Letters for Justice: Empowering Young Voices on Topics that Matter

There’s a lot going on in the world right now and it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the many current issues being debated and decided on in our country and around the world.  As a teacher librarian, it’s challenging because I want to support all students and families knowing that I might not personally agree with their perspectives.  I make sure that I step back and listen to the students, support their research and perspectives, and check my own beliefs.

Recently, Ms. Olin, 5th grade social studies teacher, came to me with an idea. She wanted to get students thinking about current US & World issues and considering what their own perspectives were based on the facts of the issues. She also wanted them to know that their voices mattered in the world and that they could get their thoughts out to local, state, and national representatives as well as the general public to have an influence on decisions being made.

Ms. Olin started this project in her classroom by sharing the book I Have  a Right to Be a Child by Alain Serres. This sparked discussion about basic human rights and current issues in the world. She also shared news sites with them so that they could start reading current articles about various trending topics, especially if they weren’t familiar with the current topics being debated. Through these sites, students began to choose a topic that they were interested in, curious about, or passionate for. Sites included Newsela, CNN Student News, PBS News Hour, and Time for Kids.

After two days of exploring, students selected their topic.

In the library, we focused on the importance of raising our voices when we have concerns. I read excerpts from Be A Changemaker by Laurie Ann Thompson.

“Don’t wait. Don’t wait to be powerful, to change the lives and communities around you significantly.”

I also read excerpts from It’s Your World by Chelsea Clinton.

“We can–and should–respectfully disagree with others who have reached different answers from ours” and “Even if we disagree with one another, it’s important to recognize what the facts are”.

Ms. Olin and I both encouraged students to look at issues from all sides and to gather as many facts as possible. With those facts, they could form their own opinions on the issues and brainstorm some possible actions they hope are taken.

We took some time to look at the Letters to the Next President project to see letters that were written by students from many location about a variety of topics. Students could sort the letters by their own topic and see what other students were saying.

As students looked at example opinions and continued to gather facts, they started filling out organizers to get their own thoughts together.  In class, they began writing letters, protest signs, and editorial cartoons to express the facts and their own views.

Finally, students came to the library to begin sharing their voice.  We spent some time talking about how we can make our voice visible. We could of course mail the letters and artwork to their intended recipients, but how else could we share our voice? I was able to talk to the students about my recent recognition as an AASL Social Media Superstar for Sensational Student Voice and how social media and collaborative tools like Flipgrid allow us to spread our voices to an even larger audience.

We hope our voices are heard by our local, state, and national representatives, but even if they aren’t, we can share our voices with others and offer perspectives and actions that might encourage them to support our cause or make the world a better place.  As students finished their work, they recorded their voices in a Flipgrid so that others can consider their perspectives and possibly join their collective voice.

We hope you will take time to listen to each student. If one of the voices speaks to you, give them a response.  Better yet, if they inspire you, consider writing your own letter and adding your voice to our grid.  We invite your students to join our voices as well.

As we were closing our time in the library, some of the students spoke up and said, “I bet Mr. Trump won’t even read our letters.” This was a great opportunity for Ms Olin and I to repeatedly say to the students, “Your voice matters”. We talked about collective voice, and how sometimes a single voice isn’t heard by someone like the president. However, that single voice can inspire other voices who come together collectively around a common cause. This was a great closing because even as an adult I sometimes wonder why I should even take time to call or write my representatives. However, I was reminded that our individual voices do matter and collectively they make impact.

 

Announcing the 2017 Barrow Peace Prize with Flipgrid

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Our 2nd graders have been working on an interdisciplinary project since the beginning of January. The Barrow Peace Prize has become one of our favorite projects each year in 2nd grade.  Students select 1 of 6 people from history to research through online & print resources such as Capstone’s Pebble Go, write a persuasive piece about why that person represents various character traits, create art to accompany their writing, and record their work using Flipgrid. For the past two weeks, we have been inviting people to view the students’ work and vote on a winner.

Part of our tradition in announcing the winner of the Barrow Peace Prize is to connect with our friends at Flipgrid via Skype. Last year, we even had the great fortune of having Charlie Miller and Brad Hosack join us at our school for a red carpet event.

