An Open Letter to My 21st-Century Learner in Action

Dear Ella,

Before you read the rest of the letter, please accept my apologies.  I am about to gush about you a little bit.  I know you hate being in the center of attention — good or bad — but I can’t help myself.  I am well aware that as parents, we can go a *teensy* bit overboard with our children and what you can do better/faster than all the other children.  I know this is kind of uncool, but rest assured that this letter is not about that.

This letter is about what you, a middle-schooler, can already do better at 12 than *I* can ever dream to do at almost-40, with all sorts of ease and nonchalance and almost-smug self-confidence (“What do you mean, where did I learn how to screencast?  I just did it.”).

The information scientist in me is jumping up and down with joy.  I want to shake you and say, “Wow.  Look at you and what you can do!  We learn about YOU in library school — a 21st century learner! — and here you are, in flesh and blood!”

See, some of us me included — balked at the idea that librarians now have to take time away from books and learn/teach emergent technologies and new ways to search for and use information.  We kind of pouted through having to adopt new standards for your generation, because we really loved our books and how they smelled and felt in our hands.

But the reality is, you and your 21st century learner friends are going to do your thing, whether we are there to guide you or not.  We can sulk all we want, but you are still going to find your own tools and ways to create, interact, and learn in this new landscape.  In fact, if we don’t adapt, you might end up being the ones teaching us.  (Actually, you’ve already taught me a number of times.)

You don’t have a lot of subscribers or views on your channel or website, but that should not be your goal anyway.  Your products are not perfect, but then again, you’re only 12, and you have created something tangible without ever opening up a software manual.  You use more likes and yeahs and basicallys than a “good speaker” might, but for someone who used to throw up the night before school presentations, who could not speak at more than a whisper, who hated talking to people in general — you sounded more comfortable and confident than I have ever dreamed you’d be capable of.  My media specialist friends and I have warned students about the dangers of the computer screen (“Online predators hide behind those!” “People are not always what they seemed online!”), but you have shown me that sometimes a screen offers the protection someone needs to show their best selves.  You might still be a little scared to talk in front of people face to face, but with a little bit of anonymity, you are learning to communicate your ideas and knowledge effectively.

And that’s big for us introverts.  No longer are you a passive recipient of information — you are an active contributor.  Know that you might be shy, but your creativity and ideas are important to the world.  Know that you might be quiet, but you can still share, participate, and collaborate.  Technology can be your door into community of like-minded thinkers, makers, and world-changers.

If you are already hosting your own YouTube channel and making fan vids and screencast tutorials at 12, imagine what you might be doing at 15, 18, 25….  I know that as your mom, I cannot wait to find out!


Your very proud (and humbled) librarian mama

P.S. I know you have heard my speech a million times about online predators, digital footprint, internet safety, etc. etc.  But PLEASE, do be careful when you are online!  This mama can’t lose you!


Assessing Collaboration

Starting in February, 3rd through 5th graders were put into groups of 3 or 4 to collaborate on author studies.  They were given guidelines on what information they need to include in their final presentations, and groups were given graphic organizers to take notes on.  I taught a lesson on collaborating using Google Slides, where group leaders have to create the initial document and share it with group members using school email addresses. Group leaders also have to work with their members to figure out who will work on each slide: one introducing the author, one on his/her life, one on his/her writing, etc.

Group Assignments: I made up the groups based on what I know about the students’ personalities and performance.  Though the students groaned a little about not being able to work with their friends, I wanted each group to have a good mix of high and low kids. Because there is a considerable ELL population at the school, I also made sure they didn’t end up in their own group.

Working in Google Slides: Setting up the project in Google Slides proved to be a big learning curve for the students, even for those who are usually tech-savvy. We also ran into problems where students were working outside their assigned slides, or deleting them accidentally/on purpose. Even though Google apps have a “See revision history” function that allowed us to restore lost work, it still created some tension among the students. This was a good way for students to learn what it’s like to collaborate in the “real world”: they needed to be responsible and accountable not only to and for themselves but to and for their teammates as well.  In the real world, even if honest mistakes can be reverted, one still has to deal with possible repercussions.

