Testing Blues

I’ve probably ranted about this before. We test every single quarter. Last quarter students were taking the MCA high stakes tests. They were mostly done on paper but next year they’ll be on computers. The other 3 quarters students take MAP tests. Unlike the MCAs, which are summative, the MAP tests are formative and provide good, quick feedback so teachers can see when a student is having trouble before it gets to be a crisis.

Don’t get me wrong I’m not saying there shouldn’t be any tests. In fact, I use the MAP scores as one way of determining seating arrangements. But do we really have to have a test every single quarter? Since the tests are administered in the library computer lab, I lose almost an entire quarter of instructional time each year. My colleague and close friend schedules the tests but usually I don’t know early enough to plan my way around it. I make do the best I can. I go to the classrooms with a cart of books. I try to deliver a lesson in the classroom and then check out books from the cart. It’s a tiring hauling everything around and I’m not able to teach all the things I need to teach, especially when I don’t have access to computers.

I really want 4th and 5th grade students to evaluate websites. The 3rd graders were having such a hard time logging in that I developed a lesson plan so they can practice that and get some practice on Word in the process. The kindergartners need to learn how to log in and be able to do a simple catalog search by the end of the quarter. I don’t remember now what the 1st and 2nd graders were going to do but it was going to be on computer. I feel like I have to cram all my teaching this quarter into the month of July

Certainly I’ve had students on the computers during the other 3 quarters but I haven’t had an entire quarter to concentrate on it because at some point my classes lose that computer access to testing. What would a classroom teacher do if they were told that they could not teach in their classroom or use the resources there for 2 or 3 weeks every quarter?

Digital Cleanup

Now that I’m connected through a blog, twitter, delicious, RSS feed, etc. I find that my life is digitally messy. I have 485 blog posts to read. Some of the blogs listed on the right are no longer active and I should take them out of my list. There are new ones that I follow that are fantastic that I should add. How do I have time to even look at all the fantastic sites mentioned by my twitter colleagues? I haven’t really even explored the social networking possible in delicious and I still need to go through the links I’ve saved. My own website really needs some quality updating.

Don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t give up any of these tools, not for a minute. But I’m not sure how to organize all this information. Remember that I’m a librarian at heart and that’s what we do. We organize information and figure out how to access it. I now have a flood of information that is basically organized but I don’t know how to keep up with it. I suppose it means I need to figure out what’s really important to me. Maybe I need to set aside a certain time each day. Like anything, if it really matters to me I’ll find time for it. How do others keep up? Sounds like a tweet to me!

Evernote Again

A couple posts ago I was listing some of the technology I use for personal uses and I left Evernote off the list. I actually used it when making the post but still forgot to list it. That just shows how much I take it for granted.

I have a class that loves to talk. It’s frustrating teaching this group and students who are trying to learn are annoyed. I rearranged the seating chart according to student MAP reading scores so that students in similar reading levels are in the same row. Now I can send one row with written instructions off to work on an assignment while I give instructions to the other two rows.

I used Evernote to print just the part of the screen I needed to make step by step instructions. I love this feature. I seldom need to print an entire screen but often need a portion of the screen. Since I can sync Evernote online, the pictures are also available to me on another computer. I’m still using the instructions I made and will surely make some more.

Now I’m sure that Evernote has many other uses. I sometimes use it to save tweets from Twitter. You could jot down notes or a to-do list. You could do some serious online shopping comparisons because Evernote provides the URL for the sites you note. I’m sure I’m forgetting something. Evernote is one of those very useful little tools now available free online.

Citations

One of the coolest things I did with my students last year was the Harambee Library Wiki. I learned a lot doing that so I’m not using it this year. That seems counterintuitive so let me explain.

If you look at some of the book reviews you notice that many of the entries look incomplete. My students had trouble posting very basic bibliographic information. Capitalization was a problem. Correct title and author information was a struggle. This year I knew we had to address those issues.

Our school is participating in choosing the Maud Hart Lovelace Award and in order to vote they must read at least three of the nominated books. I wanted to know how many books they had read and which ones they were. NoodleTools has a fantastic bibliography tool that’s easy for elementary students to use. All my fourth and fifth grade students now have accounts. They can make a Maud Hart Lovelace list, print it out (learning how to change printers in the process) and I’ll know who can vote.

