Sunday, March 7, 2010

Technology Detour In the Library

Originally, I was approached to write a piece about my library in School Library Journal. After several revisions, the editor decided to write her own story based upon my story and several interviews. Since I worked so hard on the story, I decided to post it on my blog.

It was another 100+ degree day in Oakland, CA. My library felt like an incubation tank as it is lined with windows on two of the four walls. I am the librarian at Monarch Academy, a K-5 public charter school. It has taken four years to get my way, but finally the principal has placed one of the four existing mobile laptop carts in the library. With a 90% ELL population and a mere 50 minutes with my students, incorporating vocabulary instruction into my lessons became the challenge, keeping in mind that we also needed time for book selection and check out.

I decided to change my book exchange to every 2 weeks for grades 3-5 and use that extra class to pre-teach vocabulary before every readaloud. Open checkout before and after school should give students ample time to exchange books when needed. My first book? Tomas and the Library Lady by Pat Mora. I consulted Isabel Beck's book, Bringing Words to Life: Robust Vocabulary Instruction. Chapter two provides strategies for choosing Tier II vocabulary words. Beck defines Tier II vocabulary as, "the words are likely to appear frequently in a wide variety of texts and in the written and oral language of mature language users." I chose several Tier II vocabulary words from Tomas and the Library Lady, as well as commonly misspelled words from the text. In order to "play" with the words, I decided to use SpellingCity, a free online program where I input vocabulary words so students would have the opportunity to interact with the words in a game-style learning environment. (My SpellingCity Vocabulary)

I thought I had everything planned out. I spent the last months of school working with the IT department to unblock websites, install updates and load new software. I spent the summer researching and gleaning information from my colleagues on Twitter about tech integration and vocabulary instruction. I devised procedures for cleaning hands, the direction of walking traffic in the library, how to approach the laptop cart, how to walk to your seat holding the laptop. I spent the first week of school implementing Whole Brain Teaching classroom management methods. I had attention signals and procedures to ask for help. I even demonstrated to students, using the Promethean board, how to log in and navigate to their daily lesson on the library wiki (In hindsight, they may have thought they were watching a movie). I planned to use SpellingCity, a free online program that allows you to customize its game-style learning environment with your own vocabulary words. Instead, we spent our 50 minutes learning to log in, log out, and return the laptops to the cart.

So what did I learn from this? I learned that the beginning is not where I thought it was. I can't use technology as a tool to teach curricular content until I introduce technology to my students. It's not a tool that they know. I also had not anticipated the variety of challenges that I would face that day, including power limitations and IT frustrations. We took a grand detour. Here are some of the things we discovered along the way.

Challenge: Electricity

If the Promethean board is turned on with more than one fan going, we have a power surge. Everything turns off and stays off until I go to the circuit box to flip the switch. The principal has enlisted the help of a district electrician to come and analyze our library situation. As a result, two additional electric lines will be added to sustain the technology we use (Alphasmart cart, laptop cart, Promethean board, fans, laminator, and anything else we need to plug into an outlet)

Challenge- Laptop Blues

The laptop batteries last for 1 1/2 to 2 hours and I teach for 6 hours during the day. This means I have to stagger computer use so that they are only used in the morning and in the late afternoon. The laptops recharge in the cart during the middle of the day. I also have to deal with a lack of administrative privileges on the laptops. All of our laptops are frozen with Deep Freeze software in order to prevent changes to the computer configuration. Only the IT team has the password to make changes and it takes several months for IT to respond to change requests for laptops. Some of the problems: some computers are defaulted to "mute", some computers default to "restart" when you go into shutdown mode; some computers are missing a java or flash plugins; and there are various virus definition popups upon login.

Challenge: How to use the Trackpad
I demonstrated how to use the trackpad and then each student practiced on their own. We do not have the budge to purchase mice. To prevent students from scratching the track pad, I explained it to be sensitive, like the skin on tip of their nose. I touched my nose with the soft tip of my index finger and had them do the same. I then had them repeat the touch, but this time with their finger nail. We moved from our noses to the trackpad. In hindsight, the tip of the nose is too close to being inside the nose. Next time I will have them touch the skin on the back of their hand.
Students also had a hard time using the trackpad and left-click button to scroll or drag. We practiced several times using one and two hand techniques while playing a variety of mouse skills games (see list below). A favorite of the kindergarten class is popping bubble wrap.

