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…)



Thing 40: Final Reflections & What’s Next?

Another year, another Cool Tools session to wrap up. Let’s dive right in!

What did you learn?

  • How did you put what you learned into action at school? Personally?
      • While I struggled initially with the EBP lessons that kicked off the Track 4 Cool Tools, I think they have had the biggest impact on how I do things. I’m more aware than ever of all the potential evidence I could (and should) be collecting about what I/we do in library. I’ve started using my cell phone camera to snap quick pics of student work, students working, final products etc. Then, I’ve been using the Google Drive app to upload them right to special folders I created in Drive. It really doesn’t take that long and before I knew it, I had a nice collection of examples of what we actually do in library.
      • In keeping with the goals I came up with in my EBP writeups, I’ve also stuck with my fancy new monthly infographic wrap ups I’ve been creating for my principal. Next year, I think I’d like to find a place in the library and hang them month after month so everyone who has a few minutes of time could get a better sense of what actually happens in our space.
  • Did you expand your Personal Learning Network? Make new professional connections?
      • I did the Polly recommended double dip strategy for one of my writeups and used the DIY option as an excuse to sign up for the Learn 2 Tweet class I had been wanting to check it out. Through that class, I not only learned more about how to use Twitter more effectively, I also meet some great librarians and added them to my network of people I can reach out to when I have questions! I also learned about tons of great hashtags and regular live tweet sessions I can use to expand my PLN even further!
  • What challenges did you face during the workshop?
    • As always, time is the biggest hurdle to this class. I want to read and explore all the options in each tool, then I have to decide which ones I’ll actually want to work with, explore them, try to use them with actual classes/lessons, then finally, write up the whole process! The part I struggle with the most is getting them worked into actual lessons in a timely fashion that also leaves me time to report about how it all went.

What’s next?

  • Did you start some projects that you’ll be following up on in the future?
      • I absolutely plan on continuing all the projects I started during the EBP tools (infographic summary for principal, newsletter for teachers, recording evidence). I’m also really looking forward to using Google Classroom to assist with Battle of the Books next year. Finally, I can’t wait to use SeeSaw more next year and would love to be able to use BookWidgets for student assessment.
  • Are you planning to share what you’ve learned with others?
      • I would love to put together a professional development session for one of our superintendent days on using Google Classroom for our teachers. I’ve also been thinking about putting together a proposal to lead a book study on The Together Teacher in my district.
  • What other professional development projects will you be pursuing?
    • In part, because of what I’ve learned in this class over the years, and as part of my overall goals, I’ll be starting to pursue my goal of someday becoming National Board Certified next year. I’ll also be taking a one credit class in the fall through UB on being a leader in your building community!

Did you like learning this way?

  • For some of you, this might have been your first experience with this kind of independent, self-driven learning. Did this work for you?
      • I’ve always found it fairly easy to be an independent, self-driven learner. As long as deadlines and guidelines are clear, I usually don’t have any problems focusing on the work I need to do when I need to do it and sticking to a self-imposed schedule. I also like the challenge of the doing something just for me, not because anyone in particular is watching or expecting it from me.  
  • What did you most value about the program? What didn’t work well?
      • Hands down, one of the things I most value is all the time and effort Polly puts into pulling together all the resources and ideas for each tool! Often, they are all things I’ve wanted to look into more at some point but, never seem to have the time to do the research on it. Thanks to Polly, I can focus on the exploration and not the hunt and gather.
      • I struggle with the same things every year, over extending myself and at the end of the school year and getting crunched for time, and taking time to connect with the other participants. This year was no different but I’ll continue to work on it.
  • Would you do it again?
    • Absolutely! This was my third time and I have never regretted the time I spent on Cool Tools.

Bonus Lesson: Making Connections

For this lesson, I ended up looking at the following blogs: Aabdul810, TechieToolsBlog, and Bri’sCoolToolsBlog.

What did I learn? So much!!! I wish I did a better job of reading other blogs during this year’s Cool Tools because in just this weekend, I got so many ideas and learned so many cool tips and tricks. I guess that will be my goal for next year…

One of the first things I learned, courtesy of Aabdul810’s Thing 2 post on Photo Fun, was that you can use your own photo to create word clouds in Tagxedo! I had no idea you could do this-I just assumed I had to use their pre-programmed options. (I really really wanted to try this out right now but, I’m out of town for the long weekend and my host’s computer says it doesn’t have the right software to create a Tagxedo.)

