Amazing Race- 5 Themes Geography Research Project

Although I loved having a “snow” day in April, it did put somewhat of a kibosh on my plans to come and work with a group of grade 7 students at Laurentian Senior Public School.  Luckily, we were able to reschedule for the following day as the students were getting ready to start their research for their Amazing Race Class Project.

For those not familiar with the Amazing Race, check out below.

The first part of the project involved the students selecting countries to investigate using the lens of the Five Themes of Geography:  location, place, human-environment interaction, movement and region.   Most of the students had chosen the countries they wished to explore and were ready to get going.  Naturally, our first stop was the Virtual Library where we spent some time with our general reference encyclopedias, in particular Grolier.   This is a great resource to use during that important pre-search phase of any inquiry task.  Very often we ask students to do “research” on something without giving them that opportunity to do any exploring on their topic.  Grolier is a very large multi-media encyclopedia that contains 8 different encyclopedia databases.  Students can search each individual database or do a “Find it Fast” search that gathers information from all of the databases.   A really great function of Grolier is that for most of the articles on countries, there are links to maps, flags, further readings, facts and figures, magazines and weblinks.   The next resource we explored was The Canadian Encyclopedia.  This is also a great resource in the pre-search stage, particularly for Canadian content.  However, for our purposes in researching countries, it was not as valuable a resource as Grolier.

I then had the students explore some of the information databases that we have in the Virtual Library.  These are great resources for that next level of questioning and investigating as they have a wide selection of resources:  magazines, journal entries, primary sources, newspapers, etc.  In the interest of time, I selected two of the information databases to share with the students:  Kids Infobits and Canada in Context.  These are two of my favourite to use with students because they allow students to access various tools like the text-to-speech option, translation of articles and the ability to download files as mp3s.

When I left for the day, they were well onto their research with a variety of resources and tools.  Hopefully, I will get invited back to see their finished projects.








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Creating Faux Websites- Queensmount PS

As part of the work that I had been doing with the Queensmount students on evaluating websites, I went back to the school yesterday to help them create their own faux websites.

Don’t worry, we aren’t actually going to have the students set up actual hoax websites (at least not yet;) but were interested in seeing if the students could create a page that would look like a legitimate website keeping in mind the criteria we had been exploring.

We decided to give the students a choice of the tool they would use:  Keynote, PowerPoint, Pages, Comic Life, Microsoft Publisher, etc.  I also did a quick demonstration on how to create an infographic and set it up to look like a web page.  We did have some technical issues with but we persevered.   I’m going to play around with it some more and see what I can create as well.  I know…I’m late to the party with infographics but better late than never.

I’ll be going back over the next couple of weeks to work with the other classes and I’m hoping I’ll have some student work to share.

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PLP Mentorship Day at Doon

Once again, I’m a bit behind in my posting.  I guess it’s a good thing that I’m so busy:)

As part of our action research for PLP, we are running a Mentorship program at our various locations.  We are trying to incorporate the T-PACK model in our approach to being mentors to our colleagues.

“Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK) is a framework to understand and describe the kinds of knowledge needed by a teacher for effective pedagogical practice in a technology enhanced learning environment.”

We are very cognizant of the fact that many try and incorporate technology in the classroom without a lot of thought about “why”.  In fact, in our group discussions we have all admitted to doing the very same early on.  It’s very tempting to get caught up with the shiny new toys without thinking of how and why they could enhance learning.

Since I’m not assigned to one specific location, my role of mentor is to support the other mentors at their locations- specifically with how the library and our online resources and tools can support learning.   I can also share the kinds of work I’ve been doing with teachers at my various schools.

So, on Thursday March 28 I spent the morning at Doon with Jeff Pelich and his PLP mentees.  His admin were incredibly supportive of our Mentorship program.  They were so supportive that they encouraged Jeff to include more than one mentee (as per our original plan).  He now actually has two groups- one Language teachers and the other with a math focus.  Needless to say, his hands are full so I went out to see how I could support them with the work they are doing.

