“Escape the Room” with Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

screen-shot-2016-09-11-at-12-15-53-amLike a happy reunion with a childhood friend, re-reading a classic children’s book provides an opportunity to celebrate fond memories while also making new connections. An opportunity arose to reconnect with the 1968 Newbery winner, From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, as I planned for a summer reading book discussion with a group of fifth graders.

In E.L. Konigsburg’s humorous tale, two siblings, Claudia and Jamie, decide to run away from home and hide in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. While there, the children discover a mystery surrounding an angel statue that could possibly be the creation of Renaissance artist Michelangelo.

The museum purchased the statue for a few hundred dollars from the estate of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and a trail of clues leads the children to her home. Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler challenges the children to solve the mystery by finding proof in her extensive file cabinets; she sets a time limit of one hour to find the correct file, while secreting herself away to observe their attempts.

img_1810-1As I read this scene, it reminded me of the popular “Escape the Room” games and recent initiatives by libraries and educators to adapt this format—see Derek Murphy’s blog
describing the Escape Room created at the State Library of Western Australia as well as School Library Journal’s article, “Breakout EDU Brings ‘Escape Room’ Strategy to the Classroom.”  I decided to immerse the students in their own “Escape the Room” challenge: students would locate clues to solve an art mystery surrounding Michelangelo’s rival, the Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci.

img_1807Before beginning the mystery game, the students and I read together the section describing Claudia’s and Jamie’s strategies for searching (From the Mixed-up Files, 140-146). Jamie starts frantically pulling open file drawers, but Claudia stops him, saying there is a better way.

We discussed how Claudia’s approach–thinking about how information is organized and making a list of possible words for the search–are techniques used by effective library researchers.


Leonardo da Vinci “mirror writing.” Students used a mirror to read reverse writing and find the combination number for the lock.

Divided into three groups and given a time limit of 15 minutes, students

1) read their art masterpiece clue
2) listed keywords for searching
3) looked in one corresponding drawer
(drawers labeled alphabetically)

Each group could only retrieve a file folder if it was labeled as matching their art masterpiece clue. (Interestingly, all three groups were frustrated by their first search attempt—students showed persistence in re-reading their clues and evaluating potential keywords).  If the correct file folder was located, it provided one number, part of a combination to a lock on the file cabinet drawer.

Once all three mysteries were solved, the students used their numbers to open the combination lock to find the missing Mona Lisa painting. I placed an iPad in this drawer for extra gamification. An art puzzle app on the iPad challenged students to put together the mixed-up image of the Mona Lisa.

Students enthusiastically collaborated on this activity, problem-solving and trying new strategies as first attempts floundered.
This GoogleDoc provides the art images and clues, if you would like to sample an “Escape the Room” adventure.  Let the Games Begin!

Physical Space + Thinking = Cultures of Learning

Creating Cultures of Thinking

At the STLinSTL summer institute hosted by MICDS, I attended a fascinating session by Ron Ritchhart, co-author of Making Thinking Visible.  Ritchhart’s recent book, Creating Cultures of Thinking: The 8 Forces We Must Master to Truly Transform Our Schools, provided many thinking routines to incorporate in teaching, but what impressed me most was a chapter on the physical environment of the classroom.  Ritchhart contends that the physical environment should reflect the type of learning that is occurring. The learning environment shifts from the model of teachers passing on knowledge to students to a collaborative model in which students and teachers both engage in an interactive exploration of learning. Here are a few highlights from Creating Cultures of Learning and suggestions of how libraries can adapt spaces to become conducive to creativity and collaborative learning.

Provide a Variety of Spaces as a Catalyst for Learning
Ritchhart cites David Thornburg’s book, From the Campfire to the Holodeck,
and identifies 3 types of spaces: caves (quiet areas for individual thought);
watering holes (spaces for discussions with peers); and campfires (large group
gatherings led by a “storyteller”).

For an assortment of ideas on creating a variety of learning spaces, see AISL wiki discussion board “Learning Commons.” 

Document Student Learning
Are students engaged in chart talks, concept mapping, poster presentations, model building, or Readers Theater presentations?  Consider displaying samples of work, photos of group interactions, as well as dialogue excerpts from student conversations so that the school community can view the process of thinking. Set aside a space for an interactive idea wall by using post-it notes or paint a wall with Idea Paint for use with dry erase markers.  See David Wee’s blog for photos of library spaces converted to active, collaborative learning.

Author Ritchhart further contends that educators need to “stop hiding learning and thinking by keeping it private” and that by making thinking visible, transparent, it can energize that school learning community across all grade levels.

Incorporate Surprise or Humor
An advantageous pairing of the latest Harry Potter publication with students’ summer reading inspired a whimsical display at my middle school library.  A Harry Potter-themed display and essay contest challenges students to put on their “sorting hats” and decide if a character from their summer reading would be a good fit for the Gryffindor or Slytherin House.

Gryffindor or Slytherin? Book Display and Contest

As students brainstorm character traits like friendship or rivalry, the interactive Visual Thesaurus is a handy tool for pondering how individual traits set characters in conflict or, sometimes, provide characters a moment of epiphany and empathy as they discover shared character traits.

Go on a Ghost Walk
A final suggestion from Ritchhart’s book is go on a “ghost walk.”  Schedule a time with fellow educators to step into their classrooms when rooms are not occupied and note the “spirit” based on physical space arrangement, display of student work, inspirational messages, etc.  How is this empty room energized by the type of learning that occurs in the space?  What ideas can you glean from other professionals in how they create cultures of learning?

