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Worth Every Penny: Sound Investments for Your Library (and Your Sanity!) October 15, 2015

Posted by Mrs. J in the Library in Library Space, Reflections, Tablets & Apps.
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Worth Every Penny: Sound Investments for Your Library to Save Time and Your Sanity! | Mrs. J in the Library @ A Wrinkle in Tech

In the 8 years that I’ve worked at my current school library, I’ve made some very intentional purchases to make the library and my teaching practice more efficient and student-centered.  It didn’t happen all at once due to budget and time limits, but little by little, I’ve managed to build a collection of technology and management solutions that work together to make my life easier (and help me stay sane).

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which means if you click on one of the product links, I will receive a small commission. See Disclosures & Disclaimers for more information.

Though no single item is going to radically change a library (or school for that matter), the following list has some of the things that have profoundly improved our library because of how I’ve implemented their use:

1. Android tablets or iPads for in-library useI know iPads are the favorite in education, but they are also very expensive.  I recommend buying a few Nexus 7’s if you can still find them, or other small-screen Android tablets, and ditch the huge desktops for catalog searching.  If you buy another small-screen tablet model, try one of the Google for Education models (except skip the Google “management license,” which costs extra and isn’t really necessary).  Destiny Quest works just as well on Android as on Apple devices, and there are LOTS of great Android apps that my students and I use every day.

2. Belkin headphone splitters and a class set of decent headphones – Headphone splitters are excellent for sharing the Android tablets so that 2 or more students can listen at once, though the volume needs to be turned up as more headphones are plugged in.  This is great for interactive ebooks and flipped videos (see below).  I like these headphones, and I use zip-ties to shorten their ridiculously long wires.

3. Mini laptops if your school doesn’t have 1:1 devices – I have a set of 30 Dell Latitude 2100 “netbooks” from a grant I wrote 6 years ago, but now that we have some tablets, we probably use about 10 of them each day.  A real keyboard is helpful sometimes, as is the full web-browsing experience.  For example, when writing reviews in the Destiny Quest app, one tap outside the review box deletes everything you’ve written so far.  In a browser, you have to either click the X or save your review…so the physical keyboard is much less frustrating for students with limited keyboarding practice.

4. Stackable, nesting plastic storage bins from Gratnells/Demco – These were new last year, and I adore them!  They make it SO much easier to stash my library centers out of sight when the library is needed for other uses (i.e. faculty meetings).  They also come in handy when a teacher needs a pile of books, but not enough to lend out a bookcart.Whole Number Dewey Signs by Mrs. J in the Library

5. BIG signage on magazine file boxes – Large, more colorful, image-centric signage is important because we teach elementary students under the age of 12…some of whom are just learning their letters, or don’t speak/read English, or forget/don’t have/won’t wear their glasses yet.

6. A dedicated library Dropbox account – Though this item is free, implementation can involve a lot of time investment.  To save time (and my voice), I filmed and edited a video for orientation, another one about how to find everybody/fiction books, and another about how to find nonfiction books.  I uploaded those 3 videos to a “library use only” Dropbox account, and put the Dropbox app on all 12 library tablets.  Voila!  Instant tutorials for the units I teach every year, for new students, and for reviewing!  For more information about how I use Dropbox, see my previous post on flipping your library instruction.

Do you have a can’t-live-without-it piece of equipment, technology, or organizational tool?  Share it with us and why you love it!

Library Centers Tracking with QR Code Check-in March 29, 2015

Posted by Mrs. J in the Library in Tablets & Apps, Tech Tips, What Worked.
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Building my PLN, or Professional Learning Network, has been one of the best decisions I’ve made since I started teaching!  Being connected with fabulous educators through blogs and Twitter means I have an excellent network of colleagues and resources to inspire me to improve my instruction.  And last week, I experienced a wonderful, problem-solving PLN win!

The challenge:

I spent WAY too much time tracking which library centers students were at, and not enough time facilitating the learning that was happening.  I kept a record of student center choices on a Google spreadsheet, and I also stamped each student’s center tracking booklet so that they can visualize their learning.

Ideally, I recorded where each students was (that “all-important” data), AND had time to encourage/scaffold students who were struggling, re-direct students who were off-task, and challenge students who were coasting.  In reality, the data collection took almost every second of my time during the 25-ish minutes of library centers.  I still “checked in” with students when I stamped their booklets, but only for about 5 seconds.

