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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!

Makerspace Mishaps: Fixing and Replacing Broken Parts February 7, 2015

Posted by Mrs. J in the Library in Makerspace!, Tech Tips.
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When you start a makerspace and begin letting students build things that move, light up, and generally do cool things, eventually something will go wrong.  Of course, because Murphy’s Law of Education is always in effect, that’s usually when an administrator walks in.

Makerspace Mishaps: Fixing and Replacing Broken Parts | Mrs. J in the Library @ A Wrinkle in Tech

When that happens, you just have to smile and ask students, “Now what did we learn from this?” and hope that the observing administrator will see the learning along with the so-called “failure” of the project.  Also, you should always have some bandages, gauze, and no-latex gloves on hand, just in case.  Thankfully, I have yet to use my stash of first-aid supplies for a makerspace accident.

If nothing else, parts will occasionally need to be replaced, and that’s something I’ve learned the hard way that you need to include in your budget.  If you can buy a gift card with your budget funds, it comes in really handy for replacing parts as needed.

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which means if you purchase an item after clicking the link, I will receive a small commission.  See Disclosures & Disclaimers for more information.

For instance, since starting our makerspace with about 100 littleBits™, these parts have broken:

  • 2 fans (a wire broke in both cases) – Both replaced.
  • 1 roller switch (repaired 3x with varying levels of success) – Too fragile to replace if/when it breaks for good
  • 1 vibration motor (temporarily fixed with solder) – Replaced
  • 1 wire Bit – Still looking for a replacement wire to fix it (the Bit parts are fine)
  • 1 pressure sensor – Not replaced; we have extras
  • 1 bend sensor (probably from bending the wrong way) – Not replaced, too fragile
  • Every single battery cable that connects the 9-volt batteries to the power Bits – Replaced with these from Adafruit; no problems since then.

To be clear, most of these parts are already fragile, and I think littleBits™ generally makes high quality products.  Wires snap pretty easily, but occasionally can be soldered back together.  I still haven’t learned to solder yet, but fortunately my husband has saved a Bit or two this way.

Besides learning to solder yourself, Super Glue® or any other plastic glue is a great material for fixing.  I’ve also heard of, but haven’t yet tried, using Sugru™, a non-conductive putty that hardens into rubber.  Since I have very limited instructional time with students, I usually end up doing repairs myself, but older students could certainly learn to fix parts too.  Especially if you are lucky enough to have a flexible schedule with time for a Maker Club.

It might seem like a lot of budget funds to allocate for your makerspace, and you might be thinking it’s not worth it with tight budgets.  For comparison, track the cost and amount of print books replaced simply because the binding wears out, the cover falls off, or it’s worn beyond circulation.

When I did this, I found that I spend WAY more on replacing damaged and worn out books than I do on replacing makerspace materials and fixes.  My professional opinion is that if we want to move forward and provide ALL of the types of resources students need to be successful today, we need to invest some of our budget in new programs and ideas, like a makerspace.

If you have a makerspace, I’d love to hear how you fix your components, and how often you need to replace parts.  Do you know any tips or tricks?  Share them in the comments!

Cheap and Easy Library Decorations August 24, 2014

Posted by Mrs. J in the Library in Library Space, Reflections.
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With the first day of school rapidly approaching, the most stressful “getting ready” tasks for me are 1.) transform our library’s sterile, white concrete-block walls into something cozy and inviting, and 2.) plan a theme and coordinating orientation that will engage students and get them excited about reading (or at least the start of a new year).  This year, our library has been transformed into “Camp Read S’more,” and I have to thank The Library Patch for the inspiration and bulletin board display product on TpT.  They saved me HOURS of time this year!  If you want ideas for library theme decorations, her Pinterest boards are the best!  Over the past 9 years of teaching, though, I’ve learned a few tried-and-true decorating tricks of my own.

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which means if you purchase an item after clicking on a link, I will receive a small commission.  See Disclosures & Disclaimers for more information.

One trick I use to decorate the library quickly and cheaply is to cover the white cement-block walls with rolls of bulletin board paper.  This year I used a 50′ long and 4′ tall roll of mountain-patterned fadeless bulletin board paper.


“Read S’more” theme with crates and bears display inspired by The Library Patch.

In the past, I used an ocean floor background for the “Under the Sea” theme, a leafy rainforest background for the “Go Bananas for Books” theme, and a starry night sky background for  the “Blast Off with Books” theme.  A single 50′ roll is about $25-30, so it’s very reasonable for the amount of wall space you cover.

To hang the paper, I’ve found that Mavalus tape works best, but Demco book repair tape also works if the sections are less than 5′ long.  Mavalus tape is a bit pricey, but to me it’s worth it because the high humidity in our library makes it very difficult to keep anything on the walls.  Using the Mavalus tape this year, I haven’t had to re-hang the bulletin board paper as I have in past years.  I used 3 rolls to hang all paper and posters in the library, so that’s reasonably affordable to me.

Another trick I’ve used for several years is to add a map to the story corner (or “campfire corner” this year).   Though I don’t teach setting or geography skills explicitly, I like to reinforce those skills to visualize where a nonfiction story takes place or where a folktale comes from.  So I hung a U.S. and world map on a portable bulletin board, and whenever a U.S. state or country is mentioned in a book I’m reading, students find it on the map.  The maps I use were free swag from the World Book Online and Lerner Publishing stands at a PSLA conference a few years ago.


A world map in the story corner makes it easy to connect setting and geography skills with the story during a read-aloud.

Finally, this year I’m trying something new to save time decorating (and planning library orientation): I’m letting students set up some of the book displays with a “Recommended by” tent printed on cardstock.


Click to image to download this freebie!

I want to highlight what students have read over the summer and also build student ownership of the library space.  If all goes well, I might even make this into an independent library center or add it to the Book Review Library Center.  If you’d like to try this idea yourself, you can download the FREE book recommendation display tents I created below.  Rainbow frames clipart by Magic Mistakes and Mayhem.


If you have any decorating tips or tricks, especially cheap and easy-to-replicate ones, leave your ideas in the comments!  Happy first day of school, everyone!

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