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

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Flipping & Badging

On the surface, one would think that creating a list of consulted resources is a mechanical, lower-order thinking task, but creating citations involves resource evaluation.

The chart below cross-walks Essential Questions (EQs) with the nine Modern Language Association (MLA 8) elements of a citation, and the widely used C.R.A.P. Test (Currency, Relevance, Authority, Purpose). The citation seldom helps learners evaluate the accuracy of their source, but it does tell them something about currency, relevance, authority, and purpose. Creating a citation will not help researchers evaluate a resource as a stand-alone activity, but it will help learners think more analytically about what they are consulting.

Learning, practicing, and perfecting research documentation habituates students to reviewing author bios, reading "About" pages, checking dates, and deconstructing URLs. This goes a long way toward sharpening students’ skepticism – a disposition that serves researchers brilliantly.

Back in October, we introduced a new strategy to teach all students in grades 9-11 how to create a bibliography following the new Modern Language Association's guidelines (MLA 8). This has been a year long process. Each week, we think of new ways to improve the system.

Digital badges work! If we'd known the degree to which digital badging would incentivize learning, we would have introduced them ages ago. In our last post on this topic, we were just about to launch a digital badging program in the library Moodle. Moodle is one of the high school's current learning management systems.

"My badges" in Moodle

Showing off an IRL badge

15 Digital Badges Earn 1 IRL Badge!

Students watch our 14 instructional videos (as a homework assignment in grades 10 and 11; in class for 9th graders). After watching each video, students take a mini quiz. A sample question follows:

When students click the "check" button, feedback appears. Correct responses generate validation feedback, whereas incorrect responses generate additional instruction on that concept. Students may re-attempt each quiz as many as three times.

When a student's quiz score meets the established criteria, he/she is issued a digital badge. This is automated, so it occurs instantly. When class meets again, students should theoretically have 14 badges. Then, one of the librarians administers a 10-15 minute quiz in class. A score of 75 or higher will earn students their fifteenth badge. Nearly 400 students have taken this quiz since October 17, 2017.

We encourage students to submit their bibliographies to the library Moodle for feedback. In fact, many teachers require it. In a recent analysis of 65 bibliographies, we learned that the program is effective in improving student learning outcomes.

The table above features data for three ninth grade history classes. This is brand new learning for these students. They have never created bibliographies from scratch before. In middle school, they relied on EasyBib, an online citation generator, to do this work for them. The learning curve is steep and it will require many tries and much practice before the process feels seamless to them. Given that context, a 60% success rate is excellent this early in the school year. While we did not collect data last year, anecdotal feedback from teachers assures us that we are on the right track.

Nearly 200 students have submitted bibliographies for review since October 23, 2017. In order to provide timely feedback to each student, we embedded grading criteria into Moodle to establish clear expectations for student success. It follows:

We embedded a comment bank to support learners and teach them how to improve their work. We had one last year, but we streamlined it by cutting to half as many comments. The list is embedded below.

Because this list is embedded in Moodle, we can click relevant comments into each of the ten grading criteria fields to personalize feedback. This not only helps students understand what they got wrong, but how to fix it, and for those who need further explanation, each comment includes a link to examples, such as the one below. 

What learning looks like at New Canaan High School Library: 

NCHS Library 2017-2018

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Many Faces of Absolutism
"Maker education fosters curiosity, tinkering, and iterative learning, which in turn leads to better thinking through better questioning."~ Laura Fleming

Timer Task

Cell Membrane Model
Our library Makerspace is really booming! We now have space and materials for 3D printing, virtual reality, coding, robotics, and creating with maker materials. Teachers have been scheduling their classes in the makerspace, as well as the collaborative spaces in the library to work on exciting projects that tie in with their learning objectives and curriculum. Some of the projects completed in the Makerspace so far this year, with teacher and librarian collaboration, include The Many Faces of Absolutism (Global 2), Timer Task (Earth Science), Board Game Prototypes (Game Design), Thoreau Children’s Book (AMSTUD), River Valley Museum Exhibit (Global 1), Cell Membrane Models (Biology), Writing Prompt Creation (Creative Writing), and Principles of Economics Posters (Economics). Click on the assignments to see more information about each project.

River Valley Museum

In addition to teachers scheduling our space for their classes, students drop in and out regularly to work on academic assignments, school-wide activities and personal creative projects on their own time. Our TechXperts and Maker Majors are preparing to set up Maker Challenges and educational workshops for students who want to learn coding, create videos, and make circuits, among other things.

TechXpert Independent Study Project

Our calendar is available to view online. If you follow this link you can see what is scheduled, as well as the classes that have been through the Makerspace. Click on any event and "more details" to see an attached assignment document.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Meet our Databases!


This has traditionally been our most popular database. We actually have to DIScourage students from using it once they get past the reference phase of their research. It has, to a large extent, replaced our print reference collection.
    1. World History The Modern Era
    2. World History Ancient and Medieval Eras
    3. World at War
    4. American History
    5. American Government
    6. World Geography
    7. Modern Genocide
    8. Daily Life
    9. World Religions
    10. Issues
    11. American Indian Experience
    12. U.S. Geography


  1. OpenAthens
OpenAthens is the third party software that enables students to log on to ALL databases simply by being logged into their account in the browser they are using to access them (see lesson). Until we subscribed to this Single Sign On (SSO) service, database use was impeded by authentication issues. Since SSO, our database usage is up by 34 percent.
  1. EBSCO Modules
    1. Points of View
This database provides opposing points of view on contemporary issues. It is similar to the New York Times’ Room for Debate and Gale’s Opposing Viewpoints in Context, but it features different content than the others. Students find these resources particularly helpful when working on OP-Ed pieces in 10th grade English and the Junior Research Papers in 11th grade.
    1. EBSCO Discovery Service
This is a service that permits students to cross-search most of our database content through one search widget. In tandem with OpenAthens, this service streamlines database searching for students and generates extremely relevant search results. It also generates fairly accurate MLA 8 citations for all its content.
    1. Academic eBook Collection
Through this collection, students have access to over 123, 000 ebook titles. The collection includes texts in world languages, highly specialized manuals and technical information as well as reference materials. It is impressively inclusive.   
    1. Flipster
This is the portal that provides our learning community with access to our online magazine collection (there’s an app for that!). The list grows a little each year. This year, it includes

