Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Research Tools For Students and Teachers

My library has some amazing resources that can be used for research projects.  I know it is tempting to have students get the bulk of their research from Google, and don't get me wrong, there are some amazing resources out there but it is necessary and important for students to gain exposure to a multitude of resources.  In this blog post, I would like to explore two of my favorite databases

  • EBSCO Explora
  • Sirs Discoverer
The key to using these resources in my space is our MackinVIA program.  MackinVIA is a program our library uses to house all of our digital materials.  Students are able to easily login using their Google usernames and passwords.  The program includes databases, ebooks, and audiobooks.  Most of the ebooks are available for one user at a time, and can be checked out up to three weeks.  Students and teachers can even download the ebooks, using the MackinVIA app.  This is a fantastic program and I highly recommend using this free program.  I wrote a blog post on this program earlier last year.  You can view it here .

EBSCO Explora

EBSCO Explora is a general database that we receive through the New Jersey State Library.  The program is divided into three separate databases including:
  1. Explora For Students (5th/6th grades)
  2. Explora (7th and 8th grades)
  3. Explora for Educators
When researching with your students I recommend option one or three, depending on which grade you choose. 

Some of the highlights of this program include:
  • Searching by topic
  • A specific search box
  • The ability to get full-text documents (Magazines, Newspapers, Journals)
  • Students can send an entire article to their Google Drive
  • Ability to limit your search by publication date
  • Ability to limit your search by Lexile Range
  • Ability to listen to the article (Speech to Text)
  • Citation information available, and easy to copy and paste
Here is an excellent tutorial I found on using Explora, created by EBSCO.


SIRS Discoverer

SIRS Discoverer is another wonderful general database, specifically geared towards middle school students.  Our school has chosen to purchase this program, because it is one of the only programs that is available for this level.  You will find that it has many of the same features as Explora, but unlike Explora the articles are more specific to middle school level.

Some of the highlights of this program include:
  • A specific search area
  • Search by topic
  • An Explore Features area which includes
    • Animal Facts
    • Current Events
    • Pro/Con Leading Issues
    • Country Facts and Maps
    • Nonfiction Books
    • Science Fair Explorer
  • An Advanced Search area 
  • Ability to limit search by media
  • Ability to limit search by grade level
  • Ability to limit search by Lexile Level
  • Full text articles
  • Ability to send articles to students through Google Classroom
  • Ability for students to save articles to their Google Drive or print.
  • Citation information
  • There is also an Educators Resources section
Here is a video with more information about using SIRS



Just recently I was asked to be part of the Proquest (Publishers of SIRS Discoverer) Advisory Board.  This is very much an honor end exciting to be part of decisions they are making with their various databases.


Here is the video of the presentation I put together on MackinVIA and these databases.





Are you using either one of these databases?  I would love to hear how you are using them with your students.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

STEM Challenge: Build a Marble Maze

My students really enjoy participating in the Monthly STEM Challenges that are available to them during an open media center time.  Even though we are a middle school, our students still have a daily recess.  This really gives them time to unwind, so they can focus on their academics.  During recess students can sign up to come to the library.  The STEM Challenge is just one of the activities students can participate in.  Students can also use a computer, study, check out a book, read, play a board game, or use the makerspace.  The Monthly STEM Challenge consists of a challenge that has a STEM focus.  Students are given a month to work on this challenge.  At the end of the month, the challenges are put on display, so that students in the school can vote on their favorites.  A small prize and certificate is given to all students who participate in the challenge.

In September our STEM Challenge was Create a Marble Maze.  Students were provided with:

  • Cardboard
  • Straws
  • Tape
  • Glue
  • Popsicle Sticks
I also like to create a STEM Planning sheet.  Students need to plan out their project prior to creating.  This includes deciding which materials they will use, sketching their design, and after they complete the challenge, figuring out what worked and what failed.  I tell my students that they can not participate in the challenge, if they do not fill out this paper.  This is how I add in the engineers design process.  I am a firm believer that this process should be a part of any and all making.

Here are some pictures of some of my students who participated and their finished challenges.



As you can see this was a lot of fun.  My students really enjoyed themselves.  It is always amazing to me that students are willing to give up their recess and own time to participate in these challenges.  It shows me that students are motivated to create and design, and is very encouraging.



