Thing 37: Green Screen Fun

The Rochester International Academy library is often full of middle school students at lunch. While they are from many different cultures, one glue that binds these 11 – 13 year-olds together is their reliance on their cell phones. They use them to translate, schedule, update, draft and DOCUMENT, DOCUMENT, DOCUMENT. And by document, I mean take pictures. SnapChat, Instagram, uploaded selfies….these students are creating and sharing image content throughout their day.

How better to tap into that youthful enthusiasm than by building a lesson around green screens? I installed the Do Ink app on my phone and was surprised at how easy it was to use. Within five minutes, Harry and Meghan had an unexpected guest at their nuptials:

I used a green screen clipped to a bookshelf for my image. I guess my turquoise flower was a little too close to the green tone since it was “green screened” out above.

I next tried using Microsoft Publisher to put me inside the actual chapel but had the opposite problem with my green screen. I believe some shadows differentiated my green screen enough that I couldn’t make it fully transparent. If I had more time, I would play with different lighting. In a pinch, I could always erase the remaining green screen in Microsoft Paint, but that kind of defeats the purpose of a green screen, doesn’t it? I used a picture of St. George’s Chapel I found on the Library of Congress website.

Original Image Source: Bain News Service, Publisher. St. George’s Chapel. [Between and Ca. 1920] Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <>.

I tested out some of the video backgrounds from Do Ink with students today, and they enjoyed them. As we were creating, I started thinking about how this hands-on activity would be a great lead-in for a lesson on website evaluation or internet safety. They would have real world experience manipulating images. It wouldn’t be much of a leap for them to think of how someone might do this for nefarious reasons.

I also see how working with a green screen might help our students in their other academic subjects. A fellow teacher and I discussed having students in a science class point out features in different body systems that are projected behind them on a green screen. They could make a video in both English and their other languages. This resource could be used in future science classes. We are enthusiastically planning to complete this before the end of the school year.

Thing 45 – Anything Goes Google

This year, our school moved from 1:1 iPads to 1:1 Google Chromebooks. Initially, it was challenging because many of us had fully integrated the iPads into our classroom curriculum. Students became adept at apps that we used across classrooms and so did teachers. We spent the summer and beginning of the year retooling for the Chromebooks. Teachers embarked on hours of online professional development to learn how to manage Chromebooks in the classroom, how to employ features of the GSuite and how to use Google Classroom on the Chromebooks.

The transition was smooth but not seamless:

  • Where can I find my lost app functionality?
  • Why can’t I save anything on a Chromebook?
  • What is the point of collaborating on a document when students keep erasing each other’s work?

The latter half of the year, though, we really turned the corner. We have replicated most app functionality with cloud-based tools (and we did get an iPad cart or two back), we understand the enormous strength of the cloud-based Google Drive and students aren’t inadvertently vandalizing their group work (perhaps, most importantly, when it happens we all understand it was most likely an accident).

I took a look at Thing 45 – Anything Goes Google to find tools, tips and tricks that I could share with teachers at an upcoming PD workshop. Here are the things I plan to include:

  • Google Keep – How did I not know about this tool before? I can’t wait to share the note-taking feature with fellow teachers. This will be a huge time-saver and work right into our research flow. Our current methods are less than ideal especially considering Keep’s collaborating feature. Nearly all our projects include a group work component and this enables the whole group to have access to the members’ notes. The GPS reminder feature is also helpful. The tagging feature helps students organize all the tasks for different project that might be in progress concurrently. I really like the idea of using Keep to track Learning Targets for a unit as well. Some of our students struggle with organizing daily tasks and Keep can help them build a checklist to keep (see what I did there?) them on track.
  • Drive Slides – This is a simple concept but a nice little tool for creating a Google Slides deck from a Google Drive folder of images. I could see our students using it.
  • Google Sheets – I wasn’t aware of the random generator feature in Sheets. I think the most valuable Sheets tool mentioned in the reading, though, is the database of information. It is a helpful place to store information. I would take it one step further, though, and have students add to the Sheet via a Google Form.
  • Google Sites – I love the idea of having students create a website to showcase their hard work on a research project. The redesigned tool looks much easier to navigate than its predecessor.

I am most interested in moving forward with Google Sites training for our teachers. Self-publishing would enable our students to broaden their academic conversations to the wider global community. A prerequisite for this work would be a brief follow-up on Internet safety with the students.

Thing 11: DIY – You Pick!

I help lead a Rotary Interact after school club. We start vegetable plants from seed in our school greenhouse and then donate them to people who rent garden plots in community gardens in our region. We also grow sunflowers from seed and offer them at our local Public Market in exchange for a donation. The students then send the proceeds to an international aid organization. Some past recipients have been United Nations High Commission on Refugees, the International Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders.

As you can imagine, coordinating our greenhouse effort is challenging. There are many dependencies and potential issues that need to be managed in order to ensure we are able to deliver vegetable and sunflower plants on time. In the past, all this work was done by our club advisers with students implementing plans developed by the adults.

