This week I finally finished my last task for the professional portfolio: Task 8. That's it--that's the last one! It's hard to believe that my professional portfolio is complete and that the defense is just a few weeks away.
I decided to do a screencast for my online module that incorporated both the presentation slides and hands-on work within Weebly. The hardest part of planning professional development and online modules/tutorials for me is assessment. How will I check for understanding? What should the final product look like? It's an important aspect of instruction but may seem impractical or tedious when you're teaching adults and/or depending on your subject. I decided that for the digital portfolios using Weebly, the best assessment would be a functioning portfolio shell by the end of the session. That's easy to check during an in-person training but can get complicated with online modules. Teachers would have to send you a link or sit down with you to discuss their final product.
I recorded by screencast using Ink2Go, a program that's installed on all faculty laptops at my school. I've been using it for over three years, and although it's not fancy, it gets the job done. I combined my screencast clips using Microsoft Movie Maker, which also allowed me to break up the training session into more digestible segments using title screens with captions.
At the request of the English department head, this week I also made a short video tutorial (seen above) for students on how to embed a Creative Commons license into the homepage footer of their digital portfolios. I had taught this element in class, but several students had asked for a reference.This video was also a screencast using the same method as described above for Task 8.
I love seeing Creative Commons licenses on student work! Digital portfolios are due in just a few weeks, and I can't wait to see the final product.
I can't believe my time in the ITEC program at Georgia Southern is coming to an end; we have just a few short weeks left until the portfolio defense and graduation. In some ways I feel like I've been working towards this degree for a long time, but in other ways the courses have flown by. We'll see how I adjust to "normal" life again after December 9. I'm already thinking about where I'd like to go from here professionally, and that direction may or may not lead me towards another degree. I guess we'll see.
One thing that really made graduation seem more real was an on-site visit from Dr. Jones at my school this past Monday. We sat down in the presentation lab just off the upper school media center and talked about my portfolio, some victories and struggles I've encountered in my current position as director of media services, and Georgia Southern's ITEC program. One thing I mentioned to her that I've discussed with other people over the last few years is the focus on practical application in our coursework. For me this aspect of the M.Ed. degree has been extremely helpful. Since I was already working full time as a media specialist when I began classes, I needed to be able to use what I was learning immediately--and my work toward this degree has definitely afforded me that opportunity. I really enjoyed my visit with Dr. Jones and wished we could have had more time together, or that I would have been able to get to know her better throughout the program. I love the flexibility of online coursework, but I've also really missed that personal connection with my professors. I guess in a perfect world, learners would get the blended experience of both. We had such a nice time that we forgot to take a photo together! But in the end, I felt confident about my portfolio and ready to head into the defense.
I was actually out of the media center for most of the week, as I attended GaETC 2016 in Atlanta on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Wow, what a whirlwind! I knew heading in to expect information overload, since my one-day trip last year left me reeling for weeks afterward. As with most conferences, I tried to focus on a few things that I could take away and apply immediately.
It was great to see so many sessions focused on collaboration between the media specialist and classroom teachers. I truly believe that we are most effective when we get embedded into classroom instruction--working alongside teachers, having meaningful interactions with students, and modeling those skills in which we specialize (information literacy and digital citizenship). More and more people are talking about collaboration, and I'm hoping that this will become a common practice in schools. I also attended a few sessions on leadership, which were kind of like a pep talk for me. Sometimes, when you're in the trenches at your school, butting up against naysayers and those who are fine with "they way we've always done things," it can be easy to forget that what you're doing is worth the struggle. We should focus on the victories, not the setbacks, and stay steadfast in our mission. Educating kids and preparing them for what they'll encounter in the world beyond our classrooms in always worth it!
Jeff Utecht was probably my favorite speaker overall. I attended several of his sessions and had my mind blown every single time. I especially loved his session titled "My Wikipedia Is Better Than Your Textbook," in which he showed us how Wikipedia ranks the quality of its articles, verifies their accuracy and presentation, and categorizes their importance. SO COOL! Since I'm extremely interested in OER and other ways to supplant the traditional textbook in digital curriculums, I found this topic beyond amazing.
