Thursday, March 29, 2018

Virtual Reality in Education

"Virtual reality can transport students to the farthest corners of the observable universe in the blink of an eye and immerse them in a deep and engaging educational environment" Michael Tresor @ eLearning Trends.

As I am always on the prowl for new ways to “wow” my LEGO & Maker Club, I decided to dip my toes into VR. After doing lots of research, I purchased a few of the “Premium Virtual Reality VR Headsets w/ Magnetic Button Trigger” by Sytros on Amazon. The $20 price was right and the headset has many of the recommended features for student use: adjustable strap and viewer tabs (pupil/focal distance and ability to wear with glasses on or off); no remote required (magnetic button allows you to pause and interact with any Google Cardboard supported VR apps); equipped with slots for headphones/earbuds and compatible with almost any size and type of smartphone.

I consider myself fairly tech-savvy, but this was definitely a learning curve for me. Luckily, my Clubbies were willing to jump right into the deep end! I had found VR videos on Best YouTube 360 Channels for Educational Content and Virtual Reality for Education which were high-quality, safe starting points. We also explored VR videos on YouTube, with some guidelines, of course. We had so much fun exploring that I decided to splurge and buy enough for a class set (30 headsets). I decided to build my own so that I would always have them available for class or individual student checkout at a moment's notice. I also wanted the freedom to create my own "VR library", based on student & teacher requests. My ultimate goal is to "transport students to the farthest corners of the observable universe in the blink of an eye and immerse them in a deep and engaging educational environment". Whether I succeed or FAIL in this endeavor remains to be seen.

Completed VR Tours

  • AVID: students took virtual tours of college campuses.
  • 7th grade ELA students explored their Reader’s Theater topics: historical homes; museums; national parks, etc.
  • 6-8th grade student walk-ins during NDSA Testing explored Best YouTube 360 Channels for Educational Content.

Upcoming VR Tours (by request)

  • 7th grade earth science: students will check out bacteria and take a tour inside the human body (so cool and disgusting, at the same time!).
  • 8th grade natural science: students will check out astronomy sites. (Over 10,000 astronomy VR sites on YouTube (falling into the YouTube video rabbit hole) so we are working together to narrow down the topic.)
  • I am considering letting individual students check VR headsets out during the school day.

During the 7th grade ELA VR Field Trip, I told students that they were our VR pioneers and asked
them to fill out a “Feedback Wall” with their “likes, dislikes, and wonders”. Students said that
the experience was “amazing” “really cool” and “it really does immerse you in the activity”.
Some students also said that there were “too many steps” to get everything to work (on all of
the different phones) and that there should be an easier way to access subject/topic lists of
VR videos (right now, we are using Google Drive). A few students said that it made them “dizzy”.
They all wondered if the experience would be enhanced if we added headphones or earbuds.

Based on their feedback and the problem-solving we have done along the way, I have created
simplified directions: Getting Started with Virtual Reality. It seems that every make and model of smartphone has its own quirks with VR (and some students don’t have a
smartphone at all or aren’t allowed to install Google Cardboard). So, I am looking for ways for
every student to be able to experience VR, as it is truly “amazing”, “really cool” and
“really does immerse you in the activity”. Please let me know if you would like to
work with me to create a “Shared Resource” curriculum folder with quality VR videos.
I am looking forward to many more VR adventures and I promise you won’t regret taking the plunge!

Twitter Chat:

Q1: HOW have you used VR with students or staff? If not, what is preventing you from doing so?

Q2: WHAT are some tips and tricks that you have found helpful when using VR? (Did you use Google Expeditions or did you build your own kit?) If you haven’t used VR before; what would be
most helpful for you?

Q3: WHAT are some pros and cons that you foresee using VR with your students and staff?

Q4: DREAM big: how could you see yourself integrating VR into your curriculum in authentic,
meaningful ways?

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Libraries: They sure don't look like they used to!

Someone once told me that if I needed an “outside the box” solution to a problem, ask a child. So I did! What do you like about the library? What do you wish were different about libraries? What does the library of the future look like? Aside from the pool, ice cream machine, and go karts (even though they would all make a memorable trip to the library), the children have lots of great ideas that helped me look at the library with a fresh set of eyes.

