Sunday, September 16, 2018

Breakout Edu Fun

Last year, another teacher from my district I were lucky enough to get funded through our Education Foundation for six of the Breakout Boxes and a year long subscription to their games.  Most of the teachers at my school were shown on an inservice day how to facilitate a game.  In case you don't know how Breakout works, here is some quick info.

Breakout Edu is very similar to the Escape Room Experience.  Students are given a scenario that they must escape from.  Clues are both dispersed throughout your room and inside of locked boxes.  Students must solve a series of clues in order to physically break open the locked boxes.   Students work in groups to complete their tasks.  There are games available for virtually every subject available.   Preparing the boxes can take a little bit of your time, but the end result is completely worth it.  Students are engaged and excited to learn!  There are also digital games available.  In these games, students open up a virtual box by solving clues.

Here is the presentation another colleague  I created and presented last year when we shared on Breakout Edu

This past week, I worked with our 8th grade language arts teacher on a library orientation.  We decided to do a Breakout game with her four classes, in order to keep her students engaged.  Her students learned the same things they would have learned through a traditional slideshow, but it was so much better because of how involved they were in the activity.  When I started looking into a game to play, I could not find one that worked in a 15-20 minute timeframe, so I wrote my own game.  It was really easy, and really gave me a chance to be creative. 

Here was the Game:  Breakout of the Library!

  1. Students were given a clue with a key to a small box taped to the clue.  The clue led them to the library Teen Fiction shelves where a small box was put.
  2. Inside the small box was another clue which told them to look up a specific book title in Follett Destiny (our new online catalog system)
  3. Once they found the call number on the catalog they had to go over to the shelf and find that book.
  4. Once that book was found they found a QR code inside the book.
  5. They scanned the QR code with the IPad, which opened them up to a Google Forms survey
  6. Once they completed the survey, they were given a response to their survey that said "Thank you for filling out this DEAR form"
  7. They had to use their brains to figure out that Dear was really Read backwards and that word would open up the large box which held a Congratulations We Broke Out Certificate, as well as jolly ranchers.
* Sorry I do not have the QR Code saved but here is a link to a website I use to create my own QR codes
Here are some pictures of our Breakout Fun:

Are you using Breakout in your library or classroom?  I would love to hear about any exciting Breakouts you have created.


Monday, September 3, 2018

Great Start To a New School Year

It's the night before my first day of 2018/19 school year, and reality is finally sinking in.  This was truly a summer of learning.  I started out by attending the Raspberry Picademy in Jersey City, NJ, attended and presented at ISTE in Chicago, attended the Birdbrain Technologies Training in Pittsburgh, PA in July, and presented at many of the local New Jersey conferences during my break.  I was also able to take a couple of beach vacations with my family to take advantage of my time off.

This summer, I was really inspired by so many of the Facebook posts on my many librarian groups.  Many of the posts created menus of their library services.  We have had many changes to our library over the summer and I decided to promote this to my teachers.  The theme I choose was Have a Sweet Year: Let's Collaborate.   I also decided to use my Bitmoji for all of the items I created.  If you haven't used Bitmoji, it is a great way to make things adorable and really give them a personal touch.  It's easy to create an account by simply going to  Once you create your Bitmoji you can add an extension to your desktop/laptop and even use it on your phone.

The first step I took was creating a menu of services the library can offer the teaching staff.  

I used one of my favorite programs, Canva to create my menu.  Canva makes it so easy with their easy to edit templates.  They even have Menu Templates.  If you haven't used Canva, I recommend it for any of your desktop publishing needs.  Here is my final product.

Two of the biggest changes our school library has had over the summer include a new website and switching from Alexandria to Follett Destiny.  I decided to promote both of these new programs to my staff by creating a bookmark with all the information.  I also created a bookmark that says Have a Sweet Year  I used the Google Drawing program for this.  It seems that Google Drawing is the one Google program that is under-used.  You can create anything with Google Drawings and the ability to collaborate, like all of the other Google products, makes it one of my top program picks.  Here are my completed bookmarks.

To package everything up, I purchased some adorable colored bags at the dollar store (4/$1), some avery labels to print a cute message on the bags, and some candy.  I plan to hand the bags out to teachers individually tomorrow while teachers are working on their rooms.  This will give me an opportunity to get to know my new teachers, and have some awesome conversations with teachers I already know.

