On being a Slytherin…

Every person has a set of labels that they identify with. Some of them are labels we are proud of, and others have a stigma. Like most people in my profession, I am a HUGE Harry Potter geek. When I did the Pottermore sorting hat, I ended up in Slytherin.


Every so often I get in a heated Harry Potter discussion with my kids (don’t get me started on the Snape and unrequited love stuff…), and I ask them what house they are in and disclose that I am a Slytherin. I’ve noticed that my kids have interesting reactions. One of my kids became genuinely upset, and kept trying to convince me that I was wrong. Several other kids tell me, “That’s the BAD house, and you aren’t a bad person.” The more I have these conversations with students, the more I realize that we pass judgement really quickly. We keep trying to convince our kids to imagine people complexly, but it is so easy to see the world in black and white.

Harry Potter is a great lens for us to show that there’s good everywhere. My students know that I am a decent person (or not…they’re allowed to have opinions). When I talk about Harry Potter Houses, I remind students that there is good everywhere. It’s a great way to challenge myself to build a good reputation when there’s a bad reputation standing in your way. For me, it’s a good analogy for students who are trying to change how people view them .

Most importantly, if you are a Harry Potter geek, own your house. This is a situation where we choose our labels and what legacy we are adding to our House and the world.


AMLE Reflections

As a professional, one of my deepest fears is losing my professional center. I make it a point to talk to other librarians constantly to stay connected and avoid getting bogged down by the day to day drama. More recently, I’ve also been going to trainings that are specifically geared toward teachers. One that I really enjoy is the Association for Middle Level Educators (AMLE).

The more I interact with public librarians, the more I realize what a specific skill set teachers have. Getting to see teachers who are at the top of their game is incredible and allows me to brainstorm ways to embed their strategies, activities, and content into my own lessons. As a school librarian, I am always trying to take my students to the next level. Sometimes getting away from people who think the same way, can lead to some great reflection on my program.

Informal Take-Aways

This was a conference I attended with several colleagues. I love that I can attend a session, and then instantly talk to someone who is incredibly excited about trying to take their program and our school to the next level. As we attended sessions, I could catch certain teachers and say, “hey, I think _______ would fit well with your kids!” Having several teachers on the same wavelength is incredible when designing new activities and trying new things.

It’s also great to touch base with professionals that you only see a few times a year. I had the chance to talk with a friend who is a former middle school librarian about issues that relate to us, bounce ideas, and geek out about library stuff.


Librarians stick together! (with Heather Lister)

Classroom Management

One big thing in our district has been “trauma informed teaching.” As educators, we are working to keep open dialogues with guidance and school based services, learning as much as we can about our students, and try to be understanding of whatever trauma our students may be going through in their lives. We have a fantastic team in our building, and they inspire me to try and learn more about how to be thoughtful when interacting with my students. I loved seeing different ways to approach issues to help best serve my students.

Dr. Debbie Silver made a simple comparison about a hand model for explaining the brain. When trying to double check her analogy to make sure that I could explain it best, I found this summary of it. Your hand is your brain. The wrist is the part of the brain that focuses on the basic survival functions (breathing, eating, balance). If we tuck our thumb in, it represents our amygdala and mid brain. This is the part of our brain that handles our reactions. Then close the fingers over your thumb to make a fist. The represents the cortex, which is our logic and decision making. If you wiggle the thumb, it makes it harder for the fingers to keep the hand in the fist. (so it’s like a student flipping their lid). Dr. Silver called the amygdala the hot part of the brain, and cortex the cool part of the brain. We make smart decisions when we are in the cool part of our brain. I loved this analogy to explain intense emotions, and I’m hoping that it will be useful when I redirect behavior.

Kim Campbell was provided a great session on “If you can’t manage them, you can’t teach them.” When we think about discipline, we know that certain personalities respond to people they respect or have a positive relationship first. Because of this, a lot of energy is focused on building relationships with our students. But, on the other end of the spectrum, if the students don’t know your expectations, it’s hard for them to meet your expectations. She reminded us that it’s a balance of clear expectations and making the effort to build relationships with our students. In addition, she provided us with an assortment of strategies to keep kids moving, while keeping students controlled.

The Power of Failure

In another session, Dr. Debbie Silver talked about the importance of failure (which is covered more in her book Fall Down 7 Times, Get Up 8). As we know, failure is something that happens in life, and if it happens we get back up and try again. If students fail, we are able to guide them to try again and build resilience. At the end of our school day, we have a personalized learning period. This allows me to take my maker club to the next level, and I’m able to watch kids puzzle through problems. Going to sessions at AMLE reminded me that when students succeed or fail, to be thoughtful in how we praise/encourage our students. When giving feedback, we should only focus on what our students have control over (effort, ways to approach the problem, etc.).

Public Libraries Represent!

