Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Collaborative Planning Tips for School Librarians

Congratulations!  You land your dream job as a school librarian.  Once you learn your way around the school and who your frequent library visitors are, some difficult realities start to set in.  You work in a school where the library is on a flexible schedule.  It soon becomes apparent that this scheduling model can make it difficult to ensure that all students are receiving vital library instruction.

How do you cover library standards when staff members view their time in the library as optional?  How do you reach those staff members who appear reluctant to utilize library services?  These questions can be daunting for even the most seasoned professional.  You are faced with two choices: you can either view your situation as an impassable roadblock, or you can choose to embrace the significant challenge in front of you.

Within this post, I will outline some strategies I have used at Pioneer Middle School in order to further collaborative efforts between myself (the school’s sole librarian) and teachers.  Although I do not claim to have all the answers, I have been fortunate enough to be met with some success when it comes to collaboration.

Tip 1: View each interaction as a building block for collaboration.
The ability to facilitate collaborative lessons hinges upon the school librarian’s knowledge of what is happening within the school building.  Informal meetings around the photocopier can be a wealth of information as to where classroom teachers are in their curriculum.  The successful execution of this tip requires a little precision – you do not want to be perceived as overbearing or pushy.  Instead, offering help in a polite way is probably the best strategy.

Informal conversations can lead to opportunities for collaboration.

Tip 2: Stay on the forefront of curriculum changes, then swoop in to assist.
Changes to curriculum can cause stress for classroom teachers.  Collaborating with librarians to address the new standards is a helpful way to meet new demands.  As a school librarian, it is necessary to be aware of the changing standards and offer assistance.  

At an ELA department meeting earlier this year, I mentioned that ELA and social studies standards mesh nicely for collaborative lessons in the library.  A fifth grade teacher later approached me because she was looking for creative ways to address new standards within her social studies curriculum.  We discussed the standard in question:

View the entire K-12 Social Studies framework here: https://www.engageny.org/resource/new-york-state-k-12-social-studies-framework

We then planned a unit of study about Native American culture groups.  Students first colored in a map depicting the three separate culture areas they were interested in researching.  Using information compiled from online encyclopedias and databases, students completed graphic organizers on each of their three areas.  After completion of the research, students were then challenged to create a news report comparing and contrasting the culture areas they researched.  Students enjoyed the ability to show their knowledge in a creative way.

Students enjoyed being newscasters during their Native American culture study.

Not only did this project fulfill the requirements of the updated social studies standards, it also touched upon many of the guidelines of AASL’s Standards for the 21st-Century Learner and the Empire State Information Fluency Continuum.  A collaboration of this nature ensures that students are receiving classroom content in addition to building their information literacy skills.

Tip 3: Be a resource in the successful implementation of technology.
Educators have varying levels of comfort when it comes to implementing technology in the classroom.  Because library standards are rich in technology, school librarians are poised to assist teachers with their efforts to include technology.

School librarians can take the lead on teaching computer science and coding concepts.  Teachers might recognize the usefulness of these skills, but may not know where to start.  One of Pioneer Middle’s Family and Consumer Science (FACS) teachers wanted to include computer coding in her fifth grade career exploration unit.  Her students came to the library and received background about the 21st Century Skills required for career success.  Then, students immersed themselves in learning the basics of coding through use of the Kodable app and a Bee Bot challenge.  Students then completed a reflection where they discussed the 21st Century Skills they used to work through the coding activities.

A collaborative effort between library and FACS exposes fifth grade students to 21st Century Skills.

Coding activities were also the center of a series of collaborative lessons involving a seventh grade Spanish teacher.  This teacher wanted her students to see the parallels and benefits associated with learning languages, particularly Spanish and coding languages.  During these library visits, students used Bee Bots to code to specific points on a grid and then created sentences in Spanish.

Spanish classes visited the library to incorporate coding into their language studies.

