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. 🙂

1 to 1 Roll Out : Initial Observations

As we finish our first month of school, and our first month of our 1:1 roll out here at Harvard-Westlake Upper School, a few items come to mind by way of observations. First, an overview of how we have progressed to this point: HW has two campuses, about six miles apart. The Middle School campus started going 1:1 three years years ago, first with just the seventh grade. The next year, all three grades at the Middle School were 1:1, and now this year all grades at both Middle and Upper School are officially 1:1. While the Middle School process took two years, we’ve dived in with all three grades at once. That is, all teachers on the Upper School campus are new to the 1:1 experience, as are all juniors and seniors; the sophomores have had one year of 1:1 last year at the Middle School as 9th graders.

Our version of 1:1 means that all students are required to have a laptop –any brand or model– that has a designated set of functionality. All students are given MS Office to download onto their laptop so there is no problem ‘translating’ between our largely PC faculty and campus and our primarily MAC student body. All students are to provide their own laptops, and students on financial aid are given help if needed.

Support has been supplied for this move over the past 5 years by much study and research on the part of the school administration and our Education Technology committee in particular. As we have student representation on the Ed Tech committee we are greatly helped by the student Voice of Experience. Faculty are supported by way of the TILT team (Teaching Innovation Learning Team), with members from every department designated as tech mentors. We have learned much from the experience of our colleagues “over the hill” (the Middle School campus is on the other side of the Hollywood Hills from us) and we’ve taken the advice of the Middle School students on Ed Tech as well.

As we settle into our school year I find that our move to 1:1 doesn’t bring with it a massive shift in either pedagogy or practice. The Upper School, being more connected with external factors such as AP courses, is generally a more conservative place than the Middle School is, pedagogically speaking. We have had Canvas on board for five years now as our learning management system, and teachers are pretty comfortable with that. Our goal has been to centralize all aspects of a student’s school experience, and this has been progressing well.

View From the Library

1. Our 15 circulating laptops are less in demand. Last year – when we began encouraging students to bring their own laptops to school –  we might have had 5-10 laptop circulations a day, up to 20 on a busy day. This year we are down to 4 per day on average.

2.  As circulation of laptops decreases, circulation of laptop CHARGERS increases, along with circulation of phone chargers. We’ve had to add to our circulating collection of chargers. We also keep a range of chargers at the circ desk charging station; these don’t circulate.

3. Our patron stations are as much in demand as ever (see above photo).  Students use them for printing up completed assignments or for quick access to assignments and other class information.

4. Not all students have  their laptops yet. One student told me she only needs a laptop for Chinese; none of her other teachers expect to require a laptop as of now. This student is checking out a library laptop to use for her Chinese class. She finds that less inconvenient than to purchase and carry a laptop every day to class. A few other students I’ve spoken with are still working out ways and means of getting their laptops. One student is unable to afford the purchase at this time, but is not on financial aid and so has no immediate help from that direction. I suggested she check with her dean to see what possibilities there might be for those in her situation.

5. Our library laptops are the initial resource for students with minor laptop problems. We are able to check laptops out for up to a week while students are having their own laptop assessed, or if there is some quick fix that is in the works. If students need a laptop for longer than a week, then they are referred to our IT department which is set up for managing long-term computer loans.

6. Students like a choice in reading materials, and sometimes prefer print texts over digital. As far as English classes go, students have the option of listening to audiobooks (via circulating iPod) or reading digital texts from the library (via Follett Shelf) but their teachers still require print copies for students to highlight and mark up with notes. Yes, notes are possible with some digital texts but the technology doesn’t entirely replicate the print experience.

7. The Paperless Office of futures past is nowhere in sight. While many teachers aren’t printing their assignments or reading packets as much as before, that printing job has just been transferred to students, who seem to prefer to print such items out themselves and work on paper. A casual check with our clerical supplies office tells me that in fact, teachers aren’t printing any less than they did before, so they must be printing more in other directions if they are printing less of student assignments and readings. Judging from the detritus left at the library printing stations, there is still waste generated as students print jobs wirelessly. The need to pick their jobs up in a timely manner and to have patience as printer issues are resolved are not new.