As a new school year launches, I look forward to assessing how the library can provide an exciting environment for student learning and energize the school community of learners. Please share your ideas on how library environments can make thinking visible!

Creating Presentations That Resonate

A Closeup of Handblown Glass. Photograph. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 19 May 2016.

A Closeup of Handblown Glass. Photograph. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 19 May 2016.

Are you zombified by student PowerPoint presentations and a bit dizzy after viewing spinning Prezis? This year I have been rethinking the librarian’s role as literacy expert.  Whether you use the term media literacy, digital literacy, data literacy, or New Literacies—all of these concepts have in common an emerging need:  librarians guiding students to grapple with meaning, communicate their insights in multi-modal formats, and, potentially, share and publish their work digitally.

This article suggests books and online resources to more effectively plan and animate presentations, thereby creating messages that will resonate with your audiences.

Nancy Duarte is a persuasive presentation expert who maps the structure of effective communicators (see her TED talk comparing the structure of great speeches by Steve Jobs and Martin Luther King). Duarte presents her strategies in two books Slide:ology and

Duarte, Nancy. Slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations. http://www.duarte.com/book/slideology/.

Duarte, Nancy. Slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations. http://www.duarte.com/book/slideology/.

In Slide:ology, Duarte estimates that an effective  presentation requires 36 or more hours to research; evaluate audience; brainstorm ideas; organize; solicit feedback; storyboard; build slides; and rehearse.  Tips include brain-storming with sticky notes and by sketching diagrams; highlighting data; designing with color and selective choice of text; and crafting a story flow through animations and slide transitions. Though 36 hours may seem unrealistic with demanding class  schedules, sharing tips will aid students in message making.


I was able to demonstrate some of these techniques in a serendipitous teaching opportunity; a freshman physics teacher asked me to advise students on incorporating their science experiment data into slides. I rented a Kindle version of Slide:ology and projected on a large screen examples of data graphs and charts, inviting freshmen to evaluate ineffective/effective design and to keep in mind Duarte’s mantra: “Data slides are not really about the data. They are about the meaning of data” (64).  Visually highlighting or emphasizing a part of the data can show an emerging trend or complication–a moment when data results challenge assumptions and cause a rethinking for the student scientists. As students discuss the highlighted data, they begin to show the audience the meaning behind the data.

Duarte, Nancy. Resonate. http://www.duarte.com/book/resonate-legacy/.

Duarte, Nancy. Resonate. http://www.duarte.com/book/resonate-legacy/.

In Resonate, Duarte  explores the power of stories to connect with audiences and to deepen under-standing.  I adapted a suggestion from the book, “amplify the signal, minimize the noise,” to aid freshmen in reading and assessing a quote by Adolph Hitler on the power of persuasive media messages (170).  In the slide example below, the quote was first read and then a series of animated graphics appeared in an equation format to distill meaning of Hitler’s message:

(All images from Britannica Image Quest.)

(All images from Britannica Image Quest.)

If you desire to share an example of how we perceive images based on entry into a slide (scene), show this movie clip from Hitchcock’s thriller, Strangers on a Train. Notice which direction the “good” character enters the scene versus the “bad” character’s entrance.  Since Westerners’ eyes are use to a left to right movement, entries from the right are viewed as disconcerting.  Students can consider this as they animate visuals or text appearances on their slides (left to right and top to bottom are more familiar ways of reading messages).

Hitchcock, Alfred. Strangers on a Train. 1951. Photography. Encyclopedia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 19 May 2016.

Hitchcock, Alfred. Strangers on a Train. 1951. Photography. Encyclopedia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 19 May 2016.

Explore more ideas on storytelling and making meaning from data in this archived webinar, “Storytelling with Infographics,” presented by Debbie Abilock and Connie Williams.  Abilock and Williams will also be presenters in an upcoming conference:
Virtual Conference on Data Literacy: Creating Data Literate Students hosted by the University of Michigan School of Information and University Library (see website for free registration to this virtual conference).

And for something totally different, listen to NPR’s interview with artist/rocker David Byrne as his explains his use of PowerPoint as Art.  Wising you a summer filled with stimulating reading and rethinking the tools we use to communicate meaning.

Putting the “I” in Books: Students Innovating iBooks

A summer conference session on iBooks at Lausanne Learning Institute inspired a collaborative challenge between our high school library and Chelsy Hooper, the technology integrator of a middle school: How could students at Pope John Paul II High School creatively teach a 6th grade Latin class at Ensworth Middle using the multimodal tools in iBook Author? This article shows a glimpse of the creative process and reflects on students as entrepreneurs who became writers, designers, and teachers– thereby putting the I, their innovations, in iBooks.

Pitching the idea
In a brainstorming session with our high school Latin teacher, Bozena Lawson, I suggested using the city of Pompeii and the dramatic event of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius as the theme of the book. The book Ashen Sky, illustrated by Barry Moser, showed how we might combine the writings of Ancient Romans to highlight culture and events of Pompeii.  I created a few sample iBook pages to demonstrate dynamic features of the iBook, such as scrolling gallery view of images, target widgets (close up view and text boxes as you click on areas of an image), and a sample embedded video about the eruption. See Mount Vesuvius video and following screenshot of Memento Mori page and puzzle widget.

Memento Mori. Remember that You Must Die, mosaic. By Unknown [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Memento_mori_MAN_Napoli_Inv109982.jpg” Excerpt From: “Latin iBook Pompeii.” iBooks.

