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Resources for your Makerspace

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I am Dottie Smay, the lower school “maker media specialist” at Shorecrest Preparatory School and along with Courtney Walker we created a school wide maker space in our ECC-grade 12 media center. We have had many visitors come to see our Makerspace and one of the main questions they have is what would they need to get started. Since there are a variety of materials that could be found in a makerspace, we always say to save everything you would naturally throw out. Seriously, empty plastic cantainers could be used to house some of the materials in your makerspace. I have seen projects made with shoe boxes and empty tissue boxes in conjunction with the 3D printer. So really anything and everything goes.

During our summer camp one of our students made a candy dispenser machine using Legos and LittleBits together. Creativity takes place when students see the individual tools like MakeyMake and squishy circuits and design their project using some of these tools for the next level of learning. Conductive ink, conductive paint, conductive thread, conductive tape, and circuit stickers are some other suggestions to have in a makerspace. The Hummingbird Robotics Kit, Squishy Circuit set, 3D doodler, perler beads, clay, paint, K’NEX, Maker CircuitScribe Kit, ProtoSnap-LilyPad E-Sewing Kits, Qubits, Electronic Snap Kit, Electronic Playground 130 & Learning Center, Adafruit puppets (LED,  555 TIMER CHIP,TRANSISTOR, RESISTOR), cotton balls, string, balloons, feathers, cardboard of various shapes and sizes, duct tape, washi tape, masking tape, electric tape, rubber bands, clay, paint, foam board, felt, fabric, plastic balls, straws, pipe cleaners, computer keys (from discarded computers), styrofoam of any kind, feathers, empty cardboard tubes, old jewelry, and picture frames, etc. are just some of the various items to add. There is no perfect list since anything can be repurposed or upcycled. Keeping materials organized in clear storage containers and labeled is highly recommended. This not only assists students while they use materials and clean up, but also helps keep the makerspace organized.  Remember it should be a variety of low, medium, and high tech tools to inspire all ages and levels of creativity and design.
I have also collected lots of resources both for professional use and student use that stay in our maker space. Books with duct tape projects, Lego designs, paper airplane books, etc. to sets of books geared to the 21st century skills we are striving to attain. Follett has a series entitled 21st Century Skills Innovation Library: Makers as innovators. Titles include:

3D modeling, 3D printing, Arduino, Design thinking, Digital badges, E-textiles, FIRST robotics, Game design, Hacking fashion : fleece, Hacking fashion : t-shirts, Maker Faire,

Makerspaces, More web design with HTML5, Prototyping,

Raspberry Pi, Scratch, Silk screening, Soldering, Squishy circuits, Web Design with HTML5

     PowerKids press has a set entitled Maker Kids for grades 3-6 with High-Tech DIY Projects including 3D printing, robotics, musical instruments, microcontrollers, flying objects, electronic, sensors, and LED’s. Rosen has a set entitled Makerspaces for grades 6-12 with titles including Getting the most our of makerspaces to explore arduino & electronics, to build robots, to make musical instruments, to go from idea to market, to create with 3D printers, and to build unmanned aerial vehicles. In addition to the professional book Invent to Learn by Sylvia Libow Martinez and Gary Stager there is The Invent to Learn Guide to Fun by Josh Burker with classroom technology projects. I am sure you have heard of Sylvia’s Super-Awesome Maker Show, a YouTube show to encourage tinkerers of all agers to go out there and make something. So we have her book entitled Sylvia’s Super-Awesome Project Book Volume 2 – Super Simple Arduino! by “Super-Awesome” Sylvia. By the way, there is no volume 1, in case you were wondering.  The Maker Cookbook, School Library Makerspaces, The Makerspace Workbench, Think Tank Library, The Repurposed Library, and Tinkerlab (a hands on guide for little inventors are additional sources for all ages and interest levels. Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All by Tom Kelley is another professional resource we keep in our makerspace to remind all of us that we are all born with creativity. We just need to spend more time exploring our talents and a makerspace is the perfect place to achieve this. Hopefully, these resources will help our students and teachers, beginning at any level, flourish into our future “makers” of the world.



How Do You Throw Like a Girl?

