Revisiting Creative Commons: the 4th Prong to Copyright, Public Domain, and Fair Use

I was recently asked by an administrator to share with our faculty tips about finding images and media for projects so that we can model for our students how to find appropriate and licensed images and media for use. This led me to review, revisit, and revise how I tackle and present concepts of copyright, fair use and Creative Commons licenses. Most academic institutions realize it is important to revisit topics of academic property and intellectual rights with staff every couple of years; if not, annually. In the process of dusting off my own knowledge of the topic and looking at the ways our students and faculty are using media I stumbled upon some new angles to share efficient and relevant ways to find images and media.

It started with a question from a teacher,” Can you share that website that has the ‘free’ images with students?” I am sure many of you have been asked this question and have offered up resources that direct teachers to places to find images labeled “free to use.” While this is one of the most common ways many librarians tackle the complex intersection of copyright, fair use, and creative common license; I specifically and purposefully, have shifted my language away from using the words “free” to “licensed to use” as a slight paradigm shift in this topic. I choose this shift because of the role Creative Commons has emerged over the years for offering ways for creatives, artists, and  content creators to share and take control of how their works are offered for use in our digital landscape. I see CC licenses now as the fourth prong to the discussion of copyright, public domain and fair use. I went down the “rabbit hole” of reviewing my own understanding of these concepts. Then of course, I created a libguide for our faculty built from the previous work of my librarian colleagues with the addition of new perspectives I gathered. In my mind’s eye, I pictured this information as a Venn diagram, albeit in the shape of the square content boxes of libguide construction. I felt renewed in my understanding of how these concepts of attribution and use relate to each other, and I nerded out on how I could convey these complexities to teachers that have limited time; and in this year, of especially strained circumstances, limited bandwidth. I had ten minutes of a “captured audience” in a morning faculty meeting in which to convey this information, so the libguide would need to serve as the follow up resource for anything I did not get to cover in the meeting. Here is my attempt at thoroughness while navigable (click image below to view the libguide).

So needless to say, I did not start the presentation with, “ today, we are going to look at copyright, fair use, and creative commons.” Instead, I shifted to sharing tools they could immediately use as a backdoor to eventually addressing the copyright conversation. Which brings me to the question: have any of you noticed lately that Google image search usage tools are now using Creative Commons Licensing language as a filtering choice? So I showed them how to use the usage tool in a Google image search. Some of you will remember that Google used to have four different filters for searching images, now they have broken down to two: Creative Commons Licenses and Commercial Licenses. Because Google made the switch I could move our faculty and students to the switch too. It gave me the opportunity to discuss what Creative Commons licenses are, and how it relates to copyright. Additionally, Google is linking licensing details and source links to the original work more clearly. By showing them a tool they could use immediately, I captured their attention and many of them found this useful for class projects. I additionally showed them how to find CC licensing information on an image when they are using the internal image insert tool in Google slides as well. The little magnifying glass in the bottom right corner of the images lets your track back to the original images to check on its license for use. The following pictures illustrate the steps.

Google Image Search Usage Tool

Google Slides Internal Image Search

Video Demos

Here is the same information in video form to see the search process.

I am grateful for the faculty I work with and learn from in a symbiotic relationship. They were attentive and receptive to the information I shared. Several of them immediately sent me an email thanking me for the useful information. Several 6th grade language arts teachers invited me to do a mini-lesson of these searching for “images license to use”  with their classes. Additionally, a math teacher shared that they were adding this process to one of their presentation assignments in which students would add photo credits and attributions on all images in their slides. This made my librarian heart sing that our sixth graders were starting on the pathway to proper photo attribution in creative projects; normally, a skill introduced in later grades.

I am always reminded that when we have to teach a concept to others we learn and retain more ourselves. I am thankful that my administration always loops the library program into faculty information sessions. I have learned more and refreshed my view of copyright, fair use, and now Creative Commons. I have even started to license my own content with the CC nomenclature. The following post is licensed under .

Adapting

Back in the summer, I had… a very strong notion about what library instruction would look like this school year. There was no way to have a clear picture, given all of the uncertainties inherent in planning for a year like this, but I felt like I’d developed a clear plan and was ready to put it into action. 

I shared an earlier version of my research instruction menu in the summer, and had further refined it before sharing with teachers as we prepared to head back to school. I was excited! This seemed like a great way to communicate what we do, and to build on existing collaborative relationships.