YALSA also had a few librarians from their Future Ready Program focusing on college and career readiness in middle school. The majority of these programs were in public libraries, and I’m so excited to see public librarians showcase collaboration opportunities. My favorite program was from Scottsboro Public Library in Alabama. This was a public library that had a fantastic dialogue with the school, well planned activities that taught career skills, allowed students to reflect, and had students working together. The more I talk to other librarians, the more I realize that we sometimes end up in a niche. The fact that there are some excellent public-school relationships that force public librarians to see problems that school librarians face, and forces school librarians to see what public librarians face. When we see the big picture, we are able to better serve our communities.


I have whiteboard tables, now what…

Last year, I had glass put on my tables to retrofit them into a white board table. Here are some of my favorite activities that we’ve done with them!


I know that many teachers struggle with how to articulate paraphrasing as a skill. It’s so easy to say, “don’t copy and paste” and even when we break it down and pretend we are explaining the topic to our lunch table or our parents, it’s a hard skill for students to pick up. What we did was we did a guided research project. We read an article together, and they could add more articles. We took sentences from the article and put them up on the screen.

First: They had to find the fact fragment, or the fact in it’s shortest/simplest form. There may be more than one.

Second: They had to identify words that they wouldn’t traditionally use or would change if they were writing.

Third: Find synonyms for the words they identified.

Finally: Rewrite the sentence in their own words. Use the fact fragment as a starting point. We could add in details we’ve learned about the topic, shift the order, and include our synonyms.

This is something that was a great co-teaching lesson, because the classroom teacher and I could go around and fine tune sentences. Many sentences needed tweaking, and the whiteboard setting prevented students from getting frustrated. We did this activity between the rough draft and final copy and the classroom teachers noticed a significant improvement in the quality of the final copy.  In addition, it was a great tangible activity that we could point to throughout the year whenever the topic of “using your own words” came up.

Planning for maker challenges/stopmotion movies

I feel like this goes without saying. Having whiteboard tables is a great way for them to brainstorm/blueprint. (and sometimes it makes for a great stopmotion medium)

“Take a Fact/Leave a Fact” Poetry introduction

We were practicing using print resources for a poet project. I set up stations with 3 types of print resources. They had to go around to each station and find a fact about a poet and leave it for the next group. Groups could not repeat facts. If they found a cool fact, and it tied into their project, they were free to take it and use it in their project.

Sometime teaching print resources makes me feel like a worksheet queen. This activity got the kids moving, challenged them to find better facts than their classmates, and really got them engaged in each type of resource I was promoting.


End of Year Assessment

At the end of the year, I did a scavenger hunt to see if they could navigate certain skills successfully in my room. One station was for them to leave me a thing I could improve on in my library. I loved the insight they gave me.


My favorite bit of feedback from 6th grade!

World Cafe

Social studies classes used this method to cover certain cultures, it’s a great way to document discussions and get kids up and moving around the room. Want to learn about this method, check out this site: http://www.theworldcafe.com/key-concepts-resources/world-cafe-method/


Book Review: Refugee

Refugee by Alan Gratz


Published by Scholastic in 2017

Alan Gratz is incredible at telling a historical story in a way that forces you to care about the characters, with a storyline that never drags. Refugee is the story of three teenagers a different times. Josef lives in Germany in 1939, Isabel lives in Cuba in 1994, and Mahmoud lives in Syria in 2015.

Josef’s father is sent to a concentration camp and is released if his family leaves Germany. Josef and his family get on a ship and he notices how his father has changed. As they get closer to Cuba, there are rumors that they may not be let into the country. Where will they go? What will happen to them?

Isabel’s father is being targetted by the police. Isabel teams up with a neighbor and her family to take a small boat to Miami. If they get caught before they hit the beach, they will be sent back to Cuba.

Mahmoud’s family is apartment is destroyed by a mortar strike. He and his family leave Syria to get to Turkey and then Greece. Mahmoud has learned that you survived in Syria by not being noticed, but that may be the death of them as refugees.

Although these stories take place at different times, they have common threads. And I’m struck by how Gratz weaves these stories together and shows how easily everyone’s tables can turn.

There was one thing that annoyed me. Each character has a different religion, and instead of having the Muslim character talk about Allah, the Jewish charcter talk about G-d, and the Christian character talk about God, he has them all talk about God. A part of me realizes that he is trying to show that all these characters are very similar, but I worry that he’s not being thoughtful of these character’s identity.

Overall, I loved this book! It is a fast paced story that tries to humanize a crisis that is hard for our students to wrap their mind around. In the author’s note, he makes a point to tell readers what they can do.


“What if her life was a song? No, not a song. A life was a symphony, with different movements and complicated musical forms. A song was something shorter. A smaller piece of life. This journey was a song,” (p. 155)

“You can live life as a ghost, waiting for death to come, or you can dance.” (p. 239)

“It was better to be visible. To stand up. To stand out.” (p. 282)

*I recieved this ARC from the publisher, I recieved no monetary compensation for this review. Quotes may change in the final publication.

Reflections: Year 1 of using ebooks

I know I’m a tech savvy librarian, but ebooks scare the living daylights out of me. There’s something about the terror of hosting costs, legal issues with how long you own the books (multi-user, can I download it, can I print pages?), and the feeling of diving into the unknown with someone else’s money. I’m easily overwhelmed by the thought of taking a leap into the ebook fray and investing in something that my student may not use.

