Thursday, September 26, 2013

QR Codes in the Library

I had wanted to try out QR codes for a very long time but somehow it never happened. Then, a few weeks ago, as I was thinking of an engaging way for students to explore different strategies and resources on finding books for recreational reading in our library, QR codes came to my mind. Technology is always such a great motivator :)

Before beginning to make any specific plans, I asked our fantastic IT Director for his advice. What did he think of the idea in general? Would I be able to reserve some of our iPads for the day? Would our network be able to handle a whole class of students accessing videos and other online resources through QR codes at the same time? His encouraging comments convinced me to give it a try. I made a list of the strategies and resources I wanted to introduce, created and uploaded to YouTube video tutorials where needed (everything you link to with a QR code needs to be online) and then made the actual QR codes. On recommendation of a friend, I used Visualead, which allows you to create, download and embed (for free) QR codes. It's really simple and straightforward as the site leads you through the process step-by-step. Once downloaded, I printed the QR codes and attached them at their respective locations around the library.

On the day, students worked in pairs. Each pair had an iPad and a clipboard with a check list of all strategies and resources to be discovered. The ultimate task was for students to explore each strategy and resource before creating a book mark with their favourite ways of finding books to read for pleasure.

Here is what was on the list:
1. Our library's online resources, in particular the Kid Lit and Kid Lit Series tab.
2. Online catalog
3. Displays
4. Display of teachers' favourite books
5. Dewey Decimal Guide (the orange sign in the picture on the right)
6. Librarians' reader's journal
7. Quick Pick boxes
8. Reading footprints
9. Ms. Tanja reads (linking to my Goodreads and Shelfari)
10. Ask a librarian
11. Librarian's favorite search strategy
12. Book trailer corner.

Would I do this again?
Definitely! Everyone was so engaged. Plus, so many students and adults visiting the library, immediately spotted the QR codes and seemed intrigued by the idea. The QR codes turned out to be a great conversation starter as well.

Would I do something differently?
I might reduce the number of QR codes for the first session as some students seemed to rush from one QR code to the next, not spending enough time to explore the individual strategy/resource.

I am also considering to upload my videos on Vimeo rather than YouTube. Even though my videos are unlisted, I just don't like the "Suggested Videos" part - you never know what might come up.

I would use a different QR code reader (we used RedLaser, which worked fine but is designed for iPhones).

I will definitely explore in which other ways I can make use of QR codes in the library. If you have any experiences and ideas to share, I would love to hear about them. And here three of my QR codes for you to try out :)


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Some Thoughts on the Role of the Librarian in the PYP

A draft to this post has been sitting on my iPad for weeks. Instead of blogging right away about things I am pondering and wondering about, I have this habit of just jotting down thoughts on my iPad to discover them months later with the feeling it's too late to share... So many of my posts have a short life in my head or on my iPad but never make it to the blog. Here is one that survived - one that however will never be really completed as the role of the librarian keeps evolving, as I keep learning more about the PYP and about libraries in the 21st century. I love this about being a librarian - it keeps my job exciting ;)

Our school recently had an evaluation visit from the PYP and especially in the days leading up to the visit, I kept wondering what kind of questions the visiting team might bring up when I would meet with them. I thought they might want to hear from me how I saw and understood my role as librarian in the PYP. (And I really got to talk about this during the actual visit.)

While there is clearly a long list of tasks that come to mind right away or when browsing through publications on the Internet about this topic, I would define my role mainly through the following three points:

  • Providing an environment that awakens students curiosity - because without curiosity no questions and wonderings, without questions and wonderings no inquiry.
  • Helping students acquire the information literacy skills they need as inquirers, e.g. how to go about inquiry, how to formulate questions, how to search for information, how to evaluate the sources and use them ethically, etc.
  • Supporting teachers and students with resources in different formats - print, electronic, primary and secondary sources, experts!
Now I could take this one step further by asking, how do I put this into practice?

