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.

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!”

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”

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”

The Great Greek Debates

Over the course of this weeklong project, students work in groups to learn about the different types of government in Ancient Greece. They conduct research and do a LOT of critical thinking, and they get to face the challenge – often for the first time! – of having to defend an idea they disagree with. Let’s be real: lots of grown-ups struggle with that. Continue reading “The Great Greek Debates”

That’s fake news!

Because sometimes it really is fake news, and our students need to know how to figure that out.

Grade level and duration: We did this with 6th grade ELA classes in a cool 80 minutes.


  • Students will be able to discern “sponsored content”, opinion pieces, and advertising/advertorials on legitimate news websites.
  • Students will able to determine the legitimacy of an unknown news website using a checklist.
  • Students will be able to use online tools to determine the accuracy of a news story or viral image.
Continue reading “That’s fake news!”


National Novel Writing Month happens every November, and it’s one of my favorite times of year. This year, for the first time, we opened up our NaNoWriMo club to 7th graders as well as 8th graders – our 7th graders used to do NaNoWriMo in their language arts classes, but due to curriculum changes that’s no longer happening. We still wanted to give them a chance! Continue reading “NaNoWriMo”