This summer our history department chair shared a collaborative document of resources for teaching Social Justice and Multicultural Understanding. I was immediately drawn to the link for Spike Lee’s short documentary, Throw Like a Girl about Mo’Ne Davis. In the summer of 2014, Mo’Ne became the first girl to ever pitch a shutout in the Little League World series. She was the first American girl to play in the Little League World Series since 2004. Even if you never plan to use the film in the classroom, I emphatically encourage everyone to watch the 16 minute profile of this incredibly talented, eloquent, and humble young role model!

Embedded in the document shared by our department chair were resources for utilizing the many links in the classroom. I scoured the internet for other ideas and found the Philadelphia Chapter of the Anti-Defamation League’s unit for teaching about gender stereotypes along with this film.

This idea for a new unit to share with my Fifth Grade students also got me thinking about ways in which I could creatively incorporate the theme of our school’s core values which we were rolling-out for this academic year. The core values are: Be Brave, Authentic, Compassionate, Curious, and Spirited. I had created resource lists of books in our library catalog for our teachers to use that showcase a core value within the theme of each book. And after researching more about Mo’Ne Davis, it was clear that she illustrated each of the core values in all that she has accomplished and embodies. In the film there are many references to Mo’Ne’s attendance at an independent school in Philadelphia, which is a great connection for our girls as well.

We began the unit by drawing pictures of baseball players. You can see from the students work below that not all of them chose to illustrate a male player! We displayed the pictures which were anonymous and then captured the commonalities and differences in our drawn characterizations of the players. This activity helped situate our current understanding and where we had areas to grow our learning.


The Fifth Grade students complete a capstone research project at the end of the year which culminates in a five-minute speech for the Lower School. I am fully integrated in this project, and work with the homeroom teachers to prepare the students for their research. As part of this unit on Mo’Ne Davis I sought to actively incorporate the skills students will use later in the year. To that end, I selected articles from the New York Times, CNN, and Time magazine to read and summarize for the class. Resources used for the Fifth Grade speech process typically include multiple formats and this lesson gave students exposure to the news articles most students would use as a source in their speech project. By sharing my rationale for using news articles to learn more about Mo’Ne Davis, I was thrilled to see the students understand my logic and dive in to the readings!

We discussed vocabulary related to the readings and used throughout the film such as stereotype, gender, discrimination, and role model. Our discussions were spirited and we will conclude the unit by viewing Spike Lee’s film: Throw Like a Girl, along with the video: #Likeagirl. The final step in our learning is to throw a baseball and see if we can “throw like a girl” and approximate this young athlete’s incredible speed and location!


1 to 1 Roll Out : Initial Observations

Morning rush hour

Morning rush hour

[updated 9/22/2015, 7:26 pm]

As we finish our first month of school, and our first month of our 1:1 roll out here at Harvard-Westlake Upper School, a few items come to mind by way of observations. First, an overview of how we have progressed to this point: HW has two campuses, about six miles apart. The Middle School campus started going 1:1 three years years ago, first with just the seventh grade. The next year, all three grades at the Middle School were 1:1, and now this year all grades at both Middle and Upper School are officially 1:1. While the Middle School process took two years, we’ve dived in with all three grades at once. That is, all teachers on the Upper School campus are new to the 1:1 experience, as are all juniors and seniors; the sophomores have had one year of 1:1 last year at the Middle School as 9th graders.

Our version of 1:1 means that all students are required to have a laptop –any brand or model– that has a designated set of functionality. All students are given MS Office to download onto their laptop so there is no problem ‘translating’ between our largely PC faculty and campus and our primarily MAC student body. All students are to provide their own laptops, and students on financial aid are given help if needed.

Support has been supplied for this move over the past 5 years by much study and research on the part of the school administration and our Education Technology committee in particular. As we have student representation on the Ed Tech committee we are greatly helped by the student Voice of Experience. Faculty are supported by way of the TILT team (Teaching Innovation Learning Team), with members from every department designated as tech mentors. We have learned much from the experience of our colleagues “over the hill” (the Middle School campus is on the other side of the Hollywood Hills from us) and we’ve taken the advice of the Middle School students on Ed Tech as well.

