STEM + Inquiry=Collaboration

00439573Sue Kimmel posted recently about finding ways to connect and collaborate with teachers using the Common Core Math Standards and literacy. This week I want to encourage reaching out to make connections around science initiatives, too, by looking at citizen science.

Citizen scientists ignite a passion for science and inquiry through participation in authentic projects that actively make a difference in scientific knowledge on large and small scales.  With the current emphasis on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) in many school districts across the nation, the citizen scientist collaborative model for collective inquiry, gathering and analyzing data, and problem solving can be used to generate enthusiasm and curiosity in science classrooms.

Here is an opportunity for teacher librarians to become acquainted with the Common Core ELA Science Standards 6-12, and the Next Generation Science Standards, and to bring some fresh ideas and resources for developing curriculum units with other classroom teachers.

As an instructional partner, and co-teacher, we have to continue to build our teaching toolkit with pedagogy and content knowledge.  For students to become citizen scientists in their schools and communities, teacher librarians and teachers collaborate to design meaningful learning opportunities that engage curious minds, require action and reflection, and help solve real world problems.     Or, you could also get your students interested in a citizen science club that could have a physical and virtual presence in your library media center!

What is “citizen science?” you might ask.  How does technology play role in the collective capacity of amateur scientists all over the world, or in your own community? How can you develop a unit of study that replicates or enjoins some of the authentic work that is done by citizen scientists?

Here are a few ideas to get the ball rolling with both teachers and students:

Recommended reading:

  • Citizen Scientists by Loree Griffin Burns presents an approachable overview about the impact of citizen science for young people.  It’s a great introduction to some of the current projects around the world and shows how global citizenship is enhanced by making connections and contributions by individuals.  As an example of narrative non-fiction, is can also serve as a model for Common Core Reading and Writing Standards.

Edutopia website has a couple of related blog posts:

Youtube videos that present examples of authentic science inquiry:

  • “Digital Fishing on Citizen Science Cruise,” shares the educational program of the Crystal Cove Alliance in Newport Beach (CA) that immerses Students in the science of marine protected area management. /watch?v=u6m2tqZMD3s
  • “Technology creates Citizen Scientists” relates the critical role that technology plays in allowing citizen scientists to help solve real world problems at local and global levels.


  • “Scistarter: Science We Can Do Together” offers many projects and ideas for scientific inquiry and citizen scientists.

Calling All Citizen Scientists!

I’m sure there are many opportunities in your local school and community for getting your student citizen scientists involved in helping to solve problems.  Catch the STEM wave that is a natural fit for your library program!



Burns, Loree Griffin (2012). Citizen scientists. NY: Square Fish.

Brunsell, Eric. (2010). A primer on citizen science.  Edutopia (2010, Oct.13). Weblog.  Retrieved from:  .

Common core Initiative: English Language Arts:  Science and Technical Standards (2011). Website.  Retrieved from: .

Digital fishing on citizen science cruise. (2012, Sep. 25)  Newport Beach, CA: Crystal Cove Alliance. Video.  Retrieved from:

Next Generation Science Standards. (2013). Website.  Retrieved from:

Phillips, Mark. (2013, April 17). Teaching and the environmental crisis: resources and models. Edutopia . Weblog.  Retrieved from:

Scientific American: Citizen Science. Website.  Retrieved from:

Scistarter. Website.  Retrieved from:

Technology creates Citizen Scientists. (2012, Aug. 16) California Academy of Science.  Video.  Retrieved from:

This thing called science part 6: Citizen science.  (2013, May 23). TechNyouvids. Video.  Retrieved from:

Microsift clipart.








Transformation vs. Reform

For the past two decades, there has been a movement across the nation to “reform” education. The drumbeat of standards and accountability has dominated discussions about improving educational experiences for all children.  The term reform itself has a value laden connotation.  Think “reform” school…  Reform from the top down-identify the problem and fix it.  Instead, think about the term “transformation.”  It has a more positive connotation-a movement from one status to another through innovation.  Transformation comes from the inside out, in response to situations and experiences.


Meanwhile, as a culture, we are in the midst of a paradigm shift from an industrial to a technological age, and the transformation continues to redefine everything we have known. New norms are evolving in the business, political, cultural, and educational worlds.  We are a work in progress, as usual-exciting times!


What does this have to do with collaboration?