Another great experience for me at GaETC was getting to present in my own session (see slides above). I had an enthusiastic group of attendees who seemed really interested in my topic, which was based on how educators should approach digital vs. print texts in the classroom and why this issue isn't as black and white as some may think. It was definitely a "big idea" talk that wasn't focused on any particular practice, but it's something I'm really passionate about and hope to explore further.
Until next year, GaETC!
I finished up a few research orientation classes for ninth grade students this week, and I also began teaching another class about digital portfolios and Weebly in preparation for seniors' final advanced composition assignment. But the highlight of my week, without a doubt, was getting to teach the AP Language classes about copyright, fair use, and Creative Commons licenses.
These AP Language classes were the first to go through digital portfolio instruction a few weeks ago at the beginning of October. As I talked with their teacher about students' progress, she mentioned that many students had asked questions about what assets they could use in their portfolios and what the correct protocol was in regards to permissions and copyright. Like many teachers, she felt unequipped to answer some of these questions. I told her I would be happy to work with her to help address these concerns, and she invited me to teach another class in regards to how students could incorporate copyright best practices into their digital portfolios. I dove in wholeheartedly! The slides above incorporated the first part of the class, whereas the latter portion consisted of practice searches for images with usage limitations and also leading students through the process of embedding a Creative Commons license on the homepage of their own Weebly digital portfolios.
I feel like there is a huge need to cover these types of issues with students (and teachers!). So many of them are creating, sharing, and using online assets with little to no regard for what the limitations are or how to protect their own creative work. Giving them a long-term assignment that incorporates proper usage into the grading criteria has been the push we needed to make time for this type of instruction.
It's more than just teaching students copy"rights" and wrongs, however. As educators, we need to model that behavior for our students. So much of the content we create gets posted online somewhere--maybe a classroom blog, or on a school-wide LMS, or perhaps even a professional journal (like this one). We, too, need to pay close attention to copyright and make every attempt to follow the rules... as confusing as they sometimes are. And we can make those rules easier for others to understand by using Creative Commons licenses ourselves. As practitioners, we'll be better equipped to lead students through this territory, and we'll also be pegged as leaders in our school when it comes to digital citizenship. As a media specialist, what could be better?
I taught quite a few classes this week in the library, which kept me very busy. Since our second quarter is well underway, many teachers are starting longer units of study, and many require research... a subject for which I'm always happy to offer assistance. In addition to research, I've had the opportunity to help out with several other fun initiatives.
On Monday and Wednesday, I hosted the sixth graders for library orientation. Since students in grades K4-5 use our lower school library, sixth graders "graduate" to the upper school library at the beginning of the year, which can be a big change for them. On Monday, I gave these new patrons a quick tour, talked to them about media center policies, gave them a refresher course on how to use the online catalog, walked them through a sample search in our book recommendation service (NoveList), and gave them time to find and check out books. This day is always a lot of fun for me--sixth graders are still sweet kids who don't seem too concerned with being cool just yet. They love to be themselves and still really gravitate towards reading. If only kids could stay that way forever! On Wednesday, these students were back for PaperCut orientation. PaperCut is the service we use in the library to manage student printing. It's a great service that has saved us so much paper (and many headaches!) since I implemented it in the spring of 2015. Students start using this service for the first time when they receive school-issued devices, which means sixth graders got included this year. This orientation went very well and I think students will feel confident using the service moving forward.
On Thursday, I started research orientation for a few ninth and 10th grade classes. All students in high school English classes tackle a big, standardized research project once a year, and even though most students already know how to use our electronic resources, I always take advantage of this opportunity to show them resources that are specific to their research topics.
On Friday, I hosted an art class in the media center as they looked up books in our catalog on famous artists and artistic movements in order to complete an assignment, and I also helped a teacher with her Spanish IV class as her students began a creative writing assignment. Since I used to teach English and creative writing, I sometimes get asked to help out with these types of lessons for teachers outside of the English department who want to incorporate writing skills. I'm always happy to oblige! Doing so gives me a chance to keep my teaching skills fresh, plus I usually take advantage of these moments to incorporate some type of technology or information literacy into the lesson. It was a great class--I think I had just as much fun as the students did!
Next week, I will be tackling more research classes as well as another installment of digital portfolios. Never a dull moment!