Memento Mori. Remember that You Must Die, mosaic. By Unknown [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Excerpt From: “Latin iBook Pompeii.” iBooks.

Memento Mor

This sample iBook was shown to all of the Latin students and interested students were invited to attend a brainstorming luncheon. At the luncheon, students viewed curriculum standards for 6th grade Latin and suggested topics that interested them. Three teams (of two students each) emerged:

  • Develop understanding of Roman social structure and religion
  • Develop understanding of Gladiator games as entertainment and political tool
  • Connect to 6th grade Earth Science curriculum by presenting the science behind the eruption of Mount Vesuvius

Screenshot below shows Contents page. Bottom shows individual pages that can be selected and expanded for view. (Note that interactivity of book pages can be previewed through iBooks Author on a Mac or exported to view as a PDF.)

Pompeii, Mt. Vesuvius behind, Campania, Italy, Europe. Photography. Encyclopædia 
 Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 21 Feb 2016. 

Pompeii, Mt. Vesuvius behind, Campania, Italy, Europe. Photography. Encyclopædia 
 Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 21 Feb 2016. 

Looking Closely at Primary Sources
The three student teams arranged times to meet outside of class and researched facts, but each team was challenged to find primary source images and identify writings of ancient Romans to add depth to their understanding of Roman life. Students used the Loeb Classical Library for primary source writings.

Team One: Two girls found a serendipitous pairing of ideas: one student was fascinated by altars in the home while the other student discovered a poem by Ovid, written while in exile, that solicited the “birthday god” and mentioned ceremonial altar practices. They developed a chapter on Lares et Penates (household gods of protection).

Engage with Activities. As the iBook was shared in Latin classes, students engaged in following activities:

  1. Read aloud stanzas from Ovid’s poem to the birthday god and 1) evaluate tone of the poem (Ovid was angry and “wretched” because he was in exile and each birthday added to the despair of his separation from friends and family) and 2) detail three ways of ceremonially honoring the birthday god.
  1. Select a god or goddess from the Gallery View widget based on attributes that match your personal interests (athletics, music, etc.)and type a poem to the “birthday god” using the Wipeboard widget: persuade with flattery while also requesting a special gift/talent from the god and illuminate the poem with drawings.

Team Two: Both of the boys had a flair for the dramatic and a fascination for gladiator games. Dressed in togas, they supplied a spirited play-by-play account of unfolding action at a gladiator game—a 59 A.D. Pompeii game that ended in a riot (and deaths) among the spectators of the rival gladiator teams. Students used writings of Juvenal to describe political meaning behind the phrase “Panem et Circenses” (Bread and Circuses).
See Gladiator Riot screencast video on LibGuide.

Riot at the amphitheater, detail, from Italy, Campania, Pompeii, painting on plaster,
 55-79 A.D. Photography. Encyclopedia Britannica Image Quest. .

Riot at the amphitheater, detail, from Italy, Campania, Pompeii, painting on plaster,
 55-79 A.D. Photography. Encyclopedia Britannica Image Quest. <http://quest.eb.com/search/126_3731385/1/126_3731385/cite>.

Engage with Activities.  As the iBook was shared in Latin classes, students engaged in following activities:

  1. As classmates view the Gladiator Riot screencast, sportscasters request the audience to stand as they recite together the gladiator oath. Sportscasters also direct the audience to look at specific details of a painting depicting a historic riot at a gladiator game, using close up view and pointers (circles, arrows, lines).
  1. Read descriptions of types of gladiators and use Wipeboard widget to draw gladiator with weaponry specific to that gladiator. Discuss fighting strategy this gladiator would use.  (For example, the Retiarius Gladiator, who had armored protection only on one upper arm and shoulder, would use long pole of trident to keep attacker at bay while also using his large net to ensnare the opponent.)

Team Three: The boy and girl in this team were both students in our Earth Systems class, so they investigated the science behind the eruption of Mount Vesuvius and detailed the three characteristics of this devastating volcano eruption using the first-hand account of Pliny the Younger. View screen cast video of Mount Vesuvius eruption on LibGuide.

Eruption of Mt Vesuvius. 1872. Photo. Photograph. Encyclopædia Britannica 
 ImageQuest. Web. 27 Feb 2016. 

Eruption of Mt Vesuvius. 1872. Photograph. Encyclopædia Britannica 
 ImageQuest. Web. 27 Feb 2016. 

Engage with Activities.  As the iBook was shared in Latin classes, students engaged in following activities:

  1. Recite aloud the Latin phrases from Pliny’s description of the eruption.
  2. Name the three characteristics of the volcanic eruption (as described by Pliny the Younger).
  3. Use the matching widget to review famous writers and events connected to these writers.

The final portion of the iBook highlighted poems written by Latin students. Since each of these poems was inspired by a Latin phrase (motto) or mythological character, an extension activity invites students to choose one of the mottoes presented in the book or a mythological character to write their own poem.

Multimodal Learning
The Latin iBook project explored mulitmodal learning (aural, visual, gestural, spatial, and linguistic elements). I encourage you to read Writer/Designer: A Guide to Making Multimodal Projects to learn more about incorporating diverse learning in your own projects. Wishing you success as you explore student publications. Please share comments of creative projects.

A brief word on respecting copyright with iBook publications: we used Wikimedia Commons public domain images and rights-cleared images from Britannica Image Quest.  However, a fuller copyright discussion will be presented in future AISL blogs.