When I arrived, Jeff was showing the group (including the VP) some of the clips from The Agenda’s Learning 2030:  Teachers Facing the Future.  He had already set up a TodaysMeet for them to back channel their ideas.  This was a new tool for them to use and it was interesting to see the difference between those who embraced back channelling and those that found the experience stressful.  After the session we had some great discussion around technology and its impact on learning.

I really enjoyed the fact that all the mentees were keen to participate in the mentorship program despite their varying comfort levels.  I also appreciated how honest they were in terms of where they were at and where they wanted to go.  It was really refreshing and gave great insight into where we needed to develop our mentorship program.

We spent the rest of the time getting them all comfortable with using TodaysMeet, Evernote and some other Web 2.0 tools they wanted to use.  In addition, we spent some time familiarizing them with the iPads and the various apps that could be used to create content.

When I left, the group was excited and pumped to try out a few things with their students.  I really think it helped that they knew there were two mentors available to support them in their learning.

It was a great way to spend the morning before the holiday weekend:)

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Cultivating Creativity in the Learning Commons

Today we had a fantastic PD day with the Secondary TLs, Anita and Carol Kochelin:)

Carol was actually the instructor for my Librarianship AQ courses so it is always nice to touch base with her and catch up.  As a huge plus, she always brings with her the expertise and enthusiasm for all things learning and libraries:)

We spent a lot of time looking at Learning Commons (LC) and Knowledge Building Centres (KBC).  Carol and Anita had created a WRDSB Teacher Librarians’ KBC for us to work with during our PD Session.

For those not familar with KBCs, here’s a link that explains how Knowledge-Building Centres work.

Our discussions and work centred around the idea that “Creativity is not so much a skill to be taught but an approach to learning that blossoms with opportunity”.  We also spent a great deal of time talking about how a Learning Commons can support collaborative learning as it can expand the learning experience into the virtual world- learning can happen 24/7.  Really does fit nicely with what we are trying to do with our iPad deployment- learning is mobile.

It was a great day!

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Evaluating Websites at Queensmount PS

Prior to the Christmas Break, I had met with the Grade 8 Science teacher at Queensmount PS to talk about ways that I could come in and support her students (all the grade 8 classes) on a research project on cells and cloning.  The lessons were actually supposed to happen before the holidays but the teacher ended up off on sick leave for six weeks, so we postponed the lessons until the week of March 25 and 26.

As I always do when I first start working with a class, I spent some time on the Library Learning Commons and the Virtual Library.  What I like to do is familiarize the students (and teachers) with the various sections of the LLC, especially the section on Research.   We have a ton of resources in our research section but I also wanted them to become familiar with the Inquiry Process prior to them starting their research projects.  I then spent a fair bit of time navigating the VL, talking about the kinds of resources we have, e.g. general reference encyclopedias vs. information databases etc.  I like to talk about the types of resources and when they are used.  For example, general reference encyclopedias are great at answering those lower order thinking questions that are so helpful when doing our pre-search phase of an Inquiry task.  When we want to start answering those in-depth questions we begin to look at our Information Databases that are filled with websites, primary sources, newspapers, magazines, etc.  I think it’s important that when students begin research tasks, they understand the types of questions they are asking and where to find the best resource to answer that question.

I directed them to the following resources on the LLC as an aid when doing their pre-search on any topic.

After exploring the VL, we had some discussion around the fact that sometimes they would not be able to find what they need on the LLC or VL and they would have to venture out onto the “Web”.  I felt it was important for them to think about where they would go to find information and how they could assess the validity of any website they visited.

I always start out by saying that there is nothing wrong with using Google or Wikipedia- as a starting point.  We all do it and I think it’s great way to give you that overview of an unknown topic.  However, I stress that it is only a starting point, not the end point.  In fact, using Wikipedia often allows you to find other valuable sources included in the reference section of the Wikipedia entry.  Now this is a lesson in and of itself so I didn’t spend a lot of time here but I do think it’s important to have that conversation with students.  Anita Brooks Kirkland, Library Consultant for the WRDSB has created a great graphic organizer on using Wikipedia as a tool.  It can be found on our LLC here:

The next resource from the LLC that I share with students is our evaluating websites checklist.  We have some great discussion about what makes a website “real” vs unreliable.

