Making a List … and Checking it Twice ????

You may want to add these two titles on yours:

Maker Lab: 28 Super Cool Projects (Build, Invent, Create, Discover) foreward by Jack Andraka, published by DK Smithsonian, 2016.
Steam-makers: fostering creativity and innovation in the Elementary Classroom by Jacie Maslyk, published by Corwin, 2016.

Jack Andraka, the foreword writer of Maker Lab, was a 15 year old high school student when he invented an inexpensive early detection test for pancreatic, ovarian, and lung cancer. He has won numerous awards for his work, currently is a student at Stanford University and is the author of the young adult memoir Breakthrough: How One Teen Innovator is Changing the World.
Inside Maker Lab, you will find really great projects like making Baked Alaska, Balloon Rocket Cars, Sticky Slime, Invisible Ink, Lemon Batteries, Breathing Machines, Rubber Band Planets, Stunning Stalactites, Soap-powered boats, Jungles in a Bottle, Wind Catchers, Erupting Volcanoes, Fantastic Fossils, Density Towers, Waterwheels, Icy Orbs, Sensational Speakers, and many more. Each project has step by step directions, supply lists with photos, beautiful illustrations to follow, and Real World Science facts about the project you are working on. The projects are also divided into four sections: Food for Thought, Around the Home, Water World, and The Great Outdoors. You will surely find something to relate to the curriculum to help students better understand and get “their hands on” experience on at the same time.

There are over 90 QR Codes for Web Resources in Steam-makers, as well as, a plethora of information including the history of STEM, change makers, failing, connecting, building, networking,  and starting. It connects disciplines, bridging learning styles by naturally engaging young people as they apply learning in creative ways. There are examples on how to get resources and grants. The appendices are filled with information on the STEAM Studio Badge System, a Sample Professional Development Plan, an English Language Arts Extension Chart, a STEAM Making Permission Slip, a Makerspace Supply List, Websites for STEAM and Making, and a Student Reflection Sheet.

Chapter 4 is one of my very favorite resources for children’s literature that can be used to support STEAM makers. The chart is divided by Maker Books by topics, which include architecture, inventors and inventions, robots, electricity, coding and programming, and math. Besides the book titles and authors, there is a Make it! column, A Little Inspiration column (with appropriate websites), and a QR Code column, which takes you to fantastic resources. Having all this infomation in one location is so vital, with the busy lives we lead and is such a valuable resource, as we support our students on their STEAM Making journey.

Good luck with your adventures ahead and may the “Making Magic” continue in the new year ahead.


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Reading News across the Political Spectrum

Last spring, I had to confront a gaping hole in my professional knowledge. But that is jumping ahead. Let’s start at the beginning, with our students.

It began with a project in the 10th grade American Political Systems class. Working in pairs, students were to select two articles with differing viewpoints about a contemporary issue, then lead a current events discussion. Last spring was the first time I had the opportunity to meet with students about their article choices. Inspired by Nora Murphy’s work on source literacy, I asked students to talk to me about what types of source they were looking at, and why they felt each article was sufficiently authoritative.

Repeatedly, I found myself facing students’ inability to distinguish between what felt good and what was good quality. Generally falling along a political spectrum, articles that aligned with what students already believed earned a rating of “reliable” … and the other sources were all considered equally foreign and indigestible. Certainly, they were applying no particular standards to finding authoritative expressions of the opposite viewpoint, beyond maybe a shrugged: “Well, it was in the library databases,” as if that assured authority, or “It was ranked high in my search results.” In these discussions, students generally knew how to think about the authority of authors, but it was clear that it did not occur to most of them to consider how the identity of the publisher shaped a piece. As their research skills educator, I found myself demanding, again and again, that there were standards of rigor to which we must hold every publication, which provided a way to identify quality sources at many points along the political spectrum.

The first step we covered was simply learning a bit more about what possible points along the political spectrum were, and identifying where a particular publication situated itself. Wikipedia was invaluable in these investigations. In many cases, the first few sentences of entries on a specific media outlet provided a lot of vocabulary (progressive, libertarian, neoconservative, paleoconservative) that gave us good talking points for getting started. Sections on editorial staff, board members, funding, and past controversies were also helpful, if not taken in isolation. “About” pages could sometimes be useful, but were often so full of obfuscating language as to be impossible to parse (we first addressed this difference in readability in 9th grade, when students tried to decode what Sputnik News was). However, a publication’s media kit for advertisers and their submission guidelines for writers were often much clearer indicators. These tools helped us build a crucial understanding about the nature of the source we were encountering. It did less to help us understand rigor.

One trouble is that the standards of rigor remain, well, elusive. One high school student and I spent the entire subsequent summer debating how to define those qualities in a manner that would be findable and useful: If we cannot find out about editorial process, what is a reasonable way to measure the same thing? What role does the size and demographic of readership play in our understanding of a publication? How does it matter if a publication was “born digital?” If most people view media by clicking through from social networks, what weight do we give to how clickbait-y their headlines feel? What does the publication articulate as its own claim to authority? But we barely scratched the surface.

Blur: How to Know What’s True in the Age of Information Overload better helped me frame my thinking. It identified four forms that “news” reporting might take. Two, in particular, caught my eye. “Journalism of verification” requires journalists to examine evidence relating to a question to determine what conclusions to draw, whereas “journalism of affirmation” is “a new political media that builds loyalty less on accuracy, completeness, or verification than on affirming the beliefs of its audiences, and so tends to cherry-pick information that serves that purpose” (34). While I wanted my students to be selecting sources that followed the model of verification, they tended to encounter and be attracted to sources that were rooted in affirmation. Reading journalism of affirmation is rewarding; it articulates the reader’s feelings clearly, makes her feel smart, and is widely available. So not making a practice of identifying a source’s model — verification, affirmation, or other — is how we end up with a gulf between what feels good and good quality.

