Friday, July 22, 2016

Year Long Decorations Follow Up- Sustaining the Theme

      About a year ago, I wrote a post about decorating the library with a year long theme.  This is a follow up post on that topic:

     For the longest time, I have considered elementary teachers to be among the best practitioners in the field of education.  They are masters of integrating across curricular areas, including hands on learning opportunities, and generally making learning fun!  My wife is one of these elementary educators, and although I taught middle school and high school and now work in an 8-9th grade library, I still borrow many of my best ideas from her and other elementary educators!

     Among the ideas I have "borrowed" from my elementary colleagues is the idea of a year long theme in the library.  Two years ago, we had a superhero theme.  I was able to get a variety of Batman masks and posters from Marvel comics in honor of his 75th anniversary that were used throughout the year in support of the theme.

     The challenge of a year long theme is how to keep it fresh and new.  It is a best practice to change up displays about once a month-so how can this be done with a year long theme?  I found it easier to do this with the superhero theme.  I used the Batman masks from Marvel to disguise the classic novels and created a Robin mask for the YA companion novels.  A Creative Commons image of Batman and Robin was used to draw attention to this "Dynamic Duos" display.

     Student aides also created superhero window displays where they could pick a traditional superhero such as Green Lantern and then find books about them to place in the window.  (In the case of Green Lantern, books with green themes or the word green in the title were selected) Students could also create their own.  One student choose her favorite teacher who is affectionately known as "the Hobbit" and created a superhero poster featuring Super Hobbit.  She then filled the display with the Lord of the Rings novels and books about characters from Middle Earth.

     This past year, I went with a Monopoly board game theme.  Instead of "passing go and collecting $200", the sign in computer featured a poster that said "sign in and go enjoy your library."  Different book sections were featured signs like Fiction Avenue and Biography Boulevard.  In terms of keeping a yearly theme "new", there were more challenges than with the superhero theme.

     One display featured a "Take a Chance on a Book" similar to Monopoly's chance cards. I wrapped up books that had not ever been checked out, wrote a quick phrase hinting at their content, and encouraged students to check them out.  If they did take a chance, they could write a quick review and get a treat. Student reviews were posted on the display.  This display stayed up throughout the year.  About 40 books got their first checkout, and about a dozen student reviews were posted.  Most of the checkouts occurred during first semester and almost none occurred in the spring.

     Comparing the two yearly themes, I would say the superhero theme was more successful.  It was easier to maintain momentum by changing up the displays throughout the year while maintaining the overall theme.  Involving student aides in the decorating process also proved effective.  Their creative idea to have superhero windows was one of the best displays of the year.

Key questions to ask in considering year long themes include:

  • Is there a historical anniversary or notable pop culture theme/event that could be used as a year long theme?
  • Are there free/inexpensive decorations available that could support the selected theme?
  • How can this theme be sustainable throughout the year?
  • How can a yearly library theme mesh with a focus of our school during the current calendar year?
  • Are there displays or contests that could be run that would support the yearly theme AND help to maintain enthusiasm for it?
  • How can the faculty and students be involved in a yearly library theme?
     As the new school year approaches, I am still considering some different year long theme ideas.  What year long themes have you tried in your library/classroom and what did you do to sustain them/keep them fresh?

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Saturday, July 16, 2016

Genius Hour for Library Aides

     Ever since hearing about Genius Hour at the Schools Without Walls Conference this past year, I have been intrigued about how best to implement it in the library.

     For those who might be unfamiliar with it, Genius Hour, also known as Passion Project(s) or 20% time was born in Google where engineers were given that percentage of their work week to develop ideas and innovations they were interested in.  This policy not only increased employee motivation and productivity, but it also led to innovations such as Google Mail and Google News.

    There are a few basic principles of implementing Genius Hour in a school setting:
-projects are student directed/selected based on their research into areas of interest
-students have a means to demonstrate progress
-projects must be documented/presented in some way

      This year, I posed this idea to my student aides:  what would you do if you had 20% of class time each week to work on a project of your choosing?  Students had to earn this privilege by displaying outstanding time management skills.  Those aides who met the standard were rewarded with Genius Hour as their second semester final project, while those whose time management skills were still emerging were assigned a more structured final project.

