Ready to LAUNCH!

LAUNCH (1)A few days ago, I tweeted to John Spencer and A.J. Juliani, thanking both of them for  sharing their amazing book LAUNCH with the world.

Immediately, I was enamored with the ideas spilling off of the pages. I devoured the book, making highlight after highlight, and furiously typed notes into my Kindle. And the most empowering part of my reading was the feeling of validation I had with every new chapter – their truths are my truths.

I believe that all students are creative. I believe that all students have gifts. I believe that students’ passions should be valued. I believe that all students have questions. I believe that we, as educators, have to provide students the platform to question their world and give them opportunities to discover, create and share their truths. And I believe that all of this can still be done with countless state tests looming overhead.

What this book provides is a practical (albeit brilliant) road map to help educators create schools and classrooms that are more engaging, student-centered, empowering and fun. LAUNCH is full of examples, question stems, procedures, thinking processes and project ideas that helped me to clearly envision this in my library, as well as, in my collaborative work with teachers. Spencer and Juliani reframe the design thinking process in a way that allows students to take the lead in not only creating, but sharing what they create with the world. I cheered out loud at the authors’ assertion that research is more than just reading – it is anything we do to answer questions and learn new things and appreciate their position that in order to make student learning more meaningful, students must be allowed to take the lead and direct where they want to go.

I am so excited to return to school in August and share the Launch Cycle with my colleagues. I believe that this has the power to transform our schools, even if it happens one classroom at a time.



So, I did this thing…

This year marks my 12th year as an educator. During this time, I’ve grown in countless ways and learned so much about serving and teaching others. Since leaving the classroom and moving into the library, I’ve gained a different perspective on professional growth and I’ve come to realize that you can’t wait for opportunities to be provided for you – you have to create opportunities for yourself.

As a librarian, it’s easy to feel like a lone soldier within the school building. Even though much of our position revolves around collaborating with our colleagues, we are often left out of professional learning opportunities such as PLCs and professional development experiences. I’m not implying that leaving us out is ever intentional, it’s just hard to include someone who is the only person like them in the building.

But…I’m not someone who is okay with being left out. I thrive on collegial conversations and spending time collaborating with others, whether it’s librarians or classroom teachers. This is probably why I’ve become so enamoured with Twitter and my PLN over the years! My PLN, that I’ve built through Twitter and blogs, is my go-to place for inspiration, assistance, ideas, sharing…and the list goes on and on.

While my PLN certainly fills my bucket, recently I started thinking about how sad it is that I’m not getting more of this type of collegiality from people that I’m around everyday. After a bad experience in a PLC that I attended a few times in my building, I’ve really had no face to face professional outlet other than the handful of teachers that I collaborate with regularly.

This is not okay.

So, I did this thing…

And I’m completely hesitant to write about it, because it’s new and it’s precious and I don’t want to seem like I’m promoting exclusivity or leaving people out.

But I did this thing and I think people need to hear about it and know that it’s okay to provide opportunities for yourself and others if you’re not getting what you need.

So, what did I do? I decided to start my own PLC with a handful of trusted colleagues in my building. And I didn’t ask for permission because I know that my principal is in the business of growing leaders and if she ever reads this, she won’t be upset, she’ll be proud!

This PLC is different – we don’t focus on testing, data or numbers. We don’t use our time to complain about our school, students, or what we don’t like about our jobs. We don’t simply disseminate information or tackle things that could easily be communicated in a short email.

What WE do is focus on positivity. We brag about our students, celebrate our successes, share our ideas and desires, ask each other for help, work together to solve problems and lift each other up. In the end, this is what builds camaraderie, family.

Along with another colleague, we created a list of who we’d like to invite to be a part of this thing. We thought about who we felt needed this same type of experience. I created hand written invitations, made a dinner reservation and our first “meeting” happened. We spent hours just hanging out. We laughed and talked about what each of us needs, our vision of what something like this could be. We decided to have 2 gatherings a month, one on campus and one off campus, as well as create a virtual meeting space using Google Classroom. This way we can share inspiring things any time we feel like it.