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Each year, Flipgrid enhances their product and it makes our Barrow Peace Prize videos even more powerful.  Ahead of the connection, the teachers and I select some student award winners.

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Dynamic Designers are students who create powerful art work to accompany their persuasive essays.  Outstanding Openers are students who created opening lines in their persuasive essay to hook their audience.  Prolific Persuaders are students who create the complete package of persuading their audience to vote for their person from history.  I print certificates for these students and send the list of names to the Flipgrid team to announce during our Skype.

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Also in advance of the Skype, I 3d print enough student-designed medals so that every student who researched the winner of the peace prize gets a medal.  Each classroom also gets a medal to display and the teachers create plans for how each student will have a chance to wear the medal.

When the Skype begins, the Flipgrid team gives the students a greeting and our students take time to explain the project to them.  We also take some time to look at some statistics.  I share the analytics map from Smore so that students can see on a map where people have viewed their work.

The Flipgrid team also share some statistics like how many seconds of engagement students have and how many views.  Then, we launch into awards.

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With 100 students, it is hard to individually recognize each student during the Skype, but we encourage students to consider the Skype and winner announcement to be a celebration of our collective work.  Even if  you don’t hear your name called, you should be proud to know that your voice was heard by people around the world and made an impact on individual viewers of the project.  Your voice came together with all of the other 2nd graders to create a  project that inspires.

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Joey Taralson at Flipgrid organized different members of the team to announce student winners.  Each person told a bit about what they do at Flipgrid and slowly announced each winner.  We had to take our time because of the roaring cheers and applause for each student. This was a powerful moment for us all because students really were cheering for and supporting their classmates even when they didn’t win themselves.

After individual students were announced, I introduced our student designers of the 2017 Barrow Peace Prize.

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Then, it was the moment of anticipation.  For the 2nd year in a row, the winner of the 2017 Barrow Peace Prize is…

Ruby Bridges!

We passed out 3d-printed medals to all Ruby Bridges researchers and then attempted to get a photograph of the winners from our perspective and Flipgrid’s perspective.

After the connection ended, the excitement continued as congratulations and pictures poured in from Flipgrid and Capstone, creator of PebbleGo.

These are the kinds of projects that I hope to continue to inspire in our school.  There are so many parts of this experience that I love.  Every student is involved.  Every student has a voice in the collective project. Every student gets to showcase an area of talent whether it’s writing, research, art, stage presence, design, and more. Every student’s voice reaches beyond our school walls to inspire projects in other schools around the world. Multiple teachers are involved in the success of the project from the classroom teachers to the librarian to the art teacher to the many support teachers in our school.  Finally, the company that gives us the tool that propels our voices into the world takes time to learn about, celebrate, and amplify our project.  Thank you, Flipgrid, for always supporting our work and for constantly thinking about how to empower the voices of students in bigger ways.  We look forward to next year’s project and the many projects that will develop in the future.

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We Need Your Votes for the 2017 Barrow Peace Prize!

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It is time once again for the annual voting on the Barrow Peace Prize.  This award was established 3 years ago by our 2nd grade.  Each year students select up to 6 nominees from history.

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We hold a Google Hangout with the entire 2nd grade to decide what criteria someone must exemplify in order to win the prize.  This year, we read the book Peace is an Offering by Annettee LeBox before brainstorming our list on a Google doc.

Each student in 2nd grade selects one of the nominees to research.

Students research these people using PebbleGo, Britannica School, Destiny Quest web resources, and books.

Using Google Classroom and a Google doc graphic organizer, students gather facts about their person and use those facts to write a persuasive essay during writer’s workshop.

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In art, students create a watercolor image to represent their person.

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Back in the library, students use Flipgrid to record persuasive essays and showcase their art.

Now those videos are ready for you to view.  We need you to view, vote, and share!

Instructions:

  • Visit this Smore
  • View videos for each of the nominees.  This can be done as a class, individually, and can be shared with anyone you know.
  • Feel free to click the heart on any video to “like” it because the kids love that!
  • To vote on the Peace Prize, use the Google form here or on the Smore to select one of the 6 people who you were convinced deserves the prize

Voting will end on February 24th where we will announce the 2017 Barrow Peace Prize in a Skype with Flipgrid.  Two 2nd grade students designed a 3D peace prize that was printed on our 3D printer and every student who researched the winner will receive one of the medals along with each 2nd grade classroom.

