Monday, 9 May 2022

Wednesday, 27 April 2022

Reflective Practice: Grade 9 Research Skills Again!

Marcos, my IT integrationist colleague, and I have spent a lot of time thrashing out the various issues we had identified with teaching research skills to grade 9s (year 10) in stand alone classes.  We didn't want to have the final two classes turn out to be as unsuccessful as the first two.  We came up with several ideas and abandoned them before we finally decided on going back to basics.  Our pre-mortem, was similar in some cases to the original and looked like this:

This project will not be successful if :

  1. The wifi doesn’t work
  2. Students don’t have the devices or other resources needed for the class
  3. Students already know what we would like them to learn*
  4. Students aren’t ready for what we would like them to learn
  5. There’s a fire drill, photo session, or other activity scheduled at the same time

It will also be unsuccessful if:

  1. Students are not engaged and do not take ownership.
  2. Students are not actively involved in the class.
  3. Students are not involved in a collaborative (paired or group) activity
  4. Teachers are expected to teach something they do not feel comfortable doing.
  5. The sessions aren't structured so that there are clear instructions, some sort of timer to keep everyone on track, and  

 *In this case if some of the students know some of what we would like them to learn, that would be an advantage, as you shall see.

The Research Classes

 First Session (Click on link for google slides)

We decided that we wanted to ensure that students understood how the bells and whistles of a search engine worked and using my experience with student research identified the following as a starting point, with the plan to introduce others in grade 10 (year 11):

  1. Web Browser vs Search Engine
  2. Verbatim or the use of " "
  3. Creative commons licences 
  4. Searching using date ranges
  5. Reverse image search
  6. How to exclude terms from a search
We also wanted students to do most of the work in order that they were more actively engaged in the learning.  Thus, we decided that each class would be divided into 6 groups and that each would choose or be assigned one of the topics above.   It would be the responsibility of each to research their topic and prepare 3 slides to be used in a 2 minute presentation to teach the rest of the class about the topic.  During the 40 minute class time, each group was expected to:
  • decide how the work was to be divided among the group members, eg. time keeping, research, slide preparation, editing;
  • research the topic;
  • ensure that they understand it well enough to explain it to others and answer questions;
  • prepare the slides and ensure they are succinct; 
  • keep to the time allotment for the activity
  • ensure that the slides have been sent to the designated slide compiler for that class

The presentations were given in the following class, with each designated group presenter, taking the class through their topic using the slide presentation and answering questions.

Second Session (Click on link for google slides)

Our second session with the students was in a double block (90 minutes) and after the presentations were given, it focussed on evaluating websites and googleable vs non-googleable questions.  In the first instance, part of the activity involved students working alone. However, they came together after completing the task to discuss their decisions with their group.  The activities on googleable and non-googleable questions were all group activities, culminating in whole class discussion.


I am just starting on the process of reflecting on these classes, despite the fact that they finished in early March.  Unfortunately, my colleague came down with Covid and I was away from school on bereavement leave during the classes. 

However, I did come to some conclusions about them:

  1. Students were engaged (according to teacher feedback).
  2. Teachers were comfortable with their involvement.
  3. Our google slide presentations helped keep everyone on track and gave them a set structure.
  4. Giving time limits for each part of the activity ensured that students kept on track (timer on slides).
  5. It would be useful to create a survey for students and teachers to complete after the two sessions, to give us feedback on the activities.
  6.  We should have sent out an immediate email to all teachers alerting them to the search engine skills their students had been introduced to so that they could have reinforced them. (I will do this now!) (Forgot to do it then and will do it now...hopefully!)

Monday, 21 February 2022

Reflective Practice or Down a Rabbit Hole!

 I wrote this piece about my reflective practice for a colleague's blog and thought I should probably put it up here since I am also going to write about what happens next.

Reflective Practice or Down a Rabbit Hole!

I’m not sure what reflective practice looks like for others but for me, it has evolved over the years, depending on what I have been teaching. As a French and drama teacher at secondary level, I would reflect at the end of each class. This might have just been just a quick post-mortem in my head...”oh my, that didn’t work very well!”; or something more detailed and in writing at the end of a unit: what worked, what didn’t, how could I have taught that better, what worked really well and could be used elsewhere, and so forth!

As a librarian, I continued these reflections but over the years they have become more formal. I nearly always write them in the notebook that I keep for planning lessons and units. Sometimes, they make it into my blog, when I feel that what I have learned may be of use to others. More recently, I have also been sharing these reflections verbally with one of our IT integrationists, with whom I am doing more and more teaching.

