Saturday, November 22, 2014

School Librarian Connection - A Brief Reflection

Today I got to spend the day with a group of amazing librarians from Hong Kong and various other places around South East Asia as we all came together at School Librarian Connection. The organizers, Dianne McKenzie (Renaissance College, Hong Kong) and Katie Day (United World College, Singapore), two extremely knowledgeable and passionate librarians, did a fantastic job in organizing the event. I enjoyed the short presentations on a variety of topics under the main themes curriculum support, digital resource management, visual literacy and research skills and tools. As always after a conference or workshop, my head is buzzing. So much to ponder about, so many new thoughts and ideas! Here just a few, that will be at the forefront of my thinking, in no particular order:

Maker spaces – Both Nadine Bailey and Kurt Wittig spoke in their presentation about maker spaces in the library. Nadine brought up the idea within her presentation on digital storytelling, providing an example what this might look like. Kurt introduced the Collaboration, Innovation, Creativity Club (CIC) he started in his library, where students can choose from a selection of seven domains: electronics, engineering, fashion, gaming, robotics, materials, and virtual environments. Especially the materials domain got me thinking as students create origami on the entrance level and work up their way to creating pop-up books. I think, both ideas, a digital storytelling maker space as well as a materials maker space, might be an opportunity to move our first attempts with a maker space in our library (simply a table with origami books and origami paper) to the next level without requiring much additional materials or funds.

iPads in the library – While I have already made use of iPads in the library for various purposes, such as reading, information seeking, creating and video recording, Tabitha Johnson’s presentation gave me additional ideas. After her presentation I was thinking that iPads are a great tool to use also at the beginning of the school year, for example, as students explore the library and reacquaint themselves with the organization of materials and the overall set-up of the library. Younger students could simply take pictures of what they see around the library to gain understanding of the purpose of a library, the resources available and so on.

“Making the invisible visible” – Katie Day, Barbara Reid and Nadine Bailey shared some great ideas on how to make patrons aware of a library’s digital resources, my favorites being books on walls and wheels (posters of teachers’ book shelves on hangers for easy browsing), amplified shelves (through QR codes links are provided to author or series information), and placeholders (through QR codes patrons get linked to the catalog to see whether there might be additional copies elsewhere available).
I also loved the idea of attaching student book talks (or other digital content) to book posters with the help of Aurasma. Once we have iPads in our library, we will have the opportunity to make more and better use of QR codes around the library.

COETAIL (Certificate of Educational Technology and Information Literacy) – I had heard about this program already from others but checked it out for the first time today after Dianne introduced it. I had known that it was a program around educational technology but hadn’t been aware of the information literacy component – and these are the courses that I would be especially interested in: Information Literacy and Ourselves as Learners, 21st Century Literacy Ideas, Questions, and Issues, and Visual Literacy: Effective Communicators and Creators. Will have to check whether it is possible to take individual courses.

EasyBib & Diigo – While I was familiar with these resources, having used both already, I knew little about what these resources can do besides the basic citation and book marking features. Dianne McKenzie demonstrated how both can help students during the research process, in annotating and organizing their notes, creating citations and reference lists and even take advantage of them EasyBib as an add-on in Google Documents. I would love to get a subscription to EasyBib for our libraries, no doubt!

TRAILS – I had trialed using TRAILS in Ghana as a pre-assessment tool of G3-5 students’ information literacy skills at the beginning of the school year to guide me in which skill area the emphasis needed to be. I remember finding it extremely helpful and relatively easy to administer. Fiona Collins’ presentation was a good reminder to make use of this assessment tool again.

Visual literacy through powerful picture books – Megan Lindsay’s presentation gave me ideas on how to move our picture book explorations forward. And the timing couldn’t have been better as I just began looking at picture books with our fourth graders last week. Megan gives her students a visual literacy check list as they explore the books so that students become aware of all the features. I will definitely incorporate this in our picture book explorations.