       Students were informed that they had qualified for Genius Hour and they were given about two weeks to research and select their ideas.  We had to have some discussions about what would qualify as a Genius Hour project and emphasize the need for there to be some sort of product and documentation of their efforts.  This lead to some funny conversations about what would be an appropriate Genius Hour project and what would not be.  (For example, texting your girlfriend or playing a video game for 20% of class time would not meet the Genius Hour criterion :) )

     Student aides came up with an impressive array of projects:

     One student had a passion for teaching.  She had worked with the pre Kindergarten program in our junior high throughout the year on various projects.  For her project, she researched and taught pre-K students to make play dough.

     One student had a passion for computers.  He developed his coding skills through working in the library this year and was eager to expand his knowledge of how computers work.  His project was to take apart a computer, and then rebuild it in a cardboard box.  Since he used an enormous, old desktop, he named his project "Megalodon."

     One student had a passion for video production.  She had already worked on several video projects using i-Movie, including a book trailer and an informational video.  As a result, she was ready to move in a different direction.  For her project, she created a stop action video story on a whiteboard.

     One student had a passion for singing and video production.  He chose to create a video advertisement for our school's Karaoke club.

     One student had a passion for gaming.  He chose to build a Pokemon rom hack where he redesigned a section of the Pokemon world.

     Looking back, I am proud of the array of projects students created.  I observed the same spike in motivation and productivity from my student aides as they worked on their projects that Google executives observed.  (There was even one student aide who attempted to sneak out of other classes to come back to the library to work on his Genius Hour idea!)

     In the future, I look forward to providing more opportunities for Genius Hour through the library.  Students each presented their projects informally to library staff.  Next year, I hope to support students in more extensive documenting of their work perhaps through video or presentations to the school and the community.

     This experience also got me thinking about how Genius Hour could be applied to the classroom.  I look forward to exploring this during the upcoming school term with my teachers!

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Wednesday, July 13, 2016

8 Keys to Having a Successful Teen Tech Week Celebration

     It has been one of my goals this year to hold more themed events based on the ALA Library calendar.  To be honest, at times I have let these events sneak up on me.  This has made me a little bit more dedicated to pulling some celebrations off.

    This year's Teen Tech Week has been a great celebration.  Here is a top 8 list of ways to have a successful Teen Tech and probably the suggestions here would apply to any library event.

1. Collaborate outside of your physical building.

     For a couple of years now, I have had the privilege of staging Google Hangouts with my friend and colleague, Stony Evans at Lakeside Hot Springs High School.  We have had "Lakeside Squared" Hangouts based on books, Banned Book Week, and dramatic as well as musical performances.  For this year's Teen Tech Week, we decided to hold a Maker show and tell Hangout. Our students took turns sharing their maker creations including robots, coding, creature makeup and a windmill.

2. Seek out different demographics.

     Our libraries need to be safe places for all of our patrons and our programming should reflect that.  The Squishy Circuits session we held on Friday during lunch was a big hit with some of our male students who are typically "too cool" for library programs.  I am not sure if it was the electricity, or the play dough, or the combination of both that drew them in for this event.

3.  Hold a prize giveaway.

     Maybe this is a given at this point, but part of drawing in a larger crowd to library events is to give away candy and prizes.  For the Squishy Circuits event, we gave away a couple pairs of headphones, some candy and fancy pens.  They were a hit!

4.  Invite your staff to events.

     Since most of our students ride a bus to school, staying after school is not an option. As a result, most of the programming I present is either before school or at lunchtime.    This year, I have made it a point to invite both staff and students to events that traditionally have targeted students.  For the Squishy Circuits maker challenge on Friday, I had some teachers attend and build the circuits right along with students.  (Thanks to Mr. Scott and Mr. Stallings for participating!) It provides a great opportunity for teachers and students to interact outside of the classroom.

5. Collaborate with your teaching peers to present programming-look for ways to get them involved.

     One reason why Teen Tech week was so successful was the help and support I received from my faculty to develop the event.  Our Family and Consumer Science teacher, Mrs. Coston, also let me borrow her kitchen to mix up the non conductive Playdough that was needed for the Squishy Circuits.One of our instructional assistants Mr. Lara took pictures of the Maker Hangout and Squishy Circuits events.  He also kept participants well supplied with materials during  the Squishy circuits event on Friday.

