Stepping Out On My Own

The five COETAIL courses are almost complete. I still have fellow cohort members’ projects to review, but the end is in sight. Reflecting on the last year and a half, I have gone back to review some of my work and looked at the work of others. While I can honestly say I have done new things and stretched myself, I believe I could have done more. The final projects I have reviewed have been quite varied. My looks quite sad against that of Janette Haggith and Karen Robb’s. (3rd grade bloggers.)


The hardest part of the course is in front of me.  It involves self-motivation.  Keeping up with reading and writing blogs, thinking of interesting new class/library experiences that utilize the things I have learned, and to continue learning – without Jeff and his team setting tasks for me.

Course 5 Final: A Successful Failure

Fire damaged library.

We need a new library.  The students and I had talked a great deal about what was lost on Sept. 14 and what we missed most about the old library. So I thought I would use the disaster that occurred at school, the fire and looting, to good advantage.  The major winter project for fifth grade, approximately 60 students, would be to design their own library.

Initial enthusiasm was high.  It dropped off as the research part of the unit didn’t seem to be nearly as exciting as the drawing the floor plan part.

Course 5 Final Video: A Successful Failure

PLN thanks, general confusion, and flexibility

Couldn’t decide on one topic for this post and I need to tidy up several things, so have decided to lump them altogether in a semi-reflective post.

First I must thank my PLN members.  Doug Johnson, Karen LIndsay, Tara Ethridge, and Paul Welsh.  Actually Paul didn’t really volunteer to be part of my PLN, but since I have been up in his office once a week wearing my perplexed look and he helps me, I am counting him.  Doug gave me some good feedback early in the process and a peptalk midway through.  He added several comments on the rubric which I appreciated.  Karen Lindsay, now in Istanbul, weighed in on wording and reminded me of a couple of goals we had written last year.  Tara helped by listening to my whining early on.  She is so busy with a new class this year that I felt bad asking her to do much more.   I communicated with them via emails, which I have skillfully deleted.  Managed to keep useless ones and toss the necessary. (Necessary ones include that tax info I managed to delete last week.)

The final project, SO close to being done, is confusing me.  I remember posting lesson plans earlier but can’t seem to get it to work now.  Broke down today and asked Jeff where the video is that explains it.  I have accomplished staying in a fog for most of this course.  Have read far fewer blogs than I should have and have commented on even fewer.  The loss of equipment and space has thrown me.  Originally thought I was coping very well.  In hindsight I am still leaping from stone to stone trying to avoid falling into the lake.

Flexibility.  If I never need that word again, I will be happy.  Since Sept. 14 (arson and theft), flexibility has been a way of life.  Pushing for a space to put the elementary library while working in a corner of the secondary library was the start.  Hauling our few books from room to room on a borrowed cart was the routine.  Then the staff and I pushed our way into what was a large hall connecting 2 buildings, which the seniors were calling home.  We scrounged bookshelves and borrowed carpets.  (Picture trips to the Goodwill.) Many generous people around the world donated money so I could start ordering more materials.  By February we had 3,000 books.  In March another order came in.  Up to 5,000 books.  That and brand new shelves arrived.  (Take 5,000 books off the shelves and sit them on the floor.  Move old shelves out and new ones in.  Put 5,000 books on new shelves.  In one day.)

In between, one of the kindergarten classes got flooded out.  They moved into our library space and we went back to the cart system until another room could be readied.  Tomorrow the other kindergarten class moves in until their new room is set up.  3 days on the carts again.

The biggest challenge for me as been to keep a pleasant face to the students and most of the time to the staff.  Not their fault we were burned out or squished into a small space.  The reward?  This week a parent, who comes in almost daily after school with his children, stopped by to see the new shelves.  He stayed for about 10 minutes talking about how the library has become a cozy, welcoming place.  His children look forward to coming in daily.  He thanked all of us for our hard work.  He is a board member.  Then today, a third grader brought his folks in.  We are in the midst of student led conferences.  He was telling his parents all about the library and how everyone looks forward to seeing what is next and that the librarians make it a cool place.

OK, I guess I can be flexible a bit longer.  Now if I can flex that lesson plan into place I will be happy.

