Taking A Deep Breath: Course 5 Ideas

 Course Five, you’re making me queasy.

 Photo by Flickr user cutglassdecanter under CC BY-SA 2.0

Photo by Flickr user cutglassdecanter under CC BY-SA 2.0

There are so many things that are awesome about being a librarian (I have a huge “classroom”; I get to spend thousands of dollars on books; I help kids and teachers find stuff of all kinds; I work with EVERYONE!) but this is the first time I’ve thought, “I wish I was still a classroom teacher”.

Course 5 would be easier if I had complete control over my own classroom and units and could just decide what I’m going to do and when.  However, one of the other “best things” about being a librarian is that we are the ultimate collaborator.  Therefore, the biggest roadblock I’m going to face in Course 5 is find someone who willing to commit to a collaboration that is just as important to my learning as it is to the students’ learning.

On a more positive note, if I can get someone to jump on this train with me, Course 5 can be pretty exciting. After my exploration of the Course 5 examples, I am reflecting on the importance of this unit redesign not just being about one tool but being about leveraging technology to truly transform the way students are learning.  The most effective sample  Course Five projects I saw did this through the use of multiple tools, like Bringing Life to Poetry and Enhancing Book Clubs.

Techno-Gamifying LIS Reads – LIS Lê

lisreadsnormalblueLIS Reads is my biggest initiative right now, and the first three and a half months were an interesting journey. You can learn more about it on our library blog and in my previous COETAIL posts: A #ChooseKind MashUp and  Coming to a Screen Near You: LIS Reads – LIS Le.  Some aspects have been fantastic!  Sometimes it’s felt a little lackluster. The first month I had an activity in the library once a week.  In October and November I traveled quite a bit (professionally and personally) and I wasn’t able to host as many activities.  I would like to see if the use of technology can take some of the pressure off of my physical presence to make things happen.


Photo Credit: susivinh via Compfight cc

As I posted earlier, I think I can leverage our house system to use gamification and reading to enhance the impact of LIS Reads throughout the school.  Also, my last LIS Reads celebration of the year was tied to the monthly book selections, but it moved beyond into reading in general because the break was coming and I wanted to encourage any kind of reading over the break, not just LIS Reads books.  Here are a few things I am pondering:

  • Author Visits via Skype (I was quite impressed by the Skype-a-Creator project Madeline Cox did for Course 5.  At first glance, it seems simple: have some experts Skype in.  After looking more closely at her unit, it’s such a powerful example of completely changing a study in multiple ways.)
  • Virtual Book Club discussion using Google Hangout
  • LIS Reads – LIS Lê tumblr to submit Quotetastic Friday style quotes from the montly books
  • Sharing related quotes and thoughts on Twitter with #lisreads
  • Use WattPad to encourage fan-fiction pieces related to our LIS Reads – LIS Lê texts
  • Have Battle of the Books style competitions between the houses on the books at the end of the year
  • Vine Reviews of Books

Of course, a challenge of doing this through the reading program instead of through a classroom unit is that I don’t have the same students all the time.  Also, I will need to work pretty hard to ensure continuity and connection between all of these activities so that it doesn’t just become a series of unrelated tech activities. Students would end up working on a variety of skills depending on the tools they use and the activities they engage in. Obviously this idea is still in the percolating phase, but I think it has potential if I plan it out well.  LIS Reads – LIS Lê won’t kick back into high gear until February, so I’ll have some wiggle room when I get back.  In the end, I want to connect students beyond the walls of LIS, strengthen the ties to our community through our house system, and have students think about reading as more than just the act of moving from left to right and top to bottom (depending on your language and culture of course!).

Making it happen with Minecraft

Minecraft!  So excited about it!  We’ve got MinecraftEDU on 25 of our library computers, we’ve got enthusiastic teachers, and we’ve got students who are chomping at the bit to use it.  Rebekah Madrid’s post on 7th Graders (and one teacher) learning with Minecraft (as well as her offer to share her Build a City project resources with me- Rebekah, I accept!) has me pumped up to give this a try.