And I honestly believe that in a “typical” school year, it would have been. But this year is, as we know, anything but typical. In addition to managing the challenges of a hybrid schedule, we’ve also switched to semester-based classes for the year – which means teachers are trying to teach in a semester what they used to teach in a year. And while the number of contact hours has not been cut in half, there is still less time overall, and less time for students to process information and skills in the way that is so important to information literacy development. We’ve been collaborating on some familiar projects, but others have been abbreviated or cut. I am a little nervous that many teachers are going to try and do a research project in January before the semester ends. I know that the impact we saw on research instruction last spring and throughout this year means that we’re going to need to adapt future instruction in order to fill in some gaps.

Another challenge has been the way we deliver instruction. My original plan was to do flipped instruction, providing video tutorials of instruction and then following up with student check-ins or other formative feedback. This, also, has not gone how I thought it would. We’ve created some instructional videos, and many of the shorter “how to” ones are useful, but I’m not sure about the longer ones. One issue is that few, if any, other teachers are using videos for flipped instruction. Given that we’re an outlier, I’m not sure if students know what to make of these instructional videos. And, honestly, I miss the connection of being with students. So much of good instruction is built on relationships, and those are harder to build in videos. We’ve been able to get into the classroom a little more, and to Zoom with students, and will continue to adapt.

I am holding onto my research instruction menu, and will try again with it next year. But for this year, I’m focusing on being flexible and adapting as we all figure out how to make the most of a very challenging year. 

Vision to Reality Grant: A Collaborative Mosaic

This is a guest post by  Maria Falgoust and Eli Hetko

All the hard work that went into making the mosaic really paid off!

In 2019, ISB Head Librarian Maria Falgoust won AISL’s “Vision to Reality” award. The award’s purpose was to dream up a project “to bring visibility to your library, and help you make your vision a reality”. At ISB, our ultimate goal was to collaborate with students and community members to create a an eye-catching mosaic to celebrating literacy that would draw visitors to the International School of Brooklyn’s library.

In the fall, Maria met with members of the art department and an artistic library committee co-chair to sketch out a plan for the project. Our team of collaborators excitedly agreed to host a school-wide design contest, and determined all the associated logistics (contest guidelines, communications, timelines, etc.).

In mid-December 2019, the Library launched the project by announcing a contest seeking design ideas for a beautiful mosaic that would direct people to the library, express the love of the library and multilingual literacy. We opened the contest to students in 3rd through 8th grades and dozens of entrants took part in the contest. Maria and Eli announced the contest in our library classes and the Booklets, our middle school library club, promoted it by making advisor announcements and hanging posters throughout the school.

Students submitted dozens of sketches, including this imaginative composition

A panel of judges, consisting of an art teacher, a design teacher, a parent Library Committee member, a senior administrator, a middle school student, and Maria evaluated the sketches for creativity of design, legibility, and feasibility. The pool of submissions was so strong that the judges decided to incorporate elements from four different images into a final product. The winning designs were unveiled via slide-show at a lower school assembly, which also showcased all the impressive entries.  The winners were awarded a gift certificate from a local, independent bookstore. The winning entries incorporated the words “welcome,” “bienvenue” and “bienvenidos” with our school mascot (a dragon!) and an open book.

The judges(Kent, Maria and Carolina) evaluate sketches entered into the mosaic design contest

Winning designs and runners-up were announced by Carolina during a Lower School assembly

Beginning in late January, Maria, an art teacher, parent volunteers, and a mix of student volunteers from grades 3-8, met in the art room after school to work on the mosaic. Steps in the mosaic-making process were carefully demonstrated and carried out. First, students mixed paints and painted ceramic tiles according to the color scheme of the design. Next, tiles were glazed and fired by the art teacher. The following week, the vibrant tiles were smashed into smaller, asymmetrical pieces: this was an exhilarating part of the process for most of the students who were decked out with safety goggles courtesy of our science department! During the following sessions, the pieces were sorted by color, then divided into sections to create a large-scale rendering of the design. It was similar to a puzzle – a fun challenge! 

Students worked together on every step of assembling the mosaic

We were on target to complete our mosaic the week all NYC schools were shut down. Nevertheless, Maria and Kent were determined to see the project through and have it installed by the first day of school to serve as a bright spot in the strangest school year in decades. To complete the final touch, Kent grouted the tiles inside a custom-made wooden frame he built before expertly installing the mosaic right in the nick of time!

It was fun preparing the materials!

