The art of searching

Recently, I have been subbing as a para-educator at a local school district, and i found myself assisting fifth grade students in an oceanography research project.  For this project, each student had to select a marine animal, and construct an essay of 3-5 paragraphs on the animal’s habitat, locomotion, physical characteristics, and special adaptations.  While I realize I was working with students who most needed help, it occurred to me that all students could benefit from explicit instruction on how to search online, and how to analyze sources as early as elementary school.

Since I have been using the internet for years, it seemed crazy for me, abut I found students literally typing whole questions into Google and “researching” on non-professional discussion boards.  For example, students would type “what does the hawkfish eat,” only to be directed to discussion boards for fish tank owners.  This was not exactly scientific-based research teachers were looking for.  I brought my frustrations to fellow para-educators who were brave enough to admit that typing questions directly into Google was their primary search methodology as well.  I was a little stunned, until I realized this was a skill I was taught in college….right around the time that Google became the preferred search engine.  Because of this, I decided to compile a list of simple search tips that can be used by students in a classroom.  Please let me know your thoughts, as I plan on using this in my own class someday!

  1. Use only keywords and phrases.  Get at the heart of  your  search.  What are the most important words to help you find what you are looking for?  For example, if you want know to know a hawkfish eats, do not type in “what does a hawkfish eat?”  Instead, try “hawfish” and “diet,” or “hawkfish” and “food.”
  2. Try several different keywords.  Your original search may not yield the results you are looking for.  If that is the case: try, try again.  There is no exact science to searches, so a thesaurus could be helpful.  If the search for “hawkfish” and “food” directs you a website that sells fish food, you need to find different key words.
  3. Avoid searching sight words.  If would be better to search a random list of keywords than search a whole question or sentence.  Although you could hit the lottery on the latter, generally, search engines will search for pages that contain as many words in your phrase as possible.  Thus, you could have a whole list of results for your superfluous words, like “is,” “the,” or “and.”  Here’s a tip — avoid searching any of these words anytime: the, a, is, and, but, if, it, it’s, how, has, etc.  I could go on and on,a but a good rule of thumb is to avoid searching sight words, or common words used in everyday language.
  4. Use plus signs!  Plus signs are great at connecting two seemingly unrelated ideas.  For example, I could search for “grocery store + Westminster, MD” to find a list of all the grocery stores in a certain area.  In our oceanography example, you could search “hawkfish + predator” instead of “predators of the hawkfish,” or “what are the predators of the hawkfish?”
  5. Quotation marks are a great tool.  Quotes in a search will limit a search to only those two words together.  For example, if you are searching for the Common Core, you could potentially have a page of results for just “common” or just “core.”  To prevent this, you could search “common core” with quotes, and it will only yield results with those two words together.
  6. Don’t be discouraged!  Sometimes the key to a great search is persistence.  Keep trying and over time with practice, searching the internet will be second nature.  In the meantime, ask your teacher or librarian for help.  They may have some good ideas for key words.  If all else fails, try a different resource.  You answer could always be in a book!
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The Common Core & Technology

Recently, I created a presentation about the relationship between the new Common Core Standards and technology.  I investigated how technology has shaped the Common Core Standards, and what role technology will take in the Common Core classroom.  This transition will drastically alter how we teach in the classroom, so if you’d like to learn more about it, just click the link above.

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Mapwing: A Virtual Tour of Prague

Hello Bloggers!  This week in my Learning Technologies class I learned about Web 2.0 Tools and how to integrate them in the classroom.  We had to pick our favorite tool, create a product using that tool to use in the classroom, and make a screencast of how to create using that tool.  I have become an expert on Mapwing, a site that help you create virtual tours to tell a story.  I choose to create a product based on a lesson I gave on the causes of the Cold War.  Using Mapwing, I created a virtual tour of the city of Prague in the Czech Republic to help students peek behind the Iron Curtain.  There is a link to my tour above.