Photo by Wikimedia Commons contributor Adam J.W.C. under CC BY-SA 2.5

Photo by Wikimedia Commons contributor Adam J.W.C. under CC BY-SA 2.5

Our lower MYP humanities students study cities and dwellings and in the past they designed an ideal city on paper for their final product: BORING!  We wanted to give designing their ideal city in Minecraft a try last year, but it just didn’t come together in time. I know that this year’s Year 8 team is up for it, but this unit also traditionally takes place near the end of the school year. This won’t fit into our COETAIL timeline, but I noticed in Alex Gunther’s Minecraft Mania video reflection that his students hadn’t completed their unit by the COETAIL deadline either.

If I can get past the timing issue, I think this idea has the most potential because I will get to work closely with other teachers, there are clear models of other schools using this tool, and it fits well into the COETAIL course 5 format and requirements.  My students will learn to use a tool many of them enjoy in a different way; I’ll need to give up control in the sense that I am not as skilled with Minecraft as many of my students.  I am particularly pleased about the potential for focusing on collaboration and communication skills like the ones that came up in Alex’s Minecraft Mania video reflection.

Minecraft teacher avatar by deviantART user CoreFire1528 under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

Minecraft Teacher avatar by deviantART user CoreFire1528 under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

Also, there’s a growing community of LIS teachers who are very interested in using Minecraft in their classrooms.  As the librarian, I could potentially lead this as a professional learning opportunity and document the learning process of teachers as well as students.

 On the back, back burner

  • Professional Learning: I’m on our professional learning team, and the whole reason I joined was to work on growing the PLNs of our faculty.  If I want to go from the angle of librarian as professional learning leader, there’s a lot of opportunity for a Course 5 project here… if I can get teachers on board!
  • Tech Tuesday: I’m thinking about flipped classrooms and teachers and educational technology.  Tech Tuesday is great.  It’s also exhausting.  I tried alternating Tuesdays, but that wasn’t as successful as I’d hoped.  I wonder if I can conduct some kind of Tech Tuesday renovation by redefining it through the use of instead of just the study and sharing of technology…
Image by deviantART user Karen Bloodstone under CC BY-ND 3.0

Image by deviantART user Karen Bloodstone under CC BY-ND 3.0

  • World Poetry Day & March LIS Reads: Perhaps instead of attacking all of LIS Reads – LIS Lê, I should focus in on one month and transform it through technology. World Poetry Day is March 21st, and our LIS Reads – LIS Lê books are all in verse for the month of March.  Bringing Life to Poetry got me inspired, and I think I might be able to be more effective if I addressed one month as a “redefined unit” instead of trying to work on my COETAIL project from February to June.

The thing is,educational technology has been impacting how I teach and, I hope, how my students learn ever since leaving library school.  The key to a successful Course 5 project for me will be growing beyond tool by tool integration into true, long-term transformation.  I am looking forward to having the next month to ponder where I want to buckle down and make something awesome happen.

Students, we have a problem

Project Based Learning:

In project-based learning, students try to answer a question — one that has relevance for them — that is greater than the immediate task at hand.

(Project based Learning – Real World Issues Motivate Students)

Problem Based Learning

Authentic problems are primarily encountered in the learning sequence, before any preparation or study has occurred. Problems serves as a trigger for prior knowledge, which leads to the discovery of knowledge gaps. These knowledge gaps are overcome through self-directed learning.

(Transitions and Transformations in Learning and Education)

ARS Ohio processing tomato

To-MAY-toe; To-MAH-toe
By Penny Greb, USDA ARS [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

What’s the difference?