Have you created something amazing for your teachers?  I would love for you to share with me what you are doing.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Our Quest For NJ Future Ready Certification

A little over a year ago, I found out about NJ Future Ready Schools.  My friend Elissa Malespina, mentioned her involvement with the program through a Twitter conversation.  I was well aware of Elissa's involvement in the national future ready initiative.  Elissa is the middle school librarian at Somerville Middle School in New Jersey.  In addition to working as a school librarian, she is the ISTE Librarians President,  a national presenter, and has received numerous technology and library educational awards.  Here is one of Elissa's presentations on Future Ready Librarians.

What is Future Ready Schools?

Future Ready Schools is a national initiative which helps K-12 public, charter and private schools prepare students for their future careers, college experiences, and citizenship by maximizing digital learning opportunities.  Superintendents can take a future ready pledge through the website Future Ready Schools  The National Future Ready Framework includes seven gears which include:  Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment;  Personalized Professional Learning; Robust Infrastructure; Budget and Resources; Community Partnerships; Data & Privacy; Use of Space and Time; Collaborative Leadership

Very soon after the national framework was defined, other frameworks that match positions held in school districts started coming into existence. 

  • Future Ready Librarians
  • Future Ready District Leaders
  • Future Ready Technology Leaders
  • Future Ready Coaches
  • Future Ready Principals
Each of these groups has their own framework, which can be found here

Once the Future Ready Librarians framework was released, I knew this was an initiative I wanted to be part of.  The framework for Future Ready Librarians makes it easy for librarians to see what they should be doing to make transformations in their space and become agents of change in their building(s)  This past week I attended the ISTE Conference in Chicago, and the new Future Ready Librarians Framework was released!  The new framework is so exciting, because Literacy is such an integral part of the framework!

In addition to providing an excellent framework, Future Ready Librarians offers many webinars, Twitter Chats, a Newsletter and in--person trainings for librarians.  Here is a direct link to their website.

What is Future Ready Schools NJ?

Future Ready Schools New Jersey is a coalition between the New Jersey Institute of Technology, the New Jersey School Board's Association, and the New Jersey Department of Education.  It is a school certification program designed to support the efforts of the national Future Ready Schools initiative.

In 2016/17 school year, Future Ready Schools NJ began creating task forces to begin writing indicators which are used in each school's certification process.  When a school decides to take the path to certification, they must produce evidence under each indicator.  The three main areas for certification include:  Leadership; Education and Classroom Practice; & Technology Support and Services.  As a district works towards certification they accumulate points to get certified, and they can get certified at either the Bronze or Silver level.  The Bronze area requires less points than the silver and is a little less involved.  Both levels however require a lot of time and effort on a schools part.  When a school begins certification efforts, there are three phases they must work through:
  • Phase 1:  District Committment
  • Phase 2:  School Participation (This is done by school and not by district)
  • Phase 3:  School Certification
The nice thing about this initiative is most of the work has been accomplished through educators of New Jersey (Classroom Teachers, Librarians, Administrators)  I was fortunate enough to serve on Task Forces, and have recently become involved in the Awards Committee.

My School's Future Ready Certification Endeavors

In April of 2017, after serving on the NJ Future Ready Schools Task Forces, I brought the Future Ready School initiative to my superintendent and director of technology.  We began communicating with Jeremy Reich (NJ Future Ready School's Project Manager) through a Skype conference.  Jeremy explained the steps to us, and we began planning our road to school certification.  In October of 2017, we attended one of the national Future Ready School Institutes in Philadelphia area.  This was very helpful and allowed the other members of our future ready team to work in breakout groups.  This spring my school began working on producing evidence to Future Ready Schools NJ.  Our technology director assigned different indicators to different members of our future ready team and we had designated work periods to complete the creation of our evidence.  On our final day of meeting, we were thrilled to welcome Jeremy Reich, Linda Carmona-Bell (NJ Department of Education) and Chris Murphy (Principal Extraordinaire from New Zealand) to our school, to show them some of the ways our school is future ready.  We are in our final stages of planning/submitting for certification and hope to receive this October of 2018 at the New Jersey School Boards Convention.

     Our Future Ready Team and Visitors Jeremy Reich, Linda Carmona-Bell, and Chris Murphy

Monday, May 14, 2018

My Library Genrification Journey

This past summer I took on the project of genrifying our fiction sections.  I serve 5-8 grades, and because of this age range, my library has two fiction sections (middle grade fiction and young adult)  If you are unsure what genrification is - it's the process of organizing library books by genre.  Some librarians are also tackling their nonfiction section, but I choose only to tackle the fiction sections, since nonfiction books are already organized by topic.

There is quite a bit of controversy over the genrification topic.  Many librarians are very traditional and believe the best way to organize library books is by author, while the more contemporary thought is to organize by genre because students can find their favorite genre books in one place.

