Florida Maps-Cartographers & Makerspaces

What a great idea one of my third grade teachers had this year. Since her class was doing a research project about Florida she divided them into groups and they each had a specific topic to learn about and then display that knowledge on a map they would design. This would enable them to research, learn, show, and represent.  They were to learn about Florida through different aspects. The teacher divided her class in teams of two students that had complimentary skills and work ethics. The areas for exploration included Florida landmarks, populations, topography, waterways, highways, regions, ecosystems, indigenous tribes and the economies of Florida. Each group drew the outline of Florida and came to the makerspace to explore the materials they would use to portray their findings. Students were first able to research their topic, allowing them to see ways in which their topic was already represented. Then it was their turn to brainstorm ways that they could show their research to the class. The teacher and the students thought the makerspace would be a great asset to expanding the student’s idea of how they could show off their learning. Here are the results:

It was amazing to see children turn pipe cleaners into trees and orange buttons into oranges to represent Florida’s orange groves. Tissue paper became waves moved with littlebit components and colorful duct tape was used to divide the regions of Florida. They were so excited to work on their projects and they were always on task. They did their project share with other classes as well as for their parents. It was another example of how creative students can be when we give them time and freedom to express what they learned in ways we could never have dreamed of.







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Looking For A Holiday

It is hard to believe that we are already heading into winter break. Every year the fall goes faster and faster. Before I know it, Thanksgiving is on the horizon and I am stressing about writing reports. I always have the initial first duh moment where I wonder, what I have been doing for the last three months. I know I have been here every day working, but what am I really doing? As a former classroom teacher, I continue to struggle with crafting curriculum that fits into forty five minutes twice a week. Sometimes, as I am planning I think I am pure genius. This should be my first clue that it is going to blow up in my face. What appears so perfect in my imagination, just doesn’t always apply to reality. An example of this is my use of PebbleGo recently. A first grade teacher requested that I do holidays with her students. Since I just finished character and setting and exposing students to different religions and cultures is a perfect tie in to our mission I thought it was an okay idea. I normally try to stay away from looking at cultures solely through celebrations, however, I convinced myself this was an easy entryway into bigger conversations. Also, it was the perfect chance to introduce research in the most gentle way. Students were directed to find one way the holiday was celebrated. Using technology to have the information read to the students, plus videos, plus pictures. Woo Hoo! Win! Win! Win! Except when it isn’t. Since I have the luxury of seeing the first grade in small groups I decided to split them into pairs and have them each research a fall or winter holiday. As this is the first time I have the class on computers independently, I chose the holidays: Diwali, Chinese New Year, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. I knew the students already knew a lot about Christmas and I wanted them to explore something new. After the students had the opportunity to learn about a holiday in PebbleGo, I invited the students to draw a picture about something they learned and then write one sentence in their best kids spelling. So here is where pure foolishness was masquerading as genius. These students did NOT want to learn about a holiday different from their own. Students who celebrated Diwali didn’t want to learn about Kwanzaa, and students that celebrated Hanukkah did not care about Chinese New Year. Students who celebrated Christmas begged to be able to research Christmas the next time. Which makes total sense. Children, especially young children, get so excited when something from their personal lives comes up in the school day. The connection with home is just too delicious and everything else fades from view. So of course it makes much more sense to have the students read about holidays they celebrate and then share them with a friend.
So this week I am letting the students choose the holiday they want to investigate. Then I am going to ask the students to compare the holidays for similarities and differences. I’m going to do this with a four corners activity first and then a classroom discussion. I already know I am in trouble because as I’m writing this, I’m already thinking, “This is going to be great!!!”


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Measure for Measure : A Surveyor’s Guide

Measure for Measure : A Surveyor’s Guide

The AISL listserv recently had a discussion of reading preferences, digital vs print, and someone asked about student practices. I was able to zip over, open a file, and respond that our students have shown a steady preference for print, particularly for leisure reading:  71% prefer print, 8% prefer digital, and 21% don’t care about format.  For research, 50% prefer print, 15% prefer digital, and 35% don’t care about format. These ratios have been fairly stable over the past several years.


I had those numbers at my fingertips is because those questions have been included on our annual student survey for the past 5 years.  An annual survey is a challenging tool. It’s tricky to build, and arguably trickier to interpret, but it can provide supporting information to help craft your curriculum in the most useful direction, or to make an iron-clad case for a much-needed capital improvement project.


We use SurveyMonkey to create our surveys. Our school has a subscription so we’re able to incorporate useful ‘advanced’ elements like Logic, which allows respondents to be routed to different sections depending on how they answer multiple choice questions. Our 2017 survey was sent out last May 16. We sent the survey out via all student email, following that up with a reminder on the 22nd. This year we had 339 responses, out of an Upper School population of 970. The number of respondents fluctuates yearly, and we’re always trying to increase the number. In 2013 we had 260 responses, in 2014 we had 382, and in 2015 we had the highest number of responses ever with 474. That number has been dropping again. I’m thinking adding a (candy?) reward for those who fill out the survey may bring more responses. It’s clear we also need to work on our promotion of the survey.