Visual notetaking – I loved Shirley Chan’s presentation on visual note-taking for all ages, as she demonstrated how she uses it with her primary school students. Recently, I have heard and seen quite a bit on visual note-taking, especially from my friend Nicki Hambleton (check out her blog). Through images, students make their thinking visible while at the same time retaining key information more easily. I am keen on finding out and learning more about it, especially on how to use it with younger students. Therefore today’s presentation was just perfect, getting me even more excited about the idea of introducing it to our students. I have already downloaded one of the recommended titles: The Sketchnote Handbook, which was available in Kindle format. As Shirley recommended, learn it first yourself (there is a large number of online tutorials available), and then introduce it to your students, focusing on the three main elements: text, images and structure. Since she stressed several times that the focus here is on simple images, I feel I can give it a try even though I can’t draw.

(If you would like to explore the individual presentations, they are all available through the School Librarian Connection website.)

Sunday, September 14, 2014

10 Things I Took Away From the Google Apps Summit

I find going to a conference always very inspiring and motivating, coming across new ideas and getting a chance to trying out things I have heard about but never gotten into. The Google Apps Summit last weekend did exactly this and so, before the everyday craziness is taking over again, I quickly want to share a few things I have taken away from this conference. To get this post onto my blog (and not just draft it in my head as I most often end up doing), I will limit it to just 10 things, even though there was a lot more. So here they are, 10 things I took away from the Google Apps Summit, in no particular order:

(Image source: )

1. Google Classroom is Google’s answer to Blackboard, Moodle and other online platforms that help teachers organize their classes and courses.

2. Google+ is Google’s answer to Facebook and Twitter, maybe a clever combination of features from both of these and a few other social media sites. For now, since I am very attached to my Facebook and Twitter accounts, the biggest potential I see is as a PLN platform within our school – or any other school using Google Apps.

3. Google Drive on my iPhone – It’s really as easy to use as on the computer: creating new folders, adding documents, photos, videos and other files to your Drive on the go, which you can later access on your computer. I could imagine it to be a great tool for recording learning in the library and classroom in the form of pictures and videos, filing them immediately in a location where they can remain. Having no additional uploading or importing to a computer will save so much time. The only downside, if you want to add a Google Doc, you need to download an additional app, which in its use is not as powerful as when you create a Google Doc on your computer (for example, you cannot insert images).

4. Other mobile Google Apps to explore: Google Capture (easy tool to make, edit and upload videos to YouTube quickly), Google Search (comes with voice recognition which can be very handy on the go), Photo Sphere (360 views that can be placed into Google maps), Google Translate, just to mention a few. As Lee Webster said in his keynote, “Google Apps [is] a treasure trove of applications” – definitely something the conference highlighted. It also showed me that so far, I have merely scratched the surface.

5. Google Books ( ) This may sound strange coming from a librarian but I did not know what a fantastic resource Google Books is. I have to admit that I always thought that it was just a search engine bringing up titles of books, which ultimately had to be bought to get read. Discovering the wealth of books available at our finger tips, and all for free, simply made my day! It was very handy too, to get shown how to search for books by particular authors, publishers etc. (e.g. if you want to search for all available Michael Morpurgo books, simply type into the search box: inauthor:Michael Morpurgo – for a particular topic: subject:"hypnosis” )

6. Google Advanced Search – I finally got to have a closer look at some of the features of Google Advanced Search, loving especially the option to narrow the search down by reading level. But even though it’s a great tool, I will remain an advocate for using subscription databases like our online catalog and World Book Encyclopedia as the first places for Primary School students to make searches. It’s a great way to start learning the basics of searches (especially the importance of using keywords) and finding the appropriate resources among a manageable number of hits. Then when students move into Secondary School, they can built on these skills, adding Google as a search engine to the online catalog and other databases.

7. Adding a few more educators to my PLN on Twitter – learning from the best J @brookhouser @richtheteach @Cleave21 @stulowe80 @Apps1events

8. Google Educator and Google Certified Teacher
Getting a quick overview over the certification process and required exams was really helpful. I will definitely follow up, since it's a great opportunity to get more familiar with the many great applications in Google - and as the presenter Dan Taylor said, it's a quick way to advance your professional development. I appreciated the tips and advice he shared for preparing and taking the exams.

