Cool Tools for School, Thing 12: Final Reflections

For my final reflections, I thought I’d try using Adobe Spark Video. I’ve used it once before to create a summary video about my trip to the AASL National Conference but this time, I made use of the voice recording option in addition to the pictures and text! Although the audio gets a bit wonky in spots, I think it turned out pretty well and it wasn’t too difficult to put together (once I got my thoughts in order that is).

Here’s a link to my Spark Video in case the embed doesn’t work (I seem to be able to see the video embed in edit mode but once I hit publish it’s just a link? Not sure what’s up with that…)



Cool Tools for School, Thing 50: The New AASL Standards

I was lucky enough to attend the national conference in Phoenix when the standards were unveiled and even pre-ordered my copy so I could pick it up right at registration with the rest of my conference bag goodies. I’ve participated in Webinars and Twitter chats related to the new standards, I’m even in an online book study through our local Boces. But man, oh man. That is one dense book and I’m still, all these months later trying to wrap my head around it. So, I figured why not round out my Cool Tools experience this year with even more standards talk? I mean, if wanting to know and understand these new standards is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

For my first activity, I did the one suggested in Paige’s article.


I know we’re probably harder on ourselves and our programs than others would be but, this was a bit depressing to look at! I don’t have nearly as many green highlights as I would like and far more red circles than I would have hoped. It looks like we’re strongest with the Domain Think, doing alright with the Domain Grow and have much work to do in the Domains Create and Share. Include is by far our worst Shared Foundation with Inquire being our strongest and Collaborate, Curate, Explore and, Engage being works in progress.

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Looking at the Powerverbs! Checklist Paige linked to in her article, it looks like we have trouble with:

  • reflecting
  • seeking diverse perspectives and viewpoints
  • identifying bias
  • evaluating sources
  • locating appropriate sources
  • sharing our knowledge products with genuine audiences

Some of these, like identifying bias and evaluating sources, I expect to have more difficulty within an elementary school library as they are a bit complex. Others, like sharing our knowledge products with genuine audiences, are difficult because technology, particularly social media, is quite locked down in my district. We don’t often have the ability to share our students work outside the classroom. I need to find other ways to share our students work with real-world audiences (and keep working on the IT department to loosen up a bit). Finally, others, like reflecting and locating appropriate sources, are problematic because of the way I have been doing research with our students. I often curate our list of databases to a smaller, more manageable list before we do a research project. Instead, I could be doing that with the students, at the very least talking through my choices with them and modeling my thinking so they can start to see and hear how an experienced researcher evaluates and locates appropriate sources. Reflecting on our final products often gets the short straw because we are often rushing to finish up a project so they can move on and not fall behind on the curriculum. I’ll need to keep this exercise and the list of Powerverbs! handy as I begin to rethink and plan next year’s curriculum over the summer…

After that somewhat disheartening exercise, I began looking at all the different handouts and materials available on the Standards portal. One of the first handouts I looked at was the AASL’s “Six Action Steps for Getting to Know the National School Library Standards”.


I was happy to see that, thanks to my online standards book club and other standards-based PD I’ve been engaging in, I’d made my way through steps 1-3 already. Step 4: Curate, I managed to tackle with the help of the Paige Jaeger article. Steps 5 & 6, Include and Engage, will require some thinking and planning over the summer. I like the idea of sharing the foundation words with students and seeing which ones they already know and which ones need defining for them. I’ll definitely have to start thinking about how to work those vocabulary words into our existing lessons next year…

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Next, I looked at the standards guides for Administrators, Teachers/Educators, and parents. I looked at the key talking points and began to think about how I could incorporate them into different elevator speeches for each of those key groups. Writing an elevator speech is the final assignment for my online Standards book club so I’m still working on those but I’ve found the guides to be very helpful in crafting my messages so far.

Finally, I poked around a bit more and discovered some potentially fun and useful things:

  • You can get presentation templates modeled after the new Standards formatting
  • You can download web banners modeled after the new Standards formatting
  • There’s a hashtag bank with hashtag suggestions for following and using on social media (very handy for my next Twitter lurking session)
  • You can find all the explainer videos for the new Standards there
  • THERE IS A STANDARDS-BASED CARD GAME!!! (it’s kind of like Apples to Apples but with the foundations, domains, and the personas-and I just might have printed it off and plan on bringing it to the CNYSL book club meeting at my house this summer).

All in all, this was a very eye-opening Cool Tools with which to wrap up the year. I didn’t always like what I saw but, I certainly will be a better teacher and librarian for having taken the time to see (all the many, many places) where I can improve.

Cool Tools for School, Thing 11: You Pick!

