Gold Standard PBL in the Golden State

Golden Gate Bridge, Golden State Warriors, and the Golden Gate Bakery are just a few of the attractions that draw tourists to northern California. The views are stunning, and the food is succulent. But for me and 1,400 other educators, the Golden State also delivered golden opportunities. We had the opportunity to learn and grow as practitioners of project-based learning (PBL). The PBL World Conference is an annual event held in June amidst the mountains and vineyards of Napa Valley. The PBL World Conference attracts educators from around the globe including teachers, administrators, curriculum coaches, and yes, school librarians.

PBL Works
PBL fosters students’ exploration of new ideas to gain an understanding, to generate solutions, and to demonstrate mastery in a visible way. PBL is different from the traditional forms of instruction that rely on lectures and worksheets. PBL anchors academic concepts in practical situations, making content come to life. With PBL students gain more than a mastery of content knowledge; they develop 21st-century skills and a love for learning.

Many elements of PBL fall within the realm of school librarianship. Librarians assist students with research, demonstrate presentation tools, and connect students with experts in the field. During a PBL unit, students will utilize a range of innovative resources to garner information and present their findings to others.

Gold Standard PBL

The PBL World Conference engaged me in deep, focused, real work, in collaboration with peers. Workshops are a blend of direct instruction, video analysis, engaging hands-on work, resource sharing, and peer collaboration and feedback. The workshops are based on Buck Institute for Education’s Gold Standard PBL model and provide participants with the skills and knowledge needed to design, assess, and manage a rigorous, relevant, and standards-based project.

Gold Standard PBL is a comprehensive, research-informed model for PBL to help teachers, schools, and organizations measure, calibrate, and improve their practice. In Gold Standard PBL, projects are focused on students’ acquiring key knowledge, understanding, and success skills (PBL Works n.d.).

PBL Coaching Workshop

During my three days at the PBL World Conference I participated in the Coaching Workshop. The workshop focused on strategies coaches can use to support and enable high-quality PBL implementation. Like all good PBL units, the workshop commenced with a driving question: “How can we create a coaching toolkit to effectively support teachers in project-based learning?” I was excited to collaborate with fellow educators on the creation of an online coaching toolkit. Teachers need support when executing a PBL unit; it is not easy.

With the driving question and issues presented, our purpose was clear: to create an active Google site equipped with resources and strategies to help support the design and implementation of PBL. My coaching cohort identified “look fors” of each teaching practice in the Project Based Teaching Rubric. The rubric presents detailed, concrete indicators that illustrate what it means to teach in a PBL environment. My team focused on “Scaffold Student Learning.”

PBL Works
The Gold Standard level for this teaching practice consists of the following indicators:

  • Each student receives necessary instructional supports to access content, skills, and resources; these supports are removed when no longer needed.
  • Scaffolding is guided as much as possible by students’ questions and needs; a teacher does not “front load” too much information at the start of the project, but waits until it is needed or requested by students.
  • Key success skills are taught using a variety of tools and strategies; students are provided with opportunities to practice and apply them and reflect on progress.
  • Student inquiry is facilitated and scaffolded, while allowing students to act and think as independently as possible.
  • For each indicator of “Scaffold Student Learning,” we listed what teachers might do or say and what students might do or say. This is a great exercise for any teaching practice. See our example below. The next time your organization establishes or evaluates learning criteria, think about the “look fors” to drive your efforts and decisions.

The process of brainstorming “look fors” will prove to be helpful the next time I design a PBL unit. The activity challenged me to think of evidence that constitutes Gold Standard PBL. I have a greater awareness and understanding of the resources and services teachers need when designing, implementing, scaffolding, and evaluating project-based learning.

From Worry to Hope

I entered the PBL Coaching Workshop with an array of worries. I was worried about how to sustain student excitement throughout a project; how to address teachers’ self-efficacy related to inquiry-based instruction; and how to provide just-in-time coaching. Fortunately, I left the PBL World Conference with more hopes than worries. I hope to inspire school and public librarians to launch PBL units of their own. I hope PBL will nurture my students’ curiosity and hone their problem-solving skills. Most importantly, I have hopes of making PBL available to all learners in my school and district.

My school district is committed to supporting inquiry-based teaching. I intend to nurture this commitment by taking what I have learned about PBL from the PBL World Conference to facilitate in-house training sessions for faculty. Teachers from all levels, subjects, and years of experience need opportunities to expand their pedagogical repertoire for fostering an inquiry-based classroom. My professional development sessions will inform teachers on best practices of inquiry-based teaching and motivate them to learn even more about PBL. When teachers are engaged in the preparation and implementation of inquiry-based learning, the greater the likelihood that students will benefit. After all, the teacher is the one in the classroom facilitating student learning.

PBL for All

Inquiry-based teaching reduces the gap between subgroups of students (gender, race, and socioeconomic status) and improves student motivation. Therefore, opportunities to participate in PBL should be made available to all students across all grade levels. High-stakes testing often results in teachers ensuring that students are performing well on tests, detracting from education in other areas like art, engineering, and even social/emotional learning. Some students are simply not good test-takers. When they perform low on these exams, they feel discouraged. Yet, these same students may excel in areas that test prep does not target. When learning is interdisciplinary and authentic as it is with PBL, students’ engagement and academic performance will increase.

It has been said that at the end of a rainbow lies a pot of gold. One would assume that the gold is of greater value than the rainbow. Similarly, students and educators often think that the culminating presentation is the most important part of project-based learning. I would argue that the beginning and the “messy middle” of PBL are just as much, if not more important than students’ final products. It is in the project’s development that learners will find the gold. That gold can be characterized as asking questions, exploring resources, considering new perspectives, collaborating with peers, and realizing that greatness seldom occurs on the first attempt. During this year’s PBL World Conference I found my pot of gold. It is now time for my teachers and students to experience the golden possibilities of project-based learning.

For more great Gold Standard PBL resources:

Work Cited

PBL Works. n.d. “Gold Standard PBL: Essential Project Design Elements.” <> (accessed July 24, 2019).
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Autonomy Lays the Foundation for Motivation

High ability does not guarantee high achievement. Our students need motivation if they are expected to perform at their greatest levels and to perform well over an extended period of time. For many students, motivation comes in the form of reward systems, grades, evaluations, and yes, even candy. These external factors are short lived. What students need are intrinsic motivators.