The solution!

In the past year, I had read this blog post on QR codes for tracking library visits by Ms. O Reads Books, and her follow-up blog posts explaining how to do it  Then, I remembered this blog post by Vicki Davis about using every last instructional moment.  I wanted to use every minute as efficiently as possible, and cram as much (fun) learning as possible into a 40-minute library class.

Even though those two posts don’t seem to relate, I had a magical flash of inspiration and found my solution: Library Center Check-in with QR codes!

How it works:

Ms. O’s idea of using QR codes to “sign in” at the library has been floating around my brain for months.  It takes some tech tricks to set up, but basically, several Google forms collect their responses in a single spreadsheet.

So I made a different Google Form for each library center and color-coded them according to their category:

  • RED = Reading Promotion – Independent Reading, Destiny Online Book Review Writing, and PA Young Readers’ Choice Voting.
  • BLUE = Research Skills – Question of the Week, Independent Research Choices, and the Ladybugs Observation & Research.
  • GREEN = Creation &  Tech (aka our makerspace) – littleBits™, Paper Circuits, Electric Sewing, Learning to Code, Goldie Blox™, and Puzzle Apps.

Library Centers Check-in and Tracking with Google Forms and QR Codes | Mrs. J in they Library @ A Wrinkle in Tech

Each form asks for the student’s name and teacher’s name.  Some forms have one additional question such as, “What are you working on today?” for the makerspace centers.  I tried to keep it very short, because one tablet is shared among several students. 

I created a QR code for each form, printed the codes on Avery QR stickers, and stuck the code onto the center signage with a large “Check in” sticker (printed on address labels/barcode labels).  The stickers hide some of the clipart on my center directions signs, but they are functional nonetheless.

I tried it with each class in grades 3-5, and it was a HUGE success!  I’m relying on students to report their center choice honestly, but I also have the “double-check” of the booklet stamps. I’m thrilled with the results because now I’m able to do more teaching/facilitating/scaffolding and less data collection during classes. 

As an added bonus, I showed one of our district tech coaches to get some feedback, and she liked the idea, too.  Yay for advocacy!!

Have you used QR codes in your library or classroom?  If so, please share your experience and any tech tricks you learned in the comments!

Freebie Friday! – Learning to Code Library Center March 6, 2015

Posted by Mrs. J in the Library in Makerspace!, Reflections, Tablets & Apps.
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Blog Freebies | Mrs. J in the Library @ A Wrinkle in Tech

Happy Friday everyone!

After an insane week like this one, it’s always nice to end on a positive note and share a resource.  Starting with the next cycle of library classes, I’m expanding the Puzzle App Center to include another option — learning to code.

Admittedly, the official Hour of Code Week was in early December.  Our school participated, but I don’t believe the PR hype that learning to code is a required skill for 21st century life and employment.  Am I the only tech geek that thinks this way? 

Yes, it’s true that some students will discover that they really enjoy coding and/or that they are good at it.  Some might eventually want to make a career of programming.  For other students, learning to code is just one means of building creativity and problem-solving skills.  And it’s certainly not the only means to that end.

For still others, programming won’t be remotely interesting, and that’s okay too.  That’s why I think it’s so important that students have as many choices, opportunities, and experiences as possible when they are in elementary school.  Sometimes you have to try a lot of things before you find what you like, how you learn, and what you’re really good at.  After all, isn’t that one of education’s core purposes?

At the “Learning to Code” library center, students will have a choice to use the Scratch™ web-based block programming language, or the Scratch™ Jr. app, or the Lightbot™ app.  Scratch™ has long been recognized as an exemplary and accessible way for children (and adults) to learn and write programs.  Students can create videos, stories, games, and much more within the Scratch™ programming environment, and save their work from week to week by creating an account.

More recently in late 2014, the FREE Scratch™ Jr. iPad app was released, and the Android app is due to be released by the end of March for devices running Android KitKat (4.4) and up.  Tablets running Android JellyBean (4.3) will be compatible later in 2015.  I know I’m “counting my chickens before they hatch” by starting the center before the Scratch™ Jr. app is released, but after looking at the website FAQ, I’m confident they’ll deliver. (UPDATE 4/4/2015 – The Android app is now available, and running on our Nexus tablets!)