This year, we made it a priority to have the students take a larger role in the planning and execution of these projects. I was lucky enough to attend ALA Midwinter this year and learned about Google Applied Digital Skills. It offers a free curriculum with lesson plans and video instruction aimed at providing technical tools to solve real-world problems. One of the presenters at ALA Midwinter mentioned it was a great fit for people learning English because you can pause, slow down and caption the videos. After evaluating it on my own, I asked our Interact Officers if they would be interested in using the “Plan an Event” curriculum to help them plan their sunflower sales.

I started using the curriculum in March. Students were engaged in the videos because they could understand them and they could see how these tools would immediately impact our project. A couple of students assumed leadership roles by running the videos, pausing them every few minutes to check for understanding and assigning students to complete the tasks. I very quickly moved from leading the program to becoming a coach supporting students on the sidelines. Students went from never using Google Sheets to creating a task list to manage the project. They had never used Google Drawing before and finished the course with a completed logo that they used to brand all their communications. They had never before created a flyer but had used Google Docs. They were able to create a great marketing piece to support their sale.

As you can see in the photos below, my students worked together on the units. They watched the videos in a group and then worked together to complete the assignments.

Students worked collaboratively through the videos on the big screen.

Students helped each other work through the assignments.

In addition to leading the course, these tools enabled students to lead the club more independently. They now owned the schedule because they created it and assigned peers to own certain tasks. They also were able to easily see how these same tools they used for “Plan an Event” could be used for other purposes. The course helped to integrate technology into all aspects of our club. For example, we started using Google Maps to more efficiently organize our students’ rides to the Public Market but having volunteers concentrate on only one area of the city. We thought about other task lists we could create for the club besides just planning sunflower sales. The students decided next year they could plan all of our plantings using these tools.

My high school students didn’t even realize we were following a course. They started to view the video presenter as a member of their team. They already go to YouTube to watch how-to videos (how-to fix a bike chain, how-to fix a problem with their sink) and saw this as an extension of that process.


Thing 35 – Supporting English Language Learners

I have been the librarian at Rochester International Academy for six years. All of our students are English Language Learners and nearly all have refugee status. Many of our students have limited or no formal education before attending our school. After reflecting on 10 Ways to Support ELLs in the School Library, I have my own 10 ways to add to Ms. Jules’ list.

  1. Visual Dewey – If the non-fiction section is organized by Dewey, consider how you can visually represent the subjects. For example, I have a small giraffe statue on the shelf at the end of the books on giraffes, a small model airplane on the shelf where books about airplanes can be found and a poster of Lionel Messi above the soccer shelf. Three dimensional objects help especially for students with limited formal education.
  2. Google Expeditions – One of our best months was the month we borrowed a Google Expeditions Virtual Reality kit. Students were able to explore museums from their home countries and introduce us to key artifacts. Others climbed to the top of Sagarmāthā (Mount Everest in English). We explored biomes, space and Machu Picchu to supplement classroom lessons. When you are learning a new language, it is helpful to receive information in multiple modalities and virtual reality was very engaging for my students.
  3. Dedicated keyboards – Did you know you can purchase stickers to turn your keyboard into an English and Arabic keyboard? I worked with our IT department to create a toggle so our students can easily output Arabic from the keyboard. This is helpful since many of our Arabic-speaking students are literate in Arabic and enables them to use more easily use Arabic websites, email fellow Arabic students and use Google Translate.
  4. Have you seen Hafuboti’s awesome “Libraries Are for Everyone” graphics? They are available in many different languages and can be downloaded for free. Our students provided a few translations Hafuboti did not have and within a day there were new graphics in those languages available. Hafuboti gave me permission to use the graphics to create shirts for my student library helpers in each of their languages. Some of our local public library branches display posters with the graphic, and we saw them in the library on a visit to our local community college. It’s such a welcoming and inclusive message.

  5. Librarians and teachers often call me to find materials in languages other than English for their students who are learning English. I recognize that my school is unique in that many of my students have limited or interrupted formal education. Many times the first language a student will learn to read is English so materials in other languages are not helpful unless their parents can read and share the content. It is helpful to have material that is read aloud or recorded in other languages, though.
  6. Google Translate is not a perfect translation, but it is often good enough to convey a message. The “listen” feature is helpful for our students who don’t read their other language (see immediately above).
  7. Many of my students have never experienced a culture with freedoms that we have in the United States. They may have never had access to information like we have in the library. I explicitly teach them about the First Amendment, and its impact on library services during their first visit to the library. We also discuss how our libraries may have content that their culture does not agree with and how to proceed with using the library if this is a concern (hint: your librarian can help!).
  8. If you are looking for diverse books, take a peek at Lee & Low’s offerings. We have found some of our school’s favorites there. 
  9. We had a temporary subscription to the the Arabic World Book referenced in Ms. Jules’ post. My Arabic-literate students felt it was very simple content and not sophisticated enough for their searching needs. Hopefully, World Book will offer an Arabic version that is closer to World Book Kids or World Book Student.
  10. Often, when educators ask me what they can do to support their English Language Learners, they seem to be viewing them from a deficit lens. They describe the challenges of working with students who know little English and have limited education. I see my students in a completely opposite way. Our diverse population has taught me so much about perseverance, persistence and tenacity Many have experience meeting their basic needs in a refugee camp via “make-do’s” – a homemade solar oven, sophisticated water collection systems, their shelter. In other words, they are the perfect candidates to take a leadership role in our makerspaces!