Wednesday, September 17, 2014

High School Research

Shortly after arriving at Professional Children's School, I was told that my predecessor had, years earlier, proposed a research class in the high school and that the administration would like me to see it through. I know many of us are constantly struggling to get more class time and having my administration ask for an additional research class to be part of a curriculum was very exciting and affirming for me. And so, I spent a year researching, meeting with departments, and figuring out how best to teach such a class. Research and Information Literacy is now a required course that I've taught three times's entirely online.

I teach middle school research classes twice a week and having that experience was definitely a good jumping off point for figuring out what to include. As those course are scaffolded, I planned to build upon them for this one. In the high school, there are some teachers who bring their classes into the library at the beginning of a research paper to have me do an overview of the library, plus how to use databases, plus how to write a bibliography, plus how to write a research paper…in 20 minutes. This gave me an idea of what teachers expected, as did helping kids throughout the year. After I had spent some time researching literacy standards and coming up with a framework, I spoke with each department and asked what they were looking for in a class such as this. Their answers affirmed what I had already found and also helped to bring them into the process. Due to scheduling, as well as giving students a unique opportunity, the decision was made early to build this as an online course.

So how do you create an online class? Several years ago, I took an online course from Bank Street (Beyond Google and Wikipedia) and two summers ago I took the Google MOOC (Power Searching with Google), but those had been my only experiences. I’ve  been using Moodle for all of my middle school classes, so was experienced with putting my classroom content online. Additionally, I regularly use forums, Socrativementormob, and blogs in my face to face teaching. However, just to be on the safe side (and to be super meta), I took an online course about online courses from the Online School for Girls. It was a great experience and definitely gave me a lot to think about. I would highly recommend consciously being a student in an online course before teaching online.
I have pulled from all of these places and have created a course in which each weekly lesson has a reading of some sort, a video of myself briefly teaching a concept, and collaborative work. I'm using the text Writing a Research Paper as well as our school’s own research guide. Each time I teach this, I've changed it up a bit to make sure that it's relevant to the students. In addition to research, this course is also teaching them skills related to independent study, time management, digital citizenship, and collaboration.
During the spring semester, one of my 10th graders used a paper that he had received a B- on to work from. With feedback from his peers, myself, and going through the process from the beginning, he was able to re-submit his paper and receive an A. His teacher sent him an email saying "What a difference! This is a much better paper, especially in its technical formatting - it looks professional, very much like a paper written by a (soon to be!) junior in a high school with high standards. Bravo. Thank you for your hard work, and I thank Ms. Roeder for her guidance. I am delighted!" This was a very exciting email to receive, but it also sparked a partnership with this history teacher going forward and we are going to make sure our courses dovetail each other. I think partnering with teachers is essential and it's easier once you can show them proof that what you're doing works.
Below is the slideshow from a presentation I did this year at Teaching With Technology. It shares some of my challenges, as well as the tools that I'm using. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Welcome Back!

School has started and we're off to another busy and exciting year. Here is a selection of events happening in New York City this fall. Feel free to post additional events that you know about in the comments.

Lit Crawl Manhattan - September 13

KGB Bar Sunday Night Fiction - September 14

Literary Death Match - September 18

How to Write a Book - September 20

Brooklyn Book Festival - September 21

MakerFaire - September 20-21

The Moth Story Slam - September 22

Gotham Writers' Workshop: Fiction - September 28

HVLA Middle Grade/YA Book Club - September 30

HS to College Transition SIG Meeting - October 1

Comic Con NYC 2014 - October 9-12

Educators Symposium: Learn Out Loud - October 10-12

The New Yorker Festival - October 10-12

HVLA Fall Meeting - October 15

BookFest - October 25

Tuesday, June 3, 2014


About a year ago, I decided to give listening to podcasts a try. I started with some comedy and news ones, but also wanted to listen to something related to school librarianship. Unfortunately, I was only able to find one or two and they hadn't been updated in quite some time. So I decided to wrangle some friends together and start my own. In October, Sarah Murphy of Browning, Angie Ungaro of Brooklyn Friends, and myself launched Watchers Podcast: School Librarians Saving the World.

Our namesake, Rupert Giles - School Librarian and Watcher over the slayer.

We record monthly and now have eight episodes under our belt. Each begins by sharing what we're reading, then explore three topics of interest (summer reading lists, citation tools, lesson plans, etc), and end with sharing our "new favorite thing." Each episode is under around an hour and is filled with conversations about issues that we all share as school librarians. We also recently had author Mitali Perkins on (episode 7), which was a fascinating conversation about author visits and books as mirrors and windows.

There is certainly no shortage of topics to talk about, although we're definitely interested in finding out what librarians want to hear about. You can find out more information on, emailing us at watcherspodcast [at], or following us on twitter @watcherspodcast. Our episodes are available in the iTunes store and on Podomatic.

Here are a few additional podcasts you may want to check out, as well. Feel free to share what you're listening to in the comments.

Intelligence Squared U.S. Debates bring Oxford-style debate to America - one motion, one moderator, two panelists for the motion and two against. From clean energy and the financial crisis, to the Middle East and the death of mainstream media, Intelligence Squared U.S. brings together the world's leading authorities on the day's most important issues. Join the debate online and cast your vote for each topic at

Learn Spanish with Coffee Break Spanish, bringing you language-learning with your latte! Aimed at total beginners, this podcast will help you get to grips with the Spanish language. (Also available in French!)

The Great Courses brings engaging professors from the best universities to our learners, creating a "university of the best" with our customers participating in every step of the process. Discover scientists explaining the latest findings from the fields of astronomy, particle physics, or neuroscience; historians exploring the implications of the latest archaeological findings; medical experts making sense of current health alerts or medical breakthroughs; and literature professors bringing fresh insights to classic literary works. 

