The Future is Whatever You Make It

Back in September 2015, when I first began my COETAIL journey, I wrote a post called Choosing a Path in the Digital Wonderland.  I mentioned that I felt a bit like Alice in Wonderland, who, faced with two possible roads, asked advice from the Cheshire cat about which way she should go.  The cat’s reply:  “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.”  I realized that before I chose a path for technology integration, I needed to carefully consider where it was I wanted to go.  What was it that my students needed?  How would technology integration help us to get there?  Thanks to COETAIL, as well as a terrific iLearning initiative at AISR, I came to understand where I was going, and I made a lot of progress on the journey.

I Got Lost
I did. I got lost.  I stepped off the path to tech integration.  After 9 amazing years at AISR, my family relocated to the US, and I began teaching MS Language Arts at a charter school in Utah.  It’s a great little school, but it’s different from AISR (a virtual technology Mecca) in just about every way imaginable– especially in terms of technology resources.  When I arrived at the charter, I realized that my classroom technology would consist of a ByteSpeed laptop, a teacher iPad, a projector, and a document camera.  I was not issued any tech for student use.  There were iPad carts, but they had to be shared among the ES and MS, and I couldn’t count on using them consistently.  I went into survival mode and became what I had vowed never to become again– a paper-based teacher.   It felt awful.

I Found My Way Back
Fortunately, once I got through those first stressful months of adapting to a new school, I began to find my way again.  I truly believe in the power of technology to support and deepen student learning, and I want that for my students!  So, I begged the administration for some tech, and they rounded up 6 mini iPads for me.  It was a start.  It at least made it easier to do Kahoots, Padlets, etc.  But it wasn’t enough.  So I submitted a Donors Choose project, which helped me raise funds for 8 Chromebooks for my classroom.  We’ve been using those for a few weeks now, and the students LOVE them.  They are more engaged, and their thinking is more visible. We’re publishing in Google Docs, responding on Padlets, creating Storyboards, etc.!  I want more of that!  So I put in a proposal for two more Chromebooks, and a few days ago, they were purchased for us by a corporate donor.  Now we will have 10 Chromebooks!  But I’m not stopping there.  I won’t stop until I have a device in the hands of every student.  I don’t care how many grant applications I have to write.  My students are worth the effort.

Looking to the Future
In addition to the immediate effort to bring technology into my classroom, I am looking to the future of technology integration for my entire school.  I put together a proposal for a school-wide technology integration plan.  I recently met with the school administration to discuss it, and they are very supportive of putting it into action.  It’s just a start– but we have to start somewhere, right?  It feels good to be back on the path to technology integration.  We all get lost from time-to-time.  But if we can refocus on “where we want to get to,” we can always get back on track.  Honestly, I had plenty of people tell me that “there was no point trying,” and that “trying would only make things worse.” But as Doc Brown said in Back to the Future, “Your future is whatever you make it, so make it a good one.”

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Course 5 Final Project: A New Battle Plan


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The Battle of the Books has been a favorite tradition in our Elementary School for the past 8 years.  When I took over the Battle in 2012, I was excited to carry on the tradition, while also hoping to improve upon the program over time.


Project Goal:
The goal of my Course 5 Final Project was to preserve all the fun aspects of the Battle program that students love, while also making the most of technology to create a deeper learning experience for them.  I tried to keep the following standards in mind as I considered how we could use technology to strengthen reading reflection and learning within the program:

ISTE Standards for Students 
1. Empowered Learner
Students leverage technology to take an active role in choosing, achieving and demonstrating competency in their learning goals, informed by the learning sciences.
3. Knowledge Constructor
Students critically curate a variety of resources using digital tools to construct knowledge, produce creative artifacts and make meaningful learning experiences for themselves and others.
6. Creative Communicator
Students communicate clearly and express themselves creatively for a variety of purposes using the platforms, tools, styles, formats and digital media appropriate to their goals.

Tools Used:
Google Forms has proven to be an invaluable tool for students to use as a form of reading reflection and response.  Google Spreadsheets collects students responses from the forms and allows me to quickly sort them for easy tracking.

Padlet is a great tool for sharing student progress with their Battle Badges.

Various video apps have made it easy for students to record book reviews, which is a great form of reading reflection.

Seesaw makes it easy for students to share their book reviews with me, and also allows me to provide feedback.

Kahoot is a fun way for students to review the Battle Books and keep important themes of the book fresh in their minds.

Google Docs made it easy to share a research template with the students.  All they had to do was make a copy and share it with me.  It’s also easy for me to comment within their doc to provide feedback.