Prior to genrifying, I spent much time asking other librarians who had genrified, reading all that I could read on this idea, and attending presentations on this topic at conferences.

So why did I decide to genrify my collection?

  • My middle school population usually requests books by genre anyway.
  • I was looking for a way to increase circulation.
  • Within each genre books are still organized by author, so students can still learn what a call number looks like and will be able to find books in a library that organized in the traditional manner.
  • I felt like this was a good choice for our space.

How did I genrify my collection?

Prior to moving any books, I started going through my collection (this was a good way to not only learn my current collection, but also to weed unwanted books)  I began writing the genre of each book on the inside cover.  

Over the summer I physically moved the books to their locations.  This was the most difficult part of the transition, because at one point I had more piles of books, then I knew what to do with.  I kept telling myself that once the books were moved to their designated locations, this would be worth all the hard work.

Once all the books were moved, I was able to add their specific labels.

How did I decide on the labeling?

Since I have two Fiction sections, I decided to have two distinct forms of labeling.

For my middle grade fiction area, I purchased the genre labels from Demco and added these under each spine label.

For my teen fiction area, I purchased the tinted label protectors from Demco and labels that say Teen.  We have a chart that students can look at, to match the tints to genre.

What Genres Did I decide to use?

When deciding upon Genres, I choose the Genres that are the most popular in my school.

Middle Grade Fiction Genres
  • Action/Adventure
  • Animal Stories
  • Fantasy
  • Historical Fiction
  • Holocaust Fiction (This is a big interest to my 6th and 7th graders)
  • Mystery/Suspense
  • Scary/Horror
  • Realistic Fiction
  • Science Fiction
  • Sports Fiction
  • Classics
  • Short Story
  • Graphic Novels
Teen Fiction
  • Action/Adventure
  • Dystopian
  • Fantasy
  • Historical Fiction
  • Realistic Fiction
  • Mystery/Suspense
  • Romance
  • Scary/Horror
  • Science Fiction
  • Sports Fiction
  • Classics

Adding Signage

Adding signage is very important when genrifying your collection.  We are purchasing signage through Demco, which will sit in front of each genrified area.  I also plan to use our Cricut machine to cut out letters and add that to our shelving endcaps. 

Final Thoughts

Although genrifying was a ton of work, I am so glad I did it.  My circulation has gone up tremendously and students are very excited with the changes in the library.  For those librarians who prefer the traditional organization style, I would say, you must do what works best for you and your student population.  I am very proud of these changes, and am happy to say this has made a positive impact on my space.  

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Creating Amazing Designs With Canva

About four years ago, while attending the PETE&C (Pennsylvania Education Technology Expo and Convention, I found out about Canva for the very first time.  I was instantly hooked.  Canva makes me look like a graphic artist.  I have used it for everything from creating pieces for my library website, posters, brochures, and even task cards for our library makerspace.   Just recently, I introduced the program to my 8th graders and they are loving it.

If you've never used Canva before, it is a free program with the possibility of upgrading to a Pro account.  Personally, I have never paid for anything, and find that there is enough that is free, upgrading is not necessary.

Creating an Account

Creating an account with Canva is really easy.  The very first time you will need to click on New to Canva?  Sign Up! and choose the type of account you want (Education, Small Business, Large Business, etc)  Once you have chosen your area you get the choice to sign up through Google or Email.  I always choose Google, but if this is not an option for you, Email works well also.

Creating With Canva

Canva is very easy to create with, but it can be overwhelming at first.  When you first enter the site, you will get the Dashboard page, which is where all of your projects are stored.    To create a new project you will need to first choose which type of project you would like to start.  If you can't find anything you like in the immediate list, there is a More Button which gives you many other choices.  There is also a Custom Dimensions option.

To pick a type of design, just click on it, and this will bring you to the designing platform.  When you begin creating, you have a choice of designing from a ready made template, or adding everything in yourself (backgrounds, text boxes, etc.)  


Layouts are ready-made templates.  Sometimes when I create with Canva, I like to start with a template, and redesign it to suit my needs.  If you are using the Free version, make sure you are choosing free items, and not pro items.  To choose a layout just click on it and it will appear in your design area.  

You will notice right away that any of the items in the template can be clicked on to be changed or deleted.  Also take notice that as you click on an item a small box appears, which is the same color as the item you just clicked on.  If you click on this box, you will get other color choices.  Make your selection and your item will be changed to that color.

