Research 101 & Google Suite Skills: Choose & Develop Topic

Earlier this month I expressed a concern about the need for research skills. Since then, I began formulating how I would go about teaching middle school students.

Research is defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as: 

"studious inquiry or examination; especially :  critical and exhaustive investigation or experimentation having for its aim the discovery of new facts and their correct interpretation, the revision of accepted conclusions, theories, or laws in the light of newly discovered facts, or the practical applications of such new or revised conclusions, theories, or laws"

Like the importance of the word "librarian",  the word research should be used.  Digital, information and news literacy are a part of research. Those titles are created by educators who have experienced the Internet's information explosion.  For our students, digital is their world, ease of access and information overload is all they have ever known.   Let's teach them how to research, plain and simple in this complicated world of information!

Students would be encouraged to explore their personal passions and choose individualized projects in this course. Google Suite skills are part of this unit because students lose focus on research when trying to figure out how to correctly use apps.  

Preparing for research, knowing how to ask questions and knowing how to use digital tools are an important part of research, this is how I would teach students how to choose and develop a topic using Google Suite tools:

UNIT ONE: Intro/Choose & Develop Research Topic

Students will understand what Information Literacy means and why it is important: how to ask open questions, how to use technology, digital tools and the Internet to perform inquiry-based research.  Students will pick their own topic to research and work on for the semester/year. 

Lesson 1: Students will have a clear understanding of key Vocabulary Terms
Internet, Web Browser, Search Engine, Parse, Search Term, Keyword, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Web Address, URL, Apps, Extensions, 

Lesson 2: Students will think about topics that that they are passionate about, questions they have wondered about, and subjects they are excited to learn about.   Students will create this list in Google Docs.  

  •  WAFFLES (rainbow and black/white)
    • teach what it is and how it can be personalized to increase productivity
  •  DOCS
    • rename your untitled document "your name Research Ideas"
    • change font, color & size of one item in list
    • bullet or number the list
    • center one item
    • right justify one item
    • left justify one item
    • highlight in any color the topics on list you are MOST excited about
    • strike-through the ones you are LEAST excited about
    • add page numbers
    • add a header or footer
    • rename your document "Your Name Research Ideas"
    • create 2 columns - definitely interested in research, kind of interested
    • insert a picture of yourself
    • spell check your Doc
    • make a copy of the Doc and retitle it "Your Name Shared Ideas"
    • share your Doc with teacher and with your class partner
    • find your Doc in your drive
    • find your partner's Doc in your drive
    • create a folder for this project title "Research Project Name"
    • open the untitled items in your Drive
    • delete what is blank
    • rename what you are keeping
    • create folders for the work in your Drive "7 Science" (Grade level Subject)
    • color code your folders
    • explain at end of year all grade 7 work you are keeping should go in to a folder titled "7th Grade" to prepare for 8th grade work
    • delete what you do not need
    • review Gmail main screen
    • create labels for your classes
    • open settings and review all of the options
    • create a signature
    • upload an image
    • select stars
    • change font
    • review compose email feature
    • compose a formal email that you would send to teacher, employer, etc
  •  Open your partner's Shared Idea Doc and use checklist above to proof - DO NOT FIX FOR THEM.  Type comments to note what needs to be fixed. 
  • Compose a formal email to your partner & cc your teacher when you are complete with proofing their idea list
Lesson 3:  Students will turn three of their topic ideas into questions and learn how to do preliminary research. 
  • Students will begin using online reference sources starting with the Britannica Encyclopedia.  Students will understand how to use Britannica, 
    • how to choose keywords (using Google to help find keyword only)
    • how to search for articles and related articles & media
    • how to email and cite articles
    • how to find already vetted information on the Internet through Britannica
    • how to use FIND shortcut to scan for information
  • Students will review how to use the Discover library catalog to search for print and digital sources related to their topics
    • Students will learn to use the Discover extension, app, and mobile app
  • Students will pre-research a few of their topics and read related articles.
  • Students will understand open-ended questions and how research creates more questions
  • Students will choose one topic and in a Google Doc type a list of questions they seek to answer through their research
Collaboration: Students will be meet with teacher in small groups to fine tune or adjust their topic based on this pre-research steps
ASSESSMENT:  Students will create a Google Doc with organized list of open-ended questions and sub-questions they plan to research for their chosen topic (and that they will knowingly add to as research progresses).  Student will name the Doc, file it in the Research folder in their Drive, and share it with the teacher.   Teacher will use this for assessment. Teacher will also monitor students progress and understanding through observation and conversations with students. 

Christmas Reading Traditions

Updated 11/1/17
Here is the list of books I use with my family. 

The holiday rush is here.  I am guilty of getting caught up with the to-do list and forgetting that my biggest responsibility is to create meaningful memories for my son.