Sunday, October 21, 2018

Game Design With Bloxels

Bloxels is an innovative way for students to create video games.  The games can be turned into an educational game simply be adding white story blocks to the game.  How many times do we ask our students to showcase what they learned?  A book report, a science topic, a moment in history, a math lesson.  The possibilities are endless.  Next time instead of going for the traditional Google Slides or Poster try out Bloxels.



So you are probably wondering, how does Bloxels work?   Your students really only need a Bloxels Kit (Our library has 11 of them, an IPad, and the Bloxels (free) app.   To begin, students create their game board by inserting the colored cubes into the Bloxels black board.  The colors are extremely important when designing the game board.

Green = Terrain
Blue = Water
Purple = Enemies
Orange = Exploding
Red = Danger
Yellow = Coins
Pink = Powerups
White = Story blocks


Once your students have finished building their game boards, they are able to take a picture of the board using the Bloxels App.  The Board will now magically be added to your Bloxels program.  Students can easily assign meaning to some of the types of blocks such as Enemy Blocks, Powerups, and Story Blocks.  This is completed through the Configure setting.

Once students have configured their game, they can choose to begin playing their game, or create their own game character.  The process for creating their own game character is very similar to creating a game board.  Students can build a game character using the Bloxels black board and take a picture.  The picture that is taken turns that character into a real game character,  The game character can then be inserted into the game and students can begin playing the game.

Bloxels has included a teachers manual with directions for playing, as well as lesson plans.  This is available both in print and online.



Recorded Version of Bloxels Presentation

Thursday, October 11, 2018

What's New With Google Classroom?

Over the summer, Google made some exciting changes to Classroom.  Some are extremely noticeable and others not so much.  If you are using Classroom on a regular basis, you may have already noticed the changes.

1.  The Stream Screen Has Changed

In the past, the Stream Screen was a place for students to view all assignments, etc.  It is now only a place for announcements or comments.  Since the switch, I have not been using this area a lot.  I make very few announcements and very few of my students comment.  If you are making many announcements and allowing student commenting, this area may work for you.


2.  The Addition of the Classwork Screen

The Classwork Screen has been added, and Students is now called People.  The Classwork Screen is the area where all assignments, and questions are added.  Teachers can also list materials.  This makes it super easy to post assignments.  Teachers can also categorize by topic.  This is my favorite addition to the new Google Classroom.  It is so much less confusing when posting assignments.


3.  The About Tab is Gone (Sort of) 

The old version of Google Classroom had an About Tab.  This was a place to share information about your class, as well as to list materials that were used on a regular basis.  Teachers can now list Materials under Classwork.  About can be found on the Stream Screen underneath your Header, now as a link.  When you click on About, you will receive information about the Class Code.  This is a more convenient way to push out the Class Code to your students.


4.  Settings All in One Place


The settings for Classroom are now all available in one place.   No more searching for how to set certain things up.  You can find settings at the top right hand side.  Here you can do things like reset the class code, decide whether to show deleted items, and set up guardian summaries.  


5.  Ability to Copy a Class

Google Classroom now gives you the ability to copy a class.  Simply go the menu that shows all of your Google Classrooms and click on the three dots.  You will see a choice to copy.  Copying does not copy your students or announcements, but will copy everything else.  This is a great timesaver, if you are doing the same curriculum/projects on a yearly basis.


6.  Feedback/Grading Workflow

Google Classroom has always given you the ability to grade assignments, but it used to be much more difficult to do this.  Now each student is listed.  You will notice as you scroll through that each assignment pops up.  Teachers are also able to give instant feedback.


7.  Ability to Turn Off Notifications

Google Classroom has always allowed you to turn off email notifications for all of Classroom.  Now teachers are able to turn off notifications for a specific class.  To do this, you must click on the menu bar to the left.  You will see notifications at the bottom.  Once you click on Notifications, you will see choices for all of your classes.  If you keep scrolling down you will see Notifications for individual classes.





Still need more information?  Please watch my video below with all the information that was presented at a live presentation I shared with my staff.


Sunday, September 16, 2018

Breakout Edu Fun

Last year, another teacher from my district I were lucky enough to get funded through our Education Foundation for six of the Breakout Boxes and a year long subscription to their games.  Most of the teachers at my school were shown on an inservice day how to facilitate a game.  In case you don't know how Breakout works, here is some quick info.