Collaboration skills are the key for transformation to an educational system for personalized learning, not only for students, but for educators, administrators, and other community stakeholders.  How do we learn and use those skills, and how do we teach our students to value and incorporate the contributions of all? How do we create environments and spaces that encourage creativity and collaboration for all learners? How does technology enhance the learning experience?


These big ideas were explored by the keynote speakers at the Dynamic Landscapes Conference at Champlain College in Burlington, Vermont on May 16-17, 2013.  Jointly sponsored by Vita-Learn and the Vermont School Library Association, the annual conference showcases exemplary practices of statewide educators and invites national experts to address contemporary issues in education.   Last week Ira David Socol, Pam Moran, and Steve Hargadorn spent several days visiting Vermont and sharing their expertise with attendees at the conference.  Ira, an educational consultant and historian is currently working in the Albemarle County School District in Virginia where Pam is the superintendent.  They are leading transformation through a collaborative model with educators in the local schools, and they shared their ideas and progress in encouraging innovation that focuses on personalized learning.  Digital technology tools are integrated across the curriculum to enhance deep learning, collaboration, and engagement.  Take a look at the videos for the Iridescent Classroom on Ira’s web site to get a glimpse of their work together. He also has a terrific overview of the history of education that contextualizes where we are today.  Lots of resources there to explore, so take a look!

Steve Hargadorn, of Classroom 2.0, and Library 2.0, presented an overview of the process of how technology is changing our culture, and how that change will impact education in the future.  Real educational transformation will come about with the evolution of the culture, so stay tuned.    He shared many examples of how the cultural shift is happening due to the impact of social media and technology applications. Here is a link to his slides DynamicLandscapes2013Hargadon that demonstrate the shifting sands of the 21st Century. As I said before-exciting times ahead…

Once again, I was struck by aha moments, as I listened and learned.  As educational leaders in our schools, teacher librarians are pivotal in the transformation process embedded in collaboration.  As Steve Hargadorn said, “Be ready to unleash energy and potential through participation, creation, sharing, and engagement.”

Are you ready?


Dynamic Landscapes Conference 2013. Web site.  Retrieved from

Classroom 2.0. (2013). Web site. Retrieved from

Hargadon, Steve. (2013).  Education,Technology, Social Media, and You.  Web log. Retrieved from

Hargadon, Steve. (2013). Educational Network is the Learning Revolution: Future of Education. Dynamic Landscapes Keynote address, May 17, 2013. (PDF).

Library 2.0 (2013). Website. Retrieved from

Moran, Pam. (2013). Superintendent’s Blog: Albemarle County Schools. Web log. Retrieved from

Socal, Ira David. (2013). Challenging the Systems. Web site. Retrieved from

Microsoft Clipart: Crystal ball.





Notes from AASL Fall Forum


By reviewing the readings and joining the Ning, I felt pretty prepared to attend the AASL Fall Forum 2012 on Transliteracy, in Greenville, South Carolina.  While I was excited about aspects of participatory culture, I had real concerns about the print centric emphasis of the Common Core Standards, so I was especially interested in learning about how other educators were integrating cross media platforms as vehicles for learning.

The presenters, Henry Jenkins, Kristin Fontichiaro, and Barbara Jansen provided a whirlwind tour of the intersection of informal and formal learning through the possibilities and challenges of school environments.  Throughout the intensive sessions, various models of collaboration were evident.

Henry, Kristin, and Barbara modeled a constant organic collaboration, as they shared, explored, and extended each others’ work and ideas.  Instead of three separate tracks, they were able to integrate and connect ideas through conversations with each other and with the participants to present a holistic view of transmedia and learning.  Henry’s closing remarks were inspiring as he made connections to the democratic power of social media.

Collaboration across time and space took place in several satellite sites.  Folks in Pennsylvania, Texas, and California, were connected through a live video conference feed during the sessions.  Participants at those sites could ask questions that were relayed to the presenters who then responded to all.  The time difference with California, meant that the site tuned in a bit later on Saturday, but they had access to the information presented through social media networking.

During the sessions, each presenter encouraged discussion by asking probing questions, and allowing time for groups at all the sites to explore and reflect on ideas.   Using Google docs, Today’s Meet, and the Ning, participants collaborated and shared conversations electronically.  Those links are available are available through the Ning that is open to all who are interested.

