Curiosity killed the… wait, what?


The Curious Classroom by Harvey Daniels (2017), aptly subtitled 10 Structures for Teaching with Student-Directed Inquiry, is one of those professional books you can read on the beach, in a busy airport, on the train, or anywhere else, really. It’s practical and conversational, with plenty of real-life examples, photographs of classrooms, and handy sketchnotes at the end of each chapter.

Read this book: If you are a lower or middle school librarian looking to boost curiosity and wonder at your school, wanting to let students take control and run with their own interests and ideas rather than focusing on the same old research project (is it birds this year? or animals in general?), grab a friendly and collaborative teacher partner and read this book together! This study guide will be gold as you’re reading together. 

Having read this book recently for our Board Book discussion at the AISL conference last week, I’m left with so many nuggets of wisdom and little ideas to embrace students’ curiosity. Here are a few that I’d like to implement ASAP:

Idea: Why don’t I have a Wonder Wall in the library (Google it with a -oasis unless you’d rather listen to the song…)?! The setup is easy — a blank bulletin board with the words “Wonder Wall” and sticky notes or slips of paper for students to tack on. That’s such a simple way to validate and explore students’ questions!

Idea: I feel similarly about Genius Hour — this seems like old news, but I’ve finally found a way to make it work in our lower school library. We have scheduled time throughout the year for Friday afternoon classes that generally last three weeks called Interest Groups. I’ve led Library Helpers, Finger Knitting, Book Budgets, and a variety of other crafty and library-related groups, but I’ve never tried a Genius Hour. And this would be PERFECT for this structured time because students can choose to be in the group and spend their afternoons exploring and researching anything they wanted to! I love having small group research help time and feel like this would be such a natural way to support students.

Nugget: This tip (followed by an example) really made me reflect on my own practice:

With inquiry projects we sometimes spend too much time setting things up. And if we slow down too much, kids can lose energy and start complaining.

Though the example in the book seemed entirely too-smooth-to-be-true (in less than 5 minutes, students wrote down what they already know about the topic and questions they have), I know that one of my growing edges is to let go of some control and let kids start the work without so much frontloading. They’re going to stumble and make mistakes and get frustrated, and that’s okay! That’s real life!

The real struggle that I have been having with this kind of open, student-directed inquiry, especially for my young students, is that their interests are SO MUCH more complex than the texts written for them. Their questions are just not easily answered in a book at their reading level. So, we talk a lot about the research process, about the kinds of sources we have available to us and about which one would give us the best answer. We document our research process, noting the hard parts, and work towards making meaning of the information we find. This book validated that process for me, assuring me that it is, in fact, messy work, and if it’s not, then we’re not doing it right!

Be Internet Awesome

For so long, we have relied on Common Sense Media’s digital citizenship curriculum and Digital Passport activities in Lower School, but now we have a new (to us) option — Be Internet Awesome by Google.

For those unfamiliar, here’s a quick description of Be Internet Awesome:

To make the most of the Internet, kids need to be prepared to make smart decisions. Be Internet Awesome teaches kids the fundamentals of digital citizenship and safety so they can explore the online world with confidence.

If you’re teaching in a Google environment, students can easily navigate to Google’s Interland, where they can play games in the Kind Kingdom, Tower of Treasure, Reality River, or Mindful Mountain. While a ton of fun (I spent 20 minutes in the Kind Kingdom without even realizing any time had passed!), the games teach and reinforce key concepts about being kind online, securing your identity, sharing information responsibly, and navigating the web with a critical eye.

There are also tons of resources for educators and parents, including a curriculum guide. I also really like the look and simplicity of their internet pledge:

So, am I late to the game here? Are any of you using this with your students? What grades? What do you think?

Gearing up for Nonfiction November

November is one of those months that’s filled to the brim with reading and writing celebrations — from NaNoWriMo to National American Indian Heritage Month to Picture Book Month, and all of the other celebrations cleverly packed into this children’s activity calendar by Matthew Winner. It’s not like you have to look hard to find a reason to celebrate books and reading. Books are great, yeah!

We highlight all kinds of literature throughout the year with our displays, our recommendations, and our bulletin boards. While I usually weave nonfiction books into my displays, they’re not generally the ones that get a ton of love, especially when sitting side by side with a bright and shiny story. So, I’m skipping the calendar and focusing my November on celebrating nonfiction books in the library. Because there are TONS of kids who LOVE to read nonfiction, but they don’t get to share that love as easily as our fiction readers do. I’m still in the planning stages of what this will look like, but here are some ideas so far…

November Nonfiction Reading Challenge

Created for my first through fourth grade students (and teachers), here’s a nonfiction reading bingo-style card. I’ll share it with classes early next week and hope that I get some participation! Feel free to copy and adapt for your school.

