Cool Tools for Schools, Thing 6: Curation Tools

With the release of AASL’s newest version of the standards, curation has been on my mind quite a bit this school year. Unfortunately, I don’t see myself as much of a curator. I’m a fantastic explorer and gatherer. But the extent of my curating usually involves mass deleting of links and articles after my bookmarks and favorites become too difficult to navigate and I can no longer remember why I even saved them in the first place. I am very much the sushi example in the Cult of Pedagogy blog post, Are You a Curator or Dumper? I think part of the problem is that when teachers ask for suggestions I want to be able to help them right then and there. I don’t want to miss this opportunity to show them I do have valuable information and skills to offer them. I also want to respect their busy schedules by getting them the resources they need quickly. But then, like in the sushi example, I realize after they left they I forgot about this resource and that resource so I try to get them in their hands (or at least their sphere of awareness) but, just like in the sushi example, they’ve usually decided to just go with what I gave them first and are not interested in anything new or are already done with what they needed the resource for to begin with (“maybe next year”). After reading the Cult of Pedagogy post and exploring the resources, I have a two-part plan to help me try to break my dumper habit and transition to the curator role.

Step 1: Give Myself Time to Be a Curator

The first step will require a mindset shift on my part. I need to give myself permission not to immediately “solve” teachers resource requests. I need to get comfortable saying things like, “I’m sure we have lots of great resources on that topic. Let me pull some options for you to look at. When would do you need them by?”. Not feeling the need to have an immediate answer will be tough to overcome but it will also give me time to remember all the really great resources we have and only pass along those stellar options.

Step 2: Plan Ahead for the Procrastinators

Giving myself permission not to have an immediate answer so I can be a thoughtful curator and not a haphazard dumper only works when the people who need the resources also have the ability to give me time to be thoughtful in my curating. Anyone who has worked in a school library for more than five minutes knows that inevitably, the answer to the question “When do you need them by?” will be, if you’re lucky, “tomorrow” but more likely will be something like, “by next period” or “in about 20 minutes”. So in order to still help those people but not fall back into the random resource dumping trap, I need to have some curated lists for commonly inquired about topics prepared ahead of time. This plan was not something new to me before I started this Cool Tools topic but finding the best platform with which to accomplish it had been eluding me. I wanted something that was easy to use, looked good, and could be embedded into my library website. Having experimented with a few of the tools on the list in the past, I knew they weren’t able to meet my requirements. Then, as it happened, I briefly saw in action first hand during one of my sessions at NYLA/SSL a few weekends ago and I knew I’d finally found my platform! Easy to use? Check. Looks good? Check. Can be embedded into Google Sites? Check. I’m sticking to the free basic version for now but I also like that with a paid version I could embed my creations right into Mailchimp since that’s the platform I use for my monthly teacher newsletter. So far, I’ve only used it to make a practice resource list for the Erie Canal (side note: I recently attended a PD session at the Erie Canal Museum in Syracuse and it was sooooo good. If you have the opportunity to go to one I highly recommend it) but I really liked it! Once I had some websites and library books in mind, it really was as simple as copying and pasting the links into the search box and waiting for it to find what sites I was linking to. It imported a picture and even grabbed a description from the page itself but if you prefer, you can import your own image and make your own description. I did have a few odd issues when trying to add links to books from my catalog but they were easy enough to solve. The biggest problem being that the image was automatically grabbing wasn’t the actual picture of the cover that was on the catalog page for that book. I was able to fix that by downloading the cover image from the catalog and uploading it to myself. Other than that, it came together quickly and looked really sharp. After I made a Resource List page on the library website and added my Erie Canal example, I decided to also create a Google Form and embedded it on the main Resource List page so teachers can suggest other topics for which they’d like to see research lists curated. I’ve started a list of topics I commonly get asked to provide books or other resources for and I’ll be slowly working on adding them to the new Resource List page on the website but it’ll also be nice to have a quick way for teachers to suggest more topics I might not even know there’s an interest/need. 

To see my curated Erie Canal resources lists you can click here to view the or click here to see it in action on my library website.


