Piloting the Mini-Lesson/Embedded Librarian Model in 6th Grade Science (at last!)

Sometimes in education it feels like projects take years to implement, rather than, say, months or weeks. As the type of person who experiences a particular sort of joy when checking things off of the ol’ to-do list, those types of nebulous, long-term, drawn-out initiatives can at times feel rather ungratifying. So I’m excited to share about a project that has been almost three years in the making, and has begun to unfold in a way that is, in fact, immensely gratifying.

When I started my job as the Middle School Librarian at Colorado Academy in 2013, there wasn’t much research curriculum to speak of in my division. I spent my first year getting to know my colleagues, students, library collection, and general curriculum, and by my second year was given the go-ahead by our Middle School Principal to start building buy-in with the faculty to create a research scope & sequence. This involved almost a year of meetings that I won’t bore you with here, and ultimately the Middle School faculty, with my guidance, chose to implement the Pathways to Knowledge model for research (http://eduscapes.com/infooriginal/pathways.html). It’s an older model created by Follett in partnership with Marjorie L. Pappas and Ann E. Tepe, but it fits our needs as a school in that it is non-linear and inquiry-based.

I spent another school year gathering information about existing curriculum, and determined that we should move forward by scaffolding research skills within projects that already exist. I also had the revelation, as I know from the AISL listserv many of you also have, that mini-lessons are often more effective than large-scale information dumps (that one-off “research lesson” where you try to cover ALL the skills in 45 minutes). So, I reached out to our 6th grade science team to see if I could “embed” myself in their classrooms for the duration of their Global Water Challenge project, which is a large-scale project where teams of 6th grade students are asked to research water issues in a particular country, prototype a solution to the most pressing water issue in that country, and ultimately create and perform a skit in which the prototype is presented in addition to an overview of the country’s water issues. Because the two 6th grade science teachers are wonderfully open to collaboration and because this is the first long-term research project middle schoolers take on, piloting the “mini-lesson” model with the Global Water Challenge seemed like a good fit.

I’ve been embedded in 6th grade science classrooms for a week now, and have loved how everything has unfolded so far. Below is my mini-lesson plan (each lesson lasts about 20 minutes total)–I’d love to hear from those of you who work with 6th graders (or middle schoolers in general) about whether you see anything that’s missing or that I could add!

Day 1
Appreciation & Enjoyment: The Water Princess Read-Aloud
Students gain an introduction to water scarcity issues in Burkina Faso and understand some of the basic issues associated with water scarcity in general
Student curiosity about water issues is piqued

Day 2
Presearch: First Day with Country Groups
Students practice presearch skills, including brainstorming, formulating initial questions, relating information to prior knowledge, narrowing or broadening a topic, and identifying keywords

Day 3
Search: Using CultureGrams to Explore the Difference Between Databases and Search Engines
Students use the CultureGrams database to find information about their country
Students discuss the difference between databases and search engines using the analogy “Databases are more like streaming a movie on Netflix, and search engines are more like trying to stream the full version of a movie using YouTube.”

Day 4
Search-Paraphrasing and Plagiarism
Students paraphrase lyrics from Adele’s “Hello” in an effort to understand how paraphrasing works
Students use NoodleTools to cite the CultureGrams article they located the day before

Day 5
Search-Online Resources: Wikipedia
Students understand that Wikipedia is merely a starting point for all research and never an end point
Students understand how to identify errors in Wikipedia articles
Students are able to use the footnotes at the end of a Wikipedia entry to find more resources
Students are able to cite a Wikipedia article

Day 6
Search-Effective Web Searches (Government Sites Using CIA World Factbook)
Students can explain the significance of a URL (.gov, .edu, .org)
Students can conduct a basic Google search
Students locate and take notes on the sections for their country on the CIA World Factbook for Total Renewable Water Resources, Freshwater Withdrawal, Climate, Terrain, Natural Hazards, Environment-Current Issues, Drinking Water Source, Sanitation Facility Access, Major Infectious Diseases

Day 7
Search- Effective Web Searches (NGO Sites)
Students are able to conduct a basic Google search to locate organizations that work with their countries on their water issue
Students are able to conduct a basic Google search to locate health organizations that deal with water-borne diseases, drought, etc.
Students are able to effectively use the CRAAP test to evaluate websites

Day 8
Search-Effective Web Searches (News Agencies)
Students are able to conduct a basic Google search to locate recent news articles about their country and water issue
Students are able to effectively use the CRAAP test to evaluate websites

Day 9
Search-Creative Commons Image Search
Students understand how to limit an image search to “Labeled for Reuse”
Students understand that they must cite images using a URL

Days 10-20
Small group research conferences with me to check in on progress

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She doesn’t look like a librarian

It’s nearly Halloween, a holiday I greet with a delight other people reserve for Christmas eve. As such, ‘tis the season for costumes and my mind turns to the subject of dress in general: what we wear on the outside is so often a reflection of how we feel on the inside, or rather, how we ought to feel or hope that others perceive how we feel.

