Monday, April 25, 2011

Justin Bieber as teacher

Thank you Justin Bieber!

One of the most important tasks for a teacher-librarian is to help his/her students understand how to evaluate and critically examine information they locate. Finding information in this day and age is no longer a problem, but finding reliable information you can cite without concern is another. In the past, I tried to address this important issue using fantastic fictional websites like the Tree Octopus at but the only trouble with taking this approach is that students sometimes get the wrong impression. A few years ago when I conducted my "Tree Octopus lesson", I asked the students, "So, what did you learn from this lesson?"

"I learned not to trust the teacher-librarian", replied a kid.

Whoops. Not the lesson I wanted to impart!

However, a perfect teachable moment came up recently in a grade 5-6 class that the classroom teacher and I ran with and it proved to be much more effective. As a whole group, we were looking at movie trailers on in preparation for our upcoming project on creating book trailers. Tribute is a general movie information site and it also had a section on celebrity gossip. One of the students spotted a headline that read "Justin Bieber saves mom from fire".

"That's weird", said the girl. "I saw on CP24 (City Pulse 24, a news station) that it said that Justin Bieber SET his mom on fire!"

Well, this led to a great discussion. Which one was right? How could we know? We went looking for reports of this fire on the website of a major newspaper (The Toronto Star) but couldn't find any mention of the event. We found a video that was supposed to show the actual incident.

Here's what we saw: Justin Bieber was on tour in Europe. It was his mother's birthday and so he brought her out on stage so the audience could serenade her with a rendition of "Happy Birthday". He also brought out a birthday cake so she could blow out the candles. A candle or a spark (it's not clear which) fell onto her long hair and Justin brushed it out.

That was what happened.

We then talked some more. Did he set his mom on fire? Well, not really. Did he save his mom from fire? Well, not really. So, why didn't the headlines read "Justin Bieber's mom has a birthday cake candle touch her hair"? We talked about why the different media outlets would sensationalize the minor event and how we as readers could confirm the "truth". We talked about the source of the information and about "triangulating the data" by consulting other, different resources to compare reports.

This was a great opportunity to teach about evaluating information in a way that interested the students, as most people have a strong opinion on the Biebster. It was a much-needed lesson, as the classroom teacher told me that just a few days prior, she had talked to one of her students about the research she used for her speech arts submission. Her talk was on smoking and she said that smoking kills 80% of Canadians every year. The teacher was surprised at how high that number was and asked the girl where she found the number. She had located it online in a blog. The teacher then explained that the number sounded unusually high and showed the student how to locate a more reliable source, like the Canadian Ministry of Health website, which reported a much lower 30% of all deaths in Canada each year could be attributed to smoking. The funny thing was that the girl had difficulty articulating why her research was flawed.

I guess I shouldn't be too surprised. Wikipedia is often vilified but other online sources are not mentioned critically. In another class discussion with the same grade 5-6 class, we compared three definitions of a blog and I asked the class to vote on which definition was the best one. Many of the kids claimed that the Wikipedia version was not reliable mainly because it was Wikipedia, despite being very thorough with liberal use of examples and elaboration. I suspect I will need to conduct more lessons and facilitate more discussions so that students can see the benefits of Wikipedia without blindly accepting everything on it - just like I want them to do with all sources, not just the online ones. Look for more musings in the near future on our lessons and thoughts around critically evaluating information.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Alas, poor Osric - Twitter Hamlet ends

I was actually planning on writing this week's reflection on critically evaluating sources and sharing some of the neat discussion that my students have conducted on the subject recently (for which I have Justin Bieber to thank). That will have to wait until next week, because the fictional character I played for over a month as part of Danika Baker's "Brevity is the soul of (t)wit" project has stopped tweeting. The play is done. Over. Finite. The end.

As people who've actually read or studied Hamlet may recall, Osric actually only appears in one scene of the whole play - Act 5, Scene 2. However, thanks to the improvisational nature of this Twitter project, Osric has been involved even before the beginning. As art imitated life in this experiment, it just made sense. People don't appear out of nowhere. They exist and interact even if they are not "front and centre" at the moment.

It was neat to see how this one-note character developed and changed as he tweeted. Please forgive me but I find it difficult to talk about me as Osric - he seemed to take on a life of his own even though I was the one typing his words. Occasionally I'd write Danika to let her know I was "holding Osric back" from tweeting too much by having him lose his laptop, have a hangover, or get stuck in the airport without a power cord and a low laptop battery. She must think I'm crazy. I know I've secretly rolled my eyes at authors who claim their characters are the ones calling the shots but I guess I can't mock them as severely as I once did.