Challenge: Hygiene
"Do not put your fingers inside any of the holes in your face".
I work with elementary students, and so I must discuss hygiene. I talk about germs and how they spread. In order to illustrate this, I use my Zoom Scope TV Microscope and examine the keyboard while projecting the image to the Promethean board. Once students see the germs on the big screen, it is fixed in their minds. I also wear a pin of a Simpson's character with his finger in his nose. If I see a student with hands close to their face, I point to the button and say, "nose"...and they stop.

Challenge: New Technology Vocabulary
I hadn't considered that 1/3 of my students had never touched a laptop and only half of them have computers at home. Even if they had experience using a laptop, they were not familiar with technology-related terms. Some of our technology vocabulary included: cursor, scroll, click, double-click, icon, shortcut, keyboard, space bar, keys, url, links, and trackpad. I used the BBC's Computer Tutor to reinforce the computer vocabulary.

Challenge: Pressing Key Combinations: CTRL+ALT+DELETE and using the SHIFT KEY
It took a while before students understood how to press the ctrl+alt+delete key combinations in order to login with the network password. I have a huge keyboard on the wall. I modeled how to press the keys in sequence until all keys were depressed. The students also had the habit of using the Caps Lock key instead of the Shift Key when making capital letters. In my 1st grade classes, students practiced typing the alphabet and used the shift key to make a capital letter when they reached the initial of their first name.

Challenge: Pop-ups and what to do.

I had to talk to students about the after login pop-ups notifying of the network connection, installation of the printer, and old virus definition warnings. I didn't want them to arbitrarily click the X for every popup so I stressed the importance of READING the popup. Popups represent a message from the computer. I want them to get into the habit of reading the popup and then figure out what they need to do next.

Challenge: Right click, Left Click, Double Click Blues
Another assumption I found myself adjusting was that clicking is intuitive. I've been using computers for years and, frankly, it didn't occur to me that we might spend so much time distinguishing among clicking behaviors. "Click on the link. When I say 'click' it always means LEFT click. When we click on a link, that is a single click. Clicking on an icon on the desktop is a double click." I used song tempo to explain how fast they need to double click. The pressure used on a keyboard needed to be addressed. "Touch the keys like they are hot-without banging on the keyboard". The left click button is all about what you want the computer to DO, the right click button allows you to SEE the options in a menu. Then there is the problem of not knowing the difference between left and right. I have students hold their hands up in front of them, looking at the backs of their hands paying attention to the index fingers and thumb. I tell them the hand that looks like the letter L is the left hand.

Challenge: Laptop Posture
Having had two carpel tunnel operations, I understand the importance of proper head, neck, shoulder, and wrist postures. However, taking a look at my library tables and the little bodies using the machines, it was clear that I would not be able to enforce this one. Less than half of their feet reach the floor!

I tweeted about my frustration and about teaching keyboarding lessons. I received a tweet from Ira Socol (@Irasocol), Special Education Technology Scholar, at Michigan State University's College of Education, who suggested that teaching keyboarding on traditional keyboards is an invitation to injury, as well as a skill tied to the needs of the last century. I subsequently did a ton of research on assistive technologies. Unfortunately, my school does not have the budget to provide the alternative keyboards, mice, and/or ergonomic tables and chairs to implement this solution. I decided to forgo the keyboarding lessons and opt for a more organic way to teach familiarization of the keyboard using a two finger "hunt and peck" approach. Today, it seems that the most important thing to learn is to be flexible and adaptable with text entry -there are full keyboards, there are phone-sized keyboards, there are phone keypads (2 or 3 letters to a key), on-screen keyboards, there is Speech Recognition, and people use all of these every day. My son is pretty fast using his thumbs on my iPhone. As a matter of fact, he told me that he prefers to use the iPhone when typing over the keyboard because the iPhone has a predictive text feature where he is able to type part of a word and then use the space bar after the word pops up. It will also correct spelling as you type. He is not alone, British studies have shown that teenagers "type" faster on their phones than on keyboards, as fast as 60 wpm with minimum practice.

