Signs of fun – and learning – in the library

We’ve started 2022 under the shadow of Omicron, which means we’re back to fewer students in the library, and classes aren’t coming in for instruction. Hopefully this will be a short-term situation, but in the meantime I’m curious to know what is going on in the classrooms, and want to celebrate ways that we can interact with students. Fortunately, teens are messy! They leave papers on tables and on the copier (where I can look at their research and citations), they neglect to wipe down the whiteboards before walking away, they make fun additions to our displays. I could think of each of these as one more mess to clean up (well, often that is EXACTLY what I think) but I try to focus on the positive and think of these as clues to what is happening in the classroom and opportunities to talk with students about their lives. So, for a lighthearted first-ever AISL blog post, here’s a photo tour of some library fun from the past few years that led to interesting conversations and fun interactions with students and with teachers.

This looks staged but it’s actually what I found on the table outside my office three weeks ago. I was delighted to see that a class is using lessons from the Newseum, and even more pleased to learn that this is from an AP US Government class. I’d had a conversation with that teacher in the fall and mentioned a SCOTUS lesson I’d done in US History a number of years ago. This Newseum project prompted a new conversation, which led to me showing her the SCOTUS lesson, which led to us revamping that 10-year-old lesson into a research and citation exercise that we taught just this week. This teacher was entertained to see that a paper that will be part of a homework check had been abandoned in the library…

We found this on a whiteboard in one of the small study rooms just after Thanksgiving 2021. I wondered if a science class was doing a holiday-meal-themed lesson? I sent the photo to the upper school just for fun, and learned that it was a well-formatted “visual/flow-chart version of the protocol for a lab we recently did in Biology, studying osmosis with potato cells.” We were simply wondering how many servings of mashed potatoes this made! But it gave me the opportunity to send an email to the faculty reminding them that we are still working (somewhat invisibly) in the library. It also prompted a history teacher to respond with a link to a lovely article about blackboards and math instruction

It’s hard to believe it’s been this long, but six years ago we were starting to plan for a library remodel. We solicited input from students and teachers in several different ways, including dry erase paper mounted to a wall. What made this fun is that students could interact with each other’s suggestions. Nap pods were way too expensive, but thanks to their suggestions we now have plenty of sofas and comfy chairs, and we encourage naps! This also helped make the argument for putting a variety of writing walls in the new library.

We love it when students interact with our displays because it means they are paying attention. (I asked a physics teacher to explain this. I still don’t understand it.)

A middle school lesson was left on the library classroom whiteboard. Upper school students were curious, so I showed them our print collection of Time and Life magazines from the 1930s – 1980s. These volumes are perfect for primary source research and for learning about representation in advertisements.

Remember print encyclopedias?! This is from several years ago when we still had these on the shelf. We believe in having fun in the library and our students agree. This went on for several weeks – there were many iterations.

Sometimes the whiteboard signs are helpful, like this one from a summer 2021 class. I only met with these students once and it was over Zoom, so this “class photo” found in the library classroom helped me remember their names when we went back to school in August.

Often their drawings make everyone smile.

Sometimes their work is super-intimidating.

The write-on wall is often a palimpsest of the day’s lessons.

We enjoy having a fun and interactive library – one that provides the tools that students need and a place to explore their creativity. Before the library was remodeled we had one whiteboard – it was in the library classroom and was usually behind a locked door. After remodeling we have one write-on-wall, white boards in each of the small study rooms, a two-sided whiteboard on wheels in the central seating area, and a wall covered with whiteboard paper that we use for fun interactive surveys (or remodeling suggestions). We welcome post-it notes with encouraging comments scattered around the shelves, and we dutifully pick up the stray papers and books at the end of the day, looking for clues as to what’s happening in our students’ lives.

(Why) do you care?

The language in the last two posts spoke to me, both Tasha’s reactions to signaling verbs and Reba’s use of the phrase “getting a source done.” (I could write a whole post on my thoughts when students have that mindset.) Likewise, I have spent a lot of time in my head considering whether what’s happening — or not — with student work is the same as what I imagine.