Breakout Edu is very similar to the Escape Room Experience.  Students are given a scenario that they must escape from.  Clues are both dispersed throughout your room and inside of locked boxes.  Students must solve a series of clues in order to physically break open the locked boxes.   Students work in groups to complete their tasks.  There are games available for virtually every subject available.   Preparing the boxes can take a little bit of your time, but the end result is completely worth it.  Students are engaged and excited to learn!  There are also digital games available.  In these games, students open up a virtual box by solving clues.

Here is the presentation another colleague  I created and presented last year when we shared on Breakout Edu





This past week, I worked with our 8th grade language arts teacher on a library orientation.  We decided to do a Breakout game with her four classes, in order to keep her students engaged.  Her students learned the same things they would have learned through a traditional slideshow, but it was so much better because of how involved they were in the activity.  When I started looking into a game to play, I could not find one that worked in a 15-20 minute timeframe, so I wrote my own game.  It was really easy, and really gave me a chance to be creative. 

Here was the Game:  Breakout of the Library!


  1. Students were given a clue with a key to a small box taped to the clue.  The clue led them to the library Teen Fiction shelves where a small box was put.
  2. Inside the small box was another clue which told them to look up a specific book title in Follett Destiny (our new online catalog system)
  3. Once they found the call number on the catalog they had to go over to the shelf and find that book.
  4. Once that book was found they found a QR code inside the book.
  5. They scanned the QR code with the IPad, which opened them up to a Google Forms survey
  6. Once they completed the survey, they were given a response to their survey that said "Thank you for filling out this DEAR form"
  7. They had to use their brains to figure out that Dear was really Read backwards and that word would open up the large box which held a Congratulations We Broke Out Certificate, as well as jolly ranchers.
* Sorry I do not have the QR Code saved but here is a link to a website I use to create my own QR codes https://www.the-qrcode-generator.com/
Here are some pictures of our Breakout Fun:






Are you using Breakout in your library or classroom?  I would love to hear about any exciting Breakouts you have created.


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Monday, September 3, 2018

Great Start To a New School Year

It's the night before my first day of 2018/19 school year, and reality is finally sinking in.  This was truly a summer of learning.  I started out by attending the Raspberry Picademy in Jersey City, NJ, attended and presented at ISTE in Chicago, attended the Birdbrain Technologies Training in Pittsburgh, PA in July, and presented at many of the local New Jersey conferences during my break.  I was also able to take a couple of beach vacations with my family to take advantage of my time off.

This summer, I was really inspired by so many of the Facebook posts on my many librarian groups.  Many of the posts created menus of their library services.  We have had many changes to our library over the summer and I decided to promote this to my teachers.  The theme I choose was Have a Sweet Year: Let's Collaborate.   I also decided to use my Bitmoji for all of the items I created.  If you haven't used Bitmoji, it is a great way to make things adorable and really give them a personal touch.  It's easy to create an account by simply going to https://www.bitmoji.com/  Once you create your Bitmoji you can add an extension to your desktop/laptop and even use it on your phone.

The first step I took was creating a menu of services the library can offer the teaching staff.  

I used one of my favorite programs, Canva to create my menu.  Canva makes it so easy with their easy to edit templates.  They even have Menu Templates.  If you haven't used Canva, I recommend it for any of your desktop publishing needs.  Here is my final product.


Two of the biggest changes our school library has had over the summer include a new website and switching from Alexandria to Follett Destiny.  I decided to promote both of these new programs to my staff by creating a bookmark with all the information.  I also created a bookmark that says Have a Sweet Year  I used the Google Drawing program for this.  It seems that Google Drawing is the one Google program that is under-used.  You can create anything with Google Drawings and the ability to collaborate, like all of the other Google products, makes it one of my top program picks.  Here are my completed bookmarks.






To package everything up, I purchased some adorable colored bags at the dollar store (4/$1), some avery labels to print a cute message on the bags, and some candy.  I plan to hand the bags out to teachers individually tomorrow while teachers are working on their rooms.  This will give me an opportunity to get to know my new teachers, and have some awesome conversations with teachers I already know.