I then directed the students to a couple of hoax websites (unbeknownst to them) and had them evaluate the websites according to our checklists.  It was great to listen to the great discussions occurring amongst the students as they debated the validity of the various websites.  I have the included the link to the hoax websites below.

The next task was for the students to evaluate two websites on their own.  I provided the link for one hoax site and one legitimate website (varied it for each class).  Using the criteria from the website evaluation checklist (authority, objectivity, accuracy and completeness, currency and technicalities), the students had to evaluate the websites and determine which was a fake website and which one was a legitimate website.  They then had to present their case based on the criteria.  The majority of the students did a fabulous job.  In fact, I think all of them clearly identified the legitimate website.


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PLP Mentor Check In #1

As part of our PLP action research planning meeting (February 15), we agreed to meet as Mentors monthly to reflect on how things were going with our Mentees and our action research plan as a whole.

We arranged to meet on the following dates:

Wednesday, March 20 – 7pm – Elke

Thursday, April 18 – 7pm – Alison

Friday, May 10 – All Day – Board Office

The purpose of these meetings is to reflect on how things were going with our plan, themes that are arising from working with our mentees and any challenges.  Of course, we also want to focus on our successes thus far.

We met at Elke’s place to discuss how things were going.  It was interesting to note the differences between schools.  The majority of us have really supportive administrators (and supervisors) who are excited about our plan to mentor our colleagues- so much so, that some of us have more than one mentee.  Others on the team are struggling with lack of support.  It just hits home for me out important it is to have that support from the top down.

We discussed what was working well- all the mentees were super keen and eager to get going with their learning.  We also talked about the challenges- lack of support from admin and finding the time to get together with mentees.  We also looked at our NING and how we could really leverage that as a tool to support our mentees.

I must admit I’ve been a bit remiss with posting in the NING.  I’m finding it a challenge to remember to go in there and post my reflections and comment on the posts made by our mentees.  I think I need to set out specific time to go and do so or it’s just not going to happen.

Stay tuned.


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Laurentian- Research the Infamous Inmates of Alcatraz

I spent a good chunk of my day at Laurentian Public School yesterday.   I had been invited to the school by one of the grade 7 teachers, to work with two of her classes.  I was fortunate enough to be able to have two full periods with each class.  I had a great day and the kids were very eager to get started on their research.

For the first period, I spent some time showcasing our Library Learning Commons

It continues to amaze me how many oohs and ahhs I receive when I show students and teachers how much great stuff they have at their finger tips.  I spend most of the time in the research section, showing the students all the graphic organizers available for them as they move through the research process.  We focused on the following ones for their inquiry task.



I then spent some time in the Virtual Library, showing the students the various resources available to them and we spoke at length about choosing the right source for the types of information they were looking for, e.g.,  general reference encyclopedias provide that important overview when researching a topic.  I chose a few resources that I wanted to go in-depth with and had the students explore on their own.

For the second period with the students, we spent time talking about the importance of evaluating websites.  I handed out the graphic organizer- Website Checklist and we talked about the need to think critically about the web pages we visit.  I had also created a handout (going to revise it again shortly) explaining the importance of understanding the components that make up a URL e.g., .ca vs .com or what does .org actually mean.

Who is the intended audience

The students were going to be completing an inquiry task on the infamous criminals of Alcatraz.  Prior to this project, the students had been participating in a read aloud, Al Capone Does My Shirts.  Each student would be researching an inmate of Alcatraz and creating a biography.   Before visiting the school, I had found three websites that were suitable (and legitimate) for them to begin exploring.  I also gave them a copy of the Website checklist so that if they found other websites they wanted to use, they could review the content through a critical thinking lens.

When I left at the end of the day, the students had chosen their inmate and were eager to get started on their biographies.







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