The 2012 Presidential Election for Kids

Another debate down, one more to go and before we all know it: ELECTION DAY will be here!

If you haven’t already started educating your students about how the election process works there’s still time. Here are some great sources to get you and them started (they even make great refreshers for those of us grownups that have trouble keeping it all straight-I’m looking at you electoral college):

1. USA Gov

USA Gov covers general education/topics about voting and elections, the electoral college, election history, elected officials and candidates, legislation and reform, organizations and agencies, and education materials for kids.

2. Scholastic Magazine Election 2012

Scholastic Magazine not only contains handy, easy to understand information about the election progress, it also contains interactive resources like The Electoral Challenge, The Electoral College Map, and On the Road to the White House that are sure to please, entertain  and educate students.

3. PBS Kids The Democracy Project

Another great, easy to understand, interactive way to learn about the election process and our democratic system. Kids can Step Inside the Voting Booth to learn more about voting, create their Own Campaign Poster, Be President for the Day, Meet the Candidates, and much more.

These are just a sampling of some of the resources available to help our students become excited, knowledgable citizens. Do you have other favorites? Share away in the comments section.

Until next time,



Cynthia Says….

Did you know that way back in 1999, the U.S. government established that ALL public and private school websites would need to be made web accessible, as in accessible to students with disabilities? If you didn’t, you’re not alone. Research shows that many schools are not in compliance with this directive (see the 1999 Journal of Special Education Technology Vol.24, number 2 for one example).

One quick way you can check your website for compliance is with Cynthia Says. Cynthia Says is fast, easy way to check how accessible your website is for users with disabilities.

From the Cynthia says main page, simply input the address of a website you want to test, and then click “Test your site”. Within seconds you’ll receive a report detailing what areas the site passed, what areas it failed, and in some cases the specific locations of areas that may need work.

For a more detailed explanation on how Cynthia Says works, there’s a video on YouTube you can watch for a demo.

For more information on how to make your website more accessible and what to look for before using a website with students, check out Project Enable’s “Evaluating Accessibility” page.

Bifocals & Buns had some areas that need improvement so I’ll be trying to address those as the site continues to expand and grow. What about you guys? Any plans to work on your site’s accessibility? Were you surprised with your site’s score? Share and share alike in the comments and I’ll see you all tomorrow.



Let’s Get Down to Business

Friday, I finally sat down and got on some librarian-esque paperwork I’d been putting off. In addition to renewing my professional organization memberships and my School Library Journal subscription, I finally sifted through the conference/workshop paperwork I’ve accumulated and narrowed it down to the must do finalists, filled out my registrations and shipped off my payments.

On November 1st I will be attending the Library Leadership Academy Training session being hosted by Wayne Finger Lakes BOSCES.  There are three sessions over the course of the day. My first choices for the day’s sessions include:

Option B: Core Out Your Collection! with Sue Bartle- Let’s look at weeding the library collection through the lens of the Common Core. Where should you start? What qualities should you look for in your books? Do you have nonfiction on the shelf that will work? Learn the answers to all this and more in a new dynamic Common Core approach to weeding.

Option H: Research and Technology Projects for K-2 Students with Katie HerrGesell & Jennifer Waddington- You can’t do research with primary school students! Guess again! This collaborative team will share some of their research and technology projects for K-2 students from start to finish. Aligned with 21st Century Learner Standards and the ELA Common Core, these projects will show the nuts and bolts of successful learning experiences for our youngest students that lay the foundation for information literacy and technology integration.

Option I: Cataloging Tips and Tricks: What You Need to Know with Kristin Harrington- This workshop will cover the basics of cataloging, important fields in the MARC records, and how to create custom templates for easier cataloging.

My back up choice are options C, G and K.

In just four and a half weeks I will be attending my first conference EVER!!!, NYLA 2012 in Saratoga Springs, NY. I’m just attending the Saturday session but I’m still very excited to finally attend a real librarian conference. One of my (brave) classmates is even presenting during the Pecha Kucha Presentation sessions on Friday so I can’t wait to see him on Saturday and find out how it went.

Finally, I’ve already registered for the Spring NYLA/SSL conference. It will be April 25th-27th in Rochester, NY. I’ll be doing the whole three day session for this one. My student teaching mentor went last Spring (and has gone for many years) and she couldn’t say enough great things about this conference so I’m really looking forward to attending my first school librarian specific conference this Spring.