I’ve made use of my Learning Commons blog as a hub where students can find everything related to the Battle.  From our Battle of the Books page, they can learn about Battle basics, see which books they’ve read, view the badges they’ve earned, and fill out the Google Form to earn points and badges.  One thing I didn’t mention in my video is that I’ve also invited students who have read all 10 Battle Books to be guest bloggers who share their experience with the Battle.  It’s another way to celebrate their achievements.

Student Feedback
The students have really embraced the changes and additions to the program.  They love filling out the Google Form and sharing their summaries and reflections about the battle books.  They also enjoyed making the book review videos, and they are excited about the battle research projects we’ve just started.  So far, I’ve only started the research projects with a few of my high flyers, but the rest of the students will begin them soon.

I am really happy with the progress we’ve made in the program this year.  Our battle books are full of rich themes, and it’s wonderful to see the students thinking more about the books, developing empathy for characters, and making personal connections to the events in the stories.

Do I think we could have done more, and done it better?  Of course!  There is always room for improvement.  But, the reality is, I was out on leave for a few months due to an unexpected spine surgery, so some of my good intentions had to be set aside.  One thing I would have liked to do that didn’t happen was to use Padlets as a tool for reading response during our battle book read alouds.  Had I been there, we would have done that.  I also would have liked to have the students create Book Trailers for the Battle Books.  Ideally, it would have been nice to start the research projects much sooner to give the students time to dig deeper into the topics and spend more time working on their media projects.  And I’d love to spend time helping the students get their book reviews onto their blogs to share their reading voice.  I only see the students for 50-minutes in each 6-day cycle, so our time together is limited, but technology integration has helped us to do more with the time we have, and I am very appreciative of that!

While I know there is room for a lot more growth, we did come a long way this year.  The Google Forms, Battle Book Reviews, and Research Templates have been a great way to get students digging deeper into reading reflection.  As a librarian, my role is different from that of a classroom teacher, but I do want to support students in building their reading skills.  I feel like these additions to the program have helped students to think more about their reading and hopefully go to a deeper level of comprehension.

Did this implementation meet the definition of Redefinition?

For me, and for the purposes of the Battle Program, I think the answer is yes.  While our Google Forms and Book Reviews may not seem like groundbreaking or deep projects, they are an addition to our Battle Program that has made a difference for student learning and wouldn’t be possible without the technology.  Thanks to the tools we’ve added to the program this year, over 300 students are able to share their reading reflections with me and with one another.  It’s been wonderful to see and hear their terrific responses to the battle books this year!

My Video:
My iMovie skills are still a work in progress, but I’ve learned a lot about iMovie through creating this video, and I plan to put those skills to good use in the future!  All photos and images in the video are my own work.

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Who Are the People in My Neighborhood?

Laurie Dukes via

Laurie Dukes via 

Growing up, I spent a lot of time singing the People in Your Neighborhood song with my Sesame Street friends. I learned that there were many skilled, helpful people I could rely on in my community if I ever needed assistance.  As a child, I considered my neighborhood to be the area immediately surrounding my home and street, but over the years, as I’ve grown up and lived in different places, my concept of a neighborhood has grown.  I’ve learned that I have a world neighborhood which is also full of skilled, helpful people, and thanks to the web, I can reach out to them whenever I need help or a little inspiration, whether personally or professionally.

Who are the People in my Professional Learning Neighborhood/Network?  

When  I first began Coetail, I wrote a post explaining that I was very much an introverted internet Consumer, but that I was beginning to value the idea of becoming a Prosumer as well.  Now, about a year and a half later, I confess that I am still an online introvert, but I can at least say that I’ve made some progress.

This year, I really wanted to help my students make some global connections by participating in the Global Read Aloud.  I signed up for an Edmodo account and looked for other teachers who might be willing to collaborate.  I made a number of connections there, but here is an example of a typical interaction.  This initial introduction led to additional discussion via email about how we wanted to get our students connected.

Screen Shot 2017-03-10 at 6.41.23 PMThanks to this and other connections that started on Edmodo, my library students had the opportunity to hear from other students around the world on our Global Read Aloud Padlets.  For example, our BFG: Judging by Appearances Padlet received comments from GRA partners in New Jersey, Italy, and Canada.  My students were excited to see what others had shared with us.  While other plans with my GRA partners fizzled out a bit (teachers get busy, after all), it was great to see that at least our Padlets kept us connected.  I’m glad that I overcame my inner introvert and reached out to the neighborhood on Edmodo!


twitter1I am still mostly a Twitter introvert, but I am gradually becoming a more active Twitter user.   I regularly browse for ideas and inspiration, and I often retweet posts from others.  I occasionally post my own tweets, such as books I’ve read, quotes I like, etc.  I have also begun to participate in a few Twitter chats.tweets




Most of the Twitter chats I’ve participated in have been hosted by my own school, but they’vAISRPLe helped me get more comfortable with putting my thoughts out there.