In order for teachers to shift students’ motivation from one that is extrinsically driven to one that is internal, teachers must change the way they approach instruction. Independent thinking, creative problem-solving, and the concept of discovery learning give students a greater sense of autonomy. Inside the school library, I instill autonomy in my students by giving them freedom to choose the books they read and the information they research. Students should have opportunities to utilize advanced technologies during instruction. Printed out worksheets are a thing of the past when we are surrounded by invaluable multimedia sources (i.e., e-books, videos, virtual reality technology, and online databases). The teacher or school librarian does not have to be an expert on every piece of technology available. The educator just has to be willing to answer opportunity’s knock by putting educational technology into the hands of students. Student engagement and empowerment will increase when students learn by doing.

Opposing Viewpoints in Context
One reason why students might exhibit self-defeating behaviors like apathy, low effort, lack of joy, and challenge avoidance is because students are not given the freedom to direct their learning (McNabb 1997). Students need opportunities to self-govern their education by using technology to personalize learning, conducting their own research, and taking time to learn independently. The benefits of an autonomy-supportive learning environment are substantial.

The school library is a place for students to explore virtually any topic imaginable and examine multiple points of view. My school district was recently granted access to Opposing Viewpoints in Context, a rich resource for debaters and includes pro/con viewpoints, reference articles, interactive maps, and infographics. This online resource covers today’s hottest social issues ranging from water pollution to digital currency. Students relish the opportunity to draw their own conclusions from informed, differing views.

Another way school librarians can instill a sense of autonomy in students is through project-based learning (PBL). PBL is a type of instruction that initiates by posing questions, problems, or scenarios, rather than simply presenting facts or prescribing a specific path to knowledge. During PBL, students have the opportunity to apply multiple disciplines to one central goal, showing them how content areas connect. PBL fosters task persistence, creativity, and motivation. School libraries can help teachers develop project-based learning activities and curate resources that guide students’ investigation of topics they personally care about. When, school administrators, parents, and other teachers see the impact that PBL has on students who once appeared apathetic, they too will begin to advocate for this type of inquiry-based instruction that addresses students’ passions and gives them a sense of purpose.

Independent learning is yet another way to encourage autonomy and help students acquire flexible and useful “intelligent” knowledge. According to Heller (1999), the following conditions are important when guaranteeing a learning environment that meets individual student’s needs: self-selected learning, continuous formative assessment of progress, securing a variety of learning sources, and basing a subject’s activities on student interests. A plethora of tools and strategies come to mind for how we can support such an environment for learners. For instance, Google Classroom is a great platform for differentiating instruction. With this learning management system, teachers can easily share assignments and resources that pertain to students’ abilities and interests. Because of individualized instruction, students will develop a sense of ownership in their learning. Students who believe that their schoolwork can be improved through their own effort are likely to maintain high expectations for success and to try harder next time (McNabb 1997).

All in all, more control needs to be handed over to students. Let’s give our students the autonomy they deserve by designing authentic learning experiences that nurture independent learning, address students’ interests, and challenge our brightest students to take risks and discover new possibilities.

Works Cited

Heller, Kurt A. 1999. “Individual (Learning and Motivational) Needs versus Instructional Conditions of Gifted Education.” High Ability Studies 10 (1): 9-21.

McNabb, Terry. 1997. “From Potential to Performance: Motivational Issues for Gifted Students.” Handbook of Gifted Education 2: 408-415.
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Creative Performers and Producers

“Educators can play important roles to enhance any components of students’ creativity” (Sak 2004). School librarians are no different. School libraries have the staff, resources, and space needed to foster creativity in students and teachers.

There are many definitions and types of creativity. Alfred Balkin defined creativity as “both the art and the science of thinking and behaving with both subjectivity and objectivity. It is a combination of feeling and knowing; of alternating back and forth between what we sense and what we already know. Becoming more creative involves becoming awake to both; discovering a state of wholeness which differs from the primarily objective or subjective person who typifies our society” (1990). This definition says that students can become more creative by becoming more conscious of what it is that they do. I often get caught up in the creative product when I attempt to foster creativity in myself and in my students. I wonder what format the final product will be. How will students make their work original? These questions are important but what really matters, above all, is the process. That we are present, aware, and open to taking risks.

Creative Performers

Talent can be expressed in terms other than intelligence; talent is expressed by way of creative performance and creative production. I have noticed many creative performers at my elementary school who have talents in sports, music, and dance. My school library implements a passion projects program where students are given the freedom to explore topics of their choice. Many educators call this type of passion-based learning Genius Hour. With Genius Hour, students are given time and opportunity to develop their own questions about whatever it is they wish to explore. Genius Hour embodies risk-taking and learning through discovery, which gives students the autonomy and challenge they yearn for.

Creative Producers

Students also act as creative producers by writing stories, designing STEM experiments, and using computer code to make online games. The school library can support students’ creative production by arranging makerspace activities. Embracing a maker mindset opens new realms of possibilities. Maker education refers to using a wide variety of hands-on activities (i.e., building design, computer programming, and sewing) to support academic learning and the development of a mindset that values playfulness and experimentation, growth and iteration, and collaboration and community (Herold 2016).

Fostering Creativity

There are many ways school librarians can foster creativity in students. For one, we can give students the freedom to choose and pursue problems. I strive to give students this autonomy by integrating elements of project-based learning (PBL) into everyday instruction. My students have the opportunity to use library books and online sources to investigate questions they have about the world. Students share what they learn from these short projects by developing creative presentations. Students enjoy making posts with Adobe Spark, digital posters with Google Slides, and hyperdocs. One student came to the school library recently eager to research Hurricane Katrina. After reading articles and viewing news clips, she decided to create an infographic and a public service announcement in Adobe Spark to inform her peers about current natural disasters. The student’s creative presentation resulted in a school-wide campaign to raise money for the American Red Cross.

Creative students will go beyond what they have read or have been told and come up with original thoughts. For example, I had a second-grade student who recently read the book, One Giant Leap: The Story of Neil Armstrong. She was so intrigued by space travel that she began to conduct additional research by checking out library books and reading articles on NASA’s website. The student created a pamphlet about space travel that provided information on how energy, air, and water are essential to sustain life on the moon. I was very impressed by this young student’s tenacity. All that was needed to support this student’s curiosity and creativity was time and opportunity to access school library resources.

