Library Gratitude!

An ode to the not so obvious things that I am thankful for in my Middle School Library:

My regular visitors. It is wonderful to have a group of Middle School students in the library each day that sometimes have nothing to do with being in a library. They aren’t here just to check out a book. They aren’t here just for citations. They are here as a group of Middle School students hoping to have the most positive Middle School experience possible.
My tumbler. I never realized how nice it was to have the PERFECT drink cup until I had one. This is constantly by my side and I have the same one in three colors. If your school is like mine, and EVERYONE carries a drink around with them then this is the one you should get. Highly recommend!
My view. I am so spoiled. Really. We have these glass windows and a view of the campus quarry. It is beautiful.
My fleece. Are all school libraries really cold? Is it just ours? I try to hold off breaking this thing out for at least two weeks when school starts in August. Because once it is out it doesn’t go back for the rest of the year. 🙂
Books about animals. I love animals. I want students to love animals. Thank you to authors like Kate DiCamillo and Katherine Applegate for encouraging respect towards animals and people.
White boards in the library. And the messages that students leave. Sometimes I really need  their positive words! 🙂
The old school dictionary. How many times do students ask what a word means on the fly? Look it up! Our large dictionary is a treasure. The students actually have fun spinning it around, turning the pages and trying to find the word.
Relics. Old book cards are the best bookmarks that a gal could have! 🙂
Prolific authors. Even though there are so many wonderful Middle School Fiction books it is impossible to read even close to all of them. I am thankful for prolific authors so that I can easily remember the author of a book when I have many students at once that need assistance. Authors like Paulsen and Avi and Creech and Korman are most appreciated.
Finally, the fact that pretty much everything in the library is fixable. Never made a mistake that I could not correct. That is a luxury and a privilege.

World War II – 6th Grade History

This past year my 6th grade history teacher and I collaborated on a World War II poster project. I especially enjoyed this project since we created it together from start to finish. We issued the following guidelines:

World War II Poster Project
Due: Tuesday, May 23, 2018

5-7 facts about your topic that are directly related to World War II

Information from a primary source or a quote from a person that lived during that time period (like a President) about your topic.

Answer either WHY did your topic give the US an advantage in the war or HOW do we see the impact of your topic today?

Poster should also include one to three visuals (can be drawn or printed out). Facts should be written/typed and placed on poster. Facts can be placed on the front or back of the poster. Exact design may vary by topic!
Women in Factories, Rosie the Riveter
Pearl Harbor
Atomic Bomb – Manhattan Project
Entertainment – Fireside Chats
Sports – Baseball, Joe Dimaggio/Ted Williams
Life of a Soldier
Weapons of War
Different topic approved by Ms. Vining or Ms. Back

My favorite part of the project is where we asked the students to respond to a WHY or HOW question on their poster. The students spent a week in the library doing research and making their posters. The answers to the WHY and the HOW questions could not easily be found in a book or online for many of the topics above. I think that the best research projects ask students to think critically — even, and especially, in Middle School.

The students enjoyed making the posters and the end results were a success! We selected the best posters and they are now on display in the library for the new school year. As a librarian I appreciated being involved in all aspects of this project from start to finish.

Have you found ways at your school to work with teachers from beginning to end rather than just on one aspect or skill? Also, how do you encourage students to think critically with a research project, particularly in history or English and in Middle School? Any advice is most appreciated!

Fairy Tales and Fair Use

I compiled a lesson around Fairy Tales and Fair Use that we used with an English class. I like the lesson because it teaches about Fair Use while also allowing the students to be creative and form arguments.

First, we showed videos about Fair Use with some well-known characters as well as one from Common Sense Media.

A Fair(y) Use Tale. Professor Eric Faden of Bucknell University created this humorous, yet informative, review of copyright and fair use as told by some well-known characters.

Copyright and Fair Use in a Digital World. Video from Common Sense Media about the role of copyright and fair use in a digital world.

Then, we used print materials that include Fair Use guidelines as well as a checklist from Columbia University.

Fair Use Guidelines. Guidelines for and against fair use from the Greeley School.

Fair Use Checklist. A fair use checklist from Columbia University.

Then, we used two mashup videos that challenge students to determine if the resources are fair use or not.

Scary Mary. Is Scary Mary an example of fair use? Why or why not?

Mashup-United States of Pop 2012. Is Mashup – United State of Pop 2012 an example of fair use? Why or why not?

