Monday, November 30, 2015

Connecting, Collaborating & Creating in a Winter Wonderland

Sometimes the stars align in such a way that you're left thanking every single last lucky one of them. My students and I have been lucky enough to have this experience recently. Little did I know that a simple Twitter invite would set my students and I off on an amazing Winter Wonderland adventure of connecting, collaborating, and creating! 

It all started when the amazing Shannon Miller sent me a message on Twitter wondering if my Titan Hill students and I would be interested in participating in a "little" project she was putting together called Winter Around the World . The whole project was inspired by a Cantata Learning book called Winter: The Coldest Season of All and was meant to bring together students from around the world to share stories, artwork, music and poems celebrating winter in a collaborative eBook.

When Shannon asks, it's a no-brainer! You know it's good stuff. However, as if being asked by Shannon to join in a project with her weren't enough, the added incentive to join this project was the opportunity to collaborate and publish that it presented for my students. One of my school's goals (and one of my own as well) has been to increase collaboration and publication of student work as a means of engaging students with authentic tasks and providing authentic audiences. 

This project was so absolutely perfect!

As soon as I read a little bit more about the project, I immediately thought of the fabulous Kasey Bell, whose amazing work had previously brought my students such activities as last spring's Collaborative Magnet Poetry and this fall's Halloween Magnetic Poetry. I was hoping she'd be on board with what I had in mind . . .

What ensued was pure awesomeness.

It started with a Twitter Exchange . . .

Which led to a Skype session where the stars aligned . . . And a plan was formed!

Kasey was on board with creating a Winter Poetry Template. My Titan Hill 5th graders were asked to help brainstorm a list of words that Kasey could use to create her interactive Winter Poem! I shared the Winter Around the World project idea with them and asked for their help. They were totally on board!

Following Shannon's suggestion, I had my students generate a list of winter-themed words using Padlet (which I had linked for them via my 5th grade library Google Classroom). Each class generated a list, which I then pulled words to share with Kasey. They loved generating their list of words, especially knowing that the list they were helping to create would have a greater audience. And, of course, I shared our journey with both Shannon and Kasey via Twitter and Periscope!

We then submitted the list of words to Kasey for her to work her magic.

In the meantime, I had shared the book Winter: The Coldest Season of All with several of my other classes, particularly four of my 2nd grade classes, as part of our celebration of National Picture Book Month. And another amazing opportunity arose for my Titan Hill students to connect and collaborate . . . This time by Skyping with the author/composer and illustrator of the Winter book. The students thought it was so cool to hear Lisa Bell and Emily Brooks talk about their journey to creating this particular book!

Shortly after the Skype session, Kasey shared with us the Winter Magnet Poetry template she'd created for us using Google Slides! My 4th and 5th grade students were so excited to get started creating! During their library specials, they used Kasey's poetry template to create their own winter poems. As an added bonus, we were able to explore more deeply how to use and create within Google Slides, a commonly used presentation tool for our school.

Here's an few example poems we submitted:

Not to be left out, one of my amazing 2nd grade teachers, Nancy Walker, and her students created a song inspired by the book entitled "We WIN in Winter." Our district's amazing Technology Integration Specialist, Josh Allen, filmed her students in front of a green screen and created an amazing music video showcasing the song their created!

Here's the complete music video:

Needless to say, it's been quite the Winter Whirlwind over the past month! What amazing opportunities for my students to connect, collaborate and create! I'm absolutely grateful to both Shannon and Kasey for letting my students and I tag along on this amazing winter adventure! 

And the best part of all of this . . . It's not too late for your students to join in the Winter fun! To make your own copy of Kasey's Winter Magnet Poetry, click here! To find out more information or to join in the Winter Around the World project, click here!

Winter Challenge for Google Classroom

Last year several  of my Nebraska educator friends put together a #12daystwitter challenge (click the link to find out what they're up to this year!) meant to encourage fellow educators to explore the connective and collaborative power of Twitter.

Inspired by the fun and collaborative nature of this challenge, a fellow Titan Hill teacher, Laurie Kammrad, and I wanted to find a way for our 2nd through 5th grade students to participate as well. However, Twitter didn't seem the right medium. Although we have several teachers using Twitter within their classrooms, we wanted a way for all students to be able to participate on a more personal level and our students are (technically) to young to have Twitter accounts of their own.