In addition to connecting learning to current events like space travel, we can foster students’ creativity through imagination and fantasy. After a group of my students finished reading A Series of Unfortunate Events, they engaged in a creative writing activity where they decided to tell what happened next. These students read all 13 chapter books in the series, so they were invested in the story’s characters. The students passionately created the “14th book” by planning and recording a puppet show using an iPad app called Puppet Pals. This activity motivated the students involved and mesmerized the students in the audience who watched the performance.

Students need time to be creative and to solve problems. Sadly, educators struggle with finding time for creativity due to tight schedules and other curriculum demands. The school library can provide students with the space, materials, and support they need to participate in the creative process. Engaging in creative activities leads to a favorable interaction between the student, domain, and subject area (Sriraman 2005). In other words, the time students spend being creative will lead to their mastery of learning objectives from any and all content areas. Fostering creativity in the school library spurs higher cognitive skills and insightful work that will transfer among disciplines. Teaching for creativity can inspire students to reach their full potential inside and outside of the library.

Works Cited

Balkin, Alfred. 1990. “What Is Creativity? What Is It Not?” Music Educators Journal 76 (9): 29.

Herold, Benjamin. 2016. “The Maker Movement in K-12 Education: A Guide to Emerging Research.” Education Week (April 11).

Sak, Ugur. 2004. “About Creativity, Giftedness, and Teaching the Creatively Gifted in the Classroom.” Roeper Review 26 (4): 216-222.

Sriraman, Bharath. 2005. “Are Giftedness and Creativity Synonyms in Mathematics?” Journal of Secondary Gifted Education 17(1): 20–36.
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Interview with a Future, Future Ready Librarian

May 2019 marks five years since I completed the practicum to earn a Master of Science degree in Library Media Education (LME) from Western Kentucky University. The LME Practicum requires 120 field hours—with 40 of these hours being completed in a school library media/educational technology center under the supervision of an experienced library media/educational technology specialist.

The goal of the LME Practicum is for graduate students to be able to apply library media education skills in instruction, technology, collaboration, and administration under the supervision of a certified school librarian. Performance is assessed using the supervising media specialist evaluation, video conferencing, student time log, practicum evidence presentation, and a practicum reflection. Not much has changed regarding the practicum and its requirements since my experience five years ago. What has changed is the fact that I am no longer the one completing the practicum. Now, I am the supervising librarian.

Jessica Eaton is my practicum student. She is a first-grade teacher at my school who is an aspiring school librarian. Jessica has been teaching for four years and is dedicated to connecting students with literature, information, and technology. During Jessica’s practicum in the library she has assisted with student research projects, taught digital citizenship skills, organized shelves, promoted the book fair, and attended the regional Kentucky Association of School Librarians’ workshop. Jessica definitely has what it takes to be a future ready librarian.

I interviewed Jessica to better understand the perspective of a future, future ready librarian. I found her responses more than enlightening; they were inspiring. Even after Jessica successfully completes her practicum, I will continue to delight in her enthusiasm for library resources, services, and opportunities. I wonder if the graduate program realizes that the practicum impacts the supervising librarian as much as it does the student. That might have been their plan all along.

1. Why did you choose to pursue a master’s degree in library media education?

When I graduated college with a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education, I was hired as a Library Aide in a PreK-8 school. It was during that time that I really began to think about pursuing a master’s degree in Library Media Education. I have always enjoyed reading and helping others find books that they enjoy, so working in the library that semester was a great experience! I learned so much about the ins and outs of a school library. I knew I wanted to continue learning about school libraries. On the technology side, I love learning about new ways to incorporate technology in my lessons. This program has introduced me to many technology resources that I have been able to share with my coworkers and implement in my classroom. We live in a digital world, and I am very passionate about helping younger students develop the technology skills needed to be successful in the future.

2. What has been your favorite course in the program?

I loved the children’s and young adult literature classes. I was exposed to many new titles and different ways to introduce and teach books in my classroom. My favorite class from the graduate program is LME 537 – Principals of Technology Applications. The course introduced me to tons of new technology resources. I made videos, animations, flyers, and more. I used programs that I had never heard of at the time, but use in my classroom now. For example, my students used ThingLink to create interactive writing pieces where they uploaded information to sections of an image. Not only was it fun and engaging for my students, but it went right along with the 21st-century skills I am trying to build for my students.

3. What have you noticed are some current library trends?

We have learned a lot about makerspaces in this program. They seem to be a trendy thing to have in a library right now. I’ve also noticed libraries integrating and supporting STEM activities. The school library is no longer a place for students to just check out books; libraries are becoming a hub for all things technology and science based.

4. If you could design or remodel a school library, where would you start?

If I could design a school library, I would definitely include a large area for a makerspace. Not only would it be a great space for students to think critically and creatively, but it would be engaging and fun as well! I would want flexible seating options, lots of technology (Chromebooks, iPads, robotic resources), and a comfy reading area. While it’s fun to add in all of the science and technology resources, it is important to remember that a library should be a space where students can discover books, characters, and authors.

5. How do you plan to promote reading as a school librarian?

I would love to have students create book trailers to present to their peers. Book displays can catch students’ eyes when looking for a new book. I would also like to do a book challenge. At the library I worked in as an aide, they did the Kentucky Bluegrass Award book challenge, and students were very eager to complete the list.

6. Do you think a makerspace is an important part of today’s school libraries?

From my experience as a first-grade teacher, science is the first subject that gets thrown out. I am so busy trying to teach reading and math that I hardly ever get to really dig into the science standards. I am sure that I am not the only elementary teacher to feel this way. I think that a makerspace in the library could help teach the science standards that my students miss out on when focusing on core reading and math. A makerspace could give students the opportunity to work with subjects that are important, but aren’t taught in the classroom. Subjects like design, coding, and robotics could be explored through the makerspace.

7. What are some of the challenges you think you might face as a school librarian?

I think a major challenge that I could face as a librarian would be collaborating with classroom teachers. Collaboration between a classroom teacher and a librarian could be very beneficial for students, but a lot of times scheduling prevents the collaboration from happening. When library is a “special area” and is constantly having class, teachers cannot meet with the librarian during their planning time. As a librarian, I hope to offer short professional development workshops after school to support collaboration between the library and classroom teachers.