While exploring Thing 50: The New AASL Standards, I spent some time looking at the Tech Tools & Resources for the AASL Standards doc to which Polly had linked. One of the tools on it was Goosechase EDU, a tool I’d been introduced to in the past but had never gotten around to actually using. Now seemed like the perfect time to correct that.

Goosechase EDU allows you to create and run a scavenger hunt. I thought this would be a great way to shake up our end of year library review. Normally we play library review bingo but a scavenger hunt sounded like a much more fun and active way to review some of the things we learned this year!

First, you have to sign up for an account. You can even use Google to login/create an account if you’d like. Then, you create your first “game” or scavenger hunt.

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After you select “new game”, you give some details about your scavenger hunt. Since “Game Location” is optional, I left it blank for privacy and safety reasons.

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Next, you’ll need to start creating your “missions” or tasks. Missions can take multiple forms. You can have photo or video submission, text submissions or GPS based submissions. You can also create your own from scratch, re-use missions you created for other scavenger hunts, or borrow them from the existing Goosechase Mission Bank.

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I chose to make all of my missions either photo or video submissions. You give each mission a name, a points value, and a description. Mine included things like, find a book and take a picture of the front cover or, make a video of a group member demonstrating how to use a shelf marker to look for books.

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After you’ve assigned your mission an name, points value, and description, you can either save it and move on to the next one or, make a few adjustments in the advanced settings. Goosechase automatically defaults to showing all submissions in the game feed as they are submitted so everyone can see them. If you were playing this in a larger setting I can see where that would be fun for the other players and might help stir up the competition. However, in the smaller space of my library, I thought it would just cause students to copy each other in a race to get done first so I changed it to hide the submissions from the feed. Since it automatically defaults to “shown in feed” you have to do this for every mission which is a bit annoying but not the end of the world.

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After you’ve made all your missions, it’s time to decide which game mode you’d like your scavenger hunt to take. You can do individuals or teams. I opted for teams. You can have up to 5 teams per game with the free EDU account. You can create your own team names and give each team a join code or let teams create their own names. I unchecked the option for letting teams create their own names and went with the very creative Team 1, Team 2 and so on. After that, the next step is activating the game so teams can join and participate. I gave mine a date range so I can test it out sporadically before the actual students play it and so I wouldn’t forget to activate before they came to play and waste precious class time logging in to do so.

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Then, once players start completing missions, you can view them from the submission hub, if you’re logged into the account the created the scavenger hunt under.

Some things to note:

  • To join a game, students do have to create an account for Goosechase and be logged into that account to find your game and play it. I work with elementary students and wasn’t too sure about having them log in using their Gmail accounts. Instead, I created five accounts with the usernames fpslibrary1, fpslibrary2, fpslibrary3 and so on. For an email address, I entered whatever username I had just created and the system took it (even though none of those email address is real or valid).
  • To speed up the whole process, I plan on having the five iPads logged in to the fpslibrary accounts, the scavenger hunt selected and each iPad signed up as one of the 5 teams before the students arrive anyway. That way, they can just get right to playing the game after I’ve explained how it works.
  • This whole idea could also be executed without the Goosechase app if necessary. You could put the missions on index cards or a piece of paper and still have students take pictures and videos with the iPads. You would just need to save time at the end of class to review the submissions from each team’s iPad before you could see how each team actually did. I’m thinking of doing this anyway in case there are any unexpected internet issues or iPad problems the day I want to try the scavenger hunt.

In addition to this being a fun way to wrap up the year with my primary grade students, I think it could be a great review/orientation for the intermediate students when they come back in the fall. With the older kids being on a flex schedule I won’t see all of them right away for projects but I still try to see all of the 3rd-6th grade classes the first few weeks back for a welcome back orientation and book exchange. I love the idea of this fun game setting the tone of our year!

Cool Tools for School, Thing 14: eBook Creation

A few weeks ago, I got the email I expect but dread every. Single. Year: it was time to set up my observation. This year, the library department’s observations are being done by the head of the technology department. So, it seemed like a good idea to find a way to work technology into my lesson plan. But I was also in between projects with my intermediate grades (we’re on a flex schedule this year) which meant if I was going to complete my observation in the time frame I was being given, I was going to need to do my lesson with a primary class. Fortunately, we were going to be done with our current units and ready to start something new by observation time. But I didn’t want to teach them a technology lesson just to teach them a technology lesson and try to look good to the IT guy during my observation. I was a bit stumped.

Then, one night I was scrolling Instagram and saw a post about this book I am not just a Scribble by Diane Alber. It looked cute so I ordered it and when it arrived I saw that the last page encourages kids to make their own scribbles and it even comes with stickers so kids can give their scribbles eyes, arms, mouths and so on like, just like the Scribble in the story. I loved that idea but it didn’t have nearly enough stickers for even one class of students to do it much less a whole grade level. And that’s when I remembered the “Build a Snowman with Google Slides” activity by Control Alt Achieve that I had looked during Thing 43: Google Drawing and it all came together.

