Friday, December 16, 2011

Oh, Library Gods, help me let it go!

Image from
Okay, I'll admit it. I like to be in control.

I try really hard to come across as laid back, super-duper flexible, and open minded. Most of the time I think I pull it off. 

Today is not one of those days.

As a school librarian, I know the name of the game is cooperation. In my position, things change ALL THE TIME and so much of what I do is last minute because I work with other people. If I resisted going with the flow, I'd be on blood pressure medicine. I can't afford to get worked up when things are out of my control.

I'm struggling this morning -- I can be emotional, but crying at work is not my typical MO.

Today, there were tears before 9:00 AM. Never a good sign. And why? Because a teacher I'm collaborating with has dared to change a project mid-stream.


The horror!!

This should NOT be a big deal. Who cares if half the kids are using PowerPoint instead of Photostory? Does it really truly matter that they're using copyrighted images? It's honestly okay that they received no instruction in writing a tight, effective script, right?

Oh, Library Gods, help me let it go today! Control Freak - be gone!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Hey, vendors, your (non-fiction) eBooks aren't meeting my needs

For the record: I love FICTION eBooks. We circulate Kindles in my library (check out our program here, here and here) -- it's a popular offering that plays an integral role in meeting our students' reading needs.

My beef is with non-fiction eBooks that provide simultaneous access to titles. In the next few hundred words, when I say "eBooks" I'm talking about this type of non-fiction. These are books provided by traditional database vendors or in collections directly from the publisher designed for research (not high interest texts that kids read "for fun").

Because my school library system is in the process of developing a regional collection of eBooks, I've been thinking a lot about the subject. In the past few days I've tried out eBook options from more than eight different vendors, and out of the whole mix, only one company provides anything worth getting excited about.

My biggest complaint about the vast majority of non-fiction eBooks? It's an expensive option that doesn't significantly improve on things I'm already using. Here's why:
  • Most eBooks were originally written for paper. The publisher or database vendor just takes the printed copy and digitalizes it. They don't add anything extra. I'm reading a paper book on a computer screen. How is that exciting?
  • EVERY eBooks should give me the option to enlarge text and zoom in on pictures and diagrams, provide a linked, clickable table of contents, incorporate a built in glossary, include a read-aloud feature, and provide some avenue for a collaborative reading experience. This is the very MINIMUM I expect, but it's not necessarily enough to justify their purchase. Unfortunately, most eBooks don't even incorporate many of these "necessities."
  • Vendors like to brag about simultaneous access. I don't see the benefit. How often do 30 students need to access the same non-fiction text? When you're researching, at least at my grade level, most students have DIFFERENT topics, and therefore need access to DIFFERENT books.
  • Vendors also like to tell me that eBooks help meet Common Core standards. Right, they're nonfiction texts, but are you really going have a whole class read an entire book off a computer screen? That's not pleasant. How many schools have adequate computer labs, iPads, laptops, etc. to even facilitate this kind of deployment?
  • eBooks cost money, but don't fill a void. I'm already paying for databases (many of which already include reference books) that play a large role in meeting our research needs. Most eBooks, especially at the secondary level, look exactly like a database article. Why would I want to buy something additional that I'm already paying for something really similar?
  • Web sites do a better job than eBooks when it comes to providing an interactive, multimedia experience. I have yet to see an eBook offered by one of the big players that embeds animation or video into the text of the book. In contrast, many, many web sites successfully incorporate this into their informative, useful, educational and FREE offerings.
I'll start buying non-fiction eBooks from the big vendors when they start writing eBooks specifically for digital viewing, incorporating multi-media and interactivity.

If you want to check out an eBook that actually gets it right, request a trial of Rosen's Cyber Smarts or Spotlight on New York series. Here's a screen shot of one their eBook's on New York:
Do you notice the interactive timeline above the book? How about the clickable vocabulary highlighted on the left? Or the primary source spotlight underneath it? There's also an interactive map in the upper right hand corner - by clicking on different parts of the map, it will take you to different parts of the book. The Cyber Smarts series is even better, as it provides students with an opportunity to create a username with an avatar, and send emails and IMs to interact with peers. Thanks, Rosen, for setting a good example!

P.S. Hey, eBook vendors  - When you can't address my concerns about your product, don't say, "All the private schools are buying them" as a defense. This doesn't help your cause.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Shelves? No way. I prefer a messy pile.

I'm not neat by nature. Is that weird for a librarian? Neatness is my Achilles heel, and if wasn't for my fabulous staff, the library would be in a constant case of disarray.

Luckily, there are times when a little disorganization is a good thing. 

I've noticed when you send a group of kids to the stacks to find a book, they just stare blankly at the shelves with their hands in their pockets. They don't have the motivation/drive/energy/ambition to actually pull books off and look at them. 

The best way to address the issue? MAKE A MESS!

When I have classes that need to select novels,  I spread piles of books out on our large work tables. Usually each table has a theme (maybe organized by subject matter or genre or whatever we're studying), and the kids spend 2 or 3 minutes at each table, quickly evaluating as many books as they can. When they see one they like, they add it to their list. At the end of the activity, they rank their top 5 finds, and then as we dismiss table by table, they grab their book and head for checkout. It works SO MUCH better than having them search the shelves.