Tip 4: Don’t forget any of your students.
Many schools host BOCES or other self-contained classroom settings.  A particular challenge facing the teachers in these classrooms is finding ways to assimilate their students into the larger school community.  These teachers may be prime candidates for collaborative efforts involving the library.

Although I operate on a flexible schedule, I have scheduled weekly library visits with a special education class in our school.  The teacher in this room wanted her students to have the opportunity to frequent the library, so these visits have become a stronghold in our schedule.  Often, the weekly visits help to reinforce content that was introduced in the classroom.  Students in this class also serve as library volunteers, which adds to their greater sense of belonging at Pioneer Middle.  Their visit is always my favorite part of every week!

Weekly special education classes are a highlight at Pioneer Middle!

Tip 5: Advertise your ability to help with inquiry projects.
With changes to curriculum, the “sage on the stage” model of teaching is no longer adequate.  Instead, students must have the opportunity to complete student-led inquiry projects which lead to greater understanding of both content and the research process.  Librarians are a natural partner when it comes to inquiry work; however, teachers may need to be reminded of this fact.  

Great examples of collaborative inquiry work occurred in both sixth grade science and social studies.  A sixth grade science teacher was looking for ways to make a unit on outer space more interactive and student-driven.  When she approached me for ideas, I suggested an inquiry project.  After dividing students into small groups, they chose a planet to research.  Students brainstormed potential questions they had about their planet.  They then selected the questions they wanted to answer and organized the topics into groups.  The students used library resources, including streaming audio and video, to create lessons about their planet.  These lessons were delivered to their classmates.  Students loved the ability to answer their own questions, and especially loved assigning homework to their peers!  The success of this project spread by word of mouth, which led the sixth grade social studies teachers to team up for a library inquiry project about Ancient Rome.

Sixth grade social studies classes working on a Rome inquiry project in the library.

Tip 6: Be the go-to person for creative, out of the box ideas.
Sometimes teachers may feel as though they are stuck in a rut with their content.  A school librarian could be a great resource for finding new ways to deliver curriculum.

The seventh and eighth grade World Languages teachers are a particularly creative group.  They are always looking for ways to approach learning languages in a new light.  I’m lucky that they include me in this exciting work!  Examples of our past collaborations include a community and neighborhood project featuring building paper models of a town (many of the supplies in our library’s makerspace were used), a virtual walking tour of Paris using Aurasma (an augmented reality app), and a Mystery Skype visit with a Spanish class in North Carolina.  These projects were able to pair learning languages with the acquisition of many of the technology-related standards emphasized through school library learning.

A creative approach to a French vocabulary unit on community.

Tip 7: Use social media and technology to publicize collaborative efforts.
I was a little hesitant to get into blogging and Twitter, but I now view these tools as crucial to the success of school libraries.  Through blogging, I am able to draw attention to what students are learning in the library and to the teachers bringing their students in for collaborative lessons.  If I create a blog post for a lesson, I am sure to share the post with the teacher.  Sometimes, the teachers share the blog post with their students.  Students love to see their work displayed on the Internet.  The teachers may also use the blog posts as evidence to use during their APPR meetings with administrators.  

My professional Twitter account is used in a few different ways.  I use Twitter to publicize library collaborations.  Sometimes I will post pictures of the day’s activities or I will include a link to a recent library blog post.  Since I follow the other professional accounts of teachers in my building, these posts may entice them to visit the library.  I also use Twitter in order to gather new ideas to use within the library setting.

An example of a tweet publicizing a library/classroom collaboration.

Tip 8: Take your show on the road.
Educators are often not the best at celebrating their own successes.  However, presenting at conferences can be a wonderful way to share what is working within schools.  Instead of presenting by yourself, it is more powerful to work together with classroom teachers to create great conference presentations or other professional learning opportunities.  In the recent past, I was able to present at various conferences with Pioneer Middle School teachers who collaborated with me during different lessons or units. 