My brain was on overload for two days, as the presenters and participants demonstrated multiple paths for thinking about teaching and learning.  It was great to network with folks from other states who shared their successes and frustrations that sounded a lot like my own experiences.  One woman who was in an elementary school in Georgia had 750 students in her school. Fortunately, she had flex time and a clerk.   Another participant from Maine supervised paraprofessionals in several schools in a district.  Some who worked in private schools were unencumbered with constraints in public schools- lots to think and talk about. The Common Core was a major buzz everywhere.

One of the participants, Linda Dougherty, created a Pinterest Board of links that were tweeted during the conference.  Things went so fast, I could not keep up, so it might give you a flavor of what was covered. Have a look! Jennifer Tazerouti also shared lots of links in her Auntie Librarian Blog.

My takeaways:

Henry Jenkins, and the research and work that he does at USC and the Innovative Lab, informed us of the endless possibilities of connecting youth with media in informal learning.  He showed many examples of the PLAY projects that connect popular culture to learning. Given the opportunities to analyze traditional literature such as Moby Dick through a meaningful cultural lens, incarcerated youth revealed understandings and interpretations about the overarching themes in Melville’s work.  They were able to relate and produce performances that were powerful and insightful, but reflected in their own gang culture.  I have a greater appreciation about how twitter, youtube, and other social media can drive ideas and movements very quickly through the world. Jenkins feels that libraries are important incubators for advancing the democratization of learning.  He cited the public library in Chicago for its programs for youth after school.  Another project that is in the works will be of interest to school librarians.  He is working with author/illustrator David Wiesner to create a transmedia production for Flotsam (2006), with interactive components, links to oceanographic studies, and other creative options for sharing the book through multiple lenses.  I was thinking that would be great to connect it with an information text such as Loree Burn’s, Tracking Trash: Flotsam, Jetsam, and the Science of Ocean Motion. (2007)

Kristin Fonticihiaro, who has unlimited energy and in depth understanding of the pedagogy of learning, gave us some background on the emergence of the term transliteracy.  She asked us to think about how this concept is different from what we have been doing all along.   The digital networked environment has changed that way that people read and interact with information, and we need to think about effective ways to integrate this understanding into how and what we teach in the context of  the text oriented environment of the Common Core Standards.  Kristin presented the contrast between informal learning as described by Henry Jenkins, and what happens in schools, where there are barriers to access to the internet, as well as, curriculum guidelines and high stakes tests.

She also focused on assessment, instructional design, and expectations for effective student work in learning with technology.   She shared examples of students’ work to look for evidence of learning.  Take a look at the videos and see if you can tell what the students have really learned (synthesized), and also what value the format of the report adds to the learning.

Barbara Jansen, School Librarian and author from Austin, Texas, filled in at the last minute for another speaker who could not make it.  She was a treasure trove of ideas and examples for designing lessons and units that incorporated authentic challenges for students.  Here is a link to the wiki that she set up for her speech, and also her virtual library.  Look at the integrated assignments page, and the menu for pages that define and clarify research strategies-a model for all to take away.

Thank you to all involved in putting together a rewarding and informational experience. Barbara Jansen, coincidentally was the chairperson of the committee that organized this event, and special hats off to her for her excellent and seamless contributions to the conference at a moment’s notice.

As a participant, I came away with the feeling that there is still so much to learn about bridging the participatory gap for all our students.  The folks at this conference seem have a handle on it, but as school librarians in practice, the only way we will make a difference is to be part of the conversation in our own district and school communities-think leading from the middle through collaboration.  We have to have to share ideas that we learn from others who are traveling the same path, so let’s get going!

Nuff said!

Some resources mentioned above:

Burns, Loree. (2007).  Tracking trash: flotsam, jetsam and the science of ocean motion. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Jenkins, Henry et al. (2006). Confronting the challenges of participatory culture: media education for the 21st Century. Chicago: MacArthur Foundation (white paper).

Wiesner, David. (2006). Flotsam. Boston: Clarion Books.







Collaboration Beyond the Walls, Redux!

As I was planning my next post to this blog, I happened to see Melissa’s recent entry about the need for powerful community partnerships, and realized that I had been scooped!  I would like to say something about great minds, but that would be a bit pretentious.   Instead, I will share a fabulous example of a working partnership of school and community librarians here in the far northern reaches of New England.

Winter is long and cold in Vermont, and curling up with a good book is a favorite past time for many, but by March we get a little cranky, and we need something to keep us going until spring (usually late April).  Basketball (NCAA) is also a big topic of conversation in March, so school librarians and teachers from adjacent districts, as well as local public librarians, collaborated to develop a community based reading discussion for middle schoolers called DCF March Madness.  

