Saturday, September 1, 2018

Library News: Week of 9/5/18

September “Shortcuts” Calendar Challenge - With Global Studies teachers helping 9th graders establish good tech skills (thank you to Josh Reyes for collaborating!), we talked with students and staff about some of their most commonly used Chromebook shortcuts to create this month’s calendar challenge for the library. Feel free to print your own copy and follow along or share with students. We will also provide a generic, non-calendar version of these shortcuts soon. If we missed any you think we should add, tell Suzanne in the library.

#WHHSreads - One of our library goals is to encourage reading for pleasure. Inspired by similar efforts at Valhalla and El Cajon Valley, we invite you to share what you’re currently reading. Click here for 2 options to share what you’re reading. Just as our AVID team inspires students with staff sharing about their post-secondary education, we hope this will show students how reading is also part of our lifelong learning journey. In addition to featuring slides on our website, we will have a slideshow running at the library’s front counter. Thank you to Sarita, Tiffany, Corrie, Michelle, and Dan for helping us get started!

Free Online Test Prep Resources - As we are already seeing students printing out tickets for the SAT and some even checking out AP study guides already, we have updated the free online test preparation resources guide for West Hills students: (1-page quick guide). Please feel free to share with students. If you have any questions, talk to Suzanne in the library.

Library Welcome Info For New (and Returning) Staff - We have had a chance to meet many new staff members and are so happy you have joined the Wolf Pack. Here is some basic information about the library program and our services. We look forward to working with you!

9th Grade Library Orientations - Thank you to 9th grade English teachers (Dan, Todd, Casey, and Cathy) for allowing your classes to participate in library orientations. In addition to giving students an opportunity to learn more about library and tech resources on campus, it allowed Suzanne a chance to experiment with Pear Deck. Students have mentioned a few other teachers on campus are already using it. But, if you have not yet tried it, Suzanne wrote a blog post about her first experience that you can check out.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

7 Takeaways From My First Pear Deck Experience

Fellow GUHSD teachers, have you tried out Pear Deck yet? During the rush of our back-to-school days, we received emails from GUHSDtech regarding the addition of two new premium-level tools to our existing toolset: Adobe Spark and Pear Deck.

I've had the chance to use Adobe Spark a lot in the past since the free version allows you to do quite a bit. Pear Deck, however, is a tool that was too limited for me to use without premium access. So, I was quite excited to hear that we now have premium access in our district.

What exactly is Pear Deck?

In terms of its module for Google Slides, Pear Deck simply allows you to make your slide decks interactive. You can intersperse traditional slide content with opportunities for students to engage in answering questions or adding their own personal responses. This creates opportunities for formative assessment and allows you to customize instruction on the fly.

How did I get started with it?

I chose to attend a professional development session about Pear Deck offered by our Digital Learning Coach team to get a sense of the basics, but my best learning happened through experimentation within an actual classroom setting. Although I'm just getting started myself, I'll share what I've learned so far in case it is helpful to other newbies.

For context, my first opportunity to give Pear Deck a try was as part of the 9th grade library orientations that English teachers kindly allow their students to participate in during the first few weeks of school. In the past couple of years, I've paired a Google Slides presentation with a scavenger hunt. This year, when updating the slides, I just went a step further by customizing them with Pear Deck. Here are links to compare the two versions of slides.
The two slide decks look very similar. In fact, I started the Fall 2018 slides by simply creating a copy of the Fall 2017 slides and then inserting Pear Deck slides. Where exactly did I go to customize the Pear Deck slides? This takes me to Takeaway #1.

Takeaway #1: Get to know the various teacher interfaces (browser windows/tabs) of Pear Deck.

When you're first using Pear Deck as a teacher, the most confusing part is probably figuring out the various interfaces that you will need to navigate as a teacher. Below is a summary of these interfaces in my own words.
  • Pear Deck Website - The Pear Deck website has both a student and teacher login. When students log in, they are simply joining a teacher's session. As a teacher, when you log in, you have the ability to access past sessions to review student responses. You can also access other resources such as the Pear Deck Vocabulary tool and help resources. You don't need to have this open to prepare your slides or when presenting them, though.

