Monthly Archives: May 2009

When It All Comes Together

Officially the title of my school is Harambee Elementary Community Cultures and Environmental Science School.  Our foci are clear from the complete title, however we often shorten it for obvious reasons to Harambee Elementary School.  Harambee is a Swahili word meaning working together for a common purpose.  I think they all go together beautifully.  Students learn to work together to respect other cultures and the environment they live in.  Technology can be a vital part of their learning.  Here’s what inspired this post today.

While cleaning out my oversized email inbox I found the following message sent to me from a colleague way back in April.

I thought ya’ll would like this. For you techies it has some digital collaboration, for you engineers it has some interesting layering of tracks, for you activists the group’s foundation works on helping communities around the world, and for you musical enthusiasts it is a good rendition of the Drifters tune.

I thought it was so beautiful that I got tears in my eyes.  Technology can and will make the world a smaller place, bringing us all closer together.  If I ever doubt the wisdom of “teaching technology” I’ll just watch this video again.

Playing For Change | Song Around The World “Stand By Me” from Concord Music Group on Vimeo.

The Delicious Library

How do I introduce teachers to Delicious when there’s no staff development time?  That is the question I’ve been mulling over in my mind for the last couple weeks.  I don’t have a definitive answer but I do have an idea.  Many of the teachers who come to the library with their students tell me that they learn as the students are learning.  Maybe while teaching students I can also teach the teachers.

Students will be thinking about WORDS in the library this quarter.  Many still have words misspelled in their book reviews on our Harambee Library Wiki.  I’m going to show them those little red dots that appear under misspelled words.  They’ll still have to look them up to spell them correctly but now they’ll understand a good way to recognize the problem. Spelling is critical, especially as we move to the difficult concept of keywords.

Often kids find it hard to think of keywords.  They can practice thinking about keywords as they tag their book reviews on the wiki.  It’s a real world application that has meaning for them.  What tags should they use to attract people to their review?

I started a new Delicious account today for use by students and staff.  It’s called Harambee Library’s Bookmarks.  Except for the four sites I’ve already bookmarked, it will be built by students.  For each class we can brainstorm sites that we think would be helpful and appropriate for other students.  I can show them how to save those bookmarks on our Delicious account.  They’ll have to supply the useful tags.  Once again, I hope that they will see the importance of WORDS for finding relevant information.

To keep tabs on what they link, I have already set up my RSS feed for the account.  This is my way of keeping track of all student online work.  I check the feeds often to make sure anything posted or linked is appropriate.

Hopefully, teachers who do not have Delicious accounts will see the utility of the site.  Delicious is not the only social bookmarking tool.  I know many who use, and prefer, Diigo.  However, I’m not familiar with Diigo and I think it’s really important to start somewhere.  When people are not used to ANY of these tools it’s important to just get started.  As time allows, we can always explore other options or teachers can epand their horizons on their own.

School Libraries and Student Achievement

We know there’s a connection.  Many state studies have made that connection.  Just doing a basic Google search: impact of school library media centers on academic achievement, provides links to well-researched articles about numerous studies making a powerful connection.  According to an ERIC Digest article 1  summarizing work by Keith Curry Lance and others, over the last 50 years there have been about 75 studies.  How many studies do we need?

Here are a couple of my favorite quotes from the ERIC Digest:

  • Many early studies of this topic demonstrate the value of the mere presence of a professionally trained and credentialed library media specialist.
  • In all four states, the level of development of the LM program was a predictor of student performance. In all four states, data on staffing levels correlated with test scores. In Pennsylvania, Colorado, and Oregon, additional data on collections and expenditures were predictive of reading scores. Where LM programs are better staffed, better stocked, and better funded, academic achievement tends to be higher.

I’m not going to attempt an in-depth examination of these articles or studies.  There are already excellent resources that do that.  I just got to thinking, given the preponderance of evidence, why are there schools with insufficient library resources and staffing?

I’m going off on a tangent now.  Bear with me.  Hopefully I can tie the ends together.

Lately I’ve been reading articles and blogs about the value of project based learning.  While I certainly agree, I’ve also seen problems.  Equity is an issue with this style of learning/teaching.  If you have a teacher who’s good at it students can really fly.  What about the teachers who are not so good at it?  What about students who have a learning style that’s incompatible?  A classroom can be in a state of apparent chaos and still have a huge amount of learning present.  Another classroom is simply in turmoil.  What’s an administrator to do?  Turning to a standard textbook-based curriculum, taught by all teachers in the school, seems to be an obvious answer.  Does this meet the needs of all the students?

Looking back at the original topic, I can see some parallels.  There is no specific media center curriculum available.  Almost everything that happens by way of instruction in the library is essentially project based.  Teaching students how to do research when they have nothing to research is a waste of everyone’s time. There are many aids for teacher librarians such as books to read, games to play, etc. (sounds like another post) but connecting information literacy skills with work already happening in the classroom is much more powerful.  In fact, the studies show that the amount of collaboration between classroom teachers and media specialists is a factor in student achievement.

For administrators the view can be unsettling.  How do they measure student achievement?  What is the librarian doing that makes a difference?  How much support staff is needed to free up the media specialist for collaboration?  How much time should be given to collaboration and what should the collaboration look like?  What should the per student budget be for books and other resources to ensure improved student achievement?  There aren’t any formulas and there isn’t a curriculum.  What should they do?

Here’s another parallel.  The availability of technology is also a factor. “Technology is an essential part of a successful L[ibrary] M[edia] program.”  Why is it a factor?  What needs to happen in the culture of a school for the benefits of technology to be maximized?  Where’s the technology curriculum?

Now that I put all these things together, it’s no wonder that schools are struggling with 21st century learning.  We are asking educators…teachers, media specialists, and administrators…to become comfortable in an unstructured world.  We’re asking them to look at students as individuals and to find the teaching style and resources that works best with each individual.  We know it can be done.  It’s not as unstructured as it looks.  There are connections and we have to find those connections.  How do we do that?  Could the media center be the base for the unstructured structure needed to help our students be successful?


While on break, I’ve been trying to catch up on my Google Reader.  I have 171 posts to read.  That’s not really all that many so you would think that it’s something I could accomplish in a morning or afternoon with the application of a little concentration.  However, I’m easily distracted.


Widgets attracted my attention this morning.  While the ClustrMap is very interesting and a great visual, I’ve long been interested in the Live Traffic Feed widget.  I enjoy looking at the feeds on other blogs and sites I visit.  I still find it fascinating that I could be exploring a site at about the same time as someone half-way around the world.  I wonder…are plugins considered widgets?  When I first started my blog I didn’t know what most of those were.  Now I not only recognize most of them but can also understand their utility.  How did I learn this?  I didn’t set out to study them.  I didn’t research them on Google.  I had no deliberate plan to learn about widgets or plugins, and yet I know something about them.

Live Feed

Could it be that just by reading other blogs, wikis, and tweets I’ve absorbed this information?  If that’s the case, and I think it is, it has lots of implications for my own teaching.  When students are truly interested and engaged how much are they learning that isn’t necessarily one of my objectives?  Is it possible for them to totally miss my objective and learn something quite different from what was planned?  Is it possible to assess this in any meaningful way?  SHOULD I even try to assess this?

Different AnglesAnother distraction is simply that the stuff I’m reading is so interesting.  I click on the links or make comments.  Sometimes other blogs get me to thinking deeply about topics that I hadn’t considered before.  Maybe I’ll look at something from a new angle   or worry over it.  That’s all a good thing.  I’m learning, thinking, growing.  If it takes more time than I want it too I guess that’s ok.  Am I willing to let my students learn the same way?  Do I have time for that?  Do they have time for that? 1

My own blog is a huge distraction.  I really enjoy posting. Reading other blogs, watchng videos, watching TV all give me ideas for things I want to think about here.  Every post takes longer to write than I expect.  Maybe if I just get better at using various widgets and toolbars I’ll get faster.  Now that the morning is well over and I missed my lunch it’s time to finish this up.  Maybe I can catch up with my Reader later this afternoon.

  1. Photo credit: tanakawho

Year-Round School

Harambee Elementary Community Cultures and Environmental Science School is on a year-round schedule.  While almost everyone else is thinking end-of-the-year thoughts, we have just finished our third quarter.  I love this schedule!  After about 9 weeks everyone is ready for a break.  Because of other holidays on the calendar a typical break between quarters is about 2 1/2 weeks.  The longest break happens in August when we get three full weeks.


  • Children need to read as much as they can as often as they can.  A year-round schedule helps me provide students with books to read throughout the year.  Studies have shown that the lack of reading over the summer can be detrimental to student learning.
  • Our school is situated on a beautiful 26-acre site that includes a variety of natural habitats: a pond, wetland, open grassland, oak savanna, and hardwood forest.  With a year-round schedule students can study these environments at various times of the year.
  • At the beginning of every year students need to receive some review, however I don’t need to spend a great deal of time on this because they haven’t been gone long enough to forget everything they ever knew about using the library.
  • ELL students can continue to learn and practice English throughout the year without a long summer break.


  • Students who want to go to summer camps are not able to go unless the camp is held during the Fourth of July break or in August.
  • Teachers who want to go to summer workshops might not be able to go.  If there are too many teachers scheduled to be out of the building at the same time, some will have to stay.
  • Students in the middle school or high school are not able to work over the summer unless they can find a job that they can do after school is out.
  • Standardized tests must be scheduled within a certain time period.  The problem is that our students are then compared with students who have had more days of instruction.

I’m sure there are other items that could be added to each list.  Personally I like the year-round schedule because it gives me a chance to plan each quarter.  Usually I don’t plan out the entire quarter but I can get a good start.  There isn’t enough time during a typical day to do this kind of long-range planning.  Sometimes I can meet with colleagues to work on a collaboration project.  I come back after each break with something written on the planner, ready to teach again.