This advance in technology is being rolled out in response, in some sense, to the eternal question of ‘the chicken or the egg’. You can’t become completely comfortable with all the tools and possibilities of a tech-saturated space until your space is completely 1:1. Then again, it’s very hard to go 1:1 until your students and (more especially) your teachers are completely comfortable with all the tools and possibilities of a tech-saturated space. Our experience has been a largely positive one, and as students and teachers become more aware of the possibilities a 1:1 environment allows, I foresee an increasingly rich and varied use of these tech tools as they become another distinct part of the school and library toolbox.

I realize this is a very preliminary view of one school’s experience. As school has just started, I am in no position to report on the use of laptops in the classroom. This report is just a snapshot of what we’re seeing in the library. I plan to revisit this subject near the end of the semester to take a look at where we are by then. Watch this space!

At our last Ed Tech meeting we collected up some reasons that HW has moved to go 1:1 which I thought might be useful to include (see below). These include responses from students on Ed Tech and reflect their experiences in some of their classes.

  • Curricular Classes
    • Preparing students for the future
      • Resource access
      • Communication
      • Centralized place for work, sharing work in the moment
      • Metacognition – portfolios allow students to self-assess progress and the effectiveness of their learning strategies  
      • Publishing work in the public sphere through blogs, webpages, etc.
      • Continuing to move to a more technological world
    • Allowing teachers to do more than they ever have before
      • Plotting
      • Sharing
      • Instant Grading
      • Socrative
      • Individualized study – students can progress at their own pace
      • Deeper learning/“just in time” learning, student’s interest is piqued and they can pursue more info
      • Allows for more exploration and interactivity with content
    • Feedback
      • Instant feedback on quizzes and reports
      • Students can immediately see what they did wrong
      • File sharing
      • Better communication during the writing process
      • Immediate analysis of data so it can be considered while it is still fresh in students minds
    • Notetaking
      • Some students find it better to take notes on laptop
      • Evernote – does OCR on scanned files, searchable handouts
      • Collaborative notes
    • Studying
      • Quizlet/Memrise
      • Collaborative study guides
      • Codification of student’s handouts, work, notes, communications with teacher, and past assignments.  
  • Extracurricular Classes
    • Knowledge that students will have laptops
      • Robotics example
        • CAD
        • Programming
        • Sign-In
      • Debate example
        • Dropbox
        • Papers/Resources



Sharing is Caring – Technology, Privacy, and The Circle

It’s summer….

and so I’m inundated with books! Each year, I make the attempt to read all the books on the summer reading lists and all new books being taught in English courses over the next year. I also get distracted with my own reading and recommendations from friends. So while it’s an admirable goal, it’s one I’m as happy to have “in progress” as complete. Each school does summer reading a little bit differently. In our school, there’s one community book that everyone reads (1), 14 sponsored books, of which students choose one (15), and four professional books of which faculty choose one (20). One of the reasons that I enjoy doing this is that it leads to authentic (ie. not “small talky”) conversations with all students and teachers in August. It’s a shared experience, and you can always glean something from a book, even when it isn’t a book you’d choose yourself. Which leads to the other reason that I enjoy this. I am exposed to a variety of books I might not otherwise read, and there is a deadline that motivates me to read them.

One of the sponsored books this summer was The Circle, Dave Eggers’ most recent book, which was published last fall. While it could be described as a near-future technology dystopia, I’m partial to Margaret Atwood’s term “satirical utopia.” Imagine Google, Facebok, Twitter, YouTube, and Apple as one company, a happy company that just happens to wield a lot of power. When one of my English teachers requested this book as his sponsored summer reading, I thought back to Atwood’s favorable review in the New York Review of Books, where she writes statements like,

“The outpouring of ideas is central to The Circle, as it is in part a novel of ideas. What sort of ideas? Ideas about the social construction and deconstruction of privacy, and about the increasing corporate ownership of privacy, and about the effects such ownership may have on the nature of Western democracy. Dissemination of information is power, as the old yellow-journalism newspaper proprietors knew so well. What is withheld can be as potent as what is disclosed, and who can lie publicly and get away with it is determined by gatekeepers: thus, in the Internet age, code-owners have the keys to the kingdom.

This, then, is the “real” world to which Eggers holds up the mirror of art in order to show us ourselves and the perils that surround us. But The Circle is neither a tract nor an analysis but a novel, and novels always tell the stories of individuals. …It also incorporates passages of symposium-like Socratic dialogue by which the central character is manipulated, through rational-sounding questions and answers, into performing the increasingly outrageous acts that logic demands of her.” (

Turns out, the teacher in question was not familiar with Atwood’s critique but had read one by Ellen Ullman three weeks prior in the New York Times Book Review. Ullman’s conclusion about the book’s literary merit is radically different from Atwood’s.

