STEAM Biographies

RF_brainstorm_steam_biographiesI’m working with a team of teachers to revitalize the science environment in our hallways. We’re starting with a few ideas, but my favorite is a gallery of ‘thinkers’ (for lack of a better word). We don’t want to limit ourselves to scientists and are approaching this from a STEAM angle.

I did a few keyword searches in the great wide web, but did not find a great resource for a list already curated. There must be hundreds of elementary/middle school teachers who could benefit from such a list.

So tell me, who is your favorite modern ‘thinker?


Eliminating Book Checkout from Lessons

For the past 10 weeks I’ve been stating aloud my plan to eliminate book checkout from my fixed lesson classes next year. At first it started out as an uncertain idea–can I really do this? As I said it aloud more and more I became more certain that this is a real plan for me this fall.

I’m not advocating that this is a great idea for everyone. However, there are a few reasons I think this will work for my students.


  • I see each class during a fixed time period (as part of the coverage for teacher planning time) twelve times a year. If I plan 5 minutes for transitions and attendance and 20 minutes for checkout that leaves a total of 240-300 minutes of fixed-schedule instructional time for the year. Just five hours or less!


  • We have a really strong open checkout routine. Most teachers send students to the library in a daily or weekly rotation. I see many students every day in the library. Many times, I dismiss students for checkout at the end of a lesson and 90% of them have already checked out books for the day, but a few still need the time. Last year our 720 students circulated 63,000 books. The year before we circulated 73,000 with 865 students.
  • Only a few teachers rely on these 12 fixed classes for their regular checkout time (again, only TWELVE times a year!). This might be motivation to establish a regular checkout routine in their classrooms so that students come to the library at least every week. I would really like to see K-2 students daily, and 3-5 students as they need books (1-3 times a week).
  • I’m losing my instructional integrity. Yes, I can teach a quality lesson in 20-25 minutes. However, there are many times when I would like to teach a quality lesson in 35 minutes or 45 minutes. Limiting instruction to only 20 minute lessons does a disservice to my students. I think I can dig a bit deeper into literature, inquiry, resources, and more if I get back the 20 minutes of instruction I’ve been devoting to book checkout.

My Plan

  • Educate teachers about the new plan.
  • Support teachers who want to establish a stronger book circulation routine.
  • Go for it!

I think students will be most disappointed in the elimination of regular library centers time. I usually did that during book checkout. I’m working on a plan to incorporate centers in other ways in the library.

My Library Plan Book

There are many ways to keep track of lesson plans, but my favorite took me a few years to perfect. I separate the ideas of “lesson plans” and “scheduling” when I think about lesson plan books. I cannot keep my lesson plans in a book. My lesson plans are strictly electronic files. When I refer to my plan book, it’s the schedule I keep of when I plan to teach each lesson. I don’t think writing down a few sentences in a little box is sufficient for effective lesson planning.

I have crafted my plan book over several years and last year was my favorite version.  The first year, I printed the pages I needed and kept them in a three-ring binder. It allowed me to try a format for a few weeks, tweak it, and then print the next set of templates. This worked wonderfully, but I don’t love keeping my plan book in a three-ring notebook. It’s great for adding pages to, but easy to lose pages from it.

In the past few years I’ve been doing more spiral binding at my local Office Depot. It usually costs about $3 to have a notebook of 75 pages or so bound together. It’s much more manageable for me than a three-ring binder.

Here’s what I will put in my plan book this year:

  • Generic Weekly Schedule (I put in a file folder flap and tape the schedule down so that I can see it at the same time I’m looking at the other weekly calendar pages)
  • AASL Standards for the 21st Century Learner
  • Projected Pacing Guide (printed in mini)
  • Tips for writing ELL Language Objectives
  • District calendar
  • Weekly Calendars for the entire year
  • To Do lists for the year (copied to the reverse of the calendar template)
  • Generic annual Calendar (my favorite are the Yearly School Calendars from Calendar Lab)
  • Blank Team Planning Notes (I use these at every meeting I sit down in to keep track of how I can contribute)

There are many other things I could include in my book, but I’m careful about it getting too large to carry between school and home.

