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New Page for Elementary Library Makerspace Resources! November 17, 2015

Posted by Mrs. J in the Library in Makerspace!.
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As the maker movement gains momentum and becomes more mainstream in education, there are more and more teacher-librarians who ask me where to find the best resources, and where to start.

So Colleen Graves and I have been collaborating on a page of Awesome Elementary Library Makerspace Resources, which is cross-posted on Colleen’s blog as well.  (If you’re not following her, you should be!)  It’s a work in progress, so expect some updates in the future as we add new resources and recommended materials.

Elementary Makerspace Resources | Mrs. J in the Library @ A Wrinkle in Tech

Check it out, and feel free to offer suggestions in the comments!

Worth Every Penny: Sound Investments for Your Library (and Your Sanity!) October 15, 2015

Posted by Mrs. J in the Library in Library Space, Reflections, Tablets & Apps.
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Worth Every Penny: Sound Investments for Your Library to Save Time and Your Sanity! | Mrs. J in the Library @ A Wrinkle in Tech

In the 8 years that I’ve worked at my current school library, I’ve made some very intentional purchases to make the library and my teaching practice more efficient and student-centered.  It didn’t happen all at once due to budget and time limits, but little by little, I’ve managed to build a collection of technology and management solutions that work together to make my life easier (and help me stay sane).

Though no single item is going to radically change a library (or school for that matter), the following list has some of the things that have profoundly improved our library because of how I’ve implemented their use:

1. Android tablets or iPads for in-library useI know iPads are the favorite in education, but they are also very expensive.  I recommend buying a few Nexus 7’s if you can still find them, or other small-screen Android tablets, and ditch the huge desktops for catalog searching.  If you buy another small-screen tablet model, try one of the Google for Education models (except skip the Google “management license,” which costs extra and isn’t really necessary).  Destiny Quest works just as well on Android as on Apple devices, and there are LOTS of great Android apps that my students and I use every day.

2. Belkin headphone splitters and a class set of decent headphones – Headphone splitters are excellent for sharing the Android tablets so that 2 or more students can listen at once, though the volume needs to be turned up as more headphones are plugged in.  This is great for interactive ebooks and flipped videos (see below).  I like these headphones, and I use zip-ties to shorten their ridiculously long wires.

3. Mini laptops if your school doesn’t have 1:1 devices – I have a set of 30 Dell Latitude 2100 “netbooks” from a grant I wrote 6 years ago, but now that we have some tablets, we probably use about 10 of them each day.  A real keyboard is helpful sometimes, as is the full web-browsing experience.  For example, when writing reviews in the Destiny Quest app, one tap outside the review box deletes everything you’ve written so far.  In a browser, you have to either click the X or save your review…so the physical keyboard is much less frustrating for students with limited keyboarding practice.

4. Stackable, nesting plastic storage bins from Gratnells/Demco – These were new last year, and I adore them!  They make it SO much easier to stash my library centers out of sight when the library is needed for other uses (i.e. faculty meetings).  They also come in handy when a teacher needs a pile of books, but not enough to lend out a bookcart.Whole Number Dewey Signs by Mrs. J in the Library

5. BIG signage on magazine file boxes – Large, more colorful, image-centric signage is important because we teach elementary students under the age of 12…some of whom are just learning their letters, or don’t speak/read English, or forget/don’t have/won’t wear their glasses yet.

6. A dedicated library Dropbox account – Though this item is free, implementation can involve a lot of time investment.  To save time (and my voice), I filmed and edited a video for orientation, another one about how to find everybody/fiction books, and another about how to find nonfiction books.  I uploaded those 3 videos to a “library use only” Dropbox account, and put the Dropbox app on all 12 library tablets.  Voila!  Instant tutorials for the units I teach every year, for new students, and for reviewing!  For more information about how I use Dropbox, see my previous post on flipping your library instruction.

Do you have a can’t-live-without-it piece of equipment, technology, or organizational tool?  Share it with us and why you love it!