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Inspired by that activity, I created a new slide template called We Are Not Just Scribbles. The idea was the same as the original, my 2nd-grade students would learn how to use copy and paste to take the eyes, mouths, arms, legs and so on from the other pages of the slide template and add them to their creation. So, the class prior to my observation, we read the book and students created their own scribbles. I gave them a template I mocked up quickly that had four boxes on the front and four boxes on the back. They were told to make 8 completely different, creative scribbles and then circle the number of their favorite before they handed it in and started book exchange time. Before the next class (aka The Lesson That Was To Be Observed), I used my phone to take a picture of each of their favorite scribbles and uploaded them to Google Drive. Then, in Google Classroom, I opened each of their slide templates and added their individual scribbles to each of the templates. When they arrived for the next class, we reviewed the book, did a quick lesson on how to use the mouse or the toolbar to access the copy/paste tools and then sent them off to access their individual slide projects and personalize their scribbles. The next lesson we finished them up and the next time I see them, we’ll start typing in the “All about my scribble” box. When everyone is done, I plan on printing their scribbles and “all about my scribble” pages and binding them into one class book I can add to the library shelves. If there’s time, I’d like to make a second one to give to their classroom teachers as well.

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For my Kindergarten and 1st-grade students, we followed the same basic idea I did with 2nd-grade classes except I created a different version of the template with fewer choices for the personalization options so they all fit on the same page as the scribble. Instead of learning copy and paste they used the lesson to practice mouse skills like selecting, dragging and dropping.  

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All in all, the lesson went well. My IT guy was impressed, the kids loved it and, it not only taught them a technology skill but, I was able to connect it to something we did in library class. I will definitely be using lessons like this next year to teach basic computer skills to my primary students throughout the year!

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 38: Makerspaces

Trying out LittleBits

What am I doing?

This year is the third year we’ve had a maker club in our library. I do a club rather than a makerspace because I’m at an elementary school and our schedules don’t work for the usual makerspace, come when you can, work when you have the time, model. The first year, we met once a week at the end of the school day, from 2:50-3:20, and the art teacher was my co-advisor. The second year, we still met at the end of the day from 2:50-3:20 but the art teacher was out on maternity leave and they had cut our library clerks so I didn’t have anyone else to help support the club. It was a little tough to manage because I was also trying out an end of the day library helpers program that year as but, the makerclub group was smaller than the year before so that helped. This year, our building received a grant that is supplying an after school bus several days a week so I decided to try moving our maker club to after school instead (which unfortunately, meant the art teacher was once again unavailable to help). In previous years, I’ve hesitated to try moving the club to after school because I didn’t want transportation to be the issue that kept kids from being able to participate but the after school bus has solved that issue. All of our makerclub supplies have been donated or collected over the last several years. The year before I started the makerclub, I sent an email out to my whole building explaining what I wanted to start and asking them to bring me any supplies they were done with or no longer wanted. Once word spread about the makerclub, people starting bringing me things they thought I would want whenever they went through their rooms but, I still periodically send an email out in the spring-those colleagues that are retiring are usually already starting to clean out their rooms and are happy to help you out! To store it all, I used some leftover supply money to buy some drawered supply carts on wheels. I keep them tucked in an out of the way corner of the library until we need them.


What has been working? What hasn’t?

Some things that I think have worked well for our makerclub are:

  • Applications-Every year that we’ve had the makerclub, I’ve had students fill out an application to join. The applications aren’t terribly long or complicated but they do show me who has enough interest to follow through with the pre-requisites. Plus, the application has a place for them to share their ideas and interests which helps me personalize and guide our year together.
  • Information meetings-Last year I started having information meetings for students interested in joining makerclub. Every day for a whole week, I had a 30 minute, “All about Makerclub” meeting where students could learn what makerclub was, see examples of past projects, hear about my goals and expectations for makerclub are, and ask their questions. The only way to pick up a makerclub application is to attend one of these information meetings.
  • Starting with whole group challenges-I like to start makerclub off every year with several weeks of everyone doing the same project challenges (sometimes as individuals, sometimes as pairs or groups). It gives us time to all flex our creativity and get to know each other. Plus, the added element of competition gets them pumped! We’ve done challenges like trying to build the best catapult out of popsicle sticks, a spoon, and some rubber bands; trying to make a boat that can hold the most quarters out of tin foil and cardboard; making the paper airplane that will fly the furthest; egg drops; homemade ice cream three ways etc.
  • Moving from the end of the school day to after schoolMoving to after school this year allows us to have an hour of club time (twice as much as when we meet at the end of the day!). Besides the obvious benefits of having more time to work on projects and manage the cleanup, having that extra time has also allowed us to have…
  • Post-session wrap discussionsThe challenges and activities themselves can be wonderful learning opportunities but to help facilitate that learning, I’ve always wanted to have wrap up discussions and this year, we finally have the time for them! I like to ask them questions like,  “What worked? What didn’t? If we did this same experiment/project/challenge all over again, what would you do differently? If you could swap out a supply for a different one, what would you swap out and why?” and so on. I find these discussions informative and I hope, the students have been as well.

