Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Mystery Hangout Mishaps

What is a Mystery Hangout?
A Mystery Hangout is when you set up a Google Hangout in an unknown location for students. The students from both locations do not know where the other school is located. They must ask a series of yes / no questions to determine the exact location. To learn more about how to introduce and do this activity with your students, watch this video:

I first learned of this activity from my husband and library media specialist, Stony Evans. He had shared with me the fun learning experiences and connections that his high school students had received from this type of activity. I wanted to try this at the elementary level with my students. I mentioned the idea to a 6th grade literacy teacher, Kate Neighbors, whom I have done some collaborative activities with in the past. I told her that this type of activity would go perfect with her unit that she does each year on mysteries. She was all on board for trying this. Our first experience occurred in May 2016 during one of the last weeks of school. We used this as a trial run to see how it worked so she could incorporate it within her mystery unit in the fall of 2016.

With everything you do, no matter if it is your first experience or not, there are bound to be some mishaps along the way. These problems are good learning experiences for students and educators. How can we learn and improve on our practices if we do not learn from our mistakes?  I want to share about four Mystery Hangouts that we have done and what we learned from our experiences.
Students are always excited and somewhat nervous when doing a Mystery Hangout.
Island of Guernsey / Elizabeth Hutchinson
My husband introduced me to Elizabeth Hutchinson, Head of Schools' Library Services on the island of Guernsey.  Stony had met Elizabeth through Twitter when she saw that he had posted about a recent Mystery Hangout that he had done. She was interested in doing this activity with her teachers and students. After she had participated with his high school students, he asked her if she had some elementary teachers who might be interested in connecting with my students. She found a willing teacher, so we set up a time to do our first Mystery Hangout.

When doing a Mystery Hangout, especially an international one, you have to consider the time zone. Since Guernsey is 7 hours ahead of us, we had to begin our Mystery Hangout as soon as school began for us because they were about to end their school day. For this reason, we did not have time to dawdle. The students had to have their questions ready to ask.

With this being our first Mystery Hangout, we were still learning the do's and don'ts of the game. We were not aware that the questions had to be posed for "yes"/ "no" answers. The first question that our students asked was not in this format. They were looking for a specific answer. Elizabeth quickly informed us that the question needed to be restated in a way that they could answer "yes" / "no". Mrs. Neighbors told our students that they would need to look at their written questions and figure out a way to ask them in the "yes" / "no" format. Thankfully, these students were great thinkers and problem solvers because they were able to do this in the short frame of time that we had. They were able to determine the location.

We also had time at the end for each school to share facts about their location. Mrs. Neighbors' class had made a slide show to tell the students about Hot Springs, Arkansas. We were unable to share the screen in order for the students in Guernsey to be able to see the slide show. To monitor and adjust, Mrs. Neighbors told them just to pull it up on an iPad and show it in front of the webcam. Then we discovered that everything was showing up reversed on the screen on their end. We finished the session by sharing with no visual aids.

Here is Elizabeth Hutchinson and her students connecting from the island of Guernsey.

Magnet Cove, Arkansas / Leslee Eskola
After attempting our first Google Hangout in May 2016 with one class, we were ready to attempt this with all of Mrs. Neighbors' classes in the fall. Since Mrs. Neighbors has three separate literacy classes, we had to find three different locations to make the mystery connections. In case her students talked to students from her other classes, we thought it would be good to find a way to hopefully throw them off from finding each location. For this reason, we decided we would do a local / in state connection, a national / out of state connection, and an international connection. Through PD trainings and social media, I had become aware of a local teacher librarian, Leslee Eskola. She is at Magnet Cove Elementary / Middle School which is located about 15 miles away from our school in Hot Springs. She had a 6th grade class that she chose to connect with us.

