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My rough notes for matching books to students.

Wow has it been a crazy week! I’ve been working with another class on the Destiny Quest Book Review Project (a Destiny Quest review, an MLA Style paper (review) that includes the students’ written reviews and citations for books and pictures, and finally either a book poster or a book video trailer.)  This class is wrapping up theirs and the next one is just beginning. One of these classes first had to select from a personalized set of books that were especially matched to a profile they gave. Here’s a picture of my crazy notes I made as I scoured for titles that matched student interests from their profile cards. If you click on it, it will open to a humongous picture with almost legible scrawl. I was tired when I scratched it out.


Along with the Book Review Project…
I’ve also been working with another class charged with creating as a group a presentation, and they’ve been challenged to use something other than PowerPoint and to model after TED style presentations. I’m excited to return Monday and maybe see some of the final products for that class. My vehicle for introducing them to different presentation tools was BlendSpace, and I blogged about it some last week here and here. BlendSpace is growing on me as a tool to present with in itself.


It’s Conference Week for SCASL

My SCASL Facebook cover photo made to promote the conference in our Facebook Space. Made it with Canva.

And to top it all off, it is officially SCASL Conference week, where I have several responsibilities and two sessions I’m facilitating (the Regional Network Meeting Thursday morning and then my crowd-sourced session for sharing favorite tools, apps, and ideas for a thriving library program, affectionately titled “Don’t Worry, Be ‘Appy” planned for Friday midday. Helping with two more sessions, and hopefully I’ll learn something too.


March Madness – It really is!!
Top it all off with our Library Book Tournament pitting our top sixteen titles against each other using tournament brackets and seeds, and yes, it does make for a lot going on. But I’m not done yet.  Monday, March 17, I’m leading an after school professional development on the topic of Outlook, our district email of all things, and then March 25, we embark on a skyped author visit that we are treating somewhat like an in-school field trip, so we have to plan for student make up work, lunches, disseminating and reading the book (the visit is with Paul Volponi, author of SCYABA nominee The Final Four) and still manage to teach classes, work with students, and all our normal day to day activities. I almost cant wait for HSAP week in April, which will give me a little breathing room (horrors, did I just say I look forward to testing?)

Our 16 brackets based on top 16 circulating titles over the last year

Our Elite Eight after Friday, March 7

And my BlendSpaces for another class

Hoping this week does not wear me out too!! I think I can, I think I can, I think I can….

Have you ever wanted to breathe new life into boring, traditional assignments? Animoto and Wordle, both 2009 recipients of the BWTL, are favorite go-to ideas when I’m brainstorming with teachers for new projects. Often they are unaware of the programs, or worse, aware but don’t see the tie-in to their curriculum content. As teacher librarians we are always on the look out for activities, ideas, or projects that allow students an interesting way to demonstrate concept mastery. Tried and true paper-writing becomes mundane and boring, both for the student and the teacher. Providing teachers a tool for their teacher toolbox and giving students a unique avenue to show they have researched, read, or learned a required standard can be a catalyst for re-engaging students in the learning process.

One of my teachers each semester assigns one written book report. Often times the type of required book changes by either genre or type. In a collaborative session with her, I introduced her to Wordle and Animoto. The library has a digital frame on the circulation desk, and often we create visuals to promote ongoing initiatives, including things like contests, upcoming events, new books, what’s popular, really almost anything. Having the digital frame made me realize it was the perfect avenue to showcase student work as well. I approached my collaborating teacher with an idea that her students books reports could be improved by adding a “visual” route, and a digital project was born. Over the years it has taken many twists and turns, and in its current state, it has grown to students creating a book review for our Destiny Quest, a digital product for the digital frame, and that same digital product added to the Destiny Record. Because our Destiny program is open to the public via the world wide web, anyone who looks for books through our catalog may come across Animoto videos, book posters that have included wordles, and student reviews. My collaborating teacher has maintained a written portion to the project, requiring the students to write the review and citations.  Citations are for pictures used in their projects and for their print book reviewed in a strict MLA format, and this is a part of the rubric we use, where students are assessed. The rubric assesses the following:  MLA Review, MLA Citations, minimum of five pictures related to the story or the book’s content in a visual, minimum of five uses of text in visual, and an oral presentation to class using the student created visual.


