The True Adventures of a High School Librarian

The True Adventures of a High School Librarian

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Cha Cha Cha Changes: In The JCHS Library

When school started back after Winter Break our Instructional Partner, Kristi Combs, presented a great professional development session on Equity.  It got me thinking about our library services and whether we were providing equitable services to our 1800+ students. 

This had been a gnawing question at the back of my brain since our library support staff transition in October but I had never really been able to ferret it out and work with it.  What was bothering me was how students had claimed certain areas of the library as theirs and how others had claimed areas in the library and turned them into a satellite lunchroom.  These were the two main things gnawing at me.  These students were preventing other students who needed to use the library to study, work on computer, read, etc. from being able to access these services, especially during our Refuel Hour.

Spurred to action by the Equity PD, Ms. Laura Smith (ACCESS Teacher/Media Teacher), Ms. Sharon Rowland (EL Teacher), and I set about rearranging the library into zones.  When we started discussing the layout for our zones we realized that if we left any of the furniture in the same place it had been before Winter Break students would simply fall right back into their set routines. Thus, we moved every single piece of furniture that wasn’t bolted to the floor or walls!  We also made the collective decision that, although we liked students being able to eat in the library, students were taking advantage of this privilege and misusing the library as an extension of the cafeteria, therefore, we now do not allow food or drinks in the library.  This decision was also one that addressed time, resources and COST.  Our library is carpeted and spills are a commonplace thing with food and drinks. Each time the carpets are cleaned it costs the school $600.  Each day it costs the library staff valuable time cleaning up trays and food left behind, wiping down library tables, chairs and sofas, and vacuuming.  

Zone areas were determined more or less by unspoken student voice.  Over the course of the school year I had observed students and seen frustration at not having a quiet place to study and access computers as well as students looking for a place to just “chill” with their friends, check their phones, or even pull a hoodie over their face and “meditate” for a little while. 

Based on these observations we created three distinct zones in the JCHS Library.  The Quiet Study Zone includes the computer area and four round tables for spreading out textbooks, papers, and notes.  A “Chill Zone” for students who just want to chill.  And the MakerSpace Zone where students can discover, create, tinker, learn, and build. We kept the board games, card games and puzzles in the Chill Zone and reserved the MakerSpace for our more technical equipment like the 3D Printer, the Carvey, and our new sewing machine.

I then created signs to rotate on the TVs located around the school as well as a type of PSA to be read with the morning announcements.

Students, we invite you to visit the library either before eating or after eating during Refuel and to refrain from taking food into the library. The library is a unique space where you can use the computers, socialize, check out books and use the MakerSpace to create, explore and learn. Since only the library has these unique opportunities, we want to ensure that it is being used for these specific purposes. We ask that you eat in other designated eating areas, and not in the library. Thank you for your cooperation.

The response from students has been overwhelmingly positive, except for the no food rule.  Once we explain the $600 cost to clean the carpet the kids grudgingly agree that food isn’t the best idea in the library.

While our new zones have only been in place for a few days we have already noticed an increased usage of the resources that are only offered in and by a school library.  We have even had students thank us for the changes because they said they didn’t come to the library because they couldn’t access the resources they needed because of the areas that were being claimed by groups of students.

I am happy that we made these changes for the kids but will continue to observe their behavior (LOL! This is where I feel like Jane Goodall) and how they interact with the zones.  If it becomes obvious that more changes need to be made to accommodate student needs we will definitely make those changes.

When was the last time you changed the configuration of your library?

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Escape The JCHS Library: A Library Orientation Tale

A Library Orientation Tale

Over Winter Break we rearranged the JCHS Library. I mean....really rearranged the library.  The only things that were not moved are literally bolted to the floor or walls.  Thus, when we were getting ready for the second semester 9th Grade Library Orientation I realized the entire lesson plan had to be scrapped as well.

Inspired by Breakout EDU games created by librarians, Melanie Thompson (Locked In the Library), Amy Williams (Breakout From Mr. Lemoncello's Library),  Amy Woods (The Discoveries of @2LibraryGals), Joseph Jeffery (Library Treasure), and Mia Beesley (Library Interview Breakout), I spend this past weekend revamping the library orientation lesson plan to model a Breakout EDU challenge!  It's not the best and could definitely use some tweaking but it was still a tremendous amount of fun!

My main goal for the Library Orientation activity was to make sure students knew about some of the unique features the JCHS Library has available for students.  Because we only had a little over an hour to introduce the game, complete the tasks to earn clue cards, and unlock the locks, I limited the game to just four tasks.

We began the orientation in the Harvard Room where Ms. Laura Smith introduced students to the ebooks and audiobooks we have available through the JCHS Library.  Then I reviewed the rules of the game (see slideshow HERE).  Teams then transitioned into the library with their direction sheets and the real fun began!

My awesome Student Library Aides helped with the game by overseeing the Green Screen Room and the MakerSpace.  The classroom teacher was put in charge of approving the Book Spine Poetry.  My wonderful library aide, Holly O'Neal headed assisted students tackling the Personal Shopper task.