This was Magnet Cove's first time to attempt a Mystery Hangout and our second attempt (so neither of us were experienced connectors). Leslee was a little nervous about making sure that everything was going to work properly in order for us to connect. For this reason, I told her that we needed to test everything out in advance. A couple of days before the event, we scheduled a time for the two of us to connect. We had a few issues at the beginning from their end, but after a few tries we were able to see and hear each other. This also gave us some time together to discuss how to conduct the Mystery Hangout to make sure that we were on the same page. The morning of our actual Mystery Hangout, Leslee and I both arrived early at our schools to double check our connection. Everything worked great, so we were ready to make the connection once we got all of the students in our libraries.

We actually thought that this local connection would be the hardest for the students to determine because we thought the students would come in expecting it to be a far away place.  (They did until the unexpected happened.) The students in my school entered the library talking about how nervous they were to do this. I assured them that there was nothing to fear and that it would be fun to get to talk and learn from students from another place. We got started right on time with no technical issues. About two questions into the Hangout, one of our students said, "Hey, that is Eddie!" Mrs. Neighbors and I looked at each other. I pulled the student aside and asked her if she really knew the student. She confirmed that she did. I told her to not disclose the location. However, it was too late. The other students had caught on that it was a nearby school, so they started asking if they were at certain schools surrounding Hot Springs. Thankfully, it took a few wrong locations before they discovered it. The whole Hangout lasted less than 10 minutes. Once the exact locations from both sides were determined, Leslee said, "One of our students recognized one of yours." (So they were dealing with the same mishap on their end, too.)  Even though it was disappointing that this happened, the students still had fun talking to each other. They were amazed at the differences between both schools even with us only being 15 miles apart.

Here are my students vising with their new (and old) friends at Magnet Cove Middle School.

Council Bluffs, Iowa / Lynn Kleinmeyer
When I was thinking about a national connection, Lynn Kleinmeyer was my first thought. Lynn is a teacher librarian at Titan Hill Intermediate in the Lewis Central School District. Stony and I met Lynn Kleinmeyer face to face the summer of 2016 in Omaha, Nebraska. She was one of the main members of our personal learning network; we felt like we had known her forever when we talked to her in person.  During our visit, I asked Lynn if she had done a Mystery Hangout with her elementary students. I was excited to hear that she had done Hangouts, so I knew right then that I was going to make it happen in the fall at my school. Lynn chose a 5th grade teacher and her class to do the Mystery Hangout with us.

The day we connected with Lynn and her students, it was a very busy day for both Lynn and me. For this reason, we did not get a chance to do a test connection prior to her scheduled time. I had connected with Lynn on another occasion, so I assumed everything would go just fine. We had no problems making the previous connection. However, the audio was not very good. We could just barely hear their voices. I double checked my speakers and the volume control on the device; everything looked fine. We took a few minutes to work on the problem, and I even pulled my technology person in to help troubleshoot. We completely shut down the device and restarted it; we had no luck. Next, we tried a different device. Everything we tried did not work; we even connected more powerful speakers and tried a different device, but the sound did not improve. While we worked on the issues, the students continued on with the Mystery Hangout despite the fact that the audio was so low. The way they monitored and adjusted was that the students sitting in front of the device would repeat what Lynn's students were saying. Other than this mishap, the Hangout went smoothly.

After school, Lynn connected with me on Voxer to share her reflections of the event. One discussion that came up between her and the 5th grade teacher was what determines a "major city".   This question was asked from both sides, "Do you live in a major city?" Since the states of Arkansas and Iowa are small states with the majority of each state containing rural areas and not many big cities, it was like we had varying opinions as to whether or not our locations were major cities or not. I told Lynn that I usually thought of "major cities" being large cities such as New York, Chicago, Dallas, etc. Our largest city in Arkansas is Little Rock. It only has a population of around 193,000 which makes it appear as a small town compared to these major cities. Hot Springs, Arkansas, where my school is located only has a population of 35,000 which certainly makes it far from a major city. This is just one of those questions that seems to be based on one's perception of where they live.
Here is Lynn Kleinmeyer and her students connecting with us from Iowa.

