Thursday, September 29, 2011

Great podcast

It's been a pretty hectic week for me and I've had a couple of incidents happen to make me question not only my sanity but also my future as a librarian.  Sometimes I think the "Matrix" of technology is going to rule us all.

So I dug out this podcast from the University of London entitled The Future of the Book.  Good listening and it will make you feel like we aren't out of date after all.....

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

20 tips for project based learning

I found a great posting on today entitled 20 tips for project based learning.  So many people are moving towards projects for learning but don't take the time to structure the project.  Assigning a group project doesn't mean you can just throw out the assignment and hope it works.  "Front loading" the lesson--structuring and planning ahead of time-- will result in much better results for you and your students! 

These tips cover items like putting teams of students together for a long term--6-8 weeks.  The same group could work together on several projects.  Another good tip--make hetrogeneous groups and let the group play off each others' strengths.

The formative assessments are vital in projects!  Students need to know as they are moving through the assignment how they are doing.  I've always found more success when I have interim due dates for pieces of large projects--"Your idea list is due on this date."  "Your draft is due on this date."  Yes, it means more grading --but you get more grades!  I tended to carry a clipboard and just make these "check" grades--you have it or you don't which equaled a 100 daily grade or a zero.  It wasn't hard and was a good way for me to touch base with each group to check on progress.

In the library I see so many times teachers who assign projects so kids will work independently for a few days.  Well, that's all well and good but doesn't mean it's time for a teacher to sit back and read the paper (and yes, that happens all too often.)  Managing projects in a classroom is not different than managing projects in a small business--you need to know the status of each one at any given moment!

Take a look at the blog posting from Edutopia--what other tips would you add?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Cutting for Stone

One of the best books I read this summer was Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese.  (link courtesy of Amazon.)  The story concerns a nun and a doctor who go to Ethopia to work in a misson.  The nun dies giving birth to twin boys--no one even knew she was pregnant so the whole mission was in a state of shock.  The doctor can't handle the birth or the loss of his love and he runs from the mission, leaving the boys Shiva and Marion in the care of the remaining doctors and nuns in the mission. The story follows the boys as they grow to adulthood in the loving family of the various members of the mission.

The story is set against the backdrop of political upheaval in Ethiopia and eventually the story makes its way to the United States.  The description of Ethopian countryside and the civil war juxtaposed with the medical descriptions of the hospitals makes for fascinating reading.

The reader can't be squeamish--the story gets pretty graphic in terms of medical descriptions.  But as an epic story, this one ranks right up there with the best of them. It reminds me of a Michener epic, with its sweeping landscapes and generations of characters.  A little more adult than a true young adult novel, I wouldn't recommend it for anyone but older, advanced readers.  But I sometimes have trouble finding suitable materials for those readers, so this one fills that need. 

Get this one for vacation time when you can really delve into it!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Easy class tip

So do you ever get tired of trying to pair kids up with someone? Sometimes it seems it takes longer to get everyone to pair up than to do anything else in a lesson!  This is a tip I borrowed from somewhere and honestly I don't even know where it came from.  So I'm asking forgiveness ahead of time--if you know the origin, please let me know!

Make a handout with a picture of a circular clock.  Fill in 12, 3,6, and 9.  Let the kids have a few minutes to fill in their clock with "appointments."  For example, Susie could have John's name at 12, Bill's name at 3 and Carrie's name at 6. 

Then when you reach a point in your lesson where you want kids to share with someone quickly, tell them to choose their "3 o'clock appointment" person.  So Susie would go share with Bill.  Then next time, choose another time.  This keeps kids moving, and it gives them an outlet to talk and share with various people around the room, without two people becoming so attached their conversations drift off topic.

I've used this in my classroom and my library.  It works well with middle school and high school students.  Let me know if you try this!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Gotta' keep reading!

This video is about a year old but it never fails to make me smile.  Happy Friday!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Myths about Internet filters

I found this article on Twitter the other day talking about Internet filters and blocked websites.  I wish I could give this article to some of the tech people in our district.  As librarians we have to deal with blocked sites all the time but don't have any power to unblock or do anything about the problem.  I understand the idea of protecting our kids, but as much time as I spend busting kids for using proxy servers, I think it's a moot point. 

I get tired of seeing my seniors who are taking college classes not being able to access their email.  Sites teachers are using may suddenly be blocked from one day to the next.  And then I see kids type in the word "proxy" into Google, and they find a plethora of ways to bypass the filters.  As a matter of fact, my staff and I joke that the Internet filter mainly blocks the teachers--because if the kids want to see a site, they just use a proxy server!

I wish I knew a solution.  It would be great if we could just leave things open but all it would take would be one student offended or stumbling into a site that spouts hate speech or worse, and our district would be hung out to dry. 

I would love to know what others do in this situation.  What's the solution?  Block or not to block?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Tech tip--Shmoop

Today's tech tip isn't really a tip but a shout out for a great website.  As a former English teacher, I hate to recommend sites like Spark Notes since I know the importance of reading a work in its original form.  But as a librarian, I see kids struggle on a daily basis with unfamiliar language.  I would rather these students have a working knowledge of what they are reading.  So enter Shmoop!

I tell kids Shmoop is Spark Notes on steriods!!  Not only does the site include plot summaries, they have thematic information, character analysis and questions to think about.  So the student is getting more than just a brief "this is what happened."  When a student is really struggling to understand a work, I've seen how this site can help. 

Lots of classic novels are included in the site with levels from middle school to high school.  The entries are usually written by PhD students from places like Harvard so we aren't talking Wikipedia quality here.  The best part is the entries are written in "kidspeak" so they are easy to understand. 

Not only does the site have literature help, but also has sites for US History and biology to name a few.  For a subscription cost, schools can also access PSAT, and SAT prep.  I'm not sure of the cost but I am sure Shmoop would have good quality stuff!

Next time you see a student struggling to get through a classic like Beowulf, make sure he knows about Shmoop.  It would be a shame to miss out on one of the greatest epics in literature with its timeless themes of good vs. evil all because of the hard to understand language!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Professional reading

On the advice of a dear friend who was also our library coordinator, I started reading Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard. (link courtesy of I thought the book might help provide some clarity to my thinking and also help with all the changes we are seeing in my district, my school and across our state. 

The book is an easy read with lots of real world examples to make it easy to understand.  One of the biggest points in the book talks about the logical vs. the emotional side of making changes.  The authors refer to these as The Rider (logic) and The Elephant (emotions).  Obviously you can see emotions are a much larger part of the equation but logic drives us.  The key is to be sure The Rider can control The Elephant.  When the two are in sync, change is blissful--a wedding, a new baby--happy changes.

 But when the Rider and the Elephant don't operate in tandem, we see the conflicts and fear of change--Should I take this new job?  Should I sell my house?  Can I afford to go back to school? Why can't I lose weight? These situations are where we need guidance to make sure the changes can take place.  The authors use some key phrases to help--"direct the rider, motivate the elephant and shape the path."   These phrases along with real world examples to show the implementation of the ideas give the reader a guide to make the changes happen.

I see how this can work in large organizations and I suspect our district admin people are using the tools to help us navigate the forces of change facing our district right now.  We're dealing with budget cuts, personnel cuts, and a generally low morale since teachers seem to be getting the blame for most everything these days!

The book does a good job of giving the reader some tools to help cope.  I plan on buying a few copies for our professional collection and handing them out to strategic people.  Maybe we can spread the word and keep our campus on the right track.

P.S. Just a personal shout out---our local paper published my letter (see Thursday's rant).  I'm pleasantly surprised!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Monday sparkle

So do you know all your students' names yet?  I sure don't but then again, I have about 2000 students in the whole school that are "mine."  Even as a teacher I had trouble learning names fast enough.  Of course you always have those who are answering every question already so you know them.  But would you like to know a trick to ensure you pick different people to answer questions in a discussion?

Try this free site.  The Randon Name Generator from Class is a fun way to make sure everyone is included in the discussion.  You have to load the names first and then the site spins like a Vegas slot machine randoming selecting names.  It even has sound effects!  You have the option to remove the name once you've called on a student or you can leave them in the rotation just to keep everyone on their toes!

You could use this to pick people to answer in discussions, pair up random names for partner activities, or other groupings.  We've even used it in inservice trainings to make sure everyone is paying attention.  It's so embarrassing to be called out in front of your peers and not know what's going on--whether you're a teacher or a student!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Teaching Critical Thinking

Ran across this article entitled "Ten Steps to Teaching Critical Thinking." Looks like some good advice!

On a totally different topic, but somewhat related to my rant on Friday, I found this article from the LA Times entitled "Moving Beyond Blame the Teacher."  The author talks about school districts that implement Deming's TQM principles.  My district did that  and it made a difference. Rather than always blaming teachers for problems, teachers are encouraged to work on problems. 

Both good reading for the weekend!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Friday fun.....

okay so it's been a long week and I just want to share with you something I stole borrowed from Joyce Valenza--it's a great infographic about what Teacher Librarians actually do---we teach!!!

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Falling SAT scores

When I began this blog, I promised myself I wouldn't get all political or use this forum to scream about the current lousy state of education in my state.  My goal was to share information with other educators.  However, in our local paper today, an article caught my eye and I had to write a letter to the editor.  I am usually fairly quiet and calm, but this whole issue just makes my blood boil.  So please forgive me today if I sound a little bit like a rabble rouser......

An article published in this month’s School Library Journal is entitled “Something to Shout About: New research shows more librarians mean higher reading scores.”   Wow, what a concept…but wait a minute, Texas is cutting librarians—school as well as public--due to budget issues.  According to the article “…students in states that lost librarians tended to have lower reading scores- or had a slower rise on standardized tests-than those in states that gained librarians.”  The research also shows states that gained librarians showed an increase in scores at twice the rate of those without librarians.  When students are taught “an authentic lesson by a certified librarian, scores are impacted and learning takes place.”

So with great interest, I read today’s article “SAT reading scores fall to lowest level on record.” Am I the only one who finds this ironic? Governor Perry?  Legislators? Texas school boards?  Are you listening?  Why are the SAT scores dropping?  Seems to me to be a simple correlation.  And I’m afraid we are only starting the worst of the decline. I think in a few years Texas will see the true results of our current budget fiasco and considering SAT scores are already at the lowest point, how much further can our students  fall?

So what do you think?  Do you agree with me?  Or am I just being a rabble rouser? 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Tag Team Tech

Okay so today's a "two-fer" posting day....I get so excited sometimes with the material I run across I want to post it right away so 1. I don't forget! and 2. so you can share in my excitement!

This is a posting from Joyce Valenza--one of the library world's blogging geniuses.  In her post she talks about using Twitter as her Personal Learning Network.  And I must admit, everything she says is spot on. 
Joyce Valenza -- Tag Team Tech

I use Twitter more and more for professional development and professional reading suggestions.  I don't use Twitter for the "follow the celebrity" type of tweets, but people like Joyce Valenza and Buffy Hamilton have shown me some invaluable information.  I can sift through their tweets--following up on topics that look interesting (most of the time) and ignoring ones I don't want to read (not that often!). 

Check out this article and see what you think.  And if you haven't used Twitter yet, give it a try.  You can sign up for free and just sort of lurk around for a while till you figure it out.  I would suggest you sign up from your computer using the Twitter website and then pick it up on your smartphone.  I get irritated trying to do things like that from my phone....but that's a whole 'nother rant......

And if you sign up for Twitter, follow me @dlpierce2.  See you in the Twitterverse!

Dewey Rap

okay librarian buddies....I dare you to watch this'll have the song stuck in your head for the REST of the day.......the video came from my dear friend Sally, who has moved to the land of FarFarAway.......miss you!!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Funny new novel

I just started reading a great new YA novel--Beauty Queens by Libba Bray.  You know the old saying, "Don't judge a book by its cover"?  Well, I saw this cover and thought, "Hmm....maybe I better read this one before it hits the shelves."  A tiny bikini over a well endowed body.....with what I thought was a string of ammunition.  Well, it was ammunition.......lipstick!!!  The tubes of lipstick were all lined up in a ammo sling--pretty cute!

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray  -- link courtesy of

So I started reading and before I finished the first page, I was reading parts of it out loud to my assistant.  The story is Miss Teen USA meets Lord of the Flies on Survivor Island!   The Corporation sponsors the Miss Teen Dream pagent every year and this year, the plane carrying the contestants crashed on a deserted island.  The inevitable power struggles and  the prety girl cliches keep the story moving ahead at full speed, peppered with "commercials" from the Corporation--which is what makes me think of Survivor Island.  I wouldn't be surprised to find out the whole incident is being taped for a reality tv show!

I haven't finished it yet so I can't give away anything.  I'm hoping the message of the story,while not a total slam of prettiness, is one of girl power.  I've all ready read one mention that if girls had been characters in Lord of the Flies, the story would have been entirely different!

I will caution, though, this story is for more mature teens.  I've all ready read some parts with some pretty adult subject matter--nothing too wild, but not the type of subjects you would want in a middle school library.

I'll let you know how the story turns out--hopefully, I can be done with it soon.  My assistant is trying to take it away from me every chance she gets.......

Monday, September 12, 2011

Show some razzle dazzle to your students.

I mentioned QR codes.  I thought you might like a simple tutorial on making one for a website.  This is so easy that I hesitate to tell you---you might think I'm hiding something---just kidding!!  But this really is so simple and will make you look really snazzy to your students, their parents and your staff.

Take a website--I like to use my LibGuides for various projects.  Copy the URL.  Go to the URL shortener  Lots of these sites exist but I'm just partial to special reason. 

Paste your URL into their shortener.  You can make a customized URL if the keywords you choose haven't already been used.  Once you have your short URL, go to the Info+ link--there's your QR code just waiting for you to cut and paste it where ever you want!

Lots of QR code generator sites exist.  Some allow you to use text or pictures for the QR code.  I'm still using the websites at this point.  I still think the best use for QR codes for me right now is to help students find project LibGuides.

I would love to see some examples of how other librarians are using QR codes--anyone willing to share?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Never Forget

Just wanted to take a moment to say God Bless The USA.  We will never forget the events of September 11, 2001.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

QR codes

Here is a cute Common Craft video that explains QR codes and what they can be used for..

QR Codes by Common Craft videos

QR codes are more familiar to students than teachers.  I've used them to post summer reading lists, direct students to LibGuides over certain projects or showcase orientation information for new students.  You could write book reviews, post them to your online catalogue and then add a QR code to the spine of the book to help students know more about a title.

What other uses for QR codes can you suggest?

New teen writing site

I just found this site Figment.  Looks really cute and a safe place for kids to share their writing.  I'm going to suggest it at school to our creative writing class and see what they think about it. 

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Shiny pennies....

In the midst of the craziness of the past few days.....I need to concentrate on why I do this job....

1.  I helped a young man change his thesis statement from "I hate wars" to "The country of Isreal should be free to self govern without the interference of aggressive nations."

2.  I helped a young lady find a fifty year old short story--too old for current collections but too new for public domain!

3.  I helped an IB student find a journal entitled "Journal of Ethnic and Cultural Bias in Social Work", which by coincidence was also the topic of her EE.

The rest of the day pales by comparison.......

Saturday, September 3, 2011

May the odds be ever in your favor

MTV recently premiered a trailer for the movie The Hunger Games, long awaited video version of the wildly popular book series. 
We see Katniss running through the forest with Peeta’s voice over the action.  Not a lot to see in terms of the movie but enough to get fans talking.  As with Harry Potter, this series is one fans want to see done “right”—so the movie looks like what they imagined as they read the book without leaving out any important details or events.  And similar to the Lord of the Rings series, filming has already begun on the next book in the series, Catching Fire.  So the movie will be either wildly successful and a great trilogy or a bust from the get-go if the first one doesn’t generate the buzz the studio is hoping for.

All I know is since school has started, I’ve had numerous requests for the three books in the series and our multiple copies are all checked out with a long waiting list.  I would like to think the excitement was due to the great story line but I suspect the VMA’s broadcasting on tv right as school started may have played a large part in generating the buzz. But whatever works to get kids talking about books, I’ll take it!

I do know kids talk about this series just like they used to talk about the Harry Potter series.  They discuss the action in the plot-“Should Katniss have taken her sisters’ place in the Games?  Why isn’t Haymitch more helpful?”  To hear this kind of a discussion without a teacher prompt warms my heart!

 And the three main characters provoke strong reactions - you hear the about the Katniss, Gale and Peeta triangle just like we were hearing about Bella, Edward and Jacob.  I’m waiting for the Team Gale/ Team Peeta shirts to come out with the movie!  Only these shirts won’t have sparkles—they’ll glow with fire!
I love it when a series makes kids talk among themselves—that’s literacy education in action!  No choreographed reading groups, no writing assignments, no questions to answer about each chapter-just students sharing their love of a story.  Kudos to Suzanne Collins for a well written, engaging series.  Now let’s hope the movie lives up the book and all the marketing “sneak peaks.” 
The movie is scheduled for a March 2012 premier.   How many kids can you get to read the series before then?  May the odds be ever in your favor.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Texas Book Festival

I just got my volunteer request today for the Texas Book Festival.  If you've never volunteered for it, consider doing so.  It takes tons of people to put on an event the size of this one!

Here's the link to the volunteer sign up:
Tx Book Festival volunteer signup