The students are much more engaged in all facets of the project knowing their end product potentially has a global audience. They are also excited at the prospect of our using their work in our digital frame for promoting a print resource they used from the library. My collaborating teacher frequently tells her students the skill set they develop from these projects can be used in other classes. I know our students have done this, particularly with our Animoto Accounts because the “Educator” accounts we use with the students have many works finished and/or in progress in there. I used to “download” them and then delete them until recently a student came in the library hysterical because her project (one from some time ago) was missing. I had deleted it thinking it was so old we didn’t need to keep it. This student had actually used the embed feature, and my deleting it caused her work to be missing in another digital avenue. Lesson learned–leave the students’ previous or other work in my accounts.


Here are a few samples of students’ past projects from the class I described above. They are embedded in our Destiny catalog and used to advertise or highlight books in the library as well.

Sample Student Visual Book Reports using a mashup of pictures and an overlay of a Wordle.




Sample Animoto Student Projects


I revisit my World Lit class tomorrow, bringing them yet another list of possibilities to use as their vehicle for a presentation in World Lit. These are the remaining programs, apps, or websites I plan to feature, hoping to whet their appetite for something beside PowerPoint. The class has been immersed in TedTalks for tips in style, technique, and approach for presenting information, and so my assignment with my collaborating teacher  (outside of the standard “how to research” or “where to begin researching”) has been to provide insight on what makes a good presentation and  then this, offering alternatives to Powerpoint.


This “BlendSpace” features a few more. I like that not only can BlendSpace be a parking lot or warehouse to hold my images, web links, and videos, I can also “play” it like a presentation itself. The videos will play in the presentation mode, and the websites are interactive, allowing me to login, click on links, build content, and more, while under the framework of a BlendSpace.

Featured in this BlendSpace:

  • Projeqt
  • Popplet
  • Powtoon
  • HaikuDeck
  • Buncee
  • Emaze


Free…or using in a free trial

Note that most have some form of a free version, though most call for the creation of an account. My target audience is high schoolers, mostly juniors and seniors. Some are more limiting than others in their free state, which is for the most part what our kids will be looking at. They begin creating content Monday.


Helping a High School World Lit class consider alternatives to a dry PowerPoint over the next few weeks, and BlendSpace, among others is quickly becoming a favorite. Selfishly I’m trying out the embed code here too.  If it’s not seen below, it’s located at http://blnds.co/1hv81UT. Enjoy!!


First, if you are unfamiliar with the song, take a few minutes to listen and (maybe?) enjoy the music video I found. While listening note that this is cross-posted on SCASL.net in the online version of our SCASL Media Center Messenger.



[Verse 1]
I used to bite my tongue and hold my breath
Scared to rock the boat and make a mess
So I sat quietly, agreed politely
I guess that I forgot I had a choice
I let you push me past the breaking point

I stood for nothing, so I fell for everything

You held me down, but I got up
Already brushing off the dust
You hear my voice, you hear that sound
Like thunder, gonna shake your ground
You held me down, but I got up
Get ready cause I’ve had enough
I see it all, I see it now

I got the eye of the tiger, the fighter, dancing through the fire
Cause I am a champion and you’re gonna hear me ROAR
Louder, louder than a lion
Cause I am a champion and you’re gonna hear me ROAR
Oh oh oh oh oh oh
You’re gonna hear me roar…..