Cool Tools, Thing 37: Green Screen Fun


Just trying to pretend I was at the Olympics…

Since our Boces SLS director (hi Molly!) purchased a “green screen in a backpack” kit this year I thought this would be a fun topic to try out.

The first takeaway I gathered from the readings was that this whole green screen thing isn’t nearly as complicated and technical as I thought it would be-or maybe I should say, it doesn’t have to be super complicated and technical. Either way, it was a great realization!

Another great realization? The WeVideo account I have through my school district supports the green screen features mentioned in the readings! When I logged in to check if I had the green screen features, I noticed that my account is set to expire in August. With that in mind, I decided that in addition to trying to make a quick green screen video with WeVideo I should also try out DoInk, just in case the district doesn’t renew my WeVideo account.

My attempt at making it look like I lived in a painting didn’t quite work out because I had to crop the shot so close and it ended up looking like I just took a selfie in front of the painting…

Some things I learned during my quick experiments:

  • Lighting is waaayyyy more important than I realized. One of the videos I watched while exploring this tool was about the common mistakes made making green screen videos and how to avoid and/or fix them. Most of the issues (and their fixes) were a bit beyond my current level of green screen experience but, one thing I did take away from the video was how important lighting can be to your video creation. In fact, my first attempt went much the same way as one of the video examples! In my attempt to get rid of shadows on the wall behind me, I caused the green to read as lighter than it was and when I went to remove it in the WeVideo editor, my face and parts of my scarf and hat disappeared too! Which leads me to my next big realization…
  • Clothing can be tricky! I knew you can’t wear the same color top as the screen you’re recording against. However, I didn’t realize that similar colors could be a problem or that colors could be made to appear to the same on camera, depending on the lighting used. Going back to my first attempt in WeVideo, the scarf I wore had no green it at all. It was red, yellow and black so I thought it would perfect for my winter background. However, when the bright lighting overpowered my green screen and made it look lighter, it also washed out the yellow and white in my scarf and made them look close enough to the wall color that the editing program removed them as well as the background.  
  • Finding copyright friendly background images can be a real pain! I’m not sure why this surprised me as much as it did-we’ve all experienced this when helping students try to find images for a project. I made my video first then tried to find a background image to go with it which, in hindsight, was not the best planning. I ended up just turning it into an image instead. I would definitely make sure that part of the planning process for my students (and my future green screen projects) includes locating any wanted background images before recording the green screen video so changes can be made before filming!
  • Bigger green screen=better results. None of the green walls in my house ended up working very well as green screen backgrounds and I couldn’t find a green tablecloth at the corner store in town so I had to settle for a piece of posterboard that was the right shade of green. I thought the posterboard would be big enough but in the end, to make it work, I had to just do head and neck shots which takes some of the impact and wow factor out of the green screen videos and pictures.
  •  Don’t forget to hold your phone sideways! I held my phone vertically and when I transferred my videos into the editing programs I had blank spots on the sides which meant I had to adjust the position of the images in the editing process which was a pain in the you know what and ultimately, still not that convincing to look at because of the hard lines on the sides of my face. I tried to reshoot the videos with my phone horizontal instead but, because my green screen background wasn’t that big, I had to get even closer to my face than before and I lost a lot of the background (saying it again: bigger is better when it comes to green screen fun!).
Click on the picture of these doofuses to see the green screen movie they helped me make…

Ideas, Ideas, Ideas!

Some ideas I’m very excited about exploring with classes include:

  • 2nd Grade-Post Thanksgiving, my2nd-gradee teachers have done a reindeer research project for the last several years. After learning about ChatterPixs at the AASL conference in Columbus, we’ve been using that for their final project. I think it could be fun to replace that project with green screen reports on their reindeer. Maybe we could even make it cross-curricular and have the art teacher help them make paper bag reindeer puppets that could “talk” on camera…
  • 3rd Grade-Instead of doing poster presentations for their country research projects, it would be cool to have our 3rd graders do “live” reports from their countries. Another idea I have for my 3rd graders is creating news reports on Christmas traditions around the world. Finally, I have a 3rd-grade teacher who would love to do more book reports with her class. Using the planning documents from Princeton Day School’s library, we could turn their book reports into green screen book talks!
  • 4th Grade-The Erie Canal is always a big unit for our 4th graders. I like the idea of them creating news reports on the building, and eventual grand opening, of the Erie Canal.
  • 5th Grade-Instead of doing a brochure or Google Slide project on the different biomes, our 5th graders could create nature show style videos reports “live” from different biomes.
  • 6th Grade-I love the idea of having our 6th graders partner up and do interviews with characters from myths! Finding the right image to represent the setting of their myth could be a challenge but in a great, learn something from it, kind of way!

Some other ideas I’m excited to explore:

  • My makerclub kiddos could create their own characters, props, and scripts to create green screen movies.
  • I also like the idea of creating little green screen videos of my own to introduce new lessons/units/concepts in creative and interesting ways.
  • I’ve been trying to get students more interested in reading and writing book reviews so I like the idea of incentivizing it with the student featured book review posters mentioned in this post!
  • Finally, I think to make making green screen videos easier to do, I can envision creating a green screen video makers version of the dress up box! I’m thinking things like scarfs, hats, umbrellas, sunglasses, fake glasses, props etc. Then, we could always have those special extras on hand to create even better, more believable videos!

All in all, this might be the most fun I’ve ever had exploring a Cool Tools topic!I think I’ll try it with my makerclub kiddos first so I can work out some of the kinks before I try it out with classes but overall, I’m very excited to share the fun with my faculty and students!

Cool Tools, Thing 39: Productivity

For this one I thought I’d tackle my own version of “How We Work” and share some of my favorite productivity tools and strategies. I actually found it pretty helpful to think some of these answers through-I’m definitely more in tune with what has been working for me (and what hasn’t!) this year after writing this one. I hope it helps some of you as much as it helped me.

Location: Savannah, NY

Current gig: Elementary School Librarian for Oswego CSD (Fitzhugh Park building)

Current mobile device: iPhone 6

Current computer: MacBook Pro (circa 2010)

One word that best describes how you work: Strategically

What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?: Stitcher! Podcasts have turned my hour long commute to work into something I enjoy and look forward to-I love learning something new or hearing an entertaining story and have been known to sit in my car in my garage when I finally get home just so I can finish an episode. Being able to customize my podcast playlists with Stitcher has made my podcast listening that much more enjoyable.

Screenshots of some of the podcasts on my Favorites list on Stitcher

What’s your workspace like? Colorful, whimsical, organized (obviously ;-)

What my office looks like on any given day.

What’s your best time-saving trick? Planning and prepping ahead of time whenever and wherever possible. Some of my favorite ways to do that include:

    • Planning all my outfits for the week on the weekend after I finish all the laundry. Before I start pulling them together, I pull out my planner to see what I have to tackle that week (meetings I have to attend, after school commitments etc) and check the week’s weather forecast. Armed with that information, I plan out every outfit from the undergarments to the accessories. I hang everything for each outfit on their own hangers and hang them up in my bedroom in order, from Monday to Friday, with the shoes I’ll wear with each lined up under them.
    • Packing my lunch the night before (as soon as I get home from work-before I even change out of my work clothes!). Since I don’t have to worry about picking out my clothes for the next day when I get home from work I focus that energy on packing my lunch for the next day.
    • Prepping my breakfast smoothie the night before.  Since I’m already in the kitchen preparing my lunch and most mornings I have a smoothie for breakfast on the way to work, I take care of breakfast as soon as I get home from work the night before as well. I pre-blend all the non-frozen ingredients for my smoothie and put the blender jar in the fridge. That way, the next morning, when I’m grabbing my lunch from the fridge, I pull the blender jar out, throw a few handfuls of frozen fruit in it, blend up my breakfast and go.
    • Prepping for the next day’s lessons/needs before I leave work each night. I try to never leave work without making sure the craziness of the day has been cleaned up/reorganized and the as many of the things I’ll need for the next day are gathered together ready to go (books for read alouds, handouts, craft supplies etc).