As we settle into our school year I find that our move to 1:1 doesn’t bring with it a massive shift in either pedagogy or practice. The Upper School, being more connected with external factors such as AP courses, is generally a more conservative place than the Middle School is, pedagogically speaking. We have had Canvas on board for five years now as our learning management system, and teachers are pretty comfortable with that. Our goal has been to centralize all aspects of a student’s school experience, and this has been progressing well.

View From the Library

1. Our 15 circulating laptops are less in demand. Last year – when we began encouraging students to bring their own laptops to school –  we might have had 5-10 laptop circulations a day, up to 20 on a busy day. This year we are down to 4 per day on average.

2.  As circulation of laptops decreases, circulation of laptop CHARGERS increases, along with circulation of phone chargers. We’ve had to add to our circulating collection of chargers. We also keep a range of chargers at the circ desk charging station; these don’t circulate.

3. Our patron stations are as much in demand as ever (see above photo).  Students use them for printing up completed assignments or for quick access to assignments and other class information.

4. Not all students have  their laptops yet. One student told me she only needs a laptop for Chinese; none of her other teachers expect to require a laptop as of now. This student is checking out a library laptop to use for her Chinese class. She finds that less inconvenient than to purchase and carry a laptop every day to class. A few other students I’ve spoken with are still working out ways and means of getting their laptops. One student is unable to afford the purchase at this time, but is not on financial aid and so has no immediate help from that direction. I suggested she check with her dean to see what possibilities there might be for those in her situation.

5. Our library laptops are the initial resource for students with minor laptop problems. We are able to check laptops out for up to a week while students are having their own laptop assessed, or if there is some quick fix that is in the works. If students need a laptop for longer than a week, then they are referred to our IT department which is set up for managing long-term computer loans.

6. Students like a choice in reading materials, and sometimes prefer print texts over digital. As far as English classes go, students have the option of listening to audiobooks (via circulating iPod) or reading digital texts from the library (via Follett Shelf) but their teachers still require print copies for students to highlight and mark up with notes. Yes, notes are possible with some digital texts but the technology doesn’t entirely replicate the print experience.

7. The Paperless Office of futures past is nowhere in sight. While many teachers aren’t printing their assignments or reading packets as much as before, that printing job has just been transferred to students, who seem to prefer to print such items out themselves and work on paper. A casual check with our clerical supplies office tells me that in fact, teachers aren’t printing any less than they did before, so they must be printing more in other directions if they are printing less of student assignments and readings. Judging from the detritus left at the library printing stations, there is still waste generated as students print jobs wirelessly. The need to pick their jobs up in a timely manner and to have patience as printer issues are resolved are not new.

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This advance in technology is being rolled out in response, in some sense, to the eternal question of ‘the chicken or the egg’. You can’t become completely comfortable with all the tools and possibilities of a tech-saturated space until your space is completely 1:1. Then again, it’s very hard to go 1:1 until your students and (more especially) your teachers are completely comfortable with all the tools and possibilities of a tech-saturated space. Our experience has been a largely positive one, and as students and teachers become more aware of the possibilities a 1:1 environment allows, I foresee an increasingly rich and varied use of these tech tools as they become another distinct part of the school and library toolbox.

I realize this is a very preliminary view of one school’s experience. As school has just started, I am in no position to report on the use of laptops in the classroom. This report is just a snapshot of what we’re seeing in the library. I plan to revisit this subject near the end of the semester to take a look at where we are by then. Watch this space!


At our last Ed Tech meeting we collected up some reasons that HW has moved to go 1:1 which I thought might be useful to include (see below). These include responses from students on Ed Tech and reflect their experiences in some of their classes.

  • Curricular Classes
    • Preparing students for the future
      • Resource access
      • Communication
      • Centralized place for work, sharing work in the moment
      • Metacognition – portfolios allow students to self-assess progress and the effectiveness of their learning strategies  
      • Publishing work in the public sphere through blogs, webpages, etc.
      • Continuing to move to a more technological world
    • Allowing teachers to do more than they ever have before
      • Plotting
      • Sharing
      • Instant Grading
      • Socrative
      • Individualized study – students can progress at their own pace
      • Deeper learning/“just in time” learning, student’s interest is piqued and they can pursue more info
      • Allows for more exploration and interactivity with content
    • Feedback
      • Instant feedback on quizzes and reports
      • Students can immediately see what they did wrong
      • File sharing
      • Better communication during the writing process
      • Immediate analysis of data so it can be considered while it is still fresh in students minds
    • Notetaking
      • Some students find it better to take notes on laptop
      • Evernote – does OCR on scanned files, searchable handouts
      • Collaborative notes
    • Studying
      • Quizlet/Memrise
      • Collaborative study guides
      • Codification of student’s handouts, work, notes, communications with teacher, and past assignments.  
  • Extracurricular Classes
    • Knowledge that students will have laptops
      • Robotics example
        • CAD
        • Programming
        • Sign-In
      • Debate example
        • Dropbox
        • Papers/Resources