Liberty, Missouri / Kris McArtor
Because of time constraints and scheduling, we were unable to make an international connection this time. Instead, I was running out of time to find one more connection for the week that Mrs. Neighbors wanted to do the Mystery Hangouts. I was going to send out a post on Twitter to see if I could find someone. Before doing the post, I just searched #mysteryhangout. At the top of the feed, I found a post from Kris McArtor, a 4th grade teacher in Liberty, Missouri at Alexander Doniphan Elementary. She had posted that they were excited to try their first Mystery Hangout and that they were looking for some other schools in which to make connections. I immediately responded to her. The next day we were sharing our schedules and possible dates.

As I mentioned earlier, scheduling a time seems to be one of the biggest mishaps with Mystery Hangouts. It was hard, at first, to get our schedules aligned. There was really only one time frame that would work for both sides, but we did not know if we would have enough time. Kris said that she would just bring her students in early from recess where we could have a longer period of time. She said that her students would be willing to miss out on recess because they loved doing the Mystery Hangouts. For this reason, we were able to have plenty of time to complete our Hangout.

Kris and I had already made a successful connection a couple of days before when we did our test run. Everything worked perfectly, so we did not attempt a trial run the day of the Hangout. The students came into the library. I started the connection; and we immediately saw Kris and her students, but we could not hear them. I checked the speakers connection, and I also checked to make sure that we were not muted. They could hear us, but we could not hear them. She communicated this to us on a small white board. In order to not waste our short time, she said we would continue the Hangout. They would just write their questions / answers on the white board. This was another great example of how educators must find ways to monitor and adjust. The rest of the Mystery Hangout went very smoothly. In fact, we were so amazed at how quiet our students were on our end since they could not hear the other students. It was also fun to read the facial expressions of the students in Liberty, Missouri since we could not hear them. This was a great example that your just don't have to communicate verbally to connect with others.
Here is how we communicated without audio with our new friends in Missouri.

Final Thoughts
Mystery Hangouts are wonderful learning experiences for our students. Just think of the power we have through technology to connect our students to places all around the world. Yes, with technology and different time zones, mishaps are always going to happen. We just have to look beyond those problems and realize that our students are still connecting and learning about places that many of them may never go to in their lifetime. In the world of education, we must monitor and adjust on a daily basis. It is great for our students to see that everything does not always work out perfectly. They need to see that making adjustments is a daily life skill that everyone must face. We cannot let the mishaps slow us down and keep us from attempting what we are doing.  Every day is a new learning experience for everyone.

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Saturday, April 1, 2017

Bringing Adventure to the Library: The Super Librarian Way

In the fall of 2015, I stepped out of my comfort zone to become Super Librarian. For this school year, I had chosen to do a super reader theme in the library. When I had gone back to work at the end of July, I was in a Leadership Team meeting where we were discussing possible PD to do with the teachers when they came back to school in August.  The principal wanted each team member to do a PD presentation. This is when I had the opportunity to share with the members of the team my vision for the library program that I had already shared with my building principals. I told them since 5th and 6th grade teachers / students did not have scheduled library times that I wanted to find a way to get them more involved in utilizing the library. I shared how my husband, Stony Evans, and his co-librarian (at the time), Misti Bell, had collaborated with their teachers at Lakeside High School.  Even though we are an elementary school, there was no reason why we should not be able to bring some of these same types of programs to our teachers and students. The members of the Leadership Team thought this would be a great idea. The school counselor, Leslie Whalen, told me what would make my PD presentation even better would be to dress up as Super Librarian.  This was certainly out of my comfort zone, but this was a risk that I was willing to take to get the teacher's attention about my library vision.

The Day Super Librarian Flew into PD

To become Super Librarian, Mrs. Whalen said that she would help me to put my costume together. She brought me a mask and a cape that she had used several years before for another event. All I had to do was dig through my closet.  I found a short black skirt and a black turtle neck top which I accented with a zebra print belt and earrings.  Then I added some red tights along with my tall black boots.  To complete my oufit, I printed out a shield with a red "S". In a matter of minutes, I was transformed into Super Librarian!

