“A book, too, can be a star, ‘explosive material, capable of stirring up fresh life endlessly,’ a living fire to lighten the darkness, leading out into the expanding universe.”
― Madeleine L’Engle

Hi! I’m glad you’re here.

You might be looking for:

A few specific frequent requests:

Something else? Check the list of categories on the right, or scroll down to see what’s new.

on the merits of self-checkout

Public libraries do it, why shouldn’t we?

I implemented self-checkout last school year purely as a self-preservation measure. I only had an assistant for 75 minutes a day, all of my classes had 25-30 students, and I think it’s important for me to be available to help kids select books – it’s way less important for me to operate a scanner.

When we started, I went over the self-checkout steps with all my students. I also deputized a few kids in each class to receive extra training so they could help their classmates. The first few weeks required a fair amount of oversight from me, but now – more than a year later – it’s glorious. I’m free to recommend books and help students with their work, as is my assistant, who is now in the library all morning. Students are able to help themselves when I’m in a meeting, or if I have to step out for a minute.

Plus, they love it. It’s kind of empowering! They love using the scanner. They love knowing that I trust them. They love helping their classmates when problems arise (as they inevitably do).

This works because I’m not super possessive about books, and I don’t freak out if a book gets checked out to the wrong kid now and again (and I’ve been surprised by how rarely that happens). You definitely have to be willing to relinquish some control. But it is so nice – for me and for the kids.

Here’s the instruction sheet I keep next to the checkout computer. This is a good reminder for all of our kiddos, and is awesome for new students too – no joke, I had a new sixth grader this year who never even asked how to check out books. She just walked right up, read the directions, and did it.

Like I said: glorious.

Spheros in the library

Fourth-grade students building a Sphero obstacle course

Oh man our kids love Spheros so much. We were lucky enough to get a class set of 15 Sphero Bolts this year, which is great – last year we just had five (and at any given time only three of them were likely to work), and it’s hard to share these babies between more than two or three students. 15 is perfect.

Whenever we use Spheros, I let the kids play around for a few minutes first. Honestly, in “Drive” mode, they’re basically just fancy RC cars, but who can resist an RC car? Once they’ve gotten that out of their systems, we start introducing engineering challenges (constructing bridges, tunnels, mazes etc. for Sphero to navigate; seeing how much weight Sphero can carry on the chariot) or asking them to use block coding to operate Sphero.

Here’s the handout I made for a couple of PD sessions this school year. It has some ideas for how to use Sphero in the classroom, and lots of links. Enjoy, and good luck!

Museum of Ancient Civilizations

Grade level: I taught this with 5th/6th grade split classes, which is pretty much perfect.

Duration: We spent more than a month on this, but our classes meet weekly.

Background: In 6th grade, we study Ancient History — so in our school with split grades, we teach it every other year. I always prefer to teach research skills in a way that aligns with what they’re learning in the classroom, so in Ancient History years, this is our research unit! They get to practice research skills and design a museum exhibit, and other kids get to learn from the museum too.

Students had already done this credible source activity, so this was a chance for them to practice their skills.

Continue reading “Museum of Ancient Civilizations”

Presenting: The NBJH Book Award!

The front page of our NBJH Book Award brochure
The front page of our 2016-2017 NBJH Book Award brochure, featuring six of the 16 titles

I’m not going to lie: this was one of my proudest accomplishments at this job.

The Why

It started out with a list of sort of mediocre selections for our state book award, the Caudills. I love our state awards, but the Caudill has a tough job – it’s for students in grades 4-8. Yikes! There are not a whole lot of books that are appealing for 9-year-olds and 14-year-olds. So they’d recommend some books for the younger kids, some books for the older kids, but what about my completionists – the kids who were desperate to read every. single. book, even if they hated ’em?

This project started for those kids, but it grew to include just about everybody else. What I love so much about running an in-house book award program is the sense of ownership our students feel. The whole program is run by them, with some oversight from staff members. They pick the books, they promote the books, they celebrate at the end of the program. It provides great leadership opportunities for our committee members, and students who aren’t on the committee are more invested because the list was chosen by their peers. Plus, that list is perfectly tailored to our school, which is huge.