Once all teams had collected their four clue cards we meet back in the Harvard Room.  Once back in the Harvard Room students were regrouped into four groups that represented the four tasks completed.  Clue cards earned by all teams had to be put together to find the lock combinations. Once the new teams thought they had a lock combination they came to the Breakout EDU box and tried their luck.  When all four locks were removed I had a Post It note inside the box saying CONGRATS! LOL!  Students were NOT happy when they saw the note after all their hard work.  Luckily I pulled out a box of Tootsie Pops from my hiding place just at that moment.

The best part of the day was when a student said, "I was having a really bad day today until I came in here. Now my day is awesome!"

Our next big task is taking the Personal Shopper responses and matching each student to 3-5 books that best suit them based on their Personal Shopper answers.

Below are some images of the directions students received.  I have also included my Google Slide Show and link to my Google Photo album from the day.  The lesson plan can be found HERE.  Clue cards and student instructions can be found HERE (Clue Cards were printed on bright colored paper for easy regrouping at the end).

Click image below or HERE to access Google Photo Album

Monday, December 19, 2016

Hour of Code: It Just Keeps Getting Better and Better!

Four years ago, December 2013, I learned about Hour of Code while laminating posters about the event for our computer science teachers.  At the time I had no idea what Hour of Code was, thinking it was just something for the vocational tech computer science teachers and their students.  The next year, after learning more about Hour of Code and our role as school librarians, I tackled Hour of Code spanning grades PreK through High School.  

Each year I have been impressed with the changes and improvements to the Hour of Code resources and inspired by seeing different approaches to Hour of Code shared by members of my PLN (Professional Learning Network), especially among my fellow school librarians.

This year my school set out for an Hour of Code record by having all 1800+ students participate in an Hour of Code unplugged activity .... AT THE SAME TIME!  We were able to accomplish this feat by using Advisory Time to our advantage.  Kristi Combs (Instructional Partner) and Allison Miller (Assistant Principal) lead a Flight School (our school's version of in school monthly PD) to prepare teachers for the big day.

In addition, teachers signed up to bring their classes to the JCHS Library Harvard Room to participate in more Hour of Code activities.  It was during these times that I stepped out on to that professional ledge of being willing to learn TOGETHER with the students as the impressive array of activities this year rivaled that of years past.

One of my favorite features this year was the ability to filter differently than in past years.  Instead of defaulting to the new block coding activity for the year I went out on a ledge and walked through the filtering process with students so that they could see what we were doing was age and subject appropriate.  Then we tackled these more complex coding activities together, emphasizing the need to collaborate and trouble shoot together.  

For our social studies classes that signed up we used the programming language Python and instruct a turtle to draw flags from around the world.  By far the favorite coding activity was when we coded our very own pixel character! We used HTML to build our characters, CSS to style them, and JavaScript to animate our cute pixel people.

Personally, my favorite activity was with our Special Education Self Contained students.  We created a graph on the floor of the Harvard Room using painter's tape and printed out START, END, TREATS, and MONSTER cards.  Ms. Jefferson was our robot.  DD students had to program Robot Jefferson using BeeBot direction cards to "write the code" that would get her from START to END, collect all the TREATS, and avoid all the MONSTERS.

So what are my tips and tricks for a successful Hour of Code at your school?

First, overcome your fear of not knowing how to code.  I had no idea what CSS and JavaScript were and had failed miserably in college trying to using Python to get the turtle to move!  The best part of Hour of Code is letting the kids work through the thinking process with you! This is actually one of the most valuable lessons we can teach our students on a daily basis, the thought process for working through a new problem and seeing that there are mistakes along the way.

Second, have a backup plan.  The first year I attempted to do Hour of Code was also the year many others got aboard and started doing Hour of Code as well.  This overloaded the Hour of Code website and caused many to be left stranded without access to the websites block coding activities.  This is when having an unplugged activity ready is key.  I'll admit that I was flying by the seat of my pants that first year and had no unplugged activity planned.  Sitting in a classroom filled with sixth graders when I realized the online activity planned was not going to work, I asked the kids for a dance they knew.  They had just learned Cotton Eyed Joe in PE so we decided to write out code a robot could follow to successfully complete the dance.  Several students volunteered to be our robots so we could catch the "bugs" in our code and correct them.  In the end, our robots were having an awesome time dancing!  We did a similar thing with PreK but used the Hokey Pokey as our dance.

Third, share your experience with others.  Sharing our experiences through social media, blogs, etc help us all learn and grow together through our collective experiences, PLUS it gives us an opportunity to celebrate the amazing learning going on in our schools and libraries.  Sharing isn't bragging; it's giving.

To see more from our Hour of Code 2016 click HERE to access our Google Photos Album.

