Friday, April 29, 2011

Show Your Toolbar Challenge

Hmmmm.  That title has slightly inappropriate connotations I didn't intend....

Anyway, this post from Doug Johnson happened to coincide with my own realization that the bookmarks in my toolbar, which are supposed to be there for quick access, have grown completely out of control, and got me thinking about the side effects of the information/communication age.  Which also coincides with a link Buffy Hamilton provided the other day.  All of that will lead to a more serious and reflective post later, but in the meantime...

Back when I first started blogging, I remember responding to one of Doug's memes: post a picture of your computer desktop.

I'm now offering my own challenge:  Post a picture of your toolbar, and put the link in the comments.  Here is mine (highlighted in green).  As you can see, it goes completely off the browser, having to extend into a pop-up window.  In fact, (and I was amused/horrified when I saw this) note the little arrow at the bottom of the pop-up window, indicating there is even more.  As you can guess, the drive to organize we  librarians are supposed to have is  not one of my strong points....

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Libraries, Mongolian Style

One of my more interesting opportunities this year involved visiting the library of one of the universities here in UB, as well as the  Ulaanbaatar Public Library, and talking for a few hours with Begzsuren, a librarian and IT Manager for the  public library.

The university library (and libraries in general) are organized by department.  Thus, for example, the Languages library may be a room on the 2nd floor of the library building, while the Sciences library is a room on the 3rd floor.  And I do mean room.  Each room consisted of maybe 20 floor-to ceiling shelves.

Students go to the circulation desk, tell the librarian what class they are taking, then she tells them what book/s they need, and pulls them.  Students check them out, but only for in-library use.  They are not allowed to take them home.  In addition, the vast majority of the collection is textbooks, often old and often photocopied.  While the entire building had wireless, and there was an entire row of new-looking computers, they weren't actually connected to the internet, because they didn't want students going online.

A few of the computers had CD-ROM's of old textbooks.  There was one wi-fi laptop area that students could use with their own computer.

The Public Library was similar, though Begzsuren, an amazing man who really "has the vision" is working to change things; it's an uphill battle, however.  Mongolian libraries definitely have a culture of archival hoarding of resources.  Books are seen as a commodity and job security, with librarians the gatekeeper.  The various libraries do not share resources, even with each other, so forget inter-library loans!

This is truly unfortunate, as some of the libraries, especially in the western region, have important documents related to the nomadic tribes and cultures, but usually deny others (including visiting scholars) access to them.

In his own library Begzsuren, who had an internship with a public library in Maryland, has been able to bring about some change.  There are no free libraries in Mongolia.  Patrons pay a set amount to join the library, plus a fee per book if they want to take them home (for a 3 day checkout period).   I asked Begee about patrons using the self check-out stand, but he said they were checking out the books for in-library use.  One recent change Begee began is free book check-outs for children.  They still have to pay to join the library, but not to take a book home.

Now, western-trained librarian that I am, I was both amused and horrified by this parsimonious attitude towards librarianship....until Begee casually mentioned one thing. Shocked, I had to ask him to repeat it, because I thought I hadn't heard him right.  Librarians in Mongolia have to pay for any lost materials out of their own pocket.   Yes, you read that correctly.

Last year, the public library had over a million tugrik (about $800) in lost books.  They divided that among the five librarians, each of whom makes only about $250-300 per month.   I must say, if I had to pay for lost books out of my own pocket, I wouldn't let kids take them home, either.

I forgot to take a picture of the outside of the building when I was there.  I'll do that this weekend and post it later.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Enhancing Learning: Collaborative Assessment with Noodle Tools

Oh, the irony!   One reason I switched from teaching English to the library was because, after 20 years,  I couldn't face grading one more badly written essay.  So here I am, about to write promoting just that: librarians need to be an integral part of assessment.

Let's be brutally honest here:  in the educational world, s/he who gives the grades gets the respect.  From kids, from parents, even from admin.  All else gets relegated to "support staff."  And as we're seeing across the country,  they're the first to go in a budget crisis.   If for no other reason--though there are plenty of others--media specialists need to collaborate not only as teachers, but also as assessors of student work. We need to show our students, our peers (and our bosses!) that we are an integral part of the team, with much to contribute beyond being a resource.