9. GameSalad – Even though this was the most challenging session for me to attend, on how to make games and apps, I was totally intrigued by it, especially when the presenter Stu Lowe shared an example of an app he put together to help students explore Kowloon’s Walled City Park while on a field trip there. I just loved the idea of having a customized app to support inquiry and explorations. Here is a 10min tutorial, check it out!

10. World Tour Builder This had the biggest WOW factor for me. The World Tour Builder is such an easy-to-use tool with so much potential in education. For the library, for example, it can help getting students interested in particular authors or genres. I could imagine creating tours taking students to the original locations where stories are taking place. I actually began creating a tour right there in the session (that’s another factor I liked, that many of the sessions I had chosen to attend allowed for time to try out the apps right then and there) – loved it! While it’s pretty self-explanatory, here is a quick tutorial from the presenter Jason Prohaska:

Overall, a great conference! Thanks to everyone involved in organizing and presenting!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Where to Find Me... Part 2

Those of you who check into my blog once in a while might have seen my last post in which I linked to my library blog where currently most of my blogging is happening. Recently, I however also had the opportunity to share a post on two other websites. Both of these websites mean a lot to me and I am therefore thrilled that I was able to contribute a small piece of writing to each.

1. Kirby's Lane: A Place for Readers and Writers: From the Office of the Future of Reading
"The Joys of Sharing (Recommending) Books"

Kirby Larson is an amazing children's and young adult author (I love Hattie Big Sky and Hattie Ever After), who promotes reading and writing in so many ways. On her blog, Kirby's Lane, she invites librarians, teachers and other authors to share how they help to instil a love for reading and/or writing in young people. There are so many wonderful ideas to discover - I hope you will check it out.

2. Golden Baobab Literary Award - Resources:
"Stories That African Children Will Love"

While still living in Ghana, I got involved with this wonderful organisation that aims at promoting the writing of African children's literature. I have been a reader and a judge for the award program in the past and was thrilled (but at first also worried) when I got invited to write a post to share on their newly set up resource page. The organisation not only encourages African writers through their annual award but also provides support and guidance through workshops and the mentioned resource page.

I hope you will check out both articles and spend some time exploring the websites if you aren't familiar with them yet.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Where to find me...

Those of you checking into this blog from time to time, must have been wondering what's happened to me. Another year in which my good intentions to blog more didn't materialise? Well, yes and no, depending at what blog you are looking. Once again I have neglected this personal blog badly. But the good news is, I have been blogging frequently on my library blog page, sharing all the exciting things happening in HKA's Primary Library. Since I only have a page on the HKA Primary Specialists website, I unfortunately can't set up automatic updates, but decided that I might try to link to it from time to time, sharing the highlights.

Here some posts that have received much interest recently:

A memorable author visit by Ying Chang Compestine

Chatting with the talented author and illustrator Niki Daly

A Skype session with author Grace Lin

Another Skype session with the amazing Kate DiCamillo

A visit by the lovely Ellen Leou, author of Lulu, the Hong Kong Cat

And a special highlight from our Literacy Week, The Continuous Reading Chair

I hope you stop by the HKA Primary Library Blog, check out some of the exciting events and maybe even leave a comment with your thoughts and ideas :)

Thursday, September 26, 2013

QR Codes in the Library

I had wanted to try out QR codes for a very long time but somehow it never happened. Then, a few weeks ago, as I was thinking of an engaging way for students to explore different strategies and resources on finding books for recreational reading in our library, QR codes came to my mind. Technology is always such a great motivator :)

Before beginning to make any specific plans, I asked our fantastic IT Director for his advice. What did he think of the idea in general? Would I be able to reserve some of our iPads for the day? Would our network be able to handle a whole class of students accessing videos and other online resources through QR codes at the same time? His encouraging comments convinced me to give it a try. I made a list of the strategies and resources I wanted to introduce, created and uploaded to YouTube video tutorials where needed (everything you link to with a QR code needs to be online) and then made the actual QR codes. On recommendation of a friend, I used Visualead, which allows you to create, download and embed (for free) QR codes. It's really simple and straightforward as the site leads you through the process step-by-step. Once downloaded, I printed the QR codes and attached them at their respective locations around the library.