I also created a Nonfiction Read-Alouds list on Destiny (click Lower School > Resource Lists > Nonfiction Read-alouds), most of which will be on my window display. These books have been published in the last few years and lend well to classroom read-alouds. I’ll share these books with staff in a newsletter later this week and hopefully get them on board with Nonfiction November, too.

Other ideas floating around in my brain include a Question of the Week for students to research, an interactive poster on what students are curious about and want to learn more about, and nonfiction booktalks to our older classes. Not sure if time is on my side, but I’m going to give it a try! How do you celebrate nonfiction reading in your school? Is Nonfiction November in your future?

Happy reading (and fact-checking!),


Solar Eclipse 2017

Sorry, no post today! Because, this.

from the mountains in Salem, SC (photo by my husband, Kevin Harvey)


Whether you watched it on TV or went out to see it in person, I hope you were able to witness today’s solar eclipse! It was absolutely one of the greatest things I have experienced. Already making plans for 2024!

Dear Twitter friends, You make me better.

A few nights ago, I was stuck with some serious insomnia. I know I shouldn’t have my phone on in bed, especially if I can’t sleep, but I have a nervous twitch that makes me check my email/Facebook/Instagram/Twitter on a continuous loop throughout the day. (This is me admitting I have a problem.) So, here I was at 2am, scrolling through what I missed on Twitter that day, and I discovered a few of my new friends were participating in a #g2great chat. I had no idea what that was, but from their responses, it looked right up my alley!

It turned out that author Chris Lehman was guest hosting this chat, using his book ENERGIZE Research Reading & Writing as the catalyst for discussion. Goodness me, the discussion was so good that I ordered myself a copy of the book right then and wondered why I hadn’t heard of it before! I had so many ideas of how to turn research right on its head in our 3rd/4th grade classes next year — from throwing out note-taking uniformity to promoting student choice in topics (yeah, we’re still not there yet…) to explicitly teaching students to THINK about their nonfiction reading (an ongoing struggle). I AM energized, and I can’t wait to dig into this book! Thank you, Twitter!

But I do have to wait. See, a couple months ago, some Twitter friends were going bananas over Disrupting Thinking: Why HOW We Read Matters by Kylene Beers and Robert E Probst. This was along the same time I was taking the Visible Thinking class by Project Zero, so there was a bit of overlap between folks reading and doing both. Over and over again, I would see book quotes and sketch notes and exclamations of genius and adoration for this book.

So, I shared a stack of professional books at our last staff meeting, highlighting this one, saying that it was at the top of my to-read pile and hey, would anyone like to join me? Crickets. But a few days later, a teacher asked me if I wanted to do a summer book club with Disrupting Thinking — woo! We had our first meeting today, just three of us crazy teachers working on summer break, and it was great. Our conversations flowed from the topics in the book (we read the first third and will meet again two more times) to our own practice to possibilities for the future. I only wish we had taken notes! But again, thank you, Twitter friends, for inspiring this connection and growth opportunity.

There are definitely times when I need to unplug and just be. And there are times when it is so hard to be in a constantly evolving community, especially when I’m running low on time, energy, or effort. But when I’m up for it, when I want to be inspired or challenged, I turn to my carefully curated community of teachers and librarians on Twitter because I know that they’ll make me better. I hope I do the same every now and then!

Are you one of the awesome people I follow? Follow me @nataliesap on Twitter and @cfslslibrary on Instagram, and I’ll follow you back. 🙂

Interactive summer reading

I know it’s (only) April, but with just seven weeks of school left, my mind is on the finish line – summer! I don’t want to think about database renewals or cleaning the mess that is the workroom, nor do I care to give another thought to the book hospital that is overflowing with patients or the inventory that is calling my name. That can all wait until tomorrow (or the next day). No, right now, I’m planning summer reading!

For the past two years, I have created recommended summer reading magazines – my favorite picks from the year (here’s 2015 and 2016). I include them in my end-of-the-year library newsletter and send black-and-white copies in our end-of-year reports which go out mid-June. I print some in color and place them on our Parent bookshelf in the lobby, so that all who walk by can see and take them. I have ideas in mind for this year’s magazine, but I want to do more – I want this year’s summer reading to be interactive.

Lower school students do not have required reading over the summer, but I know they are reading voraciously. I have wondered about how to stay connected with students and their reading over the summer and have dismissed many ideas because I didn’t think they would work with our population. Send me a picture? Write me a letter? Blog about it? What’s a quick and easy way to collect and share our summer reading?

