnings, the kids didn't get it and it happened; the draconian lecture. Once again, I became the educator I didn't want to be.

I always tell kids, you create the teacher I am. We can work together and have fun and learn, or we can be polar opposites and I become cranky. Yesterday, I was cranky. ALL. DAY. LONG. This almost never happens as boundaries, expectations, and values are set from day one. I came home feeling defeated. In other occupations, having a bad day is acceptable; when you work with kids, it leaves an impact. My bad days are far and few between and I work hard for that to be the norm.

2:00am I sat in bed wondering what had gone wrong. Not only did I reflect on student actions, I reflected on my own and came to the conclusion that I am better than that and so are they. I walked into school today saying this to myself and proceeded to sit down and have an honest and open conversation with my students. This included my 2nd grade as well as my 7th and 8th. I explained we are better than yesterday and shared my feelings and thoughts. I was met with. "But we deserved it, you were right, we were messing around and we are sorry."

We talked; that was it. They heard that, I too, struggle with the end of the year. I, too, can't wait for vacation but have obligations I need to meet before they go.  I, too, want to end on a happy note and miss them and not dread coming back. We shared some commonalities and that made all the difference. Today was a good day and tomorrow will be better because together we are better than that!

Keep reading,
The Noisy Librarian

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Great Fidget Debate

I have thought a lot about the fidget craze, and I am going to take an unpopular viewpoint as an educator. First and foremost, I teach kids from Kindergarten to 8th grade so there is a varied age span to work with. There are numerous students, of all ages, who bring fidgets into my class. I immediately set the boundaries and if they play with them within the limits, fine. The clear boundary is if they are too distracting, they disappear for a while. I have yet to meet resistance to this from the students. It was pointed out that they are "status toys." Got it, we made our own out of paper so that everyone could have one. This lead to a lot of creativity, collaboration, following step by step directions, and try and try again until your fidget worked correctly. I felt these were good life-skills that we all need to sharpen.

In all honesty, I have had "fidgets" in my LLC since I became the librarian. However they were in the form of a box of beanie babies. Students of all ages have grabbed a fidget as they came into class when needed. Have they been a distraction, sometimes, and then they are taken away. Frankly, anything can be a distraction, velcro shoes, bracelets, hair twirling, bands on the bottoms of chairs, balls to sit on and various other items if you want to look hard enough.  I, myself, cannot sit in a workshop or lectured class without doodling. That does not mean I am not paying attention, it means I need more stimuli TO pay attention. Instead of looking at kids with fidgets as a distraction, I look at it as a kid who needs something more from me. The fidget is a visual reminder for me to check in with the student more often to make sure s/he is understanding what I am saying or doing.

I think in this great debate of fidgets in or out of schools we are missing the point of WHY do kids need them? In the age of technology, are our children sitting too much?  When I see a ton of fidgets being taken out in my class, I wonder if my teaching techniques need to change. I think, have my kids been sitting too long? As an educator, I am ok with the fidget craze as it gives me the opportunity to question my techniques, ask my students why they think they need them, and follow through with those that otherwise may be lost in the crowd. Probably not a popular perspective, but one that works for me.
Keep reading,
The Noisy Librarian

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Value of Video

Kids, teens, and adults alike spend numerous hours watching videos. Random conversations surround the various topics from fun loving pets to tutorials on drones. There isn't a topic that isn't covered via video these days. When I give students a video assignment their priorities are:  attracting an audience first and then displaying the learning. I found that kids would just create a video to get it done while possibly providing a smidgeon of entertainment. They knew this wasn't going beyond classroom walls so the entertainment value was decreased as was the personal effort. I wanted to change that. I want my students to see the value in videos and understand the importance of this visual art that is comprised of much more than just shooting a scene and regurgitating information.