As a result of these conversations, this fall I had the opportunity to have an hour with the now-11th graders to help them set up news feeds. My assignment was to make sure every student was regularly following some kind of news. After thinking long and hard, I turned back to Blur and decided to break the lesson into two parts: 1. Practicing how to identify sources and evidence in journalistic writing, and 2. Giving every student an opportunity to identify a method for following news on a regular basis. It was a first time through this topic; the lesson plans linked to above have a great deal of room for growth. The lesson culminated in a plea that students commit to reading a variety of good quality sources that could help them experience a range of perspectives.

Which brings us back to the gaping hole in my professional knowledge that I mentioned at the outset. Because the truth was that last spring, while I was urging students to pick sources based on rigor rather than emotions, I found myself limited in the rigorous sources I knew to recommend. Let me be more honest: because I had not cultivated my own knowledge of good quality conservative sources, I knew of only three. Three sources that I kept pointing to, again and again. Frankly, I had to struggle continually with my own snap judgments. My knowledge proved completely insufficient, and I barely sounded convincing, even to myself. How could I stand for a rule of rigor across the spectrum if I was unable to point students to acceptable options?

So, I decided I had to educate myself, which is what I was trying to do when I attended my first AISL conference in Los Angeles last year. Many of you kindly allowed me to question you about your collections, and your thoughts on a variety of news sources.

Slowly, my list of sources from around the spectrum began to grow. It is still smaller than I would like. But I am fortunate to have three learners in my life who are particularly committed to notions of source literacy, reading broadly, and engaging with multiple narratives. One student and I had conversations about how floods of articles from two or three favorite news sources started to feel like seeing the same stories over and over again; it was taking 90 minutes a day to weed through and find new ideas or events. We determined that it was better to select a small number of media outlets representing differing perspectives, so that each article would offer a new point of view, even if the topic repeated. Another argued that there were more varieties of narratives than just international and political; sources from various US geographic regions and affinity groups (news from ethnic, religious, and other groups) went on my list. Work with each of those students — including my Research TA, who chose to focus on source literacy — is messy and ongoing, and would be a post unto itself. Each of them did, however, respond to the questions I was asking of myself with a passion and commitment that transformed my curiosity into something I actually needed to live up to. They made me do more than just make lists — they made me expand my reading.

The final element of the 11th graders’ lesson this fall looked at what it might mean to access multiple perspectives through news. Given the fractious environment at the time, I decided simply to share a selected list from the sources I was following (at the time, I was testing close to 150 different news sources) and let students explore for themselves. I am grateful to colleague Connie Williams for making me realize that the list I shared with students is not founded on consistent standards. For example, my list of international sources includes many options that fall under what Murphy would term “necessary bias,” aimed at assuring exposure to various narratives being promoted around the world. My affinity group media options similarly look to expand my own ability to access and hear the multiplicity of narratives experienced by the United States’ diverse population, while my regional newspapers attempt to balance that same need with a sense of editorial rigor. My political spectrum is where I look most critically at the use of sources, evidence, and careful argumentation. It seems that, in the process of writing these words, I have discovered the next stage of work I have to do on my own thinking.

Nevertheless, I am gaining something deeply important from both investigating potential sources and reading those I selected on a somewhat regular basis. It is a time-consuming process, and it can be quite unsettling to encounter religious, political, or ethnic viewpoints to which I have not really been exposed before. Yet I also find it immensely enlightening to read about an issue in an expressly paleoconservative, African-American, or Catholic leaning publication, or any publication outside my regular media diet. Seeing a reasoned argument proceeding from a different set of values or experiences often provides me with crucial details that are lost when filtered through more familiar media. Often, I encounter statements that make a lightbulb go off for me — I’ve found myself reading and re-reading a portion of the Constitution, until I can finally figure out what someone else is seeing in the words.

Ultimately, it comes down to a real question of what my professional values — and my human values — really are. Just as journalistic ethics require not neutrality but that conclusions should arise from fact-based evidence, every time I work with students I drill into them that research is not about starting with something you believe to be true and cherry-picking evidence to prove it. Rather, we look at a range of rigorously supported viewpoints and draw evidence-based conclusions. Our library teaches students to use close reading and a knowledge of logical fallacies to unpack how word choice and argumentation impact readers’ emotional responses to nonfiction. In our program, those are becoming core source evaluation skills. If I actually stand by all parts of this curriculum, then it seems reasonable to me to expect that I should be accessing multiple, rigorous, and diverse viewpoints in my own reading of news, before drawing conclusions. When I hold myself to those standards, I can do more than just telling students to avoid fake news; I can offer them a positive range of news options on which to draw. When I do that, I model for students that I live by what I teach.

NOTE: I should have asked this initially, but I would love for anyone to share ideas for sources with me. I hope to build a much more rigorous list over time.

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Best of 2016 … from your AISL Board


With Cyber Monday, Black Friday and Thanksgiving all behind us, now is a good time to pause and reflect – to celebrate our 2016 successes, both individual and collective.  Last week, someone asked me, “What is the best thing that has happened to you this year?” and I admit, I was caught off guard.  We so often focus on the things that are wrong in the world (or our lives), that we don’t take the time to focus on all the good things for which we are grateful.

I am grateful for this wonderful group of AISL colleagues with whom we share our journeys as independent school librarians.  Our vibrant listserv, blog, and social media presence keep us connected, allowing us to share our challenges as well as our successes.  In that frame of mind, let’s pause and celebrate the best of 2016 for our association.


