Sunday, May 22, 2016

I Feel Like I am Late to the Party

Kahoot was used as practice for the upcoming English III standardized test

Students were highly engaged in Kahoot

I consider myself on top of things when it comes to technology and education.Though there are many tools and tricks that I choose not to use, I try to be aware of what is new and hold it on the back burner to share with teachers in my building or eventually use it myself. Like Kahoot, I had heard about it and knew teachers that used it, but I thought that I didn't need it. Then we got a set of iPads that I could use with students in the library, and I thought that I would ditch the Activotes that came with the Promothean Board and try Kahoot. I am so glad I did because it has become a new favorite tool. I love the way that it ranks the students' answers on speed and accuracy and that the leaderboard can change from question to question so that the competition aspect of Kahoot completely engages even the most reluctant of students. 

Then there is BreakoutEDU. I first heard the word many months ago, but I had no clue what it was and didn't know if it was something that could be useful in the library. My finger must have dropped from the pulse of edtech because I truly did not understand that it could be used to teach the 21st century skills of critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, communication, and work ethic. On top of that, you can use it for any content area and students of all ages from elementary through high school. That makes it a very cool tool. During the Louisiana Library Association conference in March, I attended a session that was presented by one of my favorite people, Susan Gauthier, the library director of East Baton Rouge Parish schools. It was a session on BreakoutEDU. I still didn't know what I was getting into, but if Susan was sharing it, then I knew that I needed to learn its capabilities. She designed the Breakout to demonstrate how to use the high schools' online resources available in her district. This was the perfect scenario to share with other librarians.

figuring out the 3D maze
During her session, I saw how everyone in the room was engaged. I also saw how teamwork was needed if the box was going to be unlocked. When I returned to school after the conference, I immediately researched how to obtain my own box. Unfortunately, spring break happened, and the PO that we sent in to purchase the box just sat for a few weeks. Finally, my box arrived just as I began the two weeks of administering AP exams. this meant that I had little time to plan a Breakout. Last week, during the final full week of school, I was able to schedule with a 6th grade math teacher my first BreakoutEDU game. I chose The Lake House because inequalities was the theme of the game and was taught to the 6th graders. It was a blast, but I learned some things to make my next sessions run more smoothly.

trying to open the directional lock
I played the game with two classes of about 30 students each. I used all the clues that were provided online, but I did add another lock box. There were four locks on the box, two locked boxes, three math problems on paper, one problem on line, and the clue for the extra box. I also threw in a red herring which I told the students could happen. I did think that it is possible to have the whole class working on the clues for one box. I would say at any given time 80 to 90 percent of the students were engaged, but there was not enough for everyone to do for the full 45 minutes. I plan to order another box, so that I can run two games at one time with 15 to 17 students each working on the game. That way it can be a competition of which team can unlock the box first. Also, I learned very quickly to remove the clues that had already been used. Students would just leave the clues on the tables and walk away whether they had solved them or not. This made it confusing for the others who would come behind them to know if the clue had been solved. I just gathered the items and put them in a bin. This worked well if I had another group coming to play a game because everything would be in one place ready to be used again. I also laminated all the paper clues so that the students could use dry erase markers to solve the problems. I even made sheets of scratch paper and put out pencils. Also, if I am going to do a math related game, I better make sure that the math equations are solvable. The teacher who created Lake House used 6 inequality problems for the directional lock. The answers offered four directions, but my students only had experience solving problems on the x axis. They did not understand how to plot their answers on the y axis. Both groups needed lots of guidance with these problems. The teacher of the class left the planning to me, but I should have checked with her first whether the students could actually solve the problems accurately. Students have to be discouraged from just trying to open the locks by guessing or looking for a pick. Also, students need to be encouraged not to give up. They would start the process of computing the answers and would quit without finishing. Needless to say, neither group made it out of the box in 45 minutes, and we did not have any time for debriefing. That is something that I would change immediately, and I believe is a very important part of the game.

