from the library: Reading Challenge

It’s reading challenge time!

The first thing you need to do is make a reading tracker, so you can track the genres you read over the next month.

You’re going to need: Paper, a pen or pencil, a straight edge (a ruler if you have one)

I made two sample reading trackers: one is a 3×4 tracker and the other is a 3×13 tracker.

3×4 tracker and 3×13 tracker

You want to include the following genres on your reading challenge tracker: historical fiction, mystery, science fiction, fantasy, realistic fiction, autobiography, biography, informative non-fiction, adventure, newspaper article, poetry, graphic novel

Our reading challenge is officially starting today. Anything you’ve read since Friday, March 13th counts towards your reading challenge. We’ll wrap up our reading challenge on Friday, May 1st.

When you finish your challenge, take a picture of your tracker and email it to me at The student who reads the most genres, WINS! If we have multiple winners, I’ll post a list of the students who completed the challenge and then draw one name to be the prize winner.

EXTRA CHALLENGE: Have an adult in your home accept (and hopefully) complete the challenge too!

You are welcome to email me to let me know how the challenge is going, if you have a question, or if you need help finding a book that fits one of the genres.

Here are a few places to find some of the genres mentioned:

Junior Library Guild

Audible Stories

Poetry Foundation

Mrs. El Koubi’s daily touchpoints (for newspaper articles)

Richmond Free Press (for newspaper articles)

Time for Kids (sign up for free access to Time Magazine for Kids)

Time for Kids is offering access to its digital issues through the end of the school year.


Perhaps unprecedented will be the word of the year for 2020. Or social distancing.

The word unprecedented seems both accurate and inadequate.

On Monday the governor ordered the closure of schools for the rest of the year. It wasn’t a surprise, but it certainly is a shock to the system.

And the shocks keep coming at unexpected times. While brushing my teeth, I remember that the 5th graders won’t be able to finish their podcasts. While loading the dishwasher, I remember that the 2nd graders won’t finish the books they were working on about their year working in the Beaver Garden. It seems over but not over as we all find some way to cobble together learning experiences for our students knowing that those experiences and opportunities need to be equitable for all students who may or may not have reliable technology or who may or may not have support from adults at home.

So we do what we can while we wait for guidance from our superintendent (who, I think, is doing a remarkable job keeping families and teachers updated on what’s going on) and the VDOE.

My school’s faculty is supposed to be getting together online this afternoon. I’m looking forward to that as well as the possibility of a teacher car parade along the school’s bus route Friday.

In the meantime, I’m taking the time to learn about teaching tools that I didn’t have time to explore during the school year, trying to offer short lessons for students who may want a distraction or who may want to see their old librarian’s face, and doing my best to cobble together come coherent learning for my own 4th grader.

What movie are we in again?

Back in January I was having dinner with a group of friends and the coronavirus came up. I didn’t feel like it was time to panic. It was something that needed watching.

Two weeks ago I was doing my pandemic prep at Costco. It’s amazing how fast things change.

On Thursday morning the coordinator of library services sent out a message saying we librarians should do all we can to get books in the hands of as many students as possible. It’s something we do every day, but there was more urgency. “See as many classes as you can today and tomorrow.” I had a feeling an announcement about closing was in the mail. It came Thursday evening; the district would close for two weeks effective Friday afternoon. WIth what seemed like the slightest bit of notice, teachers prepared work to send home with their students. The reading specialist in my school, a few of the tutors, a parent volunteer, the PE teacher, and I spent Friday distributing library books to all 400 students in the school–as many books as the kids could carry.

Set up for book distribution
Once full of books. Now empty and in the home libraries of students.

Most of the books given out were stored in the trailer as part of a past summer Reading Riders program. Some had recently been donated as an effort to enhance students’ home libraries (success!). Some students checked out library books for the two weeks off as well.

I buttoned up the library, took home some books and some work, and carried my plants out to my car. It felt weird. It still feels weird.

Things could change depending on how long we’re out, but as of now, we’re not doing distance learning. What does that look like in an elementary school anyway? And how does it get done when not everyone has access to reliable technology? Kids were given work to do and teachers are communicating with parents through Class Dojo (the parents who are connected to Class Dojo). Every few days, I’m posting a reading resource there too.

As of yesterday, our two week hiatus as morphed into a four week break (which includes our already scheduled spring break). Breaks are what I do best; there’s a lot do be done after all: house projects, knitting, reading, binge watching TV. This is different though. The uncertainty and worry takes some getting used to.