What Does the Library Need?
  1. Space: we need more room. This was the number one answer. More room is needed for all the activities that take place in the library. Reading, studying, collaborating, building/making, researching, web-surfing, learning, creating… they all take space.
  2. Stuff: we need more stuff. Computers and robotics were on the top of the “stuff” list. Students excitedly shared what they had used and what they had seen that they have not had a chance to use yet. 3-D printers and drones were also high on the list.
  3. Books: we need more books. I was very happy when so many children discussed adding more and more bookshelves, floor to ceiling, or even adding a second story to the library for more books.
What Does the Library of the Future Look Like?
  1. Many places for reading: Crawling into nooks, sofas, pillows, hammocks, and sound proof pods were all posed as ideas for reading spaces in the library.
  2. Book Automation: After picking a book from the online catalog, with the push of a button, the book glows or is picked up by a delivery drone to help patrons find what they are looking for.
  3. Food and Drink: Several said that they liked being able to pick up a hot chocolate or cookie at their local book store and thought it would be great to have this in the school library.
  4. Nature: Bringing in plants, trees, even animals like butterflies or fish ponds, was suggested to make it feel like they are reading outside.
  5. Virtual Tours: With the help of virtual reality bodysuits, being able to visit any museum, national park, or even the moon all from the library would be “insane”.
  6. Showcase: Large screens, video screens, video games, and even hologram projectors were offered as suggestions to show off student learning in the library.

So, the student idea of a library has many traits of a learning commons.  A learning commons is a physical and virtual space for learning. It is open and flexible and offers spaces for comfort as well as practical areas for work. The commons is a space of exploration, creation, collaboration, and fun.
Learning Commons at LHS

“While a library’s core purpose has remained the same – providing access to information – what has changed is how students access it and what they do with it when they get it.” Lavonne Boutcher -8 essential ingredients for your learning commons”

The information is still there for students to obtain, but the space itself fosters 21st century learning skills. The learning commons is a space with a focus not on consuming information, but rather a center for creating knowledge. So should all libraries make renovations and create a learning commons instead? Maggie Townsend, the LMS at Legacy High School stated, “They're both important. I just think that Learning Commons is a different mindset or philosophy.  A Learning Commons focuses on collaboration and creation.”  

Legacy has a learning commons, with traditional library materials such as books, magazines and computers. It also offers more non-traditional materials such as a 3-D printer, vinyl cutter, green screens, cameras, etc. When asked what makes the Legacy space more of a learning commons rather than a library, Maggie replied,

“I think it's a Learning Commons because the focus is on what the students are doing instead of the physical resources (books, magazines, etc.). Kids always ask, "Why can't we call it a library?" And my response is, "Does it look like a library? Does it feel like a library?" Their answer is always no.”
Learning Commons at LHS

Many libraries in the district are adding makerspaces within the library walls as well as spaces for collaboration and creation. It is amazing to walk in to libraries across the district and see some kids reading and researching, others creating Lego projects or using robots. Our libraries are helping create future ready trailblazers ready to change the world.

As for my library, I think it’s still a mix of library and learning commons with plans for more collaborative spaces and makerspace areas. I must say though that the student suggestions of a hot tub and cheeseburger vending machine do sound nice...

Thanks to Maggie Townsend, LMS at Legacy High School.

Twitter Questions

1. How can learning commons spaces help support PBL/classroom learning? 
2. What are ways to create collaborative spaces in current school libraries (on a budget)?
3. What zones could be added to a learning commons/library to support student learning?
4. What are ways to ensure that the space remains flexible and allows change over time?

Thursday, March 08, 2018

To Flex or Not to Flex?

To Flex or Not to Flex? 

Flexible scheduling has been a recurring buzz word in the elementary library media services (LMS) world.  If your view of the elementary LMS is as a coteacher, an educator, and collaborator, then a flexible schedule is an excellent route for you! 

This time fifteen years ago, the position of library media specialist in my building meant helping students check out books, re-shelving books, and helping teachers find web pages that would be beneficial for them in the classroom with their students.  In the library atmosphere, students were expected to be quiet to silent while their one purpose was to check out resources.

Fast forward to today and our library looks significantly different.  It is filled with students talking, problem solving, and actively searching for various library materials.  A makerspace takes up one-third of our library space where students are encouraged to use their creativity, communication, collaboration, and critical thinking skills.  A Lego wall covers an eight feet by just under seven feet space so students can practice their engineering skills on a vertical space.

Just as our physical space in the library has changed, so has the position of the elementary library media specialist.  It is rare to find me in the library checking out books with students or re-shelving books.  More than not, you will find me in classrooms teaching research, technology, and project based learning skills to our elementary students.