First up, the amazing PD opportunity many of us enjoyed at the annual conference in Los Angeles in April 2016, thanks to the hard work of the awesome organizing committee.  Next, the timely Summer Institute on “design thinking” held in Troy, NY in June.  Hundreds of listserv posts, thought-provoking blog posts, emails and conversations between AISL colleagues across North America.  Cost of membership: $30.  Value: priceless.

AISL’s fledgling mentorship program was launched this fall.  It is early days yet, but we hope it will prove a valuable experience to both mentors and mentees.  Recent feedback reflects this hopefulness that the program will grow organically.  One mentee comments, “I am exceptionally grateful to AISL for thinking up and then providing this opportunity for mentorship.  Figuring out how this is going to work between myself and my mentor is a great lesson in sort of the self-care of professional development.  I’m still relatively new to independent schools and school librarianship generally, so just having to practice creating this relationship is tremendous.”  Another mentor offers, “I have been able to offer some insights, and reassurances as to some programs/issues that she has been dealing with at her school.  We have talked a couple of times on the phone, for a few hours, and our plan is to keep the conversation ongoing.”

Looking forward as well as reflecting on past successes (don’t want to rest on our laurels!), the good news is:  AISL participation is the gift that keeps on giving.  Plans are finalized for the annual conference in New Orleans in March 2017, which is fully booked.  Two librarians will attend their first AISL conference there thanks to the Board’s Affordability Scholarship; they will share their experiences with us via blog posts next spring.  Spearheaded by Milly Rawlings, four of our “retired” members—Kick Ass Retired Librarians, or KARLs—have planned a complementary, concurrent program in New Orleans that involves sightseeing as well as connecting with active members through activities, meals, and the hospitality suite.  We expect more KARLs will attend the 2018 Atlanta conference, which will benefit from the review of ways to improve integration after the inaugural experience in Atlanta.

Meanwhile, colleagues in two cities are already planning their future annual conference offerings: Atlanta will host in 2018, and Boston in 2019.  And hosts are lined up for future Summer Institutes as well:  Caroline Bartels at Horace Mann in New York City is hosting an “all-school read” seminar in June 2017, details will be available via the listserv in January 2017.  Several of our generous Los Angeles hosts are stepping up to offer the 2018 Summer Institute, topic to be announced a little closer to the date.  They want to ensure it is timely!

Members of the AISL Board have created “planning guides” to help organizers of annual conferences and Summer Institutes.  Updates and revisions are underway, and will be distributed this spring – they are a never-ending “work in progress” J.

Last month, Ian Singer, Credo’s Chief Content Officer, reached out to AISL after a referral from our BAISL colleagues.  As the former editor of School Library Journal, Ian is sensitive to the delicate balance between librarians and vendor “opportunists”.  He is working to build credibility in the K-12 market, and believes that there is a good fit between Credo’s products and independent schools because of our college/university prep focus, training, smarts (and possibly budgets J).

Ian is interested in exploring ways to partner with our AISL community, and has offered to discuss sponsorships (a meal, a speaker, a hospitality suite?) at conference or summer institute events, as well as creating webcasts around themes like information literacy or faculty engagement.  This information sharing and collaboration can be win/win both for Credo and for our libraries and students.  Please reach out to Ian directly if you’d like to explore a collaboration of some kind:

There has been some good discussion recently via the listserv and blog about PD books worth reading; thanks to everyone who has shared good PD reads.  As the AISL Board prepares to host the annual “Board book social” at the NOLA conference, we’re soliciting suggestions for additional titles to consider.  We like to offer a choice of two titles – are there are books you’ve read recently that would make for a lively discussion at our annual conference?  If so, now’s the time to share!  Please add your book recommendations in the “Comments” section below.  We will blog about the selected titles so everyone can weigh in.  Here are the books we are considering so far:

BiblioTech: Why Libraries Matter More Than Ever in the Age of Google – John Palfrey (2015)

Born Digital: How Children Grow Up in a Digital Age – John Palfrey (2016)

Dive Into Inquiry: Amplify Learning and Empower Student Voice – Trevor MacKenzie (2016)

Essential Questions: Opening Doors to Student Understanding – Jay McTighe (2013)

And last but not least, if you are interested in serving on the AISL Board, stay tuned.  There will be an opportunity to apply for Member at Large positions in the spring as people currently on the Board move into new roles.  It’s a wonderful way to give back to an association that gives us so much.

On behalf of the AISL Board (Jean Bruce, Renee Chevallier, Katie Archambault, Allison Peters Jensen, Phoebe Warmack, Christina Pommer and moi), Happy Holidays and all the best in the New Year!







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Thank goodness for grads…

Like many of you, we have wonderfully supportive alumni. Ours celebrate their connection with our school is many ways: while the financial support of successful old boys & old girls is tremendously appreciated, there are smaller but still significant ways that others contribute.

One such way is how I lean on many of our recent grads as touchstones for library programming. As you well know, it is critical that the skills we foster be relevant to their lives beyond our walls, and I am in regular contact with quite a few to keep what we do with library instruction in line with what is required of them at university.

The most recent example is not specific to the library. I have the good fortune to be teaching a section of AP Capstone Research this year and am running into an issue with students not meeting deadlines, and not requesting extensions properly.

A quick text to some grads gave me a plethora of real-world examples, which I will share with my class today:

  • First year Arts > one prof offers an automatic grace period of one week, after which late work results in a zero
  • Second year Engineering > extensions must be requested 1 week in advance (her class recently mixed up a deadline and ended up writing and submitting incomplete papers in a 5-hour period because they couldn’t request an extension at that point)
  • Fourth year Arts > one prof deducts 2-5% for every day late, another is more flexible because “he doesn’t want you to fail the course”

Far from a scientific study, but I hope these quick and timely examples will help some useful context for a serious conversation with my students – fingers crossed.

