Thursday, December 1, 2016

Redefining the Library through Blended Learning

Redefining the School Library

It is time to re-envision how a school library can be utilized.  Teachers and librarians have long been collaborators for co-teaching lessons, but what if they took this collaborative relationship one step further and employed blended learning strategies to better meet the needs of students?  This is exactly what we have done at Traner Middle School. 

The library at Traner Middle School has undergone a major change this year.  We have evolved into a learning commons.  No, we didn’t replace the library. The learning commons includes the library- but is so much more! One innovative practice that happens here is using blended learning strategies.  According to the Christensen Institute, Blended learning is a formal education program that is in part online learning where students have control over time, place, path, and/ or pace.  At Traner MS, the library media specialist and teachers employ the “individual rotation” model.  In this model, students have an individual course or “playlist” where they rotate between learning stations and complete different learning tasks.  This model allows both the teacher and the library media specialist valuable time to work with small groups in different ways. It also gives students a certain degree of autonomy and choice to the students.  Stations are interconnected in learning objectives and long term in nature- classes meet every single week over the entire school year. This is NOT a "one and done" lesson model.

Below is an example of how this “looks” in a science enrichment class.  

Students in Ms. Pettengill’s science enrichment class are scheduled weekly in the learning commons.  When they arrive for their weekly class, the library media specialist and teacher review the options and stations for that day- the “playlist”.  Many activities are ongoing and connected to long term goals- stations that the students engage in weekly and work at their own pace. Some are more short term learning activities that are new to them. We try to introduce a new station to the playlist weekly.  In our most recent meeting, the students had several options and one mandatory station (small group instruction with Ms. Pettengill).  Students generally rotate through 2-3 stations in a class period. The long term options include learning to code.  Students are enrolled in a coding course online and continually work at their own pace. We have a leaderboard to gamify the process and make it engaging. They also have the option to practice their coding skills as an alternative station by using the coding program Scratch.  In the Scratch station they use project and gaming books that allow them to learn in a self directed manner. Other stations include circuitry- creating squishy circuits or Makey Makeys, or vocabulary enrichment and silent reading. 

As you can see from the pictures, student engagement is high and students have true ownership over their learning. They have opportunities to receive differentiated support from their teachers, but also get valuable experiences that support 21st century learning skills- especially self-regulation and creativity and innovation. It is a win-win for all!

Image 1: Independent reading station

Image 2: Coding in Scratch 

Image 3: Squishy circuits with collaborative partners

Image 4: small group instruction

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Top Picks- High Yield Apps for Your Classroom!

If you suffer from overwhelm and are looking for just a few simple apps that give you a high return on investment, continue reading....

Pick #1:  SeeSaw

Seesaw app is a digital portfolio app that has so many different functions and possibilities. As a teacher you can set up your students and they simply scan a QR code to log in.  This is easy enough for even kindergarten students.  Once logged in, you have the options of typing a journal or notes, recording and annotating on a whitescreen, take photos, videos, add links or images.  They have even added a simple blogging feature!

Another great feature is that parents can sign up for access to see their student's progress and growth.
Pick #2: QR Codes

QR codes are amazing and a must use for any classroom- regardless of age or content.  QR codes make it easy to access all kinds of information and content with just a simple scan.  Most QR readers are free.  My personal favorite is the iNigma app.  Imagine the possibilities- scanning codes that take students to read aloud books, feedback from the teacher, videos to help build background content, tutorials for difficult topics, and more.  Making your own QR code is easy.  My favorite site for creation is  

Pick #3:  Book Creator

Book Creator is the easiest app for creating digital books.  I have even used it with ittie bitties- kinder and 1st grade.  It is very intuitive and engaging.  Students can draw, add images, add voice, and type text.  It also exports in multiple formats, such as videos and PDFs. 

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Mrs. O'Keefe's 3rd Grade Skilled Communicators- Bats!

Mrs. O'Keefe's awesome 3rd grade students have been busy creating digital books for their non-fiction expository writing about Bats.  They used the tool- Little Bird Tales.

This activity supports many NVACS/ CCSS.  Below are a few:

Production and Distribution of Writing:

With guidance and support from adults, produce writing in which the development and organization are appropriate to task and purpose. 
With guidance and support from peers and adults, develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, and editing. (Editing for conventions should demonstrate command of Language standards 1-3 up to and including grade 3 here.)
With guidance and support from adults, use technology to produce and publish writing (using keyboarding skills) as well as to interact and collaborate with others.
How does this activity support 21st Century Learning?

Students have been learning about Bats as part of their science unit.  Prior to creating the digital books, they completed all the pre-writing and editing of their writing.  Transforming their writing from paper to digital allowed them to create a multimodal piece of writing that can be shared with a wider audience.  This activity helped strengthen the students' competencies with the 21st Century competencies of Skilled Communication and Using Technology for Learning.  Let's look at the "elevator" of the skilled communication competency framework adopted by Washoe County School District.  Download or view the competency at-

Looking at Skilled Communication, it is clear the students met the requirements for the first level by composing writing that linked their ideas and learning about bats (extended ideas).  By publishing their writing in a digital format with chosen digital images and artwork, they also accomplished making it multimodal.