When it comes to picking books, a mess is best!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Cornell Notes: An upgrade from brussel sprouts

You know you're passionate about a topic when you're willing to share dorky graduation photos with teenagers to make a point. This is totally how I feel about Cornell Notes.
To refresh your memory, I'm teaching study skills to a group of 9th grade pre-AP Global Studies students. So far I've brainstormed different note-taking strategies, and taught them how to make concept maps.

For the second strategy, I taught students how to use Cornell notes. I'm personally indebted to Cornell notes, as the method definitely contributed to my success as a student. When I was a know-it-all 9th grader, my mom, a study skills teacher herself, showed me how to use the strategy. Even though I rolled my eyes, and did my best to ignore her, something clicked for me. Cornell notes got me through high school, and then undergrad, and eventually my Master's degree.

Out of the 140 kids I met with this month, only 2 had ever heard of it before. Here's a quick graphic that explains Cornell notes:
Image from:

The best part about Cornell notes is that if you use this strategy, you're ready to study for tests -- no flash cards to make, no outlining to do -- it's already right there in front of you.

I LOVE this YouTube video about Cornell Notes. The video's best line: "I like my summaries like a mini-skirt - short - enough - but still covers all the important stuff."

Even with all my love for the subject, some of the students still wanted to know when they got to take "plain old notes." If concept mapping was like getting them to eat brussel sprouts, Cornell notes are like getting them to eat carrots; it's still a vegetable, but at least a more popular one. : )

If you're interested, our Cornell notes PowerPoint is available here and the rubric is available here.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Are you digging the iPad?

To recap, we're teaching an entire research project, from soup to nuts, on the iPads. As teachers, we've had mixed feelings, though as the project continues, we're seeing more of the benefits and less of the frustration. 

We recently asked our kids to rate their experiences using the iPad as a tool for research. Below are their answers, via DoodleBuddy. For the most part, you'll see that they're quite positive, but some students' responses mirror the frustration we occasionally experience as educators! :)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Potatoes and the English - November Displays

This month we're featuring spuds and books from across the pond.

Our first display is all about "Book Potatoes -- s-mashing books that have been vegetating on the shelf too long." I totally copied this display (and the original looks way better) so can't claim any of the creativity behind this idea. The display features books that have never been circulated (we own a scary number of these!) or books that haven't left the library in few years.

Our circulation desk display area is dressed up as an Olde English Book Shoppe, complete with Big Ben and a British telephone booth -- props leftover from a local festival. The titles featured here were either written by English authors or the books are set in the UK.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Soup to nuts research is DRIVING us nuts!

Can you tell things got crazy 'round here? Two weeks and no posts - oops! There goes that blogging resolution!
Image from Lovell Communications

Back today with an update on our research project we're teaching exclusively on the iPads. It's been . . . interesting. I'm working with inclusion classes - in some instances, there are more students in the class WITH IEPs and 504s than students without accommodations.

My initial thought was -- "Instruction on the iPad - great! iPads are so easy! They'll fly through this! And tons of opportunities for differentiation!" To date, things aren't running quite so smoothly (and any !s in real life are usually proceeded by a mental swear word). I'm pretty sure the challenges are due to a lack of proficiency and foresight on my I remain hopeful!

We're finding that we need to devote a good chunk of time to teaching the kids how to use the iPad itself -- this is eating into our information literacy/research instruction time. For example, when searching for database articles, not only do we need to talk about how to search a database, we also need to demonstrate how to use ReaddleDocs' built in browser and how to save articles in PDF format. If we were sitting at desktop computers, these skills would be second nature for the students.

This doesn't mean the time we're spending on iPad instruction is a waste -- as it's becoming an increasingly essential skill, but it's a time sink we didn't necessarily plan for. Which, come to think of it, was really stupid on our part.

So far we've survived Internet research, database research, book research, and generating source cards on the Index Card app.

Tomorrow we use ReaddleDocs to highlight PDFs we've saved during the research phase. Unfortunately, it's not as simple as 1) Uncap highlighter and 2) Put highlighter to paper. Wish us luck!

Monday, October 17, 2011

A Research Unit on the iPad

The project's paper version
This fall, for the first time, we're going to attempt an entire research project, soup to nuts, on the iPads. The project itself isn't new, but all the tools we'll use to complete it are quite novel. Our 9th grade English students typically do a fabulous "Teen Issues" project where they produce informative brochure on all kinds of topics from Teen Pregnancy to Steroid Use. The brochures are laminated and prominently displayed in the library - and accessed by students ALL the time.

To transition this project from paper to iPad, we had to find apps that allowed us to teach the project's different components. Even though we're moving to iPads, we're still teaching students how to:

  • Create a Works Cited document
  • Research using a wide variety of materials from books to databases (my teacher-partner is a fan of the index card method of research)
  • Highlight
  • Take notes
  • Develop an outline

Our motivation for using the iPad for research isn't the novelty factor (though we'll totally curious to find out if this is even possible). We're hoping that the iPad can streamline and actually IMPROVE the project.

Here's what our students are going to be doing, and the apps they'll use to accomplish this (scroll to the bottom of a complete list of apps and links to check them out in the iTunes store).

Step 1: Students introduced to crafting MLA citations. We could use a citation generator, but my English teacher partner prefers they learn how to do it from scratch.