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Professional reading – on my TBR shelf

There was a day not too long ago when I felt like I had absolutely no idea how to teach students how to research. It was an existential – what’s the point of it all? – moment that was heightened by a persistent cold and frustration with, well, the world. So, what did I do? I engaged in some retail therapy and bought a stack of professional books that I’m eager to read!
Who Owns the Learning?

Who Owns the Learning?: Preparing Students for Success in the Digital Age by Alan C. November (2011)

Our middle school staff is reading this one, and it was recommended at my Tech committee meeting. Looks like a quick read.


Dive into Inquiry



Dive into Inquiry: Amplify Learning and Empower Student Voice by Trevor MacKenzie (2016)

I noticed my teacher friends shelving this book on Goodreads, so I grabbed a copy too. Looks to be another quick read – and a new release this year.


Making Thinking VisibleMaking Thinking Visible by Ron Ritchhart, Mark Church, Karin Morrison (2011)

This one looks like it may take some digging into – and it comes with a DVD of the “thinking” in practice. Curious – and just realized it correlates to the Harvard Project Zero PD class that I may take this spring!




Make Just One Change: TMake Just One Changeeach Students to Ask Their Own Questions by Dan Rothstein, Luz Santana (2011)

I wonder if the “Question Formulation Technique” is something different than what I have been doing and teaching. I will soon find out!


Essential Questions


Essential Questions: Opening Doors to Student Understanding by Jay McTighe, Grant P. Wiggins (2013)

This book was the first I perused online – and the one that inspired me to think about our 3rd and 4th grade research units differently.



If you’ve read any of the books above, please comment and let me know what you thought! I imagine it will take me some time to get through the stack, so I’d love some help navigating my way.

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A Day in the Life of a Solo Librarian

 Like many solo librarians, I think about the amount of time I spend on “library” tasks compared with the amount of time I spent working on other tasks for the school. These might be revising educational scope-and-sequence planning, supervising students as they eat cookies, comforting a crying child, or filling the copier with paper. This is probably exacerbated at smaller independent schools where everyone plays multiple roles, and it definitely keeps life interesting. So yesterday I set a reminder on my phone and took photos every hour on the hour. If nothing else, I recommend this because it made me realize how frequently I switch tasks and how much I’m still missing from this brief display. It also led to some laughs from my colleagues and some productive conversations about “what exactly I do all day.”

n-8a8am-Printing labels for Fountas and Pinnell and desperately searching through cabinets for more white Avery 5472 labels. While multiple colors were plentiful, white was not. This also turned out to be true in Capital’s online catalog, so the Business Office and I searched together to figure out how they were categorized and get them ordered.  Guess what’s on my agenda again later today?

n-9a9am-Helping a student prepare quotation analysis on the theme of sacrifice in The Kite Runner. Bonus points because she planned ahead and made an appointment the day before!

n-10a10am-Senior speeches in our gorgeous Chapel. The 3 students speaking yesterday came to our school in recent years from the Czech Republic, China, and Botswana, and all shared tips about experiencing a new culture as a teenager. There was an overarching theme that food bridges cultural gaps.

n-11a11am-Preparing for my Academic Team’s Thursday evening competition by updating the computer system and testing the buzzers. (Sidenote-I spend a tremendous amount of time on Academic Team coaching. I hadn’t realized quite how many little tasks there are: printing out directions to meets, collecting money, copying questions, organizing rosters, etc. I mainly think about our practice schedule, but there is a lot behind the scenes.) Crossing my fingers for another win soon!

n-12p12pm-Photography teacher is on a field trip with her advanced students, so watching the Photo One students in the library as they offer feedback on the photographs that their Canadian penpals shared with them.

n-1p1pm-Why is the library the most popular place on campus during lunch? There are just as many students on the other side of the “L.” Quick count after this picture showed 39 students, about 5 of whom were actively studying.

n-2pm2pm-Working with the Center for Academic Success, the English Department, and the Division Director to set up a student Writing Center. This has been a goal of mine for two years, and the momentum is finally in our favor to get this off the ground.

n-3pa3pm-If you find yourself in Florida tomorrow at 9:40am, there will be a full “Thanksgiving feast” taking place with my advisory. They are good at remembering their dishes—if I put out physical and electronic reminders. It will be a truly global Thanksgiving, with rotisserie chicken, Haitian rice, dumplings, macaroni and cheese and more.

n-3pb3pm(Part Two)-Lest you think my day is spent thinking about food, I returned from the students’ cubbies to set up the projector for the faculty meeting and found this puddle in the library. The glamour of the position…

n-4p4pm-Faculty meeting in the library on past and upcoming professional development opportunities and information on exam proctoring.

n-5p 5pm-Home and on the treadmill for my Zen time. Do I read The Week, US Weekly, or check Facebook? 30 minutes is time enough for all three, right?

n-6p6pm-Teacher book club. This month’s book was The Japanese Lover by Isabelle Allende, which everyone enjoyed (a rarity) and which led to thought-provoking conversations about our own romantic histories in our intergenerational group.

n-9pb 9pm-I thought I was going to relax and read Born to Run, but I kept thinking about a request for today’s Academic Council meeting for our thoughts on our guiding principles and trends in education that are affecting us. Since my house is actually a lot quieter than the school library, it was a good chance to get my thoughts together.

There’s your vicarious view into one day in the life of a solo librarian. I actually like the idea of trying this again for myself and seeing what I’m doing at specified time intervals throughout the day. It would be a interesting way for me to document how I’m keeping busy even on days when there are fewer classes scheduled. Anyone want to join me?

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Let’s Get Physical!

