Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Begin 2017 with the 3 R's: Rest, Reflection, and Recommitment

By Cathy Hause, Librarian @ Harpeth Valley Elementary School
January 1st seems to be an arbitrary spot for educators to start anew, as it lands smack dab in the middle of our school year.  Yet, the end of the semester offers librarians time to stop mid-stream, reflect, and perhaps change course a bit.  In other words, our winter break is a good time to rest, reflect, and recommit.  So I thought it would be helpful to consult several of my colleagues and learn how they…

• Rest and establish a healthy work/ life balance
• Reflect on the past semester noting their successes and progress
• Recommit to some project or initiative that may have fallen by the wayside during the first semester.  

Here’s what I learned…


When taking time to rest and restore work/ life balance, many of our colleagues recommend that we get moving… exercising, walking, or joining a gym.  Science is always proving that exercise and just being outside is not only good for the soul but our bodies and brains as well.  Becky Hornsby, at Glendale Spanish Immersion, says that getting enough sleep and eating healthy meals adds to the benefit of her exercise routine.  Becky closes the library each day for her lunch.  Taking time to nourish and care for ourselves not only benefits us but ultimately those we serve…our students and teachers. 

Mark Hoesel at Shane Elementary is a big proponent of setting boundaries between work and home.  Mark says, “I try my best not to look at or respond to email after I leave school. I try to be actively present and engaged when I am with my wife, children, and friends.”  I, too, try to do the same and have found it helpful to keep MNPS email off of my personal devices.  While technology can be so handy, it is all too easy to let it blur the lines between work and home   Also, checking email at set times on the
weekend or my days off gives me a sense of control and helps me to keep work concerns away from my personal life.    

Emmie Stuart, at Percy Priest Elementary, also keeps email off her phone.  However, she finds it beneficial to use technology to keep in touch with her colleagues.   She adds that texting, emailing, and getting together with these friends “is very energizing and helpful and puts things in perspective for me.”  Kelly Bulbulkaya, at Eakin Elementary, has not banished email from her phone, but says taking the MNPS alerts off her phone has helped.  She also uses her drive home to set work cares and worries aside. “So by the time I get to my kids I have pushed work out of my head and I can focus [solely] on them.”     

Finally, travel and stepping outside of our usual boundaries nourishes many of our colleagues.  Just the act of getting away puts distance and perspective on our lives at home.  It also expands our horizons as well.  Encountering other cultures and people around the world surely helps us understand and better reach the diverse student population we serve in Nashville.  Plus, as Mark Hoesel contends it “gives me something to look forward to” and on a tough day don’t we all need to look forward? 


I believe that good teachers, librarians, and really all educators are constantly in the process of reflection.  Haven’t we all had the experience of changing course in the middle of a lesson because the students were not responding the way we had hoped?   Yet winter break offers us an opportunity to reflect more deeply on the entire first semester and build on our successes in the next.  

Kathy Kelly at Head Middle focused on working with students this year and is proud to have offered more collaborative lessons this semester than all of last year.  Becky Hornsby has found a niche at Glendale by working with small groups to teach reading in Spanish and creating simple reader’s theater scripts in Spanish.  Susan Schmidt, at Glencliff H.S., has worked with teachers to get them to bring their classes into the library which allows her to better serve and meet the needs of students who might not come in on their own.  Emmie Stuart taught her students how to appreciate the artwork in picture books.  She feels her students are now well prepared for her “all out” Mock Caldecott election in January.  

Of course, working with teachers is a big part of any librarian’s role.  Steve Martin, at Norman Binkley, collaborated with his instructional coach to create a list of mentor texts for teachers.  He hyperlinked the spreadsheet so that teachers could easily navigate and find the books they need for instruction.  Mark Hoesel is helping to develop a schoolwide plan for technology use.  He hopes the plan will guide further purchases and updates.   Becky Hornsby and Susan Schmidt focused on keeping teachers informed about online databases and subscriptions.  Clearly, MNPS librarians are focusing on their roles as instructional leaders.    


Where are our colleagues finding challenges and recommitting their focus next semester?   We all wear so many “hats,” it is easy to get off track and let some commitments slide.  I know that Kay Johnson and I want to focus on collaborating with teachers at Harpeth Valley and reach out to them with lesson ideas.  Being new to Harpeth Valley, I have found that it takes a while to get to know the staff and their unique instructional needs.   Kay has worried that we have let library management tasks, testing, book fair, and scheduling constraints keep us from planning with teachers.  Kelly Bulbulkaya wants to continue her focus on students and teachers and let all the other “noise” in the building fall by the wayside.  I think many of our colleagues want to do the same: attend more planning meetings, reach out to teachers individually, and restore our focus on instruction.   