Group Dynamics: Because students did not get to choose their teammates, certain groups worked more effectively than others. I allowed students to decide their roles on their own based on how confident they are about their abilities to create and share Google Slides, as well as their ability to lead other group members.  For the most part, the natural leaders of each group emerged and were able to help their members stay on task effectively.  Some groups, on the other hand, did not work well together at all, and the constant battle within the group are clearly reflected in their finished products/presentations. There is usually a lack of content, effort, and cohesiveness.

As we come to the end of this group project, I posted a survey in Google Classroom for each of the students to complete. I am hoping that this final piece of the assignment will not only give me insight as to the success (or lack thereof) of their collaboration process, but also allow the students to assess their own contribution (or lack thereof) to this experience.  Findings will be posted soon!


For more on assessing collaboration, see:

Siko, Jason. “Assessing Collaboration: More Than Just Lip Service.”MACUL Journal Winter 36.2 (2016): 8-9. Web.

Digital citizenship presentation for middle schoolers

This is week 2 of my 5-week placement at a middle school.  So far, I’ve been doing vastly different things than when I was at the elementary school.  Enjoyable, but different.  For one, I haven’t had a chance to really interact with the students, except for yesterday, when I went into a 7th grade health class and co-taught a digital citizenship seminar with the health/PE teacher.

It was good practice for the five 6th-grade classes I will be teaching this Thursday.  While I think I did okay on Monday, I think Thursday will be better because I will be teaching from material I put together myself.  (Talking off someone else’s slides was not ideal because I didn’t know the little anecdotes the teacher had to go with his points.  He had to interrupt me a few times to tell his stories…which made me feel/seem unprepared, even if I knew the topic well!)  Anyway, here’s a link to my presentation.  I am hoping that whoever sees it will give me some feedback of what to add, what to take out, etc.  I will have these 6th-graders for about an hour (I believe), and I don’t want to lose their attention or run out of things to say before the hour is up.  Thanks in advance for your feedback!


Lesson Plan: Resources in the Virtual Library

This is a lesson plan I created for a class at the technical college I work at.  The full-time librarian and I have noticed a lack of information literacy skills in the adult students (see my previous post about this), and we are making a concerted effort to collaborate with the instructors to incorporate these skills into the classroom.  For this class, the students are working on a project in which they have to create a database from scratch, using what they have learned in class, through their textbook, and articles they can access through the school’s virtual library, which most of the students are unfamiliar with and reluctant to try (of course, they prefer Google!).  The plan is shown below; depending on how the students are able to follow along, I might have to visit the class a second time.  Fingers crossed that it goes well!

Resources in the Virtual Library

Project: To create a database that tracks faculty and staff computers and software.

Learning Objectives:

  • To familiarize students with the Virtual Library and identify types of resources available.
  • To locate resources in the Virtual Library that will help students with database building/development.
  • To practice using the citation tool in databases.
  • To encourage collaboration through use of Google Docs.


  • XML document
  • XPath statements
  • XML schemas
  • normalized logical database design
  • Microsoft Visio
  • MySQL
  • database queries
  • jQuery
  • relational databases

Activity (demo this first, then have students try it on their own)

  • Open up Google Doc created for this class. [Link not included here]
  • Have students pair up with a partner.  Assign one of the keywords.
  • Conducting searches in the Virtual Library:
  1. In another tab or window, log onto the Virtual Library.
  2. In the Basic Search field, type in your search term, then scan the first page of your results.
  3. Click on a resource that you think will be relevant to your project. This will take you to the Detailed Record page.
  4. On the right of your screen, click Cite, then scroll to find the APA citation style.
  5. Highlight the citation (triple-click), then press Ctrl+C to copy. Navigate back to the result list.
  6. Switch to the window that has the shared Google Doc open.  Paste this citation into the Google Doc under references.
  7. Repeat until each pair has located and cited at least 3 resources and transferred them into the Google Doc.


  • Students might end up with same resources — this is okay since many of these keywords are related!
  • Students might have to go to the second page of results to find something relevant, or revise their initial search to find relevant resources.