I explored a variety of explanations, but the biggest difference I noticed is that most problem based learning examples involve solving creative, interesting hypothetical, historical or based on real-life problems, whereas the best project based learning examples I saw focused on authentic real-world problems that students were actually expected to solve!  High Tech High’s Africa project blew me away.  At our school, I think we tend to do more problem based learning than project based learning, but I would love to see more project-based learning that ends with a problem-solving product.

Honestly though, this semantical discussion is silly.  Why not just have students do projects to solve real world problems and call it Learning?

Photo by Flickr user thekenyeung CC NC-ND 2.0

Photo by Flickr user thekenyeung CC NC-ND 2.0

I think the most exciting way our students get involved with real world problem solving is through our CAS and MiddleCAS programs. We have students who are working to bring Operation Smile to Angola, working to Stop Child Trafficking Now, and students who started an organization called Babushi Nation to alleviate child poverty.  These three initiatives are particularly compelling because they are completely the brain children of students with little to no push or support of the school beyond a CAS framework that requires service time and a supervising teacher to guide you through the process.

From a teaching and learning standpoint, a big step I’d like to see our school make is to engage with a specific charity or area of need in our community. The above examples I shared are powerful examples of students choosing a cause they feel passionate about and making a difference. I think, though, that if our school engaged with a limited number of specific charities,the faculty could more effectively get behind more authentic problem solving projects that will have a long term positive effect on our community.

SisterDomingasandFriendsFoundationOne of the after school activities I am involved with is Casa das Crianças, an orphanage run by Sister Domingas about an hour from our school. Around fifty children live there full time with another approximately 60 (this number fluctuates) that are regular after school visitors because their parents are working or unable to care for them full time. I arrange for our students to visit the orphanage throughout the school year to play with the children. Several of my colleagues arrange fundraisers an coordinate other activities to benefit Casa das Crianças. The next step out school could take is to commit to an official partnership with Casa das Crianças and look for ways to better the lives of these children through the learning of our children.  Off the top of my head, I’ve got lots of ideas, but the sky is the limit:

  • building a pump to bring up water instead of hauling it with a bucket
  • planning a garden space for the newly acquired lot next door
  • redesigning the small library/study room to build more effective shelving and study spaces
  • writing proposals to raise money for their needs
  • creating age appropriate play buckets to teach young children how to play
  • Developing promotional videos about the needs of the children and sharing them through social media to raise money and awareness

Of course, my ideas are not as important as the ideas of the children who live there and the adults who work there, as they are the ones who have an in depth knowledge of their need.

Technology’s Role

Photo stolen from PCGamer's article on Minecraft's Block by Block partnership with the UN

Photo stolen from PCGamer’s article on Minecraft’s Block by Block partnership with the UN

There are SO many ways technology can support either form of PBL, because at the core of modern problem solving is some form of technology, whether it’s through using social media to connect with others, to do research, or to design a solution to a specific problem. Many of our students are already using  social media like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to promote their causes. I’d love to see our school mimic the UN& Minecraft Block by Block partnership use Minecraft to design spaces at Casa das Crianças or abandoned lots in Luanda.  I think I’ve said it in every post during Course 4, but it bears repeating:

Technology is just a tool to support authentic teaching and learning. 

Building Networks

Photo by Flickr user adesigna under CC BY NC-SA 20

Photo by Flickr user adesigna under CC BY NC-SA 20

Pondering connectivism was an excellent think for me, and I was able to reflect on the activities I currently work on as well as the ones that are percolating in the back of my brain.  I connected with all of these readings, but Daniel Pink’s Drive speech at the RAS was the best.  Therefore, I’ve selected his three factors for motivation to organize my reflection: Autonomy, Purpose and Drive.


#1 Tech Tuesday: I need to schedule a round-table sharing day for people to bring in their favorite tech tools.  I also need to do more scheduled sharing by others.  My “Guest Star” days are by far the best attended Tech Tuesday (I try not to take it personally). 🙂

Photo by NASA - Public Domain

Photo by NASA – Public Domain

#2: More international collaboration through social networks: by modeling how you can make this happen for my students, I can show them how to use the world as their encyclopedia once they’re out of school. I am (still) toe-dipping stage with this, and I need to figure out what deep diving looks like without engaging in another paid for course that forces me to do it like the Flat Classroom. Twitter is of course a great resource, and I’ve started to have some nibbles through Skype for Education.