Last month, after asking my brother what he wanted for Christmas, I received a text saying he wanted shelves for games.

Me: Type of shelf?
Him: I dunno whatever might be good for game storage I guess
Me: How many games? Do you want them visible?
Him: I mean id assume visible I don’t know like 20-30 games right now they are all stuffed in cabinets

I Google search terms like “best video gaming shelves” and “creative video game storage” and toggle to image searches. Yet he keeps telling me the shelves I’m suggesting are too small. Finally he sends this picture…

his game photo

We live in different states and haven’t really played board games since before the pandemic. I really did go back through my texts because I was so surprised. My brain had just filled in what I expected to find.

And back to searching. As many of us have noted, librarian skills enhance our lives outside the library. I found ones with excellent reviews in our price range and sent him the links for approval. (We’re not big on surprises.) Later conversations revealed that determining the “perfect” shelves was the actual gift. He could have bought the shelves himself if he had known what he wanted to buy.

organization by color

(Though the installation was part of the gift as well.) And with an artist for a wife, organization by color was a MUCH more aesthetically-pleasing choice than my hemming and hawing as I tried to organize by category. (Genrefiers, I’m impressed. I tend to second guess placing anything definitively in one genre.)

Too frequently, I’ve heard people say that students aren’t completing work because they don’t care. But what if it’s that they care too much? Or aren’t sure of the next steps? Or are afraid of feeling embarrassed? (Or, alright, sometimes are required to take a math/language/science class and “just don’t care.”)

I was talking with a student this fall about his missing bibliography. He couldn’t remember his Noodletools login. Since this had happened previously, he was self-conscious about losing it again.

A student missed the meeting to workshop her Senior speech before giving it in chapel. She hadn’t written it because she’d been awake stressing about it for several nights and had pages of notes on her innermost thoughts but no speech.

Or the students who didn’t print their completed papers after writing essays on iPads because they didn’t realize they had to click the “share and export” button in order to reach the “print” button. They didn’t want to risk being seen as tech newbies by asking.

And here’s where I celebrate being a librarian and not a teacher. I don’t have to question if a student is trying to pull something over on me. Librarians simply get to help, no grades attached. I’ve found myself asking more and more frequently, “what’s your next step?” Or “what’s stopped you from getting to X?” Or “where do you want to be with this?” And while I might be ending on a Pollyannaish note, it’s been fulfilling to try to reframe “why don’t you care? into “what do you care about?”

The Mystery of Annotated Bibliographies

I’ve been assisting with our eighth grade National History Day project, and it was clear that the concept of annotated bibliographies was a big cause of confusion. The students were not only unsure of what to include, but also how the annotation was supposed to help them with their project.

I’ve been thinking about how to teach the difference between annotations on a source and notes. The students seemed to have very few problem with the idea of “notes.” The issue was that they were using the annotation section in Noodletools for notes instead of considering why they were going to use the particular source. The class had trouble differentiating between the usage of notes and annotations.

I really like how California State University sums up annotations one of their LibGuides: Annotations are about 4 to 6 sentences long (roughly 150 words), and address:

  •     Main focus or purpose of the work
  •     Usefulness or relevance to your research topic 
  •     Special features of the work that were unique or helpful
  •     Background and credibility of the author
  •     Conclusions or observations reached by the author
  •     Conclusions or observations reached by you

So, how to teach these ideas for the next research project? I think this ties back to their inherent understanding of research. I feel confident that they have the hang of evaluating sources, but I’m not sure they comprehend evaluating research. They are at the point of still focusing on the number of sources they need (“how to get the best grade”) versus how to write a well-research balanced paper. 

I’m also not reassured that they are actually reading the sources, but rather skimming for facts rather than reading for information. In researching this topic, I came across a teacher who asked students to read before being “allowed” to take notes. Hear me out, what if students were required to read a source for 3 minutes before deciding whether they should start taking notes? I think this would make them slow down, evaluate the information, and perhaps even take the pressure off of just “getting a source done.” In turn, students would be pushed to consider the factors for an annotation which would help direct their research.

