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



Friday, March 10, 2017

New MLA 8 instructions

We hosted the English Department on Eight Grade Parent Night last week. Mr. Remley cycled through five presentations about the English program which included a plug for the English teachers' collaboration with NCHS librarians. We were so excited to have library visitors during open house that we made a pamphlet about library services. Here it is.


In our last post, we introduced new materials to help students build their citations from scratch. In this post, we will showcase where we are warehousing those resources and a few more tools we created. As mentioned earlier, these resources were created in response to student feedback collected from exit surveys completed as classes wrapped up two benchmark research assignments: the 9th grade Speech on a Controversial Issue, and the Junior Research Paper (English 1st semester). As juniors begin working on their second research paper in social studies and freshmen begin working on their Collapse Project (based on Jared Diamond's Collapse: How Societies choose to Fail or Succeed).

Introducing the Collapse project to Ms. Bacon and Mr. Schwartz's classes in ColLabB

Let's start with the portal for all this content. Ms. Whiting has been working on THE ANNEX 2.0. While Blogger has served us well as an instructional portal since 2011, we've been thinking it may be time to upgrade. We are experimenting with the Beta version of the new Google Sites. Once the product is  a little more fleshed out, we will migrate our content. We welcome student feedback and suggestions for this project. Students can email the library to offer suggestions. We created an MLA 8 help page in this new space as our pilot.

Here is a little Walk through:


Last spring, we created an MLA 8 slide show to introduce teachers to the new guidelines. Lately, we've been working on instructional materials for students. We are warehousing them in this webpage, which is part of what will become the new THE ANNEX@ once we sunset the existing one.

The basic slide show:


The narrated abridged slide show in video format:



We created a one-page handout to help students understand the elements of MLA 8. We made posters of these instructions for teachers to post in their classroom. Here is the graphic:


Using student inquiries - those "How do I cite...?" queries from the library's text messaging service - we are building a works consulted exemplar. Where need arises (and time permits) we offer a QR code and a shortened link to an image explaining the citation in detail, element by element. These resources were built to help students learn and will continue to evolve in response to student needs.
Screenshot of document
One of the QR codes from above
Example of what a QR code links to

We grouped these citations on the webpage itself by material type for students who prefer to explore one category at a time:

Online citation generators such as EasyBib and NoodleTools arrange the citations themselves in correct order and format the page for students so students will need to know how to do this. The rules are simple:

  • One inch margins
  • Size 12 font
  • Times New Roman font
  • Arrange citations in alphabetical order on the page according to the first word in the citation (after "a", "an", or "the")
  • Hanging indents (see video below to use page ruler, not space or tab key)



Finally, we wanted to make sure students understood how to cite each of our databases. While the databases themselves provide citations, we have found them all to be incorrect. See below.


We created the Database Cheat Sheet to help students understand what each database does, provide the username and password to access it, links to tutorials on how to use it, a correct citation for each one, and what that citation might look like as an embedded reference. Below, we included the public version, which omits the username and passwords.


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

What we Learned from Freshmen

In our last post, Freshman Learning, we described what we learned from ninth grade research feedback. Since then, we've been considering how to to apply what we learned to program improvement.

Here is what we learned from the freshmen in no particular order:
  • Citing sources properly helps students evaluate their sources more critically.
  • Teaching MLA 8 is much easier than teaching MLA 7.
  • When citing sources in MLA 8, online citation generators are not as effective as students think.
  • Students who understand the elements of a citation and the correct sequence of those elements document their research more accurately than those who don't.
  • Our library needs to better promote its online instructional resources.
  • Our students think they would benefit from additional face-to-face instructional time with librarians.
  • Teachers could help make online library instruction more visible.
  • Giving students feedback on first drafts and all subsequent revisions improves learning outcomes by nearly 25 percent.
  • Librarians and faculty can work together to assess student bibliographies.
We have long held that online citation generators free up librarians to focus on teaching the higher-order thinking skills required for inquiry, close reading, and publication. We assumed that teaching citation formatting was a misallocation of instructional time. After all, there were low-cost tools available to facilitate that task. But feedback from our students taught us something we had not considered. Online citation generators are to student researchers what swimming pool floaties are to toddlers: They give learners the false impression that they can do it (swim/cite) independently, but they do not teach them how. Dependence on the tool impedes skill mastery.