I recently added a few thoughts to a #Seesaw chat on Twitter, but I was late to the party, so I didn’t add too much.  I just discovered #Seesawchat a few days ago, and I look forward to participatseesawchating more actively in the next one, as I love using Seesaw in the Learning Commons.





I have very much appreciated all the interaction with fellow Coetail bloggers over the course of the program, both within and outside of my school.  The insights I’ve gained have been invaluable, and I will absolutely continue to draw upon the expertise of all the fantastic educators I’ve become connected with through the program.  For example, I recently came across Ben Sheridan’s post about Seesaw, which I found very helpful.

















I appreciated Ben’s effort to connect me to his school librarian, Philip.  I have since followed him on Twitter, and I just sent him a tweet to see if we can get connected.

Beyond Coetail blogs, I do follow blogs of other librarians, from whom I get a lot of inspiration and ideas.  I don’t usually comment on their blogs though, and I realize I should take the time to do that more often, if only to thank them for sharing things that I find helpful.

Community Engagement

I confess that I have often been more of a “Good Fences Make Good Neighbors” type of person.  I like people and try to be a good neighbor, but I also value my privacy and like to stay under the radar.  The same is still somewhat true of my interactions with my online PLN.  I haven’t always felt like it’s all that necessary for me to force conversations and interactions just for the sake of interacting.  I browse, I like, I share, I retweet, and occasionally I post and comment.  I find great ideas on Pinterest, Twitter, blogs, and websites.  Honestly, I think that’s okay most of the time.  If I ever feel that I have something to share that others might find valuable, then I am happy to share it, and I have done so.  But I also recognize that I often hold back from sharing because I fear that I am not offering anything new, useful, or ground-breaking to the discussion.  This is something I still need to overcome, but I appreciate the progress I’ve made.  I do want to be the kind of neighbor who contributes, and I want others to feel comfortable knocking on my door if they need assistance.

While I still have a long way to go in becoming truly active in my Professional Learning Neighborhood, I am becoming increasingly more comfortable in introducing myself and starting conversations.  Thanks to Coetail, I have really come to recognize the value of a PLN, and I have made  meaningful connections that have helped me to progress professionally and personally.

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Seesaw in the Library

in the LibraryAs I mentioned in my last post, I have been on leave from school, and I have been thinking about how I can use technology to stay connected to my students while I’m away.  I’ve also been thinking about how to stay more connected to my students in general, because as a librarian, I have limited class time to work with them individually and provide meaningful feedback.  I was fortunate to come across Benjamin Sheridan’s recent post about Seesaw, which reminded me that Seesaw is a perfect way to communicate with my students beyond our class time together. Benjamin’s post was very timely, as our school recently upgraded our Seesaw subscription so that classroom teachers and specialists can have shared access to a classroom account again (after awhile without it).  His post motivated me to search for ideas as to how I can make the most of Seesaw as a librarian.


Credit: Laurie Dukes

App Savvy Students
In our 1:1 school, students are already very savvy in their use of a variety of apps and are skilled with app-smashing.  While Seesaw has some helpful built-in tools for creating quick videos, audio, notes, etc., it’s great that students can also easily import products created in other apps.  This means that when I want the students to complete an assignment, I can give them the option to use whichever app(s) they are most comfortable with.  I love that this also provides a variety of responses rather than cookie-cutter products.

Yesterday, our school held a Virtual Learning Day in which students learned from home. We posted assigned work on our blogs, and it was great to see Seesaw filling up with student work throughout the day.  I asked my students to do a simple reading response activity, and I loved seeing the creative ways in which they responded.  Some made videos, some used Chatterpix, others used Shadow Puppet or Pic Collage.  All of these were added to Seesaw where I could access them and provide feedback from home.

Going Beyond with Seesaw in the Library
Thanks to the inspiration from Ben’s post, I have spent some time searching for ways that other librarians are using Seesaw, as well as ways it’s being used in classrooms that I could incorporate into the library.  I came across a great webinar about Documenting Library Learning With Seesaw Digital Portfolio, which led me to a helpful resource page with Seesaw activity ideas.  That led me to Pinterest, where I found a few ideas, including this great chart full of possible activities.  I decided to create my own chart to collect the ideas I think could work well in our library.  I look forward to adding to it over time as I find new ideas.  (Please feel free to send me ideas to add to the chart!)