Awesome, baby!

I’ve been serving both middle and upper school constituencies since I arrived at Out-of-Door in 2008 and have often joked that I could use a clone to cover all the spots where I need to be in two places at once, but this time I really mean it!

Exterior In August we celebrated the ribbon-cutting on our shiny brand-new building, which comprises the Dick Vitale Family Student Center and the Dart STEM Center. The student center occupies the ground floor, while the STEM center takes up the second floor. (Yes, it’s that Dick Vitale. They’re a really lovely family, as are the Darts.)

VitalesThe student center is host to a small café area with a coffee machine, a few booths, a couple of high-top tables with chairs, and a very large TV tuned to CNN to keep us current on events as they unfold throughout the day. Our food service is just a few feet away, so it’s easy to grab a salad or the daily special and enjoy it there.

CafeThe director of student activities occupies a small office nearby, which allows for easy communication with the kids. Along one wall is a spectacular classroom equipped for videoconferencing with a very large projection screen and a camera and microphone suspended from the ceiling.

tech ctrAdjacent to that is a writing lab, soon to be staffed by peer tutors and overseen by members of the English faculty. Our director of collaborative learning and educational outreach is next door, and immediately next to her resides the assistant head of our upper school. The academic services office is also found in the student center.

The majority of the ground floor is given over to open space filled with tables, chairs and soft seating, just the kind of collegiate environment to encourage social study and collaboration with pockets of quiet for individual work.interior long Upstairs are the classrooms for all the math teachers, science laboratories for biology, chemistry and physics; and we have two 3D printers that have the campus buzzing with imagination. (Everyone is about to ask, so I’ll answer: they are available by appointment only, must be used for school-related projects, and the cartridges are removed when the machines are not in use.)

And where am I? And where’s the collection?

And thus . . . the conundrum. The librarian is not in the library, and by the way, what’s a library? Is it the place where books are, or is it the place where the librarian is?

My desk, really more of a fortress, occupies one end of the Student Center. I don’t have an office, but I have plenty of storage and the very best view of anyone on campus, including the headmaster.

Pond viewThere are two small project rooms behind me, plus a larger conference room with a curtain wall of glass, so there is plenty of room for book processing if I need it and places for private consultation with students or faculty.

Fortress of Solitude

at my deskThe Savidge Bowers Library suddenly became the “old library,” paradoxical because there isn’t a “new library,” it’s a student center; but we do have a small collection here. I brought reference materials suitable for high school students, as well as fiction and biography for high schoolers as well. I figured that since it was designed to be Hangout Central for ninth through twelfth grade, what should live here are materials that need to be quickly at hand, either for reference or to grab as pleasure reading while walking by.


(Interesting side effect: these are mostly the same books that occupied the library these last eight years and had faded into the background as part of the scenery, but by removing them to a new location suddenly they’re a hit. “HOLY COW MISS MANDEL,” I keep hearing, “WHEN DID WE GET THESE AWESOME BOOKS? I LOVE THIS AUTHOR. DUDE, YOU SHOULD TOTALLY READ THIS.” It’s both gratifying and slightly perplexing.)

The “old library” houses the rest of the circulating non-fiction, and biographies, reference, and fiction for middle school students. How to get middle schoolers in front of those books to keep the collection relevant and in use is the other issue. Senior students collectively take a seminar course that meets in the old library (I guess we’re saying that now!), so they visit every day. All high schoolers are allowed some freedom to wander the campus at lunch or other free times of day, but our middle school students are more managed than that, so they don’t simply just wander over to the library. And if they did, I’m not there!