Have you created something amazing for your teachers?  I would love for you to share with me what you are doing.


Friday, June 29, 2018

Our Quest For NJ Future Ready Certification

A little over a year ago, I found out about NJ Future Ready Schools.  My friend Elissa Malespina, mentioned her involvement with the program through a Twitter conversation.  I was well aware of Elissa's involvement in the national future ready initiative.  Elissa is the middle school librarian at Somerville Middle School in New Jersey.  In addition to working as a school librarian, she is the ISTE Librarians President,  a national presenter, and has received numerous technology and library educational awards.  Here is one of Elissa's presentations on Future Ready Librarians.

What is Future Ready Schools?

Future Ready Schools is a national initiative which helps K-12 public, charter and private schools prepare students for their future careers, college experiences, and citizenship by maximizing digital learning opportunities.  Superintendents can take a future ready pledge through the website Future Ready Schools  The National Future Ready Framework includes seven gears which include:  Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment;  Personalized Professional Learning; Robust Infrastructure; Budget and Resources; Community Partnerships; Data & Privacy; Use of Space and Time; Collaborative Leadership


Very soon after the national framework was defined, other frameworks that match positions held in school districts started coming into existence. 

  • Future Ready Librarians
  • Future Ready District Leaders
  • Future Ready Technology Leaders
  • Future Ready Coaches
  • Future Ready Principals
Each of these groups has their own framework, which can be found here

Once the Future Ready Librarians framework was released, I knew this was an initiative I wanted to be part of.  The framework for Future Ready Librarians makes it easy for librarians to see what they should be doing to make transformations in their space and become agents of change in their building(s)  This past week I attended the ISTE Conference in Chicago, and the new Future Ready Librarians Framework was released!  The new framework is so exciting, because Literacy is such an integral part of the framework!



In addition to providing an excellent framework, Future Ready Librarians offers many webinars, Twitter Chats, a Newsletter and in--person trainings for librarians.  Here is a direct link to their website.

What is Future Ready Schools NJ?

Future Ready Schools New Jersey is a coalition between the New Jersey Institute of Technology, the New Jersey School Board's Association, and the New Jersey Department of Education.  It is a school certification program designed to support the efforts of the national Future Ready Schools initiative.

In 2016/17 school year, Future Ready Schools NJ began creating task forces to begin writing indicators which are used in each school's certification process.  When a school decides to take the path to certification, they must produce evidence under each indicator.  The three main areas for certification include:  Leadership; Education and Classroom Practice; & Technology Support and Services.  As a district works towards certification they accumulate points to get certified, and they can get certified at either the Bronze or Silver level.  The Bronze area requires less points than the silver and is a little less involved.  Both levels however require a lot of time and effort on a schools part.  When a school begins certification efforts, there are three phases they must work through:
  • Phase 1:  District Committment
  • Phase 2:  School Participation (This is done by school and not by district)
  • Phase 3:  School Certification
The nice thing about this initiative is most of the work has been accomplished through educators of New Jersey (Classroom Teachers, Librarians, Administrators)  I was fortunate enough to serve on Task Forces, and have recently become involved in the Awards Committee.

My School's Future Ready Certification Endeavors

In April of 2017, after serving on the NJ Future Ready Schools Task Forces, I brought the Future Ready School initiative to my superintendent and director of technology.  We began communicating with Jeremy Reich (NJ Future Ready School's Project Manager) through a Skype conference.  Jeremy explained the steps to us, and we began planning our road to school certification.  In October of 2017, we attended one of the national Future Ready School Institutes in Philadelphia area.  This was very helpful and allowed the other members of our future ready team to work in breakout groups.  This spring my school began working on producing evidence to Future Ready Schools NJ.  Our technology director assigned different indicators to different members of our future ready team and we had designated work periods to complete the creation of our evidence.  On our final day of meeting, we were thrilled to welcome Jeremy Reich, Linda Carmona-Bell (NJ Department of Education) and Chris Murphy (Principal Extraordinaire from New Zealand) to our school, to show them some of the ways our school is future ready.  We are in our final stages of planning/submitting for certification and hope to receive this October of 2018 at the New Jersey School Boards Convention.

     Our Future Ready Team and Visitors Jeremy Reich, Linda Carmona-Bell, and Chris Murphy



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