Our 1st on campus meeting happens on our last required workday, June 10th. Our agenda – in 5 minutes or less, each person will share 1 thing he/she wants to explore, learn, discover, improve on, or read over the summer. We will listen and become each other’s accountability partners. I think this is a fabulous way to end our school year – being surrounded by people who accept and appreciate you.

So I did this thing, and it’s not just mine, but it belongs to all of us. And if you’re not happy or not getting what you need, you need to do a thing too!

EOY Review Collaboration Project

As I begin to write this post, I can’t help but laugh. I’m not laughing because what I’m going to write is comical, it’s because, once again, my post will begin with me being inspired by one of my favorite EDU she-roes, Pernille Ripp. In April, Pernille wrote a fabulous blog post on her blog, Blogging Through the Fourth Dimension, all about using review to give students more choice with curriculum. Her idea to review standards covered by setting up small group activities and letting students choose what to work on, left me feeling so inspired.

After reading the post, I immediately shared it with my colleague, a 9th grade English teacher. Ms. Page is always willing to try new things, explore new ways to engage students, and doesn’t fear the work that goes behind creating intentional and innovative learning experiences for her students. Once she read the post, she was sold and our work began.

Our 9th graders are required to take an English I NC Final Exam. As most of you know, state tests are very hard to review for, since teachers are rarely given any heads up about what content and skills will be tested. Because I knew it would be impossible to pinpoint specific content for the test, I asked Ms. Page to reflect on 4-5 major skills that she felt were most important for her students to master in order to be successful English students. The idea of looking at an entire semester’s worth of course work and narrowing it down for review was super overwhelming for her. When I framed it in the context of a limited amount of skills, Ms. Page immediately knew what she wanted her students to work on during the last two weeks of the class.

Taking Pernille’s idea as our lead, we reconstructed her model to fit our students. First, we decided on the skills that we would be reviewing and found ways to identify those skills in a way that would be accessible for students. Ms. Page decided on 4 major skills areas: figurative language and diction analysis, central idea, text structure, and theme.

Next we thought about how we’d like to structure the review itself. We loved the way Pernille had her activities organized in an easy to read chart and decided to do the same. We are a 1:1 Chromebook school, so we created a Google Doc that would be a living instrument we could add to as the review progressed. We created a shortened link for the doc using, so students would be able to easily access it on a daily basis. We also posted the link to the doc in Ms. Page’s Google Classroom. Having a digital document also gave students the flexibility to work on assignments when they are absent from class. We decided to give ourselves 2 days for each of the skills, plus one extra day for reflection at the end. Ms. Page and I both agreed that we wanted her kids to have room to spread out and work, so during these 9 days, her classes met in the library. I had the stations set up with all the materials students would need, so they came in and were able to get started right away. Each day students were given 60 minutes to work on their choice assignment for the review column we were tackling. The last 25 minutes of class were used for guided review of reading passages with Ms. Page. 2016-06-08 09-12-41Another part of structuring the review was the idea of the review assignments themselves. Ms. Page and I are both the type of teachers who like to give our students intentional, well planned assignments that will be challenging and engaging. This can be hard with reviewing for state tests, since most of these are in multiple choice format. The first thing we decided to do was to match each skill with 1-3 anchor texts. This way, no matter which assignment students chose, they would all have the context to discuss the skill together. The anchor texts were also great because during the last 25 mins of class each day, Ms. Page could use those as the multiple choice question review. Since students had already read and worked with the text(s), they had more time to take a deep dive into the questions and talk about them together. Next, we decided to include 4 assignment choices for each skill. When Ms. Page created the assignments, she included various types of learning styles. Some focused more on writing, while others allowed students to create illustrations and videos. There was also an assignment thread through each skill that focused on working with Ms. Page in a small group. This option proved to be great for students who lacked confidence in their abilities or needed more guided instruction on a particular skill.