When he was born 5 years ago, I decided that I wanted to start a reading tradition that I hope will last...well, forever.  I purchased over 25 Christmas picture books.  Yes, it was a little costly but I bought some in paperback and secondhand to keep the cost down. Plus this was his only Christmas gift (he was a newborn so he did not mind).  I knew (hoped) my initial investment would pay off for years to come.  

Starting December 1st, each night we unwrap a book to read together.  Now that he is five we try to guess which one it will be and we each have our own favorites that we can't wait to get to.  In January they go back in the attic until next year. 

Wrapping the books is the first thing I do to prepare for the season.  It gives me my focus for the season.  I enjoy my couple hours alone, getting the books out and reminiscing about the previous Christmases as I wrap them.  I think about how maybe my son will pass this tradition along to his own children someday and maybe use these exact books.   

Some years I add books and "weed" but never throw away.  The books he outgrows, which this year were the board books, go to a memory box I hope to give my grandchildren.  

We read together every night, but I like making reading together a little different and fun during the holiday so my son does not get too caught up with the "I wants" from his own Christmas list.   

I treasure this time each night with my son and husband as it reminds us all of what is truly important.   

I would love to hear about your favorite Christmas titles or reading traditions!


Yes, the title of this post is in caps because I want to yell it.  

I love that libraries keep evolving, I love that my job is constantly changing and requires that I am always learning.   But please let's stop renaming the library space!  

Instead let's redefine LIBRARY to represent the modern digital learning environment it has become.  Perhaps, create a mission statement that reflects a constantly evolving learning space that includes a certified professional to facilitate those changes.  

Why am I so passionate about this?  Because I am a school LIBRARIAN. My Connecticut Educator certification is 062: School LIBRARY Media Specialist.  My Master's Degree is in LIBRARY & Information Science.   

Yes libraries are a  "learning commons", comfortable places where the school community comes work and collaborate.   But more importantly, it is where the SCHOOL LIBRARIAN is found.   

My fear is that if the word library is taken out of the name, decision makers will also take the librarian out of the room and that would be (and in some schools already is) detrimental to the educational experience of students.

I can assure you today's school librarian is not shelf reading or sitting at their desk reading the latest best seller.  

Your school librarian is working with a students teaching research skills, how to avoid plagiarism,  digital-note taking, or the newest citation methods.   Your school librarian is emphasizing how to evaluate web sites found through search engines, how to be skeptical and check the validity of what is posted on social media.  Your school librarian is teaching students how to use and access quality and relevant information found on databases.  Your school librarian is planning and co-teaching with colleagues.   

Your school librarian is researching new databases and resources to support current and new curriculum.  Your school librarians are attending webinars and conferences to learn how to integrated new technologies.  Your school librarian is troubleshooting computer and technical problems. Your school librarian is reading reviews to purchase materials that support individual learning and interests.  Your school librarian is encouraging students to read for pleasure and is always ready to recommend a good book!

I am a school librarian and I do not need or want a new title to encompass all that I do. Ok yes, officially I am SCHOOL LIBRARY MEDIA SPECIALIST but besides being a mouthful why can't the "media specialist" be assumed as part of the LIBRARIAN role?  

I want term SCHOOL LIBRARIAN to have value and to be defined by our role as:* 
  • An Instructional Partner
  • An Information Specialist
  • A Teacher
  • A Problem Solver
  • A Program Administrator
  • A Curriculum Specialist
  • A Classroom Supporter
  • A Learning Facilitator
  • A Copyright guru
  • A Google Educator (in some schools)
  • A Learner

If your school does not have a full-time school librarian, I challenge you to ask the decision makers in your district who is doing the work of a school librarian, who is making sure our students are information literate in the digital world. And please use the words LIBRARY and SCHOOL LIBRARIAN (or SCHOOL LIBRARY MEDIA SPECIALIST).

*edited list from Jen Thomas

School Libraries with Certified School Librarians MATTER!

Someone recently said to me "Well once the students all have their own Chromebooks, they won't need to come to the library."   I took a deep breath and I explained that one-to-one Chromebooks will cause even more of a demand for research and information literacy skills and a certified school librarian to teach them.

It seems our world today is quick to turn to Google and social media for information without question.   

The library has always been a place to do and to learn HOW to perform research. The "old" school library was a room filled with books, a few magazines, newspapers, and perhaps some slideshows and VHS tapes. Students found information in print sources alone.  Library lessons focused on teaching students to use reference books to access information and how to read for information.  It is frightening that people still perceive libraries this way.

Today's school library is a hub of learning, a physical and virtual space.  

Yes we still have print materials. Yes we still believe in reading books.  Yes we are a quiet place to work.