There is always need to achieve a balance between creating a survey that is comprehensive and one that is brief enough to be quickly completed. Our most recent survey had 27 questions divided into 3 different sections (or ‘pages’ in SurveyMonkey lingo). I’m not confident in our arrangement of pages, but here’s how we do it for now.


* Overall Library Experience includes questions on what year you are, what libraries you use, do you ask a librarian for help with specific resources, (that one includes an ‘Other’ box), How could your experience be improved, has it been ever too noisy, and Silent Study use. Silent Study is our ‘absolutely silent’ room with 36 carrels that is used for study and testing. When Silent Study works well, I’m not so worried about noise in the rest of the library, so this is a vital question to track


* Library Resources asks if students have skills required to effectively search a database such as JSTOR or ProQuest: (yes, no, sort of and a box for “please explain”), how easy or hard was it to manage citations, do students buy books for research (and if so, why?), do students prefer print or digital, and have students ever taken a book out without checking it out (and if so, why?).


*Recreational Reading explores whether students use library materials for leisure reading, which format is preferred, and if students were aware the library had various materials available. This section also has a box for “any suggestions for books, magazines or other resources”, as well as a box for “anything else you’d like to comment on not covered in the survey”.


As I look at it now, I can see a number of changes we may incorporate for our next survey. For one thing, by naming these pages in this way we may be causing students to alter their progression through the survey. By calling the last section “Recreational Reading” we may inadvertently lead students to quit early, thinking they don’t do anything called “Recreational Reading”, so they don’t need to continue.


Interpreting Results

Each year I comb through the survey results for useful data. It’s important to be consistent with some questions because then you can compare responses from year to year. If you alter your questions too dramatically, you lose the ability to gauge changes over time.

Like other librarians, we hope to provide a positive UX: User Experience. Many survey questions reflect how students interact with library staff. With one question, we were noticing a reduction in the number of students who would ask librarians for help from year to year. My first reflex reaction was that we must be scary librarians and don’t encourage return business.  Then I noticed the following answer in a ‘tell us more’ box: “During one of our history classes, a librarian came in and told us how to use the catalog and datbases, so I did not have to ask for help”. A carefully crafted survey will help tease out reasons for the answers students give.

Another caution: before wigging out at one specific negative response, look at the numbers. Even though 339 responded to the survey, it might be that only 8 people answered a question. Data may show that 25% of students don’t like a particular thing, but if only 8 students answered that question, and 2 didn’t like that thing, then that would account for a 25% negative response.

Acting on Results

A few points of action come to mind as I reflect on our surveys. When we started seeing student comments mentioning discrepancies between teachers’ instructions and librarians’, I knew I needed to touch base with the team leader to clarify where we may have strayed apart in our presentations. It turned out that a new teacher had not been managing things the same way as the other teachers.

Another important point came from a question asking whether students felt they could successfully search a database. This number responding ‘yes’ was lower for Sophomores, higher for Juniors, and – surprise—lower again for Seniors. Looking at this facet of the survey, it makes perfect sense. We teach information literacy to our Sophomores and Juniors, but we don’t teach Seniors, in large part because many teachers assume (falsely, it seems) that Seniors ‘know this stuff’. We can use these details as support for adding Seniors to our curriculum.

On a practical note, last year’s survey indicated many students wanted more soft seating, so we got 2 additional beanbag chairs. They’re a big hit. We also had students asking for more carrels. No, we didn’t go out and buy more carrels, but we are more aware that they are a valued commodity, so we patrol more often and keep students from ‘claiming’ a carrel as their own private territory between classes.




Each year I learn more about our library, our program, our strengths and our challenges. It is important to have a staff meeting to discuss the survey soon after it is complete to take note of how the survey worked ‘this year’, discussing about how it might be changed for next year. A final piece of advice: never ever send a survey out on a Friday. Ever!

Our survey is one of the most important tools we have to help improve our library. Do you have a survey you find useful? Please share it here. I’ve included a link to the questions on our 2017 survey. Let me know what you think.




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Guatemala: A Country in Flux, Part 2

In this second part of our two-part blog series on Guatemala, we will share with you another organization that needs your help, as well as an excellent programmatic opportunity for your schools related to Guatemala…Thanks for reading!

Grassroots Community Assistance

Numerous non-profit initiatives sprang up throughout Guatemala after the civil war. Some, like Safe Passage (discussed in Part 1 of this series), were started by visitors and activists from other nations, while others are home-grown. One such example of a grassroots foundation is Fundacione Corazones Libres (FUNCOLI)--or the Free Hearts Foundation.

(Photo Courtesy of FUNCOLI)

In the mountainous region just beyond the city of Antigua lie the Vuelta Grande, Agua Colorada, and La Cumbre communities. FUNCOLI serves over 200 families in these communities which are largely Mayan and subsistence farmers. Because the areas are quite isolated, education and health services are not accessible. FUNCOLI’s mission is to “provide health services, education and local development to people of limited resources, with the aim of promoting empowerment and economic growth in these communities”. FUNCOLI’s Learning Center now serves 28 children between the ages of 4 and 12. Students attend daily classes, receive a nourishing meal, and participate in art workshops.