Once the chart was filled with assignments, we discussed the best way to have students choose what they were going to do during the review period. We toyed with the idea of having them rate themselves in each skill area and scaffolding the assignments from most to least challenging; however, we quickly dismissed this, realizing that our goal was to let students review their mastery of skills in a way that meets their learning style, not really to judge how challenging or easy a skill was. After taking a night to think about this, Ms. Page decided that she would use the day before the review to have a conversation with her students about the four mastery skills. They would talk about what the skills are, things that are hard about mastering each skill, and what mastery looks like. She also gave her students a short, Google Form survey to ask them which type of assignment they’d like to complete for each skill – the choices were general, but matched the assignment types we had already created in our chart. This way, we had an idea of how many students would be doing each assignment for each of the skill columns; however, we didn’t hold students to their choices if they felt strongly that they would benefit from a different assignment. On the second day of reviewing each skill, students turned in all completed work to the assignment that Ms. Page created in Google Classroom.

On the 9th day, we surveyed students about their experience with reviewing in this way. Overall, we found that most students associated reviewing for an exam with doing paper/pencil reading packets and piles of reading passages with multiple choice questions. To me, this was so powerful – prior to this activity, most of her students saw review as just another, boring way of going through the motions. They didn’t associate it with choice or creativity. It was obvious from both the survey results and by how engaged they were during the whole process, that students found this type of course review both fun and beneficial.

This type of review took a lot of planning and front loading, but it is something that Ms. Page and I will continue to do each semester. And since we already have the skeleton created, we can easily change the assignment choices and reading passages from semester to semester if we chose to. The best part of this entire learning activity was seeing her students engaged in real, intentional review that did so much more than just test mastery of skills – it gave students the confidence they need to conquer the test! This to me, is invaluable.


Making the Evaluation Process Easier for Everyone

checklist-443126_960_720As a media specialist, the evaluation instrument can be daunting. It’s very long, dense and sometimes hard for administrators to understand. In the past, I feel like much of my evaluation conferencing has revolved around me explaining the standards/elements and breaking down what they look like for the person who observed me.

After my first year as a librarian, I learned that if I wanted to have better evaluations, I needed to make the process more user friendly for my administrators. Much of what we do as media specialists is behind the scenes and can’t be observed by following us around for 45 minutes at a time. It’s important to collect artifacts of what we do everyday. However, collecting evidence is only one part of making the evaluation process easier – we must also curate it into an easy to use format for principals and assistant principals.

To do this, I have kept a professional portfolio each year, for the last 7 years, showcasing my work with teachers, students and my extended PLN. I’ve used multiple platforms to organize and present this portfolio, including Google Sites and Weebly. I generally create a page for each major standard (1-5) with the elements (a, b, c, etc.) listed on each respective page. Then I post entries for each artifact I collect during the school year on the page(s) for the standard(s) it represents. Many of my artifacts are repeated throughout as they fall into more than one category.

Over the years, my portfolio system has proven extremely helpful for administrators. I can share the link with them at the beginning of the school year and they can follow it all year as I update it frequently. Then, when I sit down for an observation or evaluation conference, the administrator feels more prepared to discuss my strengths and areas for growth.

I recently sat down with one of my Assistant Principals and had my summative evaluation for this school year. She thanked me profusely for my portfolio site, commenting that it helped her to keep track of all that I do. It felt good to know that I had some control over my evaluation, since much of what is on the rubric can’t be seen in a 45 minute visit to the library while I’m co-teaching a class or running programming. As she and I talked, I shared with her an idea I had to make better use of my portfolio idea – a way to make it less work on me and geared more toward reflection and sharing. Next year, instead of having a separate portfolio site where I house evidence and artifacts of meeting my standards, I am going to use this blog!

I have created categories for each standard (1-5) and will simply use the blog to post and reflect on what I’m doing in my work with students, teachers and outside of the building. For each post, I can easily include pictures and videos. I will then mark the post with the appropriate category (Standard 1, 2, 3, etc.) so that when my administrator is working on an evaluation, she can search my blog using the standard she is looking for and pull a curated list of all of the posts that feature work meeting that standard. Up to now, I have been posting on both my portfolio site and then reposting on my blog, so this new system will mean I only have to post once, but I still get the same effect.