  • Pear Deck Google Slides Add-On - The main Pear Deck website will link you to opening a new Google Slides presentation with the Pear Deck add-on enabled. But, you really can just open the add-on anytime you want from within Google Slides by going to Add-ons in the main Slides menu (NOTE: I never needed to add the add-on. It was already added automatically for me).

    Once you open the add-on, it will appear on the right side of your Slides window. Simply click on different slide templates from the add-on window to add interactive slides. Then, when you're ready to start a Pear Deck session with students, you similarly just need to have your Google Slides open with the Pear Deck add-on open. From within the Pear Deck add-on, select the "Present with Pear Deck" button and a new browser tab/window will open with a join code.

  • Pear Deck Session Browser Tab/Window - As mentioned above, as soon as you choose the option to "Present with Pear Deck," the Pear Deck session browser tab/window will open with a join code for you to project. As the teacher, you need to be using extended desktop with your classroom projector so that you can drag the code to the projector screen for students. Students follow the instructions of going to and entering the code. Once joining the session, the student view will match the projector view in terms of the slide that they are on. It will differ somewhat, though, because students will be interacting as individuals on their own screens when there are interactive slides. Logistically, as you have the code projected for students to successfully join the session, this is when you can click on the option under the pear to "Open Teacher Dashboard."

  • Teacher Dashboard Window - When you open the Teacher Dashboard, it will be another browser-like window you can locate under Chrome, but it doesn't show up as a regular tab. You should be sure to drag this back to your teacher computer monitor. The Teacher Dashboard is what you use to navigate through your slides and to view and interact with student responses.

Takeaway #2: Plan your first slide with intention.

Since it takes students a varying amount of time to join the session, put some thought into your first slide. The one I had turned out to be a good one by accident. It had an easy to identify design so I could simply instruct students to click through screens until they "got to my name tag." At a quick glance, I could scan students' screens to tell that they were at the right place. Also, while I was waiting for the final students to join, I was able to fill the time by introducing myself verbally. Students still joining didn't miss out on critical content; at the same time, students who were already in the session weren't so distracted by what was on the slide. 

Having said this, I could also imagine experimenting with an interactive slide to begin with so that students could immediately jump into some sort of activity as they joined.

Takeaway #3: Students are not locked into Pear Deck. 

When students join a Pear Deck session, they are kept in lockstep with what slide you're on, but only when they are on the Pear Deck browser tab. Pear Deck does not prevent them from having other tabs open and so you will need to use your regular classroom techniques for ensuring they are where they need to be (i.e., lower your screen to 45 degrees, GoGuardian, etc.). On a positive note, since students are able to work on other tabs, this allows you to have them move between the session and doing activities on other tabs. I, for instance, had students open a new tab mid-session to add the library cloud printer and to log into Destiny. The main complication that I found with having them do this is that several students accidentally closed their session tabs and so this broke the flow a bit.

Takeaway #4: Slide animations don't work.

If you're someone who has slide animations added into your slides, they did not work for me. (If you do happen to know some workaround, let me know!) An example of this is with some slides where I intersperse random personal stories. The slides have numbers that are transparent and only show a portion of a photo, and then I reveal the rest of the photo. In the past, I would do the reveal with a slide animation; but, after realizing that I couldn't get slide animations to work, I simply inserted the "before and after" images as two separate slides. It was a simple adjustment to make, but something I didn't learn until trying out a test session.

Takeaway #5: When presenting, hyperlinks in slides are clickable for students and not just you as "presenter."

Having links clickable for students can be very convenient if you want students clicking on them; but, it has the potential to be distracting if you're used to being the sole presenter of slides with students following along as more passive audience members. For instance, when including playable video links in slides, remember that students will also be able to open them. This happened to me in one session! Several students clicked on a video link and audio started blaring out of their Chromebooks. If you have video links like this, you should preface the slide with directions to not click the link. Alternatively, you might choose to not include the link within your slides and simply have the video prepared in a tab that you drag over to be projected. Or, perhaps you may wish students to watch links at their own pace; but in this case, they should have headphones ready.