Step 2: Students select a teen issues topic. Students then find 3 different resources (hopefully a book, web site, and database) about their issue.
  • BOOK resource - Students will use our photocopier to scan and email PDFs of relevant book pages to a classroom e-mail address. Students will then use the app ReaddleDocs to access and save the PDF attachments to their ReaddleDocs folder.
  • WEB SITE and DATABASE resource - Students will use the web browser feature of ReaddleDocs to locate relevant Internet sources, and then download and save the information as a PDF file.
    Step 3: Students will create source cards for the three resources they located in Step 2. To create their source cards, they'll use an app called Index Card. Once students have created their source cards, they'll use DropBox to upload the source cards for grading.

    Step 4: Students will use the app ReaddleDocs to highlight and annotate the PDF files they have saved in their ReaddleDocs folder. The highlighting and annotations will be saved on to the PDF. Students will then use ReaddleDocs to share their annoated PDFs with their teacher via DropBox for grading.

    Step 5: Students will then use their annotated/highlighted PDF reserach files, stored in their ReaddleDocs folders, to generate note cards. They'll use the app Index Card, which they also used for their source cards, to take these notes. Once students have completed their index card notes, they'll use DropBox to share them with the teacher for grading.

    Step 6: Next, students will use their index card notes, created in Index Card, to generate an outline. We're still on the fence about which app to use for outlining (we'd really like one that incorporates traditional roman numeral numbering), but we're probably either go with Outliner or Pages. Students will share their completed outlines with the teacher via DropBox.

    Step 7: Now the (most) fun part! Students will use their outlines to produce a digital book. We're still playing around with two different apps, trying to pick one. Composer is really cool (lots of options for animation and interaction - and it's FREE), but it's a little big more involved. The Book Creator app is more expensive, and doesn't include interactivity or animations (but it's also simpler to teach and learn).

    One of my challenges is making sure their finished books are accessible to the students as the pamphlets have been in the past. If I can squeeze enough money out of my budget, I'll buy a few more iPads that we can dedicate to the library for study hall students.

    Below are the apps we're going to be using for the project: 

    Our App Allies 

    Book Creator $6.99
    Demibooks Composer FREE

    ReaddleDocs $4.99
    Index Card $4.99

    Outliner $4.99
    Pages $9.99
    DropBox FREE

    Monday, October 3, 2011

    Note-taking is like brussel sprouts (at least if you're 14)

    Back in August, I mentioned that I was going to be teaching a study skills unit.

    Image from:

    I am now teaching said unit. I've learned the following:
    • Fourteen-year-olds aren't big fans of note-taking.
    • Comparing the process to brussel sprouts (the more you eat them, the more you like them), doesn't seem to help.
    • Note taking requires a brain. Especially when I force you to identify main ideas, paraphrase and summarize.
    • Thinking can be hard.
    • Concept maps are messy.
    • Our Pre-AP kids like things in neat, straight lines. They're the type who carry around a bottle of white out in their pencil case. Therefore, they do not like concept maps.
    • Even smart teenagers occasionally fail to follow directions.
    • I don't particularly like grading papers.
    We started out the unit with a lesson on note-taking. If you're so inclined, you can check out the PowerPoint here. We talked about:
    • Why we take notes
    • How we take notes
    • The Technique of the Month: Concept Maps
    We did a little practice session with a paragraph from their [super-duper hard to read college level] textbook, and then had them complete the map for homework.

    They turned in their assignment. I graded them. As a librarian, I do just about every aspect of teaching, but I don't grade on a regular basis. This time around, I volunteered to do the grading - I'd taught the lesson and developed the rubric, so it seemed only fair that I assign the grades, too.

    Grading isn't fun. Completing rubrics (see our rubric here) and leaving comments on 150 concept maps ate up a lot of my weekend (the chocolate chip cookies for Custodian's Day didn't get baked). But guess what -- I volunteered to grade the next mapping assignment, too. It's totally worth it because I can see if they "got it." Did my lesson sink in? Did I succeed as a teacher? What do I need to change?

    Most importantly, grading enforces my role as a true co-teacher. Giving the grade helps my collaborators AND the students view me as a teacher, rather than "just" the librarian.

    Tomorrow I'm headed back into the AP classrooms This time, I'm showcasing two FABULOUS concept mapping apps. I'm in love with both of them, and hoping that some great technology is the "spoonful of sugar" the activity needs.
    Check out:
    SimpleMind+ ($3.99 for full functionality - and worth EVERY penny)
    IdeaSketch (free)

    Anyone have any ideas to make note-taking FUN?

    Tuesday, September 20, 2011

    September Bulletin Boards

    Here's a quick roundup of the library's September bulletin boards.

    This bulletin board is out in our main hallway. I used it as my 9th grade orientation activity. These students are already familiar with the library, so this was the perfect refresher. Working in teams, they had to brainstorm the "best" answer to the following phrases: "In the library you can . . .", "In the library it's important to remember...", and "Our favorite thing about the library is . . ." I hung the best answers on the bulletin board in the hall -- easy-peasy.

    This board is in our Computer Lab. I'm always harping on the kids to respect copyright, especially when we're posting their projects online. This is my not so subtle reminder to seek out images designated with a Creative Commons license.

    We're pushing hard this year to get students to lock their workstations. Hopefully this reminder is obvious enough . . .

    This last board isn't library related, but I liked the "What's Popping" theme. It would easily work for library events.