Not convinced?  Content that your co-workers already see your value and firm in your belief that you don't need the extra work load?  I was, too, until I took on assessing the  bibliographic bits of the research projects our middle schoolers are doing for science.

After resisting it for a few years (I can be stubborn), I finally broke down and subscribed to NoodleTools this year, and the students have (grudgingly!) been using that to take notes, keep track of their sources, and even write their paper (it syncs with Google Docs).  I must say, I'm sold.

 The science teacher and I agreed that he would grade for content, while I would read for how well they used and documented their sources.  We had students use the Drop Box feature to share their projects with both of us.

After initial training on how to use NoodleBib, how to take notes and paraphrase, we gave them a few weeks to research.  During that time, I would log in NoodleTools, click on their class project, and view a list of their individual work. Roll over dialogues even tell me if they've changed anything since my comments, so I don't waste time going in to look again.

I can view their bibliography and their note cards, giving  feedback on any area that needs work.
When students login and click on their dashboard, they immediately see any comments at the bottom of the page.

It would be nice if they could respond, ask questions, etc.  One hopes that option will appear in future versions, as well as the ability to save and reuse comments.  It grew a bit tedious typing the same "Check your spelling/capitalization/name your mistake here" comment over and over.

Now, the point of all of this is not to sell NoodleTools, though it's certainly an inexpensive piece to add to your pedagogical arsenal.  The point is, I learned a quite a bit from going in and digging around the students' work.

1) Thanks to the summary stating how many notecards and sources each student had, it was immediately obvious (by the 0) who needed either help finding information, or a nudge to get working.

2)  I kept a chart (since I'm grading four classes) of a) who to talk to directly,  b) the types of problems I was seeing, and c) what students seemed to do well. The 6th graders were obviously confused about what makes the title of a website, as half of them put the URL in that space.  On checking their links, I found two students using questionable sources; I was able to see the student, load the website and discuss why the website is problematic.  I also noted that most of the students used website as their source.  Very few used the databases or books. I always knew intuitively that was true;  I now have empirical evidence, and can plan accordingly to change the behavior.

3)  On looking through their rough drafts, only three of the sixth graders actually included any citations.  I talked to the teacher, and we agreed to spend another class period reviewing how to do that, using the three students who DID do it as an example. One could almost see the light bulbs clicking on as we talked.

4)  The teacher is grateful not to have to take on the part of the feedback, and, frankly, it helps establish me as the "go to" person for all things bibliographic and citational.  Especially in schools where you may be the first teaching librarian, it's just as important to train the teachers how to make use of you as it is to train the students.

Thus, the benefits for collaborating on assessment are twofold:

First,  it enables us to directly evaluate student work and intervene when necessary, rather than hearing vague feedback second-hand after the teacher marked the papers.  We can tell exactly where students are struggling, and where they succeed.

Second, if we keep records of results as we go, we have direct evidence of the impact our teaching has on student learning and achievement.

And, of course,  it never hurts to have a bevy of appreciative teachers for support!

I also gave the students a mid-project survey today, to give them a chance to self-assess, and to give me more feedback on their progress.  When I get those results back, I'll post both the survey and its effectiveness.

UPDATE:  It figures! (grin)  I just saw this post by Buffy Hamilton from a few weeks ago.  She also talks about using NoodleBib as an assessment tool.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Literacy Week: Google Search Stories

When Google launched their Parisian Love ad campaign a few years back, it was such a hit, they created a site for users to "video" their own search story.  While I love being a librarian, I really do miss being in the classroom sometimes, if only because I don't have built-in guinea pigs on which to use all the tech tools I've learned the past several years.  I have to talk a teacher into letting me use his/her students.

Literacy Week was a great opportunity to use the search story tool, as it combined traditional literacy (storytelling), with information literacy (search skills) and technological literacy (the tool itself, or, for more advanced students, screencasting and audio editing software--but more on that later).

Thus, we launched the  Google Search Contest for grades 6-12 (though only the 9-12's actually did it), using it as a fun activity in their English classes.