8. What steps will you take to continue learning and growing after you graduate?

After graduation, I intend to join professional organizations to continue learning about the school library world. Joining organizations could help me make connections with other librarians. I also plan to attend conferences in order to stay in the know with what is trending among school libraries.

Works Cited

Dossin, Lia. “Future Ready Librarians.” Future Ready Schools. Accessed March 12, 2019.
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One School + One Book = A Love of Reading

Creating a culture for reading is a major part of what it means to be a school librarian. It is also an ongoing effort. There will never come a time when we stop encouraging students to read. One of the best ways to engage students with books is by making reading a social experience. If you are looking to increase students’ interaction with books and promote the joys of literacy to a school/community-wide audience, the One School, One Book (OSOB) model may be your answer.

OSOB is a program designed to create a reading community within the school, and allow teachers, parents, and students to have conversations about what they are reading. With OSOB books will take center stage in the discussions and actions of your students. Students will come to find literature as captivating as movies, television shows, games, and music.

How Does It Work?

OSOB is usually a month-long program where the whole school community follows a shared reading schedule for a specific book. The more people you can involve the better! This includes cafeteria workers, janitorial staff, office employees, principals, and the school bus drivers. In the classroom, there could be daily events and projects that reinforce the program and get everyone excited about the book. There are a number of events that the school can implement to promote the reading experience: plays, dances, family nights, trivia, and contests. Getting the community and families involved is a top priority. Communicate your goals and plans with teachers, principals, and the superintendent. Purchase copies of the book for each homeroom or students and staff members with funds from grants or the library budget. You might want to consider acquiring electronic copies of the book. Get your public library involved by asking them to purchase additional print copies of the book for people to borrow.

My First OSOB Experience

My first OSOB program included three schools in the district—8 grade levels! We used The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate for our first OSOB program. Ivan has been a popular OSOB choice because it appeals to both boys and girls and reaches students from elementary school to high school. Plus, The One and Only Ivan features a number of animal welfare-related issues, which leads to many interesting discussions and activities.

I sparked students’ interest in the program with a mystery book. Holding the wrapped book I explained to students that soon the entire school would be reading the story inside. I then read aloud Star of the Circus by Michael and Mary Beth Sampson to get students thinking about a circus. Students colored circus animals that represented characters from The One and Only Ivan. Students’ imaginations ran wild with how each character might act and what would happen to them in the book. At the end of the lesson I revealed to students the cover of the mystery book. They were elated to learn they would be reading a story about a gorilla named Ivan.

Activities for The One and Only Ivan

  • Students created their own library book covers similar to The One and Only Ivan.
  • Students learned to draw their own gorillas.
  • The library invited service dogs to visit students. Trainers discussed how to properly care for pets.
  • We partnered with the Family Resource Center for an animal shelter supply drive!

My Latest OSOB Experience

To promote this year’s OSOB program, students
created digital promotions in Adobe Spark.
This year’s OSOB was led by the Student Leadership Technology Program (STLP), which included 13 first, second, and third graders. After browsing titles online and reading literature reviews from Booklist and School Library Journal, students finally decided on Hooper Finds a Family by Jane Paley for the OSOB. In this story, a puppy tells of the terrifying force of Hurricane Katrina, his trials in the shelter, and being the new dog on the block in a city far from home.

Students contacted the public library to see if the book was available in an electronic format. We learned that the public library subscribes to Hoopla, a web platform that provides a wide range of digital content free of charge.
Students asked teachers whether they would prefer to read aloud the book from a print or digital format. Seven teachers agreed to display the Hoopla e-book on their projector screen for the class to read. STLP members then submitted a written request to the school’s principal for funds to purchase 22 print copies of Hooper Finds a Family. To help teachers access the e-book and utilize its many features, students created a Hoopla tutorial.

Guest Readers

Students thought it would be fun to video record teachers and administrators reading selected chapters in front of the library’s green screen. To adhere to copyright regulations, students sent an e-mail to the book’s author asking permission to conduct these recordings.
The message explained that the school purchased several copies of the book and that recordings would only be shared with students and staff via the library’s Google Drive account. In less than 24 hours, author Jane Paley responded to our request with a resounding yes! She even asked for the school’s physical address so she could send us photographs, postcards, and trading cards of her dog Hooper along with a personalized letter and an inscribed copy of Hooper Finds a Family!

Service Learning

Hooper Finds a Family highlights some very important issues. For example, the book is set during Hurricane Katrina, which displaced more than a million people in the Gulf Coast region (The Data Center). In 2018, storms like Hurricane Florence and Hurricane Michael caused severe damage. Students wanted to know more about the science behind these tropical storms. The school district’s maker lab coordinator, Jennifer Sheffield, facilitated a hands-on learning experience about hurricanes.

Students used two 2-liter soda bottles connected at the neck to demonstrate a visual model of the power of the cyclonic action that occurs within a hurricane. When the water was still, it bubbled downward slowly through the neck of the top bottle to the bottom one. But when it was swirled around it quickly, the water flowed downward forcefully along the outside of the neck while the displaced air moved quickly up through the center of the vortex, mimicking the action of a hurricane.

Students applied what they learned from the STEM activity along with some research of their own to create an infographic about hurricanes. Copies of the infographic were distributed to students in the school, which led to a heightened concern for those impacted by tropical storms. After receiving approval from the school board, students launched a campaign to raise funds for American Red Cross’s hurricane relief efforts.

Activities for Hooper Finds a Family

  • Students created a book commercial using public domain images in the Do Ink green screen app.
  • Students answered trivia questions for the chance to keep a Hooper plush doll in their classroom for a week.
  • A reading dog visited the school several times with his trainer who read aloud picture books to students.
  • Students shared their favorite parts of the book.
  • For a whole month everyone was reading! No matter how you run your OSOB program, students are sure to get excited about reading. Students will talk about the OSOB the entire year. You will be presented with numerous opportunities to direct students to other great reads. Ultimately, finding ways to empower students in the library is what will develop that love of reading we are all looking for.