Ultimately, the mosaic turned out to be as much about the process as it was about the product. It was truly a community effort and labor of love. Students and library staff worked diligently throughout every stage of the process and had a lot of fun along the way. ISB Parent Kent Matricardi and art teacher Carolina Bermudez’s hard work, artistic expertise, and skill were fundamental to the success of the project.

A demonstration of how to paint ceramic tiles

Carolina guides the students while Joe Santos, the Head of School pops by to see the action.

After painting, firing, and smashing, the tile fragments were ready for assembly

When asked for their impressions about the mosaic, students said:

  • Maelie: “I think the mosaic will be a really nice addition to the library, and it will make more people come in because it will be so beautiful and welcoming”
  • Leana: “It will make people think that the Learning Commons is a great place to go for reading and studying”
  • Emma: “I enjoyed painting the tiles and putting together the mosaic”

Our mosaic project was a fantastic experience as it brought students from various grade levels together to work towards a common goal. As a librarian, it was a fulfilling experience to collaborate with members of the community and such fun to work with students outside of the library! Thank you, AISL for the opportunity to bring our dream to fruition. It will bring joy and inspiration for many years to come.

Mosaic in Progress

Students worked together on every step of assembling the mosaic.

Thoughts on Gratitude

Since this post comes the day before Thanksgiving, I am doing the obvious and sharing what I am grateful for in my work life this unusual and difficult year, 2020. What a year! How many times did you have to pivot, adapt, re-think, re-do, and maybe even cry, to get through your workday yesterday, let alone the last eight months? I mean, aren’t you ready to bash this piñata in celebration when this is all over? 

covid pinata
Did you know that Los Angeles has a piñata district?

Seriously though, contemplating gratitude, work-related or not, has helped me cope with this unprecedented  year. After working on this gratitude list, I realized an overarching theme: I am grateful for the people in my professional life. Thanks to all of you for being part of it!


I am grateful for the AISL and SoCaLIS leaders who have provided valuable professional development over Zoom, building community and lifting my confidence during the past 8 months.

The Zoom conversations and group communications helped me find a path at work when I was very overwhelmed with what to do. 

I am extremely grateful for my job that I can do from home, and for my colleagues, many of whom I consider friends. 

I am grateful for my school administration that is working tirelessly to adapt thoughtfully to what students and teachers need, no matter what restrictions the pandemic and California/Los Angeles leaders throw its way. 

I am grateful for the opportunity to have some new responsibilities which have led to meaningful growth and learning. Working with a dedicated group of faculty I am leading a year long, once-per-month smaller faculty book group discussion on White Fragility, which is both challenging and rewarding. 

I am grateful for collaboration and support. In addition to collaborations with classroom teachers, we started a K-12 relationship with the Los Angeles Public Library (Student Success Cards) which involved administration, data managers, librarians, and library volunteers to work together. 

I am very grateful for the library assistants, up for any work from home that comes their way. Our instagram is amazing this year (@bwslibrary) and the diversity audit of our fiction is slow and steady, as it should be, thanks to these wonderful people.

I am grateful for the opportunity to attend more student meetings because I don’t have to supervise the library. I enjoy seeing the students lead club meetings on so many topics that were hard to attend when we were at the physical school. I admire many of our students and their dedication and creativity, and I am thankful to learn from them.

And finally, I am grateful for Cody Rigsby at Peloton. Really! I have a small injury so jogging is out, but biking in IN! I try to catch a ride between work classes/meetings sometimes, as my new bike is in my “office”  (my son’s old room). The cardio helps clear my head for work (that is the work connection) and Cody keeps me entertained. (If you ride, put your handle in the comments. I am ElisabethPA, but might change it soon to Bookin’It or something librarian snazzy like that. Do you have suggestions for me? Is there a librarian hashtag?)

My home office (aka my son’s room while he is at college). Also featuring my co-worker Paws the cat (Instagram @paws.the.cat) who sometimes sits on the towel, sometimes the bed, and lately my desk.

What are you grateful for at work right now? 

Enhance Your Library with an Author Study

This school year transformed our middle school library in several ways as we adapted to safety precautions in response to Covid-19. One room in our library is set aside for quarantining books before librarians safely recirculate items to new readers, but, most noticeably, students no longer browse bookshelves or gather in groups to read in our comfortable seating areas. In a time of physical distancing, how can books continue to keep us connected? This blog discusses how students in grades 6 and 7 tackled this dilemma through an Author Study project, which challenged students to enhance library resources and build personal connections to books.