Guess I’ll be using my stopwatch for my next research lesson.

Why I love verbs

When it comes to search, I love nouns. Riffing on Michael Pollan, I share a little verse with my students offering general guidelines for thinking about constructing queries:

Yet, in recent years, verbs have become the power hitter in my research skills curriculum.

Back in 2017-2018, one of my Research TAs, Sara Zoroufy, spent her year analyzing a series of ninth and tenth grade History papers to enhance our understanding of how students made use of evidence. One of the most interesting (and subjective, to be honest) outcomes was a powerful correlation between selection of precise and varied verbs and strong use of evidence. Harker School US librarian Lauri Vaughan clarified an aspect of that observation for me when she gave a PD talk about “signal phrases” – the name/verb combinations we use in academic writing to introduce an idea or a quote from one of our sources, such as: “Gupta argues…,” “Zhou counters…,” or “Mendez concurs….”

Not only does the verb choice in signal phrases add significant analytical punch to student writing, but I find that verb choice can be used to help students bring sources into conversation with each other. Whenever I am able, I visit Upper School US History classes to pass out the handout linked above, along with a verb list recently constructed by one of our History teachers and a list of transitional words from the wonderful book They Say, I Say. Recommending that students keep these lists on-hand for when they are writing, we look at them as a tool to help with synthesis. 

Imagine you are working on a Document Based Question, and you have four sources that you are supposed to synthesize into an understanding — and eventually an argument — regarding an historical question. If you feel stuck as to how to proceed, you can look at a list of verbs and ask yourself: “Which verb fits the relationship between Source A and Source B? Does Source A: Acknowledge? Highlight? Refute? Delineate?” When you find a verb that feels right, the word itself begs for the “because…” that ends up being the analysis and synthesis you were trying to achieve. For a reasonable percentage of my students, this strategy seems to offer a productive way to think and write more effectively.

So, I love verbs. History teachers (in particular) love the idea that not every signal phrase students write will be “So-and-so said….” 

I additionally appreciate that I get to demonstrate to students how skills they learn in one discipline (here, English) strengthen their work in another discipline. When I can do that, it feels like everyone wins.

P.S.: For metacognitively strong students, this use of verbs can be helpful in a number of ways. Sara, the same TA, was confronted with a reading in her senior-year International Relations class for which she had no prior knowledge to provide context. She was bothered that she was therefore having trouble distinguishing evidence from argument (a personal interest of hers, as she explained to us in her 2017 AISL post). She ended up using signal phrases to distinguish where the author was presenting evidence and was able to work backwards and understand the article to her satisfaction. Very creative application of the concept, I thought.

They Still Can

“They can’t write sentences.” I was completely stunned by this statement. Sitting in a meeting with other teachers, the group was talking about the challenges our students were facing due to Covid. Now admittedly, I had only seen these students several times since March of 2020, but still, really? And, well, they already had. In the library I had been working with the third graders on research skills. Each student wrote sentences with a range of sophistication, but all within the realm of early third graders. Maybe I was mistaken. Maybe I had not read closely enough over their work, perhaps only some had written sentences. And of course, we were still in the beginning of the unit, so all of the students were working together with me studying the same topic, Big Ben, on Pebble Go. Perhaps I was not seeing clearly enough.
I spoke with the teacher who made the comment and shared my experience. They were surprised and encouraged. Their own experience was that when asked for work students were not producing. So I checked in with the teacher from the previous year, who affirmed that they absolutely could write sentences. Yes, there were some things that were not studied in the usual depth last year but the basic skills were firmly covered.
I continued with the unit, and in the second half each student chose their own topic on PebbleGo to research. They pulled five facts in their own words and then wrote sentences from the facts. We stressed that the notes should not be in full sentences, thus helping to prevent them from copying the text word for word, and then we talked about pulling the information together into their own words. This is hard, not just because it is a hard skill, but the reading level on PebbleGo is low enough that the sentences are simple and straightforward. How many ways can you actually say an animal can grow to be a certain weight? The students then worked to organize their sentences into paragraphs, which they needed substantial support with, but that is to be expected at this point in their development.
I write all this not to brag, although let’s face it, I am always thrilled when students work hard and achieve their goals, but to remind us not to make assumptions about student abilities. We have spent so much time in my school around trauma-informed teaching, making sure that we are sensitive to student needs. I think we may have forgotten that stretching, struggling and then achieving is also a student need. Students didn’t write this in the library because I was a better teacher, this particular teacher is outstanding and always in demand. I think it just never occurred to me that they couldn’t do the work. And students so often rise when they know people believe in them.
This is not to discount the difficulty of the virus for everyone. We are all struggling all the time. It is because of this that these self affirming triumphs are so important. The students were just so proud of themselves and their work. Every single one wanted to take it home to share with their parents. What I learned from this is to constantly check my own lens around what students can and can’t do. To remember that even in challenging situations and maybe because of them, student achievement and the self confidence this produces is another layer to trauma informed teaching.