Olivia got it right when she encouraged us to get physical back in the 80’s. My assistant and I are taking her advice and applying it to our embedded librarian program and so far, the results are making us smile like this:


We have embedded in our school’s 5 freshman history courses and are utilizing one of their 15 minute grab blocks each week, either before or after their class period, to provide a foundation of research skills.

I don’t know about ya’ll but whether it’s a ‘one and done’ research lesson, a formal research course, or a 15 minute mini-lesson, I refuse to look out and see glassy, dead eyes, staring back at me any longer. True, there are those rainy, 8 a.m. classes and yes, there are the periods before and after lunch, but I think I’ve found the answer: get them moving, get them thinking, get them engaged and they are sure to tune in. It’s not aerobics that we’re asking of them. No, we are employing active learning techniques to get our students moving, engaging in the lessons and hopefully, making a lasting impression.

Some examples of methods we have employed:

Introducing a bird’s eye view research process as a sorting game. We printed out the steps for a very basic research process, cut the strips up, and put them in envelopes. We divided the class into groups of 3-4 and asked them to sort the steps chronologically. Some did a linear version, others a circle or other shape. We then discussed/debated the order. [Note: we repeated this exercise with our Sophomore classes who had been through the research process as freshmen, and the discussion was so much richer. It will be fun to repeat this game with this group next year to see if their perspective has changed.]


The parts of a book. We created a Google form, we rolled a cart full of books (some relevant to the hunt, others as decoys) into their history classroom, and we let them go to town, scavenger hunt style. We reviewed their responses to gauge accuracy/understanding.

Using the Library Catalog. We merged this with Banned Books Week, explaining the significance of the week and why we celebrate our freedom to read, then we asked the girls to search by title to see how many of the 10 most frequently challenged books we own. We showed them how to use subject headings to do lateral searches, how to search by author, how to place a hold, how to use our google form to recommend titles for purchase, etc.

Reading Spine Labels. We use LC and while we don’t expect our students to memorize the classification system, we do want them to be able to locate book on the shelves. We explained the difference between Dewey and LC, then began the activity. We had cut up strips of construction paper, attached spine labels, mixed them up in an envelope, and we asked pairs to put them in order on the table in front of them like they would books on a cart. We then asked them to go to the library catalog to look up various subjects to see if a book on their “shelf” might fall within that subject area.

End notes (CMS)-citing a primary source within a secondary source. This was fun and easy! We asked students to pair up and copy a citation on the board. We then switched partners and asked them to mark up the citation: to underline the primary source title, to set the publication year “ON FIRE!” (note, they don’t think it’s that funny to sing “the roof, the roof, the roof is on fiiire!” in the same way that you or I might), to circle the secondary source title, to draw their favorite emoji under the publication date, etc. Shockingly, we only got two poo emojis. Girls’ school. They had fun while working through the parts of a citation “formula” and lots of relevant conversation emerged.

20160922_095654 20160922_100124

Keywords: We typed up a variety of research questions, cut them up, and put them in a box. Girls drew a question. They opened a word doc and spent 2 minutes reading broadly to get some background information on their topic. We asked them to spend 1 minute writing down keywords associated with their topic. We asked them to open and to look for synonyms of terms, to think about related groups, phrases, or ideas and add those to the list. They then turned to their neighbor, shared their question and keywords, and brainstormed additional words that they might employ if they were actually researching the topic. They then shared their lists out to the group.

Boolean Logic-in the name of not reinventing the wheel, we found this awesome lesson for teaching Boolean. Rather than dry Venn Diagrams, we taught AND by asking all students to stand up. They were our search terms. We asked them to remain standing if the following AND terms applied to them: AND jeans, AND scarf, AND glasses…until one was standing. We asked them what happens when you add keywords to your search using AND. They totally got that it narrowed, or focused their search.

We did the same for OR. “Or brings more”. Then we asked them volunteer to do an AND and an OR search. There is an outspoken kid in every class who lives for this moment.

They then did individual Venn Diagrams to illustrate NOT, which was interesting too…”murder NOT fiction”, “Apple NOT computer”, “Washington NOT state”. They like writing on the board. Who doesn’t really?

Sometimes, we have to get through certain content that is, by its very nature, dry. We’re finding that by employing a little bit of creativity, we’re able to make some of these lessons playful, which we enjoy as much as, if not more than, the students. This week, they have finally begun coming into the library during their full class periods to begin their first real research experience. From our mini-lessons, they already know how to access our ebooks. They’re here to practice doing catalog keyword searches, broadening and narrowing conceptually, locating call numbers, then going upstairs and using a map to locate their books on the shelves. We’ve reviewed citation, how and when to use a reference source, and how to utilize the table of contents and index to find subjects. We’ve been able to weave the skills that we’ve been teaching in their classroom across campus into a quick refresher, a tour of the stacks, and then they’re ready to work.

My takeaway is this: not everything in life (or in library instruction) has to be a game, but it’s preferable to learn by doing. I couldn’t teach another 50 minute lesson without employing at least one or two of these techniques.

Do you have any active learning lessons/techniques that you might share? Please use the comments below!

PD Addendum:  I know, without a doubt, that I have room to grow in my research instruction. I have many more questions than I do certainties. As such, I put out a call to the listserv earlier this week asking for PD referrals. I lamented missing the Research Relevance Colloquium at Castilleja in 2015 and want(ed) something just like it.  Rather than posting a hit, I’ll share what I received here. Thanks guys!

