Thing 11: DIY – You Pick!

For this Thing, I dove deep into planning for a collaborative June project for our 7th and 8th graders. The unofficial theme is “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” I will be working with their Math, Science and ESOL teachers. The students will be applying what they’ve learned in recent science lessons (specifically, Motion and Stability) and math lessons (rate per minute, cost and volume). I will be introducing them to the Design Process (Next Generation Science Standards for Engineering Design). Their ESOL teacher will be working with them on academic language specifically needed for actively communicating during the Brainstorm and Presentation for Feedback portions of the Design Process.


The coolest part about this project is they will have no idea that we are doing this heavy academic lifting on all of these standards! Why? BECAUSE THEY THINK ALL THEY ARE DOING IS PLAYING WITH, DESIGNING AND BUILDING FIDGET SPINNERS!!!! HA – HA!!!!

With a few years of teaching under my belt, I realize we have to meet them where they are. And they are fidgeting. Mightily. Spring brought spinning and dropping and competing and twirling and hiding and giggling and more spinning. I decided to harness this energy rather than fight it so I recruited my two most prolific spinners and ran this project by them. They whooped! They hollered! I reminded them we were in the library. They smiled. Widely. Next, we approached their teachers. Thankfully, everyone is on board (although the students might be slightly more on board than their teachers). The students have stopped by the library at least four times a day since learning about the project to ask when we are getting started. Thanks to this Thing, I can now confidently say the first week in June. They still keep coming back though. That’s ok because their enthusiasm is contagious which is good because this is a huge project to plan.

I plan to introduce them to the following iterative Design Process steps. I’ve included some accompanying questions and ideas to begin organizing the project.

  1. Define the Problem – What makes a great fidget spinner? If you were competing to create the “best” fidget spinner, what qualities would make one win over another (cost, speed, ability to do tricks, profitability, etc.)?
  2. Collect Information – What is the rate per minute of each of our sample spinners? Using information you’ve learned on motion, why are some faster than others? How much material do they require? Dissect one. What are the parts? What does each part do? What can they be made of? Have you learned anything that causes you to want to redefine the problem? Go online and look at some existing 3d designs (Thingiverse has many). Look at the comments.
  3. Brainstorm – Use academic language to conduct a brainstorming session with your team. What is good about these different designs? What could be improved? Where will we build it? What material would we need? How much will it cost to build?
  4. Develop Model – I anticipate most students will choose to use our 3d printers for their projects. We have used 3d Slash and TinkeCad for past projects. Depending on their intended design, though, we might need a more sophisticated tool. I took a look at Autodesk Inventor and think that will work for the spinner designs. Next, I need to work with IT to get it installed on the library computer lab computers.
  5. Present for Feedback – Use academic language to present and provide feedback to other teams. What makes a good presentation? What makes feedback useful?
  6. Improve Design – Go back to any of the above steps if your design requires improvement.

For step two, I’ve amassed a large collection of the toys by visiting our local grocery store daily and elbowing out every preteen at the spinner display. I also asked my two student co-planners if they would donate their spinners to us for a few days. They said yes. Other classes are starting to hear about the project and students are offering up their spinners for science. It is inspiring.

I’m energized and looking forward to June!





Thing 14: News Literacy

I am a K-12 librarian in a school where all students are newcomers to the United States who speak languages other than Spanish and English.  Nearly all of our students have refugee status. Many have had interrupted, limited or no previous schooling. Many have lived in countries without the freedoms we enjoy in the United States. Most are surprised to learn they may check out any book in our library. Freedom of Information is a new concept for many of them as well.

News literacy is extremely challenging to teach to students who are still developing basic literacy and academic endurance. Nevertheless, social media is popular with many of our students, and I am concerned they may be taken advantage of. Therefore, it is important for me to launch a defense against untrustworthy content. In the past, I have extensively modified California State University Chico’s CRAAP test (actually we only use a CRAP) test and had high school students with the highest English proficiency and most years of formal education attempt to determine whether a website was real or a hoax using this tool. To give some context, my first slide in any CRAP lesson is a picture of an elephant next to elephant dung and the command – “Circle the CRAP.” I then circle the dung so students are able to appreciate the double entendre provided by the acronym. And as a bonus I am teaching them a new English word. 🙂

Despite formative assessments indicating they understand the our version of CRAP’s evaluation criteria (Currency, Reliability, Authority and Purpose), the students consistently and overwhelmingly determine that all websites they review are credible despite the fact that 80% of them are hoax sites. Our debrief reveals that it is very difficult to discern purpose when presented with content in a language that is new.

I reviewed the resources in this Thing through this lens. I began exploring by reading Joyce Valenza’s comprehensive “Truth, Truthiness and Triangulation” and reviewing her recommended resources. Enticed by the promise of material in multiple languages, I downloaded the Center for Media Literacy’s  materials. Since many of my students were not literate before they began learning English at our school, printed material in multiple languages is not as big of a need as most would think. That being said, the only language CML offers that some of my students can read is Arabic. When I looked at the English version, though, I determined it would need some modifications to make it easier to impart on my students. I prefer the simplicity of CRAP.