#1: MOOCs as after-school activities: The University of the People fascinated me, but I don’t think it’s relevant option for me or my students right now.  I did like reflecting on all these modern innovations when it comes to learning, and I think have students select a MOOC and take it alongside interested teachers would be amazing.


This is a tough one for me.  it’s so easy to bribe students into doing stuff you think is cool! But here’s the hard truth:

#1. I need to stop bringing candy to my library lunchtime celebrations.  Damn you Daniel Pink!  It’s time to return the motivation to come and the motivation to stay back to the WHAT of what we’re doing. If the activity itself isn’t motivating and interesting, sugary teeth-rotting candies aren’t going to make it any better. Actually, as I’ve seen recently, it will take away from the excitement for those who are truly there because they love -NaNoWriMo, LIS Reads, Reading, Gaming- since candy crashers just come take loads of freebies, half heartedly participate and leave.

#2: Connectivism is important and it is not about technology. Technology is just a toolConnectivism is about relationships: developing, nurturing and valuing relationships. I think the IB program does put relationships at the center of their program, and then it is our job as schools to work on making sure relationships are at the center of our delivery.  One of the things I think our new deputy principal is doing particularly well is putting the focus back on relationships and conversation as the primary tool for navigating “discipline”. I am trying to reflect this in my library program.

#3 READ: I think connectivism in the library is deepening my connection with students, the sense of community and developing the library as a vibrant community space. I was delighted (and a little scared) when I saw

#4 Pay people enough to take money as an issue off the table.

Bingo Number 20 by Flickr user Leo Reynolds under CC BY NC-SA 2.0

Bingo Number 20 by Flickr user Leo Reynolds under CC BY NC-SA 2.0

How do we take grades (the student version of money) off the table for students?  Well, I am still fascinated by the 20% idea, and I think if we do inquiry well, the grade part becomes less of a motivation.  Perhaps working 20% time into one of our science classes will be my Course 5 project?

FedEx day: How do we take money (the teacher version of grades) off the table for teachers? We did one of these with our secondary school faculty at work, and it was wildly successful. I think we all felt good about working at LIS that day.  And we accomplished some serious stuff!  So WHY WHY WHY WHY haven’t we built that into our classrooms?

In very small ways at LIS, we are starting. For example, I believe “read whatever you want time” is essential, and I’m proud of our Language A English classes for building this into the majority of their courses, if on varying levels.  One of my favorite manifestations of this time is in Sou Cheng Leong’s Year 7 class, where she allows students to have ownership and autonomy in this process by having a different student each month design the book report format (students vote on which one the class will do) as well as reward the best ones based on their own judgement. You can check out examples in her Year 7 Reading and Book Reports Category.

In Conclusion

I think connectivism has a place in every learning environment.  I hope to keep it in mind as work to develop the learning relationships at my school.

Flipping the Library

A central theme in all of this activity is the idea that active learning works best. Telling doesn’t work very well. Doing is the secret.

Case Studies and the Flipped Classroom


As with many subjects in COETAIL, the Flipped Classroom is not entirely new to me because of the wonderful world of Twitter; however, I appreciate the opportunity to engage more deeply with the topic and discover new resources.  For example, I wouldn’t have tripped across The National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science or Bozeman Science, both of which I can’t wait to share with my teachers when I return to school.  I already knew about the Green Brothers’ Crash Course series, but this exploration has reignited my enthusiasm for them.