6. Collaborate with student aides as coaches/tech mentors

     Before each Maker Challenge, I employ my student aides to test/troubleshoot the activities.  Not only does this get their buy in to attend the event, but they also recruit a few of their friends to attend which improves out turn out.   Trying out the maker activities ahead of time also gave them the confidence to go and teach others.   Since they have played the roll of activity testers before, several of them have made it a norm to not only attend the event, but also to jump right in and teach their peers at the event.

7. Subtly embed learning in the event.

     Aside from the fun of completing a Maker Challenge, I also look for ways to embed teachable moments.  For the Squishy Circuits challenge, students had lots of fun building circuits of out Playdough, but they also were learning some basic skills about how electricity flows. One of the concepts was the idea that they could build a short circuit-that electricity flows through the path of least resistance if the conductive dough pieces were touching instead of flowing through the wires.

     Students also had opportunities to try out a motor, different battery sizes as well as both alligator clips and wires.  Having a variety of materials on hand encouraged students to experiment and innovate.  This only added to the fun as students searched for the best combinations of batteries and cabling.  The students were so engaged in the fun of building the circuits that they did not realize that they were learning!

8. Reflect on the event and seek improvements

     Overall, the two Teen Tech week events were a success, but there are still areas that could be improved. For the Squishy Circuits, it would have been more effective to have sections of wire precut before students arrived for first lunch.  This would have given students more chances to innovate their designs.  For second lunch, we were able to have enough wire precut for students to start right away. This gave students more time and they developed some pretty innovative designs-they made a snake, an ugly snowman, and a fish!

     It also would have given students more confidence if there were some prototypes laid out to help them start thinking about their designs.  Next time, I would like to employ my student aides to help develop more prototypes and have their work laid out on the tables for event participants to see.   This would also help to prepare student aides to have more confidence to teach once they had already developed some working prototypes.

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Sunday, July 3, 2016

Reverse Modeling: Teaching with Nonexamples

     I have a confession to make, I love Google Hangouts.   In past years, I have held Hangouts with authors and about books (both banned and not), in both English and Spanish, with experts in their field and some performance based Hangouts.

     Last year, I held some Mystery Hangouts with classes in the Caribbean, Sweden, Canada and South America for students in the Advanced Placement Geography course at my school.  (These Hangouts were also open to all students at Lakeside JHS).  They were so popular, that the AP Geography teacher approached me about holding them on a more regular basis this year.

     To teach our students Google Hangout etiquette, we decided to try start with a mock Mystery Hangout.  I called the class on Hangout from the library while they stayed in their classroom down the hall using my alter ego, Mr. Bond.  We employed one of my favorite instructional strategies teaching with nonexamples;  in the case of this Mystery Hangout etiquette lesson, what not to do on a Google Hangout.

    For this Hangout, I sketched out a fake class on the whiteboard behind me complete with distracted students.  We set it up in the Professional Library area of the library with an American Flag in the background so as not to disguise my location for a Mystery Hangout.

     Throughout the Hangout, I pretended that I could not sit still to reinforce how distracting such behavior is for participants on the other end of the webcam.  I also made sure to eat potato chips and drink water while attempting to answer students' questions about my location.

     Looking back on the year of Hangouts, the visit with Mr. Bond produced great dividends evidenced by students' participation in our later Hangouts.   This was quite a successful year for Mystery Hangouts.  We met with classes in South American, Europe (South London), British Columbia and Ontario Canada as well as Transylvania, Romania).

     Since students became comfortable in what not to do, they were better prepared to successfully participate.  Students were able to apply their learning to speak up, hold still, and ask the right kinds of questions during Hangouts.  They were able to develop deeper questions for those who participated in Hangouts with them which in turn, produced higher quality discussions.  Being that this is an election year, we had some fascinating discussions after the Mystery portion of the Hangouts with our peers on other continents about their views of American political candidates.

     Beyond deeper discussion, it also changed students' view of themselves and their roles in the world.  By holding a Hangout once a month with this class throughout the year, Hangouts became a norm of their education, and as a result, students started to view themselves as a part of the global community.

     We often hear that as educators we are preparing students for a world with jobs that have not yet been created.  Since we know our world is only becoming more connected, it makes sense to build in Hangouts as a norm of our instructional program.   Why not use regular Hangouts to prepare our students for their even more connected futures?

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