At the medical and dental clinics, adults and children receive free medicine and consultations twice a month on Sunday mornings. Additionally, FUNCOLI has provided motivational workshops for adults, donations of eco water filters, and support for local community leaders’ negotiations with the Municipality of Antigua in an effort to obtain potable water.

(Photo Courtesy of FUNCOLI)

While staying in Vuelta Grande, we happened upon FUNCOLI quite by accident. Unbeknownst to us, Ingrid, the proprietress of the guest cottage we were renting, is one of the founders of the organization. FUNCOLI’s  learning centers and medical clinic were a short walk from the cottage. During our stay at the cottage, we were given a tour of their learning center and the medical clinic. FUNCOLI’s facilities are modest. It is touching to see how much love and thoughtfulness are being put into these spaces with very limited resources.

Over the next  two years, FUNCOLI is aiming to expand their workshops for adults in areas such as literacy, carpentry, sewing, crop cultivation, cooking, clothing design and plumbing, in addition to constructing or improving upon the learning center facilities (bathroom, kitchen, cafeteria, storage area). Just recently, the Learning Center received donated computers for providing computer classes to both children and adults. The computers are stored, somewhat insecurely, at the foundation.  Due to the isolation of the foundation’s location, they need to install a chain link fence and lighting for security. Installation of the chain link fence is estimated to be approximately $7,500.

FUNCOLI is also in need of providing all-weather driving access to the foundation, and for local farmers for the purpose of working their fields and extracting their harvest of flowers and vegetables.  The intense rains common to Guatemala wash out the road and make it impossible for vehicles to extract the harvest. Construction and expansion of the Foundation has been greatly limited due to the inability of receiving construction materials. Construction costs  associated with improved road access are estimated to be approximately $5,000.

If you are interested in helping FUNCOLI realize its mission,  the best way is to contribute a monetary donation (postal service is practically non-existent in Guatemala). Donations may be sent via a bank transfer through one of the following channels:

  • BANCO AGROMERCANTIL, 7TH Ave. 7-30, Zone 9, Guatemala, C.A. Tel: (502)2338-6565 Ext. 92002-92066
  • Instructions for receiving monetary transfers from the US, via Citibank: NA Citibank, New York, NY, ABA 021000089, SWIFT CITIUS33, To: BANCO AGROMERCANTIL DE GUATEMALA, S.A., GUATEMALA, C.A., SWIFT AGROGTGC, FUNDACION CORAZONES LIBRES, Cuenta No. 31-4002954-6, 14 Calle A 15-27, Zone 10, Oakland, Guatemala

(Photo Courtesy of FUNCOLI)

Related programming for your schools…

We all know that building awareness in our students can lead to inspiring positive action. If you are looking to educate students at your school about Guatemala, then look no further!

My (Laura) first real entry into gaining an understanding of Guatemalan culture was a documentary film. In the Fall of 2014, tipped off by more than a little hype, a colleague and I watched the documentary, Living On One Dollar, a film chronicling the experiences of several college seniors who conducted an experiment whereby they farmed radishes and lived in rural Guatemala on one dollar a day. The filmmakers endured sickness, hunger, and fatigue to generate awareness about what it is like to live in poverty in the developing world. This experiment spun off into the Change Series, a 6 episode series about six issues that Guatemalans living in extreme poverty confront every day complete with ancillary multimedia resources and a curriculum packet.  After viewing the film, we subsequently rushed to book one of the project’s central creators and speakers, Chris Temple.

Anyone interested in helping young people understand the realities and challenges faced by the poor of the developing world would do very well to have Chris visit their school. He is a charismatic, engaging speaker who connects with young adults in an effervescent way. Most importantly, he inspires empathy from his audiences.  Living On One Dollar sparked an outpouring of donations from viewers raising over $750,000 for education and micro-finance work for the village featured in the film.

Chris and his collaborators are still active with their work in Guatemala, but have since branched out to explore and understand the Syrian refugee crisis. They were the first embedded filmmakers to live inside a refugee camp, where their second film, Salam Neighbor was filmed. The film led to the dynamic web collaboration between Chris, Google, and the UN: Searching for Syria. Both Living on One Dollar and Salam Neighbor are on Netflix. I encourage you to check them out! 

(Photo by Laura Bishop)

About the authors:

Laura Bishop has been “librarian-ing” for thirteen years now. Previously she was a Senior Children’s Librarian for The New York Public Library, and the Middle and Upper School Librarian at Léman Manhattan Prep. Laura is currently in  her fourth year as the Director of the Library and Media Center of The Hun School of Princeton, where she is fortunate to activate her passions for social justice, travel, and cultural competency work through the Cultural Competency Committee, advisement of the gender equity group, and chaperoning global immersion trips abroad.

Maria Falgoust is the librarian at the International School of Brooklyn (ISB), a Nursery–8th grade independent school in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, New York. ISB offers French and Spanish language immersion programs as well as an International Baccalaureate curriculum, which is reflected in their multilingual library collection. Prior to ISB, Maria worked at The American Overseas School of Rome (AOSR) and Saint Ann’s in Brooklyn Heights, NY. She is serving as vice president of the Hudson Valley Library Association (HVLA) for a second term, is an organizer of the Building Bridges Through Books  book club through the Human Rights Pen Pal organization, and is on the planning committee for NYSAIS Education and Information Technology Conference.