These presentations have many benefits.  First, the administrators in your district who approved leave for the conference understand that you are presenting something successful that emerged from teachers and librarians working together.  This generates great publicity for the school and also alerts administrators to the vital role played by school library programs.  Next, presenting at a conference is empowering both for the librarian and teachers because it is uplifting to share positive experiences with others.  Attending conferences can also help to build an educator’s professional learning community.  Lastly, presenting at conferences may help conference attendees build upon their own collaborative efforts.  Your presentation might be just the spark that other librarians need to reach out to other educators!

Presenting with colleagues at the NYSCATE 2015 Conference.

Collaboration can be a difficult component of a school librarian’s job, but it is not impossible.  With some flexibility, creativity, and a willingness to step out of your comfort zone, it is possible to create meaningful collaborative experiences that will benefit the learners in your school.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Sixth Grade Science Inquiry

This January, the students in Mrs. B. Smith's sixth grade science classes embarked on an exciting project about planets.  Since this project was inquiry-based, the project required students to take responsibility for the direction of their own learning and work effectively in teams.  This unit culminated in students preparing and executing a lesson to teach their peers about their chosen planet.

This is the second year that Mrs. B. Smith has chosen to study planets via inquiry.  The project went well last year, but we were able to work out some of the bugs encountered the first time we executed this project.  The results from this year were even better!

On the first day of the project, students were divided into groups by Mrs. Smith and assigned a planet to be the focus of the inquiry.  The groups were then introduced to the specifics of the project.

This slide outlined all of the important details about the project.

To begin the inquiry, students brainstormed questions that they would like to answer about their planet.  During this phase of the project, it was important that students worked independently and without judgement.  We weren't looking for perfection - instead, this was just a brainstorm designed to generate questions that may possibly turn into a research focus.

Step 1 of the inquiry process required creating research questions.
Brainstorming questions for research.

The students did an excellent job creating questions!  It was now necessary to begin sorting and eliminating some questions.  For each of these steps, Mrs. Smith and I modeled ways to work through this part of the process.

Students learned that they must eliminate duplicate questions and questions that cannot be answered through research.

Using the sun as an example, we modeled the process of removing questions that were more opinion rather than fact based.  For this project, groups would only be researching questions that were fact based.

This list served as a model for sample questions.
Students successfully picked out the questions that contained opinion language.
Students discussed which questions should be eliminated.

After the questions suitable for research were selected, the groups then organized the questions into groups.  These groups would later serve as the basis for their research topics.

The directions for Step 3 of the process.
The example showed students possible ways to group their questions.
Groups used different strategies to sort their questions.

Next, groups looked through their topics.  In order to make sure that the research stayed manageable, groups decided on 3-6 different groups of questions that they were interested in researching.

Directions for topic selection.
Groups labeled their topics using Post-Its.
An example of a completed topic list.

By this point of the project, the students were excited to begin researching.  Since the students would be answering their own questions that were of personal interest, there was a high level of engagement and investment evident.

This step outlined how to transfer the research questions into packets.
Students maintained their own graphic organizers to keep track of their research.

On each outline, groups wrote down their topic.  Each individual question within the topic was written onto the question block.  There was space on the organizer to record the answer to the question and write down the sources used.

The sixth grade teams were already familiar with the different sources available for research, but they received refreshers about how to use books, approved websites, and library databases.  World Book Student was a perfect database to use for this project.  Students also used SNAP, a resource provided by CA BOCES, to compile video clips and other multimedia resources.  In order to avoid plagiarism and stay organized, groups filled out a MLA-style note sheet for each source used.

An example of a completed note sheet.

As an added bonus, our school signed up for a free trial of StarWalk Kids, a service spearheaded by renowned nonfiction author, Seymour Simon.  We are hoping to add this service to next year's purchases.  Students were especially excited to use these resources because Seymour Simon will be visiting our school on March 1, 2016!

Students utilized books, databases, and websites for research.