Of course, there is always the possibility of marching off in an entirely new direction.  Mark Hoesel plans to investigate Maker Spaces at other schools and wants to explore possibly creating maker “tubs” for teachers to check out…how cool!   Kathy Kelly is collaborating with Head’s technology teacher to start a coding club.  Steve Martin hopes to explore using an online calendar for scheduling lessons and library events.   Heather Graves, at Dodson Elementary, plans to level her books “according to Lexile/Fountas and Pinnell .”  She hopes that accomplishing such a behemoth task will not only “ensure that students are checking out at least one book on their level,” but guide her future purchases as well.  Emmie Stuart hopes to find a way to challenge her high readers.

After consulting the “experts” in the field, I have a renewed appreciation for the people who power our school libraries in Nashville.  It is my hope that each and every one of you finds time to rest, reflect, and recommit to making your library program the best it can be in 2017.  

Blogger:  C. Hause @userofwords
Harpeth Valley Elementary School
Further essays and musings can be found at www.tinyletter.com/usewords

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Hour of Code- It's Like Magic

By:  Lucy Dixon, Librarian @ West End Middle School

How to light a technological fire under middle schoolers: combine students with Hour of Code and throw in a tech guru from the local community.  The result?  Fireworks!   In this warp-speed world of computing, jobs in computer fields dominate our lives.  And it’s just going to grow.  Like reading, it is a librarian’s responsibility to introduce computer coding and foster a life-long love for it.  Being an IB school here at West End Middle, the global week of Hour of Code was a natural match.  The students were very taken with the concept that students throughout the world were doing Hour of Code this week.   

I have to admit that I was a bit nervous because we’d never officially tried it with an outside community member.  Emily Bristow with the Nashville Technology Council arranged for Chris Peck with Computer Technology Solutions to visit West End.  Chris was terrific.  He was prepared, having studied the Hour of Code website.  He introduced coding with a brief intro describing what the future looks like for computers and what kind of classes will help with future computer careers.  He mentioned that there will be technology jobs not even yet invented.  He touched on potential salaries.  Wow!  His relaxed demeanor made the students feel comfortable interacting with him.  They asked questions and were eager to show off their coding results.  The students had been chosen by math teachers in each grade.  I wanted a variety of ages and abilities.  Clearly some students had never explored computer coding.  “It’s like magic!”  Those who had were happy to share their knowledge.
You could practically feel the electricity from all the synapsis popping in the room as the students explored the Hour of Code site.  Students chatted with their neighbors while staying laser focused on their screens.  The site is very easy to use with dozens of coding programs targeting preschoolers to high schoolers.   There are filters to refine the search results.  The site used block coding and javascript.  It also linked to sites that used coding techniques such as ‘Sketchup’.   Students were creating art, geometrics, and games.  One student was eager for me to try his new game.  He coded it so that as soon as the opponent made a move, it said “Game over.”  Cracked everyone up!

I would recommend a few things for Hour of Code events.  
  • Introduce yourself to your community contact.  Chris and I arranged for a phone call to make sure of expectations on both sides.  By the time he arrived, I felt like I already knew him.
  • Be sure to check all computers to make sure they are fully charged and on the domain.  Have a few power cords nearby just in case.  
  • Skip the headphones. The site does not require them and the students didn’t miss them at all.
  • Post the name of the Hour of Code website where everyone can see it.  
Lastly let me share a couple of takeaways.  Even though I was nervous about hosting the event, I now feel confident to teach classes on coding using the Hour of Code site.   I received several thank yous from parents, teachers, and students via social media and stopping by the library.  There’s nothing better than that, right?  And best of all, Chris enjoyed the event so much he has promised to come back next year.  Hour of Code - a new West End tradition!                                                      

Blogger:  L.Dixon @WEreads
West End Middle School

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Related Arts Collaboration: The Hidden Weapon for Teaching Research Skills with Equity for this #SpoiledLibrarian

By:  Alison Brooks, Librarian @ Apollo Middle School

As a librarian, one of my struggles is to make sure that throughout the year, I get to really teach the art of research with every student.  I collaborate with teachers a lot on different projects, but it isn’t always “equal.”   What I mean by that is that it’s hard to make sure that I am teaching the same skills to students across the board, when (as we all know), some teachers love to collaborate, and others can’t seem to find the time.  Plus, at the end of the day, teachers often use research to meet their standards—to get them to understand a science or social studies concept, so the end product is based on their subject-area standards and not just on research skills.   At a school of over 800 students, I found myself struggling to find time to collaborate and really teach research with equity.   This year, however, everything changed because I learned to tap in to the power of collaborating with the related arts team. 

It started with our amazing art teacher, Ashley Lehenbauer, who loves having her kids research big ideas in order to create meaningful art.  She and I actually met over the summer to block out dates and projects we would collaborate on. So far this year, we have collaborated to research Native Americans and totem poles, social justice issues for a Banksy street art installation,  cultures for keyhole room paintings, animals for animal selfies, and environmental disasters for clay mutants.  She mostly develops the project to meet her needs, and I help with finding resources, introducing and discussing how to check that sources are reliable, and generating citations.  Because of how our related arts schedule works, changing every 9-weeks, I realized that collaborating with her meant that 75% of our students would have regular time in the library using databases and learning about citations.  Our deal is that I grade all the citations information while she grades the content and art.  It’s a pretty great system.   