Works Cited

Plyer, Allison. “Facts for Features: Katrina Impact.” The Data Center. August 26, 2016. Accessed February 28, 2019.
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Research Ambassadors

In my school, third graders reign supreme. The school consists of three grade levels: first, second, and third. There are approximately 225 students enrolled in each level, so it is a fairly large school. For most people, it is difficult to imagine third-grade students possessing seniority. Despite third graders’ young age, I am constantly amazed by their talent, intelligence, and determination. Elementary-aged students are leaders in the making. They jump at opportunities where they can exhibit their leadership qualifications. Educators often have to create these opportunities, especially when serving young students.

The Blue Diamond Gallery
I decided to pilot such an opportunity during open library time that I call Research Ambassadors. This special research cohort makes use of third graders’ leadership and academic abilities. Research Ambassadors are school-wide leaders who possess the knowledge and skills of a good researcher. Students become expert researchers who support the research efforts of peers by engaging in a meaningful inquiry project of their own.

Program Overview
The Research Ambassadors program is designed to give one student from each third-grade homeroom the research skills necessary to help fellow classmates conduct research during regular instruction. Ambassadors learn and practice the skills of a good researcher by engaging in a project where they use a variety of sources to investigate a topic or pursue a passion.

Each third-grade homeroom teacher selects one student to represent their class as a Research Ambassador. Teachers choose Research Ambassadors based on students’ academic strengths and leadership capacity. Ambassadors meet in the library twice a week for 40-minute sessions to work on their projects. Projects typically take 10-12 weeks to complete. Upon completion of the program, researchers present their projects to an audience of peers and family members.

The Blue Diamond Gallery
According to, an ambassador is “a person who acts as a representative or promoter of a specified activity.” This definition describes a Research Ambassador perfectly. Research Ambassadors are charged with the task of teaching the ones they represent (their classmates) how to follow the inquiry process and utilize a variety of information sources.

A Sample Project
Inquiry-based learning initiates by posing questions, problems, or scenarios—rather than simply presenting facts or prescribing a specific path to knowledge. Research Ambassadors follow the inquiry process to explore a topic. The following section outlines how my students engaged in inquiry-based learning to complete a research project that required a diverse set of information sources.
  1. Motivate/Connect. The research unit begins by sparking students’ interest in the topic. Students view 360-degree images and videos from my 2016 expedition to Antarctica as a National Geographic Grosvenor Teacher Fellow. Students record observations of the Antarctic landscape and wildlife. I explain to students that they will have the opportunity to explore a new place on Earth through research. Students select a country to research based on their interest in that particular place. Students build background knowledge about their country by reading a print book from the library or an electronic book from Epic!
  2. Question – Plan. Students develop and refine their inquiry questions. The best research questions are “open” inquiries, meaning they are not easy to answer and we need to look at many different information sources to find the answers. Each student writes a letter to a family member that lists their questions and gives rationale for choosing the topic.
  3. Investigate. Students read closely to locate evidence that answers the research questions. A variety of resources are used to support students’ research including Google Earth, Britannica, PBS LearningMedia, and Web results from Kiddle (a safe search engine powered by Google). Students identify the author, title, and date of each source. They keep track of key details and pertinent information in note-taking graphic organizers.
  4. Construct. Students synthesize meaning from their notes and begin outlining their presentations. There are a number of formats students can choose from to demonstrate their learning. For instance, students can create digital and physical posters, three-dimensional models, slideshow presentations, brochures, and short videos.
    Some students created brochures in Microsoft PowerPoint
    Inquiry-based learning encourages students to consider new alternatives for demonstrating their knowledge. Many students created a hands-on instructional activity for their audience to complete such as a Breakout EDU game, puppet art, and matching games.
  5. Present. Students present their knowledge product to an audience of peers and family members. Copies of students’ presentations are uploaded to the school library’s social media accounts and website.
  6. Evaluate/Reflect. Students evaluate their research product using a learner-friendly rubric. Students plan for the future by reflecting on the learning experience and identifying their individual strengths and areas in need of improvement.
The inquiry phases are from the “School Librarians Take a Starring Role in the Common Core State Standards: Be a Star in Reading Comprehension”

Teaching Others

The first man to walk on the moon is right. I want my students to use the knowledge they gain from research to create and to teach. At the conclusion of the project, Research Ambassadors present their final products to their homeroom classes. Parents and administrators are also invited to attend. During presentations, ambassadors do more than display their work and discuss their learning. They explain how they used the phases of inquiry to examine a new topic. Presenters demonstrate how to access information sources by conducting sample keyword searches. Research Ambassadors explain how to filter search results, use text-to-speech Chrome Extensions, and cite sources. Because of researchers’ presentations, they are viewed by their peers and their teachers as experts in research. The next time the class investigates a topic, a Research Ambassador will be there to assist and lead.

Research Ambassadors do more than conduct research; they become ambassadors. Students not only master the skills of a good researcher, they share what was learned with their classmates. They teach others how to answer inquiries by utilizing print and digital sources from the school library. In its third year, the Research Ambassadors program has impacted every student in the school from all three grade levels. Now, second-grade teachers select students to serve as ambassadors. In addition to presenting projects and the inquiry process to homeroom classes, Research Ambassadors deliver workshops to first-grade students. First graders are trained on how to access and use age-appropriate information sources from the library to address their research needs. Most importantly perhaps is the fact that many first-grade students are inspired to show their teachers that they too have what it takes to become a Research Ambassador.
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15-Minute PD: You Get What You Give

There is a lot one can accomplish in just 15 minutes. You can update your resume, grab takeout dinner, take a shower, or even explore a new educational technology or library service. That’s right, in 15 minutes, school libraries can provide effective professional development (PD) opportunities for teachers and support staff. Due to time constraints and scheduling conflicts, it can be difficult to provide formal PD during or after the school day. As information experts and curriculum specialists, it is our duty as school librarians to provide opportunities for teachers to learn about programs and resources that support classroom instruction. The obstacle, however, is finding the best time to facilitate said opportunities, especially with time being so scarce. A possible solution? Monthly 15-minute professional development sessions for professionals on the go.
The first Common Belief of the American Association of School Librarians states: “The school library is a unique and essential part of a learning community.” School librarians are leaders of the library space and its functions. We ensure that the library environment provides members of the school community access to information and technology. My school library has progressed over the years by acquiring makerspace supplies, offering online information databases, embracing virtual learning environments, and adopting the latest educational technology for instruction. Despite my library’s advancements, I felt as if something was missing. At no fault of their own, teachers were not utilizing the library programs and materials on a consistent basis. As a school librarian on a fixed schedule, I do not have common planning with teachers. Classes are in the library for “Special Area” from 8:20 to 2:15, so teachers cannot reserve the space as needed. I knew I had to communicate all that my school library has to offer despite these barriers. An after-school 15-minute PD that meets once a month was a good place to start.