Almost there

Way back at the beginning of course 5 I thought how cool this was going to be.  Planning a terrific “real world” unit for the fifth graders.  Lots of time.  Right.  Started out very well.  Good idea:  students create a dream library – floor plan, with rationale behind it. Members of my PLN, Doug Johnson and Karen Lindsay, thought the assignment sheet that would be given to students was good and they liked the rubric.  I polled the students to make sure everyone had a computer and internet connection at home.  Then, the whole thing began to disintegrate.  One thing led to another.  Since we had no computers, no projector and no whiteboard in the library (due to the fire and looting in September), I introduced the project in each of the 5th grade classrooms, which had 2 computers, a projector and a white board.  I was relying on the students to do work at home.  They all said they had computers and internet at home.

Strike one.  No they didn’t.  Of course, they failed to mention this to me during the first 3 weeks of the project.

We scheduled the new laptop carts for two weeks in a row – then MAP testing started and the computers were unavailable for 3 weeks.

Strike two.  (Ask yourself, “Why didn’t she come up with a new project for her final project at this stage?” )

The idea of using SketchUp was abandoned after the two lessons introducing it and working with it in class.  Tears (not all mine) and great frustration led to a vote.  Scrap the idea of an electronic floor plan.

Strike three.  (See question above.)

We forged on.  Presentation boards and models replaced electronic floor plans.  They did use Word to publish their bibliography, rationale, and labels for design.   The whole effort was finished with a Presentation Day where parents, administrators and other guests came to look out our plans.  A great success really.  Guests were impressed.  I was impressed with students ability to discuss their plans.  Not much technology.  I did reserve the room via our online reservation system.

Now I am almost to the end of the course final.  Assignment and rubric ready to be put into another blog post. Video almost done, thanks to Cheilaugh Garvey.  Soon to be posted.  Then the pleasure of looking at the videos of my cohort members.  Soon, soon, soon it will all be a faint memory.  (Lord, I hope so.)

Testing Revolt

Michael Smith has written a very interesting article, “Teachers have Power”.  He is discussing the need for the level of testing in schools today.  He says that when teachers decide enough is enough and stand up and say so, the amount will be changed.  At the end of the article he tosses in this link:  So it begins in Seattle.

Wow!  What an article.  Teachers at two high schools in Seattle, WA have refused to give the MAP standardized test. “Teachers Refuse to Give Standardized Test at Seattle High School – Update”, is in the Washington Post.  They are against the MAP test, which is an online test.  This test is gaining strength, at least internationally, so I am surprised to see teachers taking such stand.  Our school uses it in grades 2 through high school.

This should prove to be an interesting and lively debate.


PLN Building

I have started to collect a group of people (peeps as my niece would say) for my PLN.  Doug Johnson has agreed to come on board, which is a great bonus.  My final project is centered on planning a new library space and Doug is the go to guy on the topic.  Julie Bredy has agreed as well.  She is a part of our Coetail cohort.  I am hoping my friends Tara Ethridge, Nancy Bell, and Karen Lindsay will come on board as well.  This is an invitation to jump in if you like.

I am looking for websites that show elementary school library plans or photos of redesigned libraries.  Most of what I have found so far is for public or high schools.  I want the students to see what real plans look like.  If you have any ideas I would appreciate them.

The kids are itching to get started with the assignment.  Several started without me over the holidays!  It should be fun.


Post Holiday Adjustments

I love holidays.  It isn’t that I don’t love my job, its just that I REALLY love holidays. The best ones are when you are with friends or family.  This year I had the good fortune to have some dear friends involved in the Thailand adventure.  Elephants, Thai food, a few adult beverages, Thai food, lounging by the pool and on the beach, Thai food, and loads of laughter were involved.

Unfortunately the job fair was not nearly as successful as the holiday.  No job, so off to the Search fair in London in a few weeks.  I remain positive.

Now, I am trying to readjust to this working thing.  First of all, jet lag does not contribute to coherent planning – on any topic.  If I nod off while writing this don’t wake me up.  Forgot my room keys at home.  Thank goodness for library assistants. Couldn’t remember my password for the computer or my email at school. Then the students seem to think I remember what books are in the library.  There are only 2,360 now but I am not sure I every knew the name of them all.

The notes I made on the final project while in transit (including the fun-filled 12 hour layover in Doha Airport) don’t seem to make much sense today.  If I could just read the writing or interpret the abbreviations I used while typing.  What do you think “arct dis total” might mean?