SPED in the Library

Every teacher who’s a specialist thinks their subject is important.  However, the demands of reading and math take precedence over specialties such as social studies, science, community cultures, music, art, gym, and of course, library.  The amount of time that special education students spend in the library varies a lot.  Sometimes students arrive late or are pulled early and miss part of their library time.  With the pressures of NCLB students who are not in special ed. but who need extra help are also pulled during library time.  I wish I could think of a good way to meet the needs of these students but still give them the library time they need.

I’ve had students who did not have assigned seats in my class because I didn’t know when, or if, they were coming.  Earlier this year one class had several students who arrived late because they had been pulled earlier.  These students who needed the most help came to the library after the instructions had been given.  I never knew exactly what to do.  Should I stop helping students who were already working in order to teach the same lesson to the newcomers?  Generally there wasn’t enough time to do that.  They were often sent to computers or were given work to do with very little help or explanation.  Fortunately, the teachers working with these students recognized the problems and were able to work out a way for all of the students to get library instruction.

For the 4th and 5th graders I suggested that I could teach a class that had only SPED students.  Two of the special ed. teachers saw that they could pool their 16 students and come to the library for 45 minutes at the end of the day on Fridays.  Since the regularly scheduled classes are now slightly smaller in size, all the students benefit.  This has been so successful that now we wonder why we didn’t do it earlier.  We started a little late and are going a little slower, but the SPED students have been able to start posting reviews on the wiki.  In addition the teachers are in the library to help the students find books that are at appropriate reading levels.  The students are really enjoying the class.  When they were a little too rowdy on a day that I was gone, the threat of sending them back to their old library time was enough to get them working.

Having a separate class isn’t always going to be possible.  Is there a critical number of students that is needed to trigger this sort of “library intervention?”  It makes me wonder just how bad it was in the past.  How much help could I give individuals in a class of 30?  Did they feel marginalized when they did not have an assigned seat like everyone else?  What did they think about the library if they only came to check out and didn’t learn how to search for the books they wanted?  Were they able to find books that they could read?   What did they learn in the library during the 10 minutes a week that they were there?

I would argue that knowing how to use the library and its resources is essential for all students.  I’m so glad that this year we’ve been able to find a way to give SPED students a better library experience.  I hope that we will be able to continue this sort of collaboration in the future.

What’s in a Name?

When I chose the name Aoi’s Bookroom for my blog, I told myself that I wasn’t going to mention where the title came from unless someone recognized it.  I have many friends and colleagues who know that I enjoy Japanese anime but no one knew the connection.  Now someone has made a connection, but not someone I know and not in a way I had anticipated.

In an article entitled 5 Notable Librarian Bloggers written for findingDulcinea, Kate Davey let the cat out of the bag.  Of course, I don’t mind.  In fact, I’m delighted that someone recognized the name and amazed that anyone would think my writing worth noting.  I’m deeply honored.  Now I have to explain what this title has to do with anything else in my life.

At the end of 2004 and beginning of 2005, I became interested in anime while my teenage children were watching it on [adult swim] which airs late nights on Cartoon Network.  There were two very interesting anime series premiering at that time: Fullmetal Alchemist and Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex.  One day, my then 15-year-old son said he thought it would be cool if I joined the [adult swim] message boards.  How many mothers can say that their teenage children want them to be involved in an activity like this?  I was shocked but delighted and took him up on it.  On “the boards” I chose the user name Ghost_of_a_Librarian.

If I had never gotten involved in this online forum I’m not sure that I would be able to teach the way I do today or to use the technology that is available.  Most of the other members are teenagers or twenty-somethings who very kindly and patiently taught me how to post, how to use the editor toolbar, how to link text to pictures or websites, how to upload pictures to photobucket, even how to use a little HTML.  They were the first members of my PLN.  I chose the name of my blog partly to honor them.

Ghost in the Shell takes place in a future Japan where humans have the option to obtain cyborg parts or whole bodies as the need arises.  When someone is moved to a new cyberbody the part of the person that makes them unique and alive is called the ghost.  Many people have brain implants that allow them to easily access the web of cyberspace information called “the net.”  The series explores many deep topics such as what makes us human?  If we lose ourselves in the net, can we come back?  How dangerous is technology to our own personal freedoms?  The deeply embedded technology emphasis is not only interesting on a personal level but helps me think about what the future will be like for our students.  What do they need to learn now in order to be successful in their future?

Aoi is a boy or perhaps a young man.  On first glance he doesn’t seem to have a very big part in the show.  He’s basically an extremely good hacker.  We meet him on more than one occassion in an enormous labrynthine library.  Sometimes the distinction between what happens on the net and what happens in reality is blurred but it’s quite clear that this library is the real thing.  One of the other characters asks Aoi, “Do you actually plan to continue with this feudalist occupation of preserving obsolete printed material that nowadays are only published by force of habit?” Aoi answers, “Yes, if I’m allowed to, then I will.”

This dual purpose, to explore all that technology makes available and yet to remain grounded in the simple pleasure of reading a book, gets to the essence of what my job is as a teacher librarian.  The name of my blog reflects this in an abstract way that means a great deal to me.