This week was a short but interesting week at my school. We finished up our first nine-week quarter with final exams last Friday, so technically Monday and Tuesday were our fall break. Tuesday was actually a staff development day, so even though teachers were back, students had an extra day off. It was great to get some time to work on things around the media center and take a bit of a "breather" before starting up again for the second term on Wednesday.
On Tuesday I tried something with staff that I've never done before--I invited them to a media center evaluative feedback session. Our school will be going through some big changes over the next few years as our headmaster retires in the summer of 2017, and I want to be sure that our library media program is ready to meet the dynamic needs of a shifting faculty, student population, and curriculum. I walked teachers and staff through four main areas of discussion (as seen in the document above): collections, teaching and collaboration, reading promotion, and facilities. Although they were welcome to comment on the lower school media center program, most of the topics were geared towards the upper school media center. The session was held in the morning between department meetings, and even though it was entirely optional, I had a about 20 people show up--a number I was pleased to see!
My main takeaways from this feedback session were twofold: 1) collaboration seems to be very helpful for those teachers who take advantage of it and we need more of it, and 2) I need to do a better job of promoting library services and programs in general. This may sound funny, but sometimes it seems like teachers just forget about the library. During the session, they seemed a little sheepish about their lack of knowledge on what we do and why. They forget that we purchase all of the newest releases and most popular books (so there's no need for them to go out and buy them!); they forget that students should be taking advantage of library resources for classes and for pleasure; they forget that our primary function is to serve them and their students. If nothing else, the feedback session was a good reminder of what they library is and does. In the following days, more teachers reached out for collaboration and brought their students into the library than I had seen in quite a while.
Another big part of my week consisted of teaching Weebly for digital portfolios to the AP Language students. These classes are the first to receive Weebly instruction as part of the new digital portfolio curricular initiative. Instruction went very well, and I'm excited to see how students' Weebly sites will turn out. I'll be back in class with them next week, so I'm looking forward to giving an update.
This week I spent two days at Carver Middle School with media specialist Erin McElroy. Carver serves about 850 students in sixth, seventh, and eighth grades. Luckily, Erin has a full-time parapro to help her out with day-to-day media center operations. Still, she has a lot to cover--in addition to running the media center, she also manages the teacher workroom, a computer lab, several iPad carts that rotate out to classrooms, and all student Chromebooks. Carver is 1:1 for students in seventh and eighth grades, and sixth graders will get devices next year. Although students do not take Chromebooks home at the end of the day, their on-campus use is still a big responsibility that takes up much of Erin's time.
The Carver media center operates on a flexible schedule, with teachers signing their classes up for a visit or Erin going out to visit classrooms. It seems having the media specialist come to students is an emerging trend, and I do it quite frequently myself at GWA. This week was exam week at Carver, so the media center was quieter than normal--but that doesn't mean we didn't stay busy! Students were constantly in and out to use computers, check out books, ask for help with Chromebooks, and pick up workroom items for teachers. One task I was asked to tackle was to create a promotional poster for an upcoming fall reading challenge, which is Star Wars themed. I used Canva, and everyone seemed pretty pleased with the results. After the posters were finalized and printed, I helped hang them up in the hallways around campus. I also helped weed the reference section and posted promotional displays around the media center. I even found time to read some of the shelves--something every media specialist would love to do but never has time for. At one point, I was able to accompany Erin and the technology integration specialist to a teacher meeting. This teacher wanted to use Kahoot! for a student review game, and Erin and the technology integration specialist coached her through that process and tested a few practice questions with her. We went back to the teacher's classroom the following morning to observe and help out, and it was great to see everyone's hard work come to fruition. One of the most helpful aspects of my time at Carver was the opportunity to visit with Erin about how she promotes reading for students. This area can be a struggle for me, and she gave some great advice and useful tips.
One of Erin's biggest challenges seems to be the division of her time and attention. Media specialists really are expected to "do it all" in many schools. She was constantly shifting gears from tech help desk to student book adviser to teacher tech coach... and more. Another issue for her is getting teachers on board with collaboration. Not only is it difficult to find the time for collaborative planning, but many teachers are still resistant to sharing their classrooms, instruction, and assessments with a media specialist. I've encountered this resistance at my own school and it remains a constant battle. Like Erin, I'm always working to win over converts. It takes many intentional conversations, patience, and great lesson ideas that teachers can get excited about.