NoodleBib requires the entries be capitalized correctly. Students have to find the place of publication, publisher and date of publication. I had to run around helping many but the more they do it the easier it will get. Hopefully we can get back to the wiki next year with entries that reflect this proficiency.

It Still Uses Technology

The first graders are becoming experts on the Caldecott Award. They had so much fun with the Go Caldecott game we played at the end of the second quarter that I told them we’d read some more books and then play it again. This week we played the game again and they loved it. It’s just a board game that I made following the 57 Games to play in the Library or Classroom instructions. Their scores improved dramatically.

One thing that makes it work so well is the random number generator that we used.

  Random number generator
Random number generator

Part of the fun was getting to find out how many squares ahead they could move by going to the white board and pushing the arrow. This small interactive part of the game added a lot. It just goes to show that the technology we inject into our lessons doesn’t have to be huge to make a difference.

Kindergarten

Kindergarten classes are a challenge.  They need to get up and move after about 10 minutes and I haven’t quite figured out what that should look like in the library. This week though, I got it right.

They now know their letters pretty good but I know that alphabetical order will continue to be something they’ll need to work on. The document camera is still a fairly new tool in our school so I hooked it up and put a little story without words called The Alphabet by Monique Felix under it. It’s about a little mouse who digs into a book and pulls out each letter of the alphabet on little squares of paper. The kids were intrigued when they saw my hand turn the pages. We speculated about just what the little mice were doing and we all said the alphabet at the end.

That was good but Bembo’s Zoo was better. Even adults were intrigued by the way the letters formed intricate caricatures of the animals and a fourth grader walking by asked for the URL. Students came up to the white board to touch the first letter of their name and watch as the animal was formed. Of course, it got pretty loud in the library but the kindergartners were engaged, had a good time, and got a little alphabet practice. It’s a step in the right direction.

Just Do It

A couple months ago a parent at my school told me that one reason they chose our school was because of my website. Of course, I was honored but also cringed. The truth of the matter is that my website is in desperate need of an update. I’m not even going to link it in this post and am secretly hoping that no one will notice the link on the side. We just had a two week break (year round school) and I planned on working on it over the break but just couldn’t seem to find the time. After all, I needed to plan on what to teach this quarter, had to make new seating charts, really needed to pare down my email, etc. All this had to happen during my “vacation” so one more thing to do wasn’t what I needed.

Those are all good excuses but I suspect that they’re not the whole story. My website has been built up over the course of several years and really needs to be completely restructured. I should take advantage of the new capabilities of the site and there’s just so much that can be done. I think I’m feeling overwhelmed by the prospect. Now the break is over; we go back tomorrow and my site will still need to be updated. I need to just do it.

It’s a lot like technology integration for some teachers. They know it needs to be done but there are always so many other things to do. It can be very hard to make technology a priority, especially when it’s something you’re not really very comfortable with anyway. It can be intimidating and very overwhelming. At some point, you just need to do it.

Professional Development

The Formal Stuff

Recently our Technology Curriculum Committee, of which I am the proud but reluctant leader, provided a wonderful 45 minute staff training session for our teachers. I certainly can’t claim credit for this one which was planned and executed by two members of the committee. One of them is the blogger ranting haretek and she details it in her post, Our Amazing PLC Team Challenge.

It was sort of like a scavenger hunt. Different teams had different things they had to do. My team had to check out a computer cart, start up computers, open my computer, take a screen shot, print the screen shot, etc. Some teachers in our group had never done any of these things before. They saw how slow some of the computers were getting started and now realize that they need to have some activity going while computers are firing up. Or maybe, two students need to be working together so they aren’t all starting at once. They also learned how to change the printer settings. When we met back with the other teams we saw that they had different challenges. They had learned how to use our new document cameras. I was so excited to see them brainstorming other ways to use the cameras which I hope will be checked out more now.

