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Reflections and Celebrations 2015 June 22, 2015

Posted by Mrs. J in the Library in How to Be Brave, Makerspace!, Reflections.
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End of the Year Reflections 2015 | Mrs. J in the Library @ A Wrinkle in Tech

Every year as the school year winds down (or crashes, rather), I start thinking about what I want to change for next year.  Though I’ve made notes on my grade-level lesson plans all year long, it’s good to look back and remember not only what I want to change, but how far I’ve come since last school year.  After a long school year, some reflecting and celebrating never fails to reignite my passion for teaching, and I recommend the practice to any teacher-librarian or educator!

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PSLA 2015 “Make It @ Your Library” Presentation May 1, 2015

Posted by Mrs. J in the Library in Makerspace!, PSLA.
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I’m honored to be presenting at the 2015 PA School Librarians Association Annual Conference about makerspaces in elementary and middle school libraries this afternoon.  If you can’t make it to the conference (or you’re not from PA), my presentation is on Google Slides.

During my session, I’m also hosting a few giveaways for anyone who attends in person or online.  You must be a PSLA member to enter the four giveaways below, however, you can win only one of them. I’ll post the winners on my Twitter account after my session today, so stay tuned!

PSLA Giveaway #1 – littleBits Makerspace Center
PSLA Giveaway #2 – Goldie Blox Makerspace Center
PLSA Giveaway #3 – Electric Sewing Makerspace Center
PSLA Giveaway #4 – Paper Circuits with Interactive Nursery Rhymes Makerspace Center

Special thanks to littleBits for donating the Starter Kit for the littleBits Makerspace Center giveaway!

Images in the giveaways are from Mrs. J in the Library and the products’ respective creators.

Library Centers Tracking with QR Code Check-in March 29, 2015

Posted by Mrs. J in the Library in Tablets & Apps, Tech Tips, What Worked.
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Building my PLN, or Professional Learning Network, has been one of the best decisions I’ve made since I started teaching!  Being connected with fabulous educators through blogs and Twitter means I have an excellent network of colleagues and resources to inspire me to improve my instruction.  And last week, I experienced a wonderful, problem-solving PLN win!

The challenge:

I spent WAY too much time tracking which library centers students were at, and not enough time facilitating the learning that was happening.  I kept a record of student center choices on a Google spreadsheet, and I also stamped each student’s center tracking booklet so that they can visualize their learning.

Ideally, I recorded where each students was (that “all-important” data), AND had time to encourage/scaffold students who were struggling, re-direct students who were off-task, and challenge students who were coasting.  In reality, the data collection took almost every second of my time during the 25-ish minutes of library centers.  I still “checked in” with students when I stamped their booklets, but only for about 5 seconds.

The solution!

In the past year, I had read this blog post on QR codes for tracking library visits by Ms. O Reads Books, and her follow-up blog posts explaining how to do it  Then, I remembered this blog post by Vicki Davis about using every last instructional moment.  I wanted to use every minute as efficiently as possible, and cram as much (fun) learning as possible into a 40-minute library class.

Even though those two posts don’t seem to relate, I had a magical flash of inspiration and found my solution: Library Center Check-in with QR codes!

How it works:

Ms. O’s idea of using QR codes to “sign in” at the library has been floating around my brain for months.  It takes some tech tricks to set up, but basically, several Google forms collect their responses in a single spreadsheet.

So I made a different Google Form for each library center and color-coded them according to their category:

  • RED = Reading Promotion – Independent Reading, Destiny Online Book Review Writing, and PA Young Readers’ Choice Voting.
  • BLUE = Research Skills – Question of the Week, Independent Research Choices, and the Ladybugs Observation & Research.
  • GREEN = Creation &  Tech (aka our makerspace) – littleBits™, Nursery Rhyme Paper Circuits, Electric Sewing, Learning to Code, Goldie Blox™, and Puzzle Apps.

Library Centers Check-in and Tracking with Google Forms and QR Codes | Mrs. J in they Library @ A Wrinkle in Tech

Each form asks for the student’s name and teacher’s name.  Some forms have one additional question such as, “What are you working on today?” for the makerspace centers.  I tried to keep it very short, because one tablet is shared among several students. 

I created a QR code for each form, printed the codes on Avery QR stickers, and stuck the code onto the center signage with a large “Check in” sticker (printed on address labels/barcode labels).  The stickers hide some of the clipart on my center directions signs, but they are functional nonetheless.

I tried it with each class in grades 3-5, and it was a HUGE success!  I’m relying on students to report their center choice honestly, but I also have the “double-check” of the booklet stamps. I’m thrilled with the results because now I’m able to do more teaching/facilitating/scaffolding and less data collection during classes. 

As an added bonus, I showed one of our district tech coaches to get some feedback, and she liked the idea, too.  Yay for advocacy!!

Have you used QR codes in your library or classroom?  If so, please share your experience and any tech tricks you learned in the comments!