We'd just begun utilizing Google Classroom and thought this would be a perfect way to allow our students to continue to explore this new tool, to connect with other students in and outside their own classrooms and to actually practice some of the digital citizenship skills we'd been discussing.

And so the "12 Days of Google Classroom Challenge" was born!

So how did it work?

The first thing I did was to draft an email to our staff to share about the idea Laurie and I had created, sharing the Google Classroom codes with the teachers. At the time, I hadn't previously required all of my students to join my Library Google Classroom (this has since changed). I set up a Google Classroom for each grade level (2nd through 5th).

Google Classroom Sample E-mail sent to 4th grade teachers:

The next thing I did was to create graphics for each question. To do this, I used one of my absolute favorite tools, Canva. I wanted to create some visuals to go along with the questions, similar to what was being done with the #12daystwitter challenge. In drafting the challenge questions, we went for a variety: some questions that allowed for individual responses and some that would stir up a debate. Ultimately, the goal was for students to share their ideas and respond to their classmates!

Sample graphics:

The final piece was to put the questions into Google Classroom and allow the students to respond using the commenting feature available within Classroom. At the time, I used the "Announcement" feature to post the questions and images.

Starting on December 1, I began to post the questions. Just like the #12daystwitter challenge, I posted them Monday through Friday (no weekend posts) for 12 school days. Students would access Google Classroom and post their response in the comments and reply back to others when they could. If they missed a day, it was no big deal. They could easily catch up when the opportunity presented itself!

Example Google Classroom announcement post:


So how'd it go?

It was absolutely incredible to watch the students' response flow in . . . and to take advantage of the teachable moments!

The participating teachers and I were able to have some fantastic conversations with our students about a multitude of topics. On the educational side, we discussed things such as formulating appropriate responses to the prompts, editing their responses before publishing (hooray writing skills in action!), using the "reply" feature to enhance and continue conversations (besides responses of "Me too!"), and practicing good digital citizenship (this was a huge one for them to explore in a safe environment)!

More importantly, this gave our students a chance to exchange ideas with other students beyond their classroom walls and practice all the skills we'd been addressing in an authentic way.

What's in store for this year?

This year, the Titan Hill students will be given the opportunity to participate, although I've decided to rename it the "Winter Google Classroom Challenge." I wanted my teachers to have a little more flexibility to extend this activity throughout the winter season if they chose. 

I'm also excited about some of the Google Classroom updates that have happened since last year and the potential implications for the challenge this year: 
  • This year, there's a new Question feature that I think will work wonderfully for this challenge! 
  • There's also the "Draft" feature which will allow me to get everything set up beforehand and have all the questions ready for me to post quickly! 
  • I'm also excited that since last year, Google Classroom added the ability to add fellow educators, which means I can add the question prompts and images for any teacher wanting to have their students participate within their regular Google Classrooms (as opposed to a school-wide Classrooms). Any time I can do some of the "behind-the-scenes" work for my teachers is a win.
  • I'm extremely excited to take this Winter Google Classroom Challenge across school districts. We have recently launched several cross-district (which happen to be cross-state) Google Classrooms. I'm excited for our students to be able to interact with students outside of our school and to see what conversations are sparked with the responses!
So can your students participate too?

Absolutely! Here's a link to this year's Winter Challenge for Google Classroom. Feel free to use and share with your own students! Happy winter!

Monday, November 9, 2015

Attitude of Gratitude: Why I'm Thankful to be a Teacher Librarian

Although I’m not new to education, I will tell you I’m fairly new to this whole Teacher Librarian business. I’ve been in my current position as a Teacher Librarian for approximately a year and three months. But my short tenure has given me a whole new appreciation for the truly incredible opportunity that being a Teacher Librarian has to offer, an opportunity I am now deeply grateful to have embraced.

You see, I wasn’t sure I was ready to be a Teacher Librarian. I wasn’t sure I was ready to leave my classroom. I loved my students, I loved my job (I taught 7th grade reading for 13 years), I loved my colleagues. But I thank my lucky stars for Dr. Rebecca Pasco, the Director and Coordinator of the Library Science program at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. She had the wisdom to know that despite my reservations, I belonged in the library. So, when Dr. Pasco called and told me about my current position, my choice was made. When Dr. Pasco calls, you listen.