I am also thrilled beyond belief to be headlining with the founder of Hour of Code, Hadi Partovi, at the Texas Library Association's Tech Camp in April 2017!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Fast Forward: An MCS Initiative

The Fast Forward blog is the brain child of Daniel Whitt, Madison City Schools Coordinator of Instructional Technology, and is composed of a large collaborative group of elementary and secondary educators from across the Madison City School District.  The goal of Fast Forward is to unite innovative educators across the district and give them a space and place to share how they are working to "move education forward and to challenge long-held, foundational beliefs about the nature of education."

The December 1, 2016 Fast Forward post is near and dear to my heart, combining both my love for libraries and for connecting through Google Hangouts.  Even my dear friend, Andy Plemmons, gets a shout out from Bonnie Howard, librarian at Madison Elementary School.

Check out the Building Readers Beyond The Building video below then click HERE to see more of the amazing, pioneering, innovating, and inspiring work happening in Madison City Schools.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

JCHS Poised to Set Hour of Code Record! N. p., 2016. Web. 29 Nov. 2016.

On Wednesday, December 7, 2016, James Clemens High School is poised to set an Hour of Code record with its planned school-wide Hour of Code “unplugged” event to expose over 1800 students, teachers, and administrators to computer science. This event is part of a week long series of Hour of Code events showcasing why computer science matters in the lives of our students.

Hour of Code activities start November 29, 2016 with a special Pilot's Lounge to train advisory teachers how to present the "unplugged" Hour of Code lesson to their students.

In addition to the school wide "unplugged" Hour of Code event, other activities will take place throughout the week of December 5-9, 2016, including whole class coding activities customized to subject area content and an extra special teacher Reindeer Games celebration that will include Hour of Code and MakerSpace activities.

Computers are everywhere, but fewer schools teach computer science than 10 years ago. Girls and students of color are severely underrepresented. The good news is James Clemens High School is changing this for the better.

There are over 500,000 computing jobs open nationwide. Only 42,969 computer science students graduated into the workforce in the U.S.  The Hour of Code is gateway toward providing all students with access to high-quality computer science education.

Over 100 million students worldwide have already tried an Hour of Code in the past three years. Thanks to the Hour of Code, computer science can be found on the homepages of Google, MSN, Yahoo! and Disney. President Obama, Shakira and Ashton Kutcher have joined with over 100 partners to all kicked off the Hour of Code with videos to support this movement.

“We need to encourage and embrace our students’ interest in computer science,” said school librarian, Nikki D Robertson. “Every student deserves the chance to learn computer science to access the best careers of the 21st century.”

For more information about how James Clemens High School will participate in Hour of Code events this school year, visit or contact Nikki D Robertson.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Changes Ahead For #TLChat (Cross Post)

Seven years ago, our amazing tribe of Teacher Librarians embarked on a journey to deliver much needed professional development on library and technology topics. At the time, there were no such free opportunities to be found to meet this need, so the TL Virtual Cafe Webinar Series was born. School library leaders Joyce Valenza and Gwyneth Jones, along with numerous others, started offering monthly webinars to teacher librarians and other interested educators. Not only did this webinar series provide valuable free professional development opportunities, but it also helped to build and strengthen our tribe.

In the past several years, we’ve expanded our offerings to include monthly Twitter chats and News Night broadcasts to further engage our community. Our #TLChat tribe includes so many inspiring educators who generously share their knowledge and experiences with others. It has been an incredible honor to be part of such an inspiring group of people.

Over time, we have found a decline in participation in our professional development offerings. This is no doubt due in part to the wealth of learning opportunities now available online. We are glad to have been able to provide great opportunities to learn three times a month for the past few years. We have reached the point, though, where we feel that it is time to reevaluate our offerings in order to best serve our community and learn together.

For the months of November and December, we are putting a pause on our professional development offerings to make plans to revamp our offerings starting in January. Although we are still working out the details of what that will look like, we will return on the first Monday of each month at 8PM Eastern Time, starting on January 2, 2017.

We are looking for new voices to get involved with our professional development offerings, in whatever form it may take. If you are interested in getting involved, please fill out the form below to let us know your interest and contact information.

Thank you so much for supporting our #TLChat community. We look forward to what the future holds for our tribe!

Sunday, October 16, 2016

We Got the Beat! Yeah! We Got the Beat!

This week in the JCHS Library was a real treat as the JCHS Library and Special Education classes collaborated with Mr. Stuart Tankesley, Assistant Band Director and Choir Director at James Clemens High School, to bring the book, “Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl's Courage Changed Music” to life.

Mr. Tankesley arranged for percussionist and newly crowned Homecoming Queen, Elisia Alampi, brought an array of percussion instruments for student to learn about and have an opportunity to experiment with the different sounds each instrument makes.

Each Thursday JCHS Special Education Self Contained classes come to the JCHS Library for story time and time of their own in the JCHS MakerSpace. This week students were welcomed with the sounds of Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, for whom the book was inspired.

We read the book and then Elisia demonstrated the instruments she brought.  We then had students take turn creating beats to be played.  

This collaboration has been one of my favorites so far this school year!