The problem was that I was missing 25% of our students by only collaborating with the art teacher.  These students are the ones who choose to be in band or chorus all year long.  So I now had a goal:  to get the band and chorus teachers to also collaborate with me.  The band teacher and I have plans to work together on a musical instrument project in January, but I am particularly proud of how the chorus teacher and I collaborated this October.   

To start, the chorus teacher and I sat down and talked about his kids.  What they’re like, what they are “into” as far as his class is concerned, how outgoing they were, how academically inclined they were, etc.  and we came  up a plan for a research project in each grade level that met their interests, research needs, and maturity levels.   

In 5th grade, the kids researched a musical genre and made a brochure.  They needed something simple that would get them to practice using and citing our databases.  The 6th graders needed practice with citing online sources, and are a really creative group.  Therefore, their project was to pick a book that they had read and make a 5-song playlist (with youtube video citations) and explain why they chose those songs and how they related to their book.  The 7th graders needed help finding websites that were reliable and appropriate, so I had them each research a musical artist of their choice to create a 2-paragraph mock obituary for that star.  As part of this project, they had to find good websites, analyze those sites, and cite them using Easybib.    

These were all great, but my favorite collaboration was the project the choir teacher and I did with the 8th graders.  One thing to note is that these kids all CHOSE to be in choir for the year, which made them that much more interested in this project.    

The 8th graders basically developed a PBL concerning performance techniques.  We began by reading an article together about performance techniques and had an online discussion using a Padlet about tips for giving a good stage performance live.  Then, the students had two days to pick their favorite artist and analyze live performances (from YouTube) to critique their artists’ performances, and cite their videos using MLA citations.  Students then had to write a letter giving advice on live performances based on their research, and also had to prepare a 30-second live audition using the song of their choice.  While they were researching, the students booked "studio time" to rehearse their audition pieces  using our library’s 3 production rooms.  The chorus teacher auditioned the kids in class (on camera) on Thursday and the chosen winners had 2 days to prepare their songs.  I then recorded the finalists using our green screen technology and showed the top 2 performers to the entire school at our Haunted Pep Rally on Halloween.   
(Above:  Students reading the article and using a Padlet to summarize their sections).  

(Above:  Students signed up for 10-minute "studio time" to rehearse their performances.)  

(Above:  using Easybib to cite youtube as part of their analysis).  

The students at the Pep Rally LOVED the performances--they all had their cell phones out with lights on like they were at a concert (pictured above).  Then, I had the teachers hand out tickets and kids voted by putting their tickets in the bucket of the singer they preferred.  The winning student (Contestant #2) won a bag of swag from the library! (Book fair poster, books, headphones, and of course, Halloween candy).   
See the full video of "Apollo Idol" that I showed at our Haunted Pep Rally HERE:  http://apollolibrary.weebly.com/videos.html 
Apollo Middle School Library 
I was so proud of these students--the girl who won is SUPER shy and this was way out of her comfort zone, but her performance was adorable, and she even did some choreography!  After the project was over, I asked the 8th graders about their experiences and many of them wanted to do a similar project again in the future, but with more time to prepare.   Having that immediate feedback from the entire school made it so real to them and was a huge incentive for them to work hard.   

I will say that I could NOT have done a project like this without my awesome kids, super supportive and collaborative staff, and all the technology that this library provides.  I am for sure a #spoiledlibrarian!  :)   

Here’s the beauty of working with related arts teachers:  they already have a cool subject area that kids are interested in that is easy to research about.  There are TONS of creative projects you can do with your art, PE, band, computer, and chorus teachers.  It may get you out of your comfort zone, but the kids won’t even realize that they are learning how to research.  Plus, it means you collaborate with a whole new group of teachers, and you are teaching research WITHOUT taking away any instructional time from math, science, social studies, or literacy classes.  It’s win-win-win.   

Blogger:  A. Brooks @Apollo Reader
Apollo Middle School

Thursday, September 8, 2016

I started my librarian career with an amazing space; one with trees, murals, and space galore. This past year I transferred to a school that is currently under construction and has major limited space issues…. I mean MAJOR. We have teachers holding groups under stairwells. What?!?! J I suppose I’m one of the lucky ones. I actually have a classroom… well half a classroom to be exact. I am currently sharing my space with the reading specialist. So the two people in the building with the most amount of materials in one space….hmmmm?!?!? When I first moved in, the space looked like an overcrowded UPS truck exploded into my room.
After much work and creativity I was able to transform this space into something usable and if I do say so myself a welcoming and cute place. I’m pretty happy with the space but am glad it’s only a temporary spot until my newly renovated library is done in the spring. In the temporary space I made the decision to only house the Everybody (easy) section. Limitless Libraries will be my saving grace for all non-fiction/fiction needs.
Note to self (and all others reading this blog): cardboard boxes make a great temporary shelves; they hold the books, divide them, make great columns, and the books are already packed up and ready to be moved to the new space. J