I explored a few links from Ira Socol suggesting a variety of free assitive technology software options and I will put in a ticket for our IT department to install these on every laptop and desktop in our school.

Challenge: Advertising
I am the Queen of FREE, which means that sometimes the websites I choose to use with students contain ads. I used this as an opportunity to talk about the purpose of advertising. While I love using SpellingCity, it has ads on the right side that can sometimes confuse the students. I identified the ads to the students and demonstrated how the ads take you away from the learning website. After having several students "accidentally" click on ads and not know how to get back to the library wiki, I altered my wiki links to open in a new window. If students get lost, all they need to do is close the page (x it out) and start again at the library classroom wiki page.

My laptop Journey Continues
While I have a while before I come full circle on my technology integration adventure, I know that the skills I am teaching will last my students a lifetime. Don't be afraid to go back to the drawing board. I used to continue with a plan, even when I knew things were falling apart. Using technology in the library is like building a house. We must begin with a strong foundation.
As we are learning about urls, websites, popups, pointing and clicking, multiple browser windows, etc, we are also learning about digital citizenship, how to determine if the information from a website is from a reliable source, password protection, and cyberbullying.

One thing I love about detours: you discover things you had never seen before. You eventually get to your destination. We will eventually get there. Right now, the kids and I are enjoying the ride.

During your own technology detour, I suggest using the following tools and resources:

Web 2.0 Vocabulary Resources

* Chapter 2 from Isabel L. Beck's Bringing Words to Life: Robust Vocabulary Instruction (Tier 2 article)
* Google books link
* Amazon link">WordSift- Visualize Text
Copy and paste your text into WordSift in order to see the big picture (mashup of a Tag Cloud, Google Images, Youtube Clips, Visual Thesaurus). You will need to preview all of your vocabulary words before you allow students to use this tool as it pulls images from Google Images and videos from Youtube.

* Spelling city allows your students to hear the word in a sentence, practice the spelling, and make connections with the words and definitions. You may also embed their widget to your webpage or wiki. My kids loved taking the spelling test at the end and earning their own personalized spelling certificate.
* You may download a Parent Letter template to print and send home with your students to keep parents involved with vocabulary instruction
* Spelling city provides a widget to link to their site that you may embed to your webpage or wiki.

Paste in the text from your readaloud and you will see the magic of this website: tag cloud of relevant vocabulary words and read words in context of the passage. You also have the ability to narrow selection of vocabulary words by subject: geography, people, social studies, arts & literature, math, science, & vocabulary.


In this online graphical dictionary, students will begin to see not only the definition and parts of speech, but the relationship between words. This site also reinforces map skills and using a key. I switched from using Visual Thesaurus to Visuwords because it is FREE and there is no need for registration or login. I love embed option of the Visual Thesaurus and I hope that one day Visuwords makes this feature available.

Free and Open Source Assistive Technology Software

CSUN 2009: Text-To-Speech from the Start
Ira Socol's Speed of Change blog post from the Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference.

Word Talk

Free Text-to-Speech plugin for Microsoft Word

Natural Reader

Free Text to Speech software (Natural Voices included in the paid version)
I plan to use this with students as a proofreading tool and as an additional support in reading text in webpages.

Click, Speak
Free Open Source extension for the Firefox browser. It features a mouse driven interface and it reads webpages.

OATS Open Source Technology Software: Text Input Projects
Projects related to text input to a computer or other aspects of typing

Accessibility Tools for Macs

Mouse Skills Games and Resources

BBC's Computer Tutor
Learn how to use a mouse, keyboard, and computer screen.

List of Early Childhood Mouse Skills Resources

Tina's World from the Game Goo Website
Help Tina find the bugs, using your mouse or trackpad, as you practice listening and following three-step directions.

Dress the Teddy Bear
Practice dragging and dropping with this simple flash game.

Alphabetical Order by ABCya!

(contains ads)
Practice dragging and dropping while placing the letters in alphabetical order.

Mouseaerobics by the Central Kansas Library System
May be used for upper elementary-adult learners.

Mouse Exercises

Exercises to practice placing the mouse, clicking, drag and drop, and drawing with a mouse.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

My library is featured in School Library Journal!

From Inside Monarch's Library


Of Mice and Mentors: An educator with great plans finds she must teach basic computer skills