I have also taken to doing a pre-mortem when planning future projects. I first ran across the concept in a blog by Tom Barrett on avoiding disaster in project planning, the idea being that you imagine that the project has failed and analyse how you could avoid that from happening.

And yes, I have had my share of disasters, though perhaps that word is a little strong. Recently I was asked to deliver a series of lessons to our grade 9s (year 10) on research using Google. I am never happy when I am asked to present stand-alone lessons. Students are rarely invested and often forget within a short period of time what we covered because they can’t relate it to any need they have at that particular moment. Perhaps I went in with a negative attitude because of that and so didn’t do my usual pre-mortem. Whatever happened, I did end up having two disastrous lessons, which I could have foreseen to a certain extent, if I had.

My pre-mortem would have included anything that might have led to a failed lesson and it might have looked like this:

  1. The wifi doesn’t work.
  2. The website I’m using is blocked by the school filter
  3. Students don’t have the devices or other resources needed for the class
  4. Students already know what I am trying to teach them
  5. Students aren’t ready for what I’m trying to teach them
  6. There’s a fire drill, photo session, or other activity scheduled at the same time

It was number 2 which tripped me up in my first class. I needed to present these lessons to 4 classes at the same time and to avoid another zoom class, so I had created a digital escape room, which required students to solve 2 puzzles. It was located in libwizard, which is part of libguides and as far as I was concerned students were always able to access this website. Not on this particular day. The school filter blocked libwizard and put an end to the lesson.

To avoid this happening again, I created the next lesson, on searching within a website using the Google site operator, as a Google form tutorial. However, I failed to take into account number 5, which I discovered when I analysed the results.

Now I am faced with the third lesson and determined not to crash and burn again! And if I do, I will have someone to share the blame. Since teaching those two lessons in December I have teamed up with our IT integrationist for several other classes and he is joining me on this one.

In the meanwhile I have reflected on the two initial lessons and come to the following conclusions:

I made the cardinal error in teaching, of not checking on where my students were in relation to what I was trying to teach them. I had set up the escape room to teach students about effectively using search terms (keywords) but without the help of a teacher. I couldn’t be present and their teachers were unfamiliar with teaching the topic so I concluded that this was the best alternative. I was wrong and in a way, it was lucky that the filter blocked the website. When I went back recently to go through the escape room again, I discovered that even I had problems with coming up with keywords that would help me solve the puzzles.

The second lesson was set up along similar lines but using Google forms. According to the teachers present, students seemed engaged but when we analysed the answers, it was obvious that many of them didn’t understand what they were doing and just filled in any old answer.

The next lessons, which will take place in March, will hopefully focus on skills that most students lack, need and will be ready for. In order to identify those, it was decided that we would have discussions with teachers who have already assigned research projects. In particular, we are going to analyse their works cited list to see what kinds of online and print sources they used. Hopefully, that analysis will assist us in identifying needed knowledge and skills.

A bit of a postscript!

Having written the previous point, I have since realised (after a day of ruminating) that again I have forgotten something very basic. To quote Lewis Carroll's king, “Begin at the beginning!” And we haven’t! If my students don’t know the absolute basics of researching online, why am I starting them halfway in? I wouldn’t do it in physics or mathematics or any subject for that matter.

So here I go again, down the rabbit hole! I do at least have a starting point, thanks to the King!

Monday, 8 June 2020

Using Flipboard in Teaching

I really enjoy using Flipboard to curate articles though I must admit to being an abject failure engaging teachers in what I am curating.  I send emails to introduce Flipboard and talk about the articles but I see little evidence of them even occasionally looking at them.  I have been more successful in having educators and students outside of my school use them by posting on Twitter and a librarians’ facebook group.  Now that I have this time in Covid-19 lockdown I have decided that the moment has come to solve this problem and to show our teaching staff how useful Flipboard can be!

For those of you who haven’t encountered Flipboard yet, it is a social bookmarking site which allows you to curate articles, which appear on a page in a grid format.  

All you need to do is click on the image and you are taken to the article.  The curator is also able to write comments about the article they are ‘book marking’.

There are quite obvious uses for Flipboard.  I used to send links to teachers and administrators, relating to their subject area and/or interests.  However, as all educators know, we receive far too many emails.  When I came across Flipboard I realised that it was a way to cut down on the number of emails I was sending and that teachers were receiving.  I think that I expected teachers to sign up to follow the Flipboard relating to their subject area, but that proved not to be the case.  I need to try again to encourage them to do so.  I wonder if they have noticed yet that I haven’t been sending emails with links or did they never bother to read my emails in the first place.  Alas!  