Lesson Plan: Courage (1st & 2nd Grades)

Lesson: Courage

Grade: 1st & 2nd

Content Objectives:

  • Students will discuss what it means to have courage.
  • Students will analyze the pros and cons of taking risks.
  • Students will make text-to-self connections.
  • Students will make text-to-text connections.
  • Students will practice using KidPix and saving content onto their H: drive.


Owen by Kevin Henkes

Courage by Bernard Waber

Video: (if time allows)

Scaredy Squirrel by Mélanie Watt

Before the read-alouds/video:

  1. Discuss being courageous/brave with students. Define what it means to have courage and ask students about times in their lives where they have chosen to be courageous even when they felt scared inside. Brainstorm with students about different times and reasons people choose to be brave or not. Are there pros and cons to being brave?  Can being courageous/brave be dangerous at times?  Record students’ ideas on the whiteboard.  (Text-to-self connections)
  2. Tell students that we are going to read a couple of stories about courage, and watch a video about a squirrel who is terrified of everything. Encourage students to watch and listen for ways that his life is positive because he doesn’t do anything, and the way it’s negative because he doesn’t do anything.

Read-alouds (+ video, if time)

Computer: KidPix — have students draw a picture of a time when they were courageous.  Demo this on Smartboard.

Exit ticket (if time allows): Have kids complete the following sentence (either with words or drawing) – “Courage looks like…” on a post-it and post it to the whiteboard as they line up.  Read a couple of them while we wait for the teacher.

Work Samples:


“Courage is…going up to the water slide for the first time!”


“Courage is…dancing on stage.”

"Courage is...swimming underwater."

“Courage is…swimming underwater.”


To Google or Not to Google

Last night I held a library workshop for a group of 10 students who are taking a team leadership course at the technical college I work at.  This is the same group I mentioned in a previous post, the one that struggled with their research assignment but weren’t exactly motivated to do something about it.  I had contacted their instructor and suggested a workshop, and was surprised that she was willing to collaborate.  We discussed briefly what she wanted her class to get out of the workshop, and there were a lot of concerns mentioned, but it basically boiled down to one thing.  The students are turning to Google for everything, including research papers that require citations and references to academic articles.  They don’t seem to know the difference between academic articles, and all the other kinds that Google finds (blogs, magazine/newspaper articles, etc.).  They don’t care.  How do I make them stop googling everything?!?

Here’s the thing…I like Google.  I google many, many, many times a day.  I love all the apps Google has, and how my Android phone recommends restaurants and area activities based on an address that I had google-mapped on my desktop.  (Seriously, how does it know?)

But as much as I love Google for everyday, quick-reference questions, I know it has its proper place, and that place is not in academic research.  I will say that sometimes it’s a great place to start if you were assigned a topic you are not familiar with.  In this case, you might want to do a quick Google search to see what kind of keywords or subject terms you might be able to use.  You might need to broaden or narrow your topic…again, googling might give you an idea of what directions you could go with your topic.

You might be tempted, now that you have the appropriate keywords, to just google it.  Sure, Google will return many results — too many, in fact.  In my demo, I selected the topic “Customer Service and Its Effects on Profitability”.  When I googled “customer service and profitability” (two pretty good keywords), I got 32 million hits.  Now, obviously, no one ever browses all the hits that Google returns…I don’t know about you, but if I can’t find my answer within the first two pages of Google search results, I start over.  So, let’s say most of us browse only up to two pages of results.  The good news is, when I typed in my query (“customer service and profitability”), the first results (out of the 32 million) seem like they might work, but a closer look shows that most of those articles are either short blurbs in marketing magazines/blogs, or editorial pieces on sites such as  I am sure they are interesting reads, but these are probably not the type of articles that the instructor is looking for.  There were two articles that look more “academic” (they are posted on .edu websites) and these are promising, but as you can see later, even those need to be further evaluated.

Here’s a good place to pause and talk about CRAAP.  This is a test designed by some cheeky librarians at the Meriam Library at California State University, Chico to help information seekers critically evaluate search results.  (By the way, if you are offended by the name of the test, rest assured that it has since then been renamed as the CAARP test.)  Basically, CRAAP is a list of questions you should ask about the information on hand (taken and revised from the Meriam Library website):


  • When was the information published or written?
  • When was the information updated or revised?
  • Does your topic require current information, or will older sources work as well?
  • Note that website that contains lots of outdated links probably haven’t been updated in a while.  You might want to consider an alternate source.