Enter the Movie Critic Elective for grades 6-8. I have 15 students taking this elective which is turning out to teach me much more than I thought! My plan was to have students examine and critique  short clips to recognize the elements that make a good movie or short video. I wanted the kids to understand the job of a video is to evoke emotion on some level. Thanks to Jesse Sherman, and his inspiring visit last year, my students are being exposed to the following video components.
~Angle ( How do you show fear, happiness, power, intimidation, conflict, resolution?)
~Story   ( Can you create a short movie with depth, meaningful characters, a message?)
~Lighting ( How does different lighting effect the shot?)
~Music     ( Why background music is important and how it plays a part in feelings)

Below is a clip playing with angles.
We watch clips, discuss what we see, play around with video ourselves, and then gather together to critique the creations. This is visual art at its best. Through conversations, the students are beginning to see the importance of video and realize the pieces that make them such valuable resources. This is an art that has tremendous potential for the classroom. Outside of class, kids share their discoveries with me such as, "I watched a movie where the background music was off, it just wasn't as good as it should be." "I saw a shot reverse shot in the video I watched last night." They are learning to look for the components, share them, apply the knowledge to this task, and create something better. This is higher order thinking that is relevant and meaningful to the student.

So the next time your children sit down for a YouTube marathon, why not ask them "How could this have been done better?'

Let's meet kids where they are...
Noisy Librarian

Monday, April 17, 2017

Old thoughts and new trends in assessment

There is a new trend in town that can be found on Twitter as hashtag #ttog meaning, "teachers throw out grades". While new on Twitter, this is not a new concept to me. As an educator, I have never really liked giving grades ( nor homework but that is for another blogpost). Luckily as a librarian, that battle has crossed my path only a few times, and it has been a battle I have won.

Ironically as a student, both as a child and an adult, I defined my worth through grades. I lamented if I received 95% rather than a 100%. That is true to this day. However the thought that this would make me work harder is disproved due to the fact I was already giving all I had. That may not hold true to other students but it impacted me to think beyond the number with my students.

Several years ago, in my classes, I decided to implement something called a t-rubric. My students are asked to prove growth and understanding of skills and concepts through presentations and projects like many other classes. Assessment can and does define growth and was utilized, however,  the traditional "grades" never went beyond the class, and students just wanted to know if they were getting a 1 (unsatisfactory) or a 4 (proficient). They did not ask for more than the number even if comments were provided. How could they grow or learn if the focus remained on the grade? T-rubrics provide the same high standard as the regular rubric. I have included a link to mine below. You can organize them how you would like and each can be personalized to every student. I create them with the center being the proficiency standards. On either side I can provide rough commentary or notes individual to my student. The beauty is that if s/he does something well or concerning but is not specifically on the rubric, I can choose the domain and write my thoughts. Using these rubrics helps me focus on where each student needs to grow. Students appear to like them as well and actually spend time reading them.

Another change in how I assess students came when I implemented a blended learning station  rotation unit for grades 5-8. I chose the units I found boring to teach but are imperative for the kids to learn. I created 3 modules within Blendspace. The modules, in order, were: Copyright, Plagiarism, Creative Commons. Each module had a Blendspace with videos, documents, links, and a short quiz that I had created. The other stations included, printed documents to read, worksheets, games, or discussions with each other or myself. Students were given a checklist of questions for each module. They were encouraged to work at any or all stations and could collaborate as much as they liked. They could even collaborate on the quizzes if they wanted. They only way to pass the module and continue to the next was take the online quiz and then individually meet with me to discuss the check-list questions. They were given a loose time-line to complete the modules but that was always up for discussion if need be. The students were completely shocked when I told them there was no way to cheat. I even kept it written on my whiteboard. I was looking for comprehension of concepts and skills and the more they collaborated, even with the quiz, they more they grasped this dry, yet necessary, material. When everyone finally completed all the modules, we met as a class and overwhelmingly, students chose this way of learning. While the majority of the students accomplished my goals, several did not so I will continue to work with them using this process.

At the end of the modules, I asked each student to anonymously fill out a Google survey garnering feedback on this process. One of the questions I asked was:
Check the top 3 things you found most beneficial to help you learn the concepts.
I could talk w friends and/or Jill when needed          71.6%
Work at my own pace                                                   65.7%
There is no cheating                                                      59.7%
Choose your own station                                            38.8%
Lots of choices                                                            31.3%
I could test out                                                            22.4%
Immediate feedback on quizzes                                22.4%
No lecture                                                                   20.9%

