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Whole Number Dewey: A Year Without Decimals September 28, 2014

Posted by Collette J. in Books, How to Be Brave, Reflections.
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Whole Number Dewey: A Year Without Decimals - Eliminate the decimals to help elementary students use the library more independently and efficiently. | Mrs. J in the Library @ A Wrinkle in Tech

Image from Pixabay and edited with PicMonkey

It’s been almost a whole school year since I hit the “Import Titles” button and replaced ALL of my Dewey number MARC records with call numbers sans decimals.  It was a bit daunting making such a wildly revolutionary decision.  Thanks to some VERY dedicated volunteers, countless hours spent re-stickering spine labels, and new, large, and colorful signs, however, I honestly think that the change has made our nonfiction section more accessible to students and faculty.

Here are some of my discoveries and reflections… (more…)

Cheap and Easy Library Decorations August 24, 2014

Posted by Collette J. in Library Space, Reflections.
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With the first day of school rapidly approaching, the most stressful “getting ready” tasks for me are 1.) transform our library’s sterile, white concrete-block walls into something cozy and inviting, and 2.) plan a theme and coordinating orientation that will engage students and get them excited about reading (or at least the start of a new year).  This year, our library has been transformed into “Camp Read S’more,” and I have to thank The Library Patch for the inspiration and bulletin board display product on TpT.  They saved me HOURS of time this year!  If you want ideas for library theme decorations, her Pinterest boards are the best!

Over the past 9 years of teaching, though, I’ve learned a few tried-and-true decorating tricks of my own.  To be clear, I am not being paid to from feature the products below, and there are no affiliate links.

One trick I use to decorate the library quickly and cheaply is to cover the white cement-block walls with rolls of bulletin board paper.  This year I used a 50′ long and 4′ tall roll of mountain-patterned fadeless bulletin board paper.


“Read S’more” theme with crates and bears display inspired by The Library Patch.

In the past, I used an ocean floor background for the “Under the Sea” theme, a leafy rainforest background for the “Go Bananas for Books” theme, and a starry night sky background for  the “Blast Off with Books” theme.  A single 50′ roll is about $25-30, so it’s very reasonable for the amount of wall space you cover.

To hang the paper, I’ve found that Mavalus tape works best, but Demco book repair tape also works if the sections are less than 5′ long.  Mavalus tape is a bit pricey, but to me it’s worth it because the high humidity in our library makes it very difficult to keep anything on the walls.  Using the Mavalus tape this year, I haven’t had to re-hang the bulletin board paper as I have in past years.  I used 3 rolls to hang all paper and posters in the library, so that’s reasonably affordable to me.

Another trick I’ve used for several years is to add a map to the story corner (or “campfire corner” this year).   Though I don’t teach setting or geography skills explicitly, I like to reinforce those skills to visualize where a nonfiction story takes place or where a folktale comes from.  So I hung a U.S. and world map on a portable bulletin board, and whenever a U.S. state or country is mentioned in a book I’m reading, students find it on the map.  The maps I use were free swag from the World Book Online and Lerner Publishing stands at a PSLA conference a few years ago.


A world map in the story corner makes it easy to connect setting and geography skills with the story during a read-aloud.

Finally, this year I’m trying something new to save time decorating (and planning library orientation): I’m letting students set up some of the book displays with a “Recommended by” tent printed on cardstock.


Click to image to download this freebie!

I want to highlight what students have read over the summer and also build student ownership of the library space.  If all goes well, I might even make this into an independent library center or add it to the Book Review Library Center.  If you’d like to try this idea yourself, you can download the FREE book recommendation display tents I created below.  Rainbow frames clipart by Magic Mistakes and Mayhem.


If you have any decorating tips or tricks, especially cheap and easy-to-replicate ones, leave your ideas in the comments!  Happy first day of school, everyone!

Summer Making and Learning August 3, 2014

Posted by Collette J. in Makerspace!, Reflections.
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So I’m back with a few updates about what I’ve been up to this summer…

First, I’ve been making things!  I started by playing with Squishy Circuits…


I learned a bit about LED lights and re-learned some electricity principles that I used to know in 4th or 5th grade.  I also learned that nieces and nephews love “making a party” out of the components and 2 chunks of salt dough.SquishyCircuits2

I also made some Pinterest-inspired DIY projects for the garden and canned some strawberry jam and salsa.  Not exactly #MakerEd, but it was good to get them off my to-do list.