The teachers loved this activity. Someone asked when they could do it again. It was engaging and they learned a lot. If there was someone who was uncomfortable with technology, they could lean on others for support. This is exactly what we are trying to do for our students when we use technology in the classroom.

The Informal Stuff

The last “Tech Play Day” was a huge success with four participants. I tell teachers and staff that I will hang around after work on the last day of each month just so they can play. I can show them how to get pictures off a camera, we can look for shopping sites, start using delicious, etc. It can be as personal or professional as they want since it’s after hours.

Our last one was a Friday so I didn’t expect so many to come, if any. However, one teacher who has a job sharing position actually arranged to have a sitter look after her twins so that she could come back to school. She wanted to know how to use the interactive whiteboard and I found some ready made lessons that she thought were just what she needed at Promethean Planet. Another teacher was wondering about copying a cd that came from the publisher of our reading curriculum. We decided that the company needed to be contacted on copyright. Another teacher wanted to know more about using Excel. I was excited to see them working together. I’m not the only technology expert. I think everyone had a good time and all learned something. I’ll definitely continue my Tech Play Days and I’m wondering how I can extend them somehow.

Taking It Personal

The thing about technology is that it becomes such an integral part of your life that you don’t think about it much. I’ve tried some things that I now use all the time and I tried others that didn’t work so well. Now it might seem like personal technology use might not be important in the classroom setting but I couldn’t disagree more. As we become more comfortable with various tools we become better able to introduce new tools to our students, even if the tools we are introducing to them are not the same as the ones we’re using.

GPS

I have this thing about getting lost. It really scares me so Google Maps has been a life saver for a long time now. Why I didn’t get a personal navigator earlier I’ll never know.

Personal navigation system
Personal navigation system

It’s not the newest or the brightest but I like it. We’ve named it Gabby and anyone who has one probably knows why. She does talk a lot when giving directions which can actually be a little distracting. But it’s so helpful to get those directions and I really like seeing the map right there on the bottom of my windshield where I can glance if I need to. I will say that sometimes the directions are not always 100% accurate but so far that hasn’t mattered.

Will I use this in a classroom? Probably not but over the next two quarters my fifth graders will be looking at atlases, in a variety of formats. I think they could have a lot of fun with something like this. I just don’t quite see how to integrate it into the classroom.

Cloud Computing

Unfortunately, this wasn’t quite as successful as I had hoped it would be. I tried living in the cloud through Windows Live. It looks like a real cool idea. You can upload documents that you can then access on another computer. I thought uploading was a little cumbersome because you had to upload each individual document one at a time. Now I might be wrong and just didn’t see how to upload an entire folder. However, the real difficulty came when I tried to access that document from my home computer. I couldn’t open it. Apparently the edition of Word on my home computer is not compatible with the one uploaded. I even tried getting all the updates and code fixes available but to no avail. So I’ve given up on cloud computing for the time being and have gone back to my handy dandy jump drive.

HTML

This is something that I’m forced to use on a forum that I frequent in my off hours. I can’t say that it’s something I really enjoy however, it does make it easier to understand some things in the education world, if only because I have a little better grasp of how things work on the Internet. Because we can now post with graphical editors, the use of HTML has declined, making it much easier for the average teacher and student to use many different tools. But a little bit of HTML knowledge can go a long way.

iGoogle

I started this about a year ago and continue to love it. I’ve made it my home page and use it all the time. I can change what I see on my iGoogle page anytime and I love being able to change the theme. Right now I have a dragon theme.

Dragon iGoogle theme
Dragon iGoogle theme

I can see my calendar, my email, rss feed, twitter messages, facebook, weather and much more right from my homepage. I know there are many people who use Netvibes. I tried that too but found it harder to use. Maybe I just wasn’t doing it right. Sometimes I feel like I need my own personal technology coach for these things.

Firefox

I started using this browser when Internet Explorer started getting too slow. In all fairness, I have to say that when opening, Firefox is very slow too, but once it’s open it tends to run much faster for me. There are also a ton of add-ons that you can use, many of them education associated. But I haven’t really explored that avenue yet. I have changed the theme. Here’s what the old boring one looks like:

Old Firefox theme
Old Firefox theme

Here’s what my new one looks like:

New Firefox theme
New Firefox theme

Hmm, maybe I should look for a dragon theme so my Firefox theme will match my iGoogle theme.