All students in grades six through eight have study hall during the same period of the day, divided up by advisory group. Thus, I made a rotating docket that schedules each group to come in at least four times per semester during that study hall. Teachers have pretty universally been on board – who’s opposed to more reading? – so I set up my laptop and portable barcode scanner and wait for the hordes to descend at the appointed hour and check books out to happy readers.

It’s working well. I don’t think there’s a perfect method, short of replicating myself, but this way I get to work with readers and with the collection, my circulation numbers are up, awareness of the resources we have has improved, and I think all of my constituencies really understand that I’m trying to serve everyone despite trying to be two places at the same time. Also, seriously, have you seen my view?

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Adding some STEAM to your library program

Over the summer, I attended the National Coalition of Girls’ Schools conference entitled From STEM to STEAM: Girls’ Schools Leading the Way,  held at the gorgeous St. Catherine’s School in Richmond, VA. A colleague and I did a 20 minute “speed dating”  presentation on our school’s capstone program, which began in large part due to the interesting work our students were doing in their STEM internships and Advanced Arts projects.

It was a really good conference, but there was a gap for me. I didn’t meet a lot of librarians there nor were there any library-specific sessions. There were some tangential offerings that I found useful (notes here), but it made me wonder, where is the STEAM in our libraries?


Shorecrest Makerspace visit, AISL 2015.


Can I ask this, though? Who among you is an UPPER SCHOOL with a thriving Maker Space? I was blown away with Dottie and Courtney’s program at Shorecrest during last year’s annual conference, but I want to see one of that caliber flowing through the life of an upper school library. I don’t mean next door to or across campus, I would love to see one built within the books, old school and new school seamlessly meshed. Does such a place exist? If so, can you please comment below so that I can put in a PD request to come visit you?

A rep for Creative Learning Systems recently visited my school to speak with our STEAM team lead. She passed the packet along knowing that it would excite me. Spoiler alert: it did. Did you watch the video?! I will wake up at the crack of dawn in late October and drive down to Orange, NJ  to see a public high school class using their Smart Lab, to talk with the kids and with the teachers and managers of the space.  There is no way that I can afford something like this, but I love the concept and I want to think about incorporating it within our library space. If not piece by piece, then maybe a pitch to development to take on the road at some point.

So here are my questions for YOU.

Should existing curriculum drive space/tool design or is it an “if you build it, they will come” situation?

Are you doing a low tech version of this successfully in your upper school?

If so…

Who manages your space?

Who cleans up–students, teacher whose class is using the space, or library staff?

If it’s not a maker space that ties into STEAM, what is your tie in? [Other than your awesome collection development skills, that is.]

If you were going to present at a STEAM conference, what would you present?

I am literally at the edge of my seat, waiting to hear your response. :)

Have a great day!


“Unfiltered” Library Life – An Instagram slideshow

Back in 2008, like many librarians, I started a library blog. I had a million ideas for posts, and I still have half a million unfinished drafts in a queue waiting to be revised and published. Finding a long enough block of time to think carefully about what I wanted to say and how I wanted to write it—let’s just say that the blog seldom met my expectations.So last August my New (School) Year’s resolution was to join Instagram. My phone is already full of photos of my library, and there’s never a day when I am too busy to click and post. I’m a rules person, so I set some ground rules for myself.Izmir and American Libraries

  1. Post once a day Monday through Friday. (Occasionally twice if really cool things are happening.) Amazingly, in 14 months, I’ve only missed two times.
  2. Keep a stash of photos of fun book covers on my phone for days when I forget to post until I’m at home and getting ready for bed. Ready-made excuse buster.
  3. Never post names of students, and be mindful of students on the “Do Not Photo” list.
  4. Only post photos of my cats on Fridays. (Come on AISLERs, you can help me get #felinefriday off the ground!)
  5. Follow other libraries, particularly middle and high school libraries. During those odd minute-long breaks when you’re waiting for a class to arrive at your door, you can scroll through and immediately get ideas.Ink and Bone Cover

Last year, I put out a request on the AISL listserv for those schools with Instagram accounts to get in touch. I only got account information and advice from two schools, though I heard from other librarians who said that all social networking was blocked in their schools. I blazed ahead anyway and searched for libraries, and then Instagram did the work of suggesting libraries for me to follow. Compared with Twitter, I love the visual nature of photographs, and I still have 140 characters to express my thoughts. It’s the best of all worlds.Journal of World History

For me, my favorite part is that it has served as a virtual scrapbook documenting the past year. My administration sees the variety in my days and in the roles of a 21st century librarian, and I’m on my feet thinking about what is new and exciting in my life each and every day. The end-of-year report provides a one-time quantitative snapshot of the state of the libraries, and Instagram provides a daily qualitative check in.

