Saturday, May 28, 2016

Students Teach The Mystery of Skype!

About a month ago, one of my Microsoft Innovative Expert Educator colleagues, Mrs. Karey Killian, contacted me on Twitter. Karey is a teacher librarian at the Milton Area School District in Milton, Pennsylvania. We were trying to find a time to Mystery Skype before the semester ended. As we were brainstorming, we had the idea to alter the session to have our high school students present Mystery Skype tips and tricks to her 5th grade students. 

How We Planned and Held the Event 

I visited with one of our social studies teachers, Mr. Brooks Lee, about his students participating in this event. He immediately wanted his first period class to be the presenters since they had had so much experience with Skype and Google Hangouts this year. After talking with Mrs. Killian, we discovered that she had a time available to connect that worked for Brooks' first period class. We had to prepare for a 30 minute session.

We decided to have the students brainstorm what content should be shared with the distant school. Mr. Lee and I led the session. Students decided to focus on the iPad Maps app (and Google Maps) at Mrs. Killian's request. They also wanted to give tips about the Map Eliminator job, the Logic Reasoner job, and the Inquirer job. Brooks wrote down their tips on the board as each topic was discussed. Visit this link to view a description of our Mystery Skype set up in the classroom. 

Test Connection

Mrs. Killian and I decided to try a test Skype connection on the morning of the event. On this particular morning, both of us had issues with our computers; and we had to reboot. My computer's webcam wasn't functioning correctly prior to the reboot. We finally made a connection and were able to test our video and audio successfully. Mrs. Killian noticed that there was a lag in my audio, and I noticed that my iPad Reflector screen share app wasn't working correctly. We did discover that the screen share function on Skype worked during the test session. We would have to find a solution for sharing the iPad display.

The Event

We were able to connect with no difficulties at the arranged time. Students presented in the following order:

2 students share about using Google Maps on the iPad
iPad and Google Maps- Our learners demonstrated how to use the zoom in/ zoom out features to locate smaller locations and towns. They also showed tactics to use when searching on maps (using country name and different map features like satellite and hybrid views). The student presenters focused on Google Maps. They used the screen share function on Skype to demonstrate Google Maps. When they showed these functions on the iPads, they had to hold the iPads close to the webcam since our Reflector app still wasn't working.

Map Eliminator- These students showed how participants should have large scale and smaller scale print maps ready to swap out as the mystery location is narrowed down. We use laminated maps that our students can write on/ cross out eliminated areas.

Logic Reasoners- Students explained how this position has to work well with all other parts of the Mystery Skype team. They recommended using map coordinates to narrow down options. They also reminded their audience to refrain from simply guessing at random. 

2 students discuss tips for Logic Reasoners
Inquirers- These students discussed that clothing should not be worn that might give away their location. Individuals in this job should use a "poker face" when the opposing team is getting close to guessing the correct location. They also stated that Inquirers should not ask questions without consulting the Logic Reasoners. 

At the end of the event, one of Mrs. Killian's students shared that she had discovered our location! Mr. Lee and I were very impressed by her attention to detail! The session went by very quickly!

Mrs. Killian's Reflection 

The scholars at LHS were great!  We could tell they spent a great deal of time considering the best options and method of delivery for their lesson.  Mr. Lee's students shared many tips for using the map app that appealed to the 5th graders. Several of my students were on the map app trying the different options as they were being presented.   I was completely shocked when Morgan, 5th grader, revealed their location to me! While the high school students were sharing tips for finding locations, she was doing some research of her own using the map app and search engine.  She pinned their location on the map and was able to compare how far away they are from Milton, PA All from your accent, Skype nameLHS, the clock in the background (different time zone), and I think she picked up on a clue when the students were showing map tips. We are training our students to be the best researchers and detectives in a world of limitless information. 
At the time of our call, the screen share option wasn't working correctly.  Mr. Lee's students compensated well by holding the iPad to the webcam so that my students could see the details they were showing on the map.  This actually proved to be a better solution because it appears larger on our screen instead of the smaller split screen.  

Mr. Lee's Reflection 

When Mr. Evans approached me about having my students teach other students via Skype, I knew it was something we had to do. My students were very excited for the opportunity to demonstrate some techniques and strategies for Mystery Skype to Mrs. Killian's class. We spent some time during the days prior to the connection thinking about what challenges we faced when Mystery Skyping in the past and what advice we could give to a younger group that is getting more acquainted with the awesome experiences that Mystery Skyping creates. Our students came up with some really good advice and divided themselves into groups so they could take turns explaining Google Maps for iPad, as well as some of the keys roles involved in Mystery Skype. Mrs. Killian's group was very respectful and asked some great questions; and one of her students even figured out where we were! Overall, it was a great way for us to wrap up the year, and our students said they would love to do this again in the future. 