I’m a librarian. You’re a librarian too, or are library-oriented, let’s say. As such, you are no doubt acquainted with the standard Hollywood shorthand for “Librarian”: tweed skirt, white blouse, pearl necklace, horn-rimmed glasses, up-do, clickety-clack high-heeled shoes. I have no idea what the male equivalent is, but I’m imagining it involves a sweater vest. And then there’s the inevitable variation, Fantasy Librarian: tight tweed skirt, low-cut white blouse, just-woke-up up-do, very high-heeled shoes, et cetera. (Gentlemen, do they make low-cut sweater vests?)

I don’t dress like that, and neither do you. I have dressed like a lot of other things, but not that. At ODA we have a firmly established tradition of costumes for occasions throughout the year. During the week leading up to Homecoming, there are theme days of every stripe: Sports Day; Mythology Day; Pajama Day; Disney Character Day; Opposite Day; 70s Day; 80s Day; 90s Day. For a yearly event signaling there are 100 days left before the seniors graduate, we have a dinner with speeches, again all in themed costumes. There’s Halloween. There are days when we wear school colors, days on which we are encouraged to look like Walking Dead characters to support the science department’s zombie-related day-long project in the fall, and so on. Thus in the eight years I have been here, I have been Princess Jasmine three times:








dressed as myself during high school four or five times:







and been a Hindu goddess at least once.







I did actually come to school in a tweed skirt/eyeglasses/up-do combination one time for Nerd Day, but no one recognized it was a costume, to my crushing disappointment.



It’s not that I wouldn’t like to wear a nice skirt, pretty blouse and some fancy shoes, it’s that I can’t. We can’t – I’m speaking for you here. Frankly I’d rather be here at this desk looking like Juliette Binoche from Chocolat, but it’s not practical. Librarianship is way more physical than people envision. We all bemoan the fact that no one seems to understand what librarians really do, and as cerebral as its reputation may be, there is absolutely a physical component that most of the laity don’t recognize. Some of us have assistants, student helpers and staff members in our libraries, but many of us are solo practitioners and outside of Madam Pince, Hogwarts’ librarian, our books don’t shelve themselves, do they? Tight skirt means no bending over, white blouse is going to be dusty by mid-day, and forget those shoes. It’s flats all the way up on that library stool, or squatting down to retrieve a lost book, or chasing across campus to the next bibliography workshop.

But it’s not all grimness and drudgery! Many librarians have real style, it’s just not the style the general public expects. Need proof? Take a look at us bloggers! What I’ve noticed almost universally amongst this group of which I am proud to be a member is that we all seem to wear pretty sensible shoes, our hairstyles are flattering but low-maintenance, and it’s in our accessories that we take the greatest pride of expression: lots of canvas bags with clever sayings and craft-show jewelry. By way of market research last year I requested photos of my AISL pals from across the land, and in the interest of preserving privacy have elected not to post them all here, but: I’m right – virtually every single shot shows someone who is dressed stylishly but ready for whatever mayhem befalls her, with a little dash of personality at the earlobes.

I’m inviting you to post your best Library Look right here in the comments (men are especially encouraged!), and maybe we can start a movement in which Hollywood portrays “Librarian” correctly. I’m not enraged about this – it isn’t a rant piece; I’m just putting a call out there to my peeps to correct some assumptions about how to recognize us in the wild, so to speak.

I’ll start:


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“They said WHAT?” Elections and Information Literacy

Did you know the US has an election coming up in 19 days? Perhaps you’ve debated the debates, analyzed the ads, and nosed through the news?

But are you talking about it in your schools or it is too divisive? Interestingly, the other Independent Ideas blog, the one hosted by NAIS, recently showed how to build teachable moments into this election season and how to do so in a way that will make students feel their contributions are heard and valued. Schools can facilitate small group conversations to answer these two key questions. This lets us commit to our common values rather than focusing on our differences.

  • As we go through this election season, what are our school community’s overarching values, those that supersede differences in political viewpoint?
  • What core values can anchor us in a place of safety and connection?

The blog post states that educators need to be aware of their own backgrounds and beliefs and listen without judgment to ideas with which they may not agree. They also need to monitor student conversations to make sure that students are following the protocols set up for deep listening discussions. The authors recommend rather than focusing on specific candidates or policies, conversations focus on how students came to their beliefs.

  • In small groups, have one student say, “I’d like to understand your point of view. Please tell me more how you have come to that belief.”

They advocate good listening techniques like not interrupting or arguing. Students should repeat back what they heard the other person say “until the speaker feels that the listener has heard what was actually said, free of interpretation or added spin.” Because my students are often have only a budding political awareness, it’s helpful for them to be asked to think through this task. Internally I’m wondering if this is your parents’ belief or your own and learning why it’s important to you. As a proponent of visible thinking, I feel it’s vital for teens to know not only what they think but how they got there. This builds on political discussions and emotional awareness with tolerance and patience.

