Thing 37 – Green Screen Fun

Thing 37 – Green Screen Fun

Oh am I happy to see this topic in Cool Tools! When I was at AASL in Phoenix I had a chat with a vendor that sold green screen kits that include everything you need in a pretty simple to carry (and loan) package.  I bought the Padcaster Studio knowing almost nothing about green screen recording, but wanting to offer the equipment to my librarians.

So, the equipment arrived, but now what? Oh my goodness! There are SO. MANY. PARTS! I’m not sure what I was thinking when I thought people would be eager to borrow equipment if they didn’t know how to use it. I spent a lot of time with the vendor at the Future of Education Technology Conference so I feel better about all of those parts that came with the kit. (Luckily, most of the parts aren’t necessary for the novice user.)

Still, I knew nothing about actually using the screen and apps to make fun projects. I grabbed this resource guide from the FETC Conference website. It came from a pre-conference workshop that I wasn’t able to attend, and I’m so grateful the presenters were generous enough to share. Between this and the Cool Tools resources, I feel much more confident. So confident, I made a few fun pictures to share.

Help! I’m falling over Hector Falls!

I made both with the DoInk app. The iPad that I purchased to go with the Padcaster setup is not ready yet, so I had to bumble along with just my phone and no tripod. I can just imagine how much easier it will be with a tripod and larger screen.

Mr. Panda hanging out with Donkey.

I also did a little app-smashing and used ChatterPix to bring my library kitten, Baker, back to the Cliffs of Moher. I was using a green file folder and Baker’s backdrop, and I’m not sure why the ride side is so much lighter than the left. I tried a couple of different angles, but the result was always the same. The folder looks pretty much the same all over, too.  It’s a mystery.

Anyway, this is so much fun! I can’t wait to be able to try it out with kids!


Cool Tools Resource Guides

Cool Tools Resource Guides

One of my biggest challenges is getting the right resource into the right hands at the right time. When I was in my school library I tended to rely on my website and monthly newsletter as the primary places for showcasing resources, but I know those still weren’t always reaching the teachers at the point of need.

In my current position, ensuring that district leadership sees the value of their libraries is one of my most important responsibilities. I’ve learned that teacher librarians are just like classroom teachers in that they are overwhelmed and need multiple exposures to resources and ideas before they stick. I’ve been tweeting and sharing via weekly newsletter, but I know that’s not enough. My newsletter is typically opened by half of the recipients and fewer than half of my librarians are active twitter users. Knowing the statistics for my newsletter, I’ve taken to emailing information that I really want them to know, but that runs the risk of information overload.

I was glad to see Thing 20 in Cool Tools so I could explore more ways of sharing resources with my librarians. I’d been using MailChimp for my newsletters, but after seeing the examples in CoolTools, I decided to try Smore. It is much more visually appealing, but the analytics aren’t as helpful. (I even ponied up for the pro version and still didn’t get the robust reports I get from MailChimp.) I will probably stick with MailChimp for my newsletter, but I really like Smore as a possibility for in-depth resource guides. I recently attended the Future of Educational Technology Conference and several of the presenters used Smore to create their digital handouts. This is one of my favorites.

I’m not much of a Pinterest user personally, but I know lots of people are, so I created an SLS Pinterest board.  I include a link to it at the bottom of every MailChimp newsletter. It doesn’t get much action, in fact, none of the 4 followers are local, but it’s there as an option. I also tried Listly. I hadn’t heard of this before and basically it’s a website that allows you to make interactive digital lists of all sorts of things. I had been struggling to find an efficient, appealing way to to share out all of the resources I learned about at FETC, and Listly provided one solution. I used it to create a list of my favorite AR apps from the conference. I still have a lot to learn, but the tutorials are concise and helpful.  I like that there are multiple ways to share out the lists we create and I think I’ll be using this one regularly.

I can’t decide how I feel after completing this lesson. On one hand, I’m glad to have an expanded toolbox for sharing our resources. On the other hand, it seems like a monumental task to keep up with them all. I’ll be monitoring usage over the next several months to a year to get a feel for where my people are.


Thing 26 – Makerspaces

Thing 26 – Makerspaces

I never used to think of myself as an early adopter, but over the years, I’ve come to realize that’s exactly who I am. I also suffer from a condition known as FOMO, fear of missing out. So, when Makerspaces started getting more attention, I went all in. I wrote a successful Donor’s Choose project and acquired all sorts of materials. Most of which have seen embarrassingly little use.

I did it backwards. I got all the ‘stuff’ without thinking about how it would be used in my elementary library. (Btw, I’m sticking with the term library. I don’t think we help ourselves with our frequent name changes. Just as an athlete’s role changes when he/she transitions from professional athlete to broadcaster, so too can the library’s role evolve with the times. Shaq didn’t change his name. I’m not changing mine.)