How it came about…

Kim Musante, library media specialist, and Katie Rose, sixth grade language arts teacher at Essex Middle School (Essex, VT) have been collaborating for a couple of years to bring a new dimension to literature circles by incorporating social media through the use of wikis. Whodunit??? Mystery Partners  is designed to have students in two separate classes enjoy sharing a good read. The mystery theme is promoted and book talked by Kim and Katie for several titles.  Once they make a choice, students are paired up secretly to read a mystery book together, not knowing the identity of the other person. They read and participate in discussions within a wiki, and then at the end of the unit celebration, the mystery partners reveal themselves through masks they make about the book.  The activity is structured to meet standards for literacy and has created enthusiasm for books and reading. It appeals to readers across the spectrum of abilities with opportunities to share ideas in a safe environment. Students who might not speak up in class may share comments within the wiki.  Once the process is modeled, students can take ownership and create other experiences using the format.

And then…

Kim was networking with school librarians in monthly meetings for Essex Town School District and Chittenden Central Supervisory Union, and she shared information about her collaboration with Katie.  Melanie Cote, LMS at Albert D. Lawton Middle School (Essex Jct., VT) picked up on the idea and asked if there might be a way to collaborate between schools.  They began meeting in January, and several planning sessions ensued. The two youth public librarians were invited to join, as they also serviced the same students in after school activities. Caitlin Corliss from the Essex Free Library and Kat Redniss from Brownell Library volunteered to be book group advisors in the schools.  Not deterred by physical distances or spaces, this dynamic group came up with a way to create literature circles that would meet face to face and online to read and discuss some of the books on the 2011-12 Dorothy Canfield Fisher Book List. It took place in the doldrums of March and proved to be an exciting program for all involved.

Welcome to March Madness:  How it worked…

DCF March Madness is based on a statewide reading program, and the objective is to get students to read and to generate excitement about some fine new books.   The Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award is a state award that is chosen each year by Vermont students in grades 4-8. The books are selected by a committee of school and public librarians.  Since 1957, the program has been publicized and promoted both in school and public libraries to encourage reading of quality children’s literature.  The vote is held in April and the winning author is invited to Vermont to receive the award before an audience of young readers. Check the website for more information and past winners.

At Essex Middle School, Kim and Katie presented five of the titles that would be offered for reading to a class of sixth graders.  At Lawton School, Melanie and Bill Burrell, a sixth grade teacher did the same.  During the month, the groups met three times a week during reader’s workshop in the language arts class time. Caitlin participated with students at Essex Middle School, and Kat went to the Lawton School. Each group had an adult advisor, but the students decided the pace of the reading and posted comments and answers to the question prompts.  Within the wiki, social etiquette was introduced as a norm for discourse, along with standards for formal written English and GUM.   Students who read the books at the separate schools posted comments within the folder for the book on the community wiki.  Students used first names in their posts.  To initiate another level of excitement and competition, each group was considered a team, and the team would get a score each week based on the quality of their responses to the prompts, and the “brackets” aka rubrics were posted on a brackets page for each school. Points could be earned or deducted for being prepared, participating orally and online, and using proper written language. The team could view its weekly progress.  As a culminating task, each group at the individual schools had to produce a 30 second commercial for the book using a flip camera.


The final book discussion was a joint meeting at Essex Middle School. Students from Lawton were bussed in for the morning, and the two groups and their advisors met face to face for the first time in the school media center.  After getting to know one another, they had a chance to share their videos.  A group feedback session allowed students to voice their opinions about the process and to offer some great suggestions for the next time.

Success breeds success, one step at a time, and this example of a collaboration that began between one school librarian and one teacher has extrapolated beyond the walls of the school and into cyberspace.

Books on the 2011-12 DCF list featured in this program included:

Draper, Sharon M. Out of My Mind. Atheneum. $16.99. ISBN 978-1-4169-7170-2. Considered by many to be mentally retarded, a brilliant, impatient fifth-grader with cerebral palsy discovers a technological device that will allow her to speak for the first time.

Gibbs, Stuart. Belly Up. S & S. $15.99. ISBN 978-1-4169-8731-4. Twelve-year-old Teddy investigates when a popular Texas zoo’s star attraction–Henry the hippopotamus–is murdered.