How do I get students to get curios?
  • Visually appealing nonfiction books - visual encyclopedia on animals, space, weird stuff are a hit. I don't have much yet but ordered some exciting titles for next year!
  • Thought-provoking read-alouds - there are so many amazing picture books
  • Artifacts to explore - I don't have much yet but I have a basket with items from Ghana on my desk, a Hong Kong box (includes books, flyers, maps etc.) and "Ms. Tanja's box of little things"
  • Modeling my own curiosity and wonderings - I share with students what I am curios about and keep an inquiry journal on my desk (unfortunately, it isn't well used yet, but it's a start)
  • Providing many opportunities to let students ask questions
  • Displaying student questions to signal that questions and wonderings are valued

How do I help students to acquire the skills they need as inquirers?
  • Collaborating with teachers in teaching the necessary information literacy skills when and where they are needed during units of inquiry
  • Modeling being an inquirer and information seeker
  • Following the same inquiry process when introducing authors to students in the library
  • Through detailed blog posts, letting parents in on the skills we teach and the resources we use so that they can follow up and support the inquiring from home
  • Through online tutorials and pathfinders helping students in practicing skills in their own time

How do I support teachers and students with resources?

  • Compiling print resources that support units
  • Constantly looking out for new resources and developing our library's collection, providing access to local and global information sources
  • Compiling and providing access to online resources (see HKA Primary Library Online Resources).
I would love to hear your thoughts on this...

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Ellen Leou and Lulu Enchant Kindergartners at HKA

(This is a post I recently published on my school library blog page (unfortunately password protected) after an amazing visit by Hong Kong-based children's book author and illustrator Ellen Leou. I wanted to be able for a wider community to have access to this post and therefore decided to publish it here as well - however without the many photos showing my students engaging with the author. Sorry about that. I hope you still enjoy the post - and look out for Ellen Leou and her beautiful books.)

From the moment she welcomed the children and shared the cutest video about the real Lulu, she had her audience - children and adults alike - mesmerized: Hong Kong-based children's book author and illustrator Ellen PW Leou. There was an immediate connection and we couldn't wait to hear about Lulu's adventures. Instead of reading the story word by word, Ellen told the story alongside the beautiful illustrations which she had projected on our whiteboard. She quickly drew us into the story, letting us become a part by inviting us to sing along as Lulu started off on her adventure.

While we loved following Lulu on her adventure around Hong Kong, we were equally excited about asking questions. We had so many questions about Lulu in the story, the real Lulu and the author herself. We had been well prepared, having written down our questions already the week prior to the visit. That made sure we didn't forget a single one - and Ellen Leou answered each and every question. Our questions ranged from whether the real Lulu had a tail or not to whether it is hard being a writer.

I appreciated Ellen Leou’s honesty with students when talking about the writing process. She told students that starting to write is really hard and that it takes a lot of effort to do it well, that the editing and rewriting process can be pretty boring. Yet, she encouraged students to persevere. "Writing is hard work, you keep on trying and trying until you get it right. So don't get discouraged if it doesn't work out right away." She said that trying out stories on a friend was a great way of finding out whether they were good or boring.

It was also interesting to hear her explain how she starts of and what media she eventually uses for her illustrations. Ellen always begins with the writing process. Once that is completed, she says she has the pictures clearly in her head which makes it easier to work on the illustrations. While she uses different media for her illustrations (e.g. water color, ink, pencils, Chinese brushes), she always starts out with pencil drawings. That's not surprising when looking at the illustrations which have such fine and delicate patterns. Just look a the Chinese vase on one of the first pages, drawn with so much love for detail. Amazing!

Ellen kindly stayed on after the visit and shared some more information with me about herself and her writing. One of the things that I always find most interesting when learning about an author is their motivation to write. Ellen Leou said that she loves reading. She loved and read all day long when she was little. That is definitely a perfect reason to become a writer!