I’m so interested in how other media specialists curate and share what they’re doing with their administrators! I’d love to hear from you if you have great ideas on this!

Fairy Tales + Kinetic Sculptures + Rube Goldberg = Awesomeness! (Part 2)

IMG_2775 (1) IMG_2744 IMG_2514 IMG_2512 IMG_2508Last month, I partnered with the Art I teacher to work on a unit that mixed literacy and kinetic sculptures. We took the unit she had already created and breathed new life into it by challenging students to be inspired by picture books and also add in aspects of Rube Goldberg design. You can read more about the project here.

So, the students finished their sculptures and have uploaded all of their work to SeeSaw. We used this platform to showcase all of their efforts during the Engineering Design Process because 1) it’s super easy to use from both a browser or mobile device and 2) it allows the entire class to see, comment and discuss each others’ work. It also helped Ms. Rubino (partnering Art I teacher) and I to assess student groups along the way, ensuring that they had better products in the end.

Click here to see photos and videos from the project!

Our project has now ended, but the learning has not stopped. Ms. Rubino and I have started to reflect on the unit, taking note of what worked, what didn’t work and ways that we can improve this for next time. We had challenges along the way, including both of us being out on different days, which meant the students were on their own a lot.

Some of the things we’re thinking of improving on for next time include:

  1. Taking more time to introduce SeeSaw; making sure students understand our intentions for using it to share work and create dialogue about that work – We found that students had no problems uploading their work to the platform, but there was very little commenting about each other’s evidence.
  2. Being clearer about the requirements for the final product; having a rubric that students can use to assess their efforts – Our intentions were for all students to have a kinetic sculpture that had both kinetic properties and evidence of Rube Goldberg design. What we got instead, were sculptures that had one or the other. The idea of Rube Goldberg design was lost on many students, with most of them creating moving sculptures that might have one cause and effect relationship, not a series.
  3. Sharing beyond the classroom – Our initial idea was that we’d have students share their final products through videos which we’d feature in a bracket style competition for the school and community to view and vote on. We both believe strongly in creating products for authentic audiences, not just for the teacher. We wanted to create a March Madness type of competition, but we ran out of time as Ms. Rubino has another entire unit to cover before the end of the school year.

If you’d like to hear more about this project or get specific information that we used, please contact me!

Fairy Tales + Kinetic Sculptures + Rube Goldberg = Awesomeness!

Photos and videos by Tavia Clark tavia_clark Twitter

I recently read this article by Lisa Kropp in School Library Journal about a library in Orlando, Florida that breathed new life into fairy tales. By pairing classic stories with building Rube Goldberg machines, students get to design, create and problem solve.

I was instantly in love with this idea! I’m always searching for fun ways to collaborate with classroom teachers and give students authentic and exciting learning opportunities. When I get the chance to pair literacy with Math or Science, that’s an ever bigger plus!

After reading the article, I immediately approached an Art teacher and described my vision for this activity. I chose to reach out to her because she is always looking for ways to merge art with Math, Science and literacy. Plus, she’s visionary, which inspires and excites me. We brainstormed for a while and found that her upcoming unit on kinetic sculptures would marry perfectly with building Rube Goldberg machines. Once I knew she was in, I emailed the other librarians in my district and asked to borrow as many classic and “fractured” fairy tales as I could. I also reserved some awesome fairy tale picture books from my local library – all the ensure that our students have as much choice as possible.

Our project will consist of few parts and will span at least three weeks. In short, students will read fairy tales, identify a problem within their tale and then create a kinetic sculpture/Rube Goldberg machine that solves the problem – all while incorporating the art of the book’s illustrator. We’re hoping to incorporate the engineering design process into the project and have students create video blogs of how their group works through the stages. These blogs can then be editing into a shorter video to reflect on the work they did during the building process. Our ultimate goal will be to share these sculpture/machines with a larger audience by creating a bracket and pitting the final products against one another and allowing the community to vote via social media on their favorite design.