Reanimating Frankenstein (through Art): An Ekphrastic Writing Workshop

To write a poem is to explore the unknown capacities of the mind and the heart; it is emotive, empathetic exercise and, like being struck by lightning, it will probably leave you stunned, singed, but also a bit brighter. (Young 1)

The Ancient of Days 19th C. William Blake (1757-1827/British) British Museum, London

The Ancient of Days 19th C. William  Blake (1757-1827/British) British Museum, London         (Britannica Image Quest)

Dean Young’s quote from The Art of Recklessness: Poetry as Assertive Force and Contradiction suggests a poet has the ability to bring vitality to life experiences by startling the mind and senses into a deeper reflection. How appropriate then to take the classic tale of animating life, Frankenstein, and try to reanimate it, breathe new life into it, through a poetry-writing workshop.  And, with a flourish that Romantic poets would appreciate, spark this poetic process by viewing artwork and describing sensory and emotional reactions to the art, thereby enhancing comprehension of themes and the emotive and psychological drama of Frankenstein.

Combining art viewing with writing, an ekphrastic process, is a “vivid description of a scene or, more commonly, a work of art. Through the imaginative act of narrating and reflecting on the ‘action’ of a painting or sculpture, the poet may amplify and expand its meaning” (Poetry Foundation).  An example of Romantic ekphrastic poetry would be “Ode to a Grecian Urn,” in which describing the figures on the urn becomes a jumping off point for John Keats to ruminate that the scene of pipes and timbrels, maidens and gods, is a “cold Pastoral” that will outlast man (Keats).   This joining of reading, viewing artwork, and writing becomes a triple strength: 

  1. Slowing down to look closely at both text and artworks
  2. Identifying imagery that has special meaning
  3. Describing that meaning through figurative language

Incorporating writing as a pre-reading strategy to deepen analysis is supported by research of Tierney and Shanahan, who conclude that  “writing, together with reading, prompted more thoughtful consideration of ideas than writing alone,” and the combination of writing and reading is “more likely to induce learners to be more engaged” (cited in Smith 24-25).

Taking up the challenge to ignite high school students’ poetic muse with encounters of art, I collaborated with two high school English teachers, Patrick Connolly and Jennifer Smith, and a poet and creative writing teacher, Kyle Martindale, to create an Ekphrasis Writing Workshop.  The process included the following:

  1. Gathering art images (sources included Web Gallery of Art, Britannica Image Quest, Artstor, and National Institute of Health—view Bibliography of Images)
  2. Preparing students with a Mary Shelly webquest
  3. Modeling the ekphrastic approach during the writing workshop led by Kyle Martindale 

These samples of student poems, paired with artworks that inspired them, illustrate how students gave a voice to Frankenstein, the “mad creator,”  and the Monster, his tortured creation.

Andreas Vesalius

(Hamman, Edouard. Andreas Vesalius. 1848. National Library of Medicine. Bethseda. Frankenstein: Penetrating the Secrets of Nature. NIH. 9 July 2015. Web. 6 Sept. 2015.)

Poem by Jeffrey

In one hand, I felt the warmness
Of the yellow skin.
But in the other, I felt the coldness
Of the skull.
My left hand was filled with hope,
And my right hand was filled with death.
I am great and full of Knowledge.
It is shown in my book of Creation.
I stare upon the Crucifix and laugh.
He was said to be so great
And the Son of God.
But I hold his brother in my left arm.
I created him.
Therefore, I am God.

Screen Shot 2016-01-21 at 6.09.51 AM

(Beatrizet, Nicholas. Progressive Dissection of a Standing Man. 1560. Anitomia del Corpo Humano. National Library of Medicine. Bethseda. Historical Anatomies on the Web. NIH. 5 June 2012. Web. 6 Sept. 2015.)

Poem by Julie

Enclosed by another’s misery,
I dangle loosely by a thread,
Left to wonder how much
I would give to be dead,
Escaping my own despair.
My disfigurement only makes my pain
Grow stronger.
Stronger am I because of how I was structured?
Leaving me nothing but a brain to wonder.
Is my imagination even my own
Or the man before me
Perhaps the man who laid the foundation
Of my being?
My thoughts aren’t my thoughts,
My words aren’t my words,
My everything is another man’s nothing.
I am bound by a wild desire to cure
My illness inflicted by another.
It is as though I am captive to
His own predetermined mutations,
That is why I am disfigured and dangling—
Enclosed by another’s misery.

As a librarian who has a passion for words and a background in Fine Arts, I encountered powerful connections between words and images in assembling artwork for the workshop: artists’ deliberate choices of design elements (color, shape, texture, space, etc.) have parallels in writing.  One student in the workshop described poetry as “compressed language,” and artworks have similar multiple layers to communicate meaning.  One way to expand the ekphrastic writing experience would be a class trip to an art gallery to view the artworks and create poetic reflections.  Also, exhibiting student writing alongside the artworks that inspired them would be a thought-provoking way to show the interaction of word and image.  In February, at our library-sponsored Writers Café, students will read a selection of these poems accompanied by slides of the artworks.

This workshop was an opportunity for students to enliven their senses and stir up thoughts as they connected to an artwork and dramatized the experience, while also deepening insights into the emotive and psychological dimensions of Frankenstein. Through a deliberate choice of words and imagery, both the original artwork and the newly created poem became supercharged in the experience as students created an expanded dialogue of images and ideas.  Poet and scientist Jacob Bronowski said, “There is no picture and no poem unless you yourself enter it and fill it out” (cited in Moorman 46).  Students took the challenge to enter into the dialogue with art, and they filled the conversation with memorable ekphrastic poetry.  