The Author Study project was divided into 3 steps: 
1. Curate 3 book titles
2. Research 3 authors (through author websites and interviews)
3. Create a book review or a video book trailer to be linked in our Destiny online catalog

*View Author Study project for sample videos and activities for the author research.

Curating a Personal Book Shelf

The library online catalog has taken on a new importance as students select books for themselves and as they recommend books for each other. Students used our Destiny Discover online catalog to create a graphical curation of favorite books for future reading. In addition to selecting one book they had already read and loved, students chose a book featured in one of our genre collections and searched for a third book that was an award-winning book title.  These 3 books became the basis of the next step, researching the author.

Researching the Author

Students used a bond phrase search to locate author websites and examined the “About” or “FAQ” section of the websites to gather details about the author’s craft of writing. Fascinating insights emerged, such as authors’ advice on the writing process or examples of how real life situations and people inspire storylines and characters.  One student discovered on Kelly Barnhill’s website that the author’s experience as a park ranger taught her the merits of “taking the worst part of the trail and making it the best” (a life lesson that she uses when the author approaches revisions in her own writing). 

Another student discovered on Rachel Vail’s website that Vail and J.K. Rowling both identified this as an essential writing tool:  “eavesdropping” on other people’s conversations.  In addition to the author websites, students used Teachingbooks.net to locate author interviews. An interview with author John David Anderson revealed that he writes for middle school students because he feels there is so much drama in what middle schoolers experience, and he identifies strongly with those students who are “outsiders.” Anderson stated that “language has the power we give it: it can break and mend, include and exclude, uplift and beat down. We get to decide”  (interview from All the Wonders blog).

Creating Personal Connections (Book Reviews and Video Book Trailers)

Students were challenged to enhance our library catalog by adding rich content (book reviews or video book trailers), which would entice readers to check out recommended books. This Creating a Book Review video explains the steps of adding a review to our Destiny Discover catalog. Rather than just relating a book summary, students were required to share a personal connection to the book.  Here are two sample book reviews by 6th graders:

The Magnolia Sword by Sherry Thomas has a remarkable story plot throughout the book. The Magnolia Sword is a romance/historical fiction book. I have never been a great fan of adventure books, but this made me change my mind. Sherry Thomas did an amazing job of showing the main character, Hua Mulan. Mulan is on an adventure to find out secret plots, and she discovers romance. I really connected with the main character when she was struggling with her personality. She isn’t the typical gentle, soft-spoken daughter;  she is a courageous free-spirited girl. I admired her courage and strength throughout the book. I don’t just see her as a fictional character, but I see her as a person to look up to. (Review by Grace P.)

The book Rebound by Kwame Alexander was a very motivational book. The part that made this motivational and sad was the dad dying. I related to this book well because I have empathy for those who lose something or someone special. Also, I love sports and sports are my life. This book really helped me discover what kind of books I like, other than graphic novels. So now, I read poem books instead of reading a comic book. I recommend this book to people who love sports and who can relate to a story with tragedy. (Review by Luke L.)

Our 7th graders are currently working on book trailers, using Wevideo.  In this project, students evaluate their use of images and audio to respect Copyright and explore options of Creative Commons licensing and Fair Use. As a flipped classroom activity, I created videos about the use of Britannica Image Quest, Fair Use, and Creative Commons to aid this discussion of respecting copyright and adding value and repurposing creative content. Students are looking forward to a screening of their book trailers, and they will help to vote on those book trailers that meet a criteria of excellence, book trailers that will be linked to book titles in our online catalog.

There is a power in storytelling; it connects us and builds empathy.  Now, more than ever, libraries and books are vital ways to ward off feelings of isolation. Encouraging students to become advocates of books and reading enhances our school libraries, but more importantly, strengthens our school communities so that we can navigate today’s stormy waters.

The Right Tool for the Right Job

Saturday is the last day of fall term. I’m teaching two sections of New Student Seminar (NSS)—a semester-long signature program covering academic orientation and study and research skills here at Kent. Due to our new block rotation schedule, yesterday was the last day one of my classes met, and although I gave my students the option of going to the library and studying for finals or working on projects for other classes, all but one chose to stay in the classroom. We’re a cozy group—quite comfortable with each other. Like with most teens this age, quite a bit of joking and good-natured razzing goes on during unstructured (sometimes even structured) time. Today was no exception. Talk turned to travels home and the anticipation of life without masks, surrounded by family and friends most haven’t seen in person since school started due to COVID-19 restrictions.