    Wednesday, September 14, 2011

    Open House Tactics

    Image From: Discovery Education's Clip Art Gallery
    Solving teachers' early morning technology problems is interfering with my blogging time! It's totally expected at time of the year, so I'm grateful to have a quiet morning (so far).

    Open House is tomorrow, and although we don't get a HUGE crowd in the library, I'd say we have at least 100 parents trickle through during the evening. It helps that our library secretary, Deb, is a total social butterfly - she knows everyone and is excellent at chatting up the parents.

    What do I do for Open House? Other than spiffying up the library (ekkk - I actually straighten the books on the shelves!), I show a looping PowerPoint and have two phamplets available for parents to take.

    The PowerPoint and one of the phamplets provide tips to "Keep your Teenager Reading!" Here's the quick breakdown:
    • Set an example.
    • Make sure there's something to read at home.
    • Share your reading.
    • Read a book written for teens.
    • Give teens an opportunity to choose their own books.
    • Recognize yoru teen's mature interests.
    • Build on your teen's hobbies and interests.
    • Let boys read like boys.
    • Lighten up.
    • Keep trying!
    I actually did quite a bit of research when I developed these materials - both the PowerPoint and phamplet include a bibliogrphay. If you'd like to check them out, or use them for your own libraries, you can download the PowerPoint here and the Publisher phamplet here.

    The second phamplet is "Top Secret Passwords" and it has all the access information students need to access our subscription databases from home. There's also some postive "our library rocks" propaganda mixed in. :) You can download the Publisher passwords phamplet here (with passwords removed, of course).

    Monday, August 29, 2011

    Dewey-Free: The final results

    Last June I told you that we were saying adios to the Dewey Decimal System in our non-fiction area. It was a lot of chaos squeezed into a short amount of time. 

    The good news: we survived! With lots of helpers, we re-catalog, re-labeled, and re-shelved almost 6,000 books in less than a week. The most difficult part was developing a manageable number of categories. 

    The non-fiction genres I finally arrived at work for us. They might not work for you. Remember, our collection is tailored to 8th and 9th graders and New York State Learning Standards for these grade levels. This is reflected in the categories we chose. Here's a breakdown of what we went with. The order that they're listed in reflects the order they appear on the shelves. The spine labels are also color coded as reflected below. 

    * Paranormal

    * Games and Sports
    * Travel
    * Hobbies
    * Cooking
    * Performing Arts
    * Fashion

    * Transportation 
    * Computers and Technology
    * Art & Architecture

    * Crime and Punishment
    * Warfare
    * Social Issues

    * Global Studies
    * Religion
    * Ancient Civilizations
    * Renaissance 
    * Middle Ages
    * American History
    * WWI
    * WWII
    * Civil Rights

    * Literature and Language
    * Mythology
    * Shakespeare

    * General Science and Math
    * Inventors and Inventions
    * Elements
    * Earth Science
    * Life Science
    * Pets
    * The Environment

    * Biography

    Here's what a shelf looks like under the new system:

    The "Hobbies" section.

    Each spine label has the genre in huge, color-coded letters, and then the letters "NF" for Non-Fiction, followed by the first three letters of the author's last name. 

    I'm having the kids do video tours with iPods for orientation this year, so click here to see what the kids will watch when they stop at the non-fiction section. 

    I'll let you know how it actually works when the kids arrive next week. 

    Thursday, August 25, 2011

    MS Office 10 and the Dreaded Works Cited Page

    I don't know about you all, but showing students how to type a Works Cited page is one of the most painful lessons I teach. Getting them to include all the appropriate information, alphabetize, and put the punctuation in the right spot can be excruciating.

    This year, my district is switching to MS Office 10. I don't have it on my home computer, so it wasn't until I attended a little workshop today that I learned the most marvelous thing: the latest version of Word has a BUILT-IN reference generator. No more taking students to an external site to generate citations with NoodleTools, CitationMaker, etc.

    This new feature allows students to create citations while they're typing a Word document. They start by picking the style (MLA, APA, etc), then the source type (book, Web site, magazine), and then it gives them labeled boxes with examples so they can plug and chug with the relevant information. You can go back and add citations at any point, as long as you save the document in between. 
    Once they've input a citation, they just pick the source from a drop down menu and it will add the in-text citation to the document they're typing. If they click another button, it will use the citations they've input to create a Works Cited page - no need to mess with indenting, formatting, etc - it does it all automatically.
    It's AWESOME! If you want to check it out for yourself, you can use MS Word 10 to play with it. Click on the "References" tab to get started.

    Sunday, August 7, 2011

    Teaching Study Skills

    Is teaching study skills part of my job description? I'm not entirely sure, but that's why I love being a librarian. My job description is fluid - it can expand and morph when something interests me - and even though I hated learning about it in high school, teaching study skills actually interests me!
    Image by Austin Kleon via Flickr

    For the first time this year, I'm going to be teaching note taking and studying techniques to five sections of  pre-AP Global Studies students. In my building, these are 9th graders who are doing a warm-up for the official AP class next year. They're learning how to be be more sophisticated students -- accessing higher level texts, learning independently, and polishing their writing skills.