The lesson I designed is based off of the following Standard, Topic, Indicator, and Objective of the Maryland Common Core:

Standard 5: United States History

Topic: A. Challenges of the Post War World

Indicator: Analyze the causes, events, and policies of the Cold War between 1946-1968 (5.4.1)

Objectives: a. Describe the response of the United States to communist expansion in Europe, including the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, the Berlin Airlift (1948), and the formation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (Political Science, Geography, Economics)

My lesson focuses on the events immediately following World War II, and how the US-Soviet relations quickly disintegrated from allies to enemies.  By using the tour of Prague as an anticipatory activity, I wanted to introduce students not only to a place affected by this divergence, but also introduce the complexity of the conflict.  I wanted students to think about how the Cold War affected world history and US history.  I wanted them to understand the “communism” was not a united front against “democracy,” just like many countries did not appreciate the US’s endeavor to “make” them democratic.  Thus, the tour is attempting to have students to put himself or herself in the place of someone living behind the Iron Curtain.  Then, in the lesson, I want to explain how the Cold War unfolded, giving students the opportunity to evaluate the US’s policies throughout this period.  There are two sides to every conflict, and I want the tour to take them “behind enemy lines” in order to effectively evaluate the key players and their reactions at the time.

“Using the State Curriculum: US History, High School.” School Improvement in Maryland. Maryland State Department of Education, 27 February 2006.  Web.  1 April 2013.

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The 21st Century Classroom

After perusing library blogs, I decided it was time to enter the classroom.  I was curious how blogs have been employed in the classroom, and I wanted to create a list of “best blog practices” as applied to instruction for my own knowledge.  Fortunately, there are many stellar classroom blogs out there at almost every level.  I started with elementary school by visiting Mrs. Yollis’ Classroom Blog, winner of the Best Class EduBlog for 2012.  Mrs. Yollis is a second and third grade teacher at an elementary school near Los Angeles, CA, and she describes herself as a life-long learner who loves teaching.  She also recently completed a Master’s in Integrating Technology In the Classroom.  The home page talks about recent lessons and activities completed in her classes.  This week, students completed a Longitude and Latitude study using Google maps.  To show what they learned, students created a video, and each student read a piece of the voice-over.  The video was followed by a few questions for bloggers to respond to.

Each page includes links to classroom tweets, a student blog list, and a list of blogs the class follows.  Mrs. Yollis’ blog also included links to How to Comment on a Blog, Learn HTML Code, and Mrs. Yollis Website among others.  Curious, I selected Mrs. Yollis’ Website, which is a kind of portal for students and parents.  Here, students find links to Homework, Parent Information, Blogging Tips for Teachers, and Class Movies.  There are also links to specific areas of study, like Language Arts, China, Math Games, Money & Time, Multiplication, Science, Geography, US History, Art, Music, and Typing Games.  Mrs. Yollis’ Blog is a rich source of information for parents, students, and visitors.  It includes student work, external links to additional information/extended practice/games, and important information for parents, such as homework assignments, upcoming events, and approaching tests.  Mrs. Yollis said her inspiration to create the blog was Open House Nights, or Back to School Nights, where she can interact with students and parents.  She said her blog is a way to keep in constant contact and display all the hard work her students are doing.  In the end, her blog is a kind of digital portfolio of her students’ year.

Next, I moved onto Mr. Avery’s Classroom Blog, a short-listed finalist for the 2012 Best Class EduBlog.  Mr. Avery’s Classroom Blog is for his sixth grade class to share work and continue class discussions.  Technically, Mr. Avery’s class is still in elementary school, but where I live, sixth grade is the first year of middle school.  At any rate, Mr. Avery’s blog is full of useful information!  On the Home page alone, there are links to class fundraising projects on, Scholastic Book Club Orders, Featured Class Videos, and a class Instagram page.  Mr. Avery also has a “News” section, which describes a global math project with six other classes around the world.  Our World, Our Numbers blog is a collaborative project, in which each class controls the blog for a few days and shares various math topics.  Similarly, each page on Mr. Avery’s Classroom Blog has a link to The Tail Trail, a collaborative project with six other classes in the US, Canada, and Australia.  The project is to write and illustrate a story through blogs.  Each class has a chance to add onto the previous section, and there is a Survey Monkey link to vote on the topic of the story.  Mr. Avery also has a link to Blog Guidelines, where he advises students to use first names only, stay on topic, use complete sentences, and avoid offensive or hurtful posts.  Each blog entry describes what students have been working on in class.  For example, Mr. Avery posted on March 12 about “A Class of Geniuses,” based on Google’s 20% policy.  Basically, employees at Google are allowed to spend 20% of their time on any project, as long as it relates to Google.  This policy has led to such innovations as Gmail and Post-Its.  Mr. Avery applied this to his class with “Genius Hour,” in which the class spent an hour and a half over three consecutive days creating an objective and plan to create any school-related project.  Completed products included a catapult, interactive timelines, online games, Google presentations, and videos.  Student products were displayed on the blog.  What an incredible source of information for this sixth grade class!

Finally, I visited Gryphon Science Blog for the League of Extraordinary Scientists, or LOES for short.  Also a short-listed finalist for Best Classroom EduBlog in 2012, this is a high school science blog from the United Kingdom, mostly for year 11 students.  The blog is a resource for students in A2 Biology and AS Biology, and each page has a tab for relevant topics.  A2 Biology has links to Field studies (class lectures on powerpoints), Ask A Biology Teacher for a live feed of student questions, Revision Materials that are password protected, and Specifications, or to use an American term, syllabus.  The AS Biology class also has Ask A Biology Teacher, Revision Materials, and Specification.  Gryphon Science also has a tab for Independent Studies, with examples of student responses, and guidelines for answering exam questions.  The Extended Project Qualification or EPQ describes the students’ independent research requirement on a topic of their choice with examples of superb student products.  The LOES tab links to student videos of class experiments.  There are also tabs for Blog Guidelines, Feedback Page for student ideas, a Hall of Fame for students who go above and beyond, and Onion Girls, which is also password protected.  On the right side of each page, there is a link to BBC News – Science & Environment with a few recent articles listed.  While not as extensive as the blogs for elementary and middle school, the Gryphon Science blog would very useful for students.

What surprised me in the classroom short-listed finalists on EduBlog was the abundance of primary-level blogs with some middle school represented, but the overall lack of high school level blogs.  Is it because high school teachers have not tapped into the power of the blog?  Or are high school level blogs more dry and straightforward content as compared to the creative elementary blogs (thus not featured in the short-listed finalists)?  If the former is true, why haven’t high school teachers integrated blogs in their instruction?  Is it reluctance on the part of administration?  Or are content-area teachers in high school just not as technically savvy?  What’s really going on here?  If you have any insight, I would love to hear it.  Otherwise, I hope to learn the answer throughout the course of our SLM class.

 In the three classroom blogs I viewed, blogs have only enhanced the educational experience of students.  They are used to showcase exemplary student work, and keep both students and parents informed.  In some cases, they are used to facilitate collaborative projects with other students all over the world.  Clearly, the teachers who “own” these blogs have a passion for teaching and for their students.  In many ways, I think their students will be better prepared to enter the working world because they will have some experience with cutting edge technology.  As compared to library blogs, I noticed significantly less emphasis on copyright and citations.  Moreover, the classroom blogs allow for additional practice, and for conversations to continue beyond the bell.  I know I have been in class with a great conversation happening, only to disappointingly move onto a different concept the next day.  I have also seen how literacy and technology can be incorporated in every subject. Unlike the classroom wiki, which is more static and less reflective of students, the classroom blog can be a living, breathing educational journey for students in a class.  At the very least, a classroom blog is a portfolio of the students’ journey throughout the school year.

