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.



I can talk the talk, but can I walk the walk?

I can talk the talk, but can I walk the walk?

A friend of mine wrote to me about how crazy these times are. He said that the country is at war with the police. I don’t see it quite that way. To me it feels more like a civil war. People seem unable to see any perspective than their own and are unwilling to try. Whatever side they are on, they believe they are right and the other is wrong. What’s worse, we seem to be resigned to the settling it with violence.

My son was involved in a nasty altercation with a fraternity on campus during his freshman year. All of the young men involved were white and even then, three years ago, we discussed the fact that the outcome of that situation could well have been different if Evan had been black.

Like it or not, the truth is that there is a different standard for black men than white men. We have to acknowledge that reality before we can get anywhere. It’s not politically correct, but it’s truth.

There are bad police. White and Black. There are bad teachers. White and Black. There are bad people. White and Black. There are a LOT of stupid people.White and Black.

But most people are good. Black and White.

The good people have GOT to start calling out the bad. We have got to stop looking the other way when we see hateful or disrespectful behavior. We have to speak up when we hear adults disparaging police (or teachers, or other authority figures) with blanket, generalized accusations. ESPECIALLY when children are present.

As long as we remain silent, we are complicit.


My Take on Ted

My Take on Ted

The culminating project of the two year teacher leadership program I’ve been in was a 5 minute TED-style talk. We were directed to present a talk that would reflect on our growth over the past two years and share our passion.Now that the talk is over, I thought I’d get a few more miles out of it by using it as a blog post. Recycling is a good thing, right?

Here goes….

What am I DOING here? This is a question I’ve asked myself countless times over the past two years. What on earth possessed me to sign up for this program? I have no desire to be a building principal. Kudos to those of you who do. Someone has to do it, but I just don’t have the skin for it. Too many people mad at you for things you can’t control.

In all seriousness, I have spent a lot of time reflecting on my motives. In the first place, I’ve always taught my children to take advantage of any opportunity that comes your way. When this program was offered, I saw it as less a chance to pursue a dream job and more as an opportunity to have another career option. 

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Sixth grade self.

I wasn’t, and am not, comfortable with being considered a leader. That role just doesn’t jibe with the 6th grader who was the butt of everyone’s jokes who is still in charge of my brain. What on earth do I have to offer the cool kids of the world? The cool kids include pretty much everyone who isn’t me.


As many of you have experienced, there was some discomfort involved in stepping up for this. I have a colleague who consistently makes comments about how I want to be someone I am not. And, then there’s the whole school librarian thing. The stereotype. I still meet people who are surprised that we need a masters degree. Or any degree at all for that matter.  I bet there is at least one person in this room who had doubts about a librarian’s qualifications to be here. It’s okay. We’re used to it. There are still too many people out there who don’t know what a school librarian offers to a school and here I have a chance to help dispel some of those misconceptions.

For many reasons I lived most of my childhood through books. The public library was my haven. I still remember the day my parents finally let me walk there by myself. My mother had people watching me along the way and by the time I got home she had already heard that I was foolish enough to speak to a stranger en route. Luckily life at home was crazy enough that it was easier for them to trust that I had learned my lesson than to retract my independence. The library was  safe place. It was familiar and consistent and quiet. No one could tease me there. My clothes were acceptable and I didn’t need any money to get in. My best friends lived in the books that I read over and over again.m.clark - TL Talk And I taught myself the mechanics of being a growing female by reading everything I could find. My school library was a tiny room, with limited access, but again, it was a safe place to escape the stresses of the classroom for a few minutes.

The library is the equalizer for students. Especially students in poverty. Students from low income homes come to school knowing 13 million words. That may sound like a lot, until you learn that students from middle income homes come to school with twice as many words. According to the US Department of Education, 61% of children living in poverty have no books in their homes. The school library is an essential source for these children.  Research in many states demonstrates that students who have access to a quality school library program perform better on the all important standardized tests. Recently, research has also proven that the greatest increase in achievement occurs when the school librarian and classroom teacher work together.

There is nothing more frustrating that possessing this knowledge and not being able to put it to work. Too many administrators continue to view the library as a special, allowing information skills to be taught in isolation with little opportunity for real life application.

For years I’ve sat through advocacy sessions on how to become “indispensable” while we all lament the fact that people don’t know what we do. My problem with librarians promoting the benefits of a strong library program is that I think we have a little less credibility in the eyes of an audience. Of course we believe in the value of our programs. The common thread is always that we have to open administrators’ eyes, and how better to do that than to immerse myself in a program training administrators? Really, I’m just taking one for the team here.

Librarians have the ability to play a huge role in equalizing opportunity for children in poverty, but with administrative support we can do even more amazing things. Which brings me back to why I’m here. Stepping out of my comfort zone into the realm of administration has given me the opportunity to promote the benefits of libraries from within the ranks of decision makers. And that can only be a good thing for the children whose lives are touched by a great school librarian.

Thank you for listening. Now, shhhhhhh! 🙂