Next Steps

Add caption
It was great to see our students step up and take the lead for this teaching session. This opened my mind up to more possibilities in the future. I'm going to seek opportunities for our learners to teach material to other schools via Skype. I would love to see our students teach Mystery Skype to lower grades in our school district and to surrounding schools. I would also enjoy seeing our students teach this activity to teachers! This was a first step into a bigger world. We will keep working to help our learners improve this process!

This is how we used Twitter and Skype to connect to a teenage inventor in Tennessee!

Reflecting on a year of connections in our school library.

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Saturday, May 21, 2016

Mystery Package Hangout!

In February 2016, we had our first International Mystery Hangout with the island of Alderney. Alderney is one of the islands located in the English Channel. Following this connection, my partner teacher librarian, Misti Bell, had a brilliant idea. She suggested that we have our students choose items to send over to the island. She also suggested that Alderney students do the same for us. We could then connect over webcam at a later date to have a simultaneous show and tell session. Mr. Brooks Lee, the teacher of the participating 8th grade social studies class, immediately began planning this event.

Brooks encouraged his students to begin thinking about selecting items that would reflect the unique characteristics of Hot Springs, the state of Arkansas, and our nation. Mrs. Angela Etheredge did the same thing with her students on the Channel Island school of St. Anne's. Brooks' students chose to send a football, t-shirts, and caps from Hot Springs. They also sent over some food selections like peanut butter and pickled corn. Students from Alderney sent over similar items. Neither school knew what was in each other's packages since it was decided that both sides should wait and open them on the day of the Google Hangout.

The Hangout!

After several weeks of planning, the date for the connection was set for Friday, May 13th. I was very glad we were able to host this webcam meeting in the library! Our students really looked forward to this event! On the morning of the Hangout session, we set the computer in an area of the library that allowed the Alderney students to see everyone in the room. We were very glad to connect with Mrs. Elizabeth Hutchinson, Head of Schools' Library Service on the island of Guernsey (another Channel Island). Elizabeth was responsible for connecting us with Alderney in the first place!

After we connected with St. Anne's and Elizabeth simultaneously, each school immediately took turns taking items out of their packages, and they would show each item. The teachers and students would share the significance of each item.

Lakeside students open the package from Alderney

One of our students shows a brochure from Alderney

A magazine from Alderney

Currency from Alderney

The classroom at St. Anne's

Alderney students wearing caps from our town of Hot Springs!

This student from Alderney actually tasted  pickled baby corn sent from Arkansas!

Student Reflections

"I enjoyed reconnecting with Alderney after our Mystery Hangout a few months back. It was fun exchanging the gifts from their country. I also liked learning about them and their country. It was fun seeing their reactions to all of our stuff, and it was fun getting to react to all of their things. I feel like both classes learned a lot from this experience." - Katherine H

"Reconnecting with Alderney was a great experience. It was so cool to see people from a different culture and seeing how we are alike and different. We got to see what their life is like and where they live and what they eat. It's crazy to think we are just a small part of the world and there are people just like us all around the world." - Jenna S

"It was cool meeting people from across the world and hooking back up with them to exchange gifts we both sent to represent some little things of where we live and our country. I think it was cool that they sent different types of food and snacks they eat over there, and I thought it was cool seeing their reaction to when they saw the (American) football that we sent." -Austin Y

"I think that the ability to video and talk with another school is mindblowing. Even just interacting with the school through other programs. When we first made contact with the kids in Alderney we had a fun time trying to pinpoint their odd location... The second time we made contact we exchanged some items through the mail. Showing each other little bits of each others' culture with us sending footballs and natural goods, and them sending food and jewelry. All around the whole Mystery Hangout experience is something that we all enjoyed." - Cambryn C

"Getting to watch each other open our packages live was a great experience. Just being able to Skype (or Google Hangout) Alderney and share information about our location is fun, but receiving items from them- as well as sending them items and souvenirs- was the highlight of it all. It was interesting to compare our daily lifestyles. What seems so normal to us is so different to them, and vice versa." - Madison E


This was a wonderful exchange for both of our schools. It was a great opportunity for us to learn more about each other's culture. The shared artifacts made us all feel more connected to our overseas friends. We hope to continue connecting with the students and teachers of St. Anne's School in the future. We also hope to have similar cultural exchanges with new countries. The library is the perfect place to connect people and information using technology!