So here we are. I have ordered too many books from local bookstores who are offering free delivery to people who live within 10 miles of the stores.

Books I purchased from BBGB ( that were delivered to my door this evening

I’m making a list of restaurants and breweries that I need to support once I can get out… assuming they still exist. I’m hoping my husband doesn’t lose his job like he did in the 2008 economic fiasco. When will I be able to visit my family again? When will I get to see the kids again? All of this on top of the obvious worries: I hope we all stay well.

Today was day one of homeschooling my 4th grader (LOL, I can’t do 4th grade math!). I made a schedule for our weekdays. I believe my son appreciates it more than I anticipated. He keeps referring to it. “What’s next on the schedule?” I keep referring to it. “What do we do after this?” For me, it’s necessary to be grounded in routine these days.

Stay healthy. Wash your hands. Don’t touch your face.

Hello, Summer.

Students’ last day was the 14th. Teachers left on the 18th. I’m finally starting my official summer break this afternoon. It feels like an eternity has passed between the 14th and today, but man alive did I get a lot done. I inventoried the collection, packed up some old tech for surplus, weeded a bunch, cataloged a ton of stuff that I wasn’t able to get to during the school year, and even put together a large order for our return to school in September.

I filed my end-of-year reports this morning, which was an opportunity to think back on the year. Though the format doesn’t necessarily have space for the details of all that happened in this space during the year. But if you’re dying to know, I added 1,201 books to the collection and saw 11,432 books circulate among students. 11,432. That’s a lot of books.

But the EOY report isn’t the whole picture. It feels like a very small peephole into the year. After looking through the photos on my phone, the EOY report doesn’t capture the relationships built this year, the things made, or the insightful thinking from students. One doesn’t necessarily see the student who discovered comic books in the EOY report.

I think I got to know a large percentage of the 420 (give or take) students at the school. And I feel good about making the library a place where students want to come and a space of their own. That’s how a library should be (I think). I do need to establish some expectations for behavior though. It got loud (A. Lot.), and every now and then students felt awfully entitled (as one sometimes does when one feels comfortable and at home). My big goal for 2019-2020 is to improve my classroom management so that the library is a space for everyone (not just the bigger personalities) and a space where everyone can learn.

I also want to integrate making with reading more. My school participated in three One School, One Book events this year. Two of them were organized by Read to Them, a non-profit that promotes literacy and reading with children. They happen to be based in Richmond. In the fall every elementary school in Richmond read Friendship According to Humphrey. In an after-school conversation, a colleague of mine pitched the idea of having students design and build prototypes for a new house for Humphrey. In case students weren’t able to read the book at home, we had them read a few pages from the book that described Humphrey’s cage. Based on that description, they then worked in teams to complete a design brief*, which involved brainstorming improvements and sketching those ideas. Once they thought through, wrote about, and sketched their ideas, it was time to build.

I collected recyclables from teachers, parents, and neighbors for prototyping. Building ensued, and everyone’s path differed. There were disagreements within groups. Some groups worked together with no problems at all. Some students were incredibly frustrated when their vision wasn’t easily realized. Some brushed off these hiccups with incredible ease and reevaluated the execution of ideas.

A prototype for Humphrey’s new home.

After a couple of classes of building, teams wrote reflections and shared their experiences with their classes.

We were able to do more prototyping at the end of the year in conjunction with reading Chris Van Dusen’s If I Built a Car. Students across all grades Loved. This. Book. They remarked on the rhymes, Jack’s wild ideas, and said things like, “If I could build my own car, I would…” They had the opportunity to brainstorm their own wild ideas and then build prototypes. If I thought about it, I would’ve taken a picture of Hazel’s unicorn car or Donnell’s dirt bike. Those slipped by me, but I did get some pics of other prototypes.

Some other favorite lessons included making story maps of well-known stories (and sometimes made-up stories) with Ozobots (inspired by this lesson).

Charging Ozobots

Keva Planks were a huge hit and got a ton of use in almost every K-1 class that I had either with makerspace stations or directly integrated with books like I Am Not a Chair and Dreaming Up.

Look. Listen. I’ve had totally faith in this making in libraries since 2012 or so, and I go home every day happy that I get to put into practice the ideas and philosophies shaped by things like Constructing Modern Knowledge and DS106. But more importantly the students love the chance to create. Before school ended, a kindergarten teacher said, “A student said she loved library the best, because we get to do everything in the library like art and moving around.” And it’s this interdisciplinary nature that I want to continue to grow next year….