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Thank you for participating in our project, and we can’t wait to see who you pick!

American Symbol Research in Kindergarten

Students in 2 Kindergarten classes have been hard at work researching American symbols as part of their social studies standards. Doing research projects with the youngest learners in our school doesn’t look like it does in the upper grades. We think about what some of the biggest barriers might be for our young creators and put pieces in places to support students in getting over those barriers.

First, students chose one of four American symbols to research: American flag, statue of liberty, liberty bell, and bald eagle.  In the library, we introduced students to a graphic organizer for collecting 3 facts about their chosen symbol. I learned from another Kindergarten teacher a few years ago during research to set an expectation that allows all students to succeed or exceed during the first research session. We asked students to have a goal of writing at least one fact during the first work session, but if they still had time, they should keep going.

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Students used Capstone’s PebbleGo for their research. We love this database for many reasons but mostly because it breaks information down into manageable pieces and reads the text in a human voice for students. I modeled for students how to listen to a portion of the text and then think about what they had learned by listening. Then, we talked about what we would write on our organizer. This modeling was done with a different American symbol than the one students were researching.

At tables, I setup computers for students to use in pairs. We chose pairs because it gave students one more source of support as they worked. Also at each table, we tried to place an adult for support. The teacher, classroom paraprofessional, and me all worked at tables. If a parent volunteer or student teacher was available, they stayed at the 4th table. Otherwise, the adults took turns checking between tables.  We found that we had to continue modeling for students how to listen, ponder, and then write rather than just copying a sentence off the screen. However, some students still chose a sentence to copy.  All students left with at least one fact but many left with 3 or more.

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After this initial work session, students continued their research in centers in the classroom.  Then, they returned to the library for another work session in small groups. Each group came for 15-20 minutes. We did a short tinkering session with Chatterpix Kids to see how you can take a picture of something, draw a mouth on it, and then record that picture talking. Ahead of time, I chose creative commons images of the symbols for kids to use for their pictures. Rather than having every student create their own Chatterpix, each group created one Chatterpix video with the iPads. Each student chose one fact from their research to read.

Before recording, students chose their fact. We decided the order students would read and practiced a few times. Students helped take the picture of the symbol and draw the mouth. Then, we pressed record and passed the iPad to record. If we needed to record a few times, we did. Then, we uploaded our videos to Youtube and created a playlist to share with the class, families, and you.  I hope you will take a moment to listen to their work.

I love building foundations of research in our early grades and seeing where these students end up by the time they are in 5th grade. We have a lot of work to do, but we celebrate the work of these Kindergarten students and what they have created.

Ms. Lauren’s American Symbols:

Ms. Boyle’s American Symbols:

Kindergarten Green Screen Animal Interviews

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Ms. Kelly’s Kindergarten class has been hard at work on an animal research project that is unlike any other I’ve been a part of.  For the culmination of the project, students recorded an interview of an animal in its habitat using our green screen and the Do Ink app.  There were many layers to the process that students went through the create their final product. The class has been to the library throughout the project to initiate various pieces and then moved forward with the project work in class.

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It’s hard to even go back to where the project began, but eventually each student came to be in one of 4 groups researching an animal of interest: crows, sharks, spiders, and alligators. Students checked out both fiction and nonfiction books about their animals in the library during one piece of the project. During another piece, students spent time researching their animals and gathering facts.

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In another lesson, students came to the library to talk about crafting great interview questions. We looked at the Story Corps great question generator and practiced interviewing one another in a way that would elicit extended responses from the person being interviewed.

Students took this skill and went back to class to write questions that they would ask to their animals if they were doing an interview of the animal they researched.  Using their research, they thought about the answers to their questions.

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In another session, students came just to learn about how the green screen worked.  We watched a tutorial video from Do Ink as well as a video that had been made on our green screen.