*From the fantastic Castilleja librarians:
1. Here’s the link to all the documents from the Research Relevance Colloquium
2.  The Right Question Institute might be of interest to you —
3. You can also get all the archived sessions from the virtual conference on data literacy we were involved in over the summer here:

*Other listserv suggestions:

  1. Maybe ACRL/NEC?
  2. Design Thinking Summer Institute
  3. In the last five or six years, I have attended three things that have impacted my thinking on research skills.Extending Guided Inquiry into the Interrogation of Sources –
    AASL Conference in Columbus – Presenters: Randell Schmidt, head librarian, and Emilia Giordano, assistant librarian at Gill St. Bernards School will provide lesson plans and information source analysis strategies to help guide students in writing high school humanities or science research papers. (Half-day)
    Teaching Students to Ask Their Own Questions
    From the Right Question Institute, Boston (I attended a summer program at Wheelock College in Boston a few years ago, but here is a description of an upcoming version of what I took: This is from The Learning Forward Conference in Vancouver, December 2016) Teachers are being evaluated on the quality of student questioning and engagement in their classrooms, yet, many say that getting students to ask their own questions can feel “like pulling teeth.” Develop your ability to teach students how to produce their own questions, improve them, and strategize on how to use them. Transform students into active, engaged learners, who take ownership of their learning. Develop expertise in using the Question Formulation Technique (QFT), a resource embraced by teachers around the world, to design effective lessons and units that help students ask better questions and become more self-directed, independent learners.
    Participants will:
    • Experience a deep immersion into the QFT process.
    • Explore many examples of how the QFT develops divergent, convergent, and metacognitive thinking abilities across all ages, subject levels, and student populations.
    • Prepare to use the QFT immediately in the classroom and to coach more teachers on how to implement a transformative, evidence-based, and easy-to-implement strategy that results in greater student engagement and deeper learning.
    • Consider how the QFT strategies can be used in professional development. • Leave prepared to provide support to integrate the QFT into practice.
    Presenters: Dan Rothstein, The Right Question Institute, Cambridge, MA, Dan Rothstein is co-director of The Right Question Institute (RQI). He is co-author with Luz Santana of Make Just One Change: Teach Students to Ask Their Own Questions (Harvard Education Press, 2011), which first introduced the Question Formulation Technique to educators.
    OESIS : Online Education Symposium for Independent Schools

    Finally, I just came back from the OESIS conference in Boston; there is another coming up in Los Angeles in the Spring. It’s a small conference, maybe 200 participants. They do lots of smaller presentation on what folks are doing around online education – honestly, though, many of the presenters could just as well have been doing their lesson in “brick and mortar” schools.
    So my latest stream of consciousness is to gravitate toward teaching media literacy rather than information literacy. If we can make our students savvy consumers of blogs, Twitter, television news, movies, etc., we will win the skepticism game, which is, in my view, the most important part of teaching information literacy. At the OESIS conference I went to a session about Citizen Science where the kids were curating their own information feed on a neurological disorder. They created their own web site for their hosen disease, and they created kickstarter campaigns to fund research on their diseases. They got every piece of the research skills we teach now with an added layer of engagement (and creativity) as well as a degree of public purpose.

    That’s where I am headed.

Let’s keep looking and sharing what we find.

So THANKFUL for all of you and the wonderful support and enrichment that AISL provides both my professional and personal life.



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Summer research revisited

Many of you were kind enough to inquire individually about being able to examine one of the reports I write during the summer, about which I made a blog post here. I was able to secure permission from the company for whom I work as a freelancer, though I did have to blur out some details for privacy reasons. It was an interesting challenge to prepare it for presentation here! I am given a standard template in which to compose the reports, and it’s a Word doc, so posting it here would have been virtually impossible. I took a few weeks to mull it over and discussed the problem with our instructional technologist, Ryan Kinser.

We agreed the best approach was to save the paper as a PDF and turn the pages into JPGs. I did that, but ran into some glitches: some pages wouldn’t load, and the file sizes were too large in some cases. After several attempts, I finally decided to compress the PDF size and re-save it as JPGs, and pa-dah! That did the trick. Thus, for you, the images will not be as crisp and sharp as the ones I receive. I am given images that are so finely resolved that I can almost count the threads in the canvas, so other than the smell of the paint and wood I do not feel as though mine is not an equivalent experience to a personal examination. (After all, the person reading your X-rays isn’t looking at a patient either, and no one ever expresses surprise when a diagnosis is correctly made from a picture.)

If a PDF is more comfortable for you to read, I am posting one here:


Among the images below I offer some commentary here and there to explain my process and some quirks of art-historical writing. Just this week I was exploring discipline-specific writing with some English classes and working with my own art history students on their term papers: the oddest thing about writing about art is that it was made in the past but the viewer is seeing it now, so the way verb tenses flow in such a paper seems strange at first but makes sense when one considers that reality.

So, as promised, here it is! Of all the ones I’ve ever written, this one was my favorite. I’m a sucker for still life (especially with food!) and I love a good mystery AND a happy ending, so read on and enjoy. Let me know if you have questions or comments, and many thanks for your interest. I am blushingly gratified so many of you were curious enough to ask. Take away from this anything useful to pass on to your own paper-writers. Isn’t that why we’re here in Blogland?

We start with an introductory page, of course:








then a précis, to define the scope of the problem, followed by a short biography of the artist. I try to keep that to 3/4 of a page, unless there’s a compelling reason to do otherwise. In terms of the writing process, I like to do the biography when I’m not feeling inspired, or waiting for a book to arrive, that kind of thing. Sometimes the Muse visits, sometimes she doesn’t, but a biography requires very little other than some facts and exposition, and I tell my students that to help them organize their own workflow. Start with the grunt work, wait for a spark to ignite and you’ll be ready when it does.









Next is a visual examination of the work: front, back, details, signature, flaws like cracks or voids in the paint. I had to blur some details, as I mention above, for privacy.




