On the day, students worked in pairs. Each pair had an iPad and a clipboard with a check list of all strategies and resources to be discovered. The ultimate task was for students to explore each strategy and resource before creating a book mark with their favourite ways of finding books to read for pleasure.

Here is what was on the list:
1. Our library's online resources, in particular the Kid Lit and Kid Lit Series tab.
2. Online catalog
3. Displays
4. Display of teachers' favourite books
5. Dewey Decimal Guide (the orange sign in the picture on the right)
6. Librarians' reader's journal
7. Quick Pick boxes
8. Reading footprints
9. Ms. Tanja reads (linking to my Goodreads and Shelfari)
10. Ask a librarian
11. Librarian's favorite search strategy
12. Book trailer corner.

Would I do this again?
Definitely! Everyone was so engaged. Plus, so many students and adults visiting the library, immediately spotted the QR codes and seemed intrigued by the idea. The QR codes turned out to be a great conversation starter as well.

Would I do something differently?
I might reduce the number of QR codes for the first session as some students seemed to rush from one QR code to the next, not spending enough time to explore the individual strategy/resource.

I am also considering to upload my videos on Vimeo rather than YouTube. Even though my videos are unlisted, I just don't like the "Suggested Videos" part - you never know what might come up.

I would use a different QR code reader (we used RedLaser, which worked fine but is designed for iPhones).

I will definitely explore in which other ways I can make use of QR codes in the library. If you have any experiences and ideas to share, I would love to hear about them. And here three of my QR codes for you to try out :)


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Some Thoughts on the Role of the Librarian in the PYP

A draft to this post has been sitting on my iPad for weeks. Instead of blogging right away about things I am pondering and wondering about, I have this habit of just jotting down thoughts on my iPad to discover them months later with the feeling it's too late to share... So many of my posts have a short life in my head or on my iPad but never make it to the blog. Here is one that survived - one that however will never be really completed as the role of the librarian keeps evolving, as I keep learning more about the PYP and about libraries in the 21st century. I love this about being a librarian - it keeps my job exciting ;)

Our school recently had an evaluation visit from the PYP and especially in the days leading up to the visit, I kept wondering what kind of questions the visiting team might bring up when I would meet with them. I thought they might want to hear from me how I saw and understood my role as librarian in the PYP. (And I really got to talk about this during the actual visit.)

While there is clearly a long list of tasks that come to mind right away or when browsing through publications on the Internet about this topic, I would define my role mainly through the following three points:

  • Providing an environment that awakens students curiosity - because without curiosity no questions and wonderings, without questions and wonderings no inquiry.
  • Helping students acquire the information literacy skills they need as inquirers, e.g. how to go about inquiry, how to formulate questions, how to search for information, how to evaluate the sources and use them ethically, etc.
  • Supporting teachers and students with resources in different formats - print, electronic, primary and secondary sources, experts!
Now I could take this one step further by asking, how do I put this into practice?

How do I get students to get curios?
  • Visually appealing nonfiction books - visual encyclopedia on animals, space, weird stuff are a hit. I don't have much yet but ordered some exciting titles for next year!
  • Thought-provoking read-alouds - there are so many amazing picture books
  • Artifacts to explore - I don't have much yet but I have a basket with items from Ghana on my desk, a Hong Kong box (includes books, flyers, maps etc.) and "Ms. Tanja's box of little things"
  • Modeling my own curiosity and wonderings - I share with students what I am curios about and keep an inquiry journal on my desk (unfortunately, it isn't well used yet, but it's a start)
  • Providing many opportunities to let students ask questions
  • Displaying student questions to signal that questions and wonderings are valued

How do I help students to acquire the skills they need as inquirers?
  • Collaborating with teachers in teaching the necessary information literacy skills when and where they are needed during units of inquiry
  • Modeling being an inquirer and information seeker
  • Following the same inquiry process when introducing authors to students in the library
  • Through detailed blog posts, letting parents in on the skills we teach and the resources we use so that they can follow up and support the inquiring from home
  • Through online tutorials and pathfinders helping students in practicing skills in their own time

How do I support teachers and students with resources?