Works Cited

Keats, John. “Ode to a Grecian Urn.” 1820. The Poetry Foundation. Web. 6 Sept. 2015.

Moorman, Honor. “Backing into Ekphrasis: Reading and Writing Poetry about Visual Art.” English Journal 96.1 (2006): 46-53. PDF file.

Smith, Jennifer. Creative Writing for Empowered Reading. Nashville: Aquinas College, 2015. Print.

Young, Dean. The Art of Recklessness: Poetry as Assertive Force and Contradiction. Minneapolis: Grey Wolf, 2010. Print.


Innovating Book Talks

The December 15th issue of Booklist features an article: “Sure Bets for Book Discussions.” The article is part of an upcoming book by Brad Hooper, The Librarian’s Guide to Book Programs and Author Events . I think a similar list can be made of “sure bets” for library book talks, not a list of books that will be successful with any young adult audience, but a list of approaches that can add depth and engage interest in reading books. My aim in presenting the following ideas is to spark further discussion among AISL librarians so that we can exchange techniques to add innovation to our book talks.

Match a Book for Every Reader

Ensuring diverse reading choices becomes the foundation of assembling a successful book talk. Diversity entails both reading levels and genres (fiction and nonfiction). Not every student will tackle the 500-page Pulitzer Prize winner All the Light We Cannot See, but students can be immersed in historic fiction books with complex characters and challenging conflicts in young adult books, such as Wicked Girls (Salem Witchcraft Trials) and The Watch that Ends the Night (Sinking of the Titanic). In addition to various reading levels, presenting a range of genres gives readers a sampling of types of books they may not have tried. In a recent book talk themed to tales of suspense, the book talk titles included historic fiction, novels in verse, contemporary humor, contemporary thriller, fantasy, science fiction, and biography. All of these books included suspense elements, but the range of genre was broad. (See Book Talk GoogleSlides for books used in suspense book talk.)

Create the Hook

Essential to any classroom presentation is the hook, and this suggestion uses technology to capture audience interest. Using a formative assessment app called Plickers (https://plickers.com/), I collected a quick snapshot of student interest in types of books at the beginning of the book talk. Students were given a QR code card to hold up in response to a multiple choice prompt. The direction of holding the card indicates either an “A,” “B,” “C,” or “D” response. The app is free, but I purchased a more durable set of laminated cards (you can also print out a free set of Plicker cards through their website). An iPad (or Smartphone) scanned the roomful of students holding the Plicker cards (oriented to their A/B/C/D response choice). Plicker quickly posted the responses on the device and grouped student choices in a graph.

Library Book Talk


Here is a Plicker graph of 39 students who responded to the query “What is your idea of suspense?” Read the four descriptive book teasers and decide which book you would most like to read:


(Book answers: A. Wicked Girls by Stephanie Hemphill; B. All the Truth That’s In Me by Julie Berry; C. The Art of Secrets by James Klise; D. The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson.)


Explore Close Analysis with Book Trailers

Book trailers are not a new idea, and there are many wonderful examples posted to YouTube, but creating your own book trailer allows you to focus on particular book elements to spur a discussion on how authors make decisions in the writing process.   For instance, author Stephanie Hemphill shared in an interview that she visited the town of Salem on a wintry day so that she could match the mood in her writing of Wicked Girls. She intended to show that the austere life and limited freedom for the young Puritan girls led to their using “visions” of witches and the devil to increase their own voice and power in this restrictive society. This Wicked Girls book trailer used text from the book’s first chapter that described the wintry setting; students can discuss how the words and imagery create analogies to the stern Puritan society (such as the bare limbs of trees like fingers pointing accusingly). Also, in a second viewing of the video, you can freeze the video frame to examine how image selection matches text, such as an image of the Devil pamphlet written by Cotton Mather that coincides with the text line “there are rules to follow here.”

The Watch That Ends the Night, a novel in verse that described the sinking of the Titanic, combined researched details into a riveting read. View this Titanic book trailer and experience how author Allan Wolf personified the voice of the Iceberg fated to collide with the ship (the iceberg “marks time with creaks, and cracks, and hiss”); Wolf also included authentic SOS messages from the sinking Titanic ship. Primary source photos from Britannica Image Quest helped dramatize the book trailer and can be a point of further student discussion into the historic connections behind the book.

Design Interactive Read-Alouds

We have all experienced the power of reading aloud from books, and selecting a dramatic passage that portrays conflicted characters can be a moment for an “interactive read-aloud,” as described by educator Cheryl L. Wozniak in her article “Reading and Talking about Books: A Critical Foundation for Intervention.”  Wozniak described how during a read-aloud, “teachers stopped periodically for students to discuss their ideas about the characters’ traits and motivations” (19).  For example, during my suspense book talk, I selected “The Silencer” chapter from The Fifth Wave, which dramatized the growing dilemma and hesitation of the alien “Silencer,” who had been sent to track down and kill the character Cassie. Cassie’s decision to face the killer and refusal to run provoked a surprising reaction from the Stalker. Author Yancey provided several clues in this passage that students can ponder to unravel motivations of “the Silencer” as well as Cassie’s decision not to run.

In the Wozniak article about read-alouds, findings from the research study showed that educators participating in the read-alouds and book talks developed a more positive attitude toward students and the teacher’s role in motivating readers (20).  This is familiar ground for librarians; re-invigorating book talks with innovative approaches will ensure that librarians successfully encourage young adult readers.