My most exciting project, however, has been an interactive nursery rhyme book with LED lights, a beeping buzzer, and a vibration motor.  For instance, Jack jumps over a lit candlestick, and the mouse runs up a clock that beeps.

It started as an idea to help teachers, librarians, and students learn about electronics.  When I read Jie Qi’s tutorials on paper circuits and Librarian in the Middle’s blog post about 21st Century Notebooking, my brain just caught fire!  What do librarians love more than stories, especially classics?  And while I don’t think nursery rhymes and old stories “need” interactivity or bells and whistles to be interesting to children today, I do think that making 3 bags of wool light up as you count them with a child is fun to read and sing.

TwinkleThe “Twinkle” circuit  above is by far the most advanced paper circuit (or any circuit) I’ve ever made.  I learned that micro-controllers are SWEET, even when I don’t know how to write Arduino code…though I want to learn.   I learned that 1 coin battery isn’t enough power to light 8 LEDs.  I learned that red LEDs are so power-greedy that they put out any other LED in the same circuit…and I still don’t know why that is.  I learned that there is only ONE piezo buzzer on the market that will beep without programming a micro-controller…after trying all of them.  And like Librarian in the Middle, I learned that everything takes WAY longer than you think it will when you are “making.”  I thought creating 7 interactive nursery rhyme pages would take a couple of weeks at most, not *all summer long*.

Still, I had a blast, and I experienced that incredible feeling of being joyfully consumed by a project I cared about.  My learning process was right on my “instructional level” to use the pedagogical term — not so easy that I got bored, but not so hard that I ever wanted to give up.  Even when I was sick of working on a page or frustrated by a particular aspect, my desire to create the finished project for myself and to share with my family kept me motivated.  I’m still pondering how I can transfer this knowledge and my experiences to my work in a library on a “flixed” schedule (that’s part fixed classes, part flexibly scheduled collaborative time, for readers who aren’t librarians).

Lastly, a quick announcement: TeachersPayTeachers is having their awesome Blast Off Back-to-School Site-wide Sale tomorrow, August 4th and Tuesday, August 5th!  If you are just gearing up for the new school year, you can get some great instruction and library management products and great deals too!  Most stores will be 20% off and when you use promo code BTS14 when you check out, you’ll get an additional discount.

TL Blogging Challenge #20 – Library Budget Stretching July 4, 2014

Posted by Collette J. in How to Be Brave, PSLA, Reflections.
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TL Blogging Challenge #20 - Budgets are tight.  How do you make it stretch?  Fundraisers, paperbacks, doing your own rebinds…how do you do it?


Image adapted from Pixabay

Budgets are always a tough topic in education, especially recently.  Books, audiobooks, cameras, tablets and iPads, and makerspace materials all cost money.  And don’t even get me started on the generally ridiculous prices and license agreements of ebooks!  Library budgets and librarian positions have been on the budget chopping block again and again in recent years with little explanation other than “Well, just make it work.”

Personally, I’m a pretty thrifty person.  I grow some of our food in our backyard garden and preserve it by canning in the summer.  I’m a pretty good fixer around the house (one of the reasons makerspaces appeal to me so much), and I don’t throw something away unless it really has NO use left.  There’s a Mennonite/PA Dutch saying that goes like this: “Use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without.”  That pretty much sums up my thinking on matters of budget and material possessions.

I think librarians, in general, are the same way.  We are thrifty by nature and training, but we also believe in investing in quality.  Decades of budget cycles, in good times and bad, have taught us how to creatively work with whatever budget we have.  We can hot-glue bindings and scotch-tape library books’ damaged pages instead of using acid-free book tape and book binding glue (though I think it’s worth it to get quality library supplies if you have a budget).  We can host book fairs, write grants, and solicit donations with “birthday books.”  I don’t think paperbacks are worth buying for most titles, but I get them for the pop-culture celebrity biographies and some serial chapter books like “Goosebumps.”  All of these cost-saving measures make my library budget stretch.  And I’m one of the lucky, blessed teacher-librarians who works with district administrators who understand the return-on-investment a library budget provides to students and the school community.

The thing is, thriftiness only goes so far.  At some point, I think we as teacher-librarians have to make the decision to stop “making do” (and spending our own money to stock the library shelves), and instead put that time and energy into advocating for an actual budget and clerical assistance.  I don’t know where that point is, but I think too much “making do” can actually impede advocacy efforts and prevent administrators from realizing the financial costs of running a quality library program.