All these upcoming workshops and conferences combined with my December graduation date made me realize it’s time to get some business cards! I’m lucky enough to have a friend who actually owns her own letterpress stationary business so I’ll be working with the amazing Amy Rau of Green Girl Press on some custom business cards. Amy did our wedding stationary three years ago when she was first getting started and she was a joy to work with, more than exceeding our expectations, so I can’t wait to work with her again now that she’s even more experienced and amazing at what she does. We’ll be meeting next week to start brainstorming ideas and layout so I’ll be sure to keep you all posted on how the process goes (and of course will show off the finally product). For now, let’s look at some designs that caught me eye and I’ll be sharing with Amy as inspiration pieces:

For more details on the business cards shown, visit Bifocals & Buns on Pinterest

Anyone have any business card musts for teachers/librarians to share? Have a favorite stationary store/business card source? Don’t hold back, spill the details in the comments section.

Tomorrow, we’ll be having another Technology Tuesday. See you then.


2 for 1 Special

With more and more Post Office branches shutting down and libraries looking harder than ever for ways to keep relevant, it may come as no surprise that the USPS has been reaching out to libraries (and service stations, convenience store etc) to see if they would be interested in becoming part of their Village Post Office Program.

The USPS describes the Village Post Office Program on their website as being “operated by community businesses to provide selected postal products and services, including Forever stamps and Priority Mail Flat Rate packages and envelopes” (How to Open a Village Post Office, 2012). Through the program, the USPS and the library would agree on a price the library would be paid for acting as a Village Post Office and would sign a contract for the service. Acting as a Village Post Office could be a great way for a library to make extra money, keep it a key part of the community, and just get more people in the library building (who will hopefully turn into library more frequent library users). The pairing may not be for all libraries so be sure to research the arrangement carefully before starting the process. To start looking into if it’s right for your library, check out the USPS website.

Anyone live in a town that has a Village Post Office? Where is it located? How do you feel about the library and post office being the same building?

Until next time,


It’s Hip to Be Square

A few weeks ago, Mr. Bifocals&Buns and I packed up the dog and headed off to the family cabin for a long weekend. I was flipping through an old magazine one unexpectedly rainy morning and came across a fascinating article about a company/technology called Square.

Square is a way for anyone to turn their smartphone or iPad into a register that will accept credit card payments. Square also always anyone with a Square account to automatically and simply pay for purchases at businesses set up to accept Square account payments. When you sign up for a Square account they’ll even send you the Square card reader free. Square does charge a fee for handling the transaction. You can choose to pay per transaction (2.75%) or a flat monthly rate ($275) depending on what is more economical for your business. For more information on getting and using Square hop on over to their site and have  a look around.

Okay, looks and sounds cool but what does it have to do with libraries right? Well, remember in this post when I confessed some of my dirty little secrets? One of those secrets mentioned was my inability to return library books on time ever. The other part of that confession is that I rarely have cash on me so when I go to the library spur of the moment I often don’t have even the little bit of change necessary to pay off those fines. Now, my librarians are very understanding and nice and will always tell me to worry about it next time. However, I hate having that hang over me and have often wished they would set it up so I could pay my fines online.

Well, what if they set up a Square account? If I have a Square account I could pay my fines just by walking in the library. You don’t have to stop at fines either. You could set it up so people with Square accounts could pay for other library services like copies, printing, hold fees etc. If your library has a coffee shop that could be something people pay for through Square. Square wouldn’t be able to completely replace old fashion money exchanges between librarians and patrons but how 21st century cool does your library look by using Square and making Square available to patrons?

What do you think of libraries using Square? Can you think about other ways to use Square in the library? Anyone have any thoughts on how to use it at a school library? Share away.

Tomorrow we’re discussing another library mashup. Stay tuned for the details.


Dead Drops

Whew, that was some cake hangover. I was not expecting to be out all last week but things got a bit crazy around here. Rest assured things are back to normal (all traces of cake and ice cream have been removed from the house) and I’ll be with you all this week like normal.

Now on with the show….