I am always looking to connect the right student with the right book at the right time, and now I find myself in need of the right tool. Books, I’m pretty good at and manage to stay updated. Tech tools, I always feel a step behind. So, please try not to roll your eyes when I introduce the new (ahem: four years old) tool that I plan on using for summer reading this year:

I don’t know why I hadn’t heard of Flipgrid until just recently, but I feel like I am seeing it everywhere nowadays. For those of you, maybe like me, who may not know what it is – Flipgrid is essentially a video discussion board. Imagine if Padlet and Voicethread had a baby (though I wonder about the ages of those two…). For my summer reading Flipgrid, I plan on taking video of myself talking to students about sharing their summer reading. Then, they can go to my Flipgrid page and add their own video about what they’re reading. In the end, I hope to have tons of videos of students sharing with me and each other. What I love about Flipgrid is how easy it is to use – go to the board, click the plus sign, and record yourself! It organizes the videos much in the same way as Pinterest, very neat rows, and students can watch each other’s videos.

I’m looking forward to introducing this next month and might encourage some beta testers to add videos of what they want to read over summer break. Have you done anything similar? Advice to share?

Shelfie Challenge

This year, my 3rd/4th grade team of teachers decided to change up the way they were teaching technology. Our two classes function independently of each other, but they have been yearning for some joint planning time as well as opportunities for collaboration. From this, our tech rotations were born.

The Logistics

We have two full-time teachers per mixed class of 3rd/4th grade students, with a little over 60 students total. Add me into the mix, and now we have five teachers to teach separate technology rotations. Don’t get me wrong, we use technology in a variety of ways all day long, but these rotations would focus on specific skills – video making, coding, typing practice, Google Slideshows, and library searching. We decided to mix and match the classes, splitting up students by grade level. Each cluster of students (named for our state’s lakes and rivers) would travel together through the five rotations, for five weeks at a time, meeting once a week for 45 minutes per class.

Library Detectives 

Because this was decided early in the school year, and I had yet to wrap my head around what a “library/technology class” would actually look like, I have been using this time to try out different lessons and styles of teaching. I wish I could say that I have a systematic process of trying out and evaluating my lessons, but right now, I’m just getting a feel for things. My loose theme for the class is library detectives because we are searching for clues to get us to certain resources. We are learning how to navigate the library’s website, how to search the catalog, and how to search our online databases. 

As I write this, I am feeling better about my approach to the class (thank you, self-reflection!). My initial fears or worries about teaching these skills were heavy –

  • Do I really need to spend time teaching students how to search the catalog?
  • How will teaching these skills in isolation help students in any way?
  • Can I make this class into a meaningful inquiry project instead of jumping from one skill to another week after week?

That last question still nags at me – if you have ideas, please do share! But I feel better because I know that we are creating meaningful inquiry experiences for students during their science and social studies project time in class. I am still collaborating with teachers during those projects, so essentially, we are building upon the skills that I introduce in this tech rotation. Or at least that’s my justification for now!

Shelfie Challenge

That was a long way of introducing last week’s lesson – the Shelfie Challenge! We recently switched over to the Follett Destiny catalog from Alexandria, so I used this *brand new shiny thing!* to get students excited about using the catalog to search for books (many of my students are avid library users, so they already have favorite sections of the library).

Inspired by @gogauthia on Twitter, I created a bingo board of books to search for, then sent students off with iPads to search the library catalog for the books and take a selfie with their finds. 

Though it felt a little chaotic at the time, kids were excitedly running (eek!) about the library trying to find books – this is good! They were practicing using the catalog, exploring different areas of the library, and searching for books they may not have even known we had (a couple students found books to check out, too).

Since this is my only fixed class in a completely flexible schedule, I am (slowly) embracing the opportunity to teach library skills in isolation to these curious and voracious readers. I still struggle with the philosophical and pedagogical implications of teaching these skills this way, but for now, I’m learning and growing just as my students are.

As I embark on the journey of creating an information skills framework for our Lower School, I would be happy to learn how other schools are approaching this topic! Am I way off base here? 

Professional reading – on my TBR shelf

There was a day not too long ago when I felt like I had absolutely no idea how to teach students how to research. It was an existential – what’s the point of it all? – moment that was heightened by a persistent cold and frustration with, well, the world. So, what did I do? I engaged in some retail therapy and bought a stack of professional books that I’m eager to read!
Who Owns the Learning?

Who Owns the Learning?: Preparing Students for Success in the Digital Age by Alan C. November (2011)

Our middle school staff is reading this one, and it was recommended at my Tech committee meeting. Looks like a quick read.


Dive into Inquiry



Dive into Inquiry: Amplify Learning and Empower Student Voice by Trevor MacKenzie (2016)

I noticed my teacher friends shelving this book on Goodreads, so I grabbed a copy too. Looks to be another quick read – and a new release this year.