StarTalk Radio is the first and only popular commercial radio program devoted to all things space and is hosted by renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. Captivating subjects—such as space travel, extra-terrestrial life, the Big Bang, the future of our Earth and the environment, and breaking news from the universe—will all be explored. Hilarity ensues as Tyson is joined each week by comedian co-hosts, celebrities, and other special guests.

From World War II to the Arab Spring, history as told by the people who were there. Presented by Max Pearson. The History Hour goes out weekly on Saturdays.

On Radiolab, science meets culture and information sounds like music. Each episode of Radiolab® is an investigation -- a patchwork of people, sounds, stories and experiences centered around One Big Idea. 

And my personal favorite NPR Pop Culture Happy Hour - NPR's entertainment and pop culture round-table podcast features spirited discussions of movies, books, television, nostalgia, and — every time — what's making us happy this week.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Must Read Blogs

Everyone has a collection of resources they use to keep current with library news and find out about new books. Though I find Twitter to be useful, I feel like I would miss a lot if I didn't also have a collection of blogs that I follow through RSS.

Here's a list of some of my favorite sites:
  • 100 Scope Notes -If you work with lower school students, you should definitely familiarize yourself with school librarian Travis Jonker's blog which covers news and reviews.
  • AB4T (Adult Books for Teens) - Because I work with upper school students and this site covers an abundance of adult titles with appeal for teenagers, this is one of my favorite resources, though I should disclose that I recently started reviewing for this site as well.
  • Early Word -This site is great for announcing recently published books. They also run a GalleyChat on Twitter for librarians to rave about upcoming books.
  • Fuse #8 - Betsy Bird's blog focuses on reviews and news for the younger set through middle grade.
  • Heavy Medal - Jonathan Hunt and Nina Lindsay discuss Newbery possibilities on this blog that is highly active from September through January.
  • The Hub - YALSA's blog with content by teens and librarians is full of great themed booklists.
  • Library Stuff - This is a great stopping point for general library news.
  • Never Ending Search - If you are a school librarian and aren't already familiar with Joyce Valenza, you should remedy this! She always posts great digital teaching tools and resources for librarians. I also recommend following her on Twitter.
  • No Shelf Required - Sue Polanka's site is one of the best places to get updated news on ebooks.
  • Someday My Printz Will Come - This blog is the place to go for a discussion of literary merit in YA books and speculation on the possible winners of the Printz award. It's most active later in the year before awards season.

Do you have a favorite that I didn't mention? Please add it in the comments!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Innovative Library Spaces

Last Thursday, the HVLA librarians gathered at Collegiate for our spring meeting and heard from a wonderful panel on "Innovative Uses of Library Spaces."  Thank you to our panelists,  Karen Grenke (Williamsburg Northside School), Annah Jones (Marymount School), Karyn Silverman (Elizabeth Irwin High School), LaShawn Ross (Riverdale) and moderator, Kerry Roeder (Professional Children's School.) While all of our panelists used different strategies based on their own school culture, each demonstrated innovation in their own way.

Karen Grenke, our sole lower school panelist, spoke about utilizing the art studio next door as a collaborative partner. When deciding how to decorate the front windows into the library, she elected to ask the kids.  Giving the kids ownership over the space resulted in great ideas and a fantastic display.  Karen has moved spaces before and is looking for innovative ideas since she will be again moving into a new library space.

Annah talked about adding faculty resources to her library space in order to bridge the gap of support services the kids need. With a learning specialist in the library and spaces for reading, writing, or math labs, kids have their learning teams working together in the same space. There is a Maker Lab across from the library, and Annah talked about the importance of being nearby but having separate spaces because of all the equipment, noise, etc.

Karen Silverman is constantly questioning how to be innovative within the space given to her, which is considerably smaller than many other HVLA libraries.  Exciting tools they have added to their library include board games, tea service, knitting baskets, a 3-D printer, legos, coloring books, sudokus, and brain teasers. The entryway and main space of her library is purposefully set into collaborative tables with no screens and technology driven work occurs toward the edges of the library. Karen also uses the interactive bulletin board outside the library to connect with patrons that may never set foot inside the space.

When LaShawn came into her library, she saw room for improvement and decided to speak with her Head of School about it. Together they looked at the space with fresh eyes and the help of a set of students from Pratt Institute.  Ultimately, it was decided to give the kids more ownership over the space.  Resources like a writing center and language center were also added to give students additional support.

Our moderator Kerry Roeder also spoke about keeping maker kits behind the desk at her library that kids could check out. When kids are getting antsy and need a project, she comes over and invites them to make a banana piano.

Overall, it was a stimulating conversation with many ideas shared and questions asked. If you had an additional takeaway from the meeting, please share in the comments what resonated with you.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Library and Literary Events

Looking for something literary to do in the coming months? Here is a list of upcoming events:

HVLA Events:

Misc Happenings:
  • May 5-9: National Library Legislative Day - Read more about what you can do on ALA's Everyday Advocacy Page
  • Through June 14: Funky Turns 40: Black Character Revolution at NYPL's Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture - Read about this and other NYPL events here

Authors, Illustrators, and More:

  • May 8-September 2: Peter Sis: Cartography of the Mind at Czech Center NY at the Bohemian National Hall - Details here
  • May 10, 4pm: Gotham: Writers in the City Rachel Kushner at Brooklyn Public Library, Central Library, Dweck Center - More info here
  • May 10, 7:30pm: YA Lit at 92 Street Y: Samantha Shannon in Conversation with Kendare Blake - Tickets and more info here
  • May 26, 10pm: YA Lit at 92 Street Y: Casandra Clare in Conversation with Maureen Johnson, Holly Black and Kelly Link - Tickets and more info here 

Do you know of another event coming up soon?  Share in the comments!