    My first task is to to teach different note taking styles. You might think that by the time they reach 9th grade, they'd have note taking figured out - but you'd be wrong. Most of them are clueless. Soooo... in a series of 3 mini-sessions (think 15 minutes or less), I'm going to introduce different note taking techniques. We'll focus on taking notes from a text (rather than a lecture), and give them a couple weeks to practice each of the three techniques. By November, we expect them to have selected a style that works best for them, and to actually employ it every time they need to take notes.

    My tasks to get ready for this:
    • Identify 3 appropriate styles.  I'm trying hard to find techniques that correspond to different learning styles. 
      • Cornell Style (something for everyone)
      • Mapping (Visual Learners)
      • Topic and Concept Cards (Kinesthetic Learners)
      • ? Auditory learners don't do well with written notes . . . so we're going to have to think about this one.   
    • Develop a 15 minute lesson to teach each note-taking style
    • Develop a rubric to assess their success with each note-taking style 
    • Find a quick test that students can use to identify their learning styles
    • Figure out a way to prevent the lessons from being deathly boring . . .
    This should be interesting . . . .

    Sidenote: In searching for info on different note-taking styles, I really liked this resource:

    Wednesday, July 6, 2011

    ISTE Reflection and eBook Evolution

    Last week, I attended the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference. I blogged and tweeted so much in Philly that I feel asleep every night with sore fingers. Now that I'm home, my fingers have finally recovered and I've had an opportunity to reflect on my learning.

    More than anything, ISTE provided great affirmation. I certainly came home with many little wisdom-seeds that will surely sprout into great things, but a majority of the sessions I attended looked and sounded awfully familiar. We're already implementing many of the ideas and technology showcased at the conference. This didn't disappoint me in the least. Rather, it made me feel warm and fuzzy - like, wow, we're doing something right. Go us!

    For example, when it comes to eBooks, I think we're already doing some great things. I attended the SIGMS Forum on Tuesday morning where Anita Beaman (she tweets under anitabeaman), from Illinois State University, talked about the evolution of eBooks. Everything Anita said rang true, and her talk mirrored many of my personal feelings.

    She asked, "Do we want to give up our paper books for an electronic screen?"

    The answer is: YES!

    According to Anita, here's why:
    • Kids have come to expect on demand services, and librarians need to meet this expectation
    • School Library Journal says only 30% of librarians have eBooks in their library. Of the remainder, 65% aren't getting them any time soon. This means that these librarians are not evolving! We need to evolve so we don't go the way of the dodo bird.
    • Weeding eBooks is so much less painful! No need to dispose of paper discards! They don't take up landfills and they don't magically wind up back on your desk.
    • You don't have to worry about eBooks ever being overdue
    • eBooks means 24/7 access to the library's collection
    • Appeals to tech loving teens who suffer from book phobia, teens who are sick of carting 50 lbs of books around, kids too sick to come to the library, and book lovers who can't see in the dark
    • eBooks allow us to connect reading and technology
    What librarians need to do:
    • Explore eBooks for personal use
    • Remember, you can read eBooks on things OTHER than Kindles, Nooks, iPad, etc. Kids CAN read an eBook on their phone or computer screen.
    • Don't forget about things like Tumblebooks - these are eBooks, too!
    • Acknowledge that eBooks are not going away
    After listening to Anita, we talked with our table about ways libraries can evolve to address the eBook evolution. Out of our table of ten, only three librarians were currently circulating eBooks. I guess that SLJ statistic is pretty accurate!

    During our table discussion, we addressed these topics:
    • Follet's Shelf - an eBook portal. Kids sign into the portal via a special URL. It costs about $800 for 50 eBooks. These are fiction books, but there are limited titles to pick from. Great idea to purchase eBooks that address summer reading lists.
    • How do you select which devices to purchase when many eBooks are platform specific? For example, Nooks won't read AZW files and Kindles won't read EPUB files. (This is a BIG question. I don't have the answer for it. We've just "picked one." Anyone else have a solution?)
    Honestly, I was surprised that more people at our table hadn't jumped on the eBook bandwagon. We circulated nine Kindles last year, and I'd certainly consider our program a rousing success. We've been diligent about asking kids to fill out surveys after using a Kindle. Here's the survey instrument if you want to check it out. I promise a post in the next few weeks that summarizes what we've learned about circulating Kindles in our library.

    Monday, June 27, 2011

    Tammy's Top 20 Tools

    We arrived at this session late after ditching another we weren't feeling (decided with budget constraints we would do better with free products rather than paid products). We raced around and ended up on the floor of a ballroom, listening to Tammy's Top 20 Favorite Web Tools. Below is a sampling - obviously not all twenty, as we weren't on time. 
    • Plurk: Like Twitter, but the conversations are threaded. Need to join, and wait around to get friends, and hang in there a while to see the value in it. 
    • BibMe: Free bibliography maker that plugs in the information for you. So search for a book by title or author, and then BibMe pulls in the information on publisher, publishing city, date, author, etc. from Amazon. You pick the format - MLA, APA, etc. Can then download into MicrosoftOffice.
    • Random Name Picker - Allows you to select a student at random. Enter your class list into the machine, pull the handle, and watch the "fruit picker" select a student name at random. Once a student's  name is picked, it's removed from the list. You can use the tool to call on students, create collaborative teams, etc. 
    • - Shorten multiple URLs into one
    • Evernote - Like Delicious, but instead of storing your bookmarks, it stores "stuff" online, and syncs it automatically with all your devices including your iPhone and iPad
    • DropBox - Cloud based file storage.
    • Google's new advanced filtering option that lets sort by reading level
    • Google's real time search feature
    • Qwiki - Cool visual/audio approach to wiki encyclopedia content
    • WolframAlpha - Search engine that gives you answers. For example, will solve an algebra equation. 
    • QR Codes - Visual graphics you snap a photo of with your phone. Snapping the photo/scanning the graphic takes you to a web site. QR codes in back of books that take you to a review, QR code scavenger hunts, etc.
    • TripIt - Builds your trip itinerary, collecting your hotels, flights and rental car info all in one place
    Some great ideas here!! Check them out. I think I'm probably most impressed with BibMe -- so nice to ditch those silly index cards (at least for books).