Anyway. I got the stuff. I cleared the space. The kids came and… played.

Not sure what was happening here, but they had fun.

I questioned whether they were learning anything. I so wish I had explored this ‘Thing’ before I dove in. This SLJ article in particular addressed my concerns and helped me realize that not only is it okay to have stations that require some direction from me, it’s advisable. I had been operating under the idea that a true Makerspace should be wholly student driven. I provide the materials. They provide the ideas. This might be more realistic in middle and high school, but not for my building. As anyone could predict, giving elementary kids rolls of duct tape and scissors results in sticky scissors and wads of duct tape that make fun projectiles. I appreciated Laura Fleming’s approach in having different types of stations to accommodate both the free form creation and more directed type, especially at my level.

This year our library clerks were cut and my principal decided that classroom teachers would be required to stay in the library with their classes. I felt a lot of pressure to make sure that my lessons contained content that wouldn’t seem like a waste of time to the teacher forced to stay. Sadly, the makerspace just didn’t seem to have a place in this model.

I have high hopes that next year will be different. I still won’t have a clerk, but now I’m armed with research. I also attended a fantastic conference session called “Engineering Through ELA” by Clay Nolan that presented some really cool options for integrating STEM and literature. I think  my teachers will appreciate this novel approach. I’m undecided about whether I’ll include the STEM challenge as part of the lesson or as a choice activity, but I definitely want to get back to giving the kids some hands-on building and making activities. I think it’s an important way to include all different learning styles.

“Make a word with Lego.”


Thing 22 – End of Year Reports

Thing 22 – End of Year Reports

I have to  be honest and admit that it’s been several years since I compiled an annual report. I busted two different principals not reading the report and eventually decided there were better ways to use my time. There was the time I hand delivered the report, left the office, and remembered I forgot to check my mail. The report was already back in my mailbox with a sticky note that said, “Impressive! Thank you for sharing.”

I had been gone for less than 60 seconds.

In that principal’s defense, the report was text based and at least 5 pages long. It was based on something I’d had to do for BOCES and probably was boring. The last time I presented a principal with an annual report, she flipped through it and handed it right back. She didn’t even take time to look at the pictures of kids in action that I’d used to illustrate various points. I wish I was quick enough on my feet to have come up with a professional, yet snappy, response to these instances, but I didn’t. I just quit writing the reports. (Another confession – I didn’t much like doing them anyway.)

For this assignment I examined all of the sample reports provided by Jennifer LaGarde. Dear God! Some of them were horrifically long! A: I can’t imagine having time to write such a thing and B: I’m not reading any document that is over 10 pages single spaced. Looking at these through an administrator’s eyes I’d think that my librarian has entirely too much time on his/her hands.

Others were long, but engaging with lots of images and information in small bites. One of my favorite reports was this one. I have yet to meet an administrator who would take the time to read the whole thing carefully, but with the information presented in small meaningful nuggets throughout, there’s a good possibility that some of it will sink in.

Last year they cut our library clerks and presenting the impact of that cut in a meaningful way means I need to do an end of year report. Knowing my administration as I do, I know my best chance to get them to pay attention is to present my details in a single page, so I’m going to go with an infographic.  I’m not finished with it yet. I haven’t decided which is the best representation of the drop in circulation, and I need to add some of the good things that happened this year, but it’s a start.


Thing 14 – News Literacy

Thing 14 – News Literacy

Wow. What a topic for our times! I started exploring media literacy with my fifth and sixth graders a few years ago, and really got into it after attending a session with Nancy Jo Lambert at a state or national conference.  She shared some phenomenal resources on her website and I’ve borrowed or modified almost all of them. If you have any interest in teaching this topic to elementary kids, I highly recommend you check her page. Until recently, my primary goal in teaching media literacy was to make the kids think about the media they consume and  how the creators may try to manipulate their purchasing habits.

Now, my focus is shifting to show how media creators can manipulate ideas and information in order to tell the story they want readers, viewers, or listeners to hear. I grew up watching David Brinkley on NBC and the idea that the news media has become something to question is hard for me to bear.

I did a fun lesson with my sixth graders demonstrating how easy it is to create sensational headlines that look real. The teacher and I created one fake headline and one real one using the website Break Your Own News and asked the kids to discern the difference. After talking about elements that made the headlines more or less believable  we challenged the kids to make their own, with a goal of fooling readers into believing their story.  Here are a few favorites, including a couple that fooled several people.

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As for providing elementary students with regular doses of current events, Newsela Elementary looks like a phenomenal source. I love that you can change the lexile level an article without diminishing the content. It’s also linked to Google Classroom which makes it super easy to share articles with students.