success at opening a lock
School ends on May 25th, but my next Breakout is going to be for the day that I am subbing in our school''s Tinker Lab Camp. I thought that it would be a fun and different activity from the 3D printing, vinyl cutting and laser cutting that they are going to do during the rest of the week at camp. I look forward to trying it again with a game that has clues that I know will work.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Find our Finch on the Finch Robot Website

A couple of weeks ago, I was contacted and asked if Bird Brain Technologies could use a picture that I took of my students' Finch robot running through a maze. The company were building a new website and wanted the picture for that site. I was flattered. My school has purchased two Finches, but I won a grant from Bird Brain Tech for the loan of twenty finches for three months. With this grant, I am able to keep one of the Finches for the library. 

Dueling Finches
The Finches are a robot with a very, very, very long cable that connects via USB to a computer. The students can use various coding languages to make the Finch do what they want. My students used Snap from UC Berkeley. You can see our Finch in action on their website here

Monday, May 16, 2016

Ahhhh, the End of the School Year is in Sight

We only have a week and a half left of the school year. How did this year fly by? This end marks my 35th year in the teaching profession and 25th as a school librarian. Really, how did that happen? Many, many moons ago when my confidence was way lower, I had not a clue if I could make it one more day much less all these years. The people who I have met, all that I have learned and all that I have given to my students over these many, many years, I would not trade with anyone. I am proud to call myself a teacher and a librarian and feel lucky to have a job that I love so much. 

Every year when April draws to a close, I find myself in stress mode with difficulty seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. It is not the library that does it to me, but some of the extra hats that I wear at my school. My school only has 550 students, and unfortunately, I am needed to do some jobs that don't usually fall under the librarian's umbrella. For one, I am the school's AP coordinator. For most of the year, there is little to do. I don't mind. In March, we send out the registration forms for students to complete who plan to take one of the exams. This is an ordeal as students have to decide if they feel prepared to take the exam and can they get credit from their college for the exam. Many colleges and universities want to give their students a placement exam that they create like our state's flagship university does. Then I have to figure out how to schedule proctors for the exams, then administering each exam, and keeping all the exam material safely under lock and key and in good order. On Friday afternoon, I hit the UPS store with our completed AP tests on my way home. Boy, did that feel good.

The 39 graduates with the principal and assistant principal
Then there is graduation. That is my baby. I have been at my school since 2006, and we graduated our first class in 2009. No one stepped up to handle graduation, so I volunteered. That was a no brainer because the classroom teachers were dealing with the end of the year exams and grades. Taking over graduation was something that I could do easily. In 2009, we only had about 300 students in grades 6 through 12, and the library was a lot smaller with a lot less materials to oversee. I also coordinate the senior award night which includes writing the script for the event and making the program. I help the Val and the Sal edit their speeches. I write the script for the graduation ceremony. I make sure all the graduates are in place and ready to roll on the day of the ceremony. The strict timeline and the fact that the students don't always want to cooperate because the end is so near makes all these tasks an ordeal. 

We held our graduation this past Saturday.  As always, it was bittersweet. I am so proud of how the students grew from the naive 6th graders who entered our school seven years ago to the grown ladies and gentleman that they have have grown up to be. There are usually several students who I will miss a wee bit more than the others. That is who I want to talk about today. 

Mark is on the left and Cameron is on the right
These two boys entered Patrick Taylor as 6th graders. The last seven years have been hard work for them. They were not at the top of the class, they were not big readers so not really library kids, and they were not always friends. You can see that they are wearing the gold honor stole that show that they graduated with academic honors. One is going to school in New York, and the other will remain in town for school. Today, I heard Cameron bemoaning the fact that Mark will not be around for him to hang out with. When I mentioned that he could visit us at school, I was told that is not the same at all. I certainly understand that.