The reason why her stories are set in Hong Kong, she explained, is that in her opinion there aren't many stories about what Hong Kong really is like. Most stories talk about people from Hong Kong going elsewhere and finding something magical there. She, on the other hand, wanted to open the eyes of the many children growing up in Hong Kong, to the beauty of their city. It's all about perspective, she says, and wants us to focus on what we see around us. She made an amazing comparison, which was a true eye-opener for me: It's the stories that bring the magic to a place, making a city special and romantic. When we come to a city, we bring stories that we have heard from others, like some extra luggage with us. "The stories people tell about a place are part of the magic of that place". I am glad that you brought some of this magic to our library!

Since the author's visit, whenever I run into a kindergarten student, Lulu, the Hong Kong Cat is mentioned at some point. There is still so much talking, so much excitement about the visit in the air, it is wonderful. During the past week, we made some more time, to reflect about the experience and to think about what we learned from it. Our kindergartners did a wonderful job in sharing their learning through writing, drawing and speaking. Here a few examples:

- the author writes a lot about Lulu
- the author's real cat is also called Lulu
- the real Lulu also has no tail
- the author got Lulu from her friend
- the author puts many animals in her stories
- there are different settings in the book
- she is a good story writer
- writing stories is hard
- authors know their stories so well they can tell them without looking at the words.

The number one question, on the other hand was, where and how the book can be bought! And isn't this exactly what we are hoping for our students when we invite authors, that they mesmerize the kids with their stories, that they can think of nothing else but getting the book to read and treasure the story over and over again?



Saturday, February 16, 2013

Tuning in... to another PD opportunity

I feel fortunate to be able to attend some more PD beginning tomorrow. This time it will be an IB workshop here in Hong Kong on the PYP Exhibition:

"The Primary Years Programme (PYP) exhibition represents a significant event in the life of a PYP school and student, synthesiszing the essential elements of the PYP and sharing them with the whole school community. As a culminating experience it is an opportunity for students to exhibit the attributes of the International Baccalaureate (IB) learner profile they have been developing throughout their engagement with the PYP.” (Exhibition guidelines).

The workshop leader has set up a website which includes some readings for the workshop. Exploring the website and spending time with the reading materials was a great opportunity to "tune in" to the topic – and get excited about the workshop. I especially enjoyed reading the following three articles:

 Misconceptions about Curriculum-as-Inquiry Framework (Jann Pataray-Ching and Mary Roberson)
Developing Inquiries (Ann Hickey)

In order not to create another super long post, here just some quotes and thoughts that resulted from reading Pataray-Ching & Roberson’s article.

“The inquiry cycle […] provides a curricular framework that puts the learner at the center of the curriculum and establishes seamless and ongoing connections between learning and inquiry.”

“[…] inquiry-based curriculum is built from learners’ interests and must be personally and socially significant to spur lifelong curiosities, lifelong wandering and wondering.”

“Misconception 1: Inquiry is too complex for young learners. - […] Research shows that children as young as infants and toddlers actively inquire throughout their daily lives and are indeed able to understand complex thought, even prior to school.”

“Misconception 2: Inquiry is just a fancy name for doing research. - […] inquiries involve a series of experiences that extend beyond the simple search for answers in a textbook or encyclopedia, making the traditional view of student research  subset of, rather than another name for, inquiry. A goal of inquiry classrooms, then, is to help learner move beyond perceiving inquiry as looking up information in textbooks and encyclopedias and to adopt a philosophical stance of viewing learning.”

(I think this is the most thought-provoking part of the article for me because what I usually do in the library is focus on just this small part of the inquiry. I put too much focus on information retrieved from books and websites, no including enough other sources of information and experiences. I wonder how I can make that better…)

“Misconception 3: The duration of inquiry studies should be no more than two weeks. - […] Providing children time for inquiry exploration is vital. […] prolonged thought of, and extended interactions with, an inquiry experience encourages interconnection and a deeper sense of knowing.”

“Misconception 4: In an inquiry classroom where learners are responsible for gathering resources and information, the teacher does not need to teach. – […] the inquiry teacher works to establish and organize a climate for inquiry so that students develop the tools to explore their curiosities and become more thoughtful, reflective, and inquisitive individuals.”