What Worked Wednesday: Sugru + littleBits March 18, 2015

Posted by Mrs. J in the Library in Makerspace!, What Worked.
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What Worked Wednesdays | Mrs. J in the Library @ A Wrinkle in Tech

“What Worked Wednesday” is a blog post series about ideas that I have personally tried in my library and/or instruction.  Each post includes an idea that worked in my school library and how it makes my life less stressful, more organized, and/or more manageable.

I’ve just discovered Sugru®, and it is AWESOME!  Sugru® is a moldable putty that sticks to almost anything and dries into a silicone-based rubber.  It’s tough, waterproof, and heat-tolerant.  In other words, Sugru® makes things elementary kid-proof.

What I love most about it, however, is the philosophy of fixing and adapting anything to make it better, stronger, more personalized, or more useful.  I’ve blogged before about how delicate some of the littleBits™ are, and how I’ve replaced several because of broken wires and loose parts.  Well, I wish I had known about Sugru® when I bought my first set of littleBits™ back in 2013.  A couple of hours and a $22 Sugru® multi-pack would have saved almost all the Bits I’ve replaced, and it would have paid for itself by now.

So today’s idea that worked:

Mold Sugru® around the wire connections and fragile parts of littleBits™ to reinforce the connections and prevent damage.

Four mini-packs of Sugru®, color-mixed to approximately match the Bit colors, were enough to wrap around all the wire connections and make our littleBits™ MUCH stronger!

How this idea saves money:

Use Sugru to make littleBits stronger and last longer | Mrs. J in the Library @ A Wrinkle in Tech

Our “upgraded” littleBits with Sugru protecting the wire connections.

When combined with some beginner soldering, I fixed a littleBits™ fan, one of my proudest maker moments!  That fix saved about me about $15.  Additionally, I reinforced the connections on all of our wires, long LEDs, servo motors, light wires, a UV LED, a roller switch, another fan, and the last 2 original 9V battery cables.  Sadly, I wasn’t able to salvage any of the vibration motors, so I’ll just need to buy new ones.  When I do, though, you can bet that I’m going to encase the delicate wires and connections in Sugru®!

Overall, if you’re going to use littleBits™ with elementary students, I HIGHLY recommend Sugru® reinforcement.  You will thank yourself later!

P.S. I’m not being paid to say that.

Images by Collette J. at A Wrinkle in Tech

Freebie Friday! – Learning to Code Library Center March 6, 2015

Posted by Mrs. J in the Library in Makerspace!, Reflections, Tablets & Apps.
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Blog Freebies | Mrs. J in the Library @ A Wrinkle in Tech

Happy Friday everyone!

After an insane week like this one, it’s always nice to end on a positive note and share a resource.  Starting with the next cycle of library classes, I’m expanding the Puzzle App Center to include another option — learning to code.

Admittedly, the official Hour of Code Week was in early December.  Our school participated, but I don’t believe the PR hype that learning to code is a required skill for 21st century life and employment.  Am I the only tech geek that thinks this way? 

Yes, it’s true that some students will discover that they really enjoy coding and/or that they are good at it.  Some might eventually want to make a career of programming.  For other students, learning to code is just one means of building creativity and problem-solving skills.  And it’s certainly not the only means to that end.

For still others, programming won’t be remotely interesting, and that’s okay too.  That’s why I think it’s so important that students have as many choices, opportunities, and experiences as possible when they are in elementary school.  Sometimes you have to try a lot of things before you find what you like, how you learn, and what you’re really good at.  After all, isn’t that one of education’s core purposes?

At the “Learning to Code” library center, students will have a choice to use the Scratch™ web-based block programming language, or the Scratch™ Jr. app, or the Lightbot™ app.  Scratch™ has long been recognized as an exemplary and accessible way for children (and adults) to learn and write programs.  Students can create videos, stories, games, and much more within the Scratch™ programming environment, and save their work from week to week by creating an account.

More recently in late 2014, the FREE Scratch™ Jr. iPad app was released, and the Android app is due to be released by the end of March for devices running Android KitKat (4.4) and up.  Tablets running Android JellyBean (4.3) will be compatible later in 2015.  I know I’m “counting my chickens before they hatch” by starting the center before the Scratch™ Jr. app is released, but after looking at the website FAQ, I’m confident they’ll deliver. (UPDATE 4/4/2015 – The Android app is now available, and running on our Nexus tablets!)

Finally, the Hour of Code 2014 version of the Lightbot™ app is FREE for Apple and Android devices.  I haven’t tried the either of the paid versions yet, but once students finish all of the Lightbot challenges, then I’ll probably buy one or both.

If you’d like to try out the Learning to Code center in your library, makerspace, or classroom, you can download the center signs by clicking the image below, or by right-clicking on the image and selecting “Save Link As.”  The Word document download is editable, but the clipart is flattened to respect the designer, Sonya DeHart Design.

Learning to Code Library Center FREEBIE! | Mrs. J in the Library @ A Wrinkle in Tech

I’d love to hear what you think of the center in the comments!  Do you teach computer programming and/or coding skills in your curriculum?  What resources and tools do you use?

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