Kimmel, Elizabeth Cody. The Reinvention of Moxie Roosevelt. Dial. $16.99. ISBN 978-0-8037-3303-9. On her first day of boarding school, a thirteen-year-old girl who feels boring and invisible decides to change her personality to match her unusual name.

Lupica, Mike. Hero. Philomel. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-399-25283-9. Fourteen-year-old Zach learns he has the same special abilities as his father, who was the President’s globe-trotting troubleshooter until “the Bads” killed him, and now Zach must decide whether to use his powers in the same way at the risk of his own life.

O’Connor, Barbara. The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester. FSG. $15.99. ISBN 978-0-374-36850-0. After Owen captures an enormous bullfrog, names it Tooley Graham, then has to release it, he and two friends try to use a small submarine that fell from a passing train to search for Tooley in the Carter, Georgia, pond it came from, while avoiding nosy neighbor Viola.


Flipping Collaboration for Professional Development

For this week, I’d like to offer some thoughts about Sue Kimmel’s challenge for flipping collaboration (post 9/9/12) in a different, but related model for professional development by and for teacher librarians.

“I would like to advocate that we look for ways to become more fluid and nimble in our approach to time and how we use it to co-plan, co-implement, and co-assess teaching and learning as we continue to ‘push everyone toward excellence (Loertscher, 2008)’.”

One of the guidelines in Empowering Learners (2009), concerns professional development designed to “sustain and increase knowledge and skills.” (43)  As teacher librarians, we strive to expand our understanding of best practice through various opportunities for professional development through courses, webinars, conferences, and so on.  In our schools, we provide learning experiences for our colleagues, as well as our students.

The time issue looms large for both participating in and providing for professional development.  Other than dedicated professional development days that are scheduled around administrative goals, there just aren’t enough hours in the school day for sustained, reflective, meaningful learning for any of us. How can we find a better way that will make a difference?

Web 2.0 tools and applications offer platforms for co-teaching and learning for students, as Sue mentioned, but let’s think about how we might use a 24/7 environment for providing a community space for teacher learning.  The purpose could be described as a place to read and reflect, take risks, model new technology applications, ask questions, discuss and debate, collaborate, and develop new resources for practice and personal learning networks.

Sounds like pie in the sky, but let’s take a look at Jennifer LaGarde’s blog (Adventures of Library Girl) as she describes how she uses Edmoto as platform for “Gamifying PD.”  When you look at the list of expectations and goals, you will see that she has combined face to face, online, and participatory activities-and it sounds engaging and fun.  And it’s available 24/7 whenever a participant logs on.

Blended learning is another way to describe participatory interaction that offers opportunities for face to face and online learning that are both individual and interactive.  A course/learning management system such as Blackboard, Moodle, Haiku and others, can provide a space for content, assessments, discussion boards, blogs and so on, that is available asynchronously.  Face to face sessions can be physical or virtual through webcasts or podcasts, both synchronously and asynchronously.

If you are interested in how blended learning works as a model for higher education, I recommend reading “Communities of Practice for Blended Learning: Toward an Integrated Model for LIS education.” (2010) I discovered this article when I was doing research for a chapter in a book about blended learning.  Joyce Yukawa of St. Catherine University in St. Paul describes blended learning within a graduate level LIS course.  She provides the rationale for combining appropriate technology to meet the needs of adult learners and to foster a social construct for learning. The emphasis is on learning by doing.  LIS students had to use the technology applications as they focused on library projects and assignments. The ideas presented here provide convincing reasons to think about ways to adapt school or district wide professional development to a blended learning environment.

At UVM, where I teach and learn from my students, blended learning has enhanced a cohort experience for everyone.  In school library media studies courses, students from across the state are able to participate in courses for licensure or professional development. In a small state such as ours, we are proud to have contributed to building a network of colleagues and friends who have become educational leaders in schools across Vermont, and access to 24/7 online learning has paved the way.

Collaboration is at the crux of participatory culture.  So let’s get on with it!

Judy Kaplan


American Association of School Librarians (AASL). (2009). Empowering learners: Guidelines for school library media programs. Chicago, IL: American Library Association


LaGarde, J. (2012, August 12). Game based PD for an epic win [Blog post]. Retrieved from 2012/08/game-based-pd-for-epic-win.html


Yukawa, J. (2010). Communities of practice for blended learning: toward an integrated model for LIS education. Journal of Education for Library and Information Science, 51: (2) 54-75.