(I would have added here that we also provide them with the necessary skills, in my case for example in teaching them how to search for information sources efficiently.)

“Misconception 5: Inquiring through disciplinary perspectives and sign system perspectives is no different than planning integrated units of study. – […] when children inquire through disciplinary and sign system perspectives, their questions drive the curriculum. However, in integrated untis of study, the predetermined infusion of content areas dictates the curriculum, preventing children’s authentic questions from emerging.”

“Misconception 6: An inquiry curriculum is impossible to implement because teachers have so many other subjects to teach. – […] An inquiry curriulum is not intended to be another “teaching idea” added onto the existing curriculum. It is a philosophical framework that guides instruction.”

“Misconception 7: It is worthless to implement an inquiry curriculum because it cannot be graded. – […] inquiry classrooms redefine grading. Evaluation is essential but its primary purpose is to support student reflection and growth so that learners are equally responsible and accountable for their learning. […] When children are responsible for evaluation, they have a greater personal investment in their own learning process and personal growth.”

“Misconception 8: Implementation of an inquiry curriculum does not guarantee that students will score better on standardized tests; therefore, the curriculum is useless. – […] Research indicates that students in whole language classrooms did as well or better on standardized tests compared to students in skills-oriented and phonics-based classrooms […] and that students’ test scores increase in inquiry classrooms.”

“Misconception 9: Students should not inquire about the same topic throughout the school year because students will fail to learn the “common stock of knowledge” that society expects all educated persons share. – […] Inquiry, when used to support children’s ongoing questions, has tremendous potential for lifelong learning. Students learn the values of longevity, persistence, depth of exploration, and continual questioning, qualities that can be applied to learning any concept or topic, qualities that prepare students for the 21st century.”

I also liked how the authors describe the six roles the inquiry teacher takes on in the classroom:
  1. Inquirer
  2. Supporter of learning culture
  3. Listener and observer
  4. Question poser
  5. Organizer
  6. Co-learner 

I guess I picked this article to share a bit more because it somehow addressed one of the questions I have regarding Exhibition: what do you do when students realize when looking for information sources on their topic that there aren’t any or none age-appropriate? Do you steer students towards another topic? So far, I would have said, steer them towards another topic. But after reading this article I am thinking maybe this is just because I think of inquiry too much as traditional research, finding answers in books and webites…

I hope that participating in the workshop will help me to find an answer to this questions and show me in general how I can support students better with Exhibition – and I am sure this is not just during the actual Exhibition period but throughout the PYP.

Monday, February 11, 2013

21st Century Learning Conference – Reflections from an Amazing Learning Experience

After years of following this amazing event via tweets from my Twitter PLN, I was finally able to attend in person – what an amazing experience! Since I took part in the pre-conference for librarians with Debbie Abilock as well, I got three days of exciting and motivating learning experience through keynotes, panel discussions, workshops and unconference sessions. I listened to and was engaged in presentations on how technology has the potential - when used in the right way - to extend and redefine learning for our students. Here are some of my thoughts and some of the resources I took away from this.

Preconference with Debbie Abilock on developing friction in the research process

One of the most powerful aspects of attending conferences and workshops is the opportunity to reflect on my own practice and what I am learning. And just as I encourage my students to do, I am sorting it here into three categories:

(1) Things I knew already and/or found confirmation to continue doing:
  •         Kids love the easy-way out when looking for information, making Google and Wikipedia their preferred one-stop.
  •         Giving students choice during inquiry is a powerful motivator as it gives them ownership in their learning – this can be in regard to the question(s) they pursue or the way they present their learning
  •         A powerful provocation at the beginning of an inquiry is key to get students’ interest and attention but also helps them in building context. (Debbie Abilock referred to it as “setting the table” – I love that expression!)
  •         It is important to teach students how to evaluate resources.
  •         Students need to learn to cite sources manually, thereby the focus not being on the commas and the periods but rather the understanding of the pieces of information that go into a citation and where to find them.