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Saturday, May 14, 2016

Create a Library Sign-In With Google Forms

In years past, we have used the old-fashioned clipboard with a paper sign-in/ sign-out sheet to help keep track of students coming in to the library during free flow periods. A few years ago, a mentor showed me how to set up a digital sign-in/ sign-out form using Google Forms. This has been a much better way to keep track of students that come and go during the regular school day. It has also been a nice addition to our end of year report statistics. Let's take a look at how we set this up.

Google Forms

The first step is to create a specific Google Form for your sign-in/ sign-out form. I do this by going to Google Drive and selecting the "Google Forms" option. See the screenshot below.
From Google Drive, select "New" and then "Google Forms"

Selecting "Google Forms" should open a new tab with a blank Google Form. See the screenshot below.

From this page, you can build your form. I named ours LHS Library Sign In 2015-2016 as you can see in the screenshot below.

The Questions I Use

  • I used fill in the blanks for "First Name" and "Last Name". 
  • I used a multiple choice question for "Are you signing IN or OUT of the library?" Students can select "Signing IN" or "Signing OUT". 
  • The final response requires them to answer the question "What teacher sent you?" in a fill in the blank format.
All of these questions are required to be completed before the student can submit the sign-in form. I recommend checking the box that says "Show Link To Submit Another Response" since this gives students an option to reload the form after their sign-in/ sign-out is submitted.

These few questions have worked well for us for many years. I encourage you to customize yours as needed. One question that I am considering adding for next year is "What is your purpose for coming to the library?"

Select A Theme

When your form is complete, you can choose the "Change Theme" option and select an attractive theme for your form. 

A screenshot of our live form for 2015-2016
Go Live

You can view the live form from the editing page. I copy the URL from the live form to whatever devices we will be using for the sign-in/ sign-out process. Students can then begin using the form! If you experience a problem with submissions, make sure your form is set to accepting responses (this is located in the "responses" menu of the editing page). To see your results, you can find the responses in your Google Drive. They should show up in a spreadsheet with a timestamp for each entry. 


Any device that has a browser should work with your new form. We have previously used old Dell laptops running Windows OS. We have also had success using Dell netbooks running Windows OS. Currently, we are using two first generation iPads for our sign-in/ sign-out station in the library. They are too old to run current apps so we repurposed them for this important task!

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Saturday, May 7, 2016

A Year Of Connections In The Library

A Year of Connections in the Library: Reflecting on How Skype and Google Hangouts Changed Our Thinking

Before this school year, we mainly used Google Hangouts to connect with our friends at Lakeside Junior High in Springdale, Arkansas. Brian Johnson, their teacher librarian, and I have had several different lunch programs for our students over the past two years. Then I discovered Mystery Skype while participating in various Twitter chats during the 2014-2015 school year. It didn't take long for a Twitter educator friend to invite us to try this fairly new educational activity.

After we held our first Mystery Skype with a school in Maine during April of 2015, everything changed. We began to see the power of making connections with other schools around the country and having our students be a part of these activities. As the 2015-2016 school year draws to a close, I would like to share some of our most memorable connections in the library using these tools.


Mystery Skype with Maine

My friend, Heidi Harris (@Heidibobeidi), in Lincoln, Maine was the first teacher to invite me to participate in Mystery Skype. She helped us to understand how to set up the room for a successful session. I'm so grateful that we had the opportunity to connect with her class again last fall via Mystery Skype. LHS Social Studies teacher, Brooks Lee (@MrLeeLHS), had a new group of students for the school year and so did Heidi. During the spring semester, Heidi and Brooks connected again. This time his students had a Mystery Skype session with Heidi's teachers as they tried the activity for the first time! These were great events to experience, and I hope we get to do it again in 2016-2017!

Our second Mystery Skype with Lincoln, ME
Author Skype

During the fall of 2015, we had the privilege of a Skype connection with Laurie Stolarz (@lauriestolarz). Laurie is a YA Fiction author (The Dark House Series, The Touch Series, and The Blue is for Nightmare Series). It was a pleasure to have her connect with our 10th-12th graders during lunch to discuss her books. Our students enjoyed asking her questions! It was a priceless event!

Skype session with Laurie Stolarz

Anna Lear Reads to Other States!

I really enjoyed seeing Anna Lear (@annalear24), one of our seniors at LHS, read to schools in other states for World Read Aloud Day and Read Across America! We used Skype for the Read Across America event to connect with my friend, Lynn Kleinmeyer and her classes in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Seeing one of our students take the lead in these events was one of the highlights of my year!