What’s your favorite to-do list manager? I have a 3 part system I like to use for managing my life and my to-do lists (surprise, surprise).

    • Part One: For managing the big picture to-dos (what monthly to-dos and obligations, curriculum mapping/planning) I like to use my Erin Condren teacher planner. These things aren’t cheap but I absolutely adore mine! I usually order the next school year’s planner in March because they’ll have a 30% off coupon code sometime around St. Patrick’s day you can use on the planner. I have been ordering these planners for years now so trust me when I say, 30% off is a great discount code. More importantly, while the site often offers up discount codes, they usually exclude the teacher planner for some reason. I know without fail that the St. Patrick day sale will be 30% off and will include the teacher planners so I just go for it and get next year’s planner before the current year has even started the 4th quarter.
    • Part Two: Last year for Thing 37, I mentioned that I was reading Maia Heyck-Merlin’s book, The Together Teacher. To manage my weekly expectations and to-dos, I’ve been using her Together Teacher Weekly Worksheets. At the beginning of the school year, I printed off one for each week of the school year (and some of her other handy organizational handouts), holed punched them and, put them in a binder with labeled dividers. Now, on Fridays, as part of my end of week wrap-up, I pull a blank weekly worksheet and fill it in for the next week with everything and anything I know is on the next week’s schedule. I keep it clipped to the front cover of my planner and as the week progresses, things are added and removed from the worksheet as needed.
    • Part Three: Finally, to keep track of the small, last minute things that get thrown my way when teachers are picking up and dropping off their classes (or just popping in during the day for other things), I’ve been using Google Keep. It’s like an electronic version of a desktop covered in post-it notes. I learned about Google Keep at a 2 day Google Bootcamp I attended this summer through OCM Boces. While I use it most often when I’m at the circulation desk (I always make sure it’s one of the open tabs when I set up the circ desk for the day), I love that I can also access it from my office computer or phone/iPad when I’m away from school. And because it’s a Google App, everything syncs and updates automatically. I cross reference the notes and to-dos on Google Keep periodically with my weekly worksheet and planner to make sure everything is accounted for and nothing slips through the cracks.

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Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without? I’d call it a tie between my blender and my coffee maker because if I’m not drinking a smoothie for breakfast, I’m drinking coffee. And starting my day without one of those isn’t a pretty situation for anyone!

What everyday thing are you better at than anyone else? This is so silly but, I’d have to say answering the phone. Before I ever went back to school to be a school librarian, I spent almost all of my 20’s working as an administrative assistant in the business office at a high end athletic club. This club prided itself on it’s customer service (our training program was developed by the same people who developed the Ritz Carlton’s customer service training program) and as such, there absolutely was a correct way to answer the phone (and transfer a call, and leave a voicemail message, and take a message, and even a correct way to hang up the phone). I can’t help it, even after all these years, when I answer the phone at work, I do it like I was trained back then. People often comment on how I nicely and professionally I answer the phone. And it drives me nuts when other people lack some of that same professionalism. For example, please don’t just answer a phone at a workplace with “Hello”. Ummm, who am I talking to, what room have I reached? If I’ve accidentally dialed the wrong extension it would behoove us both to figure that out before I’ve launched into whatever thing I needed to call you about. And even worse is when people leave me voicemails without identifying who they are or where they are calling from-and when you leave your number, for the love of everything, slow down and make sure you repeat it! People don’t want to have to listen to a message multiple times to try to get all the digits in that phone number you just rapid fired out. Whew! Like I said, I have some intense customer service training in my background and well, I can get kind of passionate about the topic. 

What are you currently reading? The Way of Mindful Education: Cultivating Well-Being in Teachers and Students by Daniel Rechtschaffen. I’m reading it for a book study I’m doing through Oswego Boces. As far as pleasure reading goes, I’m in between books right now but am on the waitlist for several ebooks at my local library including: What She Knew by Gilly Macmillan, The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking and, So, You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson. Also, ebooks are another one of my time saving secrets. I’m constantly forgetting to return books to the library on time, accruing overdue fees and then, I inevitably end up making some special trip to finally get the books back and pay my fines. When I checkout an ebook though, it just disappears when the loan time has expired. No special trips to the library, no more overdue fees.

