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Being #FutureReady

Future Ready Librarian

For the past two school years, I have been on the Future Ready Committee at my school and it’s been a wonderful experience.  I am lucky enough to work in a district that consistently embraces the newest technologies and methodologies in education.  This allows our students to be immersed in a blended learning environment throughout their school days, which they can all take part in thanks to our 1:1 program.

We are located in New Jersey and were able to take part in their Future Ready Schools certification program.  Each school in the district must apply separately to receive their own certification, and once again, all of our schools were able to achieve this!  It’s a great reassurance to know that you, your colleagues, and students are all working together to prepare for the future.

The Future Ready Schools of New Jersey look at various aspects within in each school that fit into one of three categories:  Leadership, Technology Support & Services, and Education & Classroom Practice.  Topics such as “Local and Global Outreach,” “Digital Citizenship,” and “Equitable Access” are all explained and guidelines are set.  It is then the job of our own school committees to provide information and examples to prove that we are meeting all set guidelines.  If a school can show a certain number of these characteristics and qualities within the school community and practices, then the school earns Future Ready status.

It has been an interesting learning experience as an educator to think about everything we do in and outside of the classroom on such technical terms, but at the same time, it is extremely validating to know that what we do has tremendous worth.  For instance, last fall, I attended the NJASL (New Jersey Association of School Librarians) Conference, and they had a Future Ready panel encouraging every school librarian in attendance to assist in getting their respective schools and districts involved.  I was proud that my school and district were already certified, and felt a sense of happiness in my educational and professional experiences. Working on the Future Ready Committee at my school has informed me of so much. I have learned about what my fellow teachers do in their classrooms and the tools and techniques they utilize. I have learned about what my administrators and technology team do “behind the scenes” to assist in ensuring everything is up to date and prepared for our students, staff, and overall community. And, I have learned that we are all taking great steps to be the best we can, in order to give our students the strongest support possible. As a school, we are constantly taking risks and willing to “teach outside the box” in order to learn and grow altogether.

If you are working or are associated with a school and/or district that is not yet involved in the #FutureReady movement, I urge you to become informed about it soon!  It is a wonderful process and bolsters everyone that takes part!  After all, isn’t our number one job as educators to prepare our students for the future?

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Full #STEAM Ahead!

 

Back in the summer, when I was mapping out my curriculum for my library media center classes this school year, I really wanted STEAM to be the foundation of everything we do.  For those of you not in the know with this trending educational acronym, STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math (and was formerly known as STEM).  The first big project that I did with my fourth, fifth, and sixth graders was Designing Your Own Dream Playground.  Students had to first sketch out a blueprint for their designs and placement of their playgrounds.  Then, they needed to build a small model of their designs using recyclable materials (see left photo above).  The entire process was fun and I was rather impressed with the finished products.  The sky was the limit in terms of their imaginations, and many of my students pushed themselves to create amazing playgrounds.

I also implemented Free Time Activities this year.  Because most of my curriculum relies heavily on project-based learning, my students work at their own pace.  And, as anyone who’s ever worked with children knows, kids work at various speeds and abilities.  I wanted my students to be productive from the minute they walk into the library media center, to the minute they walk out.  So, Free Time Activities seemed like the perfect solution!  I created a chart in the corner of my room that colorfully displayed the various tasks that a student could choose from once they’ve completed their required assignments and/or work for that day.  These activities range from blogging and reading to building with Legos and K’nex.  Additionally, I implemented a makerspace area to help make many of these tasks available.  It is simply a shelving unit filled with any item that could possibly help create, such as yarn, pipe cleaners, tape, markers, and paper tubes.  Certain Free Time Activities are also supported by “challenge cards.”  For example, the Lego station and K’nex kit come with baskets filled with cards with a number of challenges written on them; and the makerspace area has a basket of STEAM challenges.  The students have really enjoyed having the right to choose and navigate how they want to explore and learn (see right photos above).

So far I’ve loved the changes I’ve implemented this year, and I can’t wait to see how it evolves with time.  I recommend giving it a try in your own classrooms and seeing how you can make room for activities like these.  Take that risk!  I’m sure you’ll be amazed with the wonderful results!

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The Power of Flexible Seating

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Some may have some doubts or concerns when they see a set of ‘bouncy balls’ in a classroom, which is quite understandable.  However, I saw it as a chance to enhance not only the furniture and overall look of the space, but also to further student engagement in all aspects of study during my lessons.

This week, provided my first chance to test this all out.  Along with the colorful, bouncy balls, I also provided area mats, floor pillows, and a small ‘cafe’ table.  Upon entering the library media center, the students’ enthusiasm and excitement were visible instantly.  There was a lot of celebration and questions, and they were all very eager to try out all these new things.  But, there was a catch…

They had to earn it.

I took the opportunity of it being the first days of school to test the waters with all of my classes.  I had them sit on their ‘old,’ regular tables and chairs for the majority of the class.  I explained to them that if their behavior was great during the first half of class, I would allow some free reading time in a seat of their choice.  Most of my classes took the challenge head-on.  They wanted to get to move around and try out new things.  Their maturity and dedication was rewarded, and they were able to choose their seats at the end of class.

As seen in the photo above, the end result was amazing.  It took them a couple minutes to get settled and find balance, but after a quick ‘tutorial’ on how to sit on them without slipping or falling, the students were loving it!  They found the happy medium of light bouncing or rolling while reading their books.  It made my heart smile watching the risk pay off.  Instead of trying to talk, making noise, and interrupting their peers, my students focused their energy into their new seats.