Takeaway #6: The effectiveness of displaying student results varies depending on the type of interaction.

The types of interactions that I experimented with included the following four: 
  • Draggable - In this case, I asked students to read the goals and move the star to what they were most interested in covering during the session. This kept me from just reading aloud or talking about the goals. Instead, students reading them on their own and then I displayed where the concentration of stars ended up. Every session, there was a distribution of stars across the different goals, which I said meant that at least some students were hopefully interested in every part of the session.
Student view
View of responses in Teacher Dashboard that can be projected

  • Text - The text responses required a longer amount of time for students to reply and so I ended up cutting out one of them when repeating the session. I enjoyed projecting the answers and scrolling through some. I used responses as a jumping off point for sharing, which I think made the information seem more customized. It would have taken a lot of time to actually read through every response given our usual class sizes, but I am able to review them on my own time by accessing completed sessions via the website.
Student view

  • Choice - Mutliple choice questions were really easy to use and quick for students to answer. You could use them as a way to survey students or do some quick formative assessment. For me, I used them as multiple "make your best guess" pre-assessment questions and then discussed the answers after projecting student responses that are displayed in a bar graph format. 
Student view

View of responses in Teacher Dashboard that can be projected

    • Draw - For this question type, I had students draw lines between book covers and genres they fit into. I could quickly tell that some students were going wild with their drawings, and so I never bothered projecting results. Did I scrap the question, though? No! I did find it useful to allow students the chance to complete the exercise and then I just had students verbally share answers aloud. Having the time to interact with the content before going over the answers allowed all students a chance to participate more fully and then check their work as we debriefed.
    Student view

    Takeaway #7: You may need to adjust your timing due to the interactivity.

    While I covered roughly the same content this year as last year, I found that using Pear Deck took more time due to the points for interaction. I do not think this is a negative thing, but it did mean me cutting out some slides and reducing the number of interactive slides that I originally started with. I think that the best way to determine pacing will be through more experience, but just keep this in mind if you are adapting slides you've used in the past.

    As I mentioned above, the Digital Learning Coaches were my initial point of introduction with Pear Deck, and you may always request their support. My door is also always open, as well! If you are interested in trying out Pear Deck and would like to bounce around ideas or collaborate in general (with or without Pear Deck), I always love working with other teachers on campus. Stop by the library, call x60461, or email

    Friday, December 8, 2017

    Information Literacy Tidbit: On “Container Collapse”

    When addressing “fake news” last year, information professional Joyce Valenza (@joycevalenza) introduced her own made up term container collapse to describe “our trouble discerning the original information container, format or information type […] once publishing cues are removed and every source looks like a digital page or a printout” (source). This concept is important to consider when thinking about our students and their understanding of digitally-delivered content.

    In the past, a newspaper had the look and feel of a newspaper, and a magazine was physically a magazine sent to print only after going through a specific editorial process. Today, when students access information on their Chromebooks, it all looks pretty much the same, and this makes it difficult for students (and adults) to understand exactly what they are dealing with information-wise. While not exhaustive, here is an infographic that lists various ways to categorize information resources. Do you think students are able to categorize information in each of these ways, and what can we as teachers do to help them?

    Below are a few ideas for helping students deal with “container collapse.”
    1. Directly ask students to describe the information they’re using. What type of information is it? Who created it? What purpose does it serve? A helpful model that some West Hills teachers use to guide this discussion is SOAPSTone. It is important that students are exposed to this practice across the curriculum since information varies some by subject discipline. 
    2. Model SOAPSTone, etc. While asking students to describe information themselves is important, this is not an easy task! Whenever possible, try to model the process through “thinking aloud” as you look at information as a class.
    3. Don’t be afraid to admit this is difficult! With digital publishing, it is increasingly difficult to make sense of information. Besides losing the physicality of traditional “containers,” there are altogether new forms emerging. Realizing that understanding information is difficult and takes effort is a lesson in itself!