To enter the room, I had selected to play the iconic theme to Superman. Once the music began, I ran into the room with my cape flying behind me. The room filled with laughter and applause!  This particular school year, we were beginning a book study on Dave Burgess' Teach Like a Pirate book. Before I began my presentation, my principal, Mrs. Rosburg, said that this was a perfect example of what we would be reading about in this book throughout the school year.  Now that I had everyone's undivided attention, I could begin my presentation with excitement that I hoped to spread to the entire faculty.

A Preview of the Adventures with Super Librarian

When I began the presentation, I had the teachers brainstorm about the traditional, stereotypical library. Of course, the first thing said was that it was a quiet place. Another thing was that it was a place to go get books.  Next, I showed them a Wordle of what a 21st century library should include. I asked them to call out what words on it that stood out to them the most. One of the biggest words on it was "collaboration". I shared that this was my vision for our library and that I wanted to team up with them to create some learning experiences in the library that the students would never forget.

To get their wheels turning, I shared with them some of the activities on Stony Evans' blog, Library Media Tech Talk. I focused mainly on one of the more successful collaborations in which he had teamed up with Misti Bell and their team of teachers about the Dust Bowl. You can read more about this collaboration here.
I pointed out how they had utilized the library space as an extension of the classroom to take students to another place and time. I challenged the teachers to think about their subject area and some ways that we could do something like this with our 5th and 6th grade students.
Super Librarian presenting during a PD session.

When to Catch Some Adventures with Super Librarian

In order to get collaboration going in a library, the schedule has to be set to allow flexibility for some of these adventures. Since I have scheduled classes with my K-4th grade students at Park Magnet School, I had to talk with both principals about my vision and the schedule. Going over my possible TESS goals for the next school year in the spring of 2015, I told both principals about my collaboration goal. In previous years, my scheduled classes were on various times on every day of the week. For this reason, it made it hard to collaborate with the 5th and 6th grade teachers. I asked the principals if they could put all of my scheduled classes on Monday-Wednesday.  This would leave Thursday and Friday to have an open schedule for the collaboration to happen. I was excited to receive my schedule to see that they had made this happen. During my PD presentation with the teachers, I was able to share this great news with them.  I told them that since the principals had honored my request that we had to make wise use of this time. For this reason, we needed to create library adventures on these days to make this happen.

Advertising the Adventures with Super Librarian

Just like we find out about new movies or television shows through advertisements, librarians should advertise when special events are going to take place in the library. Each time that a library collaboration is going to happen, I always email out to the faculty letting them know what is happening and inviting them to come walk through the library. These events are also advertised on my Twitter and Instagram accounts, as well as my blog, to spread the word beyond the four walls of the library. It is my hope that these postings will help to inspire librarians and teachers in other parts of the world to begin their own library adventures. I had a teacher who came to observe a collaboration one day and she said, "When can I bring my class to do something fun in the library?"  If we don't invite teachers to come watch some of the library adventures, they may miss out on a starring role in their own collaboration.

Final Thoughts

I encourage you to begin collaborative adventures in your library. If we don't get out of our comfort zones and help to show the super powers that a library can have for the learning community, they will never know what possible adventures await them.

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Saturday, October 1, 2016

Library World Adventures

Who I Am
My name is Cindy Evans. I am a K-6th library media specialist in Hot Springs, Arkansas. I am in a unique situation because I serve two schools in one library within one building. Park Magnet School is a K-4th school, and Hot Springs Intermediate School is grades 5th and 6th. Each of the schools are International Baccalaureate schools.

Welcome to my library world adventures! I enjoy being a teacher librarian because I get to interact with all teachers and students in the building. It is awesome to go on adventures with them throughout the school year. In this blog, I hope to share with you many of my previous adventures and the ones that are yet to come.