I don’t know how it is for you, but I have a hard time letting go at the end of a term, especially with a class that clicks and is just genuinely fun to be around. So instead of getting melancholy, I’ll use the next few days to look over my curriculum and make notes on lessons I think I should expand upon, and those I should streamline or get rid of altogether. This year, with the move to a hybrid teaching model, just about every lesson incorporated an element to encourage engagement or reflection prior to practice and demonstration of mastery. I’ll save what I’d like to streamline for another time and focus on a few things that worked well this term.

Screencasting is Key to Remote Learning:

Repeat after me: “Screencasting is my friend!” Although I used the Swivl robot, iPad, laptop, Zoom combination every class, it mostly benefited my in-person and remote students joining synchronously so they could connect with me and each other. When reviewing the recordings, I often found conversations weren’t loud enough or clear enough for my asynchronous students to hear what was going on. When I asked my remote students, they shared that discussions were hard to understand, even when four remote mics were placed around the room. Following that feedback, I started importing the Zoom recording into iMovie and slogged through 45 minutes of video—an uplifting experience if ever there was one—increasing the volume of student comments and discussion. My voice was fine since I wore a mic, but even when I amplified students’ voices 400%, you could barely hear what was being said. The best solution I was able to come up with was to record a separate lesson using Screencastify to post on PowerSchool, our LMS. This was a much better solution and took less than half the time I spent editing the Zoom recording, especially after I made peace with imperfect videos. In addition to the overview screencasts, I created videos introducing each unit to explain what would be covered in the next few lessons. Tutorials were recorded to explain individual skills and paired with an activity to practice/ master the skill. Below you’ll see the unit introduction and a tutorial and activity for finding an eBook on EBSCO or ProQuest Ebook Central and adding it to NoodleTools.

Flipgrid for Engagement, Student Voice, and Assessment

Flipgrid is such a versatile tool that I found myself turning to it often as it is easy to use and gives students a number of options for recording responses that takes their personal comfort level into consideration. For my introductory lesson, I used one of the conversations in the Discovery section asking students to share five items that showcase who they are. This was a great icebreaker—not too intrusive—and was fun to see what items each person chose that reflected who they were. There was a dog pillow and Shakespeare, hockey and lax sticks, a digital camera and a cheeseburger, a copy of Catcher in the Rye and a pair of Vans to name just a few. I wish I could list everything because they’re completely smile-worthy.

What’s in Your Bag?

When we started our unit on Growth Mindset, I asked my students to share something they worked really hard to master. Their responses were fascinating to watch as they shared everything from mastering Latin to a tennis backhand to performing card tricks and overcoming laziness. I loved that overcoming laziness was viewed as a skill that could be mastered—see, there is hope for all you parents with children with messy rooms! Nestled in their dorm rooms, my students shared their pride in an accomplishment—something they may not have felt comfortable doing in person or over Zoom. This platform also leveled the playing field and offered an equitable assignment for all of my students regardless of how they were attending class.

Keeping a Growth Mindset

Finally, when I introduced NoodleTools and asked them to find a source and add it to their project, I used Flipgrid to assess their understanding of the process by asking them to use the screen share feature to record their screen and walk through the steps to find and add a source to NoodleTools. It was really interesting to see how each student interpreted the instructions – I got everything from students looking directly into the camera and telling me how they did it step-by-step, to the silent film version accompanied by exaggerated clicking to a tutorial that I would have been proud to claim as my own!

NoodleTools Tutorial

Padlet for Playlists, Brainstorming, Critical Thinking

Padlets are interactive bulletin boards that can be used for a variety of activities. I used them frequently as they are simple to create, encourage collaboration, and are easily embedded in my LMS. For my unit on time management, I created a playlist and students chose one video, one article written by a Kent graduate, and one additional article or video. I then asked them to add a discussion post with this prompt: Thinking about the articles/ blog post that you read and the video you watched, what are three things that impressed you or stood out about the author’s approach to time management and how might you work that into your own time management routine? For annotation and note taking, I provided samples and students were then asked to choose one system, use it for a week, and post a picture of their best work. Finally, when a college counselor visited to talk about the college application process, he brought along cards of the factors colleges use to evaluate applicants. Students then discussed and rank ordered them in terms of importance. Since my remote students wouldn’t be able to read the cards, I needed to ensure an equitable learning environment for them. I created a Padlet with the 13 items and shared my screen over Zoom so they were able to take part in the discussion as the cards were moved into the order discussed.