The Dorman High School Library – a view from upstairs

As I sit and ponder the many challenges facing school library media programs, I realize we as librarians must step up and become the change we want to see. Often we are excluded from the thought processes of decision makers, essentially unheard, and I blame no one but ourselves. At the forefront of most South Carolina administrators’ minds is the focus of fully implementing the Common Core. Where have you been in the discussion taking place at your own school? Are you even at the table of this discussion? No longer can we rely on bygones such as defined minimum programs or state department initiatives to guarantee we are part of the overall school picture, program, and more importantly a slice of the school funding pie. In this post, I hope to provide some action items librarians should ROAR to get a prominent seat at the table of learning in your school. Katy Perry’s song “Roar” has been playing over and over in my head with its ever popularity and serving as a theme song to the Winter Olympics. Now every time you hear it, remember you have the ability to bring your library program roaring back to life. And here are some sound tips and sage advice to get that roar going.


Limited due to Fixed Schedules

Fixed Schedules. Yes, it is a reality, and many schools, dominantly elementary schools use such a scheduling design to ensure common planning time. If you have an assistant, train the assistant to do common library skills and reading advocacy activities (read alouds, teaching students Dewey or how to locate books, learning about the ALA and SCASL Book Award programs, games based on skills.) While these activities are taking place under the direction of an assistant or volunteer, you as librarian are FREE to plan, collaborate, lead professional development, work with other classes, or do library managerial tasks, like review and order print and digital resources for your library. Your entire day should not be tied up with back to back classes. But the reality is the powers that be don’t see it that way. So roar to life a new reality for yourself. You may not be able to get an entire day to do all the activities outlined here, but working with an assistant or volunteers, you may get some part of your day flexible enough to  accomplish bits and pieces. Start small. If volunteers are a problem in your area, contact a local high school, and inquire about student mentoring programs or teacher cadets. Look at recently retired district teachers who may be looking for ways to fill their free time. But be careful not to overwhelm them. Instead train them to be your way to have flexibility in your library program. Accommodate their desires. Some retired teachers and retired teachers’ aides may only want to work with a certain age group–let them. If you have 50-minute classes, have collaborative meetings each period in your library, and invite your  your teachers to the library for those meetings. Then make yourself available for a portion of that meeting. You may have to stop each block to give twenty minutes or so to the students who need help getting that just right book while your assistant or volunteer mans the circulation desk, but any time given is a good time to make an impact, so take advantage.


Take it Flipped

Some library tasks can be done flipped right in your library program. What is flipped, you may be asking yourself?  Wikipedia defines Flip Teaching as follows:

Flip teaching (or flipped classroom) is a form of blended learning in which students learn new content online by watching video lectures, usually at home, and what used to be homework (assigned problems) is now done in class with teachers offering more personalized guidance and interaction with students, instead of lecturing. This is also known as backwards classroom, reverse instruction, flipping the classroom,reverse teaching, and the “Thayer Method.”

A DHS Student watches a screencast with his own laptop while in the library.

Why not invest some time exploring screencasting applications, and recording some of the standard library lessons for a flipped library experience with your learners. Surprisingly enough, this is another way to carve out some flexible time in your library program so you might be able to do some of the other facets of your job (planning, managing, promoting reading advocacy.) Best, they are ready to go for point of need. Have a new student? No problem, watch these! Need to know again how to access our databases from home? Here you go, watch these. We often teach lessons that fall on deaf ears, simply because they are not relevant to the library member at that point. Having an archive of ready to go lessons could be not only useful, but also resourceful!


Professional Development – Our Standards Call for it!

As part of the school library program, the school librarian provides leadership in the use of information technologies and instruction for both students and staff in how to use them constructively, ethically, and safely. The school librarian offers expertise in accessing and evaluating information, using information technologies, and collections of quality physical and virtual resources.

 From AASL’s Position Statement on the
Role of the School Library Program

But when can the librarian meet this need? Juggling classes, teaching assistants and volunteers to take on some of the workload of a fixed schedule, working towards a more collaborative relationship with teachers and principals (all the school community) sometimes makes for a wickedly busy schedule. Many opt to let some part of our roles go. DANGEROUS! This sets a precedent to the decision makers. Do not let this role slide! Find a way to meet the needs for this responsibility in your job as well.