Since she and I don’t get much opportunity to plan together, I created a folder in Google Drive with planning documents, pictures, links, information and she added her unit resources. Having this shared folder allows us to work asynchronously, but in an organized and collaborative way.

We’re super excited to get started with this project and see what our kids come up with! I plan to post along the way to document our story.

Written Conversations – A New Way

Written conversations are an amazing way to engage students in thoughtful and meaningful discourse, while ensuring that every student has a voice. This instructional method gives kids a safe environment to think, question and share their opinions. I love that it puts all students on a much more equal playing field than a traditional seminar or discussion would.

Most of the classes I’ve worked with have done written conversations using the write-around method; students move around the room responding (in writing) to both texts and other comments or thoughts left by their peers. The texts have varied from primary source documents to cartoons to infographics. In reflecting on this activity, almost every time the students comment that they loved “discussing” the texts in this way. Many also say that they enjoyed being able to “hear” from all of their classmates.

Up until this point, all of the texts we’ve used during written conversations activities have been selected by the teacher or myself. This week, I had two teachers who, inspired by this method, decided to use their students to create the texts that the classes would respond to.

Our APUSH teacher used the write-around method to have students peer review early drafts of document based questions. She chose 6-7 student created introductions and body paragraphs and had the class do a written conversation to reflect on the structure and content required for this style of essay. Her students gained so much insight from reading their peers’ work and thanked her for the opportunity to learn in this way. I was ecstatic because she and I have collaborated multiple times on written conversations, but this time the activity was totally her own idea!

Today, I worIMG_2349 (1)ked with an English III teacher on written conversations in response to the film White Light, Black Rain (about the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki). Students watched the film and reflected prior to doing the write-around. This time, instead of choosing texts for students to respond to, we decided to allow the students to work in groups to create their own texts.

Students were given sheets with 4 quadrants, each with its own prompt (questions, quotes, etc.) to work in a small group to reflect on.

The prompts were:
A. Respond to the following:
On August 6, 1945, the crew of the Enola Gay watched in awe as their payload detonated over the city of Hiroshima. “As the bomb exploded, we saw the entire city disappear,” said Commander Robert Lewis. “I wrote in my log, ‘My God, what have we done?'” Below, thousands of people were instantly carbonized in a blast that was thousands of times hotter than the sun’s surface; further from the epicentre, birds ignited in mid-flight, eyeballs popped and internal organs were sucked from bodies of victims.

B. Respond to the following:
Harry Truman, the then President of the Unites States who had ordered Hiroshima destroyed, later said: “We have discovered the most terrible weapon in the history of the world,” but steadfastly defended its use and said it had ultimately saved lives. Truman’s successor, President Dwight Eisenhower, also had reservations. In a 1963 interview with Newsweek magazine, he said: “The Japanese were ready to surrender and it wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing.”

C. After viewing the documentary, how has your view or opinion changed? (This turned out to be a favorite prompt to both respond to initially and during our write-around.)

D. What advice would you give to world leaders as they consider the reality of nuclear warfare?

Once they had discussed, they compiled their group answers onto the large butcher paper. These 4 answers then became the texts that the entire class would use during our written conversation. Having students use their own opinions and thoughts to create the texts lent itself to more written discussion from the very first round of our write-around. The kids were very interested to see how everyone felt about these very debatable topics. This also gave them a great opportunity to practice kindly disagreeing with each other (both during their group work and during the write-around) and stating opinions with factual evidence to support them. After the activity concluded, we followed up with a short exit ticket that asked for reflection on how students felt about this activity – the response was overwhelmingly positive! FotorCreated

I LOVE written conversations and have had the opportunity to use them in many different formats with my teachers and students. I am thrilled at the prospect of having students do more text creation within activities like this!