 After reading about libraries and classroom blogs, I have some thoughts about how blogs can be used in the high school setting.  In my ideal world, there would be one overall school blog with links to all departments and the school library.  Each teacher would have a class blog linked to their department’s website or blog.  I would definitely want my classroom blog linked to the library blog since the librarian is a gateway to searching the worldwide web.  On my page, I would want to showcase student work, have a historian-detective corner, and links to external sources.  I would want to include information on primary sources and links to good places to find primary sources.  I would also want a Teacher’s Corner, devoted to best practices and sharing ideas.  The Teacher’s Corner could extend beyond just my subject area to other content-areas in the school.  Finally, I would love to create some sort of collaborative history project with students, or another class around the US.  Through the use of my blog, I want to prepare students to live in a digital society.  This includes explicitly teaching “Digital Communication,” and “Digital Etiquette” as part of the “Nine Elements of Themes of Digital Citizenship” (Ribble, 2013).  Each blog I read contained a section on “Blog Guidelines,” which not only taught students how to technically make a comment, but also instructed them on the content of comments.  It is essential for students to learn how to express ideas in complete sentences without being disrespectful or offensive. 

 In order to meet the National Education Standards for Teaches, I think it is essential for blogs to become a part of the norm of instruction.  Blogs are the perfect place to model Standard 3, “modeling digital age work and learning” as well as Standard 1, “facilitating and inspiring student learning and creativity” (NETS, 2008).  As citizens of the new millennium, students will have a digital footprint no matter what.  As educators, we need to teach them how to have a positive digital footprint starting in elementary school all the way through high school and beyond. 

Works Cited

“National Education Technology Standards for Teachers 2008.” International Society for Technology Education. ISTE, 2012. 13 March 2013.

Ribble, Mike. “Nine Themes of Digital Citizenship.” Digital Citizenship: Using Technology Appropriately. n.p., 2013.  Web. 13 March 2013.

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The 21st Century Librarian

On top of being a history nerd, I also love books.  I love reading and I even belong to a book club in my spare time.  Thus in my blog quest, I thought it was best to start in the world of the “library/librarian” blogs on EduBlog.  I started with the Mighty Little Librarian blog, which was the first runner up in the Best Library/Librarian Blog in 2012.  Tiff, aka the “Might Little Librarian,” described herself on the About Me page as a fervent librarian who loves to read and loves being a librarian.  I liked her already!  On her Home page alone, I found links to her bookshelf on Goodreads, link to Classroom 2.0 (a social network site for educators interested in technology), and a link to the Mighty Librarian’s Twitter Account.  I also found that the Mighty Little Librarian was a speaker at the New Leaf Conference in 2012, and a facilitator at EdCamp in 2011.  This was all before I even read any of the posts!  To take a closer look, I perused her latest post entitled “Pondering Self-Checkout.”  From the title you could probably figure out that Tiff is contemplating the installation of a self-checkout system in her school library, but she is unsure of how to proceed.  Before posting to her blog, she actually tweeted the question of thoughts on a self-checkout system and she asked for pictures.  The Mighty Little Librarian shared over nine responses she received on Twitter alone.  Then she posed even more specific questions in her blog entry.  The questions included, how to set it up in her own space, one station or two, and other things to consider.  Because she posted the entry the same day I checked it, there were no comments yet.  My guess is that there will be some really interesting ideas and information left on her site.

Next, I moved onto Bulldog Readers Blog, which was the second runner up in the Best Library/Librarian Blog in 2012.  This was actually my favorite librarian blog that I previewed because it made me so excited for the students at Alexander Graham Bell Elementary.  At first, I thought maybe this was a link to a blog for bulldog enthusiasts, but I quickly realized that the Bulldogs are the school mascot.  At any rate, Julie Hembree is a librarian at an elementary school in the Seattle, WA area.  Her blog is meant to be a communication tool for students, parents, staff, and visitors who are interested in the latest information on the library and to view the latest students projects.  The blog includes information on new books, reviews, classroom lessons, and events.  Mrs. Hembree said her “passion is connecting kids with books,” and I think she really found her niche.  Immediately, I was drawn to the Book Trailers Tab, where I viewed online video teasers about books in the school library.  Mrs. Hembree created some teasers, but I noticed a whole page devoted to teasers created by students.  I was blown away when I watched them; they could have been professional teasers.  Mrs. Hembree noted that students use images and video with the Creative Commons license.  Not only were these projects impressive, they completely abided by copyright laws and taught students the importance of respecting others’ work as well as their own.  On the side of every page, I noticed links to teacher blogs, super student blogs, and classrooms around the world.  What a great example of responsible digital citizenship.  One tab that caught my attention was the Writing Comments tab.  The page provided a map of visitors from around the world, a tutorial on how to post comments, guidelines about comments as well as sentence starters for comment ideas.  Mrs. Humbree also approves all comments posted to the site and requires that both parents and students use only first names.  Finally, I noticed on the Books to Africa page that the students at Alexander Graham Bell Elementary are involved in a service project of sending books to Mumbai, India and villages in Africa.  It was moving to see the pictures of the books with children all over the world. 