  • Compiling print resources that support units
  • Constantly looking out for new resources and developing our library's collection, providing access to local and global information sources
  • Compiling and providing access to online resources (see HKA Primary Library Online Resources).
I would love to hear your thoughts on this...

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Ellen Leou and Lulu Enchant Kindergartners at HKA

(This is a post I recently published on my school library blog page (unfortunately password protected) after an amazing visit by Hong Kong-based children's book author and illustrator Ellen Leou. I wanted to be able for a wider community to have access to this post and therefore decided to publish it here as well - however without the many photos showing my students engaging with the author. Sorry about that. I hope you still enjoy the post - and look out for Ellen Leou and her beautiful books.)

From the moment she welcomed the children and shared the cutest video about the real Lulu, she had her audience - children and adults alike - mesmerized: Hong Kong-based children's book author and illustrator Ellen PW Leou. There was an immediate connection and we couldn't wait to hear about Lulu's adventures. Instead of reading the story word by word, Ellen told the story alongside the beautiful illustrations which she had projected on our whiteboard. She quickly drew us into the story, letting us become a part by inviting us to sing along as Lulu started off on her adventure.

While we loved following Lulu on her adventure around Hong Kong, we were equally excited about asking questions. We had so many questions about Lulu in the story, the real Lulu and the author herself. We had been well prepared, having written down our questions already the week prior to the visit. That made sure we didn't forget a single one - and Ellen Leou answered each and every question. Our questions ranged from whether the real Lulu had a tail or not to whether it is hard being a writer.

I appreciated Ellen Leou’s honesty with students when talking about the writing process. She told students that starting to write is really hard and that it takes a lot of effort to do it well, that the editing and rewriting process can be pretty boring. Yet, she encouraged students to persevere. "Writing is hard work, you keep on trying and trying until you get it right. So don't get discouraged if it doesn't work out right away." She said that trying out stories on a friend was a great way of finding out whether they were good or boring.

It was also interesting to hear her explain how she starts of and what media she eventually uses for her illustrations. Ellen always begins with the writing process. Once that is completed, she says she has the pictures clearly in her head which makes it easier to work on the illustrations. While she uses different media for her illustrations (e.g. water color, ink, pencils, Chinese brushes), she always starts out with pencil drawings. That's not surprising when looking at the illustrations which have such fine and delicate patterns. Just look a the Chinese vase on one of the first pages, drawn with so much love for detail. Amazing!

Ellen kindly stayed on after the visit and shared some more information with me about herself and her writing. One of the things that I always find most interesting when learning about an author is their motivation to write. Ellen Leou said that she loves reading. She loved and read all day long when she was little. That is definitely a perfect reason to become a writer!

The reason why her stories are set in Hong Kong, she explained, is that in her opinion there aren't many stories about what Hong Kong really is like. Most stories talk about people from Hong Kong going elsewhere and finding something magical there. She, on the other hand, wanted to open the eyes of the many children growing up in Hong Kong, to the beauty of their city. It's all about perspective, she says, and wants us to focus on what we see around us. She made an amazing comparison, which was a true eye-opener for me: It's the stories that bring the magic to a place, making a city special and romantic. When we come to a city, we bring stories that we have heard from others, like some extra luggage with us. "The stories people tell about a place are part of the magic of that place". I am glad that you brought some of this magic to our library!

Since the author's visit, whenever I run into a kindergarten student, Lulu, the Hong Kong Cat is mentioned at some point. There is still so much talking, so much excitement about the visit in the air, it is wonderful. During the past week, we made some more time, to reflect about the experience and to think about what we learned from it. Our kindergartners did a wonderful job in sharing their learning through writing, drawing and speaking. Here a few examples:

- the author writes a lot about Lulu
- the author's real cat is also called Lulu
- the real Lulu also has no tail
- the author got Lulu from her friend
- the author puts many animals in her stories
- there are different settings in the book
- she is a good story writer
- writing stories is hard
- authors know their stories so well they can tell them without looking at the words.

The number one question, on the other hand was, where and how the book can be bought! And isn't this exactly what we are hoping for our students when we invite authors, that they mesmerize the kids with their stories, that they can think of nothing else but getting the book to read and treasure the story over and over again?