Student Video Tutorials to Go!

Technology isn’t easy for everyone, and learning to use new web tools or apps can be difficult if you’re left to struggle on your own. I remember how confused I was back in 2011 when someone tried explaining Google docs to me – just show me and I’ll get it, I thought to myself.  I know I am a visual learner, and I read somewhere that approximately 65 percent of our student population is made up of visual learners. As a teacher, I know that one good visual aid can dramatically increase a student’s learning. That old saying,  “a pictures is worth a thousand words” means everything to we visual types!

So when I started having my Library Science students make video tutorials, it was as much for me as it was for them. All my students learned something new, and we had the short clips to introduce new web tools to  classes in the Learning Commons.

Advantages of student video tutorials include:

  • Peer teaching engages students.
  • Our students are mastering 21-century skills.
  • The Library Science students learn a concept better by having to explain it in a tutorial, and this makes them great teaching assistants when classes come in!
  • Teachers can use our tutorials in their rooms, or they can add them to their websites for students to access from home.
  • Teachers can preview the tutorials before they work with their students.

So… here are a few video tutorials my students have made. Some are better than others, but we learned something from each one. Slowly we are building our own JHSS Video Tutorial Database, and that’s proving to be a very useful resource. Yup, another work in progress – I feel like I say that a lot lately 😀

Click on this image and it will take you to a page on my blog of video tutorials:Screen Shot 2014-01-04 at 6.31.19 PM                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      You can also find us on YouTube: Screen Shot 2014-01-04 at 6.46.21 PM

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Does Fiction Matter?

During the past week I have been focusing on fiction, and promoting Canadian Library month and Drop Everything and Read on National School Library Day, October 28th.

The big question...

The big question…

I invited the English 8 classes into the Learning Commons and we attempted to answer the question: Does Fiction matter?
We started with a brief discussion on the difference between fiction and non-fiction. Then we reminded them about using descriptive language in their writing, and the 5 “Ws” they should think about when writing a short story (this had been previously discussed in class).

Story Prompts

Story Prompts

I then held up an example of a story prompt (from a series of wordless photos), and together we brainstormed ideas for good opening sentences.

Their classroom teacher divided the students into groups of three, and we began the Flash Fiction Writing Carousel. I had 9 stations set up that included one colour photo, one numbered station card, one pencil, and a piece of lined paper with 2 paper clips on top.


The first sentence of the story was the hardest, and it took the most thought and group discussion. The students were instructed not to turn the paper down to hide their first sentence, but to wait and hide the top sentence when they finished their 2nd story (so one line is only visible). We also told them to leave a space between every sentence to make the folding of the paper easier. When the groups completed all 9 stations we read some of the stories out loud (some we saved to be read out later in their classroom by their teacher).

Answering the question

Answering the question

Working together!

Working together!

Building the story

Building the story

Next, the same groups were given a sheet of paper and asked to answer this question: Does Fiction Matter?

It seemed easy for the students to write down one or two ideas, but then they really had to start thinking a little more. After 15 min we shared some of our results, and it was fun to see how passionate some student became about the need for Fiction.

I finished our sessions with a Book Talk on the 8 nominated titles for Surrey Teens Read and other new arrivals in the Learning Commons. The students had a quick book exchange, and they were all very excited to get their hands on some of the books I introduced to them.

Group brainstorm

Group brainstorm

Book Talk

Book Talk

So… by the end of the two classes did the students answer the question?

The students said that fiction is interesting because it tells a story and it entertains us. Fiction takes us to places, and it makes us feel something – that could be terror, joy, or sadness, but it transports us into someone else’s world, and they thought that was exciting. They told me reading would be boring without fiction, and they even came up with another question. Without fiction, where would all the great movies come from? Yup, stories are a powerful thing, and who doesn’t love a good story?

 “Without a doubt the two best words in the English language are The End”        Ken Scott

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It’s a Snap in the Learning Commons!

Snapguide is a great app for the iPad! View hundreds of  “how-to” guides from numerous subject areas like:  arts/crafts, foods, sports/fitness, technology, etc. But the real fun is in making your own simple to use guide, and they are easily shared with your friends on Twitter or Facebook. I had no idea how popular snapguides were until we made them – 160 likes, 1000 views, 35 Facebook shares, and 5 tweets – Wow! My students were amazed and excited!

Check out How to: Steps for a Zigzag Friendship Bracelet by JHSS Library on Snapguide.