Why I Decided to Blog
What made me decide to share my library world adventures?  My husband, Stony Evans, has encouraged me for almost a year now to begin writing a blog. I always told him, "Who would want to read about what I do in the library? What I do is not that great."  For this reason, I continued not to share my story. Then I heard Nikki D. Robertson speak at the Arkansas Association of School Librarians (ArASL) conference. She said some people have a fear of blogging because they don't feel that their material is good enough to share. I whispered to Stony and said, "That is what I always say."  She went on to say that we don't have to measure up to the library thought leaders; all we have to do is focus on ourselves and what we do well.  This immediately brought me back to a conversation that Stony and I had with Jennifer LaGarde at another conference earlier this year. Jennifer said that we might think that what we say in a blog is not that big of a deal, but it might be just exactly what that one person needs.

Stony and I were grateful to talk to Jennifer LaGarde.
The main theme throughout the ArASL conference was advocating for our school libraries and the importance of having a certified teacher librarian. In most of the sessions, it was said repeatedly, "We must tell our stories.  If we don't tell our stories, then how will anyone know?" In a world where libraries and librarians are being cut because people are not seeing their need, it is very imperative for us to let them know what is happening in our libraries and how we are even more crucial in helping our students learn 21st century skills. 
Nikki encouraging teacher librarians to share their stories.
Closing Remarks
Now, I am embarking on a voyage to share what I do in the library. I hope that you will join me on this expedition. More importantly, I hope that you will share about your adventures in your library world.

This is how I conduct voting for state book awards in our library.

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State Book Awards

Each year, I get excited when the new reading lists for the Arkansas state book awards is revealed. Arkansas has three state book awards:  Arkansas Diamond Primary Book Award (K-3rd), Charlie May Simon Book Award (4th-6th), and Arkansas Teen Book Award (7th-12th). For a description of each award, reading lists, and previous state book award winners, go to the following website and click on the links for each award.

Aquiring the Books
Since I am a K-6th teacher librarian, my students participate in voting for the Arkansas Diamond Primary Book Award and the Charlie May Simon Book Award. I order the books in the spring as soon as the new reading lists are released. This allows the library to have the books available when the new school year begins in the fall, and the students are able to read the books throughout the entire school year. I usually receive my first overview of the books at a state conference, Arkansas Association of Instructional Media.  (AAIM)

Introducing the Books
Early in the school year, I introduce the students to each of the titles to try to spark an interest in reading the new books. Usually, the presenters at AAIM create a slide show with a brief description of each book. I use the slide show when presenting the books to my students, and I usually add links to book trailers on the slides if the books have one. It is much more interesting to show the book trailers than to just talk about the books.  Fortunately, I was able to find book trailers for the majority of all of the books this year.

For the Charlie May Simon Award books (which are mainly chapter books), I do not place them on the shelf until I have presented the books to all students. In the past, I would have them on the shelf when I presented to my first group of students. Then all of the books would be gone by the time that group left the library, leaving none available for the other students who would come later.

Since they are picture books, I usually read all of the Arkansas Diamond Primary Book Award books to the students when they come to their library classes throughout the school year. I do not place the books on the shelf until I read them to the students. I want the books to be brand new to the students when I read them. In the past, I would put the books on the shelf, and some of them would be checked out the weeks that I wanted to read them.  Unfortunately, sometimes a book would get lost before I could read it.

Displaying the Books
To make the books more easily accessible to the students, I place them on display shelves---one for each book award. Keeping the books on the display shelves allows the students to immediately see what books are available. I have pictures of the books taped on the display shelves. If the book is checked out, students are able to see the picture which is another indicator that the book they may be wanting to read is checked out. On top of each of the display shelves, I usually place the winning books and the runner-up books on the very top so that students will know which books were the award winners from the previous school year. This also allows them the opportunity to read the winning books again.

