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. 

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?

Moving towards SAMR-fication

Like other COETAILers, the Mark Presnky article about doing New Things in New Ways with technology has had me continually reflecting since Course One on the validity and effectiveness of how I am using technology as a librarian.  While I am using a lot of technology (blogs, wikis, Diigo, Google Drive, podcasts, Glogster, and iMovie for starters), only some of these have transformed learning in a way that couldn’t be done as effectively without the technology. I do not think, however, that I have done anything truly new. On the flip side, I feel like I am going a long ways towards transforming the use of technology in teaching and learning at LIS.  With that in mind, here are my thoughts on our movement towards SAMR so far.

What We’re Doing

Library as a Virtual Space

Screen shot 2013-09-14 at 3.30.22 PMHaving an effective website is one of the most important parts of being a librarian, and I am pretty pleased about the current state of our library website.  There are lots of things I can and will still do with it, but I think this is the key thing I’m doing that can be checked as at least an M if not partly an R on the SAMR scale and transformation on the Technology Integration Matrix , particularly in terms of making resources available to all students simultaneously.   Students are able to access a wide variety of resources to support them in their literacy, research and technology pursuits 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Also, there is opportunity for exchange and sharing of resources. Students have been added to the library blog as student bloggers (to add recommendations and reviews), but no student posts have happened yet.

What I would like to do is figure out how to make it a more interactive site, where students can contribute content without having to make every single kid at school a guest blogger.  My gut feeling is that means I need to push the content towards the students through automated posting of the information on multiple social media platforms, meeting them where they are and asking for the feedback. Any thoughts? Does anyone know of a library website that is truly transformative in terms of patron use and engagement?


Lots of our secondary students are blogging now, compared with the total of Zero when I arrived here. Interestingly, I’ve seen some teachers basically copy and paste their old paper activities onto their class blog and have students respond in that manner.  Other teachers have completely revolutionized the way their classroom works as a result of their class blogging, with students creating, sharing and exchanging in a way that was previously impossible, particularly in second language classrooms.  I enjoyed reading about Julie Lemley’s evaluation of her school’s student blog use, and I am looking forward to trying to move my school in the direction of blogs being portfolios as well as active working spaces.

Web 2.0 Tools

Public Domain

Public Domain

As I mentioned in my laundry list, we’ve played around with a variety of Web 2.0 tools over the last year, but my favorite results in terms of transformation have been GlogsterEdu and Twitter.  Our Humanities and Spanish classes have both used Glogster, the interactive poster program, as a tool for communicating learning, and the results have been pretty exciting, if at times a little busy.  Just the fact that students are embedding video, linking to further reading, sharing photos and turning their final products into portals to more information instead of dead end paper posters makes me know there’s transformation happening.

Photo by Flickr user mkhmarketing under CC BY 2.0

Photo by Flickr user mkhmarketing under CC BY 2.0

Starting this past Monday, I am working with the Year 11 English B class on their unit about how social media is impacting our communication.  We are starting our unit by investigating Twitter specifically and students are sharing their thoughts and ideas through using the hashtag #listech11. I was SHOCKED at how many of them have never used Twitter and thought it was strictly for navel gazing. Anyways, I am looking forward to returning to the subject of our Twitter unit  later in Course 4.  I hope I will be able to say we transformed teaching and learning and that I’ll have a Twitter feed filled with examples.

Where we’re going!


Minecraft Cosplay Riminicomics by deviantART user zinghi under CC BY 3.0

Minecraft Cosplay Riminicomics
by deviantART user zinghi under CC BY 3.0


We are headed there! It’s been nearly six months in the works, but it’s finally going to happen. I’ve got a team of teachers together who want to upskill themselves a bit in MineCraft prior to unleashing it as an educational for the students.  We’ve got tons of MineCrafters in our student population, and I am looking forward to seeing them build effective communities in Humanities, use blocks to teach scale and breed virtual bees to teach genetics. I really think this is going to transform our teaching in a way that could not be done before.

Skype in the Classroom

Skype Pony by deviantArt user 10art1 under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

Skype Pony by deviantArt user 10art1 under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

Well, I want to make this happen…in theory. In practice, I’ve let the everyday stuff of my job keep me from engaging in it. I’ve joined and I’ve lurked, but I need to dive into a project like a Mystery Skype and just give it a go. Skype is the ultimate “R” in SAMR!  Connecting with experts, breaking down classroom walls, putting my students in the interviewer seat: there’s so many ways this could transform teaching and learning at LIS. I just had my first request from another Skype Educator, and I have put them in contact with a classroom teacher at my school.  If Skype Pony, can do it, so can I!

What do you think?

I’m tired of typing, dear reader.  What do you think?  How can I help to move my school closer to the R in SAMR?