Flexible seating will work.  It just takes some patience.

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MinecraftEDU-ing

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My school is welcoming MinecraftEDU to its library media center curriculum.  After getting all the details and kinks ironed out, we were able to introduce it to the six graders.  Suffice it to say, when they walked into the LMC and saw Minecraft on the desktops, they were literally jumping from joy.

I will admit, I have very little knowledge about the Minecraft world and all the fine points in mastering the creation and survival modes.  However, this was not the least bit of a concern with these groups of kids!  It was spectacular to see them working together as a group–creating worlds, building and gathering, cooperating and communicating.  All the student-driven skills that educators strive to see and ‘make happen’ in their classrooms was organically occurring.  And it was all thanks to Minecraft!

Because we rolled it out just a couple weeks before the end of the school year, I was unable to see its full potential.  But, I am already gathering and preparing lessons that can incorporate Minecraft into my curriculum, and with my students, I hope we can create worlds that mirror famous scenes from books.  We can bridge that connection between the gamer world and the literary world.  And with time, I hope we can expand this technology to the other grade levels as well.  Let’s spread the joy!

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Teaching Our Children the Foundations of Research

img_1484For the four grade levels I teach, my current unit for all students is a research project.  I selected four different topics and grouped my students into pairs or threes; they are to conduct proper research and create a Google Slides presentation.  The topics are as follows:

  • Grade 3–origin of a holiday
  • Grade 4–significant person or group in Black History
  • Grade 5–exploration of  a specific science topic
  • Grade 6–background and historical information about a state

In a previous lesson based around plagiarism and bibliographies, I reviewed with all of my students what exactly constitutes plagiarism and how to conduct responsible research.  They also learned how to give credit to their sources through a bibliography.  We are now bringing these learned ideas into practice through this project.  I am allowing my students to explore (with certain guidelines) and create a slideshow presentation reviewing their findings.

For the third and fourth grades, they are asked to use Kidtopia and Infotopia–simply to ensure their search results are safe and appropriate.  For the fifth and sixth grade, they are asked to utilize PebbleGo Next, which our district had purchased in the summer.  This basic database designed for children has ‘science’ and ‘states’ sections, so it works wonderfully with their respective projects.

Of course they are learning about their topics through their research and work, but the skills I want them to truly perfect are responsible research and proper citation.  These are educational building blocks that will stay with them through high school and higher education.  And, within the first day of creating their Google Slideshows, most of my students already have a bibliography slide on which they are posting their resources.  I am happy to see them become responsible students and researchers.

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Elementary Bloggers

During the summer, when I was planning my curriculum for the upcoming school year, I immediately wanted to tackle blogging.  The foundation of everything I do as a school librarian is literacy; what better way to approach this than through a fun tech-based lens?  I wanted to do it across the board–grades three through six.  During my first few minutes of every class, when I introduced blogging to my students and told them they were to create their own blogs, I instantly saw a mix of excitement and trepidation looking back at me.  This in and of itself said it all.  Children want to learn these “adult” technological skills, but may need some guidance to do so.

At first, I wanted to use a website (like WordPress) to streamline the blogging process with my students, but unfortunately, because of “heavy traffic from our server,” they all crashed or froze.  I was disappointed to see that even the education geared blogging websites did not do well when twenty-some-odd students tried to create accounts.  So it was onto plan b!  Since we were a Google district, and all of my students had their own Chromebooks, I decided to simplify things and use Google Sites for our classroom blogging needs.  And although it’s not exactly the aesthetic I was envisioning back in the summer, it is getting the job done and allowing my students to create their blogs.

I plan to have this be something they will revisit time and again for the rest of the school year.  They are starting out slow by completing a creative writing prompt as their first posts, and personalizing “the look” of their blogs.  But in the future, I will ask them to upload their projects and various other works.  The goal is for them to have a “blog portfolio” of sorts in June that they can look back on to see all they’ve accomplished in their library class.

It doesn’t matter what subject area or grade you teach; blogging can be applied and incorporated with every classroom.  Try it out for yourselves!

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Makerspaces in Action: Cardboard Challenge

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When I heard about the Global Cardboard Challenge, I absolutely had to get my school involved!  I felt that this activity would be a wonderful way to get my feet wet with my classes in the makerspace ocean.  The idea is simple but the possibilities are endless–students take recyclable materials (mainly cardboard) and build something from their imagination.  It was a low-cost event that was easy to plan and execute.

I decided to make this a pre-holiday-break event, and about a month before, I began to reach out to the entire school community with a simple flyer and urged students and staff alike to donate cardboard, plastic bottles, egg cartons, tape, glue, etc.  The materials came streaming in and it was amazing to see just how much accumulated in the library media center in the weeks before the Cardboard Challenge.  Everyone from my third graders all the way up to my sixth graders are enjoying sketching out their designs and slowly bringing their creations to life.  As one fifth grade student put it:  “The library class is so much fun!  I have never done anything like this before!”  It is amazing seeing my students tap into their imagination and take ownership of the lesson and their learning.  Watching them testing out different techniques and discussing plans while building is absolutely wonderful.

I have never taken on such a massive makerspace activity, but this will certainly not be the last time!  I urge all of my fellow educators to try this and other makerspace events out.  Let your students take the reins in their own education; you will not be disappointed.

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