Over at Bri’s Cool Tools Blog, I learned about LessonPaths in her Thing 5 Curation Tools post. Not only is it another potential way for me to curate resources for students (I like that it supports a wide variety of resource tools), you can search other people’s “playlists” so you don’t have to constantly reinvent the wheel when looking for great resources for teachers, students, and parents.

Finally, I hit up Techie Tools Blog. In Thing 11: Coding tools, I learned about the app Cargo Bot. I’ve been celebrating coding month in December the past two years with my 1st-5th graders. I get a lot of great ideas and activities (even some unplugged activities)  from the Hour of Code website but, also like to have some coding apps for the kids to try. Right now, I only have Daisy the Dinosaur and Scratch Jr on our iPads. This app will make an excellent addition to our coding apps (can’t believe it’s free!!!) but, like Techie Tools, I’ll have to practice more with it before I introduce it to the kids! I’m stuck on one of the early tutorial levels!!

Another great idea I picked up over at Techie Tools Blog was using Google Classroom for Battle of the Books! Being a relatively new librarian, and thus fairly new to Battle of the Books, I’m still looking for ways to improve on it every year. But, I’m also looking for improvements that also make running it easier on me-this will be especially true next year when we no longer have our library clerks (a fact I’m pretty sure I’m still in deep, deep denial about…). On the surface, it might seem like setting up Battle of the Books in Google Classroom might be more work, not less, however if I use some of my summer break to set things up in Google Classroom, I think I could save myself a lot of time during the school year.

However, I didn’t just love this idea because it potentially revolutionize the way I conduct Battle of the Books in my building next year, I loved it because it finally gave me a good idea for using Google Classroom in the library. Every since they finally made Google Classroom available to us, I’ve wanted to use it with my classes but, I also didn’t want to use it just to use it. I wanted to have a good idea that made the most sense with Google Classroom instead of another option. One of my biggest holdups with Google Classroom was that, if I don’t always use it, the kids will forget how to access it. So few of my classroom teachers use our Google Apps for Education options with their classes that their Gmail credentials aren’t something they are use to needing to know. I’ve been extolling the benefits of Google Docs and slowly making some converts this year. One of the things that frequently happens though, is that the teacher makes a master template in Google Docs, shares it with the students, and then when they all open it and start working on it, everyone is overriding everyone else’s work. If I’m available, I’ve been able to show them how to have students make their own copy (the only way I knew how to combat this problem) but, when I’m not available, they often give up and just switch to Word docs. Not something that helps me make converts of everyone…

But now, thanks to Techie Tools post, I know that Google Classroom has an option that will MAKE A COPY FOR EACH STUDENT!!! This tiny detail alone might be enough for me to convince loads of teachers to join me on the Google bandwagon next year! I can’t wait to start showing and telling this little detail all over the school, maybe even the district…I think I might have an idea for my first PD session next year!

And finally, here’s the links to where I left some comments on the other blogs:

Aabdul810 Thing 37: DIY

Aabdul810 Thing 2: Photo Fun

Techietoolsblog Thing 11: Coding Tools

Techietoolsblog Thing 12: Collaborating, Connecting, and Sharing

Bri’s Cool Tools Blog Thing 5: Curation Tools

Bri’s Cool Tools Blog Thing 3: Online Communities and Personal Learning Networks

Bri’s Cool Tools Blog Thing 2: Photo Fun

Thing 37: Join Me for Some Professional & Personal Development?

For this tool, I thought I’d write about two things I decided to try, one a professional development, the other a personal development.

Professional Development:

I had gotten an email about an online class AASL was offering called Learn to Tweet and I was intrigued. I’ve been on Twitter for over 5 years now but I’ve always felt like I could be getting more out if. The class was only four weeks long and a reasonably priced $25, so I decided “Why not?” and signed up.

I’m halfway through the class and I’ve really been enjoying it. Even as someone who isn’t a complete Twitter novice, I’ve gotten something out of every week. The first week, I mostly just tuned up my list of people to follow by adding people from my class but, I also found some people I thought for sure I was following and wasn’t! The second week, my big discovery was Twitter lists. I had no idea you could create and manage lists for your Twitter feed much less follow other people’s lists! I’ve slowly been working on creating and managing my Twitter lists and I’m very excited about them! One of my biggest problems with Twitter is that sometimes, it just feels so unmanageable to weed through all the Tweets on my timeline. With lists, I’ll be able to select exactly which group of people I follow I want to see Tweets from at the given moment and really make the most of however much time I have to be on Twitter at that moment. Mind blown, game changed…

We’re working on Live Twitter Chats this coming week and super nervous about them-I’ve participated in them to some extent whenever I’ve gone to a conference and followed/used the conference hashtag but not to the level of a scheduled Twitter Chat like, TLChat for example. Wish me luck!

