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.

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!

Make-it-Take-it Library Centers Part 3

RF_Character_DialogueWay back in November, I presented at our state conference about library centers. We actually got down to the nitty -gritty and made some. Here are the last five of fifteen centers that I presented at that Make-it-Take-it session! The first ten can be found here and here.

Character Dialogue with Discarded Books

Students love to do “fill ins” where they fill in the dialogue for characters they are familiar with. Challenge students who know the text well to create new imaginative scenarios. These work great with pages put in sheet protectors with dry erase markers. You can do this with primary sources, famous paintings, or funny pictures that need captions.

RF_Shape_DominoesShape Dominoes

Students play traditional dominoes by matching the shapes. I love these Shape Dominoes because younger students enjoy creating their own rules to games. These cards are flexible and will allow students to be creative as they make their own games and rules.


This is a new one for me, and one I can’t wait to try! This triangle idea could be really versatile.  Students get a set of a few triangles cut in pieces and assemble them into the correct partnerships. You can use this example and make sets of multiple meaning words or any number of ideas. I thought I might make a set to match a capital letter, lower case letter, and a picture with that beginning sound for my Kinders. They like table puzzles like this.

Animal Measuring Stations

Animal Measuring Stations were one of the first things I made for TeachersPayTeachers. The files could probably use a little bit of revision or updating, but overall I’m fairly proud of them. You can download the Marine Iguana for free and buy the other 7 individually, or all 8 are available in a discounted bundle.

Estimation Station

An estimation station gives students practice at an important math skill. Teachers have said in our staff meetings that our students need a lot more practice with estimating. I believe it translates directly to their ability to be aware of the reasonableness of their answers. They can translate the skill directly to standardized tests by asking, “does my answer make sense?”  RF_marshmallow_estimation


P.S. Full disclosure: I really hate marshmallows! I tolerate them in hot chocolate, which is my winter addiction. And there were 514 in the jar. I know you were wondering ;)

Found Friday: Construction Centers

Found-Friday_TwitterSanta brought my niece and nephew a set of Magformers. When I saw them I immediately thought they would make a good building center for my younger learners. Unfortunately, I think they might notice if their set went missing! I’m going to keep my eye out for good deals, because sets of these are definitely on my list! You can use Magformers at a table-based center, move it to the floor, or use on a large magnetic surface. If you have a magnetic door, desk, or one of those great oil pan wall spaces they would be perfect!


I’ve blogged about Cardboard Building Squares before and my students still love them! I love how easy they are to make and that they are great for all the grade levels.  My students still come back to them every time they’re out as a center. I think I’ll be expanding the set by making adding some rectangles. I was inspired by this pin. In the meantime, I’ve started to add some variety and have been switching them out with Cardtivity for my older students. Jessica Lodge posted on Twitter about the great deal she scored when she found Cardtivity at a local discount store. I was looking to expand my building and engineering center with some additional options and got a set on Amazon. My students really enjoy them. One tip with a center like this is to reinforce math concepts by using the correct vocabulary to label structures the students build.


Lately, I’ve also seen Dado Squares posted by KS Fusco on  Twitter. These function almost exactly like Cardboard Building Squares, but are made by professionals! They will last longer and probably be more attractive to students. I think these are a great long term option. If you see some for a good price, be sure and snap them up.


I’ve been collecting ideas of things to add to my construction and engineering center to alleviate boredom and keep the students building in new ways. What are some of your favorite building materials for students to use in centers?


Whatever you set out for students to use, perhaps you can use some building challenge cards? I made 20 Building Challenge Cards available at TPT.

Building Challenge Card



Found Friday: Fall Centers

Found_FridayIt’s October already, but it’s not too late to add some fall centers to your library spaces!  Found Fridays are the ones when I remind myself of the great centers I’ve found on the ‘net. It’s kind of shocking, but I haven’t started library centers in my new library. The exception was Kindergarten when I pulled out my Mr. Wiggle flannel sets and my magnetic letter boards. We started school after Labor Day and for the first four weeks I was doing a lot of observing and watching to figure out student library-use patterns. When the fifth week arrived, I finally had my shelves adjusted to accommodate storage for centers and I started stocking that space. When my next rotation of fixed classes rolls around, I’ll be ready!

If you would like more Found Friday posts, take a look at the blogs of Cari at and Jess at We don’t all post every Friday, but you’ll  find far more gems over there than you will here!

Don’t forget about that classic estimation station: candy corn. There’s a free printable from Cari available.


I’m cheating a bit with the next one. This pin is what I found on Pinterest a year ago.


Here’s my version! I took away chess to a month to force students to diversify and used the space for this center. Students really didn’t mind. The photo is linked to TeachersPayTeachers where I have directions for creating your own fall word search pumpkin along with three other fall centers, but you can easily use the Pinterest link to create one from scratch for yourself.


I have done Mad Libs in the past and the students love them. I need to print these and put them in my new plastic sleeves for the kids to use.


If you don’t want to laminate everything, you can slide pages into plastic write on/wipe off sleeves. For sturdy ones, skip the teacher supply ones, and go for the shop ticket ones. They are a lot cheaper in bulk and work just as well!

I hope you’re ready for fall! As you pull together some of these centers, I’m sure you’re going to need a cup of cider or another hot beverage. I know I will!