Today's school library offers so much more.  We provide access to appropriate digital resources and databases that have been evaluated and selected by a certified school librarian.  We guide students to develop meaningful questions in their inquiry-based learning. We answer information and technology integration questions.  We are champions for digital and information literacy.   We co-teach with classroom teachers.  We provide space for and encourage both collaboration and personalized learning experiences.

Which leads me back to the past year.  As expected, many Americans turn to the media and Internet for information about the candidates.   Facebook, Twitter and Google are used by many to learn about current events and issues.  The campaigns knew this and used social media to further their own agendas.  News channels and newspapers provided slanted stories.  

Social media and news media are part of our society and they are not going away.  Our world continues to experience and information explosion but not all information is good.  In fact, misinformation and disinformation is abundant.  

Many people don't care.  They just look for the information they want to believe whether it is from a reliable source or not.   It makes me think about how our educational system has conditioned some students to only look for the answers that we need to succeed on "the test".

Thankfully, educational leaders such as George Couros are shaking up learning and encouraging educators to embrace the process of inquiry-based learning, motivating students by allowing them to follow their own interests in curiosities.  This cannot be done effectively without research and critical thinking skills. 

Students love to "Google" the answers to everything.  They choose the first result and voila they think they are done.   And isn't that what students will do with their own personal Chromebook?  Just Google what they think they need to know. 

Students will need even more direction with their personal devices.  Doing research is no longer coming to the library of old and having a limited number of sources to work with. 

Information on the Internet is limitless.  Students need instruction and guidance.

My role as the school librarian is to build and maintain reliable print and digital resources. My role is to be a learning facilitator.  My role is to teach students to think critically, evaluate sources and to solve problems.  My role is to make sure students are information literate.  

I expect students to be in the library just as much, if not more, when they are one-to-one. The key to this will be  to communicate with classroom and subject area teachers, learning their curriculum and offering to collaborate and co-teach.

I want my students to be citizens who don't take what they see and hear on the Internet or media at face value.  I want them to intelligently question and challenge misinformation and disinformation.  I want to give them the tools to make this country a better place for their own children someday.  I want them to know how to find reliable information.  I want them to be information literate in this digital age.   

ESSA: Yes to School Libraries!!

I recently attended the Connecticut Association of School Librarians
forum "Connecting ESSA to School Libraries."   

In 2017, Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) replaces the No Child Left Behind Act with language that includes effective school library programs.

Leslie Preddy, the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) Immediate Past President 2016-2017 facilitated the presentation. The materials
 include a handbook and  a PowerPoint (see below) that feature links to videos from Emily Sheketoff, the Executive Director of Washington Office of American Library Association, who has worked to make school libraries a part of ESSA. 

The AASL has been working with Ms. Sheketoff  and the American Library Association (ALA) Washington Office, the ALA Office of Library Advocacy the ALA Washington Office, the ALA Office of Library Advocacy, and educational organizations "to highlight opportunities within ESSA language for school librarians and school libraries to be addressed in state and local plans."

Slide 28 of the presentation below highlights ESSA Key Messages related to school librarians

  • School librarians and access to effective school library programs, impact student achievement, digital literacy skills, and school climate/culture.
  • School librarians share their learning with other professionals when they attend conferences and workshops, applying the benefits of new techniques, strategies, and technologies to the entire district.
  • School librarians are uniquely suited to lead the effort in applying for competitive grants because of their expertise and access to strong professional learning networks.
  • School librarians increase access to personalized, rigorous learning experiences supported by technology, allowing equitable resources for all students.  

The message at the forum was clear (see the video link from slide 30): 
  • Get out there and advocate for school libraries!
  • Develop and practice an Elevator Speech that:
    • provides data & stories
    • connects ESSA language to AASL's school library position statements and key points to your school library program
    • focus on key words and phrases (from slide 29)
    Specialized instructional support staff
    Digital literacy skills
    Academic achievement
    Personalized, rigorous learning experiences
    Adequate access to school libraries
    Use technology effectively
    Effective integration of technology
    Improve instruction and student achievement
    • be a part of the conversations that instructional leaders, school administrators, boards of education, and policy makers are having..

    I left the session very excited and hopeful that ESSA will begin moving my district in a forward direction again by providing students and staff with access to full-time certified school librarians in every building.   I am in the process of doing my homework, going through the handbook closely, researching all the links and gathering as much knowledge as possible as I prepare my elevator speech and find ways to advocate for our students.

    I encourage fellow educators and librarians to do the same!  

    Check out AASL's ESSA and School Libraries web site for more. 

Badges Are Not An Alternative to Library Media Specialist Certification!

I love to learn!!  As a school librarian there is ALWAYS something new. Professional opportunities abound on the Internet with online classe...