I took a look at Amy Gillespie’s FART test to see if that might work better for our students (did I just type that?). I do think it is simpler and might be a better tool for our younger students. BONUS: THEY WILL LEARN YET ANOTHER NEW ENGLISH WORD! Mental Note: I might need to use Audio files instead of the elephant picture. Kathy Schrock’s “5 W’s of Website Evaluation” might be a good choice especially if I learn that students are using the 5 W’s in another class as well.

I decided to try another approach with a class I taught last week. This high school class has lower English proficiency and less formal education than the ones who have learned CRAP (I’m surprised this still isn’t getting old for me). They were doing a research project on extreme weather and needed to find a news article that detailed a recent storm. Rather than teach evaluation, I explained how difficult it is for students who are learning English to find trustworthy information on Google. I explained how anyone can make a website. Then I introduced them to one of my favorite sites that is referenced in Thing 14 – NEWSELA.

While I had looked at NEWSELA before with individual students, I had never used it with a class. Signing the class up for accounts was one of the easiest processes I have experienced. This class is on Google Classroom. The teacher simply indicated which class was hers and automatically all students were added to NEWSELA. I only had to explain that they needed to login to NEWSELA with their Google account information. The keyword search was very easy to use. Because of the consistent presentation of NEWSELA articles, it was very easy for students to identify citation components in these articles.  This is yet another very difficult challenge when doing research in a new language and culture (author names can be especially challenging for newcomers to our culture and publication dates are often difficult to identify as well). I would definitely recommend using NEWSELA’s reputable content when working with students who are learning English.



Thing 38: Augmented and Virtual Reality

I appreciated learning the difference between augmented reality (like the Google Translate app we use here frequently at school) and virtual reality (like Google Cardboard) from Steven Anderson’s podcast interview. I took a look at some of the 360 videos (Buckingham Palace was my favorite) and see how they could be used for a virtual field trip. Last year, much of my MinecraftEdu work with students has focused on passively touring the Eric Walker’s Wonderful World of Humanities. Sometimes we would pair this with an on-point scavenger hunt to encourage students to explore the world. This seems similar to activities you could do with a 360 video field trip.

I also appreciated the message in “The ‘Minecraft Effect’? Educators Hope to Move Students from VR Consumption to Creation.” Towards the end of the year last year, a colleague and I worked with her third grade class to create a virtual reality community in MinecraftEdu as a culminating project for their Communities unit. The students were so engaged in creating their own community that even a year later students from that class request that I open their community on the server during open library so they can continue creating.

Inspired by that success and “The ‘Minecraft Effect’?” reading, I worked with different classes this month as they created culminating virtual reality projects in MinecraftEdu. One class created Machu Picchu and then gave a formal presentation of their part of the project to the class.

This student is describing the terraces she helped build with her group.

This student is describing the temple he built with his group.

Another class researched different deserts and then created a path with Information Blocks describing various aspects of their desert. This was like a virtual reality research paper in MinecraftEdu.

I’m working with another teacher as she designs a huge unit on explorers culminating in the creation of the explorers’ world in Minecraft focusing on the three G’s – Gold, God and Glory.

These are my takeaways from creating virtual reality in MinecraftEdu:

  1. Rubrics are essential to ensure students, teachers (and librarians!) stay focused on the goals of the project. It is very easy to go rogue on a project like this.
  2. Checklists can also help students stay on task (“By the end of the day, you should have completed this, this and this.”)
  3. Recognize MinecraftEdu can be overwhelming to new students (and teachers). Spend a day acclimating them to the features in an existing world before embarking on a complex creation project (The Wonderful World of Humanities has an awesome Treehouse Tutorial area for this).
  4. Be an active participant in the world with the students. Fly around and actively monitor what each of your students are doing. Only then can you see that one student hasn’t moved in fifteen minutes because he doesn’t understand how the keyboard commands work.
  5. If you are working in groups, make sure you provide individual roles or assignments and require that every group member serve one of the roles or complete one of the assignments. This is especially important if you have a Minecraft expert in a group. It is very easy for that person to get so involved that she takes over all the group work.
  6. Classroom management is required in virtual reality just like it is in reality. For example, set expectations early on that vandalizing is not tolerated. If someone is found to vandalize another’s work, border blocks can be used as a very effective virtual “time-out.” No one wants to hang out in the border blocks.
  7. Not everyone likes MinecraftEdu. Our experience has been that about one person in each class gets sick working with the tool. Have a differentiated assignment or role in mind in case you have a similarly afflicted student in your class. It should be fun, not torture, for every single student.
  8. The best virtual reality projects start with a research component with library resources (shameless plug but also true). You can create a more authentic virtual reality if you are using vetted resources to learn about your location.
  9. Incorporate reading, writing and speaking wherever you can. We use sign blocks and information blocks throughout our designs to convey written information. We also finished each project with a tour of the world led by those students who created it.
  10. Never give out bedrock. No matter how much they beg-just don’t do it. It is a headache.