(2) Things I learned:
  •        ThingLink is a great web tool for annotating pictures, which can then become a powerful resource for a provocation at the beginning of an inquiry or for introducing/teaching students about the concept of “tagging”. Here an amazing list of links to Image Sources.
  •        Noodle Tool offers some free resources for evaluating and citing sources: Show Me Information Literacy Modules. Individual pages can easily be embedded in websites. I found especially the pages that show students where to find what piece of bibliographic information very useful.
  •         WolframAlpha – a totally intriguing computational knowledge engine – I could imagne that this is another great resource to get an inquiry started.
  •         (You can find all of my notes in this public Google Document). 

(3) Things I am now wondering about:
There was lots of talk about Google searches and Wikipedia. Listening to the comments and remarks of the presenter as well as the other participants made me wonder whether my practice was the right one. I encourage/ expect our Primary School students to follow a sequence of search strategies, beginning with World Book Online, then moving on to the library’s online catalog (we use Follett’s Destiny - Library search for books and WebPath Express for websites), then go to online subject directories such as KidsClick – and only if students still haven’t found enough information at this point will they go to a kid-friendly search engine such as KidRex.

I have thought about this quite a bit since the conference and while there is much value in the points made, I am not convinced that introducing these skills in Primary School would help my students. I agree that it is important to teach students how to use Google and Wikipedia efficiently and appropriately, but at a later stage, let’s say in Middle School. I think it otherwise overwhelms kids who have no or little experience with any kind of search engines or databases. Let them practice skills such as identifying keywords and making searches in an online catalog first. Not only will they will find it much easier to learn how to apply and build on these skills when learning to conduct efficient searches on Google but it also enables them to be successful in locating and using information with little or no assistance early on. When talking about this with my students, I compare searching the Internet with learning how to drive a car: no one starts on the super highway, we all start on smaller roads and as our confidence and skills increase, we try out bigger roads.

Day 1: Keynotes and Extended Workshop

Two fabulous keynotes and an amazing extended workshop on the use of iPads in the classroom showed what potential technology has to transform and enhance the learning of our students. Here some thoughts and ideas I took away:

Nichole Pinkard “Digital Youth Network: a framework for developing youth's new media literacies”
  •         Kids need an audience relevant to them for what they create. Creating a global audience is a motivator for their work.
  •         The question is how we can begin to give credit for what kids do outside of school.
  •         We need to enable kids to have learning opportunities in all spaces (school, after school, community, home) they spend their time in.
  •         Does digital media take away from traditional literacy? Dr. Pinkard says no, it enforces traditional literacies!
  •         What does it mean to be literate? It's not just about reading and writing anymore. Kids have to be able to communicate in multiple ways.
  •         Participation gap: those who can create with media vs those who only consume. Kids have access to the technology but unequal access to opportunities to the learning on how to use them efficiently.
  •         An environment can be created that makes up for the participation gap, e.g. libraries as spaces where students create!
  •         Libraries are turning into exciting learning hubs with mobile learning devices (I love this!).
  •         Students need to consciously critique the media they consume before they create their own.
  •         Check out Dr. Nichole Pinkard’s project website.

Jenny Lane: “The Power of Social Networking to Promote 21st Century Learning”
  •         Don't turn your iPad into an expensive notepad when using it in your classroom.
  •         An iPad is not a computer but a mobile device. It has lots of other (additional) functions and should not be considered as a replacement.
  •         Mobile learning is changing the space in which we are learning: pedagogical space, virtual space & physical space.
  •         Mobile devices allow your students to take the teacher home.
  •         Mobile devices allow you to take your classroom into the world.
  •         Check out Dr. Jenny Lane’s blog.

The most important thing I learned, even before going into the extended special session on alternatives to the iPad is that there is no alternative, at least not in my opinion and not for my situation. None of the other tablets the panel speakers introduced offer such a wide range of applications that allow technology to redefine the learning and not just substitute the tools of traditional teaching and learning strategies. An iPad is not meant to replace a desktop computer or Macbook but rather provide additional and new opportunities for teaching and learning.