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Guatemala: A Country in Flux, Part 1

This summer, we (Laura Bishop, Maria Falgoust and Maria’s sister, Katie Falgoust) took a two week trip to Guatemala. Like good librarians, we researched, chatted up everyone we knew who has traveled/lived there and gathered information before planning our itinerary. Our primary goal for the trip was to experience Guatemala’s beautiful landscapes and culture, but we also wanted to see and understand some of the realities of life in modern-day Guatemala as well.  Everyone we spoke to (as well as every guide book) emphatically advised us to skip Guatemala City due to the crime and extreme traffic. As a result, we limited our time there; however, we did manage to get a glimpse of what life is like for some in the capital through a visit to Safe Passage (more on that below.)

In order to understand the needs and present conditions of Guatemalan society, it is important to take a look back at their history and understand the forces most strongly affecting the country today.

(Photo by Laura Bishop)

Guatemala in context…

2016 marked the twentieth anniversary of the end of Guatemala’s 36 year civil war. The war began in 1960 with a rebellion that attempted to overthrow the military regime; this regime was installed with help from the CIA six years earlier when it assisted with the overthrow of Guatemala’s democratically elected president who wished to implement land reform largely benefitting the indigenous populations, while compromising the interests of private corporations including that of the United Fruit Company, an American corporation. The conflict disproportionately affected indigenous populations who made up the majority of the over 200,000 killed or “disappeared”.

Along with Honduras and El Salvador, Guatemala completes what has been termed the “Northern Triangle Countries”. Maras, or gangs, are responsible for the vast majority of violent crimes and extortions which plague the country today. Large numbers of Guatemalans have been fleeing their homeland for fear of forced gang initiation, violent crime, extortion, and an overall lack of economic opportunity, including a large number of unaccompanied youth. This number of asylum seekers from the Northern Triangle spiked dramatically between 2000 and 2015. In 2000, the number of people born in those countries was reported at 1.5 million, with that number jumping in 2013 to a reported 2.7 million.

In Guatemala, efforts such as the “Sweep Up” plan have resulted in mass incarceration of gang members, but this has not stemmed the tide of the high incidence of extortion (considered the central source of gang sustenance) since a staggering 80% of extortions are believed to be “commanded” from within the prisons of that country.  The heavy fortifications in some Guatemala City neighborhoods–security checkpoints to enter, and locked, high metal walls barricading the facades of many of the buildings within the neighborhood–stand as a testament to the high rates of crime and increased fear of gangs over the past twenty years.

While numerous crime statistics continue to place Guatemala as one of the countries with the highest rate of violent crime, recent homicide statistics  demonstrate a downward trend and provide hope. In addition, Human Rights Watch notes that the Guatemalan government is making progress with prosecuting human rights and corruption cases. Together Guatemala’s Attorney General and the UN-backed International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), have made important strides in bringing perpetrators of genocide and crimes against humanity during the civil war period to justice. Included in these was the court convictions of two former military officers for sexual violence and domestic and sexual slavery against 15 Maya Q’eqchi’ women. According to Human Rights Watch, this was the first time the Guatemalan courts tried a case of sexual violence related to the civil war conflict.

The CICG–which receives substantial funding from the U.S–has also played a pivotal role in investigating and exposing corruption. One of the most high profile cases being the million dollar tax fraud case involving the country’s then president, Otto Pérez Molina, and led to his arrest and resignation in the fall of 2015.

The Obama administration earmarked $750 million for the Alliance for Prosperity plan for FY 2016. The guiding principle behind the plan is to address the root causes for mass emigration from the Northern Triangle countries, and thus reduce the numbers of undocumented immigrants coming the the U.S. It is subsidized by the foreign aid the U.S. gives to the region and seen by proponents, which include Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, as a long term solution.

What we found…

Guatemala is a beautiful, accessible, and traveler-friendly place to visit. Its numerous micro-climates, forests, stellar hiking, and rich Mayan heritage are, unfortunately, often overshadowed by its reputation for crime. Like anywhere one travels to, one should certainly exercise caution, stay alert and be vigilant and street-smart in Guatemala. I’d say we did all of the above, and perhaps that’s why we experienced no troubles in this area!

In both Antigua and Lake Atitlan we found numerous artisan cooperatives. Weaving (back-strap) or textiles, coffee, chocolate, and herbal remedies are just a few examples of the types of enterprises one can find there. Run by women from various indigenous groups, these cooperatives not only produce beautiful examples of Mayan and Guatemalan culture and natural resources, they are symbols of the resilience of the Guatemalan people and an act of cultural preservation.

The needs and challenges  in Guatemala, however, are significant. While we were there, we heard about many non-profits working to improve daily life for Guatemalans. Here we will share two we had the opportunity to visit.

(Photo Courtesy of Laura Bishop)

Non-profits working toward change…

Safe Passage, is a non-profit that focuses on providing education, health care and other programming to some of the 60,000 children and families who work in and around the city’s dump. Watching Leslie Iwerk’s moving documentary, “Recycled Life” about Guatemala City’s toxic landfill and Safe Passage’s work convinced us to check it out.  