Read the full article here: http://www.nais.org/Independent-Ideas/Lists/Posts/Post.aspx?ID=576

This summer I was selected for the Newseum’s Teacher Institute to learn the skills that students need to be informed and empowered citizens in a media-rich world. The election was already a hot topic, and Teaching Controversy: Turning Third-Rail Topics into Productive Debates taught some strategies to host civil debates on controversial topics.

The Newseum recommends case studies (historical or contemporary) because they make you define your terms and structure what you’re discussing. Even when students come to different conclusions, they’re starting from the same facts. Here are a few groundrules they recommend to help keep conversation flowing and emotions calm.

  1. Know your students and be sure there is a routine in place for discussion. As a librarian, this means you’ll want to collaborate with a trusted teacher or a class with whom you’ve already worked closely. It’s not the time to introduce yourself to a new group.
  2. Be confident in your content. Be prepared with the facts and committed to the discussion, and ensure that you give enough background knowledge to set up an even playing field for all students.
  3. Respect your participants by understanding their perspectives, valuing their ideas, and being clear about the purpose of the case study and the rules for discussion.
  4. Ask questions (especially tiered ones), encourage debate and as you “stir the pot,” make sure to take every side.
  5. Specifically in setting up the case study:
    1. Give everyone a clearly-defined role that lets them explore the thought process of someone other than themselves. Maybe they are a mayor, the campaign manager, a retired grandma, or the Speaker of the House.
    2. Provide a limited scope that aims to answer one question from one perspective.
    3. Provide multiple choice as a plan of action (The Newseum asked us to change our perspective so that we consider how someone in a particular role might act, not what they would think.) For lower-level classes, you can preload prompts with more information on what should happen and the preliminaries of why.

6. Wrap up as a class and make sure that everyone understands the purpose of the case study and felt heard throughout the class period.

As a librarian, I have informal conversations with students more frequently than I teach full classes. In those cases, I love using the fact-checking sites with students and comparing news coverage from different parts of the country. It’s always a conversation starter to ask about advertisements and mailers and how each campaign is trying to persuade them. They love to pull back the curtain and see how facts can be manipulated, and this keeps them away from conversations about “people,” which can get heated fairly quickly. What about you? Any plans over the next 19 days to introduce the election and information literacy skills? Share below:

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Anatomy of an 8th Grade Book Look


TVS 8th grade book browsers. Pink Out day supports community members touched by cancer.

I bet you have heard this before: “I don’t have time to come to the library.” In our Middle School, 5th and 6th graders have an Academic Flex period that becomes a class in 7th and 8th grade. This replaces a 45 minute period they previously had for keyboarding practice, library visits, free reading and study hall. Sports become more time-consuming for some students. Add in blooming hormones, “too cool for school” attitude and our school’s rich selection of extracurricular activities, and time is a precious commodity. We’ve been able to schedule “Book Looks” for the 8th grade about every 3-4 weeks (so far). Our book checkout period is three weeks, so that works out neatly. We also take a “pop up library” (similar to Alyssa Mandel’s idea) to a weekly study hall. This gives another opportunity for 7th and 8th graders to check out, turn in, browse a few titles and get help with their library account.

Book Selection in 10-15 Minutes

bookshelvesWe front fiction books with 8th graders in mind (usually we front with 5th/6th graders in mind.) We make two table displays, with (what we hope are) tempting books for 8th graders. This prep work means teachers can bring students for  part of a period, with the realistic expectation that most students will quickly be intrigued by something. As much as I want to stand by and discuss, I think many students are like birds at a bird feeder: they scatter at the sight of an approaching adult. When we have the “right” books displayed, I will hear the most effective recommendation: a peer leaning in to say “I read that. It’s great!”

What’s Been Popular With TVS 8th Graders?


8th grade girls Pink Out (and browse books)

Who knows what draws a reader? Great cover? Check. Made into a movie lately? Check. Seen others reading it? Check. None of the above? All of the Above? I have yet to pin down the X factor of title popularity. Our general policy is buying a single copy of a title, so when we are pulling books for display, we keep a backup stash of books close at hand, to fill gaps. We don’t want any person to feel that someone else got the only good book. These are some books that our 8th graders were excited about (in no particular order:)

  • Rollergirl (graphic novel) by Victoria Jamieson
  • The Bordon Murders by Sarah Elizabeth Miller
  • Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by Jack Thorne
  • Ashes (and Chains and Forge) by Laurie Halse Anderson
  • The Great White Shark Scientist, The Octopus Scientists  (Scientists in the Field series generally)
  • Books by Nicholas Sparks (the sadder the better)
  • One Crow Alone by S. D. Crockett
  • Booked and The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
  • Untwine: A Novel by Edwidge Danticet
  • Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson
  • Peaches by Jodi Lynn Anderson
  • In the After by Demitria Lunetta
  • Mrs. Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children; Hollow City; Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs
  • books by Cassandra Clare
  • When by Victoria Laurie

I’d love to hear what’s worked for you, in attracting teen and ‘tween readers!