Some things that haven’t been working well for our club are:

  • Transitioning from the whole group challenges to individual projects-I’ve struggled with this one every year. There are several things that make this difficult every year:
    • Supplies-Even with the students providing me with their ideas for projects, I find it difficult to provide the variety of supplies that will help them try out their ideas and follow their creative whims. I always seem to have almost everything they need but not quite.
    • ToolsI also struggle with figuring out how to safely manage the use of some tools during makerclub as well as what tools are reasonable to let upper elementary age students use with moderate supervision.
    • Motivation– I find that many of my students like the idea of free choice creation time but freeze when presented with that time.
  • Balancing my time-I often struggle with balancing my time helping the students who need ideas and the push to get started with helping the students who have an idea and are working but have hit a snag.
  • Keeping them motivated!-Every year, students seem to lose steam with their projects and want to just abandon them before completing them. I struggle with how to handle this. Part of me thinks this is fine and acceptable. Makerclub is about experimenting and trying and learning. It should be a place they don’t have to worry about grades and getting in trouble for not handing something in. On the other hand, I want them to experience the pride in completing a difficult task and pushing themselves to overcome barriers. I also don’t like seeing supplies wasted on half-finished work since I have little to no budget for makerclub and I have to really work to collect and accumulate the supplies we do have.



What new ideas did you pick up from the readings this week?

I’ve been thinking about what hasn’t been working and how to overcome it a lot this year. So I focused my time and energy on finding ways to bridge the gap between the guided challenges we start with and true, free choice project time-and boy did I find some ideas!

  • Maker Tubs-I love the idea of these pre-assembled challenges! I already know my students love challenges so these would be right up their ally. But, by having lots of them to choose from, they would also be able to experiment with free choice (without being overwhelmed with ALL THE CHOICES). I’ll start keeping an eye out for good deals on clear plastic tubs so I can create some of these tubs overtime and hopefully, have a nice set ready to go for next year. I’m thinking these could be a great training wheel step for the free choice challenges (some kids really, really struggle with not being told what to do each and every step of the way and having everything in one little tub could really help them out). While I wait to gather tubs and put some of these ideas together, I also found these STEM challenge cards on Teachers Pay Teachers I think I might use. I still won’t be gathering all the supplies for them but I think just having the supplies listed might be a helpful step for my group.
  • Challenge Cards-I also like the idea of modifying the maker tub idea slightly and instead of making the actual tubs with everything in them already, making challenge cards based on the maker tub ideas. The students can pick the challenge, find their own supplies, and go!  I’m especially excited about making challenges related to books! I loved the Iggy Peck Architect example in the one video. It reminds me of a session one of my colleagues went to at a conference. The presenter talked about creating steam challenges based off of books (read The Gingerbread Boy, identify the problem, create a solution to the problem etc). I’ve had that idea kicking around in the back of my head for awhile and this would be a way to test it out before I tried it with whole classes at the lower grade levels.
  • Idea CardsI’ve been wanting to create direction cards/sheets for different craft like activities for quite awhile. I have several students this year who have expressed interest in learning how to do things like weave or crochet so this Cool Tool Thing was the perfect push to finally make some basic instructions for those and other fiber arts like string art or basket weaving. Here are the ones I’ve started so far: Maker Club Craft Idea Cards
  • Maker Journals-One of the ideas I saw when I was perusing Pinterest were Maker Journals. I love the ideas of giving the kids a place to record their ideas, make sketches, keep track of what worked, what didn’t etc. I think I might use this one I found on Teachers Pay Teachers. While we do something like this already during our end of class breakdowns I like the idea of adding the journals for a few reasons:
    • End of club whole group breakdown sessions are great when we’ve all been working on the same projects but, journals might be a better option for when everyone has been doing different activities
    • Some students just aren’t comfortable sharing and reflecting in a group setting. Hopefully, the journals would give them space to freely think about their successes and failures

Whew! Putting all these ideas together was A LOT of work (which is probably why I hadn’t gotten around to it yet and was still hitting those some old struggles with my Makerclub) but now that they’re done, I’m so excited and glad I took on this particular Cool Tool Thing! I’m sure the kids will feel more empowered to try things independently and now that I’ve started the process of gathering the ideas keeping it going doesn’t seem quite so hard (isn’t starting always the hardest part!). Plus, those Maker Tubs are practically done for me-just need to pick up some bins and hit the dollar stores for some quick supplies. This year’s Maker Club is going to be the best yet-I can feel it!