My cupboards are bare so I must go to the store.  I hope I have the correct currency in my wallet.  I did try to buy a lunch ticket with Qatar coins.  They look alike to me.

I have a to-do list:  create PLN (I do remember that now);  create documents for 5th grad assignment (final project for course 5); sort at least one plastic bin a week to decide what you really need to keep;  lesson plans.  What is all that about?  Where is my pina colada?  Where is the sunscreen?  Why am I wearing a sweater and a scarf around my neck?

What to do, what to do?????

I have been thinking about course 5 for a couple of weeks.  Working without any technology is going to be tricky.  Hopefully we will have access to a few laptops after the Winter Break and maybe even a desktop.

Temporary library meeting area.

My unit is going to be on rebuilding the library.  I plan on having the fifth graders to design the library of their dreams.  Because of the lack of technology at school I am going for a flipped lesson.
*View websites, listed by  me.  They will show a variety of school libraries and some will discuss trends in libraries.  They will be encouraged to find other sites.
*Interview students, parents, teachers, and of course, the librarian to get their ideas of what to include.
*Create a word document, to be saved to their server account and on a memory stick, with brainstormed ideas and also a bibliography of sites viewed.
*At some point they will look at library furniture, such as shelving, tables, and couches.

Then, during library sessions:
*they will get in groups to discuss their ideas.  Some ma have sketches they want to share
*sketch the layout for their dream library
*using pencil & paper or a software program such as Sketch-up
*conference with me on ideas/sketch
*prepare a final drawing of the layout to include in their “portfolio”
*prepare a document (or power point or prezi) with ideas about furniture, etc. that can be included in their portfolio
*prepare their bibliography and a statement supporting their ideas, to be included in their portfoliio.

Portfolio:  can be electronic or hard-copy.  If electronic it will need to be put on a memory stick to turn in to me.  This would be the best option but will be more difficult because of the lack of hardware at school right now. We will have an “Design Tea” at the end of the project.  I will invite the director, board members, teachers and parents come.  Ideally we will have 1 to 1 laptops on that day so each child can display their work electronically.

I have asked all the students if they have computers and internet access at home.  All do, but many said their connection was often slow.

I might try to Skype an architect that has done school library projects.  This could be tricky as I would have to book a classroom in order to have a projector and screen.  Not to mention finding an architect that would stay up late or get up really early to talk to us.  More thought on that will be required.

The objectives here would be getting students to research data for a specific purpose; learn and utilize interviewing techniques in order to get specific date; and to use technology tools to enhance their final project.  Along the way, I hope to see their creativity blossom and unique ideas come forth.  It would be fun to see the director and board use some of their ideas in the new building.



During the Thanksgiving Holiday break and friend and I met up with other friends in London.  It was Cindee’s first time there, so I had a great time seeing her face as she came across the fabulous sights (including her first view of Victoria Station).  The big treat for the trip was going to see the musical “Wicked”.  Let me confess, I don’t really like musicals (even though I have a drama minor).  However, if you get a chance, you MUST go see this show.  Absolutely a feast for the senses.  The sets, the lighting, and the costumes enhanced the great dancing and AMAZING voices.  What struck me from the start was that somewhere along the lives of the set, lighting, costume designers lives someone must have said, “You are so good at that, you should try to do that for a living.”  Or at least oohed and aahed at their efforts.  Then, after the sets, lighting, and costumes were designed, some talented souls had to turn designs into reality.  Another gifted group.

That led me to consider how well I do in encouraging students creative efforts.  I read Doug Johnson’s blog article “10 Ways to Encourage Creativity in Your Library”.  His 10 ways are so simple one wonders why they aren’t used by everyone – all the time.  I felt a bit uneasy reading them though.  I saw myself squelching creative moments during past conversations with students.  I am vowing to try harder to not judge the creativity as long as the purpose of the assignment as been met.  I might even be willing to realize the assignment was boring and needed creativity.

All this reflection on my teaching and reading about better ways of connecting with students and then actually changing things has been tougher than I thought it would be.  I always thought I was pretty good at making lessons that were interesting.  Now I know that I have a long way to go.  In the meantime I do so hope that one of the children that comes through my doors will be encouraged enough by me to continue heading down a creative path.  What a “Wicked” thought.