I started by making a free account in Snapguide calling it JHSS Library. I then had some students learn how to make different types of friendship bracelets by watching YouTube videos.  Next, they made their own bracelets taking pictures with an iPad every step of the way. They then uploaded their pictures to snapguide and added text instructions. Their first guide was called “How to make a simple Friendship Bracelet“, and their second guide was  called “How to: Steps to make a Zigzag Friendship Bracelet“.

We then offered lunch hour lessons on making Friendship Bracelets using our iPad tutorials and student volunteers. It was a lot of fun, and I discovered some really talented bracelet making machines in our school!
For supplies I used some donated embroidery thread, but I did buy a few supplies from Walmart (minimal expense). I also had a few mini clip boards that students could use to clip or tape their bracelets to while working, but most taped them to our tables. At clean-up time if they were not finished they transferred and taped them to cardboard squares with their names attached .
This activity gave students a chance to connect with each other and have fun during lunch hour. After all, the Learning Commons it is a fun place to be!

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Web-based Tools and Apps: Who’s Who in the Zoo!

Whether they are web-based tools or apps on our iPads, I am overwhelmed with the amount of amazing applications available. I have to admit, I am probably a bit of an addict when it comes to experimenting with new tools (I do love trying them out), but sometimes I feel like enough already! I’m even starting to fear twitter because I may read about another amazing web tool I just have to play with! So this project was not only to help the staff and students, but also to help me focus on what works and what I like.
Part 1)
I started by making folders on our 30 iPads by dragging the different apps together into the different folders.


This not only made the ipad screens less cluttered, but it became easier to locate all the great apps the students and teachers wanted to use. Some of our headings include the following: art/design, video/photo, science, socials, storytelling, health, news, presentation, collaboration, language, and research. Unfortunaley, this alone did not help me remember all those little gems hiding in those folders.
To solve this problem I decided to take all the web-based tools and all the apps and organize them on the large white board in our green room.

Part 2)
My lib science students printed the names of the  web tools and apps. They laminated and trimmed them (headings in pink and tools in yellow). Next they cut magnet tape into small squares and stuck it on the back of all the words.

Screen Shot 2013-05-18 at 6.07.17 PM


Finally, small green dots were  placed on all words/tools that we have made tutorials for. My library Science students have been making some amazing tutorials using screencast-o-mastic, and yup – I love that web tool too!

I really enjoy being able to refer students to the wall when they are looking to put together a presentation. The wall has also given way to some inspiring projects evolving from teachers asking about the different tools on display. Eventually, I may transfer all the words to poster format, but for now it’s too fluid.

Of course I have a few favourite web-tools, or at least favourites of the moment. I think those tools would be: snapguide, padlet, edcanvasexplain everything, glogster, and popplet, but I would drop without my dropbox (which I often use for students to share their work from our iPads), and my Library Science students are currently experiencing the wonders of pixlr combined with comic life, and weavly to make mash-ups.

When all the tools were organized we just stood back and said, WOW! Have we ever learned a lot this year – no wonder I’m so tired! We still have some tools that we need to expolore further, but for now my brain is ready to blow! So which are your favourite tools? And do you ever feel overwhelmed with all the options available? I’d love to know that I’m not alone 🙂

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Playing With Poetry

Book Spine Poetry & Blackout Poetry
April is National Poetry Month, but poetry is not everyone’s cup of tea, and not something everyone enjoys reading or writing. So to introduce a new poetry unit I decided to use Book Spine poetry and Blackout poetry as icebreaker activities. Both of these activities are fun, and they are creative enough to encourage students to build freely without being impaired by any insecurities or fear of embarrassment.

“Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood.” ― T.S. Eliot

Starting with this quote, we started by talking about what we thought the author meant. What makes a good poem? How many poems have we read lately, and when was the last time we read a poem? Did we have any favourite poems we remembered from elementary school?
Next, I introduced the idea of doing a Book Spine poetry challenge and I showed some examples using keynote and my iPad with Apple TV. We discussed how the book spines would become their prompts and inspiration, but the students would be the creators, or writers. They were instructed to take books and build something that moved them in some way. Notice I said ” them” – I don’t believe you can write great poetry to make others happy. I do believe poetry needs to move you, the writer, and inspire you and make you feel something. If you can do that, then surely your work will impact others.