The Atlantic
Automobile Magazine
Bloomberg Businessweek
Car & Driver
ESPN Magazine
Food Network Magazine
Gentleman’s Quarterly
Horse & Rider
Kiplinger’s Personal Finance
Mother Jones
Motor Trend
The New Yorker
Rolling Stone
Vanity Fair
The Week

    1. Poetry and Short Story Finder
Students searching for poems and short stories are often surprised to find that what they seek is not always available on the free Web. Authors frequently withhold their work from the open Internet to protect their intellectual property. This database provides learners with access to full-text poems and short stories. They use it 11th and 12th grade English classes.


  1. Gale is the only database provider that recognizes the limitations Library of Congress’ resource classification and chooses to label reference resources as they are: Reference. This amplifies our message that there are appropriate times in the the research process to use reference materials and that there are other times, as students move through the research model, when reference materials are inappropriate.
  2. Gale Opposing Viewpoints - Students love its interface. We gave this up for one year because we felt the state of Connecticut provided us with a similar product, but we brought it back in response to student and teacher demand.
  3. Google Classroom and Google Drive are now integrated into Gale so students can highlight and annotate their readings, create citations, and send them on to their school Google Drive account. Teachers can send articles and resources to their Google Classroom and share them with classes. It is the most seamless integration of Google into database services we have seen. We added the following modules to our collection.
  1. Gale Global Issues in Context
There is no comparable product on the market, and it is aligned with our 9th and 10th grade history curriculum
  1. Gale Literature Resource Center
Literary criticism and author biography
  1. Gale LitFinder
Similar to EBSCO’s Poetry and Short Story Finder, but more navigable interface and more K-12 aligned content
  1. Gale World History in Context
  2. Gale US History in Context
  3. Gale Science in Context


This database features copyrighted scholarly and peer-reviewed periodical articles. It is the gold standard in higher education libraries. Our students will be expected to know how to navigate its admittedly clunky interface as they move into the next phase of their academic careers. This product is integral to our learners’ high school to college transition.


We have a long and proud history of NOT using subscription resources to publish our instructional content. But our LessonPaths/Blogger combination has failed us this past year on two fronts:
  • Ad content on Blogger
  • Downtime in LessonPaths
We want to provide students with the best possible user experience when it comes to library instruction. Therefore, we are adding a subscription to LibGuides (the industry standard across K-12 and higher education libraries).


This subscription includes three very distinct modules.
  1. Oxford English Dictionary
There is no other dictionary like it, and we no longer carry it in print.
  1. Oxford Art Online
This is the only database we have that specifically targets the Visual and Performing Arts curricular program. It supports learning in 9th and 10th grade history courses as well, particularly the museum project, which asks students to defend their selections for a hypothetical museum exhibit about Mesopotamia and other River Valley civilizations.
  1. Social explorer - This database allows students to interact with demographic information through maps, charts, and graphs. It helps learners discover new strategies for consuming, mashing, and publishing census data.


After a long hiatus, we resubscribed to this service because they overhauled their interface. Newsbank allows students to cross search most English Language periodicals and news sources (including televisions and radio transcripts) from specific countries and/or regions of the world. This is an essential research tool for 9th and 10th grade English and social studies learners as they are expected to do country studies over and over again, each time from a  different perspective - not an American one. Access World News also includes regional American newspapers including local publications and these serve the Civics classes as they work on regional politics for mock elections and senate simulations. Our collection includes 3 modules:
  1. Access World News
  2. Latin American Newspapers
This historical newspaper collection is used for the Revolutionary Diaries Project (10th grade history)
  1. Foreign Bureau Information Service (FBIS)
Historical newspapers from around the world - extremely useful for point of view comparisons during world conflicts such as World Wars, civil wars, and/or genocides.


We primarily use ProQuest for its newspaper collections. These play a vital role in our news literacy instructional program.
  1. Research library:
    1. The Economist Archive (1992 - present)
    2. Another 692 publications including
      1. Scholarly Journals (‎502)
      2. Trade Journals (‎85)
      3. Magazines (‎82)
  2. Historical Newspapers
    1. Christian Science Monitor‎ (1908 - 2004)
    2. The Washington Post‎ (1877 - 2000)  
    3. New York Times (1851 - 2013)  
    4. Hartford Courant (1764 - 1922)
  1. National Newspapers
    1. The Christian Science Monitor‎  (1988 - current)
    2. Hartford Courant‎  (1992 - current)
    3. Los Angeles Times‎  (1985 - current)
    4. The Wall Street Journal‎  (1984 - current)
    5. The Washington Post‎  (1987 - current)


Database of public opinion surveys, such as Gallup, the New York Times, Quinnipiac, ABC, etc. information starts in 1930. This is an excellent resource for examining change over time (demonstration of how students can use this resource to generate change over time statistics).


  1. CQ Researcher
A Staple in the 11th grade curriculum to complete an assured experience called Congress and the American Dream.
  1. CQ State Stats
Widely used among Civics classes for senate simulations


This database aggregates polling and census data from around the world and presents search results in a variety of formats, including spreadsheets so students can sort, reorganize and mash-up their findings (example).

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?"

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NCHS Library 2017-2018

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