Here are some of the resources/readings that I’ve found helpful in this class so far:

  • Mashable’s Twitter etiquette guide  -appropriate etiquette is always important to understand
  • Using to shorten URLs in Tweets-I’ve always used Google’s URL shortner but a cool feature she pointed out about is that it has a Chrome extension that allows you to not only shorten the URL, but also allows you to tweet it right from the extension, without having to go to Twitter
  • Twitter Lists- I already mentioned these but here’s a link to their Help page about Twitter Lists
  • Did you know Twitter has an advanced search option? Neither did I! Here a link to their Help page about advanced searches

(Oh, and if you want, you can follow me @SerenaWaldron and see how I’m doing with my goal of more frequent tweeting-maybe some day I’ll even have to take that line about “sporadic tweeter” out of my bio)

Professional Development:

In April, we found out we’ll be losing all of our library clerks in my district. The incredible go-getter she is, my clerk had already found another job before the month was over. We’ve been fortunate that the new job offers her the flexibility to still work with me two days a week for the remainder of the school year. I’ve been trying to look at these last few weeks with her here reduced hours as a wonderful opportunity to start truly understanding how things will change next year, what challenges I will face without her, and the solutions we may utilize. I’ve only worked at this district in my short career so I’ve always had a clerk. I know many other librarians don’t have or have never had this luxury but I’m so very nervous about making it work next year.

One of my biggest worries is time/task management and staying organized. Which is why, when my most recent issue of Scholastic Teacher magazine arrived, I jumped right to the article with organization tips from top experts. The article mentioned that one of the experts featured, Maia Heyck-Merlin, had a book called The Together Teacher. Intrigued, I hopped online and found her website, The Together Group. I was inspired by the blog posts I read and impressed with free resources available, so I decided to not only order her book, I’ve also been working my way through a 6 week free MOOC course she set up to go with the book (there’s a paid option too if you want a certificate of completion but if you don’t want/need that, totally free).

I have been learning tons about myself and my organizational preferences. I’ve also learned that while I’m pretty organized in many areas (I kick butt at having a comprehensive calendar), I have definite weak points (managing my ongoing to do list) that could become a problem next year if I don’t proactively adopt some strategies.

Right now, I’m working on creating the template of my ideal week and after that, I’m going start using the weekly worksheets. It’s definitely one of those things that feels way too time consuming sometimes but I know getting in these habits now will more than pay off next year. Plus, once these things become habit and routine, the time it takes to create them will lessen and they won’t feel like yet another arduous thing to do…

So, those are the things I decided to try out with my You Pick! time-I’m enjoying them both and optimistic that they’ll be positive additions to my life! 

NYLA Breakdown-Part Two

All right kids, whose ready to learn about teaching with historical documents? Let’s get started then.

  • When teaching kids how to analysis photos direct them to the people, the background and objects. Study those elements for clues as to what is going on and be on the look out for things that don’t seem to fit or you wouldn’t expect to find.
  • Sometimes you need to break a picture up into quadrants so you can isolate what is going on and what you are analyzing.
  • When analyzing letters have kids ask themselves the following questions:
  1. When was this letter written?
  2. Where was this letter written?
  3. Who wrote this letter?
  4. To whom is the letter written?
  5. Why was this letter written?
  6. List three pieces of information from the letter you think are important.
  7. List tow questions you might want to ask the author.
  • After exploring a series of historical documents related to a single person or family, have students create a short movie story board depicting key scenes from the person/family’s life.

For more information and inspiration on teaching with historical documents check out the the New York State Archives website (not from New York? Search around and see if your state has an archives website and what it may have to offer). Stumped on how to find and incorporate primary source documents into your teaching? The New York State Archives website even has a series of videos on how to find and teach with primary source documents.

Cynthia Says….

