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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!

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!

Android Lollipop Update and an App Surprise December 5, 2014

Posted by Mrs. J in the Library in Tablets & Apps, Tech Tips.
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The Nexus 7 and 10 tablets in our library are still some of the most used tools for information literacy, and one of their features that I like best is the automatic updates, direct from Google.  Because they are “native” Google devices, several of them have already updated to the new Android 5.0 operation system, nicknamed “Lollipop.”

After excitedly installing the update, however, I noticed something that I think educators will want to know.  There is no longer a Gallery app for viewing and managing media on the tablet.  Instead, there is a new Photos app with a pin wheel icon, and Google is trying hard to force the user to sign up for and use Google+ in order to use the app.  It’s possible to use it without Google+, but the Photos app also isn’t very intuitive or easy-to-use.  Obviously, this poses a problem for elementary students, who are legally too young to use Google+ and who need an easy way to upload, edit, and delete photos from a device.

Use QuickPic instead of Photos app in Android Lollipop to avoid Google+ | Mrs. J in the Library @ A Wrinkle in Tech

The QuickPic photo viewer and manager app for Android tablets and phones offers a nice alternative to the new Photos app that requires Google+ signup.  Image from Google Play Store.

So the solution I found is to disable the Photos app entirely, and use a different photo viewer/manager.  For elementary tablets, and especially ones that are shared in a school library, I recommend QuickPic.  It’s simple, intuitive, has fabulous reviews, and it looks a bit like the old Gallery app I liked so much.  Plus, it’s not automatically hooked up to any social media (unless you want it to be), so it fits our library’s needs perfectly! 

Try it out and let me know what you think in the comments!

TL Blogging Challenge #9 – Mobile Tech and 1:1 Devices April 23, 2014

Posted by Mrs. J in the Library in Reflections, Tablets & Apps, Tech Tips.
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TL Blogging Challenge #9 – There are a lot of new trends (& some recycled trends) in the library world.  Share one you have tried or are considering trying.

girl-computerIf you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know I’ve been testing Android tablets this year as my own version of a 1:1 device pilot program, one of the biggest trends in schools today.  Or at least in middle and upper class schools, but that’s another blog post…

Since I don’t own a tablet personally, my only experience with apps before September was on my smartphone, and even then only Amazon’s Free Apps of the DayOur school received a new iPad cart at the beginning of the year, and it wasn’t being heavily used.  I wanted to be able to recommend apps, and help teachers understand what a powerful tool a tablet can be when used thoughtfully and appropriately.

So I bought 12 Nexus tablets, added the Teachers With Apps, Android 4 Schools, and iLearn Technology blogs to my PLN, and haven’t missed the desktop catalog computers since!  I even started using Pinterest to share the tried-and-true Android apps I’ve used and recommend so far.

I have to say the tablets are totally awesome and a worthwhile investment for almost any school library today.  If you don’t have the funds in a library budget (or worse, if you don’t have a library budget at all), my advice is to ask your tech director to buy tablets instead of desktop computers for catalog searching during your school’s next “refresh” cycle.  Get educated about different models and price points, and work with your tech department (hopefully as a positive advocacy experience) to discuss what would suit your needs best.  Though they may be a trend to some, I think mobile technology and 1:1 device programs are here to stay, at least until something smaller, faster, and cheaper comes along.

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.

TL Blogging Challenge #4 – Tech That’s Changed My Job February 13, 2014

Posted by Mrs. J in the Library in Reflections, Tablets & Apps.
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TL Blogging Challenge #4 – How Technology Has Changed My Job

I’m about to admit my age, but I don’t actually remember a time when libraries didn’t have technology.  Though I remember a bulky card catalog in my elementary school library as a child (and I thought I rocked at using it), I’m decently sure we had a computer catalog by the time I was in middle school and an online one by high school.  So reflecting on this topic requires some creativity.

TechEvolution

The Library Tech Evolution – Images from Pixabay

Anyway…I think the most job-altering technologies since I started teaching are mobile devices.  From the now-comically large card catalog, we can now search for anything, print or digital, from a gadget that fits in our palms.  I find myself and my students using tablets and cell phones so much more than I originally thought, and that has *HUGE* ramifications for library services.  That’s why I bought 12 Android tablets and a Google Play gift card, and I jumped right in this year.  That’s also why I made LibGuides our library homepage and why I encourage students to bring their own devices in from home.

Now more than ever, the library can be in a person’s pocket, and I find that exciting as a teacher-librarian.  It also makes our jobs all the more essential, teaching information literacy skills when information is flooding our smartphones and tablets.  If I can reach students and faculty via the device in their hand (and promoting that it’s me that makes the library a technologically vibrant place), I’m doing at least part of my job right.  And personally, that gives me as much job security as an educator can reasonably expect these days.

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