Our students are leaving campus on Monday and all of us are looking forward to a well-deserved rest. Following Thanksgiving Break, we enter our remote learning stretch, then break again and return to campus in early February, starting classes remotely until everyone quarantines to ensure a safe return to life on campus. During the remote period, I look forward to collaborating on research projects with our APUSH classes and an opportunity to work with students to hone their research skills. Whether we are planning lessons for remote, in-person, or asynchronous learning, the right tech tool for the right job increases the opportunity for engagement and gives students a platform to share their voice with others.

Singing Along with YA Fiction

We know that reading fiction, for many, is a great way to reduce stress. What a gift when reading fiction can lead us to other great art that feeds our souls, holds up a mirror, or just helps us to rock out and let go for a few minutes! (Who doesn’t need a little of that these days?) I’m talking about music of course. In a post that I wrote a few years ago, I shared the pleasure I feel when a character in a book mentions a book that I also love. I still think it deepens a reader’s connection to a story or character and makes an interesting library display, but I think the same is true for music, maybe even more so. If you have ever read a character enjoying favorite or familiar music, doesn’t it put you a little bit more into their story, especially if that music happens to harken back to your teen years? What about an unfamiliar song mentioned in a novel you’re reading – have you ever looked it up to know what the characters are hearing? 

Matching books and playlists has become a thing. Having students create a playlist inspired by a book is a recent example of creative assessment implemented by teachers and librarians. Sometimes authors will publish playlists to accompany their work and I think it’s interesting to know what they were listening to for atmosphere or inspiration while writing, but that’s not what I mean. It was first displayed for me after reading Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower, when I decided to create a playlist to match the mixtape that means so much to its recipient, Charlie. When I went online to do so, I discovered that another reader already had! Now I felt connected not only to Charlie and Stephen Chbosky, but to at least one other reader. When a character experiences music, I think it almost behooves the reader to give it a listen. It’s information that the author is giving us in developing a character and immersing the reader in their world. When I was reading Elizabeth Acevedo’s With the Fire on High, I started listening to Mercedes Sosa’s “Todo Cambia” on repeat.

My students, and probably yours too, always seem to have earbuds or headphones of one kind or another attached to their heads. Their music means a lot to them. It makes sense to me to let music draw them to stories that may mean something important to them as well.

Making reading a multimedia experience is easy thanks to streaming music sites. A soundtrack that puts us back into the world of a beloved book is a gift, and it can connect and reflect our humanity across artforms and works. Here are some playlists I’ve found or created on Spotify linked to young adult novels:

Let Me Hear a Rhyme by Tiffany D. Jackson (playlist by Tiffany Jackson)

“One Winter” Mixtape from The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (playlist by Kyla Leong-Poi)

The Carnival at Bray by Jessie Ann Foley (playlist by me)

Who Put This Song On? By Morgan Parker (playlist by Morgan Parker)

On the Come Up by Angie Thomas (playlist by Spotify)

The Stars and the Blackness Between Them by Junauda Petrus (playlist by Junauda Petrus-Nasah)

Digital or sign-based book display idea: 

Have you found any others? 

Collaboration and Celebration During Covid 19 ???

This school year has been challenging for all of us, for sure, so when it was my turn to write a blog I definitely needed to think outside the box. We have all been so busy with curbside checkout, boxing up sets of books to be taken to the classrooms for the students, as well as supplying materials to any of our students learning from a distance. I am also a “distant” Language Arts teacher for second graders and am responsible for making the daily slide show for them to keep up with their “in school” classmates.This has definietly been a year like no other that I have not ever experienced in my 48 total years in education, both as a classroom teacher for 10 and maker media specialist for 38. A couple of phrases that kept repeating in my mind was that “this is not forever” and the “show must go on.” So when the art teacher approached me and we collaborated in planning a celebration for the Mexican holiday Dia de lost Muertos, The Day of the Dead, we felt this was our chance to make it happen….even during a pademic. One of the traditions in celebrating this day is to erect an ofrenda (altar), as a place of honor for the departed souls of our relatives. Sometimes people put out the dead person’s favorite foods and drinks, as well as candles and incense to lead the “spirit” back. When they return for their yearly visit, they will find things on the altar that they remember-a photograph, a well-loved article of clothing, a hat, or perhaps a favorite shawl.
As soon as all the students in the lower school completed their study of this Mexican holiday, an ofrenda was constructed in our Lower School Media Center. It featured the art work from students in grades Kindergarten to Grade Four, including any students learning from a distance. The offerings included food, fruits, flowers,and photographs to honor the dead. In Kindergarten the students used the resist technique to paint their lively versions of the skeleton and a fiesta. Grade One students learned about the esqueletos (sketletons), sculpting them with pipe cleaners, Model Magic and paper. This art activity also complemented the curriculum alignment of their body unit. Students in Grade Two sculpted calaveras (skulls) and decorated them to represent the sugar skulls. They also cut the calaveras our of colored paper and collaged the facial feaures to create masks. In third grade, the students made coil pots, which served as candle holders for their handmade beeswax candles. They also made small esqueletos (skeletons) with clay to add to the ofrenda. Artists in Grade Four used clay, paints, markers, and ink to create their own interpretations of the sugar skulls.