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

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

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

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

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

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



Technology Tuesday-Readability for All

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

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

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

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

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

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

The same article, after using Readability

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

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

See you tomorrow,



Think fast.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

Technology Tuesday-Schoology

First things first: Apologies for leaving you hanging yesterday. I had to run the dog to the vet (again-she had a procedure done and I’m going every other day to have her bandages changed) and had two other appointments of my own and the day just got away from me.

Now, let’s explore another interesting technology together shall we? I subscribe to the AASL’s tip of the day email (if you don’t already I highly recommend it) and yesterday’s tip was about cultivating back to school collaborations. One of the technologies briefly mentioned in the email was Schoology. Having never heard of Schoology before I instantly hopped online to look it up.

Verdict? Definitely worth sharing with all of you.

As you can see from the overview screenshot, Schoology offers  a few great features such as: managing your lessons, finding intriguing resources, interacting with your students, fellow teachers, and parents, posting assignments, posting tests or quizzes, and hosting discussions. Schoology even allows you to keep track of how students are doing with nifty charts and graphs.

Setting up a Schoology account and your Schoology profile takes mere minutes and afterwards they walk you through a quick introductory tour to get you started.

Now let’s use my account to show you how the introductory tour works. When you log into your account, there will be a link to click on to start the tour: 

The first leg of the tour shows you where/how to add courses to your account:

The second leg of the tour shows you how to add or join groups in Schoology:

Leg three points out where to go to for additional resources:

The fourth, fifth and, sixth legs of our tour explain the navigation options in the upper right hand side of the screen:

The seventh part of the tour explains your Schoology calendar:

The eighth leg explains the recent activity center a bit further and the final section of the tour shows you where to get further assistance with Schoology:

One of my favorite features I discovered while exploring Schoology is their App Center:

The App Center offers a few cool apps to use with students:

I was especially impressed to see that the Concept Bank and ScootPad Apps utilized the Common Core.

All in all, Schoology seems to have a lot to offer and could be a great addition to your educator toolbox. Check it out and let me know what you think.

Until tomorrow,


Have You Meet Duolingo?

If not, allow me to introduce you.

I was recently made aware of Duolingo when a friend mentioned it on Facebook (thanks Shannon!). I was immediately intrigued. I’ve never been very good at picking up new languages despite how badly I wanted to be able to fluently converse in another language. After I watching the Duolingo video on their homepage I thought, maybe I can finally do this!

I choose Spanish as the language I wanted to learn but you can also learn French or German. There’s also an option to learn English for native Spanish speakers. After deciding what language you want to learn, you then take a test to gauge your current skill level. After that, you get your road map. Mine is shown below:

Each level consists of a series of lessons as well as a set of real examples from the web for you to translate. New levels wont unlock until you’ve mastered existing levels. If you think a level is too easy for you, the only way to skip it is to test out of it. Each level presents you with vocabulary terms and then presents and tests you on them (and previous words) in a variety of ways.

You will see and hear a sentence is Spanish (or whatever language you chose) and be asked to type it in English:

You will be presented with a new vocabulary word that you will be hear and see as a written word and a variety of images”

You will be asked to listen to and repeat a sentence in Spanish:

You will be asked to choose the correct noun, verb or article to complete a sentence in Spanish:

(Pssst…..See how in the screen shot above I only have three read hearts instead of four? When you make a mistake during a lesson you lose a heart. If you lose all four and make a fifth mistake in the same lesson, the lesson ends and you have to start all over. The more hearts you have left when you complete a lesson, the more points you tally up for that lesson unit).

You will see a sentence in English and be asked to translate it into Spanish:

You will be asked to listen to a sentence in Spanish and write it in Spanish:

And, you will be asked to read (and listen if you choose) to a sentence in Spanish and identify the correct English translation(s):

So far, I’m impressed. I already feel like I’m learning and retaining more than I did the entire year I took elementary Spanish in college. The mix of formats for learning really helps the information sink in-I just tried a lesson after over a week “off” from regular use and I was impressed with how much I remembered from the last time I worked with Duolingo. Even when I wasn’t sure and guessed, I was correct over 75% of the time.

While I think Duolingo is probably best for learners that already have some experience with the language and may not be best for total novices, I would still highly recommended it as a way to learn a new language. It’s free and the colorful graphics would appeal to kids making it perfect for schools. It could make an excellent supplement to a foreign language class and definitely deserves to be shared with the education community at large.

Enjoy cats and kittens and if you give it a try, let me know how you like it.