After we’ve walked through the painting (or sculpture, or print, photograph or drawing), I provide a bibliography of sources. It is a true bibliography, not a works cited, and you will notice the formatting is somewhat altered to account for the aesthetics of the report. Composed in NoodleTools, by the way. (That should be a tagline: “Good enough for million-dollar works of art, good enough for your history paper!”)








I am at liberty to alter the components of the report to fit the situation at hand – I wouldn’t approach a Roman sculpture the way I do a presumed 18th century painting, but here in the case of a known artist, it’s customary to explore his or her overall oeuvre to see if there are useful points of comparison – is this example typical of the artist’s known style, or not? And it must be an apples-to-apples comparison – not much value in comparing still life to landscape or landscape to portraiture. Below I include typical works by the artist in a similar genre. There are live links included in the credit line to allow the reader (alas, not as a JPG as here) to go directly to the works held in museums to see the evidence firsthand.






















And right around page 17, above right, is where things start gettin’ real, as the kids say. I point out that the works I reproduced are not quite as similar as they could be to the subject work I was examining, especially in the case of the oranges in the second painting.








So then I had to consider other options. I won’t go into too many details – this is a very long post! – but it all comes down to search terms. I typed a new combination into a Google search bar and whoa, did I get results. That’s all it took, and then it was full steam ahead after a few pretty sleepless nights. I knew it wasn’t a Melendez, but I couldn’t prove otherwise strongly enough for my own comfort until I had that last piece of evidence. (And who knew there was a Museum of Bread Culture in Germany?! I loved this piece of research.)





























The conclusion wraps up all the points of comparison based on the evidence given, not so very different from your standard five-paragraph English essay.








The last page is actually a disclaimer, which I will not reproduce here for  legal reasons, but that is one particular aspect that doesn’t usually appear in a standard sophomore essay, wink.






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on when evidence is not always so evident…

What do jury duty, National Honor Society, and debate research in frosh classes have in common?

Why, that would be… EVIDENCE!

My question to you this month is: What are you teaching your students about evidence in their research work?

I have been thinking a lot about evidence of late because I recently won the jury pool lottery, I have been reading National Honor Society applications from students, and we are about to start working on research for a debate project with some frosh classes.

Juror #10 for the Win! – In my worst moments as human being, I sometimes dream of winning a ginormous lottery, buying all the businesses that have given me bad service over the years, and firing all the people responsible for the heinous wrongs they have inflicted upon me. Unfortunately (or, in reality, fortunately…) the Universe isn’t designed around Dave’s crazy delusions of revenge so try as I might I never seem to win huge cash lotteries. Not winning huge cash payouts, payable to me either in a lump sum or as an annuity over a period of twenty years, means that the rather obscene scenario outlined above will likely never come to pass – in the scheme of things, not such a bad thing…

Things to do: Make friends with Peter Theil

You know what kind of lotteries I do seem to win, though? The jury pool lottery! Last week I served on my third jury. Unlike, Stanley Hudson, one of my favorite sitcom characters of all time, serving on a jury isn’t an experience for which I have had an unfulfilled longing over the years.


I do believe with all my heart, however, that with rights come responsibilities. As a good American citizen, after receiving my jury summons in the mail, I show up when it says to show up. If you are not an American citizen or just have not been called for jury duty, here’s how it works. You show up at the appointed time. The names of all of the prospective jurors in the jury pool go into a bingo game-like hopper. The bailiff spins the bingo hopper around like an organ grinder. Round and round it goes! If your name is one of the first twelve that fall out, you sit in the jury box so the lawyers can ask you questions and decide if they like you or if they want to strike you and call another juror with a better face.

I have the juror lotto wired! I win almost every time!

Aside: My lawyer friend says that lawyers love librarians because, “Librarians are used to weighing evidence and evaluating arguments so usually I’ll try to keep them.” Yay for us…

As it turned out, I was assigned to a dog of a case. There was no credible evidence so my jury of seven men and five women found the defendant not guilty after about fifteen minutes of deliberation.

Evidence of Leadership – The wheels of American justice turn rather slowly so during our hour-and-a-half long lunch break, and our half-hour breaks throughout the day, I was also reading student applications for membership to our National Honor Society. National Honor Society asks that students show evidence of: scholarship, character, service, and leadership. This is the third year that I have been a file reader for the NHS selection process and over the years it has become clear that even some of our best students struggle with concept of “evidence.” Evidence of service is easy. “I did ___ hours of community service at the Institute for Human Services serving meals to homeless people.” However, how one documents “evidence of leadership” is a task that seems to challenge many of even our very best students.

Which brings us back to my question for you this month. What are you teaching your students about evidence in their research work?

We are about to start working with some frosh classes doing research for public policy debates on global issues. We teach that a good debate argument has three parts: the assertion, the reasoning, and the evidence. While it is a nice formula, I think that 14-year old me would have struggled to develop a complete 3-part argument and I think that evidence would have been the piece to give me the most difficulty.

In the past, my approach has been to teach student students that supporting evidence might come in these basic forms:

  • Facts
  • Numbers (and statistics)
  • Quotes
  • Examples (historical or contemporary)
  • Analogies

Adapted and used with permission courtesy:

I’ve never seen or read anything about how other librarians help students find evidence to support their arguments so I’d love to hear about what you are doing!

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The Rule of Three: Making Stories Memorable


Suppose you were an idiot,
and suppose you were a member of Congress;
but I repeat myself.    Mark Twain



Don’t be mislead by the Mark Twain quote; this article is not a commentary about political elections, but rather, musings on how writers (and poets) make stories memorable. In particular, how does an author create emphasis (humorous or dramatic) and make an idea memorable through choice of language and use of the Rule of Three? And how can librarians invite young readers to look closely for these patterns in poems and stories so that students can create their own memorable storytelling?

