I don’t know. Figure it out.

I don’t know. Figure it out.

I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve uttered those sentences in the past two weeks. I can tell you how delighted I’ve been with the results.

I borrowed a class set of Cubelets from our county wide Center for Instruction, Technology and Innovation (Citi) to inject some fun, hands-on, inquiry based, learning into state test month for my third and fourth graders. I started by having them finishing the sentence, “A robot is __________.” We then had a lively discussion of what a robot is or is not. Is a vacuum cleaner, a remote control car, a toaster, a robot? Why or why not? (I’m sure my students feel like I’m an annoying five year old because I always ask them why.)

I showed them a video of the Roomba vacuum cleaner and we discussed why they all agree that THAT is a robot,  but can’t agree about the vacuum cleaner the custodian uses. How are the two different?  The Roomba navigates a room on its own. The custodian’s vacuum requires human guidance. Eventually we came to agree that, by definition, a robot needs power, senses, and actions.  Conveniently, these terms match the types of blocks in the Cubelets set.


The following weeks I distributed the six piece Cubelets sets to groups of 4-5 and let them explore. Depending on the class I might have started them with a challenge, such as “Build me a motion activated light.” but I mostly let them learn by trial and error. And boy did they learn!

Here are a couple of examples of their creations!


Do you do anything special in your library to relieve the state testing tension in your building?

Yes Virginia, learning bibliography can be fun.

Yes Virginia, learning bibliography can be fun.

That was fun! Can we do it again? Oh, I didn’t get to finish, can I keep going?

These were the kind of comments I heard as I wrapped up my bibliography unit this year. <Wait, what? Did she say, “bibliography”? As in, citing sources?>

Yes, that’s what I said. True confession here – I haven’t actually taught formal bibliography lessons in, well, a long time. I know. Bad librarian. But. It’s soooo boring. And I can’t even  properly write a bibliography without looking it up, so how can I really expect elementary kids to? And with the advent of citation generators, it just seems like an obsolete skill. (Don’t get me wrong – I taught the kids that you have to cite your sources, but I let them do it very informally.)

Anyway, last year I was convinced that I’m doing a disservice to my students so I promised myself I’d do better this year. Our district required us to receive training in Explicit Direct Instruction and then teach a lesson using the model.  Bibliography seemed like a perfect topic for using the EDI model of instruction, so it was time to keep my promise to myself.

I was still of the mindset that this was a boring topic and was grudgingly searching for ideas when I came across this blog, in which she relates bibliographies to movie credits. That connection alone made introducing the topic feel much more palatable. At the same time, my district started a free trial of Flocabulary and I discovered a fantastic bibliography rap. CaptureIf you haven’t heard of it, Flocabulary is a database full of content area rap songs. They also offer printable lyrics and note taking sheets, as well as a weekly current events rap.  It’s a pretty awesome resource! I printed out the fill-in-the-blank bibliography lyrics and then taught mini-lessons as we filled them in. The bad part is that now we all refer to a list of sources as a Ba-Ba-Ba-Bibliography.

But none of that garnered the comments that started this post. Those were for the assessment. <Ok, now she’s really off her rocker. The assessment of bibliography instruction was fun?>

Yes. The assessment. I’ve been a librarian for a long time and it’s not at all unusual for me to change course midstream. This was one of those times and it was magical.

I had purchased this Bibliography Bundle from TeachersPayTeachers and printed out a set of the task cards for each student. (The bundle is fantastic! Worth every penny!) My original vision was that they’d each work through their set of tack cards individually. (Boring!) I’m not sure what inspired me, but literally 10 minutes before my class arrived I decided to try hanging the task cards around the library and sending the kids on a hunt for them. I did not hang them in numerical order and had each child start at a different number in order to avoid crowding in any one location. IMG_6563

I gave out the Task Card Recording Sheets, directed them to work in number order, and let them loose. It was amazing! I have a pretty large open space and the kids were running back and forth looking for each card. They were calling out the numbers they were looking for and others would point them in the right direction. It looked chaotic, but they were 100% on task 100% of the time. How often can you say that? As I watched, I imagined ways that it would have been easy to cheat, but no one did! The closest they came to cheating was when they discovered the pile of extra cards that I had printed. They thought they’d be clever and use that stash of cards rather than searching around the library.

The following week they used iPads to scan the QR codes on the task cards to check their answers.

I put a chart on a white board where they could tally the questions they got wrong, which gave all of us a great visual of the questions that we need to go over again. The great part about that was that I asked them to identify which questions I need to reteach, so when I get to that next week, they’ll already know that I’m teaching something they need.

How do you teach bibliography to your elementary students?












Why I love my job!

Why I love my job!

I’ve been running an after school robotics club for the past several months despite having almost zero knowledge of robotics. I started with blind faith that the kids and I would figure it out – emphasis on kids. The last official day is tomorrow and it’s been successful beyond my wildest dreams. I’ve watched the kids invent, plan, build, troubleshoot, adjust, and grow. When they learned there was going to be a school talent show they wanted to enter a robot and the last month has been a whirlwind of building and programming.

As it became clear to them that their robots wouldn’t be seen well on the stage, they (with a nudge from the talent show director and me) decided that videotaping their show would be a better option. However, a group of amateur videographers working with older iPads weren’t able to capture the true essence of the shows these young perfectionists had designed.To my surprise and delight, one group decided to build a special robot that could carry and iPod Touch and capture the action from the floor. The small robot you see in the upper half of the screen is the “camera-bot.”

That’s the only video I’m free to share before the big premiere tomorrow night, but I’m just so impressed with the innovation and tenacity of these young people. I couldn’t wait to share a sneak peak. It gives me hope for the future.