For this reason, I avoided the ebook question for my first few years. At the time, I didn’t think my population was interested and more importantly, I didn’t know how to take the leap in a way that my population would respond to it. Then the PA ebook consortium idea appeared. I was cautiously optimistic as I tried to learn more.

As I did research, I was really happy with what the organizers of the ebook consortium and Mackin were offering.

  • No Hosting Fees
  • You had the purchasing power of the whole state
  • Focus on fiction/high interest titles
  • Mackin allows you to keep the books you purchase
  • They were asking for librarian input
  • Google Single Sign on

Now, it took a few months to get going but I did some heavy promoting of the ebook through various scavenger hunts and hyperdocs. We’ll see how the program progresses, but I’m optimistic. We’ve gotten several teachers onboard, promoted to students, and found a way to embed these resources in our lessons. I’ve been happy with the usage and how easy it is for students to access the ebooks. I can’t wait to try a few ideas for next year!

Book Review: Race to the Bottom of the Sea

Race to the Bottom of the Sea by Lindsay Eager

race to bottom

Published by Candlewick Press, expected release date 10/17.

Fidelia’s parents are successful scientists studying sharks, and are killed in a freak story when the submarine capsized. Fidelia feels responsible, because she encouraged them to put off coming the the surfaceand the submarine was one she designed. While staying with her aunt, a trio of pirates led by Merrick the Monstrous come to rob her home and kidnap her. In order to earn her freedom, she has to go underwater to a cave with poisoned flowers to retrieve a lost treasure. As they get closer to the cave, Fidelia learns the backstory of the pirates. It turns out that there is more to Merrick than meets the eye. Will they successfully find the treasure? What is Merrick’s secret?

One thing I struggled with was the geography. When I read contemporary books, I try and look at where in the world the story takes place and to be aware of the culture when reading. I had a hard time figuring out where in the world the story takes place. Some preliminary searches of some of the locations in this book produced limited results. The author does a good of blending modern life with the traditional notion of pirates, but it didn’t jive when you look at modern day piracy.

Overall, I enjoyed the book. It blends modern life and the folklore that our teens love with “Pirates of the Caribbean.”


“Sorry was a blanket that left your feet cold, a thin soup that couldn’t fill the aching hunger in your bones. Sorry was the only thing people could offer, and it was a cruel, false replacement for what she had lost.” (p. 206)

“What’s life without a few scars?” (p. 228)

“people don’t always act the way you expect them to.” (p.268)

*I recieved this ARC from the publisher, I recieved no monetary compensation for this review. Quotes may change in the final publication.

What’s all the Hype about Hyperdocs

Earlier this year, I had the chance to participate in the Hyperdocs Bootcamp. When I first learned about Hyperdocs, I was a skeptic. In my eyes, it was a glorified google doc, but as I worked with the teachers in my building through this bootcamp, I realized yes, it may be a glorified google doc, but it’s so much more. By using hyperdocs in my instruction I have been able to:

  • Provide a more organized workspace for students
  • Have students use a variety of technology tools in one space
  • Better organize my lessons
  • Present topics using a variety of media to accommodate more learners

So…What is a Hyperdoc?

A hyperdoc can be a variety of of platforms, but it is a living document where students are able to bounce to different types of medias and technology tools, interact with the teacher, and record their work. It seems very similar to a webquest, but it allows for teachers to give feedback more efficiently and keeps the students more organized.

How have I used Hyperdocs?

My first hyperdoc was made to prepare my students for an author livestream. Unfortunately, weather cancelled the event, but the students responded well. I was able to use Google Classroom as a delivery method for the students and Google Docs to create it. I have been loving Google Classroom’s “Make a Copy for Every Student” feature. This allows teachers to watch students as they work and provide feedback to students before they turn their assignments in.

The goal of this hyperdoc was to have students explore Ruta Sepetys and her book “Salt to the Sea.” We didn’t have the time to read the whole book, and this assignment helped students develop their curiosity. The students asked great questions and it have them a little more freedom than a traditional lesson would have. Hyperdocs encourage teachers to embed different types of media and technology tools/assessment measures in the document.

The teacher I worked with really enjoyed how the students responded to the hyperdoc, so we planned a holocaust exploration together. This activity went with “The Diary of Anne Frank” and allowed them to develop background knowledge.

Then I was getting ready to do a project with one of my special education teachers. Her students have always been really successful with their Thinglink projects, so she wanted to do something on space spinoffs. We were looking at her successes and failures with past projects and realized that hyperdocs could provide more scaffolding for her students, embed other questions in the project, and allow her to track their progress as they worked.

Do you want to learn more?

I would check out http://hyperdocs.co/ to learn more. There is also a book available called “The Hyperdoc Handbook” that is super helpful! You can also follow @TsgiveTs on Twitter. The goal of the hyperdoc website is that teachers can post hyperdocs and search for hyperdocs that they would find useful!