Carver was a great experience, and Erin was full of useful tips and pointers. I'm hoping she'll be able to visit my media center soon and that we'll continue to bounce ideas off of each other.
Tertiary site visit at Carver Middle School: 16 hours.
Banned Books Week is here! Intellectual freedom is one of my favorite things to discuss with students, so I've really started to look forward to this yearly event. I definitely take unrestricted access to reading materials for granted, but I have to remind myself that young people especially aren't always so lucky.
This year I was looking for a new way to pique student interest in frequently challenged books. I came across an idea (thank goodness for Pinterest) and ran with it: I covered frequently challenged books with black paper, then wrote the reasons for their challenge on the fronts with silver marker. I even used some direct quotes from published challenges--those were the highlights! Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is "frustrating garbage," while Salinger's Catcher in the Rye has morphed into "a dreadful, dreary recital of sickness, sordidness, and sadism." These types of claims about books in a school library are simply irresistible for students; circulation has skyrocketed this week, and most of the books leaving the shelves are indeed frequently challenged titles.
I also used Banned Books Week to partner with a classroom teacher for my reading enrichment unit (Task 1). These students had recently finished their discussion of The Giver, so it was a great time to tie in the topics of challenges, censorship, and unrestricted access to ideas. Most students were surprised to discover that The Giver is frequently challenged and even banned in some school libraries. We discussed the reasons for the challenges, why/if "mature" content has a place in the school curriculum, and why restricting access is so controversial. I wrapped up the lesson by recommending a few additional frequently challenged titles, then concluded with a book talk of Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. When I got back to the media center later after all of my lessons, my library assistant told me two students had been by already to check it out. Now that's what I call a successful book talk!
Such moments are a bright spot for me because I feel like fostering a love of reading in my patrons is by far my biggest challenge as a media specialist. So many of these kids are just not interested, or they claim they don't have time to read; they're taking too many AP courses, or they're too wrapped up in athletics, or band consumes their life. Of course, I have my die-hard readers who can't live without a book, but this mindset seems to be the exception. Lack of interest in reading is a problem I'm actively trying to address.
This week I spent two days at Harmony Elementary School with their media specialist, Rachel Peters. What a whirlwind experience! Harmony has about 730 students, but Rachel is the only person in the media center. She has no additional staff--not even a part-time parapro! She relies heavily on parent and community volunteers to help cross items off her to-do list. Not only is she the only person in the media center, but she's also in charge of Harmony's computer labs, iPad carts, Chromebooks, AND the teacher workroom (!!!). She takes photos of school events, runs the morning announcements show, helps teachers out with technology... the list goes on. She maybe sat down for twenty minutes the entire day, and that was during her lunch period. MAD RESPECT.
The Harmony media center operates on a fixed schedule. Every class visits the media center during a set time once per week. Some classes are split to make sure every student gets a chance to check out a book, so sometimes we had a class of 25+ kids in the media center at one time. Rachel occasionally used part of the time to squeeze in some computer-based skills practice, to read a story to the class, or to guide students through an activity that related to what their teachers were covering this week. When students were in the media center, I helped out with simple tasks like checking in/checking out books (though students are pretty self-sufficient at this activity), helping students find books on the shelves, and general crowd control. I also got to lead story time for the kindergartners on both days... such a highlight! I read Drum Dream Girl by Margarita Engle since Harmony is currently celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month. We even played bongo drums after the story, and students loved it. While in the computer lab, I helped students get logged in and helped them navigate their programs (like iRead). I also pulled books for teachers based on request lists, delivered books to classrooms, prepared materials (colored strips of paper for rainbows) for upcoming media center lessons, and reshelved like crazy. The hours passed very quickly. We did find a few minutes to chat throughout the day, and I learned quite a bit about Harmony's media program and how Rachel manages to juggle it all. She was incredibly helpful and forthcoming.
Obviously, her biggest issue is staffing. There are simply not enough hours in the day to get everything done. She does an amazing job given this very big limitation; she's very efficient in her instruction and never wastes a minute. She has also tried to streamline the check in/check out process so that students can do it themselves, and third graders even help her keep the shelves clean by "adopting" a shelf they tidy up periodically. Very innovative! I might take some of these ideas back to my media center. Another issue is fixed scheduling, which is new for her this year. Students are not allowed to come check out or return books except during their scheduled library time, and sometimes students get pulled from their library slot for special programs like CHAMPS or 4-H. While fixed scheduling does ensure that every class visits the media center, it's not ideal in terms of allowing students unrestricted access to books or for allowing collaboration between teachers and the media specialist. Still, she makes the best of it and has a very good relationship with both students and teachers.