What can someone learn in 15 minutes? More than you think. In my professional development sessions, teachers get information about a great resource and they have time to give their own ideas and suggestions. Hence the name of my workshops: Get and Give. I have heard of short PDs being called Finished in 15, PD On-Demand, and Just-in-Time PD. Regardless of what you call these educational workshops, the purpose is the same: to improve learning for educators and students.

Staff from the public library joined our Get and Give
about the book loan program
It is important to keep in mind the goals, needs, and circumstances of your school when selecting the topics for your 15-minute workshops. My first few Get and Give events featured the school library’s latest resources and services. For instance, I presented the book loan program between our school and the public library. At the Get and Give, teachers learned how to search and request items from the public library. Teachers were interested to learn that reserved items are delivered to the school and later picked up by public library staff.

Another Get and Give I provided was about the newest addition to the school library’s suite of technologies: a mobile VIVE virtual reality (VR) system. Within 15 minutes, my colleagues experienced VR first-hand, browsed available programs, and practiced reserving the mobile VR cart for their students to use.

Sometimes teachers need experience with the latest resources
before they feel comfortable integrating them in the classroom
As the school year progressed, I observed a need for programs in certain aspects of classroom instruction. I noticed that when students searched for information, the majority began with Google despite the number of specialty databases available. My students have access to Britannica School, Scholastic GO!, and Explora for Primary Schools. These online databases provide fact-checked, age-appropriate content on almost every subject and are often the best places to initiate research. I decided to offer a Get and Give on these online databases. Teachers were amazed by how easy it is to access these services. They were impressed that students can change the articles’ reading level and follow along with audio narration. After my 15-minute PD, teachers decided to change their Chromebooks’ start-up page to a cluster of web links that direct users to online databases. In the future, I intend to administer short Google Form surveys to faculty about the topics they would like to see featured at the Get and Give PD. Giving my audience a voice in their learning will lead to more meaningful training events that reflect the needs of teachers and their students.

I host monthly 15-minute Get and Give workshops after school in the school library from 3:30 to 3:45. A week before the PD, I create promotional graphics in Canva, a free graphic-design tool website. Canva uses a drag-and-drop format and provides access to over a million photographs, graphics, and fonts. With Canva you can create designs for the Web or print: blog graphics, Facebook covers, flyers, posters, invitations, and more. I share my Get and Give graphics with faculty through email and social media, and I place printed copies in their mailboxes.

I use Canva to promote my Get and Give PDs.

iPad Kiosk and Goodies
When teachers enter the school library for a Get and Give, they sign in at the iPad kiosk using the app, Random: All Things Generator. At the end of the 15 minutes, I use the app to randomly select a teacher to receive a door prize, which is usually a gift card to a local coffee shop or teacher store. The combination of door prizes, snacks, and engaging content results in high attendance at my monthly PDs.

Don’t let your 15-minute PD opportunities end when the timer sounds. Follow-up each PD by emailing a link to your slideshow along with pertinent attachments to all faculty and staff. Even the ones who were unable to join the in-person workshop will benefit by reviewing the presentation and speaking with colleagues who did attend. Teachers will come to you with questions or seek advice on how to integrate the strategy or resource discussed at your workshop. In the time it took you to read this article, you could have introduced a resource or strategy, demonstrated its capabilities, given your audience the chance to try it out, and lead a brainstorming session for its use in instruction. What are you waiting for? The clock is ticking.

Works Cited

American Association of School Librarians. n.d. “Common Beliefs.” (accessed December 17, 2018).
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TEACH Bahrain: Cultural, Historical, and Economical Sites

On the final morning of the U.S.-Arab Bilateral TEACH Fellowship, I awoke with with mixed emotions. I felt like most students do the very last day of school. First and foremost, I was excited! Excited for a day of what would include amazing sites in Bahrain. But I was also sullen from knowing the fellowship had reached an end.

Randy, Oktay, and I getting ready to enjoy shaurma, a 
Middle Eastern meat preparation based on the doner kebab 
It would be difficult leaving the other Fellows. We were a close-knit group of educators who shared similar interests and similar approaches to teaching and learning. Conversations while riding in the van gave me inspiration to continue pursuing professional development through field-based experiences. Programs like the Bahrain TEACH Fellowship not only gave me knowledge and understanding about new places, they inspire me to develop news methods for students’ exploration of the world.

Our last day in Bahrain included five site visits. Each outing enlightened me on Bahrain’s culture, history, and economics. These three subjects do not exist in isolation; they are interconnected. By approaching each site from a holistic view, I was able to formulate a better understanding of the site’s context within the Middle East and the world at large. Doing this for each of the five stops helped me make connections between all of the places I had experienced during the fellowship. This kind of interdisciplinary approach to learning is what I strive for my students to experience. Education should emphasize the interconnectedness among content and skills. In doing so, students will become better decision-makers and problem solvers who are ready for the world beyond the classroom.

Stop #1: First Oil Well
The First Oil Well in Bahrain is situated below Jebel Dukhan, and is the first oil well in the Persian Gulf. It was operated by Bahrain Petroleum Company. The oil first spurted from this well on 16th October 1931, and finally began to blow heads of oil on June, 2nd 1932. Bahrain was the first place in the Arabian side of Persian Gulf where oil was discovered, which also coincided with collapse of the world pearl market.

First Oil Well in the Gulf Region was in Bahrain @bilateralteach #theta360 - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA
360-degree image of the first oil well in the Arabian Gulf

Stop #2: Peninsula Farms
Peninsula Farms were established to grow fresh food for the people of Bahrain. They grow local food for local people. Peninsula Farms’ main objective is to contribute to the development of the agricultural sector in Bahrain as well as aiding the country to achieve its goal to be self-sustainable in terms of local fresh produce. In order to combat the desert climate, the farm has custom designed a closed loop cooling system and introduced new flatbed growing trays that have reduced the number of plants but vastly increased the yield.