First, I created a general google account for the students,  assuring their videos would all be in one place and not scattered all over the web!

Then, we showed the students Parisian Love, and this little attempt at humor I put together.

After giving them the handout below, we brainstormed what makes a good Search Story, focusing on
1) a basic plot, with the story told through problems or obstacles the search overcomes
2) a variety of search types
3) a surprise or emotionally satisfying ending

Search Stories

Students came up with a plot for their story, then devised a search strategy that would tell that story.  Many of them struggled with this, especially as second language learners, and once they had an idea of what story they wanted to tell, we questioned them about a) what problems their "protagonist" might face and, b) what they might search for that would help them solve that.

The search story tool itself is very easy to use:

1) Students type in their search question, and click on the box for the type of search they want. They can preview the search to ensure their hits fit the storyline.

Click the "Next" button, then preview and choose the style of music they want.

Hit "Next," and the tool goes to work to create the video.  It's that easy!

Of course, there is not a lot of control over results, and students who want a better soundtrack (as in the wedding bells in Parisian Love), can use an screencasting tool such as Screencast-O-Matic and audio editors such as Garage Band or Myna in the Aviary suite to add audio.  For this, I wouldn't recommend Jing, as it only saves the video as an .flv, which won't allow editing if students want to do that.

Now, it has occurred to me as I write this that, in one sense, Search Story teaches bad searching technique, as it almost requires full sentence or question-style searching, rather then keyword.  Next time I do this, I would certainly mention that to the students.

The students seemed to enjoy the project, as did the teachers, and it only took about two class periods.  One teacher modified the assignment, asking students to choose a character from one of their novels and design a search that character would have carried out.  Pretty cool.    It might also be interesting to use in science classes--student could demonstrate understanding of the Krebs cycle system (something I vaguely remember from 10th grade Biology!), by following a molecule as it travels the steps of the cycle. In fact, most subjects could come up with some sort of modification to suit their topics. 

Anyway, here is the winning video.  Enjoy!

Friday, April 22, 2011

WHODUNNIT: Running a Library Mystery

One of my favorite activities during Literacy Week was the library mystery, which I mostly aimed at the middle school students.  I wanted a quick, daily activity that I could start during our break, but then the students could continue working on during the day.  Each day's activity would lead students to a set of clues, and each day the clues would point more directly to the guilty party.

Having spent the previous week making announcements to build suspense and interest in the library mystery, on the first day, about 12 students showed up during break, eager to begin.

As I chatted with the students, my aide came running up and, very dramatically,  declared an important book had disappeared. Much "oh no" and "what shall we do" ensued, during which I enlisted the twelve students as my detectives to help solve the mystery.  I gave them this handout and explained the game:

1) Each day at break they would come to collect a new puzzle to solve.
2) Solving the puzzle, would give them a clue.
3) Solving that clue would lead them to the new set of mystery clues for that day.  By analyzing the clues each day, they would be able to deduce the culprit.


The first puzzle (a dystopian crossword) I came up with myself.  It took so long, I admit I gave up and just looked around online to find other puzzles I could use.  All the puzzles were based around books, of course.  Originally, I wanted to do a different genre for each day, but I waited far too long in setting those up, so most of them ended up being based around dystopian and fantasy novels.  Next year.....

Shade in the boxes of letters to spell out, when rearranged,  the name of an author (alduous huxley for me).  Their first set of mystery clues were hidden in Brave New World. I also attached a hint to suggest in which of his books they should look (1) The title comes from a famous line in Shakespeare's The Tempest.

For the next  puzzle I found a Harry Potter anagram site and put together this handout. Again, the letters with an * spelled out (in order this time) the title of another fantasy novel.

For the third puzzle, I just found a Lightning Thief crossword Puzzle and highlighted letters to spell out the name of another book.

I'm not the most logical, analytically minded person in the world;  I created the chart  below to help me devise the clues.  I did check the with "suspects" before-hand to ensure they didn't mind being accused of book theft!   You can just substitute your own teachers for the set of clues here, or create your own.