The second competency for skilled communication deals with either an authentic audience or supporting evidence.  Students were so excited to publish their writing because they knew it would be viewed by a wider audience.  In this example, they were particularly excited to share their learning with the principal, Ms. Wright, as well as other peers.  Students are excited at the possibility of their work being published on the school website for parents and community members to view.  Mrs. O'Keefe remarked that she noticed an increase in the excitement surrounding their writing project because they knew it would be visible to others outside their classroom.  

Students also gained experience with other areas of 21st Century Learning, including- Using technology for learning, and self-regulation.  In regard to self-regulation, students worked on their digital book over several sessions.  They had to monitor their own progress and be able continue work at their own individual pace.  Students had opportunities to revise their work and participated in an exit reflection activity where they did final edits and revisions.  

Teacher Tips from Mrs. O'Keefe:

During the process, Mrs. O'Keefe highlighted their sentences to help them coordinate which page their sentences would appear on separate pages of their books.  So, first sentence was highlighted yellow and will be on page 1, etc.  This was an excellent scaffold that kept the students on task and efficient with time.  (See example below) 

 She also took digital photographs of their artwork and these, along with the creative commons bat images, were added to a website that allowed students to easily choose and identify which images supported their message.  This is a huge timesaver!  

They had to learn several computer literacy and information literacy skills such as downloading and saving images (all images were creative commons license found on wikimedia commons), uploading images, navigation on the computer, keyboarding practice, digital citizenship, and saving work- among others.  

Check out their final work here- (Mrs. O'Keefe's class page of digital stories).

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Blog to Zines!

Communicate with Purpose 

Blogs to Zines!

Students love blogging and communicating with real audiences.  However, after considering a specific audiences needs, they may find it necessary to communicate through a different media. ZinePal is a free tool that students can use to convert their existing blog entries into a zine.

I tried it out to see how it works.  It was very easy to follow the directions.  You start by typing in the address of your blog or website.  From there, you will see a list of all your posts and you choose which ones you want to include in the zine.  The final step is to export and create!  You can see that it automatically creates a magazine like layout.  You do have some control over the layout options that can help students personalize their work.  

You can also decide which type of product fits your needs by exporting as a PDF, kindle, ePub, or share out via a link on social media.

In our district, we utilize a specific framework for 21st Century competencies.  I see producing communication in this format a good fit for supporting skilled communication- kids are sharing extended communication that is multimodal.  It could also be bumped up to the second or third level in skilled communication if the students are providing evidence and are publishing with a particular audience in mind. 

See my example below:

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Critically Evaluating Websites

Critical thinking is a skill that students should be practicing as they encounter information online, whether it be written information or images.  This is not a skill that students have without the proper practice.  This site below was compiled to assist teachers and library media specialists with teaching students how to critically evaluate digital information.

Explore the site!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Common Sense Media

Struggling with how to integrate digital citizenship into your classroom, or how to support a school wide digital citizenship curriculum?  Look no further than Common Sense Education.  This is a resource for educators, administrators, and parents who have one goal in mind- educate our children to be successful and safe in the digital age.  

CSM has a plethora of resources available on their site-  I would encourage all educators and parents to peruse the site.  It is a gold mine of information.  

Educators and administrators should look at the scope and sequence tool found here.  

As you can see in the screenshot above, the curriculum covers all essential areas of digital citizenship.  The drop down menu allows you to filter by grade band, making it even easier to find age appropriate lessons.  The lessons are amazing quality.  This is what I would consider an essential resource not to be overlooked.  

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Collaborate & Annotate in PDFs with Notable

I am a huge fan of using Google docs for collaborative work including reading and writing activities. I have often wished that I could get the same functionality for PDFs.  Enter, Notable.  Notable PDF is a Chrome browser extension tool.  I believe it also works on other browsers with a web app.  I am a huge Chrome fan, so that is what I used.

Once installed, you can easily view any PDF and annotate it.  Even more impressive, you can share out your uploaded PDFs with groups to allow for collaborative annotation.  Imagine the possibilities!  For educators, this can mean collaborative discussions around reading material, or groups annotating during a close read.  What's more, your collaborators have the option of signing in, or they can skip the sign in step and log-in as a guest.  I have used both, and when using guest I have simply asked my collaborators to add comments with their first name.

In addition to collaborative reading and discussions, you can easily use this as an assessment and feedback tool.  Great way for students to get feedback from teachers or peers.

How to get started?   Head on over to their website:  They have a great tutorial video and instructions to help you get started.  Once you load the extension, it is really self-explanatory- the tool walks you through step by step.

Here is a sneak peak at what the tools look like once you have uploaded your PDF.  In this example, I have pointed out the comment bubble.  As a teacher, you could use the comment bubble to post reading prompts or questions.  Students can simply click "reply" to the comment for a threaded type discussion in the PDF.

When it is all done, you have the option to save to Google Drive, or export (with or without the annotation layer).

Try it!! You will not be disappointed!