Leaving at 5 am from our cozy mountain lodge, we happily arrived at Safe Passage where we learned about the history of the founder, Hanley Denning, a native Mainer. In 1999, a friend brought her to see the dump and slums surrounding it. People who couldn’t find steady work would go to the landfill to collect materials to sell for recycling. As big trucks barreled in and out, methane and toxic substances were everywhere, and the workers’ children were exposed to all of it. Hanley felt driven to create a safe place where the children could be children, meaning that they have a safe place to play, learn, eat healthy food and be treated with dignity. She accomplished her dream when she founded Safe Passage later that year. Though Hanley tragically died in a traffic accident in 2007, her vision lives on. Today, Safe Passage serves 500 individuals a year!

On our tour, we had an armed bodyguard with us, in addition to our driver and tour guide. Our first stop was the landfill. As vultures swooped in and out, we stood on a precipice in a city cemetery to see the landfill and learn about everything that goes into it, from toxic hospital waste to household garbage.

Most of Safe Passage’s students live in cramped, squalid and unsanitary, makeshift houses that their families build using materials they find. There is no running water or electricity. Many of the parents are illiterate.

(Photo from Safe Passage)

Today, Safe Passage’s campus includes three schools, a community center and an office building. It provides health care, dental care, character education, an expansive well-rounded education, healthy meals and much more. In their schools, committed, certified, local teachers practice a Montessori-style pedagogy. An Expeditionary Learning curriculum is offered as an alternative approach to the style of education offered in most schools in Guatemala, where the focus is on rote learning and memorization.  Teachers at Safe Passage offer care, hope, skills and spark curiosity. In stark contrast to the dump, the courtyards at the schools are thoughtfully designed, meticulously kept and full of flowers and colorful murals. Students are also provided with the essentials they need to attend school: uniforms, school supplies, toothbrushes, toothpaste, and social services. Safe Passage continues to support their students after graduation by paying tuition at a public or private high schools (both cost money) and by providing a variety of support services including tutoring and job fairs. Parents and grandparents also get support in the form of workshops, literacy lessons, education and community fairs.

Visiting Safe Passage (and the library in particular) hit a nerve. It was impossible not to compare the experiences of the children who live in or near the dump to the experiences of the children who attend our independent schools. So much of what we take for granted is non-existent for the children of Safe Passage: access to quality, new books, teaching supplies, databases and general safety. Despite the dramatic differences in resources, the vibe of the classrooms throughout Safe Passage felt very familiar: lots of learning, group work, joy and colorful art work. It was clear that the founder’s vision to create a space where “children could just be children” had become a reality.

(Photo from Safe Passage)

Safe Passage’s library made us see how the AISL community could potentially contribute. Librarian Jessica Marchina gave up an hour to talk with us about the library, which currently holds about 4,000 volumes. As trained and experienced school librarians, we could get a group together to help out with cataloging, processing and even collection development. As connectors, we could potentially inspire other schools to host book drives to boost both Safe Passage’s library and classroom collections. A little goes a long way in Guatemala City!

What you can do to support Safe Passage:

  • HOST A BOOK DRIVE and collect books in Spanish (preferable not translated) for children ages 12 – 17 (this is the age-range they are in most in need of.) Ship the books to their office in Maine at 81 Bridge St # 104, Yarmouth, ME 04096. Volunteers will bring the books in their suitcases because Guatemala currently has no public postal service and private companies can take three months to arrive!
  • FORM A SUPPORT TEAM FOR A COMMUNITY SERVICE TRIP with your school’s community service director/coordinator to bring a high school group. Volunteers must be at least 15 years old.
  • SPONSOR A CHILD OR MOTHER OR A CLASSROOM by holding a fundraiser.
  • ORGANIZE A GROUP OF LIBRARIANS to volunteer in the library and assist with cataloging. Email Safe Passage at volunteers@safepassage.org for more information.

Now we know we are preaching to the choir but quality literature offers us more than just knowledge; it encourages imagination and a respect for a variety of points of views and it gives us  a broader sense of the world and the options it holds.  Your donation of time, effort, books or money could provide these students with hope and change their lives.

~Stay tuned for part two of this blog post on Wednesday, November 29th~

About the authors:

Laura Bishop has been “librarian-ing” for thirteen years now. Previously she was a Senior Children’s Librarian for The New York Public Library, and the Middle and Upper School Librarian at Léman Manhattan Preparatory School. Laura is currently in  her fourth year as the Director of the Library and Media Center at The Hun School of Princeton, where she is fortunate to activate her passions for social justice, travel, and cultural competency work through the Cultural Competency Committee, advisement of the gender equity group, and chaperoning global immersion trips abroad.

Maria Falgoust is the librarian at the International School of Brooklyn (ISB), a Nursery–8th grade independent school in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, New York. ISB offers French and Spanish language immersion programs as well as an International Baccalaureate curriculum, which is reflected in their multilingual library collection. Prior to ISB, Maria worked at The American Overseas School of Rome (AOSR) and Saint Ann’s in Brooklyn Heights, NY. She is serving as vice president of the Hudson Valley Library Association (HVLA) for a second term, is an organizer of the Building Bridges Through Books  book club through the Human Rights Pen Pal organization, and is on the planning committee for NYSAIS Education and Information Technology Conference.



