Thursday, March 15, 2018

Junior Research Paper, Round Two

As Juniors begin working on their second research paper, New Canaan High School librarians are facilitating the transition between the English and social studies research experiences.

During the first semester, students participated in a flipped learning unit of instruction. They watched videos, took mini quizzes, were assessed in class, and earned digital badges. Students then submitted their works cited list to the library Moodle for feedback. Additionally, students completed an exit ticket at the end of the semester.

As a result, librarians were  able to gather several data points from each student.

Number of digital badges
Score on in-class quiz
Grade(s) on works cited drafts
Responses to exit ticket questions
Score on the English junior research paper
They are compiling this information into customized learning plans for each student. 

From the open-ended responses to the exit ticket, we are able to glean what kind of support each student wants from the library for the second semester research paper. We found that there are essentially six categories of help requested.

Finding good sources
Advanced search strategies
Writing the research paper
Creating embedded references
Citing in MLA 8
Work independently
Combining this information with student performance on various checkpoints such as the MLA 8 quiz, the bibliography, or effort, we are organizing students into learning groups. This allows us to run mini-workshops and offer lots on one on one help to better tailor our instruction to individual students learning needs. We are sharing this information with both the English and the social studies teachers.

In the meantime, we continue to document our days in photos:

And here are some photos of New Canaan High School library learning this week:

Thursday, March 1, 2018

How will Your Librarian Help You?

Two years ago, we did a 44 day experiment. We set our alarms to ring every period of the school day and one more time at 3PM. Each time our alarm went off, we took a snapshot of what we were doing. At the end of the experiment, we analyzed how we spent our time. Here was the resulting post.

We wanted to see what changed over the last few years. Are services changing? Are we using our time differently? There was only one way to find out so we are rebooting our experiment. We are now three days in and this is what we have so far. It will continue to grow throughout the day, every school day through the end of May. We hope you will follow along!

On February 16, while students were on vacation, teachers spent the afternoon brainstorming strategies to personalize learning at New Canaan High School. Here are a few photos of what teacher learning looks like:

Here are some photos of library learning this week

Friday, January 26, 2018

Searching & Researching in Google

This week, we had a chance to review some useful Google search and research tips with Tasha Bergsen-Michaelson, the the former Search Educator at Google, and we thought we would share a few here. Parents, students and teachers are likely to learn something they did not know before. So here goes:

First, we should probably explain the difference between searching and researching. Search is what happens on the fly. It answers those "I wonder..." questions. We all know the routine, right? Here is an example, "What was the name of that Zac Efron movie with Amanda Crew from a few years ago?" Then we search for that answer. In other words, we look it up.

Research is so much more than looking something up. It is a process. At New Canaan High School, we follow an agreed upon research protocol -- a research model -- that guides members of our learning community through the research experience with some degree of systematization. We acknowledge that the process is recursive, and that researchers may need to modify their steps depending on their learning goals, but having a guide helps learners internalize what it means to do research. This skill will serve them for the rest of their learning careers.

NCHS Research Model

Our students often use Google for Web searches and Google Images to locate... wait for it... images! It should be added that Video search is becoming increasingly important as an increasing number of teachers ask students to include multimedia content in their resource lists.

Google Web queries can be refined in very useful ways. There is an advanced search option. The link is located in the bottom right corner of the Google Search window.

Where to find Advanced Search
Google Advanced Search is incredibly powerful. You can find pages with...

  • all these words
  • this exact word or phrase
  • any of these words
  • none of these words
  • numbers ranging from
Then narrow your results by...

  • languge
  • region
  • last update
  • site or domain (.edu, .gov, etc.)
  • terms appearing
    • anywhere in the page
    • in the title of the page
    • in the text of the page
    • in the URL of the page
    • in the links to the page
  • SafeSearch
  • file type
  • usage rights
You can also...

  • Find pages that are similar to, or link to, a URL
  • Search pages you've visited
  • Use operators in the search box
  • Customize your search settings
Unfortunately, many students do not know these options exist, and yet we have evidence that they would benefit from using them for research. 
Google Advanced Search
Image searching is widely used across disciplines. Images searches can be filtered in powerful ways as well. The "Tools" option allows for the following refinements:

  • size
  • color
  • type
  • time
  • usage rights
  • more tools

Google Images Tools

It helps to know your operators. Most of our students have learned basic Boolean operators (AND, OR, & NOT) by junior year, but Google has its own operators, and they are a little different. Click on the image below to learn more about Google operators.
Google Operators

Over the past few weeks, many NCHS 9th graders researched themes addressed in nonfiction books they read. The titles follow:ge
We built a research guide in our new THE ANNEX@, but we did face one challenge. We have the option of building two kinds of custom Google searches. The first kind confines student searches to specific sites. The other searches a predefined set of search terms to which our students can add their own terms. 

The first option piqued our interest because students were asked to locate one article in the New York Times, and we thought we could create a custom search restricting their results to that publication. But Google offers a site search operator, so we taught them the operator instead: "North Korea"

The second option - the one that allows us to pre-filter student searches with relevant search terms - was more appealing. Students were assigned to locate Web sources about a topic of global concern, 
for example, child poverty in India (Behind the Beautiful Forevers), human rights in North Korea (Nothing to Envy), unaccompanied migrant children (Enrique's Journey) that were not news articles, so advocacy websites, think tanks, etc. We designed and embedded custom search boxes that limited student searches to sites that featured the terms [nonprofit] or [nonpartisan], two terms that typically lead searchers to advocacy websites. This was helpful to learners. 

While we ultimately want our learners to be able to master both site search (New York Times, in this case) and signal phrases ([nonprofit] or [nonpartisan]), it is helpful to introduce these strategies one at a time. We do not need to teach all of Google search in one lesson, and thus we helped students concentrate on one new skill: site search while using technology to simplify one of their other research tasks (for now): finding an advocacy website. 

Sophomores researching Imperialism were introduced to a few new strategies for the early stages of research, including:

  • Signal phrases
  • Threshold concepts
  • Pattern recognition
Click on the bulls-eyes in the image below to learn more. 

Finally, we know that Wikipedia is immensely popular with our learners. It is great for looking up information, but we caution learners to beware of inaccuracies and editor infighting. Students are encouraged to do their due diligence when using Wikipedia as a reference tool. They should always check the "View History" tab (top right). We teach students to look for arguments between editors. This teaches students how Wikipedia works, and increases their skepticism which is a highly desirable disposition among researchers. 

Here are a few pictures of library learning:

Friday, December 15, 2017

What is THE ANNEX@?

We started this post a year ago and never published it. While most students quickly learn about THE ANNEX@ upon entering New Canaan High Schoolit occurs to us that members of our greater learning community ("greater" meaning larger, not better) do not necessarily know what it is. Yet, it is probably one of our virtual library's greatest ("greater" meaning both bigger AND better) assets.

THE ANNEX@ is our learning portal. When we meet with classes, our lessons include a walk-through of the instructional materials assembled/created for that specific research task, all of which are curated in THE ANNEX@.

Until Tuesday, most lessons were organized into a "playlist" (we use LessonPaths to create our playlists). When students needed a refresher on what we covered in class, they could navigate through the steps to locate the one they wanted to review.  We liked this software as a learning tool because it helped students find exactly what they needed without having to dig through a long narrative. The screenshot below features a playlist (green box at the top) as compared to an older post (a long passage of text with a few embedded images).

Before LessonPaths
This is what a playlist looks like: 

Create your own Playlist on LessonPaths!

Until this week,  lesson playlists were posted to a simple blog. We used Blogger because it is part of the Google for Education Suite. It is easy to access. Sign in is not required, so students, teachers, instructional aides, parents, members of the New Canaan community and folks beyond could access what we teach. We deeply value that transparency and universal access.

Posting to LessonPaths was great for students, but clunky for us. We had to rely on third party software to convert our own images to links before embedding them, and it did not integrate seamlessly with materials we published in Google Suite for Education. We were having further trouble with LessonPaths because it tends to crash regularly. Finally, and this was really what pushed us to make a radical change, Blogger included ad content to THE ANNEX@ sidebars. We had no control over the posted ad content and we decided that we need to rethink our packaging.

So this week, we switched THE ANNEX@ button on our navigation menu (see below) to a new destination.

Back in 2008, our first iteration of THE ANNEX@ was in Moodle, an open-source learning management system. Seeking a more transparent platform, we switched to Blogger in 2011. This time we are moving our content to LibGuides (by Springshare). In LibGuides, we preserve the transparency we wanted from Blogger. While the user experience is a little different than in LessonPaths, we still have the capacity to scaffold steps in our research guidance using tabs.

Here's the thing: we are starting fresh. It will take us some time to populate our new THE ANNEX@ as thoroughly as our old one. It will happen one project at a time over the course of one year. Each year, we enhance what is there, so after 5-7 years, it is pretty robust. Year one on the other hand, is a little sparse. Please be patient with us! It is important for members of our learning community to let us know if something is missing. We can be emailed at or texted at (615) 669-6670.

We also wanted to share that the makerspace is being used across disciplines and grade levels for classroom projects. Below, you will find a screenshot of the makerspace schedule from December 14 and 15. During these two days alone, over 200 students collaborated with classmates on assignments for class. Several students chose to come back during "free periods" to continue their work.

In science, students collaborated to design and create a product for the NCHS Mineral Marketplace. As a culminating experience, ninth grade Earth Science students will have to "pitch" their creation to customers visiting the Mineral Marketplace.

After conducting a designer study in Fashion Design, students came to the makerspace to design a household item that reflected the designer's style.

For Global History, students created 3D, 2D, and/or digital plans that outlined a military strategy proposal to address the clash between Sparta and Athens.

Here is our updated photo album:

NCHS Library 2017-2018