Research Project

on goals for twenty-twenty, too

It is a new year and my name just popped up on the blogging calendar so I guess it is time for a new post. Now, for most of my 57 years on this planet new years has been a time for me to wipe the slate clean, purge my emotional (and actual) clutter, and lurch enthusiastically into the new year with clear eyes and a fresh new attitude.

Honestly, though, this year I’m struggling a bit. I don’t want to be, as can be my wont, Mr. Davey Downer, but at the same time sitting down at my laptop and tapping out a super optimistic, “Our library is so awesome!!! Life is so awesome!!! We’re doing so awesome!!!” would probably just read, to many, as another #ToxicallyPositive #HowToBeAnEDUCelebrity post.

In the words of Charles Munger, “The first rule of a happy life is low expectations. That’s one you can easily arrange. And if you have unrealistic expectations, you’re going to be miserable all your life.”

So… In the year 2022 which, to me, is feeling a little more twenty-twenty, too… than I’d hoped here’s the short skinny on our immediate and medium term goals for the new year…

1 Fling the Windows of the Library Open Every Morning!

I got a little ahead of my self at the end of last year and thought that things in Libraryland (and, well, across the land…) would be returning to normal “early in the new year!” #Yay! Now that those dreams have been dashed by the Omicron variant, I’ve had to reset my mindset. Disappointing as it may be (to me, but hey, I’m pretty sure it’s disappointing to everyone on the planet…), when I work at it I can find things that help me to find my new equilibrium.

I am blessed to work in a library with old-school windows that ACTUALLY OPEN!!! I am blessed to live in a place where it is 73º outside on this January 6th so as soon as I get into the library in the morning, my first order of business is to fling open the windows of the library! #VentilationIsOurFriend!

On good mornings, I imagine myself singing to the wildlife like Cinderella, but on other days I just grunt and try to get it done quickly so that I can get my cup of coffee. #PandemicLifeHasItsUpsAndDowns

My library assistant wasn’t super pleased, yesterday, when the bird flew in and hung out in the library, but you know life is trade offs and sometimes we just gotta look over, see that there’s a bird in the library, shrug twice, and then write about it on Twitter. #WhatchaGonnaDo?

Mask on. Windows Open. Coffee in hand. Let the day begin!!! LOL!

2 Upgrade our Masks…

If you and your library staff haven’t “upgraded” from cloth masks yet, you might consider making a change. I started wearing KN95 masks about a year ago. There are, apparently, quite a few counterfeit masks that don’t truly meet the KN95 (or similar) standard. Here’s the thing, sometimes knowing how to SEARCH and EVALUATE aren’t truly enough to know with certainty that the masks you purchase are the real deal, but all we can do is look for recommended manufacturers from typically reliable sources and do the best we can. #RealLifeIsHard

While we’re at it. If you are having trouble wearing your KN95 all day, you might want to look into getting ear saving mask extenders. There are many options and types. I’ve tried many. I like extenders that are adjustable and that are made of elastic fabric. I’ve found that they have the added benefit of allowing me to pull my masks more securely to my face so, I’m hoping, that it helps create a better fit for my masks as well.