Seesaw and my Final Project
The goal of my Course 5 Final Project is to use technology to deepen student learning through our Battle of the Books program.  Many of the ideas I’ve gained through this Seesaw activity search will be perfect for helping students dig deeper into our Battle books!




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From Plot Twist to Battle Plan

Credit: Laurie Dukes via

Credit: Laurie Dukes via

At the end of Course 4, I shared a Project-Based learning unit that I was very excited to implement as soon as we got back to school in January.  Unfortunately, I didn’t make it back to school in January.  An unexpected spine surgery and long recovery has been a major plot twist which is forcing me to completely rethink my project.  I won’t be back at school until sometime in March, so I’m thinking about how I can take this plot twist and make the most of technology to support student learning even when I can’t be at school. I realized that our Battle of the Books program provides plenty of opportunity to integrate technology to deepen student learning.

Our Battle of the Books program challenges students to read a list of books from various genres over a period of a few months. They have the opportunity to earn badges for their reading, and later, to engage in battles to show their knowledge of the books.  I have decided to focus my project on utilizing technology to motivate students to participate in the program and deepen their thinking about the battle books.

Google Forms
Technology has made it possible to take the Battle experience to a new level.  In the past, students’ only response to the books was to write a couple of battle questions on a slip of paper and put it in a box on my desk.  Thanks to Google Forms, I’ve been able to significantly augment and modify this process to elicit more meaningful responses to the books.  Students now fill out a form on my blog, which asks them to provide a short summary of the book in their own words, a connection to the book, two battle questions for the book, and their rating of the book.  As a librarian, I don’t have much time with my students each week, so the Google Form is a valuable means of staying connected and assessing what they are getting out of the books.  It’s also given me a great set of data to use as I compare battle participation over the years.  This is something I could never do without the technology.

Screen Shot 2017-02-23 at 12.52.37 PMBlog
Another way I am integrating technology is by making the most of our Learning Commons blog.  Gone are the days when I spent hours maintaining a massive paper chart in the hall to showcase student progress.  Now all the information about the Battle and student progress can be found on the Battle of the Books page on my blog.  In the past, students rarely bothered to look at my blog.  Now, they visit it regularly, and it’s become a hub for the Battle as well as other technology-related assignments.

This year, I am adding a blogging element to the Battle as well.  I am asking each student to write a blog post to share either a review of a Battle book or to share what they have learned from reading all the battle books.  They have the option to either write it up or make a video or other presentation for the blog. They will submit them to the Learning Commons folder in Seesaw where I can access them easily to embed in my Learning Commons blog.  This gives each student the opportunity to share their voice about what they are getting out of the Battle of the Books program.

The students LOVE Kahoot, so I am adding Kahoot quizzes this year to help them review the Battle Books in a engaging way.  I’m also experimenting with Kahoot as a means of changing up our final competition this year.

Battle Book Research
Our Battle books are full of rich, meaningful themes to explore, and I would love for students to dig deeper into those themes.  Instead of the PBL unit I had originally planned, I will have the students engage in a short research project related to a battle book theme. They will choose a theme from the battle book of their choice and complete a research template to guide them through the process.  While it won’t be as detailed as the original research unit, it will at least give my students some research experience while also expanding on their literary understanding.  They will also create a media product to share what they learned about their topic.

I’m still looking at other ways to tech up the Battle, but I’m happy with how it has progressed this year!  While I can’t be at school with my students right now, this surgery plot twist has helped me to consider new ways to stay connected with them via technology.  I’m excited to see their growth and progress as they participate in the battle this year!

Here’s my current UBD template.  I might make a few adjustments as I continue to think about how to make the most of tech for the Battle of the Books program.

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Course 5 Final Project: What Do You Do With A Problem?

what-do-you-do-with-a-problem2Recently, I shared some reflections about Limitations I’ve faced in trying to integrate project-based learning into our Learning Commons curriculum.  This is something I’ve continued to reflect on and discuss with our ES Principal.  Our AISR school mission is to “educate and inspire our students to be responsible, productive and ethical global citizens with the skills and passion to think creatively, reason critically, communicate effectively, and learn continuously.” We discussed how a shift to a project-based program in the Learning Commons could benefit our students and help us to fulfill our school mission. For my final project, I have designed a unit that I hope will be the beginning of this shift to a project-based program during our Learning Commons specials.  I am very excited to implement this when we return from Winter Break!  I plan to kick off the unit with Kobi Yamada’s amazing book, What Do You Do With a Problem, which will help students to consider the power that is within them to contribute positive solutions and innovate new ideas to improve our world.