Looking forward to hearing from AISL librarians on your approaches to book talks.




Teen Read Week: Are Mysteries Your Cup of Tea?

IMG_0051 Teen Read Week, a celebration of reading for young adult readers initiated by Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) in   1998, has become a favorite annual event in our high school library     and has elicited the support of our students, faculty and staff, as well as our small, but enthusiastic Teen Read Advisory group.  The past three years our event focused on fantasies and used the Hobbit theme of “Make a Hobbit of Reading,” but this year we showcased mystery stories to build on the popularity of the Sherlock adaptations in TV and film. This article shares some tips to create a mystery week in your library.

IMG_0036Which Mystery is Your Cup of Tea?

It began with the tea. Morning tea and cookies for students arriving in the library has always been a popular part of our Teen Read Week, but our students in the Teen Read Advisory brainstormed a new twist–theme the books to the tea. Here are some suggestive pairings for your reading palate:

Earl Grey: Match this tea with classic Sherlock Holmes tales as well as reinterpretations such as Moriarty by John Gardner, graphic novel The Hound of the Baskervilles by Ian Edginton, or The Seven-Per-Cent Solution by Nicholas Meyer.  Add a dash of the suspense writer Daphne Du Maurier with the novel Rebecca and the homage to Sherlock in Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.

Irish Breakfast Tea: Detective tales with an Irish flavor include the Dublin mystery series by Tara French, In the Woods and The Likeness. Add a touch of suspense and danger with Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races.

Cardamom Tea: Sip this aromatic brew with a favorite African or Middle Eastern mystery such as Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Nile, Cynthia Voigt’s The Vandemark Mummy, or G. Willo Wilson’s graphic novel Cairo. Cardamom tea is also a favorite drink if reading the Botswana detective series, The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith.

Green Tea: Feeling a little peculiar or hollow, try a soothing green tea while reading Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. Green tea also takes the edge off battling dystopian societies (Maze Runner, Hunger Games) or surviving apocalyptic events (Fifth Wave).

Calming Chamomile: US teens know stress first-hand, and this comforting herbal brew will ease tensions of school life, such as in the mystery The Art of Secrets by James Klise and will curb rebellious feelings toward a corrupt training school for teens in How to Lead a Life of Crime by Kirsten Miller. Mysterious abductions and killings of adolescents feature in the Edgar Award nominees All the Truth That’s in Me by Julie Berry and Far, Far Away by Tom McNeal.

IMG_0043221B Baker Street Décor

To add to the library’s décor for Teen Read Week, my library office became a Sherlockian parlor, complete with a door decorated as 221B Baker Street. For about thirty dollars, I scavenged Victorian drapery and chair throws from a thrift store, purchased black acrylic paint, number decals, doorknob, and silver ribbon for the cardboard door and cardboard fireplace hearth (the hearth was my office desk transformed with plug-in fireplace logs borrowed from the theater department).  Students enjoyed posing by the Sherlock door for photos, and our library book club met in the Sherlock parlor for our book discussion.

Faculty Read-In

A favorite part of Teen Read Week is a luncheon for faculty. Faculty and staff are encouraged to come to the library with a favorite book to read while enjoying their lunch. One year, a science teacher could not decide on just one book, so she brought towering stacks of books to share with other faculty readers. This visible sign of the love of reading is a great motivator for student readers, and I post a list what teachers are reading on my library LibGuide.

See this video for more photos of faculty and students reading, and I look forward to reading your ideas for celebrating reading during Teen Read Week.


ABCs of Google Classroom

This summer I attended a Google Classroom session at the Lausanne Learning Institute in Memphis. Several of the teachers at my high school, Pope John Paul II, are using Google Classroom to enhance instruction and make classroom management more efficient. I decided to “go back to the blackboard” and rethink the delivery of my Digital Citizenship unit to our Freshman students by incorporating features of Google Classroom.

The following are my ABCs of Google Classroom.

Screen Shot 2015-08-20 at 8.19.36 PM


A is for Adventurous.
Since I do not have my own classroom of students, the six
classes sessions with Freshman Wellness students became
an opportunity to experience Google Classroom as
students engaged in researching the following essential
question of the Digital Citizenship unit:
“How can use of technology affect personal health and the health of others?”

Together we explored, recovered from a few missteps, and learned from peers and other teachers.

Tip: Posted assignments send an automatic e-mail to students with a link.
If you wish to introduce the assignment prior to students viewing the link
in their e-mail, archive the assignment and post it in class, after explaining
the assignment in class.
B is for Building units.

Previously I used LibGuides for all of the database
and website links as well as for class handouts and embedded videos.
With Google Classroom I can still link my LibGuide, but I
can also stack assignments and announcements
with individual due dates (even specifying a time submission deadline).
The varied resources:

1) Google Form (such as a survey on student use of technology);
2) a video on citations from North Carolina State University; or
3) a Google Doc for student note taking.

We used this New York Times article on screen addiction for a class brainstorm
of keyword search terms and to mine data of scholarly journals and research
studies mentioned in the article.

Tip: Plan ahead and you can assemble these assignments in reverse
order so that the first assignment that students need to do appears
at the top of the list. Archive assigments as they are complete to
hide them from student classroom view and to keep the “stream”
of assignments less cluttered.

“B” is also for Backups. Near the end of one class, our electricity
flickered off; fortunately Google Docs and Google Slides save
every few seconds, so little student work was lost.
C is for Collection, Comments, and Collaboration.

