Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Being a School Librarian and Why I am Good at What I Do

I just started my 26th year as a school librarian. and lately, I have been reflecting on my work. I worked for 12 years with grades K-6 and the last 13 with grades 6-12. I have supervised several pre-service librarians and talked to many library science students over the years for their class assignments. One of the major reasons that I think that I am good at what I do is because I have been doing it a long time. I am not one of those teachers who learned how to teach one way and have kept at it the exact same way year after year. I consider myself a lifelong learner. I have tried to keep up with current best practices throughout my career. Since I have taught from pre-kindergarten through high school, in terms of skills, I know where the kids came from and where they need to go before they graduate. A lot of this I have learned through experience and the many years I have been teaching. In a recent social media post on a librarian group, a librarian asked others to post about the class that provided the most help for them as a librarian and what class they didn't have but needed. I laughed when I read that. I have not been in school since 1993 when I finished my +30 hours beyond my master's degree. Yes, I learned a lot from my professors while in graduate school, but I am way beyond that. I have learned so much more from the mentors that I have had over the last 25 years and at the many, many conferences that I have attended.

Another reason that I think that I am good at what I do is because I know how to collaborate. As a librarian, it is crucial that I work closely with the teachers in my building. For me to teach information literacy skills to the students, I need to incorporate what is being taught in the classroom into what I teach in the library. With ten years in my building, I have developed great relationships with my teachers who come to me when they know that what I can do will support what they are teaching. I make sure new teachers at my school know that I am willing and available to work with them, too. This has been a lot of fun because I don't teach in isolation, and I get to partner with some outstanding teachers. I have learned a lot from them over the years especially in English and science.

One thing that my husband may disagree with is my ability to listen. Okay, I do hear him, but I don't always listen. At work, it is critical that I listen. As I build a collection that serves my patrons, I need to know what the kids are reading and want to read, and I need to know what kind of information that the teachers are requiring the students to find. If you walked among the stacks of my library, you would see the print collection heavy in fiction. I have done that on purpose because when the students chose to read for pleasure, they want books in print. As I add to the reference and non-fiction collection, I am buying more and more electronic resources. Our school has a one to one laptop program, so I know that all of my students have computer access.

I spent twenty years working at the elementary level before I graduated to middle and high. I understood how to best serve the little ones. When I switched levels, I got to work at a school with one of my favorite librarians who has amazing rapport with teenagers. I learned so much from her and how to manage this age group. I now know that I love working with the older students. I think another aspect of my personality that works very well in my position is the fact that I really like the kids. I love the idea of teaching them over seven years and watching them mature. I like the idea of having the responsibility of getting them ready for next phase, which at my school is college. I like talking and being with the tweens and teens. They keep me young.

Another area that is one of my gifts is my strength in using technology. This ties in very closely with my interest in lifelong learning. I finished graduate school in the early 90's. I certainly used computers back then, but the possiblities of technology that can be utilized in the classroom has grown exponentially since then. I may be on the older side, but I have harnessed social media and many electronic tools to get my job done. I am often asked how I learned to use computers. Mostly, I taught myself because there were no classes available. I also have learned so much from others both adult and student alike.

Lastly, I am a really good thief. I don't consider myself that smart, but I am really good at seeing what other librarians or teachers are doing and taking their ideas and modifying them to fit my situation. So many people out there are offering top-notch programs in their libraries and sharing their programs via blogs and social media. This sharing has offered me a chance to develop my own top-notch program. I use this blog to share what I do with my patrons, and it is very fulfilling to hear back from other librarians who have found what I do can be modified for their library. Let the sharing begin because it works both ways.

The reason that I think this is an important post to write is not because I want to brag on myself, but because I think reflecting on our strengths and even weaknesses can help us be better at our jobs. I want to continue to work towards building the best library that I can. Making changes and improving what I do on a daily basis makes my job interesting and exciting every single day. I like going to work and hanging out with teenagers, and though many of my friends talk of retirement, not me. I plan to be around for as long as I can. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Ten News Sites to Find Paperless Current Events

Open here to read the blog post for Whooos Reading
Periodically, I will write a blog post for the Whooos Reading blog. They ask teachers across the US to contribute to their blog with information about edtech, libraries, and tools to support learning in the classroom. This blog post is all about finding current events and newspaper articles online. These are sites where you can send your students or you could select specific articles for them to read and all content areas could find use for these web tools. 

Monday, September 5, 2016

How a Build-Off Builds 21st Century Skills

Caught reading in the PFTSTA library
Lately, I seem to write more in this blog about makerspaces in the library over books and reading. Yet, reading is still a focus in my library. You can catch pictures of students reading in the PFTSTA library by visiting the library on Facebook or Instagram and please follow us, too, so you don't miss any of the action. Back to the makerspace--it is so engaging, and if it is the robots, Lego, and a 3D pen that draws the students into the library, then I am all for it.

The three teams early in the creative process
About a week and a half ago, some 7th grade boys came to me and said that they wanted to do a Build-Off. Never heard of it, I told them. They wanted to create teams and have each team build a structure and then have me and a couple of 6th graders serve as judges to determine a winner. Okay, I thought this was a great idea. I suggested that they come up with a set of guidelines for the structures and rubric for the judging. Three teams were formed with two students on each team. They would each build a catapult that was going to be judged on structure (did it hold together after firing), style (how did it look), and distance (which catapult sent the ammunition the farthest). These catapults were built using Lego. The students worked during their lunch period only and had a week for construction. Last Friday was the day set for the competition. On Thursday, one of the team's catapults fell apart. That team could not rebuild fast enough to make the competition on Friday. On Friday, we selected two 6th graders at random and set up the arena for the competition. One team had it on style, but the other team shot their ammunition further which got them the win.

The two catapults right before competition
What I thought students learned during the Build-Off are the 21st century skills that are so critical for these students' future success. First was collaboration. The team members had to work together as they were allowed only one entry into the competition. The team that did not compete had some collaboration issues which prevented them from rebuilding their broken catapult with speed. The second skill was critical thinking. I watched as one team added an archway that allowed their catapult to launch with more force, but every time they tested the catapult the arch would break apart. It took days, but they finally found a way to make it stay together. Problem solving was also needed to figure out how to make the arch stay in tact, but each team had many other problems to solve along the way before the actual competition. Work ethic is a skill that the teachers assess for all students in our school. For this competition, the students had to eat lunch quickly in the cafeteria so that they could have 30 minutes in the library to work. Every day for a week, they ran into the library grabbed the materials and were on their way. I love seeing this dedication to getting a project complete. I see them as future engineers and know that work ethic will be essential for them to succeed. Creativity is another 21st century skill that was utilized in this activity, and each of the three catapults had a different look which illustrated the creative minds of these students. 

I know that future ready skills is the new buzz word and that 21st century skills is a term that has become passé. However, with either term, the essential meaning is that educators are helping to train and teach students for careers and jobs that might not yet exist. It is our job to assure that students will be ready for whatever comes their way once they graduate and move on. In the library at lunch, even though the students might not be engaged in a formal lesson presented by a teacher, there can be many different kinds of learning happening every day. 

The boys who designed the Build-Off think the next step is to have 6th graders make something that they will judge. So far, the decision was for the new teams to design some form of transportation with wheels that will be judged on style, speed, and distance moved. No one has yet stepped up to join a team, but I don't doubt that it will happen. What makes this activity super cool to me is the fact that it was totally student instigated and student led, and the students were so totally engaged. Really my only purpose was to serve as a judge which really wasn't necessary because other students could have taken on that role.
They may have come in second, but they had a blast while competing
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