Why We Do What We Do

Recently I had the opportunity to attend an Institute at St. Mark’s School of Texas, a peer institution here in Dallas, Texas. The keynote speaker for the Institute was Jim Burke. Mr. Burke is the author of numerous books on education, specifically books relating to best practices in teaching English class. Before attending the Institute I jumped on Amazon to research Mr. Burke’s titles. As a Librarian, the book that stood out to me was I Hear America Reading: Why We Read What We Read. I ordered a copy and, once I started reading it, the book reminded me why I love my profession so much.

“In an era of decreasing commitment to literacy……it is no surprise that most students, too, are bypassing books.” Mr. Burke, an English teacher, wrote these words in a letter to the San Francisco Chronicle. He then encouraged readers to write to the students in his high school English class and tell the students about experiences with books and how books have played an important role in life. Over one thousand pages of letters arrived. I Hear America Reading is a collection of some of these letters.

As I read the letters from librarians, artists, cattle ranchers, elementary school students and retired senior citizens it made me appreciate the joy that my job can bring. So often we lament the changing face and role of libraries. So often we focus on technology and how we have to have the latest, greatest and best in order to remain relevant. So often we feel like we have to justify our role to our administrators, fellow educations and community. It was refreshing to read letters from people that simply enjoy reading, and what a remarkable job we have to help facilitate the love of reading!

From one letter: “When I was twelve years old, I read Theodore Sturgeon’s scary fiction book More Than Human. I liked the part of the psychiatrist so much that I decided to become one. I’ve been a psychiatrist for twenty years now, and I love it.”

From another letter (a second grade student): “I like reading because when you keep growing and you keep on reading when you grow up you may be a famous reader and you may even sit on the stage and read so keep on reading…”

Last one! (from a third grader): “I have a Rocking Book, Godzilla is the title. I can’t wait for you to read it. It is about Godzilla trying to destroy the city. You will think it is cool. You can read it if you want!”

Happy Summer!! 🙂

Strategic Searching

Each year I partner with our phenomenal 7th grade history teacher to do a lesson on Strategic Searching and ProQuest.

The students are tasked with finding information about an issue in Latin America; however, if they put Issue in Latin America in a search in ProQuest they will get tens of thousands of results. So, before we look at ProQuest, the students practice some keyword searching to identify good keywords to use and help narrow their search results.

For the first activity students play a keyword game. For differentiation, I have three game options ranging in degree of difficulty from easiest to hardest.

Google a Day is definitely a challenge but so, so fun! We all do Google a Day at the end and then use the archived Google a Days for more practice! I read the question and then the students race to be the first one to find the answer. The better your keywords the more quickly you find the answer! The students get better as they attempt more Google a Days and they learn about history at the same time! Additionally, we make each student share which keywords he or she used when he or she is the first to answer the Google a Day. The best part is that the students actually have FUN with the librarian and the lesson! 🙂

Next, we go to ProQuest and talk about using good keywords to narrow our search. The students are then tasked with selecting keywords to find an appropriate article to use for their assignment.

I am always looking for interactive ways to make students better digital resource users. If you have any sites or ideas that have been helpful please do share! Thank you!

Making Connections

Working with my 8th grade Middle School English teacher this year we borrowed resources from a High School AP World History course to create a Middle School project. The 8th grade students all read The Old Man in the Sea. The English teacher and I wanted to help students build a bit of background knowledge before they read the novel. We thought information about Cuba, Hemingway, etc. could help students build connections when they then started reading the book.

Using a general spice_chart_organizer from the High School AP World History course, we created a research project tailored just for The Old Man and the Sea. With the general SPICE chart students explore areas such as social, political and economic in order to learn more about a culture or civilization.

We applied this to Old Man and the Sea; however, we created our own SPICE categories and divided students into groups for each category:
S was for Social (family life, social classes)
P was for People of Importance (the author, people mentioned in the book)
I was for Interaction with Environment (marine life)
C was for Culture (language, fashion, religions)
E was for Economy (fishing, commerce)

TOMATS Spice Mini-Research

Some categories were definitely easier to research than others; however, the students all created unique group presentations that taught their classmates a bit about Cuba and Hemingway before they started reading the book. My personal favorite presentations involved facts and videos relating to the marine life. 🙂

Since the students will use SPICE in high school, we liked introducing verbiage and a format the students will see again and again. We also appreciated the cross-curricular nature of the project with the project’s English and history ties.

We plan to continue this project in the future, and I am always looking for new and creative ways to work with Middle School English classes that don’t involve (just) checking out books! If you have any ideas or suggestions please do let me know. Thank you!

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.

Plaid Is Not A Fad In Our Library!

Recently our library decided to redo our furniture. The old furniture had been in place for over 20 years! We had designers visit our school, but we were not in love with any of the choices. In addition, we would have to do a few pieces a year based on our budget. This could prove problematic if a line or design was ever discontinued.