I first heard of the Rule of Three while preparing a folk tale in a storytelling workshop hosted by Judith Black (see her Stories Alive website). 
In an intensive, energetic week, the fledgling storytellers were challenged to create a story and perform it before a group of children.  As workshop attendees paired up to practice our stories for each other, I began a version of the tale, “Why Frog and Snake Cannot Be Friends”:

frogDeep in the forest,
the rain dripped from the
tall tree canopy,
    Cascaded over the bromeliads’
long, red leaves,
And pooled around
a tiny, green tree frog.

My listening partner stopped me and said, “You know what you just did? That’s the Rule of Three!”  My partner had experience in writing humorous songs, and comedians often use the Rule of Three to

1) set up a pattern,
2) create a predictable rhythm, and
3) jolt the listener with the third line that contains a twist or surprise.  

Sometimes the surprise is created by a very short third line, as in Twain’s quote, “but I repeat myself.”  The surprise can also be created by a contrast in images, such as the tall trees and long leaves of the bromeliads contrasting with the tiny, green tree frog.

I recently shared this idea of The Rule of Three with a class of 5th graders who were writing poems.  Using poems from Insectlopedia by Douglas Florian, I showed how
The Rule of Three pattern could be created by repeating
nouns, as in the poem “The Mosquitoes,


or by a sequence of verbs, as in this excerpt from the poem “The Inchworm,”




Or by a string of adjectives, as in this selection from the poem “The Tick.”



In each of these examples, a predictable pattern is created with the first two lines, but the last line is longer and creates a surprising and humorous reflection.

Using more sophisticated examples of The Rule of Three from the book The Death of the Hat: A Brief History of Poetry in 50 Objects, we looked closely at Alfred Lloyd Tennyson’s poem “The Eagle”;  students observed how the poet contrasts the slow river with the powerful might of the eagle:


Finally, we analyzed an excerpt from the poem “Grainfield” by Ibn’Iyad (from the book The Death of the Hat). The poet focuses the attention of the viewer on wheat swaying in the wind and poppies growing in the field; then, the poet uses three phrases to build an analogy and create a new startling image:


This last poem inspired me to write a Nature poem. I combined the Rule of Three with an analogy of a tightrope to describe a spiderweb swaying in the wind:

Fifth and sixth graders, with the guidance of their creative writing teacher, Marian Rosse, composed their own poems, using the Rule of Three to produce a dramatic or humorous effect.  As you read a few samples of their poems, perhaps you will be inspired to experiment with The Rule of Three!

by Cooper

See the fish
Jumping in the lake,
Twisting and turning like shiny acrobats.

Hey, I wonder if I can catch one for dinner!

by Isabelle

See the powerful  freight train
Chasing around the track
Like a blackbird
Flying over the shivering leaves of the great woods,
It weaves swiftly around the trees.

The Chase
by Wade

See the dog
Chasing the cat around the field
Like a police chase rampaging on the road
Running around and around

Over the bushes
Around the tree
Through the fountain

Sprinting around the field,  the dog chasing the cat.

The Black Book
by Merry

See the Big Black Book
Holding and storing all treasures, memories from years past,
Hiding in the shelf,
Waiting for me to make more memories.

Like a keepsake box,
I treasure it with great love
The memories it will hold,
Will bring great joy and bring back memories,
To all.

The Book
by Katherine

See the book opened
and waiting to be read
like a person wanting to speak to someone.

The Lava
by Dylan

See the lava burning on the volcanic rock,
like a flame that cannot be put out,
bubbling on top of the destruction it has caused,  

Like a fiery demon ready to strike,
consuming everything in sight,
a piece of the sun in rage.

by Janie

See the wind dancing by the barn,
Like a soft whisper of encouragement,
Lifting the dandelions, the seed heads depart
To begin a new generation.

by Ryan

See the geyser,
spraying its mineral waters into the hot springs
like a humpback whale,
Spouting the freezing Pacific Ocean,
the water is pulled up above into the fluffy clouds.

By Jack

See the rain
Pouring around the world.
Like unlimited buckets
Of water falling on us,
Creating a wash of water
Falling from the fountains
Of heaven.

by Caroline

They come and go
They stay by your side
They never leave

Unless you tell someone.
The worries leave,
Say goodbye to those crazy, scary worries.

The Tree
by Logan

See the majestic oak tree,
it’s branches hosting the endless races of the squirrels.

Like a Roman Arena with chariot racers competing
beside the roaring crowd on their feet,
the racers compete for glory.

Nouns & Sounds
by Ava

dogs go ROOF
cars go HONK
feet go STOMP
hands go CLAP
pages go SWISH
waves go CRASH
birds go CHIRP
pans go CRASH, CLANG
wind goes HISS
water goes DRIP, DROP, DRIP, DROP
mouths goes BLAH, BLAH, BLAH
lions go ROAR

librarians go SHHHHHHHHH listen to my poem!

Works Cited

Aedes aegypti MosquitoBritannica ImageQuest. Encyclopædia      
    Britannica, Inc.
    Accessed 8 Oct 2016.

American Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) in flight. Britannica ImageQuest.   Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.     Accessed 18 Oct 2016.

Death of the Hat: A Brief History of Poetry in 50 Objects. Candlewick Press, 2015.

Florian, Douglas. Insectlopedia: Poems and Paintings. Harcourt Brace, 1998.

Lange, Joan.  Frog and Snake Shadow Puppets. 2013.

Spring Wheat. Britannica ImageQuest. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. Accessed 18 Oct 2016.

Striped InchwormBritannica ImageQuest. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. Accessed 8 Oct 2016.

Tick. Britannica ImageQuest. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. Accessed 18 Oct 2016.





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