  • Bulletin Board plan
  • Library tools for collection development, weeding, inventory, purchasing, etc.
  • Professional Development log
  • Substitute Tips
  • Passwords list (I don’t recommend writing personal ones down, but keeping a list of school subscriptions can be helpful)

I have my plan book calendar and lists available at TeachersPayTeachers. It’s not the fanciest file in the world, but it gets the job done for me and it might be what you are looking for!


TPT Back to School Sale

You may already be in school, headed back this week, or still have a few weeks of summer vacation left. Regardless, for the next few days it’s time to think about work and shop the deals at Teachers Pay Teachers.

Shop the Sale with the code, BestYear.

740 × 400

I’ve been sharing ideas with a few fellow librarian store owners. They’ve got some great new products available!

Kathy Cool, a fellow Virginia librarian, just finished the intensive job of putting together a Library Substitute Binder. Check out her Staying Cool in the Library store.


Cari Young has many great ideas for kicking off your library year in style. I love her Book Babies package to help younger students learn about book care.


Jessica Lodge, has many library centers products that are tried and true for your library. Her new Engineering Center is perfect for any library space.


avatar_TPT_riskingfailureAs for myself, I’ve made revisions to several packages so they’ll be better for use in your library. I have more ideas in store for the coming year. If you login and then click the “Follow Me” star, you’ll get updates and alerts of new products when I post them. Happy shopping!

Teacher Orientation

I’ve been thinking about teacher orientation resources for a few weeks. A few friends of mine have larger staff turnover than usual and are hoping to work with new teachers. I shared a few of my documents with them and then set about revising my own documents. We did not gain any new staff members last fall so I have had almost two years away from my documents.

I try to keep it simple, but comprehensive. I know that few people want to take the time to read a packet of information, but I haven’t always gotten time with new staff members and provide print materials regardless. My thoughts are that at least the information is out there in print. I admit there’s also a bit of “I did my job thinking through the policies and communicating them with you.”

Here’s what I usually provide:

General Library Information

  • Instruction & Research
    • Schedule (we have a modified fixed schedule)
    • Information Skills Integration (mini lessons, projects)
    • Library as a Space (how can you schedule the room)
  • Resources
    • Online catalog access
    • E-books
    • Destiny Quest app
    • Online subscriptions (with passwords and notice that these passwords can only be shared in print and not posted online)
    • School professional collection information
    • Videos
    • District Professional Library information
    • Public Library (how to get a card, nearest branch, their online resources)
  • Cameras, Equipment & Technology
    • Cameras
    • Electronic response clickers
    • Technology support (which staff member to report which tech issues to)
  • Checkout Policies for Staff
    • Staff checkout limits
    • After hours checkout
    • Finite resources warning (encouraging teachers to share and leave some books on the shelves for students who love to read about what they are studying in class)
  • Student Procedures
    • Open checkout information
    • Return procedures (when and where the books are due)
    • Library cards (students have them in the library)
    • Library passes
    • Student checkout limits
    • Overdue notifications
    • Library is available for many purposes (students can work independently)
    • Alternative for recess (procedure for sending students, time limit, library space is not for time out or punishment)

Every time I read and revise this list I change something. Right now the library passes I would like to see used for computers aren’t used. In general in my current school we don’t use passes. I can take this bit out of my list. Until this year I had the Instruction & Research section at the end. I’ve decided it’s the most important and it’s now first. It could also use a few more details.

I also think it is important to provide teachers with more than just procedures. I am an instructional partner. If I simply provided procedural and policy information to teachers then I might be seen simply as someone who manages space and resources.

Instructional ResourcesRF_Standards_Outline

  • Pacing Guide (my plan for my fixed lessons)
  • List of mini lesson topics (ones I can do in the classroom or as part of a unit)
  • Collaboration Lesson Ideas (4-5 fleshed out ideas for each grade level for inquiry, project-based or problem-based learning all connected to state standards)
  • Standards outline by grade level (which state standards and AASL Standards will be the focus for each grade level)


We have been in the process of getting a new district web platform for two years, so I’ve procrastinated putting resources online. As soon as I get access to our new system, much of this information will be accessible in electronic format for our staff.