What do you listen to while you work? When I’m out in the library, children talking and (hopefully!) learning; when I’m in my office, the sounds of my co-workers in the copy room attached to my office; and when I’m at home, whatever mischief my husband and dogs are up to. I also have a noise app I’m fond of called Noisli. I like that not only does it offer different sound options for background noise, it lets you create your own soundscape mix. My favorite soundscape I’ve made for myself is the noisy coffee shop, laid over the sound of a crackling fire, with the subtle sound of rain falling in the remote background. Sometimes, when I want (or need!) the library atmosphere to be more relaxed than normal, I’ll put Pandora on through the smartboard speakers and we’ll listen to the Calm Meditation channel. 

Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert? I’m an introvert. People are often surprised when I say that because I’m not shy or quiet. I can actually be quite loud, outgoing and, talkative (I’ve been described as obnoxiously peppy and even my nearest and dearest have told me I’m “exhausting” and can be “a lot to handle”). However, I can only handle so much time with other people around. I need my alone time, I crave my alone time and I’m only able to be that peppy, perky, overwhelming person for so long before I need to recharge my battery with some solitude. I cram a lot into my work weeks so when it’s time for the weekends, I’m more than happy to only leave the house for my weekly grocery shopping trip and spend the rest of the time relaxing at home with my husband and dogs.  

What’s your sleep routine like? Most nights, I’m in bed by 10 pm or 10:30 pm then, I’ll watch a little tv or read until I fall asleep. I like to get to work good and early that way I can leisurely prepare anything for the day I couldn’t get to the previous afternoon. But, that means with my hour commute I have to leave by 6:30 am. Rushing around trying to get ready for work is a sure fire way to put me in a bad mood before the day even starts so, to maintain that 6:30 am leave time, I have to get up by 5:30 am so I can start my day relaxed. I’m trying to get back into working out again and I know from past experience that I’m more likely to stick to working out if I get it over with first thing in the morning. Which means, unfortunately, I’ll have to get up even earlier than 5:30 am. I’ve been slowly trying to bump up my wake up time to leave myself room to work out, still get ready at a relaxed pace and, leave by 6:30. It’s definitely a work in progress situation!

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? After finishing my bachelors degree (it would be another 6 years before I figured out what I wanted to go back to grad school for), I got my first “adult”, full time, year round job. The athletic club I had been working at part time was looking for a new administrative assistant for the business office manager so I transitioned from working part time in the child care center to full time in the business office. I shared an office with the personnel department’s administrative assistant, a woman named Nancy. Nancy had worked in a variety offices and industries over the years. She gave me two pieces of advice I’ve always remembered and frequently applied at work over the year: 

  • 1st piece of sage advice from Nancy: One day, early in my time there, the general manager asked me to work on something for him. Thinking I was being helpful, I outlined several things I had going on and why it might not be possible for me to get it done by the day he wanted it done. After he left, Nancy pulled me aside and said, “(General Manager) is a busy guy. He doesn’t want to hear why it might be difficult for you to get to the projects he gives you. He just wants to delegate and know it will be taken care of. The next time he asks you to do a project for him; smile and say ‘Of course I can do that. When do you need it by?’, ask any follow up questions you need to do it well and then adjust your schedules and priorities to get his job done when he needs it done. And whenever possible, get it to him earlier than you promised.” It seems obvious now, but at the time, it was an eye opening piece of advice. The people in charge want results, not excuses. And they want to know if you are the person who can get them those results. I started following Nancy’s advice with the general manager (and other department managers when they needed my help) and it completely changed how they perceived me and my abilities. I become a dependable, reliable, go-to person for getting things done.
  • 2nd piece of sage advice from Nancy: “Sometimes, it’s better to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.” This is an old saying but, at the time, Nancy was the first person who I ever heard say it. And I loved it. Truly, to get things done, you sometimes to just have to forge ahead and go for it. Bosses are busy people (see above) and don’t have time to be bogged down with every little detail. And some people by nature, only see the reasons why you shouldn’t do something or why something might not work and many people aren’t willing to take the risk and give the go ahead on something they don’t think will pan out. They need someone who goes ahead and just does it-just makes it work (they just don’t always know they need that). It’s advice that needs to be used strategically but, so far, it hasn’t steered me wrong yet.


