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Makerspace Centers in 40 Minutes December 28, 2017

Posted by Mrs. J in the Library in Makerspace!.
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Makerspace Centers in 40 Minute Library Classes - A fixed library schedule or limited class time is still enough for creation and making. | Mrs. J in the Library @ A Wrinkle in Tech

When I tell teacher-librarians and other educators that I fit makerspace activities into a fixed library schedule, I sometimes get incredulous or skeptical looks.  So I thought I’d give some background and a sneak peek at a typical library class at my school.

Here’s what the average 40-minute library class looks like for 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade (and maybe 2nd grade in the future).

5-10 minutes –

Students drop off books in the book return bin and sit at a table in the library.  Two students pass out the center tracking booklets to their classmates as I review the center choices for today, and introduce a new center if needed.  I try not to introduce more than 1 center per week/cycle.  If it’s a makerspace center with a tool like littleBits or paper circuits, I demonstrate it quickly…no more than 5 minutes, then refer students to the library website resources for further help.  Before dismissing students to check out, I use Flippity’s Random Name Picker tool to have students pick their center by placing their center booklet at their chosen “spot.”  Doing this prevents students rushing through or skipping book exchange to get to a center they want.

10 minutes –

Students check out new books or at least scan their card before choosing a center.  I do have a part-time assistant who helps with circulation, but if she’s not here, then I’m at the desk running the computer.

15-20 minutes –

Immediately after book exchange students choose a center and “check in” using a QR code to access a Google Form and one of the library’s Nexus 7 tablets.  Then, they work at their center, which for makerspace centers might include:

I started the school year with ALL research centers.  Once students earned their “Research Skills” badge by completing 6 research centers correctly, they had free-choice to choose any “Research Skills,” “Makerspace,” or “Reading & Language” centers for the rest of the year.  These 6 completed research centers are in addition to other research projects that I teach in collaboration with their classroom teacher.

As students work at their centers, I circulate the room to stamp their center tracking booklets and remind students to “check in.”  For research centers students only get a stamp if they get a correct answer AND have their resources cited correctly.  If I don’t have time to check answers on the fly, I still have their check-ins on Google Forms to verify what center they chose, and their answer slips/research packets to check later.

3-5 minutes –

Near the end of class, I start playing music to signal students to find a good stopping place and clean up their center space (I’m partial to swing/big band music).  If they are still working on a makerspace project, they can save it for next time, usually in a zip-top bag.

For research centers, they usually have a slip of paper or a packet that will fit inside their center tracking booklet to save for next time.  I’m working on an updated center booklet that includes pages for working on research questions and projects so that they can be submitted through Google Classroom…but that’s another blog post.

After class –

I don’t count this as part of the 40 minutes, but after class or after school, I usually go through all of the “check in” responses on the Google Form and I keep a spreadsheet of where each student went each week.  This takes about 10 minutes per class, so about 30 minutes of “grading” a day for all three grade levels.  Sometimes I can even squeeze 2 classes of grading into my planning or lunch time.  Tracking student learning keeps students accountable, and if they don’t “check in,” I choose their center the following week (communicated via a post-it note on their center booklet).

For more information about my library centers tracking, QR code “check in,” and the center menu booklets I use, check out this blog post!

If you have any tips to share about having a makerspace on a fixed schedule, I’d love to hear them in the comments!  Have a great week!

Makerspace Centers in 40 Minute Library Classes! - Don't let a fixed library schedule or limited class time stop you! | Mrs. J in the Library @ A Wrinkle in Tech - A collage of photos showing a library makerspace center set up with no students, and students from many multicultural backgrounds working at on makerspace activities.


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!


TL Blogging Challenge #12 – Changes and Reflections June 8, 2014

Posted by Mrs. J in the Library in Books, How to Be Brave, Makerspace!, Reflections, Tablets & Apps.
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TL Blogging Challenge #12 – What is one thing you have changed in your library to meet your patrons needs?  What spurred this change? What would you do different?

This school year has felt tumultuous with the number of changes I’ve made in our library.  Was it really only 10 months ago?  I’ve tried to keep the changes focused on improving services and instruction to students, and the end of the year is an excellent time to look back, celebrate successes, and think about what changes to make for next year.

Change #1: The 5-Book Checkout

This was by far the biggest change for the day-to-day running of the library.  I wanted our students to get more access to books.  So instead of limiting them to 2 books at a BookStacktime (with notable extra books for reports, projects, and book clubs anyway), I raised the limit to 5 items total.  What a hit!  Don’t get me wrong, the shelving was and is craziness.  If we didn’t have a fantastic and reliable volunteer twice a week, we would have drowned…but the students were reading voraciously!  Isn’t that the purpose of the library (or one of them at least?)  I think it’s time that raising the book-checkout limit becomes common and best practice for elementary librarians, especially for K-2 elementary students.