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Prepping for Exam Week in the Library

We’ve just had fall term exams at Mercersburg Academy and I wanted to share a few things that we did to help kids relieve stress. As a boarding school, students are able to come in to the library during the evenings for study hall between 7:00pm and 10:00pm. This makes it even more important to have stress outlets!
Stop. Puzzle Time!
We put a 1000 piece puzzle behind the circulation desk and let the kids go crazy! We had students stopping by Sunday-Wednesday and a few who were determined to finish it before they left for break!
They really enjoyed being in a “restricted area” and it helped break down the boundary that is created by our monster of a desk.
Coffee Break
Our library is located across campus from the student center, so students who wanted coffee during evening quiet hours had to sign out of the library and then sign back in after getting it. This year, we tried out having a large carafe of coffee in the Research Commons and the kids loved it! The coffee was available from 7-10pm on the three evenings before full days of exams.
Bubble pop!
 I bought a big roll of bubble wrap and cut it into squares. We put it out by the research desk and let kids pop it to relieve stress. For two of the days it was out, the students were respectful and really enjoyed the bubble wrap.
However, one night during evening quiet hours the bubble wrap was distributed throughout the library and we could hear little “pop! pop! pop!” all night. Definitely not ideal. This one is definitely repeat at your own risk! If you try this at your library, I would suggest having an adult stationed by the bubble wrap at all times to remind the students to be respectful of those who are trying to study.
Coloring Books
A perennial favorite for stress relief, coloring books are a great exam week option. We put them out around the library with some colored pencils. The kids seemed to enjoy them, though they didn’t get as much use as in previous years. Perhaps this trend has run its course?
Are there any things that you do to help students de-stress during exams?
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Following Through on Book Clubs, and, Windows & Mirrors

Over the last few years, avid and ambitious readers among the students and staff have pitched their book club desires to me. Naturally I’m game, but as our clubs and organizations already are challenged by finding time to meet I admit I’ve been pessimistic about book club success. A handful of times such an effort would result in one meeting and then fizzle out. This year I’m giving it another go, inspired by two things. First is our newly formed Global Diversity Council, comprising students and faculty members and tasked with ensuring “effective diversity engagement, inclusive excellent practices, a multicultural environment and curriculum, equitable activities, and social justice actions.”

The second was a recent well-timed article from Teaching Tolerance, in which Chelsea Tornetto writes:

“A story is often the most effective way to create personal connections between very different people. Reading a novel allows us to see the world through someone else’s eyes, remove the context we are used to and replace it with something new. We are more prepared to accept things beyond our own experiences because we know we are reading a ‘story,’ and yet we also actively search for similarities between our own lives and the lives of the characters. A novel can begin to open students’ minds and shape their hearts, without doing battle against their sense of self.”

While this is something we all know already, evoking Rudine Sims Bishop’s often referenced “windows, sliding doors, and mirrors” metaphor, I read it at the right time. This past summer our faculty and staff read Global Dexterity by Andy Molinsky, and the last line of this quotation points beautifully to the concept of this title; that we can find and should seek ways to effectively engage, identify with, and relate to people who are culturally different from ourselves without compromising our own identities and values. Reading about a fictional yet realistic character’s experiences is a safe way to practice this, which our school community wants and needs to do.

This article reminded me how simple yet powerful a program this could be, and with the right book, the right group to participate in and promote it, and enough (widely publicized) pizza, it could be a success.

This feels a little hard to say, but one of the stumbling blocks our book clubs have faced in the past is perhaps too much student ownership. I think my belief in wanting to give students voice and choice in this type of activity may have deprived them of a valuable experience. Of course I would like student voices heard and student ownership of our selections and discussions, but well-intentioned as our students may be, they, like all of us, just don’t always have time to do “extra” things like prepare, make posters, and successfully book talk an extracurricular novel. Reminder to self – reading promotion, awareness of current publications, and facilitating discussions about literature are my job. Those things aren’t “extra” for me. So maybe, for the students to have a great experience, a little adult (read: librarian) ownership is not such a bad thing.

I went to a GDC meeting last week and shared this idea. Rather than asking for book suggestions from the students, I said “The first book will be The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, and first meeting will be during lunch on December 13 in the library with pizza. I hope that if we decide to continue the book club that you folks will have some suggestions.” An interested buzz made its way around the room, so that’s good enough to forge ahead.

Then I sent this poster to Upper School students, faculty, and staff:
Window and Mirrors Book Club

With interest and partnership from the GDC, I think this will go very well. Our library collection holds copies of this particular title in three formats, and the GDC was able to purchase a few copies for students, faculty, and staff to bring home over Thanksgiving break. The books came in yesterday and three copies had already been claimed by 8:30 this morning. I’ll spring for the pizza.

I would love to hear about others’ Windows and Mirrors Book Club successes, stumbles, and book choices. My hypothesis is that we will need to choose very current titles representing diverse identities and experiences, personally invite some folks who might not be paying attention to emails and announcements, and make sure everyone knows about the food.

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Global Library Partners

Recently my 7th grade history teacher approached me about making connections with students around the globe. She wanted students to have global pen pals for an authentic interaction. I immediately started working on the project and began researching possible partners.