Cool Tools for School Thing 22: Create a Resource Guide, Part III

Pinterest Header

Wow oh wow! When I was writing up the Part II for this Cool Tool I was so confident that it would be easy to whip up a Pinterest board for the library and share it with teachers before we went on February break. I wasn’t entirely wrong, creating the library Pinterest account was a snap. Coming up with boards was pretty easy breezy as well. It wasn’t even that difficult to get started pinning to the boards. I had meet with a technology liaison from my district about an entirely different project a few weeks before starting this and she shared the link with me to the New York Model Schools Pinterest account she is helping create. I used many of their board ideas and pins to start my library Pinterest account. And that’s when I hit a wall.

Suddenly, tasked with pinning things that not only would appeal to teachers (instead of random things I liked) and would represent the library well, I froze. I’m a librarian, not a classroom teacher or a content specialist. I found myself second guessing the things I was finding and thinking of pinning to my boards. I thought this math activity looked cool and fun but would teachers think it was silly or stupid or would it be something they’d already seen a million times before?????? Slogging through all the different Pinterest search results and online search results and articles I’d saved to Pocket took what felt like FOR.EV.ER. And when I was done, I’d only pinned 5 things, tops, to each of my 24 boards. I’d had a goal of at least 10 things pinned to each of my 24 boards before I shared it with my teachers. I wanted it to seem well developed and worth their time to check out, something they could explore and discover new things through, not something they could glance at and be done with in 5 minutes. So, board by board, I set aside a little time each morning, afternoon and evening of break to reach my goal and FINALLY, the last weekend of break, I got it done.

But, before I could share my Pinterest board, I had another problem to solve. The results of my teacher survey were an almost even split between wanting a Pinterest account and a digital newsletter to keep them up to date on new resources. As such, I had decided to do both, send cool stuff to our Pinterest account whenever I found it and, every other week or so, send my teachers a digital newsletter highlighting some of the Pinterest finds. So now, I had to figure out what digital newsletter I wanted to use for monthly updates. I thought I was going to use Scoop.It but I honestly wasn’t feeling it so I keep looking and looking and looking. There are a lot of results when you search for digital newsletters but none of them were blowing me away. I wanted it to be slick looking but easy to put together, easy to add my contacts to and, easy to add my Pinterest finds.

Oh a whim, I decided to look at Our department head had recently created and sent us flyers for the district Battle of the Books competition using and I had used it in grad school for some assignments. It’s really easy to use and looks pretty great for the effort so I decided to noodle around and see if I could make a flyer work as a newsletter when I discovered the best thing EVER! When you click on “start new flyer”, one of your flyer set up options is news bulletin!!! It was exactly what I had been looking for and not finding with all the other digital newsletter options online and even easier to setup than I had hoped. I was able to add a “button” linking people directly to the library’s Pinterest page and, embed links from our Pinterest page as well. Then, I emailed the flyer to myself at work. After I opened it, I forwarded it to a custom mailing list I have saved on my work email account of all the teachers (after taking out all the obvious bits and pieces that showed I had forwarded the email to myself). WordPress doesn’t let you embed a Smore flyer into your posts but I’ve attached a link to the news bulletin I sent my teachers below. And of course, feel free to check out my Pinterest board!

I’m hoping this helps my teachers stay up to date on what’s fun and cool out there without me having to run all over the place tracking them down!

And with that, I’ve officially finished Thing 22 and have FINALLY created a resource guide….now to just keep it up and keep it fresh!