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3 Build Weighing of Arguments into the Curriculum…

On the curriculum front, we’ll be looking to build weighing arguments into our curriculum. In the first semester, we pushed really hard on systematically introducing SIFT to all of our frosh and as many 10th-12th graders as we were able to reach. SIFT is great for on-the-fly, quick-and-dirty, real-world source evaluation, but IT’S JUST THE START of good source evaluation. I’ve come to believe that our content area teaching faculty do a really good job with the teaching of deep reading strategies in their various content areas, but sometimes students need some explicit scaffolding/frameworks that we can use to activate the appropriate strategies in a given context.

This is, exactly, what SIFT does. Our students know how to search. Our students know strategies for learning about the person/organization that’s posted something online. When they’re looking for statistics on the percentages of people vaccinated in the hotel industry in Hawaii for a class activity, they don’t always think to apply that knowledge on-the-fly in that moment so it helps if a teacher can shorthand the strategies with, “Where’s that statistic from? Did you SIFT the source?”

I’m noticing that we need a similar scaffold or framework for the weighing of arguments so that students can better contextualize the data and arguments that they come across as they search. In debate classes, we call this “weighing the debate.” The Middle School Public Debate program teaches has a nice streamlined framework that works well:

  • Magnitude: Severity of the impact.
  • Scope: How many people an impact effects.
  • Probability: How likely an impact is to actually occur.

But there are other sources, like this one from the University of Texas at Austin that bring more nuance to the task:

I’m honestly not quite sure where to go with this, but that’s the goal for the next few weeks.

I hope that this post finds you well! I’d love to hear about your goals for the new year. Please hit the leave a reply button below and let us know!

So… With Charles Munger’s advice in mind, here’s to wishing each of you a Better Than Ambivalent New Year!!! #Yay!!! #LOL!!!

Dropping the ball

Happy New Year?

I don’t know if the start to your January has been anything like mine, but it definitely feels like we’ve been back much longer than… four days? Is that possible? 

There always seems to be a bit of an adjustment period when coming back from a break, but this seems different from the usual adjustment. The spike in Covid cases, the uncertainty, and the fatigue of two years of pandemic teaching and living is… well, it’s getting to me. I’m thinking it might be getting to you.

My school had a professional learning day on Monday, and one of the things we talked about was well-being. We had some great conversations, and one of the major takeaways for everyone I talked to was that we find our work really meaningful and that We. Are. Burnt. Out. 

I don’t have a solution for that (sorry), but the other major takeaway from the conversations I had was that we all found it affirming to know that we were not alone in experiencing this. 

One of the things I was thinking about during these conversations was this great Twitter thread from Jennifer Lynn Barnes, sharing something from Nora Roberts. 

I’ve been trying to carry that idea with me this week, as I try and juggle all kinds of balls. And what I find most useful about this analogy is that it is built on the assumption that YOU WILL DROP BALLS. We all will. And thinking about it this way has made it easier for me to identify which of the tasks on my list are plastic, and which are glass. And knowing that the status of a ball may change from day-to-day.

  • A new January book display? Plastic. 
  • Getting a lesson on evaluating popular science sources done? Glass. 
  • Finding the “just right” image for that presentation? Plastic. 
  • Meditating? Yesterday it was plastic. Today, it’s glass.
  • Finding a place for my parents to get a PCR test? Glass. 
  • This blog post? Was almost plastic (but glad I was able to catch it!)

I have other things I’m working on and wanting to share, but putting them in a form that is comprehensible to other folks is, frankly, a plastic ball right now. Luckily, they’ve already called a snow day for tomorrow, so I might be able to pick up some balls I’ve dropped – the most important one being a good night’s sleep.

Searching with the Sevens

This fall we had the odd experience of orienting the 7th graders to our physical library – giving them the introduction they would have had when they entered the school as 6s had we not been…well, you know. Since we already knew each other somewhat, I had more chance to observe over students’ shoulders as they pursued our “get to know the library” scavenger hunt, which is how I had the opportunity to watch several students search Destiny for [ books about birds ] and come away quite frustrated, telling us we did not have any bird books in the collection.