Finally, the Hour of Code 2014 version of the Lightbot™ app is FREE for Apple and Android devices.  I haven’t tried the either of the paid versions yet, but once students finish all of the Lightbot challenges, then I’ll probably buy one or both.

If you’d like to try out the Learning to Code center in your library, makerspace, or classroom, you can download the center signs by clicking the image below, or by right-clicking on the image and selecting “Save Link As.”  The Word document download is editable, but the clipart is flattened to respect the designer, Sonya DeHart Design.

Learning to Code Library Center FREEBIE! | Mrs. J in the Library @ A Wrinkle in Tech

I’d love to hear what you think of the center in the comments!  Do you teach computer programming and/or coding skills in your curriculum?  What resources and tools do you use?

Android Lollipop Update and an App Surprise December 5, 2014

Posted by Mrs. J in the Library in Tablets & Apps, Tech Tips.
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The Nexus 7 and 10 tablets in our library are still some of the most used tools for information literacy, and one of their features that I like best is the automatic updates, direct from Google.  Because they are “native” Google devices, several of them have already updated to the new Android 5.0 operation system, nicknamed “Lollipop.”

After excitedly installing the update, however, I noticed something that I think educators will want to know.  There is no longer a Gallery app for viewing and managing media on the tablet.  Instead, there is a new Photos app with a pin wheel icon, and Google is trying hard to force the user to sign up for and use Google+ in order to use the app.  It’s possible to use it without Google+, but the Photos app also isn’t very intuitive or easy-to-use.  Obviously, this poses a problem for elementary students, who are legally too young to use Google+ and who need an easy way to upload, edit, and delete photos from a device.

Use QuickPic instead of Photos app in Android Lollipop to avoid Google+ | Mrs. J in the Library @ A Wrinkle in Tech

The QuickPic photo viewer and manager app for Android tablets and phones offers a nice alternative to the new Photos app that requires Google+ signup.  Image from Google Play Store.

So the solution I found is to disable the Photos app entirely, and use a different photo viewer/manager.  For elementary tablets, and especially ones that are shared in a school library, I recommend QuickPic.  It’s simple, intuitive, has fabulous reviews, and it looks a bit like the old Gallery app I liked so much.  Plus, it’s not automatically hooked up to any social media (unless you want it to be), so it fits our library’s needs perfectly! 

Try it out and let me know what you think in the comments!

State Award Voting Contest FREEBIES! November 15, 2014

Posted by Mrs. J in the Library in PSLA, Tablets & Apps.
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Freebies! | Mrs. J in the Library @ A Wrinkle in Tech

It’s Freebie Friday!  Okay, it’s Saturday, but I’ve got 2 things to give away, and I like alliteration as much as the next teacher blogger.  I wrote last month about using book tastings to promote books in the upper grades, and for the younger grades, I introduce the Pennsylvania School Librarian Association (or PSLA) voting contest.  I read a selection of books from an annually updated list, and then students get to vote for their favorite one.  There are 4 lists of nominations, divided by grade level: Kindergarten to 3rd, 3rd to 6th, 6th to 8th, and Young Adult.  Many other states have similar contests, so check the Mackin Booktalks website and look up  your state.

Each year, I read aloud the books on the K-3 list to the students in kindergarten, 1st grade, and 2nd grade. FREEBIE PA Young Reader's Choice Voting Unit | Mrs. J in the Library @ A Wrinkle in TechThough I don’t have time to read every book on the list to every grade level, I do read more than half of them so that every student is eligible to vote.  After listening to the book, students check out books, and with any extra time, they have a reading response activity to do in their booklet.  They also record the number of stars (out of 5) they want to give a book.  Click on the image to get the FREE PA Young Readers’ Choice Voting Unit with the K-2 lesson plan!

For older elementary students, I promote the voting contest at a library center by linking to the Mackin Booktalks website and giving students time to explore the different books on their grade level’s list.  Students only need to read 3 or more books from the list to vote for their favorite book.

State Awards Book Voting Library Centers | Mrs. J in the Library @ A Wrinkle in TechClick the image to get the FREE State Awards Book Voting Contest Library Center with the Grades 3-5 lesson plan.

Even though both of these products are made with Pennsylvania in mind, they are completely editable so you can change them for your state’s contest.  Enjoy!

 

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