Change #2: Ditching the Dewey Decimals

Another time-consuming change, I’m glad I did it.  As a library department, none of us wanted to go METIS.  But in most modern math programs, students are only introduced to decimals in 3rd grade or higher.  So I started thinking about making Dewey easier to use and browse for younger students.  With that purpose in mind, I set out to eliminate the decimals in the Dewey decimal system.

In October, I re-uploaded the edited MARC records and started the long, tedious process of changing the spine labels on every nonfiction book. Over 35% of our entire collection.  Again, volunteers were vital to project completion.  Even with help, though, we only finished a week ago.

This whole process has made me think critically and reflect on how librarians catalog and organize information, and how my students seek information.  My conclusion is that we should be buying MARC records from practicing elementary librarians, not catalogers with little or no interaction with children.  And someone time and business sense should start a business to allows elementary librarians to earn some extra money on the side creating those MARC records.

That thought process and reflection also led to changing the pets books to 599 (or 598 for pet birds), and spot-changing about 50 books as we changed the spine labels.  And it led to…

Change #3: Pictorial Nonfiction Signagenonfiction sections

Along with the “ditching decimals” change, I needed some major signage updates.  I knew I’d need some for the 796 and 590’s sections, especially with the 599’s.  Without decimals, rodents, marsupials, dolphins, and wild cats are all intermixed.  So I made some VERY simplified categories within the 599.  I realize some may see this as “re-doing” the decimals anyway, but it makes that organization invisible to students.  I created signage attached to magazine file boxes.  I had inherited a multitude of them from the previous librarian, so I didn’t think I’d need to order anything.  It turns out that once I got started, I wanted MORE picture signage.  I loved how it looked up-to-date and made it easier to browse.  Teachers noticed first, but I found it was also easier to direct students to the correct section when the call number didn’t always “match” the online catalog.  Now that the online catalog matches the spine labels, only time will tell if this change leads to more nonfiction interest and circulation.

Change #4: Android Tablets for Library Instruction

nexus7At the beginning of the school year, I purchased Android tablets for in-library use, specifically three Nexus 10 tablets and nine Nexus 7 tabletsBest. Decision. EVER!  The tablets made using the online catalog so easy and accessible to students, not to mention let students quickly access the Internet and excellent apps for research, inquiry, and learning in general.

Change #5: Centers for Grades 3-5

Library management aside, I took a pedagogical leap to try “library centers” as an instructional model.  Truthfully, I thought this would work better than it did.  From what I’ve read of Cari Young’s ground-breaking work, she intended the centers to be used when a librarian works alone.  With no assistant and potentially few or no volunteers, the centers model keeps your sanity.  And no one is probably looking too closely at how academic your center content is.

For me, however, who is blessed enough to have a part-time library tech assistant, I believe I should expect more of myself and my teaching.  A puzzle center or Word Jenga or math blocks or listening center just isn’t going to cut it.  My district administrators wants some sort of proof (or “data”) that I’m teach information literacy more explicitly.  I’m expected to do more “rigorous” content.  So I ended up making many of my own centers.  That was fine, and led to some really great ideas. 

One positive effect of centers was the ability to give students choice in HOW they learn and practice information literacy skills.  Using self-inking stamps, I tracked students center attendance in booklets that they took with them as they traveled to different library centers week after week.  For instance, students could practice research by looking up the answer to a Question of the Week, or observing and researching ladybugs in an enclosed terrarium.  Next year, I want to expand those choices, while building in more structure for students that need extra guidance and scaffolding.  At the same time, I don’t want to hold back the students who are independent learners.

Change #6: littleBits™ for a Library Makerspace

After buying a Classroom Set of littleBits™, I set up a mini-makerspace as one of my library centers.  Though we don’t use the raw materials like Arduino boards and LED librarycenterlights favored by middle school and high school makerspaces, the littleBits™ do allow me to introduce engineering concepts with creativity and student choice.  I found that project storage and 30-40 minute class times were HUGE concerns and challenges for starters.
Also, while I’m certified to teach K-6 elementary subjects, I have no desire to become a science or computer science teacher.  I’m hesitant to expand the makerspace for fear of being asked to take on responsibilities that should fall to a certified computer science teacher.  So while I love the makerspace concept for libraries, I think we should be careful as professionals not to take on extra teaching duties.  Heaven knows, we already have enough to do keeping a 21st century library up and running and teaching information literacy.  Circulating “kits” of makerspace materials might be a more feasible solution for busy elementary librarians.