Have you guys heard of Dead Drops? Per the Dead Drops website, Dead Drops are “anonymous, offline, peer to peer file-sharing network in public space” (About Dead Drops, 2012). More specifically, a Dead Drop is a USB drive installed in a public space that anyone can access. Anyone can install a Dead Drop and anyone can take or leave files on a Dead Drop. The Dead Drops website includes instructions and tips on installing one as well as a searchable list of  Dead Drops locations around the world. If you are motivated to install a Dead Drop of your own be sure to contact to the Dead Drops website so it can be added to the master lists of Dead Drops locations.

What do you guys think? The part of me that enjoys GeoCaching and scavenger hunts think they sound interesting and fun. The obsessive compulsive, type A, control freak part of me thinks it would never use something so unmonitored (“what about the VIRUSES?!?”). While not technically a Dead Drop (since they have to be publicly accessible at all times) what do you think about installing one inside a school? Software like Turn It In should make concerns about essay sharing/cheating null and void. If the idea of giving students free reign to drop and pick up files is too nerve wracking, what about setting it up with a password so only teachers can drop files but anyone can pick them up (installing it in a school has already nullified its status as a true Dead Drop so why not take it one step further if it makes everyone feel more comfortable with the idea)? Teachers could leave little extra nuggets of information all around the school for their students. Perhaps the scavenger hunt feel will appeal to students as well and get them a little more interested in what is going on in the classroom…

Anyone have any experiences with Dead Drops they’d like to share? Anyone feeling bold and willing to try one if they happen upon it? Anyone thinking the Dead Drop with training wheels I described would be a great fit at their school? Share away in the comments.

See you tomorrow for Technology Tuesday,


Do These Things Come with Owners’ Manuals?

I’m sure you’ve heard the joke about babies/kids/teenagers not coming with an owner’s manual but, for a teacher and/or a school librarian, Edutopia may have the next best thing. Edutopia is a website supported by the George Lucas Educational Foundation and is devoted to bringing educators easy access to “what works in education.” One of the ways they bring you what works is by providing free educational downloads and classroom guides. To access the downloads an Edutopia account is required but signing up for one is free, fast and, easy.

They educational downloads cover a range of topics such as: Brain-Based Learning, Classroom Management Tips, Teaching with New Media, Summer Rejuvenation Guide, and Tips for Assessing Project Based Learning.

Try one, try them all but do give them a try. And if you do, feel free to tell me what you think.

One day closer to the weekend loves.

Until tomorrow,


Power (of) Play

I recently read an article in Marie Claire @ Play (a special supplement issue that came with my subscription over the summer) entitled “State of Play” by Joanne Chen. The article explores how more and more, research is showing that play is a key element in our lives. Play can make us happier and healthier. Taking time out of the work day for play can even make us more productive.

Chen’s article looked at four specific ways that play can make us all better works and even help us professionally:

  1. Play helps you focus-Research shows that our attention spans are cyclical and to get the most out of a day, we should schedule regular breaks.
  2. Play helps us bond-Games help us get to know each other and even help us develop social skills.
  3. Play makes us more creative-When we play games without any “right” answers we stimulate our imaginations and kickstart the brain storming, innovation process.
  4. Play helps us all get along-Research has shown play not only lowers stress levels (which makes us all easier to get along with) it encourages collaboration between people and makes for better, more productive work relationships.

The power of play can have similar effects for our students. In fact, children today need planned play breaks built in to their days more than ever. Have you seen some of their schedules? Today’s children have more packed in their schedules than ever (some have more on their plate than I do on a typical day!).

To further explore the power of play for our students and ourselves and for some great tips and ideas, check out the blogs Board Games with Scott and Because Play Matters also written by Scott Nicholson. Scott Nicholson is a professor at Syracuse University where he conducts “research on how to facilitate learning through games and play in non-classroom settings” as well as looking “at both the creation of transformative games and meaningful gamification” (Because Play Matters, About Scott Nicholson). Go to YouTube and check out Scott’s appearance on the CBS Sunday Morning.

Happy exploring and happy gaming everyone! Please feel free to share your own gaming tips and experiences using games in the classroom.



Technology Tuesday-Readability for All

During my Library Services for Students with Disabilities class last week we completed a simulation aimed at simulating the effects of cognitive overload on our students. During the simulation, we were simultaneously attempting to move a stick figure back and forth catching bombs and, searching for information on a website to complete a checklist of tasks. There were two levels to the simulation, easy and hard, and every time you dropped a bomb and failed to complete the tasks you had the option to slow the bombs down. Below is a screen shot of that simulation but I highly encourage all of you to follow this link and try the simulation out yourselves.