As always, I also am benefiting from the reflections of my cohort members, like Mary Carley’s impassioned and much discussed Flipped Classroom – No Thank you! post. There was another post I read last week as well, which shared a similar anti-Flipped Classroom sentiment, stating that what happens in her classroom can’t be transferred to a video for outside of school.  I am inclined to agree with Mary Carley in particular, especially in an MYP school. Our MYP coordinator, Dave Chilton, is fond of saying that the MYP isn’t about covering content as much as it is about UNcovering content. Homework shouldn’t have as big of a place when you’re not worried about how much content you cover so much as what skills you develop in your students.

Homework Makes Me Tired by ~coconutgiroro on deviantART

Like most innovations in education, part so the Flipped Classroom are extremely valuable, and it should definitely not be taken completely without question.  One of the examples shared made me very uncomfortable, where prior to class, students had to watch a video, complete a quiz, and participate in an online learning environment like Facebook, all before coming to class the next day.  In a university course? Great. In a high school classroom? Ridiculous.  But I’ve seen some great examples of elements of the Flipped classroom in action, like students being able to pause and rewatch an explanation of a problem while completing their assignments.

 In the Library

To me, the library is a great place for guiltless incorporation of elements of the Flipped Classroom, because we don’t have homework! We support homework!  So whether I think flipping a classroom is great or not, whether I think students should have homework or not, my job is to make sure that LIS students are prepared to do research 24/7, whether I am around or not. That means I need to have a “Flipped Library” ready at all times, anticipating what my students will need to know.

In the past, I’ve tried to do this on our blog by sharing video resources made by others combined with my informative slides on how to use our electronic reference resources:

or how to be a more effective researcher:

While these resources do help students when I’m not around, these are just the tip of the iceberg.  I need to start doing more with screencasting to allow teachers to flip library time. Instead of always having to come to me to provide instruction for their students on how to use our resources (and spend half the visit to the library explaining how to find resources), it would be so much better if the teachers could share a short video about how to search the catalog, access Questia, limit results in the Gale databases, request materials, find their physical resources and more before visiting the library space.  Then when they arrive, our valuable time together could be spent actually using these resources, rather than teaching them how to use it and sending them off to struggle with databases on their own.

Another benefit of flipping my library instruction?  Saving my voice!  How tired am I at the end of a day of repeating the same thing over and over again?  About this tired:

So Tired by deviantART user tielkric under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

So Tired by deviantART user tielkric under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

Anyone have some great examples of librarians flipping their library instruction with research screencasts?  I’ve got lots of professional examples from companies like Follett and Gale. I want to see your average librarian’s productions.   Okay, maybe your above average librarian!

Gaming in the Library!

Level up Book ClubImmediately prior to moving to Angola, I participated in a summertime online book club for educators called the Level Up Book Club.  It was a lot of fun, taking the regular book club (read, discuss, wash, repeat) and turning it into a friendly competition that encouraged nearly constant engagement.  I read books like

I earned points for sharing resources on Twitter, participating in Twitter chats, taking photos of myself and adding them to our group Tumblr, responding to blog posts, developing resources and more.  It was an excellent example of how learning can be turned into a game, and in this case it was for adults.   I definitely engaged in this more deeply than I would have if it was merely a once a month Twitter chat, and I made connections with librarians and other educators around the globe.  In that way, this was a positive example of “gamifying” something to get me to be more motivated.  Unfortunately, as Lissa points out in her Gamification: I’m a skeptic post, this was also straight up bribing up me to do more with external rewards.  I didn’t mind because I was interested in the topic, but it sometimes rang a little false as I searched for more quotes to share on Twitter just so I could raise on the leader board, which leads me to…

My Worries

“The act of gamifying an educational experience alone is not enough to make the experience rewarding, instead it should serve primarily to make something that is already rewarding more rewarding – perhaps by encouraging learners to invest more time than they already would.” (Play As You Learn).