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on taking note(s)…

I’m wondering, this month, how everybody else out there in Library Land handles the seemingly simple, but actually quite perplexing, task of taking notes in the service of research. I’m not asking about anything fancy like how you skillfully coach students in the art of extracting useful and relevant information as they close read from a source. We not even there yet. I’m talking about the BASIC, BASIC, BASICS of note taking.

  • Do your students take notes on paper or in some digital format?
  • Do they take notes in a specific research management platform like NoodleTools or in a word processing tool like Google Docs?
  • Do they use 3X5 or 4X6 index cards?
  • As they are scribing their notes, do they cluster the facts/content by the source in which the content is found, or do students cluster facts/content by the research question that the fact/content addresses?
  • Do you, in your library program, force students to take notes in a particular way or is it up to each student? Or teacher?

Our Context

Note taking has been knocking around in the cavern that is my head of late because since we started school in the first week of August my partner in the library, @NikkiLibrarian, and I have have been madly taking our middle schoolers through the basics of research. Our current middle school schedule is 7 periods a day and each period is 45-minutes. As a rather large school, we have 5 classes of 6th graders, 7 classes of 7th graders, and 7 classes of 8th graders. Within this framework, we’ve seen every 6th grader 6 times, every 7th grader 5 times, and every 8th grader 4 times. Let me tell you, that is a LOT of lessons!

In each grade’s lesson arc we took a project assigned by their teachers and worked with them on defining the information tasks; locating and using content in books, databases, and websites;  learning how to navigate in NoodleTools (new to us this year); and taking notes.

We are a 3rd grade through 12th grade library. Our information and research curriculum is still growing and taking form, but our emphasis in the middle school years seems to be moving toward helping students get very comfortable and confident with the MECHANICS of research:

  • Searching the library catalog.
  • Using call numbers to find a book on the shelf.
  • Using tables-of-contents and indexes to locate information within a source.
  • Searching in databases.
  • Locating the bibliographic data needed to cite an item within a book, in a database, on a website, or from an online image.
  • Taking notes.

Note: We do engage our middle schoolers in discussions about source quality and the differences between databases and websites, but over the years I’ve come to be convinced that middle school students just lack the necessary life experience and critical thinking skills required to truly practice good source evaluation. Rather than force a task for which they are not yet developmentally ready, we’ve chosen to help them get really good at the mechanics of citation so we can, largely, take that instructional piece off the table in our high school classes. This, effectively, allows us to invest our time and energy in high school classes in driving deeper learning about source selection and evaluation.

Our Quandary with the Note Taking Piece

This brings me back to note taking. We are a 1:1 iPad school and, I think, this is what is perplexing me about teaching note taking with our middle schoolers. Our students’ iPads don’t currently allow them to work with two windows open at the same time. For me, this is a PROBLEM. Here’s why…


Reading an eBook or other digital text is an abstraction.


Taking notes on a device is an abstraction.

As I see it, when I can see both abstractions side-by-side, the device “holds” both abstractions for me so I can concentrate on reading the content and extracting that which is useful.


Side-by-side windows help keep the two abstractions clear to me so I can concentrate on my content and note taking.

When I can only see one abstraction at a time, my brain becomes responsible for “holding” each abstraction AND reading the content AND extracting the parts that are useful.

I need to read this on my device. I need to remember what I read. I need to close the source app. I need to open my notes app. I need to scribe what I read in note form. I need to identify the source from which the note has come. I need to close my notes app and re-open my ebook and go back to reading where I left off…

When this is my process, I find that I run out of “brain power” and I cannot take notes well. I have students (even middle school students) who can, indeed, take notes well this way on an iPad, but I, personally, find the task and work flow very challenging. I think that good iPad note takers are a minority of students.

My (Not So Universal) Solution

I have become an advocate for the use of paper notes, but given our school culture I do not “dictate” note taking formats. I have middle school teachers who have a strong (and admirable) desire to give students choice and agency when it comes to the way that they take notes and I am okay with that. I just like to have the discussion with teachers ahead of time so that they are aware of the advantages and disadvantages inherent to each. The only requirement that I impose is that however the notes are taken, a note must always be connected, in an explicit and unambiguous way, to a specific source in some form.

Here are some iterations of paper note taking formats we have been using this year.

Screen Shot 2016-10-06 at 11.43.37 AM.png

Our “starter” format developed by Sumoha Jani, our 6th grade Project Inquiry class teacher. Click here to view as a Google Doc.

Screen Shot 2016-10-06 at 11.45.26 AM.png

Our “a little beyond starter” format used by 6th graders later in the year, 7th, and 8th graders. The form started with lines in the boxes, but some students note by webbing or drawing so this works gives them more flexibility. Click here to view as a Google Doc.