You can find me at https://instagram.com/greenteamedia/

If you have any questions about how it’s worked, logistically or otherwise, get in touch. If it sounds good to you, feel free to share the Instagram love!


on information literacy in those wonder years…

Happy new school year, everyone!

Out here in in the far, far West, our school year starts rather early. As faculty, we ventured back from our various summer adventures on August 3rd and students arrived on campus for the start of the school year on August 10th.

High School Information Skills…

I spent the first 14 years of my career as a librarian in an exclusively “middle school” campus of 7th, 8th, and 9th graders. I’m now in a library charged with developing library and information services for PK-12 students so there is a lot more breadth to the scope of my work. We are a progressive school that offers a wide variety of programming. Among other programs, students on campus can be enrolled in immersive visual and performing arts experiences in the Mid-Pacific School of the Arts; complete their frosh and sophomore high school years in a multidisciplinary, project-based learning curriculum designed so that learners “synthesize their knowledge of Language Arts, Social Studies, Mathematics, Science, Technology and Engineering through participation within a collaborative real world problem solving curriculum” called Mid-Pacific eXploratory [MPX]; and/or enroll in the International Baccalaureate Certificate program. Take my word for it, it is WONDERFUL and pretty AMAZING, but as a librarian that is a LOT of ground for a single school library program to cover! As a result, last year I worked almost exclusively on getting a handle on the context for information literacy instruction in the high school, then developing programming to begin to meet our identified needs.

This year, the plan is to return to my middle school roots and invest a significant amount of our time and energy into development of a robust middle school information program.

Returning to The Wonder Years… 

Screen Shot 2015-09-08 at 10.28.03 AM

Over the course of the past few years, our middle school curriculum has been rebuilt from the ground up. Grade level teams of teachers work collaboratively to develop curricular experiences that are interdisciplinary and project-based, and we are excited to be able to work with those grade level teams to assure that information skills and concepts are thoughtfully and robustly integrated into that experience.

Questions for all of you out there teaching an information curriculum in those Wonder Years is, “What do you teach? When do you teach it? How do you teach it?”

We have generated a working draft of the information concepts, skills, tools, and experiences that we think a student exiting the 8th grade should have experienced over a 3-year period. It is a draft and only a draft. We’d love to get some feedback and to hear about the kinds of things you are doing that we might want to explore as well.

Middle School Information Literacy Map

Click here to view as PDF.


  1. This list is intended to help us articulate the specifics of our information literacy aims and as such, does not attempt to address other programming efforts such as literature appreciation or broader digital literacy aims.
  2. An “I” indicates that a tool, skill, or concept is introduced with direct instruction. an “R” indicates that the project requirement(s) reinforce something that has been previously taught.

My (renewed) middle school focus

This is my first post in over a year. I’ve been away on maternity leave since July 2014, and although I’m pleased to be back, let’s just say that actually coming back to work has been quite an adjustment. At the time of writing (Labor Day), school *still* hasn’t started, so this is more of a ‘this is what’s coming this year’ post. Although I teach grades one through twelve, this year I was asked to blog about the middle division; they are a group I know well! I am also a grade seven homeroom advisor, so I definitely have a renewed middle school focus for this academic session. At my school, middle school refers to grades seven, eight and nine, skewing somewhat older than most US ‘middle schools’. Although we have grades one through twelve in the same building, the jump from grade six (junior school) to seven (middle school) is perceived as huge by the students, even though the students simply move upstairs to the next floor. It’s probably the biggest transition in the school. Grade seven and nine are also key intake years, so the focus in these years for us in the libary is the re-teaching and reinforcing of research and library skills.