I really loved my time at Harmony. Little ones are very different from my older students; I received plenty of sweet hugs and smiles! Rachel graciously offered to serve as a resource if I have questions in the future, and I'm sure I'll be taking her up on that offer.
Secondary site visit at Harmony Elementary: 16 hours.
This week found me working on a few major upcoming initiatives for the media center. It’s hard to believe that we’re finishing up our fifth week of classes! The school year always runs away from me in the fall. Suddenly the first day of school turns into the first day of final exams, and I’m left wondering where the time has gone. I’ve already taught a number of great lessons and collaborated with several teachers for combined units of study. I have a few more classes planned for the weeks ahead—as well as my secondary and tertiary site visits—so I don’t think the days will slow down any time soon.
Digital portfolios are well underway. I spent some time this past Tuesday talking with Ms. Crowell, the advanced composition teacher, and we considered both short-term and long-term approaches. We decided that fully integrating digital portfolios would really mean a reworking of the entire composition curriculum to include not only multimodal assignments but also digital citizenship concepts and information literacy. That’s just not possible at this point in the year, but it’s something we’d like to pursue for next year. However, we do want to go ahead and test Weebly as a possible platform and start the process of incorporating multimodal assignments. So we’re going to use what Ms. Crowell calls a “remix” approach to pilot digital portfolios this semester: Students will take several essays they’ve written and transform them into different forms of content using a Web 2.0 creation tool, then embed those elements in a Weebly-based digital portfolio. To get the comp teachers started with Weebly, I taught them an introductory session on Thursday after school. I’m actually going to use this training session for tasks 6, 7, and 8—so stay tuned for more details.
I also started working on my plan for Banned Books Week. I want to make BBW fun and give teachers and students several opportunities to participate, but I also don’t want to disrupt students’ class schedule. I also like to design my own promotional graphics, although I know the American Library Association always provides great options for Banned Books Week through their graphics shop. I’m going to ask my library department personnel to decide on a final design from the choices above, or to make suggestions for revision. I used Lucidpress to create these fliers, a tool that’s new for me. I have pretty good ideas for displays, in-house activities, and a few suggestions for teachers, so I’ll spend much of next week getting feedback and finalizing plans.
Weebly it is!
After consultations with our director of technology and several English teachers over the last few weeks, we have decided to go with Weebly for our digital portfolio pilot program. I'm teaming up with our advanced composition teacher to standardize the adoption of digital portfolios across five English classes during this fall semester. She and I are planning to meet next Tuesday to design a template, collaborate on multimodal projects to include in the portfolio, and sequence instruction for pilot teachers and students. I hope to deliver my first training session on Weebly and how to integrate this platform into the composition curriculum sometime late next week, and I might use this session for Task 6. We're all very excited to see where this pilot goes, and if it's successful, we might even propose the inclusion of digital portfolios in additional classes outside the English department next year.
We chose Weebly for a number of reasons, including ease of management and portability (students can take accounts and portfolios with them after graduation), transferability of skills, and platform versatility. We plan to evaluate the pilot at the end of the semester (since our composition classes are only a semester long) and then again at the end of the school year. At that point we'll decide whether to stick with Weebly long term or to try another platform. Stay tuned for updates!
In other news, the media center has had a busy week. I taught research orientation to three 10th grade classes for their upcoming research paper projects. Our 10th graders write lengthy argumentative essays on hot button social issues topics, so I try to get them comfortable with a variety of databases we purchase specifically for such topics (Gale Opposing Viewpoints in Context and Facts on File Issues & Controversies) as well as our general research databases (EBSCOhost Explora, Questia School, and Gale Research in Context). We also got word that we might be making a few improvements to the media center over the Christmas break, so we're taking a hard look at our collection and finalizing an intensive weeding plan--we need to streamline our shelving to make room for more furniture. Nothing is certain quite yet, but we're hopeful and want to be prepared.