And I’m so grateful that I did. So in the celebration of the season and celebrating an “Attitude of Gratitude,” here’s why I’m so thankful to be a Teacher Librarian:

The students

As I just mentioned, one of my biggest concerns about leaving my classroom was leaving my students. I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to build the same kind of relationships I had with “my” 7th graders. I saw this same group of 125(ish) students every other day all year long. That’s a lot of contact time to truly get to know a group of students. I was afraid that a change to the library would inhibit me from making deep connections with my students.

I was right . . . and so wrong.

Although it’s a little more challenging to build relationships with 900 students than it was with 125, I quickly came to realize that I have the benefit of expanding my potential to build relationships, to support literacy, to ignite passions, to be the “cheerleader,” and to watch the growth of every single student in my building because they’re all “mine.” It may take me longer to get to know my students, and I may not know all of them the way I did my 7th graders, but being their Teacher Librarian throughout their four years in my building means I have time.

And the added bonus: I get to be the one to help them celebrate, to help empower them, and to show them that the library can be their safe place where they are always welcomed and respected, no matter what.

The collaboration with fellow educators

Collaboration is empowering for everyone involved.

In my previous position, I worked closely with a group of 5 other teachers, all of whom taught different subjects, but were all 7th grade teachers. I loved working with my fellow 7th grade teachers, especially when it came to planning cross-curricular units. I always loved sharing new tools or resources I’d discovered that could help enhance our students.

My position as a Teacher Librarian has increased my opportunities for collaboration exponentially. . . . literally. I now have the opportunity to work with 50+ teachers in my building to help support their curriculum, technology integration, and literacy. I could write an entire blog post--a love letter, if you will--dedicated to how grateful I have been for my staff. Time and time again, they’ve welcomed me into their classrooms with open arms and don’t run screaming for the hills when I whirl-wind in with another idea!

The opportunity to work with so many amazing educators within my own building, the opportunity to extend the impact of the library beyond the physical walls, the opportunity to help students see a transfer of skills and information have all been absolutely amazing.

The books

Okay, so let’s be real. Many of us became teachers because we wanted to share our passions (or at least that’s one of the reasons). One of my passions is literacy, particularly the access to information and ideas. Reading is empowering. There is no greater feeling that connecting a reader with that perfect book, that perfect resource. And as a Teacher Librarian, I’ve got a lot of books (and access to resources) that allow me to share my passion with every student (and adult) in my building!

The change

Teacher Librarians are Teacher Leaders.

My role as a Teacher Librarian has allowed me to have an impact on all facets of the educational environment not only in my building, but also in my district. As a classroom teacher, my interactions were often limited to only the other members of my grade-level or subject-area team. Being a Teacher Librarian has opened up the opportunities to interact, which has meant that I have the opportunity to communicate and initiate change.

Teacher Librarians are perfectly poised to be the force of change we want to see in the world (particularly the educational world). We have the resources and the access to multiple classrooms in multiple grade levels to truly be a voice for our students and teachers. We see the “big pictures,” we offer support, we are all about making the world a better place.

To reference my favorite Spiderman quote: “With great power comes great responsibility.” I’m just grateful to be in the position to advocate for my students and staff..

My fellow Teacher Librarians

Of all the things I’ve appreciated as a Teacher Librarian, I am probably most appreciative of my fellow Teacher Librarians.

There’s just something about Teacher Librarians. Maybe it’s because we want to help, we want to support, we want to empower others,  but I have never met a more caring and supportive bunch of educators. The relationships I’ve built with my fellow Teacher Librarians over the course of the last year have been some of the deepest and most empowering relationships in my life. Whether in person or virtually, I know that I have an incredible support group, a group always ready to help, to share ideas, and embark on crazy journeys! That means more than words can possibly express.

So in the spirit of the “Attitude of Gratitude,” when times are tough and days are (metaphorically) long, I challenge you to share what blessings have come your way because you are lucky enough to be a Teacher Librarian.

*Note: This blog was originally written and published (by me) via the Iowa Association of School Librarians Blog: