For that last 4 years our library media center has lived within the maker movement. The kids have loved it and it encouraged a culture of innovation and risk taking, but recently something felt amiss.

Our school improvement goal for reading is students will deepen engagement with texts through extensive time for reading. Our library is (was) a buzzing place with tech tools, engineering designs, Legos, Magformers, but reading was a side note. A little asterisk on the experience in our media center and it continued to push me to ask questions and seek ideas. Why? What can I do differently? Am I okay with this? Are our teachers okay with this? Our media center was not living and breathing our SIP goal and it bothered me.

I realize that making spaces for reading in a library isn’t a new idea, but it will be a “new” experience for our students. I truly believe our media centers have an impact on the culture in our schools and the progress of our students. What we promote in our space matters and through reflection I realized that if our goal was to give students extensive time to read, but it wasn’t happening in the library, what kind of a message was I sending? Read…just not here. YIKES!

After many conversations with my admin, coach, and MTA, I realized it was time for a change. None of them pushed, suggested or forced this change, (I’m not sure they knew I was even considering this) but their focused and intentional conversations about our goals and beliefs guided me in this direction. I am sad to see makerspaces go, but I think for now it is the right thing for our school. I am unsure of how long we will go without makerspaces, but I am excited to see how our new space encourages the love of reading.

A shout out to my MTA, Taryn Hassler, for always taking ownership of the ideas in the LMC, brainstorming, creating and sharing her knowledge, skills, and craftiness!

“What’s required is a willingness to go out into the world with a curious and open mind, to observe closely, and—perhaps most important, according to a number of the questioners I’ve interviewed—to listen.”
― Warren BergerA More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas 
















Makerspaces Failure & Success: The Only Way to Learn

For the last two years our district has been integrating the #makerspace movement into our libraries.  I love it!  Here is a quick blog post about some of my successes and failures throughout the journey.

Makerspace Logistics

  • Audience: Grades K-5
  • Structure: During checkout, half of the students checkout while the other half do makerspaces, then they swap places.  Some teachers come for 20 minutes, others come for 30 minutes.  Some teachers don’t do them at all.  I am hoping to change that by getting feedback from teachers after this year.
  • Management:  I have suggested that teachers split boy/girl so that they can tell who is at makerspaces and who is checking out more easily.  A few kids like to double dip on their makerspace time.  Our library is full of energy and…noise.  Our makerspaces are independent work spaces where students can learn, create, share, and have fun.

Failure & Success

#1: Lanyards, vests, anything kids have to wear to identify them at a makerspace, makes for a lot of work on the librarian’s side of things.  The best solution I have found for this is a whiteboard with the different makerspaces listed and how many spots are at each makerspace in Sharpie marker.  Students write their names or class numbers next to the makerspace spot they are at and head on their way.  I do have to rewrite this because Expo over Sharpie=erasing, but it is much easier than making and laminating tags for lanyards!

#2: Take-Apart Technology stations should really be monitored.  Real tools in the hands of first graders without direct supervision can get a little dicey.  It was worth a try and the kids loved it, but next time it will be a club where I can directly monitor the students!

#3: Some of the best makerspaces are FREE!!!  My students LOVE the paper airplane makerspace.  To control flight patterns, I place a target on the window in hopes they will aim for that.  Service centered makerspaces, such as holiday cards for the homeless, is always a highlight.

#4: All children, K-5 love puppets.  It sounds silly and I think our intermediate grade teachers secretly hate the puppets, but I love that 5th graders get into it.  Sure they are being silly and laughing, but childhood flies by too fast.  I say let the kids play!  Puppets and legos are the only two makerspaces that stick around all year.  The other 3-4 change about every 2 months.

#5: I typically have a vision for how I want a makerspace to go, but the students find their own vision.  Something I have learned is to LET GO!  Sure, they may not be building the exact replica of the GoldieBlox design, but they are probably making something pretty cool!

#6: TAPE. Kids love tape.  Beware of the tape.

#7: Video taping how the makerspaces work is helpful for teachers and students. I have posted the videos on the library facebook page for parents as well.  I started out strong this year, but then…school happened. My goal is to get back to this in August.

#8: Some things that didn’t go as smoothly as I had hoped as independent spaces for students. Makey Makey, Spheros, Little Bits, and green screen (Do Ink App).  These need a little more guidance next year and may be clubs with solid introductions or classroom lessons prior to incorporating them into makerspaces.

#9: One of my favorite makerspaces is the Imagination Playground.  Our PTO bought this for the school and it is AMAZING.  I love the collaboration it creates and creativity it fosters.  We have the large blocks.  I’d really love my own set.  Hint, hint.

#10: Signage.  This is my weak area.  I am not a crafty design person and students love to manipulate (erase, rewrite, move) signage that isn’t permanent. I have tried plastic stands, which work pretty well, but they often get overlooked. I don’t see this as a huge issue, but it is something I strive to improve.

Have any questions or feedback?  Feel free to hit me up on Twitter @mediaspecjess or email me at


Push the Limits

Our school district is on fall break and it is giving me time to look through all of my blog posts that I have written, but never posted. Here is one that should have come out months ago! There is so much negative press about education. We have to change the narrative. We are doing great things!

Everyday I am amazed. I am amazed by teachers, custodians, and administrators and everyone in-between pushing themselves to their limits and I am in awe. In my position as the library media specialist, I have an eagle’s eye view of the happenings of our school and district from the inside out and the outside in. I love this. Sometimes I claim it is like a game of Survivor because I often find myself between the reality of a teacher’s life in the classroom and administrative decisions that don’t always mesh.

I take the job of learning from all points of view, thinking creatively, and helping both sides meet somewhere in the middle seriously (if it makes sense). I ask “Why?” a lot. “Why are we doing this?” “Why CAN’T we do that?” “Why does that matter?”  “Does that matter?” “Why do you feel that way?” “Why don’t you ask?” “Why? Why? Why?” I sound like a toddler who just can’t get enough.  I don’t fear heated conversations or stating my opinion because I want what is best for everyone and I am willing to push the limits to get just that.  I am also thankful for administrators and teachers who constantly challenge my thinking and push me to see things from different perspectives. Sure, we can’t make everyone happy, but if we are fighting for what is best for kids, in the end, happiness is found through seeing kids do their best and that is why we are all here.

Our journey to and through Understanding by Design has been one of those passionate shifts that our school has been working through. After a meeting with our 5th grade team this week I am buzzing with excitement. Many times throughout this process we had to bridge the gap and push our limits, I can now say we are there and oh, how sweet it is.

We have worked for 4 years focusing on student tasks and the depth of knowledge. We did walkthroughs, book studies, goal setting, deep digging and we realized at the heart of it all was a lack of alignment.  Four years into it and we are finally seeing how alignment can transform teaching and learning. YES!  As much as this has been a  frustrating process, I am amazed at our teachers’ hard work. After a recent meeting I was pumped to see this vision of alignment and deep thinking become a reality. I am so pumped because with alignment, student learning will make sense to those who matter most, our students. Kudos to our 5th grade team. You are pushing the envelope and I am honored to be a part of your team.

Keep asking “Why?”, don’t be afraid to speak up, and continue to push the limits. You never know what kiddo might need just what you are fighting for.


Who is Your Ed. Hero?

Most teachers don’t get awards or trophies.  Most teachers don’t get paid a lot.  Most teachers don’t…care (about those things).  One thing teachers do, is become heroes.  My mom has been teaching for decades. DECADES.  She is retiring this year and I need her to know that no, maybe she hasn’t ever gotten an award, but she is my hero and I imagine a hero to others as well.  Here is why…

1.  She kept learning. She never got stale.  Old yes…(kidding mom) 🙂  Never stale.  She will be the first to admit that technology is not her strength, so when she told me that she was having her students use iPads I caught myself open mouthed and crazy eyed.  Really?  iPads in your classroom mom?  How is that going?  She explained what tools they were using and how and again I caught myself open mouthed and crazy eyed, but wow, she was doing it.

Lesson: Good teachers can do good things even when they don’t know it all or feel like an expert.  Don’t be afraid to be a learner along side your students. Thank you mom, for teaching me this repeatedly.

2. She kept loving. Her heart never got hard.  Even in her last days of this year, she was still helping students be the best they could be.  She gave students chances to rework projects, rethink behavior, and try it again.  She never gave up and gave students multiple opportunities to be successful.

Lesson:  School isn’t for mastery, but for learning.  We owe it to our students to dig a little, develop a relationship, and demand excellence even if it takes several attempts.  Thank you mom, for teaching me this repeatedly.

3. She kept honing her craft and sharing it with others.  I remember going into her pre-K classroom and feeling the love as a child.  Songs were sung, developmentally appropriate tasks were given, she allowed her students to be self-directed, and students were experiencing real life scenarios…decades ago!  Now as a high school teacher who helps students get their CDA in early childhood, she sings songs, gives them appropriate tasks, allows them to be self directed, and gives them real life experiences they will use in their future classrooms.  It just makes sense.

Lesson: Good teaching practices are good for…decades!  Engagement, self direction, and authentic experiences are not new to education, but they are critical for student success.  Thank you mom, for teaching me this repeatedly.

Retired? Yes.  Old? Maybe. 😉  Stale? Angry? Bored? No.  My mom is my Ed. Hero because regardless of the minutiae of education, she kept the most important things illuminated for…decades.  She continued to learn, love, and grow.  No awards or trophies can even come close to summing up the impact she has had on the hundreds of students throughout her teaching career, including me.

For the Love of Poetry

I love poetry month!  I offered poetry lessons for our kindergarten through fifth grade classes and met with 21/27 of them.  I shared a google spreadsheet with our staff and asked them to sign up if they wanted a lesson.  Of course, the first link I sent out didn’t work, but eventually the ball got rolling.  I also posted the lesson idea on my March 2015 Daily Flush aka the toilet stall newsletter.

I love my job because I easily get bored and crave challenges in my profession.  Hence, the reason I have never taught the same grade level consecutively, nor save my plan books each year.  Yuck.  I love to recreate, stretch and grow and being a library media specialist suits me well because I get to do this daily.

In planning my lessons the first step was about promoting it.  I provided students with a poetry challenge, talked about it on our morning announcements, and like I said previously, I stalked the teachers. 🙂  Next came the planning.  My first step is looking at the vertical articulation for ELA standards to make sure I am on track and then to consider additional standards if those don’t seem meaty enough.  Here are the learning targets I created for each grade level.  The learning targets did improve as my lessons went on.

Next, I consider my toughest grade level first, 5th grade.  I swear, I can’t get these kids excited about ANYTHING!  So, I turned to pop culture in hopes to hook them into the amazing world of poetry and figurative language.  The first lesson I taught, I used some songs and lyrics that I eventually realized could have been controversial, so I finally landed on Ferrel Williams, Happy and Flo Rida, Good Feeling.

As the students walked in I had the music blaring in the library.  No, our library is never quiet.  I could see it on their faces…I had them.  I would let them jam out for a bit and then get our learn on.  I am a freak about the importance of learning targets and refer to them often through out the lesson to ensure the students know their task and their goals.  My first question to the students was, Who loves music? All hands flew up.  Who loves poetry? All hands went down. I cried a little, but it was a trick.  I then told them that their love of music is actually a love for poetry, they just didn’t know it yet and yes, I do know they are not technically the same thing and would go on to explain that, but I wanted the students to see the parallel to figurative language in their lives.  I also would weave in where poetry is in the library and a review of the word genre.

I then would move to our learning targets and for fifth grade they were: We can examine how words and phrases create a deeper meaning in literature with similes, metaphors, hyperboles, and imagery.  We can explain the deeper meaning of the figurative language (this learning target was an upgrade after a couple of lessons).  We can create figurative language.  I had the students read the targets with me to begin so we were all on the same page.  We defined similes, metaphors, hyperboles, and imagery and wrote examples on the board.  We reread the learning targets and I told them their mission was to identify any figurative language, but not to worry, we would do this together too.  I then would pass out the lyrics and a high lighter and turn the music up. Everyone would sing and I would remind them of their learning target and let them continue on their way.  We worked through the first set of lyrics together, share our ideas, then dive back into the lyrics to find more figurative language.  I would challenge the students who thought this was easy, to start to label the figurative language and explain their thinking in the margins.  After we examined the lyrics and discussed our ideas, it was the students’ turn to create.  I turned it over to them to write something with figurative language and gathered their information to provide data for their teacher.  I didn’t think to do this originally, so the first 5th grade teacher didn’t get this. Sorry!

I taught grades 2-5 using this same strategy, but tweaking the targets to fit their grade level needs.  I was able to use the lyrics for our second graders because of the repeating lines and rhyming.  In kindergarten and first grade their standards were so different that I had them look at poetry that met their standards.  In kindergarten the lesson was modeled as a whole group, but in first grade students were able to highlight and identify words about their senses and feelings in the poems.  The toughest grade to get going was typically 3rd grade and it makes sense because it is the first time the standards actually define the different types of figurative language.  In the third grade lessons we didn’t have time to create because we spent more time talking to build their understanding.  There was definitely a rise and fall to my stamina as I did this 21 times, but it was a blast and our poetry section has never been so empty!

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What I Learned with #hourofcode

1. Girls are missing out in the world of computer science, but if you build it, they will come!

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2. Being a learner of something completely new is refreshing!

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3. Anyone is willing to support an idea with passion and purpose behind it.

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4. When students are engaged, collaboration and problem solving come easy…easier 🙂

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5.  When you make something “exclusive” like a “girls only” club, the boys REALLY want to do it too.

Girls Coding Club

6.  There is so much in the world I don’t know how to do, but that doesn’t mean I can’t provide an opportunity for others to explore and learn.

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Responsible Researchers

For a long time now I have promoted the use of Google search for students of any age. Why? Because it isn’t going anywhere and instead of fearing the things that students can find, we need to teach them how to use the search engine responsibly.  What a great teaching moment for something possibly inappropriate to appear in a Google search and for a child to have YOU standing there to support that finding and what to do next.  Students are going to use Google to search for information, so don’t we want to model, facilitate, and instruct with it wisely?

I have been working with a couple of 5th grade classrooms on finding reliable resources.  Here are our tricks and tips.

Reliable Resources: Things to Check

URL: org, gov, edu

Is it from a Reputable Institution? (museum, news media, expert, reputable organization)

Check 3 sites to confirm finding

Check the date of publication (bottom or top of site)

Check bibliography- Are sources cited?

Check author-Google search to see who they are

I talk about the things to check when researching online and model how to find them via Apple TV and then the students log into their GoogleDrive accounts.  Once we are there we go to the research tool and talk about filtering our search.  Then the students start to search for 3 resources and use the citation tool to cite student sources.  When they are done they share their document with me and I post this rubric on it (see below).  I will be updating the rubric based on a reflection I had while planning this same set of lessons with another class. Instead of writing a paragraph, the students in this class are going to target a specific audience and create ways to teach the information they are learning to others.

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After students read and write down key information I have been showing them this YouTube video about mind mapping and how it helps our brain synthesize information. The thing I love about mind mapping is that it provides an opportunity for multiple modes of thinking to be seen on paper.  Below you will see some example mind maps that our students created.

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 After talking with the classroom teacher we decided his class would create books or presentations for their second grade buddies.  It works out perfectly that second grade has standards that also align with 5th grade.  I love it when a plan comes together!!  This is the synthesizing presentation I used with the students.


Some Rules Need Revisions

I began writing this Oct. 3, but now that I am on fall break I have time to finish it! 🙂 As always, thank you for reading!

I. Am. Exhausted. Last night our school held parent/teacher conferences and I thought it would be the perfect timing to see my passion project turn into a reality.

Back story:

Our district libraries have been planning to purchase and circulate eBooks for a couple of years. Our middle and high schools rolled it out before the elementaries just to see how it would go. It has been amazing to get resources from them and to hear about their experiences to help us.

With this roll out of eBooks, one thing that keeps me awake at night is the thought that not all students have the same opportunities at home. I wanted to think of a way to get books into hands and devices into homes that may not have access to them. This launched me on a crusade to figure out how we could use our district library funds to purchase eReaders. I asked around the district and was told that our budget categories and definitions didn’t allow for spending money on eReaders.  See the response I got below.

“The audio visual account expenditures is defined by the State Board of Accounts.  The definition of what can be purchased with these monies is”  Audiovisual:  Activities concerned with selecting, preparing, storing, and maintaining audiovisual equipment, films, filmstrips, transparencies, tapes, and TV programs as well as associated services.  I know what you’re thinking…. This definition is outdate, and I agree with you.”

As much as I wanted to be okay with this answer, I just couldn’t let it go. I couldn’t sleep. How could we possibly be servicing 21st century learners with such an archaic definition?  How could I possibly “grow” my students if I couldn’t provide them with current technology for reading?  So… I called the State Board of Accounts and spoke to a kind man who agreed that the definition was a bit outdated and that it would be okay to purchase eReaders with our library accounts.  He gave me his contact information and said he would be glad to talk with our district leaders. Long story short, the district did agree to use funds to purchase eReaders, but we established a hardware budget line to get it done. Woohoo!  The day I heard the news, I was ecstatic! I was on my way!

My next major challenge was considering how to circulate the eReaders to make a difference for our students who don’t have devices at home. How could I find out who didn’t have a device? A survey? A guess? Nothing seemed like it would work well and I was stuck for a while.  Then it dawned on me that I needed a chance to help ALL parents and I knew they would be in the school for parent/teacher conferences, so I wouldn’t have to lure them in just for ebooks.  It was perfect.  I posted an announcement on my library Facebook page and asked teachers to send information via email and hoped for the best.

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With much thanks to Melissa Brisco, our previous Director of Learning and Terry Rich our Executive Director of Business, for considering this change and helping it become a reality. As well as a huge thanks to Ben Walters our Network Manager for making it possible to open up our wireless during parent/teacher conferences so that I could run a help desk for parents who have devices and to provide eReaders for parents that did not.

Over the course of two days, with the help of Travis Penn, District Technology Supervisor, Jenny Sebbas, Technology Assistant HelpDesk Manager, and Lauren Smith our Instructional Coach at Noble Crossing, we were able to help 126 families access eBooks through their own devices and circulate the 10 Kindle Fires to homes that do not have tablets or wireless.

The smiles on faces of parents and students has made it worth the hard work and risk taking to question a rule that needed revision.  Thank you to all that have helped make my passion project a reality. Anything is possible when people work together!

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
― Margaret Mead





“Keep creating!”

I received information from @caharvey2 that Baker and Taylor was supporting a coloring contest based on the book The Day the Crayons Quit written by Drew Daywalt and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers.  I love this book and the different personalities of the crayons.  I decided to run with the idea of creativity and emailed our staff to see if anyone would be interested in a lesson on creativity for their students.  As always, the staff here jumped right on board and I have scheduled out several lessons in the next two weeks.

First, I prompted the students to take time to think about what the word creativity meant to them. Students paired and shared their thoughts, and then we came together as a whole group to share.  We listed key ideas on the whiteboard.  Next, I pulled up this video from Kid President (I LOVE HIM!!) and paused at different places to think, pair, and share about his ideas, who he consulted, and what he realized at the end of his catcuum experience.  Our big takeaway was that ideas don’t always work out the way we want them to, but we “Gotta keep creating!”

After the video I read The Day the Crayons Quit and we focused on the author and illustrators creativity with personification, illustrations, and humor. The students then had time to create pictures like Duncan does in the story to help the crayons all feel a little bit better.  The students did a gallery walk to observe student creations and then we voted on the top three by placing sticky notes on our favorite creative picture.

We ended the lesson by talking about how some people had more sticky notes than others, but just like Kid President, we “Gotta keep on creating!”  Below you will see the top three choices in this particular class.  I have 7 more lessons to do just like this one, although I am sure I will change things along the way because… I gotta keep creating!

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Contest information: DayCrayonsBT