Psst, check out the long, slow journey to making my first resource guide with Part I and Part II

Cool Tools for Schools, Thing 21: Productivity Part I

This is a topic I’m excited about! While I think I’m a fairly productive and organized person, I also think I could be more efficient and get more done in less time. I’d love to figure out where I can save some time or work smarter so I can spend my time on other things (like coming up with awesome lesson ideas or spending time with my husband or hiking with my dogs or reading a book…)

Here are some things I currently use that I think make me more productive, efficient, organized and, a just plain awesome person:

  • Good old pen & paper

My teacher planner from Erin CondrenI know this isn’t the most ground breaking or exciting think to cite on a list of your productivity tools but for me, as much as I love my tech, nothing beats paper and pen for keeping me organized. Two things I’ve learned about myself over the years: I am a visual person and writing things down helps make things “real” to me. I need to see my schedule on paper and my plans on a calendar for them to make sense for me. I also need to write things down whether its on a calendar or a to do list, for them to really sink in with my brain and become fact for me. Typing an event on my iPhone calendar or into a to do list just doesn’t make it stick in my brain quite the same as writing it down does.

To that end, two of my favorite pen & paper products are those pads of paper that double as mouse pads (I use mine to keep my to do list literally right at my fingers without having another thing cluttering up my desk). The other think I can’t live without is my Erin Condren teacher planner. They aren’t cheap by any means but, they work better for me than any other lesson book I’ve ever seen. They’re also gorgeous and you can personalize them to further meet your needs. When you depend on good old paper & pen as much as I do, sometimes you just have to splurge on that paper.

Okay, here’s the thing: as a first year teacher librarian last year I was completely overwhelmed with the task of coming up with a curriculum map and lesson plans for the 24 classes I taught each.and.every.week. I know as a first year teacher that is kind of par for the course and all but, it still sucked and stressed me out. See, I was the third librarian in three years at my school. I inherited an empty desk and an almost empty file cabinet. There wasn’t a single lesson plan or curriculum map to guide me. I was overwhelmed trying to come up with a curriculum map for all seven grade levels from scratch. Like, to the point where I found myself occasionally being jealous of my classroom teachers because the modules told them exactly what to do and when to do it. When you find yourself coveting the thing most of your fellow educators hate with the burning fire of a thousand suns just because it gives them a direction, you know you need to find a better way to do what you’re doing. While hunting the inter webs for some sample curriculum maps I came across this website. I tried some of her sample lessons and really liked them. So, when her full curriculum went on sale over the summer, I bit the bullet and bought it. I don’t regret it at all. Her lesson plans are complete, creative and can be used as stand alone lessons or library centers (I had dabbled with library centers last year and wanted to try them more this year). She even organized all the extras for the lesson plans (power points, Prezis, activity sheets, recommended websites etc) online by grade level. Now, instead of spending hours a night and my whole weekends creating lesson plans, I spend one weekend a month organizing my lessons into centers for the upcoming month. I think it  ended up being two cents a day for all this. My time and sanity are definitely worth the two cents a day.

Oh, and she did several free webinars over the summer that I found very interesting and helpful. I especially enjoyed the one on library helpers and how to promote your school library during open house.

If one of your resolutions was to follow a budget or just be more fiscally responsible Mint is your new best friend.  Mint lets you create your own budget, gathers all your financial information into one place so you don’t have to login to all your accounts separately to see what’s going on with your bills/money, sets up bill reminders, gives you a free credit check, alerts you to unusual activity and more. Mint can seriously save your hours of time – I have a brother-in-law who spends hours each week inputting each and every receipt and transaction he and his wife have made that week into a Quicken spreadsheet. Mint does that all for you automatically (and then some) and it’s FREE! (I have told said brother-in-law about the awesomeness of Mint but for some reason, he’s still kicking it old school when it comes to his budget…) Mint lets me feel uber responsible about my money and very adult like (I can tell you exactly how much I spent on clothes and entertainment last month and whether or not it was in budget in seconds) without requiring a ridiculous amount of time and effort on my part.

  • Stitcher app

I don’t know if this one makes me more productive or efficient, but it does make my 50 minute commute more enjoyable and I feel like a smarter more interesting person after a week of listening to my Stitcher app, something I couldn’t ever say about listening to morning radio DJs.