Flash Freebie! Makerspace Prompt Task Cards October 6, 2015

Posted by Mrs. J in the Library in Fun Stuff, Makerspace!.
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When starting a makerspace, it’s sometimes helpful to start students off with some project ideas to get their creative juices flowing.  Many students are so used to finding one “right” solution to a problem.  Teaching students that some problems have many solutions and that finding those solutions might take some time…well, that’s a mindset and habit that often requires practice.

That’s where makerspace prompts can be used.  The awesome Gary Stager recommends that prompts will ideally come from students’ curiosity, discoveries, exploration, and wonderings.  He says if a teacher must design a prompt or challenge the prompt should keep these tips in mind:

1. Brevity. The best prompts fit on a Post-It! Note. They are clear, concise, and self-evident.

2. Ambiguity. The learner should be free to satisfy the prompt in their own voice, perhaps even employing strategies you never imagined.

3. Immunity to assessment…Students will want to do the best job possible when they care about their work and know that you put them ahead of a grade. If students are collaborating and regularly engaged in peer review or editing, then the judgment of an adult is really unnecessary.

Quoted from: Stager, G. S. (2012, June). A good prompt is worth 1,000 words. Retrieved from http://stager.tv/blog/?p=2779.

There are many ideas on Pinterest and social media for STEM and makerspace challenges/prompts, and I made a set of task cards based on some of them to jump-start students’ imaginations.  As part of a flash freebie promotion on Facebook, my Makerspace Project Prompt Task Cards & Materials List is FREE in my TeachersPayTeachers Store for this week only!

It was Mrs J in the Library with a #TaskCard #FlashFreebie! http://bit.ly/1WA7dD7

Posted by Teachers Pay Teachers on Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Grab it while you can, and try it out!  Also, if you have more prompt or challenge ideas, I’d love to hear them in the comments!

What (Might) Work Wednesday: Back-to-School Edition September 30, 2015

Posted by Mrs. J in the Library in How to Be Brave, Reflections, What Worked.
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Welcome to a New School Year | Mrs. J in the Library @ A Wrinkle in Tech What Worked Wednesdays | Mrs. J in the Library @ A Wrinkle in Tech

Welcome to a new school year!

School has been back in session for about a month in my area, and this year I’ve started a few new experiments/ideas that I’m hoping turn out well.  Only time will tell…

1. Five book/item checkouts with student- and parent-signed agreement
Last year I required the form before any checkouts, and for some students that was very limiting to their access and use of the library’s resources.  This year, if students don’t return their Library Use Agreement form, they still can check out 2 books, but no audiobooks or the wildly popular maker kits.

Using the form completion as an “upgrade” or extra privilege has been pretty effective in motivating both new and returning students, and I like that there is no barrier to checking out while still encouraging student responsibility and parent communication.


2. Library Facebook page in lieu of paper newsletters
While I did use a paper newsletter for the back-to-school newsletter, I planned ahead to include it in our school’s “packet pick-up” night so that parents received it with all of the other school forms.  I’m not sure if parents are actually reading it, but the majority of the agreement forms were returned.  I’m taking that as a good sign.

Our library Facebook page is what I’m using for my primary communication tool during the rest of the year.  I post library and reading advocacy articles, as well as book recommendations and upcoming events.  For more post ideas, check out my Library Website Social Media Pinterest board!


3. Research centers first, then free choice
Last year I required every student to complete 3 library “badges” in Research Skills, Reading Promotion, and Makerspace/Creation & Tech.  This year, I’m trying something a bit more progressive and constructivist.  When I introduce centers this fall, I will offer 6 research centers only at first.  Then after students earn their Research Skills badge, they can have free-choice of reading and makerspace centers.  They will be able to earn more badges, but the others won’t be required.  I think it will be more of a challenge for me to engage all students, but once a student finds their passion, I think their engagement and learning will be more authentic.


4. New Student Learning Objective (SLO) assessment format
Like many librarians and teachers across the nation, a percentage of my evaluation is based on “data.”  For music, gym, art, and library teachers like myself, 15% of my evaluation must be a student learning objective, or Kindergarten Library Assessment Quiz FREEBIE! | Mrs. J in the Library @ A Wrinkle in TechSLO, that proves with data that I assessed students in a particular skill.