Many of the Google searches I created led me to results that may or not be someone pretending to be a global student! Needless to say, I did not want to put our students in harm’s way.

I thought of reputable organizations and soon began researching the George W. Bush Presidential Library. They have a Women’s Initiative program that aims to empower women and children in countries where women do not have as many rights as they do in the United States.

I reached out to the Bush Library and arranged a meeting where we were connected with one of the Women’s Initiative Fellows, Farah. Farah works as a librarian in Tunisia! Working with Farah we were able to communicate with Tunisian students when they were in Farah’s library! Additionally, Farah visited 7th grade history classrooms when she was in the United States as part of her Fellowship program.

These experiences were exceptional, authentic global experiences for our students. The Bush Library has tremendously high standards, so I knew that we were in good, reputable hands. Additionally, all of the educational opportunities were free for our students! Finally, I now have a global library friend all the way across the globe!

Partnering with an area library was a wonderful experience, and I hope to continue to build quality programs with area academic, public and special libraries.

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on new ways of seeing librarianship…

I started my career in education as an elementary classroom teacher. During that time I had the opportunity to teach in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grades. My favorite grade was 2nd. 7-year olds have this wondrous way of showing you how much of the awesomeness of life you are missing when you view the world through the jaded lenses of old-fartness.

I distinctly remember, for example, looking out across the play field and seeing rain clouds crest over the mountains above our campus and tumble down the valley toward us. I calculated that the rain would arrive just in time to assure us of another day of indoor recess. “Well, that’s just great. Indoor recess, again…” I remember thinking. At the very moment that, that thought crossed my mind, my 2nd graders gathered at the lanai railing, looked out, and someone exclaimed, “Look how BIG the rainbow is!!!” After which we all spent the next few minutes just soaking in the beauty of our Hawaiian rainbow. I remember looking at my kids and thinking, “I can’t believe how lucky I am. I actually get paid to hang out with these people all day!!!”

Flash forward many, many, many years. My youthful old-fartness has progressed into end-of-career old-fartness. An affliction that makes me compelled to tell a listserv of librarians that on the outside my librarian persona is mostly calmly asking students in my crowded library to “Please keep voices conversational,” but in my head I’m thinking, “SHUT UP!!! SHUT UP!!! SHUT UP!!!”

Well, it is in this context that I find myself hosting a practicum student from the MLIS program at the University of Hawaii. Christian Mosher, our amazing practicum student, is a video arts teacher at another independent school in Honolulu. He is completing his final semester of work in the library program’s school librarianship track and is spending ten to twelve hours a week with us in the library. Christian has partnered  with us on everything from cataloging, to planning and presenting PD sessions for our faculty, to teaching a variety of library classes for a variety of age groups. I asked if he’d share a bit from his practicum journal about his perspective on his experience as a soon-to-be librarian and he decided that he wanted to share a little about his first day in our library.

Mr. Mosher in Action

This is what librarianship looks like through his not-old-fart eyes…

Today was my first day working with Dave Wee at Mid-Pacific Institute. I engaged in many different activities over the six hours I was there, but I will focus on one specific incident for this post.

It was early on in the day and I had just completed a walking tour of the campus. Dave and I were discussing the upcoming schedule for the day on the main floor in the library when the other librarian, Nicole Goff, walked a young boy up to us. He had already received assistance at the reception desk. A small slip of paper had the Dewey call number of 952 on it. Dave and I were asked to assist the young boy with locating the exact book. I observed how Dave handled the situation and eventually I stepped in and helped too. First, the call numbers were prominently posted on the ends of the shelves, so Dave asked the boy to find the 900’s. This boy may have been 10 or 11 years old. He found the right shelf and all three of us walked down the aisle. The young boy was looking all over for 952 when Dave reminded him that we read from top to bottom and from left to right. The boy organized his searching this way and found the 952 call number. Then a discussion was started about why the boy was looking for a specific book. David asked questions like what class is this for? And who is your teacher? The boy answered and we narrowed down the topic to Japanese Festivals. An awesome tip that was given to the boy was to look at the books to the left and to the right of the book that he located. Dave brought down five or six books for the boy to look through. Again, a search strategy was explained to the boy when David mentioned that oftentimes books have a table-of-contents in the front. The boy located the table-of-contents and went on to find the chapter on festivals. David and I flipped through a few books as well. A suggestion was made by Dave that the boy should be able to read and understand the content in the books. Those five or six books were narrowed down to three and the boy was sent on his way to check them out at the circulation clerk.

This impacted me because it was the very first experience that made me feel like a real librarian. Those that know me know that I am very passionate about integrating 21st century skills into library curriculum. This incident put me into a position that I never really evvisioned myself in. My assumption is that many LIS students do hope, desire, and envision themselves assisting patrons in the stacks. That hasn’t been the case for me; until now. The way that David interacted with the young boy was something that I now see myself doing. The satisfaction that the boy had when he left with three useful books is now something that I can strive to achieve when I assist students in the future.