Inspiring Examples
As I looked at possible resources for the unit, I found some YouTube videos that I think will be perfect for helping students to recognize how meaningful and powerful it can be to seek out solutions and act to make a difference.  As part of our introduction to project-based learning, I plan to share this inspiring video about William Kamkwamba, a 14-year old boy from Malawi who taught himself how to build a windmill based on a picture in a library book.  I think it will help students to recognize that we all have the ability to self-learn and contribute to the world, if only we will have the grit and determination to succeed, despite any obstacles.

Unit Plan:
Here is my unit plan!  While my time with the students each week is short, I hope that they will develop a passion for their projects which will motivate them to work on them even when we aren’t in class together.  I will probably tweak the plan as we get going with the unit, but for now, I feel like it’s a good start as we embark on a PBL journey!

  1. Why do I this unit is a good possibility for my Course 5 project?
    I feel that it’s the perfect way for us to begin our journey towards a project-based program in the Learning Commons.
  2. What are some of my concerns about redesigning this unit?
    Time is always our greatest issue.  I only see my students once in a 6-day rotation, so I will have to really work to keep them motivated and inspired as they work on their projects over a long period of time.
  3. What shifts in pedagogy will this new unit require from me?
    This shift to PBL will require me to let go of some of our more traditional library units and place more control in the hands of the students.  But I think that will be a positive shift.  I will need to learn how monitor each of their projects effectively and provide guidance as needed.
  4. What skills and/or attitudes will this new unit require from my students?
    This unit will require students to develop strong organizational skills, the ability to think and reason critically about an issue, and to synthesize and summarize information so that it can be shared and presented effectively.

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Finding Balance


Image credit: Laurie Dukes

“You’re always staring at that darn phone!”

My husband has said this more than once.  And it’s true.  I’m often staring at my phone. Last week, when he complained about this, I was reading a great book on my Kindle app.  I asked him whether he would have complained had I been holding a book in my hands instead of my phone. He thought about it a moment, and then said, “No, probably not.”

I think this exchange with my husband represents one of the biggest misconceptions about technology use– that staring at a screen always equals wasted time or increased disengagement from those around us. Many of the things I do on my phone are the same things I used to do off my phone– reading, checking my calendar, making to-do lists, catching up on news, or keeping up with friends and family.  The problem, as my husband explained it to me, is that staring at a device always looks the same, whereas the old-fashioned way of doing things made it more obvious what was being accomplished.  I think this perception is one of the biggest hang-ups that teachers have in regards to technology use at school.  How can we ever know for sure whether students are using technology productively, or whether they are getting distracted and just wasting time on their devices?

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
There are some valid concerns to be aware of as we integrate technology into our classrooms.  A few of these were highlighted in 23 Things About Classroom Laptops, such as keyboard pranks, “screen wagging,” and attempts to circumvent security settings.  Kids are easily distracted and tempted by the lure of favorite games and sites.  I’ve caught kids switching screens plenty of times; usually because they were showing a friend a video or trying to get in a round on a favorite game.  It happens.  But is that a reason to avoid using the technology altogether?

Sean recently shared his concerns about fearmongering in the use of educational technology.  I think he made some great points about why we can’t let fears of wasted time or excessive screen-time prevent us from making the most of all the ways we can use technology to increase learning.  The key is that we find a balance and ensure that if tech is being used, it’s being used effectively.  While there is some room for disagreement about what constitutes “effective” or “educational” use, there are ample options for integrating technology in meaningful ways.  Successful 1:1 programs, such as that in Maine, have shown that effective use of technology can lead to significant increases in student learning.  Many of the fears and concerns about students wasting time on tech can be alleviated with a few simple strategies, such as Facebook and Tech Breaks.  A few minutes of free time can go a long way!


Credit: Laurie Dukes via

Finding Balance
As with most things, balance is important when it comes to technology integration.  Not everything needs to be done on a screen.  It’s still important for students to experience some off screen time for hands-on learning, physical activity, and social interaction.  But on-screen learning can also be incredibly meaningful and worthwhile.  I loved this article from The Mindful Classroom, which showed how technology can actually help to support mindfulness.  The article emphasized that technology use can be very powerful if we use to help our students develop mindfulness of the world around them.  They can build empathy and understanding as they are empowered to connect and learn about the world and its people.

Simply having tech in the classroom isn’t going to change the world, but using that technology mindfully, meaningfully, and in ways which enhance and empower student learning– that balance can make all the difference in how we prepare students for the future.





