Monday, March 31, 2014

UbD - What's the Big Idea?

Week one of my AASL online class "Design for Understanding Meets the 21st Century School Librarian" focused on understanding big ideas and involved a little reflection upon my own teaching styles.

The first discussion opened with a question asking students to share if we tended to fall into the coverage trap or the activity trap.  Do we plan lessons to hit a number of objectives or standards, or do we do things that are fun or entertaining or seem worthwhile regardless of objectives?  Several of us stated that we start with the end in the mind, planning activities based on objectives, but I'm beginning to see that this is just the beginning.  Teaching by design is not just about establishing objectives and knowing what you want students to learn.  No.  It's bigger than that.  We have to go deeper.   We have to ask............

What's the BIG IDEA?

What are students going to take from this lesson (or unit) that they can use in 20 years?

My take on big ideas is that I can address them year after year with new resources and deeper thinking and never exhaust them.  If you haven't read the article I cited in my last post by Jean Donham, I urge you to do so...

By framing teaching and learning around big ideas, such as "Information can be organized in many ways", I can address sections of the library, shelf order, parts of a book, OPAC, databases, note-taking and more, always referring to our big idea so that students begin to make connections themselves, begin to think about how they organize their own information, begin to look for order in an unfamiliar system.  I'm looking forward to posting my big ideas where students can see them as they enter this space.

Another powerful - and challenging - aspect of thinking ahead 20 years is technology.  What can I teach today that will outlast the changes in technology that are occurring faster and faster?  What will students learn that will outlast desktop computers or a particular app?  This is where ethical use, strategic evaluation, and responsible sharing all come in to play.

All of this learning is going into a unit planner.  But first, it's time to understand more about understanding....

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Amy Burvall - One Woman’s Impact on EdTech

I am a huge #SXSW fan and was bummed that I wasn't able to attend this year's #SXSWedu conference this year.  However, I did stay abreast via twitter - my avenue to everything trending.  One of the people that I have become intrigued with is Amy Burvall.  She was part of a group hosted by EdTech Women Founder Sehreen Noor Ali.

Amy was one of twelve women that shared at the SXSWedu Lightning Talk Series - At The Helm: Women's Impact in EdTech.  Margaret Roth's blog shared bios on all twelve women.  When she introduced Amy Burvall, she wrote, "A Humanities teacher for 20 years in several of Oahu's private schools, Amy is a leader in educational technology professional development programs.  She is currently teaching Theory of Knowledge at Le Jardin Academy International Baccalaureate World School.  Her work in the History for Music Lovers project YouTube channel, which features history-based parody music videos with almost 10 million views, has appeared in Wired Magazine, The Washington Post, The New Yorker, Honolulu Magazine, CBC, NPR, and international blogs and media.  She was privileged to present at the TEDxHonolulu 2011 and serve as co-curator for  TEDxHonolulu 2013.  She has presented at Ignite Honolulu, The Association for Advanced Computing in Education, EdTech Teacher, iPad Summit, and in Vancouver at the British Columbia Social Studies Teachers Association Conference.  Amy has been an active participant-learner in several MOOCS (#etmooc, #edcmooc, and #teachtheweb), named a Webmaker Fellow by Mozilla, and is a firm believer in radical transparency, open ed, and remix culture."  People like Amy are inspiring to educators and students.   Take a look at her amazing products and ideas.

Here is a ThingLink with Everything Amy and some of her amazing videos about history.  Her students have produced amazing products too, take some time to see how she has impacted them.

Click here to view her student's work:

Her wonderful history videos!

People like Amy inspire me to want to be a better educator.  I love that she doesn't mind to #DARETOSHARE.

Follow her on twitter:

Saturday, March 8, 2014

AASL eAcademy Invite

My school recently hosted Bill and Ochan Powell for a professional development day.  
Photo from
In preparation of this event, multiple copies of their book, Making the Difference: Differentiation in International Schools, were purchased for staff to read. 
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I highly recommend their work, whether you are at an international school or not.  Many of their strategies are applicable for ELL students anywhere. And every classroom is populated with students whose needs vary. 

But I am especially pleased with the chapter on the role of the library.  It was written by a librarian and clearly outlines the role of the modern library.  And I have to admit, I am rather proud of the fact that one of our teachers, after completing that particular chapter, came up to the library to share what he had read and tell us that it described what was happening in our library.  (Yes!)

In Making the Difference, reference is made to some of the teaching books that I have checked out to teachers in recent years... including some I have carried home with the intention of reading in my "spare time".  One section that really jumped out to me referred to the text Understanding by Design by Wiggins and McTighe.  

Way back when, I was taught to write lesson plans using backwards design, and I still begin with the end in mind.  But I was struggling to update my thinking to using Enduring Understandings to guide my lessons.  I watched classroom teachers do this, for example, guiding students to understand WHY people explore rather than just memorize the dates and locations that are associated with James Cook or Lewis & Clark.  But I just couldn't seem to make a satisfactory connection with that process and information skills students learn in the library.

I know part of the problem is time.  Finding Making time to write out complete lesson plans and then reflect later can be difficult if you are unable to find a quiet place to work.  My door is always open and interruptions are frequent, so this task often gets pushed to "later" on my to-do list.  

But I really wanted to document the curriculum framework I use, not just carry it around in my head.  I hadn't been able to get it onto paper until I finally understood how Enduring Understanding applied to the library.

One key to Enduring Understandings is that one should be able to answer the question "How will this matter to the learner in 20 years?"  Rather than making students memorize Dewey Decimal numbers, we can help them learn that "Information can be organized in different ways".  This allows for their contributions to the concept as well provides a basis for understanding how the parts of books are organized, how alphabetical order can help us organize books on the shelves, the Dewey Decimal system, etc.  I was so excited to see how I could take what I had been teaching and create a usable structure for it.  

In doing a little searching, I found an article on Enduring Understandings for the Library by Jean Donham. Donham wrote 9 Essential Questions based on AASL Standards for the 21st Century Learner Beliefs. I used her suggestions to draft my big picture, and then I began to craft Guiding Questions that would drive the learning at each grade level.  

So there I was, brainstorming and writing.

And that's when the invitation from AASL arrived in my inbox.  

The AASL eAcademy is offering a course, Design for Understanding Meets the 21st Century School Librarian, starting March 21.  

I have registered, and I am super-excited to proceed with a network of librarians.   And looking over the syllabus, I see that I will finally read some of those books I have on my nightstand. 

Anyone out there want to join me in the course?