Is citation mastery critical? Probably not, but it is valuable to achieving other critical ends - namely resource evaluation. By determining how to align all nine elements of an MLA 8 citation with each consulted resource, students are challenged to evaluate those sources more critically. This supports learners with their embedded references as well.

We are now teaching students how to build citations from the ground up. It is unlikely we would have tackled this with MLA 7, but MLA 8, which was released in April 2016, makes it a whole lot easier because the elements and their sequence do not vary, regardless of the source format.

Last spring, we created an MLA 8 slide show to introduce teachers to the new guidelines. Lately, we've been working on instructional materials for students. We are warehousing them in this webpage, which is part of what will become the new THE ANNEX@ once we sunset the existing one.

The basic slide show:


The narrated abridged slide show in video format:


Using student inquiries - those "How do I cite...?" queries from the library's text messaging service - we are building a works consulted exemplar. Where need arises (and time permits) we offer a QR code and a shortened link to an image explaining the citation in detail, element by element.

Screenshot of document
One of the QR codes from above
Example of what a QR code links to

These resources were built to help students learn and will continue to evolve in response to student needs.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Power of the Exit Ticket

Leading into final exams, many freshmen prepared for a speech on a controversial issue. It was a fairly simple assignment: read an entire non-fiction book, research using three sources (newspaper, video, and a website) to better understand the issue addressed in the book, document research, outline and give a speech. Texts included:
Librarians worked with each class for 4 days:

Day 1 - Support students with research
We visited classes and helped individual students as needed. The teacher assigned very specific resources down to the newspaper publication name (New York Times), so many students were able to find what they were looking for, but a few groups, those who read Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai UndercityEscape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West, and Little Princes: One Man's Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal, struggled to find newspaper their articles and videos.
Day 2 - Teaching students how to cite sources
We paused this three part lesson (below) after each section to help individual students cite each resource type (newspaper, video, and a website). For homework, students finalized the works cited they had nearly completed during the lesson. They submitted their works cited drafts the next day. We met with the classroom teacher to review and calibrate our feedback on a few sample assignments, and then we (librarians) reviewed all the students work and gave them feedback. We did this with hard copies, which I found difficult because we tend to visit the sites students cite and doing  without hyperlinks on which to click was impractical. In the future, we will ask for Google Docs submissions.



Days 3 and 4 - Revisions, revisions, and more revisions
Once the drafts with comments were returned to students, the revision process began. It took two days of revisions, working one-on-one with individual students before their were able to submit correct final drafts. For some students, this meant generating as many as nine drafts.

Unless they are annotated, works cited lists and bibliographies are assessed in three areas:

  • resource selection,
  • page layout
  • citation format. 
Here is the rubric. The revision process was rigorous as students were asked to obtain librarian approval before submitting their final drafts. In looking at the revision history for each works cited in Google Docs, we noted that 40% of the students revised their drafts once or twice and 26% revised them five or more times. Through the revision process, students brought up their grade by an average of 24 percent.

In an exit ticket, students rated the value of NCHS library services. While the majority of students found all our services helpful, face-to-face lessons and one-on-one help rated the highest.


To what extent were these library services helpful?
Twenty-two percent of open-ended question respondents said they would have benefitted from more time with librarians. Forty percent used the word “helpful” to describe the librarians in their narrative. Another 22% said they would have benefitted from more detailed instruction. While 89% said that they would rather correct flawed EasyBib citations than create them from scratch, we also had feedback suggesting that  students wanted to know more about citing sources:
  • 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.


To what extent did these impact  my learning?
There was one glaring gap for us. Only 57% of respondents said THE ANNEX@ was helpful (lowest ranking of all library services) and yet 16% of respondents said our instruction would be enhanced if we provided online access to our lessons. All our lessons are posted on THE ANNEX@, including those we presented in class for this project. A related suggestion urged teachers to remind kids about library services. One student advised us to facilitate format-based mini workshops (e.g., newspaper articles, websites, videos) for students who needed help on specific citations.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Meet the S.T.E.A.M. team and more

The S.T.E.A.M. Club formed this year by merging the MakerMajors and TechXperts into one club. We meet each Wednesday after school and the collective work of these students is transforming the library. We are so grateful for the talents, personalities, and work of these students that we wanted to introduce them and their contributions to you. Here they are:

Reilly: our PR maven!
Greetings! I'm Reilly O’Neill, and I enjoy long walks on the beach. Just kidding, I hate the beach. What I do love is being a part of the library student staff and making the library program as great as it can be. I'm a junior and a library intern, you can find me sorting books for our annual Vide collection or helping out behind the circulation desk. This year I've been assisting the librarians as much as possible and working with the STEAM club to improve our already great library program. Outside of the library I'm an editor for the school paper and member of the varsity cheerleading team.
Theo: Renaissance Man

Hello, My name is Theo. I joined TechXperts this year in order to support and expand the technological community at New Canaan High School. I mostly deal with software, testing it and showing others how a program works. My technological passion has always been programming, and I now instruct younger students in the fundamentals of scratch programming. When I am in the library, you will mostly find me at the help desk. This winter I am working as a Ski Instructor, as well as continuing my exploration of the German language.

Oh Captain, TechXpert Captain
Hi, my name is Spencer. I helped found the TechXperts because I love to help people out with technological problems. I enjoy working the on-call help desk, teaching professional development, and I am really looking forward to helping expand the library's Makerspace, as well as making technology-based video tutorials. When I'm not at the Help Desk, I enjoy leading my Boy Scout troop, Working in and around NCPS in the Technology Department, and biking. Follow me on Twitter for more @spencerree.

Sophia, our Zen Master!
Hi. I'm Sophia and I became a member of the Maker Majors just this past school year. Before coming to NCHS I had never heard of Maker Majors and TechXperts. I had actually never heard of STEAM club at all but was happy to learn about it and become an official member. Currently I am working on a project about the making of therapy dolls and the method behind using them with children in hospitals. So far I have learned the process of making the dolls as well as the background of the project. The therapy doll are said to be a great way for doctors and nurses in the hospital to show the children the procedure that is going to take place on them first on the doll so it is less scary. They can communicate their feelings and understand with a visual representation what is going to be done on their body. As I continue my project I hope to learn and explore the process further.
Casey is currently building
a desktop computer at the
TechXpert station

Howdy, I’m Casey. I joined the TechXperts because I enjoy helping people with techy problems. During middle school at New Canaan Country School, I was the go-to unofficial tech support. When I found out that NCHS has the TechXperts, I immediately joined. One of my goals on the team is to be able to expand the library’s technology department, specifically with virtual reality. When I’m not helping students with tech problems, I enjoy staying inside with a cup of hot tea and watching Netflix. Hello!

Mary's independent study
project involves creations
with beads
My name is Mary Cross, and I am a Maker Major, this year. I am in my junior year, and I was told about STEAM and decided join, and learn more about it so I can contribute in my own way. The three major things that I'm focused my project on are making or Religious artifacts, mail and/or greeting card design, and finding ways to create or combine different art projects. I feel that this can be fun for other students, and good for personal creativity. I enjoy doing art in general, and creating new ideas and trying out projects. I hope people enjoy my projects and ideas cause I certain lay know I will XD.

Claudia is a tremendously 
talented artist;
she drew this avatar of
 herself on her phone!
Hello there! My name is Claudia, I’m  from the Dominican Republic and I’m a Maker Major. I was one of the first students to use the Makerspace when it was first introduced and I fell in love with it. I love to have a creative area in the school, a place that allows me to create things and exercise my talents freely. I’ve been helping the Makerspace since the beginning by giving ideas and organizing/cleaning when needed as well as helping other students. I joined the STEAM club because I love the makerspace and I am always looking out for it, always thinking of how we can make it even better. If you want to know more about me, things that interest me are art, music, and fantasy stories. I like things that are colorful or shiny-even better-BOTH. I really hope that other students can enjoy the makerspace as much as I do and I hope that more people are encouraged to use it and take care of it like the other members of the STEAM club.

In other library news, we have had lots of requests from administrators, teachers, librarians, and parents from other districts to visit our library and learn from our program. To help these other districts obtain the information they need to make decisions for their schools we have begun building this website, NCHS Library: the ins & outs, to explain what we do and what the library program is all about. We particularly enjoy the "Meet the Librarians" page!

Instructions for uploading assignments to library Moodle

On Friday, January 13th, NCTV Morning Announcements will broadcast the following message. Students might want to get a head start and prepare one works cited, one research question, and one thesis statement for submission.  
"This morning, all NCHS students will receive instructions from the library to upload 

    • one works cited
    • one thesis statement
    • one research question
from fall semester 2016 to their respective graduating class in the Library Moodle. Students can choose from any assignment in any subject. All work must be submitted by the end of the marking period, on January 23rd."