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Learning for the Future

Sometimes, I feel a bit envious of my 21st Century students.  They have such amazing opportunities to deepen their learning with the help of technology.  My own education was comprised of years of textbooks, lectures, writing prompts, and worksheets, with a few diorama and poster projects thrown in to keep things exciting. While I certainly appreciate all that I learned from my “old-school” education, there’s a part of me that wishes I could have had access to all the amazing resources available to students today.  Today’s students can research and self-learn and find answers to their questions in a way that I never could at their age.  The digital world has opened up a whole new realm of possibilities for helping them engage in learning which is relevant and personally meaningful.  It’s enabled them to make global connections and gain insights from others around the world.  Education as I knew it back in the 70’s and 80’s has already been transformed, and it will continue to transform dramatically in the coming years.

Where are We Headed?

Laurie Dukes via

Laurie Dukes via

The Horizon Project identified 28 international megatrends, which are important in considering how we will prepare our students for the future.   I think the most important of these is the reality that “the world of work is becoming increasingly global and increasingly collaborative.”  Our students need the ability to communicate and collaborate, both in person and online.  They need to be adaptable.  They need cultural sensitivity.  They need critical thinking skills which will enable them to problem-solve, create, and innovate.  As another megatrend states, “The Internet is constantly challenging us to rethink learning and education, while refining our notion of literacy. Institutions must consider the unique value that each adds to a world in which information is everywhere. In such a world, sense-making and the ability to assess the credibility of information and media are paramount.”  There is still so much work to be done in helping students develop this new literacy online. Digital citizenship skills, online communication, effective search skills, knowing how to evaluate information, and how to organize and synthesize the information they find.  If their future work will rely on an ability to communicate and collaborate online, then we need to create plenty of opportunities for them to build these skills at school.

It Can Be Done

And it’s already being done.  Over the summer, I joined in on the EdmodoCon 2016 global conference.  It was a great opportunity to learn from other educators around the world as they shared how they use digital tools to collaborate and deepen student learning.  I particularly enjoyed a presentation titled Learning Together, in which two teachers shared how they created meaningful global collaboration between their classrooms in Poland and Pennsylvania.  Through Edmodo, Padlets, Videos, Skype chats, etc., their students had powerful learning experiences together.  I found their presentation very inspiring.  They showed me what is possible when we make a concentrated effort to provide these opportunities for our students to build skills in global communication and collaboration.  It all started with a teacher simply asking if anyone wanted to connect with her, and another teacher who was willing to give it a try.  I realized that if they can do this, so can I.  As Ved Sinha mentioned in opening remarks at the conference, no teacher should be an island floating on their own.  We need to be connected to all the people and resources that can help us help our students learn.

I’m Trying! 
Last year, I made my first attempt at global collaboration by participating in The Global Read Aloud.  I managed to make a couple of brief connections, but for the most part, they fizzled out.  Immediately after EdmodoCon, I determined that I would try the GRA again, and that I would do better at sustaining those global connections this year.  We’ve been underway with GRA for a couple of weeks now, and while I still wish our schedule allowed us to do deeper collaboration, we’ve definitely been able to do more this year.  After establishing connections with several teachers on Edmodo, I created shared Padlets where our students can discuss various topics from the book, Roald Dahl’s The BFG.  My favorite so far is our Appearances Padlet, where students are discussing why we need to be careful about judging by appearances.  It’s been great to see students from around the world sharing their thoughts on an important global topic.  In addition to the Padlets, we’re working on some student videos to share, and we’re planning a collaborative book in which Grade 3 students will submit stories, essays, poems, and pictures on the subject of dreams.  Exciting stuff!  While it’s just the beginning of what I hope will become deeper global communication and collaboration between students, it feels good to be making progress towards that goal.

It’s a Small, Small World

Credit: Thomas Hawk

Credit: Thomas Hawk

Growing up in Southern California, I had the opportunity to go to Disneyland regularly. One of my favorite rides was “It’s a Small World.”  I was enchanted by those animated figures, all dressed-up in cultural clothes and singing about how “there’s so much that we share, and it’s time we’re aware, it’s a small world after all.”  Now, with technology that enables us to connect with others across the globe in an instant, it’s an even smaller world. I really do believe that the most important thing we can do to prepare students for the future is to harness the power of these global connections.  As we cultivate opportunities for students to share and learn from others around the world, we help to break down barriers and replace them with bridges of understanding.  We prepare students to do a better job than we have done in creating a world of greater peace and cooperation.  As Dan Pink reminds us, “We want to be part of something larger than ourselves,” or as Steve Jobs put it, to “Put a ding in the universe.”  The beauty of the century in which we live is that we don’t have to be alone in our efforts– we don’t have to be an island.  We just have to have the courage to reach out, network, and establish partnerships that will allow our students to learn from one another.