Using Flipboard in Education

1. Curating articles for colleagues or students on a particular subject.

2. The ability to add comments about the articles would allow teachers to set a particular activity for the student to do, relating to the articles.  Teachers could ask questions, which might allow them to see how well a student understood what they had read.

3. Students could be given an assignment to curate their own set of articles on a particular topic.  As part of the curation they could be asked to comment on each of the sources they had added.  These comments might include information on the the author and their authority in writing the article; on the origin of the information the author had used (is there a WCL or bibliography); whether or not there was obvious bias.  The list could go on, depending on the aim of the assignment.  Students might also be asked to state what is compelling about the article they have chosen.

3. Each student could be asked to share their Flipboard with another student in the class.  In this way, they could make comments on each other’s sources and also find new sources they hadn’t come across yet.

4. Flipboards are another way for students to make their source lists or WCLs visible to others.  I have created an example for a grade 6 (year 7) science project on forensics.  My imaginary student has chosen to research and write about DNA Fingerprinting;

5. Teachers could curate their curriculum in a Flipboard magazine, with articles for students to read relating to each unit.

6. I really like this idea but it isn’t mine:  “Record a video of yourself giving out the assignment, upload it to Youtube, pull it into your Flipboard along with two or three articles pertaining to the assignment, and ask students to add two of their own, as well as commenting on two collected by other students. Ask if they can locate an appropriate content expert on twitter and pull that feed in as well. During your class discussion, ask students to converse on a Google Doc, then add that Google Doc to the magazine as well.”  (Homan)

Works Cited
Homan, Audrey. "4 Ways to Use Flipboard in your Flipped Classroom." Innovative Education in VT,     
     12 Sept. 2014, Accessed 8 June 

Wednesday, 18 September 2019

And now Easybib

And so I go back to The Onion and it's wonderful coverage of the declaration of war in 1914 to look at the accuracy of EasyBib's references for this source.

The link to this source is: and the citation from EasyBib is:

The Onion. “August 5, 1914.” The Onion, The Onion, 11 Sept. 2018,

I was concerned about three aspects of this reference:
  • Firstly, the Onion is given as a corporate author, despite the MLA 8th edition advice which is as follows: if a corporate author is also the publisher, give it as the publisher and not as the author.
  • Secondly, there is no date of access given.  The MLA 8th edition handbook says: "Since online works typically can be changed or removed at anytime, the date on which you accessed online material is often an important indicator of the version you consulted."  If you are working at an IBO school, you know that students must include the access date.
  • Finally, The Onion is repeated 3 times: once as the corporate author, once as the website and once as the publisher.  Again, the advice is to leave the publisher field blank if the publisher's name is the same as the site (container) name

Below is the Noodletools version following MLA 8th.
"August 5, 1914." The Onion, 3 Aug. 2006, Accessed 18 Sept. 2019.

Thursday, 5 September 2019

To Apogee or Not to Apogee!

[Apogee (aka Apogee 2|Citation Creator) is an extension for Chrome which can be used to reference sources and check on their credibility.]

To Apogee or Not to Apogee?  

Well, after investigating this extension to Chrome, I would give a resounding "No!".

I was asked the other day by a student if he could use Apogee 2, a Chrome extention to create his works cited list.  I said no, that he was required to use Noodletools.  However, I did promise to investigate it.

Just in case your students ask you about using it for citing, here is what I discovered. I added the app and then went into the settings.  The first thing to note is that Apogee tells the user that MLA 8 is not as popular as MLA 7.  In fact, not many people are using it.  I don't know about you but my school has been using it since it was first introduced.  

Next, I chose a web page that a student had recently used in his research.

Apogee gives its version of the MLA 8 reference but unfortunately it isn't correct.  Note the following mistakes:

  1. The author's name is not inverted.  In a Works Cited List the author's last name comes first.
  2. BBC News is included in the author's name.
  3. The title of the article is completely wrong.
  4. No date is given, despite the fact that there is one in the article:  20 May 2018.
  5. The access date is given but is wrongly located.

Below is the MLA reference done in Noodletools MLA 8:

Next I looked at the credibility rating for an article which a student mistook for an authentic one from World War One, but which was actually from the Onion, an American satirical website:

This web page received a 100% credibility rating, whereas the BBC article was only given 80%.

I think I will rest my case there for the time being and check in with Apogee in 6 months to see if it has improved.