    Friday, September 22, 2017

    Free Test Preparation Resources for West Hills Students

    Did you know that every 10th and 11th grade student at West Hills will be taking the PSAT on Wednesday, October 11th?

    With students preparing for the PSAT and other important tests such as the SAT, ACT, or AP exams - the library has created a 1-page quick guide to some key test prep resources worth checking out.
    The quick guide is not intended to be an exhaustive list of resources, and keep in mind that both the West Hills and Santee Branch libraries offer print copies of test preparation books to check out, as well. Still, the four sources highlighted provide quality, FREE, online content that students are encouraged to use as they prepare.

    Here is a quick overview of featured sources:
    • College Board & ACT - Whenever students have questions about tests, we always point them to the actual testing organizations as the authoritative sources for answers. A good place for all students to start is by checking out the tips and links from these organizations.
    • Khan Academy - Khan Academy is a free website that provides online learning tutorials and exercises, including a growing body of content directly tied to test preparation. Students may even link up their CollegeBoard accounts to get personalized SAT practice recommendations based on PSAT and SAT results.
    • PrepSTEP - PrepSTEP is a subscription-based online resource provided for FREE to GUHSD students. Students simply create an account and log in using the link on the West Hills Library homepage. More information about PrepSTEP is available here.
    • TERC (Testing & Education Reference Center) - TERC is another subscription-based online resource that students may access for free if they have a San Diego County Library (SDCL) public library card. If students do not already have an SDCL library card, here are two options for getting one:
      • OPTION 1: Visit an SDCL Library - Student (AND parent/guardian, if under 18) go in person to an SDCL library with a valid photo ID and proof of current address. 
        • BENEFIT 1: Students get a card right on the spot!
        • BENEFIT 2: Get unlimited access to the entire SDCL collection, including print books, physical media, and online resources such as TERC, online databases, eBooks, and more.
        • BENEFIT 3: Your local library professionals are always happy to help you find necessary information on TERC, books available for checkout, programs to attend, and more!
        • SPECIAL OFFER (while supplies last): Students who visit the Santee Branch with a parent to get a card may get a FREE candy bar!
      • OPTION 2: Apply at West Hills - (1) Students (or teachers) get paper applications from the West Hills Library, (2) Students fill it out and have a parent/guardian sign, (3) Applications are returned to Ms. Sannwald at the West Hills Library, (4) After applications are approved and processed - it may take at least several school days - students receive school-issued SDCL library cards at West Hills.
        • CONSIDERATION 1: Students do not get a card to use immediately. The whole process may take 1-2 weeks to complete.
        • CONSIDERATION 2: A school-issued card provides students with limited access to check out up to only 2 print books at a time. Having said that, students will still have full access to online resources, including TERC and other valuable databases, eBooks, and digital audiobooks! To "upgrade" cards in the future, students simply need to visit an SDCL branch in person with a parent/guardian.
        • BENEFIT 1: Students may get SDCL cards at school without having to make an extra trip with a parent to an SDCL branch location. This is a helpful option if students do not have transportation or time.
        • BENEFIT 2: Teachers may use this option with whole classes by coordinating with Ms. Sannwald.
    Did you know? September also happens to be Library Card Sign-up Month!

    Friday, September 15, 2017

    Chromebook Troubleshooting Quick Guide and More...

    As we enter our third year as a FutureForward school with 1:1 Chromebooks, we have found that many common Chromebook issues may be fixed through basic troubleshooting. To help teachers and students with these frequently encountered issues, we created a 1-page "quick guide" that was recently shared as a hard copy with staff members for posting in classrooms.

    For Those Times You Don't Have Wifi...

    This week, we experienced a brief wifi outage at school and people didn't know what to do! As perfect timing, the GUHSDtech team just happened to share a guide for using Chromebooks offline.

    When Chromebooks Break...