Finally, students came back for one more work session in the library to prep for their interview project. This was a work session because students were in all kinds of stages of their completed project. The teacher, parapro, and I all worked with groups of students at the point they were at. My group was getting close to ready for use of the green screen, so we took some time to experiment a bit with what students hoped to do. Instead of a static picture of the animal’s habitat, students wanted a video of the habitat. We searched creative commons Youtube videos for nature scenes that matched where an animal would be found and used the iPad to record snippets of those videos. This helped us think about what we would need to accomplish before recording.

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Back in the classroom, students made final preparations for their animal interviews. They made props. They wrote our their script on cue cards and assigned parts to each person in the group.  The teacher made copies of these cards for students to practice with in class as well as sent them home for weekly homework practice.  Students also decided exactly what they hoped to have a video of for the background of the green screen. The teacher sent these to me in advance, so that I could pull some videos from Youtube for us to use.

Each group came individually to the library to record. We did a practice run of the script.  The teacher held the cue cards and I ran the iPad.  I flipped the screen so that students could see themselves as they talked. This helped them know to be in the right place, but it also tempted them to wave at the camera and make faces.

Once students finished recording, they had a chance to watch their video back. I uploaded the videos to Youtube so that we could share them with families and authentic audiences.  I encourage you to take a look at the work.

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Pulling off Kindergarten projects like this takes some creative thinking. Anytime that we can break the project into pieces, work in small groups rather than the whole group, and do recording within single groups makes the project run much more smoothly. I also love when a project flows in and out of the library and classroom.

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Ms. Kelly is an awesome teacher to collaborate with because she finds so many connections to the standards students are working on but also weaves in student interest and expertise.  She dives into a project and trusts that along the way she is going to realize just how many standards a project based in student interest and curiosity can actually included. She also thinks about how to reinforce the project so that students are fully prepared before jumping in to creating the final product. I thought it was genius (and time consuming) to create so many cue cards and give students copies to practice for homework.

I’ve been doing several technology computer projects lately, and I’m so thankful for the flexibility of our schedule so that we can get creative with how to break the projects down into pieces as well as smaller groups.  Bravo Kindergarten for another awesome project.

 

 

 

 

Connecting with Capstone and the PebbleGo Team through Skype

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Our 2nd graders have been thrilled by all of the people voting for their Barrow Peace Prize project.  Voting will continue until February 17th, so there’s still time to take a look at their project and vote.

Today, we were fortunate to have a Skype session with the PebbleGo team at Capstone. PebbleGo is a set of databases with informational text focused on social studies, biographies, science, animals, and dinosaurs. The text is geared to students in lower elementary grades, but it is useful for students at all grades as a starting place for research. Our teachers love the accessibility of the text, how the text is broken into consistent  headings, and that it reads the text to students in a human voice. Our 2nd graders used PebbleGo as the first resource in their Barrow Peace Prize research on Jesse Owen, Bessie Coleman, Ruby Bridges, Charles Drew, Langston Hughes, and Wilma Rudolph.

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During our Skype, we connected with:

  • Tom Zemlin, Director of Software Development
  • Rachel Wallwork & Stephanie Miller, Senior Product Planning Managers
  • Amy Cox, Director of Library Marketing

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Before our session, we sent some questions to PebbleGo and they sent some questions to us.

For PebbleGo:

  • How are PebbleGo articles written?
  • What do you know about the number of people who use PebbleGo?
  • How do you decide what topics to include in PebbleGo?

For us, the Capstone team asked in advance:

  • What do you like about PebbleGo?
  • What do you wish were different?
  • What seems to be missing or what did you have trouble finding the answer to?

We opened our Skype by giving an update on the statistics from our Barrow Peace Prize Projects. At the time of our Skype, our work had been viewed in 121 different locations around the world, according to our Smore page.

The Capstone team introduced themselves and then launched into telling students the process that the team goes through to decide on and create articles. We learned that PebbleGo has been used by over 260,000,000 students around the world.

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Our students took turns lining up at the computer to offer answers to the questions from Capstone, and those comments and questions sparked additional conversation.

Our students expressed their love for how PebbleGo reads to them, has videos, is broken up into sections, and has info on lots of people.