During the year I was on leave, grade seven and eight students at my school started an Integrated Studies program. As this continues this year, I am really looking forward to working with these teachers and new curriculum. The middle school curriculum has always been very cross-disciplinary, and this new approach lends itself particularly well to inquiry and  21st century learning.  I’ve had already had some great conversations about assignments and learning opportunities with my colleagues, and my assistant librarian is reading zombie YA fiction in preparation for a unit about settlements. Who could fail to be inspired?

This year we also have dedicated library periods for most of our middle school students, to focus on literacy, reading promotion, and book selection. I will be offering some great opportunities to our middle schoolers, such as the chance to participate in Kids’ Lit Quiz (a worldwide competition which tests participants on their knowledge of children’s literature), and Red Reads, our annual books and reading contest, similar to Battle of the Books (watch this space for more on this later in the year). I’m the staff advisor for Anime Club, a co-curricular group that’s popular with middle schoolers. We will also participate in Red Maple, which is a province-wide reading award for students in grades seven through nine, showcasing the best of Canadian fiction and non-fiction for younger teens. We’ll also be bringing the pop-up library (aka the library cart and an iPad) along to the middle school floor at lunchtime for book sign out and reading promotion. It promises to be a busy year!


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Books for Discussing September 11th

One of the bonuses of being a librarian and a mother, is that my daughters often try to surprise me with books I am not familiar with when they come home from a trip to our public library. One Saturday this summer, I arrived home to find a library book selected by youngest daughter on my desk. I am a native New Yorker and I believe she picked out the book because of its setting, noted in the title.

New Yorks BravestI dug into New York’s Bravest, pouring over the lush illustrations by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher. I immediately found myself captivated by the story of a man whose legend was larger than life. Mose Humphreys had overwhelming strength and character, and an unyielding sense of duty. His life ultimately ended in the line of duty and the narrative brought me to tears. Through the story I also gained a deeper understanding of the connection and sense of community firefighters have not only in New York City, but in all areas where we live today.

The book includes a historical note about the origins of this tall tale. And fittingly, the book is dedicated to the 343 New York City firefighters who lost their lives while saving others on September 11th. After researching the book I also found that Mary Pope Osborne included a longer, different version of this legend in her collection American Tall Tales. New York’s Bravest is a gem and reading the book aloud I believe would prompt great discussions with young children about the job firefighters do and the risks they take to save others.

FireboatMaira Kalman uses the history of New York City and a detailed description of the John J. Harvey Fireboat launched in 1931, to set the stage for the incredible work the boat did in the hours after the attack on 9/11.

The theme of citizenship, which resonates so clearly in this book, provides a way to discuss the events of September 11th with children. Maira Kalman describes the events and the response from New Yorkers by writing:

“The news spread. The city had been attacked. Everyone was terrified. But people were brave. The entire city sprang into action. Firefighters and police officers and doctors and construction workers and teachers and cooks and children and parents. The mayor was strong. He said, “We will all work together. We will not be broken.”

Fireboat TowersThe illustrations are remarkable. Maria Kalman’s signature colorful, warm style and captures the people who experienced the day and their steadfast determination, working together to repair the city.

14 Cows for AmericaA Maryland Black-Eyed Susan picture book nominee, Carmen Agra Deedy’s 14 Cows for America provides a unique, global perspective on the events of September 11th. In her collaboration with Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah, the author uses the vehicle of storytelling to communicate the events of the day paired with beautiful, evocative illustrations.

“There is a terrible stillness in the air as the tale unfolds. With growing disbelief, men, women, and children listen. Buildings so tall they can touch the sky? Fires so hot they can melt iron? Smoke and dust so thick they can block out the sun?”

Yet, from the story it is clear that no matter how great our differences, we are empathetic. The response from the people in a small village in Kenya and their touching gift of fourteen cows for America define the essence of the Maasai – a people, “ …fierce when provoked, but easily moved to kindness when they hear of suffering or injustice.” This book also provides a stepping stone for broadly discussing ritual, cultural values, and immigration.

In the concluding note from Kimeli Naiyomah he writes, “The Maasai wish is that every time Americans hear this simple story of fourteen cows, they will find a measure of comfort and peace.”  We are fortunate as Librarians and teachers to utilize books like these that provide a conduit for healing and way we can remember September 11th, 2001 and move forward.