Screen Shot 2016-10-06 at 11.48.57 AM.png

Sometimes you just need the citation box so you can paste it into your composition notebook on the page(s) where your notes will live. Click here to view as Google Doc.

Screen Shot 2016-10-06 at 12.15.13 PM.png

Sometimes you have to cite a lot of images for a project and we’re finding that sometimes gathering information on paper before entering it into NoodleTools is faster for some students than switching between apps in real time. Click here to view as Google Doc.

People will Use Technology the Way THEY Find Useful, Not How YOU Expect Them To…

Because of my iPad abstractions theory (BTW, the whole abstractions thing is totally just based on my personal observations so they aren’t researched-based in any other way, shape, or form.) I purposely chose not to introduce the NoodleTools notecard capability in our NoodleTools rollout. When you give resourceful, tech-confident people choice and agency, however, they tend to exercise those choice and agency muscles and within a few days, teachers and students were using the NoodleTools notecard feature–many of them with absolute glee!


Some of my teachers LOVE the ability to have students copy/paste/enter original text and paraphrase in the same space!

Aside: Seriously, people, everything would be SO MUCH EASIER if you all would just do things my way, but okay, I get that it’s not all about me in the end (Honestly, in my head it actually will always be ALL about me, but well…Nobody else goes along so I try to keep my delusions of grandeur in my head where they belong…). Hahaha!

And then on to High School…

When our students move on to high school, we find that high school students and teachers come to develop their own note taking systems. Some continue to group notes/facts/quotes by the source in very much the same way that notes are gathered on the worksheets. Many are finding, however, that it is oftentimes more effective to either cluster notes by topic or to just write all of your notes out as you find them and cluster like ideas together later in the process. We recommend that they skip spaces between notes and write only on the fronts of sheets so that if they choose, notes can be cut into strips and grouped. Our students do a lot of “co-construction” in their classes so this is a method that is modeled for them frequently. Personally, I find it messy and challenging, but I have teachers who have required students to do it once and found that students continued the practice even when it wasn’t required in subsequent projects.

Screen Shot 2016-10-06 at 12.34.08 PM.png

Our high schoolers are taught to put “sources consulted” into NoodleTools FIRST, then use parenthetical citation to tie a note to its source.

Screen Shot 2016-10-06 at 12.31.44 PM.png

Then use MLA parenthetical citation format to link your note to its source of origin.


A National History Day note taking template developed by a high school social studies teacher to scaffold the note taking process for frosh. I like how the structure is a bridge between what our students did in 8th grade and what they need to do as Frosh. Note taking for older students is much less structured.

Addressing Plagiarism (in Part) by Building a Culture of Documentation

There is probably more than enough on the “addressing plagiarism” for a great many future posts in this space, but I just wanted to mention that within our note taking lessons we are trying to embed a culture of documentation into our research process. During lessons we have started to emphasize to both students AND teachers that regardless of the note taking format that a student chooses to use, they are expected to be prepared to produce their notes on demand at any given point. I have also strongly suggested that teachers ask that students produce their notes (or share their NoodleTools projects/notecards to a teacher’s inbox) and turn them in either along way through the process or with final projects. I do not even feel that the notes need to be “graded,” but when students know that their notes will be collected I believe that they’re actually more apt to actually engage more deeply with more of their sources. A quick mid-project formative assessment survey of a student’s notes where 90% of the content is from a single source and four other sources show only a single note or two linked to them is a quick way to determine that a teacher or librarian needs to do some research coaching before we are ready to work on final products. Ultimately, the best time to address the either the issue of shallow research or an issue of academic malpractice is before they ever takes place!

Where Do We Go From Here?

I think with note taking, there are always going to be individual differences amongst our students. A middle school student that struggles with executive function and cannot keep track of a notebook or physical pieces of paper, might well be best off learning to take notes with NoodleTools notecards or in a Google Doc. I totally get that. I’m just trying to think through my reasoning for advocating my positions when it comes to note taking.

When we’re working on a project collaboration and I ask, “How are your kids going to take notes?” I frequently have teachers tell me, “I like to have my students choose the method that works for them.” One of the things that I’ve come to realize is that teachers frequently don’t realize that nobody has ever explicitly taught their students multiple methods for taking notes. Everybody assumes that someone else has covered that ground. I guess, though, that’s why we have librarians who keep track of stuff like that over a 15 year curriculum! I’m fond of pointing out that a choice of the one method that you know how to do is, in reality, not a choice at all. I’m fortunate to work with teachers who get that and work with us to try to address this need in as clean a way as it possible given our school culture.

At some point we need to carve out time in the curriculum to work with students on note taking work flows in paper formats, note taking work flows in digital tools like Pages or Google Docs, and note taking work flows in research management platforms like NoodleTools. Only after our students have experimented well with more than one method of note taking, have we really given students any choice at all.

For future consideration:

Okay, now that you know that you prefer to take notes on (choose one):

[  ] Paper     [  ] NoodleTools     [  ] Google Docs

What do you actually write?