    View Tammy's complete list here. 

    The Art of Remix: Collaborative Writing in the Classroom

    I'm blogging from ISTE this morning in one of the BYOL (Bring Your Own Laptop) sessions and I'm excited to learn about a tool called "MixedInk." You can check it out for yourself here. It's being presented by teachers from Fort Worth Country Day School in Fort Worth, Texas.

    My initial impression was, "Oh, a fancy wiki tool," but I'm quickly learning that it's a lot more than a wiki. MixedInk allows teachers to create virtual "classrooms" of students. Within a classroom students can collaboratively author texts in realtime (no stealing the lock, etc as multiple students can edit the SAME text simultaneously - unlike those pesky wikis).

    MixedInk provides authorship tracking, color coding each person's contributions so students can see who is responsible for different portions of the text. MixedInk lets students rate different versions of a text. The version with the highest rating is known as the "top version," but it only remains the top version until another version gets a better rating. When students are writing competing versions, they can "remix" or pull portions of others work into their draft. When they use someone else's work, the other person is automatically added as a co-author.

    As learners, we played with this question "What does it mean to be a teacher today?" To see what we created, check it out here: You'll need an account to check it out, but registration is free. 

    Participants in the BYOL Session
    Update: At least, you can see what we tried to play with. Looks like too many hits to the MixedInk server....we're down right now. 

    Suggested format for use:
    * Write your version
    * Read other's versions
    * Rate and comment on other's versions
    * Remix your version
    * Rate and comment on remixed versions until one rises to the top 

    MixedInk is best used when there's some kind of problem solving involved, rather than asking students to interpret a text via a close reading. 

    For example, provide students with a series of primary source documents about a "controversial" issue. Ask them to: 1) Decide who authored the primary source documents, 2) Place the documents on a timeline for when they were authored, and then 3) Justify their answers. 

    Once students have answered questions 1-3 on their own, they can then read the answers compiled by their classmates. Students leave comments and rate individual versions. The next step is to create a remixed version, pulling from classmates' work to produce new products.  These remixed products are then rated and reviewed until one version rises to the top. As a final self-assessment activity, the teacher and class can discuss what the top version does well and how it can be improved. 

    AWESOME! I can't wait to try this with our pre-AP Global Studies classes as they learn how to write essays and analyze documents. 

    Sunday, June 26, 2011

    ISTE first impressions

    I'm sitting in the convention center waiting for my iPhone to charge and the first keynote to begin. And I'm overwhelmed.

    Initial impressions:

    * Unlike library conferences, there are actually men here. Gosh, that's different.

    * More specifically, there are also lots of teenage boys.  Which, oddly, makes this place feel even hipper.

    * This place is cool. And huge.

    * There's a battle for outlet space - everyone needs to recharge.

    * The keynote feels like a rock conference. 

    * Wow!!

    And now I've been here for an hour and I'm still overwhelmed.

    - Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

    Saturday, June 25, 2011

    ISTE here I come!

    This week I'm headed to ISTE - the International Society for Technology in Education conference. (Thanks, OCM BOCES SLS, for the scholarship!) I can't wait! This is one conference I've never been to, but I think every single session sounds intriguing!

    Here are some of the sessions I'm looking forward to:

    * The Art of the Remix: Incorporating Collaborative Writing in the Classroom
    "Discover how to craft a collective essay by writing, remixing, and voting on submissions with MixedInk's free collaborative writing tool. Requires MixedInk account."

    I'm pumped for this session because our 8th grade English classes are held in a writing workshop format. I've never heard of MixedInk, but I'm loving the little description and hoping it's something I can utilize in the fall!
    * The iPad Revolution: Innovative Learning in the Classroom
    "The iPad brings interactive learning and amazing resources to the fingertips of all learners. Discover the possibilities of learning in your classroom with the iPad."  
    If you follow  my blog, you already know I'm all about integrating mobile devices into our instructional practice. I loooved everything we did with our iPod Touch cart this year, and I'm excited to delve into other things when our iPad cart arrives in September. I always get a little nervous in sessions like these, where the topic is something I've been exploring for a while - I hope I hear something new!
    * A Gardener's Approach to Learning: Cultivating your Personal Learning Network
    "Digital age classrooms require teachers who are master learners-- educators who are curious, connected, and accomplished at cultivating their personal learning gardens."
    I'm hoping that David Warlick's presentation can provide a few new ideas on "growing" my PLN. I love sharing via my blog, Twitter, and Facebook, but what else is out there? How can I make connections to people I've never met before?
    And this is just the beginning! I'm sure my brain will be nearing it's implosion point come Wednesday afternoon, but I can't wait for all this new learning!