Osric stayed true to his character - he was a ridiculous fool and a big suck-up - but he also turned out to be a good friend to Laertes and I think he was quite upset when he discovered his idol was not as perfect as he once believed. On the Saturday of the final day of the play, I made sure to keep Twitter up on my computer, even though I was running a meeting of the editorial board for OSLA's magazine at the same time. Osric's interaction with Hamlet and Horatio was so much fun that I laughed out loud when one of them DM'd the other to say "If he [Osric] likes him [Laertes] so much, why doesn't he marry him?" I became a bit worried when the final battle came and Laertes didn't seem to be online. How could we do this without Laertes? Thankfully, it worked out just fine. In fact, due to how it played out in the end, I believe that Osric could be seen as the parallel to Horatio - the obedient friend to an emotional and passionate young man. Can you imagine what the play would be like if, instead of Horatio, Osric reported things? When I talked about the play (as I did often) with my husband and I discussed Osric's fidelity to Laertes, he replied something like "But Laertes is just a big jerk! He's a thug - you'd have to be blind or an idiot to follow him!" and I agreed. At first I thought Osric's fawning words were just his knee-jerk reactions to all people above him, but I think Osric hero-worshipped Laertes.

I don't know how much time the other "Twit-actors" spent in thinking about their characters. I suspect that many of them put a lot of work into it. Some of the tweeted videos, photos and songs were just perfect. I know I tried my best to make the quotes that Osric chose in his #Quote2day hashtag as well as the books he read and reviewed in his Goodreads account reflect what was going on in the play at the time. It gave me the chance to realize how influential Hamlet is to literature around the world and read some classic books I might not have read otherwise.

I had to admire how our director went with the flow of things. At first, I questioned why Lady Annalis, a character not found in the play itself but one that made sense in the grand scheme of things (after all, Ophelia had to have female friends!), suggested that King Claudius was making unwelcome advances towards her. However, it resolved itself in my head as Lady Annalis' protective father prevented her from visiting the castle, keeping her away from Ophelia and helping to create the feeling of total abandonment and despair that led to Ophelia's death. I understood the rationale completely, and kudos to the person who played @cool_court_chick for setting it up so well. I really hope our director blogs a list of the people who were connected to each character. I want to make sure I congratulate each one thoroughly on their performances. (I tried to do this in direct messages I labeled "out of character", but they sounded a bit too "Osric-y" in their flattery!)

Today's post didn't have much to do with school libraries, but I hope it reflected some learning that happened for me as a part of this project (and I hope it helps Danika with her MEd portfolio). I'd post the links to the various blogs documenting the Twitter Hamlet play, but I want to get this published before Monday turns into Tuesday!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Comic Reflection

I love being a teacher-librarian. One of the reasons I love it is because I'm constantly learning new things and experimenting with technology, information literacy, and reading. I learn a lot from conferences. In the near future, I'll be attending the Canadian Library Association's conference in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and the International Association of School Libraries' conference in Mona, Jamaica. I'm looking forward to those upcoming PD sessions, but I also like to look back to past conferences and reflect on what I learned from them.

In February 2011, I attended the Ontario Library Association's annual conference and participated in the OSLA Web 2.0 Face-off. I really appreciated the new contacts I made from being a part of this presentation. Colleen R. and I discovered we both love using Bitstrips for Schools and we decided to use Bitstrips to reflect on the OSLA Web 2.0 Face-off experience. I was responsible for telling one team's point of view of the proceedings and she was to tell the other side of the story. Then, our plan was to jointly create a comic. The next few days on Monday Molly Musings will offer the comics I've created as part of this reflection. Hopefully, we'll be able to finish our joint comic so I can share it on the blog.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Pay it forward with Games Based Learning

This week has been my "pay it forward" week - usually Monday Molly Musings is just a weekly blog post, but sometimes (like with my tribute to Osric) the theme carries over.

Today I want to thank Julie Johnson, a teacher in the Simcoe County District School Board, for allowing me to join her Mario Kart project.

At my school, we own two Nintendo Wii game systems. We won them by coming in second place in a Best Buy / Best in Class Fund project. We've used the Wiis for Games Day (for fun) and for instructional purposes as well, but it was always just within our school.

I "met" Julie via Twitter. She had received a grant to explore the use of Mario Kart in her school in various ways (language, math, social skills & character education, etc.). We exchanged a few ideas and now we are working together in a cross-school project. The end result will be that her school plays my school in a Mario Kart tournament. The experience is so much richer when it's shared. I really like hearing how she is using her Wii Club and it inspires how we run our school's Wii Club. Julie has been willing to share so much, including her Games Based Learning wiki (which, of course, I forgot the link - I'll add it later). It's been a delight to talk, think, and explore with her. To be all cliched about it - I think it's the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Pay it forward with the 10 Picture Tour

This blog post is dedicated to Cale Birk, an administrator who writes a blog called "The Learning Nation". He in turn discovered this idea from Brian Barry, whom I believe is @Nunavut_teacher on Twitter (please correct me if I am wrong).

With the 10 Picture Tour, Cale challenged his readers to quickly take 10 photos of the school and provide a brief caption for each to show people what's noteworthy about their school. Here were my ten. Just to be on the safe side, I didn't include any children or teachers in the photos, though I did take some.