Very fortunately, the 7th grade dean was able to arrange for an hour for them to learn how search works (which I rarely get to teach anymore) and – when it became clear that the grade-level work they would be doing during our January intersession would revolve around finding “personal narratives” relating to “indigenous peoples and climate change” I was able to get another hour with them. During that class I tried out a lesson plan I’ve been wanting to test drive for more than a decade.

I’m not sure I have ever had two full hours just to teach students about the functioning of search tools and then the functioning of human expression in interaction with the search tools. As usual, I’ll share what I did here in the spirit of asking for feedback or thoughts so that (hoped for) future iterations can be smoother.

The first lesson: How search works

Thanks to the hard work and feedback of my wonderful Research TAs, I was able to pull together a lesson that demonstrates how search tools actually locate information and that involved lots of cat memes. Memes are great for search activities because they have so few words on them – and none of the words is actually “meme.”

The lesson objectives were to:

  • Understand that search tools crawl individual sources and index the words on each page.
  • Use a model index to locate physical sources.
  • Create a search query that will find what you need when you are working with a limited index.
  • Practice rudimentary imagining of sources.

Since I was running this class in one room, while three colleagues (with assistance from my TAs) were running it simultaneously in other rooms, I made both slides and a step-by-step script. There were activities building up to it, but the core of the lesson was pairs of students working together: one was the “searcher,” the other was the “computer.”

A picture of three lesson handouts: A prompt to try to find memes based on a French scientists' paper arguing that cats are a liquid, some samples of student searches for that meme, and an index of the words appearing on a collection of memes about cats being liquids.
Left: The “Searcher” had a secret prompt and search boxes to fill in. Right: The “Computer” had an index of words that appeared in eight different, numbered memes.

The “searcher” got a secret prompt and empty “search boxes” to fill out. The “computer” who – like our real computers – had no earthly idea of the context for the words written in the search box, had this very simple index to work with (but could not show it to the “searcher”). The computer also had small black-and-white printouts of eight cats-are-liquid memes, numbered 1-8 to correspond to the index. They could only see the number assigned each meme, not the meme itself. The “computer” could only return “no results” or a meme identified by the index. Looking at the “searches” on the left and the index on the right, one of the original searches, [french scientist cat memes] must have returned zero results, as three of the search terms do not even appear in the index. However, [cats are liquid] found two memes (numbered 6 and 8) and [cat liquid] found numbers 2, 4, 6, and 8 …  the “searcher” just kept trying until they got a meme result. Then, of course, each pair joyously looked at all eight possible memes and identified why the “computer” had been unable to “find” so many of them (because, of course, they said things like: “Liquid mode activated,” and so could not even be found if the searcher used the word [ cat ] in their query. 

We solidified this understanding by looking at actual search results and highlighting where our search terms showed up – proving that the words we typed in were the ones that search tools were identifying to bring back our results:

Sample search results for [ science cat memes ] – student identified where these search terms appeared in relation to the image of the meme itself.

The second lesson: How language made by humans works

My room got very engaged with the lesson, though I had my usual doubts about if it was all about the memes, or if anything actually stuck. Thus, I was very pleasantly surprised when – two months later – students did retain the big points of the lesson (ok, admittedly, a number of students in the class were individually able to help compile a list of points):

My students recalled these guidelines from the search lesson two months earlier.

For the follow-up lesson I had a harder ask: teach students how to translate the idea of “personal narratives” (a term both students and teachers love) into functional search terms. 

Often, when personal narratives are desired, I teach (older) students to look for [ oral history ] a wonderful context term that has the distinct advantage of describing collections of personal narratives. However, when looking for narratives from individuals from various indigenous communities around the world – particularly on the topic of climate change – we needed a different strategy entirely. I had learned from many years on a project we do with the ninth graders that individuals’ anecdotes that put a human face on “issues” like climate change often appear at the start of newspaper articles and in other, similar formats. My job became teaching the seventh graders to imagine search strategies and search terms to find these types of sources. 