Following the news isn’t easy these days, which it makes it that much more essential for us to make sure our students have the skills to be informed members of society.

Thing 21 – Connecting with Stakeholders

Thing 21 – Connecting with Stakeholders

Connecting with stakeholders is my weakness. I remember back in library school we had a presenter come in and tell us that we had to be advocates. Librarianship wasn’t a field for the mousy, the shy. I almost left the room. I didn’t of course, but connecting and advocacy are the hardest part of my job. It just feels like showing off. “Hey, look at me!” This quote from the article Four Steps to Self Advocacy by Hannah Byrd Little really hit home with me.

“It is NOT narcissistic to promote your work as the school librarian.”

I also know that my self esteem clouds my vision of the work I do. Sure, I do the best I can, but it’s certainly nothing to talk about. Except that it is. It has to be. Because 500 kids depend on me, as their librarian, to instill a love of reading and develop their ability to be effective digital citizens. If I act like my work is nothing special, then why on earth should my admin feel the need to maintain the position? (insert epiphany)advocacy-is-not-about-me-as-an-individual-its-about-the-work-i-do-to-make-sure-our-students-are-fully-prepared-and-life-readyAdvocacy is not about me as an individual, it’s about the work I do to make sure our students are “fully prepared and life ready.”

Heidi Neltner’s Stakeholder Connected Librarian Toolkit was a great source for new ideas and new uses of tools. I loved her suggestion to offer a “power lunch” in which she introduces a new tool in just 15 minutes. I especially liked the way she offered multiple time slots for teachers to choose from. Power lunch is probably not an option with my building schedule, but I could easily set aside small blocks of time throughout the week that would meet different teachers’ needs. It just never occurred to me to offer training in that manner!

I did start a monthly newsletter to build connections with my teachers this year. I use mailchimp because it provides a usage statistics that tell me who is opening the newsletter and what, if any, links they are clicking. This report has been eye opening as it gives me insight into whether I’m sharing information that is actually of interest. It occurs to me that I should consider adding school board members and district admin to the mailing list. There’s that little voice again, whispering, “Why would they care?” Shut up voice.

My Voyage with Symbaloo

My Voyage with Symbaloo

As an elementary librarian, content curation is a big part of my job. While my students (and sometimes their teachers) think they can just “google” any information they need, I know that Google frequently directs them to sites that are beyond their current abilities. For years my website has been the source of curated content for my building population.

This year my school district changed website platforms, obliterating my previous website. It wasn’t really such a terrible thing; my old site was admittedly stale and in need a makeover anyway, but the timing could have been better.

The new platform went live on February 1. February. It’s the middle of the year people. Teachers have established their habits for the year. They have shortcuts they rely on; routines drilled into their students and then on a random Wednesday they get a 404 error.

To be fair, we had been warned. But still. Who has time to really devote to creating a whole new website during the school year? (The folks in central office who have long since forgotten those pesky small humans that interfere with our best intentions, that’s who.)

Anyway, I had the bones of a tolerable replacement ready and my teachers got their shortcuts to most frequently used resources back, but it’s so… boring. And text dependent. I’m sure that can be rectified in time, and I decided to check out some of the Curation Tools for ideas.

I’ve admired Symbaloos that I’ve seen presenters use in the past, so I went with that. My memory of colorful squares with clear icons was exactly the type of resource my younger students need. My sixth grade is in the early stages of volcano research so I took the resources the teacher and I had collected and put them into my own Symbaloo.

It’s not exactly what I was hoping for. It IS better than a plain list of links, but the icons leave much to be desired. I don’t like that some of them are repeated, and I especially don’t like the ones that don’t seem to have anything to do with the topic. When possible I changed the icons, but for some reason, it wasn’t always an option. I really want the dude in the hard hat to go away but the best I could do was crop out his head.

I also wish that I could edit the blocks after they’re created. I forgot to check the box would allow text on the block a few times and had to delete the block and redo it. (True confession – I haven’t checked the help center as of this writing.) And what happened to the custom wallpaper I spent 20 minutes cropping and resizing? It only shows up when I’m logged it. I don’t need it. I wanted it for the kids.

If I can figure out the icon issue I’d like replace all of my current pathfinders with Symbaloo. I also think it could be an interesting option as an alternative book report for my students. I’m imagining they could develop a collection of links related to an informational or historical fiction book. Some of my teachers like to require a certain number of pages in books used for book reports, but if a student were to produce a quality collection of supplemental resources, perhaps that page requirement could disappear. After all, in order to develop that collection, the student would surely be reading (and retaining?) much more than if they grudgingly read 100 pages in a traditional book.