Bulletin Board Planning

Last summer Susie and I worked on a bulletin board for Library Card Month. For various reasons and circumstances the bulletin board stayed up all year long. It was never my intention to leave it up so long, but one day just kind of ran into the next one.

Snoopy Has a Library Card! Do You?
After taking the board down the last week of school I vowed to not be stuck uninspired for the coming year. One day during a quiet few minutes I looked at Susie, our library assistant (but I hate typing library assistant because she is the beating heart of our library), and said, “Get out your phone. Pinterest. Bulletin Board ideas. Go!”

For 15 minutes we used our phones (Pinterest is blocked by our filters) and wrote down ideas for the entire year. Anything was fair game and our list quickly grew!

I printed a stack of my Bulletin Board Planning Guides and started sketching out each idea. If you’d like a copy, the PDF is here.  The beginning of my summer binge marathon of Buffy was a nice companion to all the sketching and planning I did. Bulletin_Board_Plan

The next night I decided which font would work for each design. The night after that I typed all of the letters into a document I set up to reverse outlined letters so that I could quickly print the letters on cardstock.

A few days later I started printing the letters, put them in a gallon Ziploc with the sketched out plan, and now I have a stack of Ziplocs with a pair of scissors stashed by my couch.

TV time is cutting time. By the time September comes along I should have most of the hard work of the bulletin boards finished! When it comes time to put up the bulletin board, I’ll have all of the parts and I’ll know how they should fit on the wall.

Bulletin board parts stored in Ziploc bag with the sketched out plan for the board.

Inspired by Michelle McGarry

whole_school_library_handbookAfter reading an article today in The Whole School Library Handbook I went searching for Michelle McGarry’s project: The School Library link newsletters. They sounded exactly like something I have been thinking of adding to my new school webpage as I work on updates this summer.

Along the way I discovered a few other things that made me feel like I was reading the blog of a kindred spirit.

1. Michelle operates a school reading challenge in her library program for 3rd, 4th and 5th graders. The reading team at my school is exploring a variety of reading challenges to move our teachers away from setting reading goals using AR points. Reading about the reading challenge led me to her Book Tracker Google Form. I’m totally flat out stealing this idea. Currently, my students who read a book on our Virginia Readers’ Choice Nominee list just need to tell one of our library staff a little about the book and then they get to sign our posters. Sign four posters (and read four books) and then I take pictures to put on our Wall of Fame. This works really well for us, but I like the idea of integrating a little writing.

tsll_sample2. Here’s an example of Michelle’s The School Library Link. I can’t wait to read more of these and share them as a resource with my school community.

3. Michelle uses Book Boxes. I’ve blogged before about my unending enthusiasm for Book Boxes (that post is formatted a bit oddly from the transition to WordPress). I love them. Can’t say enough about them. You should use them!

4. Michelle advocates for free voluntary reading and loves reading middle grade fiction. I usually have to work to remember to read middle grade (I navigate to YA a bit more), but reading for pleasure and making personal choices is very important to me. I’m constantly trying to get out from under the stress of running a best practices library in an AR environment.

reading_picture_books5. Michelle teaches with Visible Thinking Routines. I love Visible Thinking Routines!! After reading Making Thinking Visible I’m always trying to find ways to add routines into my lessons. I can’t wait to read this book that Michelle recommends on her blog for reading picture books with a Whole Book Approach and thinking routines.

Finally, to Michelle, who I have gushed about but don’t know–thank you! I love meeting new people through their amazing work! I’m so glad I got to learn from you this week!

Library Centers at AASL, 2015

Edie Crook and I presented a session about Elementary Library Centers at AASL. Thank you to those of you who joined us in the IdeaLab and in our concurrent session! We love your enthusiasm for centers and hope they bring the joy, excitement and friendliness to your libraries that they’ve brought to ours!

As we presented at the IdeaLab, the most requested resource was a list of centers. I cannot post the video online because of student photos, but I will transcribe the video and add that list here for you.

Our presentation is below. I hope you enjoy this tour through library centers Edie and I currently do in our libraries and some we hope try in the future.

If you would like to download our new Centers Starter Kit, it is free through TeachersPayTeachers at my store. There is a centers sale currently happening through Tuesday. If you need something from my store, Cari Young’s or Jessica Lodge’s, make sure you stop in before the sale is over!

The Sorting: Flash Cards & Games for Student Groups

I was discussing strategies for assigning students to group with a friend the other day. We were in Target’s Dollar Spot. When I said I used flash cards, she gave me a quick quizzical look. I explained my strategy and told her that she may find it helpful, because she’s starting at a new school. When you know your students well it is much easier to assign them to groups. When you don’t know your students as well, then you need some random student generators.

Flashcards and card games are a great help!


Last year I used a set of Arthur cards all year. They are number cards with three cards per set. One numerical representation, one visual representation (dots), and one written word. When the three cards are put together correctly they make a picture on the back. I used the cards to put students in groups or to decide who got to use the Smart Table first during centers.

This set is great, but I want some steps that will easily divide students into pairs or into larger groups. Here’s what we found at Target.

These Frozen cards can either help you divide students into pairs (each card has a match) or into groups of four (there are six repeated colors in the set). If you start with groups of four (maybe a table group) then students can break off into pairs for specific tasks.


These Finding Nemo cards and the Crayola dino cards are identical sets of four, which is great for dividing students into groups of 3 or 4. Keep an eye on the last few cards you’re passing out and be sure you only have one of each number left, rather than two (leaving a group of just 2). The numbered cards are great if you need to rotate through stations. I usually say something like, “Twos! It’s your turn at the SMART Table!” Once students walk over for their turn, they leave their card in a little basket and then I reset the time. This helps me keep the crowd over there at a minimum. It’s a new resource and very popular. The dino cards would be more difficult to use in this way.












I saved my favorite for last! I love these Dr. Seuss cards because there are two wild cards! If you have an odd number of students and need just ONE group of three, then you can throw a wild card into the deck. The student with the wild card can choose his/her group.

When I saw these and then opened the rest, I thought the wild idea might work for some of the other sets, if you don’t have any groups where you’ll need all the cards. You can easily designate one design as the wild card.

I’m planning to laminate all of my new cards. It will be a bit of work to get them run through and then cut out, but my Arthur cards are really well worn. Even though these cards look good to go, once they’ve been handled once or twice by an entire grade level they start to get grimy quickly.

Need to Read Reflection

Amy B. of Classic Six Books and I challenged each other to get back to blogging. We’re doing it by revisiting an old post for a bit of reflection and also by posting something new during the week. Amy and I are enthusiastic, but flawed, humans. We’re already behind. I say that with a really big smile on my face. Because it doesn’t matter.

I looked at my blog archive and picked the month April 2012 to see what was going on over three years ago. The post “Need to Read” caught my eye. Maybe I’m just drawn to my own failures? I have the SAME problem I had three years ago! I don’t read enough middle grade fiction. Picture books are fairly easy to catch up with by standing in the bookstore for 20 minutes, reading blogs, and listening to others talk about their favorites. Novels aren’t quite so easy. I know about a lot of novels, but I don’t always know enough to help students find just what they need.

Three years ago, I had a stack of specific books to read. Let’s check in to see if I actually read all of these!

And the answer is…no. I did not read all of these.

This year I started reading the Readers’ Advisory Handbook. It was recommended by BJ McCracken during a workshop I attended. I read a chapter about strategies for keeping up with reading. I need to embrace these strategies, such as book walking (reading the covers, flaps, first page, last page, and a random page or two from the middle), as a positive and not as a failing. I’m meeting my needs as a reader by tackling about 250 novels a year and I’m meeting my student readers’ needs by keeping up with blogs about the best books, book reviews, book walking, and reading what I can when I can get to it.

Happy Reading!