Collecting and returning student documents online can be
done in seconds. Also, when the student Google Doc or Slides
is collected, it timestamps and freezes the document until you
return it to the student. Teachers have a quick tally of how
many items have been submitted, and by clicking on the
number of “not done,” teachers can view those student names.

Comments feature on Google Docs promotes the revision process
based on feedback from the teacher; guiding student efforts promotes
the writing process and redirects student focus as they look more
closely at research articles. Students can collaborate in real time
with sharing Google Docs and Google Slides. Since students in our
school commute from wide-ranging areas, this collaboration feature
is a bonus. Students do not need to be in the same room, city, or
state to be able to collaborate with a group member.

Tip: Teachers can select a feature that automatically will make a copy
of the document or slide and rename it with the student’s name.
Also, there are several ways to turn in a Google Doc, either by
using the “turn in” button at the top of the Google Doc itself or by
selecting the “turn in” button in Google Classroom.

Final thoughts on Google Classroom

As with any plans to use technology, have a backup plan. Paper
copies are a good safeguard and some students prefer to read and
take notes with pen and pencil and a hard copy of the article, rather
than reading the article online.

Lastly, do not underestimate the power of face time and one-to-one
communication. One of the students’ favorite activities was sharing
stories in small groups at tables regarding technology use. Some
students chose to incorporate these personal stories in their final

Please share your own experiences with “Classroom in the Clouds.”

E-Mail Etiquette: Advice from Shakespeare

Here is a box we open everyday, but do not greet the overflowing contents with the same exuberance as opening a Christmas gift:
Screen Shot 2015-07-04 at 11.29.16 AM


Image by John Taylor[1] Derivative work: Fred the Oyster (National Portrait Gallery[1]) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Even with popular social tools of Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and texting,   e-mail remains an important tool of communication at school and in the workplace.

Teaching students how to craft an effective e-mail, one that builds rather than sabotages communication, is an important 21st Century skill.

Who better to turn to for e-mail etiquette than the Bard and his timeless wisdom?

Following are the top five tips Shakespeare might have given on e-mail etiquette.



1. To E-mail or not to E-mail: that is the question. (inspired by Hamlet 1.1)

Before composing e-mails, decide if e-mail is the best way to communicate.
If the communication involves a conflict or a complex issue, a face-to-face meeting or a phone conversation might be the best way to discuss the issue.

Hearing the person’s tone of voice and observing body language benefits communication and can prevent misunderstanding. It is difficult to evaluate tone in e-mails.

2. For now, these hot days, is the mad blood stirring.  (Romeo and Juliet 1.4)

Has a situation really got your blood boiling? If so, better to wait on e-mailing and allow time for reflection on how to respond in a courteous way.

E-mails are sent instantaneously with a click and they become a permanent correspondence, which can be saved or forwarded to others. “Flaming,” incendiary messages, often lead to explosive responses, and it is a better strategy to maneuver around Internet battlefields.

3. Brevity is the soul of wit.  (Hamlet 2.90)

The subject heading of the e-mail should be brief and specific to the topic of the e-mail. E-mail users quickly glance through the string of items in their inboxes and well-crafted subject headings will merit a quicker response.

This subject heading

Smith 2nd period Math Corrections Attached

will get a quicker response than


Also, avoid using all capitals in e-mails, it has the appearance of yelling.

4.  Speak plain and to the purpose like an honest man.  (Much Ado About Nothing 3.18-19)
The main body of the e-mail text should be brief and well structured.

  • Use a topic sentence structure in your paragraphs with the most important statement first in the e-mail.
  • If several questions or points are discussed in the e-mail, aid the quickly scanning eyes of your reader by separating points with a space and perhaps with number or bullet points.
  • Always reread your e-mail before sending to check spelling, grammar, and correct formatting of any attachments (check with teachers to know formats they will accept for attachments).


Remember to consider tone of your e-mail. Be courteous, and if e-mailing a teacher, college, or employer, use a professional tone.

Always evaluate the wording of your e-mail: Is it humor, sarcasm, or downright vindictiveness? Even an emoticon cannot take back poorly chosen wording—the sting of the statement can linger.

5.  Parting is such sweet sorrow. (Romeo and Juliet2.184)




May the Force be with you!

Leave the flowery poetry to Romeo and Juliet.

When considering how to sign off in your e-mail, think about your audience.

A simple “Thank you” may be all that is needed if a request was being made in the e-mail or you could end the e-mail with a statement such as “Enjoy your weekend” or “Looking forward to the school musical.”

The important thing to remember with e-mails sent to faculty, colleges, or employers is to use your school e-mail (not a personal e-mail address—mineblaster@hotmail.com) and avoid any sign offs that include silly names or aliases (Hotshot, Mad Warrior, etc.). Maintain a professional tone.

Universities and E-mail Etiquette

Many universities include “E-mail Etiquette” as part of their online style manuals.

These sites were consulted for this blog, and they may be of interest to you for
further browsing.

“Email Etiquette.” OWL Online Writing Lab. Purdue University. 2015. Web.
1 Jul. 2015. <https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/694/01/>.

Schall, Joe. “E-mail Etiquette.” Style for Students Online. The Pennsylvania
State University. 2015. Web. 1 Jul. 2015.

The below link is a presentation I created for our freshman on the topic of E-mail Etiquette.  It may provide ideas for discussion with your students.  Looking forward to your thoughts on encouraging students in the art of E-mail Etiquette.

