Tag Archives: Learning Commons

Selfies: contemporary self-portraits #me

So ask yourself, “Does your online identity paint a complete portrait of who you are?”

The “selfie” has become such a global phenomena that it has universally connected us through the language of self-expression : #selfie, #me, #closeup, #myselfandi. Just spend some time on Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, or Twitter, and you will quickly find a world of people willing to share a piece of themselves through their smart phones. There is a sense of control when we take a selfie, you can control how you will look in a picture before it is put out there for the world to see. However, the reality is, we can never control how people really see us.



This was an incredible project designed by Gary Smith, one of our art teachers at Johnston Heights. Gary was assisted by the very talented Donna Sheh, who is working with Vancouver Biennale BIG IDEAS. The project started when Gary brought his Gr 9 art class to the Learning Commons. I loaded the photo-bucket app onto our iPads, and then assisted students with editing and uploading their photos to a Dropbox file we made for their class. The rest of the project was completed in the Art room over the next few weeks, and the student had some interesting class discussions around the questions on their reflection sheets. The following pictures show how it came together for a final gallery display at the Bell Centre – Vancouver Biennale BIG IDEAS Education Program partnership  with @Surrey_Schools on Wednesday, May 21 (7 – 8:30 PM).

The entire project from photos, to forms, to covers, to installation – was a big undertaking, but well worth it. Our students were excited to see their work come together in one large exhibit of contemporary sculpture. It is a dynamic visual representation of our youths’ culture and their involvement with social media. Such AWESOME work, Mr. Smith, and all the students in your class – you ROCK!! For more information go to: http://www.vancouverbiennale.com/event/embracing-uniqueness-a-surrey-school-district-performance-event/

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To eRead or not to eRead, that is the question?

This year our PAC bought us 7 Kobo Arcs for the Learning Commons. These beautiful colour tablets were purchased the weekend of Black Friday for $99 – not bad! The leather covers were ordered online from Amazon for $8 each, and the plastic pouches were ordered from a dollar store for under $5 each.  With the Follett and Overdrive apps installed, the students can easily download books from our database or from the Surrey Public Library. An app lock was also installed so student would not download other unwanted apps onto the device, and a permission form must be signed and on file before a loan takes place.  Now our students now have the opportunity to try an eReader and many of them are excited, yet others have the preconceived notion that they won’t like using one.

There are many arguments around the pros and cons of using eReaders, but the bottom line is this: give the students the opportunity to try one and let them make up their own mind! It’s all about choice; it’s all about personal preference.

Love them or hate them an eReader can offer us:

  • Selection – ereaders provide a library on the go with a great selection of e-books, and some have special features like built in dictionaries to decipher hard words
  • Convenience – they are extremely portable and lightweight – easy to carry, hold, or pack
  • Affordability – e-books are cost effective and it’s often cheaper to purchase ePubs than hard copies, and access to free e-book downloads are available from school libraries, public libraries, and apps

As a teacher, I love having more copies of the Classics available when the senior students are doing their big unit. As a traveler, I will never travel with a hard copy again. With that said, I do like to hold a real book in my hand while sitting at home on a lazy afternoon. So how do you feel about eReaders? Do you Love them, hate them, or are you on the fence? I’d love to hear!

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For the health of it: collaborating with our feeder school

“Hold your head up high and be proud! Remember we can smell fear, and there is nothing to fear because everyone is friendly at JH! I envy your youth because you are just going to be starting high school – it’s an exciting time for you! It’s the end for me, and I will miss it.” ~ Idris, JHSS Student


Those were some parting words of wisdom from a senior student for our visiting gr 7 class. It was such fun to spend time with the students from Berkshire Park Elementary. Plus, collaborating with the teacher-librarian (Kirstin Lintott @mrsbookblabber), and the grade 7 teacher (Janet Bates), was a pleasure for both our Superfit teacher, Tracey Riddoch and me.  We had the students work on parallel assignments, our hope was that the grade 12 Superfit class could help the gr 7s meet some learning outcomes for their Healthy Living assignment. But what really came out of this collaboration much more valuable than any lesson we could have dreamed up!

For the actual lesson, our grade 12s started by sharing some things they wish they had known about health & fitness when they were in gr 7. They emphasized going to bed at a decent time and getting sleep, “sleep is important and I never got enough when I was your age”, I heard a few of them say. They talked about packing a good lunch, and how much better they would feel eating healthy. They also told them not to waste money on non-nutritious fast food (our school is surrounded by fast food chains which can be a big temptation at lunch break). The gr 12s showed them how to use apps like MyFitnessPal – it houses a large food database for calorie counting, provides nutritional information on the foods consumed, and allows students to document their daily progress. The grade 12s also shared websites like bodybuilding.com  – great for a variety of health and fitness information like nutritional facts, recipes, and workouts to help make a healthy living plan. The grade 12s concluded the visit by taking each group on a short tour of our school. They made sure to focus on the gym, weight room, and our foods wing (where they will learn more about nutritious eating habits).

But the real value in this collaboration was in a message we had not predicted; that our school was going to be a fun/safe place to attend in September, and nope… they didn’t need to worry! On their way out the door I heard students say “that was fun”, and  “I’m not afraid to come to anymore”. Spending time with those “really big” kids showed the gr 7s that senior students may be big, but they are just kids: funny, silly, friendly, nice, and helpful kids.

Below you will find the grade 7 assignment as well as the Superfit pre-assignment and parallel assignment. We will probably do this again next-year with some changes/improvements, but overall it was a great experience for young and “old”. So… how do you collaborate with your feeder schools? I’d love to hear about it!

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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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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.

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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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