In addition to sustainable farming, Peninsula Farms produces goat milk soap. Goat milk soap is wonderful for people with dry or sensitive skin, or conditions such as eczema. According to, “Goat milk contains alpha-hydroxy acids such as lactic acid which help remove dead skin cells from your skin’s surface.” Goat milk also contains high levels of Vitamin A, which is necessary to repair damaged skin tissue and maintain healthy skin. Besides the health benefits, goat milk soap comes in a variety of scents. I purchased a bar of soap made with frankincense and myrrh.

Stop #3: Tree of Life
The evergreen Tree of Life of Bahrain, or otherwise referred to as Shajarat-al-Hayat by the locals, is approximately 400 years old. It is believed to have been planted in 1583. The tree is covered with green leaves, despite being in the Arabian Desert. It is approximately 9.75 meters tall and a lone tree standing in the desert, with no other vegetation around it. Minimal vegetation can be spotted a few miles away from the Tree of Life. The tree is called the Tree of Life due to its ability to thrive with no obvious source of water.

Tree of Life in Bahrain - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA
360-degree image of the Tree of Life

Bahrain International Circuit (BIC) is “The Home of Motorsport in the Middle East”. BIC opened in 2004 and is used for drag racing, GP2 Series and the annual Bahrain Grand Prix. The 2004 Grand Prix was the first held in the Middle East. The grandstand holds 70,000 spectators.

Bahrain International Circuit Motorway @BilateralTeach #theta360 - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA
360-degree image of Bahrain International Circuit
The Royal Camel Farm is home to over 600 camels of all ages and sizes. The farm was created by the King of Bahrain, Sheik Mohammad as a means of preserving camels in Bahrain. For many in the Middle East, camels are regarded as a symbol of power, wealth, and fertility. A camel’s hump stores up to 80 pounds of fat, which the animal can break down into water and energy when sustenance is not available. These humps give camels their legendary ability to travel up to 100 desert miles without water (National Geographic).

Royal camel farm in Bahrain @BilateralTeach #theta360 - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA
360-degree image of Royal Camel Farm

Stop #6: King Fahd Causeway
The King Fahd Causeway is a 16-mile bridge that links Bahrain to Saudi Arabia. The causeway is currently the only land link Bahrain has with the outside world, and it is a major contributor to increased Inter-Gulf trade. In terms of passenger traffic, it is one of the busiest in the Middle East. On average, 100,000 residents from Saudi Arabia cross the King Fahd Causeway into Bahrain every weekend. After my delightful week in Bahrain, I can see why it is such a popular destination.

I departed Bahrain on the eve of America’s Thanksgiving holiday. I have a lot to be thankful for. I am thankful for the opportunity to explore Bahrain’s past, experience its present, and learn of its future. I experienced a special part of the world that many people never get to see first-hand. The memories I made in the Kingdom of Bahrain were made possible thanks to the U.S.-Arab Bilateral Chamber of Commerce and their generous sponsors. I am thankful for the memories made with the other nine TEACH Fellows. My understanding of the Arab World was enriched because of the conversations we engaged in each day. Through personal communications and professional exchanges, I have a new sense of purpose in teaching my students about the Middle East and its unique culture. I am eager to share my experience through lesson plans, community programs, education conferences, and personal exchanges.
What do you do when you have a 7-hour layover in London? Take the underground into the city, of course! My first stop was a walk through Hyde Park to Buckingham Palace, the Queen’s residence. Next, I strolled through beautiful St. James Park toward Westminster. After taking time to admire the Parliament building, I went for a tour inside Westminster Abbey. At Westminster Abbey more than 3,300 people are buried, and the church has been the setting for every coronation (crowning of king or queen) since 1066. It was amazing to see markers indicating the remains of prominent figures like Charles Darwin, Sir Isaac Newton, Edward the Confessor, and Charles Dickens. After the tour of Westminster, I walked two miles along the Thames River. I ended my London tour by taking in the majesty of Tower of Bridge.

Buckingham Palace - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA
360-degree image outside Buckingham Palace
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TEACH Bahrain: It Takes a Village to Educate a Child

We played a financial literacy game at Injaz.
Most everyone has heard the popular African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.” The saying holds true even today. It takes an entire community to help a single child grow and develop. This theme was woven throughout the third day of the US-Arab Bilateral TEACH Fellowship in Bahrain. Many people in a community think they do not impact a child’s learning if they are not his or her teacher. That could not be further from the truth. Everyone has the potential to play a role in students’ education. What could be a more noble cause?

At Junior Achievement Worldwide in Manama, Bahrain, I learned of how large corporations and local businesses support students’ education. Junior Achievement is called Injaz in Bahrain but the mission is the same: to inspire and prepare young people to succeed in a global economy. Through more than 3,000 volunteers, Injaz reaches 20,000 students annually. Volunteers from various businesses visit classrooms to teach students financial literacy, work readiness, and entrepreneurship. The programs ignite the spark in young people to realize the opportunities and realities of work life in the 21st century.

Entrepreneur and Injaz volunteer, Fitawe
TEACH Fellows had the pleasure of hearing from Injaz volunteers. Fitawe is an entrepreneur who launched a mobile spa and salon service in 2013. She shared her inspiring journey. Fitawe became a business owner despite pressures from family and friends to continue her studies in medicine. In the end, she followed her passion and is now doing something she truly loves. Regardless of where you live in the world, volunteers and financial supporters teach students new skills and provide motivation. They contribute greatly to the education of every child they touch.

After tea and goodbyes, we left Injaz for The Bahrain Bayan School. Bayan School is a private International Baccalaureate (IB) School in Manama. IB teachers and coordinators develop and implement curriculums in almost 5,000 schools globally every day, in over 150 countries around the world. The program’s mission is to “promote intercultural understanding and respect, not as an alternative to a sense of cultural and national identity, but as an essential part of life in the 21st century” (International Baccalaureate).