I sometimes feel that gamification of learning is really just trying to make something painful seem like something fun. It is so important that we remember that “gamifying” a lesson unit or learning experience is just like “technifying” it.  Gamification is a tool, just as technology is a tool. If the underlying concept and learning isn’t strong, relevant and interesting, students aren’t going to go for it and you’re left with a bunch of unused badges laying around.  We have a house system at our school which manifests itself in fairly light hearted competitions like a trivia quiz, a goofy sports day (non-traditional games that aren’t rooted in athletic talent) and a Peace Day soccer tournament.  Our house coordinator would like me to run a House competition of some kind through the library and suggested we see who checks out the most books.  I immediately frowned because I don’t think reading should be a competition, unless it’s a competition against yourself.  I am still trying to figure out how I can create a points-based competitive game related to the library that enhances a literacy or research experience rather than dressing it up.

Courtesy of Ninja Program

Courtesy of Ninja Program

Despite my concerns about the potential downsides to gamificiation, I am going to dive into Jeff Utecht’s Ninja Program with my students as an after school activity for next semester. I know my students need to improve their search skills, and I appreciate that in addition to a module focusing specifically on search, at the core of every Ninja Program module is students learning search skills to empower themselves.

The real purpose behind these quizzes [is] to find students within our schools who are willing to search and find answers. The answers themselves are not the outcome…the search skills are. Google Apps changes way too quickly for us to actually assess the knowledge of programs, but the hope is that students will get comfortable learning how to search the web, videos and the training materials so that as things change and as they help others they can find what it is they need. So to that end I encourage students to open the quiz up in one tab and search in another. This is also the reason for the Search quizzes which students might benefit from taking first (from the Ninja Program Training Concept and Purpose document).

With this purpose in mind, I’m going to give it a try.

My Thoughts

While gamification sometimes leaves me a little uneasy, game-based learning makes me smile. (Thanks again Lissa, for helping me to clarify my thoughts on this distinction through your epic post.) I love games, and so do my students.  With this in mind, last year I ran a gaming club in the library as an after school activity. Each week different students shared different games with the group (often it was a world they’d designed in Minecraft) and at the end of the nine weeks, students designed their own games.  It was a great experience and a pleasant mix of board games, card games and electronic games.  It’s something I would like to try again this year, but I also want to try using game-based learning at school through established games that have a more defined educational purpose.  Our humanities department already uses NationStates to learn about governance.  Right now

Minecraft Cosplay Riminicomics by deviantART user zinghi under CC BY 3.0

Minecraft Cosplay Riminicomics
by deviantART user zinghi under CC BY 3.0

I’m working with some other teachers at LIS to use MinecraftEdu as a teaching and learning tool.  I know we’ll start with our Year 8 humanities class designing their ideal city as the assessment task for their study on cities, but I am also excited about the potential for math, physics and literature.  Currently we’re in the early stages, gathering a group of teachers who are willing to play together just to familiarize ourselves with it as a tool. Who knows? Perhaps this will end up being my Course 5 project!

My Dreams

So, as my post probably shows, I am conflicted about this topic. I like games, love game-based learning when it’s done well (as in NationStates) and am a little worried about the cheapening of instruction through badge and leaderboard based gamification. In the midst of all of this conflict and confusion is a desire to make my LIS Reads – LIS Lê one big game.  I’d like to have it become a competition of sorts between the houses, not based on how many people have read the books, but on what we do with it after we’ve read them. I’ve got a variety of ideas, including:

  • LIS Reads – LIS Lê tumblr to submit Quotetastic Friday style quotes from the montly books
  • Sharing related quotes and thoughts on Twitter with #lisreads
  • Use WattPad to encourage fan-fiction pieces related to our LIS Reads – LIS Lê texts
  • Have Battle of the Books style competitions between the houses on the books at the end of the year

The thing is, all of my ideas right now just make it a competition, and as everything we’ve read shows, badges and leader boards do not a game make.  You need an intriguing story at the core of it, like Mario Brothers or Ju’s Ninja Math.   I need a story.  Any ideas, COETAIL friends?