To add to this change, we have recently moved to a flexible schedule.  This is where some people will gasp!  I, as an elementary library media specialist, no longer have set weekly times when I go to classrooms.  I now go to classrooms by request.  Don’t get me wrong, my fabulous library assistant still sees students on a regular basis for 30 minutes every week for checkout, but when a classroom teacher would like to collaborate, coteach, and have me come into the classroom to work with students in various library and technology areas, I am put into action.  Do not fret, a flexible schedule does not mean a free for all.  I am still required to teach specific library media skills, 21 Century Skills, and tie these to classroom content.  The big difference between what I was doing two years ago and what I am doing today can be summed up with the words authentic and relevant from the stand points of being tied directly to what students are learning as well as when they are learning it. 
Come on this journey with me as I take you through my experience of moving from a fixed to a flexible schedule as an elementary LMS. 

My first year as an LMS, I was in 13 classrooms for a half an hour every week and in an additional 12 classrooms for an hour every week.  This was in addition to our regularly scheduled library time. The hardest part that year was trying to find content to teach at a relevant time that was authentic and meaningful to the students.  I would scour the walls when I went into a classroom to see what the teacher had posted and then base my lesson for the next week off of that classroom content or I would stalk the classroom teacher when they would return to see how I could tie next week’s lesson into what they were doing in the classroom.  I always tried to connect this content to technology and introduced technology skills that would someday benefit the students outside of my LMS time.  My lessons, though related to the content I was seeing in the classroom, were not done in unison with the classroom and the technology skills that I was instilling may not be needed until a month or two down the line, if even then, where they may have already been forgotten.  It often seemed like I was preparing students with skills that they may or may not use and reviewing content they had already learned.  The exposure to these skills, while beneficial, didn’t feel like they were always as effective.

The last two years of my LMS career have been done utilizing a flexible schedule.  I get the opportunity to coteach with classroom teachers and enrich the content lessons they are already teaching.  I bring in technology skills that are being taught as they are needed so the work is authentic and students better remember the applications they are learning.  I am support for project based learning (PBL).  Where I would see a class once a week for a set amount of time on a fixed schedule, I may now see that same class four times a week for an hour each time to accomplish set learning goals through PBL.  There is consistency to the learning and it is done in a relevant amount of time. To better explain the time given to this classroom, in a traditional LMS fixed setting, in one month, I would have seen that class for a total of two hours.  With the flexible setting, I may see them for four hours in the same one month setting.  Not only did the time double, but the learning was genuine as well.  With the flexible schedule, I will come in and pre-teach a technology skill which will be utilized the next week for application with classroom content.  I will come in during that time as well to be support to the students.  Through a flexible schedule, I can coteach with classroom teachers. 

In kindergarten, I came in and helped with research where I showed students how to navigate data base sites and then stayed and helped students who were struggling to get their words down on paper.  This style of teaching allowed by a flexible schedule allotted for two adults to be actively engaged with students in the classroom to enrich the kindergartener’s research and writing experiences.

Another bonus with a flexible schedule, where collaboration and coteaching are the expectations, is that teachers are becoming more independent in their technology skills because they are in the classroom learning with the students as the LMS is introducing the skills.  When they use these specific applications for classroom work with their students, they have a better understanding of how the applications work and how to help students navigate them. 

You may be wondering if classrooms still receive the same amount of time they normally would through a flexible schedule.  When compared minute to minute the amount of time spent in classrooms during a fixed schedule to the amount of time spent last year in classrooms with a flexible schedule, I was over the minutes spent in classrooms with the flexible schedule.  The difference was that not all teachers received the same amount of time.  Some teachers received less as they struggled to find a time that worked for the classroom teacher and LMS to work together while the majority of classes were over what they would have gotten on a thirty minute, once a week fixed schedule.  To improve the difference in classroom time, this year I have tried to send out times that I am available to work with students through email to those teachers who struggle.  This has worked well helping to level the amount of time all classrooms receive.  As we are now into our second year of flexible scheduling, teachers are finding more ways that we can work together and are more willing to tackle larger projects through collaboration and coteaching to benefit the learning of the students. 

Flexible scheduling is new to the elementary library media specialist.  The benefits of flexible scheduling with the library media specialist for students continue to rise as we build the skills of collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and creativity as a unified team. 

Twitter Tuesday Questions:

Q1:  In the elementary setting, LMS are often utilized for coverage during PLC, what are other means of coverage that could be used instead for PLCs?
Q2:  How do we ensure that all students are still benefitting from LMS experiences?
Q3:  How can we continue to encourage collaboration and communication between classroom teachers and library media specialists?