That’s a whole other post for a whole other day!

So how are you handling note taking in your research curriculum, folks? I’d love to hear about what you’re doing and what you are thinking!

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Diversity through Library Makerspaces: An Example of Community Collaboration of Girls in STEAM

photo by M. Murphy

photo by M. Murphy

Many of us in the independent school realm are continually striving to reflect and foster multiple perspectives for our community through diversity initiatives. Past AISL conventions, professional development, and blog posts have featured diversity, equity, and multiculturalism to our collective knowledge. I want this post to be a complimentary bookend to the diversity post Christina McClendon wrote for AISL, “Best Practices for Creating (and Using!) a Diverse YA Collection.” I found the information in her post rich in scope for collection development and useful to my thoughts of creating a well-rounded and represented collection. I would like to delve into how library programming and facilities can also mirror this focus on diversity and equity in our libraries through my experience with makerspaces, STEAM initiatives, and collaboration with the our technology and science departments.

I have chronicled the journey of creating, growing, and sustaining a makerspace at the Shorecrest Preparatory School’s library; and just as our book collections can serve, support, and foster a diverse community I have learned that the creative spaces in our libraries are powerful resources for equity and access to the tools of creativity and innovation. The digital divide has been a common topic in education circles in which there are segments of our society that are without access or are underrepresented in tech and innovation. Libraries of all sizes and scopes are beacons of resources to narrow this divide. As the research and design program has grown at our school through our makerspace and with our collaboration with the technology department I have witnessed how creating a creative space generates a ripple effect in self-efficacy, personal empowerment, and community engagement. I want to share how a focus of STEAM themes and programming grew organically at an individual level, then to curricular level and now has expanded into community partnerships because we updated our resources to include materials and machines for making over the past three years. I am honored that I played a minor supportive role to a collective endeavor initiated by a pair of students. This seems apt to share  today on ADA Lovelace Day-attributed as being the first computer programmer, but has only recently been recognized.

Co-Founders of the Girls' STEAM Club

Co-Founders of the Girls’ STEAM Club

About two years ago two upper school girls noticed that they were one of the few females in the computer programming and robotics class. The pair discussed this and then talked to a few more of their friends and decided to form a club with a diverse group of girls that focused on STEAM for girls. They approached several teachers: our Director of Technology, Dr. Baralt, because she is the leader of STEAM and her exhaustive knowledge of technology; Lisa Peck, a science teacher that heads our medical science program alongside environmental initiatives too. I think they reached out to me because they had seen the development of the makerspace in the library and the outreach our library program was doing to promote innovative and design thinking. I want to stress that because there was a specific creative space and a push to offer different materials of learning in the library the students sought a librarian to join on as one of the mentors. Additionally, our upper school art teacher, Charla Gaglio, rounded this group of mentors to encompass all the areas of creativity and subjects of STEAM. The great part about this grassroots development was that it started to develop at the same time as the national focus on underrepresented groups in tech and commerce through the awareness raised by organizations like Lean In, Code.org, and Girls Who Code.

STEAM Ambassadors lunch meeting for planning

STEAM Ambassadors lunch meeting for planning

In the early stages of setting a mission of the club to encourage and support girls in technology, robotics, and engineering the girls recognized that reaching girls younger than high school would be instrumental in growing the numbers in STEAM fields and classes. So from this focus the high school girls of this club emerged as STEAM ambassadors to the rest of the school. The goal was to share stories of women thriving in STEAM fields and generate activities for middle school girls that give them skills and experience with coding, game design, engineering, and science concepts, etc. As the structure of the club was taking shape a local school had been communicating to Shorecrest about both our robotics program and makerspace program. Dr. Baralt saw the opportunity to share our experience and invite Academy Prep Center of St. Petersburg to be a part of our STEAM for girls club. She was instrumental in setting up the logistics of bringing our middle school girls together with the middle girls of Academy Prep while under the guidance of our high school STEAM Ambassadors. The upper school girls were responsible for searching, designing, and delivering the lessons to the middle school girls. For the first couple of sessions the mentor teachers explained lesson development, modeled activities, and helped gather instructional materials, but as the upper school girls gained confidence and experience they began to shape their own lessons. Now in it’s second year once a month the science teacher at Academy Prep, Latasha Seay, brings middle schools girls over after school and collaborates and celebrates STEAM activities with our girls in the library.

Wireframing for Game Design on the iPad

Wireframing for Game Design on the iPad

Electronics and Circuitry

Electronics and Circuitry




This school year in addition to the Girls’ STEAM club using the resources in the library one of the original student founders of the club also saw the opportunity to involve the National Honor Society to do more outreach and service through our makerspace. She contacted PACE Center for Girls in Pinellas whose mission involves,”PACE began as a community response to the lack of female-specific programs for girls involved in the juvenile justice system, at risk of dropping out of school, or facing other serious risks. Since 1997 PACE Pinellas has served more than 1,500 girls by offering them and their families hope and opportunity for a brighter future.” The experience of setting up programs that she learned from Dr. Baralt and the mentors gave her confidence to create more community outreach and reach more girls. I noticed that when she was planning this meeting she only needed a little consulting with me, but then she lead and organized the first activity of paper circuitry activities with a few high school girls in the program along with a different group of girls at our school.