Some of the wishes they had were to have a comprehension check at the end of an article and to include information on character traits for the people in biographies. The character trait comment launched an additional conversation with the Capstone team. We told them how our social studies curriculum includes a study of character traits woven into the people in history. This was hard for our research because we felt like character traits were a bit of an opinion based on facts. The Capstone team had great wonderings for us. They wanted to know if we thought character traits should be separate articles in PebbleGo or if they should be embedded in the biography articles. Our students overwhelmingly responded that they wanted them embedded.

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This then took us to the question about what Capstone does with all of the wishes that it gets from its users. We learned about how they keep lists of wishes and start to notice patterns of requests. When something is requested enough, it might be put into PebbleGo or it might even come up for a vote from PebbleGo users. Within this conversation, we learned that it takes several months for an article to go from an idea to the final piece we see in PebbleGo and the work happens in multiple locations including New York and India.

I loved how the Capstone team listened to our students and how flexible the conversation was with over 100 students. We were well prepared with our student comments and questions, but there was plenty of space to find tangents that revealed more information for our students.

One of the things that I heard from Capstone is that they go through the same kind of research that we are asking our students to go through. They gather their information from multiple sources, create many drafts, and review their work before it is sent out to an audience. It was important for our students to hear this from a major company and see the connections to what we are doing in school.

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Thank you so much to Amy Cox and the Capstone team for making this Skype happen for our students today. It was a wonderful addition to a project that has meant a lot to our students.

Preparing and Reflecting on Our Immigration Simulation Via Flipgrid

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Each year, our 5th grade studies immigration and Ellis Island as a part of their social studies standards. For these standards, the teachers work together to prepare students for an Ellis Island simulation experience that takes place across the first half of a school day. A lot of preparation goes into this event, and I’m excited that the library was able to be a part of the project.

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Before the actual simulation, each student was assigned an immigrant to become for the day. They received a folder with a short description of where their person was coming from, what he/she was bringing, and possibly a bit about why this person was traveling to America. This was all prepared by the Social Studies teacher, Ms. Olin.

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The teachers and I shared a Google Doc where we started putting links to sites that we thought would be helpful for students as they researched the immigrant experience for immigrants coming to America from their assigned country. I took these links and made a research Symbaloo for students to use.

In the library, I introduced students to this Symbaloo and they each received their folder from Ms. Olin. The Symbaloo link was shared with all students in Google Classroom so that they could easily find it again. In addition to a few details about the immigrant, the folder contained a graphic organizer with some details that students needed to gather in order to construct a letter of introduction for Ellis Island. Students used the organizer and Symbaloo for an hour in the library and then continued their research in social studies and language arts.

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In writing, students constructed their letters of introduction and Ms. Olin printed a copy of each letter to put in student folders. Students returned to the library a couple of days before the simulation. They had time to finish letters, and when they were ready, they  used Flipgrid to practice reading their letters. In the past, we’ve found that some students were a bit nervous on the day of the simulation or took some time to get into their character. Our hope was that the Flipgrid would give students a chance to get comfortable with their character and practice speaking from that perspective before being thrown into the simulation. The Flipgrid also gave them a chance to listen to one another’s stories and research since they don’t have a lot of time to do that on the simulation day.

Here’s a look at how their practice turned out:

On the day of the simulation students rotated through many experiences to take on the role of an immigrant coming to America. Many dressed in costume, carried props, and practiced talking in an accent. They carried their folders that we had worked on throughout the project. Parent and community volunteers came in to help lead the stations so that students were able to go through health inspections, written tests, and legal inspections. Many were questioned multiple times about their health or documents. Many students were sent away to search for missing pieces of their documentation or were held in quarantine for various reasons.

When students finally passed through all of the experiences, they took an oath and had a meager celebration of bread and cheese. During this time of eating, students once again used Flipgrid. We brought them back into this century and asked them to think about their experience. They didn’t have a script for this. We just wanted their initial reaction after completing the simulation. There are some interesting stories of how it felt to be questioned so much or be detained.  You can see their reactions here.

The addition of Flipgrid this  year really helped to prepare students for the simulation, to learn from one another’s stories, and also for us to hear a student perspective of going through the simulation that we might not normally here. Each student had a chance to share his/her voice and many spoke up when they might not have spoken up in front of the whole class.  I keep thinking of new ways to use Flipgrid in my teaching. I love how versatile it is and want to continue to push the limits of how the tool is used.