Professional Development Readiness – Are you ready?

Ask to be a source for staff development with your principal. Give a list of topics and technologies that you can introduce, and break it down into specific details. Provide the time frames as well, such as thirty minutes, one hour, half-day, or even whole day. You never know when your principal will decide there is value in something you want to lead. Try to tie it to ongoing school initiatives (i.e. Common Core, Bullying and Cyber Citizenship, Technology infusion, an author or guest speaker visit, etc.)


Get creative in the delivery

Sometimes short informal PD is better! “One Tool at a Time” is very effective for busy teachers who NEED their time. CJN’s Photo

Plan some “during the school day” inservices, where teachers can opt in during their planning period. The International Society of Technology Educators Library Library Group (ISTE SIGLIB) provides a webinar series for librarians titled “One Tool at a Time.” Designing school level inservice in this format is the perfect way to introduce common, regularly used technologies or newer technologies to the teachers. Offer a series like this to your teachers, planning a day where you schedule the same 30 minute session throughout the day. Advertise to teachers and see who shows up. If a single day is impossible, spread them across the week to match grade levels and common planning time, and schedule the assistant or volunteer to cover the library’s scheduled class. Ask your principal for a substitute for a day of learning like this, or ask that any substitutes already in the building for other absent teachers help cover a single library class each day of the week. Get creative in figuring out ways to carve yourself some time to work with your teachers.


Why not Flipped PD?

What about flipping PD? One way to ensure you are providing leadership in technology instruction to your teachers is to take it “flipped” as well. Using screencasting programs, create a series of videos that can serve as introductory or fully developed instruction into the use of new or common technology tools you want your teachers to use. Advertise these with your teachers, and allow them to consume when they have time. Make them short enough so that your teachers will not dismiss them as too time consuming.

A fellow teacher observes students learning how to use a webinar program for a book club.


Kill Two Birds with One Stone

During a visit to a class to talk about various research portals, the teacher learned about just as much as the kids on the importance of database search verses just Googling for research.

Try leading a collaborative lesson with a class, where you simultaneously teach the students and the teacher at the same time. The teacher in this case is assisting you, but more than likely unbeknownst to the students, learning a technology right along with the class. Invite administrators, program coordinators, and other administrative influencers to all of these types of lessons. Sometimes educating those key people can go a long way in helping decision-makers grow value and deepen respect for the program a current library offers the school community.


Don’t forget the data!

Find ways to show your decision-makers your data through numbers. How many classes did you teach last month? How many books circulated? How many teachers popped in for formal or informal training? How many resources circulated to professionals in your building? How many students did you serve before, during, and after the regular school day? What special library or school activities or events did you sponsor? What PD opportunities did you engage in to enhance your own skill set? How did you spend the library’s budget last month? These items make for a nice, informative monthly report to your administrator. Keeping the decision makers in the know of the continuous impact you have on a school program as a whole can have nothing but a positive impact. When is the last time you used a monthly report to make sure decision makers are informed?  If monthly is too frequent for you, find an interval that makes sense in the context of your school, such as bi-monthly or maybe matching the grading cycle for the school year.

What are the benefits?

There are many challenges to providing a balanced library program, and among them  winning the respect of the school community as a whole. Libraries support the curriculum, promote literacy development in students and teachers alike, and foster lifelong reading habits among children through the development of carefully selected print collections and the infusion of educational technology. If you do not already have a seat at the table where school decisions impact your program, using some of the strategies outlined here can be a beginning to gain that leverage. It may very well also be what saves your job. Now, let me hear you ROAR.



Katy Perry. Roar. Capitol Records, 2013. MP3.