  • Does the information answer your research questions?
  • Is the information written at an appropriate level (not too advanced or elementary)?
  • Is this the best resource out of all the other resources you have found?
  • Could this resource be cited in your paper?


  • Who is the author or publisher for the article?
  • Does the author have the credentials or qualifications to write on the topic?
    • Think about the recent controversy over vaccinations.  One of the biggest and loudest opponents of vaccines is actress Jenny McCarthy, and she appears numerous times on the results list when someone googles “autism and vaccines”.  She might have an interesting point of view, but think about whether she has the credentials/qualifications to write on this particular topic.  What might be a better source for this kind of information?  (Doctors?  Medical Researchers?)
  • Is there a way to contact the author or publisher? (accountability)
  • Does the URL reveal anything about the author or source? (e.g. .com, .edu, .gov, .org, .net)
  • Note that even articles found at a .edu/.org need to be evaluated closely.  Schools will sometimes provide web space to students to post their papers or homework assignments, but unless it’s been published/reviewed or cited by other credible sources, consider an alternate source.  Similarly, while you might find some interesting articles on .org sites, many might present a biased/one-sided view on the topic, depending on their agendas and various affiliations.  Be critical of those sources as well.


  • Is the information truthful, reliable, and correct?
  • Is the information supported by evidence?
  • Has the information been reviewed or cited by others?
  • Can you verify the information using another source, or from prior knowledge?
  • Does the language or tone seem unbiased?
  • Are there spelling, grammar, or typographical errors?


  • What is the purpose for the information?  Is it to teach, inform, persuade, or entertain?
  • Is the information fact, opinion, or propaganda? Is the point of view objective or subjective?
  • Are there biases that you might need to be aware of (e.g. political, ideological, cultural, religious, personal, institutional)?

As you can guess, this evaluation process will take some time, but it is also a very necessary step in the research process.  Do Google search results pass the CRAAP test?  Some might, but some might not.  And this is where Google’s advantage (ease of access, speed, number of results) is often offset by the time you have to spend in evaluating the search results.  For many websites, it might be easy to find the author and determine his/her affiliations, point of view, and purpose for the article.  For many others, however, this information will be harder to figure out (another red flag to go another way!).

So truly, Google is great for many things, but when it comes to academic research, get into the habit of using your school’s recommended research options — be it a virtual library or professional/academic databases.  You will still have to run the CRAAP test on the information you come across, but you will find that much of the work has already been done for you, since articles found in these databases have been published, peer-reviewed, etc.  Some schools, like the one I work at, have also curated/organized the available resources by the various schools of study, so students don’t have to guess which database would be most useful to them.  It might take a few more clicks to get to the right search page, but once you are in, your chances of finding appropriate resources will be better.

You will also see that once you have some strong keywords, databases (e.g. ERIC, Ebisco, Proquest, etc.) offer many powerful search options.  For example, strategic use of Boolean operators can increase the precision and relevancy of your search, or broaden it as needed.  Some databases can generate additional subject terms or keywords for you to add, based on your initial search.  Similarly, when you have found a good article, you can usually see what subject terms it is associated with, and add those to your search.  I also love citation chasing — that is, looking through the author’s citations/references and “chasing” after ones that might also be of interest to your research.  Some databases will do the work for you, listing the cited references and providing direct links to the articles that you have access to in the database.

All these strategies will take practice, but as you get more comfortable with databases and what they can do, your searches will get better and the research process will seem a lot less intimidating.  I can still remember what it was like to do research for my first Masters, back in 1998…looking for articles in dark, stuffy stacks, having to copy 10, 20 of them not knowing whether any of them would work, but you had to because you couldn’t take them out of the library.  Most of the time, they didn’t work, or maybe you found more articles during your readings, so you’d have to go back to the stacks and repeat.  Even then, the geek (and maybe the masochist) in me enjoyed it, but I admit, I absolutely love it now.

So, I am not asking you to break up with Google (I wouldn’t), but when it comes to academic research, give databases a chance!  You might just fall in love with it yourself.