E-mail Etiquette (ppt. by Joan Lange)

E-mail image:
By Google (https://code.google.com/p/noto/) [Apache License 2.0 (http://www.apache.org/ licenses/LICENSE-2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.



Digital Timelines: Using Historic Voices to Investigate Identity

“No harm’s done to history by making it something
someone would want to read.” David McCullough

Digital Timelines provide interactive ways to engage students with history, and examples abound. From contemporary news overviews, such as the Gender Equality Timeline developed by United Nations Women’s Watch to historic archives of presidential speeches, letters, memos, and photos in the National Archives’ Presidential Timeline, timelines demonstrate how the digital experience of history can be enriched with embedded video and audio, primary source documents that expand for closer inspection, and hyperlinks to resources for further investigation.

Presidential Timeline


Latin Timeline: Investigating Identity

An opportunity to explore digital timelines arose when a concerned Latin teacher at our high school stated that students needed more historic background on key rulers, events, and historians to bring relevance to translations of classical literature. Our social studies department had transitioned away from teaching Ancient Greece and Rome (focused now on Global Issues), so many of the students in this Latin class were last exposed to this history in their 6th or 7th grade curriculum.

In collaboration with the Latin teacher, we identified events and literary historians for students to research and developed a LibGuide of online resources as well as books on classical writers from the library collection. After sampling the merits of several digital timelines, such as Knight Lab and Time Glider, I chose Tiki Toki because it allowed formatting of BC as well as AD events and the paid subscription ($145.00) allowed collaboration—individual students added items to a class timeline. This screenshot shows how students login to collaborate and organize items by color and category, such as Reign, Event, Historian, Quote.

Students were challenged to move beyond assembling a wiki of facts to creating knowledge by 1) analyzing the ruler’s influence on an event (or event on a ruler); 2) identifying traits of the classical writer; and 3) demonstrating how these traits were reflected in their historic writings. The essential question:

How are ideals of Ancient Rome reflected in the historic writings or
how are aspects of Ancient Rome criticized by the historic writer?

Students use the historic voice of the classical historian to illustrate the identity of Ancient Rome (or the idealized identity of Ancient Rome).  Below is a screenshot of the GoogleDoc template for student note taking. In this sample, the student noted that the historian Lucan “had powerful contacts within the Roman empire” and in the “Quote” column, the student used a portion of Lucan’s historic account of the Civil Wars, referring to “Rome’s high race.” This student then evaluated Lucan’s writings for bias toward high-ranking officials and noble classes.

Latin Timeline Note taking

Sometimes students’ investigations led to building connections (historic empathy).  One student discussed the Twelve Tables of Law and made the connection that as these laws were created to define and protect basic human rights, it could be linked to the idea of America defining basic rights in the Declaration of Independence. (See Twelve Tables of Law screenshot.)  However, another student evaluated the Twelve Tables Law on theft and commented that slaves were not treated equally in the law (slaves who were arrested as thieves would be brutally beaten and then hurled from a rock)—leading to further connections with America’s history of unequal treatment for certain groups.

Latin Timeline Twelve Tables of Law

Knowledge Creators

Students were proud of the timelines and during class presentations they often commented, “Remember when we read…well this is the event/person they were discussing.” Other students asked, “Will we be able to access these timelines?” With a resounding “yes,” we discussed how they had created a valuable learning tool for their class and for future Latin classes. Students experienced the satisfaction of knowledge creation, which is a hallmark of becoming a 21st century learner.  Brian Mathews, The Ubiquitous Librarian blogger for the Chronicle of Higher Education, describes the importance of knowledge creation in his blog “What it Takes to Become a Scholar.”  Mathews describes that the transition from student to scholar happens when a student realizes they have created something new: “The knowledge-creation activity plays into the sense of identity. The overriding theme is that one does not become a ‘scholar’ until they have created something new.”

Future directions

Students’ research time was limited (2 ½ class days), so the added media component was often a YouTube clip posted by History Channel or a short informational movie developed and posted on YouTube by a student (from another US school). Wishing to enrich these timelines with student-created content, we plan to challenge next year’s students to produce their own media content and embed it on the assembled timelines.

Our US History teachers were excited by this idea and adapted it to a 20th century timeline project in which students illustrated key events/people/ideas of the Civil Rights era, Cold War, and Cultural events of the 60s, 70s, etc. (View a sample Space Race event I developed for the US History class.) We also tweaked the location of citations by using the smaller text format of the “Information Box” on the timeline.

New Approaches to Timelines and Literature Connections

This digital timeline project tested the possibilities of how to use historic voices to identify a group of people. However, other educators suggest going beyond a linear timeline—a linear thinking of history–to incorporate multiple perspectives. If your school subscribes to The History Teacher, I encourage you to read this journal article:

Denial, Catherine J. “Atoms, Honeycombs, and Fabric Scraps: Rethinking Timelines in the Undergraduate Classroom.” The History Teacher 46:3 (May 2013): 415-434. Print.

Ms. Denial describes how she challenged her undergraduate students to consider that there is “more than one way to perceive and make order from the past” (418).  Her students devised models of non-linear timelines, such as fabric quilts, that demonstrate how a historian creates a perspective on the past through the selection of certain events, voices, and ideas.

Another idea to engage students in a discussion of historic timelines is to use novels such as Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood and The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd; both stories feature characters who use quilts to order a historic narrative.

Please share your experiences with timelines or titles of fictional works that explore historic voices and multiple perspectives of history.