Anna reads to students at Titan Hill Intermediate in Iowa!

Skype with a Freedom Writer

Another highlight from this year happened when Kimberly VanMeter's (@kimberlyshea65) English students connected with Tiffany Jacobs in California. Tiffany is one of the original Freedom Writers! What a great way to utilize technology to make a difference for our students. I'm so glad she allowed us to host this event in the school library!

Skype with a Freedom Writer!
Student Led Professional Development

My friend, Justin Neel (@JustinNeel2), asked me to present 3D printing basics to some of his teachers at Caddo Hills High School earlier this year. They were preparing to purchase a printer, and they wanted to know what we were using. Justin asked if I could Skype with them for a few minutes. I decided to invite one of our students, Austin Whitney, to join me for the after school Skype session. Austin and one of his friends had helped me present 3D printer basics at a state conference last summer. I wanted to showcase Austin's experience and knowledge. It is always good to have students share their voice, especially when they are proficient at a skill! He did a wonderful job sharing about our 3D printer to our new teacher friends at Caddo Hills!

Austin presents to teachers at Caddo Hills High School

Visits with Elizabeth Hutchinson

I have had several conversations via Skype with my teacher librarian friend, Elizabeth Hutchinson (@Elizabethutch). Elizabeth is located on the Island of Guernsey which is located in the English Channel. We connected on Twitter back in January of this year. We are already planning several book clubs with our students next year. Skype has made our wonderful conversations possible even on Saturday mornings as pictured below. What a great international partnership!

A Saturday morning overseas visit with Elizabeth!

Google Hangouts

I love using Skype for our many school connections, but not all schools can use Microsoft products easily. We have also used Google Hangouts to connect with many friends both national and international! Below are some of the most memorable from 2015-2016.

My First International Hangout

I am still so thankful that Dina Moati (@dinamoati) invited me to participate in a panel discussion with her education students via Google Hangouts back in September of 2015. Dina is a Professor of Education in Ontario, Canada. I had the privilege of joining fellow educators Stephan Hughes from Rio de Janerio and Tammy Neil from Florida. It was so great to visit with Dina's class and share about being a connected educator!

A screenshot of the college students in Ontario, Canada

Our Holiday Hangouts

Brian Johnson (@brian_librarian), my teacher librarian friend at Lakeside Junior High in Springdale, Arkansas helped me get started with Google Hangouts back in 2014. For the past two years, we have connected our students for a "Holiday Hangout" in December. The Lakeside Junior High choir performed for us in 2014 and in 2015. This year, we invited one of our students, Kristina Valdivia, to perform Christmas songs for their students on her electric violin. Brian has read a holiday themed book to all students both years! It is a great exchange for our two schools.

Kristina performs Christmas songs for students in Springdale, AR

Our First International Mystery Hangout

Elizabeth Hutchinson, the librarian from Guernsey I mentioned earlier, was instrumental in helping us host our first International Mystery Hangout in the school library this year. She arranged for us to connect with new friends on the island of Alderney back in February. It was awesome to see our students interacting with students at a distant school while doing the Mystery Hangout activity! We plan to connect with Alderney again before the school year ends.

Our students visit with students from Alderney

Library Professional Development via Google Hangouts 

Our administrators provided us 3 hours for a district teacher librarian meeting in February. One of our assistant superintendents asked me to present Mystery Skype/ Mystery Hangouts. Rather than just talking about it with them, I invited my teacher librarian friends, Lynn Kleinmeyer (@THLibrariZen) and Elizabeth Hutchinson, to join us via Google Hangouts. It was great for all of us to visit with Lynn in Iowa and Elizabeth on the island of Guernsey. We discussed best practices during this time. As a result of these sessions, our primary school teacher librarian, Tammy Catlett, had an international Google Hangout for her students with Elizabeth!

Lynn Kleinmeyer presents during our meeting

Looking back at 2015-2016, I'm grateful for these many experiences. I'm not sure words can express how my friends Brian Johnson, Lynn Kleinmeyer, Elizabeth Hutchinson, and Heidi Harris have helped me grow over the past two years. They have each been instrumental in connecting our students outside of the school and library walls more than ever during this school year. I want to thank author Laurie Stolarz for connecting with our students this year. I also want to thank Dina Moati for giving me my first international connection experience over the webcam; this gave me confidence to attempt more! As I look at these photos and see evidence that we have become a connected school library, I wonder what will happen next? These photos represent our learning community's first steps into a much larger world. Bring on 2016-2017!

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