Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Enthusiasm Overflowing!

From kindergarten to fifth grade, there is a palpable sense of enthusiasm when the students enter the PES Media Center.  It is rare to see a student arrive without a smile or a look of anticipation.  From the moment the students enter the learning space, I believe they sense that their presence is not only welcomed but valued.  They are thriving.  Experiencing a variety of learning opportunities is a weekly occurance.  

The success of our media center program requires a whole school commitment.  I must acknowledge our wonderful volunteers and our outstanding library paraprofessional, Mrs. Connie Yacavone.  Together, we have created a team that is student-centered.  Our success also requires teacher support and buy-in.  Our flexible schedule demands collaboration which is essential for meaningful integration of information literacy skills and technology integration.  PES teachers embrace this partnership and it is resulting in student success.  The next ingredient for a successful media center is parent support.  As you read through today's post, you will see how parents are enthusiastically participating by embracing media center-home connections.  Of course, it takes administrators at the building and district level who value information literacy skills, creativity, innovation, and desire to foster lifelong readers and learners.  It's a great time to be the media specialist at PES!

An overview of the week in review (November 17-November 21).

The following video demonstrates how families embraced a challenge to extend learning during International Picture Book Month.  K-2 students enjoyed analyzing the illustrations in Randy Riley's Really Big Hit by Chris Van Dusen.  Like Randy, they too could create a robot out of recyclable materials.  Take a peak:

I especially appreciate my time with fifth graders--probably because this is my only year with the students since they will be moving on to middle school next year and I just arrived to PES this year.  The past few weeks, the students delved into research for their science unit by utilizing print and digital resources.  It was exciting to utilize Edmodo with the students for the first time.  This platform includes launching various apps.  For research, the InstaGrok app is incredible.  We met in the computer lab for our intro lesson to these tools.  The students continued research during their science block, utilizing both print and digital resources to gather enough information to answer essential questions created with Mr. Battaglia.  It was great to see how seamless our initial work in September with questioning strategies transferred to this inquiry project. In addition, I love meeting with the teachers and discussing how to update presentation skills and products.  Mr. Battaglia was eager to embrace change--so an essay underwent a makeover and became a greenscreen video product.  Having students demonstrate new understandings in ways that require problem solving, creativity, and speaking with authority is essential.

Take a look at a session with the students once research was completed and storyboarding finalized.  It was time for product creation.

The following video is an example of a draft of the final product.  
The last piece the students need to add is a "Works Cited" list.

What I love about using the iPads for creation is the ability to smash apps.  We used Tellagami, Doink Green Screen, and iMovie.  The power of the iPad is in creating.  Utilizing any app that saves creations in the camera roll is the key to app smashing.  Students also used web-based tools such as Discovery Education and InstaGrok.  The students are proficient in searching for images through google by filtering for usage rights.  

App smashing forces students to push their thinking and problem solve to figure out how they can merge various apps to create the product they need to deliver/transmit their message/learning.  It is teaching students to not be satisfied with using only one app, since there are often limitations in the functionality of each app.  It really provokes the "what if" kind of thinking that is a prerequisite to innovation.   

What's to come in December?  Teachers in grades 3 and 4 start their second rotation of collaboration in the media center.  Look for more examples of student learning in the next blog post!  

And... you will read more about how a grade 4 collaboration grant was approved by CSDE!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

It's Been a Whirlwind of Active Learning

I cannot believe it has been over a month since I last posted!  Our new schedule continues to prove effective since it provides great flexibility in meeting the needs of our learners.  Let me provide you with another example of the impact our flexible schedule is having on student learning. 

Focus: Grade 4

For this first collaborative project, the 4th grade team met with me before school on Fridays.  They chose to meet on a day when we are not contracted to report to school at 8:10AM. Yet, if you walked into Mrs. Matthew's classroom around 8:10AM on a Fridays in October, you would have found us gathered around various devices, curriculum materials, cups of tea/coffee, and heard collaborative conversations.  You would have left the room exhilarated--just like us!   It was true collaboration--we would leave each planning session with a firm grasp of "our plan" not mine or theirs--but ours.  Sharing skills, strategies, resources, our unique perspectives and talents allowed the unit to develop into something so much more than if we taught the unit in isolation.

Since the 4th grade social studies unit was Native Americans of Connecticut, we felt it lent itself perfectly to research and creation.  First, the students learned how to use Discovery Education (specifically the assignment section) to locate relevant facts related to Native Americans.  I had selected a number of video clips from Discovery and created an assignment in which the students would access just those assets.  The goal was to build background knowledge.  Therefore, locating information within a resource was the skill being developed versus locating the resource itself-that's why it made sense to create a curated list of resources for the students.  The students learned that many DE resources include a transcript of the video.  This proved to be a valuable support in taking notes and recording keywords and facts accurately.  The next session, the students accessed text resources from ICONN related to the topic.  Again, I located resources that were relevant and included a read-aloud feature (which would support the students since the text was complex in nature), and embedded the links into a Discovery Education assignment.  This way, the students had another exposure to utilizing DE.

Next steps:  Now that the students built background knowledge and were assigned to a group with a clear focus for their inquiry, we were ready to tackle print materials.  The beauty of the flex schedule is that we were able to schedule blocks of research time in the media center (consecutive days when necessary) so the students could read and extract relevant information from a variety of print books (a collection I pulled from our library and a collection I borrowed from Southbury Public Library).     The classroom teacher and I were able to guide the students through note-taking using a graphic organizer (a web with questions) and showing them how to cite their resources in a simplified way. Next, the students were taught how to locate and filter images by usage rights when utilizing Google Images.



Once the students were able to answer their inquiry questions, they were ready to create a product/presentation to share their knowledge.  This is where there was flexibility within each homeroom class as to what the final product would look like.

Again, because we have a flex media center schedule, we were able to create a 2 hour session in which the students used technology, crafts, their research notes, the space--to create without being interrupted.

iMovie is a great tool to record a brief overview of the process undertaken by the students.  It builds excitement for the community as they get a sneak peak of what is coming next. Take a peak at Mrs. Corbin's class as they take their research notes and create a storyboard for an ebook. Once the storyboard was created, the students would create an "ebook-like" product using the app Educreations.

Mrs. Corbin's Class

Mrs. Matthew's invited a group of parents to assist with each table.  Each group had decided ahead of time, what visual product they would create to represent their particular topic within this inquiry project.  Take a sneak peak at their "creation block."

 Mrs. Matthew's Class

Mr. Maunsell's class combined both aspects: the students set-the stage for a "How-to-Video" by creating an artifact to serve as a visual representation of their inquiry.  Take a sneak peak at this creative session.
Mr. Maunsell's Class

Providing time for students to dig-in, collaborate, problem-solve, think critically about new learning, and then express knowledge to others is critical, engaging, motivating, and fun.  When a student popped into the media center one morning to check-out a new book, she had this to say, "Is today our research time for Native Americans?  I LOVE researching!"

Another group was given a one minute warning to wrap up their session since it was almost recess time, and I actually heard groans of disappointment!  Now tell me FLEX SCHEDULE in the media center was not the best administrative decision made for students!  Thank you Region 15 for committing to creating effective media centers with full-time certified media specialists--not the norm in many communities throughout the state and country.

Here is a sample of the final products created by Mrs. Corbin's students:
Native American Tools
Life of a Warrior

Here is a sample of Mr. Maunsell's How-To-Videos:
The Way of The Warriors-How to Make a Bow
How-to-Basket Weave

Mrs. Matthew's class is creating a "Museum" display for parents.  More to come...

To see the rest of the projects and to learn more about the "Happenings at PES Media Center, visit: