Friday, October 13, 2017

S.T.E.A.M.4 T.E.A.M.
Our S.T.E.A.M. 4 T.E.A.M.  (Science, Technology Engineering, Art, Math, for Talented Enthusiastic Adaptable Makers) met this week as they do on the 2nd Wednesday of each month after school. Our new Club Fair recruits joined our veteran Maker Majors and Techxperts to review short term and long term projects for the year. They set up shift rotations on a Google calendar. It is our hope to have someone "on duty" every period of every cycle. We still have many slots open so we are still in recruiting mode. Please contact the Techxperts if you have an interest in joining the TEAM.

Texchxperts recruit new STEAM TEAM members at the club fair

We held our second Somewhat Virtual Book Club meeting on October 4 at 6PM in the library. The club meets on the first Wednesday of the month at 6PM in the library, but students who cannot attend the face-to-face book group can join virtually via Google Hangouts. This month's discussion focused on the book, The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas which sparked a deep discussion between members of Dorman High School in South Carolina, James Caldwell High School in New Jersey and members of our club. Our next book is Light Years by Emily Ziff Griffin who will be joining us. We will meet on November 1 at 6PM in the library, we serve pizza and the meeting is open to anyone. Please consider joining us, but please RSVP so we have enough food for everyone.

#SWVBC meets with other schools to discuss The Hate u Give

Maker Magic:
So far this year, 16 classes have schedule makerspace time. Projects have ranged from creating 3D name tags in Earth Science to 3D representations of  Absolutist rulers for history class. Here is the list of makerspace-created projects since August. To document curricular connections for these innovative learning experiences, we link the teacher sign-ups to their assignments on the Makerspace calendar.

  • Earth Science: McLellan - 3D Nametages - 3
  • Earth Science: Haag - 3D Nametags - 1
  • Economics: Staffaroni - Posters/Economic Principals - 3
  • Civics: Goldhawk - What is Democracy - 1
  • Film as Literature: 3D writing prompt - 1
  • Global History I: Shwartz - Is Geography Destiny? - 2
  • Global History I: Bacon - Is Geography Destiny? - 1 
  • Global History II: Patrizzi - Absolutism - 3
  • Earth Science: McLellan - Timing Devices - 1
  • Game Design: Honohan - Board Games - 1
The Many Faces of Absolutism

MLA 8:
Last year, starting in February and based on student reflections provided through a research project exit ticket, we made several changes to our approach to teaching students how to document their research process. We moved away from online citation generators, we created a substantive MLA 8 Help Page, we created a template for research journals to facilitate consistency among disciplines and teachers, we started collecting and providing feedback on bibliographies from students twice per week (Tuesdays and Thursdays), then created a script to expedite feedback retrieval for students, and we developed a series of lessons documenting common errors and instructing students how to avoid them. Some of those posts follow.

What we learned from collecting and scoring 380 bibliographies over the course of the last academic quarter of 2016-2017, was that students need more instruction on how to create bibliographies. Unfortunately, taking scheduled instructional time away from teachers to teach students how to perform a fairly mechanical task is inefficient. Instead, we developed a student-paced instructional experience in which students will be asked to participate at home. The virtual lesson (sign in as guest) is comprised of 14 mini-videos (1-2 minutes each; 22minutes in total), each followed by a 1-4 question "Check" (quiz that requires NCPS log-in and is thus not visible to the public). The entire experience should take 30-60 minutes depending on student retention of the video content. As a follow up activity, the teacher will administer a brief (5-7 minute) quiz in class to students to check for understanding. Once students have participated in the experience, they will receive a digital badge which will qualify them to submit bibliographies for librarian review and feedback.

This new system will serve grades 9-11. By June 2018, all NCHS freshmen, sophomores. and juniors should have earned a digital badge for mastery in constructing MLA 8 bibliographies.

A Lesson on MLA 8 in 14 parts
Our new 3D Printer!
We have a new 3D printer, and it works beautifully, silently, and quickly! Students can moitor their project's progress through the built in printercam which broadcasts to a phone app or through their computer browser. It is a work horse and it has been working all day every day. Students are encouraged to reach out to the Techxperts to learn more about becoming certified in 3D printing. and designing and programming their own projects.

Flex furniture:
We've hosted quite a few classes in the lower library (#lowerlib on Twitter) this year, the new furniture facilitates scheduling multiple classes at one. The new ColLabA is open for business and students and teachers alike are making great use the new flexible learning spaces for a variety of learning experiences. Even after school the space is in full use. The football team watches video, the math team meets regularly. the TED Club meets there too,  just to mention a few uses.

Double-Header of Global I "Is Geography Destiny?"

Please follow our photo feed on Flickr:

NCHS Library 2017-2018

Please follow us elsewhere on social media as well:

Friday, September 8, 2017

The First One of the Year!

Please welcome Ms. Pacelli as the new NCHS Librarian! Ms. Pacelli comes to us from Stratford. She lives in Trumbull, where she also taught for many years. She has two grown boys; one who is getting married in October and the other who will graduate from Syracuse University in December. She loves to do yoga, read, knit and travel when she's not working with technology. She's had wonderful experiences visiting The Southwest, Alaska, Paris, Norway, and South Africa, and would love to talk about those adventures. Stop by and say hi!

We are so excited to have a fresh look in the library! Students asked for a lounge and they got one. This summer, the district upgraded the library flooring, painted the walls, transformed the old computer lab into a second ColLab, added cafe-style seating to the upper library, flexible instructional seating to the lower library, and moved the makerspace into any maker's dream space! We now have room to accommodate as many as five classes at once. Teachers are encouraged to sign-up through our Google Calendars (ColLabA, ColLabB, LibNorth, LibSouth, and Makerspace) to bring their classes. Students may do so upon request. Please scroll through the photos below to see how students are learning in our updated space:

NCHS Library 2017-2018
NCHS Library's 2017-2018 Flickr Album
When students enter the library, they can review the Library Use Schedule on the easels to determine which spaces are available to individual students.

The new flexible furniture allows us to now pair up overlapping classes for library instruction in the lower library (see below). This is great for grade-level collaboration and it improves alignment between librarian availability and teachers' instructional schedules.

Co-teaching made easier!
Seven classes have already made use of the makerspace. While we are still working on sorting and organization, students have made great use of the space to complete assigned projects. 


So far, we've hosted booltaks for three English class, and two social studies classes. We have several more scheduled over the next few weeks.

With the social studies classes, we showcased special collections: The Big History Read, and The Big Legal Read. These collections were curated with the course curriculum in mind. Students are asked to read one book per quarter in their class. Selection day is a fun and eagerly anticipated event by all.

Somewhat Virtual Book Club (SWVBC) met on September 3rd for the BYOBook season opener and will continue to meet regularly on the first Wednesday of each month. Next month's selection is The Hate U Give. We will meet in the library at 6PM on Wednesday October 4 and connect virtually with schools in 4 other states via Google Hangouts to discuss the book.

We sent out an invitation to social studies teachers to schedule librarian co-teaching on Friday, September 1. My Monday, we had enough responses to fill our schedules for the following three weeks. We feel very fortunate to teach in such a collaborative learning community!

We are returning to Flickr as a photo curation tool this year. We set up the album and it is streaming on our website (and at the top of this post). 

We made a few changes to the high school library website. Stay tuned for more!

Can you spot the changes?
The New Canaan Advertiser interviewed us about collaboration in libraries. Here is the article.

For those who are new to the high school library program, we offer both face-to-face and virtual instruction. All of our lessons are archived on THE ANNEX@ Here is our first 9th grade lesson of the school year:

Create your own Playlist on LessonPaths!
Our S.T.E.A.M. Team, which combines our Techxperts with our Maker Majors is growing fast! Students who wish to facilitate makerspace usage one period out of their 8-day rotation are invited to sign up in the makerspace. We are scheduling this old-school style on a sheet of paper until the calendar is set. We meet on the second Wednesday of each month right after school in the ... wait for it... MAKERSPACE! Ms. Pacelli is the team's faculty advisor and the Techxpert teacher. 

We met with freshman social studies teachers to give the first 9th grade research project of the year a makeover. It is now called Is Geography Destiny? Through collaboration, our butcher block paper meeting notes evolved into a multi-day co-taught lesson which launched in ColLabB today.

We set up a meeting with Special Education teachers to show them how to access all the resources available though our new interactive eBooks (LightBox). These resources will be valuable to learners of all kinds. Our initial collection is comprised of the following books, but Ms. Pivovar loved them so much that she requested several more. Needless to say, this collection is growing fast!

  • The Cold War    
  • Deforestation    
  • The Great Depression    
  • The Great Gatsby    
  • Macbeth    
  • Migrants and refugees    
  • New century conflicts    
  • Night    
  • To kill a mockingbird    
  • The Vietnam War    
  • World War I    
  • World War II 


Thursday, June 8, 2017

The Last One!

Ian McPeake, out Senior Intern
For weeks, we've been talking about how a Google Sheets script would improve our bibliography feedback system. Well our Senior Intern, Ian McPeake tackled the project, and today, he succeeded! All nine students who submitted bibliographies this afternoon received an email in their inbox providing a score, a list of items to revise, and an invitation to resubmit the updated version for further review. Here is a sample email:

Many students found accessing their feedback confusing. We hope that this facilitates the process.

Every summer, we publish our criteria for the summer reading list. We try to include very recent publications except for a handful of classics, a balance between adult and young adult fiction, we include a wide array of perspectives and experiences as well as genres. We aim to celebrate diversity with our selections. Our complete summer reading list is posted at This year, this process inspired us to update our materials selection policy; not just for the summer reading list, but for the entire collection. We are including it here.

As the semester winds to a close, many classes are creating 3D projects in the makerspace. Earth Science students have cycled through to create a alien that could subsist on the student's assigned planet or moon. Some of those photos follow:

The makerspace is for teachers too!

 And finally, this was found on a librarian's desk this week. We had to share. 

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Still Learning from Grading.

Ms. Jackie Whiting accepting the Carlton W.H. Erickson award
A huge congratulations goes to Jackie Whiting  for winning the Connecticut Association of School Librarians' (CASL) Carlton W. H. Erickson Award! This award is issued to a new-to-the-field school librarian who has "made an auspicious beginning in media services at the building level through contributions to the students, faculty, lay citizens, and/or instructional program of the school, school system, educational agency, or institution wherein the nominee/applicant is employed."

Ms. Whiting was honored at the organization's spring gathering on Tuesday evening. Here is an excerpt from her nomination, "in class after class, and meeting after meeting, Jackie introduced innovative ideas, thoughtful pedagogies, and effective strategies that dazzled me, our collaborating faculty, and impressed our students as well."

We keep writing about the same thing because it continues to teach us about what students know, and how we can improve our instructional program.

As we've mentioned, we have been offering students a chance to get very speedy feedback on their bibliographies twice per week (Tuesdays and Thursdays) since mid April. They submit their work through ta Google form. We review student work on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Truthfully, this is a challenging task and it is not a sustainable offering, but we are learning so much!

Since April 19th, 339 bibliographies have been submitted. Students are often surprised by how many mistakes they make. Many, many times over the past few weeks students have assured us that they got it all right only to find out that they earned a score of 3 out of 5 (the most common grade). Remember, this does not impact their grade, it only gives them a chance to improve their work before submitting it to their classroom teacher.

On April 7, we blogged about the system. Today, we will share what we've learned since then.
  • Students are eager for feedback. Several students submitted work for review in several courses, and many submitted multiple revisions. 
  • We need to streamline the system. In a perfect world, the spreadsheet would email students their score and comments the second we added it to the right cell, but we haven't figured out how to do that. We hope to tap into our Senior Interns' talents to help us write a script that would do that. 
  • Students in different grades make different mistakes. While this is not surprising to us, it is the first time we have had quantifiable evidence that students require different research guidance at different grade levels. What follows is a rough breakdown about how research instruction progresses as they move through the high school. While this is not new, we now have information that will help us meet very specific learning needs identified thought this process.
    • Freshmen need very clear parameters for their research. We've had great success with assignments that require one New York Times article, one website, and one multimedia source (TED, NPR, BBC, PBS, etc.).
    • Those parameters work well with sophomores too, but 10th graders do best when we build the parameters around the research continuum: 
      • Wonder: Reference
      • Investigate: News
      • Investigate: Academic Journal
      • Synthesize: Book (digital or print)
      • Synthesize: Primary source
    • Juniors need the freedom to find the resources that best meet their learning needs. This is a critical element of the research process and it is something they must master before leaving New Canaan High School regardless of what they do next. The process is the same whether researching a new car to buy or working on a doctorate in Physics. Fortunately, juniors have two intensive research experiences in two disciplines, usually with two separate teachers (except for the American Studies students). Their research guidance comes earlier as we help them at different intervals as they move through the inquiry process: topic -> research question -> research journals -> bibliography -> thesis statement -> outline
    • While we teach the difference between reporting and opining as early as 10th grade, senior research experiences involve analyzing nuance among points of view through the careful analysis of author craft. Senior year is when students learn a new citation format (APA), and fine-tuning the research skills they worked on in prior grades. 
  • Formatting a page is the most common mistake (33% of submissions). This is good news as formatting a page is the easiest problem to correct. We made a 30 second video to teach students how: 

  • Here are the rest of the common mistakes. They have changed quite a bit since the last time we published them. Hover over the graph to see full explanations.

  • Our comment bank needs to be streamlined. We've been working on that, but it is not yet ready. As we consolidate comments we are making them more instructive - not just explaining what's wrong but also why it is the way it is, and how to fix it. 
  • Students improve their score by one point with each revision. For example, a student who submits a 2 will improve to a 3 after incorporating recommendations and resubmitting. They they will receive further feedback and improve the 3 to a 4, and so on. You may ask, "Why not bump from a 2 to a 5 on the first try?" The feedback system is a little complicated as it tells them what they got wrong holistically, not specifically pointing to the place in the bibliography or the citation where the error occurs. This is the only way we can generate the volume of feedback required in the short amount of time needed for the system to work. Moreover, there is instructional value to making students do the heavy lifting. They learn more this way. When we surveyed freshmen back in January after a research experience, they said:
    • I did not understand how to write citations very well after I wrote them.
    • I just corrected what the librarians told me to correct.
    • Would have been beneficial for you to explain in more detail the order of things within our citations.
    • Explaining why the citations need to be so specific would probably helpful.
  •   We met wth the Writing Center faculty and reviewed the new MLA 8 help page with them. They gave us a few pointers on what to improve. Among them was the request to make these slides a stand-alone offering and move it to the top: 

  • We have yet to obtain feedback from teachers on the system. Yet we know that they are encouraging students to use it, so they must like something about it!

Friday, April 28, 2017

While the End is in Sight, We Are Still Focused on Instruction

Changes in the Library

We anticipate two significant changes in 2017-2018.

  • A very large incoming freshman class
  • New carpet in the library

This prompted us to consider which changes to make in the library over the summer in preparation for next year, so we hosted three 20 minute open meetings during lunch on Wednesday, April 26 in the American Studies suite to invite students and faculty help us brainstorm ideas. Turnout was low. Two students and three teachers stopped in, but they did have quite a few ideas to share. Their feedback is linked here. In order to make this process as inclusive as possible, we are opening the opportunity for further input through this form. If you missed the meeting, please add you thoughts by Friday, May 5.

Bibliography Feedback

In our April 1, 2017 post, we featured some changes we've been working on to help students get timely and detailed feedback on their bibliography drafts.  Here's what we developed next, and here is what we hope to add.

We showcased the system at last week's faculty meeting, and over 70 students have used it thus far. We hope to make two further and important modification over the next few weeks:

  • Script an automated email response into the form response spreadsheet to send students their score and coded feedback as soon as we post it
  • Generate an graph that interacts with the spreadsheet featuring most common NCHS bibliography mistakes. We would embed into the MLA 8 help page

While grading, we discovered that students who received library instruction on accessing library support resources performed 30% better on their assessments than did those who did not.

Summer Reading

Summer reading is around the corner. That's when we get to catch up on what's new and exciting in publishing. Our summer reading list is primarily recreational. It's purpose is to connect our learners with resources they may enjoy.

We generally keep the list relatively short – under one hundred books so as not to overwhelm. We are mindful of genre, audience, reading levels, and diverse themes. We focus on contemporary publications - the last two years or so, but we also include a few classics. We aim for balance between young adult and adult literature. Please feel free to add your suggestions here

Keeping in mind that our library users include young teens and adults, our list is thematically comprehensive. Not every book is for every library user. Selection is part of the reading process and we encourage young readers to be reflective about their choices - to contextualize them with their personal and family values - to read reviews and publisher notes, to make predictions about whether a book will suit their interests, and also to switch to a different book when one falls short of their expectations. There are so many books to enjoy. Summer is not the time to slog through a book that holds little appeal.

As in previous years, New Canaan (town) Library runs a dynamic Summer Reading Program. Kathleen Crouse, New Canaan Library’s Teen Librarian will facilitate that, and we sent our copies of the summer reading books to the town library so students may borrow them over the summer months.

We aggregate our summer reading list in GoodReads - which is a social book recommendation site. The entire NCHS learning community is invited to connect, share what they are reading, rate books, and write reviews. Again, the list is here, and the tabs at the bottom of the sheet allow viewers to switch organization – title, author, genre, etc.

Here are some recent pictures from the library:

Checking out our new robotic Sphero

Teaching Cricut

Sphero is quite popular!

I figured it out!

Can I try?

Building an alien for science

More alien building

Look what we got!

Art for Mr. Joshi's classroom

We made slime!

We love that the makerspace had the ingredients!

ColLabB learning

Student teaching

More ColLabB learning

Movie making (and having fun too!)

Friday, April 7, 2017

New Approach to Teaching Research Documentation

For the past several posts, we've shared our reflections on what students understand and know how to do in terms of research. It may seem as though a bibliography is a fairly superficial instrument to measure student learning, but it can reveal a great deal about the students' approach to the research process.

New Canaan High School's research model
For example, when researching how today's nations have been impacted by a legacy of imperialism, currency is of paramount concern. When we see bibliographies featuring books such as Iraq: a Country Study or Libya Since Independence with publication dates of 1998 or earlier, it raises questions. Those books do not exist in New Canaan High School Library's collection. We would have removed them years ago as it would be hypocritical for us to carry such outdated materials while instructing students to focus on resource currency. A quick search for those resources reveals that they refer to book reviews published in academic journals which are indexed in our databases.

Such citations indicate that students are not doing one or more of the following:
  • citing their sources correctly.
  • evaluating the sources they find.
  • analyzing the relationship between their research task and the resources they use.
  • reading the sources listed in their works cited.

Lately, we've been collecting bibliographies using a very simple Google Form.

Students upload a link to their visible, but not editable bibliography. This provides us with a spreadsheet of data describing the nature of the assignment with which the bibliography was aligned and links to each learner's bibliography.

We set up a comment bank to provide students with speedy, yet comprehensive feedback on their bibliographies/works cited lists. We are still fine tuning its elements, but this is what we have so far:

Using the spreadsheet functions, we created a drop-down menu in 61 columns listing all the possible comments from the aforementioned list. While reviewing student work, we click across that student's row adding coded feedback. Ultimately, we hope to embed links to instructional materials for each comment so that the feedback does more than tell them what they did wrong,  it tells them how to fix it. This will take time, but it is a worthy goal.

We aggregated common mistakes. They are detailed in the chart below. We are working on creating a script to automate this process so that it updates live in our Research Help page. The most common mistakes for sophomores follow. They are different from the juniors' most common mistakes, which we interpret as positive news.

Using what we learned from the chart above, we built a lesson to help students revise their bibliographies. Then they resubmitted them. Once we review the revised drafts, we will look for overall growth within the cohort and individual growth for each learner. Here is the lesson. 

We recorded the lesson as a video for the teacher to use in class.

While creating a bibliography is a fairly mechanical task, the bibliography reflects more than just the mechanics of citation creation. Unfortunately many, many students lose points on critical assignments because their bibliographies do not reflect the hard work they invested in the research process. We are constantly looking for ways to help students understand why it is important to master this skill, and how to be successful. In college most students are expected to complete 3- 5 research papers per semester, and it is our aim to equip NCHS students with research skills that will follow help them succeed not only in high school, but in life beyond high school.

Friday, March 24, 2017

What is THE ANNEX@?

In our last post, we casually mentioned that we were building a new THE ANNEX@. It occurs to us that only NCHS students and faculty know what that is. THE ANNEX@ is our learning portal. When we meet with classes which happens on average 3 periods per day, our lessons include a walk-through of the instructional materials assembled/created for that specific research task.

Most lessons are organized into a "playlist" (we use LessonPaths). When students need a refresher on what we covered in class, they can navigate through the steps to locate the one they wish to review.  We like this software as a learning tool because it helps students find exactly what they need without having to dig through a long narrative.

Before LessonPaths
With LessonPaths:

THE ANNEX@ is a simple blog. We use Blogger because it is part of the Google for Education Suite. It is easy to access. There is no sign on process so students, teachers, instructional aides, parents, and member of the New Canaan community and folks beyond can all access what we teach. We deeply value that transparency.

Posting to LessonPaths is great for students, but clunky for us. What is coming next

To be continued later this afternoon.... In the meantime, check out these fun photos of students learning in the library.

Working on a video project for Mr. McAteer

Rebuilding the monster truck AGAIN!

Double-header in the ColLabB with Ms. Bacon & Dr. Shwartz's 9th graders

Makerspace ordering in progress

Building a VR station from scratch

47 translations of Harry Potter books on loan from Dr. Foster

This odyssey of the Mind team won first place with their makerspace creation

Because they wanted to be Tweeted!

Why you need math in real life

Unpacking that order from last week

After school time is maker time at NCHS library

Mr. Tesbir checks out awesome new interactive eBooks called Lightbox