Cool Tools, Thing 24: Control the Info Flow with RSS & Feed Readers

I really, really, really wanted this tool to work out for me. The idea of having an easier way to organize and keep up with the overwhelming flow of information is so so appealing. Unfortunately, a lot of this experiment felt like an overwhelming bust but in the end, I did find some handy takeaways. Since I spent most of my time trying to work with Feedly and (although I did look into a few other platforms like Inoreader) I’ll focus the majority of my summary on those two platforms.

First up, Feedly:

As it turns out, I already had a Feedly account so once I remembered how to login, I was ready to start re-familiarizing myself with the platform.

The Good:

  • It was incredibly easy to add new websites and blogs to my Feedly account.
  • It was also very easy to delete websites and blogs I no longer wanted to follow.
  • It was a breeze to reorganize the feeds I followed into different categories.
  • Figuring out how to do all of the above was very intuitive and easy to figure out on my own.

The Bad:

  • This is purely a personal preference but, I don’t like the look of Feedly. I prefer something more “dashboard style” and Feedly doesn’t provide that.
  • If I don’t like how it looks, I’m far less likely to use it (as evidenced by that fact that I apparently made an account who know how long ago, based on the feeds I’d say grad school assignment, and didn’t even remember doing it until I checked out his tool-clearly, my usage didn’t last long after that initial setup).

Which brings us to

The Good:

  • LOVED the look of it! It had that dashboard style I prefer an reminded me of other platforms I like to use like Pinterest or my newly discovered love of Tweetdeck.
  • So many options! And not just for what to add to your dashboards-you can customize the whole look of it from the wall paper to what feed goes where. You can even set up separate pages to further customize your dashboard’s look and organization.
  • LOVED LOVED LOVED that it could import all my bookmarks and automatically gave them their own page. Sorting through all of them and figuring out what can be completely deleted, what should maybe be pinned to Pinterest and what should actually stay a bookmark (and where) was tedious and mind numbing and I never would have done it if hadn’t made it so easy to gather them all up into one place.

The Bad:

  • After sorting through the default feeds and customizing the ones I kept, I found it much more difficult (in some cases impossible) to add websites and blogs to the dashboard if they weren’t on’s predetermined lists. All the blogs I wanted to add aren’t secure websites so I couldn’t embedded them cleanly into feeds. But if I tried saving them as bookmarks instead, I couldn’t get the bookmarks to actually open to those bookmarked pages when I clicked on them.
  • So.Many.Options. I found it overwhelming trying to sort through all the possibilities.
  • Doesn’t play nice with Chrome at work. This must be a work ISP issue because I never noticed it at home but, when I would try to open it up at work I ran into two problems over and over again.
    • First, it wouldn’t actually be showing me any of my pages and feeds and when I would click on the account icon in the corner, it wouldn’t display any of my account information (despite being logged into my Google Chrome profile) but, it would still display an option for “logout of account”. So, I would have to logout and log back in every morning, even after already logging into chrome. That would have been annoying enough but there was more…
    • It kept defaulting to Spanish. So not only was I trying to logout so I could log back in, I had to do it with menu options that were always in Spanish.

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So…where does this leave me?

Regardless of what platform I was trying out, I noticed I had to wrestle with the same decision over and over again: what to add. Now I hear you saying, “Duh Serena. That’s the whole point of these things”. Maybe I over thought it but for me, it became almost a philosophical question. Like, do I stick with my current likes and interests and only add the feeds I’m actually checking every day manually, in essence do I stay who I actually am at this moment, or do I add feeds for things I wish I kept better tabs on, do I try to become more of the person I wish I was? And where is the line between helpfully aspirational and delusional?

So after going round and round with these sites and spending about a week longer on this tool than I liked, I decided that instead of focusing on the platforms, I first needed to think about the above questions. Ultimately, I decided it would be best to stick mostly with who I really am at this moment but pick one thing to aspire.

Sticking true to who I am at this time meant finding a time saving way to keep up with the new content on the blogs and websites I currently read (and spend too much time checking to see if they’ve loaded new content).  For me, that meant going with Feedly. It was the easiest one to set up and maintain of all the ones I played around with it and it’s available as an extension in the Google Chrome Store. Which meant I could keep this Chrome extension I found last summer called My Dogs.