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Responsive Classroom; Library Edition

Due to technical difficulties, Allison’s blog couldn’t be posted on Wednesday.  Enjoy!

Responsive Classroom: Library Edition

Last week our Lower School faculty (classroom teachers and specialists) dove into four days of training on Responsive Classroom, an approach to education addressing the social, emotional, and academic growth of students. As a faculty, we are excited about the consistency it will bring to our classroom, hallways, recess fields, and the cafeteria.

There are many aspects of Responsive Classroom that I am excited about. With a public library background, I do not have as much classroom management experience as many of my colleagues and welcome new techniques that help my progress as an effective educator. For this blog post I selected four takeaways from Responsive Classroom. The descriptions I am giving are based on how we are integrating Responsive Classroom techniques immediately after the training. There will likely be many steps forward and back as we adapt to this new model in our lower school as a whole and in the library. Consider my blog a quick share-out from a neophyte practitioner. To read about Responsive Classroom from the experts, please refer to Responsive Classroom. The online resources and blog articles are very helpful and the contributors have many great ideas.
Four Takeaways

1. Hopes & Dreams and Rules
We created school rules: Be safe. Be kind. Be respectful. These rules will be used in all classes and in common areas. Each class may add rules (not too many) that reflect the needs of the particular space and community. In addition, in the first few weeks of school we will have the students think and write about their hopes and dreams for the school year. By connecting student hopes and dreams to the rules, we hope to increase accountability for student behavior. I have hopes and dreams about student hopes and dreams related to their time in the library.

2. Positive Teacher Language
We remind our students. We reinforce our reminders. We redirect behavior when it has gone off course. What I like most about Responsive Classroom’s recommended teacher language is that it emphasizes the positive. It assumes that the students know what they should be doing and just need a little reminder to get back on track. Instead of pointing out the negative things students have done, we remind students of the positive behaviors we want to see. The reminders allow the students to figure out what they should be doing.

“Remember our rules about being safe in the hallway.”
“Remember how we read quietly at the end of library to be respectful of our classmates.”
“Remind me how we stand in line for the pencil sharpener.”
“Remind me how we ask someone to be a partner.”

When behavior has gone far off course we use redirecting language that is direct and unapologetic. The intent of the language is to stop the inappropriate behavior immediately and steer the student on the correct path. Redirecting language sounds a bit on the bossy side because it excludes the words “please,” “thank you,” and “can you.”

“Stop. Walk.”
“Sit down.”

Although it doesn’t seem like redirecting language should feel foreign on the tongue, it does! I didn’t realize how often I soften requests for behavior change with polite words until I deliberately started using redirecting language. It’s different, and so far has been very effective with the students.

3. Morning Meeting
The morning meeting is a time for students and teachers to have a greeting, a group share or activity, and hear a morning meeting that introduces a lesson. This meeting sets the tone for the rest of the day so it is carefully planned by the teacher and very structured to keep things on task. Because we have classes in the library at many different times during the day, I am calling our beginning meeting the Circle Meeting and it will be quite a bit shorter than a homeroom meeting. I’m hoping that the Circle Meeting will create a new sense of community, order, and purpose at the start of each library lesson.

4. Interactive Modeling
Think about the variety of procedural skills students navigate over the course of the school year. Is modeling a good way to teach them? While there are things I’ve always modeled, such as using a shelf marker, there are many other procedures that might be better understood by students with a simple demonstration of expectations. For our first library lessons of the year we are modeling how to check out books at the circulation desk. We then ask the students to comment on what they notice about the interaction and then have volunteers model for the class. Showing instead of telling has been a very effective method for teaching so far.
We are in the first week of school and the first days of Responsive Classroom. It’s a challenge to change the way we talk with students. It’s been enjoyable to integrate Responsive Classroom techniques and practices into each 40-minute library lesson. I believe that the time invested now will pay off later in the year and I am looking forward to the adventures ahead. I feel fortunate to be working with a faculty dedicated to this effort, the wonderful resources listed HERE , and knowledgeable AISL colleagues to learn from.

Thanks to everyone who responded to my email on the list-serv last week. It was great to learn from librarians using Responsive Classroom techniques in the library setting. I’ll probably be in touch with you as we try out new things this year.

If you’d like to keep the conversation going, please respond below. There is so much to learn!