There are many great resources to help us get started in preparing students for a future of global collaboration.  Here are a few you might find helpful!

ISTE: 7 Steps for Starting a Global Collaboration Project

EdTech: Global Collaboration and Learning

10 Tips for Global Collaboration

iEARN Global Projects

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What’s in a Game?

Photo Credit: stevendepolo Flickr via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: stevendepolo Flickr via Compfight cc

I was an exciting moment when my Dad surprised us with our first home computer. It was a sleek Tandy TRS-80 from Radio Shack. Soon, my siblings and I were vying for time playing games on the high-tech device.  We spent many happy hours playing Pong, Scarfman, Hangman, and my personal favorite — the Olympic Decathlon.   By the early 80’s, we also had a Nintendo, and the world of gaming had fully entered our lives.  We wondered how we had ever survived without the Mario Brothers.

Looking back on those first years of computer gaming, it amazes me to think of how far the industry has come.  We’ve gone from pole-vaulting stick people to building, navigating, and saving entire virtual worlds. With clunky desktop computers being replaced by lightweight laptops and mobile devices, we can now find people playing games anywhere and everywhere.  From 2-year olds to senior-citizens, gaming has become a part of daily life for billions of people.

What’s in a Game? 

Credit: Laurie Dukes

Credit: Laurie Dukes

So, what’s in a game that makes it so enticing? Why is it that the moment I offer students “free time” as a reward at school, they immediately ask if they can play games on their iPads?  Why is it that when I say we’re going to do a game-based activity, students literally cheer?  (I wish they would cheer like that for all my lessons!) Why are they so much more focused and better-behaved when on their devices?

I was really struck by the points made in Jane McGonigal’s Ted Talk, which helped me understand some of the psychology behind gaming.  McGonigal pointed out that “We feel that we are not as good in reality as we are at games,” and that when we are in game worlds, “we become the best version of ourselves.”  Where we might feel overwhelmed and overcome by the challenges of real life, we are confident and capable in our ability to persevere and succeed in the game world.  McGonigal also pointed out that in games, there’s always something important and specific to be done, things that are within our current realm of capability, but will also challenge us to work and think harder.  I confess that I have been very skeptical about game-based learning, because I worry about the effects of too much screen-time on developing brains.  But McGonigal has helped me to recognize that gaming can be very worthwhile if we can channel that passion into real-world learning and problem-solving.  The talent and capability is within our students– we just have to show them that they can be as successful in the real world as they are in the virtual world.

Leading Students to an “Epic Win”
So, how can we help students to feel the same kind of confidence and belief in their ability to achieve an “epic win,” with real-life learning and challenges?  It’s a question that will have to continue to be explored, but I feel like I have finally begun to see the possibilities.
Don’t we all want our students to recognize their own potential and work to reach the best that is in them?  If game-based learning can help bridge that gap between “I’m not good at learning,” and “I’m awesome at learning,” then I think we need to do our best to make it an integral part of our instruction.  Wouldn’t it be great if students were as motivated to “get to the next level” in Math and Reading skills as they are in Clash of Clans?  As Dr. Ian Glover explains, “Adding simple game features could encourage unmotivated learners to be more engaged in their own learning process and interactions with other learners…existing associations between computers and games can be harnessed to encourage productive work…”

Gamification in the Learning Commons

Credit: Laurie Dukes

Credit: Laurie Dukes

While I have a lot to learn about using game-based learning effectively, I do provide some educational games in the Learning Commons. Last year, we were fortunate to receive two new Smart Tables for our space.  The students absolutely love them.  I regularly change out the activities to support learning of various subjects.  Students have explored place-value, money skills, multiplication, landforms, music, and more.  I currently have a continents game on one of the tables, and it’s great to see the students engaged not only in the game, but referencing and learning from the Atlas while they play.  Students are also allowed to play Prodigy, a terrific game for building math skills, and I encourage them to read on Raz Kids, where they enjoy leveling up in their reading skills.

Last year, while teaching Digital Citizenship, I had the students complete game-based modules on Digital Passport.  Not only did they have fun, but they had to really think about the digital citizenship topics we’d discussed in order to progress in the game.  That experience showed me how meaningful it can be to integrate gaming into instruction. Learning is a serious business, but perhaps game-based learning can reduce the anxiety and self-imposed limitations many students face.  Instead of shutting down because they feel overwhelmed by information, they can continually review within in the safety of the game until they grasp the concepts.