Time to reclaim the joy

Time to reclaim the joy

I just finished reading The Library Girl’s post about reading champions and she truly hit the nail on the head. (No suprise, right?)

I am so guilty of pushing aside the joy of reading as I attempt to make my position seem valuable to those in the business office. I vowed to change that this past spring when one of my second graders looked at me sadly and asked, “Are you ever going to just read us a story again?” With so much time and attention spent on skills, especially technology; reading to the children has largely fallen by the wayside. It wasn’t always like this, though. In my early years I read to my students a lot. One of my favorite read-alouds was Fourth Grade Rats by Jerry Spinelli. I read it to my third graders at the end of every year for several years in a row. They loved it and so did I.

Then the trauma of a layoff several years ago made me fear being viewed as a someone only read stories.  And heaven forbid anyone walk into the library and catch me, gasp, reading a book to myself!


Now, I will grant that part of my experience is colored by that layoff years ago, but my colleagues in the classroom feel the same pressure. No one wants to be seen reading, and especially not reading for pleasure. School is for serious teaching and learning. If you have time for pleasure reading, then you’re not obviously doing something right.  Admit it. Most of us would see a colleague reading People magazine in the teacher’s room and get a little jugdey about their use of time.

So why are we so surprised that our kids don’t read for pleasure?! They are surrounded by the subconscious message that reading for fun is not only uncool, but frowned upon.

So, while I had already vowed to make more of a point of reading to my students this coming year, The Library Girl has strengthened my resolve. I think I might start the year by reading Fourth Grade Rats to my fourth grade classes. I can’t wait to reconnect with Suds and Joey.

How much time do you spend reading aloud to your students just for the fun of the story?

We’re here, but a little gray

We’re here, but a little gray

Where Are All of the Female Leaders?. This blog post struck a nerve with me. Because I am one of those teachers who is choosing to become a leader after my children grew up. I felt like the writer was chastising my choice, and this is really the problem that keeps occurring among professional women. Why do we have to try to do it all before forty? 

I just finished the first year of a two year teacher leadership program. Honestly, I can’t imagine how I would have done it with kids at home. I just don’t have the stamina to be three people (mom, teacher, student) at once. Oh yeah, and wife. I admire those who can do it, but I am not one of them. I have an extremely supportive husband who always handled 50% or more of the parenting duties,  but I didn’t want to miss anything. I was a mom and a student (and wife) during the last year of my BS degree and later while I completed my Masters degree.  I know what it’s like to juggle those two roles. I think I did it pretty well. To be honest, I find teaching to be more demanding than parenting. I don’t think I juggled the roles of teacher and student nearly as well as I juggled being mom and student.

I don’t regret the choices that I’ve made… except when my classmates are all chatting about their young children and I feel ancient.

The author raises good questions, but I submit that we could increase the number of women in educational leadership if we spent more effort encouraging older, more experienced teachers to consider making that transition.  I’m not yet 50, but I do feel old in my leadership classes. I would say the average age of my classmates is between 35-40.

Even though I still have potentially 15+ working years left,  my principal was surprised that I would want to pursue something like this “at this point in my career.” Perhaps women are receiving the message that they can’t, or shouldn’t, pursue leadership if they choose to wait.

I bring to the table the wisdom that comes from years of teaching and surviving raising two kids through toddlerhood and teens.

If a female teacher leader chooses to limit herself at one point in her career, that choice should be accepted just as we we accept and encourage the one who decided to go for it early on. That teacher has years ahead to take on more leadership roles. Please don’t write her off! If she has the potential now, it will only get better with experience.

Kids are so smart!

Kids are so smart!

My second graders taught me a valuable lesson this week. Technology isn’t everything. I have one class using Google Classroom so I assigned them a writing piece about their second grade memories. Since their google account will stay with them through their years in the district I thought it would be an interesting document for them to look back on over the years.

My other classes haven’t started using their google accounts, but I thought they could do the assignment using MS word and they would still have something to look back on in sixth grade.

As luck would have it, my computers didn’t want to cooperate yesterday and one of my darling kiddos said, “I think it would be better to be in our own writing anyway so we can see how we used to write.” Several others agreed so I grabbed an assortment of paper, passed out pencils and crayons and they set to work. You know what? She was so right! The handwritten pieces are so much more interesting than the google docs. They’re more personal and thoughtful, and some even included illustrations. I can’t wait for them to be in sixth grade so we can bring these pages out and reflect on them. I used the website FutureMe to write myself an email reminding me of these writing pieces and scheduled it to be delivered when the kids will be in sixth grade. (If you haven’t heard of FutureMe, check it out. It’s a great tool to send yourself a future reminder.)

Here are just a few of their pieces.

Gianna ella nathan garrett maddy seth

Aren’t they adorable? I am so grateful that the technology failed. And grateful for the wisdom of an innocent 7 year old.

Year 1 is over

Year 1 is over

I’ve been participating in the Central NY Leadership Development Program this year.  It’s a program designed in partnership with BOCES and LeMoyne College to develop teacher leaders in Central NY school districts. For our final project we were directed to create a one page digital visual representation of our reflections of this year. When I first heard this assignment I thought it would be easier than a paper, then I remembered that I am creatively challenged, and realized that summarizing my thoughts in a visual format was far more challenging than writing them.

Thankfully, I also participated in Cool Tools for Schools so I have a big toolbox of technology tools and I app-smashed the following image using Canva, Thinglink, ComicLife, and Bitstrips. I’m posting it here as a test to see how it works before I have to present to my peers. I’ve included links to the websites and videos that most inspired me during the year. Click the image to see how it works.