Friday, April 27, 2012

Listening Skills in the Library

During the school year, I've chronicles my efforts to teach study skills to 150 AP World History students. At some points, note taking was kind of like eating brussel sprouts, and but we improved from there.

This week, we switched gears a little bit to talk about listening skills. Specifically, we focused on 8 habits of bad listeners and how to ID the important stuff in a lecture.

Bad habits we covered included:
We also talked about signal words - cues and clues that help the listener understand where they are in a lecture.

Following my 20 minute mini-lesson, the teacher delivered a lecture on Chinese dynasties. This was the FIRST TIME most students had ever taken notes purely from listening, without the help of a cloze or fill-in-the-blank activity (What's up with getting to April of your 9th grade year without taking lecture notes?!? Why did we phase that out - it's such a great critical thinking/listening activity?!?).

To help support the students, I took notes as the teacher presented, and projected them onto a side wall in the classroom. When they got stuck, they just glanced over to see if they were on the right track. On Monday, we'll continue with more of the same and teach them how to use the Evernote app.

Here's a list of the resources I used to help create this lesson:
Follow this link to my presentation -- feel free to adapt it for your own uses. 

Any other librarians out there teaching study skills?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Explain Anything with Explain Everything

At the junior high we're loving an iPad app called Explain Everything. It's $2.99 for a single copy, and the price drops to $1.49 when you buy 20 copies or more.

Explain Everything allows students to create a narrated slide show. In addition to recording the student's voice, the app also records any action that happens on the iPad screen. So, for example, if a student draws an arrow while they're narrating, the app records the arrow being drawn.

A 9th grade global studies class recently used Explain Everything to create vocabulary projects for 6th graders. Their format was pretty basic, and I think it translates well enough to work with vocabulary words in any subject area:
  • Slide 1: Provide a visual image of the vocabulary word, and ask the 6th grader to predict the word's meaning
  • Slide 2: Provide a definition of the vocabulary word
  • Slide 3: Explain a simile comparing the vocabulary word to a more familiar object or idea
  • Slide 4: Ask the 6th graders to write down their own definition of the word
  • Slide 5: Introduce yourself with a photo
We tried to incorporate higher level thinking for both sixth graders (making predictions based on images, re-writing a definition in their own terms) and ninth graders (simplifying complex terms and developing similes).

Both the 9th grade authors and the 6th grade audience really enjoyed the project. Here are a few samples of their finished products:

Vocabulary term: Qu'ran
Vocabulary term: Mosque
Vocabulary term: Ka'ba

How do you envision yourself using the Explain Everything app?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Vacation = Disconnecting?

I’m on spring break this week, and I’m enjoying a visit to sunny Atlanta. It’s so nice this time of year because winter here is a distant memory and it’s a great change from Syracuse’s cool, rainy weather. 

Grandma's yard - April in Atlanta looks like June in Syracuse!
It’s a low-key vacation, as I’m visiting relatives with my Mom. I’m staying with my Grandma, and although she’s the proud owner of a much-loved Kindle Fire, she doesn’t have Internet access.

In preparation for a week off-line, I packed a stack of books – a few nonfiction and some other fun things I’ve been meaning to read. I admittedly spend way too much time online, so I figured I’d get tons and tons read without the constant distraction of blogs, celebrity gossip sites, and Facebook (that doesn't sound very librarian-ish, does it?). 

My best intentions.
This, sadly, is not the case. I’ve read exactly 78 pages, and instead spent much of my time staring at my tiny iPhone screen – which, admittedly, gets only spotty reception.

I. Am. Pathetic.

Anyone else have trouble unplugging and get back to basics, even under optimal conditions?

Thursday, April 5, 2012

A Google a Day

I'm always looking for little activities - AKA "bellringers" - to kick off a class period -- something for the kids to do while they wait for their classmates to log on, papers to be handed out, etc. Bellringers help ease the transition from the hallways to instructional time.  The best bellringers:
  • Require little or no instruction
  • Have directions that can be posted on the SmartBoard
  • Are engaging (a game, competitive challenge, relevant to teens, etc)
  • Reinforce information literacy skills (DUH!)
Recently, Google provided the EXACT thing to fit the bill. It's called "A Google a Day." Thanks, Geek Dad, for introducing it to me (I'm neither male, nor a parent, but I still dig the blog).
Google provides a daily question, and challenges users to find the answer. Users playing along search via a special interface that filters out results designed to specifically answer the Google-A-Day question. Google says, "to keep the game interesting for everyone, we created Deja Google – A wormhole inspired time machine that searches the Internet as it existed before the game began. Because nobody wants someone's recent blog post about finding an answer spoiling their fun."

Today's question is: "What continent has the most French speakers in the world?" I think this is one of the easier ones they've posted. Previous questions include:
  • "How long would it take to walk to all the cities that have served as capitals of the U.S. government since the signing of the Constitution?"
  • "I was celebrated as the paladin of Uruk, but my legacy is in the realm of ancient literature. Who am I?"
  •  "Rembrandt painted a philosopher looking at the bust of a Greek poet. The gold medallion on the chain represents another famous Greek. Who is it?"
When searching, Google times you (I can't believe how much pressure that little ticking clock adds!). When you think you know the answer, submit it in the box provided, and Google will tell you if you're correct.

I have yet to try it with classes, but I can't wait to roll it out. I won't use it all the time, but when I'm teaching lessons on Internet searching, it provides the perfect warm-up. (I also love that it challenges my "I can find anything" librarian ego.)

Check it out at

Can you think of ways to use a Google a Day in your instructional practice?

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

April Displays: The Library - Your Shelter From The Storm!

 April displays are up! Once again Deb, our fabulous secretary, has taken creativity to new heights. This month's theme is The Library: Your Shelter from the Storm.We thought it was appropriate because, for many students, the library provides a refuge from all different kinds of storms, like bullying, overcrowded cafeterias, and bad days.
Above: The main circulation desk
We have no concerns about open umbrellas bringing bad luck, so we suspended them from the ceiling and hung rain drops stitched together along with 3D clouds - both inspired by Pintrest
Open umbrellas and stitched paper raindrop chains
 Here's another shot that shows off the open umbrellas from afar. 
A different view of the umbrellas.
And here's our nod to School Library Week. I know it's not much, but the sign's on the circulation desk where every kid can see it, so hopefully it makes a little impact.

What are you April displays like?