Now that all of the questions were answered, it was time for students to share that expertise with others.  Each student group was responsible for teaching a lesson about their planet.  This was much more involved than simply giving a presentation.  The groups needed to cover learning objectives, how the material would be presented, and even assign assessments. A detailed lesson plan was needed before students could deliver their lessons to the class.

A completed lesson plan.

The lessons delivered by the students were outstanding.  Most importantly, the information presented was clear and well-organized.  The time spent organizing the research questions and topics put students on the right track for creating their lessons.  Many groups chose to use PowerPoint to organize their topics.  Using the CA BOCES resources available via SNAP, students found relevant video clips to reinforce some of their larger concepts of their lessons.  The groups also generated their own assessments.

A student assessment about Saturn.

Each group chose a different way to assess student learning.

At the end of this project, many students commented on how this was a project like no other.  Students were able to work effectively with other peers that they might not previously had known very well.  Due to the demands of the project, it was a true team effort.  Other benefits of the structure of this project include an increased interest in astronomy topics (I am envisioning many scientists emerging from Mrs. Smith's groups!) and added confidence with presentation and planning skills.

These wonderful students should be commended for a job well done!

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Social Studies, Research, and News Reports

It is no secret that there have been many changes made to the social studies curriculum in New York State.  These changes make it a perfect time to reevaluate past lessons and find some fresh ways to teach new content.

Mrs. Asquith was hoping to bring her fifth grade social studies students down to the library to learn about Native American culture areas of the Western Hemisphere.  By working with the new standards, students would gain an understanding of the different Native American culture areas present in the Western Hemisphere.  Students would learn how the environment in each area helped to shape the distinct culture of each group.  After discussing what is meant by the concept of culture, we were ready to dive into the project.
Students chose three Native American culture areas for their research.
We first stated that we would be studying one culture area within each region: Canada, United States, and the Caribbean.  The students used a map in order to locate their culture areas.  They shaded in these areas on a blank map.  The blank map was linked to Quiver, an augmented reality tool.  When placing the Quiver app over the map, the paper map turned into a 3D globe!  This made it easier to visualize the culture areas that were closer to the North Pole or closer to the Equator.  In seeing this, students were able to make predictions about the climate in each of the areas they chose to study.

In order to gather information about each culture, we turned to the Britannica databases.  Through Britannica's online encyclopedia, we were able to locate wonderful, detailed information about each Native American culture area.  To make the project a bit more interactive, we printed out the Britannica articles, photos, and illustrations.  Each culture area became a separate station within the library.  Students moved to the station for the area that they were researching.  This allowed for students to move around during the activity and work together with different classmates to find the information they were seeking.

The research portion of this process took a long time, but this was due to the fact that students were really taking time to learn about the different cultures!  Before each research session, students shared out a cool fact they learned the previous day.  Students had interesting things to share and it was clear that they were making the connection as to how environment influences culture.
Students used Britannica resources to complete an organizer for three culture areas.
Once the research was complete, students were then able to display their knowledge of culture areas in a creative way.  They would take on the role of action reporters and film a short news clip.  This news report needed to contain compare/contrast information regarding two of the culture areas researched.  At first, students were a bit reluctant to be recorded - they were nervous about being on camera!  They were reassured that public speaking is difficult, and should be considered a challenge to tackle in order to build new, important skills.  This pep talk alleviated the fears of many students.  They were off and running with the preparations for their news report.
The beginnings of a news report draft.
The finished products were wonderful!  In addition to displaying their knowledge of culture areas, students infused their own personalities and creativity to make for some very interesting newscasts.
Some students worked together on the newscasts.

Other students worked independently on their newscasts.
Although many aspects of this project went well, there are some changes we would hope to make for next year.  We would like to use a green screen in order to get the real-life experience of news reporting.  Additional editing would make the newscasts come to life even more!

This project was a great way to blend social studies with a research component.  Students enjoyed moving to different stations and making culture area discoveries on their own.  We will be looking for more ways to infuse research into the social studies curriculum in the future.