This is the hallway that connects our kindergarten area, gym, lunchroom, and main office. We have been putting up more bulletin boards in the hall so we can share student work easier. You'll see a glimpse of some student art in a different shot.

This was me working on three computers at once in one of those rare times that the main computer lab's free. On the desktop PC, I was trying to upload videos of the grade 3-4s telling their stories to the newest school blog. On my personal laptop, I was trying to complete my lesson plans using TuLiP (Teacher-Librarian Planner, a wonderful FileMaker Pro program created by some folks in our board), and on the Mac, I was adding the book trailer rubric to the intermediate division wiki. Multitasking anyone?

This is my office. Unlike the last photo, which I staged slightly, this is what my library office usually looks like. You'll note the abundance of Twilight related items. That's because 1) I'm a huge Twilight fan and 2) my husband won't let me put that stuff up in our house so I plaster it all over the walls of my office.

This is just one bulletin board display of art. This one is located in the upper hallway, where our intermediate students spend a lot of their time. Our students are amazing artists. This is just a small sample of what they can do.

I am a teacher-librarian at my school, so naturally, I had to take a photo of the library. Usually it's full to exploding with students, but I took this shot when no one was around, early in the day. The room has a funny zig-zag shape. The favorite spots include the "cozy corner" of couches near the suit of armor (Sir Bob lives at our library thanks to a presenter who has no room at her house) and the mini lab of iMacs we won when we came in 2nd place in the Best Buy Best in Class Fund contest. I also love my SMART Board!

This is a picture of Max, our school skinny pig, in his nice, recently-cleaned cage. Max is much adored at our school. He is very vocal and purrs like a cat, but without the pesky fur allergies.

This is pretty neat. One of our kindergarten teachers actually built this light table himself for his class! The surface illuminates so that student scientists could examine their specimens clearly.

This is a display (I made) in our computer lab. Our students are very adept at using technology but lessons still need to be taught in digital citizenship. I developed this acronym in an article I co-wrote with another teacher for "The Teaching Librarian" magazine (Volume 14 Issue 3). It attempts to remind people that copyright/plagiarism applies to images too. The acronym stands for:
I = inform yourself and others of copyright law
M = make lists of appropriate image sites
A = ask permission of original owner
G = get creative
E = explain where and how visuals used are found

This is a shot of the windows to our main office. Our grade 6 boys basketball team made it all the way to the city championships and won second place. They had an amazing season!

I took a close-up of a bulletin board display from the lab, so I had to do one for the library. I like to explain things in terms of metaphors and analogies.

I'm not sure how much these photos tell about my school vs me and what I consider the most important there. Thank you Cale and Brian for a great idea. It's a great exercise for anyone to conduct, with or without a blog.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Pay it forward with Paper Blogging

Rodd Lucier at The Clever Sheep blog, about 3 posts ago, wrote about "Paper Blogging". He saw an example of a bulletin board transformed into a hallway blog when he was at another school. He posted photos of the example and explained how the teacher at that school used the sticky note interaction to discuss why some authors moderate their comments, how people can deal with negative or anonymous comments, and other interesting issues.

I thought this was pretty innovative. My own junior division blog was a bit lethargic, and the students weren't using it as effectively as I would have liked, so I actually replicated our online blog on a bulletin board in a busy hallway. I copied the already-existing comments onto sticky notes, printed original blog posts and supplied extra markers and sticky notes so that people passing by could make new comments. We had great discussions in the library about which version was read more, the differences between the online and paper version, and other thoughtful questions. I will try and post some of the things the students said later this week on the blog.

On March 30, I gave a half-way workshop for a family of schools in the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board on how to implement the OSLA document, "Together For Learning". This was a delightful group of teacher-librarians. Before meeting them, I surveyed the group using Survey Monkey to get a feel for their team and what their most pressing needs were. Out of the four key components of a learning commons (flexible physical & virtual space / learning partnerships / equitable access / integration of technology), the technology piece was the most challenging. The teacher-librarians have a lot of restrictions placed upon them in terms of bringing in technology (no personal laptops for teachers, few computers per pupil, many centrally blocked sites, etc.). As part of the talk and activities (called "Making Lemonade in the Library Learning Commons" - the Prezi can be found at my personal wiki), we used Bitstrips for Schools (licensed for all educators in Ontario), which was not blocked, and I showed them pictures of my paper blog. At the end of the session, as we drank lemonade from our plastic champagne glasses, I asked the group what their next step would be. Many of the participants said they would like to do a version of the paper blog, because even though they could not add a dozen more computers to their lab, by trying this activity, they could at least simulate the technology.

So, thanks to a link via Twitter, now teachers in at least three different school boards are trying out paper blogging, for different reasons but for similar purposes - to help student learning. Pay it forward - share your ideas, share the ideas of others, and you never know who it will help.