… But with a little more emphasis on authentic research. In February, 5th graders started on podcasting which lasted until the end of school. We listened to a variety of different podcasts, worked in groups to develop their ideas for a podcast, wrote a script and interview questions, and then went out and recorded their stories or interviews. Poor planning on my part and a lack of technology required me to edit their podcasts into a final product for class listening parties.

The 5th graders were hard workers and excited to work on a project like a podcast. One group was even managed to sneak in a short, unplanned interview with the mayor when his visit to the school corresponded with their recording day. 5th grade Initiative!

So I look ahead excited and ready for the recharging that comes with summer. I say, “I’m not doing any school work!” But I know that’s not true. I’ll plan out lessons, prepare to integrate Scratch and Google CS next year, read some awesome picture and chapter books as well as Help for Billy and Teach Like a Champion, our professional development summer reading selections. I’m excited about the adventures to come in 2019-2020.

*The design brief was based on some of the guided portfolio from this research guide for K-5

Things done so far

I feel like I’m a reflective person. I think about lessons and what went well and what didn’t. I think about the library program and what I’d like to change, improve, and keep the same. A lot of this thinking happens on the drive to/from work or while walking the dog or washing dishes. What I don’t do/have time for/prioritize is writing it all down. So I missed my Sunday blogging deadline.


One thing I’m uncomfortable with this year is the lack of curriculum, so everything feels disjointed. I find myself asking, “Is this lesson worth it? Is it meaningful?” A more unified, less hodge-podgey curriculum is something I’m working to improve this spring and into next year.

It’s hard to believe that it’s already mid-January. The school year is flying by, and things we did early in the fall seem like they happened years ago.

So let’s pin it all so I can remember what to keep, what to make better, etc. etc.

The library is cozy and small and full of furniture, which I rearranged into a U-shape. Not only does this let us see each other, but it also creates a nice area for stories. More flexible furniture would be idea, but it’s not a priority at the moment.

What is a priority is creating a welcoming space for students. Here’s a picture of some students whose class earned a game day. I love the kid who opted to read in Big Joe.

A local community member who operates Fountain for Youth came to school in the fall to distribute free books to 5th graders. Any opportunity to help bulk up a student’s home library is a win!

Speaking of home libraries, Read to Them, launched the One School, One Book program in all elementary schools this year. All elementary school students in RPS were given a copy of Friendship According to Humphrey to read at home with family at night.

Some teachers read the book with their students in the afternoon and our principal even read it over the intercom as students packed up and had their afternoon snack. I got the impression that students enjoyed reading the book. Other Humphrey books have been circulating in the library, and some students still proudly carry around their copy of Friendship According to Humphrey.

One thing I enjoyed about the program is that it gave us a common language. A colleague of mine had the awesome idea to have students design prototypes of better houses for Humphrey. The quick version: we found a couple of passages from the book that talked about Humphrey’s cage, introduced the engineering process, and had student’s work in small groups to design prototypes, and reflect on what went well, what they would improve, etc.

The Humphrey project deserves a post of its own truth be told. Thanks to collaboration with a very creative colleague, the project morphed into using a design brief plan and reflect on the building of a prototype to reading a couple of articles related to science and engineering and documenting unfamiliar vocabulary.

Read to Them launches a spring One School, One Book program in March with Cleo Edison Oliver: Playground Millionaire, and I’m looking forward to the links to may have with design thinking and making.

We had some book tastings, which I’m looking forward to doing again.

And a paper bridge design challenge.

In December, kindergarten and first grade wrapped up the fall semester with gingerbread man traps built with Keva Planks, which I was able to purchase with a generous grant from the PTA/Boosters group.

Phew. It’s been a busy year so far.

My goals for the spring and next year is to tie in author/book studies with in-depth inquiry, design and engineering, and computer science if I can get my hands on some computers (right now there are four desktops in the library).

I’ll try to document it all here as I go along.


This is the part where I talk about how long it’s been since I wrote anything here and how there’s not enough time to do it all. It’s true, but that’s nothing new.

2019 is starting off with a lot of challenges. I’m doing the 2019 GoodReads challenge. I fell short of my 2018 goal by quite a lot, but 2019 is a new year, no?

My plan is to loop my GoodReads challenge with the 2019 BookRiot Read Harder Challenge. Hurrah! Books!

I’m also doing a fitness challenge: 28 for 28.

And then there’s the blogging challenge with Carolyn.