The Stitcher app allows you to “stitch” together your own list of podcasts, news and, public radio into your own personal radio station playlist. There are literally thousands to choose from on the Stitcher app. Here is what I enjoy listening to on my way to and from work:

Stuff Mom Never Told You                                    The Math Dude Quick and Dirty Tips

The Dog Trainers Quick and Dirty Tips              The Splendid Table

TED Radio Hour                                                      Stuff You Missed in History Class

60-Second Civics                                                     How to do Everything

Grammar Girl Quick and Dirty Tips                   Stuff You Should Know

A Way with Words                                                  Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me

Stuff to Blow Your Mind                                       Freakonomics Radio

So those are some of the tools and tricks I use already to try to be a more productive and amazing teacher/librarian/person. Next time I shall what I decided to try in the name of being more productive and amazing than EVER BEFORE!

Cool Tools for Schools, Thing 11: Coding

Last year, I tried coding out with one of my 6th grade classes as filler, in-between units. They loved it and it was probably the most engaged I had seen them the whole year (and we do some pretty fun projects in 6th grade-if I do say so myself). So this year, when I saw coding on the Cool Tools list again, with time to plan for participation in The Hour of Code, I knew what I wanted to do for my Cool tools activity!

I decided to go all in and devote all our library classes, for grades 1st-5th, to coding lessons for the month of December. First, I spent some time exploring the The Hour of Code website and looking for ideas and potential lessons. (Side note: does anyone else find The Hour of Code site difficult to navigate? I was constantly finding something interesting only to struggle to locate it later when I’d go back to the site. I also kept forgetting how to get to the lessons for elementary school students…) I played around with some of the lessons available for elementary students on Code Studio and selected the ones I wanted my 3rd, 4th & 5th grade classes to tackle each week. Then, I created a special section of the library website for Hour of Code. In that section, I had a spot for each of those grade levels and each week, I’d add the link to the coding lesson they were going to try during class. For my 1st and 2nd grade classes, I made sure the class library iPads all had the app Daisy the Dinosaur installed on them.

The first week of the month, I introduced the kids to the idea of computer coding, what it is, how we use it and, we talked about how it might be useful in their futures. We watched some of the videos available on The Hour of Code website and I would show them how to find their class’s lesson of the week on the library website. Then, I sent them off to the library computers to try lesson one. With my 1st and 2nd grade classes, I used the mirroring feature on the library’s Apple TV to show them the Daisy the Dinosaur app. I went over the layout of the screen and we went through all of the challenge levels together with them instructing me on what to do and explaining why we needed to do it that way (“Why does Daisy need to move before she jumps to get to the star? Why can’t she just jump?”).

During week two and three of the month with my 3rd-5th grade classes, we meet at my SmartBoard tables and would start the class with a brief discussion of what we learned or noticed the week before. Then, I would walk them through a few examples of that week’s lesson before releasing them to try it for themselves. For week two with my 1st and 2nd grade classes, I gave each student a library iPad and let them play with the Daisy the Dinosaur app independently. (Week 3 was our last full week of school before December break so I read them my favorite holiday stories.)

Any class I had the fourth week (our last two days before break), was allowed to explore any lesson or activity they liked on the Code Studio site.

Overall, I would call my first dabble with The Hour of Code a huge success! December is one of the worst months of the school year to actually try to teach kids something but with coding, my students were eager, excited, on task and focused. It was awesome to walk around and see them working through problems, helping each other problem solve and carefully planning something out. Behavior problems were practically nil because they knew misbehavior would cost them computer time and no one wanted to lose time on the computers! I had sent an email to all the teachers inviting them to stop and check out what we were doing and personally dropped by the principal’s office with the same invitation at the beginning of the month. While none of my teachers opted to stay and check out a full coding class, several came back early to see what their students were up to and many asked about the coding lessons when picking their classes up. Unfortunately, the day my principal was going to pop in, she ended up being sidetracked by a discipline problem so she never got to see the coding in action either. But really, the only downside to trying the Hour of Code was that there wasn’t more time to play with it! I’ve already added a link to the Code Studio page to the library website’s “Just for Fun” page and I will absolutely be writing this into my plans for next year!