Reading the Books
Last year when I read the Arkansas Diamond Primary Book Award books, I wanted to find a way to make the books more memorable for the students---especially the younger students. Since there are several of the books to read, I have to read one or two of the books each month to get them all read before the students vote on their favorite book in late April.  For some of the books, I dressed as the main character. We would do art activities with a few of the books. For a couple of the titles, I created the setting of the book for the students to enter as they came to the library. Doing these activities not only helped the students to remember the books, but it also built excitement. I had students who would come to the library to check out books during library free flow time, and they would already be asking me, "What are we doing in the library next week?' I would tell them that they would have to wait and see!  I dressed in character so much that the students began to expect to see me in character when they came to the library. One week when I was wearing normal clothes (a leather jacket and my boots), a student complemented me on my outfit. Another student said, "I know why she is wearing that. She is dressed as the character in the book we are reading this week!" I loved to see the anticipation from the students wondering what we were going to be doing in the library or who I was going to be that week. In future posts, I will talk about some of these book reading adventures.
I dressed as librarian, Anne Carroll Moore, when I read "Miss Moore Thought Otherwise".

Since the books on the Charlie May Simon Award list are mainly chapter books, the students read these independently or can have them read aloud. Because I see students once a week for library class, it is impossible for me to read the books aloud to them. This year, I have made an effort to better inform the teachers of the reading list so that they might find ways to incorporate some of the books into their lessons or to use them as a read aloud. Many teacher librarians say they struggle to get the students to read the books independently each year. I am hoping that adding the book trailers in the introductory presentation has sparked more interest in having the students read. After each presentation, I did have more students wanting to immediately check out the books. Some of the teachers are also offering incentives for the students to read the books. I want students to read books because they want to read them; but for some students, it might take an incentive just to get the book in their hands. Hopefully, once they begin reading the book, they will be hooked. There are a lot of great titles on the reading list.

Voting on the Books
The last week of April is when the students usually vote. I use this time to teach about the voting process to students. We talk about when adults vote, they have to make one choice and cannot choose more than one person. I tell the students, they may like more than one book, but they really have to think about each book and which one was the most interesting and meaningful to them. We also talk about voting being a private matter and that they should not share who they voted for when they have made their selection. I also do this to not sway the vote because some students will vote on the book that looks like it is winning because they want to vote for the winning book. This happened my first year of letting students vote. I had the books sitting on the table with cups in front of them. The students had to go place a bingo chip into the cup of their selected book. When students began to see which cup had the most chips, they wanted to vote for that book.

To also make it more realistic to actual voting and to avoid what I described above, I set up two voting booths for the students to cast their votes. I have two pieces of cardboard that fold on the sides to stand up on the table. As the students vote two at a time, the cardboard pieces give them privacy so that no one knows which book they are selecting. I even tell the students to not tell me which book they have chosen. I do stand close by to answer questions about the voting process, but I try to not look at their selection.
Voting Booths

Students vote privately for their favorite book.

Previously, the students had voted in the booth by circling the picture of their favorite book, but this past school year, I had the students to vote on Chromebooks using a Google Form. The Google Form was much better than the paper format because it immediately tallied the results and created various graphs representing the results. It was also easier for me to tally the results that I have to send in at the state level where the winner for each award is determined.
Students vote using a Google Form.

For younger students, I recommend having pictures of the books for them to see since they cannot always read the titles. When I moved to using the Google Form, I could not figure out a way to get the pictures in the correct place for the students to make their selection. To resolve the problem. I displayed the book covers on the wall with a sticky note number attached to them. On the Google Form, I numbered each title with the corresponding number on the covers. The students had to look at the book covers, find their favorite book, identify the number, and then find that number on the Google Form.

Revealing the Results
The week after we vote, I reveal the results to the students by using the graphs created from the Google Form.  This is a great way to bring math into the library lesson. First, we look at the results for the class that I have in the library at that time. Next, we look at the grade level outcomes. The last graph we view is the one with the results for the entire school. Usually before summer vacation, we learn the state voting results where the winning book and runner-up has been determined.

Final Thoughts
Most states have book awards that are selected by students. If your state does not, you should advocate to get one started. This is a great way to give students a voice on the books they enjoy reading. Look at the reading lists from other states, and see if any of the same books are on their lists. Then find teacher librarians from other schools to connect your students through Google Hangouts or Skype because you could do a shared reading. Through reading these outstanding books, my hope is that students will begin to find that reading is a wonderful, lifetime adventure!

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