Delicious

This is one of those things that I use so often that I don’t even think about it when making a list like this. I really don’t know how I got along without it before and I haven’t even plumbed the depths of possible uses for this tool. Of all the things listed, this, by far, is the most useful. Of course, when I’m lost downtown I would argue for the navi, but since I’m here on the computer, this is it. I’ve used it several times just in the course of typing this post.

Twitter

Others have said it and I have to agree, if you’re looking for an invaluable source for professional information, get a twitter account and start following other members of your profession. I can’t really say I enjoy the posts about everyday life, unless they come from a person who doesn’t post often, but the links to thoughtful blogs or new tools to use in the classroom are a gold mine. You don’t even have to spend much time on there. Every time I get on twitter I learn something new.

There are probably others that I use on a daily basis that I’m not even thinking about. I now have a telephone that can access my email, calendar and the internet but I think I’m way behind everyone else using that technology. I guess I just don’t spend much time on the phone. If anyone reading this has any other tools they use all the time please let me know what they are.

Thinking Back

I’m very surprised that anyone has bothered to look here because it has been a whole quarter since I last posted. Certainly I’ve continued to use various web tools. I just didn’t think I had time to blog about it. That’s a mistake I hope to rectify.

Once you start down the slippery web 2.0 path it’s impossible to get off of it. That’s probably a good thing since there’s so much to learn. The possibilities really are endless, for us as teacher librarians and for our students. So what did I do this quarter?

One of the best things I did was the Harambee Library Curriculum Wiki that I started last summer. I’ve continued to add to it and really do use it when planning the quarter. It’s there for me to refer to when I’m planning each week or writing the lesson plans. As in any truly good wiki, it’s constantly changing as I get new ideas or find out about new websites and tools. I think I’ve got a good handle on next quarter but that might all change when I meet with teachers on Monday, a planning day for all teachers at Harambee. There is no fully fledged library curriculum available and much depends on collaboration so I have to write my own. It has to be constantly changing. I just wish I didn’t have to do it on my own personal free time. Here’s what happened last quarter.

Kindergarten

These students are still learning how to use the library. They’ve learned about various parts of the library. I haven’t done much technology with this group and am not real certain what we should be doing 3rd quarter. I could continue to introduce them to cool books, which is always fun but I wonder if we should be on the computers more.

First Grade

It was fun looking at Caldecott books and playing the “Go Caldecott” Game I found in a book called 57 Games to Play in the Library or Classroom by Carol K. Lee and Fay Edwards. However, I’m a little unsure as to where we should go next quarter. I really need to find out from the teachers what they’ll be doing next quarter so I can coordinate the library activities accordingly.

Second Grade

We spent the quarter reading Mr. Crumb’s Secret by Phyllis J. Perry and didn’t finish it yet. This is a book that the kids really get into. We do the worksheets, or look at other things that help students learn about the reference resources that Fribble Mouse uses to solve his mystery. It takes a really long time to go through the entire book so we’ll be continuing that next quarter.

Third Grade

The Secret of the Silver Key also by Phyllis J. Perry is the next book in the series. Usually the kids are excited to hear this book because they already know the characters and like the mystery. Once again students explored various reference resources and once again we will continue the book next quarter.

Fourth Grade

In collaboration with the Community Cultures teacher students researched a legendary hero and used kidspiration to organize their notes. They used books, encyclopedias, a database and sites they found by searching my search engine. Maybe I should say more about this in another post.

Fifth Grade

They did the same thing the 4th grade did but that will change next quarter.

Technology Use Assessment

It certainly was minimal during second quarter. One reason for that was that the library computer lab was in use for 3 weeks for testing. I had to plan accordingly. I also don’t think it’s the end of the world if we don’t continually use technology. I used the interactive whiteboard whenever I was teaching in the library and had some good activities there. I guess that could be the subject of another post. I also used technology personally, and that’s another post too. What I really need to do is update my website and that’s definitely fodder for another blog post. Looks like I’ll be busy.