“This potential dystopia should sound familiar. Books and tweets and blogs are already debating the issues Eggers raises: the tyranny of transparency, personhood defined as perpetual presence in social networks, our strange drive to display ourselves… “The Circle” adds little of substance to the debate. Eggers reframes the discussion as a fable, a tale meant to be instructive. His instructors include a Gang of 40, a Transparent Man, a shadowy figure who may be a hero or a villain, a Wise Man with a secret chamber and a smiling legion of true-believing company employees. The novel has the flavor of a comic book: light, entertaining, undemanding.” (

After reading the book, I began to question further these competing claims. Consider these excerpts.

LA Times: Even as satire, The Circle is disappointing as a novel: the plot is too easy, the prose simple, the characters flat and undistinguishable. Due to these same qualities, however, The Circle succeeds as commentary on the era of big data and transparency. The scary part is that the Silicon Valley of The Circle barely seems like a caricature. (

Booklist Starred: Eggers brilliantly depicts the Internet binges, torrents of information, and endless loops of feedback that increasingly characterize modern life. But perhaps most chilling of all is his notion that our ultimate undoing could be something so petty as our desperate desire for affirmation.

Kirkus Reviews: Eggers thoughtfully captured the alienation new technologies create in his previous novel, A Hologram for the King, but this lecture in novel form is flat-footed and simplistic. Though Eggers strives for a portentous, Orwellian tone, this book mostly feels scolding, a Kurt Vonnegut novel rewritten by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The Guardian: There are a few weaknesses. Eggers struggles here and there to balance psychological plausibility with the outlandishness of his satirical flourishes; he sometimes needs his characters to behave in ways that seem – certainly when you put the book down – to be wholly implausible. …But this is a prescient, important and enjoyable book, and what I love most about The Circle is that it is telling us so much about the impact of the computer age on human beings in the only form that can do so with the requisite wit, interiority and profundity: the novel. (

This reminds me that book reviews aren’t perfect, and they certainly aren’t impartial. A plot that makes us examine what we intentionally and unintentionally share online is bound to have readers’ personal beliefs on the subject mixed in. Because I’ve appreciated Eggers’ other works, I’m inclined to believe that some of the bits that I found clunkier were in fact purposeful. There is humor through word play and situational humor. There is no doubt that we are voluntarily giving away some of our privacy. Our phones track our location street by street for GPS or restaurant apps but always know where we are. When we take photos, the technology knows the location, and social networking sites can automatically recognize faces and tag them. Cool but also a bit scary in the wrong hands. Real-life face tracking software was in the news yesterday. The Circle made me stop and think about the ways that technology is using me as a product for companies just as I use technology to make my own life easier. Too often, a book retreats to the back of my mind after reading it. “Good” or “bad,” this is one that returns to my mind as I’m watching the ad with the surfer looking at current wave conditions from his home computer. How can I disagree with The Circle’s motto that “Sharing is Caring?” And yet I have reservations…

If you can’t tell, I’m partially writing this post because I can’t wait until August and so desperately want to discuss the book with someone. If you’re read it or have thoughts on the subject of technology and privacy, I’d love to hear it in the comments below!

Independent School Librarians and Common Core: What Are We Doing?

Common Core State Standards

Common Core State Standard Banner (from government source)

Common Core State Standard Banner (from government source)

Happy Holidays!  I don’t imagine anyone will look at this today,  but perhaps sometime this week…I decided to take a look at Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for today’s post and see how it was being used in the independent school library.

Independent Schools and CCSS

There are several librarians like Marianna McKim, Head Librarian at Kimball Union Academy, who said, “We are not officially using common core, but I am incorporating some of the ideas into our curriculum planning.”  And that seems to be a common theme in the independent school milieu in general: look at what’s going on, evaluate it, and then take what is good and use just what you need.  There is an abhorrence in the independence school world for being forced into a particular lock-step program. Hence the name independent!

Flowcharts and Brochures and CCSS

Joan Tukey, librarian at Notre Dame Academy, recently updated school brochures to reflect where Common Core skills were being used. You can see her work at the following link: Joan Tukey’s work on Common Core in her school

Webinars and CCSS

Margaret P. Simmons, Library Media Specialist at the June Shelton School, offered the advice to independent school librarians who are seeking to know more about Common Core that they listen to the Common Core and Text Types: What Should Students Be Reading? Webinar

“I just listened to this webinar. It is so powerful! ” Simmons said in an email.