    Although the library does not provide "day loan" Chromebooks or chargers when students forget items, it is still the place to go when Chromebooks are broken (or lost/stolen) and cannot be fixed through basic troubleshooting. In these cases, students are checked out long-term loan or replacement items.

    If you get the chance, please remind students that the deadline for purchasing Chromebook insurance is quickly approaching - September 30th is the last day to purchase insurance online.

    As if to add to Jovan's birthday celebration, we received a batch of repaired Chromebooks from ETS today!

    Saturday, January 21, 2017


    I am grateful to work at West Hills! Just check out this recent sunrise over our campus.

    I am grateful for our supportive families and community members! Look at what the PTSA recently surprised us with.

    I am grateful we are able to keep the library doors open in the afternoon so that students have a safe place to study after school.

    I am grateful to work with such highly qualified, dedicated, and caring colleagues! We love our students.

    I am grateful for our students! They are our reason and inspiration for everything. I loved getting to see this student art come through the library recently.

    Thursday, September 29, 2016

    Thoughts on the El Cajon Police Shooting

    It is 11 o'clock at night, and I should be going to sleep, but my head is busy spinning, thinking about the recent police shooting that occurred in El Cajon. While West Hills is located in Santee, and at the surface, today may have functioned like just another regular day on campus, I know that my mind was very much distracted by these events, and I'm pretty sure that I am not alone in this.

    As I am up tonight and scrolling through social media, I just want to throw my voice into the mix. It may be just me, but there has been an eerie lack of conversation on the topic when I go through my Facebook feed. Living in San Diego, I expected to see people posting more, and yet what I have mostly noticed is a lot of silence. [NOTE: This also made me think about the Freakonomics podcast episode "Is the Internet Being Ruined." Listen and you'll hear the connection!]

    Of course, perhaps no one really knows what to say or to post. Perhaps being rendered speechless is a pretty normal behavior. After all, as I write this, I myself don't quite know what I'm trying to convey, except that I find the silence to be deafening at a time when people are suffering.

    Another thought I have is that perhaps no one wants to say something that could hurt others. No one wants to be perceived as being anti-police or anti-black, and so silence may be a proper response of respect. Also, perhaps people are wisely waiting to learn more before expressing themselves.

    Along the lines of waiting to learn more, a helpful On the Media "Breaking News Consumer's Handbook" that I recently came across suggests just that. The first point is that "in the immediate aftermath, news outlets will get it wrong." While some of the points from the handbook may not directly relate (e.g., there's almost never a second shooter), I think that the overall guide provides practical information literacy ideas for making sense of what is a timely and highly relevant situation.

    Although I haven't seen much discussion of the shooting and protests on my Facebook feed, I have found there is a lot of chatter on social media outlets that our students do use regularly, including Twitter and Snapchat. On these other platforms, students may be exposed to a constant stream of content that includes live video footage taken by everyday citizens. When thinking about media bias, it could be interesting for students to compare and contrast mainstream media news coverage with these other grassroots forms of reporting. How do they personally define and value the different forms of authority? How are narratives framed differently and with what potential impact?

    Another aspect to consider regarding social media coverage is that students may encounter a number of charged, discriminatory, and/or hateful comments and "trolling." My hope is that students are not also sources of these comments. Even just reading them, though, may affect a student, and this presents an opportunity to have an authentic discussion about digital citizenship.

    Finally, Santee is so close to El Cajon that the events hit home for all in our school community. At the same time, I think it is important to remember that we have a number of students who live in El Cajon and commute to West Hills. We have a number of students who work in El Cajon, and goodness knows they nearly all shop in El Cajon at Parkway Plaza. I can't go there without running into our students! These events have happened and continue to unfold in their space.

    Along these lines, we likely have students who have some connection to those involved in the shooting, either in terms of knowing or relating to Alfred Olango's family and/or local law enforcement. We may have students who have made an effort to participate in the protests and others who have been fearful of them or angry about them. This is one of those moments when I feel the weight of responsibility in being an educator. We may feel helpless to change all of the inequities of our society, but we may listen. We may create safe spaces, and we may make sure students know that we care.