Basically, when writing the clues, I tried to:

1) Create clues that developed a (very basic!) plot and established either means or motive (sometimes both)
2) Throw in several red-herrings.
3) Add enough additional clues to negate the misleading clues, in order to narrow it down to one person.

Here are the clues.  I divided them into three sets, one for each day of the mystery, with the clues growing more and more obvious.  On day two,  I had the suspect write an actual note (for clue 11) to include in the book (thereby adding another clue, if the students' knew her handwriting).  The two books in the final clue for day three are directly related to information most people know about the suspect (who is our Secondary Head): i.e. she speaks German, and disciplines students.

Do the clues completely eliminate all suspects?  Not really.  But most of the students guessed correctly.  The teachers also had fun being cryptic as students ran up to them asking questions to try and clarify the clues.

Now that I have the hang of it,  next year I'll try to make the clues more logical, so that they really can deduce the criminal from the evidence.  BTW, here's the chart I used to help figure out the clues.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Google Body: As Cool As It Gets

I'm spending today (and the week) playing catch up.  I've really let my PLN slip this year,  and I think it shows in my librarianship, though the bosses seem pretty happy!

Anyway, while playing around online, I ran across Google Body, which Google released in December.  You will need Firefox 4 or Google Chrome 10 for it to work.

Basically,  it's Google Earth for the body.  It loads with a  1) 3D rotating computer-generated body (you can choose male or female), with layers for 2) muscles, 3) skeleton, 4) organs, vascular system and nerves/brain .  Tools allow the user to 5) zoom in on specific elements, 6) add pins and highlight (I highlighted the stomach here), hide/unhide body parts,  with links to 7) specific systems, muscles, organs, etc.

And,  just because we're teachers and we have to ask,  8) here's a picture of the anatomically correct male parts. I think Google does as good a job as possible removing any titter-causing elements.  But, hey, 7th graders are 7th graders, and they're going to titter no matter what!  (No similar worries with female mammaries, I might add).

This will also allow them to take very specific screen grabs to illustrate reports and research, instead of hunting for generic images.

I can't wait to show this to our elementary and science teachers tomorrow.  I also think students will love playing around with it, and may even learn something in the process!

(click on photos for larger view)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Literacy Week: Worth the Work!

One area I need to work on as a Media Specialist is non-research programming.  My first school had never had a teaching librarian before; thus, the bulk of my time went to a) building a culture of library use and b) putting together and developing the information literacy curriculum.  About the time I was ready to start focusing on traditional literacy, I changed schools and started all over again!

Fortunately, my current school informed me the first week I arrived: "We have Literacy Week.  You're in charge!"  Gulp!

The past few months my team and I put the week together, and it was a success, if I say so myself.  In order to share the wealth and make it easier for you, dear reader, to plan such an event (or just use part of what we did), I'm going to have a short series describing the week and the events.

Since we're a K-12 school, we had to develop activities for both divisions, as well as plan some all school activities.  I also made an "executive" decision to define literacy broadly, including technology and information literacy as well as the more traditional reading/writing.  Today, I'll just describe what those activities were; the next three posts will look at them in more detail and supply handouts.

All-School Activities

Read-a-Thon:  This lasted for an entire month.  Students find sponsors who agree to pay either a set amount or a certain amount per book. We found two local schools in need of books, and will donate the money towards that.

Book Buddies:  Secondary students paired up with primary students and shared their favorite picture book.

D.E.A.R:  Drop Everything and Read, 20 minutes per day, with "guest" announcers.

Skype Author Visits:  Laurie Halse Anderson and David Greenberg.  WONDERFUL!!!

Search  Story Contest:  We used the Google Search Story tool and had students create their own stories.

Library Mystery:  This took a lot of planning, and only about 12 students participated, but they had a blast (as did I and the "suspect" teachers), so I count it a big success.

StoryBirds:  We used StoryBird to have the students write their own stories.

3D Book Promotion Contest: We wanted to move beyond designing book covers.  That's a picture of one of the entries. 

Since I need to plan another one of these next year, if you have any ideas or successful activities you've used in your own library, add them to the comments!