Both of these boys are extremely tech savvy. They were not afraid to try a new tool or new technology and would focus on it until they had mastered its workings. This was extremely helpful for me because I would just hand them something and ask them to figure it out and then have them explain it to me. Mark made it his mission to get the televisions around campus working with the program provided by the school board, and he researched diligently to find a tool that would allow us to manage the content on the TVs. His help with this will certainly be long lasting for the school. I often relied on his abilities for problem solving when the system went down. Both of these boys spent many hours in the school's new fabrication lab learning how to use the 3D printers, laser cutter, vinyl cutters, and the other tools. They assisted the teachers who used the lab with their classes, and their help has been immeasurable. I also enjoyed just chatting with both of them. I learned lots about technology and what was popular and what wasn't from them.

Though I will miss them terribly. I feel that they are prepared to begin making their own mark on the world that has nothing to do with Patrick Taylor Academy. That is why it so easy for me to get up every morning at 5:20AM and go to school everyday. Luckily, I have a two and a half months to recharge  before starting it all again. 

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Middle School Book Group Ends 2016 on a High Note

Final meeting of BRiMS, that 's me in white

Even though it was standardized testing week, I held our last regularly scheduled monthly BRiMS (Books Rule in Middle School) meeting on Wednesday during lunch. It seemed silly to cancel it since the students' lunch period was actually longer than usual last week. I liked the fact that I didn't have to cancel just because testing was being held in the morning--in some schools I would have to do so. We did have a lower turnout than usual, but I had been reminding kids about the meeting in emails, the daily school memo, and signage in the library. I do believe that the students need to learn how to take responsibility and keep track of meeting dates and times. Some forgot, some didn't read the book, and others just chose to go to the cafeteria for lunch.

This year, I finally found a rhythm with the way that I organize what we read for each monthly meeting. For half the meetings, there was an assigned book and the other meetings were set by some sort of theme be it genre or time of the year. I think that this method has worked well. There is a BRiMS page on the library website that announces ahead of time all books and themes and dates. After the meeting, I post a picture of the day and a blurb about our discussion to document the meeting. 

Let me first talk about reading around a theme. At the first meeting, students brought in a book they read over the summer and loved, and for April, they had to select a book written by a woman for National Women's History Month. The students like selecting a book that is meaningful to them as well as a book that they like reading. That is the positive. The problem when we read on a theme is that the students all read a different book. If all 30 members of book group attend, there is just not enough time for everyone to share. When one of the kids tries to tell the whole story of their selected book and goes on for 10 minutes, the other members of the group get restless. The discussion for that day needs to be lively and needs to keep moving from one person to the next. If everyone feels like they could contribute if they choose to do so, then I think it has been a good day for book group. It takes work on my part, and some discussions have been better than others, but I see it as a work in progress. 

Gummy worms were the perfect snack to eat while discussing Rump

For the four books that have been selected for the year, I try to do the selections way ahead of time. I have selected books based on a skype session with the author like I scheduled this year with Jen Calonita. I have selected books that I have bought as a set with Scholastic Dollars from my book fair. I have selected books based on students interests. It is hard to find a book that everyone likes, but we have had some great conversations about these books. Our discussions always start around the book, but I try to maneuver the topic so that all can have a say even if they have not read the book. This happened when we talked about memory after reading Sonnenblick's Curveball: the year I lost my grip. It also happened the other day when we read Shurtliff's Rump and discussed mash ups and retellings of old fairy tales. Publishers and authors often post reader's and teacher's guides that I find helpful when I lead a discussion. There was a great resource for Rump that I found on the author's website. I don't usually plan much for the discussion, and I usually have no guide. I like to ask a lot of questions, and that is the basis of the meetings. I start asking questions based on what I thought about after I read the book, and then we go from there. 

I have been leading school book groups in middle school and high school since 2003. I think that these groups offer an opportunity for kids who do not usually join clubs or organizations. I like not having too many rules, and I am always willing to go off topic if need be. It is a group that is suppose to be fun for everyone involved, even me. It is a way that I get to share my love of reading with a group who also loves to read. This is something every librarian can relate to!
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