I know there are plenty of teacher-librarians and library media specialists out there who have NOTHING or almost nothing in the way of budget or paid clerical help.  I know volunteers are great, but they are no replacement for reliable, paid assistants.  If you are a teacher-librarian doing such herculean work, keep going and keep advocating!  I recommend the PSLA Top 10 Lists and Teachers Pay Teachers to help you find the resources you need to keep your sanity, build relationships with your school community, and do what you can with what you are given.

If you are an administrator reading this post, PLEASE advocate for a library budget and/or paid clerical hours!  Without any funds or staff, your teacher-librarian’s hands are tied in so many ways.  He/she cannot create a 21st century library program if every spare moment is spent doing the massive amount of clerical work it takes to keep a library up and running.  There is PLENTY of data and research showing the positive effect of a well-staffed, well-funded school library on student learning (and yes, standardized test scores too).  But just having a “library time” run by classroom teachers or volunteers doesn’t get you those benefits.  A library program must be funded and professionally staffed to be effective.  Okay, stepping down from my soapbox now…

This is the last post for the blogging challenge from Cybrarian Jen at Where Books and Technology Meet.  If you’ve been following and/or blogging along, thank you for being a reader and learner with me!  I probably won’t blog much the rest of the summer, but I’ll see you all again in September!  Have a safe and restful summer, and Happy 4th of July!

TL Blogging Challenge #19 – Glows, Grows, and Professional Journals July 3, 2014

Posted by Collette J. in Books, PSLA, Reflections.
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TL Blogging Challenge #19 - What is one thing you wish you were better at.  Just one!  Why?  What could you do to improve in this area?

GlowsandGrowsAs part of my reflection process, I have a section in my lesson plans for “Glows and Grows.”  My favorite professor at Messiah College, Dr. Anita Voelker, taught me that phrase, and I use it to focus on both the positive things that happened in a lesson, the glows, and the things that I need to work on next time, the grows.

Professionally, one of my all-the-time “grows” is keeping up with professional reviews for collection development.  I’m a bit embarrassed to say I am 4-5 months behind in reading School Library Journal, the one professional journal I subscribe to in print, and I rarely read others like Library Media Connection, Teacher Librarian or PSLA‘s Learning and Media Online.  It’s just not a very high priority on my ever-lengthening to-do list; there are too many other things that I feel are more important than reading reviews.  Plus, sometimes, I think the print journals often mirror what I’ve already read in my Feedly RSS reader.  (See the PLN links on the right to see who I follow by RSS.)

When I first met my New York Giants-loving husband, I often used football games to read SLJ.  I could read the articles and all the reviews in a single issue in the span of one football game, and it was always nice to curl up on the couch with my hubby while catching the main highlights of the game.  I’m not a huge football fan, so this worked well for me.  This past year, though, the Giants had such a terrible season that it wasn’t even fun to watch.  So my SLJ-reading time didn’t happen a whole lot, and I never really caught up since then.  I’m now in the middle of reading the March 2014 issue, and I haven’t gotten the July one yet.

My dream solution would be to have online reading options as well as integration with the major school library distributors like Follett and Mackin.  I want to read SLJ‘s articles and reviews on a computer or tablet, and when I like a review enough to add it to a buying wish list, I could just “check” it somehow within a SLJ digital edition (or app) and it would automatically add that title to the list on my Follett Titlewave account (or Mackin account).  Right now I just circle a review of a book I think our library should have, or I might mark it “maybe.”  When I look up the book in Follett’s Titlewave collection development tool, I read the other reviews of the book within Titlewave, and then decide if it should stay on the buying list, or if it gets cut.  My materials-reviewing time could be cut in half with digital integration like the above idea. 

Still, barring that dream of seamless tech integration, my plan for next year is to try again with the football-watching-SLJ-reading time.  Additionally, I might try reading SLJ at school, during my lunch hour or any spare moments of my day.  I don’t know what to take “off my plate” to make time to do that, but it’s a possibility if I (hopefully) have the same semi-fixed schedule as last year.

The blogging challenge is from Cybrarian Jen at Where Books and Technology Meet.  I’m going to try it out, but instead of daily posts, I’m going to try for 1-2 posts a week.  Follow and learn with us!  The participating blogs are listed in the comments of her post.


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