So here I am.

If 2019 is a year of challenges (in the “I want to get better and stronger” sense) then 2018 was a year of changes. I left independent schools for public schools and a high school for elementary. I miss high school students, but I adore the students at my new school. They’re hilarious, sweet, enthusiastic, and I can’t wait to see them again as we return to school today.

So like I said, there’s not enough time to do everything. But I’m hoping I can get back into the habit of reflecting a couple of times a week on what I do in order to be more intentional and focused.


Universal Harvester: a Novel

Readers seeking a horror novel will probably be disappointed with John Darnielle’s Universal Harvester.  It is true that some of the novel was a “total [page-turning] creep ride, but the book’s true genius is its atmosphere created by the narrative and the characters’ loneliness–that universal loneliness felt by (I guess) all of us.  Perhaps Jacob Brogan nails it in his review when he writes, “… the only monster is the deep well of our shared sadness. Layers of loss accumulate throughout: Of the media we enjoy, of the communities we grew up in, and, most of all, of the people we love. ‘It’s in the nature of the landscape to change, and it’s in the nature of people to help the process along.'”  Brogan is also accurate when he likens the novel to an X-Files episode.  Is Universal Harvester X-files meets Annie Proulx?  Eh… Nah…  Universal Harvester is its own thing, but I guess “X-files meets Annie Proulx” is how I’d describe it if I had to try to explain it to someone.

Cover of John Darnielle’s book, Universal Harvester

It’s a disorienting novel, and I accepted my disorientation by reading some Good Reads reviews (it was reassuring to see that I was not the only one trying to unpack the novel–and there really is a lot to unpack).

It’s important to consider your choices carefully before settling on a course of action; when you keep changing course, you forget where you are.  It’s disorienting.”     — J. Darnielle

*possible spoilers ahead*

Universal Harvester is a book I’d like to go back to now that I know there are no jump scares, violent sociopaths, and bloody body count.  Like the fields of Iowa and the long, small town country roads, there is a lot of room for exploration.









Spring semester recap

There are four more weeks of what is the very last semester of the maker senior seminar, and I’m not sure how to feel about that.

We’ve done a lot since the Makey Makeys that you may or may not have read about.  Sewable circuits and Arduinos made an appearance.  The Exquisite Corpse Rube Goldberg machine was a huge success (in that everyone created some amazing, creative pieces not in that it worked).

Ray: Symmetrical book stacking. Just like the Philadelphia mass turbulence of 1947.
Peter: You’re right, no human being would stack books like this.

Texting Wedos – part of the Rube Goldberg Machine

We even did some embroidery to celebrate National Embroidery Month (February).

This class of mainly guys enjoyed the embroidery much more than I imagined.  They commented on its meditative nature and appreciated the fact that they had to slow down.  What I loved was the casual conversations that took place at the table as we all sat around and practiced our stitches.

We took some things apart and looked closely at the parts and how they worked together.

We went on a Design Hunt in the Commons and explored what worked well, how things worked together, and what designs need some reconsideration.

These outlet covers are (1) not practical and (2) not durable.

This seal caught the attention of several students. It’s not used often, and they were impressed by its design.

Next week we gear up for a month of true makerspace life where the students get deeper into their questions and interests.

In addition to facilitating the making of things, I’m also taking Thinking & Learning in the Maker-Centered Classroom, which has forced me to reflect on what it means to make things in and out of schools and what it all might mean.

There’s a lot that resonates, and I’m taking the time to unpack some of the stuff now, before it’s too late (meaning before June rolls around and I haven’t stopped to think about all the stuff coming from the text (Maker-Centered Learning: Empowering Young People to Shape Their Worlds by Edward P. Clapp, et. al.) and my IRL and virtual classmates.

Because it’s Harvard and research and such, one can really get in the weeds with the theory and analysis.  But maybe it comes down to this:

When asked about their memorable making experiences, no Agency by Design workshops participants “have described their most memorable making experiences in terms of reconceptualizing the economy or increasing their proficiencies in the STEM subjects” (Clapp 17).

Also this by Gever Tulley, founder of Brightworks School:

“The world doesn’t need more graduates with good grades: What the world needs is voracious, self-directed learners with the creative capacity to see the problems of the world as puzzles, and the tenacity to work on them, even in the face of adversity.” (p. 9).

We’re also talking a lot about agency, agentic action, and maker empowerment.  However, I’ll come back to those when it’s not the end of the day on a Friday.  And also because I’m still sorting it all out.