Our Spanish teachers also were involved by teaching the children the history of the holiday and giving the children in first and second grade the instructions to make paper Cempasuchil (marigold flower) to decorate the ofrenda. Real flowers actuallly would be used by Mexican- Americans families celebrating this day. In fourth grade the students colored their calaveras.

Making sure all the senses would be experiencing this holiday, our SAGE Dining Room provided a treat at lunchtime, too. All the students even tasted the Pan de los Muertos or “bread of the dead”, a sweet bread made especially for this holiday. Sometimes the loaves are even shaped like people and decorated with bright pink sugar. Traditionally, the dough is made without sugar, fat, or salt.
Below are the colorful results of this total collaborative endeavor. Every student was scheduled with their Spanish teachers and Art teacher to walk by the altar and see their work on display. They did an excellent job of practicing social distancing and not touching anything. Hand sanitizer was readily available just in case, too.Their excitement was so evident, especially since it was the first time they had been in the library since last March. I could see their happy faces, even under their face coverings and I know every time I walk by this colorful display, I smile under my mask….even during Covid!

Cat Mummies, Scary Stories, and Facing Uncertainty

2020 has compressed and stretched time in ways that none of us anticipated. Which is to start this post by admitting that in 2020 I hung Christmas lights on our porch Sunday, the first day of the time change and 5:45pm sunset. And I’m writing this under those lights thirty minutes before polls close in Florida, a half block from my polling place at the local gardening club.

Let’s make November festive….

It’s hard to believe it’s been two months since my last Sunshine post, meaning we are now a third of the way through the school year, and yet this post still feels relevant to my day-to-day emotions. I’ve been continuing to note what feels familiar and what feels new, what I want to be an aberration and what I hope continues in future years. As a surprising upside, I feel like my students now understand primary sources viscerally in a way they hadn’t before. We’ve been talking about stating predictions for the election. They know they can’t speak knowledgeably yet, but within the next few days, they won’t be able to keep from knowing the result. In terms of thinking about primary sources presenting someone’s experiences in the moment, rather than after the fact, this has been a non-partisan way of tying the elections to their classes. Primary sources aren’t thusly named because they’re the best but because they capture a moment and all the emotion and uncertainty that entails. Emotion and uncertainty are definitely words that resonate with me now, especially as I’m already seeing the ways that I’m compartmentalizing and contextualizing my stay-at-home spring compared with tonight’s in-the-moment feelings.

7th grade provides another example. After the success of Alan Gratz’s Refugee as a 2018 Global Read Aloud, our 7th grade English teacher decided to read his Ban this Book to her classes this fall. She starts every class by reading for 10 minutes. Even better, this year, every Friday is entirely devoted to reading. The students either read individually, visit the library for new books, or give book talks to their peers! I’ve seen third through seventh grade as the range for Ban this Book; with older students, it catalyzed the conversation before an anti-censorship project during Banned Books Week. Their naiveté was endearing as they interviewed me for PSAs and podcasts. One repeated theme was questioning Bridge to Terabithia and why parents would want to ban a book because it was sad. This prompted the teacher to remember Jacqueline Wilson’s Cat Mummy from when she lived in England. She left it on my desk on Friday. Per the back of the book, it’s also recommended for ages 8 and up.

That illustration of Mabel the cat says it all.

I work with middle and high school students, but I feel fairly confident this book wouldn’t be a best seller for American elementary school students. I loved it, and I’m trying to think how to incorporate into an Upper School storytelling elective since it covers death and grief with empathy, honesty, and humor in a way that’s quickly accessible. I loved it, but reading it hurt my stomach. I was on the verge of tears multiple times. I loved it, and I wouldn’t recommend it to my friends parenting eight year olds. To spoil the plot, “Verity adores her cat, Mabel, and is desperately sad when she dies. Remembering her recent school lessons about the Ancient Egyptians, Verity decides to mummify Mabel and keep her hidden. Verity’s dad and grandparents can’t bear to talk about death, having lost Verity’s mum several years ago – but when they eventually discover what Verity has done, the whole family realizes it’s time to talk.”