SPS Tech Director, SPS Science teacher, APC Science teacher

SPS Tech Director, SPS Science teacher, APC Science teacher

My role as a librarian in all this is was as a host space, resource collector, and subtle support. In many ways this program borrows from the ways public libraries offer programs and resources to their communities. It is a joy to see all the girls together being creative, curious, and empowered with new knowledge. Honestly, programs like this in which students lead the inquiry are the epitome of what library strive to attain: self-sufficiency and efficacy. On the days when I am struggling with the balance of all the realms of librarianship: collection development, reader advisory, research and information literacy instruction while sustaining a makerspace the experience of being a part of Girls’ STEAM club affirms my goals as a librarian. I feel as equally empowered as the girls do.

Through this process I have learned of some sites and organizations that support girls and other underrepresented groups in STEAM:

Girls Who Code


Ada Lovelace Day

Black Girls Code

Black Nerd Problems

Blacks In Technology

Latina Geeks

10 Inspiring Women in Tech from Asia and the Middle East

Sylvia’s Super Awesome Maker Show

Project H

Out In Tech

Start Out

Lesbians Who Tech

Additionally, here are a few businesses that were founded by women that supply resources for tech and makerspaces-

Adafruit founded by Limor Fried

Littebits founded by Ayah Bdeir

I also want to highlight a program that brings together all STEAM elements but is anchored with the author Octavia Butler. I loved how sci-fi literature was added with the arts and tech so  natural integration for libraries.   The Octavia Project

Finally, this story is just one example of library programming and facilities supporting diversity and inclusion. I would love to hear how other libraries may be supporting diversity, affinity groups and service organizations. I would like to learn more ways of reaching and supporting many different voices.


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img_4404It is all about timing..that is for sure..a few weeks ago I received 2 boxes of new books. I opened them up like a child on Christmas morning and flipped through the pages of some of them. I did not have them in the system yet and had not even paid the invoice. I actually was still taking inventory of the titles and checking them against the enclosed invoice, when one of my second grade classes arrived in the media center for their weekly check out time. I left the job I was doing in my office, and went into the main part of the media center to assist the studens. One of the cutest little girls asks me if I have a book about how to make goo? I was very surprised, since this question was never asked by any student and I also realized that Halloween was over a month away. I initially was at a lost for a book to suggest to her, …but then I suddenly remembered one of the pages I had flipped through a few minutes ago…It was called “Ooey Gooey Slime” and it was in the new selection entitled Mason jar crafts for Kids_ by Linda Braden.

 So the student followed me into my office, where I found the new book, showed her the picture and she immediately jumped up and down, and said ,”Yes, yes, yes…that is the book I want to check out…” I explained to her I needed to process it first, and it was ordered to remain in the makerspace, but told her I would copy the pages for this recipe for her. She also asked me to copy the title, so she could tell her mother. In addititon, I promised her she could check it out the following week.
I really thought that was the end of the story. However, when I saw her again on the playground during the week, she quickly informed me she was buying the materials to make the recipe and asked her mother to buy her the book. I also thought that was the end of the story. The next week she came back to check out books and sure enough she asked me if I had the book ready for her. Of course, I took it out of the makerspace and checked it out to her. She hugged that book like it was gold. So now I was sure it was the end of the story. On Thursday, just 2 days after her check out day, I got an e-mail from her teacher asking me if I had time to stop by her room, since this little girl had something to show me. I answered her that I would be there in the afternoon and when I arrived the little girl went to her schoolbag and pulled out her treasure in her glass mason jar. She took my hand and sat me down a table and let me have some of the “goo” she had made…She was so proud and I could not believe how it looked exactly like the picture from the book. She was glowing with excitement and I told her how proud I was of her and how surprised I was that she did this experiment so quickly after receiving the instructions. She said, “I didn’t think you were going to come to my room today” . I told her I would never not keep a promise I had made. She also informed me that she used her own money to purchase her own copy of the book and it was to arrive at her home the next day. I was speechless… Her teacher later told me she kept looking at the door all afternoon waiting for my visit.
This was one of those stories that I needed to share as well as the title of the book. When we change one student’s life in the simplest way it is just amazing…and it all started with a book. I hope all of  you will have stories to share….and make a difference in someone’s life. As Dr. Seuss once said: “Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.”

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An Update on the AISL Mentor Program

“The mind is not a vessel that needs filling, but wood that needs igniting.”