Book Spine Poetry

Things we discussed:

  • You cannot “fake” good poetry
  • Good poetry comes from the heart
  • Good poetry will have something we can identify with
  • Good poetry will move us and make us feel something


1.) How many books can I use?
Answer: No more than 6 and no less than 3
2.) What kind of mood do you want your poem to create?
Answer: Will it be one of sadness, happiness, love, anger, envy, jealousy, empathy, or silliness, etc.
3.) What kinds of words will you use?
Answer: Choose words that interest you, and words you think sound nice together (flow/contrast, rhyme/no rhyme.)
4.) How will you know when your poem works?
Answer: Read your poem out loud, and have a buddy read it out loud to you. The way a poem sounds when its read it extremely important! Some poetry can almost be sung the words flow so well together.
5.) What if its not quite right?
Answer: Edit what you have built. Try rearranging the book spines, and if they still don’t work then remove one book and try a new one in its place. How does that new book spine change the poem’s meaning? Also, try writing your poem out on paper.

   *Students worked in pairs and were directed to use only fiction books

When everyone had enough time to build a poem, then we displayed the book stacks around the room. Every student typed their poem out and printed it off. Each student reported to me and was given a number to put on their poem. They then placed a copy of their poem in front of their stack of books, but they left the poem unsigned (with their names on the back and a number on the front).This way the author remained anonymous. The students were told to keep hush about their number and which poem was theirs until everyone had voted. Each student was given a rubric to write reflective notes. After they finished reading everyone’s poems and completed the rubric, they could mark off their top 2-3 favorite poems on the rubric. At the end of class we did a quick talley and announced the winners, we also spent a few moments discussing why these poems may have moved so many of us?
Blackout poetry was introduced at the same time the Book Spine was introduced. This way, if some students were finished their Book Spine creations earlier than others then they could start working on their blackout poem.

Blackout Poetry

An Intro video of Blackout Poetry and examples were shown to the students. Below you will find examples of the student’s work, and the short video clip I used on blackout poetry. Our students really enjoyed these poetry activities, and their poetry was amazing! I would love to hear how you are celebrating National Poetry Month – let me know 🙂

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Infographics: what’s not to love!

I have been seeing infographics everywhere lately, and it’s easy to see why. They are visually appealing, easy to read, and easy to share.  A good infographic will present information in an interesting, colourful, and easy to digest format. Usually infographics focus on a specific subject like environmental issues, or trends in technology, but good ideas are only limited by our imagination!

There are many online tools that make it easy for students to create their own infographics, and infographics fit easily into every area of the curriculum.
  • Socials: display a timeline of events, environmental issue, current or historical stats:  growth trends, population, resources, etc
  • PE: explain energy & sports, how to master a skill, or compare participation in recreational activities by age group
  • Science: inventions/inventors, steps in a science experiment, global weather trends, pesticides on our planet, endangered animals
  • English/Art: outline the life of a famous author/artist (include data on their body of work), writing tips, Shakespeare said what/when
  • Psychology: examine a trend…, a change…, mental illness, learning styles, relationships, aging
  • Home Ec: nutrition stats & facts, super-foods, fast foods, diet trends
While creating their infographics, my library science students worked on many different skills like: making predictions, interpreting statistics and data, and exploring and improving their design skills.
Kathy Schrock has great resources, and I have attached a link to my assignment and a simple rubric. Below are just a few of the infographics made by my Library Science students. Now they are working on a video tutorial showing how to use Piktochart, which they decided was the easiest tool they tried.
Infographics are challenging and fun for the students. Plus, I had a lot of fun learning with them, but then I always do. Try making one and let me know what you think?
My Infographic
My Infographic-jhsslearningcommons


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A virtual tour of our Learning Commons

Every time we try a new unit in the Learning Commons I don’t hold my breath hoping it works, because If I did I would have passed out too many times to mention!

Some days I almost hate to say I’m a teacher, because I feel like I’m more of a facilitator that offers ideas, suggestions, and support. Of course I try to scaffold student learning where I can, but we are a team, and the students end up helping each other, teaching each other, supporting each other, and teaching me! Isn’t that what true collaboration is all about?

I have read that the number one reason an employer will let someone go isn’t because they aren’t capable, but because they can’t work well as a team. If that is true, then the Learning Commons will help to mold an entire generation any employer would love to have on his/her team!

Take a look at our Learning Journey, it is young, evolving, exciting, exhausting, and it sometimes makes me nervous!!

The road may be bumpy at times, but when we get stuck in those pot holes the students will push us out, I know because I have hit a few  😉


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