You will also notice on your toolbar at the top of your screen you have many editing options, such as:
  • Font 
  • Font Size
  • Boldfaced
  • Italics
  • Justification
  • All Uppercase
  • Bullets
  • Spacing
  • Copy an item (note this is not how you copy an entire project)
  • Arrange (Moving items to the front or back)
  • Transparency
  • Adding a Link 
  • Deleting an item


The Elements Section contains any items within Canva that you can add, with the exception of backgrounds and text.  The Elements Section includes:
  • Free Photos
  • Grids (Changes the look of your design)
  • Frames
  • Shapes
  • Lines
  • Illustrations
  • Icons
  • Charts
  • I Love Canva (Graphics with the word Canva)
To add these items, just click on them and once they are in your project, feel free to resize and move.  Some of the graphics even allow you to change the color.


Of course you will want to add text to your documents.  You have many choices when it comes to your text.  
  • Heading
  • Subheading
  • A Little Bit of Body Text
You can also add Text Designs.  


When adding backgrounds, you have a choice between solid and patterned backgrounds.  If you do not see your background you clicked on in your work area, try moving your background so you can see if the background is underneath another background.  This can also be accomplished by clicking on the Arrange button at the top of your screen and choosing Back.


You may want to add your own images, and Canva makes this very easy.  You will need to click on Uploads and add images previously saved to your picture files.  If you are using a Chromebook, you can use pictures saved in Google Photos.  Once you have uploaded a picture to your Canva account they will stay in your account.

Saving, Printing, and Downloading your Canva Project

As long as you are in editing mode, there is no reason to save Canva.  It will save automatically.  Once you are ready to download your project, click on Download, and choose the type of file you would like to save it to.  It will automatically download to your picture file.  If you wish to print your design out, you should download your design first, and once it is downloaded you can print it out.

Canva also has a Share Feature.  This will allow you to share your design through Email, Social, Link and Embed.

How I Use Canva

Over the past few years I have found so many wonderful uses for Canva.  I have used it to create signs, fliers, Task Cards for my Makerspace, Areas of my Library Website.  Shown below are some of my favorite designs.

This school year, I decided to let me 8th graders create with Canva.  They are currently creating a poster about themselves using Canva.  It has been very exciting watching them create with Canva.  I gave them elements they needed to include such as their name, a hobby or interest and something interesting about themselves.  I did not tell them where to put their items, what colors to use.  I told them that they are the graphic designers.  I really am enjoying giving them a voice and seeing all the creativity that's taking place.

Have you created something awesome with Canva?  Have you tried using it with your students?  I would love to hear about your experiences and see your creations!

Sunday, March 4, 2018

English Language Learners (ELL) and School Libraries

This past week I had the pleasure of presenting to The New Jersey English Language Learners Advisory Committee on behalf of New Jersey Association of School Librarians.  This group included members of the Department of Education, ELL Supervisors, and ELL Teachers.  My presentation was completed with the help of Mrs. Mary Moyer Stubbs who is our Legislative Consultant, various members of NJASL, and the NJ State Library.

I spent the beginning of my presentation talking about the importance of librarians and NJASL.

Librarians and specifically New Jersey librarians are working with ELL Students on a daily basis.  Considering the average school's ELL students make up ten percent of the student population, this is no surprise.  Some of the areas we are specifically working with ELL Students are:  Collection Development, Translating Services, Open Access to the Library, Library Instruction, Collaborating,  and Makerspaces.

Collection Development

School libraries, as well as public libraries are adding books in other languages to their collection. Many librarians are also asking ELL Students for input in this area.  Interlibrary loan is also a really great resource, especially in these times when budgets are getting slashed.  In addition to print books audiobooks, ebooks, and databases are also being purchased.  Many of these items are available in multiple languages, or they offer a translation feature.  Graphic novels are also a fantastic resource for ELL students.  They are high interest and the pictures can fill in the gaps for students.  Sara Stevenson wrote an awesome article on using Graphic Novels with ELL Students in AASL's Knowledge Quest.

Translating Services

Librarians are helping ELL students with translating services.  Many websites and databases offer translation features.  I personally use MackinVIA to hold all of my library digital resources.  Many of the electronic items that I have purchased directly from Mackin offer wonderful translating features on many of their electronic items.  Librarians are also translating other items such as directions.  One librarian from New Jersey I spoke to told me that she was able to get directions for computer codeing in the Ukraine language.  

Open Access to the Library

Libraries are one of the few places in a school or community that offer Open Access to all, and it is no different with ELL students.   ELL students are pulled out of their academic classes and the library provides a safe spot for these students.  