Wanting appealing furniture that fit our price point, we decided to have our existing furniture recovered instead of replacing it with new furniture. I wanted something that would look timeless, classic and represent our school. I soon thought of our school uniform skirts for accent pieces since those are made of fabric too!

We partnered with Andrews Refinishing and they exceeded all of our expectations! We did the main pieces of furniture in one of our school colors (navy) and added tan piping to lighten the look. This combination ended up working perfectly with our school skirt fabric!


We were thrilled to get such incredible furniture! When other departments visit the library they tell us that they love the new look and want it in their rooms too! By using fabric from our school uniforms we were able to create a timeless look that represents our school so well!

Prepping For Fall – A Possible Visiting Author

This past year my school hosted Janet B. Taylor for our visiting author. She is a hard working and talented writer and an even better person. She visited four sections of 8th grade history and also taught a writing workshop for English class students. Once Janet hit our campus she was “on!” She is an incredibly engaging speaker and interacted well with our students throughout her entire 45 minute presentation. She also brought costumes! 🙂 

Additionally, we hosted a Writing Contest for our 8th grade students and Janet developed a fabulous prompt! She then graciously agreed to help judge our Visiting Author Writing Contest. She read the works from the three finalists and provided both glows and grows for the students.

Janet’s first book is Into the Dim. The book is historical fiction centered around the life of Eleanor of Aquitaine. Here is more information from When fragile, sixteen-year-old Hope Walton loses her mom to an earthquake overseas, her secluded world crumbles. Agreeing to spend the summer in Scotland, Hope discovers that her mother was more than a brilliant academic, but also a member of a secret society of time travelers. And she’s alive, though currently trapped in the twelfth century, during the age of Eleanor of Aquitaine. Hope has seventy-two hours to rescue her mother and get back to their own time. Passing through the Dim, Hope enters a brutal medieval world of political intrigue, danger, and violence. A place where any serious interference could alter the very course of history. And when she meets a boy whose face is impossibly familiar, she must decide between her mission and her heart—both of which could leave Hope trapped in the past forever.

Janet’s most recent release is Sparks of Light. Here is more information from Amazon: For the first time in her life, Hope Walton has friends . . . and a (maybe) boyfriend. She’s a Viator, a member of a long line of time-traveling ancestors. When the Viators learn of a plan to steal a dangerous device from the inventor Nikola Tesla, only a race into the past can save the natural timeline from utter destruction. Navigating the glitterati of The Gilded Age in 1895 New York City, Hope and her crew will discover that high society can be as deadly as it is beautiful. In this sequel to the dazzling time-travel romance Into the Dim, sacrifice takes on a whole new meaning as Hope and Bran struggle to determine where—or when—they truly belong.

I highly recommend Janet B. Taylor for an author visit to your school since she can work with both history and English classes and is so incredibly engaging with the students. If you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact me. Thank you!

All The News About Fake News

While this is not exactly new “news,” this year I did a 7th grade history lesson on fake news and wanted to share resources that we used from the Stanford History in Education Group. Stanford collected data from over 7,800 students and researchers were “shocked” by how many students failed to effectively evaluate the credibility of information. Intrigued, I decided to test our students with the assessments that you can find in the executive summary of the study. More exercises from this study should be released before the end of the school year.

First, we had students complete the assessments. The majority of our students were not able to recognize that “sponsored content” meant that something was an advertisement and not a news story. Additionally, many students failed to note the source (pleasegoogle…..) of the flower image and instead focused on the flowers themselves to explain their reasoning. Finally, the tweet proved especially difficult, but I think this is likely due to the fact that many 7th graders are not familiar with Twitter! I was not surprised by these results and used this as a “teachable” moment. (My professors would be proud! :))

We then went through a presentation that explained to the students what fake news is and the importance of triple checking sources. The flower image was a useful transition to our presentation since the creators of the photo were trying to deceive people with a fake image that purported to provide real information.

Next, we split the students into two groups. One group wrote a real news story and the other group wrote a fake news story. On the board we wrote criteria for a real news story (author’s name, contact information, about us, quotes, reliable sources, etc.) and what you might expect in a fake news story (no contact information, no names, unnamed sources, stretching the truth, etc.)

After the students completed their stories we shared them with 6th grade history classes. The students in these classes did not know if they were reading a real news story or a fake news story. We used this as another “teachable” moment 🙂 to introduce 6th graders to fake news. After our lesson on fake news, we had a reveal to see which students had a real news story and which ones had a fake news story.

This was a fun, collaborative project to do across grade levels. Students were intrigued by the fake news, and I like that they got a bit of writing practice as well….and some of our 6th grade students were definitely fooled! 🙂