The goal of the simulation is to give participants a more thorough understanding of how frustrating it can be for students with an intellectual disability to complete a task. Several of my classmates admitted to giving up on completing the tasks and many of us (myself included) admitted that the only way we were able to complete both the easy and the hard level was to blindly click on the screens, without paying attention to the content, until we found the correct answer. Not a single person in class could provide more information about the website we were exploring in the simulation beyond, “it had something to do with penguins”. We could all see how students with intellectual disabilities could become frustrated with assignments and give up on them because, “I can’t do it and I’m not learning anything anyways.”

After sharing our frustrations and exploring how students with intellectual disabilities may feel when presented with distraction while working we brainstormed strategies that we, as school librarians, might be able to employ to make the library more accessible for our students with intellectual disabilities. One of the ideas was to download and install Readability on library computers.

What’s Readability you ask? Well allow me to fill you in: “Readability is a free reading platform that aims to deliver a great reading experience wherever you are” by turning “virtually any web page into a clean, comfortable reading view” (, FAQ, 2012). To use Readability, you simply go to the website and download the Readability add-on.  After downloading the add-on, you can change almost any webpage into a cleaner, easier to read page by clicking the readability add-on button. Here is a before and after example I took from the Today Show website:

The article about Twitter’s new profile page, before using Readability

Now, let’s look at that same page after running it through Readability’s add-on:

The same article, after using Readability

Ahhh, so much better. Using the Readability add-on makes the page cleaner, free of distractions, and allows the content to take center stage. So there you have it: a quick, free way to make websites easier on our students with intellectual disabilities. I’ll admit that I’m tempted to use it with all students just so they have less temptation to follow links and pay attention to things other than the assignment/task at hand.

Do you have any suggestions/strategies to make the library more accessible for students with intellectual disabilities?

See you tomorrow,



Think fast.

Should students be tweeting during class? Reading emails? Logging on to Facebook? Checking the news?

Chances are, you answered something to the effect of, “ABSOLUTELY NOT!”

I’d be inclined to agree with you too, especially after reading this article a few weeks ago from NPR. Shortly after that however, one of my classmates posted a link to this TED Talks video on Facebook and it made me reconsider my initial, knee jerk reaction.

On one hand, I agree with Barbara King (who wrote the NPR article) that students’ attentions can be compromised when split between lecture and the lure of technology at their fingertips.

On the other hand, as Lisa Nielsen (from the TED Talks video) points out, technology is a very real part of students’ lives. They are from a highly technological, gadget filled generation that learned to work a computer in Kindergarten. By contrast, computers didn’t become a regular part of my educational experience until high school. I didn’t even own one until college. I’m not even to an age where I could be the mother of a high school or even upper middle school student and the difference between the world they have grown up in and the one I did is markedly different. So while it may be difficult for myself and other, even older educators to comprehend, these students are use to and (contrary to how it seems sometimes) quite adept at multitasking.

One of the first classes I took for my grad program was taught by the head of the department. I can still remember my surprise when he not only encouraged us to bring knitting and crocheting with us if we were so inclined, he also encouraged tweeting during the lecture. He assigned a hashtag for our class and even had Tweetdeck open on his laptop right on the lectern podium. Throughout the lecture he would peek at his Twitter feed and address any questions or comments that came up as he went. He monitored it after class as well making it a great way to contact him for questions and concerns that popped up later. It became a great resource for all of us and I still knit when listening to audio or video lectures to this day.

Of course, this example is from the graduate level and one could argue that undergrad students, teens, and especially tweens aren’t ready for that kind of technology freedom in the classroom. (Although in my experience kids will often rise up to the challenge and surprise you when presented with the opportunity to be more responsible). In the end, each of us needs to run our classrooms they way we see fit, the way that allows us to be the best educator we can be for our students. If for some of us that means sticking to “traditional” ways of teaching and declining to use and allow social tools in the classroom that is fine. But (you knew there was going to be a but didn’t you) expelling social networking tools and other technologies from the classroom shouldn’t be a knee jerk reaction. Before committing to that decision, take some time to explore the tools available and consider if some of them might not make a valuable addition to your curriculum and your classroom. Then include them in whatever way you feel is best (even if that means in no way at all).



Have any technology faves you’d like to share? How about tips and tricks for incorporating them into the classroom?