    Friday, June 17, 2011

    Adios, Dewey. Hello, Chaos.

    We're saying "Adios" to Dewey. Our non-fiction collection doesn't see a lot of use other than for research projects. We've got some great stuff in there, and I want kids to pick up and explore these books for FUN! (Especially with the informational text emphasis in the new Common Core Standards.)

    To help stimulate increased interest in the area, we're eliminating the Dewey Decimal System and moving to genre classification -- a more "Barnes and Noble" style approach. Our kids still haven't mastered the Dewey by the time they reach 8th grade and I don't have time to reteach it. So, to make our collection more accessible, we're just going to get rid of it. Our fiction books are already shelved by genre, so doing the same in non-fiction makes sense (for us).

    This isn't exactly a new idea. Libraries around the country have started to move towards a Dewey-Free system. Here's a few places with this set-up already in action: Frankfort Public Library District, Albany Public Library, and Tates Creek Media Center. One of our elementary libraries went Dewey-Free last summer, and they've been very happy with the results. So, I decided it was time for us to jump on board.

    We'll explore our process and more of our rationale at a later date, but I thought I'd share the current chaos with you. We've got about 2,500 books to relabel and relocate and exactly 8 days to get it done. I was really nervous on Tuesday afternoon and decided I was in over my head - it was total chaos.

    Above: Going Dewey Free - The Chaos

    Above: Going Dewey Free - Piles and Piles!

    But, we've made rapid progress!! With four days to go, we're more than halfway done. We've managed to assemble an amazing team of helpers - it's going so much faster than it would if I'd tried to tackle the project by myself over summer vacation.

    Above: The first sign of progress!

    Stay tuned for progress updates!

    Thursday, June 9, 2011

    A Big Fattening Thank You

    Thank You Party!
    Our library supports a robust student volunteer program. In total, we "employ" around 35 students, both 8th and 9th graders. We have two to four students assigned to each period. Their duties range from running errands and working the circulation desk (their favorite tasks) to dusting shelves and watering plants (their least favorite tasks).

    Most of the volunteers are REALLY helpful, especially by this point in the year when they're well trained and thoroughly versed in their duties. Sometimes, though, managing the volunteers can be a full time job in itself. I'm really lucky that my secretary willingly takes responsibility for these students. There are days when they drive her batty, but for the most part, they really are quite helpful.

    An "Everything But The Kitchen Sink Sundae!"
    To thank our volunteers this year, we held an after school ice cream sundae party. We scooped ice cream, and then had tons of toppings for them to pick from, including whipped cream, hot fudge, sprinkles, strawberries, pineapple, caramel sauce, gummy worms, Oreos, and brownies (but no nuts!). It was delicious! Our timing was perfect, as we had our first 90+ degree day yesterday. Since our school (except for the library) isn't air conditioned, ice cream was an especially fitting treat!

    How do you thank your volunteers?

    Wednesday, June 1, 2011

    Overhauling the Library Web Site

    I'm in the begining stages of overhauling our library's web site. My reason for doing so is twofold:
    1. We're slowly making the transition from a "library" to a "learning commons." I need the new site to reflect the new name, and our slightly different mission.
    2. My current site, although visually appealing, lacks opportunities for student to interact. The new site MUST be interactive. Have I figured out how I'm going to do this yet? NOPE! But we're working on it. My current site is also difficult to keep updated. There's no easy place to post news items or links that is "obvious."
    Here's a screenshot of the old site. Click here to check it out in person. (Ignore the nagivation on the left hand side of the screen -- that's part of the NEW site and doesn't really exist under the current site).

    And here's a picture of the new site. Click here to check it out in person (though there's not much else to see right now). It's definetly a WORK IN PROGRESS so don't hate on it too much.

    One of the biggest changes I've made is to move away from image map navigation, and instead use a fixed menu on the left hand side of the screen. Image maps aren't very accessible, and it sure does make it a pain in the butt to edit the content. Also, we've added a few sections:  the "News Flash" area on the new site allows me to post announcements and event information, "The Spotlight" will allow me to feature student multimedia projects (photos, videos, etc.) on the front page (super important to me), and the "Hot Links" gives me a place to post survey links and timely, project specific sources.

    The new site will also provide opportunities for two-way interaction with students. For example, there's a dedicated tab on the left called "Interact." How am I going to use this? Not quite sure yet. I'm thinking embedding a Wall Wisher, but still open to other options. Also, within many of the different tabs I'll include interactive elements. For example, in "Books" our new Mandarin catalog will allow students to rate and review books.

    As I look at the new site this morning, I'm noticing some things I'm not yet happy with:
    • Man, that's a lot of yellow. Maybe too much?
    • The background doesn't really look like a honeycomb, does it?
    • The new site, while simpler, looks a little less sophisticated
    • Although it's the correct size for my monitors at home, you have to scroll to the right to view the whole page here at school. That's annoying. It needs downsizing.
    • I still need to add my social media icons for Facebook, Twitter, Blogger, etc.
    • I still need to create an "Ask Us a Question" feature on the main page
    • Only the main page is done -- everything else needs moving/creating
    It's been a challenge to design a new site because I'm really limited in what I can do because of the hosting program used by my school district. I'm pretty much restricted to static HTML and don't have a lot of opportunities to change screen layout - leaving me with limited real estate to work in.