This time, I had the whole 64-person grade in the library at once, and slides were once again in order. We considered the whole range of strategies for finding personal narratives, and trust me that the first two made for a lot of student chatter and example-sharing:

Slide outlining different ways to try and find “personal narratives”

We discussed searching in YouTube for their subject’s name (solution 3A), searching for terms like [ interview ] or [ transcript ] (solution 3B), and then I took a risk and tried a method I had wanted to undertake for years. I handed out excerpts from sources that offered stories from individual’s lives (such as this article or this one or this one), selecting the portion of the source that indicated that such a narrative was about to appear. Once again, I had them read, observe, and highlight. If an article did not use the words “personal narrative,” what words might it use?

Their observations were just phenomenal!

Terms my students identified from sources that contained personal narratives – including several I had never noticed myself! Several new options made my own list for future use.

(BTW: Forgot to say before that my personal favorite way to search for these narratives might look like this: [ farm OR livestock she OR hers OR he OR his OR me OR my OR our OR ours OR them OR they ] and this one when I need life-background information [ farm OR livestock “as a child” ].)

Once again, I am not sure every student got the idea I was going after, but I have rarely seen as many hands in the air and I actually had to cut them off so we could continue with the lesson (which was using Boolean in Google-form and in database-form to try to look for more personal narratives using these terms). We were in the middle of their final project for the year, writing Simple English Wikipedia pages for notable female-identifying individuals. While we would not use personal narratives for writing Wikipedia pages (they are not acceptable by Wikipedia’s source quality standards), the students were pretty excited about their subjects so we used them for search examples. 

I will have to see how their work goes during intersession (which will be virtual and for which I will be assigned to a different grade level), but this series of lessons did appear to offer heartening outcomes.

It was an excellent reminder to me: it is almost never a waste of time to give most of your time to the very, very basic building blocks students need to do research right.

Elf on the library shelf

During the month of December, we welcome Elf back to our Senior School library; a new clue is posted every day, and students are invited to find Elf, take a “shelfie” with them and email it to us a ballot to put into a prize draw.

Sometimes, clues are related to the collection, sometimes we run with a current theme (this year, we borrowed a winning gingerbread house for a day; Elf also found their way into our UV sanitizer (new COVID addition to our space).

In a school of 500, we get dozens of pics each day – the winner this year had submitted one daily, and won a box of Elf on the shelf cereal + $25 gift card for Tim Horton’s. She loved the prize but seemed most excited about the bragging rights!

Library Field Trips

You may remember me mentioning that my new library is on the smaller side. Although, come to think of it, we have managed to have several classes in here over the past months, and the students do love the soft seating I’ve acquired. But I digress.

In light of the eighth grade students starting their National History Day projects, I decided that a field trip to the upper school library was in order. Since the upper school is on a separate campus, this is a complicated undertaking, indeed. But, I decided to go for it.

Here’s my to-do list in case you were interested in organizing a library-based field trip.

  1. Get teacher buy-in. I needed to have teacher support in order to even start the process since this would require curriculum time.
  2. Get administration approval. There was no point in moving forward if I couldn’t get permission to drastically affect the daily schedule for an entire grade over the course of two days. I made sure to stress why it was a unique research experience for the students as well as a great opportunity to become familiar with the upper school campus and resources.
  3. Check the schedule for the other library to ensure the availability of the space and librarian. (I love being part of a team!)
  4. Arrange for transportation. Since my school has buses available, I didn’t have to reserve with a separate company, but I still needed to get our trips on the schedule.
  5. Once details were in place, communicate with administration, teachers, transportation contact, and fellow librarian.
  6. Create schedule and lesson to accommodate for learning and research time.
  7. Confirm the details on the regular in case anything funny comes up (it always does) and revise as needed.
  8. Have lots of caffeine.

All in all, the field trips went off without major hitches. As usual, the first class was a rehearsal for the next two days. I always say that by the last class we will have all the details ironed out. (Lol)

Since I now have a “playbook” for organizing field trips, I’m going to look into taking over other classes to the main campus as well as trying to arrange for my students to visit a local college campus to seeing its library and resources! Fingers crossed.