The best standard to fit this incident would be Standard 3: Information and Knowledge. The specific element would be 3.1: Efficient and ethical information-seeking behavior. The young boy needed had a specific information need and David and I were able to help him locate it. What was exemplary was the fact that David modeled for the young boy how to locate the book on his own and how to locate other relevant books that would have similar or better information for him. This was also a collaborative effort as the boy was first assisted by the other librarian, then handed off to us, and then sent to the circulation clerk to complete the checkout of the books.

Like it was with my 7-year olds, sometimes I get so caught up in the hustle and bustle of doing school librarianship, that I don’t stop to take a moment and savor just how incredibly lucky we are to do what we do in our libraries every single day. Thank you, Christian, for reminding me to slow down and savor the joyous moments.

And please join me in congratulating Christian for PASSING HIS ORALS last week!

Our profession is in good hands…

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Launching an Idea Wall

This year, new school construction provided opportunities for our middle school library.
A library office and workspace disappeared to create a hallway connecting the new lower school building to the middle school building. It felt like the old adage…”it’s not like we’re losing a daughter, we’re gaining a son.” The equation for the new library design might be the following:

new library spaces (hallway) + increased traffic (both lower and middle school students) =
literacy education opportunities

Installing large whiteboard Idea Walls along one side of this new hallway was a design that quickly took shape, but with every new opportunity is a challenge:

How do you prevent the Idea Wall from becoming a static space–a glorified bulletin board–and instead create a public space that ignites ideas, promotes discussions, encourages interactions, and makes visible a culture of learning in the school community? Here are a few ways the library has launched the Idea Wall.

Opening the Doors to Imagination

We began with a themed slogan at the top of the Idea Wall,
“Open the Doors to … Imagination,”
and Alice in Wonderland illustrations by Tenniel framed one large panel of the Idea Wall. Our school community was invited to write the titles of their favorites books featuring magical portals or doors as an important part of the storyline. We also had a Literary Door contest.  Students, faculty, administrators, and even visiting alumni had fun adding the title of their favorite books to the Idea Wall.

Exploring an Author’s Book

October’s Idea Wall theme was created by students in the Literary Magazine class to help promote our Book Fair Author, Allan Wolf, who wrote a novel in verse about the sinking of the Titanic, The Watch that Ends the Night. Students used the rich back matter of this book to create a “match-the-statistics” on survivors in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd classes, as well as write the names of countries of those on board the fated ship (these country names were written in a wave-like pattern beneath the ship). Blue-toned post-it notes featured the names of people and quotes, and viewers were invited to match the person’s name to the poem excerpt that described this character’s point of view. A final section of the Titanic Idea Wall featured a poem from the book and invited students to find words that showed onomatopoeia as well as words and phrases that used analogy or vivid language.

Writing Contests
November’s Idea Wall was also designed by the Literary Magazine students. Using the door theme again, fifteen door images were selected by the students (using Britannica Image Quest) and the students wrote writing prompts for each image. The school community was encouraged to select a door image that makes them curious, and write a poem, descriptive paragraph, or short story based on the writing prompt. The Literary Magazine editors will judge the entries, and winners will enjoy a pizza lunch with our January writing workshop author, Diane Stanley, as well as have the writing piece published in the Literary Magazine. Below is one example of an imaginative doorway image and writing prompt.

Thinking about Thinking
The second whiteboard panel along the library hallway invites viewers to “Think about Thinking.”  The first installation was titled “Thinking Fast and Slow,” and professional books were displayed tied to this theme: Making Thinking Visible, The Shallows, and I Read It But I Don’t Get It.

A Venn diagram and laptop screen graphics encouraged viewers to add their experiences of when they think fast/think slow when using print sources or the internet. Though this first installation did not get interaction from students, fellow teachers liked having a space to highlight metacognition and thinking strategies. This year our faculty meets once a week in PLC groups, and one of the PLC groups reserved the Idea Wall in October to display an interactive Growth Mindset board and also displayed fiction and nonfiction books themed to “grit” and “growth mindset.” It was wonderful to have this Idea Wall space spearheaded by other faculty, and I anticipate that the PLC groups will take turns highlighting their learning on this portion of the Idea Wall. This also provides a great way to showcase our professional book collection to teachers!

New Directions for the Idea Wall
Modular furniture has been ordered for the library hallway opposite the Idea Wall, and I envision that this will make the space even more inviting for students. Faculty have been encouraged to reserve the wall space if they wish to brainstorm ideas connected to their curriculum, and once a few initiators try this out, I think more faculty and students will take advantage of using this space.

I look forward to hearing how your school incorporates Idea Walls to ignite ideas.

Additional Resources:
This past summer I attended STLinSTL hosted by MICDS, and educator Lynn Mittler’s session on Design Thinking provided the following resources:

Design Thinking for Educators
This free Design Thinking toolkit includes Map Frameworks (maps to group thinking/data, as an alternative to a Venn Diagram).

Ideo U
Resources and workshops on Design Thinking

Book Resource:
Creating Cultures of Thinking, by Ron Ritchhart

Britannica Image Quest Citation:
Nanniebots. Photography. Britannica ImageQuest, Encyclopædia Britannica, 25 May 2016. quest.eb.com/search/132_1304503/1/132_1304503/cite. Accessed 12 Sep 2017.


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