Lastly, I visited the Adventures of Library Girl by Jennifer LaGarde.  Library Girl is the lead librarian at a school district in North Carolina.  Her blog’s purpose is to “ponder, share, and rub” thoughts about librarians and student learning.  One page of her blog is a link to her professional development presentations, and another page is a link to her published articles.  She also provides a link of her own images on Flickr that can be used and shared.  Jennifer’s latest entry is called “Science Fiction Renaissance: A Post for Thomas” where she discusses how a recent conversation with a teacher/friend inspired her to write about the “new science fiction” revolution in youth literature.  Jennifer confesses that she is not a fan of Twilight, but she appreciates how it motivated her students to read.  She discusses how it is her job as a librarian to tap into this passion and inspire students to keep reading.  Jennifer also provides a list of recommended “New Science Fiction” books stirred by her Twilight conversation.  If I liked the genre, I would totally read her picks!

In general, I found all these blogs were meant to be used as a communication tool, either to facilitate interactions among students, or between fellow librarians.  Overall, the blogs really wanted to connect students with great books through the exchange of best practices ideas between librarians, giving direct recommendations, or posting relevant student work.  It was also clear that all three librarians are seriously passionate about what they do, and the learning, collaboration, and exchange do not end when the bell rings.  All the blogs I viewed added so much to the education students are receiving at their respective schools.  Now more than ever, students can connect with other students in all over the world, or teachers all over the country can exchange ideas on what motivates their students to read.  In our class discussions, we talked about how students are “driving the bus” of technology (Richardson, 16), but in many ways, 21st century librarians can take on the role of bus driver since their role dwells in the space between literacy and technology.  The library is a hub of all the content-areas studied in school.  Teachers need to use the library as a launching point for how to teach literacy in our content-areas in the 21st century. 

I do not know about all of your experiences, but I hardly used my school library after elementary school.  I do not even remember checking out a book from my school library in middle or high school.  Since I want to be a high school social studies teacher, I plan to do things differently.  I want to use the library to show students the potential of what they can do on the internet while also teaching them the rules of etiquette and law.  I love Mrs. Hembree’s Bulldog Readers blog because it felt like a supervised portal to the worldwide web.  I could tell that she is teaching students how to create digital work, cite sources, and also protect their own creations.  She also made an effort to teach students (and parents) all about the Nine Elements of Digital Literacy, (Ribble, 2013) such as “Digital Etiquette,” “Digital Law,” “Digital Rights and Responsibilities,” and “Digital Literacy” through student projects and her comment guidelines.  What better way to enter the digital world than under the supervision of a caring educator?  I would love to see this kind of hub at the middle and high school level.  If students at the elementary level create work like this, imagine what older students could produce!  In my ideal high school library blog, there would be a page for every content area with links to additional information.  For example, there could be a modern languages link with students’ digital work, as well as connections to blogs in countries whose languages are being taught in my school.  In history, I would like to see lessons on how to search online databases for historical journals.  I would also like to add a historian as detective piece, teaching students how to think, search, read, and write like historians with exemplary student work displayed.  There could be links to the local historical association as well as links to other history students across the US.  I am certain if we challenged students to think creatively and provided the right tools under adult supervision, we would be amazed at the results.  No more dewy decimal for this librarian! 

Works Cited

Ribble, Mike. “Nine Themes of Digital Citizenship.” Digital Citizenship: Using Technology        Appropriately. n.p., 2013.  Web. 13 March 2013.

Richardson, Will. “Footprints.” Educational Leadership 66.3 (2008): 16-19. Online.

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Words of Wisdom

“I never let schooling interfere with my education.” ~ Mark Twain

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