Q4:  How can we make the learning in the classroom match the learning that is currently occurring with the LMS?

Friday, March 02, 2018

Alternatives - Good for Our Kids

South Central High School was a brand new assignment for me this year. When I asked Mr. Kalvoda to meet with me to see what their needs were early in the year I told him that this was my 38th year in elementary education, but my first day in a high school. True story. When I asked him what they needed from me, he looked over at Vic, they kind of smiled wryly, and said that they were different there, and they didn’t need much from me. So when thinking about this blog assignment this week, I’m panicking because I don’t know much about what I’m supposed to be writing about.

So I’ve decided to share a success story with you. Late in the summer of 2007, my niece, Lisa, hit a land mine in her road called Life. It rocked all of our lives. A day and half later I found myself with an 18-year-old housemate, who was scared, depressed and rebellious. That’s when the aftershocks began.

My school year started the very next day, and she needed to start her senior year just a few days later. The big question was - where? BHS and CHS were too intimidating. There were more people in each one of those buildings than in the whole small town that she grew up in. Shiloh and St. Mary’s didn’t feel like a good fit to her either. Then I thought of South Central - not because it was part of the district I taught in, surprisingly, but because the son of a friend of mine had been through there a couple of years earlier and we had recently talked about how successful it had been for him.

One phone call later and we were talking to Scott Halvorson and Jeannie Karhoff, the principal and counselor at the time. Turns out Lisa only needed 2 credits to graduate and they had room in one class for her to start right away. The other class would start in November. We signed her up.

All was not smooth sailing. My traditional views of get yourself up and get to school in the morning were conflicting with her “I’ll go when I want to attitude.” Things got tense at home at times. South Central staff talked me down from a ledge a few times with “She needs to want this,” and “She has to own it - then it will happen.”

They were right. When she ran out of days she could miss, she got herself up and off to school in the morning. And she graduated with the class of 2008 with good grades and all.

I asked Lisa last night to give me her impressions of South Central High School. These are her words.

I graduated from South Central spring of 2008. I had previously spent kindergarten through my junior year in a small town school - 20ish kids to a class. This kind of setting was all I knew and what I was comfortable with. When I moved to Bismarck the first day of my senior year I was in need of a school. South Central worked with us and was able to get me in immediately. I had no idea what to expect, other than their all-too-common reputation of babysitting the “bad kids.” What I found at South Central were a handful of “bad kids,” but also some shy kids, outgoing kids, and a couple unique kids - just like you’d find in any setting. In a place that I thought I’d find nothing in common with, I found myself.

The best thing about South Central though, was the style of teaching. Instead of the normal classroom setting where the teacher gives a lesson and hands out the homework, SC played it differently. They focused more on a work-at-your-own-pace method. Each class would hand out the syllabus, the book and the homework. If you had a question the teacher was right there to help you. I found that this style of learning was just what I needed, my grades improved, my attitude about school improved, and it helped prepare me for college. As a graduate of South Central High School I have nothing but good things to say about it and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this school to anyone.

Lisa surprised us all when she signed up for college at BSC that fall. She had never shown any interest in college before. Fast forward 10 years and you will find an amazing wife and mother of 2 adorable boys. She got an associate of arts degree from BSC, then signed up for the National Guard to pay for more college. That ended abruptly when she broker her pelvis in basic training. Her rehab from that injury fueled a passion for exercise and therapy and she earned her certification as a personal trainer. She is currently working as a personal trainer, but is scheduled to give that up in the next couple of months as her family has decided to become certified as a foster family. They hope to smooth out some of the rough spots for other children.

Lisa is a success story. We are all very proud of her and what she has accomplished. The staff at South Central played a big part in getting her started in the right direction. I’m sure you have made a positive impact in the lives of many kids and I hope you’re proud of you.

Twitter Tuesday Questions:  

  • Q1 - Is high school the only level that an alternative learner situation is valuable, or could kids benefit from this environment at a younger age? 
  • Q2 - Is there a way we can tweak our existing setup at elementary and middle school to better accommodate the non-traditional learner?
  • Q3 - Is there a stigma attached to non-traditional environments? Is there a way to reduce that stigma by showing the public that the education received is equal but different?
  • Q4 - Would the innovative school under discussion for the district benefit kids who need alternative learning styles, such as those who are currently better served by schools like SCHS?