John Burns: Transforming Learning with the iPad
I loved how John Burns in his presentation introduced and provided demonstrations of apps, categorized according to the level of transformation they provide (i.e. from substitution, augmentation, modification to redefinition). The aim is here to get away from merely substituting traditional tools with technology but rather reach redefinition of the learning through the use of technology: Check out all the fantastic apps he introduced here.

It made total sense and I thought then and there that I should rearrange the apps on my iPad in this way. I think it is important that we are at all times aware of what we are trying to do with the technology. John Burns’ enthusiasm was contagious and convinced me that at this point there is no other device that could offer so much to student learning, all in one device. (It also made me wish I had an iPad with more storage space ;)

The session also addressed important issues about the implementation and management of the devices within a school: iPads need to get into the hands of teachers first – the key element to a successful implementation; and iPads are best managed in smaller numbers, not more than 5 devices attached to one account.

Day 3 More keynotes and presentations

Jeff Dungan: iPad in Reader’s and Writer’s Workshop
  •         It’s all about assessment when using the iPad in literacy instruction: assessment by teacher, peers and self.
  •         Big plus of using iPads in readers & writers workshop: it motivates students – and helps teachers with the process of recording and assessing student learning.
  •         Confer app is an amazing resource for the teacher to use during reader’s and writer’s workshop. It takes some time setting up but once it's all in place, what a great tool to keep track of students' progress!
  •         Recommended reading and a good starting point on how to make use of technology in literacy instruction even though published in 2009: Troy Hick’s The Digital Writing Workshop.

This post is becoming longer and longer and I feel I need to come to an end even though I still haven’t covered all, like the interesting sessions on teachers as lifelong learners, the opening keynote on how technology affects the brain, the session on funky ways of teaching kids about copyright, the unconference session on making thinking visible, the inspiring and highly entertaining closing keynote by D.D. Meyer and the many great resources shared (have a look at my Diigo for more). I guess it will still take me a long time to really process everything that I heard and learned.

But there is one more thing I want to mention here. Something that has had a huge impact on my learning during this conference – as it has on my professional development over the past two years: Twitter. What an amazing difference Twitter has made to my learning, and what an amazing tool it can be to record and sort out my thoughts as well as share what I am learning with others. I did a lot of learning and sharing – also as a thank you to the many people who have tweeted from past confernces, allowing me to participate even when I couldn’t attend in person. Here you can see all of my tweets (and the tweets of other participants) in one place:

It was of course also fabulous meeting so many of my Twitter friends for the first time in person!

Last but not least, check out Dianne MacKenzie’s reflections from the conference. She has done an amazing job in writing down her thoughts and in compiling the best resources shared.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Stretching my reading (and blogging?) life in 2013

 “No one who reads should apologize for their preferences and reading experiences, but we can aspire to stretch ourselves or fill any perceived deficits in our reading lives.” (Donalyn Miller)

 I recently came across this sentence in a blog post by Donalyn Miller aka the Book Whisperer. While I follow the ideas and experiences she shares throughout the year, I especially look forward to her posts towards the end of a year. I know that she will give me some great ideas when thinking about setting goals for my reading life. The end of 2012 was no exception to this and so I decided to aim at stretching my reading experience during 2013, by aiming to include more titles from genres I usually (with much success) ignore; science fiction for example. I am really exited about this idea because I know that I will thereby discover some great new stories.

Once I had decided to work on stretching my reading life, I thought why not apply the stretching idea also to some other areas such as the sharing of my reading and learning through various social media and my blog. It's not that I haven't tried it before - and failed even though constantly encouraged by friends (thanks for not giving up on me, Edna) - but somehow I never got very far with my blogging. Let's see how it goes this year :)
If you are just like me, trying to get into blogging, here a wonderful post with excellent tips:

10 Tips for (Reticent) Bloggers...