The Board is thrilled to announce that the Mentor Program is here! In the AISL Membership Survey conducted earlier this year, almost 50% of our membership expressed interest in an AISL Mentor Program. Now, there are 30 participants in the program’s inaugural year. Those 30 mentors and mentees will soon be introduced to their mentor partners to begin a journey together towards some specific goals. Along the way we hope they form professional bonds that will last into the future, beyond this year’s first mentor program.

There is a lot of literature that speaks to the importance of mentoring to help professionals grow in their fields. In a 2011 Harvard Business Review article titled DeMystifying Mentoring, Amy Gallo turns old perspectives of mentoring upside down through case studies. She describes a long-term mentor relationship that started with the question “So what’s your next step?” Sometimes a trigger like that is all we need to push us to work towards addressing the challenges in our libraries.

The AISL Board hopes that our mentor-mentee partnerships will help all participants grow as librarians. In addition, we feel fortunate that all members of AISL can connect and mentor one another through the list-serv, social media, the Annual Conference, and the Summer Institute.

Visit this site to ignite the mentor fire.  For inspiration during the school year, check in with the Independent Ideas blog for updates on how the Mentor Program is progressing.

Allison Peters Jensen, AISL Board Member-at-Large, 2014-2017

Director of Libraries, Lower School Librarian, Colorado Academy, Denver, CO.



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These are a few of our favourite things….

A few years ago, I had a meeting in a recently-renovated public library: it was a fresh, warm and welcoming space. However, the staff led a tour that was focused what they didn’t like – it was disheartening.

I will not be doing that today.

Today, I’m going to share some of the things we really like about our new space: the second-floor of a building built in 1965, re-opened at end of 2015 after an 18-month renovation.

New windows & HVAC system – they’re not glamorous but having windows that open & close, as well as adjustable thermostats, is beyond stupendous. It has opened up new opportunities, such as having an air-conditioned summer school classroom (our school is beautiful but at 151 years old, does not have central air in all buildings). Plus our paperback covers didn’t curl this summer! (No photos – thermostats turn out to be surprisingly unphotogenic).

Adjacency to our Cirne Commons (named after a generous alumni donor): being on the second floor, I feel like Cinderella every time I come down the steps into this gathering space. We feel so much more a part of  what’s going on. And having a birds-eye view makes it very easy to track specific kids down! View from the top/view from the bottom:

commons2 commons3

Having falling in love with a glass board at the Academy of the Holy Names (#aisltampa2015), we used a gift from our Parents’ Guild to purchase a Visionary Move Mobile Magnetic Glass Whiteboard (4′ h x 3’w model #74950) – sometimes used for teaching, sometimes used for very scientific polls:


In the name of flexibility, we are loving our new classroom tables (Haworth Planes Collaborative Table) – so easy to move and flip up for storage:


The castors on our bookshelves (Ven-Rez Horizon Steel Library shelving) make it easy for just two of us to move them out of the way (even with approx 400 books on each), as we did for some leadership training at the beginning of the year:


Our super awesome custom bookdrop! We had no luck finding just the right one, so went with a plain metal unit from Brodart. One of our parents does graphic design and vinyl imaging – we provided the quotations, she designed/printed/installed:


While we looked at tablet chairs, our designer selected a basic lounge chair along with these cool tables (Steelcase Turnstone Campfire Personal Table) which are wonderfully flexible (ie. can be positioned in different ways and places – the kids really like them):


We’re excited about showing our Ontario colleagues around this wonderful space (along with our also recently spruced-up Junior School library) at our spring meeting!


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Parent communication

Starting my third year at this school, I feel that I have progressively gotten better at keeping parents informed about library events, special projects, checkout procedures, overdue books, and everything else library-related that they would be curious to know. This year, I subscribed to Smore (which I used heavily at my previous middle school but not so much my first two years here), and I plan to use it for everything!

I got back into using this online newsletter tool last year when I created my So you’ve read Harry Potter – what’s next? list. I shared it on my blog and Twitter, but I didn’t email it directly to anyone.

At the beginning of this school year, I knew that I wanted my first newsletter to families to be chock-full of information, yes, but also visually appealing and easy to navigate. I love how simple it is to do this using Smore.


Rather than embedding the newsletter into my blog, I instead emailed the flyer to all of our Lower School families directly from Smore. The advantage to doing it this way is that I could see who opened the email, who clicked on the newsletter, and how long they spent viewing it. When I see that the newsletter has been delivered to 211 email addresses with only 119 of them actually opening it, I can better manage my expectations of how much families really know about the library. I also know that some families have multiple addresses listed, so if one parent has seen it, that’s enough.

We just finished our book fair last week, so I created the following Smore in about 15 minutes to send out to families thanking them for their support. You can see how versatile it is!


While I plan on using Smore heavily for parent communications, I know that I need to diversify my avenues of parent contact. Just standing outside at dismissal time (chaotic as it is!) is a good way to strike up conversations with parents. If they see me, they also might remember something they wanted to share with or ask me.

What ways do you find are most successful in communicating with parents and families? I’m always looking for new ideas!

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