My students really love to play Kahoot, so I’ve been working on designing more Kahoot quizzes which teach and reinforce concepts.  I hope to find many more ways of bringing games into my instruction.   I have a long way to go with this, but I’ve seen the light in kids’ eyes when they successfully grasp a concept and achieve that epic win.  That’s a light I want to see all the time.  If playing games will help my students learn in a safe, comfortable way, then it’s win-win.  And if we can go beyond that to use games as a means of building critical thinking and solving real-world challenges, it will be an epic win indeed.

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Working Within the Limitations

limitationsThis is a VERY annoying wall. It stands in the way of so many things I want to do with my students during our Learning Commons specials.  I often try to ignore its presence, but then I end up bumping into it again and again.  It would feel very satisfying to find a big sledgehammer and knock those limitations right out of the way, but that’s not really an option.  So rather than ignoring or fighting the wall, it’s time for me to face it and reflect on how I can work more effectively within its confines.

This week, as I read about Project-Based and Challenge-Based learning, I confess that initially felt a bit discouraged.  It’s not that I don’t want to make this part of our Learning Commons curriculum, because I do.  As a librarian, I want nothing more than to nurture a sense of wonder, exploration, and creativity in my students.  I want to teach them how to seek out answers to questions and challenges by really digging into all the great resources available to them both online and in our library collection.  But then, there’s that darn wall.  I face very real limitations in my ability to spend quality time supporting students in that exploration.

What Are My Limitations?
Lack of time.  That is my biggest limitation.  I only see my students for a 50-minute special in every 6-day rotational cycle.  Within that 50 minutes (which is really more like 45 by the time they arrive and get settled in), I also have to leave time for book checkouts. This means I’m lucky to get a solid 25 minutes of instructional time about every other week. It’s barely enough time to scratch the surface of a topic, let alone to dig deep.  I’ve tried to collaborate with teachers so that we can work together on inquiry-based units, but since we don’t have scheduled collaboration time, it’s challenging to plan together effectively.  So I’m facing this wall of limitations, reflecting on how I can work within it and squeeze in some PBL/CBL experiences with the limited time we’ve got.


Credit: Laurie Dukes

Questions to Consider
*How can I more effectively collaborate with teachers on their units to provide support for project-based/challenge-based learning in the classroom?
*Could I realistically restructure our Learning Commons curriculum to a project-based format even if we only had 25-30 minutes of project time in a 6-day cycle?
*What lessons and activities would I need to give up to make this work?
*Would students stay motivated to work on the projects, or would the time between specials cause them to lose interest?
*Is this something I really need to do?  Should I just teach some basic inquiry skills and leave the rest to the homeroom teachers?

After reflecting on these questions, I went back to the Buck Institute’s Introduction to Project-Based Learning to review PBL principles again and try to envision how I could implement them within the confines of our existing Learning Commons specials.  Going back with a more open mind helped me to see the possibilities.  The intro reminded me that “outstanding projects” will “recognize students’ inherent drive to learn” and their “capability to do important work.” In other words, I need to place trust in my students.  I need to believe that they will embrace the time I give them to explore answers to questions and pursue projects of interest to them, even if that time is limited.  Of course, they will need guidance and support, but hopefully, they will become so passionate about finding answers that they will continue projects independently even when we can’t work on them together.  It’s worth doing.  It’s worth trying.  Because this is what our students need to learn how to do.  They need to know how to seek answers and resolve problems.

If students are to be truly passionate about PBL/CBL, I need to help them understand the possibilities.  I think they need an overview of some global challenges they might consider exploring.  For example, this image shows Global Goals for Sustainable Development, and might help spark some inspiration for students.
Sustainable Development Goals_E_Final sizes
There are also great websites, such as Kids Go Global and Teach UNICEF  which can help students explore various Global issues.

I have some terrific books in the library which show how others have had ideas or faced challenges and done something about them.  These would be great inspiration for my students.

mama-miti boy-who-harnessed-the-windbrave-girl







As I was browsing Barnes and Noble this summer (oh, how I miss B&N when I’m overseas), I found two terrific books that I think would be perfect for introducing project-based or challenge-based learning:








I love how these books use simple text, along with powerful illustrations, to help students understand how meaningful it can be to face problems head on and seek out solutions.  I love these lines from What do you Do With a Problem:












Not only is this a perfect way to introduce PBL/CBL to my students, it’s a reminder to me that I can take these limitations I’m facing and turn them into an opportunity.  With continued reflection and seeking, and perhaps a bit of bravery, I can find a way to do this!

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