For kindergarten, I’m changing how I assess the parts of a book, author & illustrator roles, and fiction vs. nonfiction.  I made a FREE printable booklet that students can complete as an assessment of their knowledge.  I’m going to try having students complete one page per week until everyone is finished, including “extra practice” pages for students to make-up incorrectly completed pages.

So what are the new ideas or experiments that you are trying this year?

I’d love to hear them, and I hope we can inspire each other!

Reading Aloud in School: An Endangered Practice? July 23, 2015

Posted by Mrs. J in the Library in Books, How to Be Brave, PSLA.
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At the recent PA School Librarians Association (PSLA) Annual Conference, I read a worrisome tweet from a participant in a concurrent session. Some Pennsylvania librarians reported that administrators recently told them that reading aloud isn’t “rigorous enough.” Not even as part of a larger unit or with young students.

I was horrified to hear that statement, however, it wasn’t the first time, I’ve heard similar whispers about “rigor” in relation to library class time and reading aloud. It’s particularly frustrating to hear when in some districts (not mine), the teacher-librarian is viewed as “just coverage” for a classroom teacher’s planning period, regardless of how rigorous (or not) the information literacy instruction is.

Anyway, in my district, the curriculum we teach is accepted as part of the wider district curriculum, and that brings along all kinds of language like “rigor” and “accountability” and “assessment data” and “SLOs” (or Student Learning Outcomes). I’m *SO* over those education buzzwords.


Reading Aloud in School: An Endangered Practice? - Research & Resources | Mrs. J in the Library @ A Wrinkle in Tech

I still read aloud to kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd grade students, and I base my research and information literacy instruction on the books I read.

Here are 3 reasons why reading aloud is more important than ever in a child’s education:

  1. Reading aloud builds common experiences and a shared vocabulary.  For students who are lucky enough to attend our school for multiple years (or even long enough to experience 2 of my library units), I often refer back to characters and events in a book we previously read.  Of course, I also explain the background and give the book title and author for newer students to read on their own, too.
  2. Reading aloud models fluency, voice, and how to enjoy a book without the pressure of “accountability.”  When children listen to a story, it should be for the sheer enjoyment, not for a comprehension quiz.  Listening to a book being read models to students how to read well, which is undeniably helpful in learning to read.
  3. It’s fun.  I know, I know, that’s not a popular pedagogical reason to give administrators.  But I teach children who are over-scheduled, over-tested, and under the age of 11.  I dare any administrator to think back to when they were 8 years old, and see what they remember most.  My guess is it wasn’t “rigorous” by today’s standards.

Resources on the Importance of Reading Aloud

There is significant evidence in educational research that reading aloud matters, and here some resources to advocate to parents, administrators, and community members.

Mem Fox’s excellent read-aloud lesson, ten read-aloud commandments, and her long (but worth it) article, “Like mud, not fireworks”…in fact, just go read all the “Teachers” and “Parents” sections of her website.  They’re fabulous!

Reach Out and Read is an organization featured in School Library Journal‘s October 2014 issue.  Their research studies on reading aloud are summarized here.

Jim Trelease’s “The Read-Aloud Handbook” and his accompanying website and brochures.  ReadAloud.org also cites Trelease in this succinct article on the benefits of reading aloud.

Reading Is Fundamental’s (aka RIF) articles on reading aloud, including research from the U.S. Department of Education

Scholastic Parent’s March 2015 blog post about reading to older children, even after they can read themselves, which I posted to my library Facebook page.

A homeschooling mom’s April 2015 blog post about reading aloud highlights some of the benefits for parents reading to their children, but more importantly, she explains why reading *good* children’s literature matters when reading to children.


Of course, there are many more resources in educational research journals, but the above links are readily accessible to anyone with an Internet connection, regardless access to database subscriptions.  If you have another reading aloud resource to share or have successfully advocated to stakeholders about this topic, please share your knowledge in the comments!


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