Library Instruction

Librarians are providing instruction to classes through information literacy lessons, technology lessons, and interactive storytimes.  Many librarians are finding that they need to hand tailor their lessons and assignments so ELL students are included.  


Collaborating with other teachers is nothing new for librarians.  It has always been our job to work with other teachers, to help provides students with pertinent information for assignments.  Many librarians are also forming alliances with school organizations that represent ELL students.


I saved my favorite for last :)  This year I started a makerspace in my school library.  One of my favorite things about the makerspace movement is students of all levels, languages, and ages can participate in making.  Some of the benefits to makerspaces which specifically applies to ELL students include:
  • Makerspaces democratize learning
  • Makerspaces offer open access to all students
  • Makerspaces offer authentic, real world experiences for students
  • Makerspace tools are created for speakers of all languages 
    • Bloxels - offers color coded squares, which turns into a video game handmade by students.
    • Little Bits - color coded by the kind of power
    • Tinkercad - Software that works with 3D printers - works with shapes, not words
    • Legos and K'nex
    • Building with Cardboard
  • Makerspaces provide opportunities for ELL students and non-ELL students to work together
Our state library also provides many services for ELL community members.  Many of the public libraries are also providing services for their local community.  Some of these services include:
  • NJ Talking Book and Braille Center
  • Fade to Books Program - a program that provides books to young boys and teens in urban sections of New Jersey
  • ESL classes in New Jersey public libraries
  • The state library has compiled a list of bilingual resources for  New Jersey community members
In conclusion, this was a wonderful experience.  I have presented all over the country, but so far this was the greatest honor I have had. I have included a copy of my presentation on the bottom of this post.   It is important for other organizations to learn about libraries and all that we have to offer students and community members.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Creating Digital Badges With Google Drawings

I have been exploring the world of digital badges for quite some time now.  It's a great way to give students a sense of accomplishment and promote their learning.  The most difficult for me was finding a way to share the badges with my students.  The class I teach Information Literacy, which is really changing to Design Technology (the name will be changed formally by next year)  is comprised of many technology projects.  Each project is sent to my students through Google Classroom.  Yes, we have gone completely paperless, and it's  a beautiful thing :)  Students receive directions to the project, any links and documents, and a copy of the rubric.  My idea is to add the digital badge they receive directly to the rubric.  They will be able to save this badge and add it directly to their Google Sites, which serves as a Digital Portfolio.  If you are interested in creating a Digital Portfolio for your students through Google Sites, please see my most recent blog post.

Here is What I came up with when I created a digital badge for completing their Google Site

The most common question I get when I show this badge to people is how did you create this.  Well, it really is quite simple.  The steps below will describe the process I took using Google Drawings.

1.  Go to your Google Drive, Choose More and open up a new Google Drawings

2.  The first thing you want to do is make your background transparent.  This will allow the badge to show the graphics and you won't get a white background.

3.  Next, you will want to change the size.  We are making badges so you will want them to be relatively small.  Go to File and choose Page Setup.


Choose Custom

Next, change from inches to Pixels and type in 192 X 192 and Click OK

You will notice that your working area is now much smaller.

4.  Now it's time to start designing your badge.  Go to Shapes and choose a shape you would like to use.  I like to use the Octagon shape, but you can choose a shape you like best.

Draw Your Shape and then click on it, so you can fill in your shape with a color.  I like to take up the full space, and leave only about one squares length of space on either side.

Once your shape is selected go up the paint bucket and choose a color.

5.  Now it's time to start adding in a graphic or graphics that would like to add.  Go to upload and add the pictures/graphics you want to add to your badge.

Make sure you have selected your image, so you can resize the graphic to fit inside your badge.  I like to add an image from my bitmoji, which is available as a Chrome Extension.  This is done by right clicking on the image and choosing copy.  Then right clicking once I get to my working area and clicking on paste.

6.  The next step is adding the Text for your Badge.  Click on The T at the top of your menu and draw a text box in your badge. I like to keep my font in between size 10 and 12, and choose an interesting font.

Next, type in your text.  If I am using a dark background, I like to use a light font.

7.  If you want to add a shadow effect, this can be accomplished by clicking on your badge and selecting the shape.  Next you right click and choose copy, and right click again to choose Paste.

Click on the paint bucket, and choose a darker color, for a shadowed effect.  Next, click on arrange on the menu and choose send to back.  You may need to resize a bit to get the full shadow effect.

8.  Name your Badge.

Go to file and choose Download.  Download as a PNG Image.  Your file will now be available for you whenever needed.

I hope this tutorial was helpful in learning how to create your own digital badges.  I would love to see badges that you are creating.  Please share with me :)