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My Dogs is a dashboard extension that automatically loads each time you open a new tab. The background is always a different adorable dog photo complete with a fact about that dog breed or dogs in general. It also automatically includes a to-do list, the weather, the option to play relaxing music, your bookmarks, a search bar,  the time and, access to all your other Chrome apps (which now includes Feedly on my page-I even moved it all the way to the top so I don’t even have to scroll to see it and be reminded to check it).

Fo my one thing to aspire to I chose keeping up with the news and focusing on my goal of becoming more media literate so I can help my students do the same. I found I super cool website that will help me do just that, Newsmap.

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Newsmap is a great visual dashboard of the current news topics that lets you get a quick overview of the news. Stories are color coded by topic (national, world, sports, entertainment, tech, health, business) and further coded by brightness. The brighter the color the more breaking the news. When you hover over a story with your mouse a larger box pops up with more information and the option to click on it and go to that news outlets full article. You can also create an account and customize the way you see the newsmap (caveat: I have yet to successfully set up an account. Both at work and at home when I try to setup an account the little loading wheel just keeps whirling but nothing ever happens…). I added Newsmap to my bookmarks bar and have been trying to add checking it to my morning routine, right before checking my email when I get to work (temptation bundling again!).

While it’s not the slick looking mega dashboard of resources I envisioned when I started this tool, I’d say I’m still in a better place than I was before I started looking into my options. Not all improvements need to be grand and splashy to have an impact and I think these little tweaks will definitely have an impact on me and how I use my time.

Cool Tools, Thing 3: Twitter & Online Communities

Just like the Cool Tool on Everything Google, I was going to skip this one. I’ve had a Twitter account for a few years and once upon a time I even took the four week course ALA offers on Twitter for beginners. I’ve made some great personal contacts through Twitter and found some great ideas on there as well-so I don’t need to be convinced of the benefits of Twitter!

So, why am I doing this tool then? Because as much as I see the benefits of Twitter, I still can’t seem to move beyond sporadic usage. I’ll occasionally remember to tweet out an idea or share something that’s happened and when I’m at conferences I love to use Twitter to keep up on what everyone else is learning and finding out at the conference. But when the conference is over, my Twitter usage is too. Clearly, my relationships with Twitter needed some fine tuning.

What did you explore? I feel like a better question would be what didn’t I explore! I lost the better part of my day to the rabbit hole of Twitter resources we had to explore-and then ones they linked to, and the links in those links and so on. I spent the most time with the following resources:

What did you learn? My big takeaways after a day’s worth of reading and exploring (I wish I was joking. I literally spend my entire day Saturday on my patio with my laptop reading about Twitter. At least it was nice out) can be summed up as follows:

  • Mind your manners-Like anyplace else, Twitter has its own etiquette code and whether you’re a newbie or a lapse practitioner like me, it doesn’t hurt to brush up on the do’s and don’ts before jumping right in. Norms and values change quickly and online they seem to change even faster. What was considered okay a few months (or even days) ago might suddenly be taboo. Of course, if you’re using something like Twitter on a regular basis it’s probably easier to see the shift happening and to shift with it. But if you’ve taken any kind of prolonged break, do a quick etiquette review and do some lurking and observing before jumping right back in.
  • There’s an app for that-Or a tool or a website or a plugin or widget or a Chrome extension. For anything you could want to do with Twitter or any issue you’re having with using it, someone somewhere has come up with an idea to help you manage it better and with more ease. You just have to find one. Actually, the bigger issue will probably be weeding through all the choices you have and selecting the fix that will work best for you. But rest assured, there are helpful tools just waiting to be found.
  • Twitter loves educators and educators love Twitter-I knew there were a lot of teachers and librarians on Twitter and I knew there were education related Twitter chats but I don’t think I had realized how many there were! I mean, there are an overwhelming number of people you could follow and education related Twitter chats to participate in-there’s probably three happening as I type this!
  • Presentation Matters-This one almost goes without saying but I’ll say it anyway because I found myself doing some hard reflecting on it this weekend-what you say and how you say it matters when you put yourself out there online. And as professional educators, we have to hold ourselves to a higher standard when we share online because goodness knows everyone else certainly will!
  • You can’t keep up with everything and that’s fine-This one also seems obvious but it’s a difficult one for me and one of the reasons I think I keep dropping Twitter. It just feels like there’s so much information and I get overwhelmed trying to keep up with it all so I just stop. It was nice to read more than once in this Twitter advice articles that you should just keep up with what and who you can and enjoy it.