The techniques that rose to the top all had life-skills embedded in them. Collaboration, self-pacing, and a deeper understanding of skills and concepts are all abilities needed outside of the academic setting. Students freely chatted with one another. This also led to students choosing to mentor each other rather than rely solely on me for information. Some students were uncomfortable with this type of learning, BUT most of them completed the modules being able to do something other than regurgitate the concepts. It had meaning that applied to them. The online quiz was a measurement to let him/her know what still needed to be understood. Meeting one on one with me gave me a good assessment of where each student was; we could discuss thoughts and misunderstandings.  The utter beauty of this is that, with further implementation, my students will enhance life skills that are necessary and learning becomes individualized. A disclaimer: my school values small class size so this is doable. While I had 82 students working through the modules, my largest class was 19 kids. There is room for lots of improvement in my methodology, but I know the most of my kids left with much more than a focus number.
Keep reading,
Noisy Librarian

Friday, April 14, 2017

Small Community and a Library Learning Commons

One of the benefits of working in a small school is that everyone is acquainted with each other; Kindergarteners wave to 8th graders when passing in the hallways. Before holiday breaks, the LLC opens its doors and invites teachers to bring students in to participate in various activities. This year the day before Thanksgiving break, we had numerous classes come in and work together. Activities include many curricular areas such as reading, writing, and math. Students created thank you cards for veterans, read stories aloud to each other, solved computer generated puzzles, played board games, watched fairy tale skits put on by 8th grade, made videos of what they are thankful for and other activities. Staff had the opportunity to interact with students they do not normally see. It was nice to see kids settle into an activity of choice and collaborate with another student they may rarely see. We also had the entire 3/4 grade using teamwork to problem solve the game Breakout Edu.They did not open the box this time, but learned some valuable lessons to try the game again in the future.

Our school has a lot to be thankful for and the mood of the students demonstrated this. Enjoy the photos.

Coloring math pages
Making cards for veterans

Working together on an online puzzle
Breakout EDU
Jenga with alumni

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Capture the Flag Challenge

5P Genius Hour  teamed up with Positive Tracks and is issuing a global Capture the Flag challenge. They are trying to raise money for Circus Zambia to build a circus school in Lusaka, Zambia. Check out the challenge and feel free to donate, share the information, or create your own team on the Positive Tracks site to participate. These kids have worked extremely hard on this project and spent many of their lunch and recess times researching, writing, and promoting their cause, we would love to see kids from all around the world join us!

Here is a link for more information:
Check out the video:

Monday, October 10, 2016

Project Based Learning all the way

Currently every class in grades 5 and up are working on some sort of Project Based Learning task. Most of the project ideas came from the students themselves.

5P is working on a project to help Circus Zambia build a circus school in Africa. Students have been diligent and oftentimes sacrifice their lunch and recess to complete the first stage of the project. So far they have researched, shared information with younger grades, written, organized and recorded a Shadowpuppet and practiced their pitch to the Principal and supporting organization.  All of this involved, collaboration, writing, editing, and researching skills. These students are making a Global impact and once they have the go-ahead to share, will astound you with their accomplishments. 
5S has begun a project about NH. We will begin Mysteryskyping soon and they wanted to create a video about NH to share with other students. Again, collaboration, researching and writing is taking precedence here. They are also organizing and prioritizing their list of desired places to showcase.
6th grade played Breakout edu a week or so ago and challenged themselves to create a game. This will take a few months to complete as these games can be quite complex. The chosen topic for the game is genres. Once completed we will move our game, for the rest of the school and others to try, into the sandbox section of Breakout edu. We look forward to the challenge!
7th grade is doing some real-life skill research on their 8th grade class trip. The class of 2016 accomplished this and felt a sense of ownership over their choice. Students will look at locations and take into consideration: travel time, activities, overnight accommodations, food, and cost. Once they complete their slide shows, they will share with their class advisers and choose the trip. 
8th graders are researching and gathering data on the usage of social media. Each team has chosen a specific social media to investigate and create a presentation of their choosing displaying the data gathered. This should be interesting and I hope to share some of the results here.  

Through my observations, students are excited to work on these projects that have meaning to them. This makes teaching valid resources, collaboration, organization, reflection, writing, editing, presenting, and the introduction of new tech tools easy. My curriculum has not changed, but the way I am teaching it has and I believe it may be for the better. 

Watch what we do and how we grow.
Keep reading,
The Noisy Librarian