Making Thinking VisibleMaking Thinking Visible by Ron Ritchhart, Mark Church, Karin Morrison (2011)

This one looks like it may take some digging into – and it comes with a DVD of the “thinking” in practice. Curious – and just realized it correlates to the Harvard Project Zero PD class that I may take this spring!




Make Just One Change: TMake Just One Changeeach Students to Ask Their Own Questions by Dan Rothstein, Luz Santana (2011)

I wonder if the “Question Formulation Technique” is something different than what I have been doing and teaching. I will soon find out!


Essential Questions


Essential Questions: Opening Doors to Student Understanding by Jay McTighe, Grant P. Wiggins (2013)

This book was the first I perused online – and the one that inspired me to think about our 3rd and 4th grade research units differently.



If you’ve read any of the books above, please comment and let me know what you thought! I imagine it will take me some time to get through the stack, so I’d love some help navigating my way.

Parent communication

Starting my third year at this school, I feel that I have progressively gotten better at keeping parents informed about library events, special projects, checkout procedures, overdue books, and everything else library-related that they would be curious to know. This year, I subscribed to Smore (which I used heavily at my previous middle school but not so much my first two years here), and I plan to use it for everything!

I got back into using this online newsletter tool last year when I created my So you’ve read Harry Potter – what’s next? list. I shared it on my blog and Twitter, but I didn’t email it directly to anyone.

At the beginning of this school year, I knew that I wanted my first newsletter to families to be chock-full of information, yes, but also visually appealing and easy to navigate. I love how simple it is to do this using Smore.


Rather than embedding the newsletter into my blog, I instead emailed the flyer to all of our Lower School families directly from Smore. The advantage to doing it this way is that I could see who opened the email, who clicked on the newsletter, and how long they spent viewing it. When I see that the newsletter has been delivered to 211 email addresses with only 119 of them actually opening it, I can better manage my expectations of how much families really know about the library. I also know that some families have multiple addresses listed, so if one parent has seen it, that’s enough.

We just finished our book fair last week, so I created the following Smore in about 15 minutes to send out to families thanking them for their support. You can see how versatile it is!


While I plan on using Smore heavily for parent communications, I know that I need to diversify my avenues of parent contact. Just standing outside at dismissal time (chaotic as it is!) is a good way to strike up conversations with parents. If they see me, they also might remember something they wanted to share with or ask me.

What ways do you find are most successful in communicating with parents and families? I’m always looking for new ideas!

Thinking about design & delivery

At the end of this school year, like many of you, I compiled a summer reading list for my Lower School students and an annual report for their families. Though this is something that I have been doing for the past six years, I’m always reinventing how it’s done so that it’s most effective for my current community. To that end, I believe design matters.

For my summer reading lists, I have previously used Goodreads, in-text blog posts, and shared Google Docs – nothing too fancy or elaborate but what was simply needed to deliver the message. For the annual reports, I’ve exclusively used Pages, either modifying templates or creating my own design. Last year, I designed my summer reading list in Pages to look more like a magazine, something like the BookPage or the The Horn Book‘s publications, something more visually appealing. For this year’s summer reading list, I knew that I could essentially use last year’s template and just change the books. Nothing about the design really needed to be updated. But I challenged myself, used a new-to-me tool, and changed the look of it because I want to grow in the same way I teach my students – as a creator and designer and someone who thinks intentionally about audience and purpose.

I think that we, collectively, look for and appreciate well-designed media. Free tools like Canva help amateurs like me design something beautiful and professional. Honestly, I wish I had known about it sooner. Though it’s been around a few years, I hadn’t heard of it until recently – but I had seen many examples of banners and flyers created with it. Before this turns into too much of a Canva commercial (no, they’re not paying me), I will say that there are probably many other similar design tools out there. This is just the one that I decided to try out! Because I wanted my products to look like a magazine, I also tried out FlipHTML5 to create the flipping pages.

Lower School Summer Reading 2016

(Click the image for the FlipHTML5 version. Here’s the doc version.)


LS Library Annual Report 2016

(Click the image for the FlipHTML5 version. Here’s the doc version.)


Though I’m particularly happy with these two promotional products, I know that next year, I will be trying something new yet again. I have yet to brand myself like some libraries and librarians, and I don’t know if that will be my next step. I enjoy the freedom to be creative in whatever way inspires me and connects with my audience at the time.

As a side-note, I appreciate that this is also a way for me to grow as a technology leader in my school, to try out new tools and be able to knowledgeably recommend them to students and teachers.  For these two products, I learned how to use Canva for the design and FlipHTML5 for the delivery.

Is anyone else out there thinking design? Share your work! I’d love to have something new to try out over the summer. 🙂