As a result of the interviews for the banned books project, I was texting with friends about book challenges. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark was referenced as one that one mom was fine to have in the library but not in her child’s hands. Cue Halloween chills! That book woke me in terror! Librarians reading this who are close in age to me are probably recalling their own nightmares. Yet, the books were always checked out of my school’s library, and I myself read them more than once. Santa brought my brother the anthology because it was a book he actually wanted to read. That book was on the edge of many kids’ comfort zones. I know now to be cautious with the horror genre because my vivid imagination preys on disturbing images. That’s an important lesson, and we often learn more when we’re uncomfortable than when we’re feeling secure. (If you want to fall down a virtual rabbit hole like I did last month, did you know they changed the illustrations to make them less scary? And the backlash meant that it was republished with the original drawings?)

Because librarians and editors can’t help but text about books…

I am a librarian partly because I loved reading as a child. I read widely then, and I still try to pursue a variety of genres and authors. We teach others about the metaphor of books as doors and windows, and reading widens our understanding of the world we share and the values we hold. No matter what happens with the election, a portion of this country is going to feel marginalized and misunderstood. The ultimate election results, however, are out of our individual control. So is COVID’s spread across the country. Switching the clocks back an hour this past weekend. Whether our schools are currently virtual.  Books might make us smile or they might make us cry; they might give us nightmares or they might make us forget a bad day. But no matter the specific response, books let us experience emotion at a distance, in patterns proscribed by authors and shared with other readers. As technology increases, our society has become less comfortable with uncertainty. Google, Siri, and even user-review sites like Yelp mean that many people expect their devices to answer their questions immediately. We’re less accustomed to managing our anxieties when we can’t predict our surroundings, anything from the most recommended dish at a restaurant to presidential results. 2020 has taught us that life can be anything but certain.

This isn’t a post with answers, but one about being more comfortable with what makes us uncomfortable. Books might do that, and so might life. I’m already thinking about talking with my senior advisees tomorrow, many of whom cast their first vote in this so-called unprecedented election. One quiet thoughtful student stayed after advisory yesterday because of that term. She’s 17 now and was 13 in the last election. She has been asking her parents what that means, and they encouraged her to talk to others about why this year feels different to adults. Considering this is the oldest grade in our school, her questions have stuck with me and they’re still on my mind. This is generational change in action! We can’t help experiencing events as ourselves, at specific periods in our lives. Remember the election in which you cast your first vote, the candidates and the experience of adulthood?

I voted. And yes this was my bike ride to the library where I voted last week.

If there are conversations happening in your school that would have been unprecedented before this year or something that has been a surprisingly positive change, I’d love to hear about it in the comments. Otherwise, I’m most interested in the books of your youth that riled you up and if you’d recommend them to others today. Scary Stories, complete with its original terrifying drawings, still gets two nail-bitten thumbs up from me.

Being (self) judgy

Recent email from a colleague at my school:

Click here for quick (Screencastify) tutorial. It was a one-take video, don’t judge!

Don’t judge. 

Judgment as a whole is a bit much to wrangle, so let’s focus on the one-take video. 

I was new to Screencastify when we moved online in the spring. Well, not quite new, but certainly not comfortable. This fall, I continued to create what was necessary but spent an awful lot of time deleting, re-recording and attempting to edit.

Until recently, when a Gr 9 teacher asked me for some resources with little notice. I didn’t want to miss the opportunity, so I quickly produced 5 short videos:

  • Noodletools (setting up account; the basics; more advanced)
  • Using SIFT to evaluate a resource
  • Doing a basic database search

I don’t consider this my finest work, but the teacher was thrilled! Really…I couldn’t believe how grateful he was for what I produced.

We know that buying into editing culture is damaging, but I’d never before thought of editing/re-recording my own videos in that light. It got me thinking about what I’m aiming for. Certainly my work needs to be clear, thorough and understandable, but it need not be perfect. If I appreciate imperfection in others, why the heck am I worrying about it in me?

I now rarely edit or re-record; the time-saving has been considerable, I think the delivery seems more natural and I’m even making (some) peace with hearing my own voice when people are listening to it.

I’ll be over here toning down my self-judgement – hope you’ll join me.