 “Position Statement on the Role of the School Library Program”, American Library Association, February 9, 2012.  http://www.ala.org/aasl/advocacy/resources/position-statements/program-role (Accessed January 26, 2014)

Last year during the spring semester I swiped an idea from a neighboring district’s USC library intern (Karen Meharg, a now fully certified and working school librarian), and set to create a Library Book Tournament for my school. It was dubbed our “Library March Madness,” and patterned after the well-known NCAA Basketball Tournament (though a much smaller scale.)


Based on TRUE Circulation Data

I analyzed our Destiny Report to name the top 16 titles that circulated in our library, setting our parameters for the time frame of one year. Then I created my brackets, seeding the books #1-#16 based on where they fell in our circ data report.  I decided to make this a 16 team (book) tournament so that each week of the month  of March books in the brackets could advance. Going with sixteen meant within four weeks of the month our students could choose the “champion” book. Our “Library March Madness” was born.


From Experience

Last year I did not set books in a series together, and it made for an awkward championship, as two books from the same series wound up being pitted against each other. This year if two books were from the same series, the series was noted with the first book, and included reference to the series. This also allowed variety into the sixteen, and we have three titles this year that are referred to as a series.
Setting up the Brackets

Image from http://printablebrackets.net

One should have some understanding of brackets and seeds to set library books in brackets. My husband, a former coach, and my library assistant, a current softball coach had to help me understand how to set the brackets for a sixteen team tournament.

I learned quickly how to place the seeds in the brackets, and here is the basic outline:

Screenshot 2014-02-18 20.03.14

My own creation based on learnings about seeds in a 16 team tournament bracket.

I was shown that for each contest combined seed (rank) added together equaled 17, and knowing that and getting help from those mentioned above, I numbered the brackets. From my Destiny reports, I used each title’s rank to determine seed, only combining series when I decided to name a series rather than a book in a seed.


Rules for the Contest

Each week I will create a Google Form that will ask students to choose a title in each (remaining) bracket.

  • March 6 – Students vote to reduce the list from a “Sweet Sixteen” to an “Elite Eight”
  • March 13 – Students vote to reduce the list from an “Elite Eight” to a “Final Four”
  • March 20 – Students vote to reduce the list from a “Final Four” to the Finalists
  • March 27 – Students vote to select the “DHS Champion Book of the Year”

We are voting once a week on Thursdays so that we can reveal the newest brackets the next day, Friday.

The following are some of our March Madness photos from last year and this year. This year’s brackets are still in creation phase.


Fun, fellowship, and Rewards!

Using Google Forms, we will ask students to submit their name and their selections. This will make tallying results simple. We will offer paper ballots, but we will then turn and hand enter their selections into the Google form. Students names are requested just to ensure students only vote once. The names are also requested so that we can do periodic drawings for prizes. Prizes will range from cafeteria goody coupons, Barns and Noble Gift Cards, and free paperback books. We’ll do a drawing once a week (Friday) from the previous days votes, and then again at our “Championship” celebration.


In Celebration…

The “Championship Celebration” will consist of inviting students to a Donut Drop-in that will be scheduled the last Friday of March BEFORE school. These students will be the first to see the Championship Title before any other students. We’ll also culminate with a few other drawings.


A twist is planned

We are also going to invite students to fill out a bracket with predictions during the first week before revealing the week one titles that move on. Those will also be monitored for accuracy and integrity throughout the tournament, and students who still have a title alive each week will be in some of our drawings.


Who participates

Owly Images

Tiffany Whitehead shared her Library March Madness Tournament Bracket with me via Twitter! Thanks for the nod Tiffany!! Thrilled to know I inspired some of my friends.

Those who work on high school and public libraries know that by this age, you tend to have your regulars. We expect our regulars to be heavily involved. This year I am going to use an idea I am swiping from Tiffany Whitehead who has embraced our “Library March Madness” Book Tournament for her own school. Tiffany has placed her brackets out in the hall for better visibility. I had already made mine for a narrow column in the library, but I like the idea of better visibility too. So I am making a second one that is a larger scale representation for our hallway. Here is her bracket display:


In anticipation

I’m anticipating more participation this year with better visibility outside the library. I’ll keep folks posted on our results. 