Continue reading “Presenting: The NBJH Book Award!”

Book of the Week: Alanna: The First Adventure, by Tamora Pierce

Alanna: The First Adventure, by Tamora Pierce

Alanna and Thom are twins, but they don’t have very much in common. Alanna loves sword fighting and horseback riding, while Thom is quiet, studious, and dreams of becoming a sorcerer. Unfortunately their father has other plans: he thinks Alanna needs to learn needlework and manners so she can be a proper lady, and he wants to send Thom to become a knight. Continue reading “Book of the Week: Alanna: The First Adventure, by Tamora Pierce”

Understanding the World through Literature

Grade level: 8th; would also work with older students

Duration: ~5-6 class sessions

Background: Look, I’m a librarian. I’m deeply invested in the idea that reading makes us better people, opens our eyes, expands our sense of empathy. Both nonfiction and fiction texts help us understand the world around us.

It was with that belief in mind that I worked with a social studies teacher and our gifted coordinator to develop this short, powerful unit. Our 8th grade social studies classes were studying dictatorships, and North Korea in particular, and this teacher was looking for another way for them to access the material.

In this project, students choose a work of dystopian fiction and think, write, and discuss the parallels they see between that work of fiction and a real-life dictatorship. Students are expected to find evidence for their claims by locating supporting nonfiction articles.

We gave students the option of selecting a work they’d already read – many of our kids gobble up dystopian novels – or something new. We included a list of short story options for students who didn’t already have a text in mind, since the timeframe was relatively short.

Continue reading “Understanding the World through Literature”

Book of the Week: Codename Zero, by Chris Rylander

Codename Zero, by Chris Rylander

Seventh grader Carson Fender has lived in North Dakota his entire life. It’s pretty much empty, so he has to liven things up a little – for example, by executing epic pranks. Like, um, releasing hundreds of goats on school property. And then, while everyone’s trying to round up the goats, super-gluing everything in the building. Every stapler to every desk. Gluing all the doors shut. Et cetera. Continue reading “Book of the Week: Codename Zero, by Chris Rylander”

Go Phish

So I fell prey to that Google phishing scam yesterday.


Now I’m going to make a bunch of excuses: I got the email before it became big news (it hadn’t even shown up on Twitter yet!), it was from a guy I volunteer with who was supposed to send me a Google Doc this week (and who usually BCCs the other volunteers), it was after lunch and I’d hit a blood sugar lull…

But I knew. In my heart of hearts, I was like, “this looks kind of weird, what’s the deal with this hhhhhh email address” – but I clicked it anyway. And now I have to live with the shame. I mean, I teach kids about internet safety, and I fell for a phishing scam?!

And then I thought: oh man, what an opportunity.

Continue reading “Go Phish”

Book of the Week: The Bitter Side of Sweet, by Tara Sullivan

The Bitter Side of Sweet, by Tara Sullivan
Realistic fiction

Fifteen-year-old Amadou and his eight-year-old brother are trapped. Two years ago they left their village in search of work. What they found instead was a life of forced labor, near starvation, and beatings on a cacao plantation in a neighboring country. Despite their hardships, Amadou is determined to earn his way back home – the plantation owners told him that he and his brother could leave once they worked enough. So he spends his days trying to protect his little brother while working a dangerous job in the middle of nowhere. Continue reading “Book of the Week: The Bitter Side of Sweet, by Tara Sullivan”

Book of the Week: Undefeated, by Steve Sheinkin

Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team, by Steve Sheinkin

Back in the early 1900s, football was just getting started. And if you think football is violent and dangerous now, imagine how much crazier it was back when helmets were optional, nobody wore pads, and passing wasn’t allowed, so every play ended up in a giant pile of players on the ground. Continue reading “Book of the Week: Undefeated, by Steve Sheinkin”