What/how do you plan to use? So, after reflecting on a day’s worth of reading and learning, I’ve decided I need a plan for posting to Twitter more often as well as a plan for using/lurking on Twitter for ideas and inspiration more often. Here’s what I have so far:

  • Plan for using more frequently:
    • Make it a habitEarlier this year I read The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg and last week I listened to a Freakinomics Podcast episode about habits entitled, Could Solving This One Problem Solve All the Others? and they gave me an idea. Both talked about the idea of using something called temptation bundling to help you develop a habit. The idea is to pair the habit you’re having trouble establishing with something you already really enjoy doing. I already check Instagram every day. I will no longer open Instagram until I have opened and checked Twitter. I even rearranged the icons on my phone so that Twitter is in Instagram’s old spot so if I forget, hopefully muscle memory will take over and I’ll accidently open Twitter when I meant to open Instagram and the goal will still be accomplished.
    • Make it easier-One of the things I learned about Twitter during my ALA course was that you can make lists in Twitter. I never set any up though so after reading about them again in this Tool, I decided it was finally time to get this time saver up and running. I opened up my Twitter account on my laptop with my list of people I follow open and then, with my Twitter account open on my phone I went through account by account and saved them to different lists I made. It was also a great time to unfollow some accounts that I couldn’t remember why I had followed them to begin with. Now, when I go onto Twitter if I’m short on time I can just pick one of my lists and check in on those accounts instead of seeing and sorting through everything.
    • Know where to look-I copied the educational hashtag lists from the Edudemic Guide to Twitter article as well as Cybraryman’s list to my Pinterest account, saved them to Google Docs and, printed out copies to laminate and keep in my planner. Now, I know where to look when I need ideas and information on a particular topic.
  • Plan for posting more frequently:
    • Buffer app-I downloaded the Buffer app so I can pre-plan and schedule some of my library related Tweets. At first, I wasn’t sure about this idea. I mean, I feel like Twitter is suppose to be of the moment and scheduling my Tweets felt wrong. But, on the other hand, social media is blocked at our school so I can’t Tweet the cool things that we do as they are happening anyway. So it’s better to plan ahead and make sure what we are doing gets a scheduled Tweet rather than risking forgetting entirely at the end of the day. Plus, the Buffer app lets you schedule out pretty far ahead so I can just add this to my weekend routine. When I sit down to plan my weekly calendar I’ll just look at what lessons and activities we’re doing and schedule my Tweets!
    • Keeping track of chats-Did you know there’s a all-in-one Google Calendar of education chats? I didn’t either! I was able to add the calendar to my Google Calendars at work and I can check it and set reminders for chats I really want to participate in! Now when I miss out on a Twitter chat it will be because I’m busy, not because I didn’t know about it. ***Side note: How does NYS not have a Twitter chat for educators?!?! Maybe when I get some more edchat experience I’ll start it for us!***
  • Plan for keeping it professional: For the most part, I don’t think my Twitter account (or any of my social media accounts for that matter) have a professionalism issue. I’m not one to post anything overly negative to social media or share anything overtly personal. However, after reading a Gwyneth Jones blog post I found through Jennifer LaGarde’s, Twitter: A 140 Character Love Story I decided my Twitter profile could use a revamp.IMG_4911
  • First up, I rewrote my profile to make put my teacher self first and foremost. I also took note of the advice to avoid grandiose claims and took out the super librarian part.IMG_4919
  • Then I noticed that I was calling myself an enthusiastic elementary school librarian but my profile pic looked anything but. So, I updated that to a more friendly looking picture. I also tweaked the wording a little bit more so it flowed a little better.IMG_4920
  • But, it felt a little void of personality then so I tried to add in something else about me at the end again.IMG_4921
  • Then, the toughest change to make: a new header image. I love my header image of Bobby Hill yelling at his dad about the dog dancing competition! It also felt in keeping with my personality but, I wasn’t sure if it went with my new profile goals so, I replaced it with another picture I had on my camera roll, a notebook I saw at a gift shop that I liked.IMG_4922

Then, it occurred to me that I could use one of the awesome image maker tools I had read about for Twitter to make my Twitter header! So, I made my own header using that same quote.IMG_4923So far, I think I might actually like it better. I didn’t take all of the advice in the article. I kept LibrarianOnTheLoose as my Twitter name and I kept the line about crushing librarian stereotypes even if it is a little grandiose because, honestly, I think I do crush some librarian stereotypes every day. And if someone wants to convince me that the Bobby Hill header should come back and that it totally worked, I would be very open to that. 

Alright. Wish me luck on my Twitter adventures-and hey, maybe come find me on there!

Cool Tools, Thing 38: Augmented & Virtual Reality

I was so excited about this one! I have heard about Google Cardboard and Google Expeditions and even got to try out Google Cardboard briefly at a workshop a few months ago-these seem like guaranteed ways to get students excited about a new topic! Since I don’t have the actual viewfinders, I decided to check out Google Expeditions and just use the iPads I have available in the library.

My 6th graders were getting ready to start a Social Studies inquiry on China so I thought it would be cool to lead them on some guided expeditions of things like the Great Wall of China and get them familiar with the landscape, history and culture of China. Not only would it give them some background knowledge to draw from during their unit, it would hopefully get them more excited about learning even through their inquiry.