Here is the description for a panel session I’m facilitating at the upcoming SCASL Conference (in just over three weeks, March 12-14, 2014). It is slated for 11:00AM Thursday, March 13 in the Columbia Convention Center. I am sharing this now in hopes that you SCASL Conference attendees will put it on your calendar, or BETTER, join the panel by adding your name and a topic here:

Session Title: Don’t Worry, Be ‘Appy

Teacher-librarian practitioners will share their ideas relating to effective practice in use of 2.0 tools and mobile Apps to deliver the mission envisioned in our AASL standards document, a mission that resonates well with ISTE’s NETS*S. Tools and apps have exploded as educators embrace 2.0 and mobile devices, and this sharing session will help us all better understand thoughtful and engaging strategies for integration. No sitting on the ropes! You will need to participate to make this an awesome and exciting session. Be prepared to ACTIVELY PARTICIPATE. (Panel session)


See you in Columbia, SC at our conference!!

PS – That embedded Buncee isn’t acting right so please click out here.

I think I need this more than many!!



First time EVER!

We return tomorrow to school after having Tuesday through Friday off for snow. I applaud my district for making the decisions daily early enough to have no worries about dealing with treacherous icy roads to and from school. Since I had an appointment Friday early, my hubby and I actually went out and scraped the snow and ice off one side of the driveway to make getting out the next morning easier. It was a solid sheet of precipitation. As a southerner, of course I am not equipped to shovel snow! Our tools? We used two dustpans. My forearms were sore for two days! But cleared it, we did. The rest finally melted away Saturday with our very temperate 55 degree day. There is still some snow around in shady areas, but I imagine today’s 58 degree weather will take care of it.

I used the snow days for a little work.

I accomplished a good bit during the snow days. I’ve read a couple of books, evaluated a class of projects for a collaboration, and worked on my monthly report for January, quite tardy!! I made a few helpful tip posts over at SCASL.net, and I re-planned the culmination of the current collaboration and pushed back the dates for the next one. Sigh. I brought home two potentiaL bulletin board type displays, one encouraging students to vote for our annual SCYABA Award, a simple sign, and then another, our Library March Madness, where students help us identify the top circulating books as we set up a Sweet Sixteen book tournament.

Happiness abounds

It really bothers me that so many students are so very flipping happy about the snow days. As I watched the news and sow so many newscasts feature the students in our area totally enjoying the snow, I did in a way understand their happiness. We only get snow once or twice a year. This snow event was a big one for us, despite the minor five inches of accumulation. I did find myself housebound for four consecutive days. But I began to see a trend. It mattered not what kind of student or school, most of the kids that news reporters talked to were ecstatic to be out of school.


i have a theory of why our students, no matter the age, grade,type of school, type of home life, socioeconomic background, treasured the days out of school. Overall, schools are failing to engage our students. Even the few classrooms that truly have engaging activities going on, overwhelmingly school is mundane, boring, and more about test scores and how well we stack up to other schools than about teaching students with authentic and engaging learning goals. Our kids are bored with school. And we as educators are a big part of the problem. Even those of us who want to do more still have to work mindful of our own school’s unwritten mission, that of raising test scores and providing our schools with more awards, accolades, banners, and bragging rights. And this saddens me.

Snowdays at the Nelson household.


Picture attributions:
All pictures used belong to me.
I used Canva.com to layout my pictures ins a creative way.

After the leak of what can only be described as a  bootleg video trailer for The Fault in Our Stars movie set for a June release, the official one is out! (When I say bootleg here, I mean “low quality cell phone camera recording from a video screen” quality.) Yep, I called it!  Love John Green’s description and use of the phrase, “in high glorious definition!”




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