So overall, it’s been a wild year.  I’ve learned SO MUCH, I have some great ideas for next year, and the above list is just part of it.  There’s also this earlier post of ideas and to-do’s.  For my esteemed colleagues who are limping towards the last day of school, go read Vicki Davis’s blog post and stay strong!


The blogging challenge is from Cybrarian Jen at Where Books and Technology Meet.  I’m going to try it out, but instead of daily posts, I’m going to try for 1-2 posts a week.  Follow and learn with us!  The participating blogs are listed in the comments of her post.

Images from Pixabay, Google Play Store, and Mrs. J in the Library

Makerspace Center Update February 1, 2014

Posted by Mrs. J in the Library in Fun Stuff, How to Be Brave, Library Space, Makerspace!, Reflections.
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makerspace collage

Flute playing machine in the making, a panda robot body, and the semi-repaired Roller Switch

The makerspace projects that students have been working on are really coming along.

There’s a flute-playing machine, a “deadly” panda-bot, and a cat that waves its tail in the making for this round!  I love that the projects are so creative and students are helping each other solve problems they run into.

On the whole, most students are also taking care of the littleBits.  I have to admit I was worried, because we have over 100 5th graders using them, and I can’t (and shouldn’t have to) monitor the makerspace center all the time.  They LOVE making circuits, and trying new Bits to see what they can do!  More often than not, they start creating huge monster circuits before finishing the 101 cards.  Beginning next week, I’m going to introduce the projects to all the classes, and I’m really looking forward to what they come up with.


Makerspace Center

One of the Bits, however, has been damaged already.  The little metal “arm” on the Roller Switch was just snapped off when a student opened the box the other day. I put some masking tape on it temporarily, and later I super-glued it.  So far, so good.  I have to admit that I thought the Roller Switch would be one of the first to break, too.  The protruding metal arm bends the wrong way FAR too easily.

Some teacher-librarians might think damage to and maintenance of materials is a good reason not to have a makerspace.  I disagree.  I think there needs to be accountability, but we can’t be so afraid of damage that we stunt the learning process.  I learned that lesson with the Nooks ereaders.  Prices on tech usually go down anyway, so why worry about it?

My response to the classes was to pull the broken Bit until I could fix it, and I said something during the next round of classes about taking better care.  I explained that if the damage continues, we won’t be able to use the littleBits anymore.  I hate to do that, but I will stick by my decision if the material damage becomes habitual and intentional.  Overall, though, I’ve been impressed and pleased with the students’ learning and problem solving skills as they use the littleBits makerspace center.

PSLA 2013 Takeaway: Flipped Libraries May 13, 2013

Posted by Mrs. J in the Library in PSLA, Reflections.
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flip flopsI’m not totally sold on flipping classrooms/schools/libraries, mainly because I think moving too quickly towards flipping can make the existing digital divide even more formidable.  I’m a staunch believer in equal access, and relying on students and parents to find Internet access on a regular basis seems unrealistic.

Still, I was intrigued by Judi Moreillon’s idea of flipping a library in a completely different and more practical way than most of the current “models” of a flipped library suggest.  She simply stated that lessons on how to use library resources can be made on a video and disseminated to students much more efficiently than by doing a 40-minute watch-me-demo-then-independent-practice lesson within the confines of the library.

It’s truly a wonderful and do-able idea, even for elementary school librarians on a fixed schedule.  By freeing up your explanation time and teaching students to find the how-to videos *precisely when they are needed*, teacher-librarians can better focus their instruction time (fixed or flexible) on content, instead of the tool.  I can focus on guiding students to more appropriate resources instead of teaching the ins-and-outs of how to

This all came together for me as I’ve been considering trying school library “centers” for at least some of my instruction time (thank you, Cari Young on TpT).  When I am teaching to “cover” a teacher’s contracted planning period (read: no true collaboration possible), I am struggling to come up with ideas that are both student-centered and promote the deep thinking that Common Core demands.

So what I’m starting to think of is to have learning centers that relate to themed curriculum areas.  For instance, at least half of the school wants to do plants as the weather warms up, so I could set up a listening center of gardening audiobooks and related books on display.  That would be one of the choices for students’ “center time,” among others.  I’ve got ideas for a LEGO building station inspired by a theme or book series (also with a book display nearby), and seasonal science centers with a Venus fly trap plant or some other cool, non-crawling living thing.

The part I’m stuck on is assessment.  If the centers are based on student choice, how do I assess that students are actually learning research and information literacy skills?  And how can I do it seamlessly and preferably with self- or auto-correction?  I’d love to know what other folks do, and how they manage assessments on a fixed or mostly-fixed schedule.  Any thoughts or ideas are more than welcome in the comments!

P.S. – The image of flip flops is mine, and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike 3.0 Unported License.  Feel free to use it and/or link to it if you like.

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