The first thing I did was download the app to my phone and tester iPad in the library (we’re no longer allowed to download and delete iPads from our teacher iPads on our own. We have to put those requests through help desk. If we want to test out an app there is one unlocked tester iPad in the library we can use.). Later at home, I convinced my husband to be a student and help me test out the guide/explorer format (Side Note: Every time I opened my camera app to snap some pics of what was happening on my screen, he would get disconnected from the guide but not until I tried to go back to Google Expedition. So if you want to try this with your classes and would like to get some photos or videos of the experience, you’ll have to have someone else be in charge of that with a separate device. Otherwise, it will really slow down the expedition). I loved that the expeditions have built in points of interest and questions for the teacher guide to prompt/ask the students. I also loved that they were scaled in rigor so you could adjust the questions for your students/classes as necessary. My husband thought it was cool that the explorers are guided to look at what the instructor wants them to look to help keep them on track and I loved that as the teacher, I get feedback from the app on how many student explorers are following along and looking where I want them to be looking (seriously, how do they do that!?!?). Since I only had one student explorer testing it out with me, I’m not sure if there is anyway for it to indicate who isn’t looking where they are suppose to be looking or if you just look around the room and see who’s looking in the wrong direction.

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You may have noticed that my last sentence implies that I never used Google Expeditions beyond that testing session at home with my every patient husband. That’s because I never did get to use it with my 6th grade classes. At school the next day I wanted to test it out one more time before I formally requested the app be installed on the library iPads (when we want an app that installed that isn’t already on the preapproved list, we have to fill out a form to request that it gets added to the pre approved list and then, if they notify you it made the list, you can request it be added to the iPads you want/need it downloaded to.) The form asks you all sorts of questions about your testing out process so I wanted to test it again as I filled out the form so I could answer completely and accurately. Except, I could no longer get the app to work.

It would open but on my device it kept telling me no explorers could be found and on the iPad it would say no guides could be found.



I double checked that both devices were on the same wifi, nothing changed. I tried turning the wifi on and off for both of them, nothing changed. I tried restarting both devices, nothing changed. I took them home and tested them out on my home wifi, worked perfectly.

So, as it turns out, the settings on the wifi used in our building blocks the devices from being able to find each other and makes it impossible to use Google Expeditions as intended. I’ll be submitting a form asking them to change that but, I’m not expecting a speedy resolution, if I get one at all.

I then looked at some of the other options I had learned about in this tool, namely Google Cultural Institute and Google Maps Street View Treks, to see if they could substitute for Google Expeditions so I wouldn’t have to scrap my idea entirely.

Google Cultural Institute is a swell idea but, to get the most out of the videos, you still need some kind of Google Cardboard viewer and I don’t have those (and can’t afford them or get them here in a hurry) so that kind of takes some of the wind out of the sales on that site. You can view the videos on a computer and move around within the video image but it definitely losing something sharing it on the larger smartboard or even computer screen. (Although, it wasn’t much different viewing them on the iPad than it was doing the Google Expeditions on the iPad.) It’s also a great resource for museum style resources in the comfort and convenience of your classroom-they had a great collection on The Art of Chinese Crafts. Most of the videos though were of museums and not the actual landscapes and major attractions (like the Great Wall expedition I had wanted to take my 6th graders on). If you’re looking to bring the museums of the world to your classroom and/or don’t mind pre-recorded Expedition style videos, this is a great resource for classroom use and has tons of topics from tons of places. But, it didn’t give me that free form exploration feeling I was looking to get (and didn’t have any videos I could find on the Great Wall).

So I moved on to Google Maps Street View Treks instead. I was definitely let down by this one more than the Cultural Institute. The Cultural Institute had plenty to offer, it just wasn’t exactly what I was looking to find. Google Treks was surprisingly sparse in comparison-there are currently only about 20 locations available. For those locations you can see some cool videos and some panoramic photos but it’s not as self guided as the Google Expeditions. Plus, I found it incredibly frustrating that when I clicked on “Explore in Street View” instead of taking me to the street view map for the location I was actually viewing (in this screenshot, the Eiffel Tower), it would just take me to a general landing page for Google Street View-and there was no way to search for the location I had been at and wanted to view in Street View!

In the end, I scrapped the lesson entirely and went a different route. The music teacher and I were going to collaborate on an end of year project for 5th grade so I reached out to him about modifying it slightly and doing it with 6th grade as well. While there are certainly some cool options out there and I probably could have made something work from Treks and/or the Cultural Institute, in the end what I really wanted to do was a Google Expedition and I decided if I couldn’t, I’d rather just do something else entirely.