    If you're overhauling your site, or thinking about a redesign, here are some helpful articles I've consulted:
    What must haves / design changes are you thinking about for next fall?

    Wednesday, May 25, 2011

    Info Texts on Display

    In my inspection of the Common Core Standards, I'm totally stuck on the Appendix B exemplars and the emphasis on informational texts. As a result, I'm ignoring all the wonderful ways in which the Common Core align with AASL's Standards for the 21st Century Learner. Check out a standards crosswalk here. Common Core IS good news for librarians!!

    My initial reason for delving into the Common Core is really silly -- I just wanted to create a book display. I was hoping to give teachers examples and ideas of great high-interest non-fiction. Our English teachers were depressed by the idea of "informational texts," so I wanted to display some of the MANY great titles that I thought fell into the category in an attempt to cheer them up. Here's a little peak at my display:
    Above: Informational texts display with "Common Core" Apples
    Above: Informational texts display with high interest non-fiction

    Now that I've spent loads of time with the Standards, do I still think these books are what the Common Core had in mind? Hummm...not so sure. Though, if I had my way, teachers and students would be selecting from these examples, rather than primary source documents written by dead, white men (minus the token Harriet Tubman biography) as suggested in the text exemplars.

    Tuesday, May 17, 2011

    Teaching Primary Source Documents in ELA: The best fit?

    Above: A portion of my bookshelf
    This is the second post in my series on the Common Core Standards. You can find the first one here

    This is a picture of my bookshelf. I was going for optimism when I labeled my binder for the Common Core Standards. Hearts and smiley faces make everything better, right?

    Actually, to be honest, I don't hate the standards. I know I was pretty harsh on the text exemplars in my last post, but the standards do have a lot going for them.

    Even though English teachers in my building are dismayed (and the word dismayed isn't hyperbole), I'm excited about certain aspects of the standards, especially the focus on informational texts.

    At some point, I promise I'll talk about the GOOD aspects of the standards, but first, I think some clarification is in order.

    In my previous post, I implied that the text exemplars weren't a prescribed reading list, citing this from Appendix B: "They expressly do not represent a a partial or complete reading list" (2). I interpreted this to mean that "we" (the state? the district? the individual teacher?) could select any and all appropriate readings.

    After further investigation, I think the quote from Appendix B is misleading. When you explore the supporting documents, you realize that some items from the text exemplars ARE a prescribed reading list (at least a partial one). For example, the document "Myths v. Facts About the Common Core Standards" says:

    "In English-language arts, the Standards require certain critical content for all students, including: classic myths and stories from around the world, America's Founding documents, foundational American literature, and Shakespeare" (1).

    If you look at the standards themselves, you find examples like the following from the 9th grade ELA standards:

     "Analyze seminal U.S. documents of historical and literary significance (e.g., Washington's Farewell Address, the Gettysburg Address, Roosevelt's Four Freedoms speech, King's 'Letter from Birmingham Jail'), including how they address related themes and concepts" (RI.9-10.9).

    And this, from the 11th-12th grade ELA standards:

    "Demonstrate knowledge of eighteenth-, nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century foundational works of American literature, including how two or more texts from the same period treat similar themes or topics" (RL.11-12.9).

    From what I can tell, the REQUIRED content of "classic myths and stories from around the world" occurs at the K-8 level in the Standards, while the REQUIRED content of  "America's Founding documents, foundational American literature, and Shakespeare" occurs at the 9-12 level in the Standards. Keep in mind, though, that Appendix B exemplars include classic literature and seminal U.S. documents at MOST levels beyond the required content. 

    So, some items from the text exemplars ARE prescribed.

    Now that that's cleared up (?), let's look more closely at the ELA informational texts requirement and their focus on primary source documents.

    Primary source documents are GREAT. I totally believe students should be using them to inform their research, but is an ELA classroom the best place to read primary source documents? The text exemplars in Appendix B list five informational ELA texts for Grades 6-8. Four of the five texts are primary source documents from American history (this includes a letter by John Adams, Frederick Douglass' narrative, Winston Churchill's address, and John Steinbeck's tour of America).

    Does it really make sense to teach these primary source documents in an ELA classroom? ELA teachers can't possibly devote the necessary class time and energy needed to firmly ground the documents in their historical context. It's MUCH MORE LOGICAL to have students explore primary source documents in their Social Studies classrooms within the framework of an appropriate unit.

    Oddly, the text exemplars don't suggest students read primary source informational texts in their History/Social Studies classroom. (Remember, Common Core Standards currently exist for ELA and Math -- other subject areas, like History, and Science are just supposed to "focus" on reading and writing within their subject areas, but are not given specific standards, though Common Core has provided text exemplars for these subject areas to indicate what kind of texts they're expected to include).

    There are eight suggested texts in the 6th-8th grade History/Social Studies informational text strand, and out of these eight, only one (the Constitution's Preamble and the First Amendment) is a primary source document. The rest of the informational texts are well-chosen, modern, engaging accounts of history (Side note: where are the engaging, modern informational texts in the ELA exemplars?).

    Why are the standards asking us to teach America History primary source documents in ELA and not in Social Studies? How does that make sense? Can anyone clarify this for me?