Libguides and CCSS

Joan Lange, librarian at Pope John Paul II High School, has done quite a bit of work on Common Core State Standards.  She has created some very good libguides, complete with powerpoints and links to other materials of note and is now working on another related project.  Her first libguide is general dealing with the standards in an overview way. You can find the libguide here: LibGuide:  Common Core State Standards (General Resources).  This libguide also includes a powerpoint by Lange’s  Science Dept. Chair illustrating how Common Core relates to Next Generation Science Standards. Her second libguide is history related and deals with teaching primary sources: LibGuide: Teaching with Primary Sources (History).  This libguide includes a powerpoint that she created illustrating the research process with primary sources as the starting point.  It is brilliant! I highly recommend that you take a look at it.

Lange’s next project is creating a Common Core bookcase of literary nonfiction works, across all disciplines.  This bookcase will be in her Professional Development and Audiovisual area.  She is hoping that prominent display will encourage conversations with teachers on how some of these short excerpts can be incorporated in their curriculum and connect with CCSS.

Technology,  Apps and CCSS

At the Berkeley Preparatory School we have started looking at CCSS in our Lower Division, where they are currently going grade by grade and looking at the Common Core skills and then comparing them to our Berkeley Identified Skills (BIS).  In the library in particular, we are looking at the American Association of School Librarians Learning Standards and Common Core Crosswalk and then adding our BIS skills in a third column.  Kathleen Edwards, our lower division librarian, is leading the charge on this effort.  We have taken the crosswalk and eliminated all the other skills except for the library related ones, making it a little easier to use.  We’ve broken the files down by grade level (k-12).  I will be posting those files in the AISL wiki.  If you are an AISL member, please go to AISL WIKI.  If you aren’t a member and are an independent school librarian, membership is only $25/year.  Or if you are a librarian who would just like the files,  comment below and if I receive enough requests, I will post all the documents here! (You could also link to us, as we would love to continue the conversation with you! 😎

Last year, Christina Arcuri, our collection development and upper/middle librarian, went to a YALSA conference where she learned about an app called Subtext. We talked about it and how cool it was, as it could allow a whole class to annotate a book together and share those annotations with each other.  And, it does much more than that:

  • You can create documents and convert them to an ePub format and then review them all together as a class for peer editing and review.
  • You can leave your own notes in the class text for students.
  • You have access to books and articles in Google play (free and pay), over 3 million and they do volume discounting.

However, at the time she saw it, our school was not doing iPads and I promptly forgot it.  But now, we have implemented iPads, albeit in a slow manner. Since one of the core items about CCSS is its inclusion of technology, this app seems like the perfect tool for how librarians can help faculty include instructional technology into the classroom.

This holiday break, Christina and I will be testing it out with a group of English faculty to see if we can use it even though we do not have a classroom set of iPads for upper division.  We are hoping that the browser version they are beta testing is robust enough. There is not a mobile app at this time. We might be able to borrow the middle division iPad classroom set in a pinch!  Or request a set of iPads for upper next year. If you are considering CCSS, I recommend that you check out Subtext, especially as they are exploring a browser version. Go to if you want to try it.


This is just a taste of what is going on in the independent school library with CCSSs. Please follow the blog and comment if you want to be a part of the conversation.  Let us know what you are doing and what you have found to be successful.  If you have found a great app, please share it.

If you want to get started, here are some articles I found useful.  Paige’s article had some great links. And I hope everyone has a wonderful and relaxing holiday break!

  1. Cravey, Nancy. “Finding Inspiration in the Common Core.” Knowledge Quest. 42.1 2013 18-22 Advanced Placement Source.
  2. Jaeger, Paige. “We Don’t Live in  a Multiple-Choice World: Inquiry and the Common Core.” Library Media Connection. Jan/Feb 2012 10-12. [Note: Paige has some really good resources!]
  3. Fontichiaro, Kristin. “When Research Is Part of the Test.” School Library Monthly. 30.3 2013  53.
  4. Morris, Rebecca. “Find Where You Fit in the Common Core, or the Time I Forgot about Librarians and Reading.” Teacher Librarian. 39.5 2012 Advanced Placement Source.