Facts about Bahrain Bayan School: 
  • Bilingual school
  • Co-education from K-12
  • 1,147 students: 53% male and 47% female
  • 98% Bahraini Nationals
  • Arabic and American English based curriculum
  • 90% of graduating students go to universities abroad
  • Average class size is 18-22 pupils
  • Total of 208 faculty and staff from 20+ different nationalities
  • Staff working hours is 7AM to 3PM
  • One school year consists of 190 days
  • Teacher contract includes housing and transportation to and from the school in addition to a monthly salary which is approximately $2,500 for a first-year employee. 

TEACH Fellows and hosts from Bayan School
School Facilities: 
  • School Library/Innovation Hub
  • Prayer Mosque
  •  Religion is a major part of life in the Middle East. An overwhelming majority of Bahrainis are Muslim so schools offer religion classes and opportunities for students to pray. 
  • Green House
  • Dance Studio
  • Track and Soccer Field
  • Tennis Court 
  • Fitness Center
  • Two Gymnasiums
  • Science Labs for Physics, Chemistry, and Biology
The school week in Bahrain is Sunday through Thursday since Friday and Saturday make up the weekend. However, students at Bayan School have a four day week. Every Tuesday, students are excused from classes so teachers can have a full day of professional development. How great is that? My students back home were very curious to know if Bahraini schools have recess. I found out that at Bayan School, students get a 25-minute recess and then an extended lunch of approximately 45 minutes to eat and have social time.

Government (Public) Schools: 

Education is compulsory and free in Bahrain. Primary school is the first six years of a child’s education. The following three years makes up intermediate education and the next three years are secondary education. Students receive instruction from subject teachers beginning in grade three. There are separate schools for boys and girls until grade six when genders are integrated. Boys are taught by female teachers in primary and intermediate grades. Students are taught English and Arabic at a very young age. On average, teachers have direct contact with students 1.7 hours a day. The rest of teachers’ time is spent completing administration tasks.

I shared brochures my students created about life in Kentucky
with students at Bayan School.
In Bahrain’s 211 public schools, students are given a government mandated exam every six weeks. I was told by a director at Bahrain’s Economic Development Board (EDB) that because of testing, most teachers teach content, not skills. Students learn to memorize facts and subject areas are taught in isolation. Learning is not relevant to students but rather itemized for achieving a high test score. Until the entire system is changed, students will receive archaic instructional strategies (i.e. lectures, note-taking) rather than receiving opportunities to ask their own questions and investigate topics through a variety of sources.

In 2003, Bahraini students took The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). Their scores ranked 55th out of 58 countries. Bahraini schools’ practice of teaching students to memorize content for the nation’s standardized test contributes to this low performance. As a result of schools promoting rote memorization, many students in Bahrain know things but cannot do things. Companies in Bahrain spend a lot of time training new employees to develop the skills needed to complete specific tasks.

The gender gap in the Arab World is the biggest on Earth according to international assessment data. Girls outperform boys by a very large margin. Males lack motivation. Boys realize they will inherit the family business or have little trouble landing a job upon graduation. Seventy percent of university graduates are women. Yet, females make up only 23% of the workplace. After graduation, it is customary for women stay at home and raise a family.

Recently, a teacher college was established in Bahrain where one can earn a Bachelor’s in Education degree. Pre-service teachers get a stipend of half a teacher’s salary plus a guaranteed position at the end of the training. Most secondary teachers do not have a degree in education. They have a content degree (i.e. Chemistry, Arabic). However, if a teacher does not have a teaching certificate, they cannot be promoted to the next pay scale.

From the meeting at the EDB, it is apparent that Bahrain has a skill gap. The answer to this problem lies in education. In order to deliver best practice instruction and inquiry-based learning, a change must occur at the top. Once the Ministry of Education believes in a new system to teaching and learning, the schools will have the opportunity to educate students using an interdisciplinary approach. I am reminded of the saying, “Culture eats the greatest strategy.”

School Library/Innovation Hub

I was fortunate to get a personal tour of the school’s newly renovated library now called, the Innovation Hub. The Innovation Hub is staffed with a head librarian and two full-time assistants. The head librarian escorted me around the media center. She pointed out their new sound room, video studio, research center, quiet room, and makerspace.

To prepare for the renovation, library staff weeded 300 kilos of books that had not been borrowed within the past two years. Discarded items were donated to local public schools.
Since re-designing the library to a place centered on learning through discovery, the space is now reserved by 4 to 5 classes daily compared to 1 to 2 last year. The library operates on a flexible schedule which gives the library staff time and opportunity to collaborate with classroom teachers and student groups. Public schools in Bahrain also have libraries. Most library media specialists hold a bachelor’s degree in Library Science. The librarian at Bayan School said that the Innovation Hub is promoting STEM education. Students crave learning by doing and teachers are beginning to feel more comfortable using the new materials and technology.
Library Bahrain - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA
360-degree image of the Bayan School Library/Innovation Hub

The Bayan School provides opportunities for students to participate in afterschool activities. Students can join the Vex Robotic team which competes in regional and international competitions. Intermediate students sign up for First Lego League Jr. Primary students can choose to attend after school workshops for learning the basics of binary computer coding. As you can see, STEM education at Bayan School begins at an early age. These programs lay the foundation for when students use more sophisticated computer programming software and technology tools in the upper grades.
Despite the Bayan School Library’s renovation, challenges persist. Here are some issues faced by the school’s librarian. These are similar to the issues many school libraries contend with in the U.S.
  • Connecting students with books
  • Motivating students to read independently. The school offers incentives like pizza parties and awards for the classes that read the highest number of books. 
  • Getting students to use the library’s virtual databases (i.e. EBSCOhost). Most of the time, students simply “Google” information and select the top search results.

There are so many complexities and anomalies when it comes to examining and understanding education in Bahrain. The same holds true for K-12 education across the United States. Despite our circumstances and challenges, we must continue to find new alternatives for enriching teaching and learning. A lot of what shapes a school climate is based on the decisions made at the state and national levels. However, that does not mean we cannot create a learning environment in our individual classrooms that promotes collaboration, cross-curricular connections, and relevant learning experiences. Regardless of a teacher’s background or location on the planet, the goal is the same: to teach students skills and content that will prepare them for life outside the classroom. It is comforting knowing that I have a common ground with my counterparts in Bahrain. Together, we can break the molds of tradition and embrace new methods for teaching students 21st century skills.
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